Monday, November 3, 2014

    The Bookworm Report #3: Humanism - An Introduction

    By Russell Pizer
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    Humanism - An Introduction by Jim Herrick -- the subject of this Bookworm Report #3 -- is a small paperback (105 pp)that begins with this introduction written by Laurie Taylor.
    “It sounded like an easy way to win half-a-crown.  All I had to do was to stand in the middle of the playground at my Catholic school and shout out in a voice that was loud enough to be heard by the giggling crowd of fellow [students] who’d come up with the bet: ‘If there really is a God then I challenge him here and now to strike me dead.’  But I can still recall the drumming of my heart as I slowly walked towards what I still secretly feared might be a date with destiny.
    “I’d brought it on myself. For the best part of a year, I’d been trying to convince my school friends there was no proper basis for the religious dogmas that we were being force fed in class. It had earned me a certain mild notoriety but I was only too well aware that my dismal failure to effect any conversions to atheism had something to do with the shallowness of my own arguments. I’d told my classmates, for example, that the idea of a virgin birth was a contradiction in terms. You simply couldn’t be a virgin and have a baby. Didn’t they know the facts of life? I’d also argued that the miracles of the loaves and fishes and the rising of Lazarus were really nothing more than cleverly conjuring tricks and even made the profoundly heretical suggestions that if Jesus was God and God was all knowing and all powerful then surely he could have avoided his own crucifixion and gone on teaching until a ripe old age.
    “As I struck my pose in the middle of the playground, I made a resolution which nearly captured my adolescent moral capacity to have it both ways at the same time. If God failed to strike me dead after I’d made my challenge then I would devote myself to the task of discovering some rather better reasons for not believing in his existence. . . .”
    “[Jim Herrick’s] account of humanism [in this book] does much to trace its historical development, its philosophical underpinnings and its current status as an alternative to systems of religious belief.  But he is always faithful to his underlying contention that ‘humanism is a position which thinking individuals can reach as a personal conviction.’ . . .”
    On page 1 (Chapter 1 - Humanism Outlined), Mr. Herrick begins with this: “Humanism is a most human philosophy of life. Its emphasis is on the human, the here-and-now, the humane. It is not a religion and it has no formal creed, though humanists have beliefs. Humanists are atheists or agnostics* and do not expect an afterlife. It is essential to humanism that it brings values and meaning into life.
    “As we move away from the morass of the 20th century, we can hope that humanism will be a beacon to help us through the 21st century. It is an approach that is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but realistic. 
    Chapter 2 begins: “The tradition of humanism is a long one. It questions existing ideas and quests for new one. People have asked what powers control our lives, what is the nature of the world about us, what is our personal potential? From the documents of ancient history to the flowering of thought in ancient Greece, from renaissance Italy to the 18th century Enlightenment, from the wide developments in philosophy and science in the 19th century to the crystallization of humanist ideas in the 20th century, the humanist temper has developed through time.”
    He then continues with: “Some Greek philosophers laid down the essential foundations of humanism. In his work Of the Gods, Protagoras (481-411 B.C.E.) stated, ‘About the gods I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist . . .’
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    *Many Humanists that would disagree that there are only two such categories.


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