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On a broad scale the term humanism refers to the basic idea that as creatures who co-exist and share resources on this (or any) planet, it's a good idea to show respect for one another.
Beyond this basic tenet which is not uncoincidentally similar to the Golden rule, there are more specific ideas and types of humanism and humanistic behavior.
A formal definition of humanism looks like this:
Humanism is a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appeal to universal human qualities—particularly rationality. It is a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems, and is incorporated into several religious schools of thought. Humanism entails a commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of human interests. In focusing on the capacity for self-determination, Humanism rejects the validity of transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on faith, the supernatural, or allegedly divinely revealed texts. Humanists endorse universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition, suggesting that solutions to human social and cultural problems cannot be parochial.
How can humanism both accept and reject "religious schools of thought?" Because the reality is, any philosophy that expects to propagate itself throughout time has to adhere to many of the basic principals of humanism, or else it is self-defeating.
For example, a religion which requires its followers to sacrifice themselves at a rate higher than their population growth is a world view that won't be around for very long. It's a humanistic idea to examine the rationality of such a belief, and determine if such an action is in the best interests of people and their ability prosper and be comfortable. If not, then it's not likely a humanist construct.
Therefore it's logical for virtually all religious philosophies to embrace basic humanistic concepts.
Ironically, many theists think it's the other way around. That religion is the force responsible for educating mankind on the best way to behave so as to prosper. This is an ignorant, ridiculous assumption when you consider that mankind has prospered for thousands of years with and without religion, and with a wide variety of religious belief systems. And whenever there was conflict and suffering throughout history, a pattern of abandonment of humanistic ideals is always present, but not always an abandonment of religious ideals.
Amsterdam Humanism Declaration
In 1952, at the first World Humanist Congress, the founding fathers of IHEU agreed a statement of the fundamental principles of modern Humanism. They called it "The Amsterdam Declaration". That declaration was a child of its time: set in the world of great power politics and the Cold War.
The 50th anniversary World Humanist Congress in 2002, again meeting in the Netherlands, unanimously passed a resolution updating that declaration: "The Amsterdam Declaration 2002". Following the Congress, this updated declaration was adopted unanimously by the IHEU General Assembly, and thus became the official defining statement of World Humanism.
Amsterdam Declaration 2002
Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world's great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself.
The fundamentals of modern Humanism are as follows:
- 1. Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.
- 2. Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world's problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.
- 3. Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.
- 4. Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.
- 5. Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world's major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process. of observation, evaluation and revision.
- 6. Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.
- 7. Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
Our primary task is to make human beings aware in the simplest terms of what Humanism can mean to them and what it commits them to. By utilising free inquiry, the power of science and creative imagination for the furtherance of peace and in the service of compassion, we have confidence that we have the means to solve the problems that confront us all. We call upon all who share this conviction to associate themselves with us in this endeavour.
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