Five Reasons We Owe it to Children to Teach them About Humanism

Can you have morality without religion? Most definitely. There are many communities out there trying to live their based on reason and informed by science, and the most recognizable among them is perhaps humanism.

The UK’s local education authorities are adding humanism to Religious Studies programs at an increasing rate, but why bother? Well, with a growing percentage of people identifying as atheist, and atheism under threat from religious censure around the globe, this move is an important one.

But what is humanism? It can be difficult to define what humanism actually is because, though humanism has been around for centuries, the need for a robust but concise definition is relatively new.

However, the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy gives a simple overview that may serve us well:

Believing that it is possible to live confidently without metaphysical or religious certainty and that all opinions are open to revision and correction, [Humanists] see human flourishing as dependent on open communication, discussion, criticism and unforced consensus.

So why teach children and teenagers about humanism, and how can it help them get a more complete picture of the world?

1. Giving children the ability to think about what is right and wrong for themselves is crucial

Obviously without religion, humanism cannot rely on a strict and already established moral code. It therefore teaches children that morality must rely on other things like reason and logic. In turn, this encourages a child’scritical thinking skills and could help them think more deeply about how the world works and about how they would like to be treated and treat others.

For example, by recognizing that regardless of a person’s religious faith, there are some fundamental things we can agree are important to us all, say being allowed to pursue our dreams reasonably without discrimination or interference from others, children can begin to recognize the similarities we all share and thus may be more likely to treat each other with respect and kindness.

2. Humanism encourages children to think about the meaning of their lives

Without religion there is no divinely ordained plan for our lives. While this may be a scary thought for some, for others it can be incredibly liberating. For children and teenagers who identify as atheist or agnostic, humanism can give them a foundation on which to build their future goals and could empower them to recognize that it is likely we only get one shot at life, and so to do their best with what they have been given, to fight for equality and, in general, to make the world a better place.

Here’s a video from the British Humanist Association on how humanists can find happiness in knowing their lives are not being controlled by some unseen god-like force and find meaning in discovering the many meanings in their existence.

3. Humanism encourages compassion

One of the key notions in humanism is compassion guided by reason. Humanism can teach children that without a divinely ordained meaning to their lives, and with a need to think critically about the world and face the hard facts of our existence, a compassionate view toward others, their failings and their missteps is not only reasonable, it is vital to helping each other to grow and making the world a better place.

Compassion in humanism recognizes that we are all capable of making mistakes but that, without a god to judge us or inspire us to be better, it is up to us to do the work of being kind even when kindness is difficult to muster, and cultivating our own sense of virtue. This can be applied on a day to day level, for instance to encourage people to think about how they treat their classmates and not to bully others, and on a macro level where older children can think about bigger questions like why people may believe capitalism as the system is applied now has failed those most in-need.

4. We can do good in the world without religion

For me, this is one of the key things that I believe humanism has to offer: teaching children young and old that kindness and acts of generosity do not depend on religious tenets, nor should they hinge on us being rewarded at the end of our lives.

There are millions of people doing good in the world simply because they recognize that helping others is not only the right thing to do, it’s desirable for making the world a better place for all others.

5. Humanism offers a community for teenagers without belief

We often discuss an “atheist community,” but on its own atheism and agnosticism are not actionable, and nor do they give a voluntary community with shared ideals beyond a simple non-belief. Humanism does that, and for children who do not have a belief in any kind of deity or afterlife, teaching them about humanism could provide a much-needed sense of belonging and a means to accessing a wider community that can encourage them to think critically about the world and support them as they develop their own ethics.

Towarzystwo Humanistyczne
Humanist Assciation

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