This chapter provides conceptual tools for mapping the role of humor in humanist communities. First, it sets parameters for the study, emphasizing humanist organizations’ self-definitions, a theory of humor based in current research, and atheist standup comedy as a data set to explore. Broadly, the chapter follows the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s 2002 “Amsterdam Declaration,” which sees humanism as ethical, rational, and supporting of democracy and civil rights; insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility; is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion; values artistic creativity and imagination; and is a life stance aiming at maximum possible fulfillment. Next, it investigates the role of humor in the construction of atheist identity and communities. Finally, it suggests some other ways of looking at standup comedy to rethink and expand the boundaries of what constitutes humanist humor.
J. Sage Elwell
This essay begins with the observation that there was a time when art was religious and yet today contemporary art is overwhelmingly atheistic. To understand how and why art and religion split, this essay looks to the Renaissance as a pivotal moment in art history when the arts turned from religious obligation to artistic exploration. Specifically, this essay focuses on the impact that economic changes, the progress of science, and the rise of humanism in fifteenth and sixteenth century Europe had on the divorce of art from religion. These factors—patronage, a scientific worldview, and a humanistic philosophy—constitute a threefold force that moved art away from religion, and importantly, continues to function as a wedge between the two.