What Do Humanists Believe?

August 1992

Existence

Humanists do not believe in God. On balance, the evidence is against there being any supernatural force in the world, so Humanists prefer the scientific theory of evolution to explain why we are here. To say "God created everything" just poses the question: "Who created God?"

Responsibility

Humanists accept responsibility for their own lives. There are no "god-given" rules to guide our actions and decide what we believe. But, human beings also have a responsibility to the whole world. We are more advanced than any other living beings: we have unique abilities of understanding, reason, and sensitivity. For this reason, we must face the fact that the future of humankind--and the natural world--is in the hands of men and women, not fate or god.

Death

Humanists believe that when a person dies, that is that! The human body is a wonderful organism, but when it ceases to function, the person is dead and there can be no further existence. For some people it is comforting to believe in a reunion with family and friends in some future life, but we feel that that the very idea of an "afterlife" is really just wishful thinking. What matters to Humanists is "here and now"--for ourselves and future generations.

New Ideas

Humanists do not claim to have any final answers. We look to the open book of nature, not to the closed book of "revelation", for our understanding of the world and what is important in it. Science and ethics are continuing processes of discovery and surprise, so one must always be willing to consider new ideas.

Tolerance

Humanists expect fair play! Belief in God is a strength and help to many people, and we have no wish to threaten or distress them by undermining that support. However, we strongly object to schools teaching children about religion as if it were established fact. We expect the same critical methods to be used in studying religion as are considered necessary in the study of science or history.

Right And Wrong

Humanists are deeply concerned about right and wrong. Every society needs a moral code if people are to live together in harmony. But we believe that morality comes from within ourselves, not from "God". It is to do with people, with individual goodwill and social responsibility: it is about unselfishness and kindness and consideration towards others.

Morality is possible because human beings have a sense of responsibility, and we work out our moral code as we come to understand what this means to ourselves and other people. Religious teaching and prejudice have, in the past, clouded this human basis of morality. But it is emerging now and needs to be developed and presented clearly.

Humanists have two particular responsibilities here:

  1. We must share with others our view that the highest human values and ideals come from people and not from "God".
  2. We must seek to influence society for the best, along the lines that we ourselves have worked out.

Social Issues

We accept our responsibility for the society in which we live but we will resist those who wish to re-impose the prejudiced and intolerant morals of the past. We tackle sensitive issues-from abortion to capitol punishment, from medical ethics to religious and moral education. Our approach is based on a concern for the welfare and happiness of both individuals and communities.

We want to make this world better and safer for our own and future generations. We will work with others, when we can, for international peace, and end to hunger and poverty, and the protection of our natural environment.

It is not enough for people simply to have a conscience about such matters--that conscience must be stirred into action.

Self-Reliant

Humanists differ from religious people in a number of ways. We do not ask for help from "god", nor do we expect any reward in "heaven". Instead we rely upon ourselves and other human beings, and devote our time and energy to the world we live in.

"The humanist has faith in man's intellectual and spiritual resources not only to bring knowledge and understanding of the world but to solve the moral problems of how to use that knowledge. That man should show respect to man irrespective of class, race or creed is fundamental to the humanist attitude to life. Among the fundamental moral principles he would count those of freedom, tolerance and happiness."

(from Pear's Cylopaedia)

--Published by the British Humanist Association