The discussion below is extracted from a full article one can view at the American Humanist Web Site.
The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. –Thomas Paine
The word “humanism” has a number of definitions which can cause confusion; these definitions usually have adjectives preceding the word “Humanism” and describe different Humanistic philosophies which have developed historically.
The most well known of the these “preceding adjectives” include: Literary, Renaissance, Western Cultural, Philosophical, Christian, Modern, Religious and Secular. Secular Humanism is an outgrowth of eighteenth century enlightenment rationalism and nineteenth century free thought. Many secular groups, such as the Council for Secular Humanism and the American Rationalist Federation, and many otherwise unaffiliated academic philosophers and scientists, advocate this philosophy.
OHEA considers itself a Secular Humanist group. One aspect of Secular Humanist tradition is skepticism. Skepticism’s historical exemplar is Socrates. Secular Humanism teaches us that it is immoral to wait for a god to act for us.
It is probably a reasonable estimate that most Secular Humanists are atheists and hence they assume that gods are an irrational human creation. However, most secular humanists are not actively anti-religious but argue for religious tolerance and inclusiveness. We strongly promote the powerful concept of the Separation of Church and State found in the U.S. Constitution.
People will always believe anything they wish about gods and the “afterlife,” but whatever cosmic philosophy a person adopts, Secular Humanists believe that ultimately the responsibility for the kind world in which we live rests with us. Politically, the defiance of both religious and secular authority has led to democracy, human rights and the protection of the environment.
Here is the primary philosophy of Secular Humanism:
- Humanism is one of those philosophies for people who think for themselves. There is no area of thought that a Humanist is afraid to challenge and explore.
- Humanism is a philosophy focused upon human means for comprehending reality. Humanists make no claims to possess or have access to supposed transcendent knowledge — any ultimate pure and perfect knowledge.
- Humanism is a philosophy of reason and science in the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, when it comes to the question of the most valid means for acquiring knowledge of the world, Humanists reject arbitrary faith, authority, revelation, and altered states of consciousness.
- Humanism is a philosophy of imagination. Humanists recognize that intuitive feelings, hunches, speculation, flashes of inspiration, emotion, altered states of consciousness, and even religious experience, while not valid means to acquire knowledge, remain useful sources of ideas that can lead us to new ways of looking at the world. The work of scientists and artists can often be seen to have had these kinds of inspiration. These products of the mind, after they have been assessed rationally for their usefulness, can often be put to work as alternative approaches for solving problems.
- Humanism is a philosophy for the here and now. Humanists regard human values as making sense only in the context of human life rather than in the promise of a supposed life after death.
- Humanism is a philosophy of compassion. Humanist ethics is solely concerned with meeting human needs and answering human problems—for both the individual and society—and devotes no attention to the satisfaction of the desires of supposed theological entities.
- Humanism is a realistic philosophy. Humanists recognize the existence of moral dilemmas and the need for careful consideration of immediate and future consequences in moral decision making.
- Humanism is in tune with the science of today. Humanists therefore recognize that we live in a natural universe of great size and age, that we evolved on this planet over a long period of time, that there is no compelling evidence for a separable “soul,” and that human beings have certain built-in needs that effectively form the basis for any human-oriented value system.
- Humanism is in tune with today’s enlightened social thought. Humanists are committed to civil liberties, human rights, church-state separation, the extension of participatory democracy not only in government but in the workplace and education, an expansion of global consciousness and exchange of products and ideas internationally, and an open-ended approach to solving social problems, an approach that allows for the testing of new alternatives.
- Humanism is in tune with new technological developments. Humanists are willing to take part in emerging scientific and technological discoveries in order to exercise their moral influence on these revolutions as they come about, especially in the interest of protecting the environment.
- Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy for those in love with life. Humanists take responsibility for their own lives and relish the adventure of being part of new discoveries, seeking new knowledge, exploring new options. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest and the freedom of discovery that this entails.
So, with Secular Humanism one finds a worldview that is in tune with modern knowledge; is inspiring, socially conscious and personally meaningful. It is not only the thinking person’s outlook but that of the feeling person as well, for it has inspired the arts as much as it has the sciences; philanthropy as much as critique. And even in critique it is tolerant, defending the rights of all people to choose other ways, to speak and to write freely, to live their lives according to their own lights.
The unexamined life is not worth living, because many unexamined lives together result in an uncritical, unjust, dangerous world.
~ Linda Elder, September, 2007