Humanism’s Wide Net


Sept. 2, 2009

When times are tough, spirituality and things spiritual catch our attention as we thrash about for answers. Sadly, we live in times when misinformation and disinformation flow down like the proverbial waters – even concerning matters of the human spirit. Yet "when the spirit moves us", we respond. When we do observe spirituality in action, it's often more humane than holy, feelings secretly inscribed on each person's innermost pages.

Humanism is certainly not a recent danger. As a humanist, I'd have walked comfortably in Lao Tzu's (Taoism) shoes, centuries before Christ. Maybe strolled the Athenian market places with such as Socrates. Even the Nazarene's conversations were often laced with Greek and Eastern thought.

Truth be told, when we strip away the dogma most belief systems are wrapped in, the thread of humanism runs through every one of them! The Golden Rule being just one of the more obvious examples of humanistic principles.

Our own predominant Good Book clearly tells us that, "By their deeds you will know them". So when religious groups break through the barriers so often dividing them, feed, clothe and shelter the poor and ailing, they're living humanist spirituality – wherever they got their marching orders.

My own "Road to Damascus" experience occurred at age 20, when it dawned on me that by not selecting any particular faith or belief I gained them all for my own life's spiritual journey.

Of course this was the life stance of growth we now call humanism, certainly unknown to me in that young time. Not that labels might have mattered much anyway. My own current shorthand for humanism is, "Reason in the service of compassion", although there are as many humanist paths as those walking them.

Even though there is no "religion" of humanism, some call themselves Jewish humanists, even Christian or religious humanists. Then, of course, we have "secular" humanists – the ones "destroying our children's' educations and poisoning the moral well." Like many of their religious brothers, secular humanists like to post signs and billboards, too.

One might read, "You don't need to have a god." Note, they'd likely say you don't need to have one, not that you shouldn't have one!

Obviously the secular side's where some religious folks find fault with humanist philosophy. Other church goers are quite comfortable with non-religious people, including many of our deist or freethinking forefathers who might have enjoyed a billboard or two.

Humanists tend to view humans as basically good creatures, but capable of doing terrible things – not terrible, but sometimes capable of good things. Our faith revolves around the survival, possible flourishing, of our kind, and its fragile, green island in space. Humanist thinking chooses to evolve constantly in the ceaseless search for justice and dignity within our human family.

So much for the human spirit, divinely inspired or otherwise, that casts church spires and satellites skyward, always seeking to spread nature's bounty to its most destitute. We're all kindred spirits to the likes of Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Carl Sagan and Dr. King.

In humanistic hands such as these lie whatever eternal keys there may be.

(William White is a long-time humanist celebrant living in the Florida Panhandle, a place he calls "humanist hell". Yet after thirty-five years there, he admits this may have been his "calling". Evangelical humanism, anybody?)