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The word “humanism” has a number of meanings, and because there are so many
different meanings it can be quite confusing if you don't know what kind of
humanism someone is talking about.
Literary Humanism is a devotion to the humanities or literary culture.
Renaissance Humanism is the spirit of learning that developed at the end of the
middle ages with the revival of classical letters and a renewed confidence in
the ability of human beings to determine for themselves truth and falsehood.
Cultural Humanism is the rational and empirical tradition that originated
largely in ancient Greece and Rome, evolved through out European history, and
now constitutes a basic part of the Western approach to science, political
theory, ethics, and law.
Philosophical Humanism is any outlook or way of life centered on human need and
interest. Sub categories of this type include the two following.
Christian Humanism is defined by Webster's Third New International Dictionary as
“a philosophy advocating the self fulfillment of man within the framework of
Christian principles.” This more human oriented faith is largely a product of
the Renaissance and is a part of what made up Renaissance humanism.
Modern Humanism, also called Naturalistic Humanism, Scien- tific Humanism,
Ethical Humanism and Democratic Humanism is defined by one of its leading
proponents, Corollas Lamont, as “a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all
supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and
human compassion.” Modern Humanism has a dual origin, both secular and
religious, and these constitute its sub categories.
Secular Humanism is an outgrowth of 18th century enlightenment rationalism and
19th century freethought. Many secular groups, such as the Council for
Democratic and Secular Humanism and the American Rationalist Federation, and
many otherwise unaffiliated academic philosophers and scientists advocate this
Religious Humanism emerged out of Ethical Culture, Unitarianism, and
Universalism. Today, many Unitarian- Universalist congregations and all Ethical
Culture societies describe themselves as humanist in the modern sense.
The most critical irony in dealing with Modern Humanism is the
inability of its supporters to agree on whether or not this world veiw is
religious. The Secular Humanists believe it is a philosophy, where the
Religious Humanists obviously believe it is a religion. This has been going on
since the early years of the century where the Secular and Religious traditions
combined and made Modern Humanism.
Secular and Religious Humanists both share the same world views as shown by the
signing of the Humanist Manifestos I and II. The signers of the Manifestos were
both Secular and Religious Humanists.
To serve personal needs, Religious Humanism offers a basis for moral values, an
inspiring set of ideals , methods for dealing with life's harsher realities, a
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To serve social needs, Humanist religious communities offer a sense of belonging,
an institutional setting for the moral education of children, special holidays
shared with like minded people, a unique ceremonial life, the performance of
ideologically consistent rites of passage (weddings, child welcomings, coming of
age celebrations, funerals, etc.), an opportunity for affirmation of one's
philosophy of life, and a historical context for one's ideas.
Religious Humanists maintain that most human beings have personal a social needs
that can only be met by humanism. They do not feel that one should have to make
a choice between meeting these needs in a traditional faith context versus not
meeting them at all. Individuals who cannot feel at home in traditional
religion should be able to find a home in non traditional religion.
A popular example of Secular Humanists views of the world was said by author
Salman Rushdie on ABC's “Nightline” on February 13, 1989.
[My book says] that there is an old, old conflict between the secular view of
the world and the religious view of the world, and particularly between texts
which claim to be divinely inspired and texts which are imaginatively
inspired.....I distrust people who claim to know the whole truth and who seek to
orchestrate the world in line with that one truth. I think that's a very
dangerous position in the world. It needs to be challenged. It needs to be
challenged constantly in all sorts of ways, and that's what I tried to do.
The Secular Humanist have been known for defiance, a defiance that dates back to
ancient Greece. Humanist themes that are shown in Greek mythology are rarely
ever shown in the mythologies of other cultures. And they are certainly not
shown in modern religion. The best example from Greek mythology is the
character of Prometheus.
Prometheus stands out because he was idolized by ancient Greeks as the one who
defied Zeus. He stole the fire of the gods and brought it down to earth. He
was punished and still he continued his defiance despite the torture.
The next time we see a Promethean character in mythology it is Lucifer in John
Milton's Paradise Lost. But now he is the devil. Whoever defies god must be
evil. That seems to be a given of traditional religion. But the Greeks didn't
agree. To them, Zeus, for all his power, could still be mistaken.
This exemplifies Secular Humanists tradition of skepticism. Just like every
religion has it's sage, so does Secular Humanism. All other sages created
rules or laws save the Secular Humanists sage, Socrates. Socrates gave us a
method of questioning the rules of others.
In general both philosophies agree that reason is taken over religion. In
finding what all humanists believe you have to look towards the Humanist
Manifesto. There are two versions of the Manifesto. The first one was written
and signed in 1933 and since then there has been a Humanist Manifesto II,
written and signed in 1973. I will concentrate on the second manifesto because
it includes everything involved and more than the first. There are generally
seventeen common principals to the manifesto not including the preface,
introduction and conclusion. Those seventeen are divided into five topics
including: Religion 1-2, Ethics 3-4, the Individual 5-6, Democratic Society 7-
11, and World Community 12-17. Those seventeen I will focus on the seventeen
common principals as they are the basis of Humanism.
In the first principle is states
In the best sense, religion may inspire dedication to the highest ethical ideals.
The cultivation of moral devotion and creative imagination is an expression of
genuine ‘spiritual' experience and aspiration.
But then goes on to say
We believe, however, that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that
place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a
disservice to the human species. Any account of nature should pass the tests of
scientific evidence; in our judgment, the dogmas and myths of traditional
religions do not do so.
The manifesto goes on saying that while they admit that traditional religion and
Humanism have ethical teachings and morals in common, “they inhibit humans from
helping themselves or experiencing their full potentialities..........Too often
traditional faiths encourage dependence rather than independence, obedience
rather than affirmation, fear rather than courage.” The conclusion for the
principle was that no deity will save us from our wrong doings, “humans are
responsible for what we are or will become.”
The second Principle states
Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory
and harmful. They distract humans for present concerns, from self actualization,
and from rectifying social injustices.
The next set of two principle's are based on Ethics. The first states that
moral values “derive their source from human experience.”, and not needing any
theological or ideological sanctions. Life is lived for the here not the
hereafter. “Happiness and the creative realization of human needs and desires,
individually and in shared enjoyment, are continuous themes of humanism.”
The second principle in the Ethics section talks of reason being “the most
effective instruments that humankind possesses.” But also warns that “reason
must be tempered by humility, since no group has a monopoly of wisdom or virtue.”
The fifth and sixth principles are based on the Individual. The fifth principle
talks about the importance of the individual. “The preciousness and dignity of
the individual person is a central humanist value.” It rejects the religious,
ideological, or moral codes that denigrate the individual, suppress freedom,
dull intellect, or dehumanize personality. They do believe in maximizing “
individual autonomy consonant with social responsibility.”
The sixth principle talks of sexual freedom. The freedom or right to birth
control, abortion, and divorce. They believe that intolerant attitudes from
orthodox or puritan groups “unduly repress sexual conduct.” They believe that
short of harming other people individuals should be able to pursue their sexual
lifestyles as they please. Educationally they believe “Moral education for
children and adults is an important way of developing awareness and sexual
The seventh through the eleventh principles have to do with the democratic
society. The seventh principle backs up and extends the “principals of human
freedom evolved from the Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights, the Rights of Man,
and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. This includes the freedom of
press and speech, the legal right of opposition to governmental policies,
religious liberty, etc.
The eighth principle is that of an open and democratic society. A true
democratic society where “All persons should have a voice in developing the
values and goals that determine their lives.”
The ninth principle is that of the separation of church and state. The state
should not favor any one particular belief, but should encourage “maximum
freedom for different moral, political, religious, and social values in society.”
The tenth principle democratizes the economy and judges it by it's
responsiveness to human need, testing results in terms of the common good.
The eleventh principle is the principle of moral equality. There must be the “
elimination of all discrimination based upon race, religion, sex, age, or
national origin.” It also talks of universal education. It deplores “racial,
religious, ethnic, or class