2. Naturalism, Humanitarianism and Modern Humanism
Humanism as a world view enjoys wide support among thinking people globally. At the same time, the term is either misunderstood or at the worst misrepresented by certain forces at play even in the Rationalist fold. Some people would like to see the idea added to their decadent ideology so as to make their organization look relevant and contemporary without themselves undergoing any meaningful change as a result of their accepting Humanist Philosophy. They use the word Humanism in place of humanitarianism as if they would very much like to pluck out the secular and atheistic core from it. Humanism is the philosophic child of the Renaissance movement. The Amsterdam Declaration of 2002 clearly stated what Humanists mean by ‘Humanism’ basing upon which the International Humanist and Ethical Union works. The IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism says:
“Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.”(2)
From the above it is quite clear that humanists reject all super natural concepts as non-existent and invalid. Since Humanists do not consider supernatural ideas or collectivities founded on unquestionable dogmas to be the source of their ethics, their humanitarianism is founded on secular ethics. Root of such an ethics is to be sought in the rationality of the individual.
There may be religious people who wrongly qualify certain actions which are humanitarian in nature as humanism. A contributing factor that helps to sustain the confusion is the fact that humanitarianism is contained in the Ethics of Humanism. The Amsterdam declaration has amply made it clear that Humanism imposes no creed upon its adherents. It further clarifies that Humanism is committed to education that is devoid of indoctrination.
It has been noticed that certain rationalists have been using these terms in a manner that creates confusion. Hence, this attempt to point out the clear difference that can be discerned when knowledgeable persons use these words. Dr. D.D. Bandiste, in his book, ‘New Humanism – A revolutionary Philosophy’ has discussed this aspect. Since his treatment of the difference will be useful for our readers I propose to heavily depend on him in this section. I strongly recommend the book (3) for students of Humanism.
Humanists are secular and rational. They are scientific in outlook. In their Ontology (= the part of philosophy which deals with the science of BEING), they are Naturalists.
What about the broad class of humanitarians?
Humanitarians may include religious people. It is possible that some humanitarians are believers in some sort of God, Soul, life in the Here-after etc. There are humanitarians who strongly believe that the basis of their humanitarianism is belief in religion or some such thing as ‘Spirituality’. In fact, some people seem to argue that the religious people are the best examples of Humanitarians.
Humanists believe that ideas are formed in the human brain through sense perception. Knowledge, according to them, is not derived from superstitious scriptures or infallible prophets. Hence their good works are conscious efforts based on rational thought. Take the case of humanitarians who are not secular humanists. Their values are sought to be explained using concepts which they claim to be outside or beyond human understanding! Even service for the welfare of fellow human beings will be described as service or duty to some supernatural entity! All the greatness of their altruism fades when we hear from them that they do good to please some non-existent entity. One may not respect a person when he affirms that he is moral because he fears God. The ethics of religionists sound horrible to humanists when destitution and poverty are justified by some humanitarians on the ground that it is due to the existence of these inequalities that they ‘fortunately’ engage themselves in the service of their God.
Humanists consider themselves to be the makers of their own destiny. This sense of freedom makes them self confident. They cheerfully embark on various activities useful to the mankind. Their altruism gives them great pleasure. They hate to become servants of any unjust force or collectivism. Humanists endeavour to make people self-reliant.
Many people have wrong notions about the humility shown by religious humanitarians. Isn’t it just the expression of mental slavery? They are virtuous only because they are cowed down by some weird beliefs. To use the term HUMANISM wherever humanitarianism is intended results in devaluing the iconoclastic and secular connotation originally and essentially contained in Renaissance Humanism. No humanist can afford to be ignorant of the fine distinctions. To the unaware, my clarification, following Dr.Bandiste, is as below:
The word ‘humanitarianism’ without any qualifier like secular may be taken to mean non-humanist enterprises. Secular Humanitarianism is an integral part of Humanism. Hence, HUMANISM need not be mixed up with religious humanitarianism. Humanism and Humanitarianism are not words equivalent in meaning or in use. Where acts of kindness are in mind, the words altruism, philanthropy, humanitarianism etc. are available for use.
Modern Humanism can be considered to have started with the appearance of the first Humanist Manifesto of 1933. It was the result of the works of a liberal Protestant group known as Unitarians. They rejected the idea of Holy Trinity. They thought Jesus Christ was a human being. Believing in one God, they supported social reforms and advocated individual freedom in matters of religion. Their liberal interpretations of matters of Church and theology resulted in the movement known as religious Humanism. Their emphasis on the human individual enabled them to include skeptics and agnostics in their movement. They published a more secular version of their Manifesto in 1973 (the second Humanist Manifesto). Many considered the movement as a reasonable alternative to religion. That their trajectory was progressive and secular is evidenced by the publication in 1980 of the Secular Humanist Declaration. The ideas of Renaissance encouraging exploration and enquiry were instrumental in the splitting away of Roman Catholic Church. To deny the anti-clerical spirit contained in Humanism is nothing but falsification of history.
(1)’The Naturalist Tradition in Indian Thought’ by Dale Riepe, Motilal Banarsidas, Delhi.
(3) ‘New Humanism – A Revolutionary Philosophy’(1996),Dr. D.D. Bandiste,
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· ‘India’ refers to the geographical areas under British colonial period and hence includes Bangla Desh and Pakistan as well.