by Jennie S. Bev
Religion is like a coin with two sides. It can make you softer or harder; more compassionate or full of hatred; work efficiently because you believe working is praying or totally don’t work at all but spend your days praying in solitude. Having an institutionalized religion means you believe and adhere to dogmas, whatever they may ask you to do, including those that could cause harm to others.
Humanism as an alternative to having an institutionalized religion is acknowledging and accepting the simple fact that we are humans with humanly qualities and that we are not “special” in anyway because we have the highest intellectual capacity among earthlings.
We are simply the product of a successful and not-so-successful biological evolution. It is a philosophy, a way of life, and provides guidelines for solving problems. Oftentimes, an individual is already a humanist by default, but doesn’t realize it.
Unlike a religion, being a humanist doesn’t involve adhering to dogmas and you are free to think and to choose how to be one. No definition is good enough to describe what humanism is, other than a group of ethics emphasizing compassion and good deeds.
The only test for humanism is: Does it hurt others? If something hurts, then it must be revised, changed, or redone to cause no harm to others or self.
Some religions teach contradictory things in their holy books, such as “an eye for an eye” and “honor killing” while they also teach compassion such as “love your enemies”. Such teachings can be confusing to those with limited intellectual capacity and, in the end, have been causing a lot of chaos and unnecessary deaths throughout the history of mankind.
According to the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s Amsterdam Declaration of 2002, “Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself.”
Many thinkers, scientists and artists are humanists because they agree with the notion that we are the architects of our own fate and that we should focus on the present and the future within our lifetime, not the past or beyond the grave.
They believe that we should not be content with the status quo and keep excelling by challenging it, all in the name of “the progress of humanity”. Adhering to dogmas can be harmful, as following a set of rules without questioning their merit may not be suitable in some situations.
Cited from the declaration, the seven fundamental elements of humanism are: Humanism is ethical; humanism is rational; humanism supports democracy and human rights; humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility; humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion; humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and humanism is a life stance aimed at maximizing our personal fulfillment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living.
Of course humanism has existed long before the Amsterdam Declaration in 2002. Hindu’s Vedas, Socrates, Democritus, Epicurus, Confucius and Mo Tzu have introduced and reminded us the importance of creating a good life for all mankind simply for the sake of humanity instead of following some order.
Interestingly, during the Golden Age of Islam around 700 AD, humanist traditions were cultivated and flourished. A 9th century medical writer, Abu Bakr Al-Razi, and scholar Al-Kindi stated that human beings should acknowledge the source of knowledge regardless of the origin because the truth is the most important.
In Catholic Church traditions, Immanuel Kant set an example of humanism in the 18th century. He said, “Mankind’s coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error.” The culmination of the humanist movement was the American Revolution with Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason.
So, who are famous humanists? Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, BF Skinner, Linus Pauling, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher Hitchens, Steve Allen, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Peter Ustinov, Helen Keller and many others. Add yourself to the list, if you are one.
Humanists simply believe in doing no harm to others and adhering to only one “rule” — compassion. Whether you are religious or not, you can be a humanist.
The Jakarta Post, June 3, 2012