Friends who would chance upon my writings tell me that I’m increasingly becoming humanist. I ask if that is some sort of religion and they would tell me either “not really” or “kinda”. I then declare that if it’s something I have to sign up for, then I’ll take a pass. I don’t like having an “ism” stuck on me since I refuse to be trapped in ideological boxes. “See?” They retort. “Humanist.”
So I googled. I do have a faint idea of what it means and I know where my friends are coming from. But as to why they say I’m increasingly becoming? No idea. Then I found this article by Fredrick Edwords of the American Humanist Association. I won’t feed you what’s in it but yes, now I clearly see why.
Humanism is an intellectual stance that champions free thinking. What inclined observers to call me humanist would be my positions on religion, politics, and self-determinism. I can categorically say that I am ideologically and pedagogically humanist, yet I am neither a religious humanist nor a secular humanist — the two categories which, when combined, form the core of modern humanism.
My stance on religion is pretty much what the Axial Ages have posited. Confucius, Buddha, Lao Tzu were concerned more with how one behaved than what one believed. And this is none too different from the position of religious humanists. To wit:
Humanism teaches us that it is immoral to wait for God to act for us. We must act to stop the wars and the crimes and the brutality of this and future ages. We have powers of a remarkable kind. We have a high degree of freedom in choosing what we will do. Humanism tells us that whatever our philosophy of the universe may be, ultimately the responsibility for the kind of world in which we live rests with us.
However, I too can be a secular humanist. This is their view:
When I became convinced that the universe is natural, that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell. The dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts and bars and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world, not even in infinite space. I was free–free to think, to express my thoughts–free to live my own ideal, free to live for myself and those I loved, free to use all my faculties, all my senses, free to spread imagination’s wings, free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope, free to judge and determine for myself . . . I was free! I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously faced all worlds.
Secular humanists see that there is a structual flaw to organized religion (and I underscore this in my pieces on the RH Bill) and that calling humanism a religion would be self-defeating. As purely an intellectual stance, there should be no creeds, rituals, and shared myths that resemble the totalitarianism of organized religion. What is the point of free thinking when one is consigned to adhere to certain precepts?
This is why I don’t like “isms”. They’re too complex. It doesn’t matter if I am humanist, or if I am religious humanist or secular humanist. (Does this make me a moderate humanist? Bah. Same difference.)
However, I wouldn’t want this ambivalence to give anyone the idea that I don’t stand for anything. The number one criticism against secularists and pragmatists is that they have a very loose set of values, unlike those who ally themselves with a god and thus with a fixed system of thought, belief and action. Yet as an intellectual stance, humanism is inextricably oriented towards something. The caveat then is that my beliefs are not readily spelled out — which I don’t have to. Here’s why.
I bristle at what I am about to do. Laying down bullets seems like I am laying down commandments. But this excerpt from Fredrick Edwords will be the closest thing one person who has never heard of humanism (or has misconceptions about it) will get.
- Humanism is one of those philosophies for people who think for themselves. There is no area of thought that a Humanist is afraid to challenge and explore.
- Humanism is a philosophy focused upon human means for comprehending reality. Humanists make no claims to possess or have access to supposed transcendent knowledge.
- Humanism is a philosophy of reason and science in the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, when it comes to the question of the most valid means for acquiring knowledge of the world, Humanists reject arbitrary faith, authority, revelation, and altered states of consciousness.
- Humanism is a philosophy of imagination. Humanists recognize that intuitive feelings, hunches, speculation, flashes of inspiration, emotion, altered states of consciousness, and even religious experience, while not valid means to acquire knowledge, remain useful sources of ideas that can lead us to new ways of looking at the world. These ideas, after they have been assessed rationally for their usefulness, can then be put to work, often as alternate approaches for solving problems.
- Humanism is a philosophy for the here and now. Humanists regard human values as making sense only in the context of human life rather than in the promise of a supposed life after death.
- Humanism is a philosophy of compassion. Humanist ethics is solely concerned with meeting human needs and answering human problems–for both the individual and society–and devotes no attention to the satisfaction of the desires of supposed theological entities.
- Humanism is a realistic philosophy. Humanists recognize the existence of moral dilemmas and the need for careful consideration of immediate and future consequences in moral decision making.
- Humanism is in tune with the science of today. Humanists therefore recognize that we live in a natural universe of great size and age, that we evolved on this planet over a long period of time, that there is no compelling evidence for a separable “soul,” and that human beings have certain built-in needs that effectively form the basis for any human-oriented value system.
- Humanism is in tune with today’s enlightened social thought. Humanists are committed to civil liberties, human rights, church-state separation, the extension of participatory democracy not only in government but in the workplace and education, an expansion of global consciousness and exchange of products and ideas internationally, and an open-ended approach to solving social problems, an approach that allows for the testing of new alternatives.
- Humanism is in tune with new technological developments. Humanists are willing to take part in emerging scientific and technological discoveries in order to exercise their moral influence on these revolutions as they come about, especially in the interest of protecting the environment.
- Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy for those in love with life. Humanists take responsibility for their own lives and relish the adventure of being part of new discoveries, seeking new knowledge, exploring new options. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, Humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest and the freedom of discovery that this entails.
So that’s it, in a nutshell. I’m fine either way but looking back now, what is my blog title if not humanist?