The question is posed on at least a weekly basis.
It comes up in various ways. Someone will ask about something they read or an interview they came across.
And then they ask me:
“So what is Secular Humanism?”
Or even the more simplified version:
“What is Humanism?”
I suppose the curiosity and its subsequent question make sense. Humanism isn’t really a member of the common American vernacular.
And I guess words with an –ism on the end of them can sound kind of intimidating. Automatically sounds like some nugget of academia representing some corner of ideology. And if we’re not already acquainted with said representative ideology, the –ism makes it all sound like a systematically weird ideology.
And yes, ism-itized ideologies and philosophies can sound somewhat disconcerting. Of course, we have political –isms like communism and socialism and capitalism. You have religious isms like Hinduism, Judaism, Shi’ism, and Mormonism. We can talk about just about anything and box it up as either liberalism or conservatism. There’s the extra scary sounding isms like fascism and Nazism and Marxism. And then there’s the ones that we don’t even know what they are. Like Neozapatism and Sorelianism or maybe Rastafarianism and Raëlism.
For what it’s worth, when I was in junior high a Baptist preacher cautioned at length that the whole church-full of us be wary of all the isms of the world. All the funky sounding religions and political factions and pop-cultural identifications. He said they were all put in place by the devil himself to distract and deter us from the one and only shining light of non-ismness, Christianity. It’s not Christianism, he enlightened us. And apparently for this reason, that particular church wasn’t affiliated with Catholicism or Pentecostalism or Lutheranism. And thankfully it spoke English so that the ismness of the isms would be made apparent.
So what then is humanism?
And what does it mean to be humanist?
We’ll leave the “secular” part of secular humanism for another day. But defining what it means to be humanist is simple. Easy-peasy. I’m not sure how many people think the word sounds scary, but really it’s not.
Just break off the ism and see what’s left.
It’s defined by none other than humanity.
Humanism is an ism that’s all about humanity.
No explicit knee-jerk judgments against all the other scary-sounding isms of the world but this just might be the one and only ideology in all of existence that puts all other bullshit concerns aside and simply seeks to focus on the good of humanity itself.
Not so scary really. Just an unadulterated concern for humanity itself.
Or as I like to put it:
To be humanist is to be a lover of humanity, to want what’s best for the bigger picture of our perpetually thriving existence.
And yes, I am humanist! Why wouldn’t I be?!
Why wouldn’t all of us be???
If you consider yourself a lover of humanity, guess what, you just might be a humanist.
If you’d like to see humanity stay in the game of life for another generation or two or maybe even a couple more millennia, you sound like you might be a humanist.
If you tend to think that humanity is done best when done in relationship and in community and with each of us trying to look out for one another, you’re continuing to sound more and more humanist.
If you try to be mindful of how your actions impact those around you, including our entire global ecosystem and even the universe itself, because it’s all connected in one way or another, then yep, that’s pretty humanist.
But if you also think we ought enjoy life while we have it and live it to the proverbial fullest, this too is absolutely humanist.
If you think all humans should have the right to think for themselves and live for themselves and basically be freethinking and freeliving individuals without the interference of controlling megalomaniacal interest-groups, you’re starting to sound very incredibly humanist.
And if you think that human potential, both individually and collectively, should be advanced and progressed and maximized, then you’re more than on the right track. You’re humanist.
So basically, yeah, if you’re a lover of humanity and want what’s best for the bigger picture of our continually thriving existence, then yes, you are without a doubt humanist.
Beyond the basics of wanting what’s best for humanity, there’s all kinds of room for discussion on how that best is best achieved. The freedom to disagree is core to, you guessed it, being humanist. The only key is being pretty all-about the big-picture thriving of humanity.
So use the ism or the ist, whatever verbal composition of humanity-lover you find less scary or more trendy. It’s all up to you. But either way, it’s time to recognize your presence.