A Humanist Outlook
The late Hermann Bondi, a past president of the Rationalist Press Association, looks for the common ground of humanity
There is a great deal that is common to all human beings: we are all social beings, we are all sexed, we all need food, sleep, clothing, enjoy some things and dislike others etc.. Since we are social, the well being of our family, our friends, our acquaintances is of great significance to us. Sometimes we can be amused by the misfortunes of somebody else, but our amusement is particularly great if we are sure the loser is not really hurt. The Humanist is keen to stress all the features that join us to others, the attitudes and outlook that are common to us all. Our ideal person is neither a martyr nor a hermit, but somebody who in a quiet unspectacular way is of service to others, making their lives just that little bit better and more enjoyable, but without undue self deprivation. We like to acquire as well as transmit knowledge; an insight can be a splendid experience that one loves to share with others. Learning and teaching come naturally to us humans.
So far I have stressed the attitudes and outlook of which we all partake. But we Humanists would abhor too much uniformity. The wonderful apparatus of sexual procreation ensures variety. Genetic variety is amplified by cultural variety. Differences of eye colour are due to genetics, while differences of first language acquired arise from different social and cultural circumstances. Such differences of language, of food preferences, of sexual orientation make up the rich tapestry of humanity, the very range of which is appreciated by the Humanist. Of course there are limits to the range of tastes and attitudes that can be enjoyed and indeed tolerated: people whose chief pleasure is to throttle others cannot be allowed to indulge in their favourite sport and even habitual liars are hard to live with. On the other hand, mankind would lose much if everyone spoke the same tongue (though it would be jolly convenient!).
One of our common strengths is the ability to learn from experience. Note that if the experiences are common, so is the knowledge thereby acquired. But even if the experiences are different, communication can ensure that knowledge is widely spread. It is not necessary for everybody to burn their fingers in a fire to spread the knowledge that getting burnt is painful. So through communication we can acquire a large body of knowledge, in principle accessible to everybody equally. Such public knowledge is called science. By its very nature, it is testable and universal. There can be no science accessible only to persons of one gender or skin colour or through only one language. The universality of science appeals to the Humanist.
Just as the Humanist is attracted by something like science, accessible and applicable to, and testable by, all of us, so we are suspicious of anything that by its nature is divisive. Foremost among these must be religions. (One should never speak of religion in the singular: the mutual contradictions between them are an essential characteristic of each.) If one asks for the basis of religions it is not a belief in a god (for some, like Buddhism, have none, others have one, yet others have many), but belief in a revelation. This is supposedly a special kind of knowledge, superior to knowledge acquired by experience and accessible only to the believer. It is the very opposite of public knowledge; it is confined to the eyes of those who have faith. Several of the religions of the world claim universal validity, yet none can claim more than a fraction of mankind as followers. It strikes me as astonishing arrogance to choose one religion (thereby regarding all others as false) without first studying every single one of them. Indeed any favour shown to one faith is by definition an insult to the others.
The Humanist is by nature ready to applaud the diversity of human attitudes and cultures and must recognise that many individuals have a personal faith that helps them through the trials and tribulations of life. We can no more quarrel with such a choice than with a taste for the music of one particular composer. What does appall us is the pernicious claim that one's own faith is the Truth and that everybody who does not share it (whether through belief in a different revelation or in none) is bereft of the Truth.
We should not join the chorus of 'I am right, therefore you must be wrong'. Instead we should try to instill the pride of being a Humanist in all those (very numerous throughout Europe) who have no belief in any alleged revelation, but are a little ashamed of their lack of religion.