Most atheists I know would also describe themselves as Humanists. I have sometimes referred to myself the same. But what does that really mean? Are there certain precepts that a person must adhere to be a Humanist? Is Humanism a social construct or are there political implications as well. In other words, as a conservative, is it possible for me to be a Humanist?
When I say I have sometimes referred to myself as a Humanist, it’s because when I speak with atheists I know that do describe themselves that way, I seem to not receive a consistent description of Humanism from any of them.
I spent a little time at the American Humanist Association website to try and determine what Humanism was all about. They should have an idea, shouldn’t they?
What I was looking for was something definitive. By that I mean a list of what Humanists believed, of course with a explanation of each. So here’s what the AHA says on their website as to what a humanist is:
Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.
Okay. Although I’m not sure what they mean by progressive, the remainder makes some sense to me. But then, I know people of faith, Christians and Muslims, that I would consider ethical and, in their way, add to the greater good of humanity. I don’t accept their theism, but does that alone not allow them to be a Humanist?
My parents grew up in homes that I would say today were extremely racist. They were part of what we call today the Greatest Generation; Those that lived through the Second World War (my father served in the Pacific). I grew up on military installations where my friends, and our neighbors, were of different races, ethnicities, and religions. As a child, I didn’t know what racism or bigotry meant. I’d never heard the words.
It wasn’t until my mid-teen years, after my father had retired from the military that I saw what I would now define as racism or bigotry. I have to say that even as a teenager, I was appalled by what I witnessed. Nothing violent, just the quiet bigotry of my country.
I could never accept that, and never have. I was always taught to treat every human being with respect. Were my parents Humanists? Was I a latent Humanist?
Of course in those days I did believe in God, but I always treated anyone I met with respect and dignity, even as a believer. So I want to know if a theist can be a Humanist?
Well, according to the quote I just provided, it seems not. I may be too literal here but words mean something and to say a Humanist is an ethical person without theism or supernatural beliefs seems plain to me.
Can theists be ethical even though they are believers? Of course they can. I know a few. I also have met atheists I would consider the opposite.
For me, being an atheist does not make anyone a Humanist and being a theist does not automatically exclude anyone from Humanism. Humanism, it seems is determined on how a person views others without respect to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. There are certainly many theists that would consider homosexuality as a sin, against their religious beliefs, but do those same people treat anyone they know as gay any differently than they treat anyone else?
Consider, just 50 years ago, interracial marriage (black/white) was a no-no. Today? I think the same is occurring with the gay community. Most people, even the theists I know, accept that yes, there is something called homosexuality and that yes, are no different that anyone else.
I think that we, as humans,are evolving as we live, socially and ethically and therefore I don’t see a need to separate people as Humanist versus others. I don’t see humankind ridding itself of it’s bigotry in my lifetime, but I will say that during my lifetime, We’ve come a long way, baby.
4 thoughts on “Atheism, Ethics, and Humanism”
I pretty much agree with what you said. I don’t consider myself humanist, but I have no argument with anyone who does. Humanism (or humanist) does not carry nearly the stigma of atheist. Nihilists are atheists, but not at all humanists. Right?
I guess an atheist can be a nihlist, but so can anyone else. I’ve personally never met an atheist I would describe as a nihilist, but I’m not willing to say they don’t exist. I wrote the piece on Humanism to help me understasnd when someone tells me they are a “humanist”, what that means. I’ve always considered it something nebulous and for me to a degree, it still is. Being ethical without gods or the supernatural seems to be it. That actually doesn’t tell me anything about the person or “hiumanism”.
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I’m glad you wrote it. I was given a link to the humanist site the same day. I share your curiosity. I would say that humanists and nihilists are on opposite ends, but I would expect both to be atheist, or at least not religious.
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