What is Humanism?

Some commonly used definitions of ‘Humanism’ include:

“Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfilment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”
—Humanist Manifesto III

“An appeal to reason in contrast to revelation or religious authority as a means of finding out about the natural world and destiny of man, and also giving a grounding for morality…Humanist ethics is also distinguished by placing the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God.”
—Oxford Companion to Philosophy

“The rejection of religion in favour of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts”
—Collins concise dictionary

“Believing that it is possible to live confidently without metaphysical or religious certainty and that all opinions are open to revision and correction, [Humanists] see human flourishing as dependent on open communication, discussion, criticism and unforced consensus.”
– Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy

“Humanism is for freedom of thought and expression and an open society. Humanism is for forms of moral education that stress our moral autonomy and the importance of thinking critically and independently. Humanists don’t just reject dogma-based approaches to answering moral questions, they are very much for developing positive, rational and ultimately more life-affirming and life-enhancing alternatives.”
—Stephen Law in Humanism: A Very Short Introduction

Basic Principles

  • Decisions, in particular those related to how we govern our society, should be based on reasons backed by evidence rather than arbitrary faith, authority, revelation or religious experiences.
  • The responsibility lies on us to make the world a better place and we should not depend on supernatural intervention for solving the injustice in the world
  • While it may not be perfect, the most reliable guide for understanding the world is through perceiving it by using our senses and comprehending it from our minds (observation, experimentation and rational analysis). For this reason we reject transcendent or religious knowledge that cannot be rationally tested.
  • With knowledge comes responsibility and we should use new information to improve our condition and the condition of the world around us. Science and technology give us the means while human values propose the end.
  • Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. As humanists we strive towards a world of mutual care and concern.There is no idea that is beyond scrutiny and no area of thought that we should be afraid to explore, challenge, question or doubt

Where do moral values come from?

“Moral values are properly founded on human nature and experience alone”
—The British Humanist Association

“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.”
—Humanist Manifesto III

We reject that religion is the source of morality, that we need religious codes to lead ethical lives or that humans need to believe in reward and punishment to be moral. If anything, we often find that the belief in an afterlife devalues this world and can lead individuals to commit highly immoral acts which they regard as being sanctioned by their God.

One common attack on a non-religious ethical philosophy is that without religion, we would have no absolute morality and that what is considered right or wrong would often change. However, since our circumstances change and our understanding of the world develops, the fact that what is ethical might change does not reduce its value. Ethics have to start from our best understanding of human nature and the human condition and move from there. As the nature of our conditions changes, what is best for us changes but the aims of morality should remain: human welfare happiness and fulfilment.

Humanism and Religion

“Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific cooperation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment.”
—Bertrand Russell, Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization? (1930)

Humanist ideas have often arisen in deliberate opposition to religious ideas and establishments that advance them. While the main concern of humanism is not debunking religion, humanists often have to challenge the role that religion plays in society.

As Arab Humanists, we are concerned about the role of religion in shaping many people’s  on morality and its influence on governance and jurisprudence. Since the religion with the most influence in the Arab world today is Islam, one of the main focuses when advancing Humanism in the Arab world will be confronting Islamism and Islamic orthodoxy.

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