Humanism (Is it a religion?)

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Discussion by: Confucian Witcher

Hi, My name is Roger and I would like to discuss something peculiar that happened at the beginning of my 2nd semester

at the public highschool. In geography the teacher was discussing the three abrahamic religions but then started to discuss

humanism as if it was also a religion. I looked through my textbook which was written by National Geographic and it has

nothing about Humanism being a religion. I was a bit confused so I went home and looked up further on this topic. What I

found was that the U.S Government stated that humanism is a religion but only in relation to other religions like buddhism

or Confucianism. So is humanism  a religion?

 

47 COMMENTS

  1. Humanism is generally thought of as a philosophy. From wikipiedia: Humanism is a group of philosophies and ethical perspectives which emphasize the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers individual thought and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism). Many atheists are secular humanists.

    • In reply to #2 by missbutton:

      Yes, humanism is a religion, just as non-stamp-collecting is a hobby.

      Miss, secular humanism is not just atheism or the denial of religion. It is usually defined as metaphysical naturalism combined with secular progressivism and scientific skepticism. Secular humanist officials also hold wedding and funeral services. While it denies the existence of gods (so do many religions), it has a lot of content. If the atheistic forms of Universalism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism are counted as religions, then I think one could make an argument that secular humanism could also be counted as a religion.

  2. Hi Roger
    It’s a good question. Religion tends to be equated with theism, making atheism the opposite of religion. But is this right? As ScienceSkeptic says, there are various religions – that appear in statistics etc – which do not involve a belief in any gods (eg Confucianism and Buddhism). Both of these are essentially philosophical or ethical affairs. If ‘religion’ is expanded to include systems of approaches to beliefs and values, then arguably Humanism would be included.

    One might ask, ‘What’s in a name?’. The answer I would say is that for many, including myself, ‘religion’ has uncomfortable connotations. Indeed, people here may know of the online Atheist census project – in the end I put myself down as ‘other’, since I think of myself as an atheist with Buddhist leanings.

    Perhaps the word ‘religion’ should be wrestled away from theism and supernaturalism and Humanism be fully included. I wonder if n part this is a ‘western’ question, with the strong Christian heritage, whereas in Eastern societies there would already be no challenge in the notion of atheist religions.

    Steve

  3. Humanism is an ethical framework, like Buddhism, and other religions have, in there own way.

    However, religions have a lot more baggage than just that. When you talk about religion, you talk about rituals, faith, scriptures, worship, divinities. So in that respect, no.

    You can go into all sorts of etymological studies and meaning of the word, but calling it a religion sounds quite wrong. Or you might as well call philosophy and ethics religion too.

  4. Keep in mind the National Geographic is a Christian propaganda organ. Over and over they sell Christian myths as hard science. I have written them chastising over and over. They don’t even write a “thank you for sharing” response.

    The Oxford dictionary defines religion like this:

    1. the belief in and worship of a super human controlling power especially of personal god or gods. A particular system of faith and worship.
    2. a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.

    I don’t think either definition applies to humanism.

    You might call humanism a philosophy or a school of thought. You might also call it a value system.

    One of the tricks of the religionists is to try to lump science and other rational philosophies in with the imaginary-man religions, as if your choice were arbitrary, like choosing a brand of shave creme.

  5. ScienceSkeptic: “Miss, secular humanism is not just atheism or the denial of religion. It is usually defined as metaphysical naturalism combined with secular progressivism and scientific skepticism.” – I don’t know what meaning of ‘usually’ you’re using, but that’s nothing I recognise, at least not the last point.

    “Secular humanist officials also hold wedding and funeral services.” – So do secular state officials, and they can hardly be said to proffess any specific religion.

    “While it denies the existence of gods (so do many religions), it has a lot of content. If the atheistic forms of Universalism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism are counted as religions, then I think one could make an argument that secular humanism could also be counted as a religion.” – Some of those, perhaps more Confucianism and Zen Buddhism, could be more accurately described as philosophies. Would you also consider Communism a religion?

    As papa lazaru stated, the title of Religion comes with an awful lot of baggage, and to throw Humanism in there is to ignore the nuances of the titles of Religion and Philisophy.

    A position I prefer to side with is that the majority of secular people ascribe to three main philosophies: Humanism, Materialism and Atheism. Each addresses a separate aspect of reality. Once you combine these three then it may resemble more of a religion, but it still lacks the overall structure and dogma that would be required to call it a religion,

  6. In the UK it is regarded, in contrast to atheism, as a “belief system”, following some court cases. This is important as it brings humanism within the ambit of the European Convention on Human Rights and protects humanists (unlike atheists!) from being discriminated as a minority.

    Humanist celebrants commonly preside over marriages, funerals and sometimes childrens’ naming ceremonies.

    According to the British Humanist Association, humanists -

    • Think for themselves about what is right and wrong, based on reason and respect for others.

    • Find meaning, beauty and joy in the one life we have, without the need for an afterlife.

    • Look to science instead of religion as the best way to discover and understand the world.

    • Believe people can use empathy and compassion to make the world a better place for everyone.

    For completeness, secularists are something completely different.

    • In reply to #8 by Stevehill:

      In the UK it is regarded, in contrast to atheism, as a “belief system”, following some court cases. This is important as it brings humanism within the ambit of the European Convention on Human Rights and protects humanists (unlike atheists!) from being discriminated as a minority.

      I think your post makes the point very clearly.

      Where the confusion arises is that Secular Humanism is an alternative philosophy to religion, but embraces scientific rationalism as a opposed to “faith-thinking”!

      Socially, from a rights point of view, it fits the same political bracket as a religion, but is radically different in its philosophy. Freedom of religion, is the freedom not to have somebody else’s religion stuffed down your neck – a freedom which equally applies to those who have freedom from religion.

    • Also from the BHA:

      “The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity.”

      and

      “We promote Humanism, work on behalf of the non-religious, and support those who wish to live humanist lives, including through the provision of humanist ceremonies. “

      Clearly they see themselves as religious in a different way to most other religious people. :-)

      In reply to #8 by Stevehill:

      In the UK it is regarded, in contrast to atheism, as a “belief system”, following some court cases. This is important as it brings humanism within the ambit of the European Convention on Human Rights and protects humanists (unlike atheists!) from being discriminated as a minority.

      Humanist celebra…

  7. it could be compared to a belief system (i.e belief in humanity as the ultimate force in our lives) but that’s not the same as religion which has specific dogma and rituals.

    i remember my RE teacher defining religion as an activity that requires repeated actions as in “doing something religiously”.

    if humanism were a religion it could enjoy the same legal protection as other relgions but humanists are maybe too honest to try that one on.

    the sad thing about the protection of religious beliefs in democracies is because the beliefs do not stand up to critical scrutiny (humanst ones do), it’s followers receive special rights that would be considered completely horrific (e.g. if your political party stated jews were not alowed in, compared to say a mosque).

    humanism just isn’t horrible enough to be a religion

    • In reply to #7 by Seraphor:

      ScienceSkeptic: I don’t know what meaning of ‘usually’ you’re using, but that’s nothing I recognise, at least not…

      I have heard David Niose, the president of the AHA use that definition almost ver batum.

      “Secular humanist officials also hold wedding and funeral services.” – So do secular state officials, and they can hardly be said to proffess any specific religion.

      Yes, but that is not the only element that they have in common with religion. By using your own method, you could say that about belief in a god (Aristotelianism and Deism are not religions, yet they entail God belief). Religion has to be defines as an “idea type” to represent the full landscape in the east and the west.

      Some of those, perhaps more Confucianism and Zen Buddhism, could be more accurately described as philosophies. Would you also consider Communism a religion?

      Some forms of communism are pretty close. I have heard it jokingly referred to as “Christianity’s evil twin” because involves belief in historical teleology, a form of dualism (through the dialectic), an “end of history,” and the meak inheriting the Earth. One of my professors had a “communist minister” perform his wedding. Communism has a complex landscape. Some forms probably are religions. If they got together in a building and had something resembling mass (like some humanists do by the way), then I would think it is certainly a religion.

      As papa lazaru stated, the title of Religion comes with an awful lot of baggage, and to throw Humanism in there is to ignore the nuances of the titles of Religion and Philisophy.

      I agree. That is why I said that the case could be made. I did not say outright that it is a religion.

      it still lacks the overall structure and dogma that would be required to call it a religion.

      Not all religions have dogma. Some forms and congregations of Universal Unitarianism certainly lack it (some have dogma though. Religion is generally too complicated to make a blanket statement without a qualifier).

      Many humanist congregations (how many philosophies have congregations) have ceremonies, ethical codes, rituals, and belief in transformative experiences. I am not saying they are a religion but they look an awful lot like one (it should be noted that originally Humanism was outright considered a religion. I am not saying this settles the issue but it is a consideration).

      In reply to #9 by SaganTheCat:

      if humanism were a religion it could enjoy the same legal protection as other relgions but humanists are maybe too honest to try that one on.

      In many countries, it does. Norways is the best example.

  8. Humanism was referred to as a religion according to the earliest manifestos.
    In reality, there are two main branches of Humanism (note the capital-H), Religious and Secular.
    Secular Humanists refer to their philosophy, values and principles as a “life stance” rather than a religion.

  9. Definitely not.

    I shy away from books such as A C Graylings The Good Book: The secular bible

    I don’t wish to involve myself in any process or dogma that moralises in order to distinguish myself from the rest of humanity. To be honest I don’t even like throwing words around such as empathy and compassion , I can see their necessity though. I just want to ‘be’ without being told how to ‘achieve’ this.

  10. Humanism is a type of belief system, but it is critically different from what we commonly regard as religious beliefs. Humanism does not include any belief in the supernatural, spirits, an intelligent creator, etc. It is a world view concerned with how humans treat each other, that eminates from the observed material world and the application of critical thinking.

  11. @ScientificSkeptic:

    I wouldn’t lable Aristotelianism or Deism as religions, neither would I of Universal Unitarianism if it weren’t for the fact that they call themselves a religion.

    However, I will concede that some actions of humanist are forming somewhat a divide in their attempt to emulated the likes of the UU.
    Much like Zen Buddhism, it is essentially a philosophy, but there are also adherents that use it to emulate religion.

    A bit like this new Sunday Assembly. I’m sure you’d agree Atheism is certainly not a religion, it’s barely a philosophy, it’s simply a statement of one specific non-belief, but Sanderson Jonesseems a lot like a religious leader right now.

    • In reply to #15 by Seraphor:

      I’m sure you’d agree Atheism is certainly not a religion, it’s barely a philosophy, it’s simply a statement of one specific non-belief, but Sanderson Jones seems a lot like a religious leader right now.

      I agree 100%. Atheism is just a stance on gods. People can reach this conclusions through good reasoning or bad reasoning and it is compatible with many rational and silly beliefs. It is important (and I am sure you will agree) to remember that atheism is not skepticism, naturalism, progressivism, or humanism.

  12. Thinking that there can be rational answers to questions like “Is secularism a religion?” (or another common example “Is marriage only between a man and a woman?” Is a philosophical error known as essentialism. It goes back at leasts to Plato and has resulted in endless mountains of wasted words trying to answer questions that are in theory not answerable. To make the question meaningful you need to define it more. So for example: “should peopke who believe in secularism be granted the same rights usually reserved for religion?” To that my answer is yes. On the other hand if you ask from the standpoint of a scientist, say an anthropologist who studies religion, would it make sense to study secularism the same way the answer is no. All the anthropologists or others like Dennet I’ve read on the topic agree that belief in the supernatural is a fundamental requirement for a religion in that sense.

  13. Humanism is not a religion. Humanism makes no claims to the supernatural. It’s funny that those who are the most religious tend to use the word to insult those who are not – so they say atheism is a religion or humanism is a religion. Like the rest of us they clearly think that the the word is a pejorative term and being called religious is an insult.

  14. “Christianity is a humanism” that´s a famous quote from Tolstoy, so is religion a humanism rather than the opposite? (just playing with words).

    One of these days a priest has been interviewed and spoke about the social doctrine of the church, and he said something like: if Jesus the son of God came to the Earth as a man, that´s our place too to be in the same side of mankind and fight for it, and I think there are priests who believe it sincerely, but humanism was a Renaissance intelectual rise against the central role of religion in human life, not the opposite, it wouldn´t make sense.
    You, or your school teacher seem indeed a bit confused, but humanism is not a religion.

    I even dare to add that there was a rule in medieval society, the duty to treat others as brothers, including the king and the subjects (the king was a vicar of Christ). I myself accept that there can be a humanist component in Christianity, but in that case, all supernatural condition looses it´s importance too?

    In Portuguese litterature we consider as humanist a priest that used to criticize the Vatican´s corruption when he was not allowed to do it, even so, he made it in the form of sermons to the fish.

  15. Roger, here is my definition of Humanism: “Humanism is a Method of Inquiry, an Ethical and Spiritual Philosophy, a Life Stance and a Positive, Politically Progressive, Socially Cooperative and Scientifically Sound Cosmic World View, based on and informed by Naturalism and Materialism”.
    Let Humanism stand on its own. Nothing compares to it, nothing can help you live “the good life” better and nothing else is needed. Humanism, Naturalism and Materialism. Learn all you can about them and how they connect to each other. From Thales to Paul Kurtz and A.C. Grayling it’s a glorious journey and one you will greatly benefit from taking. All the best Roger and here’s to “A Humanist Vision of a good future”

  16. In reply to #19 by ukantic:

    I will just throw in this quote:

    A landmark Supreme Court decision in 1961 extended to “secular humanists” (i.e. non-believers) the legal protection accorded to followers of religious faiths. Ironically this is the decision which fundamentalists now use in order to argue that secular humanism quali…

    On the other hand, from http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/ops/200315005.pdf

    neither the
    Supreme Court nor this court has determined that “secular humanism is a religion
    for purposes of the establishment clause.”

    appellees contended that if school prayer violated the Establishment
    Clause, then all mention of ‘secular humanism’, must be stricken from the school
    textbooks.

  17. Thanks for elaborating on this subject but I still see there is much disagreement as to whether humanism is a religion or not. Based on the definition of religion humanism, I believe, seems to fall under the second definition of religion, 2. a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion. But as many people have said, religion comes with a lot of baggage so I’m not entirely sure. Currently at my school I see that the core philosophies that make up much of what I am taught is based on humanism. The reason why I ask this question is because if humanism is a religion then the government is endorsing a religion in public schools. If this is the case then I feel I am being cheated and not taught properly. Humanism is the worldview of the educational leaders and my counselor who councils me on sex, death, and values. This is extremely important because humanism is the backbone of this generation. Here’s an interesting quote I stumbled upon by one of the writers of the Humanist Manifesto.“Religion Without God,” (The Humanist, Vol. VII, 1947, p. 9), Kenneth L. Patton wrote:A naturalistic religion is just as inclusive of all that is within the world we know as is the supernaturalistic or theistic religion.Whereas the theist pins his faith and hope in his God, the humanist and naturalist pins his faith in the natural world, and in man as a creature within it, and his faith is no less magnificent, courageous and hopeful than that of the believer in God.

  18. Hi again Roger. There is sometimes confusion between humanism and Humanism. Go to Wikipedia and search ‘renaissance humanism’ and then ‘Francesco Petrarca’. After that search ‘Humanism’.
    The Kenneth Patton quote is as good now as it ever was. I do have to point out that the original Humanist Manifesto of 1933 has been
    re-drafted twice, the latest in 2003. Goggle Humanist Manifesto III. It’ll get you up to date.
    In addition, Paul Kurtz, “The Father of Secular Humanism” and the founder of Council for Secular Humanism drafted Humanist Manifesto 2000, A Call for a New Planetary Humanism. All the best Roger.

  19. Though most of my sentiments are humanist, I would never count myself a Humanist or join a Humanist group because it requires a certain level of dogma to function as an organisation. There is little I disagree with, but I am concerned enough about the free-ness of my own will and the virtue and utility of my own decision making in joining the club, that I must include myself out, just as I now include myself out of identifying as a socialist (except in sentiment, that is).

    As such I think Humanism is a quasi religion (and an admirable one in having dogma that is allowed and expected to evolve) bringing together like minded people, to promote and share a particular moral view of the world.

    Were these ghastly “Atheist” churches to only identify as Humanist I would be a very happy bunny indeed. Conflating dogma and community with the simple concept of being atheist deeply muddles the message the media will take away. Atheists aren’t like this or that, they are like everybody, even Ayn Rand and Mao Zedong. Humanism is the right brand to leverage here, not a term that by rights and reason, should not even exist.

  20. On the top we have ideologies. These split into ideologies based on unproven beliefs (religions) and ideologies not based on unproven beliefs. The former can be split into religions including a god (islam, christianity) and religions without a god (buddhism). Humanism is an ideology not based on unproven beliefs, so it is not a religion. Buddhism surely is.

    • In reply to #32 by hfaber:

      On the top we have ideologies. These split into ideologies based on unproven beliefs (religions) and ideologies not based on unproven beliefs.

      Unproven beliefs and not unproven beliefs? Not unproven beliefs? Really

    • Humanism is an ideology not based on unproven beliefs, so it is not a religion. >>

      Surely there has to be a better way to communicate the thought behind this sentence.

      In reply to #32 by hfaber:

      On the top we have ideologies. These split into ideologies based on unproven beliefs (religions) and ideologies not based on unproven beliefs. The former can be split into religions including a god (islam, christianity) and religions without a god (buddhism). Humanism is an ideology not based on unp…

      • Humanism is based on common sense. Religion is based on nonsense.

        In reply to #35 by crookedshoes:

        Humanism is an ideology not based on unproven beliefs, so it is not a religion. >>

        Surely there has to be a better way to communicate the thought behind this sentence.

        In reply to #32 by hfaber:

        On the top we have ideologies. These split into ideologies based on unproven beliefs (religions) and i…

  21. It is curious to notice that at school children may have the optional subject “morality and religion”, but it doesn´t teach children any dogma of the catholic church, no ressurection… no dogma at all, no indoctrination, it is the humanist side of catholicism meant for all people, that´s why it is acceptable at public schools.

  22. Remember the catholic church considered the defence of evolution as ideology? At least, social sciences consent in being considered as “ideology”, but not Biology, I don´t think so.
    Isn´t religion ideology too?

  23. Hi Roger. Having looked at the definition of humanism and religion in their simplest forms, I would state that humanism is not a religion. The primary difference is that religion is based on a belief in a god or gods. Where as humanism has no belief in any god or gods or any form of deity. Humanism may appear, ‘religious like’ in its practice, but will always be defined by that critical difference, god. Sorry to say, your geography teacher is wrong. You should educate him!

  24. In reply to #33 by Confucian Witcher:

    In reply to #32 by hfaber:On the top we have ideologies. These split into ideologies based on unproven beliefs (religions) and ideologies not based on unproven beliefs.Unproven beliefs and not unproven beliefs? Not unproven beliefs? Really

    I understand where hfaber’s coming from. He’s not saying ‘not unproven beliefs’ he’s not making a double negative. He means humanism is ‘not based on’ the same things as other religions, namely ficticious or frabricated stories without a shred of evidence, or “unproven beliefs”.

    Humanism is an ideology based on self evident values that are deducable from the laws of nature, the nature of human sociology, and the logical ramifications of our actions. There’s nothing being ‘made up’ to fill in the blanks or make it seem more mystical.

    In this sense, Humanism falls in line with other idologies such as Communism and Socialism, Marxism, etc.
    A religion-like worldview or practice can be extrapolated from these ideologies, but that doesn’t make these ideologies innately religious.

    Thus what hfaber is indicating is that there are two forms of ideology, the religious and the non-religious. However to just say that would seem tautologous as we’re attempting to define what is religious.

    • In reply to #41 by Seraphor:

      In reply to #33 by Confucian Witcher:

      In reply to #32 by hfaber:On the top we have ideologies. These split into ideologies based on unproven beliefs (religions) and ideologies not based on unproven beliefs.Unproven beliefs and not unproven beliefs? Not unproven beliefs? Really

      I understand where h…

      This might be just me, but I’d prefer the word “philosophy” over ideology. To me, ideology has pejorative overtones.

  25. My two pence worth (bits in USA). Never mind the dictionary definitions, ( Mine is) the general principle in Humanism is to be nice to everyone, but if by “everyone” they only mean human beings than that is irrational and is a religion. If “everyone” means every sentient being, then that is not irrational and not religious.

    Me, I am part of a humanist group, (working from the inside!).

  26. If (big If) Religion is to be regarded as a personal characteristic, which can be specified for every individual, then the set of all religions will have to include Humanism, Atheism, Agnosticism, and probably others. That, I think, is what the U.S. government was driving at. But it’s like being asked which model of car do you own – there has to be the option of ‘none’, and that doesn’t make ‘none’ a car.

  27. I’m afraid I have next to no knowledge of Latin but both of your English translations convey the same message. The slightly longer phrase “I am a human being, I think nothing human alien to me” is on the Wiki entry for Humanism, quoting from a Roman play dating back well over 2000 years – older than Christianity.

    In reply to #49 by maria melo:

    In reply to #47 by Marktony:

    http://www.geocities.ws/muslimfreethinkers/humanism.htm

    The motto Humani Nihil Alienum is a Latin phrase meaning ‘Nothing concerning humanity is alien to me’. Expressed in a positive way it means, ‘I am interested in everything concerning mankind.’, rather than being i…

  28. I’ve never understood the difficulty of recognizing ‘religion’ from any other belief system. If the belief system includes the divine, it’s a religion. It’s the divinity that makes it a religion. Everything else is just details.

    Belief systems like Buddhism tend to confuse people. There are theistic and non-theistic versions of it. They share some common teachings/stories, but they’re still different. Chuck a god into it, and it’s a religion.

    “Humanism” is a slippery word. But it definitely doesn’t belong in that list of religions your teacher was using. He was wrong.

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