World Humanist Day is celebrated annually around the world on the June solstice (21 June). Its main aim is to promote the positive values of Humanism.
Humanism is a philosophical movement favoured by those who reject religious and supernatural ideologies. It promotes critical thinking over dogma. Humanists live their life according to a set of values that prioritise scientific reasoning and empathy for other human beings. They believe that we are whole in and of ourselves, and that our good behaviour and civility is not reliant on anything except a true and honest desire to be decent people.
Humanism is thought to have begun in Italy in the late 14th century, spreading to the rest of Europe in the mid-15th century and by the 16th century. Some say it was the dominant intellectual movement within the Renaissance. Back then, humanism was primarily about reviving classical learning methods, literary knowledge, and linguistic skills, as opposed to an overarching approach to life. It became the humanism we’re more familiar with in the mid-1800s when the word was used by German historian Georg Voigt to describe a philosophy centred on humankind.
World Humanist Day began in America in the 1980s, but has since grown in to a worldwide event. It is regarded by some as the only holiday in the world that celebrates free thought world. Some countries adopt a different theme each year, whilst others promote Humanism generally.
The way World Humanist Day is celebrated varies considerably, reflecting the individuality and non-dogmatism of Humanism as a whole. Activities ranging from parties, dinners, picnics, conferences and activist gatherings are staged across the globe. Questions often discussed at events on this day include: What drives your choices and makes you be a decent person? Is it a fear that you’ll be punished by some higher power? Are you pursuing some great gift in the afterlife and this is what controls your behaviour? Or is it simply that to behave in a way that treats other people with decency and respect is enough and in fact the best, motivation we need?
Well-known supporters of World Humanist Day include the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, best-selling author Phillip Pullman, the philosopher AC Grayling, and the comedian Tim Minchin.
“Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.” (Kurt Vonnegut Jr)