Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Humanism 101

I had an enjoyable meeting with one of my congregants today, to do some brainstorming about a February sermon on Humanism, the Fifth Source of Unitarian Universalism. In case you haven't been checking out Ms. Kitty's for long, we've themed this worship year to spend time learning about our Sources, our bedrock, the roots from which we as a religious tradition have sprung.

My congregant is an older fellow, a staunch humanist for most of his life, trained as a scientific thinker and brilliant. When I first began to plan for this series of sermons, I knew I would want to engage him in conversation and perhaps as a co-celebrant for the service.

We are now thinking about a dialogue of sorts, offering perspectives on humanism and what it has been in our lives. So today's conversation was in that vein----offering possible threads to explore as we look at this Source.

The language of the Source is this: "Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit."

I've always viewed religious humanism as the anchor which keeps UUism from drifting, and I think that's what the language implies, that we are grounded, as a faith, in reason and in scientific process. Most of our membership avows a deep connection to humanism, the philosophy that all knowing comes through human experience and sensing.

Wikipedia's definition sounds like it was written by a Unitarian Universalist:

Humanism is a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appeal to universal human qualities—particularly rationality. It is a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems and is incorporated into several religious schools of thought. Humanism entails a commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of human interests. In focusing on the capacity for self-determination, Humanism rejects the validity of transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on belief without reason, the supernatural, or texts of allegedly divine origin. Humanists endorse universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition, suggesting that solutions to human social and cultural problems cannot be parochial.

We'll talk a bit about the history of humanism as a philosophy, the differences between secular and religious humanism, how we see it relating to our seven principles and how it contributes to the human search for meaning.

I'm looking forward very much to working with this gentleman and offering this service to the congregation next month.


Comrade Kevin said...

Fostered by the Enlightenment, Humanism advances a profound sense of morality by relying on reason as an innate process towards spiritual perfection.

The drawbacks are that it does not take into account mysticism or events which cannot be solved by the application of human discernment.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Kevin, that's a great point. I hope to tell of some of the advances that humanism is making in that realm, for I think hard-line humanism is softening a bit, at least in the congregations I've been part of. It is to humanism's credit that it is able to be self-critical and notice when such shortcomings threaten its ability to grow.

LinguistFriend said...

There is an underlying assumption in this discussion that humanism must be sufficiently relatable to the world that one can tell when there is something missing or wrong. I have had this feeling about its predecessors, such as positivism. Earlier I wrote at CC's blog about the positivism of Richard von Mises (and really a number of others, such as my friend the physicist Philipp Frank). When I look back at the philosophical work of von Mises (especially his book "Positivism") I am pleased to see that it was suffciently reality-based in its day that parts of it need to be updated. But it was specifically part of the program to be able to see the connections between such things as mathematics/logic, and music, poetry, justice, and poetry.

ms. kitty said...

I appreciate your comments, LF. I hope you know this is all fodder for my part of the sermon!