One of the pillars of foundational religious thought that Unitarian Universalism rests upon is that of “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit” (from the Sources, which are part of our Association’s bylaws). Dictionary.com defines humanism as “any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate,” or “a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God.”
But what does that look like in practice? The Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbons, who serves the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, Minnesota, explores a “Humanist Identity” in this sermon from September of 2006. Rev. Gibbons is a member of the board of HUUmanists, and co-dean of The Humanist Institute.
humanism, Kendyl Gibbons, living faith, philosophy, reason, sources, tradition
from “Humanist Identity”
by the Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbons
Whether we are considering the exercise of leadership in this amorphous and sometimes fractious larger movement of humanism, or examining what is distinctive in our approach to the celebration of community, or bringing the voice of this congregation’s unique perspective into conversation among local Unitarian Universalists, many of us carry with us, as I do, the label of humanism. And as we approach the celebration of our 125th year as an institutional participant in the faith community of Minneapolis, it is worth asking again, what does it mean to be humanist? When we subscribe to that identity as a congregation, what are we claiming for and about ourselves? What resources does that identity offer us, and what kind of accountability does it ask of us? Of course, these questions do not have pat answers –- indeed, they have engaged the attention of some very fine minds for a century and a quarter right here, and I do not expect to dispose of them neatly this morning. Nevertheless, I think there are at least four things we can be assured of about what it means to embrace a humanist identity. It means, first of all, that we own a history together. Second, it means that we affirm a certain set of core values, specifically freedom, reason, and respect. A third implication is that we are engaged in a process of ongoing inquiry. And finally, it means that our conduct in all settings and circumstances, will be seen as representative of how humanists generally think and behave. Let’s unpack each of these four elements a bit.