I Don't Want to be Labelled a "Humanist"

What is a label but a gauzy screen hiding the reality and truth giving us impressions rather than distinctions?  Labels only obfuscate issues and allow for miscommunications when communications are most important.  Labels are good for broad-brush descriptions or discussions from the “50,000 foot level”.  What does the label “Humanist” mean to different people if not different concepts?  I cannot know that a person to whom I am speaking knows the definition according to the American Humanist Association (AHA) or Wikipedia

But what is the alternative if I am unwilling to be labelled a Humanist?  I need to be prepared to offer my own definition of what it means to me to be a Humanist.  I have defined a philosopher as one who has thought about an issue enough that they are confident to offer their own definitions.  (Can you see that I’ve thought about this?  Smile)  I need to think about what it means to be a Humanist to the point where I can come up with my own elevator speech and define it myself whenever I use it with someone who does not know me well enough to know what I mean.

Many people think that if everyone comes up with their own definition then we lose the power of communicating with others.  But the opposite is actually true.  We communicate less of the truth when we rely on accepted labels (especially misunderstood labels) than when we are prepared to define them in the immediate discussion.  Defining our own terms assures better and more thorough dialogue than resorting to labels where they mean different things to each listener. 

To me, Humanism is the belief that I have the ability and the responsibility to do all that I can to develop all that it means to be human both in myself and in others.  And from this definition, I am ready to parse it and expound on “belief”, “ability”, “responsibility”, “all that I can”, “develop”, “all that it means to be human”, and “both in myself and in others”. 

And this is a major difference between my being a Humanist and someone who is a religionist of whatever persuasion.  As a Humanist, I believe that I am the top of the value-chain and there is nothing higher than me and my human nature that I need to identify with in defining my values and definitions.  This is what it means to “honor” one’s human nature and to honor the human-ness in another person.  I must honor that person, their nature, their definitions, and their values and not some “label” that is considered higher or above that person and is responsible for dictating these values and definitions to that person. 

And so I need to constantly ask another person what they mean when they say they are a “Christian”, or a “Theist”, or a “Republican”, or a “Democrat”, or a “Liberal”, or a “Conservative” or “into Sustainability” or a “Global Citizen”.  We are not judged on how we are labelled, or even by what we “are”, but rather by what we “use”.  What definitions do we use?  What values do we use?  What rationales do we use?  What motivations do we use?  What we use are the parts that make us human and those are what we should develop – both in ourselves and in others. 


About David

David's picture
Having been raised as a Fundamentalist Evangelical, I was driven rather than attracted to Humanism. Having been retired (unceremoniously by Raytheon) I am now finding time to be more active in my beliefs as well as my passions.

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