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so atheism and agnosticism don’t do it for you—are you man enough for secular humanism?

DID YOU GROW UP with a “normal” re­li­gion an then re­jected it and all tra­di­tional re­li­gions? Atheism and ag­nos­ti­cism not enough? Want the mar­vels of sci­ence re­vealed to you? Ever want to know what the hell the re­li­gious right are talking about when they men­tion Hu­manism, or (shudder) Sec­ular Hu­manism? 

First, Hu­manism is a phi­los­ophy based on sci­ence, not a re­li­gion. There is no God-with-a-capital-‘G’ in­volved; no gods-with-a-small-‘g’ in­volved. There is no su­per­nat­ural mumbo-jumbo or super-powerful, im­mortal be­ings. 

This essay re­cy­cles text that orig­i­nally ap­peared in sev­eral some­what re­lated ar­ti­cles that first ap­peared here in 2014.

Hu­manism is a philo­soph­ical and eth­ical stance that em­pha­sizes the value and agency of human be­ings, in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, and gen­er­ally prefers crit­ical thinking and ev­i­dence (ra­tio­nalism and em­piri­cism) over ac­cep­tance of dogma or su­per­sti­tion.

The meaning of the term hu­manism has fluc­tu­ated ac­cording to the suc­ces­sive in­tel­lec­tual move­ments which have iden­ti­fied with it. Gen­er­ally, hu­manism refers to a per­spec­tive that af­firms some no­tion of human freedom and progress.

In modern times, hu­manist move­ments are typ­i­cally non-religious move­ments aligned with sec­u­larism, and today hu­manism typ­i­cally refers to a non-theistic life stance cen­tered on human agency and looking to sci­ence rather than rev­e­la­tion from a su­per­nat­ural source to un­der­stand the world.” (Wikipedia)

Secular Humanism

Be­cause there is a Re­li­gious Hu­manism, which is an in­te­gra­tion of hu­manist eth­ical phi­los­ophy with some com­po­nents of re­li­gion, the des­ig­na­tion of Sec­ular Hu­manism em­braces human reason, ethics, so­cial jus­tice, and philo­soph­ical nat­u­ralism while en­tirely re­jecting re­li­gious dogma or su­per­nat­u­ralism as the basis for morality and decision-making.

Re­li­gious Hu­man­ists may not nec­es­sarily be the­ists or su­per­nat­u­ral­ists. For ex­ample, there are Chris­tian Hu­man­ists who are not the­ists or su­per­nat­u­ral­ists but be­lieve Jesus taught and lived hu­man­istic values and prin­ci­ples.

Many people who follow Hu­manism as a life-stance or phi­los­ophy are non-religious and atheist. The idea of Re­li­gious Hu­manism is con­cerning to some, and hence the term Sec­ular Hu­manism to make it clear that it leaves little or no room for re­li­gion.

Hu­manism gen­er­ally speaking is a moral phi­los­ophy that says we should be good hu­mans be­cause it’s good for hu­mans, and we are hu­mans. Whether or not you feel re­li­gion should have any part of that con­ver­sa­tion is the dif­fer­ence be­tween Re­li­gious Hu­manism and Sec­ular Hu­manism.” (Jim Palmer)

While the number of people who think of them­selves as hu­man­ists are only in the mil­lions, there are prob­ably tens of mil­lions more who would join the fray if they knew more about the move­ment and gave it a bit of ra­ti­o­ci­na­tion.

Humanism: photo of Issac Asimov, a former president of the American Humanists Association.

Issac Asimov was pres­i­dent of the Amer­ican Hu­man­ists As­so­ci­a­tion 1980-1984.

Is that all there is?

For readers not willing to ac­cept Wiki’s take on such things, the fol­lowing para­graphs were lifted from the in­tro­duc­tion to the web­site for the Council for Sec­ular Hu­manism. There they are ti­tled “Cu­rious about Sec­ular Hu­manism?

“If you’ve re­jected tra­di­tional re­li­gion (or were never re­li­gious to start), you may be asking, Is that all there is? It’s lib­er­ating to rec­og­nize that su­per­nat­ural be­ings are human cre­ations, that there are no such things as spirit or tran­scen­dence, that people are un­de­signed, un­in­tended, and re­spon­sible for them­selves.

For many, mere atheism (the ab­sence of be­lief in gods and the su­per­nat­ural) or ag­nos­ti­cism (the view that such ques­tions cannot be an­swered) aren’t enough.

It’s lib­er­ating to rec­og­nize that su­per­nat­ural be­ings are human cre­ations, that there are no such things as spirit or tran­scen­dence, that people are un­de­signed, un­in­tended, and re­spon­sible for them­selves.

Atheism and ag­nos­ti­cism are silent on larger ques­tions of values and meaning. If Meaning in life is not or­dained from on high, what small-‘m’ mean­ings can we work out among our­selves?

If eternal life is an il­lu­sion, how can we make the most of our only lives?

As so­cial be­ings sharing a god­less world, how should we co­exist?

For the ques­tions that re­main unan­swered after we’ve cleared our minds of gods and souls and spirits, many athe­ists, ag­nos­tics, skep­tics, and free­thinkers turn to sec­ular hu­manism.”

Humanism: photo of Gore Vidal, a former honorary president of the American Humanists Association.

Gore Vidal was Hon­orary Pres­i­dent of the Amer­ican Hu­manist As­so­ci­a­tion from April 2009 to his death on July 31, 2012.

Am I a secular humanist?

Years ago, Free In­quiry (a mag­a­zine fea­turing hu­manist ar­ti­cles pub­lished by the Council for Sec­ular Hu­manism) reg­u­larly ran a fea­ture on its in­side front cover on how to know if you are a sec­ular hu­manist. Based on memory, there were ei­ther 35 yes/no ques­tions or 35 true/false state­ments. ~

I was mildly or whole­heart­edly in ac­cord with 34 of the 35 of the state­ments! Using simple math, that would make me 97% of a sec­ular hu­manist. Any normal person might think that’s enough—hell, more than enough!

But not the sec­ular hu­man­ists: 97% just ain’t good enough. And the reason why is sim­pler than the math: ba­si­cally, the 34 pos­i­tives have less value than the single neg­a­tive.

What was the one question/statement that I could not an­swer with a re­sounding, de­fin­i­tive neg­a­tive reply:

“Do you be­lieve in God?” or “There is no God.”

So, the Big Bang Theory of Cre­ation posits ab­solutely nothing prior to the sub­atom­i­cally itty-bitty ini­tial sin­gu­larity that ap­peared as if by magic al­most 14 bil­lion years ago and then, for no known reason, ex­ploded into the uni­verse in which we live and of which we are a part of.

Be­fore that ini­tial sin­gu­larity was what? Nothing? The Void? God? So anyone who be­lieves that a cre­ator or a force be­yond human ken was per­haps the “prime mover” that bil­lions of human be­ings call “God” works for me! It seems to me that we have our hands more than full with living in, and trying to un­der­stand, the ex­plo­sion of that sin­gu­larity that is our home.

Maybe I’m a Mystical Skeptic

I am a skeptic. I am al­most a Hu­manist and al­most a Sec­ular Hu­manist. (Hah!) As I have pointed out else­where, I am al­ready the world’s one and only Mys­tical Lib­eral.

So maybe I am also the world’s sole Mys­tical Skeptic!

As someone once fa­mous once said, “So it goes.”

Humanism: photo of Kurt Vonnegut, recipient of the 1992 Humanist of the Year Award.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is Kurt Von­negut. I dis­cov­ered his novels in the ’60s and de­voured them along with his short sto­ries and non-fiction. Later I even en­joyed the movies they made of Mother Night and Slaugh­ter­house 5.

His most widely known state­ment about his be­liefs is, “I am a hu­manist, which means, in part, that I have tried to be­have de­cently without any ex­pec­ta­tion of re­wards or pun­ish­ment after I’m dead.” He was given the 1992 Hu­manist of the Year Award by the Amer­ican Hu­manist As­so­ci­a­tion.

PS: I just took the “How Hu­manist Are You? test on the Hu­man­ists UK web­site and scored 100%. But that’s not quite the same as Sec­ular Hu­manism …


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