Monday, December 1, 2008

Why I'm not a humanist

There is a certain virtue in avoiding "positive" labels. On the one hand, you want to present yourself positively. On the other hand, you don’t want to present yourself as better than everyone else.

I don't consider myself to be a humanist. What exactly does that tell you about me? Does it mean that I don't view the good of humanity to be the highest good? Does it mean that I don't believe in any sort of human dignity? Does it mean that I don't value rational human inquiry? No, silly. It just means that I don't like the word "humanist". Maybe I technically qualify as a humanist, but I never call myself one.

In the atheosphere, I nearly always see the word "humanism" in only one context. Humanism is meant to be the positive counterpart to atheism. Atheism tells you what we don't believe in, and humanism tells you what we do believe in. Atheism is just one aspect of a person, while humanism is a complete philosophy. For a word that's supposed to be all-encompassing, I find it odd that I only ever see it in one place.

I just don't ever see the necessity to use the word "humanist". For one thing, no one ever asks me, "What do you believe in, if not God?" except in my dreams (dreams I attribute to my large ego). And if someone did ask, I'd probably just say, "Life? Goodness?" (I might also add "induction" on account of being a fanatical inductionist.) If I responded, "Humanism," who would know what that means? Most importantly, I don't know what it means. I only know the many things that have been told to me. My sources are a little vague about the details, but whatever humanism is, I know it's good! A bit of liberal politics here, a bit of the-good-of-the-human-race there, a dose of church-state separation, a rejection of the supernatural, along with a compatibility with religion. I figure that if it's good, it must be somewhere in the mix (and guess where that leaves the non-humanist).

I have no patience for any of that. If I wanted to say in detail what I believe in, I'll deliver it in plain words that everyone understands, not in a mystery package that not even I understand. For all those humanists out there, maybe you understand what humanism is, but does everyone else understand it the same way you do?

Of course, to be fair, I myself go with the "skeptic" label, which is also a "positive" philosophy. And though I understand what I mean by skepticism, not everyone immediately understands it the same way I do. Call me a hypocrite if you will. But I understand these things, that people can have aversions to labels even if they agree with the ideas represented by the labels. Just because a person doesn't go by a label doesn't mean they go against everything the label stands for. This applies to all labels.


ron mclaren said...

How about this, Miller ??
ron HSS (Scotland)



Although humanism is not a faith, it does provide a moral framework for a life free from superstition and supernatural beliefs, and rejects any notions of a life after death. Believing that a person has only one life, humanists try to make it as worthwhile and happy as possible for everyone. Humanists are atheists, agnostics or sceptics who either reject or at least robustly question the idea of any god or other power beyond the physical world. However, humanism is more than just a simple denial of religious belief. Humanists base their moral principles on a rational approach to life, under-pinned by shared human values and respect for others, with the aim of improving the quality of life, making it more equitable for all.

Humanism focuses on human beings and offers an ethical approach to life, a belief in people’s ability to solve problems, recognising that much of what happens in our world is what people cause to happen. To this end, humanists try to co-operate with people of all faiths to achieve the shared aims of a caring free society, although they condemn religious adherence that harms or disadvantages others. Humanists assert that morality comes from our ability to see that there is general benefit when we behave well towards each other; an ability that is enhanced by personal responsibility, a caring and principled upbringing and education that always insists that we treat others with consideration and unselfishness. Human rights law is important to all humanist organisations throughout the world and they endorse the principles of humanitarian ideals that are enshrined in all such declarations, covenants and conventions as well as the universal initiatives promoted by the United Nations for the peaceful co-habitation of all the world’s populations.

miller said...

Yes, that's more or less representative of the descriptions I usually see. My overall impression is vaguely negative, though I'm not sure I could really convey why.

To start, I always wonder whatever happened to the concept of religious humanism. According to you, Humanists "either reject or at least robustly question the idea of any god". Is that really essential to Humanism? The entire description of Humanism seems based on the idea that everyone else adheres to a simplistic divine mandate ethics. That's simply not true.

The second paragraph is just filled with vaguely positive ideas: cooperation, free society, personal responsibility, education, consideration, unselfishness, human rights, humanitarian ideals, peaceful co-habitation. Great. But it's all so positive that I'm not really convinced that anyone could flatly disagree with it. I just--I just don't think I have any use for something so vaguely positive like that.

Anonymous said...

I'm an atheist but I'm about as far as humanly possible from being a humanist. I don't reject the title for the sake of rejecting titles. I reject the title because it's a blatant mistake that most atheists make, that simply because I'm atheist I necessarily believe in the preachy claptrap called secular humanism.