Pagan Humanism: A Tradition of Rational Religion

 

Humanism is the concept that human reason, need, perception, ethics, and experience are the primary drivers of a satisfactory ordering of inner life, and of interactions with others and the world. Though humanists themselves disagree on many points, and the principles themselves are always being honed, the Canadian Humanists say “Humanists are guided by reason and scientific inquiry, inspired by music and art, and motivated by ethics, compassion and fairness.” Currently more associated with secularism, Humanism was originally conceived as a revival of the classical Naturalism, with sacredness of the human condition and the true nature of reality at its core.

 

Happy Human logo of Humanism

History of Humanism

 

Humanism sprung out of the 19th century “ism”s of philosophical thought; when scholars were doing some serious rethinking in the Western world about how science, culture, economics, art, and individuals interact. Hot on the heels of the American and French revolutions, philosophers were forced to consider that top down authority of the Church and the State might not be the only way, or even the “natural” or “ordained” way of organizing society or human thought. Dogma and faith were no longer a good enough justification for any practice or organization. Reason, scientific inquiry and Nature had again become hugely popular and esteemed by all classes of humanity, no longer a mere hobby and curiosity for rich amateur eccentrics. The concepts were even occasionally worshipped as an Ideal in Western Europe as the Cult of Reason, especially during the last days of the French Revolution.

 

It was their own fault, really. Religious authority in Europe for the past 1500 years had derived from the top-down, fundamentalist, radical, and dogmatic type of Christianity, which had set itself in direct opposition to science, highly unusual in religious traditions. State authority, including economic and societal systems, had piggybacked on that authority for nearly as long, making opposition to either an offence against God. Now the peasants were not only revolting, but ruling. Everything that the Church and State had taught about class, natural roles, authority and how the world worked was demonstrably wrong. So paradigms more in keeping with what could actually be seen and proved were needed. Into this came the renewed regard for Science, Naturalism, and the need to find out how the Universe functioned, and how humans fit into it properly. Personal experience and provable measurements, not outside authoritative dogma, were once again the preferred meaningful interaction with Reality and Deity. 

 

Philosophy of Humanism

 

From Wikipedia: “In modern times, many humanist movements have become strongly aligned with secularism, with the term Humanism often used as a byword for non-theistic beliefs about ideas such as meaning and purpose”, largely due to the American school of Humanists who created the Humanist Manifesto in 1933. This has never precluded the original and continuing use of the term in other philosophies, only occluded it. More of a co-opting, really…

 

Religious Humanism is the philosophy of Humanism with a religious world view and symbology, including revealed religions. From What is Religious Humanism? Humanist Philosophy as a Religious Position by Austin Cline, 

 

“The functions of religion often cited by religious humanists include things like fulfilling the social needs of a group of people (such as moral education, shared holiday and commemorative celebrations, and the creation of a community) and satisfying the personal needs of individuals (such as the quest to discover meaning and purpose in life, means for dealing with tragedy and loss, and ideals to sustain us). For religious humanists, meeting these needs is what religion is all about; when doctrine interferes with meeting those needs, then religion fails.” 

Many religious traditions, it has been argued, were already humanist in philosophy and rational in practice. “Science” is an agreed upon method of quantifiably describing reality. The only other methods we can use are religious or philosophical, and most traditions gave them varying weights as Truth. The “middle east’ preserved scientific knowledge as a bastion of the Islamic faith for centuries into the Xian control-and-destroy Dark Ages. Buddhism insists on inner truth reconciling with outer experience, even though technically all around is illusion. Traditional aboriginal systems require accurate knowledge of biosystems and tech, or crops fail, animals die and humans starve. Taoism, kung fu, yoga and other forms of religion and spirituality are human centered in they defy the conventions they live under and provide a route for those who do not wish to integrate into surrounding systems of control.


Nearly all aboriginal worldviews, including European, were usually more egalitarian, democratic, pragmatic and scientific, with less blind devotion to dogma than the later Christian fundie conquerors – one of the reasons those usurpers put themselves in such opposition to those ideas. The pagans deal with the reality of the world: the crops, the animals, health and well-being… Human integration and sustainability with the environment, as its caretakers and partners, is a constant theme, with knowledge sought for, and altered as discovered, as natural and desirable to those goals. Though many traditions had a trained and specialized priesthood, usually as scientists, philosophers, healers, lawyers, performers, and poets, very few always required a mediator to the spirit world or deity. Most authority came internally; from personal interaction with the Unseen. 

 


Most forms of paganism, ancient and modern, were mature traditions that accepted most forms of the human condition as natural, and provided spaces for it. 
LBGT individuals for example were accepted and even revered as holy in many pagan cultures. Mental and physical illnesses were usually treated with respect and dignity, with suffering eased as much as possible. Pagan health care had surgery, disinfectants, and all manner of tech, which was obliterated in the Christian purges in favour of demon banishing. The longest documented continual democracy on the planet is on Iceland, which was only lightly veneered with Christianity, and at the very end of the conquests in Europe. When historians ask when the first democracy existed, where do they point? To the pagans! It’s a Christian myth that pagans were primitive or non-rational, for it’s what they hoped to exterminate in the population, largely for their own power.


Moderates have always existed, however, and reformist Abrahamics, as some of the original instigators of the Humanist Manifesto, also have some vibrant and continuous religious humanist writings. Modern Christian and Buddhist Humanist thought are dynamic examples of current popular religious humanist manifestations. As a widely inclusive version of religious humanism, Church of Spiritual Humanism preaches that “[a]ll humans have an inalienable right and duty to practice their own religious traditions. Spiritual Humanism allows everyone to fuse their individual religious practices onto the foundation of scientific humanist inquiry.” It also encourages self-ordination and personal authority, instead of a divine calling or hierarchical structure. (I was in communication with the founder Zorger many years ago when he was launching this church, and my posts are still on his forum, I believe.) In Canada, we have a few branches of secular Humanism, as well as Unitarians already well established, but I do not find them personally satisfying for various reasons. As a scientist and academic, and a traditional witch with a personal relationship with deity since childhood, I have chosen to focus on championing the philosophy of Pagan Humanism.

 

 

Pagan Humanism Defined

 

Paganism is the current umbrella term of Earth based religions. Pagan Humanism is therefore Humanism with a pagan agenda and focus. Of course, upon investigation, I discovered that the term was used by a small group of Humanists, religious studies, and classics professionals in delineating Plato Hellenic-type Stoicism. A small number of persons from the modern pagan movement have tried to distance themselves from this incorrect usage by taking a page from the current camp and calling it Neo-Pagan Humanism. As that has far too many associations with the Crystal Rubbing Fruit Loop (TM) section of Paganism, I decided to forgo the prefix. The Classicists will just have to get more accurate in their terms is all… Therefore, Pagan Humanism in this case is not from the Classical, or Plato and Aristotelian perspective, but the more modern use. It would be more accurate, I suppose, to call it “Earth-based Religious Humanism”, but that seems a bit much. 

 

Modern Paganism, or Neopaganism, with its subsets of witchcraft, Wicca, and heathenism, is the modern catch-all phrase for many organized and non-organized Earth based religions and spirituality.  Often seen as based on European Aboriginal practices and beliefs, it can also be used to describe traditional African, Asian, and North American spirituality, though less so, largely due to its primarily English usage. By declaring oneself “pagan”, it specifically implies a resurgence in traditional Earth Based beliefs, sometimes in defiance of Abrahamics, depending on the area, and a reconstruction of traditional wisdom, knowledge, and connection with Nature as a completion of self and humanity.


Since most aboriginal traditions rely on observation and reason in combination with revelation as balanced forms of truth, pagan humanism as an evolved current derivative presents little conflict with its traditional forms. Reason and personal authority, with the human need for internal ordering of the inner life as the goal of satisfying religion, and the sacredness of all life has always been a natural fit with paganism, past and present. Pagan Humanism in particular can also be Naturalist in philosophy – in modern terms, that translates into non-theism, with no revealed religious experiences and no supernatural, relying instead on scientific inquiry and natural awe for the Universe for inspiration. Rituals and rites are to satisfy the human need, with deities as Jungian archetypes rather than actualities. As paganism reasonably accepts and respects different forms of truth, atheism, theism, and spiritualism are all at home and welcome in pagan humanism. 

 

Principles of Pagan Humanism

 

Pagans need to reClaim our heritage, not perpetuate this ridiculous Christian propaganda about “primitive” Aboriginal peoples, which relies on inherent racism. We are legitimate inheritors of rationalism, democracy, egalitarianism, science, and effective medicine, and we did it all, and *can* do it all, in a sacred framework that doesn’t contradict itself. 

 

The common principles of modern secular humanism have had alot more debate than most forms of religious humanism, and there aren’t many inclusive religious humanists that have had a great deal of input on the literature. Borrowing from modern secular humanist writings, then, there are certain principles that we can start to develop for ourselves in a pagan context. 1 2

  1. Humanists affirm the dignity of every person and the right of the individual to maximum possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists acknowledge human interdependence, the need for mutual respect and the kinship of all humanity.
  2. Humanism aims at the full development of every human being. We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings. We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence. We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences. We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
  3. The humanist ethic encourages development of the positive potentialities in human nature, and approves conduct based on a sense of responsibility to oneself and to all other persons.
  4. We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
  5. Humanists advocate the use of the scientific method, both as a guide to distinguish fact from fiction and to help develop beneficial and creative uses of science and technology. We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems. We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life. However, it is not amoral; rather, it defines our morality. 
  6. Humanists call for the continued improvement of society so that no one may be deprived of the basic necessities of life, and for institutions and conditions to provide every person with opportunities for developing their full potential. We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities. We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state. We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance. We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
  7. We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfil their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.
  8. Humanists advocate peaceful resolution of conflicts between individuals, groups, and nations. We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
  9. We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others. We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
  10. Humanists affirm that human beings are completely a part of nature, and that our survival is dependent upon a healthy planet that provides us and all other forms of life with a life-supporting environment. We want to protect and enhance the earth and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.

 

We are all spiritual beings. We all develop a spirituality map and a personal mythology when we are very young and never fully leave it (even if that mythology decides there is no Unseen). Though the form may change, the basics do not. The symbology from youth that contributed to religious experience is the most powerful and remains so. It can never be substituted. That’s why there are Christian witches, and Taoist witches, and Jewitches.. The irreplaceable religion and symbology of youth must be integrated with the witchcraft practices, often in later years. Teaching children especially to integrate their own experiences with their reason and practical worship, without perhaps some of the more potent magic or beliefs inherent in some traditions, is a valid compromise to ignoring religious practice entirely, in the hopes the harmful parts will just ‘go away’. Because they won’t, and neither will religion, so it is only logical to relearn how to use it properly, for the benefit of the individual, humankind, and the world itself.

 

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