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10 years ago ... THE HUMANIST AGENDA.

from the January/February 1991 issue

There are times when I look back over human history and am amazed and moved at the tremendous growth in human rights that has taken place over the past centuries. Such growth is part of our rich humanist tradition. Greek rationalism challenged ancient mythologies and the authority of the clergy. The Magna Carta challenged the authority of the crown. The Enlightenment proclaimed liberty, equality, and fraternity. The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights established this great democracy. Humanist manifestos set before us the way of freedom and rationalism. New rights statements continue to appear, including the one called the Patient's Bill of Rights. These important statements that set forth our responsibilities and commitments, as well as the marches for civil rights and equal rights amendments, testify to the humanistic concern that constitutes the true heart of this nation.

What a rich and wonderful heritage is ours! What a privilege to be alive in an age when these freedoms are ours to enjoy! And what a responsibility we have to protect and guarantee these same freedoms for our children, our grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren. We are aware of the shadow over our basic freedoms cast by the Reagan-Bush Supreme Court. We know that there are those who would use free democratic rights to reduce some of these freedoms. We know that in human evolution every moment has been a moment of crisis--with potentials for loss, deprivation, and the inhibition of growth as well as the expansion of rights and freedoms and the enhancement of human potential.

We are now at such a crisis point. Our energies must be directed toward our personal enjoyment of the rich treasures that thinking, rational, loving, concerned, committed, and involved humans have given to us. At the same time, we must direct our energies toward the protection of these rare (insofar as human history is concerned) and hard-won rights and, with joy and responsibility, endow the future with these precious freedoms. If we take these responsibilities seriously, then we are automatically committed to action--action based upon the best knowledge and the best reasoning within our power. If we are to protest the satanist scare, then we must know the facts about the history of Satan and about those who encourage belief in satanic powers. How else can we counter their presentations?

We must be aware of the intentions of a popular but religiously conservative pope to touch the world with Roman Catholicism before the millennium and to spread the cult of Mary as important for the saving of the world. We must recognize the way in which he uses the cult of the Saints (by beatification of local "hero priests") to popularize Roman Catholic superstitions. We must be alert to the readiness of the Roman Catholic church to exercise its political clout and assert its authority whenever the opportunity arises (witness the developing power of the church in Poland, where anti-abortion, anti-birth control, and anti-intellectual Roman Catholic dogma threatens free thought and open education). We must be clear on our values so that when we challenge the religious right we ask the right questions, including those about their attitudes toward abortion, homosexuality, women's rights, euthanasia, and a host of other issues. This is our challenge.

At the same time, we humanists also have an agenda. It includes the freeing of public institutions--such as the schools --from those who would introduce magical thinking as a replacement for critical inquiry. Our agenda discourages censorship of literature, art, and other forms of human expression and encourages the right of individuals to make choices based upon reason, ethical values, and concern for human well-being. It champions the freedom of individuals to make decisions concerning their own bodies, their own futures, and their own modes of dying.

Our agenda recognizes that, over the millennia, certain humans have been gifted with the vision of an ideal world in which which all men, all women, and all children will be guaranteed the basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is our commission--the commission of each humanist--to live so that, through our lives and our love and our efforts, this world of complex interactions between life forms is lifted just a bit closer to the ultimate ideal because we have been here. Our commitment is to a way of life that seeks to call forth the best and the noblest in ourselves, in those whom we love, and in society in general, so that our troubled human environment might move toward the fulfillment of the highest dreams of humankind.

This means that everything we do and say and think has meaning. No word is meaningless, no effort is too small, no act is insignificant. This is our commitment to the future. This is the humanist way.

Gerald A. Larue, the 1989 Humanist of the Year, is professor emeritus of biblical history and archaeology at the University of Southern California and chair of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion. This article is excerpted from the fiftieth anniversary issue of the Humanist.
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Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2001
Previous Article:20 years ago ... THE MORAL MAJORITY VS. HUMANISM.
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