Humanism: One Activist's View

Article excerpt

People come to humanism from many starting points; mine is only one perspective. Humanism has no single arbiter or creed. Humanist thought has evolved throughout history in step with humankind's evolving knowledge about reality. I believe this evolution has reflected four general principles.

1. Humanism is a philosophy and guide to living for people who think for themselves. It is consistent with what we know about reality and is based on reason, science, human experience, and critical thinking. People of reason rather than faith, we weigh even religious claims against our own judgment and experience, infuriating would-be arbiters of divine authority.

2. Humanism advocates a richly rewarding, ethical way of life based on empathic, compassionate caring about others' needs, not on obedience to imagined divine authority We consider the Golden Rule a basic ethical guide.

3. Humanism respects human dignity and possibilities. We do not see ourselves as "children of God who can never grow up" or as chattels of God--we are not "clay for the Potter," as Paul argued in Romans 9:20-23. We value every human's feelings, wants, needs, empathy compassion, intellect, and aspirations.

4. Humanists try to be in tune with enlightened social understandings. We are committed to human rights and to meeting the basic needs of all people; to civil liberties, church-state separation, participatory democracy the expansion of global consciousness, and to the needs of the environment and of posterity.

Like our understandings of reality religious beliefs, too, evolved throughout human existence. We think the continued evolution of these understandings and beliefs--aided by reason, free inquiry, and open discussion--is generally beneficial and should be encouraged. We think "evolution" reflects reality more accurately than "creationism," and that reason and critical thinking yield better understandings of reality than the purported revelations of ancient scriptures. Still, we who champion science make no claims to transcendent knowledge. Every principle of humanism is a scientific hypothesis, as consistent with the preponderance of known evidence as can be, but--unlike articles of faith--always subject to being disconfirmed by new knowledge.

In contrast, religious believers often differ about the "will" and characteristics they attribute to God. Proponents characteristically put their own preferences into God's mouth to justify their own predilections. Or they attribute mutually contradictory characteristics to the God of their imaginings. There seems to be no reliable standard for deciding between their conflicting claims. What individuals declare about their God reveals far less about divine reality than it does about the speaker.

Humanists care more about persons' behavior than their beliefs. Thus, many of us welcome caring, liberal persons into the humanist community and seek to work with them for the betterment of life on Earth. …