According to the American Humanist Association, Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity. The Humanist Manifesto III (2003) expands on this statement:
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.
This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:
Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.
Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.
Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.
Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.
Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.
Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.
I’m not the type of person who needs a defined structure for philosophy and morality provided to me by an organization. I don’t want to simply follow any organization without question. I need my own deeper understanding for what I do. Freethinkers shouldn’t advocate for following an organized philosophy since following the whims of a group is counter to the ideals of being an independent freethinker.
However, humanism is unique with their manifesto stating humanism isn’t what we must believe, but is an attempt to reach a consensus of what we do believe. Just as humans are evolving beings, humanism appears to be an evolving philosophy. This is a good approach as long as it never reaches a final stage of dogma with rigid or absolute views of what humanism and morality must be.
I wouldn’t consider myself a humanist no matter how much I may personally support what they’re trying to achieve. This isn’t necessarily done as a criticism of humanism, but the definition of a humanist is to be a proponent or practitioner of humanism. This puts the humanist in the same category as any other -ists I avoid.
The -ist suffix means a person follows a principle or system of beliefs. In general, it isn’t a good idea to be a devoted follower of anything or anyone. It doesn’t mean I think we should avoid associating with compatible groups similar to our own principles and beliefs. I just think we shouldn’t blindly follow any of these groups when we participate in them.
I can’t imagine being a person that would embrace the humanist label to describe myself because I want to avoid the pitfall of automatically assuming my associated group is right in everything the group says and does. It tends to go that way when you adopt the label of a group with strong identity and start following a herd. I don’t want to be just one of the sheep in any flock.