What is Humanism?

Published / (found) on Johnson Consulting Network JCN, by Frederick Edwords, not dated but copyright 1989.

The sort of answer you will get to that question depends on what sort of humanist you ask!

The word “humanism” has a number of meanings, and because authors and speakers often don’t clarify which meaning they intend, those trying to explain humanism can easily become a source of confusion. Fortunately, each meaning of the word constitutes a different type of humanism — the different types being easily separated and defined by the use of appropriate adjectives. So, let me summarize the different varieties of humanism in this way …  

… Meanwhile, Humanists, like 1980 Humanist of the Year Andrei Sakharov, have stood up for human rights wherever such rights are suppressed. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem fight for women’s rights, Mathilde Krim battles the AIDS epidemic, and Margaret Atwood is one of the world’s most outspoken advocates of literary freedom – Humanists all.

The list of scientists is legion: Stephen Jay Gould, Donald Johanson, Richard Leakey, E.O. Wilson, Francis Crick, Jonas Salk, and many others – all members of the American Humanist Association, whose president in the 1980s was the late scientist and author Isaac Asimov.

The membership lists of Humanist organizations, both religious and secular, read like Who’s Who. Through these people, and many more of less reknown, the Humanist philosophy has an impact on our world far out of proportion to the number of its adherents. That, I think, tells us something about the power of ideas that work.

This may have been what led George Santayana to declare Humanism to be “an accomplishment, not a doctrine.”

So, with modern Humanism one finds a philosophy or religion 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.

So, the choice is yours. Are you a Humanist?

You needn’t answer “yes” or “no.” For it’s not an either-or proposition. Humanism is yours–to adopt or simply to draw from. You may take a little or a lot, sip from the cup or drink it to the dregs.

It’s up to you. (full long text).

(This is the text of a talk that has been presented to various audiences over the years).

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