Huston Smith on UUs: the Humanists

A follow-up to Boy in the bands » Huston Smith on UUs, if sideways.

I almost choked when I read, in a chapter called “Discerning the Signs of the Times” something I felt but hadn’t put into words. This is one item in a free-form list of how the religious landscape has changed. From page 159 of Why Religion Matters:

  • Item. Secular humanism is no longer the confident battle cry that it was when, in 1933, intellectuals gathered around John Dewey to hammer out the Humanist Manifesto. That initial manifesto was solidly mainstream. Beginning with Dewey himself, its signatories included recognized names in every field of culture — Isaac Asimov, John Ciardi, and B. F. Skinner among them. The second, updated manifesto (1973) already sounded more defensive than confident, and the third (1999) comes close to reading (dully) like a shutdown. Not a single recognized name appears among its signers.

This isn’t quite fair; there is, as always, Kurt Vonnegut. But otherwise, the list of original signers is rather thin of cultural leaders.

Of course, I’m assuming a goodly number of Unitarian Universalist ministers signed the last manifesto — known or unknown — but Smith well makes his point about the triumphant future that humanist once claimed for itself. I say assuming, because I looked over the whole list through the end of the letter D and the only names I recognized are the late Francis Crick, of DNA double helix fame, Edd Doerr (who’s claim to fame is being a humanist) and one colleague.

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