What's in the name? All of us: celebrating a century of humanism.

Author:Simpson, Lyle L.

The oldest recorded description of the philosophy of life we call "humanism" was first articulated by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who lived from 341 until 270 BCE. His philosophy, which subsequent philosophers have labeled "hedonism," centered on each of us maximizing our life here on Earth instead of our life being regulated by the gods. His teaching was spelled out in detail in a poem written by Lucretius (who lived from 99 to 55 BCE) called "On the Nature of Things." This poem was discovered in the Vatican archives by a secretary to the pope who translated it into Latin early in the 1400s. Lorenzo de Medici, who then ruled Florence, read his translation, and the Medici family adopted Epicurus's philosophy of life as their own. It became the cultural lifestyle for the region and, as a result, was the impetus for the Renaissance that brought our civilization out of the Dark Ages.

Our philosophy surfaced again, primarily with Unitarian ministers, in the early part of the twentieth century. One of those ministers was Curtis W. Reese of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, Iowa. Reese was intrigued enough with the concept that he considered giving a sermon to test this view of life with his congregation. He labeled his concept "A Democratic View of Religion" and showed a copy of his proposed sermon to John Dietrich, then minister of the Minneapolis Unitarian Church. Dietrich felt the title was a bit too long and suggested a single word: "Humanism." That made sense to Reese and he delivered his sermon on the philosophy of humanism to the Des Moines congregation in 1917.

There's no way to know the exact date Reese gave his sermon on humanism--the original typed copy only includes a handwritten year, 1917. Incidentally, I was president of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines in 1971 and so I know that the church has a long-standing tradition of not meeting in the summer months from June through August. It's more likely that Dietrich and Reese met in the summer in Minneapolis because going there in the winter isn't high on most Iowans' wish lists. Therefore, it is most likely that the sermon was delivered in early fall. It's also the custom of this church to start the first Sunday of the fall with some subject that creates controversy, or peaks interest, to encourage attendance after the summer hiatus. I am fairly certain that Reese gave this sermon the first Sunday in September since this certainly would have been an attention...

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