Humanism is shorthand. It’s a start, a summary, and a statement. In a world of ideologies that refuse to recognize my humanity or that assert that it has no value, it is a bold and clear assertion:
I matter, because I am a person.
Contrast this with how other philosophies operate. Other models hold me and others like me as means to their ends: labor for capitalism, souls for YHWH, a racialized underclass to devalue for profit, a transgender curiosity to abuse into a cautionary tale for other deviants like me.
They rank us and arrange us and place a privileged clique endorsed by god and dollar alike above us, all built on the premise and designed to reinforce that we don’t
matter, that we’re not white or straight or cis
or abled or religious enough to be allowed to be free and equal parts of this society.
Those ideologies have a variety of premises they use to make that horror happen, and what they all have in common is refusing the base on which humanism stands:
- Humans have tools for observing and learning how things in this world actually work and do not need to accept premises about it on faith. This includes the capacity to learn about how societies are structured and how people within that structure are helped or harmed by it.
- Humans are part of nature, evolved from it and existing within it
- Humans do not exist in service to some cosmic master, but as autonomous beings whose wellbeing matters.
Further, we can use that hard-won knowledge to organize our societies and handle our affairs in a way that benefits everyone, instead of trying to serve the goals of supernatural beings and power structures that have no such generosity in mind.
That means seeing how the way our society is currently shaped harms members of various groups and making it our mission to undo and heal those wounds. That means trusting the people being harmed to be our own data, and using the information we provide about our oppression to inform the process of building a better world.
More pointedly, it means recognizing that humanism is and must be anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-misogynist, an ally of the queer community, and then some, to have the slightest hope of achieving its goals, and it must do so while honoring the humans involved and placing them—us—at the center of its efforts. It is our
mattering that is in doubt, in the world that currently is, and it is our
mattering that must be asserted and defended in order to make us all
Humanism must make space for marginalized people to be part of it, tell our stories, name our battles, and count on humanist people, organizations, and concepts to take those up as their own. Self-determination for all will not be had until those of us currently denied it are uplifted, and no space which lets such oppression be acceptable deserves to call itself “humanist.”
Humanism is not a code word for atheism—it’s much more than that. Humanism is atheism with ethics, atheism that recognizes that the injustices of this world are ours, as humans who know how the world works, to fight, to defeat, and to correct. Humanism is atheism cognizant enough of sociological data and interested enough about people’s own experiences to recognize the crushing burden of oppression carried by the queer community, people of color, disabled people, and the many other subgroups of society ill-served by the current order of things. Humanism is atheism that is prepared to acknowledge that, to build a more equal and fair society for all, the first and biggest step is to make our cause, as humanists, making this world kinder to women, people of color, gender and sexual minorities, poor people, and disabled people.
If humanism is not prepared to honor my experience as a transgender, Hispanic, indigenous, autistic, precariously incomed, atheist woman with emotionally abusive parents, then it shall not hold me. If it is not prepared to make its cause the inclusion, support, and uplifting of the systemically downtrodden, then ultimately, it shall not hold anyone.