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An Introduction to Humanism: the Yes-Way Way

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Summary

Humanists propose that all religious traditions from all places and times have sought a better understanding of the world in order to improve human flourishing. Theologies and philosophies are, on this view, attempts to use human reason and creativity to improve the human condition.

Few have heard of the movement usually called humanism, even though it is well over a century old. Humanism is a post-Christian movement that rejects the supernatural and emphasizes the inherent moral capacities of the human animal and our ability to be good without the trappings of traditional scriptures.

Many in the movement would insist that it is not a religion but rather a “secular” philosophy not based on any faith. I say, whatever works for you.

Other movements have rejected — or at least minimized — the supernatural, particularly in the case of Anglo-American analytic philosophies and post-modernism, but humanists tend to go beyond mere rejection of old patterns of thought, choosing rather to view human religions as expressions of human creativity in the face of the challenges of being human.

Humanists propose that religious traditions from all places and times have sought a better understanding of the world in order to improve human flourishing.

Theologies and philosophies are, on this view, attempts to use human reason and creativity to improve the human condition.

Many, including many humanists, maintain that humanism is an emendation of atheism or agnosticism. In some ways this is true, but the claim misses the rich possibilities of humanism as a way of thought and as a way of life.

I have mentioned the terms “atheist” and “agnostic.” The term “humanism” also falls into a category of such concepts as freethinker, secularist, and even “liberal.”

”Atheist” and “agnostic” are terms descriptive of what some of us are not. Humanist, freethinker, secularist, and liberal are terms for what we are, what we embrace.

Understandably, lumping all humanists into the unbeliever camp is a relatively easy approach and it is the one that many religious people would naturally take, especially those religious people convinced that their way of doing religion and life is the only correct way of living.

After all, the term “Christian” is so broad as to be only an approximation of any description of an individual’s or group’s views. “Liberal Christian” and “Conservative Christian” go some way further in description, especially when informed by historical analysis of Christian history, yet even those descriptors only go a partial way toward definite description.

Thus, ”Christianity” is merely the beginning of a discussion (or debate) of a long tradition with roots in many other traditions. So it is with “humanism,” as with any “ism.” 

In addition, many have faulted humanists for using religious ideas in a merely re-heated manner. For example, “thou shat not kill” is one of the Ten Commandments in Hebrew scripture. Since Humanists agree that killing is a moral wrong, aren’t we merely reproducing something invented by the Hebrew god?

Humanists tend to historicize such criticism. Yes, the command is recorded in Hebrew scripture as the words of the Hebrew god. However, killing as a moral wrong demonstrably pre-dates Hebrew scripture and, in addition, human cultures worldwide condemn killing as a moral wrong, at least in most instances.

Consequently, Humanists tend to see such ideas as the immorality of killing in terms of human evolution, most likely based on the evolutionary advantages of such thinking in human cultural contexts.

Therefore, though humanism can certainly be viewed as re-heating older patterns of thought and belief, Humanists see ourselves as choosing the good and rejecting the bad of human traditions. Thereby, we propose a new way of looking at the challenges of living on this planet, a new way of understanding, and of seeking to improve, the human condition.

So, Humanists see a vast difference between accepting dogma merely because it is traditional and embracing concepts because they make sense of life and make life better for other human beings and other sentient beings.

As I noted earlier, Humanism is a relatively new word for a series of related ideas, but its widespread use is a reaction to the spread of a secular way of being.

As I mentioned earlier, terminology remains a challenge for Humanists. The term “secular humanism” became a favorite boogeyman among Christian conservatives in the 1980s. The term “religious humanism” has inspired distrust among both religious liberals and religious conservatives. Considering these issues, it is perhaps most useful to consider all humanists “Humanists,” though some choose living without congregating, whereas, some choose to accentuate the relational nature of human life by congregating.

Where can you learn more about humanism? That remains a challenge! Blogs such as this one are making the attempt to present Humanism as more than an incident in the history of philosophy.

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