In various conversations over the last month it has come to my attention that not many people know what a Humanist is. In an effort to clarify and empower you with some knowledge I will breakdown what you should know about Humanists.
General Humanist Beliefs
- Humanists believe a person has the right and the responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives.
- Humanists are committed to each human being’s ability to have a say in the choices and access resources that enable them to have a good life.
- A Humanist understands a person’s free agency and ability to demonstrate their talents is a fundamental part of a developing society.
- They believe absolute authority destroys or impedes a person’s free agency and ability to reason on behalf of their needs to create a life of dignity.
- A Humanist believes there are no absolute truths as each of our experiences evolves our understanding of the truth.
- A Humanist relies on findings based on science instead of cultural or religious revelations.
Two Types of Humanists
Over the years I discovered there are two types of Humanists. Religious Humanist includes all spiritual beliefs as well as those who are theists, deists, and pantheists. Secular Humanist includes all who do NOT rely on religion. They include those who are ambivalent about the existence of God to those who are adamant in pointing out the faults of religions in causing human suffering. Freethinkers and naturalists are usually Secular Humanists.
Both types of Humanists choose evidence over doctrine. They also believe in the freedom of both the individual and as a collective whole is necessary for human progress.
When I was devout religious believer I was in the habit of developing a deeper sense of who I was and what my world view was I cam across the concept of Humanism several times but turned away from it because there were, what I thought at the time, strong arguments against it. They were false arguments rooted in anger and fear. Humanists are often discriminated because of insecurities that make themselves known through the following myths;
- Humanists are Morally Corrupt. A common misconception in some circles is the idea that being a humanist means you are morally corrupt. If our existence is a reflection of our God, exhalation and glory of a creator, then the definition of a Secular Humanist is everything that is wrong with Humanity. This is interesting because seeking the wisdom of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers is studying their understanding of the human experience through their art and literature. The Renaissance expounded on this when it brought new life to these philosophies and an appreciation that an individual is beautiful and worth celebrating. Life shouldn’t be a long suffering slog, you should enjoy it while you can with dignity.
- All Humanists are Atheists. The idea some people will promote is Humanist are the antithesis of religion. While there are Atheists who are also Secular Humanists, not all Secular Humanists are Atheists. There are some Humanists who feel the need to push back more loudly than others and this is based on their personal experience and environment. Imagine people coming up to you or talking behind your back, telling you and people around you that you are dirty because you don’t wash with their favorite brand of soap. How long would you take that kind of treatment before you say “Excuuuse me? This is MY preference for soap and it works fine.”
- Humanism is life without God. Considered by many as the Father of Humanism, Francesco Petrarch, was a devout Catholic and for a time studied to be a priest. He personally believed and promoted the idea that studying the classics helped developed a person intellectually and morally. He argued that it was possible to live a secular life and acknowledge it’s achievements while having an intimate relationship with your God. He wrote that God had given humans their vast intellectual and creative potential to help humans reach their fullest. Inspired, Christian Humanist used the study of the Classics to restore Christian piety and Biblical studies in Europe. Some even found it useful to reframe the Humanism tenants in biblical context. Renaissance Humanism was preoccupied with helping citizens become more literate and saw the poetic beauty in communicating more clearly and independently. Christian Humanists thought if the common person was able to read and ponder their scriptures, their faith and belief in God would be strengthened. Their efforts towards literacy and the resulting independence created a rift and general mistrust among other Christians. Consequently their ideals and teachings prevail in modern day practice of Christianity. Read more about Christian Humanists and Christian Mystics: https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Europe/Northern-humanism
- Humanists lack Community. Humanists are in your community and therefore they are a part of your community. It is not necessary for a Humanist to identify themselves unless they need to or feel comfortable with doing so. That said it is important to know Humanist need different things based on their own journey. Some will seek out more tolerant communities such as the company of Unitarians. Some keeping their beliefs to themselves are active in their communities on their own terms.
- Humanist don’t Celebrate. There is a misconception that Humanists do not observe holidays, celebrations, or need rituals. Like many humans in our societies Humanists observe momentous occasions and every day celebrations. They get married and they die, and there are Humanist officiants who help to observe these important moments with joy and dignity. Many Humanists do celebrate traditional holidays and cultural holidays. Many Humanists, especially those who are not theistic, want to observe and celebrate non-religious holidays. Their preference depends on the individual Humanist. Here is an example of Secular Seasons you can choose to observe with a Humanist. You do not need to be humanist to observe them.
Choosing to be a Humanist is choosing to see each person as a human being first and helping everyone in your community reach their best potential. For some it can be a personal philosophy or a world view. Humanism is not a foreign concept unless you give into the idea you have to control others through fear and hate. Entertaining or promoting myths like these hurt Humanists and creates a mistrust of Humanism that hurts all of us.
Thinking Like a Humanist
A Humanist’s reasoning is based on the natural order of the world and observable experience of the human condition. Basic human behaviors are seen as normal in the context of their environment. The welfare of living human beings is more important than supernatural or spiritual forces.
- A Secular Humanist is someone who doesn’t rely on spiritual beliefs or religious structure to articulate the case for a person’s right to human dignity. Life is worth living and all lives worth protecting simply because it is the only one you have.
- A Religious Humanist places this natural order first as the foundation for their spiritual beliefs. Often you will hear Religious or Spiritual Humanists rationalize when they are in the service of their fellow human being’s welfare, they are serving their God(s) ultimate purpose for them on Earth.
A Humanist believes all humans can solve their problems if we first understand our common needs. To be able to get to that point a Humanist supports every person’s ability to think and act for themselves. The best person to solve a problem is the person who is living up close with the problem. Human beings can solve their problems better when they are aware of their options and given access to resources.
Humanist Code for Action
A Humanist makes ethical choices by observing actual human experiences and developing a value system based on the principle of fairness. Each Humanists’s value system is different because their experiences are different and constantly developing. That said all Humanists fundamentally hopes for the best in humanity.
- Choosing to be a Secular Humanist means you develop your own value system. One in which you hold yourself accountable to and acknowledge when the results are less than ideal. They do not deal with pleasant feel good illusions, only facts. You chose to do good, based on your experience and understanding, without rewards or acknowledgement.
- Choosing to be a Religious Humanist means you borrow or develop your value system from a religious framework.
Famous Religious Humanists
Here are a few of my favorite Religious Humanists!
Charles Schutlz, the creator of Peanuts comic strip was a Sunday School teacher and for a time a street preacher. He used his comic strips to preach his personally developed Christian beliefs but did not protect or rationalize what he saw as religious hypocrisy. He used his characters to point them out and encouraged readers to ponder on it. “Charles Schultz’s Charlie Brown reminded people, as no other cartoon character had, of what it was to be vulnerable, to be small and alone in the universe, to be human–both little and big at the same time.” (p. 247, Shultz and Peanuts).
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek constantly used his series to reflect on Good vs Evil while allowing the possibility of many Gods and many beliefs. “It’s not true that I don’t believe in God. I believe in a kind of god. It’s just not other people’s god. I reject religion. I accept the notion of God.”
After the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments guaranteed civil and voting rights for freed black males, Susan B. Anthony argued that these same rights should extend to women. She left her teaching career and devoted her time and energy to social reform. In 1848, she attended the first women’s rights convention, the Seneca Falls Convention, and signed her name to the “Declaration of Sentiments,” which revised a famous part of the Declaration of Independence, stating: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” My understanding is this glaring omission was never adopted. “I have worked 40 years to make the [women’s suffrage] platform broad enough for atheists and agnostics to stand upon, and now if need be I will fight the next 40 years to keep it Catholic enough to permit the straightest Orthodox religionist to pray and count her beads upon.” Susan B. Anthony worked tirelessly towards her belief in equality.
Whoopi Goldberg an American actor, comic, and t.v. personality believes “taking choice from people is anti-human.” I fell in love with her role as Guianan in the Star Trek series because I felt her character was essential in helping explore our humanness through the wisdom she gives to the crew. In her every day life she lives those same values in a different tone but in a way that is all her own.
Famous Secular Humanists
…and let’s not forget my Favorite Secular Humanists!
“I respect people that practice as they preach . . . but hypocritical religious types make me angry.” I previously wrote about Anthony Bourdain who inspired me through food and travel experiences to see more than the status quo. The food we eat with the people we meet, creates an intimacy that define who we are and give our lives a unique flavor. Anthony Bourdain said these moments were risky, even dangerous, endeavors while insisting they were necessary. Through these moments he often gave insights into the human condition and openly demanded we take the time to recognize the people working hard behind the scenes to make our food delicious.
I loved how Katherine Hepburn defied convention in the way she dressed, talked, and behaved. She was strong-willed, outspoken, and demanded people take her at face value. Life was hard and to imagine otherwise was deceitful. “The thing about life is that you must survive. Life is going to be difficult, and dreadful things will happen. What you do is move along, get on with it, and be tough. Not in the sense of being mean to others, but being tough with yourself and making a deadly effort not to be defeated.” While Katharine Hepburn thought the example of Jesus’s service was praise worthy and inspirational in reminding us to that humans are happiest when they live for each other, she said she was an avowed atheist. She inherently believed that right and wrong could differ between individuals but stressed when we are aligned with who we are we innately know the difference between right and wrong. How? When you are doing something right you cannot help but feel happy. People who made wrong choices claiming they were right ones were miserable and suffering a sickness. Throughout her life she not only insisted on the dignity of comfort and independence, she also invited everyone to be kind to each other.
Sir Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors in the realm of satire and fantasy. Each of his books explores the complex human themes in a fun light with occasional somberness that makes you think. Even though he was openly an Atheist, both theists and non-theist enjoy his works to varying degrees. I enjoy his books because he takes on the issues of modern life and sets them firmly in a setting we can laugh together, from a safe distance, at the absurdity and the humanism of it all. If you have recently read or watched Good Omens exploring the dark humor of end times, you might enjoy reading Small Gods or Going Postal.
I have added a few more quotes to Facebook in an album titled Famous Religious Humanists and Secular Humanists.
Basically, Humanist chose to live their lives based on a practical non-religious view of the world that has been around for a long time. For many it is considered an ethical way to live your life and reach for something better, together. I do not know if I have shared anything that will convince you to be a Humanist, but I do hope it inspires you to be your own person.
And most importantly, be a good Human.