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Humanism - A New Religion

WHAT is Humanism ? What do Humanists believe?


Humanism, it seems, is made up largely of backsliding church members, "liberal'" clergymen, fallen Christians, Unitarians, Quakers, timid professors, and soft-spoken freethinkers who do not like the atheist label. There are probably a few agnostics. Rev. John Waynes-Holmes, Humanist, who opens his church services with prayer, considers that nine out of ten Humanist's are theists like himself. He is probably right. And he believes that these Humanists would not only repudiate atheism but "do it pretty vigorously". "Religion", in any guise, is not for the out-and-out atheist.


Dr. Charles Francis Potter of the First Humanist Society of New York is a mystic who writes books on telepathy, clairvoyance, and dreams. He doesn't believe the Bible and has written against it, but he can substitute enough supernatural-stories out of his own life to compensate for his Biblical loss of faith. Humanism, it appears, is a drag-net for various types, from the vigorous William Floyd (who brought the Rimmer suit and is an aggressive Agnostic) to the "liberal" professor he named who declined to be a witness for him against the Fundamentalists, because "the resulting publicity would be fatal" to his publishers.


Humanism has been called "a religion minus theology". It sounds well enough until you examine it closely. "Theology" means religious belief methodically arranged, and since Humanism is an organized "religion", it has a creed. That creed is embodied in its Humanist Manifesto, proclaimed in 1933. I understand, however, that this creed is to be revised. The point is, there are certain doctrines which Humanists accept, and one is, that "this age does owe a vast debt to the traditional religions." It affirms, also, that,''religions have always been means for realizing the highest values of life". Anyone who can swallow that can swallow anything.


There is much in Humanism which the Atheist can indorse, but there is much also from which he will dissent. A new "religion" has no appeal the word "religion" has too many bad connotations to make it respectable. It would be better for a forward-looking movement to discard the word entirely.


Humanism stresses the "humanities" the finer values of life, abundance for all, helpfulness, fraternal feelings, mutual service, peace, kindliness, justice. These are stock phrases--pretty enough in themselves --but meaningless as slogans in a world loaded with selfishness and scoundrelism--and stark-reality. We cannot feel friendly toward the individual hoodlum or the gangster nations. The tyrant, the cheat, the brigand, the liar, the kidnapper, the swindler do not arouse our affection. Loving our neighbors as we do ourselves is all right until we find out that the man next door beats his wife.


One can appreciate and practice the social virtues without making copy-book creeds or a "religion" out of them. To say,''I am in favor of justice", is like saying, "I am in favor of good health". Humanism is largely made up of gilded platitudes.


Humanism is described by one Humanist (Dr. Lowell H. Coate) as "the only religion of American origin". In this he is wrong. Mormonism and Christian Science are of American origin. So are the more than 57 varieties of religion concocted by the American Indian. From the barbaric Aztecs to the silly Christian Scientists, America has had its own brands of religion, and these have been not a whit better than those of Asiatic import. Why straddle us with a new religion called Humanism when we have had enough?


To those who have abandoned Christianity, Humanism may serve as a convenient stepping-stone. But, as someone once remarked, a stepping-stone is all right if you do not sit on it. What we need today are men and women of vigor, who, acquainted with the ancient struggle between rationalism and religion, are ready to align themselves against all superstitions. There are no half-way stopping places. One cannot reach his destination quickly by lingering on the way, and being "agnostic" on God is like being "agnostic" on the existence of witches.


Humanism is a pacifist movement. No one will quarrel with the idea of trying to settle international differences by arbitration. But there is a limit to this ideal in a world of dictatorships and thugs. One might as reasonably expect to do away with our police force as with our national armament.


Humanism is "for absolute pacifism, resistance to all wars at all times.for whatever purpose". It will not countenance-war under any circumstances even in protecting one's homeland from invasion or in over-throwing tyrants. Right must never fight. It must arbitrate, pacify--as if one could argue with a Hitler or a Stalin.


Paine, though opposed to willful and offensive war", was not a pacifist. He sponsored the American Revolution. Ingersoll was not a pacifist; he donned his country's uniform to fight in a good cause. War is the lesser of two evils when one is confronted with tyranny and oppression, and some would rather go down fighting like the Finns than to be slaves like the Czechs.


The history of the world shows that decency has to fight for its existence. It is glib nonsense to suppose that right will triumph by itself, always and everywhere. Time may be the mother of truth, but there is many, a miscarriage. Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again--if someone doesn't kick her down. Civilization will never win by passive resistance to the forces of evil.


Humanism, whatever its finer features, must face a definite issue. Is it to stand supinely by, indulgent of superstition, cultivating a coy and lady-like decorum, or is it ready to fight -- fight to the last ditch -- against the gross and vulgar teachings of organized theism? There are some in the Humanist movement who know what the conflict is about. But the stronger element of leadership is in the hands of those whose rose-water policies will end in social amenities and the airing of platitudes.


No thinking person, least of all the atheist, is indifferent to a movement which seeks to develop a higher degree of culture and the nobler qualities of men. But it needs some of the Ingersollian blood injected into its veins, so one of that fine, fearless character that at all times, in all places, was ready to wage war against the ghost business.


No physician would think of curing his patient by telling him how he contracted a disease. Yet there are some Humanists, like Dr. A.E. Haydon of the University of Chicago, who think it quite sufficient to tell the believer how "he got that way", "to explain the gods" rather than become "a polemical atheist". To the militant atheist, it is less important to know how, we got the gods than how to get rid of them. The Humanists will assist in the elimination of superstition if they will drop their theism and the eccentric notion that they need a "religion".


"Religion", said Ingersoll, in his last public address, "can never reform mankind because religion is slavery."


If all Humanists were as opposed to superstition as my friend William Floyd, there would be less to complain of in the Humanist movement. But I fear, in spite of his assurance to the contrary, the greater part of its membership is made up of those who still adhere to mystical ideas and reflect that attitude in their thinking and behavior. Has not Mr. Floyd told us that "Humanists do not like the atheist label"? That is a sure sign they are not yet out of the theological woods.


I mentioned John Haynes Holmes and Charles Francis Potter as two leading Humanists who accept the supernatural. Holmes prays to God and Potter believes in clairvoyance. Each, in his own way, accepts a supersensual world with the credulous simplicity of a professing Christian. Holmes talks to a Ghost; Potter, like the seers and visionaries of the Bible, thinks he can perceive things beyond the range of his senses. It is all very pathetic from the standpoint of science.


Mr. Floyd assures us that Holmes "is not a Humanist". This is news to me, especially in view of Mr. Floyd's statement, in the Arbitrator, that "at the Community Church of New York, Rev. John Haynes Holmes eloquently and valiantly expounds Humanism". If Holmes "expounds Humanism" he must be a Humanist, and, if.he expounds it "eloquently and valiantly" he must be a particularly good Humanist. I am at a loss to understand why, after this generous praise, he is read out of the movement by Mr. Floyd himself.


"What distinguishes Humanists from Christians", says Mr. Floyd, "is their repudiation of the Bible as the Word of God or a guide for conduct". How fine this would be if Humanists practiced it. But do they reject the Bible? At the recent Rimmer trial in New York, both Holmes and Potter "repudiated" the Bible by swearing on it in court. Each, when called to testify, put a hand reverently on God's Word, and lifting the other solemnly above his head, swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. If that is repudiating the Bible, I should like to know what one has to do to accept it? Potter, I suspect, has no more respect for the silly book than I have myself, yet he swore by it. As for Holmes, one may expect any kind of dramatic pose by him... I have my own ideas of moral values and behavior.


Mr. Floyd stands for "absolute pacifism, resistance to all wars at all times for whatever purpose". This seems to be a definite part of the Humanist program. Dr. Holmes, too, "intends, should the United States go to war, to uphold the rights of those among its people who, in sincerity and truth, may refuse to participate in war". This should be good news to the type of individual of whom Paine wrote: "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman". That is language which the theological stay-at-home cannot appreciate.


I am quite sure that a community of William Floyds would be a delightful place in which to live, but I cannot embrace pacifism in a world where gangster nations exist and William Floyds are scarce. I do not believe in turning the other cheek, either for Jesus' sake or for Humanism. When one's country is attacked there is one thing to do: fight back. Nor can I see in a plea for American disarmament anything less than an invitation to national extinction. There are too many cut-throat nations today ready to plunder our shores.


I see Paine is now claimed as a Humanist, Whatever Paine was he was not a pacifist. He believed in armed resistance to tyranny and oppression. In his "Epistle to Quakers", he roundly rebuked the pacifists of his time: "Beneath the shade of our own vines we are attacked; in our own houses, and on our own lands, is the violence committed against us. We view our enemies in the character of highwaymen and housebreakers, and having no defense for ourselves in the civil law, are obliged to punish them by the military one, and apply the sword in the very case where you have before now applied the halter." Like the Quakers, the Humanists teach that under no circumstances should an American take up arms in defense of his country. Such a doctrine makes for weaklings and poltroons. A man who isn't willing to fight for a good country doesn't deserve one.


Mr. Floyd asks what is my objection to Humanist slogans. The trouble is everybody is mouthing them. From the Pope to Stalin every one is preaching "the brotherhood of man". "Peace," "justice, and "democracy" are an the lips of every dictator-assassin and political demagogue. Every fire-side chat is filled with honeyed phrases about "the more abundant life" I haven't met anybody who wasn't in favor of good health but the undertaker. What is the use of repeating a lot of trite phrases and truisms which every one professes! A movement to succeed must have a workable program. Humanism hopes to remodel the world with a bagful of platitudes.


"What distinguishes Humanists from atheists," says Mr. Floyd, "is their faith in man's ability to do what God has failed to accomplish--make the world a happier abode." I fail to see wherein the Humanist can claim a greater interest in humanity than the atheist. Atheists are doing a specific job in exposing superstition. They are to be found, also, fighting an idea which Humanists still cling to, namely, that "religion" is respectable. They are fighting -- openly and above deck -- the vulgar notion that a God exists and are united in teaching that religion is a despicable, and corroding influence.


Ingersoll, who is now claimed by the Humanists, was not afraid of the atheist label but wore it himself, "I am exceedingly gratified," wrote he, in a letter to Rev. Field, "that you and I have demonstrated that it is possible for a Presbyterian and an Atheist to discuss Theological questions.. ." It is too bad there is not more Ingersollian blood in the Humanist ranks.


My article on "Humanism -- a New Religion" has drawn forth three official protests from Humanist sources, two of which appear in The Truth Seeker. One of these two is from Dr. Edward W. Ohrenstein, minister of a Unitarian - Church and a director of the Humanist Press Association, the other from Dr. Lowell H. Coate, director of:the Humanist Society of Friends, Los Angeles, Calif. I shall first consider Dr. Ohrenstein's criticisms.


One would suppose, in reading his letter, that Humanism is a highly complicated subject requiring a vast amount of research. He even compares it to physical science, and thinks I should have studied my subject more before offering criticism. Fortunately, Humanists publish a Manifesto, and this document, I believe, presents the basic principles for which Humanists stand. Assuming that I understand readable English, it take its credo to mean exactly what it says.


"We are convinced", says the Manifesto, "that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of new thought'".


So far, so good. But if Humanists are through with "theism" or belief in God, why haven't they enough "paper bravery'' to call themselves atheists? Why must they shun the word and hide, like every orthodox Christian, behind a "religion"? The answer is they are following the, fatal expediency of trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. They want to be "god-smashers" on the one hand and "religionists" on the other. This they cannot do, if they wish to be consistent.


Concerning "paper bravery", I have learned to appreciate, in my thirty-five years' attachment to the rationalist movement, that there is considerable truth in what the distinguished chemist, Frederick Mohr, wrote: "More courage is needed to think with consistency or to proclaim new truths, than to charge at hostile cannons." I have learned, too, that there is such a thing as "paper cowardice" cowardice which prevents men from committing their real thoughts to print, and which is harder to overcome, generally speaking, than is physical timidity. "Squeamishness"? Yes. And it is precisely this "squeamishness" in Humanist behavior that calls for condemnation. Men who are supposed to follow consistently a formal announcement of having rejected theism in an official Manifesto, still cover up by repudiating the atheist label, sniping at atheism from the rear, parading as "religious", offering up prayer, swearing on the Bible, calling themselves "ministers" and conducting "churches". And they do not like it when their hedging tactics are pointed out.


What excuse, I ask, has Dr. Ohrenstein, for example, if he has ditched the deity and all other supernatural belief, to sign himself a "minister" of a "Unitarian church"? None that I can think of, unless it is, perhaps, that his status as a clergyman allows him special privileges. As Dr. Coate explains, Humanist ministers "enjoy privileges similar to those of ministers of orthodox churches", such as "reduced rates on the railroads, etc."


As for the atheist "program", permit me to state it in a few words. Atheists are concerned in opposing and discrediting religion. Whatever opinions they hold on matters of Capitalism, Socialism, or the building of lighthouses, are something apart. Editorially, The Truth Seeker is an atheistic publication, and, as a journal devoted to intellectual controversy, encourages discussion. Its readers embrace every shade of political and economic opinion. What more does Mr. Ohrenstein want in the way of a "positive program"?


In view of this, would not "simple modesty" have commended to Dr. Ohrenstein, before he rushed into print, "forbearance from judging" those who are "battling against God"? Are not atheists fighting the very "battle" he should be fighting himself? And aren't they doing it without using "church" frills and "religious" claptrap to cover up?


My second critic, Dr. Coate, takes issue with a statement of mine questioning his claim that Humanism is "the only religion of American origin". I had mentioned the religions of our own Indians, but he says that these are not American, as they antedate the founding of America. He might as well maintain that the Mississippi River is not an American river because it came into existence prior to the naming of this continent. The religions of the American Indians are as much American as the Indians themselves.


As for Christian Science, I still insist that it is an American religion. Mrs. Eddy's "Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures" is as important a work to the Christian Science cult as the Bible itself, as without it there would be no "key" of understanding to the book. Christian Science took birth.on American soil. So, too, did Mormonism, which began with the finding of the sacred plates by God's prophet, Joseph Smith. These are American-made religions.


Dr. Coate assures us that there are no theists in his own organization, but of this he cannot be too sure, as I recall a statement which he himself wrote, recently in his own magazine: "Some members of the Humanist Society of Friends do believe in Nature, or a Universal Law, or some other interpretation which they like to think of as God." People who retain a belief in something which they look upon as "God" cannot be said to have abandoned theism.


I agree with Dr. Coate, that "by definition people make religion, as they do most other things, mean what they desire it to mean". This, unfortunately, is a way which many persons have of playing loose with words. And it is because Humanists have this habit of twisting words out of their accepted meaning that I indict them again, Consider the following case:


Dr...Coate's organization, called the Humanist Society of Friends, takes as its slogan: "A scientific religion for a scientific age." This is using words in a distorted sense, since religion has never been or can be a science. There is no more justification for the Humanist calling religion "scientific" than for the Christian Scientist calling science "Christian". Both are guilty of muddling words.

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