This World Humanist Day, What Do We Wish People Knew About Humanism?

If you haven’t heard, tomorrow—June 21—is World Humanist Day! On this day, nontheist organizations around the world come together to celebrate humanism as a positive life stance and a means to affect change. It’s a great opportunity to educate the public about humanism and gather to enjoy our international community.

All of us here at the American Humanist Association headquarters are excited to participate in World Humanist Day, and to mark the occasion we’re sharing the top things we wish people knew about humanism.

Sharon McGill, Senior Graphic Designer

What I’d like people to know is that they might also be a humanist. A fundamental tenet of humanism is that homo sapiens are the primary agents of change on this planet, which means we accept responsibility for the climate crisis and the burden of finding solutions for it. Knowledge and action—not simply thoughts and prayers—are core to humanism, which is why most progressive- and liberal-minded people are humanists without realizing it. Humanists come in all religions and no religion: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, atheist, and/or “none of the above.” What matters is how we focus on human agency and using the best of our sapiens traits (reason, imagination, curiosity, and empathy) to reduce suffering and be better stewards of the earth. If this describes you in any way, you’re already a humanist!

Sam Gerard, Member Services Assistant

Humanism differs pretty vastly from atheism. Many people equate the two as being the same, and it ends up belittling much of the other social advocacy and social justice work that is core to humanists. When I tell some of my friends who ask about humanism, they seem genuinely surprised that our work is so focused on intersectionality. While I’m more than happy to inform them, part of me is disappointed that humanist efforts are not yet seen in a fuller spectrum.

Sarah Henry, Communications Associate

I wish that people understood that humanism is so much more than the separation of church and state! The work that we do to protect the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is critical, but the work that we do to advance progressive views through education and legislative advocacy is just as, if not more, valuable. I’m a humanist because I hold a belief in the dignity of each and every person based on their humanity, not imbued by a deity. Because of that belief, my humanism encompasses my passion for criminal justice reform and international religious freedom, my support of abortion care, and so much more. Humanism is broad and inclusive, pushing for ethical lives and personal fulfillment for each and every person, not just for the separation of church and state.

Isabelle Oldfield, Paralegal

I wish others knew that humanism goes beyond simply not recognizing deities but offers a moral life stance as well. I also wish that we could dispel the myth that humanists hate all religious adherents. In fact, actually enforcing secular standards in our court system benefits the religious and a-religious alike. There can be no real freedom of conscience in our society without freedom of and from religion.

Monica Miller, Senior Counsel

I simply wish more people knew about humanism! I’ve talked with so many people over the years who told me they’ve been a humanist for a long time without having a label for it. I didn’t learn about humanism until college, and it was through a specific course on sociology of secularism.

Morgan Terry, Social Justice Intern

I wish people knew that humanists don’t hate religion. Humanists celebrate and promote religious freedom so that everyone has the opportunity to practice whatever religious beliefs they may have without anyone or anything getting in the way of that. We recognize that religion can be divisive when it’s manipulated with that goal in mind, and we reject that. Although many humanists are atheists, there are also humanist pastors and rabbis. There are certainly humanists who practice a religion, while many others don’t. Humanists simply reject the notion that humanity needs a god or a religion to set the standard of morality and goodness, we believe we are capable of doing that on our own. Anyone can be a humanist, it doesn’t matter what your religious background is or if you even have one at all. Humanism is all about bringing together people of all different faiths to do and promote goodness.

David Niose, Legal Director

Philosophically speaking, humanism is closely related to pragmatism, and this is more significant than many people realize. Pragmatism is an approach that gives great weight to the practical effects of actions, rather than to abstract ideas. Because of this, humanists tend to be unpersuaded by ideological appeals that exalt one principle above all others (the libertarian notion of putting liberty above all else, for example) or grand theories that claim to explain everything without real scientific backing (e.g., the Marxian claim of “scientific socialism”). Humanists don’t reject every idea put forward by libertarians or Marxists, of course, but they don’t dogmatically accept their ideological claims. If humanists lean progressive, sometimes even accepting the socialist label, it’s usually from a pragmatic, non-ideological standpoint. That is, they believe that society is better if the concentrated power of corporations and wealthy individuals is checked, that in this modern age we have the ability to increase human happiness and general prosperity with egalitarian public policies that deliver universal health care, education, and similar services to all. It’s pragmatism, not blind ideology.

Jennifer Bardi, Deputy Director and Humanist magazine Editor

On World Humanist Day, I would like people to know that humanists are a very diverse group and that lots of folks are humanists without even realizing it. If you care about others deeply; if you reject the idea that we need a god to act morally; if you think humans should work together and employ empathy, science, know-how, humor, and tolerance to improve individual lives and our chances of survival as a species and a planet—you’re probably a humanist! Being really into Star Trek also seems to be a good indicator.

Meredith Thompson, Development Associate

Humanists value, above all, goodness. What I wish people knew is that it’s possible to extend our shared values far beyond only those whom we can easily relate to. It’s deeply humanistic to regularly reevaluate our practices and prejudices in order to improve our advocacy and best prevent further acts of injustice. As humanists who value critical thought and compassion, it’s essential that we remain curious and open ourselves to continuous learning so we can truly do all that we can (as far as is possible and practicable) to be good without a god.

Emily Newman, Education Coordinator

Humanism is an active and continuous responsibility to ensure that all are valued in society. It means showing up for people you care about and those you don’t know when their rights are being restricted or taken away. It’s about having empathy and compassion and taking the next step to channel those emotions into action to support others and make needed change. Humanism motivates and empowers us to strive for a more ethical world. I wish more people knew this.

Do you have anything to add to the discussion? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!