Humanism is a broad movement, and many people will disagree with our definitions here. Bear in mind that this is about Humanism in the context of the church. A more general take can be found at the website of the British Humanist Association.
They say that Humanists are people who:
- Think for themselves about what is right and wrong, based on reason and respect for others.
- Find meaning, beauty and joy in the one life we have, without the need for an afterlife.
- Look to science instead of religion as the best way to discover and understand the world.
- Believe people can use empathy and compassion to make the world a better place for everyone.
There’s one main addition I want to make to that. Humanism includes the doctrine that – when we’re judging whether something is good or bad – the only consideration is whether it’s good or bad for someone; that the only good is happiness and the only evil is misery. In particular, what you should pursue is your well-being.
Some people have claimed that this leads to selfishness. In fact, selfishness is the enemy of well-being; the selfish person will find themselves becoming ever more lonely, paranoid, fearful and cynical. If you value your own happiness, you should practise virtues like generosity and compassion.
Sam Harris, in the introduction to his outstanding book The Moral Landscape, argues that
“…questions about values – about meaning, morality and life’s larger purpose – are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures.”
and later he adds
“Clearly our selfish and selfless interest do not always conflict. In fact, the well-being of others is one of our primary (and indeed, most selfish) interests.”
Each of us should strive for long-term well-being, whatever that might consist of. In Epicurean Humanism, we strive for tranquility and freedom from fear.
What is Humanism? Frederick Edwords