What has “faith” got to do with humanism?
Our theme this month (June 2022) is Renewing Hope. The concept of “faith” is related to hope, though not exactly the same.
Some years ago, at a workshop on how congregations can work on social justice work, I introduced myself to a man who’d just given a presentation on working for social justice in interfaith contexts. I had on a badge saying my name and “Society for Ethical Culture.” He had never heard of Ethical Culture. He’d introduced himself earlier as both a trainer and an ordained Baptist minister. We were a bit pressed for time getting to the next event at the workshop. So, when he asked what Ethical Culture was, I simply said this: “We’re people who have faith in human worth.” “Faith in human worth.” “Oh, that’s deep,” he said, stepping back a moment, putting his hand to his chest, and taking that in.
Faith is one of those words that’s sometimes problematic within humanist circles. Are we in Ethical Culture “people of faith”? In the Ethical movement, we’ve said that we have faith in the human capacity for ethical growth, or that we have faith in human kindness. In 1876 Felix Adler gave a founding address that inspired the creation of the first Ethical Society. In that address, Adler said, “The time calls for action. Up, then, and let us do our part faithfully and well.” To what and to whom are we faithful?
Back in 2016, about the time of that encounter with the Baptism minister, I gave a talk here at RYSEC titled “The Faith of a Humanist” in which I tried to outline what is, for me, the faith that I practice. I don’t speak for everyone — but I hope it rings true for many. I include it below to consider as part of this month about “renewing hope.” This is from the time before we started recording on video, so it’s a readable and printable PDF.