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Humanism Manifesto & Philosophy. Humanism.

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Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as part of nature and holds that values – be they religious, ethical, social, or political – have their source in human nature, experience, and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.

Definition from The Humanist, a publication of the American Humanist Association

  • In 1928 the Humanist Fellowship was organized.
  • It was made up mostly of students at the University of Chicago.
  • In April 1928 the fellowship began publication of a journal entitled the New Humanist.
  • A few years later, in 1933, some members of the fellowship suggested that Roy Wood Sellers (a philosophy professor at the University of Michigan) draft “A Humanist Manifesto.” He did so, and passed the draft to Curtis W. Reese, Raymond Bragg, Edwin H. Wilson, and others, who revised and edited it for publication in the journal.
  • The opening statements of the Manifesto made clear that the time was past for revision of traditional religious beliefs.
  • The humanists offered their Manifesto so “that religious humanism may be better understood.”
  • The Manifesto contained fifteen short theses.
  • Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

Of course, this is an attack on traditional theism: if the universe is eternal, there is no need for a Creator or a First Cause; there is no empirical evidence for a Necessary Being, nor does the universe reveal any teleological plan.

  • Humanism believes that man is part of nature and that he has emerged as the result of a continuous process.

This repudiation of any doctrine of the “special creation of humans” affirms belief in the theory of evolution, in which humanists considered “a well-established theory” although they admitted some of the details needed to be worked out.

  • Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.

The intent is to deny any belief in personal immortality. Humanists held to the belief that consciousness is a function of the brain; when the brain is destroyed, consciousness is also, so it is impossible for consciousness to continue beyond the death of the organism.

  • 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 the interaction with his natural environment and with his social heritage. The individual born into a particular culture is largely molded by that culture.

When social situations change, religion evolves accordingly.

  • 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 possibilities of realities as yet undiscovered, but it does insist that the way to determine the existence and value of any 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 light of the scientific spirit and method.

This thesis denies the doctrine that God has revealed his will to humans and that good is what God commands and evil is disobedience to his will. On the contrary, humans create values and they must create a world in which people live by values. If good predominates in the world, it is because people have created good, and if evil predominates, people have also created it. Virtue is its own reward, for we are not good to please God or to gain heaven.

  • We are convinced that the time has passed for the theism, deism, modernism and the several varieties of “new thought.”

The humanists believed that new interpretations of Christianity had moved so far away from the original faith, in order to save it, that misunderstanding and deception had crept in. To avoid this problem, they advocated discarding the old faith entirely and developing a new one based on a naturalistic understanding of the universe and the place of humans within it.

  • 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.

This statement simply denies a dichotomy between the secular and the religious.

  • Religious Humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life and seeks its development and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now. This is the explanation of the humanist’s social passion.

In contrast to the Christian churches, which often interpret their missions as saving people for a future life in heaven, humanists sought to create a world in which all individuals could develop and live the best lives they are capable of living.

  • In 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.
  • It follows that there will be no uniquely religious emotions and attitudes of the kind hitherto associated with belief in the Supernatural.

Theses nine and ten were taken together and said their importance lies in altering the framework and outward character of religion. They propose a shift from supernaturalism to naturalism, from heaven to earth.


The remaining theses state social concerns

  • Man will learn to face the crises of life in terms of his knowledge of their naturalness and probability.
  • 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.
  • Religious humanism maintains that all association and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life.
  • The humanists are firmly convinced that existing acquisitive and profit-motivated society has shown itself to be inadequate and that radical change in methods, controls, and motives must be instituted.
  • We assert that humanism will:
  • Affirm life rather than deny it;
  • Seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from it;
  • Endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not just a 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.

Those who signed the Manifesto (total of 34 signers):

  • Mostly professors, writers, and ministers
  • The most renowned signer was John Dewey, philosophy professor at Columbia University.
  • Other important professors were J. A. C. Fagginger Auer of the Harvard Divinity School; Eustace Haydon, comparative religions professor at the University of Chicago; Edwin Burtt, philosophy professor at Cornell; John Randall, philosophy professor at Columbia.
  • One Reformed Jewish Rabbi, Jacob Weinstein signed
  • Most of the ministers (15 UU ministers) who signed had a Unitarian affiliation; among them were John Dietrich, Curtis Reese and Charles Potter

To the humanists, the Jewish-Christian past was evidence of the evolutionary character of religion; it was not a norm for guiding the present, which should be guided by contemporary norms.


Humanist Manifesto III

  • Quotes from UU World concerning Humanist Manifesto III

“Even UUs who identify with Christianity or Buddhism essentially endorse much or all of the humanist position …”

“That’s why it’s important to have a statement like this, so people can see how the statement is foundational for a lot of liberal religion.”

  • Quote from The Humanist magazine

“We hope Humanism and its Aspirations will be a tool to aid Humanists who to convey Humanism’s positive message and counter prevailing misunderstandings.”