Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 1: What a Humanist Believes

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read Leader Resource 1 so you will be able to present it effectively.
  • Tape newsprint together so you can write this statement large enough to mark up while leading the activity. Write, and post:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. - The Humanist Manifesto III (2003)

  • On another sheet, write "Humanism's Tenets" and list numbers 1-7, leaving room to write after each number, and post.

Description of Activity

The group learns the history and key tenets of Humanism, then explores its presence in their own lives and culture.

Take a few minutes to present the background information provided in Leader Resource 1.

Then, invite the group to deconstruct the opening statement of the Humanist Manifesto III. Explain that this process will help them relate important tenets of Humanism to their own lives and beliefs. Read the statement aloud, or invite a volunteer to read.

Then, circle the word, "progressive" and write a "1" above it. Ask the group what they think "progressive" means. On the numbered newsprint sheet, write:

1. Adaptive, Changing

Explain: "Progressive" suggests an optimistic world view-things will get better, rather than stay the same or get worse. To be progressive, one must respond and adapt to change-to new information and experiences. Ask if the youth can think of any religions they have studied that could be described as "progressive." Remind them that we speak of Unitarian Universalism as a "living faith" for this very reason. As Unitarian Universalists, we expect our beliefs may change as life brings us new experiences and we understand realities in new ways.

Now circle the word "life" and write a "2" above it. On the other sheet write:

2. Here and Now

Explain that a Humanist does not expect consciousness or meaning beyond their lifetime (after death). Humanists do not believe in a later reward (as in Heaven), or punishment (as in Hell), or another chance to get it right (as in reincarnation). Humanism supports people doing everything they can to make this life all it can be.

Now circle "supernaturalism" and write a "3" above it. Complete the third list item:

3. Science and Reason

Explain: Humanism asserts that scientific methods, physical evidence, and human experience and reason can together explain any explainable mystery and solve any solvable problem in our lives and world. If the problems people face can be solved, it is people who will solve them. Humanists reject explanations that involve supernatural forces such as an act of God. This does not mean humans can explain all mysteries; it means everything has a natural explanation whether or not we have the means to explain it presently. And whether or not an event is understood scientifically, humanists can appreciate our place in the natural world, and experience awe and wonder in it.

Circle "ability and responsibility" and write a "4" above it. On the numbered sheet write:

4. Ability and Responsibility

Humanism affirms our ability to make good choices and live good lives. Our fate is in the hands of no one but ourselves. With this power comes the responsibility to use it well. With no cosmic force telling us what to do, we alone are responsible for making the most of our gifts in the brief time we have.

Suggest that this key tenet of Humanism may be the easiest one to recognize in our own lives, in Unitarian Universalism, and in our larger society.

Now circle "ethical" and write a "5" above it. On the numbered sheet write:

5. Ethical - Human Welfare

Explain that Humanism is a highly ethical philosophy or faith stance. It is concerned with knowing right from wrong, and living as ethically as we can. Humanism, like Unitarian Universalism, affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and says that once we accept that principle, we are each capable of figuring out what is ethical, and making choices that serve the interests of all people including choices to protect the welfare of the web of life which serves us all.

Now circle "personal fulfillment" and write a "6" above it. On the numbered sheet write:

6. Personal Fulfillment = service of ideals

Explain that Humanism asserts that every person will be most fulfilled by developing their full potential. This in turn requires a deep sense of purpose, commitment, and connection to other people and the heritage of humanity.

Finally, circle "good of humanity" and write a "7" above it. Complete the itemized list:

7. No One Is an Island

Explain that Humanism recognizes that humans are social and interdependent, and find meaning in relationships. Humanism requires us to live cooperatively, kindly, and without violence because (a) these choices will advance common goals such as freedom, peace, justice, equality, and (b) achieving these goals for everyone will promote each individual's happiness.


  • Which of these beliefs and values do you share?
  • Which, if any, are very important to you personally?
  • Which, if any, do you disagree with?

Encourage participants to think about ways they have lived any of these beliefs in their everyday lives. Prompt with an example: "Have you ever picked up litter, or recycled? Have you ever signed a petition to support human rights or another justice issue? What Humanist beliefs grounded your choice to do that?"

Suggest that Humanist principles may be guiding their lives more than they realize. Tell them:

  • The Declaration of Independence and democracy itself are full of humanist tenets.
  • The Green Movement, with its message of taking personal responsibility, rests on Humanist beliefs, as do many other progressive social justice movements.
  • Does our society value scientific research? Is that a humanistic value?

Invite participants to turn to one or two partners sitting nearby. Give each group paper and a pen or pencil and ask them to brainstorm for five minutes. Challenge them to think of ways that humanistic beliefs are part of our world. Tell them no aspect of culture is off-limits-popular music, the economy, the health care system. After five minutes, share the lists in the larger group.