The official defining statement of World Humanism is:
- Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.
- Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention.
- Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.
- Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.
- Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognizes our dependence and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.
- Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-view on all of humanity. Humanism recognizes that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision.
- Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognizes the transforming power of art.
- Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfillment.
- Humanism is a life stance aiming at the maximum possible fulfillment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our time. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
I guess I’m lucky compared to many atheists. You see, I am a second generation atheist. My father was a staunch atheist and mom was more of an agnostic with Eastern religious and spiritual leanings who never really felt the need to answer the question, “Does God exist?” When I was young we attended a Unitarian Church in Hyde Park, Chicago, where I grew up, but we left after the minister retired and the guy who replaced him turned out to be more Christian-centric. I was still in Sunday school at the time so I hadn’t really attended many services. I enjoyed the Christmas Eve ceremony which included a candle-lighting ceremony where we would light candles from our neighbor’s candle and continue down the row until everyone in the church was holding a lit candle. The widely acclaimed Chicago Children’s Choir would sing and I felt connected to my fellow attendees. It didn’t hurt that the moment was incredibly beautiful to behold with hundreds of candles lighting the room. Still, I never really missed going after we left. I hadn’t much cared for Sunday school anyway.
As I grew older, I dabbled in many Eastern religions, but always drew up short when they inevitably asked me to make the leap from the real world to the supernatural. I never accepted the classic Western Judeo-Christian concept of religion and God, and actually ended a relationship with one girlfriend when she became “born again.” Though we dated off and on thereafter, things were never the same as neither of us could really accept the other’s views.
In the nineties Dad and I started to grow closer. We were living only a few blocks apart and started to have weekly lunches together as my work schedule allowed. He was retired, I would take him to do the weekly shopping, and we’d stop for lunch. Many of our conversations centered on religion, politics and other world events or even sports–after all it was the nineties in Chicago and Michael Jordan was in his prime.
Dad had subscribed to the Secular Humanist magazine and Skeptical Inquirer, and he surprised me with subscriptions for my Christmas gift (yes, we still celebrated Christmas and I still do, though it’s cultural, not religious). At that point, my path started to lock in as I found a way of thinking about atheism that resonated with me. I still struggled with the concept of a completely natural universe, and that final bit of doubt wouldn’t end until early in the new millennium, when I found some theories about how the universe could have popped into being from nothing without needing a first cause. After that, I was solidly atheist. I never hid my beliefs and I was proud of Dad (who passed away in 1999) for having been so vocal about his atheism, but I never felt the need to rub it in people’s faces. Still, if anyone asked, I never flinched from declaring myself an atheist.
Sometime in the last few years I started openly posting about my atheism on Facebook and even wrote some atheist-centered posts for a political site. One was actually re-posted by the American Humanist Association (AHA), which was a proud day for me. I had started shying away from the term “Secular Humanist,” though not consciously. “Atheist” was simpler and more succinct. I’ve always believed in the tenets of Humanism as listed at the top of this article, and the two that mean the most to me are the first (ethics) and last (fulfillment). I believe in the rest also, but those two really hit at the heart of the matter from my perspective.
Almost 25 years ago, the hearing in my left ear crashed from normal to a severe loss overnight. Six years later the right ear did the same thing. Eleven years after that, the right ear went completely deaf while the left ear had steadily dwindled down to a profound hearing impairment with a 120 decibel loss across the mid-range where most of human speech occurs. For comparison’s sake, if a 747 jet was taking off 10 yards away from wherever you are currently sitting, the sound level for you would be 120 decibels. In other words, I was “stone-cold deaf.” Life got pretty tough after that, and I floundered for several years before moving to San Jose to take a room with one of my sisters.
Shortly after arriving with no where else to turn, I reached out to the hearing loss community here which turned out to be quite vibrant and large. Interactions with people in that community led to me applying for and getting disability and Medicare. That in turn led to cochlear implant (CI) surgery for the right ear, which led me back to work, which led to full time work, which led to new insurance and a second implant for the all-but-worthless left ear. During that time I began leading a local self-help group for people with hearing loss, ALDA – San Jose. I then became a mentor for people with my kind of cochlear implant. I helped them learn more about cochlear implants and what steps they need to go through to be considered for the surgery. My job is also hearing-loss related: I install captioned telephones. The phones are completely paid for by the Federal government. I work from home and get to set my own hours. It’s really a pretty cool job.
That’s a synopsis of what I went through. The full story is much longer and more complicated, and I needed a lot of help from a lot of people–people who offered advice, guidance, and even places to live. I know I will never be able to fully repay the emotional and financial support I have been given by people essentially living by Humanist principles, even if they don’t claim them as their own, or choose instead to use their religion as justification for their actions and beliefs. Whatever motivated them, I knew what motivated me: I had to pay this generosity forward. I had to do whatever it took to make the world a better place for people with hearing loss. I had to get more involved.
But life can be tough at times, and as my schedule got busier, I started to feel overwhelmed. In early 2013, after leading the ALDA group for a couple years, I felt I was struggling to find time for me. I was getting busier at work and trying to do good work within the CI community, and I felt I didn’t have the time to devote to leading the ALDA group anymore. Unfortunately, no one else wanted to step up and take the lead. I felt if I dropped it, the group would die. I struggled with these competing issues over the next six to eight months and was very close to walking away. I knew doing that would cause the group to struggle or cease activities altogether, but I have many friends in it–people who played a major role in my recovery. All of these thoughts were churning around in me fighting one another and the stress was difficult to bear. Then, one day in fall 2013 I was sitting at my desk and a thought hit me, “What if this is what I’m supposed to be doing?” Now to be clear, this was not some “OMG! I SEE THE LIGHT!” moment. It was really just a thought, but shortly thereafter I made the decision to stop fighting and accept that maybe this was my life calling–working to improve the lives of people with hearing loss. At that point I made a conscious decision to put in the extra time needed to do all of the things I had taken on–to live my life by Humanist principles–though I admit I only recently realized that that is what I was doing.
It wasn’t sudden or even dramatic, but I started to find I had more time to do these things than I thought and then, even more surprisingly, I had more time and energy for me, which led to me starting an exercise program and that has led to my longest uninterrupted stretch of healthy living in the last 25+ years. Once I decided to start living the tenets of Humanism I mentioned above, the pieces in my life started to fall into place. Putting myself out there as a guide and leader for others in my community enriched my life and gave me more energy, happiness, and fulfillment than I had ever experienced.
As part of my life change, I made it my New Year’s resolution in 2014 to seek out new groups and people. Part of this was because of my restored hearing, which led me to feel ready for that kind of exposure, but more of it was that I suddenly was feeling like the person I had always envisioned in my mind’s eye. I wasn’t running from responsibility or hiding from the world. I was out there fighting to make the world a better place, and suddenly I felt whole. Part of putting myself out there was to join the Atheist Community of San Jose (I’d link it, but you’re already reading this article on their site) which got me thinking again about what it means to be an atheist, a Humanist.
I hadn’t been doing much thinking along those lines in a long time. Calling myself an atheist was simpler, and though I’ve always considered myself a Humanist, I had stopped thinking about what makes a Humanist a Humanist. After attending a recent ACSJ-sponsored talk given by Bart Campolo, the Secular Humanist Chaplain at the University of Southern California, it hit me that much of what I’ve been doing over the last 15+ months is living the first and final tenets of Humanism: working to improve the lives of other people both now and in the future. In so doing, I made myself whole. I made myself happy. I feel fulfilled as never before.
Now I want to be clear, I’m not trying to brag, but I do admit that I’m proud of myself. I’ve done things over this period of time that I didn’t know I could do. Reaching out to the world has been an amazing experience. Joining the ACSJ and finding like-minded people who wanted to give back by donating time and energy in philanthropic endeavors has only cemented my feeling that Humanism is indeed something for everyone. In short, people helping people and actively being involved in making the world a better place is what Humanism is all about:
Humanism is a life stance aiming at the maximum possible fulfillment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living, and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our time.
Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
We can all live lives that are ethical.
We have a duty of care to all humanity, including future generations.
Humanists believe morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.
When we do that, we all become Humanists, and in the end, that’s a pretty cool thing to be.
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