What Is Humanism?

I’ve written on the meanings of freethought and secularism, and in the third entry of this series, I want to discuss humanism. More so than the other two, humanism is a complex and fully formed life philosophy, so it’ll take the most effort to adequately define.

Most concisely stated, humanism is the worldview which treats human beings – our lives, our needs, and our concerns – as of supreme importance. Humanism recognizes our deep and profound interconnection with the natural world and with all living things on Earth, yet it values human beings above all else – not because of unjustified bias, but because that humans are the only living beings who are moral agents: the only ones who are able to reason out the consequences of their actions and choose to act based on that evaluation. Other animals lack that moral competence, and so regardless of what considerations we owe them, they are not of equal importance with us.

On the other side of the scale, humanism gives greater weight to human concerns than to matters of faith or dogma. To a humanist, the decree of a religious authority, scripture, or creed can never take precedence over the life and well-being of a conscious, feeling person. This doesn’t mean that a humanist must be an atheist; there are theistic humanists, although in my experience, the secular kind is more common.

Statements like the Amsterdam Declaration and the Humanist Manifesto have defined in detail what humanists believe. My interpretation of the tenets of humanism would add the following:

Humanism is strongly ethical. The most fundamental principle of humanism is that all human beings are equal in moral worth and dignity. By virtue of being conscious, reasoning, foresightful beings, we gain the privileged status of personhood that confers us with rights; and we likewise incur a responsibility to treat others in accordance with this principle. Thus, we should refrain from doing harm or oppressing others, and to the greatest degree possible, we should respect their freedom to make their own choices and lead their own lives as they see fit. Humanists believe that morality is not a matter of following the decrees of authority, but of the sense of conscience that every person possesses, guided and informed by reason.

Humanism is rational and undogmatic. Humanists hold that no belief is too sacred to question, and are always willing to engage in self-examination, to revise our prior beliefs in the light of new evidence, and to accept newly discovered truths. More fundamentally, humanism supports free inquiry in all its forms and opposes censorship in all its forms. Humanists recognize the scientific method as the most reliable and effective method of gaining knowledge about the world, though we don’t discount the value of art, music, literature and other modes of cultural expression to bring people to recognition of truths they had overlooked.

Humanism is both individual and collective. Although people’s freedom to choose their own course is of paramount importance, humanists also recognize that we are social creatures, and that we find the greatest fulfillment by interacting with others and joining communities based on a shared identity or common interests. Although solitary geniuses and entrepreneurs have contributed to human progress, the greatest works of artistic creativity and intellectual achievement have come about only through connection in a shared culture.

Humanism encourages us to turn our attention to this world. As part of respecting the freedom and dignity of individuals, humanists seek to build a society where all people can flourish to their greatest extent. In addition to ethical behavior on the level of individual interactions, then, humanists are willing to contribute to the greater good, to devote their efforts toward creating a freer, more rational, more just civilization. Where we see injustice, we seek to correct it; where we see evil and tyranny, we battle against it; where we see senseless waste and destruction, we work to put a stop to it.

Humanism encourages the full development of human potential. It states that human nature is neither intrinsically good nor intrinsically evil, but that we have instincts that tend in both directions. Through education and training, we can learn to encourage the better instincts and rechannel the worse ones. Although the project of moral education is a difficult undertaking, it’s a worthy and important one. Humanists recognize that the improvement of society’s attitudes benefits all people who live in it, and only through this means can we end poverty, war, climate change and other global threats that demand collective effort to solve.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Most concisely stated, humanism is the worldview which treats human beings – our lives, our needs, and our concerns – as of supreme importance…

    Absolutely. Which is why some religionists can be considered humanists.

  • Richard P.

    Which is why most “religionists” can’t.
    Religion in not about our lives, our needs, and our concerns – as of supreme importance. It is about god and our conforming to his followers interpretation of what god wants. We are second fiddle in relation to god. For instance to be a christian and be a humanist would be living a life of complete hypocrisy. Our lives, our needs, and our concerns hold no importance to god unless it draws our attention away from him, then it’s just all bad.

  • AnonaMiss

    For instance to be a christian and be a humanist would be living a life of complete hypocrisy.

    I think that was Reginald’s point.

  • Katie M

    To be a humanist means to recognize that we are one species, no matter what the religionists and politicians say. To be a humanist means to see that what differences exist between world cultures are trivial compared to the similarities. To be a humanist means to accept our true place in the cosmos, but also take pride in our ultimate origin-we are starstuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself. And the only way to accomplish that? Science.

  • http://protostellarclouds.blogspot.com Mathew Wilder

    @ AnonaMiss #3: Except that hypocrisy is not a Humanist value.

    Yet it does seem laudable to espouse Humanist values and to go against one’s religion’s doctrines by following one’s conscience. Such freethought and skepticism seem integral to me in espousing Humanist values.

    A quandary.

  • bassmanpete

    Most concisely stated, humanism is the worldview which treats human beings – our lives, our needs, and our concerns – as of supreme importance.

    I can’t accept that so I suppose that means I’m not a humanist. What you’re saying suggests that you’d rather see tigers, rhinos, gorillas, etc. become extinct than have ONE human killed for the betterment of the majority eg Robert Mugabe, the pope (how many will die because of his attitude towards condoms & HIV?) . Am I right in that assumption or not?

  • Caiphen

    The values I just red are far greater than anything that I encountered in religion. I reckon I should become a Humanist as it seems like a great way to lead a fulfilling life.

    bassmanpete

    I’m a bit concerned about your comments above. I think you’ve misinterpreted the post. Please read it again and write further comments and we’ll discuss.

    I have to say, damn it’s good that I can have rational correspondence with you people. I just corresponded with a theist and he spoke nothing but complete irrational nonsense. Crap like, ‘only those who’ll humble themselves like little children will inherit the kingdom of heaven.’ I wonder, can’t they see the con? To add, it’s probably best that no one comments on this paragragh, I don’t mean to change the topic.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    hat you’re saying suggests that you’d rather see tigers, rhinos, gorillas, etc. become extinct than have ONE human killed for the betterment of the majority eg Robert Mugabe, the pope (how many will die because of his attitude towards condoms & HIV?) .

    I think this is where enlightened self interest takes over.

  • Zietlos

    Ahh, the rare postmodern absolute extreme relativist. Bassmanpete is truly a rare specimen of mankind, if he can truly see the world those those simplified extremes. While we may not agree with his belief, we should do our best not to attack him, but rather gently attempt to show him the error of his ways vis-a-vis his own language game (cf Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition).

    It is rather unfortunate for him that most atheists are modernists and not postmodernists, so I’ll just use Science instead:

    I say one tiger life is more important than one human life. If I see a tiger attacking/mauling someone, I would shoot the tiger if I had a gun on hand. I think, in general, every person on the planet (barring some extreme buddhists, an oxymoron if I ever heard one) would do the same. So no problems on a singular basis. The problem is in the economy of scale: Randomly bringing this to all tigers will cause a surprisingly high amount of harm to humans! The large cats keep many of the indigenous wildlife populations under control, and if that disappears, just look at Australia, where entire villages, people, buildings, wells, everything, are killed and destroyed by stampeding too-large packs of camels. No native hunters, so they overgrow and need to take human food to survive. The same would happen if all tigers were to be killed. You’d wind up killing more people by killing all the tigers than had you simply left each alone, even if you applied the “just one tiger/one human” choice I gave at the start to each decision until the very last one.

    And that is to say nothing of other species that provide economic and sociologic benefits to the nearby peoples. Even the above example: less tourism means less visibility of the plight of the people, means less funding to them, means more die of preventable diseases. I won’t pretend to evaluate the death count, I’m not an actuary, but it would be more than the entire population of tigers on Earth.

    All because you wanted to kill all tigers in existence to save one human. *clap, clap, clap*. Nice job breaking it, hero. Now, rational thinkers may not even give it that much thought, going into the economic side, but they know that, unlike religions which are told they can pillage Earth because, hey, it’s only temporary, an atheist humanist does not wish to upset the world more than necessary, because its the only one we’ve got, for a while anyways. Exhausting supplies of other things has a direct effect on humans. It’s called sustainability, and is a rather vital concept.

  • Charles

    I think you are conflating humanism with skepticism. From everything you wrote, humanism surely seems dogmatic. Take human rights. These don’t actually exist. Rather, they are conferred. If a certain Chinese official doesn’t already buy into it, you can condemn. You can go to war. But you can’t use reason.

    Even Jefferson had to appeal to divine authority.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    What you’re saying suggests that you’d rather see tigers, rhinos, gorillas, etc. become extinct than have ONE human killed for the betterment of the majority eg Robert Mugabe, the pope (how many will die because of his attitude towards condoms & HIV?) . Am I right in that assumption or not?

    That’s an issue I’m still struggling with. I abhor the thought of killing any person for the betterment of the majority, and I have to admit that if the choice was ever forced upon me, I would rather shoot an animal, even an endangered one, than a human being. Nor could I in good conscience ask anyone to starve, or let their children starve, rather than, say, cut down an acre of rainforest to farm the land.

    Yet I also believe that other species also have a right to exist, and I fiercely reject the notion that human beings always have the right to trample on the environment to serve our own desires. There’s got to be a place where those two principles collide, and I haven’t yet come up with a satisfying conclusion about how to handle it when that happens. For what it’s worth, I do think that the long-term interests of humans and the environment are completely aligned – it’s only the short term that poses problems.

  • jack

    There’s got to be a place where those two principles collide, and I haven’t yet come up with a satisfying conclusion about how to handle it when that happens. For what it’s worth, I do think that the long-term interests of humans and the environment are completely aligned – it’s only the short term that poses problems.

    The real collision here is ultimately the one between unrestrained growth of the human population and global ecological limits. Do humanists believe that each human has an inalienable right to produce as many offspring as he or she wishes? I, for one, do not.

    You’re right that the long-term interests of humans and the rest of the natural environment are aligned. Sadly, most humans can’t or won’t think that far ahead, and we all hurtle onward toward that collision at frightening speed.

  • Cosmo Wafflefoot

    [Most concisely stated, humanism is the worldview which treats human beings - our lives, our needs, and our concerns - as of supreme importance. Humanism recognizes our deep and profound interconnection with the natural world and with all living things on Earth, yet it values human beings above all else - not because of unjustified bias, but because that humans are the only living beings who are moral agents: the only ones who are able to reason out the consequences of their actions and choose to act based on that evaluation. Other animals lack that moral competence, and so regardless of what considerations we owe them, they are not of equal importance with us."]

    So basically, humans consider humans the most important thing. ["not because of unjustified bias"] Not really a shock, is it? Important to whome? Humans I would guess. Is this a philosophy or just one more attempt to convince ourselves of our supreme worth and value in a universe where, in fact, we are slightly less than insignificant. I could not help myself but picture a Munchkin from the Wizard of Oz standing on a tree stump, surrounded by other Munchkins, reading this from a long scroll and substituting Munchkinism for Humanism.

    ["the only ones who are able to reason out the consequences of their actions and choose to act based on that evaluation."]

    I’m sorry, but after reading the paper today this hardly sounds like the planet I live on. I’m thinking perhaps bacteria, caterpillars that turn into butterflies or social insects may end up being earths claim to fame. This genetic experiment in “big brains” may just have been doomed from the start. But, pretend we must! The only alternative is to contemplate our absurd insignificance in an uncaring universe. Kind of “religiony” if you ask me.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Maxwell Smart

    Cosmo, you can do both. You can both contemplate your insignificance and consider your insignificance significant. And it is. You’re the only you that’s ever been.

    You’re that one potato chip that looks vaguely like Abraham Lincoln or the peanut shell with three nuts inside; not important at all in the big picture and yet still pretty cool on the human scale.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Wups. That was me. I used a different name that one time. You should’ve been there. We had nachos.

  • Cosmo Wafflefoot

    Max, I see no reason not to have all the fun and experience life in matter gives us the opportunity to. I’m just not particularly into all the patting ourselves on the back business. A little altruistic egoism and a whole lot of not taking ourselves too seriously “We are stardust”… (what isn’t?)

  • Cosmo Wafflefoot

    [ "For what it's worth, I do think that the long-term interests of humans and the environment are completely aligned - it's only the short term that poses problems."]

    Forgive me Ebonmuse, but as a carrier of the double wise-ass gene, I couldn’t help but think…

    ….Spoken like a good yeast.

  • bassmanpete

    Ahh, the rare postmodern absolute extreme relativist.

    Well if I knew what that meant I might agree with you Zietlos :) I didn’t really grasp your follow up either; you say one tiger life is more important than one human life but you’d shoot the tiger?

    That’s an issue I’m still struggling with. I abhor the thought of killing any person for the betterment of the majority, and I have to admit that if the choice was ever forced upon me, I would rather shoot an animal, even an endangered one, than a human being.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with killing someone like Mugabe who has brought so much death & suffering to so many. To me, the endangered animal would have far more importance. Although I have to admit, I’d have to be convinced that he wouldn’t be replaced by someone as bad or even worse.

    I do think that the long-term interests of humans and the environment are completely aligned

    Well there’s no doubt about that; no environment, no humans – or anything else for that matter! The problem is that the vast majority of people want to get as much as possible for themselves and their family and don’t even think about the long term consequences.

  • Moondog

    What the heck, Cosmo? Is that your big plan? Just go into every thread and announce the same crap? That the only truly enlightened view is that humans are unimportant and our lives are ultimately worthless and meaningless? Nice, man. Very nice. Talk about patting your own self on the back too much. Well, you just keep your nose in the air and that silly grin on your face for being so smart as to figure out the truly depressing truth of the universe, cause I’ll tell you again like I told you before, we aren’t buying your nihilist b.s.

    I’ll admit that your back and forth with Steve on the other thread was informative, but I mean do you really want to be that guy that walks in the room and everyone rolls their eyes? And since you seem to believe that trying to wake people up from their meaning-affirming dreams is futile, what’s the point of even announcing your Great Truth besides just trying to get a rise out of people for kicks? Has 33 years as a physician left you an irritable toll (in more ways than one, perhaps)? I’ll tell ya, I think Strong Sad is pretty funny, but you as Depressio is already getting old.

    I’ll step off my soap box to ask one earnest question. You say you used your friend/patient’s beliefs to improve her life. Gave her irrational advice that ended up helping her because it meshed with her beliefs, right? So, if manipulating people’s beliefs to make their lives better is the subjective meaning you have chosen for your own life, how do you plan to manipulate us with our beliefs to improve our lives? Or are we not worth the effort? Or I guess maybe telling us straight out would ruin the effect?

  • Moondog

    Ebonmuse,

    First I just want to say how much I appreciate this website and all the effort you make. Of all the atheist bloggers I’ve read, although there are many good writers, you’ve struck me as perhaps the most eloquent (many come off as angry or sophomoric–perhaps not unlike a blog I might write). You and a number of regulars here have really made me think, as you stay level headed and calm when faced with contrary opinions and people who don’t seem to “get it” and let the facts and rational thinking speak for itself. Also, you (and others here) have often put into words a lot of what I already thought but in a way far better than I ever could. So, thank you. And thanks to Steve Bowen, D, OMGF, Caiphen, Modusoperandi, and many many others, as well. What you all write is really making a difference in people’s lives.

    Getting to the point of this post, I wanted to say that since coming to admit to myself that I’m an atheist, and coming to terms with the concept of meaning and morality without God (thanks to what you and other people have written on the subject here and elsewhere), animal rights has been on my mind a lot.

    If we base our morality on the objective truth of happiness vs. suffering or desire-affirming vs. desire-repressing how do we draw the line between humans and other animals? And when looking around the web regarding this topic there seem to be a lot more atheists that are vocal about animal rights and the rightness of vegetarianism etc. (anywhere you draw the line between humans and other animals is too arbitrary, they claim) than atheists who maintain that there is truly something that sets us apart from the other animals.

    Now, it could just be my old biases coming through, but what you wrote in the OP about the moral capacity of humans setting us apart from the other animals really made/makes a lot of sense to me. Not that it at all gives us carte blanche to do whatever we want to animals regardless of their suffering/desires, but I think it’s an important distinction.

    The rest of the post was gold, too. The more I read about secular humanism, the more it rings true. Thanks again. Keep up the great work.

  • Cosmo Wafflefoot

    Moondog…? Should I be apologizing for not sharing your views on life?

    ["That the only truly enlightened view is that humans are unimportant and our lives are ultimately worthless and meaningless?"] Other than the importance we pretend… that’s my philosophy. I’m not unhappy. As a matter of fact I’m frequently asked…”Are you ALWAYS this happy?” Existence is absurd and I embrace it fully.
    I really don’t understand. Why should my views upset you?

    [.. "And since you seem to believe that trying to wake people up from their meaning-affirming dreams is futile, what's the point of even announcing your Great Truth besides just trying to get a rise out of people for kicks?"]

    I don’t care to wake anybody up and I have announced no “Great Truths”. I am an Atheist too. I had no idea that one had to be an Atheist of a particular denomination not to be accused of heresy.
    I’m happy as a clam Moondog. But, I admit, you shocked me with this.

    …. “for being so smart as to figure out the truly depressing truth of the universe”…

    What does that mean? You should be asking yourself why you find my views depressing. They have nothing to do with you at all. To be honest you give me the impression I’m used to getting from the religious. Anything that questions their dogma, any person with differing views….. sets them off. Religion is like that. It loses power when someone says…”I don’t believe that.” Why should you, an Atheist, feel that way. Why do you need to be so important in this universe of ours? You know, your need to have humans be more important than they are is why we have religions in the first place. Just pretend I’m a Mormon or something.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I do think that the long-term interests of humans and the environment are completely aligned – it’s only the short term that poses problems.

    It seems to me that humanists also need to take future generations of humans into account. This makes the environmental imperative clear to me because satisfying a few human beings in the here and now could easily make life hell for millions in the future. It is a perfectly sound utilitarian argument to put the environment and biodiversity ahead of short term human gain.

  • Cosmo Wafflefoot

    I couldn’t agree more Steve.

  • Johan

    What do you think of IHEU’s “minimum statement” of what humanism is?

    “Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.”

    How much emphasis do humanists put on this definition, which is after all what all organizations joining the IHEU have to agree with? I’ve never quite liked it, which is why I’ve had problems with humanism, even though I agree with many of the ideas propunded by humanists.

  • http://www.andchristsaid.com/ Christ

    Sounds like the high-brow version of Satanism. Not worshiping-a-red-abomination-with-horns Satanism; I mean the “religion” that was founded by Anton Szandor LaVey. The basic doctrine there was that the only thing that matters is our brief time on this planet, and so humans and their desires are of paramount importance. To be indulged, without restraint (ok maybe I’m embellishing a little there). Like I said, it’s the low-brow version of humanism, i.e. a bunch of oddball goths screaming “GO HUMANS!!” and trying to have orgies. I guess if you had to pick between humanism and the satanism sub-culture, satanism could be a little more fun. (If a little more creepy.)

  • colluvial

    Regarding the issue of how to balance the importance of human life versus other species, I don’t think we can get to a satisfying solution without adopting concern for entire ecosystems, not just humans. While it may be momentarily useful to hunt down the last tuna so a fisherman can earn money to feed his family, if we cannot value the right of other species to exist, we should at least recognize their future value to humans. Once tuna are gone, they will never provide food again. But they could have been managed sustainably and provided vast quantities of food for however long humans have the ability to fish for them.

    With our limited understanding of the roles species play, it can’t be wise to continue to dismantle ecosystems.

  • Moondog

    Cosmo, your view seems to be something like “since atheism is true, our lives have no “real” meaning, but so what? I still intend to enjoy life as much as possible and help others to improve their lives.” Yes?

    So what would it take for our lives to have “real” meaning, in your estimation, and why do you use that as your criterion?

    And I understand that any strong reaction against something you claim strikes you as the same as how religious people react when their beliefs are attacked. But you seem to be under the mistaken impression that a heated or angry response is out of place in any kind of discussion. When someone says they are in love with their wife (or writes a blog post about it) and you get up in their face and laugh condescendingly at them and say, “since what you call love is nothing more than a physiological state of your brain it is actually meaningless. But, please go on pretending that your love has meaning, if it makes you happy.” and you don’t understand how someone might be offended by that? Just because people with rational world views (scientific, evidence-based beliefs) and people with irrational world views (religious faith, beliefs without reliable evidence) both react passionately against views they feel are attacking what they believe is true about the world does not mean that both kinds of world view are on the same level in approaching/explaining objective reality.

    Also, how much have you poked around here at Daylight Atheism? Cause Ebonmuse has written many insightful essays on the topics surrounding the concepts of meaning, optimism, and beauty. You might, for example start out with Quintessence of Dust and In Defense of Optimism.

  • Moondog

    And how can you be surprised that someone might find your idea that their lives are meaningless depressing? You yourself believe that humans have evolved to need to feel important. But, you know what? I don’t claim to be important to the universe. But what I am is important to me, and I’m important to my friends and family. And that’s enough for me. And what I choose to do with my life gives my life meaning. Like it or not.

  • Cosmo Wafflefoot

    I like it Moondog. But, I think you must admit that a Muslim suicide bomber or Fundamentalist Christian will DEMAND the same right as you (and I). My contention has always been that religion and culture serve the same function. To give man reasons to believe “he” is important and ways to prove his heroism. Proof that life isn’t meaningless. We will get it any way we can because it is a basic human need. If “reality” doesn’t supply what we need or want….. we dissociate ourselves AWAY from any and all objective evidence contrary to what we need to believe to reach our preferred reality. It becomes as invisible as the mountain of evidence that the earth is billions of years old is to fundamentalist Christians.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I like it Moondog. But, I think you must admit that a Muslim suicide bomber or Fundamentalist Christian will DEMAND the same right as you (and I).

    Nonsense. The difference you are ignoring is that the fundamentalist or homicide-bomber is not only interested in his or her life’s meaning, but in imposing their own meaning onto the lives of others. To equate this with a humanistic outlook is bosh, not only because the meanings of each outlook are different, so are the implementations, with the concomitant effects on our fellows.

    My contention has always been that religion and culture serve the same function. To give man reasons to believe “he” is important and ways to prove his heroism. Proof that life isn’t meaningless. We will get it any way we can because it is a basic human need. If “reality” doesn’t supply what we need or want….. we dissociate ourselves AWAY from any and all objective evidence contrary to what we need to believe to reach our preferred reality. It becomes as invisible as the mountain of evidence that the earth is billions of years old is to fundamentalist Christians.

    Are you really arguing that valid meaning can only come from godly fiat, and that your nihilism arises solely from your atheism?

    Arguing the validity or invalidity of an intangible is meaningless without analyzing an individual’s actions to see if they comport with his stated views on the meaning of life. If those actions do so comport, what grounds have you for claiming that this imposed meaning is false? By divorcing meaning from analysis, you are yourself only proclaiming dogma, which is ironic given the number of times you’ve levelled this charge at others in one guise or another.

  • Cosmo Wafflefoot

    Are you a comedian?

    ….”Nonsense. The difference you are ignoring is that the fundamentalist or homicide-bomber is not only interested in his or her life’s meaning, but in imposing their own meaning onto the lives of others.”….

    Not like you, right?

    …”Are you really arguing that valid meaning can only come from godly fiat, and that your nihilism arises solely from your atheism?”…

    No. As I believe I stated, religion and culture provide a arena for immortality and heroism. What do you offer?

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    My contention has always been that religion and culture serve the same function. To give man reasons to believe “he” is important and ways to prove his heroism.

    I think this is the problem most of us are having with your argument. It is not clear that religion and culture have the same root at all, regardless of Becker’s hypothesis of what religion is (still looking for a free/cheap copy btw). Culture is emergent, we are a social species and other social species with a capacity to learn and communicate demonstrate some level of culture. It should not be surprising that with our degree of self awareness, interdependency and potential for conflict that the cultures we evolve become large and complex. It is no surprise either that we integrate religion (or at least social ritual) into those cultures as a tool of coherence and rule making. But culture isn’t myth making, nor is it dependent on myth for sustainance. It is perfectly possible to build a culture around humanism, secularism, utilitarianism and the scientific method. We don’t have to define ourselves and our worth against dreams of immortality. Because we are self aware and because we do exist within a network of other self aware beings our worth is defined in that context. You may argue that that is what culture is for, to prop up that self worth, but this is ass-backward. It may be the structure we navigate and we may modify our self perception in response but it’s not a stage set for epic myths and heroic archetypes.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Are you a comedian?

    I’ve been known to crack wise on occasion, yeah.

    I wrote:

    ….”Nonsense. The difference you are ignoring is that the fundamentalist or homicide-bomber is not only interested in his or her life’s meaning, but in imposing their own meaning onto the lives of others.”….

    to which you replied:

    Not like you, right?

    Wait, having a discussion has become “seeking to impose”? I thought we were just talking. All I did was explain why I think your position is nonsense. I don’t care whether you accept it or not.

    No. As I believe I stated, religion and culture provide a arena for immortality and heroism. What do you offer?

    I will assume that you mean “my position” and not me personally in your last question. In that event, atheism offers me the openness to define heroism for myself without the bullshit of religion or the peer-pressure of culture. Given that you never demonstrated the neccessity of religion in that other migraine of a thread, you’d ought not make this bald assertion as if you’ve proved your point there. You haven’t.

  • Cosmo Wafflefoot

    …”In that event, atheism offers me the openness to define heroism for myself without the bullshit of religion or the peer-pressure of culture”… Your personal religion?

    . Steve? ..”But culture isn’t myth making, nor is it dependent on myth for sustenance.”…

    Have you heard of America?

  • Moondog

    Cosmo, I love how every time someone makes a really good point, you just dismiss it with a quip. You have a lot of explaining to do to make more sense than the other people here, but you don’t even try. Or maybe you’re just not good at explaining.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Your personal religion?

    “No, u” is an argument best practiced on 4chan. If you’re accusing me of faith, please lay out your evidence.

    Also, raise your standard of discourse, lest you lower the standards here.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Thump, that’s not nice.

    There’s no need to insult 4chan like that.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Steve? ..”But culture isn’t myth making, nor is it dependent on myth for sustenance.”…

    Have you heard of America?

    Cute! But I didn’t mean that cultures don’t make myths, of course they do, they tell all sorts of lies to themselves. What I guess I should have said is that building a culture isn’t building myth. Culture is a substrate upon which you can impose anything including religion or rationality, and it’s plastic, like dried out silly putty it doesn’t change shape easily but with a bit of work can be moulded eventually. Humanism is a philosophy that can appeal to atheists and the moderately religious alike. As an ethical starting point it’s a broad enough tent to carry an educated population along, which is largely what has happened in Scandinavia and to some extent northern mainland Europe. It offers both freedom of and from religion and marginalises the fundies of all stripes.

  • Cosmo Wafflefoot

    [Last Post] It seems (according to Ebonmuse) I am FLOODING the site. I certainly wouldn’t want to do that.

    I disagree with you that building a culture “isn’t” building a myth, or fabric of myths. But, I am certainly in agreement with you philosophically. ["Scandinavia and to some extent northern mainland Europe"] have been stable economically and socially for a decent period of time. Long enough for peoples social (health care for one) needs to be satisfactorily met. It is, in my opinion, a somewhat unique situation. How is the Muslim influx going to effect this?
    I don’t live in that world. I live in a Fundamentalist Christian world. Arguments about just what is “correct thinking” for Atheists, acceptable dogma if you will, is of no use to me. Neither is what worked in Scandinavia. I’m far more interested in combatting the damage I see powerful religious groups doing to my own country and to my own neighbors. Open discrimination against gay people for example.
    But, alas, I choose to capitalize the word Atheist. I have learned, to late according to Ebonmuse it seems, that I have, as an Atheist, mistakenly wandered into the wrong website.
    I wish you the best. Hope you do read “Denial of Death”. I think you will enjoy it.
    CW

  • Moondog

    If we can sorta get back on topic–well, it’s not perfectly on topic but it does have to do with something Ebonmuse said in the OP:

    Other animals lack that moral competence, and so regardless of what considerations we owe them, they are not of equal importance with us.

    I’d love to hear what some of you think about claims that atheists should be vegetarians since wherever you draw the line between humans and animals is too arbitrary. Even the well-known atheist journalist Christopher Hitchens in his book “God is not Great” grants that a case could be made for forgoing pork in all it’s forms–though he doesn’t come straight out and endorse this case. I tend to agree with Ebonmuse and humanists in general, and also tend to think that killing animals for food is not immoral, but what say you?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I’m not so sure that we can say, “Other animals lack that moral competence.” Hasn’t it been shown that some monkeys will go on hunger strikes to keep their cage-mates from being hurt? (See here, footnote 12)

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I think there are all sorts of rational reasons to be vegetarian; environmental, ethical and practical. I’ve even tried it (and being vegan)but I find I can’t sustain it, so my apologetic is that I only buy free range, ethically farmed meat and avoid the burger chains (no hardship). Since the meat is more expensive I buy less of it. I also argue that we evolved as an omnivore so an omnivorous diet (without excess meat) is probably optimal. But having said that, with modern supplements that’s probably not entirely true either these days.

  • Moondog

    Thanks for the feedback OMGF and Steve. I guess part of the problem for me, is where to draw the line once you decide to care about the suffering and happiness, desires etc, of other animals. I’m all for humane treatment of animals, even animals raised for food, but the whole circle of life relies on the suffering and death of animals for food for other animals (among other things, of course)… so, when you start saying that we can’t morally draw a line between other animals and humans, how do you keep from arriving at the absurd conclusion that we should protect animals from the suffering caused by other animals? I mean, if their suffering is important enough to refrain from contributing to to the point of not eating them, would it not be important enough to prevent their suffering in general? Obviously not, since that would entail disrupting the entire balance of life. Tigers gotta eat meat, after all. So, working backwards from there, if animal suffering can’t be important enough to prevent their being killed for food by other animals, then does it really make sense to say that humans should care enough about them to avoid killing them for food (even though many of us don’t really need to eat them to survive)?

    I’ll admit I get the feeling I’m guilty of a few fallacies there somewhere. But, I just don’t see how we can afford to care about animals enough to say its immoral to kill them for food because of the absurdity of what seems to me a natural conclusion of caring about them to that extent. Make sense? And I feel like the moral capacity etc that Ebonmuse touched on in the OP that sets us apart from the other animals supports the idea that we’re different enough from other animals to not have to commit ourselves to the claim that killing animals for food is immoral.

    But all that being said, I find that I do care about their suffering enough to not want to contribute to their unnecessary suffering in the process of their becoming food. And I don’t know if I could ever wield the knife myself. Which makes me feel like something of a hypocrite.

    Anyone else struggle with this?

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Moondog “But, I just don’t see how we can afford to care about animals enough to say its immoral to kill them for food because of the absurdity of what seems to me a natural conclusion of caring about them to that extent.”
    I’m perfectly fine with killing animals for food. I’m not okay with treating them with unnecessary cruelty (and I think that raising animals or clubbing baby seals for fashion is daft. Leather, good, because cows are tasty. Fur, bad, because mink…I assume…tastes like weasel. I don’t know how weasel tastes and, God willing, I’ll never find out. If weasels were made for eatin’, they wouldn’t try so hard to get away).
    It’s the difference between a free-range chicken farmer who has named every chicken but, when dinner time rolls around, one of them loses its head and a factory pig farmer (or worse, cattle raised for veal) who packs them in tight, shoots them full of hormones and anti-biotics, and, come America’s dinner time, runs a bunch up the ramp to the bolt machine, which may or may not stun/kill them before they’re chopped up. One group gets a pretty good life with a surprise near the end (which, it should be noted, to a lesser or greater degree is pretty much what those of us that don’t die in our sleep get) while the other lives and dies in misery.
    That massive feedlots and factory farming are unsustainable, since they are only so profitable because they “externalize” the true cost to everybody “downstream”, like neighbours who can’t grow good crops because the shit and piss have ruined the watertable (or go outside because of the permanent, nauseating smell) and the fishermen who have no fish because that same shit and piss have killed the stream, there’s at least the potential for public outrage to lead to the possibility for the political will to do something (as with the events that lead to environmental legislation in the 70s). It’s not much of a bright spot, but a little flame in the dark is better than nothing.

    Shorter Modusoperandi: Meat good. Factory Meat bad*.

    *…though it is a good name for a band


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