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- "You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."
- –Mahatma Gandhi
- "The four characteristics of humanism are curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race."
- –E.M. Forster
Historical Context Edit
According to the British Humanist Association, secular humanism is: “1) putting human beings and other living things at the centre of your moral outlook; 2) seeing the world as a natural place and looking to science and reason to make sense of it; and 3) promoting and supporting human flourishing across all frontiers, and championing human rights for everyone.”
These humanist concepts have been around since at least 1500 BC in various Indian and Asian philosophies. In the 6th Century BC, Gautama Buddha expressed a skeptical attitude towards the supernatural and the “soul”; Zarathustra held that humans were thinking beings dignified with choice and agency. Greek philosophers from Xenophanes to Plato sought to explain the world in terms of human reason, and Epicurus concisely summarized human-centered approaches to achieving happiness. In the Middle Ages, most Muslim scholars pursued rational and scientific interpretations of existence in their writings about individualism, secularism, skepticism and liberalism ... all humanist concepts.
But in Europe, humanism came late to civilization. Catholicism had a strong presence until the Renaissance, and it wasn't until a rediscovery of the “classics” by Italian poets that brought humanism back. Francessco Petrarca (better known to most as Petrarch) in the 1300s is often called the “Father of Humanism”; his discovery and translation of Cicero’s lost letters into the common vernacular is also credited with initiating the Renaissance. The growing endorsement of classical studies by scholars in the new universities – the studia humanitatis programs that consisted of grammar, poetry, rhetoric, history and moral philosophy – spread the concept of a secular approach to understanding across borders. Aided by an outpouring of rediscovered or newly translated Greek and Roman manuscripts by the likes of Aristotle, Cicero and Livy; these works were full of fresh, radical, even avant-garde ideas.