Monkismo (satyrich) wrote in humanism,

Here's an article I wrote for my Freethinker Meetup. I'm working on a follow-up, and will post it here when it's finished.

I've had an old paperback called The Humanist Alternative on my bookshelf for a long time. It's only 186 pages, and I hope one day to finish it. I have read a lot of it though, and I found some good quotes that I thought I'd pass along. I could call it "food for freethought," but nobody likes puns. It's edited by Paul Kurtz, who in 1973 was apparently a Professor of Philosophy at SUNY, Editor of The Realist magazine, and a board member of the American Humanist Association. Kurtz contributes the preface and a chapter to the book, but a couple of dozen other people also wrote chapters, each on a particular aspect or flavor of humanism.

In spite of being somewhat less than ignorant about humanism now, I still don't understand why "humanist" can have such negative connotations in this culture. Maybe what religious conservatives hate about humanism so much is that it describes a worldview that is simply more moral than the vague and conflicting moral lessons of the Bible or Koran. It really does demonstrate compassion for the suffering of others, a humanitarianism that isn't motivated by fear or evangelism. It doesn't preach compassion on Sunday and puritanism on Wednesday night. Its morality isn't constrained by nationalism, race or ideology. That must really drive some believers crazy. Humanists, after all, are just giving it away!

Equally annoying from a devout point of view, humanism explains how an agnostic or atheist could care about other people, nonhuman animals, even "nature" without being threatened with eternal damnation, and does it well. Go figure.

Anyway, here are a few selections from the book. They're longer than your typical quote, so you might not be any more successful in finishing this post than I've been in finishing Kurtz's book. I hope you still find them of some use or interest.

From the Preface by Paul Kurtz:

The term Humanism has been used in many senses. There are scientific, religious, atheistic and ethical Humanists. ...All loudly declare that they are for man, that they wish to actualize human potentialities, enhance human experience and contribute to happiness, social justice, democracy and a peaceful world. All say that they are opposed to authoritarian or totalitarian forces that dehumanize man. All profess compassion for human suffering and commitment to the unity of mankind.

Humanism thus provides a critique of alienating and depersonalizing tendencies, whether the source is religion, ideology, bureaucracy or technology.

From "Our Freethought Heritage" by David Tribe:

The influence of freethinkers is not to be seen in the numbers that have joined their organizations or stood up on the fringe to be counted or in the popularity that atheism ejoys in the world at large. is seen in the [people's] social attitudes and in their view of man as having a self-made destiny and one world to achieve it in. This concept alters our whole approach to society. Present injustices cannot be related to a divine plan, or future hopes related to a heavenly consummation. It is a mistake to say that Humanists are obsessed with the negative task of demolishing religion or with rarefied intellectual problems of interest to no one but themselves. It is here and now that wrongs must be righted.

...Freedom is concerned with areas other than permissiveness in sexual and family legislation and the basic provisions of political democracy. It is concerned with the implementation of a secular or open society, where individuals are free to express their views with minimal hindrance.... No privileges based on politics or religion, no religious tests in the professional or civic lives of citizens, no established Churches, no universal keeping of holy days, no violent conflict on the basis of birth or credal differences. These are aspirations of freethinkers throughout the world. Labels within the movement vary in place and time, but the torch that has been handed down from generation to generation, from country to country, shines the same bright rays in the same dark corners.

From "Humanism and the Moral Revolution" by Paul Kurtz:

There have been many kinds of revolution in human history: political, economic, social, scientific. The revolution that we are experiencing today is a moral revolution. Although it has many dimensions, at its roots the revolution is humanistic. It involves a critique of religious, ideological and moralistic philosophies that tend to deny or denigrate the most genuine qualities of human existence. And it is an attempt to recover those human aspects of life that have been lost in post-industrial society.

...The moral revolution rejects those impersonal bureaucratic organizations that smother individuality and restrict human autonomy. The new morality is appreciative of the fact that modern technology has provided great benefits for the good life--that it has helped to eliminate the scourges of disease, hunger, drudgery and misery. But the new morality is especially critical of the dehumanizing and depersonalizing aspects of technology. It attacks the fact that man increasingly tends to lose his sense of responsibility and his appetite for creativity in the highly complex society in which we now live. Human alienation is accentuated by the banality of a consumer-oriented, manipulative economic system that conditions fals desires and needs.

Thus the humanistic revolution seeks to rescue the positive qualities of life experience; it seeks to rediscover joy and love, creativity and growth, shared experiences and fraternity, uniqueness and diversity, achievement and excellence. These are human goods that must be cultivated anew if we are to overcome the blind forces that threaten the quality of life.

...Compassionate feeling is an essential human good that has a rightful place in human affairs. But it should not be in opposition to reason, rather in unity and harmony with it. A critical morality is one that questions basic assumptions, yet is committed to the use of critical intelligence. Accordingly, moral principles should be treated as hypotheses, tested by how they work out in practice and judged by their actual consequences. They need to be hammered out on the anvil of reason, not fed by the fires of neoprimitive passion. If so approached, the moral revolution can truly help to create a better life for all men.

(I just realized that I'm up against the size limit for posts, so I'll cut here and do another post later with bits from the rest of the book.)

I might be skeptical about some things in these quotes myself, but I find more to agree with than to disagree with, which is still more than I can say about pretty much any religion. And I think Kurtz's social analysis is both accurate and prescient. If anything, society is more insular and alienated today, in spite of and because of the IT revolution. It's impressive and maybe even inspirational to realize how important secularists and humanists have been in achieving most of the social progress of the past few decades, too. I think we're in good company..

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