A bit of a personal exploration here – but at last I’ve figured out why I do not see myself as a humanist. I’ve considered myself a bit churlish on this, after all I don’t disagree with any of the tenets (interesting choice of word?) and I have a great deal of respect for the actions of humanists around the world and in history. I applaud their bravery, their cause and their reasons.
In addition, it’s not that I don’t self-identify with any other ‘isms’. The first was feminism – My cousin called me a ‘feminista’ when I was 16 – it was clearly an insult and when I got back to England I looked it up. Yup! That was me! Happy to join the club! The most recent was when I realised the word ‘skeptic’ fitted me to a T. So why not humanist?
One simple reason is that I saw the term as unnecessary, this has been what I have always said, after all I don’t call myself a ‘round-earther’ or any other such obvious appellation.
But the penny dropped when I saw a recent publication called, ‘Humanism – a short course’, and the first chapter was called, ‘A good life without religion’. That to me is akin to saying ‘baking bread without concrete’. Wholly unnecessary. Worse than that, because a good life is as possible if based on religion as is good bread if based on concrete!
I know many religious people who are good people, who I admire greatly – including a JW friend. But these are people who are good, they cherry-pick their books and live the commendable bits, they are fundamentally good people, religion or no religion. The same is true for atheists – good and bad has nothing to do with belief structures. (Can someone tell me if I am right in having heard of a recent paper showing that the morals of believers are based on life and experience, not on their books?)
Humanism also incorporates a loose belief system and I struggle with belief systems. My parents were believers, but in slightly different things. I was raised on understanding of the ex-nihilo invention of the Holy Trinity, which led to the original schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, together with the raising of Mary to near god-like status in Catholicism to inject some sacred feminine into the masculine religion founded by the homophobic, misogynist St Paul. It’s not surprising I’ve always understood religion to be a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ affair, so have never associated any belief system with Truth. Perhaps, for some, with searching for truth, but that’s hardly the same thing.
When I was 18 I did an essay for a general paper exam, titled something like ‘It is impossible to be moral without region. Discuss.’ It was the first time I’d had to marshal my thoughts properly on the subject, and I argued that on the contrary, it was impossible to be moral if one was religious, because one was behaving in a good way only in order to get a reward after death and to avoid punishment. Just doing as you’re told is the lowest form of good behaviour; to be truly moral one must also want to do the right thing even if no one ever knows about it. I was opinionated even then!!
So for humanism to even think it needs to revisit such an old canard, makes me think it’s thinking is a long way from mine. I’m sure it might be helpful for people who are leaving behind a belief system, maybe it’s a step on the way to independence (that’s not meant to sound insulting, letting go of stuff always needs to done in stages). One more thing – it’s like say ‘I’m Atheist and good’, which has so many dodgy corollaries about what atheists might otherwise be like I won’t even go there!
So for me it’s just a bit of ‘so what? Yes I agree with what they say, but I agree with lots of other things that are blindingly obvious, which other people don’t quite get. Is that enough of a reason not to join a club?