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Edwin Wilson Manifesto Ch5


The Editing Process

That there was no one writer of "A Humanist Manifesto" becomes clear as one reviews the editing process. Following the receipt of Dr. Sellars’ first draft and some initial correspondence, the meetings of an editorial committee-Curtis Reese, A. Eustace Haydon, Raymond Bragg, and myself-were convened by Bragg and held in Reese’s study at Abraham Lincoln Center, a social welfare agency in Chicago informally affiliated with local Unitarians and the Western Unitarian Conference.

Bragg remembered at least three meetings of the committee. As successive versions of the manifesto were developed, they were sent to out-of-Chicago collaborators so that the statement which was finally issued was a collective achievement.

An important consideration of the editing process was one of style, as shown in a letter from Haydon to Bragg dated February 2, 1933:

How in thunder did we let that first sentence get by? It will have to be broken up or no one will get by it. As a matter of fact the whole of the first paragraph is jerky. And after all we shall be judged by a great many of these intellectuals by our ability to write clear and forceful English, n’est ce pas? Thanks for the copy.

A page of carefully stated editorial glosses by Dr. Haydon followed.

Others may have attended sessions of the editorial committee after its initial meeting, but records are missing and memories are vague. However, in writing "An Historical Note" about the creation of the manifesto twenty years later, Bragg recalled:

The committee-Reese, Wilson, Haydon, Bragg-spent unnumbered hours in successive sessions culling, refining, reordering the statement. . . . The first circulation to potential signers was then prepared. The resulting correspondence was torrential. . . . The editorial task at this time emerged as a full time undertaking. While no thought was given to abandonment of the project, despite discouragement by a few honored skeptics, it was necessary to deal fairly with every thoughtful suggestion. There was consideration given to postponement until approval was closer to unanimous. The prospect was suggested that in a document involving the thought of thirty or forty or fifty minds we could expect no final, detailed formulation satisfactory to all. We could only hope for approximations, not ultimates.

How many editorial sessions were held in drawing up the final draft, I do not recall. They were not few and they were lengthy. In the latter part of March the draft was mailed to about fifty individuals and each was requested to authorize the use of his signature. April 10 was the deadline.

Documentation of the correspondence is more detailed than of the editing committee’s work. For sure, it is fair to state on the basis of that file of correspondence that, although not present at committee meetings, Professor J. A. C. F. Auer of Harvard University, the Reverend Albert Dieffenbach, and Professor E. A. Burtt (then of the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York) were corresponding frequently with the editing committee. Obviously, all suggestions that were made could not be included.

At the editorial meetings, all present were busy taking notes, reading correspondence, and evaluating suggestions. The working manifesto was revised point by point. Subsequent drafts were then apparently dictated by Dr. Haydon and copied down by Dr. Bragg, who acted as the scribe of the meetings.

The committee decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that the May/June issue of The New Humanist would be a good time to publish their work. They were partly motivated by Raymond Bragg’s already-planned trip east. While in New York, he could visit the religion editor for the Associated Press and attempt to get publicity for the manifesto. This target date left the planners with the month of April to obtain comments, incorporate them, and get final signatures.

Shortly after April 1, 1933, an edited copy of "A Humanist Manifesto"-specified "confidential"-was sent out with a cover letter on New Humanist letterhead to a limited number of people, requesting their signatures. The letter read:

Believing that a public statement released to the press concerning the character and purpose of humanism will do much to clarify the public mind and at the same time constitute a constructive move, the enclosed Humanist Manifesto has been prepared. Among those who have worked upon it are the following: J. A. C. E Auer, Burdette Backus, L. M. Birkhead, Raymond B. Bragg, Albert C. Dieffenbach, John H. Dietrich, A. Eustace Haydon, Curtis W. Reese, Roy Wood Sellars, and Edwin H. Wilson.

The aim of the drafting committee has been to develop a statement representative of the general movement and acceptable to those whose signatures they desire. The Manifesto has been through many drafts and revisions and represents a synthesis rather than the views of any one person. Had time and clerical resources made it possible many others might appropriately have been asked to assist, but we hope that in its present form it will be signed by most of the thirty or more individuals who are being asked to sign.

In requesting signatures the committee faces a further problem. For press purposes a limited list is necessary. Hence it is not now feasible to ask for the signatures of all who might appropriately be invited to support the Manifesto. Selection has been made upon the basis of published views, upon the fields or work in which such writers are active, and upon geographical location. Among those who will be asked, in addition to those mentioned above, are Harry E. Barnes, Rabbi Solomon Goldman, Max C. Otto, John Herman Randall, Jr., Oliver L. Reiser, Maynard Shipley, Joseph Walker, F. S. C. Wicks, C. J. Keiser.

In order that this statement may be fully effective and constitute news when the signing is completed, we ask you kindly to keep the project a matter of strictest confidence until the release has appeared in the newspapers. We will welcome your comment upon the statement, particularly if you are not to appear as a signer. A blank authorizing us to use your signature is attached. Should the Manifesto meet, in general substance, with your approval, please let us have your answer no later than April 10.

Raymond Bragg signed some of these letters, and I signed the others.

Draft Text

The following draft text of "A Humanist Manifesto" was sent with the above letter. Note especially items six and fourteen, which were subjects of much continuing discussion.

(Confidential Draft)

A Humanist Manifesto

The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs in 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 a 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 conclusively 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 problem of human living in the Twentieth Century. Religions have always been means for realizing the highest values of life. This end has been accomplished through the interpretation of powers in nature, and the creation of a technique of worship. By means of this worship men hoped to exercise control over those powers in order to attain values considered by the group to be most desirable. A change in any of these factors results in the 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. Any such vital, fearless, and frank religion capable of furnishing adequate social goals and personal satisfactions may appear to many religious 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 created 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 child of nature who has emerged as the result of a continuous process.

Third: Mind is a function of the organism. The traditional dualism of spirit and body must be rejected.

Fourth: 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: The nature of the universe depicted by modem science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values. Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of scientific procedure.

Sixth: We assert 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.

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. 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 the many, 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 has only to set intelligence and will to the task.

During the first three weeks of April 1933, copies of "A Humanist Manifesto" were returned with approval and signatures. In spite of very limited secretarial help, it was necessary to notify as many as possible of those who had signed the draft statement of later changes. The committee and its correspondents apparently had worked on "A Humanist Manifesto" with the same meticulous pains and zeal one finds in a struggle over a social action resolution in a church assembly or on the platform of a political convention. One might compare it to the discussion over the language of policymaking legislation in some state house. The whole enterprise was undertaken with the utmost seriousness. And, as some of the responses will show, the process of consensus was not easy.


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