Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What is Humanism?

When it comes to concisely capturing the essence of Humanist thought, I find it hard to surpass the slogan of the British Humanist Association. It simply reads: For the one life we have.

It neatly captures the spirit of this worldview: We Humanists believe that our only life is this life, our only world is this world, our only hope is each other, and that is more than enough to lead a happy and fulfilled life. We strife to make this world a better place using the power of reason, lead by compassion. We understand that we humans only have one life, and we seek to make the most of it for each and every one of us.
For those of you who find this too lyrical a definition, I direct you to the "Minimum Statement on Humanism" by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), which is a tad more arid in tone and a bit more factual in phrasing:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
Well, this is essentially it. It is a simple idea, and it may not seem like much at first glance, but over the years I've come to view this little gem of wisdom as one of the best things 
that humanity ever came up with (Apart from the scientific method and chocolate perhaps). Despite the simplicity of the basic idea, the implications of this worldview are extensive. The idea that the Human Standard is the only standard there is, and that we get to define it ourselves, is really quite powerful. The realization that Humans are in charge can also be frightening - that implies a lot of responsibility.

But once one comes to terms with this, it is also liberating. Many a religious person has assured me that my life must surely be bleak without the glory of god; I hold that it is only once we acknowledge our tiny roll in the grand scheme of things and start making the most of it in accordance with our personal preferences, that true freedom and fulfillment be found.
Finally, I'd like to leave you with two of my favourite quotes to ponder. Enjoy!
Treat your life as a book, filled with chapters, some dark, some bright, and continue writing each page with broad strokes of honesty working your way towards a beautiful and happy ending. Many characters will remain in those dark chapters forever and a few key players will never leave your side. It’s your life, you get to write it.
- Hemley Gonzalez, CEO of Responsible Charity 
When I got untethered from the comfort of religion, it wasn't a loss of faith for me, it was a discovery of self. I had faith that I'm capable enough to handle any situation. There's peace in understanding that I have only one life, here and now, and that I'm responsible.
- Brad Pitt, Actor