Here is an explanation I wrote for my other site at Think Humanism.

The word ‘Humanism’ has a relatively short history although the ideas it covers have a much longer one and there is a wealth of information about these ideas on the web. This page gives an outline of what many humanists of the 21st century believe. It is intended as no more than a brief introduction.

What is humanism?

Humanism today can be described as a philosophy, a world view or life stance that focuses on the natural and human and rejects the supernatural. Humanism is positive, ethical and democratic. It is underpinned by a commitment to rational enquiry and the scientific method.

What humanists believe

Humanists accept that this is the only life we can know we have and that it is up to us to try to live it to the full. It is the responsibility of all of us to co-operate in trying to find solutions to the world’s problems and to preserve the planet for the future of humankind.

Humanists agree that human nature and experience are the only sources of morality. When we make decisions and judgements about others, we try to use reason and humanity and to judge each situation on its merits. This means keeping an open mind and examining all the available evidence.

Humanists embrace the moral principle known as the Golden Rule. This means we believe that people should aim to treat each other as they would like to be treated themselves – with tolerance, consideration and compassion.

Being a humanist does not mean agreeing with other humanists about everything. Humanists can hold conflicting views about various ethical issues and political questions. On topics as varied as euthanasia and vegetarianism, the death penalty and drug decriminalisation, global warming and prostitution, humanists can be found arguing from different perspectives. The main point is that humanists engage in discussion in a spirit of free inquiry and try to use reason and evidence in support of their arguments. We are committed to dialogue and debate in trying to achieve consensus and compromise. We learn from each other and from many different thinkers, both historical and contemporary.

What humanism is not

Humanism is not a godless religion, according to the commonly understood definition of the word ‘religion’. Although it has certain principles, it has no laws, no scriptures, no dogma, no rituals, no gurus, no churches or temples.

Humanism is not a faith position, although it is sometimes described as such by religious believers. Faith implies a belief without testable evidence. An absence of belief in gods or the supernatural is not a faith. It is sometimes argued that believing in the capacity of human beings to behave morally and solve more problems than we cause is a faith, but this ‘faith’ is based on our knowledge of what humankind has already achieved.

Humanism is not just atheism and should not be defined narrowly in opposition to religion but as a positive alternative to it. Most humanists are atheists or agnostics (though many atheists and agnostics would not define themselves as humanists) but humanism is a more expansive worldview that is concerned about the well being of humankind, believes positively in human potential and celebrates human creativity and achievement. Some theists who don’t blindly follow all the teachings of a religion and who use science and reason — rather than mythology and appeals to the supernatural — to understand the world, might also choose to define themselves as humanists.

Humanism is not scientism. Humanists value science as a means of developing knowledge but few humanists would argue that science holds the answer to everything.

Humanism is not just secularism. Humanists are secularists, which means we believe that Church and State should be separate but secularism has nothing to say about many other things that are important to humanists.

Humanism is not individualism. Humanists believe that individual freedom is important but we believe also that considering the feelings of others and social co-operation are equally important.

The future of humanism

The future of humanism is in our hands. To develop humanism as a philosophy for the future, it is necessary to talk and debate, to engage with each other’s ideas and opinions. That is what Think Humanism is all about.

Maria MacLachlan
October 2007