Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On Humanism

Obsessive Law Student has a post about her religious and personal beliefs and how they reflect (or, more accurately, do not reflect) mainstream ( i.e. widespread) views of her religion (Tempting Faith and the Liberal Disdain for Evangelicals). It's rather hard to describe so you'll forgive me if I instead suggest you skim her post.

I began by wondering if, since her beliefs may not reflect widespread views of her religious categorization, she instead belonged to a different categorization. Then memory *pinged* with the recollection of Humanism and I wondered what exactly it was and whether it tied into this internal conversation. After a little exploration, I found this statement of some core beliefs (from a talk):
1. Humanism is one of those philosophies for people who think for themselves. There is no area of thought that a Humanist is afraid to challenge and explore.

2. Humanism is a philosophy focused upon human means for comprehending reality. Humanists make no claims to possess or have access to supposed transcendent knowledge.

3. Humanism is a philosophy of reason and science in the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, when it comes to the question of the most valid means for acquiring knowledge of the world, Humanists reject arbitrary faith, authority, revelation, and altered states of consciousness.

4. Humanism is a philosophy of imagination. Humanists recognize that intuitive feelings, hunches, speculation, flashes of inspiration, emotion, altered states of consciousness, and even religious experience, while not valid means to acquire knowledge, remain useful sources of ideas that can lead us to new ways of looking at the world. These ideas, after they have been assessed rationally for their usefulness, can then be put to work, often as alternate approaches for solving problems.

5. Humanism is a philosophy for the here and now. Humanists regard human values as making sense only in the context of human life rather than in the promise of a supposed life after death.

6. Humanism is a philosophy of compassion. Humanist ethics is solely concerned with meeting human needs and answering human problems--for both the individual and society--and devotes no attention to the satisfaction of the desires of supposed theological entities.

7. Humanism is a realistic philosophy. Humanists recognize the existence of moral dilemmas and the need for careful consideration of immediate and future consequences in moral decision making.

8. Humanism is in tune with the science of today. Humanists therefore recognize that we live in a natural universe of great size and age, that we evolved on this planet over a long period of time, that there is no compelling evidence for a separable "soul," and that human beings have certain built-in needs that effectively form the basis for any human-oriented value system.

9. Humanism is in tune with today's enlightened social thought. Humanists are committed to civil liberties, human rights, church-state separation, the extension of participatory democracy not only in government but in the workplace and education, an expansion of global consciousness and exchange of products and ideas internationally, and an open-ended approach to solving social problems, an approach that allows for the testing of new alternatives.

10. Humanism is in tune with new technological developments. Humanists are willing to take part in emerging scientific and technological discoveries in order to exercise their moral influence on these revolutions as they come about, especially in the interest of protecting the environment.

11. Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy for those in love with life. Humanists take responsibility for their own lives and relish the adventure of being part of new discoveries, seeking new knowledge, exploring new options. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, Humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest and the freedom of discovery that this entails.
According to the Wikipedia piece, Humanism can further be subdivided into Secular Humanism (no theism involved at all, seemingly) and Religious Humanism (theism, tying Humanism to religious beliefs and/or a religious community).

After reading about it, Humanism felt like a good match with my own beliefs. I'm Jewish by upbringing, heritage and beliefs, but I subscribe to my own personal brand of Judaism. It ties in belief in G-d with less adherence to the stricter tenets of the religion and more freedom of person. I consider myself religious even though I do not attend services or always observe every holiday. I would rather place more emphasis on living a "good" life by one's own personal standards than on fulfilling ancient mandates from a time long past. (And I secretly suspect that G-d would want that too.)

I further looked into Christian Humanism (to guess whether it applies to OLS) and Humanistic Judaism (to see whether it applies to me). As for the latter, I do not think it a good fit as Humanistic Judaism is extremely secular and actually strives to place importance on the non-belief in G-d, which directly contrasts with my own beliefs. As for the former, I cannot say for sure but I suspect it might be a fair match.

Whenever it comes to religions and basing societal activities on religious underpinnings, I have personal issues with what is generally (or at least often) said and done. It's perfectly fine to have your own set of beliefs, just don't try to "inflict" (i.e. impose) them on the rest of the country or world. Some of the worst atrocities in humanity's past have been perpetrated in the name of religion. Live and let live, but respect always.

Back to the point, I like Humanism. The broad reach and potential application to or cohabitance with multiple, different religions appeals to me. I think the beliefs and theories Humanism encompasses are admirable, particularly as goals that can be translated to lifestyles (i.e. ways of living). And so I think I shall consider myself to be a Jewish Humanist. This is merely a categorization as Humanism appears to reflect my pre-established beliefs - it is in harmony with them. In addition, in a small manner, Humanism reconciles theism with science and, with no trace of irony, I believe in both of those. I think it's one of those things that's interesting to consider and I'm glad I have (briefly) examined it.