What is Religious Humanism?
“If you think about religion as a set of beliefs about supernatural agents, you are bound to misunderstand it.”
I recently read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, and the above quotation shouted at me because I strongly support the idea of humanism as a religion because it deals with how people treat each other. I searched the internet and found the following article from which I selected some paragraphs.
Humanist Philosophy as a Religious Position
Austin Cline, About.com Guide
Religious humanism shares with other types of humanism the basic principles of an overriding concern with humanity—the needs of human beings, the desires of human beings, and the importance of human experiences. For religious humanists, it is the human and the humane which must be the focus of our ethical attention.
People who have described themselves as religious humanists have existed from the beginning of the modern humanist movement. Of the thirty-four original signers of the first Humanist Manifesto, thirteen were Unitarian ministers, one was a liberal rabbi, and two were Ethical Culture leaders. Indeed, the very creation of the document was initiated by three of the Unitarian ministers. The presence of a religious strain in modern humanism is both undeniable and essential.
The functions of religion often cited by religious humanists include things like fulfilling the social needs of a group of people (such as moral education, shared holiday and commemorative celebrations, and the creation of a community) and satisfying the personal needs of individuals (such as the quest to discover meaning and purpose in life, means for dealing with tragedy and loss, and ideals to sustain us).
For religious humanists, meeting these needs is what religion is all about; when doctrine interferes with meeting those needs, then religion fails. This attitude which places action and results above doctrine and tradition meshes quite well with the more basic humanist principle that salvation and aid can only be sought in other human beings. Whatever our problems might be, we will only find the solution in our own efforts and should not wait for any gods or spirits to come and save us from our mistakes.
Some religious humanists go further than simply arguing that their humanism is religious in nature. According to them, meeting the aforementioned social and personal needs can only occur in the context of religion. The late Paul H. Beattie, one-time president of the Fellowship of Religious Humanists, wrote: “There is no better way to spread a set of ideas about how best to live, or to intensify commitment to such ideas, than by means of religious community.”
Thus, he and those like him have argued that a person has the choice of either not meeting those needs or of being part of a religion. Any means by which a person seeks to fulfill such needs is, by definition, religious in nature.
Humanism Is Alive and Well
Sometimes I find myself wondering if the words humanism or humanist have meaning in the world today. I’m used to seeing self-identification in the larger community as skeptics, or atheists, or freethinkers. But it seems rare to ever hear an identification as a humanist. So it was a happy surprise when I recently became aware of a trend: a trend of people identifying themselves as humanists and advocating a philosophy of humanism as the goal for a more positive, more rewarding life and community.
The specific situation was around a highly emotional and disturbing battle over the definition of, and approaches to solving, sexual harassment in our skeptic communities. (I won’t air my thoughts on that issue in this article though). For those on the side of testifying, explaining, suggesting, revealing problems of sexual harassment in the skeptic community, the returning answer was many, many months of horrific backlash, landfills of angry words, physical and violent threats, and basic cyber terrorism.
During this, a woman from Skepchick.org started a series of interviews with visible male leaders in the community to get their targeted comments on the issue. In these statements, I noticed that “humanism” and “humanist” were proudly called out as a moral base and achievement. I was far on the edge of all of the ugliness, but even the little bit that touched me left me deeply depressed about humanity and being a woman in the skeptic, non-religious community. But the attachment to humanism as part of the rhetoric was an extra sweet find, especially because the values of humanism are deeply personal to me. And alright! Humanism is apparently alive and well. Alive and well among this era’s leaders and thinkers. That’s a wonderful thing.
Reading through the interviews/comments, the end summary seems to be an exact equivalence of humanist/humanism and human being. Which is the whole point. And really, how can we as human beings NOT identify with the goals that put our humanity front and center? So I report to you: humanism is vital and critical. You are in the right place.
A few of the quotes from interviews with Surly Amy (Amy Davis Roth) of Skepchicks:
If you threaten violence against someone you disagree with, then you are not a critical thinker. You are not a skeptic. And you are most certainly not a decent human being. (Phil Plait, astronomer and author)
People who make statements filled with hatred and threatening or calling for acts of violence have no place in the humanist or skeptical movements. I am not sure what it makes these people, but a person can’t make such statements and claim to be a humanist or rationalist. You just can’t. (Barry Karr, the Executive Director of CSI and Skeptical Inquirer Magazine)
This movement (not merely the community of heretics, but the movement) is about lessening the power of religion, superstition, and credulous thinking because we want to live in a world guided by facts, science, and reason, because (and here’s the part I might lose some of you) we want to live in a world that maximizes human happiness, morality, freedom of thought and expression, and equality. Atheism and skepticism for their own sakes are not “causes.” They are not, in and of themselves, worthy of a movement. But we pursue these goals because we know they will bring about a society in which we are more free and equal, and in turn we will be more fulfilled and enriched as a result. (Paul Fidalgo, the Communications Director for the Center For Inquiry)
Your local Skepchick
Humanism and Politics
Slightly updated from an original Utah Humanist piece from 2001
All through the Middle East, where three world religions began, war rages.
It is a seemingly endless battle of ethnic groups, of religions, of nationalities. No matter that the Israelis and Palestinians are cousins; they are also bitter enemies.
The United States should understand this. The Civil War left hundreds of thousands of Americans dead. An escalation of political, economic and cultural conflicts built, over generations, to a crescendo of violence. In recent years, disturbing echoes of that terrible time are sounding again. The polarization between North and South, secular and religious, black and white, rural and urban, is increasing. Why is this happening? What can we do about it?
Humanism and politics are rarely mentioned together. I think that is a mistake. We have a very great interest in the governments of our country, because we highly value human rights. We aspire to be the most humane of the “isms” but we often distrust parties and movements.
And with good reason. Many of us are refugees from religions and cultures that were all too happy to exercise social and psychological control. We are often painfully aware of the real histories of the icons and the saviors and the heroes. We habitually question authority. We reject voter guides.
This does not mean we should only be spectators. We have a voice and we must speak. We need to be heard. And we will be.
What I must remind myself, as talk of culture war increases, as partisan rhetoric builds, is that we are individuals first. When I recall the many people who have been good to me, I recognize that they were all colors and creeds and genders. What united them was their desire to make someone else’s life better. That is the common ground we can all share. That could be a beginning.
Message to the Middle East, and to Anywhere, USA: Let the killing and the hate stop. Life is too short, and the world too small, for such nonsense.
I wish the spring and fall seasons weren’t so transitory. They are the times of the year I enjoy the most, mainly because the temperatures are mild and pleasant. Plus at this time of the year I am about ready to murder my first Hubbard squash. Exciting, don’t you think! Well, maybe not exciting, but definitely tasty.
While these dry mild days are enjoyable, what we really need is a lot of moisture for the next several months. The drought we’re going through is pretty severe and will get even worse if it isn’t a good water year coming up.
For the last few months I have been writing about our chapter’s make over and I need to continue in this message. I’m excited by the prospect that the changes will give our chapter a needed boost. But that excitement is tempered by the realization that these changes represent an increase in work hours to get everything done.
As we are moving ahead with our plan, reality tells us that we are going to need help form you, the membership, to volunteer some time to help with various events and projects. We need a few people to be board members, as we have lost a few in recent years and not all have been replaced. But I don’t want to scare you away with talk of board membership; even a few hours here and there can be enormously helpful. We hope to have some new committees going soon, so think about being on one or even just working for one. The three main committees will probably be, Advocacy, Special Events and a lecture series.
Working for our Advocacy Committee might include our project with The Homeless Youth Resource Center, or with our newest project to have a showing at next year’s Pride Festival. Our Special Events Committee will plan for Darwin Day, the Fall BBQ, and our December dinner social. And of course, the Lecture Series Committee will deal with speakers and perhaps a discussion group.
But like I mentioned above, we need help. Sadly, if we don’t, much of what is planned will have to be scaled back. Please contact any board member or call me (801-486-4209) if you can help.
I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend the October general meeting. My youngest Niece is getting married that day and family comes first.
Hope to see you soon.