Defining Humanism

worldReligious humanists, secular humanists and atheists can all agree that this life in this world is our central and defining focus.  Each one of us is responsible for human affairs, other beings, and the resources of our shared planet.  Our vision for a democratic world is one in which every individual’s worth and dignity is respected, nurtured and supported, and where human freedom and behaving responsibly are natural aspirations for ourselves and expectations of one another.

Humanism2As humanists of diverse types, we are all deeply concerned by these matters, and the onus for the challenges we face cannot be passed on to “higher powers”.  Deities, good and bad, are human creations; ideas that may have helped their believers to feel secure in this ambiguous world, but that have often been the source of tribal, national and global conflicts and violence.  We are the heirs of the historic Enlightenment, who continue to cherish values of freedom, reason and tolerance, and it is our responsibility to develop this heritage for ensuing generations.

Humanism of The Institute

In 1982 several of our forward thinking leaders invited individuals from various humanist groups to come together to address the then-current assault on humanism.  At that time these founders felt we needed to explain, in popular language, the unique humanist answers to many basic questions about truth and morality.  They also saw the need to organize humanist communities, and nurture them for mutual support and joint action.  The writings and stories of the creators of the humanist tradition needed to be made available to future generations.  Leaders and spokespersons needed to be trained and educated to mobilize humanists, and to represent us in the public arena.  Today, more then ever, we believe it is important to develop a unified strategy to defend and spread the humanist message, and these are still our goals.

HumanismThus, individuals who belonged to one or more humanist organization created The Humanist Institute.  These groups range from a strictly secular to a religious humanist perspective.  Current students at the Institute continue to be drawn from all the viewpoints in this continuum.  These organizations define humanism from their own points of view, and many have issued declarations and manifestoes over the years.  By studying the histories and life-stances of these various organizations, students experience the spectrum of humanist philosophy in all its forms, in a respectful environment.  Differences exist among our various organizations in defining humanism, and there is no one single definition of humanism that pervades the program at The Humanist Institute.  Yet there are some things we hold in common that are more important than that which distinguishes us as separate groups.  We see these principles as binding and central to mission of the larger humanist movement.

As we enter our second quarter century, today’s Humanist Institute draws support from, and serves, a variety of groups and organizations throughout the movement.  Our students learn to appreciate our common heritage, as well as the many diverse interpretations that exist within the larger community of humanism, and work together for the health and integrity of our shared future.

Carol Wintermute and Anne Klaeysen
Co-Deans, The Humanist Institute