I’ve officially been a Humanist for more than 20 years and I can say that “Creating Change Through Humanism” by Roy Speckhardt is a compliment if not an update of the classic introductory book “The Philosophy of Humanism” by Corliss Lamont. I would recommend this to any prospective, new, and current Humanist. It’s also a great read for those wanting more information about Humanism in general.
Not only is there a detailed history of Humanism and the American Humanist Association (AHA) but the book also helps the reader determine if one might be a Humanist. There have been plenty of non-Humanists who have tried to define what Humanism is so it is refreshing to read the current consensus from an author who really knows what he’s talking about. It helps that Roy Speckhardt has been deeply involved in the movement for years.
The second half of the book talks about Humanists affecting change in the world through political and/or charitable activism. I’ve believed for sometime that if the religious right can be political then Humanists must be. This is why there is war on women and attacks on science education we see in public schools.
There will probably be complaints, as there is in real world Humanism, that some of the issues and actions suggested makes Humanism out to be too liberal – as if that is a bad thing. As Speckhardt explains and demonstrates through examples, the conclusions of Humanism are liberal, in general, on the political scale.
I liked how Speckhardt talked about how Humanists don’t always agree 100% on every issue or method to achieving a stated goal. I know I didn’t agree with everything in this book. It is important for people coming to Humanism to know we aren’t a monolith ruled by a holy book who march in lock step all of the time. Dissent isn’t always a bad thing.
One quibble I did have and I have with many national promoters of Humanism, is when Speckhardt tries to label anyone who might agree with even a small part of our secular world view as a Humanist and invites them to join the club.
Our movement is made up of all those who are good without a god in their own way, not just self -identified atheists. If we were to limit the movement to only those who are willing to identify solely as atheists, the nontheist movement would look small indeed. What’s more, that smallness would make it harder to achieve our shared aim of equality for all who are good without a god.
He mentions an AHA program called “Paths to Humanism” where brochures are printed pointing out humanist aspects of world religions and atheism.
It makes sense that in a membership driven organization like the AHA, it would try to expand the field of potential members.
Where I disagree is that for all intents and purposes, Humanism is atheistic. Religious people who go to church, and pray to a god, yet agree with many of our conclusions are humanitarians – not Humanists. If you ditch god then it obviously leads you to atheism.
The irony is that Speckhardt agrees:
But as much as it shouldn’t be required for people to give up their other identities and claim only atheism, people should still aim to be open about their not believing in a god or the supernatural. That openness makes it easier for the next tacit nonbeliever to come out. And remaining silent won’t make the problem of prejudice against us go away. In fact, in addition to the persuasive nature of coming out, which I discussed earlier, by having significant numbers in the closet, it makes our demographic look smaller in numbers than it actually is, making it harder for the community to fight for equal representation.
Those who pretend to be theistic may be acting unethically by misleading others about their beliefs.
I personally know a few people who attend mainstream Christian churches who were members of my local Humanist group. The people I knew believed in Humanism and the focus on its non-theist rational conclusions. They rejected the dogma and supernatural myths of Christianity but maintained ties to their church because of family or cultural reasons.
I worry by trying to recruit ultra liberal theists we will alienate atheists and people who use church as a community center rather than for religion. A Humanist should never suggest that there are different ways of knowing – for one example.
I did like how the author acknowledged there are local Humanist communities readers could search out. Being part of the AHA he would know there are many chapters of the group around the country. Speckhardt also gave a tip of the hat to other like minded national groups like the Secular Student Alliance. We need more of that family support more often.
If you are a Humanist like me, don’t think this book has nothing for you. I appreciated the historical overview of the AHA and the pages available in the back of the book is a handy collection of foundational Humanist thought.
“Creating Change Through Humanism” is an easy and informative read that should be on the bookshelf of every Humanist, Humanist group, and in all the public libraries in the country if possible.
Note: The book is also available through the usual online book retailers like Amazon.