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Edwin Wilson Manifesto Ch14



Reactions from the Media

Concurrent to its appearance in The New Humanist, the manifesto was released to the media. Both Albert Dieffenbach of Boston and Charles Francis Potter of New York had expressed their willingness to help with publicity, and undoubtedly their expertise was useful. The press releases yielded some surprising results.

Herbert Yahraes, a religion editor for the Associated Press, wrote to Raymond Bragg on May 6, 1933, saying: "Many thanks for the ‘Humanist Manifesto.’ We used a story on it for Monday morning papers, May 1."

On May 1, 1933, John Evans, the religion editor of the Chicago Tribune, under the title, "Liberals See New Religion without God," summed up the manifesto’s case:

Inasmuch as a universe without God has no way of imparting "revelation," and because the inhabitants of a godless universe are devoid of "spirit," which is the vehicle of revelation’s reception by mankind, then, in order to get on well in the universe, man must adopt a strictly scientific spirit, the humanist creed asserts. . . . Says the new creed: "Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method."

In spite of the manifestos disclaimer of creedal intent, Evans dubbed it a creed. How quickly errors can creep into history!

John Evans was also confused over the authorship of the manifesto-a misunderstanding we’ve already covered. Evans wrote: "Prof. Haydon added that he thought Prof. Sellers [ sic] wrote the original draft and mailed it to prominent liberals of the country for review and amendment." But as we’ve discussed in previous chapters, it was Raymond Bragg who initiated the project and persuaded Roy Wood Sellars to write the first draft. It was principally Bragg and I who mailed it "to prominent liberals " and a committee of four (Bragg, Curtis Reese, A. Eustace Haydon, and myself) who edited it and incorporated numerous suggestions. No one person wrote "A Humanist Manifesto"; it was a consensus document.

The Chicago Herald Examiner also published a story on May 1, describing the manifesto as "a call for the establishment of a new religion" and listing the more prominent signatories. The article stated: "Proponents of the new code said that science and economic change have disrupted the old beliefs and that the time is ripe for coming to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience."

In New York City, an article in the May 1 Herald Tribune stressed the need to erase the distinction between sacred and secular, the affirmation that the universe is "self-existing and not created and the revision of religious emotions as requirements of the manifesto. The Herald Tribune article also listed more than half of the thirty-four signatories.

The Los Angeles Times carried a full-column editorial, "The Faith of Our Fathers," which stated:

Not only are these boosters of humanism in error in their main premise, that the religious forms and ideas of our fathers are no longer adequate for the needs of this age, but in their fifteen points they persistently put the secular before the sacred. . . .

"Religions the world over," cry the humanists, "are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions." On the contrary, new conditions are under dire necessity of coming to terms with the religions of the world. Their failure to do so is illustrated in the miserable plight of the Russian workers, for whom, if the Soviets had not thrown over all reliance on the Divine, they might have been able to afford some relief.

And so began a heated "defense of the faith" (that is, theism) in the print media, which did not even wait for a response from religious leaders and the religious press. Not having had the benefits of a clipping service, I can only infer that many other papers dealt with the manifesto based upon the very spotty clippings I received from friends.

The Bristol, Connecticut, Press editorialized on May 19, 1933, referring to a report of the manifesto published in the same issue and ignoring the fact that over half of the thirty-four signatories were clerics. In fact, the paper chose to view college professors as being the "culprits" behind the manifesto:

In another column of today’s paper, appears a communication, quoting an article from the Literary Digest, signed by various and sundry college professors advocating a new religion, which these professors dub as "Humanism."

Just as the day of the superbusiness man has passed, and it is realized that his advice in reference to business affairs is no better than that of the ordinary business man, so the day has also come when the college professor with his sophisticated pronouncement on all kinds of human affairs, should no longer be regarded as omniscient.

College professors are much inclined to give out interviews on all sorts of human affairs. When, however, a mess of them such as have signed their names to this communication, show what they do not know about religion, we are reminded of an incident which happened in our college days, and which, we think, would be a first-rate cure to administer to these professors. This particular incident was known as, "Finlay’s Conversion of Thomas." Finlay was a very ardent Episcopalian. Another member of the class had become very much interested in scientific study, and his investigations had led him to believe that everything in this universe came from cause to effect, without the directing hand of a supreme being in any way whatsoever. He was expressing his advanced ideas one Sunday afternoon. Finlay listened to what Thomas had to say, but he began to be considerably wrought-up, especially when Thomas denied the existence of a God.

Finally Finlay could stand it no longer, and he stepped up to Thomas with these words: "Thomas, you say just once more that there is no God, and I will knock Hell out of YOU."

He meant exactly what he said for he was a strong man. . . .

Such a dose of medicine is the only kind of argument which these professors are capable of understanding and in our humble opinion they would be cured.

Truly, the spirit of the Inquisition was not lacking even in the early days of this century. In the name of the gentle Jesus, doctrinaire Christians-even in 1933-were ready to use violence to support their beliefs.

One of the most influential reports on "A Humanist Manifesto" was an article by Raube Walters, which included an interview with sociologist F. H. Hankins, a professor at Smith College and one of the signers. The article appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript, for which Albert Dieffenbach, another manifesto signer, was the religion editor. Professor Hankins was quoted as saying:

The existence and being of God, the special and purposeful creation of man, and the existence of the soul as a separable entity are denied by the first three statements of the fifteen propositions contained in this manifesto. As a corollary to this is the elimination of any possibility of immortality. Humanism is realism in religion, the willing destruction of illusions and delusions, and a willingness to face facts with scientific precision. It destroys nothing real and nothing which in the last analysis, is humanly significant. . . .

In the same article, Raube Walters published statements from three other signers-Albert Dieffenbach, Joseph Walker, and J. A. C. F. Auer. Defining his position, Dr. Dieffenbach was quoted:

I would not identify myself with anything that is attempted to make an abrupt break with the past. Humanism is the logical outcome of Christian thought. . . . Religion is still religion though God in any conception of the word may be disregarded. . . .

For my part I prefer not to abandon the word God. for the reality in which I have my being, while it does not correspond to the traditional theistic conception, is nevertheless the support of my life without which I could not live in body, mind, or spirit. . . .

Obviously, Dieffenbach signed the manifesto despite differences with some of its tenets. That he did sign indicates his agreement with the general spirit of the document.

Boston attorney Joseph Walker commented:

I signed the Humanist Manifesto because I am in general accord with the statements therein contained. If men are to discover a satisfactory way of life they must face squarely the facts of life. Realistic thinking must take the place of wishful thinking. Men may wish to believe in a personal God, like the Christian God. Men may wish to believe in a future life but the question is, not what men wish to believe but rather what, with intellectual honesty, they can believe. . . .

According to Raube Walters, J. A. C. F. Auer contended that the manifesto contained both more and less than any of the individuals signing it would have included and that, even in the abridged form of its publication, stands in need of rewriting. Dr. Auer was of the opinion that the manifesto covered too much ground. According to Walters, Auer envisioned humanism as a method of arriving at truth and did not see in the phrasing of the first proposition any denial of God. It was Auer’s opinion that, if the humanists do so, they are as much at fault as the theists in presuming to "know" the truth.

In a sequel to his first article, this one entitled "In Rejoinder to the Humanists, Five Theists Say Their Say," Walters presented Catholic and Protestant reassertions of "their belief in the Manifold Aspects of a Real God." One of those included was the Reverend James Luther Adams, then minister of the Second Unitarian Church of Salem, Massachusetts, and a distinguished theologian and authority on Paul Tillich (another theologian). In a lengthy statement, Adams called the manifesto "in many respects irrelevant. . . . There is scarcely a signer of the Manifesto who is willing to defend all of its fifteen points He dismissed the manifesto as "simply a journalistic venture intended for popular consumption." He denied that a violent controversy was raging in humanism and stressed the concern for free inquiry and improvement of the social order as shared by liberal theists and humanists.

The Roman Catholic perspective was offered by the Reverend Michael J. Ahern, then a radio commentator of the "Catholic Truth Hour" (broadcast on NBC from 1929 to 1956). Ahern stated:

With the Manifesto of the Religious Humanists, a Catholic finds himself in some agreement. He would agree that any religion must recognize its obligations to a better social order; should work for a greater social justice for all men; cooperate for the common good of human life and human happiness; use its best endeavors to cultivate all the arts, all the sciences, all the culture and all the emoluments of civilization; in a word, bring to pass on earth, the greatest sum of genuine human happiness in a genuine human brotherhood. But the Catholic cannot agree that this implies that this universal goal can be attained by purely naturalistic or materialistic means.

A Protestant opinion was offered by the Reverend Russell Henry Stafford of the Old South Congregational Church at Copley Square in Boston. Dr. Stafford found the new movement "strangely named" and declared the name humanism had already been preempted by T. S. Eliot and Irving Babbitt-a preemption that history proved to be of short duration. Dr. Stafford held that "a modem philosophical theist will find much in the motivation of this movement [that is, the new form of humanism] with which to sympathize." He was referring to humanism’s reaction to other-worldliness and the fact that "religious Humanism stands for the validity of moral idealism in its own right," as against "moral anarchy." He predicted that the new movement would have little viability because it is a "moderately interesting eccentricity, doctrinaire and impractical. . . . It is," Stafford declared, "a revamping of Auguste Comte’s positivistic ‘Religion of Humanity.’"

A fourth commentator in Walter’s second Transcript article was the Reverend Dwight J. Bradley, a lecturer on worship at Newton-Andover Theological School in Massachusetts. He defended theism in terms of "experience"-a word that has done heavy duty in defense of the Christian faith in recent decades. "Intellectual theism is to my mind," said Bradley, "simply one way to try to define experience, either one’s own or that of other men. . . . Theism is to me not an intellectual conception but a personal experience. A man is a theist because he’s a mystic."

Here the issue of evidence is most certainly relevant. There is no question but that deep emotional experiences do occur, but there is a great probability of error in the interpretation of experience. Years later, inspired by Abraham Maslow, who spoke of "peak experiences and self-actualization," as well as by others, humanists were to find themselves studying the potentialities of naturalistic mysticism. The early issues of Religious Humanism explored the possibility of what George Santayana and others have called naturalistic piety, but I would venture to guess the average humanist holds that nothing short of adherence to scientific evidence can safeguard one against superstition. The question always is: what is the evidence? Humanists, relying upon the scientific method, usually would have a different sense of evidence than the theists. Humanists have a diminished will to believe that traditional symbols and doctrine correctly interpret experience. Furthermore, the theistic mystics usually articulate their experience in terms of their own cultural imagery and background.

Bradley summed up his position with a rather simplistic dismissal of the new movement, saying that "the general run of avowed religious Humanists are still suffering from a reaction against their early religious conditioning and early environment."

Additional media reaction to the manifesto included comment by Dr. John Van Schaick, editor and manager of the Christian Leader, a Universalist publication (published prior to the merger with the Unitarians), who stated emphatically: "Here are men on the offensive. They are not in the church to be tolerated. They are in the church to make it over" (he might have said, "to humanize it"). He further stated:

They have no apologies for the use of the word "religion." The time has come, they insist, to limit the use of the word to those processes that enrich life here and now. . . .

These humanists do not want God and they will not have God. . . . Well, we are just as strong in our view. When we say God we mean God-omnipotent, omniscient, good, real, objective, personal, and super-personal, above us, beyond us, outside of us, inside of us, everywhere.

News of "A Humanist Manifesto" indirectly reached an important overseas newspaper thanks to Victor Moody, then Unitarian Minister at Horsham, England. In a July 24, 1933, letter to The New Humanist, Moody wrote:

You may possibly be interested to see the enclosed letter, which I sent the other day to the Manchester Guardian. I did not, of course, mean to identify the New Humanism in any way with Irving Babbitt’s, but as the notice of his death seemed to treat his work as the only humanism that the States knows, I thought it worth giving your recent Manifesto additional means of publicity, other than the more restricted one it received in our Unitarian paper, the "Inquirer," where, as no doubt you have seen, it created considerable discussion. Personally, I am delighted that you have been able to gather so many varying types of people on the same platform, and wish your work the greatest possible success. If you care to use the enclosed article in "The New Humanist" or elsewhere, please do so.

I am, at the moment, busy finishing a book on Russia, which I recently visited, for Victor Gollancz, Ltd., London; when this is finished I hope to get in closer touch with your work, and would like, if possible, to get in a lecturing trip in the States some time next year.

With best greetings from myself and other sympathetically-minded Britishers. . . .

Moody’s appraisal of the humanist movement in America follows:

To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian:

Sir,-In your obituary notice of the late Prof. Irving Babbitt, the statement is made (apropos of the United States) that "to-day humanism is a dead topic." . . . This is by no means the case. Among the more thoughtful elements in the States, the humanist movement is making marked progress. More significantly still, it is becoming to-day less amorphous in its outlook, more sure of its philosophic grounds. It has restated its position in terms less nebulous, and more definitely in keeping with the swift trends of economic and historical thought. It is thus gaining power as a dynamic weapon of social and political change, the importance of which it would be foolish to underestimate.

As evidence of this, it is sufficient to call attention to a recent Manifesto, published in the May-June issue of "The New Humanist" (Chicago) in which is outlined a constructive programme-both religious and political-of a drastic nature and of comprehensive scope. It is particularly significant that this Manifesto has succeeded in uniting on one common platform, influential citizens of widely differing types, men like Prof. John Dewey and Rabbi Jacob Weinstein (Columbia University), Prof. J. A. C. F. Auer (Church History, Harvard University), and Laymen like Harry Elmer Barnes (of the Editorial Board of the Scripps-Howard Newspapers). its other signatories include, besides other University and religious leaders, editors and journalists, the names of well-known scientists, medical men, economists, sociologists, and lawyers. In view of the radical nature of the Manifesto, particularly in its economic aspects (as in [section fourteen]), the influential support already given to it from so many representative quarters at leasts suggests that, so far from being "a dead topic", Humanism in the United States is very much alive. . . .

Moving more slowly than the newspapers, magazines soon began to deal with "A Humanist Manifesto." Most of these commentaries were less than friendly and objective.

Like a voice from the past, the Literary Digest, under the heading "For a New Religion-Humanism" (May 20, 1933) stated:

A New Religion for a new day is the cry of thirty-four editors, educators and ministers.

It is humanism they demand, to which all the old forms of piety, prayer and belief must give way.

Let the supernatural go; abandon the hope learned in Sunday-school and at mother’s knee. Let science rule the conscience; let men work together for the common good.

So, in short, say these teachers of youth who met recently in Chicago and issued a statement urging the establishment of a religion "shaped for the needs of this age" because "the religious forms and ideas of our fathers are no longer adequate."

Easter Day was not far behind when this statement was issued, and the tens of thousands who attended dawn services on the Resurrection morn may be sufficient to show that the creedless creed has not many converts yet.

The humanism offered by the thirty-four-nearly three times the number of those first to spread the Gospel-is explained thus, according to the Associated Press: . . .

Following ten direct quotes from the manifesto, the article continued:

If none of the present religions suits modem requirements, observed the Columbus Ohio State Joumal, there are no obstacles to developing a new one. Which might help those who have none now. And this paper recalls:

Roland Hill once remarked, "I would give nothing for that man’s religion whose very dog and cat were not the better for it."

This appeals to us as a very good yardstick. We suggest when the Chicago group gets its newfangled religion in shape it try it out on the cat.

The article concluded by listing a selection of the signers.

The May 15, 1933, issue of Time magazine dealt with the Manifesto in similar fashion but with less bias, and it wrongly stated that more and more humanists are to read the manifesto, sign it, make suggestions, which may perhaps be incorporated. . . ." Further signers were not sought, nor was it ever our intention to seek them. Time was correct, however, about suggestions being encouraged. The article began:

Humanism used to be a good subject for parlor and dinner table discussions. Few people knew what it actually was, or where literary Humanism left off and religious Humanism began. Nor did Humanism’s expounders get together and codify their beliefs for popular enlightenment. Rev. Charles Francis Potter, one time Baptist, Unitarian and Universalist, hired Steinway Hall in Manhattan (Time, Oct. 21, 1929) and still preaches therein, but Professor Irving Babbitt taught something different, and Dr. Paul Elmer More on religious grounds denied them both.

Last week, for the first time, the religious Humanists were on common ground. After discussing many questions (by letter) they had drawn up, signed and circulated a manifesto containing their articles of faith. More and more Humanists are to read the manifesto, sign it, make suggestions which may perhaps be incorporated after due consideration. Vague as it still may be, Humanism may now be said to stand as follows:

  • The universe is self-existing, not created.
  • Man is part of nature, product of his culture, his environment, his social heritage. The traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.
  • Humanism also rejects cosmic and supernatural "guarantees." The Humanist eschews theism, deism, modernism, "new thought" and instead of feeling religious emotions concentrates on human life-labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation.
  • Humanism is for "a socialized and cooperative economic order-a shared life in a shared world. . . ."

Most Humanists come from Unitarian, Universalist, Baptist and Congregational churches. In recent years 60 Unitarian ministers have embraced Humanism. Their church was dismayed but could do nothing, its own creed being far from stringent. There are Humanist groups in Manhattan, Hollywood, Berkeley, Calif., Sioux City and Minneapolis. . . .

The article concluded by listing signers Potter, Barnes, Dewey, Dieffenbach, Lovett, Shipley, Walker, and "26 others."

The Standard, back in 1933, was the monthly periodical of the American Ethical Union and was served by George E. O’Dell as managing editor and an editorial board of nine. (It wasn’t until 1952 that the AEU aligned itself with humanism by helping to form the International Humanist and Ethical Union.) One of the board members, Algernon Black, wrote in the May 1933 Standard:

From The New Humanist comes an advance copy of an item entitled ["A Humanist Manifesto"]. It is signed chiefly by liberal ministers, but includes also a number of important college professors, and two names (Dr. V. T. Thayer and Mr. W. Frank Swift) identified . . . with the Ethical Movement. The purpose of the manifesto is to describe a humanist religion. The signatories commit themselves, in the course of a considerable series of propositions, to statements asserting that the universe is self-existent and not created, that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected, that there can be no cosmic guarantees of human values, that the time has passed for theism, and-turning to practical matters-that the present acquisitive and profit-motivated society must be radically changed, and that "the goal of humanism is a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good."

Purposely we have included above some of the most controversial of the items. Many members of Ethical Societies will no doubt accept them all. And unquestionably-for all that the new Year Book of the Churches (Round Table Press, New York) declares such humanism to be dying-these tenets can belong in an entirely creditable religion. But obviously it cannot be the official religion of an Ethical Society, any more than can Utilitarianism, or the august ethical metaphysics of our late Leader, Dr. Adler. Indeed, could anything better help us to urge the rightness of the kind of fellowship sought to be established by our societies? For we do not as societies seek to make that deeply serious regard for the cultivation of better human relations, for greater justice, truthfulness, sympathy, tolerance, disinterestedness, which we feet to be religious depend on any doctrine such as those quoted above.

That persons should be encouraged by us to seek honest and intelligent views about body-mind psychology, theism (in its modern innumerable varieties), the ultimate nature of matter and force, what not, let us all agree. But there must be room in our fellowship on equal terms of respect and service for those to whom the garnered moral experience of mankind at its best and most forward-looking, demands supreme allegiance, whether the cosmos favors it or not, and whether there is a supersensible reality or not. Every newly-labelled religion, even humanism, while legitimate in its place, is, alas, liable to be a new means of intellectualist separatism. The only separation the Ethical Movement acknowledges as inevitable to it is that between those to whom the life of moral obligation is fundamental on its own account, and those to whom it is not.

In the London Inquirer for June 3, 1933, Edwin Fairley, a Unitarian minister, then the regular American correspondent of the British Unitarians, reported:

The latest number of The New Humanist contains a Humanist Manifesto signed by a large number of clergymen and others which sets forth some fifteen theses which these men are willing to sign. Fifteen of the signers are Unitarian clergymen, and the others are members of the Universalists, Ethical Culture Society, or laymen. The thesis which will provoke most comment is the sixth which declares, "We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of ‘new thought.’" Some men who are usually classed among the humanists have not signed the Manifesto, among them Dr. Harold Buschman, editor of The New Humanist, and John Haynes Holmes who, though calling himself a Humanist, is unwilling to sign what looks like a creed.

The Christian Register, then the official publication of the American Unitarian Association, published on May 25, 1933, the Boston Transcript article in its entirety under the title "Comments by Some Who Signed" along with additional statements entitled "Comments by Some Who Did Not Sign."

Within the latter article, the Register reprinted the statements by Harold Buschman, John Haynes Holmes, and M. C. Otto which had appeared along with the manifesto in The New Humanist.

Interestingly, though not surprising given the high level of participation of Unitarians in the humanist movement, the former editor of the Register, Albert Dieffenbach, had signed the manifesto, as did its future editor, Llewellyn Jones, who edited the periodical for three years beginning in 1938.

Unity magazine, published in Chicago by the Western Unitarian Conference (and not to be confused with the Kansas City Unity), simply printed the entire manifesto as well as the criticism of it from the same issue of The New Humanist. Curiously, there was no editorializing in the Unity report, which may have been due to the fact that Holmes and Curtis Reese were functioning uneasily as coeditors (the two differed on religious issues as well as American foreign policy). Holmes ultimately resigned and Reese became sole editor.

There must have been many more reactions in religious periodicals. Christianity Today raised one continuous wail for years over the "threat" of humanism. But the most notable comments are to be found in the June 7, 1933, issue of the Christian Century (the Chicago-based weekly which identified itself as "An Undenominational Journal of Religion"). Reports at the time from the University of Chicago campus were that an editor had to work all night to tone down the original article, written by Dr. Charles Clayton Morrison, in order that the emotional attack which allegedly bore the marks of a temper tantrum might not demean a usually liberal and tolerant publication. Over two full pages were given to the unsigned editorial:

A contemporary group which likes to be known as "humanists" is rendering distinct service to the cause of theism. Their statements lend themselves as a kind of foil against which modern enlightened theism finds it more or less convenient to state its own case. The group has recently published a "Manifesto," consisting of fifteen articles in which are set forth the major theses of a "religion without God." It deserves to be exhibited in theistic as well as antitheistic circles. The Christian Century frankly admits that it is unable to deal with the document in the spirit of calm respect which we would like to accord to certain of its signatories. These include certain writers, college professors and leftwing Unitarian ministers for whom even the liberal Unitarian faith is intolerably orthodox.

After listing all thirty-four signatories (without their professional identification), the editorial continued:

The manifesto is an astonishing exhibition of irrelevant and immature statements touching philosophical subjects. The reader is compelled to rub his eyes as he scans the names of the signatories, and particularly as he finds there the name of Professor John Dewey. That America’s most influential philosopher could have shared in the writing of these theses, or that he could have seriously intended his subscription to approve them as a philosophical basis for a new religion, is incredible. We desire to set the document before our readers, and to add a brief comment upon each article.

The editorial then proceeded to summarize all fourteen points with criticism that can be recognized as competent apologetics (defense of the faith). For example, point one: ". . . this concept does not imply a dualism between the Creator and the Universe, but rather a conception of the universe which includes the creative process as inherent." Point two: theists and humanists can agree that man is part of nature but, writes this critic, "’nature’ will have to make a place for much that, in the older framework, was called ‘supernatural.’" I won’t comment on the Christian Century’s treatment of each point; however, I will say that, forensically, one often attempts to dismiss a point by sarcasm. For example, following point six, "We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of ‘new thought,’" the editorial commented: "’We are convinced’ that this sentence was lifted bodily from some sophomore’s term paper." In response to point seven, "Religion consists of those actions, purposes, and experiences which are humanly significant . . ." it reads, "True, and fairly well spoken. The humanists learned this from theists." The Century offers this commentary on the manifesto’s ninth point, "No more worship and prayer but ‘a heightened sense of personal life.’ That is an honest and pertinent distinction. It designates accurately the only proper emotion of which a ‘religion’ is capable which begins and ends with ‘man.’ . . ."

It is in the concluding remarks of the editorial that we have the ultimate confrontation between the editors of the Christian Century and the signers of ‘A Humanist Manifesto. Three long, critical paragraphs begin with:

"Man is at last becoming aware," etc. This statement we deny . . . . We affirm that the thing of which man is becoming aware is that he alone is not responsible for such realization. He has been trying all too long to realize his dreams as if he were alone responsible. His man-made social order has broken down because he has taken no account of his cosmic Partner in this great business, and as he surveys the wreck of his efforts, he is just beginning to awaken to the fact that there exists in the universe beyond his egoistic, humanistic self, a living Power, or Process, or Something. . . .

Toward the end of these paragraphs some ad hominem remarks appear, perhaps a sample of the sort of thing that the editor reportedly weeded out:

The elementary fallacy of the sort of humanism revealed in this "manifesto" lies in its sophomoric and philosophically meaningless asseveration that man "has within himself the power" for the achievement of the world of his dreams. It tears "man" out of the context of nature and bloats him with unconscionable egoism or reduces him to despair.

The force of this criticism has come home to more than one humanist writer in the years since 1933, but as humanists they still do not look for cosmic or supernatural guarantees of survival. Instead they have faith that humankind has a chance if we all will draw upon the forces of good will and skill inherent in our makeup. In the words of an inscription said to be emblazoned over a cooperative warehouse: humankind must "Cooperate or Die."

The final paragraph of the Century editorial attempts to speak for John Dewey, but I believe it is off target:

The humanists may call this by the name "religion" if they wish to, but they have no business to call it philosophy, despite the fact that certain well-known teachers of philosophy grace the "manifesto" with their signatures. We have no right to make any statement concerning any of the signatories save one. That one is Professor Dewey. It is unbelievable that his signature was intended to underwrite the whole of this document. Philosophically, it moves in a different realm from that which Mr. Dewey’s own interpretation of nature and experience has opened up to the modern mind. It represents an emphasis which he does not make, and its major thesis of the sufficiency of man to achieve his goals by himself alone, and by resources which are within himself alone, is contradictory of the whole trend of Mr. Dewey’s thought.

I have said very little up to this point about John Dewey and the significance of his signature on the 1933 manifesto. Certainly, he was the most famous of all the signers. As noted previously, Dr. Dewey appended his name to the draft manifesto with no further comment.

On August 30, 1940, Corliss Lamont, at that time an active humanist and director of the American Civil Liberties Union, sent John Dewey a letter. (The next year, Lamont would join the board of directors for the newly founded American Humanist Association, whose organizational voice was The Humanist, successor to The New Humanist.) Dewey and Lamont had been correspondents since 1935, following the publication of Dewey’s A Common Faith. In this letter, Lamont wrote:

Since in 1933 you signed the Humanist Manifesto . . . I am wondering why you have not used the word "Humanism" more to describe your own philosophy. Though I realize this term "Humanism" is open to misconception, it is certainly far less formidable for the average person, whom you wish philosophy to reach, than the term Pragmatism or Instrumentalism or even Naturalism. And of course these latter words have also given rise to plenty of misunderstanding.

A week later, on September 6, Dewey replied, explaining why he signed the manifesto:

There is a great difference between different kinds of "Humanism" as you know; there is that of Paul Elmer More for example. I signed the humanist manifesto precisely because of the point to which you seem to object, namely because it had a religious context, and my signature was a sign of sympathy on that score, and not a commitment to every clause in it.

"Humanism" as a technical philosophic term is associated with [F. C. S.] Schiller and while I have great regard for his writings, it seems to me that he gave Humanism an unduly subjectivistic turn-he was so interested in bringing out the elements of human desire and purpose neglected in traditional philosophy that he tends it seems to me to a virtual isolation of man from the rest of nature. I have come to think of my own position as cultural or humanistic Naturalism-Naturalism, properly interpreted seems to me a more adequate term than Humanism. Of course I have always limited my use of "instrumentalism" to my theory of thinking and knowledge; the word pragmatism I have used very little, and then with reserves.

While John Dewey clearly preferred the term naturalism as it applied to his philosophy, he was for years an active supporter of several humanist organizations. From 1933 until his death in 1952, he served on the advisory board of the First Humanist Society of New York, organized by Charles Potter. Since its inception in 1941, Dewey was a member of and financial contributor to the American Humanist Association, and he wrote the occasional article for The Humanist. The AHA honored him by naming one of its most prestigious awards after him. I am very proud to have been among his correspondents.


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