When thirty-four individualists agree upon anything, it is an unusual event—especially when there is a preponderance of ministers involved. Even though "reasonable minds at work on the same or similar facts" are presumed to arrive at similar conclusions, this is not always the case. Yet in 1933, such an agreement was reached in a declaration of the theses of religious humanism and was published in the May/June issue of The New Humanist (VI:3).
In the same issue in which this declaration, "A Humanist
Manifesto," was published, an article entitled "Religious
Humanism" by Roy Wood Sellars (author and
professor of philosophy at the
In the Humanist Manifesto it will be seen that many of us have reached a common body of beliefs and attitudes, beliefs about man, his place in the universe, the general nature of that universe, and attitudes toward the great questions of life. . . .
"A Humanist Manifesto" brought to public attention for the first
time a movement deeply rooted in the cultural life of the
The 1933 manifesto issued a challenge in the name of naturalism to the supernaturalists whose beliefs were based upon revelation rather than reason and science. It was a bold move to them publicly that their religious views were out of date and that the time had come for a new faith and a new religion. Such a challenge is just as appropriate today in view of the influence of the radical religious right.
The making of this historic document reflected the hope and directions of an era. "A Humanist Manifesto" represented a tide which the fundamentalist Christian revival set out to stem. It may be that Christian fundamentalism will become as obsolete as the particular expressions of the Social Gospel in Protestantism which it engulfed, and that the Christian right will one day discover that time, science, and modern values are not on their side. I believe their own numbers and importance have been inflated by skillful use of the media and by abundant conservative financing. Moreover, the claim that "humanism is dead" (or that "God is dead," for that matter) is a little like the shout: "The king is dead! Long live the king!"
In the mean time, as this century's decades have elapsed, humanists have held dialogues with Marxists and Roman Catholics. Faith in human potential and the stirring of freedom are still shaking the structure of totalitarian regimes, both political and religious. "A Humanist Manifesto," although perhaps with too easy optimism, foreshadowed the revolution in faith and values astir in society today and is a historic and meaningful document.
The pendulum will swing in religion as in politics from the humanistic to the reactionary and theistic, but religious humanism has confidence that it will repeatedly swing back to a new and more broadly based global faith in humanity. There is no return to the values and mores of an agrarian Golden Age. The need for global cooperation to avoid nuclear destruction demands solutions with a contemporary focus.
Throughout this book it should be borne in mind that the founders of the Humanist Press Association, later reincorporated as the American Humanist Association, never intended to establish a church or denomination. Their organization was an aligning for mutual education of persons who belonged to various organized religions or to no organized religion. At the start, those who termed themselves religious humanists predominated, but the door was always open to unchurched freethinkers and rationalists.
Some writers have dealt with humanism as a religion, but in its inclusive sense it is also a philosophy and an ethical way of life.
Copyright © 1995 by Humanist Press, a division of the American Humanist Association