Posts filed under ‘Humanism’
I’m not interested in jumping into any religious debates currently, but I thought I’d shed some light by trying to sort out some definitions.
Atheist– There is/are no god(s) Theoretically could believe in an afterlife, magic, divination or other non-scientific proven things.
Agnostic– Knowledge of god(s) is unknowable- many people use it in the sense of “I’m not sure” or “I don’t care” which would be an Apatheist. More about the a/gnostic & a/theists axes here.
Skeptic– person who uses critical thinking, reason, and logic, though they may not be consistent in how they apply these tools! Could include religious people but communities of skeptics typically don’t. Skeptics originally were a school of Greek philosophy
Freethinker/Freethought– one who thinks freely, especially in matters of religion and philosophy- originally this was used for Deists and people who questioned the doctrine of the Trinity, but has been mostly taken over by nontheists.
“None”– demographic rather than a self-identifier, person who has no institutional religious affiliation. This could include some Pagans.
Spiritual But Not Religious– many “nones” describe themselves as such, many Pagans do so as well, though I find the assumptions behind the division of “spirituality” with “religion” to be rather tiresome, I think we should listen SBNRs define this for themselves individually rather than just writing them off as flaky, which many mainstream religious folks and atheists alike often do.
Nontheist– includes atheists, agnostics. Depending on how you want to define things, a pantheist, deist, animist or ancestor venerator (with no deities) could also be nontheists. This isn’t typically a self-identifier, but I use “nontheistic pagans” as a broad term for pagan-identified folks who are less deity-focused. (If I ever get someone’s identity/label/tradition wrong please let me know)
Humanism– philosophy or life-stance that focuses on human needs, this life, a positive view of the body and the world, humans making the effort to improve themselves and the world, reason, critical thinking and the scientific method. Typically a humanist is at least agnostic or not focused on questions of the existence of gods, spirits and the afterlife.
An older definition of humanism (pre Humanist Manifesto) that is still used particularly in educational settings, is of Renaissance humanism, belief in the value of individual freedom of expression, education in the humanities, exploration of what it means to be human. This is the sense that I might use it for myself, but it requires so much explaining and disclaiming that I don’t usually bother!
Secular Humanist– pretty much the same as the first definition of humanism.
Religious Humanist– Humanists who want to have rituals, celebrations of rites of passage and/or the seasons, possibly buildings/organizational structures similar to churches, and sometimes humanist celebrants and chaplains who officiate at ceremonies or provide ethical or spiritual counseling. Religious humanists can be found in Unitarian Universalism, the Ethical Society/Ethical Culture, Sunday Assemblies, Jewish humanist groups, and various forms of Paganism, Buddhism- Secular Buddhism, Nontheist Friends (Quakers) and various people who attend church services because they like the community/music/etc. even if they aren’t sure how much of it they believe in.
Religious Naturalism– viewing the Earth, universe in a reverential manner, as a mystery, way of seeking meaning, based in scientific inquiry. This may be the “new” religious humanism. Spiritual Naturalism is another version.
Anti-theist– one opposed to belief/worship of God(s), who wants to convince religious people to leave religion behind. Please note that not all atheist activists, even those who actively criticize religion are necessarily anti-theists. Often it’s hard to tell though since they typically conflate all religion with fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. I would typically exclude these guys from humanism, whether secular or religious, since they treat most humans with such disdain. Interestingly, I’ve mostly seen this used pejoratively, but I’m starting to see people self-identify with it. Another person I know uses it as “I believe gods exist, but I want nothing to do with them!”.
Pantheism– seeing God/the Divine as the same as the Universe/nature
Universal Pantheist Society-includes pantheists, panentheists, cosmotheists, religious naturalists etc.
World Pantheist Movement– scientific/natural pantheism, broke off from the UPS and is now larger
Panentheism– sees God/the Divine as both pervading and transcending the Universe
Secularism– Not the Same as Atheism! In an United States context it can mean separation of church and state- state secularism. A secularist may advocate for the rights of nonreligious people, and ending forms of religious privilege, dissuade religious influence over political decision-making and public discourse- they can be religious or non-religious on a personal level. Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals in the United States often claim that advocacy for separation of church and state and loss of Christian privilege is “creeping secularism/secular humanism” and is an erosion of their religious freedom. Seriously, for years I didn’t know secular humanists were a real group of people, because they just sounded like Jerry Falwell’s imaginary bogeymen!
I am a skeptic, a freethinker, and a humanist. I don’t believe these labels exclude theists of various kinds, yet that is how they are often used, at least by implication. Perhaps if I use them in lowercase, it makes it a little clearer that I am using them more broadly. A skeptic is one that does not accept claims without carefully scrutinizing them, and a freethinker is one who thinks for themselves, rather than rigidly following the dogmas of authority figures without question. (Said authorities can be religious, secular or political)
Humanist, on the other hand is a little trickier to define. In general, it is a philosophy of human dignity & independence from dogma, and reliance on reason and science. I don’t think that conflicts with a belief in some sort of divine being(s) While I am probably not 100% sure of the existence of God(s), I have a sense of the sacred, the power of ritual & community, and I seek the Divine, or more simply a connection to nature, the universe, my inner self, and others.
Here are some of my beliefs & ideas that I consider humanist:
- Humans are intrinsically morally neutral, not born sinful without commiting any wrong. Or as the Unitarians put it: “We affirm the inherent dignity and worth of every person”.
- The human body, and sexuality (if practiced between consenting adults) are beautiful, valuable, and we should be proud of our bodies and our sexual nature. There is nothing dirty or shameful about them.
- We can and should be moral & ethical, regardless of whether we are religious. We do not need the pressure of God(s) and/or clergy to spur us to ethical behavior. In fact, the idea that one only acts morally due to divine commands and/or rewards in the afterlife is in of itself immoral.
- It is important to focus on this life, and living it to the fullest, rather than an afterlife which may or may not exist.
- Humans can, and should try to make the world a better place, both for each other, and for the natural world as a whole.
- The scientific method is a good way of learning about the universe. Science does not conflict with religion, rather it complements it.
- We should all be allowed think and speak for ourselves, and engage in civil debate in public and private with others who disagree.
- God(s) may or may not exist, be if he/she/they do, humans reserve the right to not worship them without fear of punishment. Honoring and worshipping a divine entity should be done out of love and reverence, not out of fear.