Saturday, February 7, 2009

Oh, the Humanism!

I have no problem identifying myself as an atheist, and don't feel the need to temper the label by calling myself an agnostic. When people ask what religion I am, (which rarely happens anyway) I tell them clearly and proudly that I am an atheist. But the atheism label can be fairly limiting. It is dangerous, I think, to simply stop there. Although it answers one set of questions very neatly and succinctly, it ignores another set entirely.

For example, it is completely unequipped to respond to questions like, "Does that mean you don't believe in anything?" and "Wasn't Stalin an atheist too?" It is true that the label of atheism does not allow for belief in any gods. And it is similarly true that Stalin was an atheist. However, atheism simply describes my belief in gods or deities. Anyone (Stalin included) is free to join the no-gods club.

But I do believe in things. I believe that science can answer questions - the same questions that religions claim to answer, in fact. So I do not find science to be irrelevant to the discussion. I also believe that humans are capable of both constructive and destructive things (I do not think that 'good' and 'bad' are helpful terms here). Humans are able to wield amazing power (thanks to science) and, at the moment, it is unclear we are able (or willing) to harness that power to pull our civilization, environment and planet into the future or down into death and extinction. Time will tell. I believe that we want to survive and succeed, however. I believe that we can if we focus and put our heads together. I believe that humans are capable of great things.

I also believe in and enjoy labels. I am trying to brand myself as a humanist. I certainly do not intend to bend my existing philosophies to fit under humanism's umbrella, but humanism appears to be a perfect fit for what I already believe. Humanism is hopeful, humanism is kind, humanism is compassionate, generous and responsible.

According to the American Humanist Association, and their Humanist Manifesto III:
  • Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
  • Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.
  • Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.
  • Life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
  • Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
  • Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.
Although I do not intend to restrain myself to these guidelines, I see no conflicts with my personal beliefs. This isn't about compromise, and this isn't about conforming to a popular ethical philosophy. But it is nice to have a positive way to describe myself, a label that is not defined by a conflicting premise.

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