- Live life to the full and help others fulfill their potential too. We only have this one life so we should seek happiness and fulfilment. If I want this for myself it makes sense to want it for others because to them, I am other, and because my happiness depends in part on good parenting, friends, and services and environments provided by others. This leads to a responsibility to engage in public life and help tackle political, social and economic problems.
- Humanists believe in the power of human love and compassion. Not as something that progressively makes the world a better place but as an infinite source of strength and inspiration that does make things better and that each of us can access.
- Everyone is equal. Each of us has worth, dignity and autonomy. Human rights establish the standards we should both expect and uphold. The freedom to hold and express views and choose how to act as long as others are not harmed, and not to be bullied or coerced into conforming, is fundamental.
- Ideas about how to live, including religions, are man-made. Our society and we as individuals are supported by the culture of ideas and behaviour norms that humanity has developed over the millennia. And that culture keeps evolving. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy humanism entry puts it well:“Believing that it is possible to live confidently without metaphysical or religious certainty and that all opinions are open to revision and correction, humanists see human flourishing as dependent on open communication, discussion, criticism and unforced consensus.”
- Everyone is invited. Humanism is inclusive. No one is rejected on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, race, geography or any other condition. As John Lennon said, no heaven and hell, no chosen people, no privilege.
- Humanism is a philosophy of hope. We are free because we can make choices. Every new moment is a crossroads. We can ‘start where we are’ – we don’t have to become a good or a better person first. Dealing with the difficult stuff including a sense of inadequacy or shame or guilt or hopelessness or disgust or horror or fear gives us rich material to learn from. Any personal state is a starting point to find and give light and love.
- We look to human knowledge based on reason and sensibility, rather than supernatural forces, to explain the world. Science is the basis of our knowledge about the natural world including questions like how the universe started and how humans came to exist. The arts or humanities are how we understand and explore our experience and develop meaning. And of course science and art are constantly overlapping and informing each other.
- Protecting the planet is part of our responsibility to current and future generations. We are part of the natural world and depend on it for our existence. The outdoors, and huge variety of flora and fauna are a source of profound pleasure and wonder. We need to find a sustainable balance between the legitimate needs of the earth’s growing population and protecting the environment. This is about campaigning for political decisions that are long term and good for everyone, as well as choosing a low-carbon lifestyle.
- We live with complexity. Social problems like child abuse, drug addiction and terrorism have lots of contributing causes, intertwined and complex. It is tempting to simplify it down to a black and white argument. The ‘war on drugs’ or ‘war on terror’ are examples of this, where drug takers and terrorists are demonised and attacked. In the end, the various causes have to be understood and addressed; relationships have to be mended and built over time; communities and individuals have to find courage and inspiration to change.
To explore the diversity of humanist thought, a starting point is the British Humanist Association (BHA) website on humanism.