Home » Library » Modern Library » Edwin Wilson Manifesto Ch13

Edwin Wilson Manifesto Ch13

Chapter 13

Publication of "A Humanist Manifesto"

In desperation to meet the deadline for The New Humanist in which "A Humanist Manifesto" would first appear publicly, I crossed the last "t" and dotted the final "i," making some purely minor typographical corrections, and sent it to the printer. I did this even though Bragg and I had begun to question the wisdom of using the word manifesto.

The text of "A Humanist Manifesto" is reprinted here precisely as it appeared in the May/June 1933 issue of The New Humanist (VI:3:1-5). The thirty-four endorsers signed as individuals and their organizational or professional connections were given for identification only.

A Humanist Manifesto

The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. The time is past for mere revision of traditional attitudes. Science and economic change have disrupted the old beliefs. Religions the world over are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience. In every field of human activity, the vital movement is now in the direction of candid and explicit humanism. In order that religious humanism may be better understood we, the undersigned, desire to make certain affirmations which we believe the facts of our contemporary life demonstrate.

There is great danger of a final, and we believe fatal, identification of the word religion with doctrines and methods which have lost their significance and which are powerless to solve the problems of human living in the Twentieth Century. Religions have always been means for realizing the highest values of life. Their end has been accomplished through the interpretation of the total environing situation (theology or world view), the sense of values resulting therefrom (goal or ideal), and the technique (cult), established for realizing the satisfactory life. A change in any of these factors results in alteration of the outward forms of religion. This fact explains the changefulness of religions throughout the centuries. But through all changes religion itself remains constant in its quest for abiding values, an inseparable feature of human life.

Today man’s larger understanding of the universe, his scientific achievements, and his deeper appreciation of brotherhood have created a situation which requires a new statement of the means and purposes of religion. Such a vital, fearless, and frank religion capable of furnishing adequate social goals and personal satisfactions may appear to many people as a complete break with the past. While this age does owe a vast debt to the traditional religions, it is nonetheless obvious that any religion that can hope to be a synthesizing and dynamic force for today must be shaped for the needs of this age. To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present. It is a responsibility which rests upon this generation. We therefore affirm the following:

First: Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

Second: Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as the result of a continuous process.

Third: Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.

Fourth: Humanism recognizes that man’s religious culture and civilization, as clearly depicted by anthropology and history, are the product of a gradual development due to his interaction with his natural environment and with his social heritage. The individual born into a particular culture is largely molded by that culture.

Fifth: Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values. Obviously humanism does not deny the possibility of realities as yet undiscovered, but it does insist that the way to determine he existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assessment of their relation to human needs. Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method .

Sixth: We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of "new thought."

Seventh: Religion consists of those actions, purposes, and experiences which are humanly significant. Nothing human is alien to the religious. It includes labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation-all that is in its degree expressive of intelligently satisfying human living. The distinction between the sacred and the secular can no longer be maintained.

Eighth: Religious humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now. This is the explanation of the humanist’s social passion.

Ninth: In place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer the humanist finds his religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a cooperative effort to promote social well-being.

Tenth: It follows that there will be no uniquely religious emotions and attitudes of the kind hitherto associated with belief in the supernatural.

Eleventh: Man will learn to face the crises of life in terms of his knowledge of their naturalness and probability. Reasonable and manly attitudes will be fostered by education and supported by custom. We assume that humanism will take the path of social and mental hygiene and discourage sentimental and unreal hopes and wishful thinking.

Twelfth: Believing that religion must work increasingly for joy in living, religious humanists aim to foster the creative in man and to encourage achievements that add to the satisfactions of life.

Thirteenth: Religious humanism maintains that all associations and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life. The intelligent evaluation, transformation, control, and direction of such associations and institutions with a view to the enhancement of human life is the purpose and program of humanism. Certainly religious institutions, their ritualistic forms, ecclesiastical methods, and communal activities must be reconstituted as rapidly as experience allows, in order to function effectively in the modern world.

Fourteenth: The humanists are firmly convinced that existing acquisitive and profit-motivated society has shown itself to be inadequate and that a radical change in methods, controls, and motives must be instituted. A socialized and cooperative economic order must be established to the end that the equitable distribution of the means of life be possible. The goal of humanism is a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good. Humanists demand a shared life in a shared world.

Fifteenth and last: We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from it; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow.

So stand the theses of religious humanism. Though we consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers no longer adequate, the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind. Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement. He must set intelligence and will to the task.


J. A. C Fagginger Auer-Parkman Professor of Church History and Theology, Harvard University; Professor of Church History, Tufts College.

E. Burdette Backus-Unitarian Minister.

Harry Elmer Barnes-General Editorial Department, ScrippsHoward Newspapers.

L. M. Birkhead-The Liberal Center, Kansas City, Missouri.

Raymond B. Bragg-Secretary, Western Unitarian Conference.

Edwin Arthur Burtt-Professor of Philosophy, Sage School of Philosophy, Cornell University.

Ernest Caldecott-Minister, First Unitarian Church, Los Angeles, California.

A. J. Carlson-Professor of Physiology, University of Chicago.

John Dewey-Columbia University.

Albert C Dieffenbach-Formerly Editor of The Christian Register.

John H. Dietrich-Minister, First Unitarian Society, Minneapolis.

Bernard Fantus-Professor of Therapeutics, College of Medicine, University of Illinois.

William Floyd-Editor of The Arbitrator, New York City.

F H. Hankins-Professor of Economics and Sociology, Smith College.

A. Eustace Haydon-Professor of History of Religions, University of Chicago.

Llewellyn Jones-Literary critic and author.

Robert Morss Lovett-Editor, The New Republic; Professor of English, University of Chicago.

Harold P Marley-Minister, The Fellowship of Liberal Religion, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

R. Lester Mondale-Minister, Unitarian Church, Evanston, Illinois.

Charles Francis Potter-Leader and Founder, the First Humanist Society of New York, Inc.

John Herman Randall, Jr.-Department of Philosophy, Columbia University.

Curtis W Reese-Dean, Abraham Lincoln Center, Chicago.

Oliver L. Reiser-Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh.

Roy Wood Sellars-Professor of Philosophy, University of Michigan.

Clinton Lee Scott-Minister, Universalist Church, Peoria, Illinois.

Maynard Shipley-President, The Science League of America.

W Frank Swift-Director, Boston Ethical Society.

V. T. Thayer-Educational Director, Ethical Culture Schools.

Eldred C Vanderlaan-Leader of the Free Fellowship, Berkeley, California.

Joseph Walker-Attorney, Boston, Massachusetts.

Jacob J. Weinstein-Rabbi; Advisor to Jewish Students, Columbia University.

Frank S. C Wicks-All Souls Unitarian Church, Indianapolis.

David Rhys Williams-Minister, Unitarian Church, Rochester, New York.

Edwin H. Wilson-Managing Editor, The New Humanist, Chicago, Illinois; Minister, Third Unitarian Church, Chicago, Illinois.

As associate editor of The New Humanist and initiator of the project, Raymond B. Bragg appended the manifesto with the following note, which has also appeared integrally to the manifesto in all successive editions:

The Manifesto is a product of many minds. It was designed to represent a developing point of view, not a new creed. The individuals, whose signatures appear, would, had they been writing individual statements, have stated the propositions in differing terms. The importance of the document is that more than thirty men have come to general agreement on matters of final concern and that these men are undoubtedly representative of a large number who are forging a new philosophy out of the materials of the modem world.

It is obvious that many others might have been asked to sign the Manifesto had not the lack of time and the shortage of clerical assistance limited our ability to communicate with them. The names of several who were asked do not appear. Reasons for their absence appear elsewhere in this issue of "The New Humanist." Further criticisms that we have been unable to publish have reached us; all of them we value. We invite an expression of opinion from others. To the extent possible "The New Humanist" will publish such materials.

Bragg’s disclaimer was largely the result of correspondence with M. C. Otto and Arthur E. Morgan and is a reflection of Unitarian creedlessness. (Unfortunately, this appendage was inadvertently left out of the 1973 booklet published by Prometheus Books, which included Humanist Manifesto I [1933] and Humanist Manifesto II [1973].)

Continuing the policy of publishing divergent views, the same issue of The New Humanist in which the 1933 manifesto appeared also included the dissenting opinions of some nonsigners-Harold Buschman, John Haynes Holmes, Arthur E. Morgan, and Max C. Otto-whom we have already discussed.

In addition to drafting the initial text of "A Humanist Manifesto," we enlisted Roy Wood Sellars to write an interpretation of the document, which was also published in that issue of The New Humanist (VI: 3:7-12). Entitled "Religious Humanism," this article was integral to the initial presentation of the manifesto. It follows here with only a few sentences deleted:

Religious Humanism

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. And we are certain that very many others, both in this country and abroad, have been thinking and feeling along these lines. Humanism offers to the world a set of new fundamentals on which to build personal and social life. These are the fundamentals as science, philosophy, and ethical insight are together grasping them, the fundamentals, I take it, of the age before us. Together they should furnish the basis for a valid and healthy reading of the nature, conditions, and possibilities of human living.

Now these humanist fundamentals are in many ways diametrically opposed to the fundamentals accepted by Christianity. I shall not attempt to answer the riddle, When is a Christian not a Christian? It reminds me, however, of the puzzle with which philosophers used to deal, the case of Sir John Suckling’s stockings which were so much darned that none of the original silk remained in them. Were they still the original stockings? Not so long ago, the fundamentalist movement in the evangelical churches sought to get back to what they regarded as historical fundamentals. These were formulated in a very definite way and expressed, I think, the beliefs of the typical Protestant of a century ago. It would be another problem to determine how far they coincided with primitive Christianity or with the outlook of the Alexandrian fathers. But, in any case, the evangelical fundamentalists formulated a set of tenets which they regarded as true doctrine about man and the universe. I think that I can understand their motives for so doing and sympathize with at least some of them. It was with their appeal to the state to enforce their beliefs by legislation that I had no sympathy. It was natural; but could not succeed unless the trend was in their education. . . .

Under the influence of science and philosophy many churches and churchmen became liberal. They found it impossible to accept any longer the account of creation in Genesis and agreed that historical investigation had shown it to be a mixture of early Semitic myth and priestly theology. In like manner, miracles were doubted as contrary to the idea of immanent orderliness in the world. Here there was a touch of deism in liberalism. In short, the traditional theology was censored and toned down so that it lost its dramatic and concrete character. It was decided that the old views must be taken symbolically rather than literally.

The result of this liberalizing and deliteralizing was what is usually called modernism. But, in spite of its relinquishments of what is regarded as cruder beliefs, modernism, also, had its fundamentals. As nearly as I can judge, these consist of a belief in a regnant God, the validity of prayer and worship, and the acceptance of personal immortality. In the eyes of the modernist these constitute the minimum of religious fundamentals. I would say that he is doubtful that religion in any real sense of the word can survive the defeat of these fundamentals of his. He is quite certain that, beyond this minimum, Christianity ceases to exist. In relinquishing Jesus as the Son of God, Unitarianism had already stepped, to all intents and purposes, beyond the pale. Theism, I take it, is the basic fundamental of modernism.

And it is here that the battle is waging. To the consternation of the theist the humanist has arisen on the religious horizon to challenge his fundamentals and to assert that the time is ripe for a candid and impartial survey of the situation and its possibilities in the light of modern knowledge. Has the God-idea any longer a basis in the universe as we know it? And, if not, what becomes of the religious attitudes of prayer and worship dependent upon it? And, finally, what is the present standing of the notion of an after-life, a notion bound up with the traditional dualism between mind and body? Are these beliefs and the attitudes and activities integral with them capable of maintaining themselves when confronted by the thought of today? Such questions as these constitute the crisis of liberal Christianity. . . .

The question before us, then, is this, Are even the minimum theistic fundamentals tenable? The humanist says, No! He asserts that man must work out a new set of fundamentals and adjust his attitudes and expectations to them. Moreover, he maintains that these new fundamentals will be frankly naturalistic. Man is a child of nature, though a specially gifted child. . . . The psychological center of religion becomes for him intelligent forethought and purpose rather than petition and submission.

We may define religious humanism, accordingly, as religion adjusted to an intelligent naturalism. It is a religion in which man has become consciously the center of human thought and feeling. It is not a worship of an abstraction called humanity nor does it retain those traditional attitudes which are no longer relevant. It is religious because a concern for human values has always been the heart of religion. But it is a religion with a different perspective, a perspective based upon knowledge of man’s situation rather than upon ignorance and imagination. . . .

We conclude that the humanist movement is a religious movement in that it is deeply concerned with the furtherance of human life along the lines indicated by reason and sympathetic intelligence. It is true that it represents a break with the traditional religious interpretation of life and the universe, but this is a sign of its vitality and novelty. If, as the humanist contends, the traditional religious interpretation of the world was illusory, the only manly thing to do is to acknowledge the mistake and make a fresh start. Man must interpret and direct his life, for this is inseparable from the very activity of living. Thought-frames and beliefs have always been secondary to this necessity. They are variables while this is a constant, as constant as life itself. If some prefer to speak of humanism as a philosophy of life, I would not be averse. But the careful students of comparative religions inform us that religion has always been one with the people’s philosophy of life, with what they regarded as significant and imperative. The point is that the mists, fears, and hopes wrought of supernaturalism are vanishing. It is becoming daylight in the world. Man is at last beginning to understand himself and his situation, to know what he is "up against."

There remain two topics for consideration in this brief exposition of religious humanism: First, why the adoption of the term humanism? and, second, why the complete rejection of theism as a fundamental for the religion of our age and the ages that are coming?

We adopted the term humanism because it was, quite obviously, the one suitable term. Reject theism as the logical center of religion and the only alternative is to take man as the center. The new religion is homocentric and not theo-centric. Historians generally recognize that the passionate return to the literature and art of Greece, characteristic of the Renaissance, expressed in large part a turning away from the false asceticism and otherworldliness of much of the Middle Ages. I am not one of those who desire to paint too dark a picture of Medieval times; and yet I take it to be assured that there was this swing of human attention and interest. Literary humanism was part of a larger movement. Man felt more secure, more creative, more concerned with everyday affairs, with science, politics, trade, art.

And, recurrently since then, the term humanism has appeared to define this direction and concern. It was so used by Feuerbach and by Renan. The humanist was not a mere classicist but one who shared in the Greek sense of human values and dislike for the irrational and mystically authoritative. The humanist was one who took a joy in life and its possibilities and set his intelligence to work. Religious humanism is such humanism in the setting of modern science and philosophy. To narrow humanism to aesthetic classicism would be a crime. The religious humanist is not averse to a touch of romanticism to give vitality nor in his eyes is a pinch or two of humanitarianism and democracy an unmixed evil. All these can be mastered and used if the dominant spirit be that of fearless and intelligent deliberation upon the issues of human life. I must pass the consideration of literary humanism to the aesthetician and the literary critic.

And so we come at last to the question of the standing and the main characteristics of the naturalism which religious humanism accepts as a fundamental. Upon this I think all naturalists are agreed that between naturalism and theism it is a case of either-or. Either a reality corresponding to the God-idea is at the center of reality in a directing, planning way or there is no such reality. In the latter case, man is left to work out his own salvation as best he can with a fairly stable planet underneath his feet. His is the adventure and the goal.

It has always been my thesis that naturalism has today the logical priority. Nature is under observation in a way that God is not. It is difficult to put the contrast without paradox. For, of course, if God does not exist, he cannot be known. God does not exist means that the God-idea does not have application to what exists.

It is not my intention to brush aside all the arguments which have been used by Christians and other theists to show that the God-idea does have application. I must content myself with saying that none of these arguments have seemed to philosophers very convincing. As the support of traditional convictions is withdrawn, they become increasingly feeble. The one which seems to me most interesting goes back to Descartes and has appeared recently in new form as directed against the doctrine of emergent evolution. It is this, that the effect cannot be qualitatively different from the cause and the emergence of personality in the universe presupposes its prior existence. But to me, at least, this seems a dogma. Is it an a priori truth? How is it going to be validated as such? Novelty is a fact which runs all through nature with synthesis and organization. Naturalism studies nature to find out its pattern and what is, or is not, possible.

The naturalism which religious humanism accepts is not reductive. It takes man as he is with his gifts, with his mistakes and successes, in the scene, national and international, with which we are all becoming so familiar. Here lies man’s job. Let him apply intelligence and a humane set of values to the business of living.


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.


all rights reserved