Having completed my mindfulness course I thought I would try out this quick course on humanism (free to access for a limited period of time).
My view of my beliefs has changed over the years from atheist, to freethinker, to sceptic, to humanist. I’m still not sure I like the name tag but I know what I think it means to me.
I believe that collectively mankind will move towards the greater good or benefit to all. I believe in people’s intrinsic values, that collectively we are a positive influence.
I believe in working out one’s ethical principles for oneself, thinking through the issues and being willing to stand by them, even if that includes breaking the law. In Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, one of the characters says that if you vote for the death penalty you must be prepared to carry it out personally. Whilst I don’t believe in the death penalty I agree with the individual responsibility.
Humanism is more than just taking a scientific approach but it does mean asking what the evidence says, and questioning the rationale, rather than what you wish to believe. It is not rationalism though; it is evidence based with compassion. I might like to believe that three points of beer every evening is good for me. The evidence suggests otherwise.
There is an endless list of things in which I do not believe because there is no evidence and it makes no sense: gods (Christian, Greek, whoever), ghosts, spirits, afterlife, elves, dwarves, goblins, unicorns, dragons, Father Christmas, faster than light space travel, etc. Some of those I would love to be true.
Much of humanistic beliefs match what I learn in counselling: empathy towards all, holding unconditional positive regard for all individuals and collective groups, respect for each person’s autonomy, an unwillingness to tell people what to do. I believe in a society where we allow people the maximum of freedom with the minimum infringement on other people’s beliefs.
There is also a valuing beyond humans, a necessary belief in the importance of supporting the environment that is our planet and all the animals and plants that constitute it, in trying to reduce our damage of it and to help it stay sustainable for generations to come.
Lastly there is recognition, as Sagan is oft quoted in saying, that we are all made of star-stuff. My life may matter to me an incredible amount and have a lasting impact on those around me but the universe doesn’t care about me or even acknowledge I exist. In the grand scheme of things I am totally insignificant. If my single life is to have any meaning, it is up to me to imbue it with meaning.