Secular Person: A person who explains observations and feelings in natural, non-theistic, concrete ways.
Secular Humanism: A rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values – be they religious, ethical, social, or political – have their source in human instinct, experience, and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny (definition from The Humanist, May/June 1997).
Jew: A person of Jewish descent or any person who declares himself or herself to be a Jew; and who identifies with the community, history, ethical values, culture, civilization and fate of the Jewish people (adapted from the Resolution of the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, Second Biennial Conference, Brussels, Belgium, October 1, 1988). Jewish ethical values include (among others) love of learning, personal responsibility for our actions and their consequences, Tzedakah (duty vs. charity), social justice, respect for life, and love and enjoyment of life.
Secular Humanistic Jew: A person who belongs to and carries on the traditions of the Jewish people; who respects and works to increase human integrity and dignity; who explains all experience, including that of the Jewish people, in natural ways; who uses critical thinking bound by experience and tested in a public forum to evaluate explanations; and whose significant goals include among others increasing the happiness, freedom, social justice and progress of humankind.
Who is a Humanist?
A definition of humanism would be helpful. It is a word that is apt to get fuzzy Dr. Corliss Lamont, one of America’s leading humanist philosophers, has worked out a ten-point definition in his book The Philosophy of Humanism. Here these ten points have been condensed to five:
1. Humanism considers all forms of the supernatural as myth which man has developed in his long history to explain things he could not understand or control. It regards Nature as a constantly changing system of matter and energy which exists outside of any mind or consciousness.
2. Humanism believes that man is an evolutionary product of Nature, of which he is a part.
3. Humanism believes that human beings possess the power of solving their own problems; that they have a freedom of choice, although within certain objective limits.
4. Humanism holds as its highest goals this-worldly happiness, freedom and progress of all mankind.
5. Humanism believes in applying reason and scientific method to society – which means the full use of democratic procedures throughout all economic, political and cultural life.
This definition, in addition to de-emphasizing supernaturalism, contains an emphasis upon the ethics and ideals of brotherhood and social justice. These ideals and values, as they have found Jewish expression, are a basic ingredient of secular Jewishness, and they permeate secular Jewish education. This is not to say that religious education does not contain these values. It does. But religious education bases its reason for the socially-conscious values on God; Humanism bases it on Man.
Philosophical Foundations of Secular Humanistic Judaism
Secular Humanistic Jews are committed to behavior and practices that are consistent with the following principles and world view:
UNIVERSALISM: We recognize the need, and respect the right of all people to congregate in groups and live in dignity and harmony. We support a free and open society which enables enrichment of our own culture and permits us to share with surrounding cultures. As Jews and humans, we need to take our place in the world to work for the common good of humanity, to secure justice and fairness in society, to ensure equal rights and freedoms for all and to eliminate discrimination and intolerance.
JEWISH PLURALISM: There is unity in diversity and membership in the Jewish People should be open and inclusive. Only Jewish pluralism will guarantee the survival of the Jewish People.
JEWISH PEOPLEHOOD: We are a unique, not a chosen, people, among many unique peoples. We identify with the history, culture, and future of the Jewish People and are proud of our membership in it. We value the contributions of Jews and Judaism to the betterment of our world, and affirm the value of preserving Jewish identities.
JUDAISM: Judaism is the historical experience and cultural creator (civilization) of the Jewish People which has evolved, and will continue to evolve, based on the needs and influences of the time. Judaism consists of many traditions. Secular Humanistic Judaism is a logical result of the lessons of Jewish history that taught us that we are and must be self-reliant.
SOCIAL ETHICS: As social animals, humans cannot be self-fulfilled in isolation. We have a moral obligation to be self-reliant and to ensure conditions which encourage self-actualization for all. This can best be achieved in a democratic society where individual rights and group rights are balanced. We value all social structures that promote well being (i.e. friendship, family, community).
ETHICS: Ethics is the study of what humans ought to be and evolves out of experience and understanding of the consequences of our actions. All actions ought to satisfy human needs primarily for survival, pleasure and dignity, the harmonization of which leads to happiness. We should glean from all available sources the ethical values that serve these needs.
MORAL AUTHORITY: Human beings are the arbiters of morality and must have the freedom and power as well as the responsibility to be the masters of their own lives.
SOLVING PROBLEMS: Human beings are responsible for solving their problems and we are committed to the view that the application of reason and science can lead to the improvement of the human condition. We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving solutions.
PURPOSE OR MEANING OF LIFE: Self-actualization for every human being gives life purpose. Only the individual can create specific meaning in her or his life. Perpetuating life and improving its quality can add profound meaning to human life. We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
NATURE AND REALITY: Human beings are part of the evolving natural universe which we view through our senses and understand through rational thought. The universe exists independently of any individual and is free from supernatural intervention.
NATURE OF TRUTH: Truths can be discovered through reason using scientific method and empirical evidence by testing hypotheses generated from intuition, observation, faith or any other way. Truths are universal, not ethnic and the value of ideas is judged by their truthfulness, not their Jewishness. Uncertainty is a condition of life and our conception of truths evolve as our knowledge and understanding deepen.
*Adapted from Eva Goldfinger and Secular Humanist.
It should be noted particularly that the secular approach does not rule out the indispensable role of tradition and folklore in Jewish life and education. Without these aspects it could hardly be considered Jewish education. The holidays, therefore, are an integral part of our curriculum. The Bible stories, moreover, cannot be taught without an explanation of the important place which the idea of God held in the thinking of the ancient Hebrews.