“Atheism+” =/= “Humanism”. Sign Me Up For “Atheism+”.

Why identify with “Atheism+” rather than just with Humanism?

I was skeptical and confused about this at first but I have been wholly impressed and convinced by Ashley and Heina on this topic–so much so that I have relatively little to add to their must-read posts on it. (I do have a lot to say in a future post about why atheists should associate atheism philosophically with much more than “lack of belief in gods”–but more on that later).

Identifying primarily as an atheist with respect to religious, social, and philosophical categories has been very important to me since my deconversion. I think it is the best catch-all category. I have thought it important to distinguish my views in no uncertain terms from theism. I have thought it important to show solidarity with other atheists and I am at great pains to distinguish myself from agnostics. I have seen it as a vital matter of solidarity with persecuted freethinkers of previous centuries. I see it as the clearest word for conveying my hostility to faith-based thinking.

Here are just a few key posts where I make vigorous arguments and numerous distinctions on these thematic lines: The “A” WordWho Cares About Atheists?, and 7 Reasons Why I Label Myself An Atheist Rather Than An Agnostic.

I have also long wanted to say that atheism is a philosophical position, whether one holds it as a matter of knowledge based on metaphysical inferences (as gnostic atheists like me do) or whether it stems from a rejection of all or certain kinds of metaphysical conclusions (as it does for agnostic atheists). And as a philosophical position (however derived) it rationally has other philosophical implications and/or stems from other beliefs, values, or implicitly accepted norms which themselves have important philosophical implications.

The exact nature of those philosophical implications are matters for vigorous ongoing philosophical clarification and development. So it is difficult to demand or assume or impugn to everyone who lacks belief in gods any number of other propositions that they may not themselves assent to, even though in one’s own philosophical perspective those other propositions are necessary outflows of atheism or implied by the other beliefs and norms that rationally justify atheism. We need a word that all those lacking belief in gods can identify with insofar as they hold that simple position–even if, rightly understood, all atheism should imply some other ethical, epistemological, metaphysical, or other philosophical views. We need to leave “atheism” as a simple position on one isolated issue rather than load it with every other interrelated belief or value or norm that it properly implies.

Nonetheless there should be some way that I can explicitly own the fact that think that atheism has other intimately related philosophical implications. I want to express my actual philosophical position that various views about ethics and politics and epistemology, etc. are interconnected with my disbelief in gods in non-incidental ways.

So, this solution is rather elegant. At its core, “atheism-plus” is a simple hyphenation that says “I am this kind of atheist rather than that. My other values and beliefs are not incidental to my atheism, they are a qualification on it that I want clear so that I am not mistaken for other atheists with antithetical values and beliefs to my own. And I refuse in this primary designation concerning religious and ethical matters to be possibly lumped in with non-atheists (as humanists broadly might be) as though the gods question was only one of secondary concern to me in matters of socio-religious identity, belief, and values. My atheism is tightly connected philosophically to certain other values and beliefs, and those other values and beliefs are tightly connected to my atheism. I am a hyphenated atheist. And to make this really simple, instead of another whole complicated hyphenated word–one that might draw too much attention and controversy away from the anchor of the word atheism–I’m just going to elegantly say ‘Atheism-plus’, or, even more simply ‘A+’.”

I really dig it. I had only recently and halfheartedly been dabbling with identifying as a humanist (having always resisted the word previously). In my many musings about the importance of atheists developing robust philosophies and ethical communities, I had been investigating humanism as a resource (which of course I still think it is) for accomplishing those goals. But as much as I consider myself a true friend and ally to humanists, I was never wholly satisfied with labeling myself a humanist and was not the slightest bit inclined to do so instead of or over identifying as an atheist.

But Atheism+? That I can identify with.

Sign me up.

Your Thoughts?

Related: New Atheism Is A Moral Movement


James Croft wrote to me on Facebook that this post does not justify the title. How come atheism+ does not equal humanism? It’s simple. Humanism is an umbrella category that includes some kinds of theists. Atheism+ isn’t. That matters decisively to me.

I have now written a follow up post exploring the potential and actual differences between Humanism and Atheism Plus in more depth.


Before I Deconverted: I Saw My First “Secular Humanist” On TV
Before and After I Deconverted: The Development of My Sexual Imagination
Between a Veil and a Dark Place
Comparing Humanism and Religion and Exploring Their Relationships to Each Other
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://amplified-atheist.com io

    ” “atheism-plus” is a simple hyphenation that says “I am this kind of atheist rather than that.”

    I don’t like this at all, you’re saying that every single other atheist who does not subscribe to the A+ way of thinking doesn’t care about what you care about. and that of course, is not true.

    I stand for most of the principles i’ve read in lists over the last few days which state what atheism+ is supposed to be about, but i absolutely will not mark myself as being part of that kind of group. a segregation amongst fellow non-believers is not what we need.

    to put a group of atheists out and above all others by things “i’m THIS kind of atheist, not THAT kind” doesn’t make a very good point, in fact it marks me out to be a lesser human because i won’t brand myself, even though my core values are almost identical to most of the people who class themselves as A+.

    Developing atheism as a philosophy seems rather useless. it is a word used to describe someone who doesn’t believe in any gods. it is a simple term used as an opposite to religion. to start including secular values and humanistic viewpoints under the umbrella of atheism is going to blur the lines.

    i don’t want to be though of as one of “those” atheists, simply because i won’t be calling myself an A+er

    • machintelligence

      In case it has escaped your attention, there is a vocal minority (I hope) of atheists that are of the Ayn Rand/libertarian “I’m fine, fuck you very much” school. There are also some atheists that are seriously misogynistic. I don’t want to be thought of as one of “those” atheists simply because I call myself an atheist.
      I’m THIS kind and not THAT kind makes excellent sense.

    • ‘Tis Himself

      I’m eligible to join several veterans’ groups yet I haven’t joined any. This doesn’t mean I object to veterans’ groups (other than most of them are quite conservative in political outlook), it’s just that I don’t see benefit for me in joining. So I don’t. Apparently you feel the same way about A+. That’s fine.

    • Robert M.

      I don’t think A+ will have the sort of ingroup vs. outgroup dynamic you describe, and it’s certainly not present in Dan’s post.

  • Tony

    Here we go forming more and more denominations. Couldn’t they just call it Humanism+?

    • http://QU Rogi Riverstone

      Sure, one could call oneself “humanist+,” if they don’t agree with placing atheism as the core of their identity. Or didn’t read the blog post to understand why the author made that distinction already.

    • Tony

      Admittedly I didn’t read it as closely as I could have. I suppose I’m just not so dead-set on completely isolating myself from all potential overlap with theists. I’m more concerned with whether or not people care about other people (and the earth, etc) in ways that are compatible with mine, because I see them as my allies; religious or not. If other people feel they need to make a clearer distinction by making atheism their primary reference point, then that’s their prerogative, and I have no pressing complaints or criticisms.

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    There is no convincing distinction in philosophies or values made here or in the posts linked between Humanism and Atheism +.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      Humanists are not necessarily atheists.

      Someone who is an atheist+ is.

      I don’t think it is that complicated.

  • Mclean

    The problem with Athiesm+ rather than Humanism is that it ignores a term which means much the same thing (but different emphasis) and has a chance to alienate years of work in the Atheist movement. As Ashley pointed out: Atheistic Humanism would be a far better term.

    Ever since the Rennaissance, atheistic groups have gained popularity, grown, and died as other groups with different names sprouted and replaced them. This leads to a disconnect and younger groups make the same mistakes as the older ones and long term continuity and strength is lost and diluted with each new movement name. In 20 years, Atheism+, if it takes on, will be replaced by a newer term which also means much the same thing (but with a hoopy new emphasis, frood).

    It is important to have the right name, and Humanism is kind of a crappy one for recruitment and self-identity, and I’m not suggesting you identify with Humanism, or even call it Humanism. However, to keep the long-term movement strong and build ties it is good to acknowledge history and past and current allies, something a term like Atheistic Humanism would do rather well. Unlike gnu vs. A+ atheism, A+ and Humanism have far less philosophical differences to warrant such a complete semantic split.

    In fact, these two segments, Humanism and the new Atheist+ split, are so close that our local organisation has refered to itself as “Atheism plus” for about a year now. Although the philosophy is less explicitly atheist, membership is about 80% hardline atheist, compared to about 90% for outright Atheist groups (from a recent survey in the Pacific Northwest).

    As someone who does self-label as Humanist (although after many years of (very reluctantly) trying out and different labels- Atheist, Skeptic, Freethinker), I’m mostly worried about the work and matured philosophy of the movement being ignored as the same debates, discussions, and social capital are rebuilt from scratch. It was sad to see Alain de Botton publish a moderately popular book “Religion for Atheists” while ignoring 80 years of discussion on the subject by Humanists ever since Corliss Lament and the first Manifesto, in which most of his ideas were examined and ultimately either refined or rejected, and it would be sad to see A+ and Humanism working seperately for the same goals.

    Yes, they will work together, but the name can really help build cohesion as politically crass as it is. Much like the LGBT community has benefited from listing those that really should be fighting together in its very name, the Atheist community can build strength and cohesion by trying to fly under one banner, as there is a very strong core that is Atheist and Humanist and Sceptic in philosophy (Socrates, Epicurus, and Pyrrho). We would do well to work as a unit rather than pulling in three directions.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      Yes, they will work together, but the name can really help build cohesion as politically crass as it is. Much like the LGBT community has benefited from listing those that really should be fighting together in its very name, the Atheist community can build strength and cohesion by trying to fly under one banner, as there is a very strong core that is Atheist and Humanist and Sceptic in philosophy (Socrates, Epicurus, and Pyrrho). We would do well to work as a unit rather than pulling in three directions.

      Here’s the thing with your analogy: I identify as LGBT because I that’s what I am. Much like I identify as atheist because, simply, I am an atheist. But I do not agree with, support, work with, or donate to any number of LGBT organizations (Log Cabin Republicans come to mind, as do some lesbian separatist organizations, etc. etc.) There’s a place for trans activists to form their own communities and explicitly reject the transphobia of some LGB people. There’s a place for bi people to form their own groups and organizations and fight against bi erasure. Yes, we can all work towards our common goals, but we also need to be explicit and up front in the ways that we are not a single community.

      Similarly, all atheists may be able to work together on some things, but mere lack of belief in god does not require me to consider myself a part of the same movement as someone else. And just as libertarian atheists should feel free to work towards their goals, so should atheists+ be free to work for ours.

    • Rob

      McLean (#4) Said:

      As Ashley pointed out: Atheistic Humanism would be a far better term.

      Actually Ashley said this:

      And yet, if asked how I define myself, I say “atheist” rather than “humanist”. Why would I choose to define myself as part of this newly christened “atheist+” movement rather than the “humanist” movement?

      And this:

      ”Atheism+” is not my favorite of titles, I’d have gone with Atheist Humanism, but I don’t think that humanism, secular humanism, and “atheism+” are the same thing. Huge overlaps? Yes, absolutely. But so long as I’m going to be treated as a social pariah for being a non-believer, I feel it is important for me to not be afraid to be out of the closet and loud about that label.

      There is a difference between a self-defined humanist doing something good for mankind and a self-defined atheist doing it, simply because of the massive amount of stigma associated with atheism. Proving that atheists care about other people and making the world a better place is important. I think that “atheism+” is a way to bring the philosophy of humanism more strongly to the fight for atheist equality, and vice versa.

      Calling myself part of the atheist — +, humanist, or otherwise — movement is a meaningful political act, and one not worth dropping to join something incredibly similar, but different.

      Ashley did not say that “Atheistic Humanism would be a far better term” at all.

    • Mclean


      Sorry, “Atheist humanism” rather than “Atheistic humanism”. You quoted her saying as much at the beginning of the second quote block.

      I’ll requote it again since I agree very much with it:

      ”Atheism+” is not my favorite of titles, I’d have gone with Atheist Humanism, but I don’t think that humanism, secular humanism, and “atheism+” are the same thing.

      I’m arguing that Atheist (or Atheistic) Humanism would be a better term as well, and am trying to stress that it would be much, much better both semantically and practically than the non descriptive “Atheism plus”. Atheism plus what? The philosophy that is described and is emerging is very, very similar to Humanism, which has been remarked by many, including the follow-up post to this one (in which one difference suggested, by the way, of religious/non-religious atheists would split most of the Humanists I know and place them firmly into the atheism+ camp).

      I actually like a new designation for the intersection of new atheists and humanists (the philosophy, not nec. the movement), which I see atheism+ as being almost but not quite identical to, though the definition of humanism is fuzzy enough that it might as well be identical.

    • Rob

      Mclean, I agree that there are many apparent overlaps between the concept of A+ as it has been proposed and Atheist(ic) humanism. However, my primary point was that you attributed a statement to Ashley that she simply did not make. When you read her entire post, although she argues that other terms would work she concludes that she supports the use of A+ as a distinct and meaningful political act.

      You note that Humanism is a very broad movement that encompasses much of A+. Also undeniably true. However, as many of the bloggers here at FTB have written in the last few days, there are also meaningful differences. Those differences may be irrelevant or lack significance to you or others, but they clearly matter to those who have chosen to identify with A+. Yes A+ is currently poorly defined. If it survives as a relevant social movement it may take years or even decades to mature into a refined and nuanced definition. A part of the beauty of the current openness is that it gives scope to grow and redefine itself with a minimum of encumbrance from the past and other movements.

      My reasons for avoiding the Humanist tag are not as philosophically based as those well described by many here at FTB. I have simply met too many people who self identify as Humanist, but who do not apply rational thought to their interaction with the world around them, are not particularly interested in inclusiveness, and who are fundamentally what I describe as “humans first” or “firsters”. Maybe not the best or deepest personal reason, but given a choice between two viable and reasonable choices I have picked the one that best resonates for me.

  • http://langcultcog.com/traumatized DuWayne

    I rather appreciate the distinction, as I was a humanist long before I was an atheist. I have identified as a humanist for many years and continue to do so, but that is in addition to and not particularly related to my identity as an atheist. I am not sure about this atheist+ idea, but will postpone judgement until I read more about it.

  • Jubal DiGriz

    It’s… an interesting idea. I’ve been in enough progressive movement and groups to know that diverse organizing and labeling is actually good. That’s how (for instance) civil rights, feminist, and marriage equality activists can all support each other.

    And that’s how I’m seeing this atheist+ thing, as another label that helps people who are both atheists can progressive activist to find each other, organize, and cooperate with other groups.

    Personally I’ll probably never adopt the label. I get squeamish when religious opinions fuel politics on any spectrum. But I’ll keep an ear out to what these folks are doing, and perhaps help out if a group stars up in my area.

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    Meh. I was always more of a B- or C+ kind of guy.

    A+ also sounds like you tested positive for something.

  • Mclean

    History lesson:

    In the 5 or so years before New Atheism took off, there was a large cry in Humanist literature for a new agressive atheism, because the all-conciliatory-all-the-time approach just wasn’t working, and there was lots of evidence to back that up. The argument was very convincing, and there are a lot of new atheists in the humanist community, and support for new atheism.

    Because of diplomacy and politics, leaders and representatives in the humanist movement have a more conciliatory face when it comes to religion, but in the groups themselves there is a very large contingent of new atheists.

    Much earlier, it seems by 30-40 years ago, the idea of Humanism as an atheist religion was dead in the water, talked about only in jest, for most if not all secular humanists, (with the notable exception of Jewish humanists). You can squeeze definitions and call it a religion anyway, but by the same definitions so too would be atheism+.

    The main difference between atheism+ and humanism seems to be their history: humanism, despite starting out as an outright rejection of most aspects of religion, has many roots in attempts at an atheist religion, but has rejected these as it moved steadily closer to new atheism. Atheism+ on the other hand started from new/gnu atheism and is converging to where humanism has come today. The convergence is unsurprising as both have their roots in the sentiment: “Gods either don’t exist or might as well not exist. Now what?”

  • inersphobia

    I wonder if anyone has pointed out that an apt label for someone who ascribes to A+ might be an “Ape.” 1) Short for A Plus 2) Similar to Humanist. 3) The A+ platform sort of “apes” humanism. You could even have a primate mascot.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I wonder if anyone has pointed out that an apt label for someone who ascribes to A+ might be an “Ape.” 1) Short for A Plus 2) Similar to Humanist. 3) The A+ platform sort of “apes” humanism. You could even have a primate mascot.

      This is unnecessarily obnoxious.

    • inersphobia

      In what sense are you using obnoxious? (To clarify, I was just pointing out what I think are pretty obvious observations.)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Suggesting people call themselves “apes” and with a tone which sarcastically assumes they’d just be perfectly okay with the idea is obnoxious. Especially when you know that if they thought all they were doing was “aping” humanism, they wouldn’t be bothering.

    • inersphobia

      You’re right; I see what you mean. Over the past couple of days I have watched the “Clever Monkeys” episode of “Natural World” twice, and so my feelings towards monkeys and our relationship w/ them is unusually high. I wasn’t thinking.

    • sqlrob

      @Daniel Fincke:

      I actually kind of like it. Not quite the aping humanism spin, but humans are apes. “We’re humans, we’re apes, deal with it”. An in your face acknowledging of evolution.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/terriaminute Terriaminute

    Now that there are distinctions being made in Atheism the movement, and Atheists the activists, I feel more comfortable – I do not identify with misogynists or selfish entitled asses or bullies. I identify with people who are kind and generous and smart and funny, who help people because it is the moral thing to do, but who do not put up with those who abuse, misinform, mislead, or who threaten bodily harm of any kind.

    Atheism-Plus is fine. I am many facets, I accept this as one of them. I am also tall. I also have albinism which means I don’t see well. I am also a mother. I have also shed all things supernatural except for their media entertainment value. I am also a transhumanist. I am also polyamorous. I am also a gardener, a writer, an artist, a photographer. I am fiercely loyal.

    I am many things more. I am THIS kind of atheist. I like clarity.

  • tonyhouston

    Most comprehensive, cogent case I’ve seen. Here’s my take. I think you’ll find it thought-provoking, whether or not you agree.


  • http://www.flame.org/~cdoswell Chuck Doswell

    Humans are hard-wired tribalists. Most of us have a compelling need to belong somewhere, and we join ‘tribes’ that seem to match our personal viewpoint for mutual support. We tend to chafe about tribe members who annoy us with viewpoints that don’t match ours. At times, after being part of tribe, some members decide that the tribe also includes elements with which they disagree strongly, so they create a new tribe, or drop out and join another. Tribalism is the same thing that causes religions to subdivide into many denominations.

    The only thing atheists have in common is a shared disbelief in a deity. Otherwise, there’s a full spectrum of humanity within the group. The instant you create a set of beliefs within the non-belief that defines atheism, the basis for a breakdown into sub-tribes is created. This group embraces X, Y, and Z – so later on, it may spin off another group that embraces X, Y, and W, or X, Y, Z, and B, or …

    Personally, I don’t see the point. It just puts a label on a personal viewpoint that already exists independently without such a label. But perhaps that’s just me. I wish A+ nothing but success in their goals, UNLESS those goals – yet to be codified, BTW – turn out to include one or more things with which I disagree. I prefer to leave my options open, thanks …

  • http://superfineapostate.blogspot.com Brian

    I came here looking for a tangible difference between Atheism+ and Secular Humanism, and all I got was “I don’t like the word ‘Humanism’, and I want to use a word that include ‘Atheist.’” That’s not a difference. As far as I can tell, Atheism+ is secular humanism, whether you like the latter term or not.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I apologize for the disappoint me. Please see the post that followed this one as it explains the issues of differentiation in more depth.