“Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance that affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. Humanism stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in a spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. Humanism is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.”
The IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism
Knowledge, ethics, value and meaning
A humanist is someone who recognises that we, human beings, are the most curious and capable curators of knowledge in the known universe. To gain knowledge, we must use our reason and experience to understand the world. And we may create or partake of the great artistic fruits of humankind to enhance our emotional palettes, deepen our empathy and enrich our understanding. But we reject any reliance on blindly received authority, or on dogma, or what others may claim is divine revelation (because we don’t believe we get tip-offs about truth from a supreme being beyond time and space. That would be cheating!)
A humanist is someone who recognises that we, human beings, are by far the most sophisticated moral actors on the Earth. We can grasp ethics. We may not be the only moral subjects (for example other animals deserve moral consideration, too!) But we have a unique capacity for moral choice: to act in the interests of welfare, advancement and fulfillment, or against it! To act well, we must take responsibility for ourselves and others, not for the sake of preferential treatment in any afterlife (even if we believed in it, that motivation wouldn’t make our actions good!), but because the best we can do is to live this life as brilliantly as we can. That means helping others in community, advancing society, and flourishing at whatever we do best.
And a humanist is someone who finds value in themselves and each other, respecting the personhood and dignity of fellow human beings, not because we are made in the image of something else (we are a product of evolution, not the product of a divine plan), but because of what we are: a sentient, feeling species, with value and dignity inherent in each individual.
There is no reason to believe that “meaning” has to come from a supreme being. If you can write a sentence on paper which isn’t nonsense, then you can create meaning! There is no divine plan or purpose, the humanist recognises, but we make our own purposes, tell our own stories, set our own goals. This gives life meaning.
Find out more:
- IHEU’s full definition of Humanism: The Amsterdam Declaration
- The aspects of Humanism
- Other definitions of Humanism
Being a Humanist
Anyone who broadly agreed with the above might be described as a humanist, or might identify themselves as a humanist (even if there are one or two quibbles). For Humanism, there is no entrance procedure, or rite of passage, and no hierarchy to which you must belong. Humanists are humanists, they do not have to join an organisation, or be on a list somewhere!
If you are a humanist, or are just discovering and exploring the idea, you are welcome to join the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) as an individual supporter to learn about our work, or as a first step to getting more information about Humanism.
Some humanists choose to join (or start!) organizations such as local groups or a national body. They may do so from various motivations, such as a desire for discussion or socialising, to learn from speakers or other group members, or to contribute to campaigns or humanitarian efforts that are close to their hearts.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the umbrella body for such organizations. Our members may encompass all the elements of Humanism (e.g. a “Humanist Association”) or focus on specific area (“Atheist Society”, “Secular Association”, “Freethinkers Group”, etc).
Some Humanist groups started out as liberal religious groups that at some point in time decided to leave the concept of a god behind. They found a new way of understanding some of the ethics they brought with them, but in some cases retained some of the communal elements of religion. Examples include “ethical culture” societies, and some Unitarian Universalists.
Most Humanist groups today have been founded on a secular, Humanist philosophy from the outset. Some of these groups were started in response to a government’s preference for a majority religion and the non-religious citizens struggle for equal treatment. Other such groups were started to do social development work and to care for persons that were abused by their family or society (often because of their non-religious views).