Auguste Comte, the founding father of modern humanism...for him, “humanism” was a word parallel to “theism”. It just altered the object worshipped, substituting humanity for God. He called it the “religion of humanity” and devised ritual forms for it that were close to traditional Christian ones. He thought – and many others have agreed with him – that the trouble with religion was simply its having an unreal supernatural object, God. Apart from this, the attitudes and institutions characteristic of religion itself seemed to him valuable, indeed essential. And he certainly had no wish to get rid of the habit of worship, only to give it a more suitable object. Surely (he said) worshipping human beings – who are real natural entities – would easily be able to replace the existing idle and artificial practices? So he ruled that, for instance, the enlightened citizen should start his day by worshipping first his mother, then his wife and then his daughter – after, of course, ensuring that they all did exactly what they were told for the rest of the time. And the other occasions of life could be similarly hallowed. This would all be part of his positivistic enterprise of developing the human scientific faculties that would finally enable us to abandon superstition.
These precepts, however, did not work out easily...
My parents and grandparents were humanists, what used to be called Free Thinkers. So as a humanist I am honoring my ancestors, which the Bible says is a good thing to do. We humanists try to behave as decently, fairly, and as honorably as we can without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. My brother and sister didn't think there was one, my parents and grandparents didn't think there was one. It was enough that they were alive. We humanists serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community.
I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke.
How do humanists feel about Jesus? I say of Jesus, as all humanists do, "If what he said is good, and so much of it is absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?"
But if Christ hadn't delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn't want to be a human being.
I'd just as soon be a rattlesnake.
"Whereas European men had once expressed their estrangement from themselves in terms of traditional religion and metaphysics, they now began to do so through academic social science, and scientism became, in this way, a modern substitute for a decaying traditional religion."
"Humanist values are mainstream American values, and this campaign will help many people realize that they are already humanists and just did not know the term," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "Humanists believe in and value love, equality, peace, freedom and reason – values that are comparable to those of moderate and liberal religious people."
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