The above Neo-Humanist Statement of 2010 is the sixth such document. Five major humanist manifestos and declarations have previously been issued in the twentieth century. [1] These documents are endorsed by several hundred humanist leaders of thought and action worldwide. They have been translated into a great number of languages. The first five spanned the years from 1933 to 2000. They were issued to meet the special challenges and problems of their day. Nonetheless there are common principles and values that appear in all of them. As such, perhaps they may constitute a “humanist canon,” or at the very least a framework of the meaning of humanism.

Humanist Manifesto I was published in 1933. It was endorsed primarily by Unitarians, who sought to defend liberal religious humanism. The term “religious” was used by the American philosopher John Dewey, who also signed Manifesto I. Dewey said that one could develop a set of inspiring naturalistic ideals and values that motivated us to action, yet was not a supernaturalistic religion. Manifesto I stated that “religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created...” for human beings are “part of nature.” “Modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantee of human values.” Religious humanists affirmed that “humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life.” These sentiments were shared by other humanists who did not wish to consider themselves “religious.” Many humanists, such as Sidney Hook and Corliss Lamont, objected to “God language.” However metaphorical, they opted for nonreligious humanism. Manifesto I was written at the height of the Great Depression of the 1930s. As such, it stated that “the existing acquisitive and profit-motivated society” was inadequate, and that “a socialized and cooperative economic order must be established.” This provision did not survive in subsequent Manifestos and Declarations, which allowed for a variety of economic systems—libertarian, social democratic, or mixed.

Humanist Manifesto II (1973) appeared after World War II during the Cold War between Western democratic societies and Marxist-Leninist-Maoist countries, which were engaged in dangerous ideological controversies. Meanwhile the United Nations was founded after the war and many avowed humanists played a leadership role in its early days. [2]

What was unique about Manifesto II was its recognition that a new moral revolution was under way in many societies. It forthrightly defended human rights such as contraception, abortion, sexual freedom between consenting adults, divorce, and euthanasia—all opposed by conservative religionists. This Manifesto defended the rights of women and minorities and urged tolerance for alternative sexual preferences and lifestyles. It did not take a stand between religious and nonreligious forms of humanism, recognizing that religion played a significant role in America and other societies. The Manifesto was very critical, however, of dogmatic and authoritarian religions and they expressed skepticism about immortal salvation or eternal damnation. Distinctively, Humanist Manifesto II affirmed a new humanistic ethics, not based on theology but human experience. It emphasized the importance of reason and science in solving human problems.



[1] (1) Humanist Manifesto I (1933); (2) Humanist Manifesto II (1973); (3) Secular Humanist Declaration (1980); (4) A Declaration of Interdependence: A New Global Ethics (1988); and (5) Humanist Manifesto 2000 (2000)

[2] These include Sir Julian Huxley, first head of UNESCO, Lord Boyd Orr, head of the World Food Organization, and Brock Chisholm, head of the World Health Organization.

This Manifesto affirmed the rights of the individual person as a central humanist value. It defended civil liberties, participatory democracy, and the separation of church and state. It deplored the division of humankind on nationalistic grounds, urged the world community to renounce the resort to violence and to engage in cooperative planning concerning the use of the Earth’s rapidly depleting resources and excessive population growth. It stated that the problems of the global economy cannot be solved by one nation alone, for they are global in scope. It also responded to the Luddites of the day by stating that the growth of technology is “a vital key to human progress.” In response to repressive totalitarian societies such as the Soviet Union, it recommended that we must “expand communication across frontiers.” It closed with the recommendation that humanity needs to be able to rise above competing economic and political systems that divide the world. “Each person,” it said, “should become a citizen of the world community.”

Humanist Manifesto II was initially endorsed by hundreds of humanist leaders of thought and action worldwide. It received wide coverage by the international media, including a front-page story in the New York Times, and stories in Le Monde, the London Times, and Pravda.

We did not realize that it would provoke such a strong protests from many conservative religionists, perhaps due to a failure on their part to appreciate its constructive contributions.  Most humanists today consider Humanist Manifesto II to best crystallize their outlook. In retrospect, Humanist Manifesto II was also critical of Islam, which began to emerge from its dogmatic slumbers. Indeed, it responded to fundamentalisms of all sorts—whether Christian, Islamic, Judaic, Hindu, or other.

The protests against secular humanism intensified in the United States in the late 1970s and ’80s, for its critics maintained that secular humanism had inordinate influence on the intellectuals, the media, the universities, the courts, politics, and liberal institutions. Unfortunately, no one came forth at that time to defend, let alone define, secular humanism. This led to the publication of a Secular Humanist Declaration in 1980. This document was again endorsed by leading public intellectuals and scientists.

The Declaration began by stating that “secular humanism is a vital force in the contemporary world. It is now under unwarranted and intemperate attack.” It deplored the fact that the world is faced by a variety of “anti-secularist trends.” This Declaration sought to defend democratic secular humanism by emphasizing certain key principles. “The first principle of democratic secular humanism is its commitment to free inquiry.” It pointed out that civil liberties were vital for democracies, which totalitarian communist countries did not respect. It highlighted the importance not only of the separation of church and state, but official ideology and state as well. The ideal of freedom was the underlying value that was vital for modern democratic societies.

This Declaration again emphasized the centrality of humanistic ethics, based on critical intelligence, not ecclesiastical or theological assumptions. It objected to the efforts by any one church or religious sect to impose its moral principles on the greater society. It emphasized the value of human happiness here and now, not ancient revelations of salvation. It maintained that human beings can “lead meaningful and wholesome lives for themselves and in service to their fellow human beings... without religious commandments or the benefit of clergy.” It recommended “that secular education should be cultivated in children and young adults.”

An essential point that needs to be reiterated is that the Secular Humanist Declaration did not espouse atheism per se. It stated clearly that “secular humanists are skeptical about supernatural claims,” but it also added that “we appreciate the fact that religious experience often gives meaning to the lives of human beings,” though it denied that this is rooted in the supernatural. A key principle of the Secular Humanist Declaration that is highly controversial today in the light of “the new atheists” is its statement: “Secular humanists may be agnostics, atheists, rationalists, or skeptics;” though they deny “the claim that some divine purpose exists for the universe,” secular humanism is thus not synonymous with atheism.

The Declaration goes on to deplore “the attacks by nonsecularists on reason and science.” At the time when the Declaration was published, creationism was being widely touted and “the theory of evolution was under heavy attack by religious fundamentalists.” Evolution is so basic to modern science that to deny it is to ignore the abundant evidence that supports it. The Declaration urged that education should be the essential method of building humane democratic societies, and that secular humanists need to “embark upon a long-term program of public education and enlightenment concerning the relevance of the secular outlook to the human condition.” “We affirm,” it declared, “that we can bring about a more humane world... based upon the methods of reason, tolerance, compromise, and the negotiation of differences.” It concluded that we deplore “the growth of intolerant sectarian creeds that foster hatred.”

Reading this Declaration retrospectively today, it is clear that secular humanism does not require atheism as a necessary precondition. Secularism implies three key ideas: (1) It is clearly nonreligious; (2) It maintains that human values are rooted in human experience and critical intelligence. This entails an emphasis on this life here and now, not salvation or punishment in the next life; and (3) the term “secular” also refers to the separation of church and state. Although secular humanism is not equivalent to atheism or agnosticism, it is nonetheless highly skeptical of supernatural claims; and encourages biblical and koranic scholarly and scientific criticism.

A new challenge has emerged today to confront secular humanism; for several secular authors have advocated “the new atheism.” These include Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger. They insist that there is sufficient evidence for atheism and urge that secular humanists aggressively advocate the view that “God does not exist,” that the classical religions are false, that people who believe in them are deceived, and that their ethical values are also false. The new atheists have published several books that have become mini-bestsellers. They have received widespread public attention, and this has attracted some secular humanists who insist that secular does imply atheism (or agnosticism).

For a variety of reasons we submit that this position is mistaken, for it has distorted both secular humanism and humanism in general. We reaffirm that secular humanists are (a) skeptical of supernatural claims, (b) no not think that there is sufficient evidence for God’s existence, and (c) do not believe the historical claims of revelation in the Bible or the Koran are evidential. (d) Ethics should be independent of theological foundations; nor do we think (e) that we should lampoon or ridicule religious believers per se. (f) We should indeed critically examine the many claims of religious traditions with a skeptical eye, and (g) and we should be willing to engage in constructive dialogue and debate with those within the religious communities. (h) Although we may profoundly disagree with our religious colleagues and/or adversaries, we should be tolerant, respectful, and dignified. (i) Even though we may disagree about fundamental doctrinal, philosophical, or theological issues, our discourse should be civilized.

With this in mind, we have proposed a new form of humanism that is not antireligious per se, nor avowedly atheist. We submit that there is an urgent need for a new humanism in the world today; hence Neo-Humanism. This form of humanism has two vital components in its philosophical outlook. The first emphasizes the need to cultivate an appreciation for science and reason. In concrete terms this has meant developing “critical thinking” and using “the method of intelligence” or “the methods of science”; namely, all hypotheses, theories, or beliefs should be tested, validated, confirmed, or justified by reference to evidence and reasons that support the claims. The second vital component of Neo-Humanism is the conviction that ethical values are related to human experience; they are amenable to critical evaluation and may be modified in the light of such inquiry.

It is especially important that humanists appeal to a wider base of support. Some 16 percent of the American population is not affiliated with any church, temple, or mosque—approximately 50 million Americans—whereas only 2 to 3 percent are estimated to be out-and-out atheists. Hence, Neo-Humanism wishes to address its message to a broader public who we believe should be sympathetic.

The new atheists surely have played an important role in contemporary society, for they have been willing to question the foundations of theism, a topic often considered verboten until now. One should not overlook the fact that the old atheism had a strong impact in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, insofar as it was allied with Marxism, including its totalitarian versions. Indeed the communists at first attempted to eradicate religious institutions from the societies in which they ruled, and this led to extensive persecution of believers.

There are varieties of unbelief, and one can be skeptical of religious claims, or be virtually indifferent to religious creeds, yet seek a fulfilling moral life and contribute to the social good. It is too narrow to identify humanism with atheism or even agnosticism, for one can reject the lure of religious salvation on other grounds. The main point of Neo-Humanism is its recommendation that we adopt a positive humanist agenda. This is the position of the scientific naturalist who begins with nature and life, as viewed from the perspective of reason and science, without the baggage of ancient religions. Contemporary civilization has progressed beyond that.

We need to reaffirm the viability and appeal of humanism for the future of humankind. This was clearly stated in Humanist Manifesto 2000:

Humanism is an ethical, scientific, and philosophical outlook that has changed the world. Its heritage traces back to the phi­los­o­phers and po­ets of ancient Greece and Rome, Con­fu­cian Chi­na, and the Carvaka movement in classical India. Humanist artists, writers, sci­en­tists, and thinkers have been shaping the modern era for over half a millennium. Indeed, humanism and modernism have often seemed syn­on­y­mous; for humanist ideas and values express a re­newed confidence in the pow­er of human beings to solve their own problems and conquer uncharted frontiers.

Modern humanism came to fruition during the Renaissance. It led to the development of modern science. During the Enlightenment it germinated new ideals of social justice and inspired the democratic rev­o­lu­tions of our time. Humanism has helped frame a new ethical outlook emphasizing the values of freedom and happiness and the virtues of universal human rights.

[We] believe that humanism has much to offer humanity.... Many of the old ideas and traditions that humankind has inherited are no longer relevant to current realities and future opportunities. We need fresh thinking if we are to cope with the [planetary] society that is now emerging....

 Accordingly, we have presented a Neo-Humanist Statement that we submit incorporates the best aspects of the humanist outlook: it is secular, personal, progressive, and planetary in outlook.  Its aim is to invite dialogue and discussion with all sectors of public opinion in order to advance the cause of humanity


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