IF, AS H.L. MENCKEN SAID, Puritanism is the "haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy," can we then say that humanism is--or should be--motivated by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be unhappy? That there may be something a humanist might do to help alleviate another's pain, sorrow, oppression, or misfortune?
Those who seek and attain, with some measure of success, the so-called good life and who espouse a humanist philosophy should certainly be inclined to help other human beings achieve it too. But the narrative is often quite different when religious and otherwise mainstream folks size us up. We're seen as existential vagabonds, adrift in a morally blank landscape of our own choosing. The humanist label, too quickly associated with the rejection of religion and of supernaturalism, still fails to evoke the ethical framework of our philosophy. We must turn to action to define our humanism. As you'll see in the pages before you, lots of humanists are doing this already.
I regularly pass people in DC asking for money who appear to be living on the streets. Approaching the escalator down to the subway I often walk by musicians whose open instrument cases invite dollar bills and loose change. College students on summer break may come to my door asking for donations for this cause or another, and then of course there are all the requests that come in the mail or via email and social media. Like most people, I have to make decisions on whom I give to and when. (I lean toward the people living on the street most often.) But is my level of generosity necessarily tied to my worldview? As a humanist, am I (or should I be) more generous than someone who isn't, given that the pilosophy of humanism suggests a moral imperative to care about the wellbeing of others? How generous am I compared to religious folks?
No doubt you've heard findings of previous surveys on how religious people compare to their secular counterparts when it comes to charitable giving. Reputable sources have reported that religious people give more. But their charity is largely directed to their own church or to religious charities. Does where the money goes reflect the level of one's generosity?
We asked TheHumanist.com readers about their charitable practices, specifically those...