CHAPTER 1

"A Humanist Manifesto" - A Historic Document

When thirty-four individualists agree upon anything, it is an unusual event-especially when there is a preponderance of ministers involved. Even though "reasonable minds at work on the same or similar facts" are presumed to arrive at similar conclusions, this is not always the case. Yet in 1933, such an agreement was reached in a declaration of the theses of religious humanism and was published in the May/June issue of The New Humanist (VI:3).

In the same issue in which this declaration, "A Humanist Manifesto," was published, an article entitled "Religious Humanism" by Roy Wood Sellars (author and professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor) announced the following:

In the Humanist Manifesto it will be seen that many of us have reached a common body of beliefs and attitudes, beliefs about man, his place in the universe, the general nature of that universe, and attitudes toward the great questions of life. . . .

"A Humanist Manifesto" brought to public attention for the first time a movement deeply rooted in the cultural life of the United States of America. This movement has been variously called religious humanism, naturalistic humanism, scientific humanism, and ethical humanism according to the varying backgrounds and emphases of its proponents. In this book, I use the term religious humanism, as did the signers of "A Humanist Manifesto." In addition to the varieties of humanism current at that time, historically there have been many humanisms as well. But the humanism announced in the manifesto had "new" horizons; it looked-perhaps too trustingly-to science as the putative savior of humanity. Therefore, "A Humanist Manifesto" should be regarded as but one outcropping of a cultural trend that existed at that time in many places and which since has surfaced in many traditions and nations beyond sectarian barriers.

The 1933 manifesto issued a challenge in the name of naturalism to the supernaturalists whose beliefs were based upon revelation rather than reason and science. It was a bold move to them publicly that their religious views were out of date and that the time had come for a new faith and a new religion. Such a challenge is just as appropriate today in view of the influence of the radical religious right.

The making of this historic document reflected the hope and directions of an era. "A Humanist Manifesto" represented a tide which the fundamentalist Christian revival set out to stem. It may be that Christian fundamentalism will become as obsolete as the particular expressions of the Social Gospel in Protestantism which it engulfed, and that the Christian right will one day discover that time, science, and modern values are not on their side. I believe their own numbers and importance have been inflated by skillful use of the media and by abundant conservative financing. Moreover, the claim that "humanism is dead" (or that "God is dead," for that matter) is a little like the shout: "The king is dead! Long live the king!"

In the mean time, as this century's decades have elapsed, humanists have held dialogues with Marxists and Roman Catholics. Faith in human potential and the stirring of freedom are still shaking the structure of totalitarian regimes, both political and religious. "A Humanist Manifesto," although perhaps with too easy optimism, foreshadowed the revolution in faith and values astir in society today and is a historic and meaningful document.

The pendulum will swing in religion as in politics from the humanistic to the reactionary and theistic, but religious humanism has confidence that it will repeatedly swing back to a new and more broadly based global faith in humanity. There is no return to the values and mores of an agrarian Golden Age. The need for global cooperation to avoid nuclear destruction demands solutions with a contemporary focus.

Throughout this book it should be borne in mind that the founders of the Humanist Press Association, later reincorporated as the American Humanist Association, never intended to establish a church or denomination. Their organization was an aligning for mutual education of persons who belonged to various organized religions or to no organized religion. At the start, those who termed themselves religious humanists predominated, but the door was always open to unchurched freethinkers and rationalists.

Some writers have dealt with humanism as a religion, but in its inclusive sense it is also a philosophy and an ethical way of life.

 


Copyright © 1995 by Humanist Press, a division of the American Humanist Association, 7 Harwood Drive, P.O. Box 1188, Amherst, NY 14226-7188. (Phone 1-800-743-6646 or 1-716-839-5080.) All rights reserved. This book may be downloaded for personal use only. Otherwise, no part of it may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means - electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise - without the written permission of Humanist Press. The hard copy edition is available from the above address.

Top