The exact time when the term Humanism was first adopted is still unknown. It is,however, certain that its roots are somewhere in Italy. Before going to the function of humanism i’d like to discuss the confusions and controversies related to this term.
Because of the variety of meanings, and unclear descriptions of authors and speakers it can easily become a source of confusion, so lets classify the varieties of humanism first.
1- Literary Humanism is a devotion to the humanities or literary culture.
2- Renaissance Humanism which deals with the learning and the ability of human beings to determine for themselves truth and falsehood.
3- Cultural Humanism is the rational and empirical tradition that originated largely in ancient Greece and Rome, evolved throughout
European history, and now constitutes a basic part of the Western approach to science, political theory, ethics, and law.
4- Philosphical Humanism is any outlook or way of life centered on human need and interest. Philosophical humanism is further catagorized as Christian humanism and Modern Humanism.(I’ll discuss Philosophical humanism in detail first then the other varieties of Humanism)
* Christian Humanism Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines the Christian humanism as “a philosophy advocating the self- fulfillment of man within the framework of Christian principles.” This more human-oriented faith is largely a product of the Renaissance and is a part of what made up Renaissance humanism.
* Modern Humanism, also called Naturalistic Humanism, Scientific Humanism, Ethical Humanism and Democratic Humanism is defined as “a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion.” Modern Humanism is dual in origin (Religious and Secular humanism).
Secular and Religious Humanists both share the same worldview and the same basic principles. From the standpoint of philosophy alone, there is no difference between the two. It is only in the definition of religion and in the practice of the philosophy that Religious and Secular Humanists effectively disagree.
Religious Humanism serves both for personal and social needs. For personal needs it offers a basis for moral values, an inspiring set of ideals, methods for dealing with life’s harsher realities,and a rationale for living life joyously. And for social needs, Religious humanism offers a sense of belonging, an institutional setting for the moral education of children, special holidays shared with like-minded people, a unique ceremonial life, the performance of ideologically consistent rites of passage (weddings, child welcomings, coming-of-age celebrations, funerals, and so forth), an opportunity for affirmation of one’s philosophy of life, and a historical context for one’s ideas.Religious humanists do no support any criteria for individuals who can not feel comfortable with the traditional religion , for them personal and social needs of individuals can only be met by traditional religion.
To have a better understanding of religious humanism, there’s a need of functional definition of religion. According to Frederick Edwords (Executive Director, American Humanist Association ) “The true substance of religion is the role it plays in the lives of individuals and the life of the community. Doctrines may differ from denomination to denomination, and new doctrines may replace old ones, but the purpose religion serves for people, remains the same. If we define the substance of a thing as that which is most lasting and universal, then the function of religion is the core of it.”
Concisely Religeous humanism is “Faith in Action”. There are many contradictory philosophical views in this regard also. According to Kenneth Phifer “Humanism teaches us that it is immoral to wait for God to act for us. We must act to stop the wars and the crimes and the brutality of this and future ages. We have powers of a remarkable kind. We have a high degree of freedom in choosing what we will do. Humanism tells us that whatever our philosophy of the universe may be, ultimately the responsibility for the kind of world in which we live rests with us.”
I do agree to the second statement of Kenneth, but in my opinion the first statement “Humanism teaches us that it is immoral to wait for God to act for us”, leads towards fiedility. In my opinion, having no faith on God’s help detoriates the essence of “duaa”, and “duaa” is of extreme importance in any religion. It is a common observation that, whatever the person’s religion is, when he gets into a trouble and finds no help from anywhere he ultimately contacts his creator. One more thing that, only God has the power to award success or not to award success. (I’d not like to use the word failure here because failure is nothing, its just absence of success) so why not to request Him for his help. Secondly Kenneth says, “We have powers of a remarkable kind. We have a high degree of freedom in choosing what we will do.” I think whatever the power and high degree of freedom we have is not ours at all, its given to us by God. Or if we believe on Kenneth’s staement , then why can’t we keep this power and high degree of freedom forever. Inspite of having power and high degree of freedom many individuals do not succeed, why? Why can’t we stop the death?
Above mentioned questions were only a glimpse of contradiction among the religious humanist thought and Islamic point of view, there is a series of questions in this regard.
Now comes Secular Humanism. Secular Humanists may agree with much of what religious Humanists do, they deny that this activity is properly called “religious.” This isn’t a mere semantic debate. Secular Humanists maintain that there is so much in religion deserving of criticism that the good name of Humanism should not be tainted by connection with it.
The most popular example of the Secular Humanist world view in recent years was the controversial author Salman Rushdie. He said on ABC’s “Nightline” on February 13, 1989, in regard to his novel “The Satanic Verses. ”
There is an old, old conflict between the secular view of the world and the religious view of the world, and particularly between texts which claim to be divinely inspired and texts which are imaginatively inspired. . . . I distrust people who claim to know the whole truth and who seek to orchestrate the world in line with that one true truth. I think that’s a very dangerous position in the world. It needs to be challenged. It needs to be challenged constantly in all sorts of ways, and that’s what I tried to do.
In the March 2, 1989, edition of the New York Review, he explained that, in The Satanic Verses he tried to give a secular, humanist vision of the birth of a great world religion.
The Secular Humanist tradition is a tradition of defiance, a tradition that dates back to ancient Greece. The best example of Greek Mythology is the character Prometheus. Prometheus stands out because he was idolized by ancient Greeks as the one who defied Zeus. He stole the fire of the gods and brought it down to earth. For this he was punished. And yet he continued his defiance amid his tortures. This is the root of the Humanist challenge to authority.
Another truly heroic Promethean character in mythology it is Lucifer in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. But now he is the Devil. He is evil. Whoever would defy God must be wickedness personified. That seems to be a given of traditional religion. But the ancient Greeks didn’t agree. To them, Zeus, for all his power, could still be mistaken.
Humanists suggest that, even if there be a god, it is OK to disagree with him, her, or it. In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates shows that God is not necessarily the source of good, or even good himself.
In words of Frederick Edwords ,”After all, much of Human progress has been in defiance of religion or of the apparent natural order. When we deflect lightening or evacuate a town before a tornado strikes, we lessen the effects of so called “acts of God.” When we land on the Moon we defy the Earth’s gravitational pull. When we seek a solution to the AIDS crisis, we, according to Jerry Falwell, thwart “God’s punishment of homosexuals.”
Again a contradictory thought, because God has created this world for his most lovable creature “man”, and blessed him with wisdom to find the privy secrets of the universe(landing on moon). And He gives troubles and problems to His men to check their abilities and potentials, and He appriciatesthe better solutions to get rid of the problem(seeking solution to the AIDs crisis).
Another aspect of the Secular Humanist tradition is skepticism. This term can be expalined with the help of Socrates’ philosophy. He claimed to know NOTHING, instead he devised a set of rules or laws and gave method of questioning the rules of others, of cross- examination. And Socrates didn’t die for truth, he died for rights and the rule of law. For these reasons, Socrates is the quintessential skeptical Humanist. He stands as a symbol, both of Greek rationalism and the Humanist tradition that grew out of it. And no equally recognized saint or sage has joined his company since his death.
Because both Religious and Secular Humanism are identified so closely with cultural humanism, they readily embrace modern science, democratic principles, human rights, and free inquiry.Though Religious Humanism embraces cultural humanism, this is no justification for separating out cultural humanism, labeling it as the exclusive legacy of a nontheistic and naturalistic religion called Religious Humanism, and thus declaring it alien.
By summarizing the basic ideas of Humanism and connecting them with each other it becomes clear that, Humanism is a Philosophy for people who think for themselves. It is a philosophy of imagination.Humanists recognize that intuitive feelings, hunches, speculation, flashes of inspiration, emotion, altered states of consciousness, and even religious experience, while not valid means to acquire knowledge, remain useful sources of ideas that can lead us to new ways of looking at the world. These ideas, after they have been assessed rationally for their usefulness, can then be put to work, often as alternate approaches for solving problems. Humanism concerns only abouth the human life in this world, it does not support any criteria for the promissed life after death. It also offers to take part in technological progress and discoveries. To some extent the philosophy of Humanism is acceptable but most of it comprises of unfaithfulness and disagreement to God.
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