What is a “Secular Humanist”?



Thanks to Neil, (@604Atheist) for permission to use his photograph. Copyright belongs to Neil.

I often notice people online discussing or mentioning “Secular Humanism”, or stating that they are a “Secular Humanist”. Isn’t that redundant? I thought that Humanism by definition was secular as it is defined as being a moral, ethical person, without any belief in any god(s). Yet there are people that persist in adding the adjective Secular. Of course, I’ve argued in the past that yes, a believer could be moral and ethical as well, therefore able to be defined as a Humanist, but that’s not how anyone commonly thinks  the term is applied today.

Other than being moral and ethical, there’s no other definition that anyone considers as being a Humanist. I actually looked for a more precise definition, a list of attributes that would define someone as a Humanist. There may be something out there, but in none of the leading Humanist organizations, could I find even a short list of that which these organizations would consider being examples of being a Humanist. Certainly I would include empathy for others, but then I run into the obstacle  of morality and ethics. What is moral and ethical? I know what I think about these, but they may mean something different depending on where a person lives, or how they were raised.

I think that the death penalty is immoral. I know many that in fact consider it the opposite. I view late term abortion the same, with the exception of the life of the mother, but I know others that consider abortion a right no matter when it’s performed.  I see marriage as something that occurs between two people that love each other and think that government has no say in it at all except to issue the license, which is a legal document for actual secular purposes. Many, many other people believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Who’s to say one is moral and the other isn’t?  Am I more moral than they are?

There are societal prohibitions, those that most if not all would consider black-and-white, unassailable because they do harm not just to the person, but to society as a whole. Murder, rape, and theft would be my top three in any list. these, to me are not just moral but more specifically ethical.  The examples I gave above may be considered ethical by some, but those are not issues that everyone would agree upon whereas the immediate three, I have never met anyone that had an argument in opposition (and I’ve been to more than a few countries).

Morality crosses over as well, again, depending on where the person lives. Murder is adjudicated differently throughout the world, even in the West. Rape? Well, if the victim lives in the Middle East, a strict Islamic country, it may be the woman that is punished for being raped. Theft? Usually we place those people in prison, but again, in a few countries, Islamic, the sentence may not only be prison, but the loss of  the (right) hand. For possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs, we mostly place those people behind bars, but in Islamic countries? Death is the sentence (I’ve seen it). Most of us would consider the last three as being unethical and immoral, but that’s the culture of those countries. Should they come out of the seventh century? Yes, I think so, but in the same way, we in the West execute people and sometimes, ignore the most horrible crimes, simply because of politics.

Is any of that ethical or moral? We could argue all day and never convince the other side. When we announce ourselves as Humanist is that anything more than a humble brag? When we attach Secular to the adjective, does that differentiate that person from other Humanists? This is why I refuse to refer to myself as a Humanist. What does that label actually mean? Well, I can’t see that it means anything by my own definition of myself, I consider myself ethical and moral. Adding Secular to it is meaningless. As atheists, of course we’re secular. Instead of referring to oneself as a Humanist, maybe we should discard the labels and just remember that we’re all human beings, with empathy for one another.



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