Chapter 10: The Great Adventure
The Great Adventure
Humanism: a Joyous View
As indicated in the introduction, before reading this book you may have been among the growing number of Americans who did not realize they were humanists. But now, with new awareness of the humanist lifestance, you may be discovering that here is a worldview in harmony with your intelligence that can give you a thoroughly consistent basis for meaning, moral values, and inspiration.
Humanism offers an alternative to religious faith, one that is in tune with the revolutionary, growing knowledge of our physical and mental worlds. It is both rational and compassionate and provides a new source of joy and strength. Humanism encourages service to others and offers the sense of community and connectedness that is consistent with our social nature as human beings. It also provides personal security while preparing us to live more comfortably in a changing society. It does so by adding the elements of discovery and adventure, providing clearer purpose and energizing us as we move our lives forward.
How to Decide Whether You Are a Humanist
So, have you been a humanist, perhaps without even knowing it? To help you make up your own mind we offer the following guidelines:
(1) Do you believe that we will continue to learn more about the past, present, and future of planet earth and its inhabitants?
(2) Do you believe that humans are a part of nature and that there is no god or supernatural power especially concerned for their welfare?
(3) Do you believe that religions’ sacred scriptures and ethical and moral systems were the creations of mortals and that these have served different purposes at different times and places?
(4) Do you believe that the kind of life we live and the helpful and just relationship that we have with other humans is of primary importance?
(5) Do you feel that our environment needs to be taken care of and protected for future generations?
(6) Do you frequently experience joy and comfort and an undefined mystic sense from the realization that you are a part of nature and of all that lives?
(7) Do you believe that the meaning of life is that which we give to it?
(8) Do you recognize that many philosophical questions such as, “What is the meaning of life?” and “Why am I here?” are irrelevant when our existence and experience are viewed as processes within the totality of nature?
If you answer “yes” to most of these questions you can classify yourself as a humanist, for you view humankind in naturalistic and humanistic terms. You have faith in our future here on earth and believe the highest goal for human endeavor is a better world for all.
Are you willing to consider new evidence of any kind and in every field of human thought and behavior, even though this may lead to a revision of some of your most cherished beliefs? We cannot see how anyone who is consistent in belief in a theistic religion or a non-naturalistic philosophy would be able to answer this in the affirmative. Humanists can.
For Sober Reflection
We all know that in some ways our inner resources are not keeping pace with external ones. Each year sees more machines and devices bringing added leisure to large numbers of the world’s people. Yet little seems to be achieved in helping these people to be basically happier, wiser, or more considerate of others. Even among those with countless information age gadgets and abundant leisure there is often ennui, a sense of futility and sometimes worthlessness. Furthermore, in most countries large segments of the population lack many basic needs, including meaningful work, and this is reflected in the persisting number of poor.
What is wrong? The explanation most frequently given is that we do not follow Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or whatever the religion happens to be. Say the theologically-minded Christians: “If only people would come to know God and Jesus, if only they would accept Him on faith and not question or hold back!” Understandably, religious fundamentalists often feel disenchanted with present-day society and advocate a return to imagined past practices. Not unsurprisingly, most of them have limited knowledge of historic brutality, misery, and depressions.
The humanist looks at the situation and possible solution differently. There is appreciation and partial acceptance of the values of the historical ethical codes. It is noted, however, that these very old codes contain views on slavery, race, castes and classes, women, and other significant matters which are not acceptable to contemporary educated men and women. Then, too, there are countless situations upon which the old codes do not provide guidance. The humanist feels hopeful that our inner growth will be greater when the same procedures that have made scientific achievements possible are used by ourselves in our own personal development and social relations. The remedy is in looking forward, not backward, in observation and experience, in free imagination, in studying consequences of action, and not in dependence upon revelation and tradition. To date there has been no nation which has put into general practice the scientific method—the humanist method. Whole nations have been Christianized or galvanized behind other major philosophies and religions. Most of the Christian ideals are admirable, but more than the voice of revelation is needed to make them living realities.
What Humanism Gives Us
As we have seen, humanism serves as both an inspiring alternative to faith and as a very adequate philosophy for daily living. Truly this sparkling way of life is richly rewarding and deeply satisfying.
We see ourselves as a dynamic part of nature, responding to the same laws as do other creatures. We observe the working of these so-called natural laws, finding no need to set ourselves apart from the world or to project our various human purposes or plans onto the grand cosmic scheme of things.
Depressing negatives have been turned into challenging positives. What if we are the result of evolutionary change from lower animals? We can feel pride and responsibility in being the highest form of life that has as yet evolved.
What if the vast universe is neutral toward our human hopes, our human ideals? We have a sense of belonging and are still free to carve out our own plans, set our own standards. We also recognize that each of us is born with individual limitations. However, each of us is free to give whatever meaning we wish to our life. Moreover, with increasing knowledge we learn more of nature’s laws and how to cooperate with them more fully. The ethical ideals of the great religions can more nearly become living realities.
Many find in this alternative to faith a satisfying vision and philosophy which does not run counter to their common sense knowledge of the world. For them new vistas have been opened. New possibilities for human cooperation in making a heaven on earth have been presented. Many intellectually mature adults and questioning, enterprising youth are accepting the challenge and opportunity to develop and participate in this alternative to faith. They recognize that the traditional religions do not fit the reality of today’s information and biotechnological age. When there are sufficient numbers of humanists in the world, isn’t it reasonable to assume there will be positive changes? From now until then there may well be hard and difficult periods. Yet in going forward, anyone can join in this greatest of human adventures.
Albert Schweitzer, man of international good will and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1952, said:
The world thinks it must raise itself above humanism; that it must look for a more profound spirituality. It has taken a false road. Humanism in all its simplicity is the only genuine spirituality. Only ethics and religion which include in themselves the humanitarian ideal have true value. And humanism is the most precious result of rational medi[t]ation upon our existence and that of the world.
There is satisfaction in discovering that in heart and mind one is a humanist. Many doubts, uncertainties and stresses vanish. This adventure into understanding the nature of beliefs and knowledge makes living more worthwhile and inspirational. Gone is any sense of aloneness, for now one feels at home with at least a few like-minded people in every part of the world.