The most important humanist beliefs are that that we can live good lives without religion or a belief in God, and that we can know what is good by using reason, experience and empathy with others, not by reference to religious rules and traditions. Most people who call themselves humanists:
1. do not believe in God: they may be agnostic or atheist;
2. believe that we understand the world and what is true though experience and reason;
3. believe that people, whatever their backgrounds, have much in common. They believe that many, perhaps most, of our moral values are shared, because they are based on shared human nature and needs, and what works best when people have to live together.
4. believe that this life is all there is – there is no afterlife and that the rewards and punishments for the way we live our lives are here and now; so we should make the best use we can of our lives.
Humanist beliefs are often arrived at independently, by evaluating the beliefs around one and thinking about how well they relate to the real world and one’s own understanding.
Some humanist parents pass on their beliefs, though usually within a liberal framework of education and discussion which would allow children to choose their own worldview.
Many humanists read or hear something – perhaps in a book, a broadcast, a conversation, a humanist funeral, or an RE or Philosophy lesson – which they realise expresses their own beliefs. “Now I know what I believe!” is a fairly common reaction to learning about humanism.
Beliefs translate into practices for humanists in two main ways:
1. in trying to live good lives by the light of reason and experience;
2. in trying to avoid hypocrisy; humanists are not “don’t knows”, and having arrived at their beliefs by thinking deeply, tend to be disinclined to compromise over matters such as participating in worship or calling themselves “Christians” for convenience. For this reason, humanists have developed their own ceremonies to mark the significant stages of life.
That said, there are no obligatory practices for humanists. They may choose to join a humanist organisation or to seek out other humanists for comradeship and support – or not; they may choose humanist ceremonies for rites of passage, or opt for civil ceremonies or none at all.