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Eye of the Optimist-Who is the humanist?

Humanism is a positive perspective on human relations and purpose, governance, civil service and education. It is a preferred philosophy for secular governance and education. It is a guideline for responsible science. It is positive because it takes the stance that humans are generally and inherently good and makes a commitment to empathy and concern for others. One of its cornerstones is the will to ensure opportunity for human potential to be released and flourish autonomously, which is its understanding of liberty. Another is the commitment to solving problems of humanity through rational thinking, based on an assumption that all people have some common needs. In sum, it is committed to improving the human condition and experience, or social change for the good of humanity.

Humanism is actually a non-religious or atheist view of the world. However, there are Christian and other religious believers who ascribe to secular governance and education, as well as the scientific method for problem-solving and discovery in the present material world. Although basic definitions of humanism do not say so, I think that there is room for considering the soul and afterlife, and coinciding religious codes of conduct from modern humanist and liberation theological perspectives. Moreover, I do not see why humanists cannot acknowledge and ponder what may be supernatural, or at least the yet unknown and not understood. I guess I am saying that there can be compatibility between humanists and some sorts of followers of religion, though not fundamentalists.

As well, applications of humanism need not disregard culture and certain positive traditions. Indeed, humanism is devoted to creating knowledge and method, and that amounts to culture. It allows cultural expansion by an approach to education that allows pupils to question and explore, and find their own potential to be community leaders and inventors. In fact, humanist education relies on dialogic interaction and exploration, starting from the viewpoint that all people are with an equal right to give opinions and acquire education and many other opportunities, putting the student at the center being guided by teachers and education materials.

Below I pasted in a definition and explanation by the British Humanist Society (http://humanism.org.uk/).

Throughout recorded history there have been non-religious people who have believed that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. They have trusted to the scientific method, evidence, and reason to discover truths about the universe and have placed human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision making.

Today, people who share these beliefs and values are called humanists and this combination of attitudes is called Humanism. Many millions of people in Britain share this way of living and of looking at the world, but many of them have not heard the word ‘humanist’ and don’t realise that it describes what they believe.

It is one of the main purposes of the British Humanist Association to increase public awareness of what Humanism is, and to let the many millions of non-religious people in this country know that, far from being somehow deficient in their values, they have an outlook on life which is coherent and widely-shared, which has inspired some of the world’s greatest artists, writers, scientists, philosophers and social reformers, and which has a millenia-long tradition in both the western and eastern worlds.

We also hope to give greater confidence to people whose beliefs are humanist by offering resources here and elsewhere that can develop their knowledge of humanist approaches to some of the big ethical, philosophical and existential questions in life.

Defining ‘Humanism’
Roughly speaking, the word humanist has come to mean someone who:
  • trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)
  • makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
  • believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.

However, definitions abound and there are longer and shorter versions. The fullest definition to have a measure of international agreement is contained in the 2002 Amsterdam Declaration of the International humanist and Ethical Union.

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