Humanism: 99 Q’s and A’s

If an organization wants to grow, it needs new members. For forty years I have observed and directed the growth of several organizations, from chambers of commerce to volunteer groups, and I hope to help the Humanist Community Project grow too, along with all the Humanist communities it supports.

In that vein, I have set out to address what I think is currently the most pressing issue for the growth of Humanist communities: the need to accurately explain Humanism to non-Humanists, to answer the questions they will inevitably have when they encounter Humanism.

It can be easy to overlook this step in community growth because we might think, Humanists are a rational bunch — if anyone wants to ask us questions, we’ll tell it like it is. And indeed, we should all do our best to give accurate answers when questioned. But I believe it would be a serious mistake to simply leave our outreach up to word of mouth. With so much diversity among Humanists, people new to Humanism are liable to receive all sorts of conflicting information when individuals conflate their own unique values and preferences with the more universally accepted characteristics of Humanism. And even those who have established an accurate definition of Humanism in their minds, when put on the spot to explain it are easy prey to “brain freeze,” or are at least likely to focus on certain issues and forget about others.

My current project is to publish a short book of simple, standard answers to some of the most common questions people are likely to have about Humanism. But before it hits the press, I’d like to get input from those who make and define this growing movement — that is, any people who consider themselves Humanists.

My next few blog posts will consist of several questions and answers on a particular theme, which I invite Humanists and others to read and give feedback on so that I can make the book as accurate and helpful as possible. I have divided the questions into the following categories:

  • definitions
  • beliefs
  • values
  • morals, ethics and goodness
  • faith and reason
  • life and death
  • religion
  • statistics
  • Humanist organizations
  • customs, ceremonies and celebrations
  • famous non-believers
  • becoming a Humanist

Below are the first two sections of the draft. I thank you in advance for your feedback, and look forward to building Humanist community together.

Definitions

Is humanism a religion?

No, it is a philosophy, a movement, a way of thinking.

What is a humanist?

A humanist is a person who contends that belief in a supernatural being is not essential and not needed to be a good person and live a good life. A short definition is “being good without God.”

What is a “non-religious” or “non-believing” person?

This is a person without a belief in a God or supernatural being. Non-belief ranges from those who are sure there is no God to those who say “I just do not know.”

How does a humanist define a “good person”?

A good person has values and characteristics that are approved by almost all people.   For example being honest, telling the truth, helping the less fortunate, not harming others, not stealing, not deceiving others, being fair, doing your part, acting responsibly.

What are some common notions of God?

“God is a supernatural being. He knows everything past, present and future. He is present everywhere and has limitless power to change things in the natural world. He is a personal loving god; you can talk directly to him. He knows you and cares for you.” This is the definition used in this book

What other notions are there of God?

Although the above definition is predominant in society, it is not the only definition of God. Many people do not believe “God” is a supernatural supreme being. They view God as a “force”, a “power”, a “presence” or a “process” within the natural world.

Who might be a humanist?

Among humanists are those who are call themselves atheist, agnostic, freethinker, rationalist, skeptic, cynic, secular humanist, naturalist, deist, spiritualist, non-religious, “bright” or “nothing.”

 

Beliefs

What do humanists believe?

Anyone can be a good person without having a belief in a supernatural being. Believing in a supernatural is irrelevant to being a good person. The efforts to make a better world rest in the hands of humans. Although we humans may wish for a better world, we can not expect assistance from a supernatural being which might not exist. Humanists respect the role of science and base their beliefs on claims supported by evidence. They believe that a person should want to be good and do good things, and that not believing in a supernatural is neither a barrier nor an excuse.

What do humanists NOT believe?

A person must believe in a supernatural being to be good. While humanists respect that most people on earth say they believe in some type of supernatural being, such a belief is not part of the humanist culture. They tend not to believe in claims and events that can not be proven. They contend that a belief in God is not required for ethical and successful living. They reject dependence on the supernatural, resurrection, reincarnation, and divine books.

What are humanist beliefs based on?

Evidence and reasonable proof. Has this (belief, concept, etc.) been good for mankind?

Can humans alone, with no god to assist them, lead responsible moral lives?

Humanists would exclaim, “Yes!” Not only are we humans capable of doing so, but we must do so, because we cannot count on assistance from a superhuman being.

Are humans capable of working out the values they want to live by?

Yes. But often with great difficulty.

If God appeared on earth, would humanists then believe he exists?

If the evidence were valid, they certainly would believe he exists.

 

About John Sias

John Sias is an author, retired journalist and organizer whose book, "100 Questions non-members ask about Unitarian Universalism," has sold 30,000 copies to date. For his recent leadership in volunteer and charitable organizations John received the Humanitarian award from the NH Charitable Foundation in 2006. A graduate of Colgate and Boston Universities, John directed his own public relations and marketing company for 20 years after serving as CEO and public relations director for multiple chambers of commerce.

4 comments on “Humanism: 99 Q’s and A’s

  1. Pingback: 99 Q’s and A’s, Part II: The Issues | The Humanist Community Project

  2. I was going to comment on your second installment but felt it best to comment here first. I guess I am struggling with your goal but I don’t mean that in any way disrespectful, I just wanted to be honest about it. My identifying with humanism has been a journey, and I’ve spent a great deal of time developing what I consider MY core values, and freeing myself from superstition. Maybe I would understand this better if it were a dialog that encourages a journey? I guess my own baggage makes me nervous with the notion of “standard answers.”

    As far as what you have presented here, I like it better than part 2. I think the “how does a humanist define a “good person”?’ section needs more work. Isn’t “being honest” and “telling the truth” the same thing?

    Peace.

  3. Excellent work! Clear simple language to describe a growing and broad range of people that have a passion for reason backed with a healthy dose of compassion!

    I’m glad that you included the following two answers:

    “deist, spiritualist, non-religious,…”

    “Many people do not believe “God” is a supernatural supreme being. They view God as a “force”, a “power”, a “presence” or a “process” within the natural world.”

    Discussions of this nature or about “God” are not always limited by differences in the perspectives of two separate people, but rather by the limitation of human language at this point in our cultural evolution. Sometimes the word “God” is a single word that we use as tool to encompass a multiplicity of abstract human concepts simultaneously. As you alluded to, their are humanists that may use the word “God” in a very generalized sense to express a universal process “within” nature. This can be more effective at reaching certain audiences than an onerous discussion about the laws of physics, thermodynamics, the role of the Laws of Form in the propositional calculus of logic, and the philosophical implication or validity of teleology.

    As your work has so aptly done, a key value to consistently express is not where humanist differ from others but what they share in common. Unlike some very sincere religious adherents it is important that those that identify with the humanist label shift the focus away from an “us” versus “them” approach. It’s important that humanist’s equally express the role and value religion and religious ethics contribute to the world. The message appears to be that humanist’s accept, encourage, and embrace the good in all people and all religions. The commonly held values you expressed amongst humanists, religious adherents, and all people are important to the growth of civilization. Thank you for your words and work.

    One critique:
    “If God appeared on earth, would humanists then believe “he” exists?”

    Try:
    “If God appeared on earth, would humanists then believe “God” exists?”

    The use of the word “he” may imply that all religious adherents believe in a gender-specific masculine identity for the conception of God. Changing it to the more general term “God” eliminates any potential misunderstandings.

    Thank you again for being a voice of reason with a healthy and well needed dose of compassion!

  4. Pingback: 99 Q’s and A’s, Part IV: Faith and Reason, Life and Death | The Humanist Community Project

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