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HANDOUT 3: Humanism Fact Sheet

Origin: Dates from Greek and Roman antiquity; then, the European Renaissance; then as a philosophic and theological movement in the U.S. and Europe, mid-1800s and again in 1920s and 1930s, through today.

Adherents: Number unknown. Two national organizations are the American Humanist Association and the American Ethical Union. Humanist movements and individuals exist in Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and especially Unitarian Universalism. Humanism plays a role in many people's beliefs or spirituality without necessarily being acknowledged. Humanism also plays a role in most faiths without always being named.

Influential Figures/Prophets: Protagoras (Greek philosopher, 5th c. BCE, "Man is the measure of all things"), Jane Addams, Charles Darwin, John Dewey, Abraham Maslow, Isaac Asimov, R. Buckminster Fuller (also a Unitarian), Margaret Sanger, Carl Rogers, Bertrand Russell, Andrei Sakharov

Texts: No sacred text. Statements of humanist beliefs and intentions are found in three iterations of The Humanist Manifesto: 1933, 1973, and 2003; these are considered explanations of humanist philosophy, not statements of creed. The motto of the American Humanist Association is "Good without a God." To humanists, the broadest range of religious, scientific, moral, political, social texts and creative literature may be valued.

Clergy: None. Humanism is not a formally organized religion. Many Unitarian Universalist and other, especially liberal, clergy are Humanists or humanist-influenced. For congregations in the Ethical Culture movement, professional Ethical Culture Leaders fill the roles of religious clergy, including meeting the pastoral needs of members, performing ceremonies, and serving as spokespeople for the congregation. The Humanist Society website offers directory of Humanist Celebrants who conduct memorials, baby namings, and other life-cycle ceremonies.

Symbol/s: Happy Human (unofficial); "Evolve" fish (unofficial)

Imagery: None

Terms and Fundamental Precepts

1. Humanists believe religion is a product of human history and culture. (God did not invent religion; people invented religion

2. This is the only life we know of and understand. (Whatever we may think happens after we die, Humanists agree this life on earth is the only life we can be sure of—the one we experience, understand, and can take responsibility for.)

3. We—and no other, supernatural force—are each responsible for ourselves, for others, and for the Earth.

4. We have values, ethics, and a sense of right and wrong which we activate without threats of judgment, punishment, or reward from a supernatural force.

5. Reason, logic and our own observations and experiences are the natural and valid bases for human knowledge.

6. We should be agents of peace and justice. Religious Humanists believe meaning-making and ethical living are strengthened when sought in community.

Terms

Religious Humanism—a humanist philosophy within a religious tradition.

Secular Humanism—a humanist philosophy fully separate from religious tradition or beliefs.

Ethical Society/Ethical Culture Society—a humanistic religious and educational movement inspired by the ideal that the supreme aim of human life is working to create a more humane society. No centralized organization; all societies are independent.

Shared with Unitarian Universalism: Belief in...

  • the inherent worth and dignity of all people
  • value of science, scientific process, and rigorous intellectual processes
  • individual responsibility for choices and behavior
  • interdependence of living beings, an interconnected web of life
  • humans as part of nature
  • natural selection/evolution
  • service to others and working for social justice
  • maximizing personal fulfillment through living highest ideals

In the Unitarian Universalist hymnbook, Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: UUA Publications, 1993), Readings 466, 470, 521, 530, and 567 and Hymns 93, 115, 374, 378, and 380 are from the Humanist tradition.

For more information contact web@uua.org.

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Last updated on Monday, September 16, 2013.

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