From the earliest periods of recorded history to the present, there have been non-religious people who have believed: that this life is the only life we have; that the universe and everything in it is natural, with no supernatural element; and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. They have put trust in evidence, reason and the scientific method, to discover truths about the universe and the human condition. And they have placed human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision making.
Today, people who share these beliefs and values are called humanists, and this combination of attitudes is called Humanism. Many people in Britain share this way of living and of looking at the world, but many of them have not heard the word ‘humanist’ and don’t realise that it describes what they believe.
It is one of the main purposes of the Central London Humanists to increase public awareness of what Humanism is, and to let the many non-religious people in London know that, far from being somehow deficient in their values, they have an outlook on life which is coherent and widely-shared, which has inspired some of the world’s greatest artists, writers, scientists, philosophers and social reformers, and which has a long tradition throughout the world.
The Amsterdam Declaration
In 1952 the first World Humanist Congress, meeting in Amsterdam, agreed a statement of the fundamental principles of modern Humanism, which became known as “The Amsterdam Declaration”. That declaration was a child of its time: set in the world of great power politics and the Cold War.
The 50th anniversary World Humanist Congress in 2002, again meeting in the Netherlands, unanimously passed a resolution updating that declaration: “The Amsterdam Declaration 2002”. Following the Congress, this updated declaration was adopted unanimously by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) General Assembly, and thus became the official defining statement of World Humanism.
The Amsterdam Declaration 2002
Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself.
The fundamentals of modern Humanism are as follows:
- Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.
- Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.
- Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.
- Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.
- Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process. of observation, evaluation and revision.
- Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.
- Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
Our primary task is to make human beings aware in the simplest terms of what Humanism can mean to them and what it commits them to. By utilising free inquiry, the power of science and creative imagination for the furtherance of peace and in the service of compassion, we have confidence that we have the means to solve the problems that confront us all. We call upon all who share this conviction to associate themselves with us in this endeavour.
IHEU Congress 2002.