20 August 2010

Our topic this week  is Humanism.  The program was recorded live at at meeting of the American Humanism Assocation, in San Jose.

Well, one might wonder, what controversy can we find in Humanism?  We usually think of Humanism as that glorious movement in thought that began in the Renaissance, with the rediscovery and re-appreciation of the texts and art of the Greeks and Romans.  Human life, in this world, moves to the center of attention, while God, Heaven, angels and the like, the focus of medieval thought, move aside.  Humanism led to the Enlightenment, to Locke and Hume and Kant, to democracy and science and progress.  Not to mention to Humanities Divisions in modern universities, with philosophy departments, and philosopher hired to teach and think.  Three cheers for Humanism!

Descrbied this way, Humanism doesn’t seem very controversial.  For one thing, it doesn’t seem opposed to religion in general or Christianity in particular, as long as it pays suitable attention to humans.  Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel.  Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper.  Locke wrote a book about the Reasonableness of Christianity.  So all these important Renaissance and Enlightenment humanists seem to have been Christians. 

But that raises the question:  why are religious types, and fundamentalist Christians in particular, so upset these days about Humanism -- calling Humanism a plot to take over our schools, introduce relativism into morals, and all sorts of other evil things?

Well, they are thinking of Secular Humanism. So is secular humanism an alternative to Humanism, or a species of it, or what? Secular humanism, or scientific humanism, is really a species of humanism in the more general sense.  But many see it as the natural development of the ideas implicit in all humanism.  Secular humanism doesn’t just move the focus of attention from God and heaven and angels to humans, it drops God and heaven and Angels from the picture altogether.  It doesn’t just appreciate science, it takes the reality science discloses to be all the reality there is. 

So secular humanism really goes beyond appreciating human-oriented art; it involves a set of philosophical doctrines.  And in fact the philosopher John Dewey was instrumental in drawing up The Humanist Manifesto -- first version, 1933.  It’s pretty philosophical!  Here's a rough sketch.  The universe wasn’t created by anyone; humans are part of the natural world; mind and body dualism is rejected; there are no supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values; the end of human life is the here and now, not some afterlife, and a lot more.

So how about the Humanists spread out in the audience before us  as we recorded this program, humanists of the American Humanist Association.  -- are they just old fashioned, "Humans are sort of important and the Greeks and Romans were cool” type humanists, or are they secular humanists?  Defnitely the latter.   The American Humanist Association descends from Dewey and his friends.  You can find Manifesto One on their website, as well as Two and Three.  We we're definitely in the presence of secular, scientific, God-not-fearing, capital-H Humanists.

That means, according to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly, and quite possibly the Pope too, these people are bound and determined to undermine the moral basis of America, subvert values, educate a generation of atheists, and God knows what else -- or maybe I shouldn’t put it that way…

But we don’t need Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly, or even the Pope, to tell us what the American Humanist movement is about, because our guest was one of their intellectual leaders --  Jennifer Bardi, editor of The Humanist magazine. 

Here are the fifteen points of the original AHA Manifesto --- for later revisions, see their website.

FIRST: Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

SECOND: Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process.

THIRD: Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.

FOURTH: Humanism recognizes that man's religious culture and civilization, as clearly depicted by anthropology and history, are the product of a gradual development due to his interaction with his natural environment and with his social heritage. The individual born into a particular culture is largely molded by that culture.

FIFTH: Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values. Obviously humanism does not deny the possibility of realities as yet undiscovered, but it does insist that the way to determine the existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assessment of their relations to human needs. Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.

SIXTH: We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of "new thought".

SEVENTH: Religion consists of those actions, purposes, and experiences which are humanly significant. Nothing human is alien to the religious. It includes labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation--all that is in its degree expressive of intelligently satisfying human living. The distinction between the sacred and the secular can no longer be maintained.

EIGHTH: Religious Humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man's life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now. This is the explanation of the humanist's social passion.

NINTH: In the place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer the humanist finds his religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a cooperative effort to promote social well-being.

TENTH: It follows that there will be no uniquely religious emotions and attitudes of the kind hitherto associated with belief in the supernatural.

ELEVENTH: Man will learn to face the crises of life in terms of his knowledge of their naturalness and probability. Reasonable and manly attitudes will be fostered by education and supported by custom. We assume that humanism will take the path of social and mental hygiene and discourage sentimental and unreal hopes and wishful thinking.

TWELFTH: Believing that religion must work increasingly for joy in living, religious humanists aim to foster the creative in man and to encourage achievements that add to the satisfactions of life.

THIRTEENTH: Religious humanism maintains that all associations and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life. The intelligent evaluation, transformation, control, and direction of such associations and institutions with a view to the enhancement of human life is the purpose and program of humanism. Certainly religious institutions, their ritualistic forms, ecclesiastical methods, and communal activities must be reconstituted as rapidly as experience allows, in order to function effectively in the modern world.

FOURTEENTH: The humanists are firmly convinced that existing acquisitive and profit-motivated society has shown itself to be inadequate and that a radical change in methods, controls, and motives must be instituted. A socialized and cooperative economic order must be established to the end that the equitable distribution of the means of life be possible. The goal of humanism is a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good. Humanists demand a shared life in a shared world.

FIFTEENTH AND LAST: We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow.


Comments (7)

Guest's picture


Saturday, August 21, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

In my experience as a lifelong atheist interested

In my experience as a lifelong atheist interested in religions "H" Humanists are simply another fundamentalist religious sect no more capable of thinking about or discussing their holy Manifestos than your average Christian fundamentalist. In particular they are unable or unwilling to find anything good about any religion or God. All they know about God is the knee jerk "Prove it exists."

Guest's picture


Sunday, August 22, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Enjoyed the overview of humanism. My main perspect

Enjoyed the overview of humanism. My main perspective, as with all organisms on the planet, is the basic role of natural selection. As seems to be becoming near consensus in many quarters these days, all aspects of human behavior, inclination, orientation, etc., including religious, ethical, as well as irreligious and unethical ! are basically wired into the organism as part and parcel of the long-range survival mechanism (see especially #s 2, 4 & 5 above). The relative proportions of all the factors are clearly variable across the species and seem to also vary significantly in time. The absolutely critical ingredient is determination of the component of conscious volition in the process.
The outline of humanism you present would be interesting to delineate in this context.

Guest's picture


Friday, August 27, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I enjoy your program on Humanism (as a Unitarian)

I enjoy your program on Humanism (as a Unitarian) but I have been trying to track down Ian Schoalls editorial on the end of the program. Is it available? Thanks for keeping the airway balanced and informed. MJS

Guest's picture


Wednesday, September 8, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Although I do agree with your post, I have my own

Although I do agree with your post, I have my own reservations.

Guest's picture


Wednesday, September 8, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Shoe snobbery dictates the latest fashion frenz

Shoe snobbery dictates the latest fashion frenzy, writes Sonja Koremans
CAST your mind back over the past few seasons and ask yourself what fashion trend you most remember -- the hem length, belt size, must-have colour or print de jour? Hardly. It's the christian louboutin shoes that have shone most of all.
OK, so Imelda mania is not a new phenomenon but women's fascination with footwear of the day -- and tailoring their wardrobes accordingly -- has never been more apparent than in the past 10 years.
Take the Baby Doll era, circa 1997, for instance. That was when the Mary Jane walked in and had everyone from pop stars to power brokers slipping into the sweet little ankle-strapped christian louboutin boots. Never mind that the style was more playground than playgirl, we wore it anyway.

Guest's picture


Saturday, September 18, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I did not know that there were religious humanists

I did not know that there were religious humanists as opposed to secular ones. Now, I do. I guess I'll just stick to what I know. That seems to be adequate for my current definitions of personal growth. You appear to be organized. That is a good thing in a chaotic world.

mirugai's picture


Saturday, July 28, 2012 -- 5:00 PM


All philosophical inquiry must begin with a bow to the unanswerable question (?unanswerable? because it takes to much time away from getting on with some inquiry, and because it is tautological) ?What or who is ?we??? But this question is, like the other unanswerable question ?Is there anything other than my own consciousness,? at the very heart ? the very crux ? of doing philosophy.
Conceit is disproportionate over-valuation of ?me? or ?we.? Philosophy seeks to do rational thinking about thought, and rationality requires the philosopher to make the one contribution to practical, useful advice that he/she can make: to confidently draw lines (as in, ?But where do you draw the line??), in this case, between an accurate perception of ?me,? and an over-valuation of ?me.?
Philosophers are the only people who can say, because they are practiced in the exercise, whether some working definition or taxonomy of ?humanism? is rational, or is a conceit.
I contend that religious-style belief is a human instinct. For instance, 99.9% of humans believe in some form of existence after death. Religious-style belief 1. provides an object for the gift of our precious love, and 2. Provides confirmation of what we think is right and good. Humanists that preach that religion is contrary to humanism are just refusing to accept a truth that they don?t favor. This is a conceit of humanism.
As another example, it is impossible to be a ?humanist secular Jew? ? you may want to be a secular humanist for all kinds of good reasons, but you can?t be a Jew at the same time. At the very, very least, a Jew must believe in God. It is a conceit for someone to call themselves a Jew contrary to what God says a Jew must be.
Another conceit heard on the show is that ?human beings are the only species that has self-awareness.? There is no way to verify this idea at all. See paragraph 1 on the conceits of ?we? and ?consciousness.? More conceit.
Regards to Neuman, and the rest of the posters. I posted a Martini recipe to help with facing Hypocracy, but the blog editors wouldn't run it, I guess.