Humanism vs Atheism

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A question that is often raised about atheism and humanism is that they are not unifying forces in society.

This is understandable when considering that most organisations in society, which even includes governments and legal systems, have historically been based on religious concepts.

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However, considering atheism and humanism to be the same thing is completely missing the point of humanism.

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Atheism and humanism are NOT one and the same things.

Atheism is NOT a belief system, a moral code or reason to unite in a common cause.

The whole point of Atheism is to state what it is NOT:

It is NOT a system of superstitious beliefs based around unsubstantiated claims.

It is NOT a system of irrational morals or ethics which are motivated by fear of eternal punishment or a desire for eternal rewards.

It is NOT a mythical fantasy story upon which people gain their collective purpose for life and a sense of security.

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Atheism as a term shouldn’t even exist were it not for the all pervasive influence of religion in society.

Atheism is really just a baseline for a life lived without the supernatural belief in gods.

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Humanism, on the other hand, is a powerful force for galvanising the best in human endeavour and purpose without the crippling distractions, biases, phobias and prejudices involved in believing in a supernatural, mythological, dictator style god.

Humanism is all about striving for the best in human wellbeing, by looking at the facts of conscious reality. Using scientifically discovered, evidence based policies.

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Humanism is about providing the optimum conditions for human physical and psychological thriving.

I believe that humanism will replace religion as humankind’s best hope for a bright and successful future.

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I am inspired by the words of A C Grayling on humanism written in the The Observer, Sunday 3 March 2013

Humanism’s faith in reason represents our best hope

Unlike religion, humanism’s code of conduct isn’t based on a one-size-fits-all philosophy.

Religions, despite what people think of as their personal consolations, have not served the world well. They create division and conflict, they impose unlivable moralities of denial and limitation, and they demand that we think of the world as our remotest ancestors did, thousands of years ago.

The cry raised by defenders of religion is: but what would you put in its place as a view of the world by which we can live? The answer is: something far better, deeper, kinder and warmer – and far more rational – namely: humanism.

Humanism is a non-religious ethical outlook based on an interest in human affairs at the human scale. It is not a doctrine or a set of rules; it is a starting point, its founding idea being that ethics must be based on the facts of human experience. For some, the result of thinking for themselves about ethics might be close to a conventional moral outlook; for others, the result might be less conventional. Either way, there are just two constraints: that one’s choices must not be aimed at harming others, and that one must be able to make a solid case for one’s outlook if challenged by others.

One great flaw in religion-based moralities is that they are not thought through and chosen on the basis of individual responsibility, but are imposed from outside in a one-size-fits-all way. As a result, religious morality too often cuts across the grain of human nature, distorting it and crushing its natural impulses, not least as regards sex – always an inflated subject of interest for religious moralists, who throughout history have been frightened of it and bent on limiting it as strictly as possible.

As this shows, humanism is a response to Socrates’s invitation to live the chosen life, rather than a life prescribed by doctrines inherited from the traditions, especially the religious traditions, of whatever community one happens to be born into. Religious moralities assume that there is one great truth and one right way to live for everyone. Another great flaw with religious morality is that it says if you do not obey, you will be punished. The threat of punishment is not a logically adequate ground for moral behaviour, even if it is prudent to avoid punishment by behaving as ordered. Unless one’s moral outlook comes from being thought-out and chosen for oneself, it is at best an imitation of morality, at worst a subversion of it.

The foundation of a humanist ethic is that it has to start from our best understanding of human nature and the human condition. The “human condition” is somewhat easier to describe than “human nature”, that complex thing which literature, psychology, philosophy and individual experience all struggle to understand. Whereas a study of history and a thoughtful reading of literature together offer abundant insights into the human condition, the sheer diversity in human nature makes the task of understanding it a work that could demand whole lifetimes as we seek to make sense of ourselves and others, especially the others we care about.

But the effort to understand human nature is itself constitutive of what makes a good and worthwhile life. It is easy to prove this: consider the opposite, namely, a life lived in carelessness and indifference towards the question of who we are and how we can best relate to others. What a waste that would be. In attempting to understand humanity we can expect to find that what motivates people is, too often, not very admirable and sometimes downright appalling. But this is not the majority story. In every village, town and city in the world, every minute of each day, there are millions of acts of ordinary co-operation, courtesy and kindness, and they constitute the majority of human interactions.

An important assumption that humanism makes is that people are, or at least can be, self-creating and self-determining. But, in many cases, the burden of history and society makes self-creation impossible. This certainly happens when people are trapped in a religious tradition which tells them what to think and how to behave, and refuses to allow them freedom.

But the effort to be a free-minded individual in pursuit of worthwhile goals suited to one’s individuality is surely central to the very idea of the good: it is what gives us our best chance to be fully human, and at the same time – in the spirit of shared humanity – to develop our affections in our communities, to promote the values of kindness and tolerance, and to celebrate the enjoyment of all the things that make life beautiful and satisfying.

Because humanism draws on 2,500 years of non-religious ethical thinking since Socrates, it is a deep, rich tradition of insight, wisdom and inspiration, and it is this without any supernaturalistic beliefs involved. That means that it offers the possibility of truly global ethics that everyone could live by. Consider a utopia in which people, having been liberated from religion at last, can agree to base their ethics on a generous view of human nature and needs.

AC Grayling

QUOTES:
Religions, despite what people think of as their personal consolations, have not served the world well. They create division and conflict, they impose unlivable moralities of denial and limitation, and they demand that we think of the world as our remotest ancestors did, thousands of years ago. The cry raised by defenders of religion is: but what would you put in its place as a view of the world by which we can live? The answer is: something far better, deeper, kinder and warmer – and far more rational – namely: humanism.

Because humanism draws on 2,500 years of non-religious ethical thinking since Socrates, it is a deep, rich tradition of insight, wisdom and inspiration, and it is this without any supernaturalistic beliefs involved. That means that it offers the possibility of truly global ethics that everyone could live by. Consider a utopia in which people, having been liberated from religion at last, can agree to base their ethics on a generous view of human nature and needs.

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*******
Links to other articles on atheism:

Overcoming the Fear of The Bogeymen Atheism

Life Has More Meaning As An Atheist

Truthfulness Versus Perceived Usefulness

Life Without God

Atheism is The True Embrace of Reality

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6 Responses to Humanism vs Atheism

  1. Patrick says:

    Another definition of atheism that might be helpful: A lack of belief in either God, or no God, because there isn’t sufficient evidence.

  2. Gayle Morris says:

    STATEMENT OF THE HUMANIST MOVEMENT
    Humanists are women and men of this century, of this time. They recognize the achievements of
    humanism throughout history, and find inspiration in the contributions of many cultures, not only
    those that today occupy centre stage. They are also men and women who recognize that this
    century and this millennium are drawing to a close, and their project is a new world. Humanists feel
    that their history is very long and that their future will be even longer. As optimists who believe in
    freedom and social progress, they fix their gaze on the future, while striving to overcome the
    general crisis of today. Humanists are internationalists, aspiring to a universal human nation. While
    understanding the world they live in as a single whole, humanists act in their immediate
    surroundings. Humanists seek not a uniform world but a world of multiplicity: diverse in ethnicity,
    languages and customs; diverse in local and regional autonomy; diverse in ideas and aspirations;
    diverse in beliefs, whether atheist or religious; diverse in occupations and in creativity.
    Humanists do not want masters, they have no fondness for authority figures or bosses. Nor do they
    see themselves as representatives or bosses of anyone else. Humanists want neither a centralized
    State nor a Parastate in its place. Humanists want neither a police state nor armed gangs as the
    alternative.
    But a wall has arisen between humanist aspirations and the realities of today’s world. The time has
    come to tear down that wall. To do this, all humanists of the world must unite.
    I have taken this quote from the World Centre of Humanist Studies. I read your posts and generally get the feeling that your view on Humanism is an attack on religious belief. This statement seems to demonstrate a different view,

    • SteveBloor says:

      I agree Gayle,

      Humanism is a replacement for religious belief.

      Ultimately you cannot have both.

      Either you think rationally as a humanist or you think irrationally as a religious believer.

      You cannot do both.

      Any amount of superstitious belief is a distraction from reality.

      I am an aspiring actualist.

  3. Tom Phillips says:

    Excellent article, as usual, Steve. Atheism is not a belief system, it is the starting point we should all have.
    Humanism is a positive way to live, freed from the bigotry of ignorant religious leaders.

  4. Kemari says:

    “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”
    Christopher Hitchens
    This is right where I am as well on my journey, Steve:-) being able to understand what I am capable of as a human being inside myself, has been empowering. Religion stole the journey to self actualization from me for over 30 years and made me feel broken and childlike. It has been a gift in every way, breaking free from the chains of religion.

  5. David says:

    Humanism sounds a bit like libertarianism to me, especially the part about not harming others (libertarians call this the non-aggression principle). Libertarians believe that you should be free to enjoy as much liberty as possible as long as your liberty doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others. While it’s definitely more logical and truthful than religion I don’t see it as a suitable replacement because it’s an entirely different beast. Humanism seems like a worldview or a philosophy, which is fair enough, but that isn’t the same as a religion. Religious people worship together, read from the same book, fast together, follow the same commandments and meet one another on Sundays to sing together and live out their beliefs in unison. In contrast there are no humanist churches, and there’s very little in humanism that will draw proponents together other than a shared belief that humanists shouldn’t interfere with each other. This seems very empty when compared to churches such as the Mormon church which manages to influence members in almost every aspect of their lives.

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