Being Prepared for a Change

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 3 June 2016

Sergey Badaev, IHEYO Newsletter April/May, 2016

Humanists may feel proud that their views are not dogmatic. In Amsterdam Declaration 2002 (AD2002) we find that ‘humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creeds upon its adherents’. But what does it mean? What does it imply?

In many religions based on divine revelations there are statements which are taken as a core set of beliefs. An example of such a belief can be an idea of Trinity in Orthodox Christianity which defines God as three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. Another example is an idea of the immaculate conception in the Catholic Church, the conception of the Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother free from original sin by virtue of the forseen merits of her son Jesus Christ.

Those beliefs are considered to be true forever and, therefore, unchangeable. In the language of religion they are called dogmas derived from Greek and stood for laws or ordinances in Ancient Greece adjudged and imposed upon others. With regard to humanist beliefs or principles, when we say they are undogmatic we mean, at least, two things: first, they are not based on divine revelations and, second, they are changeable.

Some people may think it is a weak stand and an undermining confession. How much do changeable principles differ from non-principles et all? There is an essential difference. Changeability is not another word for chaos or eclecticism. Humanist principles are changeable in the same sense in which scientific laws and theories are changeable. They are not arbitrary and unfounded, they are not just figments of our imagination. Humanist principles are tightly connected to reality, to the life we live. They keep changing and adjusting every time when our knowledge and life experience demonstrate discrepancy between reality and what we think it is. Personal insights are shared but not imposed. If they are accepted and become common, it is not because of their divine authority but of their beauty and rational power. After all, is it possible to develop anything without any change? Obviously, not. So, the key question is what to change and when.

If we come back to AD2002 we should keep in mind that it is the second version of the first Declaration which was adopted in 1952 (AD1952). After 50 years the humanists decided to revise the document and publicised a new edition. A similar situation is with so called Humanist Manifestos (HM) adopted by the American Humanist Association: HM I – 1933, HM II – 1973, HM III – 2003. There are a number of documents like those produced by individuals, for example, Paul Kurtz’s ‘Humanist Manifesto 2000’ published in a form of a book.

Some old members of the humanist movement as well as some newcomers may feel confused and disoriented with this documents diversity. It may seem to be a too high price for undogmatic character of the humanist worldview. On the other hand, it may stimulate a person to find their own way among those documents, to read them critically and to work out their own personal version of a ‘manifesto’. The idea of this work is not to present a new version of humanist principles to the world, not to publish it and invite supporters to sign it, but rather clarify their own worldview, their own life principles and their own personal philosophy.

Those of us who have cars know that every car needs to be serviced periodically. It is done to fix any possible problems, to make sure your vehicle is in a good condition and can function properly. It is almost the same with our worldview or our personal philosophy. We have to check it periodically to see if it is elaborate enough, if it is coherent enough, if our system of values is what we really live but not just talk about.

The documents like AD2002 are very good tools for such a personal worldview maintenance. No such a document is perfect. It might be thought as waste of time to try to create a perfect declaration. But it might be an extremely useful instrument for personal growth. We can ask ourselves various questions with regard to AD2002. For example,

(1) Is it an appropriate explication of my own views?
(2) Does it miss anything important? If so, what is that?
(3) Is there anything I could discard if I wanted to make it more compact?
(4) Is there anything I would like to change in terms of content, composition or style?
(5) What are the changes that were made in AD2002 compared to AD1952?
(6) What might be the most likely changes in the future version of AD?

And so on.

In this process we should, first of all, look for improvement and elaboration of our personal philosophy, rather than the text of AD2002 itself. I suppose that the best way to do our worldview revision is in a group of people with similar intentions who are looking for personal growth and maturity. It can be a discussion group or a study circle group where people gather together to use each other as a sort of mirrors where we see our reflections and understand better who we are and who other people are. When we all have changed then the time will come for AD2002 to be changed.

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