Here is another wonderful definition of what a “humanist” is. This definition is what Dale McGowan (Parenting Beyond Belief, The Meming of Life) told his six year old daughter, when she asked. It comes from a post on labels:
“A humanist is somebody who thinks that people should all take care of each other, and that even if there is a heaven or a god, we should spend our time making this life and this world better.”
For a simple definition, I think this one works wonders. By this definition, I continue to assert that Jesus was a humanist. (I recently mentioned this to a pastor in my church, I suspect it gave him a new understanding of what a humanist is, hopefully breaking down some stereotypes. I seem to recall this particular pastor making a negative-sounding comment about “humanists” last year, or the year before probably. Possibly something valid with regards to “secular humanists”, but even then, still a case of “othering”.)
Since I am drawing from Dale’s post, let me also deal with the effects of labelling. Dale expresses his views:
That incisive analogy is Richard’s greatest contribution to secular parenting. I completely agree, as (I am increasingly convinced) do most nonreligious parents. Once a label is attached, thinking is necessarily colored and shaped by that label. I don’t want my kids to have to think their way out from under a presumptive claim placed on them by one worldview or another. So prior to age twelve, I won’t allow my children to be called “atheists” any more than I’d allow them to be called “Christians”–not even by themselves. (More on the ‘age twelve’ comment in a later post. Remind me when I forget.)
I still do not agree with Richard Dawkins’ polemic, but Dale provides a buffer that I can more readily agree with. I can attest to the “colouring effect” a label can have on your thinking. In my case, the colouring was brought about by the label “INTP”, at age 13. Even if the label is true, the lay person is not trained in psychology. The lay person’s idea of “introvert” is heavily influenced by the popular meaning. Personal behaviour I might have challenged otherwise, was excused and accepted because “that’s how I’m supposed to be”. Horse baloney.
Now cultural contexts differ from one continent to another. I’m under the impression that the “Christian” label does not bring as much baggage in South Africa as it does in other countries. As everyone here are “Christians”, the label is diluted. I suspect American fundamentalism has a heavier impact on the implications of the label? In South Africa, you can raise your child a “Christian” without them being prone to anti-science, homophobia and superstition. (Cue the atheists going for my throat.)
What I would teach my children, should I ever have any, is something I’ve been pondering for some time. I like the direction a number of churches are taking. Internationally, the churches that are taking part in the emerging church conversation. Locally, Stellenbosch Gemeente and the Moederkerk (which is Dutch Reformed). Moederkerk does have more conservative baggage to deal with, but their vision for the future is very similar to that of Stellenbosch Gemeente. With a good local church embracing memetic diversity, I will let my children join the community.
At the same time, I will make it abundantly clear to them that they should be careful of labels, including the Christian label. I’ll teach them about as many religious traditions as I can. That would be very interesting for me to research as well. I have a book that used to belong to my grandfather, containing “holy texts” from most of the “great religions” of the world. I look forward to the day I have time to start reading it. I will have to complement it with a lot of other material to understand the cultural context though.
- Too many I‘s in this post.
- Quite a long post for one that was only really intended to share a definition of humanism.
- A previous post defining humanism was On Labelling Myself a Humanist. At that time, I was playing with the secular adjective as well. It was a valuable stepping stone in my journey.
- Humanists in the Stellenbosch area, there is a Stellenbosch Humanists Facebook group. If you join in, you can help us find a purpose for the group?