Methodological Humanism – Beyond Belief and Disbelief

Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Featured, Thoughts | 11 comments

 

Methodological humanism is an attempt to promote  true humanist cause beyond the various tenets of belief, and the ideas of non-belief, to create a platform from which we can all operate for the betterment of ourselves and the planet, regardless of our standpoints on religion. The main aim of methodological humanism is to create a society where we can all thrive; This is above and beyond the idea of well-being or simply surviving. As I wrote earlier in my piece which first outlined the ideas of methodological humanism:

“Thriving is what we would all like to do, beyond just “being well”. Thriving is a state of well-being plus the ability to live in a comfortable and safe environment plus the ability to live beyond the simple basics of survival. Thriving, in this sense, does not mean unchecked and perpetually unsustainable growth. [...] we depend upon our planet, our only home, for our very existences, and therefore we must include the world at large, beyond humans, when we talk of the methodology of humanism. Humanism is not “human worshiping”, in fact, on this level, there is no worshiping at all. Humanism is devoid of deities, and goes beyond belief, to a space where we can evaluate what is truly important to us as a species, and work toward that for all people, regardless of their ideologies. [...] we have much more in common with each other than we have to divide and differentiate us. There are more binding factors between humans, and the planet, than there are reasons to dislike your neighbors.”

So what is it about a methodological stance to humanism that sets it apart from “secular humanism”? Firstly, if we use the methodology of humanism, and set the secular nature of the situation aside, it allows for a person of belief to still enact humanist ideals and still hold their religious ideals. This means that everyone from a Muslim to a Zoroastrian, Christian, to Hindu, to Jew, can be humanists without fear of treading on their belief systems.

There is are however some provisos which needs to be satisfied, however, if this idea is ever to make any ground in a contemporary multi-faith/atheist society.

Firstly, the idea of well-being, and what affects our practices as religious and non-religious people have on others’ well-being. This means stepping back from our traditions and religious practices, looking at them from an outside perspective, and really attempting to see what they signify, whether they are truly a part of a belief system or simply the way it’s “always been done”, and then evaluate whether these practices are helpful to people or communities, or hurtful. This can be a difficult thing, even in secular situations, for there is a lot of string to unwind to find the core, and the older the tradition (religious or otherwise) the more difficult this core is to identify. For instance, the oft-cited traditional practice of female genital circumcision in Middle-Eastern and African nations is not only tied very deeply in the cultures of those practicing it, but is also used as an excuse to extol the tenets of Islam in those nations. Without getting into a discussion about who within a religion or culture backs such practices (I’ve heard both reports of pressuring from imams and clerics from Islam, and also cultural pressures from the women within the communities), a practice like this results in more harm than good, and should therefore be left outside the spectrum of humanism. In fact, any practice, traditional, cultural or religious, which causes more harm than good to the well-being of an individual fall outside of the spectrum of the humanist methodology. I am aware that most religious people do not stone their “adulterous” daughters to death for the “crime” of being raped, nor do they withhold medical treatment in favour of prayer, but some do, and these practices need to be addressed for what they are – harmful.

Secondly, we must recognise that the human basis for well-being is practically the same thing for each of us. As I have pointed out, beyond the needs each of us have for basic survival (i.e. living, breathing, not starving), well-being means both health in body and mind. Simply surviving is not enough for us as thinking and emotional creatures capable of evaluating our own pleasure or suffering. This means that the basis for well-being is the same for a man as for a woman or child, the same for a Muslim or Hindu, and the same for a king or homeless person. Religious ideology does not play a part in basic well-being at this level, although it can give comfort to some in times of need. Well-being means, as far as is possible, having the basics covered, access to food, water and health services, and living in a safe and comfortable environment It’s not buying a second car or flat-screen TV. It’s not about excess, it’s about basics. Having said this, I understand the concept of special-needs, and for those who require special medical treatment, ramps for access, carers etc., these aspects must also be taken into consideration for well-being to be truly met. Some people do require more to simply reach the level of well-being most of us take for granted.

Thirdly, we must have a want, and actual want, for those around us to enjoy the same basics as us in order to reach this base level of well-being. This is more difficult than it may sound. Many of us love our comforts, particularly those of us who are fortunate enough to have been born into a relatively stable society, one where we have more than we actually need. To some, these comforts, such as a bidet or a gigantic flat-screen TV, or an extra donut after dinner, are things they see as their “right”, but sneer at the homeless guy in the city for being a “lazy bum”. This has more to do with an attitude of entitlement and the culture of consumption than to do with one’s rights. As I have shown, the basics of well-being are much simpler than this, and needs to be something we are all willing to ensure all people have.

This may all sound so simple as to be infantile, but few people recognise the importance of these 3 points when talking of humanity striving together as whole for the betterment of all people. It is not about the impossible task of letting every person live in luxury, nor the undesirable (yet much more likely scenario) of everyone except for the extremely elite being dragged down into a situation where we cannot afford the basics.

My main objective here is to point out that, within a methodological framework of humanism, we are not ignoring the tenets of religious belief, cultural practices or traditions, only choosing to identify and leave out any aspects of belief that may cause harm to other people. Sounds simple, but with so many various practices, doctrines and dogmas entrenched within religion, these evaluations would have to be made on a case by case basis. As we encounter them, we evaluate the advantages against the disadvantages, and come to a conclusion about each one. By this I hope to be more inclusive in humanism than secular humanism tends to be, because it is not foregoing religion all together, rather recognising that it is a part of humanity that needs to be addressed and including it within the framework of the humanist ideal.

I’m interested in your feedback on this idea, what you identify as its strengths and weaknesses, and whether you think it is any different from anything proposed before. Please feel free to leave your comments below. Don;t be scared to voice your opinion either, as the only thing I ever censor is abusive activity, and I’m sure you’re all above such behaviour.

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10 comments
malreuxlyotard
malreuxlyotard

PS Some people might be confused by use of the term 'metaphysics' - surely if we're talking about e.g. evolution v creationism, then the difference isn't 'metaphysical'! Of course not, here the difference is clearly that creationism as a literal and empirical theory is clearly false and zany, versus the fruitful and overwhelmingly confirmed theory of evolution. The difference is empirical, and also evolution is clearly a better explanation of the phenomena. Not all differences between theists and atheists are as stark as this, however, including the rather obvious difference between atheists and theists clued in the name. The question as to whether there is a god or not, or if god is required as an explanation for existence in general or the universe in particular, is, I submit, an metaphysical question that probably can't be formulated well enough to be an empirical question. However, review conversations between educated clergy and scientists and you'll find debates no where near as passionate as online bloody rows between theists and atheists - whence such difference in pitch? I submit the latter are engaging in 'total war' - a clash of ideologies that only makes sense if you think something really important is at stake, such an answer to the question 'how can I live the good life?' If one carefully distinguishes between moral matters - where I conjecture there is an awful lot of common ground and consensus - and metaphysical matters - where answers to questions like 'is there a god?' hang in the balance - I submit many passionate debaters would simply lose interest. A conjecture; an explanation for my use of the term 'metaphysics'.

malreuxlyotard
malreuxlyotard

A very nice post, capturing something I've thought about for a long time. Part of the heat in debates between religious and non-religious humanist folk comes from confusing ethics/morality with metaphysics/worldview. Of course these things are related. But from the way some people carry on, you would be lead to believe that they are the same thing. The downside of such simple equations as: 'a moral person is someone who believes in god' or (worse) 'humans are so bad they can only be good if they experience grace [esp from an external agency]' is that ones opponents are then de-humanised - their moral agency is brought into question. I've also seen statements from atheists along the lines of 'religious people are less evolved' - displaying a unique ignorance of the science as well as unnecessary peevish cruelty. These are extreme positions, not nec representative of the respective communities, but are symptomatic of confusing moral things which we in fact largely hold in common, and metaphysical debates about whether our universe is Godded or not. If secular humanists (I consider my own position to be 'naturalist') and e.g. theists could be brought to an awareness of how much mutual moral consensus obtains between them, and therefore that much of their differences are in fact metaphysical... well, I don't think many people are all that interested in metaphysics, and some of the heat of enmity might die.


In sum - in order to be able to calmly debate our moral/ethical differences, we must first recognise our huge moral/ethical consensus. That people who hold different metaphysical positions are not trying to corrupt ones own moral system. That whilst some weirdo's such as myself are interested in metaphysical issues, most aren't, and yet labour under the delusion that what they are arguing about is the very existence and sustenance of moral life, not metaphysics.

deLaune
deLaune

I'm confused--is this philosophy intended to be voluntary? Do you see this as something that each individual may accept or reject as they see fit?

Or do you envision capturing the political process and forcing people to accept your moral standards?

Would your ideal require you to send military forces to "backward" countries--ending female circumcision at gunpoint?

If so, it would seem to be a rehash of the British Empire's taking up "The White Man's Burden." With you and your friends as the new "white men," the ordained arbiters of morality.

blamer
blamer

The strength of a more inclusive humanism is that it sounds quite agreeable to both today's ingroup and its "other". The weakness seems to be that humanity's factions (by definition) can't ever settle on which faction has the most ethical method for compelling someone to act differently than they otherwise would. I mean any act of moralizing --itself-- is a moral dilemma. It seems we cannot resist judging the method/theory based on how we foresee the practical outcomes will help or harm us --indivually or collectively.

marco
marco

Your wish is my command

JentheHumanist
JentheHumanist

I so love this post - I actually started an applied Humanism group at LinkedIn because I think this is so important.  Too often we in the movement treat the philosophy as an academic exercise. But the power of the philosophy is actually in it's application. How we use our philosophy to live a full and fulfilling life. How we use our philosophy to make better decisions that impact not only us but the communities and world in which we live. And you are right, all people, regardless of background need help with that. I think that's why my books about Humanism are so popular with people of faith. 

And I actually do like the term methodological humanist - though I have to admit, I have to slow down to say it. It's not easy to write either. But the concept - oh yeah!  

John Poole
John Poole

"...methodological humanism (an almost unbearably dry phrase if there ever was one)"

Oooops! :-D

It is rather dry and clinical sounding, isn't it? Although I believe it to be quite technically accurate. Perhaps it needs to remain a back-end technical term, and be front-ended by something more appealing. But by what, I'm at a loss to say at the moment. 

Habitat for Humanity, a world-wide, faith-based organization that provides housing for low-income people by leveraging volunteerism, sometimes refer to their own philosophy as "the theology of the hammer", which means they aren't particularly concerned about the religious or philosophical convictions of their volunteers. As long as you can accurately use a hammer (or any of a variety of other constructions tools), and are willing to volunteer some time and services, you're in. It's a matter of getting the job done, to address basic and recognized human needs, without nitpicking over tenets of belief. To me, that's a great example of methodological humanism in action, without it being called that. They recognize the need of all people to "thrive" and live decently (in terms of housing, in this case), and not just survive, as Martin clearly points out. 

Nicely done series, by the way, Martin, and hope to see more. Glad you are taking the pains to further elucidate what I think is an important and very necessary perspective on how humanity might move forward by focusing on larger problems.

~ John

John Poole
John Poole

P.S. I should point out that Habitat, though it originated here in the U.S., is very much a world-wide organization these days. But I always think of them as some one just down the street from me. Hence my "here in the U.S." statement in my previous comment, which was somewhat unfortunate and not really intended. Apologies.

John Poole
John Poole

"...methodological humanism (an almost unbearably dry phrase if there ever was one)"

Oooops! :-D

It is rather dry and clinical sounding, isn't it? Although I believe it to be quite technically accurate. Perhaps it needs to remain a back-end technical term, and be front-ended by something more appealing. But by what, I'm at a loss to say at the moment. 

Here in the U.S., Habitat for Humanity, a faith-based organization that provides housing for low-income people by leveraging volunteerism, sometimes refer to their own philosophy as "the theology of the hammer", which means they aren't particularly concerned about the religious or philosophical convictions of their volunteers. As long as you can accurately use a hammer (or any of a variety of other constructions tools), and are willing to volunteer some time and services, you're in. It's a matter of getting the job done, to address basic and recognized human needs, without nitpicking over tenets of belief. To me, that's a great example of methodological humanism in action, without it being called that. They recognize the need of all people to "thrive" and live decently (in terms of housing, in this case), and not just survive, as Martin clearly points out. 

Nicely done series, by the way, Martin, and hope to see more. Glad you are taking the pains to further elucidate what I think is an important and very necessary perspective on how humanity might move forward by focusing on larger problems.

~ John

JenniferMFoss
JenniferMFoss

" By this I hope to be more inclusive..." Inclusiveness will always be a strength in my book. Anytime ones beliefs are challenged or dismissed, there is defensiveness. Defensiveness, in my experience, closes more minds and doors that might have actually opened to a new thought or idea. Right now with so many discussions going on around major societal changes like feminism or rape culture or tolerance for strangers we need openness; we need discussion and we need awareness.

Your description of methodological humanism (an almost unbearably dry phrase if there ever was one) points the way to have a discussion that is so desperately needed. The biggest drawback I see to this? The closed minds of others who will see this as an attack on religion or spiritual beliefs - or on anything for that matter. That closed mindedness or defensiveness becomes the way to exclude anyone or anything that is uncomfortable or new and to stifle discussion and return to shouting matches and name calling disguised as debate. Personally, I am done with that. It's time to teach something different because our old ways aren't working. Just a bare glance at the rhetoric around the shooting of school children in my home state and bombs in my old neighborhood shows me that.

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  1. […] of humanism, and should be a default position or standpoint for any humanist. Then read “Methodological Humanism – Beyond Belief and Disbelief“, which outlines the possibilities of agreeing on the issues that are important to all of the […]

  2. […] to define myself by what I stand for in life rather than what I don’t believe in. I call this “methodological humanism.” In essence, methodological humanism is a standpoint by which everyone, theist, agnostic, and […]

  3. […] to define myself by what I stand for in life rather than what I don’t believe in. I call this “methodological humanism.” In essence, methodological humanism is a standpoint by which everyone, theist, agnostic, and […]

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