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Humanism is the idea and "life stance" that humans, not knowing what goes on outside the natural world (if anything), are all we have in this reality, and that human reason must help us act morally. It is often associated with rationalism, but rationalism does not necessarily have any moral implications. It is also associated with atheism and agnosticism, specifically in the guise of secular humanism, although the two certainly aren't the same thing; humanism is where atheism and agnosticism would turn to for moral guidance, as it can't really get it from a divine source, for example.
 What humanism is, and what it is not
There are many branches of humanist philosophy, but all have in common recognizing the intrinsic worth of all human beings. Humanism also assumes that people have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong without the aid of a supernatural being or its edicts.
Many humanists believe in God — in fact, humanism as we know it began with medieval Christians enamored with the works of the Greeks and Romans. Secular humanists often don't, but in general consider God irrelevant. As a result it's become a snarl word among the Religious Right.
 Christian and Renaissance Humanism
The origins of humanism lay in the Italian Renaissance beginning in the 14th and 15th centuries. The rise of wealthy merchant classes in city-states such as Florence and Padua increased demand for notaries and other bureaucrats, which in turn increased demand for educational institutions. The nascent humanist movement sought to revolutionize education by opposing the scholastic philosophy of the age and returning to classical Greek and Roman texts. Renaissance humanists such as Petrarch, while remaining devoutly Christian, put more focus on worldly affairs and human morality as opposed to supernatural matters. The tradition of Christian humanism sprang out of this larger movement. Christian humanists such as Desiderius Erasmus were generally reformist Catholics who opposed Protestantism and instead sought to reform the Church from within.
 The development of modern humanism
Humanism began to take on its more modern form during the 18th and 19th centuries. Humanism became markedly more secular, and even atheistic. In addition, increasing emphasis was put on the importance of science. August Comte's Religion of Humanity could be considered one of the earliest modern humanist projects. The related Ethical Culture movement also developed during this period.
 Attacks on humanism
 From the religious perspective
Some fundamentalist propagandists will try to scare you with a document called the Humanist Manifesto. It really isn't that bad, though not every humanist is going to agree with it as it was written by religious humanists. It just sounds scary because it ends in "-ist Manifesto." Go on, read it. Them, actually; there's three of them. It won't hurt you. Though you should probably also read A Secular Humanist Declaration and the IHEU's Amsterdam Declaration 2002 as well.
 From the antihumanist perspective
Antihumanists oppose humanism on philosophical grounds, arguing that "human reason" is only an illusory source of morality, as it is only a reflection of societal norms and social practices and nothing intrinsically special. Philosophers such as Michel Foucault argued that humanism presented a teleological narrative of history focusing on "progress" and that humanism promoted an essentialist concept of human nature. Animal rights activists also criticize humanism on the grounds that it is speciesist.
 See also
- The Council for Secular Humanism
- British Humanist Association
- American Humanist Association
- International Humanist and Ethical Union