Bahai News - Three proposed tenets of modern religious humanism: Toward humanist unity
Three proposed tenets of modern religious humanism: Toward
The author traces the historical path of Christian Humanism and
suggests that today they are isolated from the main body of
humanists. Therefore, it seems appropriate for presentday humanists
to actively invite Christian Humanists into their group. It is
contended that this action is timely and prudent because of the
sizeable numbers of Christian Humanists.
The term religious humanism is a vague concept and is defined by
these basic tenets: (a) honest and serious scholarship; (b) an
attitude that human affairs are important, not transcendent; and (c)
a commitment to practice religious teachings. This article is an
attempt to clarify both the commonalities and the differences between
religious humanists and secular humanists who are associated with a
This statement proposes a rapprochement, which is appropriate
because there is a widespread perception that all humanists are
secularists. Not only is this view erroneous, but it also tends to
alienate religious humanists from humanist organizations and, as a
result, diminishes the voice of all humanism.
THE WORD HUMANISM: A SOURCE OF AMBIGUITY
Both Maritain (1938) and Akroyd (1998) acknowledged that the word
humanism is potentially confusing. Akroyd stated, "If Cardinal
Wolsey, Desiderius Erasmus, Marsilio Ficino and Thomas More were all
humanists, then the term has such a wide applicability that it
becomes for all practical purposes useless" (p. 89). Akroyd added
that in the sixteenth cenfury a humanist was a student of classical
literature, grammar, and rhetoric. He also advised caution about
applying the term humanism, because it was not coined until the
beginning of the eighteenth century. Maritain wrote, "The word
'humanism' is ambiguous (p. xii)," which means that discussions of
the subject must be particularly sensitive to the nuances being used.
Dawson (1993) noted, "Humanism is one of those words like 'democracy'
that has been used so loosely during the last fifty years that it can
mean almost anything" (p. 2). Combs, Richards, and Richards (1988)
wrote, "The term humanism identifies a wide variety of persons and
groups" (p. 6).
The multidimensionality of humanism is accentuated among twentieth
century humanists who embrace a variety of postures including
theological orientations that range from strict secularism
(nonreligious posture) to devout religious faith. Within the humanist
group, secularism has by far the highest profile, which promotes a
general view that all humanists are secularists. Carter (1993) wrote,
"Even if what some religionists call secular humanism is not a
religion... it might properly be called an ideology" (p. 171).
Similarly, Colson (1987), a conservative Christian minister, stated,
"The view that man in his own rational interest can sustain a man-
made religion (secular humanism) is voiced regularly on op-ed pages,
on television specials, even from church pulpits" (p. 486).
The diverse membership of the Counseling Association for
Humanistic Education and Development demonstrates that the term
humanism is claimed by religious humanists from an assortment of
orientations (e.g., Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and
Islam). In short, it is both unfair and uninformed to attribute
antireligious or even nonreligious views to all humanists; yet, that
is precisely what has happened widely throughout the latter decades
of the twentieth century (Aspy, 1993). Therefore, this article
suggests three tenets that will help identify the stance of modern
EXEMPLARS OF RELIGIOUS HUMANISM
Religious humanism can be traced to fourteenth century Italy and
the teachings of Petrarch, a poet who, according to Tarnas (1991),
combined religion with classical culture in such a way that he became
the first Renaissance man. Bronowski and Mazlish (1960) stated, "The
theme of Christian virtue [faith, hope and love] ran through
Renaissance humanism all the way from Petrarch to Erasmus" (p. 63).
Tarnas added, "The Renaissance integration of the renaissance
integration of contraries had been foreshadowed in the Petrarchian
ideal of docta pietus was now fulfilled in religious scholars like
Erasmus and his friend Thomas More ... The philosopher Plato and the
apostle Paul were brought together and synthesized to produce a new
philosophia Christi" (p. 229). Thus, Petrarch serves as an historical
marker for the humanist tradition (Plumb, 1987, p. 161).
Despite its long history, religious humanism is subject to various
interpretations, but certain common strands can be discerned by
discussing the contributions of four exemplars of religious humanism:
Erasmus (1668/1913), Thomas More (Lupton, 1895), Elie Wiesel (Aikman,
1998), and Clifton Sparks (1976).
In presenting Erasmus as an exemplar of religious humanism, it is
appropriate to offer some biographical background to reveal the
dimensions of his personhood. When the Renaissance moved into
northern Europe, it attracted the attention of Desiderius Erasmus, a
Dutch scholar, Augustinian priest, and humanist, who defended, and
also criticized, the spirit of the Catholic Church. Solomon and
Higgins (1996) wrote, "His (Erasmus's) humanism was not a doctrine as
much as it was part of his character, the result of his own modest
upbringing as an illegitimate child and his extensive experience in
many of the main cities of Europe" (p. 161).
Erasmus's writings were spread throughout Europe. One of his most
significant books was In Praise of Folly (Erasmus, 1913/1668), a
satire on the monastic life. Martin Luther (see Bronowski & Mazlish,
1960, p. 71) used Folly in the formulation of his 95 Theses, but
Erasmus believed that Luther converted them into a new, rigid
theology, which the Dutch humanist found unacceptable. Erasmus
believed that both the Church and Luther should be more moderate but
eventually complied with the Church's request that he criticize the
German reformer by attacking him on the topic of free will.
Subsequently, Erasmus broke with Luther.
Erasmus wrote several other offerings including a Greek version of
the New Testament and Handbook of A Religious Warrior (see Bronowski
& Mazlish, 1960, pp. 66-67), which contrasted the mechanical worship
of the church with the congenial practices of the Brethren of the
Common Life who were connected with certain institutions. Bronowski
and Mazlish reviewed Erasmus's work and stated, "His cause had
failed; he was at home in neither of two camps now at war; and he
lived beyond his time. ... he gave his life to the belief that virtue
can be based on humanity, and that tolerance can be as positive an
impulse as fanaticism" (pp. 74-75).
Bronowski and Mazlish (1960) summarized Erasmus's work by stating
that Erasmus conceived of the word Christian as pertaining to
universal good, but the concept could not overcome the underlying
violence of both sides (Protestants and Catholics). Thus, Erasmus's
dream of universal peace died. His moderate or conciliatory posture
was insufficient to the challenge.
In this biographical overview, Erasmus emerges as an active
thinker whose commitments were to the integration of scholarship and
the Church. Thus, he serves as an exemplar for today's religious
Sir Thomas More
Another of the religious humanist exemplars was Sir Thomas More, a
devout Catholic and one of Erasmus's closest friends, who was
disturbed by what he considered abuses by the Church of Rome.
However, More, a humanist, was canonized by the Church in 1935
(McConica, 1991). Because he is presented as an exemplar, it is
appropriate to provide a fuller representation of his multifaceted
More's background differed radically from that of Erasmus. He was
born to a privileged family and attended St. Anthony's School in
London, which served the sons of businessmen. Akroyd (1998) observed
that More's and Erasmus's early education directed them toward
administrative endeavors and teaching, respectively. Thus, their
later works were predictable outcomes.
The two men's lives converged in 1499 in London when Erasmus
visited with More, who had organized a circle of scholarly friends
(humanists) including John Colet (government official and scholar),
William Grocyn (Greek scholar), Thomas Linacre (physician and Greek
scholar), and More. Bronowski and Mazlish (1960) described Erasmus's
reaction to the experience by stating, "Among these English
idealists, Erasmus felt Christianity was truly an expression of the
(religious) spirit, and of the classical spirit [italics added].
Argument and worship were not brittle forms here; the search for
truth was generous; and faith was not, as he felt it to be in Paris,
a dead superstition (p. 67). These characteristics, then, could be
called the hallmarks of Erasmus's and More's form of religious
Thomas More wrote Utopia (Lupton, 1895), which was a two-part
description of how to live in an ideal state. Part I suggests that
Machiavellian principles were emerging in Europe. Part II focuses
primarily on problems of economics. More wrote that there would be no
money in Utopia because money is the source of problems with
institutions and overthrows all excellence, magnificence, splendor,
and majesty. Some observers have called Utopia a communist state,
whereas others have referred to it as a monastery.
Eventually, More gained a solid reputation in business as well as
in the practice of law so that he wa\s appointed to a series of
governmental posts, culminating in the position of Chancellor of
England. In that exalted position, More's Christian beliefs continued
to influence his practices, and it is reported widely that
circumstances ultimately converged to confront him with a difficult
choice: either sanction Henry VIII's separation of the Church of
England from the control of the Catholic Church or remain true to the
Catholic Church and become an enemy of the king. More chose the
latter; that is, More, a humanist, maintained his faith in religion
even in the face of a horrible execution.
Solomon and Higgins (1996) summarized the lives of the two
religious humanists, Erasmus and More, by stating, "Both Erasmus and
More campaigned to unify Christianity and open Christian scholarship
to the wisdom of the Greek classics" (pp. 162-163).
Elie Wiesel (see Aikman, 1998) is a Jewish writer who probably is
best known for his commemoration of the Jewish Holocaust, especially
through books such as Night (1986), which received almost instant
acclaim and gave him immediate status. Among his many other writings
are The Town Beyond the Wall (1995), The Gates of the Forest (1989b),
and A Beggar in Jerusalem (1989a).
Wiesel was born a Hasidic Jew in Sighet, Romania, on September
30,1928. He and his family were imprisoned in Auschwitz on May
17,1944. On January 29, 1945, Weisel's father died of dysentery,
starvation, and exhaustion in Auschwitz. On April 11, 1945, Wiesel
was freed from Auschwitz by a group of underground soldiers.
After Auschwitz, Wiesel became a writer with a special interest in
human suffering. He continued to write at a steady pace until July
1956 when he was struck by a taxi in New York At that time, he
decided to live with a sense of urgency, which subsequently motivated
his prolific writing.
As a reporter, Wiesel covered the U.S. invasion of Cuba at the Bay
of Pigs (1961); the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann, head of the
SS (elite security unit) in Nazi Germany during World War II (1962);
and the assassination of President John Kennedy (1963). In 1965, he
traveled to Russia where he studied the plight of the Jews. From that
experience came The Jews of Silence (1968), which helped form the
worldwide movement to protect the Soviet Jews. Then, in 1967, Wiesel
was among the first at the Western Wall in Jerusalem after the Six Day War.
From 1972 to 1976, Wiesel was Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies
at the City University of New York. From 1978 until the present, he has been
the Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University. In 1980,
Wiesel traveled to Thailand on a mission to bring aid to political prisoners
in Cambodia. This was motivated by his sense of keeping faith with the
victims of the Holocaust.
Wiesel was an honored guest at the White House in 1985 and received the
Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement. In his acceptance speech, he advised
President Reagan not to attend the ceremony at the Bitburg Cemetery during an
upcoming state trip to Germany. He offered these remarks because of the
controversial nature of the appearance of support to the Nazi's. The following
year, Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, where he was
introduced as a man whose mission was to awaken the world's conscience
While addressing a meeting with President Clinton in attendance,
Wiesel foresaw recent events. He advised, "Mr. President, I must tell
you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I
cannot sleep since what I have seen. As a Jew I am saying that. We
must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country: People fight
each other and children die. Why? Something, anything, must be done"
(Aikman, 1998, p. 358).
Clifton Sparks was born in a small town in Texas where her father
was a high school science teacher and her mother a homemaker. With
her typical sense of humor, Clifton said that she liked her name
because it confused people who received advance notice and almost
always expected a man to appear and were caught a little off guard
when a nice, charming, openfaced woman arrived.
Clifton was born into a Christian family and during her early
years practiced that faith. Throughout her life, Clifton's religious
beliefs broadened to encompass many different religions and was
comfortable with most religious stances. However, she was disquieted
by closed-minded practitioners whose main forte was the exclusion of
others. She was a confirmed "inclusivist."
Clifton finished high school at the age of 15 and moved on to
Spelman College in Atlanta as its youngest enrollee. Her time there
was one of ineffable joy that offered lifelong inspiration. During
her undergraduate days, Martin Luther King, Jr., attended Morehouse
College and through mutual social contacts developed a speaking
acquaintance. King became one of Clifton's heroes. She described him
as a rather shy fellow with a profound sense of dedication (personal
communication to D. Aspy, August, 1983).
Clifton's uncle was a judge in New York and he invited her to come
to the city to attend New York University, where she enrolled at the
age of 19. In one year, she completed her master's degree and
returned to Texas to start her career as a high school social studies
teacher. When Tarant County Community College opened, Clifton was one
of its counselors while she completed her doctorate at Texas Womans
University (TWU). Her professors described her as a delightful
student. Clifton joined the faculty of TWU as a professor of
counselor education and her charismatic compassion led to the role of
friend to most students. Everybody wanted to enroll in her classes,
especially the group dynamics course in which participants learned to
share themselves. She was declared TWU's teacher of the year in 1984.
As a member of a minority, Clifton understood the stresses and
advantages of that role. She spoke about the glories of being Black
in a book titled Melodies of Blackness (1976). The following is one
of her poems:
A Song of Blackness
I'm excited to be
Black like me.
Free of spirit and free from hate,
Filled with love and nourished by faith. I'm happy to be
Black and free,
With nothing to change and little to protest
I might have been dead and accomplished less.
It's fun to be
Black like me,
Loving and knowing all colors
Of my American sisters and brothers.
I'm grateful to be
Black like me,
With a heritage rich in history
Of art, music and spontaneity.
It's sad to be
Black and free,
And cry when I see some
Who have yet to overcome.
Be glad to be
Any color, but free.
Celebrate our life and individuality,
Rejoice in the excitement of diversity.
Thank you, that I am able to see
Beauty in the spectrum of humanity.
God, it's good to be me,
Black and free.
Clifton Tinsley Sparks
At TWU, the number of minority students was growing, and they
shared their emerging issues. Clifton developed into a strong
exemplar of the idea that fulfillment was possible for everyone. She
served as president of the Texas Classroom Teachers, as chairperson
of the Department of Counselor Education, and finally as the first
African American female dean of a College of Education in the state
Clifton believed that one of her peak moments was the time she
served as a group leader during a 1975 person-centered conference led
by Carl Rogers at Mills College in Oakland, California. She was the
only Black woman in attendance and rejoiced in her distinction.
Rogers described her unique contributions in his postconference
summary for the staff (personal communication, D. Aspy, August, 1975).
Clifton died in 1990, but today her spirit flourishes in the lives
of her students who teach in classrooms across Texas. Quite
literally, they represent a bouquet of races and religions. Clifton
valued them all and became a role model for humanistic theory and
In summary, there are three discernible strands that ran through
the lives of Erasmus, More, Wiesel, and Sparks. First, they were
humanists because they believed human affairs were important. Second,
they were religious practitioners who applied their religion to "real
world" circumstances. Third, they were honest and serious scholars.
If religious humanists of the twentieth century use these three
people as exemplars, they can identify their stance as one that
encompasses three hallmarks:
* Compassionate attention to human affairs
* Application of religion to real life
TWENTIETH CENTURY RELIGIOUS HUMANISTS
In the twentieth century, religious humanists might be described
as a diaspora of scattered people because they have few "home base"
organizations. In the United States, religious humanists include
individuals interspersed in a population that tends to erroneously
identify all humanists as secularists. This mislabeling must be
interpreted in light of polling results reporting that 90% of the
U.S. population believes in the existence of some type of Supreme
Being (Wolfe, 1998). Therefore, anyone viewed as antireligious or
even nonreligious is susceptible to the majority's disapproval.
The foregoing discussion suggests that "coming out" as a religious
humanist means to risk rejection from both religionists and
secularists while not having the support of other religious
humanists. These circumstances exist despite the fact that no one
knows with certainty just how many religious humanists there are. In
fact, they may be a majority or at least a sizable minority of the
A true anecdote illustrates the benefits derived from encouraging
religious humanists to identify themselves. At the 1981 meeting of
the Texas Personnel and Guidance Association, there was a session
titled "Christianity in Counseling." The group was assigned a small
area in a rather secluded section of the meeting hall. No one, not
even the presenter, expected a large group; however, more than 100
people attended. Afterthe presenter disclosed his premeeting doubts
about attendance, several others expressed similar misgivings. In
fact, many participants confessed that they were afraid to attend the
session for fear of being thought of as religious zealots.
There is more to the story of that session. In the postconference
period, several participants formed a committee that organized a
Christian Counselors Association, which several hundred counselors
joined. The point is that there is a body of religious humanists who
will step forward if given the opportunity.
Humanist organizations that have survived, even prospered, in the
late 1900s are relatively small. For example, the Association for
Humanistic Education and Development claims about 2,000 members and
is one of the smaller divisions of the American Counseling
Association, which lists more than 50,000 members.
Notably, religious humanists exist largely as a group of
independent or solitary individuals who continue to take human
affairs seriously, do scholarly work, and apply religious teachings
to their "real worlds." They differ from their colleagues, who may
also practice certain religious principles but without a commitment
to a religion. That is, religious humanists practice religious
principles because they are following the teachings of a religion.
Others may do so because they agree with certain religious
principles. Certainly, in the matters of kindness and study, there is
a welcomed functional unity between these groups.
THE PRACTICES OF TWENTIETH CENTURY RELIGIOUS HUMAN ISTS
What practices distinguish religious humanists? Primack and Aspy
(1980) discussed three areas of Christianity: preacher, teacher, and
creature. These aspects are a useful focus for discussion because
they pertain to many other religions. The preaching component
concerns humankind's relationship to a higher power. This includes
such practices as prayer, worship, study, and meditation (Wuthnow,
1998). The teaching component pertains to the honest pursuit of
truth. These practices are consistent with the scripture verse that
encourages "rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15).
The creature component relates to interpersonal matters. The essence
of this practice is expressed by the golden rule-do to others as you
would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12). Simply put, religious
humanists try to apply the preacher (relationship with and worship of
a Supreme Being), teacher (study), and creature (practice love)
functions in their daily practices, which is what Wuthnow described
as the next phase of spiritual development in the U.S. The salient
point is that religious humanists do these things because they are
committed to the teachings of some religion. The three aspects of the
religious lifestyle are presented in Figure 1.
Fully developed (mature) religionists integrate all three
functions into their lives; developing (immature) religionists focus
on only one or two functions. For example, a person might concentrate
on the preacher function and participate only marginally in the
teacher or creature functions. In a similar way, a religious humanist
is a religious practitioner who performs the creature function of the
religious lifestyle. That person might practice all three functions
or only two of them, or only the creature function. The critical
factor of all humanism is that the individual practices the creature
function. In this vein, Maritain (1938) wrote, "Humanism is
inseparable from civilization and culture, these two words being
taken as synonymous" (p. xii).
In many religions, the creature function involves two aspects:
sharing resources without consideration for personal gain and
generating opportunities for others without regard for personal
benefit. Nonreligionists might well perform these same tasks, which
would qualify them as humanists but not as religious humanists
because they are not doing so in keeping with a religion. Thus, there
are two qualifications for religious humanists: (a) to perform the
creature function and (b) to do those tasks in the name of a
When identifying specific religious humanists, Mother Teresa comes
readily to mind as do Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham (Aikman, 1998),
and Mahatma Gandhi (Payne, 1969). However, the religious element of
the humanist tradition can also be illustrated through the thinking
of Carl Rogers (see Primack & Aspy, 1980), who signed the 1973
edition of the Humanist Manifesto. Bergin (1985) stated that in a
personal letter to him Rogers wrote, "I do believe there is some kind
of a transcendent organizing influence in the universe which operates
in man as well . . . . My present, very tentative, view is that
perhaps there is an essential person which persists through time, or
even through eternity" (p. 102). During a conversation at TWU on
March 12, 1983, Rogers made a similar statement to me (personal
communication, D. Aspy ).
May (1953) addressed the integration of religious and nonreligious
positions by stating, "I believe that in future generations the main
insights of both Freud and Nietzsche will be absorbed into the
ethical-religious tradition, and religion will become the richer and
more effective for their contributions (pp. 191-192). Later, May
added, "In any discussion of religion and personality integration,
the question is not whether religion itself makes for health or
neurosis, but what kind of religion and how is it used" (p. 193).
On the other side of the coin, prominent humanists Art Combs,
Morrell Clute, and Earl Kelley exemplified the creature (person to
person) and teacher (scholarship) aspects of humanism. During their
lifetime, these three people demonstrated that religious and
nonreligious people can and ought to work harmoniously within their
ADVANTAGES OF COALESCING RELIGIOUS HUMANISTS
The size of the religious humanist community in the U.S. is
unknown. There is reason to believe that its numbers are large
because, according to the Time Almanac (1999), there are more than
175 million religious adherents in the U.S. An extrapolation of the
data leads to a warranted prediction of potentially large numbers of
religious humanists. Worldwide there are more than a billion nominal
It also is relevant that when compared with religious adherents,
the current number of affiliated humanists of all types is relatively
small. For example, Primack and Aspy (1980) conjectured that, at
most, 300,000 people in the U.S. were candidates for a secular
humanist organization. Quite probably that number has not changed
significantly, and it represents less than lls of 1% of all U.S.
citizens. So, by sheer force of numbers, there is an advantage to be
gained by inviting religious humanists to membership in an umbrella-
styled humanist organization. In the tradition of Erasmus, Sir Thomas
More, Elie Wiesel, and Clifton Sparks such an organization could
state its tenets in a straightforward way. First, it takes human
matters seriously. Second, it favors serious, honest scholarship.
Third, it sanctions kindness (respect) in all human relationships.
Conceivably, with those three planks as its platform, an organization
could attract many members who are currently unresponsive to the
widely held assumption that all humanists are secularists.
A reasonable hypothesis is that if humanist organizations were to
sponsor an effort to inform the broader public that humanism's
distinction includes the three previously mentioned planks this
action might correct the widely held misperception that humanism is
based exclusively on the antireligion posture espoused by
secularists. A corollary is that under those circumstances the
numbers of affiliated humanists might grow substantially. The present
cultural circumstances seem hospitable to this type of integrative
gesture (Wuthnow, 1998).
The logic of enlisting religious humanists in the broader humanist
fellowship is explained by Wuthnow (1998), who stated that in general
spirituality is waxing. He wrote the following:
Moderate mainline, denominations, Catholics, Jews, and evangelical
Protestants also participated in the redefinition of spirituality
that took place in the 1960s. The reason for this participation was
organized religion's own desire to promote intense spiritual
conviction in the face of a rising tide of secularism, scientific
agnosticism, and implicit indifference bred from taking spirituality
for granted as a part of one's lineage and community. (p. 80)
Kelly (1995), who qualifies as a religious humanist, offered a
strong rationale for including religious humanists in humanist
organizations. He stated, "It is a small step from the 'church' or
'religious' forms of universalist, humanistic spirituality as
manifested in Unitarianism and Baha'i to the non-church-affiliated
humanistic spirituality that characterizes a wide range of people
outside organized religion" (p. 23). Elkind (1997) provided a culture-
based reason for adopting an inclusivist policy. He contended that
the challenges of the postmodern period are found in the integration
of what formerly appeared to be dichotomies.
To a significant number of people, humanism can be equated to
secularism or atheism. This flawed equation is unfair to religious
humanists, who have a clear and distinguished humanist legacy
beginning at least as early as Petrarch in the fourteenth century. In
the sixteenth century, two other religious humanists, Erasmus and Sir
Thomas More, established exemplary records in the annals of the
history concerning humanism. Then, in the twentieth century, Jacques
Maritain (1938) delineated a modern religious humanism based
primarily on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Hill (1997) contended
that religious humanists turned earlier to St. Augustine to "develop
a philosophy that interpreted temporal passage as the necessary
condition of experience without making it the essence or ultimate
measureof human purpose" (p. 1). Therefore, it is reasonable to
conclude that humanism has an enduring religious thread that is
certainly consistent with many of the beliefs of today's humanists
(i.e., kindness [decency] and serious scholarship). To ignore or
refute that historical connection is to be in serious denial.
Secular humanism can be traced to the Renaissance and
conservatives contend that it was brought to the U.S. in the early
1900s by liberal intellectuals (Marzano, 1994). During the twentieth
century, its impact has been extended and perhaps intensified by the
efforts of the American Humanist Association, which sponsored the
issuance of the celebrated Humanist Manifestos I (1933) and II (1973)
which deals with the humanist view of religion, ethics, the role of
reasoning, the need for individual dignity, and commitment to a
democratic society (Primack & Aspy, 1980, p. 226).
One result of the secularization of humanism is that there are
relatively few affiliated religious humanists, which means that they
exist primarily as a minority immersed in a population whose
overwhelming majority professes a religious belief. Ironically,
religious humanists cannot join fully with secular humanists if and
when the major issue is the acceptability of a religious faith. Thus,
religious humanists are a diaspora of undetermined proportions.
However, because there are at least 175 million religionists in the
U.S., there is reason to believe that there are many religious
humanists and it would be productive to recruit them into a
functional group with other humanists who wish to promote scholarship
and human decency
A first step is to specify the beliefs of religious humanists.
Three enduring trends can be identified: serious scholarship, the
attitude that human affairs are important, and a desire to practice
the teachings of a religion. Quite probably, all humanists could
concur on the first two traits, but religious humanists are
distinguished by their adherence to religious teachings as a base of
belief. This delineation of characteristics indicates that all
humanists share commitments to serious scholarship (teacher) and
facilitative human relationships (creature), which give them common
ground; the members also manifest distinct worldviews that give their
subgroups unique identities. In brief, humanists have much to gain by
A statement by Dawson (1993) underscores the importance of an
immediate effort to coalesce humanists into a functional group. He
wrote, "humanism today is on the retreat on all fronts, and it seems
as though the world is moving in the direction of non-humanist and
even an anti-humanist form of culture" (p. 1). A coalescing
(inclusivist) strategy reverses the exclusivist humanist response to
today's sweeping information age challenges. The organizational
policy approach is based on the premise that religious humanists have
a significant contribution to make to twenty-first century
civilization and that a facilitative structure is a necessary
component of that effort.
There is reason to believe that religious humanists will be
amenable to affiliation with an organization that will subscribe to
two basic tenets (human affairs are important, and the search for
truth should be the prime purpose of scholarship) and recognize the
legitimacy of a third (a commitment to the teachings of a religion as
the ascendant motivation for human activity). The first two beliefs
are common to all humanists. The third is unique to religionists.
Thus, there are both appropriate similarities and differences among
humanists. If humanists are enthusiastically inclusive then each
identity has an appropriate place.
It also seems appropriate for humanists to claim their religious
heritage. That process may be similar to the one in which each of us
embraces a part of our lineage that at some point may have caused us
shame. It is a part of the path to wholeness. Perhaps we can say in
the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., that we dream of the day when
secular humanists may meet with religious humanists in harmony.
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I can see how a man can keep his eyes on the mud and conclude that
there was no God, but I cannot see how anyone could turn his eyes to
the heavens on a starry night and deny the existence of a Supreme
Being. -Abraham Lincoln
David N. Aspy is an educational consultant in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to David N. Aspy, 1208
Rockwood Drive, Edmond, OK 73013 (e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org).
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