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Introduction to Humanism:

Types of Humanism; beliefs and
practices; Humanist manifestos

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Humanism in a nutshell:

From an review of the book: "Humanism, What's That?: A Book for Curious Kids:"

"Humanists look at life as a natural process, so they don’t believe in the supernatural. They rely on science to explain the meaning of life, not on religion, though they support each person’s freedom to choose to believe or not to believe. Rather than speculating about what comes after death, humanists prefer to focus on life on earth. Humanists generally espouse the values of universal education, freedom of thought and free expression, open-minded pursuit of the truth, tolerance of others’ differences, mutual respect, and preservation of the environment."

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Types of Humanism:

In the religious arena, many words have a number of different meanings. Some examples are: Christian, cults, Humanist, pagan, Satanist, Witch and Witchcraft. The terms Humanism and Humanist are essentially meaningless when used by themselves; their meaning only becomes clear when preceded by an adjective, as in:


Christian Humanism: a philosophy based on Christian beliefs about the nature of God, and which advocate people's fulfillment by personal effort. Wikipedia defines it as:

"... the position that universal human dignity and individual freedom are essential and principal components of, or are at least compatible with, Christian doctrine and practice. It is a philosophical union of Christian and humanist principles."

bulletCultural Humanism: A concept that knowledge can be obtained through rational thought and experimentation. It has its roots in ancient Greece and Rome. It developed into the scientific method and is the major underpinning of all sciences today.

bulletLiterary Humanism: pursuit of the humanities (languages, literature, philosophy, history, etc.)

bulletModern Humanism: a generic term encompassing both Religious and Secular Humanism.

bulletPhilosophical Humanism is a philosophy centered upon the needs and interests of people.

bulletRenaissance Humanism: A movement starting at the end of the Middle Ages which renewed an interest in classical studies and promoted the concept that truth could be discovered by human effort.

bullet Religious Humanism is similar to secular humanism, except that it is practiced in a religious setting with fellowship and rituals, as in Ethical Culture Societies, congregations associated with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and some groups affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association.

bulletSecular Humanism a non-religiously based philosophy promoting humanity as the measure of all things. It had its roots in the rationalism of the 18th Century and the free thought movement of the 19th Century.

This essay will deal primarily with Secular Humanism. 

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Humanist beliefs and practices:

A Humanist Manifesto was prepared in 1933, endorsed by 34 leading Humanists, and published in the 1933-MAY/JUN issue of The New Humanist (VI:3:1-5). 1

It was updated as the Humanist Manifesto II in 1973. 2 Some of the themes of the latter document are:

bulletThey trace their roots to the rational philosophy first created in the West in ancient Greece. Many regard Socrates as the first and greatest of the Humanists.

bullet They value knowledge based on reason and hard evidence rather than on faith or revelation.

bullet Being secular Humanists, their belief system does not include the concept of a personal deity or deities. They regard humans as having greater ability than any other known species of intelligent life in the areas of conscious thought and awareness of the universe. From this belief naturally follows:

bullet"the preciousness and dignity of the individual person is a central humanist value."

bullet a rejection of a created universe in favor of the theory of evolution and an uncreated universe without a designer and which obeys natural laws.

bulleta rejection of divinely inspired ethical and moral codes in favor of codes derived by reason from the human condition.

bullet the belief that full responsibility for the future of the world, its political systems, its ecology, etc. rests with humans. There is no God in Heaven to intervene and save us from a disaster.

bulletMany Humanists believe that much historical progress has arisen from the conflict between organized religion and secular society in which the former beliefs and practices have been gradually replaced with secular beliefs.

bullet They feel that religious groups' "promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful" to individuals

bulletThey accept democracy and reject both theocracy and secular dictatorships as political systems that are dangerous to individual freedoms.

bulletThey value freedom of inquiry, expression and action. They have a history of combating bigotry, hatred, discrimination, intolerance and censorship.

bulletThey are energetic supporters of the principle of separation of church and state.

bullet They tend to have very liberal beliefs about controversial ethical topics, like abortion access, corporal punishment of children, death penalty, enforced prayer in schools, homosexuality, transgender individuals and transsexuals, same-sex marriage, physician assisted suicide, etc.

bulletThey believe that "moral values derive their source from human experience." Since most believe that an afterlife is non-existent, they regard life here on earth to be particularly precious. They are highly motivated to alleviating pain and misery around the world. Many are active in refugee, human rights, anti-death penalty, environmental groups, etc.

bulletGenerally speaking, they do not believe in

bulleta personal God, a Goddess or a combination of Goddesses and Gods.

bulletsupernatural beings such as angels, demons, Satan, Holy Spirit, etc.

bulletheaven or hell or life after death.

bullet the division of a person into body, soul, and spirit.

bullet survival of an individual's consciousness in any form after death.

Humanist Manifesto III, titled "Humanism and its aspirations" was written in 2003. It is not published as dogma that Humanists must believe; rather it represents a consensus of what all or almost all Humanists believe. Its basic points include:

bulletKnowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.

bulletHumans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.

bulletEthical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.

bulletLife’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.

bulletHumans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.

bulletWorking to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. 3

The American Humanist Association encourages people who agree with the Humanist Manifesto III to become a signer. 5

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Famous Humanists

This is a short list taken from the text of a talk 5 by Frederick Edwords, (Copyright © 1989 by Frederick Edwords) the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. It includes both religious and secular Humanists:

bulletIsaac Asimov, scientist and author

bulletMargaret Atwood, author and literary freedom activist

bulletBrock Chisholm, physician and first Director-General of the WHO (World Health Organization)

bulletAlbert Einstein, physicist and conceiver of the Theory of Relativity

bulletBetty Friedan, feminist activist

bulletR. Buckminster Fuller, futurist and inventor

bulletJulian Huxley, philosopher and first Director-General of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization)

bulletRichard Leakey, anthropologist

bulletAbraham Maslow, psychologist and creator of Third Force Psychology

bulletJohn Boyd Orr, the first Director-General of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)

bulletA. Philip Randolf, human rights activist

bullet Eugen Wesley (Gene) Roddenberry, television screenwriter and producer.

bulletCarl Rogers, psychologist and creator of Client Centered Therapy

bulletBertrand Russell, mathematician and philosopher

bulletJonas Salk, physician and developer of the polio vaccine

bullet Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood

bulletAndrei Sakharov, physicist and human rights activist

bulletGloria Steinem, feminist activist, and founder of Ms. Magazine

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References used:

  1. A copy of the 1933 "A Humanist Manifesto" can be seen at:
  2. The Humanist Manifesto II, The Humanist, 1973-SEP/OCT issue, American Humanist Association. Available at:
  3. "Humanism and its aspirations," American Humanist Association, 2003, at:
  4. David Hudson, "Federal appeals panel: Prison officials not liable for rejecting Humanism group," at:
  5. "Sign 'Humanism and Its Aspirations: Humanist Manifesto III'," American Humanist Association, at:

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Copyright © 1996 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1996-SEP-2
Latest update: 2014-DEC-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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