Humanist

I have been a humanist longer than I have been anything else, philosophy-wise. When I was a Christian, I was drawn to the work of Christian humanists like C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald. I was unable to leave religion until I found a reflection of those core values of mine in secular humanism. The core value of humanism, to me, is simply this: The ultimate good, whatever that may consist of, includes the happiness and fulfillment of all human beings. It is not limited to that, but to construct an ideal “ultimate state of good for the universe” that does not include the happiness and fulfillment of all human beings is nonsensical to me.

So I reject a philosophy which holds that humans are fundamentally unworthy of happiness, freedom, or existence — a philosophy held by “Original Sin” fundamentalists as well as “humans are a blight on the earth” environmentalists. Undoubtedly we have our problems, our often-fatal flaws, but there’s not something about us that makes us less worthy than any other species or entity (plants, animals, gods, demons, aliens, angels, etc.)

Of course there are lots of definitions and ramifications. For example, under the category “happiness and fulfillment” I include not only wellbeing — comfort, security, pleasure — but freedom to grow, to expand our capacities. One of our needs as humans seems to be to become better, stronger, smarter, to be able to do and think things tomorrow that we are not able to do and think today. A comfortable prison is not enough; we need room to grow.

Coming out of that is a principle of absolute intellectual freedom. Any question may be asked, any line of inquiry may be pursued. We must be afraid of understanding too little, never of knowing too much.

Moral freedom is more limited, because our actions have an impact on the lives of others. Questions of what is right and wrong usually involve a careful assessment of an action’s impact, both positive and negative, and the various factors to be taken into account are dizzyingly numerous. But an action which has negligible negative impact, on oneself or others, is always permissible. Nothing is disallowed without an account of who it harms, and how.

I am inclined to believe that humanism is the native value of humanity, at our current stage of development. I think it’s a natural outgrowth of our sense of kin identification. While selfishness is natural to humans, absolute selfishness is actually rather difficult for us (more on that in a moment.) We tend to have a wider circle of being whose wellbeing is also profoundly important to us. Over human history, I imagine this circle has expanded from the immediate family, to the tribe, to the nation, to the entire race. It is still expanding, and I imagine that in the future it will encompass all beings with awareness, and maybe eventually all life. (Things will get fun if and when we encounter other species with our level of consciousness.)

My anti-value, the thing I most abhor philosophically, is the dehumanizing of others. To me this comes from narrowing the circle of tribal identification, saying “these people I care about, those I don’t.” Most militant ideologies have a way of dehumanizing their opponents, demoting them from the circle of “worthwhile, important, people we care about.” It happens in religious and secular movements alike, and it is one of the most evil tendencies I know of.

I am writing all this out because I am trying to place myself in the ideosphere. It is the first and fundamental part of my expression of what I believe, what I value, and what I’d like to do in the world. There will be more.

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3 thoughts on “Humanist

  1. Pingback: Humanist « The Brunettes Blog | HappyTipsDaily

  2. I totally agree with this: “I think it’s a natural outgrowth of our sense of kin identification… We tend to have a wider circle of being whose wellbeing is also profoundly important to us.”

    The thing I question about “humanism” is whether or not it limits that sense of kinship, community, and the goals of wellbeing only to humans? The reason I ask this is because every indigenous society on earth, past and present, believes that humans are part of a wider kinship that includes not only other species, but also natural forces and the land itself (a worldview called animism). This is perfectly described in the Native American phrase “all my relations”, and the penchant of many cultures to give kinship designations to the natural world (grandmother moon, grandfather fire, brother crow, etc.).

    One of the defining features of indigenous cultural beliefs is its lack of anthropocentrism. From everything I’ve read, no indigenous cultures believe that only humans are sentient, that only humans have spirit, or that only the needs and desires of humans are important. It seems like this aspect of anthropocentrism is the defining difference between the perspectives of humanism and animism – but I don’t know if humanism necessarily believes those things.

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    • Great question! I think humanism doesn’t exclude a sense of kinship with other species and natural forces, but it doesn’t include it either. So humanism is potentially anthropocentric, but not necessarily so. I suspect that if our race progresses along its current trajectory, feeling a kin identification for all animals, then for all life, then even perhaps for inanimate objects, will develop.

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