Why I Am a Humanist
By Merle Hertzler
I am a humanist. By this I mean that I accept and promote the values and principles traditionally accepted by humanists. Here I will list some of the more important of those values, and explain why they are important to me.
I will use the humanist document, Humanist Manifesto II (offsite) as my outline. That document presents principles that humanists promote. I believe these are good principles, and I invite others to join us in promoting these ideals.
When we promote these principles, we are not declaring a creed, or demanding blind faith. Rather, we are stating that these are things we have found important. As humanists, we are free to debate the details or even to disagree on certain principles. We do, however find that we agree with the general purposes represented by this document. And therefore we unite together in promoting these ideals.
1. Human need is more important than following a particular religious creed.
Many creeds have been written to encourage faith in God and his plan. However, these creeds differ widely. If one of these creeds were indeed correct, how would we ever know?With no clear way of knowing that any system of belief represents the revelation of a Creator, I remain skeptical of such claims.
We live in a world with great human need. We can see the problems for ourselves, and we have the power to do something about them. It is more important to respond to human need than to conform ourselves to the unproven claims of revelation from God.
We are left then as people upon this earth, as children that are home alone. Shall we shrug our shoulders and walk off with nobody to guide us? No, why not rather choose to work together to guide ourselves? The human mind is a marvelous thing. Many human minds in cooperation is an even better thing. Then why not put all our minds together, and determine how we can unitedly move on as a species?
2. It is this life that counts, not a future eternal life
Many find escaping hell and obtaining rewards in heaven to be the most important aspect of life. Everything else pales in comparison with eternity. But what if there is no life after death? What if this life is all there is? As science shows that thoughts come from the brain, and that the brain is destroyed at death, how could we possibly survive our own death? And if there is no life after death, why allow that conjecture to dominate our thoughts?
The fear of hell has traumatized many children, including me when I was young. No child should grow up with such terrors.
Also, the promise of heavenly rewards leads one to work for unproven benefits. Doing good for others because we want future rewards leads to a legalistic, mechanical view of ethics. It is better to do good because we want to work together for the common good.
This life is the only life we have. Let us live it fully.
3. Morals values come from meeting human needs
We all want to be happy. Humans are inherently social creatures, and they need each other to find happiness and prosperity. Sometimes humans act in ways that do not promote the happiness and prosperity of others. For this reason, we need laws and moral codes to guide our behaviour. Morality is important, for it keeps people from destroying the lives of others, and allows us to build up each other. With this in mind, why not use our combined human reason to make laws and moral codes that promote the happiness of all? Our common human needs and experiences can guide us.
Some people, rather than building their ethics on human needs, operate instead under the idea that might-makes-right. They argue that God is the mightiest, and that he will punish us severely if we don't do what he says. They argue that we should, therefore, do whatever he says, regardless of whether this brings misery to ourselves and others. But what if the mightiest creature in the universe tells people to kill, rape, and pillage? People that approve of blindly following the strongest deity would find themselves with an unacceptable morality. So I cannot see why a deity with the most might should be considered to be unconditionally right.
Others argue that morality has nothing to do with following edicts from God that might be harmful. They would argue instead that God knows best, and that God, out of his benevolence, lovingly tells us what is best. But where has God shown us his benevolent way? Many moralities have been given in the name of God, but they differ greatly. Who will get to pick which we use? And many of these systems have severe shortcomings. (See, for instance, Is the Bible the Best Moral Guide.) And so, although an omnipotent, benevolent God might know best how to live life, we have no assurance that such a God is in direct communication with us. We are left with the need to use reason to discover the best moral choices.
4. Human reason is our most effective resource.
The advancements of society in the last 500 years have been truly phenomenal. These advancements have been led by people that have used their reason and intelligence to discover the way the world works, and to work to build a better world. The human mind is amazing. Let us promote the continued use of our intellect. Let us promote education for all, so that we all can think about our problems and work together to build a better world.
Several centuries of human reason have accomplished far more than many centuries of religious authority.
We can work together, using our own reason and intelligence, to develop good ethics and laws that help everybody.
5. The dignity and worth of each person is important.
I believe in the value and dignity of the human race. I believe that we as humans can do great things. I do not believe all of our righteousness is as filthy rags, as the Bible states. I believe that we are creatures of dignity and worth, that we can accomplish things of great value. Knowing the worth of others, we can treat people with respect.
6. Unnecessary sexual restrictions should be avoided.
Consenting adults have found different ways of fulfilling their sexual desires. We must avoid unnecessary restriction, and tolerate different lifestyles.
7.Civil liberties must be promoted.
We need to promote free speech and personal liberty. People need to be able to associate as they please, and experience the liberty to express themselves in art, writing, and religion. All should be able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
8. We should build open, democratic societies.
The best way to meet the needs of all humans is to let all humans have a say in the way society works. Decisions should be democratically made after openly discussing issues.
9. We must maintain separation of church and state.
Governments ought not to restrict the free thoughts of others. Governments should not promote one religion over another and force people to follow that religion.
10. Economic systems should aim to increase the quality of life of all people. "
We live in an uncertain world in which unfortunate circumstances or selfish people can leave many victims in desperate conditions. Economic systems should make it their goal to provide opportunity to all, and to provide a safety net to help the vulnerable.
11. Discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, or national origin must be eliminated.
Many have suffered unfairly in life due to discrimination. We need to strive to treat all people fairly.
12. All humans and nations should be united for the common good.
The human race has long been divided into nations that work against each other, each seeking the good of their own people. We need to transcend these differences, and learn to work together as a world community, in which each is free to follow his own traditions, but all are united for the common good.
13. War is to be avoided if at all possible.
Wars cause unbelievable human suffering. We should strive to build international cooperation in which disputes are resolved by peaceful means. Far too much damage has been done by soldiers who have been fighting for peace. Although such fighting is sometimes necessary, it should be used only as a last resort.
14. We need to stop the abuse of the environment and preserve resources.
Rapid population growth and increased wealth, coupled with a neglect of the environment, are putting a huge strain on the earth's resources. Pollution and environmental damage must be brought under control. Unless we do this, our descendents will face a desolate world.
15. All nations need to work together to build economic growth.
Economic decisions of one group of people have impact on all peoples. All nations need to work together to build growth. The world economy must give good opportunity to all, not just to a few select nations.
16. Technology is vital to human development.
We promote the advancement of science and technology as a means of promoting the happiness of all. Although there are dangers of new technologies, humans can use reason and science to enjoy the benefits of new advances while minimizing the bad effects.
17. We must expand global communication.
Open communication between all peoples needs to take place, as each gets a chance to express his needs, and all work together in mutual understanding to solve the problems.
Copyright ÓMerle Hertzler 2006. All rights reserved.