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Humanism and Manifestos


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): HerbSilverman.Com

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/09/16

Scott Jacobson: Over the course of a Jewish life, of a secular humanist life in particular, how has the individualized Humanism changed for you?

Dr. Herb Silverman:  I grew up in an Orthodox community and had an Orthodox Bar Mitzvah in 1955 when I was 13. My family mainly instilled in me that I shouldn’t trust goyim (gentiles) because of what they did to us in the Holocaust, and that I should marry a nice Jewish girl. (My wife, Sharon Fratepietro, is not Jewish.) In Hebrew school, my rabbi refused to answer my question, “Who created God?” He told me the question was inappropriate, but I assumed he just had no answer. One of my best teachers in Hebrew school asked, “Why does the Torah (Hebrew Bible) say ‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob,’ instead of the more concise ‘God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’?” His explanation was that each had a different god, and we must search for and find our own god. I took his statement seriously and my search, beginning at age 12, led me to a god who did not exist. I decided to follow all the things in the Torah that made sense to me, like performing mitzvahs (good deeds), but I stopped doing things like fasting on Yom Kippur, the day that God allegedly determines who shall live and who shall die in the coming year. Perhaps that is when I became a humanist without having even heard the term.
      As an adult, I first learned about Humanism from the American Humanist Association, and later became a board member of that organization. I still considered myself a Jew because there is no requirement for a Jew to believe in God. I eventually found a proper home for myself in Judaism when I learned about and joined the Society for Humanistic Judaism (, with its atheist rabbis. SHJ is a member organization of the Secular Coalition for America and has an active social justice program known as Jews for a Secular Democracy.

Jacobsen: Do you agree with Kurtz and Wilson in the opening, as an aside?

Silverman: I mostly agree with them that Humanist Manifesto I was too optimistic about what the state of the world would be like after 1933, and that we need a more realistic vision. One sentence I was uncomfortable with was “Faith, commensurate with advancing knowledge, is also necessary.” I prefer to leave the word “faith” to theists. The authors correctly add that traditional theism, especially faith in a prayer-hearing God, makes no sense. It was wise of them to say, “New statements should be developed to supersede this,” one of which is known as Humanist Manifesto III. We should note that these manifestos are written on paper by humans, not written on stone tablets by an alleged deity, and no humanist is obliged to follow all of their assertions. 

Jacobsen: How are the varieties of referenced humanisms connected via the idea of freedom of expression?

Silverman: I think all these referenced humanisms include freedom of expression, whether stated explicitly or implicitly. The humanists I know all think everybody has the right to express ideas and opinions freely, though we should try to avoid making false or misleading statements.  Some people consider themselves theistic humanists, and might wish to silence those in their flock who have problems believing in the type of god they espouse. My idea of humanism precludes supernaturalism.

Jacobsen: What is this “moral devotion and creative imagination” inherent in the idea of freedom of expression as played out in the lives of freer human beings?

Silverman: I think we have a moral obligation to speak out against injustices, and it helps to imagine what kinds of injustices are suffered by people who are viewed as different from us in artificial ways.  Unfortunately, some people use their imagination to develop “fake news” and consider this to be an appropriate form of freedom of expression. The moral problem with such freedom of expression is that fake news can unfairly hurt innocent people. One example is known as “Pizzagate.” This was a baseless rumor circulated in 2016 that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were heading up a child sex-trafficking ring out of a specific Washington pizzeria. Based on such rumors and hate speech, a gunman with an assault rifle opened fire at the pizzeria, hoping to save the alleged abused children. 

Jacobsen: How are freedom of speech and freedom of the press connected in a humanistic framework? How are they being attacked in the United States today?

Silverman: Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Humanists support this right to speak out verbally, in writing, and by action. Some Americans want to take away the right to burn the American flag, which thankfully the US Supreme Court ruled was constitutionally protected speech. There are also attempts to censor works of art that touch on sensitive issues like religion or sexuality.I think it is fine for people to attack verbally or in writing what someone else says. The problem occurs when someone thinks he has the right to use intimidation, threats, or violence. The way to attack bad speech is with good speech. I still believe the saying I learned as a child. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” 

Jacobsen: How is opposition to governmental policies being prevented in America today?

Silverman: Opposition to government policies is not being prevented. Many individuals and media have spoken against President Trump’s policies (or lack thereof) on the pandemic, healthcare, climate change, international alliances, and countless social justice issues. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the Republican-controlled US Senate gives Trump whatever he wants. So, opposition to government policies can best be achieved by Americans voting in the upcoming election.

Jacobsen: Regarding “freedom of association, and artistic, scientific, and cultural freedom,” what brings these together in one bundle so as to unite them under a banner of common expansion of freedom for more humanistic societies?

Silverman: Humanistic societies recognize that humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment for the greater good of humanity. Humanism promotes democracy, civil liberties, human freedoms, separation of religion and government, and elimination of discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, or national origin. Humanists respect the scientific method and recognize that we are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change, and that ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Silverman.
Silverman: You’re most welcome.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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