It is confounding and frustrating when humanism gets labeled as a religion because doing so serves no good and constructive purpose. It only confuses. It has no intellectual basis. Those who insist on doing so seem to be stuck in a religious mindset from which they cannot let go. This mindset can be traced to Humanist Manifesto, 1933, which presented humanism as a religion. Over 50% of Unitarain Universalists identify as humanists making UU the largest humanist organization in the United States. UU’s ministerial leadership insists UU is a “religious faith” although there is no mention of religion or any religious language in UU’s guiding Seven Principles. With this in mind, I have tried to present the defining elements of humanism.
The philosophy of humanism runs thru civilization from its beginnings, reaching a highpoint with the Enlightenment, Age of Reason thinkers who proposed that societies and governments based on reason are superior to those based on religion.
Humanists are a diverse group of freethinkers. In general, the following descriptors apply to humanists:
–Agnostics or atheists believing there are no compelling reasons for faith in anything supernatural, so these groups do not. By definition, the supernatural is unreal and religious faith, at best, high performance art. “All the world’s a stage,” said Shakespeare.
–Gentlewomen and gentlemen who value kindness, civility, and peace.
–Utopians while not believing in the perfectibility of humankind are, however, idealists who believe that we should always have the goal of improving the quality of life. Also, please remember the phrase “A more perfect union,” as called for in the Preamble to the US constitution. (Techno utopians put store in advancing science and technology achieving more ideal living standards. See singularityu.org)
–Existentialists believing humankind shapes its own meaning of life and civilization; that there is no transcendental “out there” meaning to existence.
–Epicurean celebrating the beauty found in learning, nature, and the arts, along with the pleasures the body and mind are capable of experiencing.
–Capitalists believing market forces most efficiently and economically direct manufacturing and that capitalism as an economic system is best at producing the goods and services we desire and need.
–Socialists believing world wealth should benefit everyone, not equally, of course, but sufficient that most everyone can live with dignity and with the expectation that people will have an ever-improving standard of living and quality of life.
–Intellectuals or those exhibiting intellectual tendencies, believing the only path to truth, knowledge, and integrity comes from the application of empirical evidence and critical reason.
–Patrons of the arts who recognize that we have a deep need for fantasy as elevated in the visual and fictional arts. Perhaps the defining quality of human beings is that we are story tellers. In thus giving free reign to our imagination, we go beyond the bounds of mere reality, even into supernatural and science-fiction speculations, thereby giving expression to this intrinsic human dimension.
–Pragmatists willing to adapt to changing circumstances because they understand that ideology must take a backseat to what works and that what works for one place and time may not be appropriate for another place and time.
–Democrats (not necessarily of that political party) believing Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of “government of the people by the people for the people” signifies our democratic ideals for the proper role of government.
–Critical thinkers believing all people are responsible for being full engaged with the world. As Plato quoted Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” As an example, the way society works is political, therefore it behooves everyone to be politically informed, sophisticated, and engaged.