Continuing from a previous post, The first Humanist Manifesto attracted a lot of controversy in 1933 after it was published in The New Humanist. In 1973, American Humanists assembled once again to write an updated version of the Humanist Manifesto. Mortified by the rise of fascism and the danger of nationalism, Humanists sought to write a new set of affirmations that addressed the brutality witnessed in the twentieth century in the name of the -isms that plague the world. The first manifesto, however inspirational, wasn’t very realistic. The second manifesto proved that it takes more than a set of affirmations to combat dangerous indoctrination and the signatories of the second Humanist Manifesto were more explicit in their goals this time around to uphold universal human rights. While the first Humanist Manifesto included a prescription for left-wing anarchism, the second manifesto took a more neutral approach, instead focusing on the freedom of information and the necessity of access to education for all. Far from calling for the world to embrace any one particular political or religious ideology as the road to a better world, the humanist lifestance affirms that humans should have the potential to pursue their own spiritual and personal development as they see fit. Chiefly, the humanist manifesto demanded the universal right for every human being to reach their spiritual, emotional, creative, and intellectual potential.
The Humanist Manifesto II takes shots at organized religion as well as other institutions, and rightly so. “Traditional religions are surely not the only obstacles to human progress…” as it is noted that, “Other ideologies also impede human advance.” The Humanist Manifesto is not an ideology, nor is it an atheist religion as some believe; it is no more than a creed, the consensus of opinion on what humanists believe. The second manifesto also outlined the need for moral education, especially in regards to the state’s attitudes about the sexual orientation of individuals. Signers called to an end to all forms of sexual oppression, and the right of consenting adults to pursue whatever lifestyle they so desire, “short of mindless permissiveness or unbridled promiscuity”. Perhaps the most controversial passage called for the right to birth control, abortion, and divorce to be recognized. Access to education free of ideological indoctrination was considered imperative. In that regard, humanists oppose the dogmatism of traditional faiths. Humanists recognize that we can only be certain of knowledge acquired in our naturalistic universe and they reject claims of a supernatural afterlife.
What separates the secular humanist lifestance from religion or an ideology is that a life stance emphasizes a focus on what is of ultimate importance. A lifestance is different from a world view or a belief system because it can pertain to both religions and alternatives to religion. A lifestance is meant to guide people in how to give things value. In its simplest definition it is a cogent belief that guides our morality in practice. Lifestances differ by what intrinsic values they hold and by what they as express is the meaning of life. The humanist lifestance differs from a religion in that there are no sacred ideas or institutions and while humanists hold values that they may consider of utmost importance, there is no divine source of that value. Humanists value free inquiry and the ability to seek their own answers to the existential questions about the meaning of life. “The preciousness and dignity of the individual person is a central humanist value.” With no divine lawgiver to guide our morality and give our lives meaning, humanists find value in their relationships with other human beings and morality is to be derived from observations of the nature of reality, not from a vengeful God that metes out punishment to those who never learned to call God the right name. And this refusal to kowtow to the logic of religious thinking tends to piss people off.
For years, signatories like John Dewey were denounced as the sole cause of America’s moral decline. Critics have been known to misinterpret the affirmations within the Manifesto unintentionally, or at times deliberately take the affirmations out of context to manipulate meaning of the affirmations within the Manifesto. Such critics like Max Rafferty were indeed hostile to the humanist vision. Rafferty was a conservative educator who insisted on a traditional education; rote memorization of facts, multiplication tables and a Biblically-supported understanding of history and science. Perhaps Rafferty’s biggest objection to humanism was that he saw it as the root of all evil; he attributed societal decay in the 1970s and 1980s as a direct impact of creeping humanism in America. More recent examples of hostility to Humanism can be found in David Noebel and Timothy LaHaye’s book Mind Siege: The Battle for Truth in the New Millennium. LaHaye is perhaps best known as a co-author in the Left Behind series. Noebel and LaHaye argue that humanists are behind a conspiracy to “turn America into an amoral, humanist country, ripe for merger into a one-world socialist state”, claiming that there is a coordinated attempt by “2,000 other colleges and universities” to undermine “the moral fabric of America”.
Secular humanists don’t believe that their affirmations are Absolute Truth. On the contrary, they believe that all beliefs should be examined and continually questioned, so that new ideas can be developed when old ideas are proven false and should be abandoned. They value religious tolerance, religious pluralism, and open-mindedness towards other faiths. Humanists are staunch supporters of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state as laid out in the U.S. Constitution. These rights protect people of faith and support the freedom of those with nonreligious beliefs. Therefore, secular humanists would actually oppose the exclusive teaching of their lifestance in schools or the government because that would violate the neutrality of a secular society and the rights of religious believers. Secular humanists believe for a society to support many differing religious and philosophical views should be as open to debate as political beliefs are now. Far from advocating for a one-world socialist state or imposing a mandatory humanist religion in schools or government, secular humanists aim for neutrality, not hegemony.