What exactly is Humanism?

An Introduction to Humanism on DVD by Jennifer HancockWhat is Humanism?

The question of exactly what Humanism, for some reason, is very contentious. Some think that Humanism is a non-theistic religion, like the American Ethical Union.  The American Humanist Association and the Council for Secular Humanism think that Humanism is a philosophy. To the Unitarian Universalists Humanism is simply one of the traditions they draw on for wisdom. Internationally and at the United Nations Humanism is considered to be an ethical life stance, meaning that it is the functional equivalent of a religion without being a religion. Confused yet? You’re not alone.

Don’t let your confusion over this bother you.  Ultimately how Humanism is classified isn’t all that important unless, of course, you are a person with an agenda that depends entirely on whether Humanism is a religion or not. And if this describes you, you need to get a life.

For the rest of us whether Humanism is a nonreligious religion, a philosophy or an ethical life stance is irrelevant. My personal perspective as a lifelong Humanist is that Humanism is a philosophy. I think the only reason this even comes up as a point of debate is because Humanism is simultaneously a moral value system, an approach to problem solving and a really powerful way of viewing your place in the universe. In other words Humanism is so much more then just your average run of the mill philosophy

The reason I think Humanism is a philosophy is because of the wide range of ways people practice Humanism. We have no dogma to follow and there is no one right way to be a Humanist. Everyone in the world is free to adopt some or all of the philosophy as it suits them. You may integrate Humanism into your religious practice if you like and many do. You can consider Humanism to be a secular alternative to religion if you like.  That is fine too.  You can congregate with other Humanists in a Humanist church or in a book club.  It’s all good.  The fact that there are Secular Humanists, Jewish Humanists, Buddhist Humanists, Ethical Humanists, HUUmanists (Humanists within the Unitarian Universalist framework), African American Humanists, Christian Humanists, and just plain old Humanists speaks volumes. People are adopting Humanism and integrating it into their primary identities in whatever way works best for them.

In additional to all these “organized” groups of Humanists, you also have millions of Americans who are Humanists and don’t even know it. The problem is that no one has told them yet that their personal philosophy of life has a name and is shared by their fellow humans all over the planet. The reality is that Humanism, as a philosophy, has arisen in every culture and in every time, even if it was called a different name or was considered a religion. My Humanist perspective is that it doesn’t matter what we call it. What matters is that we are all striving to be ethical, compassionate responsible people.

But seriously, it’s a philosophy.