Maddy Urken Speech
Humanism and Its Aspirations
Speech by Maddy Urken
The subhead of Humanism and Its Aspirations-the words "Humanist Manifesto III"-might lead many to wonder how it is that Humanists can update their primary thinking every few decades. But this same question could just as well be asked of the proponents of any philosophy or lifestance with a history of being open to new knowledge.
Perhaps a fair analogy would be to compare Humanism to science, which continually updates its ideas and findings. Yet, despite hundreds of years of updating since the time of Francis Bacon, science is still with us and many of its earliest conclusions remain accepted, in whole or at some level. Humanism's root methods and underlying premises similarly remain essentially unchanged. And, barring a revolution in what humans discover to be true, many of Humanism's present conclusions will remain intact as well.
If this seems an unsteady basis upon which to ground a philosophy, consider the alternative. Some traditional lifestances tend to lag centuries behind the leading edge of progress. So what should people think of a way of life that would promise to remain unchanged in the light of new evidence no matter how clear and obvious that evidence was? Such an outlook would inevitably become irrelevant as times change. Who would feel secure living by ideas so rigid that nothing-no discovery, no matter how overwhelming-could budge them?
Humanists, then, are people comfortable with change and eager to learn from it. And many changes have occurred in the thirty years since Humanist Manifesto II. These changes were taken into account in the decision to draft and release a third manifesto. It's time to introduce a new generation to our ideals, and that requires a new document in harmony with the times and written in the language of today.
Throughout Humanism and Its Aspirations there appear points that can serve as foundations for solving some of today's problems. For example, the document reads: "We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society."
When we began this new century, our government wasn't legally able to jail U.S. citizens indefinitely and without declared reason, denying them access to legal counsel. Considerations of "probable cause," the "right to an attorney," and "due process" were firmly in place to protect the people. But with steady demands for conformity, and appeals to the supernatural, our current national leaders have made these new violations of civil liberties possible.
Today, if you are of a particular faith the FBI might have instructions to count all of your houses of worship as a basis for determining the extent of anti-terrorist investigations in your area. Today, if you are brave enough to speak out against extreme governmental policies, you might be accused aiding terrorism. Today, if you don't share the president's brand of Christianity you might find it impossible to get a major government appointment.
It is time to put human rights and civil liberties, including the separation of church and state, back on the front burner. And it is we who must do it. It is we who must take responsibility and then take action. Along these lines, the document states: "The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone."
Not everyone agrees with us, of course. Some people support increased government surveillance and a reduction in those civil liberties they are willing to trade for an illusion of security. Some view the United States as a Christian nation. And some place religious doctrines above personal responsibility. We don't believe that our new manifesto will sway them our way.
Indeed, as Humanists we make no concerted effort at conversion of the unsympathetic. We already have our hands full just working to reach the literally millions of people in the United States who already think like us, whether or not they put the name "Humanism" to it. Indeed, people who discover Humanism often say, "I didn't know others thought like me. I never knew that I'd been a Humanist all along." There are tens of thousands of people who feel this way who have already become part of the organized American Humanist movement.
So, in that direction, we in the AHA are about to engage in a vigorous effort to reach those who already support Humanism's goals but who haven't had the opportunity to join with their fellow Humanists to harvest the benefits of unity. We are reaching out to rational, skeptical, socially conscious individuals to sign this landmark document. We want to enlist thousands of signers of Humanism and its Aspirations to join us as we work to build a society and an environment that will carry us positively through this new century and beyond.
Meanwhile, our efforts toward the unsympathetic will be to raise their level of awareness and accurate understanding of us and our ideas. We also seek to live in harmony with those who disagree with us, accepting them as fellow citizens and being accepted by them in return.
Unfortunately, in today' s society, it has often been difficult to be identified as embracing anything other than traditional faith. The current administration, in fact, has created a climate that further excludes minority faiths, philosophies, and lifestances. We hope Humanism and its Aspirations, then, will be a tool to aid Humanists who want to convey Humanism's positive message and counter prevailing misunderstandings.
This new document can also demonstrate the fact that many Humanist principles are compatible with some of those of traditional religion. There is much the non-Humanist will find to agree with here. Furthermore, even some of the more challenging ideas of Humanism, such as the view that prayers of petition or intercession are unreliable, resonate well with those people of faith who prefer to rely first on their own capabilities.
Overall, Humanism and its Aspirations recognizes that human problems are interconnected and the result of larger social forces. One person's problem is not necessarily unrelated to another's. This new manifesto therefore strives for a sense of common responsibility. A wider, more informed recognition of humanity's collective needs can be useful in counteracting narrow thinking or special interests. So we hope that the ideas of Humanism, as in the past, will continue to exert a positive influence on the larger society.