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Free of Charge 4 – “Humanist Manifesto II,” Kurtz and Wilson, Moral Devotion, Creative Imagination, and Free Speech


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/09/15


Dr. Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition for America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. He authored Complex variables (1975), Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt (2012) and An Atheist Stranger in a Strange Religious Land: Selected Writings from the Bible Belt (2017). He co-authored The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America (2003) with Kimberley Blaker and Edward S. Buckner, Complex Variables with Applications (2007) with Saminathan Ponnusamy, and Short Reflections on Secularism (2019), Short Reflections on American Secularism’s History and Philosophy (2020), and Short Reflections on Age and Youth (2020). He discusses: the course of a Jewish life, of a secular humanist life; Kurtz and Wilson in the opening; the varieties of referenced humanisms; “moral devotion and creative imagination”; freedom of speech and freedom of the press connected in a humanistic framework; opposition to governmental policies; and “freedom of association, and artistic, scientific, and cultural freedom.”

Keywords: freedom of expression, freedom of speech, Herb Silverman, Humanism, Humanist Manifesto II.

Free of Charge 4 – “Humanist Manifesto II,” Kurtz and Wilson, Moral Devotion, Creative Imagination, and Free Speech

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Humanist Manifesto II (1973) provided a much bleaker reflection, at its outset, on human nature than Humanist Manifesto I (1933). Humanist Manifesto II started with a joint statement by Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson:

It is forty years since Humanist Manifesto I (1933) appeared. Events since then make that earlier statement seem far too optimistic. Nazism has shown the depths of brutality of which humanity is capable. Other totalitarian regimes have suppressed human rights without ending poverty. Science has sometimes brought evil as well as good. Recent decades have shown that inhuman wars can be made in the name of peace. The beginnings of police states, even in democratic societies, widespread government espionage, and other abuses of power by military, political, and industrial elites, and the continuance of unyielding racism, all present a different and difficult social outlook. In various societies, the demands of women and minority groups for equal rights effectively challenge our generation.

As we approach the twenty-first century, however, an affirmative and hopeful vision is needed. Faith, commensurate with advancing knowledge, is also necessary. In the choice between despair and hope, humanists respond in this Humanist Manifesto II with a positive declaration for times of uncertainty.

As in 1933, humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to live and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.

Those who sign Humanist Manifesto II disclaim that they are setting forth a binding credo; their individual views would be stated in widely varying ways. This statement is, however, reaching for vision in a time that needs direction. It is social analysis in an effort at consensus. New statements should be developed to supersede this, but for today it is our conviction that humanism offers an alternative that can serve present-day needs and guide humankind toward the future. (American Humanist Association, 1973)

Smart men, Kurtz and Wilson, however, as with personal sensibilities for me, I take early enthusiasm with some salting and other flavouring to the stew of Humanism as an evolving ethical philosophy in which the prior “earlier statement” or early enthusiasm seemed “far too optimistic.” 

In their case, “Nazism has shown the depths of brutality of which humanity is capable,” as well as “other totalitarian regimes.” In fact, even the perennial issue fought for now, “In various societies, the demands of women and minority groups for equal rights effectively challenge our generation” with the ever-present issue of “traditional theism” or the “outmoded faith” seen in “Salvationism.” Humanism as part – ahem – salvation from these “false hopes” or “false ‘theologies of hope’ and messianic theologies.” Freedom of expression is tapped here some more with some emphasis on “creativity.” It comes in many forms throughout the world as a tendency in human thought, “Many kinds of humanism exist in the contemporary world. The varieties and emphases of naturalistic humanism include ‘scientific,’ ‘ethical,’ ‘democratic,’ ‘religious,’ and ‘Marxist’ humanism. Free thought, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, deism, rationalism, ethical culture, and liberal religion all claim to be heir to the humanist tradition.” They spoke astutely to “cultivation of moral devotion and creative imagination” as “an expression of genuine ‘spiritual’ experience and aspiration” in which the spirit of freedom of expression is, well, expressed or well expressed. More directly, they speak to “freedom of speech and the press… the legal right of opposition to governmental policies… freedom of association, and artistic, scientific, and cultural freedom…” as well as the need to “safeguard, extend, and implement the principles of human freedom evolved from the Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights, the Rights of Man, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” To humanists, in regards to freedom of expression, in spite of the tempered Humanism in Humanist Manifesto II – in the opinions of Kurtz and Wilson (and myself, and likely many others) – compared to Humanist Manifesto I, these represent ‘sacred’ values of a kind. 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[1],[2]: You asked how my Jewish life and secular humanist life have changed. 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 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.


American Humanist Association. (1973). Humanist Manifesto II. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Secular Coalition for America; Founder, Secular Humanists of the Low Country; Founder, Atheist/Humanist Alliance, College of Charleston.

[2] Individual Publication Date: September 15, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2021:


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