A Post-Secular Humanist Manifesto

erasmus

We believe that secular humanism is dead.

We believe that secular humanism now means so many different things that it has ceased to mean anything at all.

We believe that secular humanism does not represent a coherent philosophy or life-stance but a patchwork of ideas that are no longer revolutionary and meaningful and will not coalesce in the future.

We believe that organized humanism and the humanist movement have lost their way in a labyrinth of special causes, pleadings and agendas; that secular humanism is now a clash of competing liberal doctrines, lifestyles and agendas forced into conformity without sufficient examination, and that reasonable people will look elsewhere for intellectual energy, political resolution, and ideological support.

We believe that the close identification of humanism with secularism, free-thought and atheism was a collusion of opposites, limiting the breadth of the humanist spirit, denying the contribution of religion, theology and spirituality to modern culture, minimizing the intellectual continuity between past and present, and discounting the evolutionary nature of ideas and ideologies.

We believe that secular humanism does not provide new or carefully reasoned warrants for its own commitments—to “naturalism,” “science,” the use of “reason,” and ethical values based on these commitments–and that neither as an ideology nor as a movement has it made concrete contributions to the areas it claims to promote. Neither science nor ethics, it has been committed to a program of abstraction, pseudo-scholarship and polemic, a cause without consequences.

We believe that secular humanism’s narrow focus on the evils of religion, the paranormal, and anti-supernaturalism has become quaint, backward, isolated from modern discussions of belief, entrenched in archaic debates unworthy of serious intellectual discussion.

We believe that secular humanism’s use of “skepticism” to debunk superstition, the eccentric and the irrational has trivialized philosophical skepticism and that its assault on credulity has been derisive rather than informative.

We believe that secular humanism provides no coherent system of values and ethics: that its social philosophy depends on a relativism it mocks and that its call for a global ethic is rooted in an antiquated view of the world and its cultures.

We believe that secular humanism’s hostility to all religion is indistinguishable from a religious hostility to all forms of unbelief.

We reject, as humanists, the belief that our way of knowing about the physical and moral world can be reduced to naturalism and science; as skeptics, that atheism is a priori the sensible position of the reasonable man or woman.

We reject the idea of a single operating system for the humanist tradition in the arts and sciences.

We believe that secularism is not an irresistible trend in culture but a pattern of detachment from the control of dogma that was the fruit of modernity. We see this process continuing in terms constantly being reshaped by believers and unbelievers.

We believe that intelligent men and women of religious faith have been at the forefront of efforts to limit the dominance of religion, to insist on human rights and freedom of expression, and the separation of religion and civil government.

We believe this as a matter of a history that stretches back to the Renaissance, and not as matter of corporate ideology.

We believe that an authentic humanism is neither “religious” nor “secular” but an engagement with the highest achievements of human civilization in the arts and sciences measured by their effect on the human spirit and human values.

We believe that human beings are value-making creatures and that humanism at its most generous is the discussion of the grounds for human action, the warrants for human assent, and the propagation of ideas and objects that are worthy of our best instincts and aspirations.

We believe that moral positions are justified not solely on the basis of the rational decisions of individuals but are responsible to history, culture, and society.

We believe that men and women of virtue and intelligence have been atheists. We believe that women and men of virtue and intelligence have believed in God.

We believe that the contemporary world is not defined by a confrontation between believers and unbelievers.
___________________________

Please feel free to comment on this post or suggest constructive changes. It is a work in progress, not a finished product.

29 thoughts on “A Post-Secular Humanist Manifesto

  1. Pingback: A Post-Secular Humanist Manifesto « The New Oxonian

  2. Would someone knidly explain how and when Humanism became in any way less than fully identified with its basic Christian origins? See comment to post Is Religion Good? comment November 27th on origins of Humanism: “Pico sought nothing less than the reconstruction of every human philosophy and every human religion with Christianity.” i.e. the God revealed by Jesus. However one defines a Humanism somewhere between “Secular Humanism” and aeithism with sympathetic hat tiping to “religion”.

  3. I welcome the attempt to give Humanism a rigorous intellectual investigation – as you point out in your article “The Problem with Humanism” much of the Humanist movement does seem bitty and uninformed by an overarching narrative or philosophical structure. You err, however, in asserting that this is necessarily the case, and that abandonment of the project is the only reasonable response.

    I would argue this “manifesto” relies on a limiting and limited understanding of “secular humanism” and on a head-in-the-sands attitude toward the current vibrancy and growing power of the (Secular) Humanist movement.

    While I agree, as I have said, that the Humanist movement lacks a certain coherence, it certainly is not “dead” and is powerfully on the rise. The number of individuals identifying as Humanists continues to increase in the USA, in Europe, in Africa and elsewhere (http://goo.gl/pEiYQ and http://goo.gl/3ZbtA and http://goo.gl/mOjDU). The organizational fortitude of the movement is increasing, as evidenced by the powerful mobilization of Humanists in online spaces and by communities like the North Texas Church of Freethought. Humanism in Sweden and other central European countries is a strong force, as is the BHA in Britain (increasingly so now a Humanist is Deputy Prime Minister).

    The intellectual basis of Humanism, with its two “feet”, as I call them – rejection of the supernatural allied with a positive ethical outlook and fallibilistic naturalist epistemology – is the firmest that I have seen devised. Would you care to provide a firmer one?

    The assertion that “as an ideology nor as a movement has [Secular Humanism] made concrete contributions to the areas it claims to promote” is utterly baffling to me given the above. Would you like to suggest another position that has been as fruitful?

    In short you seem to equate Secular Humanism with “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, and entirely ignore the rich history of Humanist thought and accomplishment. Further, you offer no positive program to replace what you decry.

    This is odd, because in “The Problem with Humanism” you do try to tackle the history of American Humanism with some integrity. Even there, though, the strangeness of your approach is apparent: you see something “pugnacious” and “dogmatic” about, for example, saying that “As far as we know, the total personality is a function of the biological organism transacting in a social and cultural context. There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body.” What on earth is pugnacious and dogmatic about that?

    Then you say that “humanism, at least of the atheistic variety, regarded religion as a sufficient end for criticism and failed to develop its own methods for correction”, entirely forgetting (ignoring?) that fallibilism is and always has been a hallmark of Humanist thought – see the preamble to Manifestos 1 and 2, and this beautiful passage from 3:

    “The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.”

    Thus when you say “Progressive humanism resides in exploration rather than definitions and statements”, this seems to me entirely in keeping with the stated aims of all three Humanist Manifestos. One might ask, then, what are you arguing against? Certainly not Secular Humanism, which embraces the very values you yourself espouse.

    I understand that it is not in the nature of a manifesto to give reasoned arguments, but in this case I think your assertions are clearly problematic and could do with greater thought.

  4. I do not believe it is warranted that “you “reject […] as skeptics, [the belief] that atheism is a priori the sensible position of the reasonable man or woman.” Is there some reasonable position which precedes atheism as a minimally effective explanation for the matters before us?

  5. I’ll be happy to comment or suggest constructive changes, but I need a bit of orientation first. Who’s we? Is this an organizational manifesto, or a personal one? If it’s organizational, what’s the organization? (If it’s personal, why “we”?)

    • Why should ‘we’ necessarily infer an organisation? I believe all of these things and don’t belong to an organisation in order to agree. I’m an atheist, I’ve never belonged to any religious faith, and I agree with some atheists about lots of things but I don’t belong to any atheist subset organisation any more than I belong to any atheist organisation. I think Jiri believes then things above, and I think even Max does too and some of my friends definitely do and probably quite alot of other humanists too.

      … but we don’t belong to any organisation for believing these things, I don’t think. I’d join charities though.

  6. I didn’t say it should imply (not infer) an organization, I asked if it did. Joe said feel free to comment on this post or suggest constructive changes, and I wanted to know what kind of thing it was before commenting or suggesting.

    “We” doesn’t necessarily imply an organization, but it does imply something – it does imply at a minimum that there is more than one person involved. (Unless of course it’s the royal we, but I don’t think Joe confuses himself with royalty!)

    You believe all these things? Really? Every single one? That’s a lot of things!

    It’s a very long manifesto, with a very large number of items to believe. I’ve never yet seen a manifesto I could agree with from beginning to end – but then I’ve never really had a desire to sign up to any manifestos. (I did sign up to one once, but mostly out of friendship, and certainly not because I agreed with every word of it. I now wish I hadn’t signed up to it.)

    So I’m still curious who “we” are. It’s Joe and you, apparently, but is it anyone else? Two people seems a smallish number to need a manifesto.

    But now, I suppose, I’m even more curious about how anyone could claim to agree with all the “things” in such an idiosyncratic and tendentious manifesto. That’s not to say it’s a bad manifesto, but it does strike me as much more of a personal statement than a manifesto.

    • There are alot aren’t there, but I do. Nice to agree. I suggested ‘we’ included far more agreeable people than just me. But that’s why he’s open to changes I think, if you aren’t happy with being included into the ‘we’, as long as the rest of the ‘we’ agree…

  7. Well I didn’t think it was about niceness or agreeableness or being happy or included. I thought it was a manifesto, not some kind of social signal. I take it you think I’m wrong about that. In fact I take it that you’re saying Joe’s blog is actually a social club and I should butt out. Ok, if you say so…but I did think this post was about ideas rather than about who gets to sit at the lunch table.

    • You infer I say alot of things I never said and never would say and did not infer either. Maybe it is some sort of social invitation to question critically and recognise what we believe, rather than the hard and fast document of an ‘organisation’. But Joe’s blog is not a ‘social club’ – it’s wide open and naturally attracts all interested readers and many become regular too. Some tend to agree most of the time and others heartily disagree with reason. A manifesto need be no more than a public declaration of principles, like basic beliefs or assumptions, or of intentions. And it belongs in a way, perhaps to those who agree or would agree given a few alterations or additions. I’m not very surprised that I happen to agree with every one of the beliefs outlined above, but then I’m sure there must be some people with whom you might find it hard to disagree especially when it comes to religion.

  8. Well maybe I misunderstood you – “if you aren’t happy with being included into the ‘we’, as long as the rest of the ‘we’ agree…” looked like an attempt to say “we all agree and if you don’t like it…[you know what you can do].” But perhaps you meant something quite different.

    Yes I understand that a manifesto need be anything or nothing – one can use it to mean “toothbrush”; whatever; I just thought Joe had something more public and precise in mind, since he invited criticism and suggestions, and since he said “we” throughout.

    Anyway I was asking Joe what he meant, and only Joe can answer that.

    • I think this “manifesto” is being taken literally. My whole view is that we are living post everything, and if read in conjunction with what I have said about manifestoitis might make better sense.

      I frankly do not care what anyone agrees with in this. Much of it will be objectionable to someone. I sometimes try satire, drama, even pseudo-narrative formats to make a point. OB can remember when I tried operetta on her site (“How do you solve a problem like sharia?”).

      But there is no club here, and even if there were and I
      had a gavel, I’d adjourn and take us to the pub!

    • absolutely, only Joe can answer. But I never said he wasn’t intending something public and more precise because that is why he is inviting criticism and suggestions. In fact I thought I pretty much said just that, as I tried to explain that the ‘we’ doesn’t refer to some pre organised group or ‘social club’, and I said plainly that his blog is open – that means open to the public.

  9. I am remorseful that no one knows this from the Master:

    Re: writing Puddin’head Wilson:

    “I didn’t know what to do with her [Rowena}. I was as sorry for her as anybody could be, but the campaign was over, the book was finished, she was sidetracked, and there was no possible way of crowding her in, anywhere. I could not leave her there, of course; it would not do. After spreading her out so, and making such a to-do over her affairs, it would be absolutely necessary to account to the reader for her. I thought and thought and studied and studied; but I arrived at nothing. I finally saw plainly that there was really no way but one–I must simply give
    her the grand bounce. It grieved me to do it, for after
    associating with her so much I had come to kind of like her after a fashion, notwithstanding things and was so nauseatingly sentimental. Still it had to be done. So at the top of Chapter XVII I put a “Calendar” remark concerning July the Fourth,
    and began the chapter with this statistic:

    “Rowena went out in the backyard after supper to see the fireworks and fell down the well and got drowned.”

    It seemed abrupt, but I thought maybe the reader wouldn’t notice it/ It seemed abrupt, but I thought maybe the reader wouldn’t notice it, because I changed the subject right away to something else.
    Anyway it loosened up Rowena from where she was stuck and got her out of the way, and that was the main thing. It seemed a prompt good way of weeding out people that had got stalled” I suspect the gospel writers would have done it with superfluous Marys if MarK Twain had been consulted.

  10. ….
    I like that article.
    I like the way he hints at the truth—
    He’s trying to assert that rationalism is not distinct from spirituality.
    No matter how exhaustive the examination of human history and ideology– in the absence of God there is no truth because the heart and soul of truth is God. Therefore, trying to find the truth whilst discounting Christ is a senseless and futile effort.

    Someone once asserted that I was a transcendentalist on a site during a debate. He didn’t ask. He just assumed that for whatever reason. I didn’t feel it was worth defending myself since he had already decided that was what I was. However, I’m not a transcendentalist. I am a person that accepts spirituality as a state of being, and I follow no one’s beliefs but my own.

    It seems to me that one always seems to want to fit into some category or to have a label of some sort.. to indicate that they are following a certain belief system that some random person started– but I’ve noticed for some reason most of these belief systems are faulty in some way. They appear to be based on truth but are corrupt in some minute manner.
    They are searching for truth in a system of this world and so they will never find it because truth comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God thus truth is found only in the person of Christ. Therefore, I have but one teacher within myself, and I follow no one but Him.

  11. ….
    I like that article.
    I like the way he hints at the truth—
    He’s trying to assert that rationalism is not distinct from spirituality.
    No matter how exhaustive the examination of human history and ideology– in the absence of God there is no truth because the heart and soul of truth is God. Therefore, trying to find the truth whilst discounting Christ is a senseless and futile effort.

    Someone once asserted that I was a transcendentalist on a site during a debate. He didn’t ask. He just assumed that for whatever reason. I didn’t feel it was worth defending myself since he had already decided that was what I was. However, I’m not a transcendentalist. I am a person that accepts spirituality as a state of being, and I follow no one’s beliefs but my own.

    It seems to me that one always seems to want to fit into some category or to have a label of some sort.. to indicate that they are following a certain belief system that some random person started– but I’ve noticed for some reason most of these belief systems are faulty in some way. They appear to be based on truth but are corrupt in some minute manner.
    They are searching for truth in a system of this world and so they will never find it because truth comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God thus truth is found only in the person of Christ. Therefore, I have but one teacher within myself, and I follow no one but Him.

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