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Humanism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 27 Jan 2011
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About the Author
Stephen Law is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London. He has written many books including several popular philosophy titles including The Philosophy Gym (Headline, 2003), Companion Guide to Philosophy (Dorling Kindersley, 2007), and Greatest Philosophers (Quercus, 2008). He is also the Editor of THINK, the journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy.
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This rips religious ideas of the concept of a 'supreme being' to shreds... and shows how utterly absurd it is, how our minds have been manipulated and controlled by the almightily powerful churches and their corrupt ideas for centuries...
Humans are far more adept at organising themselves and they need the freedom to do it... only Humanism offers that freedom... and it doesn't need to be justified... the justification to leave people alone and not religiousize them or their minds with corrupt ideas is the hallmark of a free mind and human race....
If we take a look around us the world over... religion is utterly destructive force for no good... there is nothing else on planet earth so utterly corrosive... and bad for our mental health... we need better ideas....
We're all humanists until we get corrupted. This book will show you why.
It's the sort of book you can read in a day or so (on the plane or or on the beach), and then quietly cogitate upon in your more thoughtful moments. Would that more 'philosophical' books were as comprehensible as this gentle analysis! But, as with all such subjects, there can never be the definitive answer - and so we go on searching!
As might be expected the author, who is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College of the University of London, begins by explaining the term ‘humanism’ in the context of this book. On the one hand, humanism may mean simply putting the welfare of humans at the forefront of our philosophy of life: such humanists may very well also be theists or deists. A more restrictive view of humanism is that of the Renaissance that swept aside the view of the Church as authority on all matters, spiritual and temporal, to be replaced by Protagoras’ view that ‘Man is the measure of all things’. Law comments: ‘personally, I would rather see the world as it is, than as I might like it to be’. This statement echoes the words of Carl Sagan, another humanist: ‘It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring’.
This is the line followed by the author. Such humanists are unbelieving, or at least sceptical, of the existence of gods or an afterlife so are almost invariably atheists. Those beliefs that are, or need not be, part of humanist belief are laid out very clearly in the introductory chapter.
Law then goes on in Chapter 1 to explore the history of humanism, from the ideas of ancient China, India and Greece, through the Renaissance and Enlightenment, up to the views of 20th Century humanists like Bertrand Russell and Peter Singer. Chapters 2 and 3 then discuss arguments for and against the existence of God: these are good but I think Mackie’s book ‘The Miracle of Theism’ is more detailed and therefore more informative. There is an excellent discussion in the next chapter of humanism and morality and how belief in a god is unnecessary to inspire a moral life. Then in Chapter 5 we have what might be considered at first sight a surprising interpretation of secularism – not that every individual should be non-religious but that the State should uphold freedom of the individual to follow whatever beliefs they choose, without any coercion.
This leads on in the final chapters to a discussion of religious indoctrination of children, supporting the Dawkins view of the practice as child abuse, and how humanism, even in the absence of belief in God, can still lead to a moral society, and one that is by no means without purpose for the individuals in it. The book ends with short sections of References, Further Reading and an Index. This is an excellent introduction to the subject.
Some reviewers have criticised this book for its emphasis on attacking religion. But one of the goals of humanism is precisely to provide a basis for morality and to give life a purpose - without all the falsehoods of religion. I do not find the arguments here unhelpful in that regard.
Howard Jones is the author of The World as Spirit and Evolution of Consciousness
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