The Manifesto’s Long-Term Impact
Over the decades since 1933, the radical nature of "A Humanist Manifesto" continued to be a source of controversy. Among the long-term effects of the manifesto, perhaps one of the most significant is the generation of a second manifesto in 1973. The forty interim years saw dramatic cultural and socioeconomic changes. Collectively, we are still trying to cope with them as technology continues to race ahead of our ability to assign meaning to our lives.
The second manifesto-Humanist Manifesto II-was published in the September/October 1973 issue of The Humanist (XXIII:5:4-9). The preface to that version, for which I was recognized as editor emeritus, follows. It indicates some of the flaws of the first manifesto and offers some of the reasons for producing a second:
It is forty years since Humanist Manifesto I (1933) appeared. Events since then make that earlier statement seem far too optimistic. Nazism has shown the depths of brutality of which humanity is capable. Other totalitarian regimes have suppressed human rights without ending poverty. Science has sometimes brought evil as well as good. Recent decades have shown that inhuman wars can be made in the name of peace. The beginnings of police states, even in democratic societies, widespread government espionage, and other abuses of power by military, political, and industrial elites, and the continuance of unyielding racism, all present a different and difficult social outlook. In various societies, the demands of women and minority groups for equal rights effectively challenge our generation.
As we approach the twenty-first century, however, an affirmative and hopeful vision is needed. Faith, commensurate with advancing knowledge, is also necessary. In the choice between despair and hope, humanists respond in this Humanist Manifesto II with a positive declaration for times of uncertainty.
As in 1933, humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to love and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.
Those who sign Humanist Manifesto II disclaim that they are setting forth a binding credo; their individual views would be stated in widely varying ways. This statement is, however, reaching for vision in a time that needs direction. It is social analysis in an effort at consensus. New statements should be developed to supersede this, but for today it is our conviction that humanism offers an alternative that can serve present-day needs and guide humankind toward the future.
Since the publication of Humanist Manifesto II, literally thousands of signatures have been collected –and the process is ongoing.
Misuse of Manifesto I
As with any controversial statement, the humanist manifesto of 1933 has been taken out of context and misused–sometimes as a result of simple carelessness but occasionally for deliberate purpose of propaganda.
One of the most common misunderstandings about the manifesto is its identification as a humanist creed. It was never intended as a doctrine–a point the originators were clear about, as we’ve seen from their numerous correspondence included in this book. In addition, the manifesto was published in the May/June 1933 issue of The New Humanist with a specific disclaimer and, with rare exceptions, its subsequent publications have included it, as they ought.
In 1969, Dr. Max Rafferty, superintendent of public instruction of the California State Board of Education, published a special seventy-four-page report entitled "Guidelines for Moral Instruction in California Schools," in which almost half of its pages criticize "the challenge of secular humanism" and indict the manifesto. Rafferty attempted to blame humanism, humanists (including John Dewey), and progressive education in general for the decline of "morality" among America’s youth. While the humanist philosophy is certainly one that comports well with social reform and innovation, it neither created nor can be held responsible for all social change. Despite this obvious fact, humanism has been made the scapegoat for "evil" in much of modern Christian apologetics. In the case of Dr. Rafferty, the strategy backfired. So much protest resulted from his report that it was ultimately put on file as accepted but not approved. A replacement report that left out the attack on humanism was later published.
Another example of a misrepresentation of the manifesto comes from a publication called Imprimus, the journal of Hillsdale College’s two conservative seminar programs: the Center for Constructive Alternatives and the Shavano Institute for National Leadership. Located in Hillsdale, Michigan, the former program is open to students and the public; the latter program, while also public, is offered in different cities around the country each year. High-profile, conservative speakers conduct the seminars on various topics of public policy.
Imprimus, with a current circulation of 600,000, reproduces the speeches of the seminar speakers. In the March 1975 issue, James T. McKenna, the general counsel to the Heritage Foundation, laments over public education and its role as a major player in "the total picture of collapse which now confronts the American parent and taxpayer." In laying out the explanation for his thorough disdain of public education, McKenna refers to the "insatiable appetite of the state for control over the family unit and the child" and "the dehumanizing of human relationships and the desacralization of the human being as the repository of an irreducible dignity." As examples of this desacralization, he uses both the 1933 and the 1973 humanist manifestos:
The final blow to parental and public confidence in education was the substitution of value systems based on ethical opportunism and the shallow paganism of Humanist Manifesto I and II.
It is not accidental that the most prestigious educator of the Twentieth Century, the teacher of teachers should have been a principal shaper of the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933. John Dewey spoke for the priorities of educators, "Faith in a loving caring God, is an unproved and outmoded faith."
As we have seen, John Dewey was not a principal shaper of Humanist Manifesto I but simply one of its signers. In fact, Dewey made no editorial comments at all. His name is constantly invoked only because he was, beyond question, the most famous signer and an important and guiding influence on today’s educators.
Like Rafferty in California, who assigned humanists and humanism the responsibility for moral decline, McKenna attributes the manifestos with the power to strike the "final blow" to public confidence in the educational system.
The decade of the 1980s saw a concerted and organized attack on humanism by the religious right wing. Televangelists such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart made humanism and the manifestos household words. Evangelist Tim LaHaye’s The Battle for the Mind, published in 1980, in which the manifestos are called a "religious and philosophical bible," was probably the largest-selling anti-humanist book to hit the market.
In 1983, another author, Marlin Maddoux (then the host of a popular daily radio talk show, "Point of View," broadcast nationally over the Satellite Radio Network), wrote his own book, Humanism Exposed, warning readers that humanists "intend to transform society into a humanistic one with the religion of that new society being Humanism." In defending his warning cry to Christians that humanists intend "to bring about a one-world, socialistic, anti-God society," Maddoux quotes heavily from Humanist Manifesto I and II. He also offers interpretations of the manifestos that can only be described as gross exaggerations. Maddoux explains that the careful design of a humanist takeover includes control of America’s educational system and the media. Of the former, he says: "I had to admit that the humanists’ most ingenious move was the systematic takeover of the public school system in America. It showed a special insight, marked by originality, cleverness and clearness of purpose, and was the most important step toward turning an entire nation away from its original goals to the new goals set forth by organized humanism as articulated for us in Humanist Manifestos I and II." Interestingly, Maddoux’s book was published in 1984 under a new name, America Betrayed, by a different publisher.
Those same years–1983 and 1984–saw further diatribes against humanism and the manifestos. In booklets published by the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts in Oak Brook, Illinois (which now operates under the name Institute in Basic Life Principles), the editors offer their notation to Humanist Manifesto I. While many people would view their interpretations as ridiculous, they were and continue to be the common arguments of fundamental Christians against the "threat" of secular humanist domination. Point twelve of Humanist Manifesto I is a prime example. it reads: "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." In Applying Basic Principles, the last three words are underlined and elaborated with the footnote: "Including any form of sexual perversion."
Such misinterpretations and exaggerations continue even today. In fact, Manifesto I‘s statement in point six–that the time for theism, deism . . . has passed–continues to provoke and threaten some conservative Christians some sixty years after its original publication. I believe this is a testament to the boldness of the document.
Humanism Among the Quakers
As mentioned earlier in this book, the liberal religions were a breeding ground for humanism, and the Society of Friends (Quakers) was no exception. Sometime between 1937 and 1942, a brief but pointed memorandum entitled "To the Scientifically Minded," was published by the Advancement Committee of the Friends General Conference in Philadelphia. The complete text reads:
For a large number of people of Christendom, especially for those trained in scientific thinking, the great organized Christian churches are failing to supply the needed religious element. The trend of our time is scientific. It is impossible for a religion which ignores or opposes this tendency to serve the purposes of all who receive modern education.
Most of the churches through their official bodies insist upon the Apostles or the Nicene Creed, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the verity of the miracle stories of the old and new Testament, as essentials of belief. This letter is not addressed to those who are satisfied with such a creed; it is rather for any who have not found religious satisfaction.
This letter calls your attention to the Religious Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers. This society makes no claim to be a church in the sense of assuming authority to settle questions of doctrine or of historic fact. We are a society of friends whose members owe each other friendliness, and claim no authority one over another. We have no formal creed, and such unity as we have –and we have a great deal –is due to the fact that reasonable minds working on the same materials are likely to arrive at similar conclusions. However, we demand no unity of opinion and we find both interest and stimulus in our many differences.
Most Friends agree that the Sermon on the Mount presents the highest ideal for a way of life; this we accept not only on authority from without but mainly as conviction from within. We thus unite on a common purpose; a human society organized on a basis of good will and friendliness.
The Religious Society of Friends is a group of people of good will, working together for mutual support in making the God element of life the commanding element. We never altogether succeed in doing this, but the effort is an essential part of our religion. It is only by squarely facing what is that many may hope to accomplish what may be: wherefore religion as we understand it has nothing to fear from science. Indeed we welcome every extension of mental horizon, every new discovery as to the nature of the world we live in.
We believe there are many who would find a richer life in membership with us, and we know that we need the strength of larger numbers. We need too the fellowship of men and women of intelligence and courage.
We invite correspondence with any of the signers of this letter at Friends’ Advancement Conunittee, 1515 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, Pa.
The memorandum was signed by Jesse H. Holmes, professor emeritus of philosophy at Swarthmore College; Roscoe Pound, a professor at the University of Harvard College; Paul H. Douglas, professor of economics at the University of Chicago; J. Russell Smith, professor of economic geography at Columbia University; and Albert T. Mills, professor of history and political science at James Millikin University.
We can see essentially the same influence at work among the Quakers–a drift in the culture toward religious naturalism–as was at work among the Unitarians, Universalists, and Ethical Culturists.
It is interesting that, just as the humanists’ manifesto disavowed creedal intentions in 1933, so did the Friends’ Advancement Committee. Furthermore, among Quakers as among Unitarians, the influence of science and the scientific method prompted a public declaration.
Also comparable to "A Humanist Manifesto" is the obvious trouble that the Quakers were experiencing with god language and its implied theism. These members of the Society of Friends did not, as in the almost contemporary humanist manifesto of 1933, disclaim theism, but they did give it a modernist new-wine-in-old-bottles meaning. Significantly, their memorandum affirms that "reasonable minds at work on the same materials are likely to arrive at similar conclusions."
There were, however, other Quakers who were more forthrightly humanist. In Yellow Springs, Ohio, the Society of Friends had long accepted members with frankly naturalistic (non-Christian, nontheistic) philosophies, among whom were Dr. Arthur E. Morgan and his son Ernest (who actually served for a time on the board of directors of the American Humanist Association).
The philosophical conflict between Christians and nontheists inevitably led some Quaker humanists to break away from the fold altogether. One group, led by Dr. Lowell H. Coate, established the Cooperative Friends Society on July 5, 1939, at a weekend conference of the First Universalist Church of Los Angeles, California. At that conference, Dr. George T. Ashley, a humanist Unitarian minister, formally ordained the principal leaders of the new society, thereby guaranteeing that their ministerial status could never be challenged. Later that same year, on December 16, the group officially changed its name to the Humanist Society of Friends.
Early in its history, the HSOF came to rely on Humanist Manifesto I. The group’s "Official Statement of Principles" in the 1940s reprinted the manifesto in its entirety and declared that it "represented the Humanist Society of Friends’ general philosophy of Religion."
Over the years, the HSOF brought into its leadership people not only of Quaker background but of other religious traditions as well. And it attracted educators and scholars, business and labor leaders, artists and scientists, professionals and others from many walks of life. The society conducted religious meetings and conferences and performed various rites of passage for its members. For a time, it published an official magazine, the Humanist Friend, and conducted a Humanist Friends College in connection with De Landis University.
In 1987, the HSOF became a chartered chapter of the American Humanist Association and, in 1990, an incorporated division responsible for the AHA’s ministerial and other religious humanist programs.
A Final Note
To the extent that it is an expression of concern for humanity in the here and now, I am proud of my involvement in the creation of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto. All these years later, I still view the collection of its thirty-four signatures to be an accomplishment. It also helped me to meet one of my goals as an early advocate of humanism in that it provided a bridge between liberal theologists and philosophers, further embellished by the approval of people from other areas of academia and other professions.
Because the manifesto was not written to be a creed or doctrine, humanist thinking has been able to evolve freely over time. Though Manifesto I reiterates the hopefulness that socialism brought to the 1930s, in retrospect I think humanism should not attach itself to any particular economic system. However, as both a religion and a philosophy, it should continue to commit itself to ending poverty, disease, ignorance, and prejudice.
Upon rereading Humanist Manifesto I, its naiveté is clear. Equally clear, however, are the ways in which the document has transcended the past six decades. I can still happily affirm almost all of its theses.
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