Friday, September 20, 2019

Are You a Humanist?

“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.


  1. I appreciate the comments (received about 90 minutes ago) from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your observations about humanism. I fully agree with what you have written.

    "I will make two points. The AHA, and I attended the AHA convention in 2016 here in Chicago, tends to be strident in its approach to religion and I was not comfortable with some of the remarks by speakers at the convention. Yes, there is bad religion, in fact a lot of it, but there is also good religion, which leads to my second point.

    "Christianity and the other major religions put a great emphasis on humility and compassion, despite how their professed adherents may behave. Secular humanism does not put much emphasis on humility and compassion, but those two virtues must ultimately underlie any full commitment to recognizing the full dignity of every human being. We cannot, and should not, entertain the idea that we are somehow superior to others. Instead, we should care deeply about all of our sisters and brothers in the human race, especially those who are suffering.

    "So it is possible to be a religious, or Christian, humanist? Absolutely. It may ultimately be the only way to be a true humanist."

    1. Thanks, Eric! I especially like your last paragraph.

  2. Here are pertinent comments received a few minutes ago from local Thinking Friend Charlie Broomfield:

    "Sincerely appreciate your most recent blog.

    "I too, am a humanist, secular or otherwise. And, I have concluded that if all mankind would follow and practice the teachings of this fellow, Jesus, the world would be and could be a much better place. Perhaps even, we wouldn’t be destroying it as we are in so many ways.

    "As you know, my frustration has been for many years, the fact that fundamentalists have deceived, lied to and misled people, taken extreme advantage of the ignorance they have taught and are teaching even today.

    "My father taught me that, 'A liar is worse than a thief.' His logic in this belief was based upon his thinking that, 'It is much easier to catch a thief than a liar.” Took me several years to fully realize that I had been 'conned' by some real good 'con artists' in evangelical fundamentalism.

    "And isn’t it amazing that maybe a third of all Americans are still being 'conned' and they appear to be in control of America?

    "Simply stated, I stand with Galileo, who said: 'I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.'

    "Thanks for your post."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Charlie. And thanks for sharing the quote from Galileo. That sums up why a God-believer can--and should--be a humanist.

  3. OK, since we are going there, I am a religious humanist. For decades, to keep a viable left-wing on my Baptist Christianity, I have read Free Inquiry, the secular humanist journal, and I accept their definition of humanism, as set forth in "The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles" which they frequently print inside the cover of the magazine. It was written by philosopher Paul Kurtz, and can be read at this link:

    As for the religious part, there is one place where I agree with Plato instead of Aristotle. As Plato wrote in Timaeus, "Man is a religious animal." After over two thousand years of empirical data, it is obvious to me that Aristotle's more famous claim "Man is the rational animal" has been Trump(ed). Humans experience God, we think in terms of God, and like Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, we will be consumed by God if we do not do all we can to hold both God and ourselves accountable. To me, trying to live without God is like trying to live without clothing. It can be done, up to a point, but it has some real limits. We are responsible for what we wear, and we have a big responsibility for our metaphors of God.

    The late Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist fame claimed to have counted the number of times God hates and the number of times God loves and found out thereby that God hates more than God loves. That monstrous non sequitur is his foundation for all sorts of horrific actions. He put God in a box of his own design, rather than engaging God in a journey of discovery. Better to follow in the path of Elijah, who went to Mount Horeb to seek God, and found him not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but in the still small voice of conscience. (1 Kings 19:11-13) We can test our path by the question from God relayed to us by Micah, "What have I asked of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God?" (Micah 6:8)

    Now a lot of grief has happened throughout history when people mistake their metaphors for metaphysics. From the trinity to the virgin birth, Christianity has metaphors that have long since solidified into metaphysics. This is unfortunate, because as metaphysics they probably do more harm than good. We need to thaw out our Christian metaphysics and let the metaphors breathe again. Then love can once again animate us all. The trinity needs to learn to dance again!

    1. Wow, those are powerful comments, Craig, and I much appreciate you posting them here (but they need to be more widely read than I am afraid they will be just here).

      To comment just on your first paragraph, I much appreciate you linking to the "Affirmations of Humanism" by Paul Kurtz. I probably have seen his name before, but I did not remember that Kurtz (1925~2012) has been called "the father of secular humanism" and that was the founder of Prometheus Books.

      I carefully read through the Affirmations. I do not agree with the second one, had questions about two others, but basically agreed with all the rest in that list of 21.

  4. Yesterday I also received the following comment from local Thinking Friend Temp Sparkman:

    "Hello Leroy. We both are humanists because of our religious convictions. Too bad the Humanist organization has the word. We both are free thinkers, too bad the Free Thinkers appropriated free thinking as if religious folk are incapable of it." 

  5. Here are brief comments from Bill Ryan, another local Thinking Friend:

    "I could just as easily say, 'congratulations you're a Christian,' or '... you're a Jew,' or a lot of other labels, which might surprise whoever wrote that line."

    1. Bill, I wonder if we could accurately "just as easily say" that. I can't speak for Jews, but, unfortunately, there are many Christians who do not seemingly believe in "separation of church and state, science, reason, the environment, social justice." So even if those words of the AHA apply to some Christians, which of course they do, it would be inaccurate, sadly, to imply that they refer to all Christians.

  6. No. But I do believe in goodwill and doing good. Religious conviction as a follower of Christ in a more traditional sense.

  7. Facebook friend John R. King in Florida posted the following comments on FB"

    "My answer to this question has always been YES. God loves humanity. God is a humanist. She loves those who do not trust in Her or want to exclude Her. Those who affirm and work for a common human well-being are closer to an awareness of God than those who profess beliefs and dogma along with hateful actions."