What is Humanism?

Humanism is an approach to life that is concerned with advancing the beauty, complexity, value and potential of people. Humanism implies “humanity” and making the connections between individual humanities (people), giving warmth and colour to life, and creating a constant connection to community. Humanists know that this life is our only life and are motivated by compassion and fairness in a search for an ethical way of life without submission to supernatural supervision.

A distinguishing feature of humanism is that there is no orthodoxy, no dogma, no scriptures set in stone – which immediately sets it apart from religion. It has been described more as an attitude than a doctrine and relies on an inclusive and hospitable way of thinking. Whereas religious ideologies tend to insist on a series of ‘one size fits all’ credos, humanism embraces all human possibilities. Humanism is based on the natural human condition and considers how humans can make their lives significant and live their best lives for themselves and their community.

Humanists are accountable to themselves and believe that nobody has the right to tell anybody else how to behave. A Humanist takes responsibility for what they do and what arises from those actions. Humanists don’t want others to do their thinking for them. We believe that what is right is that which promotes human welfare and fulfillment. Therefore, humanism is concerned with personal development – the progress of one’s individuality and potential that allows a person to become more valuable to themselves and therefore to a community.

Humanism does not seek to defeat or eliminate other belief systems. It is not about denial, rejection, or competition with religion(s), but operates with a positive perspective, concerned with the value of human lives in a thoroughly natural world.

Humanists think that morality should be an effect of human relationships, inspired by human nature, not from above. We Humanists believe that the origin of morality is the social instinct within us. Morality emerges from human nature and culture (what human beings are actually like) and encourages people to take responsibility for finding purpose and value in their lives. In this way humanism is a set of ethics for positive social action, responsive to those around us, identifying with others, living responsibly and responsively with other human beings. Ethics are a work-in-progress and therefore not doctrinal, with no ideal, and no frustrating obsession with perfection. Because we believe that this is our only life, we think that the meaning of life is simply what you make of it – the meaning that a person can bring to their individual life.

Humanists embrace naturalism, believing that science and reason should guide attitudes about behaviour and belief. All beliefs should be subject to rational analysis and no beliefs should be shielded from examination. Because of this, humanism provides a forum for rational discussion – at a time when so many forums are aggressive, non-scientific, exclusive and selfish. Humanists also subscribe to the notion of secularism. Humanists support an open, inclusive society where government is not influenced by religious traditions or pressures and all citizens are able to practice individual moral autonomy, free to believe or not believe, and criticize or promote ideas and policies as they wish.

Humanists celebrate human diversity and dignity. Humanists know that we are naturally social beings – we live in communities, and life in any community is much happier, fuller and richer if the members are friendly and co-operative than if they are hostile and resentful. In this respect Humanists are optimists and Humanism is a form of social medicine.

Humanists believe in the power of art to communicate, teach and inspire, recognizing that art reveals our humanity and has the power to express the vast variances of human cultures. Art is a language for humanism, using imagery, metaphor, storytelling and aesthetics to break down barriers to understanding.

Humanist Wedding Ceremonies

Weddings are a joyous event, in front of family and friends, for two people to proclaim their commitment to share their lives together. Humanist wedding ceremonies are guided by the principle that human beings shape their own destiny and create the meaning in their own lives. We focus on your values and distinct personalities to celebrate your special day in a meaningful, non-religious way.

There is no prescribed wording. A Humanist Officiant works with you to build a ceremony that is a true reflection of your commitment to each other. Your Humanist wedding ceremony can be traditional or whimsical, formal or casual, simple or elaborate, indoors or outdoors. It is as unique as the two of you. It is the ceremony you want, not the ceremony someone thinks you need.

Humanist wedding ceremonies are inclusive and welcoming to all couples regardless of faith, ethnicity, sexual orientation or cultural heritage.

Some Canadian Humanists

Margaret Atwood – Author

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, teacher and environmental activist. She pairs literature and activism to encourage looking critically at religion while “promoting freedom of thought, skepticism and the philosophy of Humanism.”

Robert Buckman – Oncologist

Rob Buckman was a British-Canadian doctor of medicine and past president of Humanist Canada. He was a weekly columnist for the Globe and Mail and the author of many popular books on medicine and the best-seller Can We Be Good Without God? He died in 2011.

June Callwood – Founder of Casey House

One of Canada’s most famous social justice activists, June Callwood founded or co-founded over 50 Canadian social action organizations, including Casey House, a Toronto hospice for people with HIV/AIDS. She was named Humanist of the Year in 2004. She died in 2007.

Christopher DiCarlo – Philosopher, Educator, Author

Dr. Christopher DiCarlo is the Principal and Founder of Critical Thinking Solutions, a consulting business for individuals, corporations and not-for-profits in both the private and public sector. He is also the developer of the first Pilot Project in Canada to introduce Universal Critical Thinking skills into the Ontario Public High School curriculum. He was named Humanist of the Year in 2008.

John Kenneth Galbraith – Economist

A Canadian-born economist, public official and diplomat, and a leading proponent of 20th century American liberalism, John Kenneth Galbraith’s political activism, literary output and outspokenness brought him wide fame during his lifetime. In 1997, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He died in 2006.

Neil Peart – Musician and Author

Best known as the drummer and primary lyricist for the Canadian rock band, Rush, the lyrics of his song “Faithless” are a direct expression of his life stance and his identification with Humanism.

James Randi – Magician and Scientific Skeptic

An American-Canadian, James Randi is a retired stage magician and scientific skeptic who has extensively challenged paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. He is the co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), which encourages critical thinking and a fact-based world view. In 2016, he was awarded the Humanist Canada Lifetime Achievement Award.

John Ralston Saul – Essayist and Novelist

A Canadian writer, political philosopher and public intellectual, John Ralston Saul is known for writing on the nature of individualism, citizenship and the public good. He is a champion of freedom of expression. His work is known for being thought-provoking amongst the world’s leading thinkers and visionaries.

Henry Taube – Chemist and Nobel Laureate

A Canadian-born American chemist, Henry Taube is known for having been awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in the mechanisms of electron-transfer reactions, especially in metal complexes. In 2003, he was one of 22 Nobel Laureates who signed the Humanist Manifesto, published by the American Humanist Association. He died in 2005.

Some more interesting people who are (or were) Humanists

  • Isaac Azimov – biochemist and author (1920-1992)
  • David Attenborough – naturalist, broadcaster, environmentalist (1926-)
  • James Baldwin – novelist, justice activist (1924-1987)
  • Kristen Bell – actor (1980-)
  • Alan Bennett – playwright, author (1934-)
  • Marie Curie – scientist (1867-1934)
  • Charles Darwin – naturalist (1809-1882)
  • Simone de Beauvoir – author, feminist (1908-1986)
  • Albert Einstein – physicist (1879-1959)
  • Stephen Fry – actor, writer (1957-)
  • Ricky Gervais – actor, writer (1961-)
  • Stephen Jay Gould – biologist, writer (1941-2002)
  • A E Housman – poet (1859-1936)
  • John Maynard Keynes – economist (1883-1946)
  • John Stuart Mill – philosopher, politician (1806-1873)
  • Eleanor Roosevelt – human rights activist, diplomat (1884-1962)
  • Salman Rushdie – novelist (1947-)
  • Carl Sagan – astronomer (1934-1996)
  • William Shakespeare – playwright (1564-1616)
  • George Bernard Shaw – playwright – (1856-1950)
  • Emma Thompson – actor, writer (1959-)
  • Kurt Vonnegut – novelist (1922-2007