Essay on Religious Humanism

Charles W. Vail


Human flourishing is at once an activity, an actuality, and an end. It comprises altogether those activities which actualize what it means to be distinctly human—namely, to be self-conscious and rational, intentional, and social... Human flourishing, in turn, requires the possession of certain basic goods and virtues, the goods being freedom and well-being and the virtues being those qualities that allow one to be true to one’s own human nature. .

“Spinoza’s best-known recommendation for achieving a life well lived came in the form of a system for ethical behavior and a prescription for a democratic state. But Spinoza did not think that following ethical rules and the laws of a democratic state would be sufficient for the individual to achieve the highest form of contentment, the sustained joy that he equates with human salvation. My impression is that most humans today probably would not think so either. Many people appear to require something more out of life beyond moral and law-abiding conduct; beyond the satisfaction of love, family, friendships, and good health; beyond the rewards that come from doing well whatever job one chooses (personal satisfaction, the approbation of others, honor, monetary compensation); beyond the pursuit of one’s pleasures and the accumulation of possessions; and beyond the identification with country and humanity. Many human beings require something that involves, at the very least, some clarity about the meaning of one’s life. Whether we articulate this need clearly or confusedly, it amounts to a yearning to know where we came from and where we are going, mostly the latter perhaps. What purpose greater than our immediate existence could life possibly have? And along with the yearning, there comes a response, in sharp focus or soft, and some purpose is either gleaned or desired.”

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