Humanism is not an “-ism” – it has no source book of unquestionable rules or doctrine. You don’t ‘convert’ to Humanism and then have to take the rough with the smooth. Instead, most people become humanists without contact with any humanist organisation or even necessarily knowing the word. Rather, Humanism is a label for a range of beliefs and attitudes. To the extent that your beliefs and attitudes do or don’t coincide with that range, then the label humanist is more or less appropriate for you.
Humanism’s beliefs and attitudes make up an approach to life based on humanity and reason. Humanists recognise that it is simply human nature to have moral values – the result of our evolution over millions of years as social animals – and that as a result many of our values are widely shared. However, in making moral judgements in today’s much changed world we need to be ready to adapt our traditional rules by the use of knowledge, reason and experience. Humanists make decisions after considering the available evidence and assessing the likely outcomes of possible actions, not by reference to any dogma or sacred text.
Humanists see the naturalistic and provisional explanations of life and the universe provided by scientific enquiry and the use of reason as the best available. They think it folly to turn to other sources – such as religion or new age superstition – for answers to unanswered questions. Humanists are therefore atheists or agnostics so far as a god or gods are concerned – but Humanism is a philosophy in its own right, not just a negative response to religion.
Humanists believe that this is the only life we have and see it as their responsibility to make life as good as possible not only for themselves but for everyone – including future generations. They strongly support individual human rights and freedoms – but believe equally in the importance of individual responsibility, social cooperation and mutual respect. They endorse the idea of an ‘open society’ in which people of good will but fundamentally different beliefs and lifestyles live cooperatively together, with shared institutions, laws and government that are neutral on questions of belief – that is, a secular state.
Humanists create meaning and purpose for themselves by adopting worthwhile goals and endeavouring to live their lives to the full. They feel awe in considering the immensity of the universe and the intricate nature of its workings, they find inspiration in the richness of the natural world, in music, the arts, the achievements of the past and the possibilities of the future, they find fulfilment in worthwhile activity, in physical recreation and endeavour and in the pleasures of human interaction, affection and love.