The Literature of Humanism, by John Hoad

In addressing the topic, I first asked myself how I would define it.  Does it mean: Writings by Humanists? Literature suitable for Humanists?  Literature promoting Humanism? Or literature that informs our Humanism?  I settled on: Literature that informs and enriches our understanding of Humanists-as read from a Humanist perspective.

The first task then is to define”Humanist Perspective.”  My attempt at a’ definition would run as follows: Humanism is a way of stating that our perception of reality is always an exercise of human construing; that is, that religion, art, science, are all human representations of reality.  Otherwise put, Humanism is a paradigm of conceptual leverage on reality that places the fulcrum of conceptual leverage inside the human mind and human experience.  Humans can only know humanly: we can only process reality within human frames of reference.  To unpack this further, one would have to say more about the selective criteria by which we would determine what a “human frame of reference” can only process reality within human frames of reference.  To unpack this further, one would have to say more about the selective criteria by which we would determine what a “human frame of reference” can and cannot encompass.  But that is the task of a different discussion.

Also, the topic is being discussed within the setting of a conference in which Humanist leaders and leaders-in-training are sharing their approaches.  To be more comprehensive in one’s approach, it would be necessary to go further into the way in which Humanist leadership is a function of a “culture” and partakes of “representativeness” and “symbolism.”  Josef Pieper in “Leisure the Basis of Culture” argued that our ceremonies arise out of pauses from the work by which we survive, the pauses being used to reflect on and celebrate the rest of life.  Arthur Grimble in “Islands” drew the parallel between a Pacific islander and a Roman Catholic missionary as they sought to ensure the safe passage into the next life of persons for whom they felt a responsibility.  Does that kind of representative responsibility continue to be a part of Humanist leadership?  The question will be addressed further in the Humanist Institute.  Here we need only note that the reading of the leader will have a representative quality: When a member says of a leader, “He does a great deal of our reading for us”-this is what is at work.

I would suggest four areas of reading as important to the Humanist leader:

1. WINDOW ON THE WORLD.  This literature is the stuff that keeps us aware of what is going on in our world, read not to turn us into political specialists, if that’s not our ballpark, but to make us aware.  What we choose may change with the years.  My own selection includes Newsweek,  the Washington Post Weekly  edition, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,  the New York Review of Books,  and so on. Don’t neglect the comics and cartoons for their insight into human nature and for their tremendous impact nationally-witness Trudeau’s recent embroilments, or Bloom Country.