"Yes, Mindfulness is powerful,
but keep religion out of it."

Every year more men and women of all backgrounds are calling themselves humanists. For them much in the old orthodoxies has lost significance. They are finding satisfaction in the positive, constructive point of view of humanism. It shares much with the philosophies and religions of the East as well as of the West. In Europe, Asia, and the Americas it is coming to be known as the alternative to traditional faith.

 

Throughout the ages religions of many kinds have contained a common spirit. We can see this in parts of their scriptures.

 

In Hinduism we find: “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you” (Mahabharata, 5, 1517).

 

In Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (UdanaVarga 5, 18).

 

In Christianity: “All things whatsoever ye would that man should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7, 12).

 

In Confucianism: “Is there one maxim which ought to be acted upon throughout one’s whole life? Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you” (Analects 15, 23).

 

In Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself” (Sunnah).

 

In Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowman. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 31d).

 

In Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss” (Tíai Shang Kan Ying Píien).

 

In Jain scriptures: “The essence of right conduct is not to injure anyone.”

 

But varying religious practices and diverse theological beliefs have been built upon and allied to this common ethical principle. Down through history humans have adopted creeds that provide special privileges and practices that separate them from other groups. Throughout the world, wide cultural variations continue. Ways of worship, hierarchies of leadership, rituals, symbols, and sacraments are different. Humanism goes in a different direction and concentrates on what we all have in common. It has become a dynamic alternative to the traditional faiths.

 

Humanism as a Philosophy and Religion

 

Humanism, like religion, has been defined in innumerable ways. Many a humanist has made his or her own definition. This is a healthful condition, for truths are not contained within the words of definitions. The value of definitions is in calling attention to relationships or in making appropriate descriptions. The broad general humanist viewpoint, enriched as it is by the insights of people of varying temperaments, cannot even be sketched within a few sentences or paragraphs. As it is a general point of view it is only natural that different people should find different aspects of it particularly significant to them. Those individuals of more philosophical bent will look to it as a living philosophy. If they are technically trained they may study humanist ethics and stress the values of good morality. Some whose primary interest is found in current world problems, in revising laws and customs toward building a better, happier human community, naturally think of humanism as a point of view that could bring all the people of the world together. For them it is a challenging call to make full use of all that is in us to build cooperatively a richer human life. The interest of yet others is in the role of humanism as a champion of the rational approach over the traditional theological one, of democracy over authoritarianism, of common sense over superstition. A fourth focus hails it as a means for achieving personal integration, maturity, and freedom.

 

Once these personal values are won, concern in and action for the larger social good follows naturally for all of these groups. Whether or not one looks to humanism as a religion, as a philosophy, as a life stance, or as a way of life is, we believe, largely a matter of personal temperament and preference. Those caught up by its religious aspects know that it provides a vibrant, satisfying moral orientation. Those who think of it as a philosophy find it both reasonable and adequate. Those who recognize it as an alternative to religion may or may not feel personal value in belonging to an organization.

 

One of the great religious humanist pioneers, John H. Dietrich, pointed out: For centuries the idea of God has been the very heart of religion; it has been said “no God, no religion.” But humanism thinks of religion as something very different and far deeper than any belief in God. To it, religion is not the attempt to establish right relations with a supernatural being, but rather the up reaching and aspiring impulse in a human life. It is life striving for its completest fulfillment, and anything which contributes to this fulfillment is religious, whether it be associated with the idea of God or not.

Humanism gives to many people the satisfactions which have come to them in the past either from other religions or from other philosophies. In doing this it serves some as a religion, others as a philosophy. Insofar as it serves as both a philosophy and a religion, there is no need to deny that it has both functions. Inasmuch as faith in a theology is not involved, it can be recognized appropriately as an alternative to faith. It developed as the rational scientific viewpoint was grafted upon a philosophy of good will and concern for humans and nature. It is neither vague nor colorless but positive and dynamic, whether thought of as a non-sectarian religion, a philosophy, a life stance, a way of life, or an alternative to faith.

Today Humanism, all religions and philosophy are being illuminated and transformed by what seem to be the almost daily contributions of neuroscience.

 

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