The Blog: Cogito Ergo Blogo
Posted by John Perry
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.
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