What is Humanism all about?

Like traditional religions, humanists and other nontheists have deeply held beliefs, core values, and community that are central to a our identity. “Humanist” is a common collective identifier that refers to those who may identify as nontheist, atheist, agnostic, humanist, pastafarian, bright, freethinker, or other designations.

While terminology and emblems are varied, there are core philosophical foundations that are held in common regardless of labels: Scientific naturalism sees the lens of science as the best way to understand the world, assigning certainty only according to the weight of evidence. Humanists are skeptical of evidence through any source, especially revelation, tradition, or authority. Right actions follow from an ultimate value of human-flourishing, human-based rational ethics and our evolved empathy and instincts as social animals. Tools such as deontology, virtue ethics, consequentialism, and utilitarianism are used in concert to create a solid foundation for ethical action in any given situation. A humanist makes meaning in life by viewing the world through the lens of scientific naturalism, acting according to human-based, rational ethics, and by seeking lasting personal fulfillment through the advancement of oneself, one’s community, and humanity.

Chaplains are required to serve all military personnel, but as a naturalistic philosophy, humanism has no divine worship, hierarchical clergy, scripture, or divine truth/dogma. As such, humanists generally do not identify with terms such as “faith,” “worship,” or “religion.”  Traditional religions and traditional religious terms are common in the chaplaincy regulations but should be applied with care to humanists. While humanists have no prescribed time or mode of services, they benefit from community activities such as discussion, music, intellectual lectures, and social interaction. These are best led by a fellow humanist rather than a leader (or chaplain) from a traditional faith group.

The Humanist Society is one of several legally-recognized churches and has a good explanation of Humanism and Humanists. The most widely recognized summary of Humanism is Humanism and Its Aspirations of the Humanist Society and the American Humanist Association (AHA). Also see the AHA’s 2014 recommitment to scientific integrity. Outside the US, the International Humanist & Ethical Union posted its 2014 Oxford Declaration. The MAAF document tailored for military use is here: Humanist Background & Philosophy. These are not conflicting but re-statements of the same foundational ideas. These various perspectives should help newcomers better understand humanism. Also see expansions on the theme below:

Find a brochure for use in chaplain offices here: Living Well Through Humanism Brochure

Here is a short introduction from Chris Stedman, author of Faitheist about interfaith dialogue and humanism vs atheism.

Jerry DeWitt, prior Christian minister, talks about his desire to serve people and to preach within his new atheist world view.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, explains the awe and wonder of the universe.

Saif Rahman, Author, spirituality as a humanist.

Stephen Fry for the British Humanist Association, videos on the ultimate questions in life.