“If you support separation of church and state, science, reason, the environment, social justice – congratulations, you’re a Humanist!” Those were the words on a slick brochure I received in the mail earlier this month. So, what about it?
What Is a Humanist?
The small brochure addressed to me by name was from the American Humanist Association (AHA). I was impressed from the beginning with the backside of the 5.5 x 8.5-inch mailer with the words cited above—and pictures of protest signs, such as the ones that said “Humanists for Racial Justice” and “LGBTQ Rights are Human Rights.”
Among other things, the AHA explains that humanism is “a progressive philosophy of life that . . . affirms our ability to . . . aspire to the greater good of humanity.” Thus, humanists “affirm the dignity of every human being.”
Moreover, “Humanism is a philosophy of service for the greater good of humanity.”
But along with these positive statements, which I affirm, are questionable ones about being able to reach those ideals “without theism or other supernatural beliefs.” Humanity, the AHA believes has “within itself all that is needed to improve the conditions of life.”
The AHA’s main slogan is that it is possible to be, and by implication that humanists are, “good without God.”
Like so many groups, and individuals, I believe that the AHA is partially right and partially wrong. They are right in their emphasis on humanism but wrong on their insistence that humanism must be secular.
Secular Humanism and Christian Humanism
In their mailer, the AHA declares, “We are committed to building an inclusive America grounded in an embrace of reason, compassion, and egalitarianism rather than religious dogma.” But that is a false dichotomy.
We don’t have to choose between “reason, compassion, and egalitarianism” and “religious dogma.” Many of us who are Jesus-followers also gladly affirm the three ideals mentioned—and also reject much religious dogma in Christendom.
Admittedly, I am on the side of secular humanism rather than on the side of what might be termed “Christian inhumanism.” Among other things, Christian inhumanism refers to such things as
* use of force of any kind, but especially military force, to “convert” people to Christianity; this refers to all forms of “Christian” colonialism and imperialism, past and present.
* complicity with the use of slaves and/or the subjugation of people on the basis of “race,” such as is done even in the present by the “Christianity-linked” KKK and other white supremacy groups.
* support of patriarchal systems that disadvantage women, restrictive systems that denigrate LGBTQ people, and economic systems that dehumanize workers.But Christian humanism is also possible, so I have no hesitation in saying,
Sure, I’m a Humanist.
I have no hesitancy in stating that I wholeheartedly support separation of church and state, science, reason, the environment, and social justice. So, by AHA’s definition, I am a Humanist.
As I wrote in the fourth chapter of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism, years ago in front of the Supreme Court Building I had a pleasant talk with Tony Hileman, who was then the Executive Director of the AHA. I sensed more rapport with him than with the conservative Christians gathered there.
However, unlike the AHA and the people they are apparently appealing to, I am a Humanist, by their definition, largely because of my Christian faith, not in spite of it.
If they can be “good without God,” more power to them. Most of us, though, are most likely to be better with God—and I don’t mean primarily better than other people; rather I mean being better than we would be or could be without faith in God.