The Main Ideas and Values of Humanism

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Humanism is defined as the rejection of religion in favor of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts. Key humanist beliefs are:

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  • They trust the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is, therefore, an atheist or agnostic)
  • Makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
  • They believe that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.

History of Humanism

Humanism has its origins in some of the oldest documented philosophies of – the Vedic period of India and classical ancient Greece - but it did not emerge systematic belief system until late in the European Enlightenment. Western atheism can be traced back to pre-Socratic Greek philosophy. The 5th Century BC Greek philosopher Diagoras of Melos is sometimes referred to as the “first atheist” and he strongly criticized religion and mysticism. In the seventeenth century, the Renaissance was an important period of intellectual and artistic development, when thinkers began to turn to the Ancients for ideas and also to look to the East – it was an era of exploration and discovery. In the nineteenth century, with the industrial revolution, upon learning how life on earth evolved and realizing that there was no need for a creator, many people became agnostics. Approach to life and death in Humanism For many humanists, modern science and medicine have given us a better understanding of the human body and mind that leaves no room or need for a soul. They believe that we must find and create our own meaning and purpose in this life. They also argue that the finite nature of life is exactly what gives it its structure, purpose, and value. For humanists, the absence of an afterlife makes this life more important and meaningful than it would be if we had another life to live after it. Sadness is often unavoidable, but it is also very important to celebrate the life of someone you have loved.

The focus for many humanists should be on the person and the life that was lived, not on what holy books or religious authorities say will happen to them next. A humanist celebrant may conduct the ceremony and there will often be music and readings by friends and family. They do not believe any of the claims of ‘evidence’ for an afterlife are strong enough to take seriously and that science and skeptical investigation have explained away many of such claims. Most humanists see no reason to believe in anything unless there is good evidence for it. The only ‘afterlife’ they believe is as follows. Humanist Marriage Humanists believe that both men and women should make their own choice about whom they are going to marry and be happy with that choice. They also believe that both parties should enjoy equal status in a marriage: it must be a cooperative venture. These humanists, therefore, approve of cohabitation whereas, in Christianity, marriage is a sacred sacrament.

Humanists believe that couples should think carefully before making the decision to get married yet they recognize that some relationships fail. Most humanists would like to see married couples try to resolve any problems. However, because humanists aim to minimize suffering, they see divorce as acceptable if it reduces overall unhappiness, not as a last resort like in Christianity. They accept that people can make mistakes or that circumstances can change. For humanists, the love, commitment, and support of our family and friends are fundamental. The decision of a couple to agree to love and support each other is, therefore, something humanists celebrate. They also recognize the role of friends and family in marriage. A humanist wedding ceremony is a rite of passage that marks the transition from one stage of life to another. A humanist wedding can be held wherever the couple likes and they are encouraged to write their own promises to each other. There are no special rules or traditions, nor any set pattern or script, making each ceremony unique. Famous Humanists James Randi, Noam Chomsky, John Dewey, Mark Twain, Issac Asimov etc. are some of the famous humanists.

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