Humanism, at its core, is the belief that humanity must save itself. It relies on observation to make the statement that the gods are not stopping our wars, curing our plagues, nor holding back forces of nature. Human ingenuity has developed diplomacy, discovered vaccination and medicine, and created all manner of tools to warn and protect us from a wide range of disasters. It says that we don’t have or need supernatural means of solving our problems.
Humanism strives to be rational and communal in its approach to solving problems and improving the world.
Humanism is one of our sources, and it is an essential one. Unitarian Universalism is a humanist religion; Unitarian Universalism is religious humanism.
UUism uses humanism as a foundation; humanism is part of how we can welcome diverse beliefs. Our focus is not on conversion or telling people about the afterlife but on improving the world we live in—teaching that, if there are divine forces, we are their eyes, ears, and hands in the material world. It is up to us to save ourselves, collectively. This is religious humanism, generally written with a small “H” to set it off from the formal “Secular Humanism” that has become its own belief system since the original Humanist Manifesto of 1933 (a document signed by several Unitarian ministers).
Humanist, but religious
Unitarian Universalism cannot be secular, though. Secular means “free of religious entanglement or influence”, and there is no way for that to be true of a Liberal Religion. We are a religious tradition, and religious language and religious themes are part of our heritage and must be part of our legacy if we are to have any impact going forward; to cede them is to give up our cultural influence all together. We must refuse to surrender words like “church” or “fellowship” or “worship” or even “evangelism” to fundamentalists and religious conservatives. Those are our words, too, and we can shape their meaning just as much as any other group.
We’ve made religion more liberal; there is no need to pretend that we are any less religious as a result. We can be humanist and religious at the same time. We already are, and we must remain so if we are to have a future. Any cultural authority or influence we have as a movement is based on our status as a religion, dealing with the big questions of human existence, even if we admit to not have all the answers.
And we are absolutely not alone in being religiously humanist. Many Reform Jewish congregations are, as are some Friends (Quaker) Meetings. Religious Humanism was described first in 1933, but it has existed for a while longer than that. We get to choose if we will foster our brand into the new century.