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What Is Humanism?

Following are answers to some questions you may have about humanism.

Is humanism a religion?

good without godNo, not in any conventional sense. For most people, religion implies belief in a god, acceptance of supernatural powers, and adherence to long-held “inspired” and institutional dogma. Humanism rejects all these assertions so is clearly not a religion.

But from a sociological perspective and as a philosophy of life, humanism functions much like religion, without the supernatural component. It offers people a sense of belonging and community with other like-minded individuals. It inspires us to live our best lives and commit to the common good. And it can help us find purpose and meaning at each stage of our lives — from youth through adulthood to our final days.

What do humanists stand for?

We believe it is up to humans to make a better world. Therefore, we are committed to the well-being of all and the sustainability of the earth, our only home. We rely on the physical and social sciences, critical thinking, and analytical history to understand the world. We promote a secular society and the separation of religion and government as the best way to live together in harmony in a diverse world.

We continually seek to make the world a better place as we learn about the shortcomings of our social structures. We are committed to social and racial justice; equity and education for all; respect for the earth’s flora and fauna; and compassion and empathy in human relations. We believe that democracy is the best form of government to serve human needs and safeguard the dignity of all.

Do humanists believe in life after death?

Humanism is not based on a creed so does not dictate what individuals believe about the afterlife. Instead, we focus on living a good life in the here and now rather than concern ourselves with things that cannot be known. That said, most humanists do not believe in life after death. The physical life that houses our consciousness encapsulates our existence. Our bodies were formed out of the same elements as the rest of nature and, once spent, will return to their fundamental essence.

Humanists do not believe in a separate soul. We did not exist in any conscious form before we were born, and we will not exist after we die. Mind and consciousness emerge from our brains, and when our brains no longer function, we cease to exist except in the memory of those who knew us.

How do humanists tell right from wrong?

Humanists understand ethics as a human construction, not derived from divine edict or revelation. We determine “right” and “wrong” not from a set of rules, but through the humanist commitment to the well-being of all and the sustainability of the planet.  We do not need a supernatural being to tell us that treating others compassionately and fairly is the right thing to do. We measure our actions by how well they address human needs, reduce suffering, enhance human flourishing, and ensure the health of the planet. Humanists believe all humans have moral agency; we must learn from the consequences of our actions how best to live together in harmony through ethical reasoning and civic engagement.

How do humanists find meaning in life?

For humanists, meaning does not come from a deity, but from a basic psychological need: We want to matter to someone or something, to find a purpose or reason for being. We find meaning through mutually caring relationships with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues. Or through the work that we do, a talent we hone, or a cause that we serve. We can find transcendence by feeling  part of something larger than ourselves. And we can feel awe at the wonders of the universe while counting on science to explain them to us.