We all know Humanism as an older term that has been around seemingly forever, but what is it? I asked that same question when I first started looking into this topic. In my research I’ve found a lot of interesting facts, ambivalent answers, and different organizations that strive to bring good to our world. Through it all I’ve found that Humanism is a controversial topic with new ideas popping up everywhere, but here I’ll just try to give you, the interested reader, a quick glimpse into this thing called Humanism.
A brief explanation of Humanism is that it is the study of the classic literature and philosophy that began in 14th century Europe. If you have any background knowledge about the Renaissance it might be helpful, but if not there’s no need to worry. In a nutshell, i learned that early Humanists studied what needed to be known for someone back then to be considered educated and civilized from John McKay’s book A History of Western Society (McKay). Now a day there are many different types of people who refer to themselves as ‘Humanists’, some of which I will talk about here.
On one branch there are Humanists who believe strongly in the teachings of the Bible. Notice now how I said ‘branch’ instead of end, because as you will see later on there is no black and white Humanism, but a rainbow variety with some colors that overlap. This type of Humanism is a more conservative type that believes in strong ties of religion to Humanism. One worldwide respected person who believes in this type of Humanism is the Pope who represents the church. In a recent speech given by the current Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, he emphasizes that people today are too concerned with material possessions and must change their lifestyles to follow the teachings of the Bible more strictly. He also states that the key to change lies within the younger generation and their education, saying that “the promotion of justice and peace requires respect for human dignity and human rights” (KGW.com)
On a different branch, one far away on the opposite side of the tree, there are Humanists that think in a more practical sense. Some of these Humanists associate themselves with a group called the American Humanists Association, or AHA. These pragmatic thinkers believe that Humanists are anyone who works to better human race. Some of these people believe that following the teachings of the Bible too strictly will hold back more creative thinking that they believe helped us evolve. This group, unlike others, has a set, written definition of Humanism they believe in (Lebrun).
This is one of many symbols used by the American Humanist Society (Loua).
Yet another branch on the Humanism tree that is who knows where compared to the other branches is a very science based Humanism. One advocator of this type of Humanism who is a well-known public speaker you may know is Sam Harris. In one of his speeches given in February of 2010 in Long Beach, California he talks about how the scientific method, which helped us make great strides in physical world, can also help us answer moral questions. His view of Humanism and goals of Humanists are constantly changing because he says they must accommodate the constant changing of our world. His view of Humanists is that we all have a duty to humanity to find answers to any and every question posed and record them in the “human library” for future generations to read and learn. Sam Harris’ brief definition of Humanism is to “Find something bigger than yourself, and dedicate your life to it.” While these questions are numerous, Sam Harris believes that humans have the ability to answer every question. While we may only scratch the surface to all the questions, he says the wonderful thing about being human is that we have the ability to try it (Harris). I found his speech to be very deep, opinionated, and interesting and I urge you to hear his whole speech on the Humanist Association of Ottawa’s page along with a speech given by A.C. Grayling on a similar subject here: http://ottawa.humanists.net/lifewithoutgod/humanism.php
Coming back to the original question posted in this blog, ‘What is Humanism’, I can now safely say I have either answered all of your questions or confused you more. If your response was the latter or the two, then let me explain. There is no set definition for Humanism in my book, only a very vivid, common goal to better humanity. Humanists are people who strive for their own individual goals or goals of a group. The key is belief. As long as you believe in what you are doing and have a justified cause, then I’m telling you to go pursue your goals and make a change in the world. Go ahead and call yourself a Humanist if that’s what you want. It may have been called Humanism back then, but make of it what you want today.
Harris, Sam, and A.C. Grayling. “Humanism Explained.” The Humanist Association of
Ottawa. 2002. Web. 09 Feb. 2012. http://ottawa.humanists.net/lifewithoutgod/humanism.php
KGW.com. “Pope Emphasizes Human Dignity Kgw.com Portland.” Kgw.com |
Portland News, Local News, Breaking News, Weather. 16 Dec. 2011. Web. 02
Feb. 2012. http://www.kgw.com/news/world/135722703.html
Lebrun, Harvey. “Humanism With A Capital H.” American Humanist Association.
1994. Web. 02 Feb. 2012. http://www.americanhumanist.org/who_we_are/about_humanism/Humanism_with_a_Capital_H
Loua. “Humanism.” Loua on HubPages. Feb. 2011. Web. 13 Feb. 2012.
McKay, John. A History of Western Society. 9. B. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. 407-