The views of humanists have been regularly misrepresented and demonized by many over the years (especially within the Christian community). The false claims against humanism and humanists are many and varied. Here are a few examples:
“Humanism is the most fraudulently displayed and dangerous religion in America today. And it is a religion. Please don’t be deceived into believing that humanism is just a philosophy.” – Wilson Adams of Truth Magazine.
Let’s get one thing straight – secular humanism is not a religion. It’s true that the term humanism has many meanings and that humanism comes in a variety of flavors. For this discussion we are talking about secular humanists and religious humanists. Many (I’d say most) atheists are secular humanists (whether they know it or not). These two groups have more in common than you might think.
“Secular and Religious Humanists both share the same worldview and the same basic principles. This is made evident by the fact that both Secular and Religious Humanists were among the signers of Humanist Manifesto I in 1933, Humanist Manifesto II in 1973, and Humanist Manifesto III in 2003. From the standpoint of philosophy alone, there is no difference between the two. It is only in the definition of religion and in the practice of the philosophy that Religious and Secular Humanists effectively disagree.”
Then, there’s Newt Gingrich’s claim that atheists and secularists (aks humanists) are a threat to America.
SAN ANTONIO — Newt Gingrich stood before thousands of evangelical churchgoers Sunday night to deliver a dire warning that nation’s Christian roots are under attack.
“I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9,” Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”
Clearly, Newt thinks secular humanism is a threat to America. But I don’t think he knows anything humanism. He’s not alone in that ignorance. I would guess that most Americans don’t really know much at all about humanism. The ironic thing is that I believe most people are themselves living their lives in accordance with the ideals of humanism. We should encourage our friends to read more about humanism and learn what it actually is. We should ask opponents of humanism to explain what they think it actually is. Then, instead of arguing from a position of ignorance, Newt and his ilk (those currently opposed to humanism) might find that they actually agree with the ideals of humanism. That would be special… A teachable moment indeed.
Do you want to learn more about humanism?
Here’s a bit from the Humanist Manifesto III, a successor to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933. It’s a great place to start.
“Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance…”
“Where do nature’s building blocks, called the elements, come from? They’re the hidden ingredients of everything in our world, from the carbon in our bodies to the metals in our smartphones. ”
PBS had a great NOVA episode this week on the elements. Check it out!