I think that all people need to have some kind of higher goals in their life. Humans and human societies can still evolve when we put our minds and some real effort into it. We have done it in the past many times, and we can do it in the future also.
To reach a goal one has to have one. A goal cannot be anything that we already have, so we must set our goals in such a way that they will improve the current situation. The basic ideas of humanism have already permeated our society and have changed it tremendously for the better and have as such clearly shown their worth.
At the core of humanism is the idea of human dignity. At its core is the idea of value of every human life. This idea has been already largely accepted in western societies. However, this is not the case in the Islamic countries, where people can still be stoned just to set an example.
Humanism grows from the belief that humanity can save itself only when it believes in itself and in the possibility to improve the human condition. Humanism grows from the fact that humanity's good and redeeming qualities will in the end always override the bad ones. This has happened in the past for tens of thousands of years and it has made possible the survival of the human race so far.
I fear that a big difference between religious people and humanists is that the deeply religious people are all too often pessimists at the core. They seem to fear that bad qualities of human species will win in the end. On the other hand, humanists just could be optimists, who generally think the good will prevail, because being good benefits the person and the whole society more.
Of course, in humanism there is a lot of idealism. However, that is quite allowed, as humanism is not a scientific theory. It is just an ideology, and its basic ideas or belief in social justice, equality and freedom of thought are just human ideas of how things should be to ensure maxinal happiness to humans.
Human societies have evolved to become better places to live because people have had ideas like humanism on how things can be improved. Humanism has been a central engine in that improvement. It is at all not just wishful thinking to say that spreading of humanistic ideas has improved the lot of very many humans.
The spread of humanistic principles has already put on end on many kinds cruel and inhuman forms of criminal punishments, liberated millions of slaves and improved the lot of countless number of women, disabled and old people. Thanks to spread oh humanistic ideas many societies have taken more responsibility for well-being of all members of the society. This has happened in all of the countries where humanistic ideas have had a chance to guide development at least to a degree.
However, humanistic core ideas have become so embedded in many other ideologies that we can hardly see their existence. The western social democracy has been a main force in changing the western societies into more human and humanistic direction. However, it is hard to say what has been the real effect of the socialist ideas or of the humanistic ideas that the democratic socialist movements adopted very early on.
Many Christian movements also adopted the central ideas of the humanistic movement in the 19th century. During the last century these ideas were, in fact, adopted by most of the mainstream political movements in the western world and even by the liberal parts of the right-wing parties. However, one must still exclude the extreme right, which still rather universally opposes very many practical implementations of humanistic basic ideas.
Humanism does not need to be "true" in a scientific sense at all to be of good value and a thing that benefits mankind. It can well be just a part of the necessary toolkit we need to make our societies better, even if we can quite clearly see the benefits the rise of humanistic ideas have given to humanity.
It can well be just a very good estimate, even if the results of applying humanist ideas on societies during the last millennium have clearly shown its beneficial effects. We very soon enter the realm of faith when we consider matters that concern the practical organization of the society. However, there is good proof that certain things or ideas have been beneficial for the society, even if there is always other ideas that can benefit the society in some other ways.
One must still choose the things that one thinks that are important and have faith in some values and ideas, the likes of social justice, political liberty and equality. Humanists generally differ from religionists in that they do not think that they are carriers of the Only and Final Truth.
They just have a good enough estimate of a good enough truth. So good, in fact, that humanistic ideas are widely used as a guideline in matters concerning the composition and structure of our society. However, this is not at all acknowledged every time.
Our survival as a species has surely been caused by a composition of all human traits and abilities. One cannot say that only violence or only the loving nurture have got us here. All the things and features humans have in common have participated in the process.
However, love, understanding, care and compassion have not gone away even on the darkest of hours of humanity, when mankind had been trampled under the hooves of horses of the bloody conquerors. Times have eventually always changed for the better and civil societies have risen to take place of the empires built up by the violent and bloody conquerors.
This quest for betterment is noit an inevitable quality of humans as a species. However, it is a learned thing which has been spreading among humanity for just a few thousand years. The practical superiority of peaceful and humanistic societies has just been more and more widely understood.
More societies have risen into a level where a need for stable and sound environment has overtaken the overwhelming greed. This is the greed that drove men to bloody conquests and building of empires in the bad old times. When it is restrained we can build more human societies.
(This piece was completely remfurbished on 17th of July, 2012)
“That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” -Carl Sagan