What Is Humanism?

By Connie W. Adams

A struggle of epic proportions is now being waged over what has come to be called “humanism.” With some it is a catch phrase, a scare word. Some of the opposition to what is being called humanism is ill conceived and sensationally promoted. Some have built great reputations as champion fighters of humanism. Others have dismissed the subject as too academic for them. Some are blissfully unaware of the nature of prevalence of this philosophy. This special issue of Guardian of Truth is designed to contribute to an understanding of the subject and to alert readers to the real dangers posed by this system to the faith and morals of our generation.

We are all part of the human family and as such ought to be concerned with whatever is in the best interest of all mankind. Some have naively concluded that this is all there is to humanism. Some see it as nothing more than a continuation of the renaissance of the fifteenth century with its revival of learning, emphasis on progress, science and technology. I have talked with some school teachers, including some who are Christians, who think that humanism is the promotion of human welfare (humanitarianism). Others identify it with the term humanities (the study of past and present cultures). But the humanism of this article, and indeed of this special issue of this Guardian of Truth, is much more than that.

Humanism is a man-centered world view. There are two basic views of the world: (1) dualistic and (2) monistic. The Christian’s view is dualistic. There is the realm of material reality which is to be investigated by the natural senses using the scientific method. But the Christian sees a second area of reality to be confronted and that concerns God and the human soul. This part of existence is revealed objectively in the Bible. Humanism, to the contrary, is monistic. It views everything from the vantage point of material reality. It recognizes no God, no revelation from God, no moral or spiritual absolutes.

Let Humanists Tell Us

I know of no better way to discover what humanists believe than to give them the floor to put it in their own words.

Humanism is primarily a method of procedure and a value system not a dogma about The method of procedure is the scientific method: the use of reason and observation in a naturalistic context. The value system involves the idea that human life in the here and now is the sole context within which morals apply and that satisfaction of human social and individual needs is the goal of ethics (Frederick Edwards, The Humanist, May/June, 1982, p. 48).

In 1933, a document called Humanist Manifesto I was published and signeo by 34 prominent citizens, including John Dewey, the father of the educational approach being used in America since his time. It was, in essence, creedal statement. In 1973, Humanist Manifesto II was published, initially signed by 261 people, many of whom were leading educators and some of whom were functionaries in government funded agencies at the time the signed the document. The identifying of the signees is an interesting study of its own, but beyond the scope of my assignment. There is no better was to learn what humanism is and what humanists believe than from this document.

“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” (preface, p. 13).

“Many kinds of humanism exist in the contemporary world. The varieties and emphasis of naturalistic humanism include ‘scientific,’ ‘ethical,’ ‘democratic,’ ‘religious,’ and ‘Marxist’ humanism. Free thought, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, deism, rationalism, ethical culture, and liberal religion all claim to be heir to the humanist tradition” (p. 15).

Humanism is a philosophy with a world-wide thrust. Consider the following: “We affirm a set of common principles that can serve as a basis for united action – positive principles relevant to the present human condition. They are a design for a secular society on a planetary scale” (p. 15).

Humanism and Religion

“We believe, however, that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species . . . . We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural, it is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of the survival and fulfillment of the human race. As non-theists, we begin with humans, not God, nature not deity . . . . But we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species . . . . No deity will save us, we must save ourselves . . . . Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful . . . . There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body” (pp. 15,16,17).

Humanism and Ethics

“We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction” (p. 17).

Humanism and Individual Rights

“Sixth: In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion and divorce should be recognized. While we do not approve of exploitive, denigrating forms of sexual expression, neither do we wish to prohibit, by law or social sanction, sexual behaviour betwen consenting adults . . . Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their life-styles as they desire” (p. 18).

Humanism and Democratic Society

“Seventh: To enhance freedom and dignity the individual must experience a full range of civil liberties in all societies . . . . It also includes a recognition of an individual’s right to die with dignity, euthanasia, and the right to suicide . . . . People are more important than decalogues, rules, proscriptions, or regulations” (p. 19).

Prevalence of Humanism

While there are about 275,000 declared humanists in this country, the power and influence of this philosophy is much more pervasive than this figure would indicate. Among these are leaders in education, liberal religion, presidential appointees, the controlling forces of the news media, lawyers and jurists. The educational approach in our country has been slanted in this direction for half a century. This is the motivation behind many of the court battles in which the American Civil Liberties Union participates.

It affects the education of our children. Is anyone so foolish as to think that children can start in kindergarten and continue through high school and college with daily exposure to texts and some teachers committed to this notion without being influenced in thought and moral behavior? When origins must be studied without reference to God or the Bible, when values clarification strategy sessions are conducted with the presupposition that there are no right or wrong answers, when sex education studies present homosexuality, lesbianism and even bestiality as “alternative life-styles,” when social studies present communes and live in arrangements as choices equal to God-ordained marriage, and when death education is approached without reference to God, the soul or the hereafter, you had better believe that your children will be adversely affected.

Governors, congressmen, presidents, lawyers, judges and other public servants will act and react in those roles consistent with the moral and spiritual presuppositions which have molded and shaped their lives. They can do no other.

The bulk of today’s entertainment fare in the movies and on television is planned and packaged by people thoroughly saturated with humanism. Add the influence of that from the hours weekly spent in such viewing to the hours and years of public education through which our children pass, and it is amazing that we are able to salvage any of them. It takes very strong family influence and spiritual conviction to offset such odds.

Humanism Contradicts the Bible

“The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Psa. 14:1). The wise man wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). Again, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). The prophet said, “0 Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; for it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). Paul said ‘ “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. 3:19). Romans 1:18-32 gives the ultimate moral and spiritual degeneracy which follows in the wake of expelling God from human knowledge. Paul said, “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” Is it not strange that those whom God calls “fools” are the shapers and molders of thought and action in modern America?

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 13, pp. 386, 395-396
July 5, 1984