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27 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable reading--as much for those who ascribe to theism as those who do not., October 21, 2008
This review is from: Humanist Manifestos I and II (No. I & II) (Paperback)
At the outset, I feel that I should put out the following disclaimers: I am a Christian. Today, I am also in the final stages of earning an undergraduate degree in Chemistry (with ACS certification) & Mathematics--and plan to pursue graduate studies in Physical Chemistry with the intention of one day conducting research in this area--as well as teaching at the university level.

If any of the above statements lead the reader to feel that I have firm presuppositions that will inexorably color how I view documents like the Humanist Manifestos (viz., I & II), then he or she is absolutely correct. In fact, I would venture to say that everyone of us would. We all bring our previous experiences and intellectual bias with us to any situation. In fact, the only truly "open mind," (and I've heard debates combating even this statement) -- the only true tabula rasa -- is the newborn babe. Having said that, if some choose to discount and discredit everything I say simply because I state that I am a Christian or, through intimation, that I have a high regard for science -- at least I can save you the trouble of reading the rest of the review lest I waste even more of your time.

The first thing I would like to point out in this review is the response of the second reviewer to the first. "millerc" has both good things to say and other things which I simply feel are nothing more than red herrings. He states plainly that he feels it is necessary to respond to Douglas Groothuis seeing as the latter's "commentary" is an "obvious bias". Seeing as the response is completely negative, I am led to believe that millerc represents the 'other' bias.

First, an example of the good in millerc's response.

millerc states the following: "This misunderstanding is apparent in Dr. Groothuis' claim that Humanism is inconsistent since Paul Kurtz wrote about an unchanging universe, and we now are of the opinion that there was a 'big bang.' One must remember that at the time this was the most widely held opinion by scientists."

He is correct. As Paul Kurtz would clearly concede himself by stating in the Humanist Manifesto 2000, "...we are prepared to modify our views in the light of new knowledge, altered circumstances, and unforeseen problems that may arise" (p. 8), the prevailing cosmological theories of the 1930's, like that of the steady-state theory, wielded a certain influence over many thinkers of the time. Therefore, the opening tenet of the original Humanist Manifesto of 1933, namely, "religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created," (p. 8) could not be included into the revised 1973 manifesto because science seemed to vitiate its validity.

Now, an example of the bad in millerc's response.

millerc singles out a particular statement made by the first reviewer, namely, "the documents claim that morality is relative to cultures and not absolute, yet they also go on to affirm various moral imperatives that they claim should obtain cross-culturally and absolutely, such as the need for world peace, the importance of rational inquiry, and so on." millerc takes issue with the fact that Groothuis uses the term 'culture':

"I could not remember reading such a statement in either the Humanist Manifesto I or II, so I re-read the entire thing to look for it. Since he gives no quote or page number, I assume that he was reading the following:

" 'We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction. Ethics stems from human need and interest. To deny this distorts the whole basis of life.' (Humanist Manifesto II, p. 17)

"This says nothing about ethics being relative to cultures. What it does say, is that ethics must be based on a rational understanding of the particulars of a situation -- that is, we must choose the best alternative given, based on our own social needs, and not on moral absolutes given by some unseen deity. To rely on the supposed words of a deity, simply removes the burden of forming the society we wish to have from our own shoulders, and places that burden on something else in which we blindly place our faith."

I find such an argument to be nothing more than a distraction. What the original reviewer was ULTIMATELY saying was that it is inconsistent for a system, which derives its morality from Relativism ("Ethics is autonomous and situational" [pg. 17]), to --[quoting the original reviewer]-- "affirm various moral imperatives that they claim should obtain cross-culturally and absolutely." Is such a claim warranted? Is there an example of such an absolute moral imperative within the Manifestos? Well, here's one example:

"We have reached a turning point in human history where the best option is to transcend the limits of national sovereignty and to move toward the building of a world community in which all sectors of the human family can participate. Thus we look to the development of a system of world law and a world order based upon transnational federal government" (p. 21).

If the adherents of the manifestos had their way, they would push for a world enforcement of ideals and laws to which individual states/nations must become subject. Now, others will take issue with the passage I use here by saying that I am taking it out of context. They will argue that immediately after the passage I quoted, the Manifesto reads, "This would appreciate cultural pluralism and diversity." Well, while that sounds awesome, Paul Kurtz is very specific about qualifying what he means by this statement in the Humanist Manifesto 2000: "We should be tolerant of cultural diversity except where those cultures are themselves intolerant or repressive" (p. 36). In other words, We will be intolerant of the intolerant. (That's a pretty interesting statement, no?) The obvious question then becomes, Who are the arbiters of what is an intolerant or repressive culture? Of course, that would be the humanists. Ultimately, they are the ones who would dictate what is and isn't acceptable in the "World Community" (Manifesto II pp. 21-22; Humanist Manifesto 2000 pp. 35-39)--all based upon the contradictory ethical standard of humanistic autonomy. And that was essentially the point of the original reviewer (and I find his point to be a good one).

Personally, I have a problem trying to understand that the humanist has no hidden agenda.

For example, we read that "To enhance freedom and dignity the individual must experience a full range of civil liberties in all societies. This includes freedom of speech and the press, political democracy, the legal right of opposition to governmental policies, fair judicial process, RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, freedom of association, and..." (p. 19 emphasis mine). However, the drafters make it painstakingly clear that "traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience DO A DISSERVICE TO THE HUMAN SPECIES" (pp. 15-16 emphasis mine). Now, how are we to believe that those who are in any way religious will never have their freedoms challenged & taken away by these same humanists should the latter procure the power they seek? Remember that the Humanist Manifesto 2000 states that "we should be tolerant of cultural diversity except where those cultures are themselves intolerant or repressive" (p. 36). Moreover, Paul Kurtz states within the same document that "it is not possible to create a PERMANENT Manifesto, but it is useful and wise to devise a working document, OPEN TO REVISION" (p. 8 emphasis mine). While some may excuse such reasoning as impotently conspiratorial and unfounded, one must at least agree that Kurtz's statement leaves open for the future the possibility of taking a more militant and aggressive position against the (what might then be reasoned to be a naive, outdated, and antiquated) idea that the "secular state should be neutral, neither for or against religion" (Humanist Manifesto 2000, p. 11). While it is impossible to ascertain the subjective states of the individual, if there were one type of person for which I had the unrestricted opportunity to know just that, it would be the humanist.

Another thing also puzzles me. If Humanism is an unabashed ideology, i.e., a body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, a group, a class, a culture, etc., then why do they make up the following rule under the section titled 'The Separation of Church and State and the Separation of Ideology and State are Imperatives':

"[The state] should not favor any particular religious bodies through the use of public monies, NOR ESPOUSING A SINGLE IDEOLOGY AND FUNCTION THEREBY AS AN INSTRUMENT OF PROPAGANDA OR OPPRESSION, particularly against dissenters" (Manifesto II p. 20, emphasis mine).

Am I perhaps the only one seeing this as Humanism excluding itself as an ideology on the basis of its own ideology? Doesn't Humanism exclude itself?

Of course not, writes Paul Kurtz in the Humanist Manifesto 2000:

"A Secular Humanist Declaration was issued in 1980 because humanism, and especially Humanist Manifesto II, had come under heavy attack, particularly from fundamentalist religious and right-wing political forces in the United States. Many of these critics maintained that secular humanism was a religion. The teaching of secular humanism in the schools, they claimed violated the principle of separation of church and state and established a new religion. The Declaration responded that secular humanism expressed a set of moral values and a nontheistic philosophical and scientific viewpoint that could not be equated with religious faith. THE TEACHING OF THE SECULAR HUMANIST OUTLOOK IN NO WAY WAS A VIOLATION OF THE SEPARATION PRINCIPLE. It defended the democratic idea that the secular state should be neutral, neither for nor against religion" (pp. 10-11 emphasis mine).

While such a response may appease some -- and while some religious devotees may have originally invoked the term "religion" to refer to humanism (though Manifesto I, in numerous places, does indeed refer to humanism as a religion [p. 8--immediately prior to the 15 tenets; pp. 7-10--the sundry references to "religious humanism"] ) -- the clause originally drafted up by the humanists in Manifesto II includes religion AND IDEOLOGIES. So I believe such an exclusion of humanism, based on its own rule, to be warranted.

Finally, while I ascribe to the philosophy that 'truth is truth, regardless of the source,' and therefore find much within the Manifestos that is admittedly in step with the Christian morality to which I place my own allegiance, I nevertheless find troubling any outline of morality that ultimately has the will of man as its foundation. That is, I've never been convinced, through any of my studies in agnostic or atheistic codes of ethics that a standard of morality (by which we deem our actions to be Right or Wrong) can be found anywhere but outside Man -- who is fallible.

I leave with an example of my point above, originally given by the inimitable C. S. Lewis:

"If we ask: 'Why ought I to be unselfish?' and you reply 'Because it is good for society,' we may then ask, 'Why should I care what's good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?' and then you will have to say 'Because you ought to be unselfish' -- which simply brings us back to where we started. You are saying what is true, but you are not getting any further" (from Mere Christianity).
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