Seven Things to Avoid When Talking to Strangers about Humanism

This is an article by Jennifer Hancock. It appears in the January/February 2012 issue of The Humanist. You can read other articles from this issue and subscribe to the magazine by going to their website.

Imagine you’ve just met someone new and it comes up that you’re a humanist. It happens. Perhaps you’re at the playground with your child or waiting in line at the grocery store and you let it slip that you’re on your way to a humanist meeting. Regardless of how it happens, the stereotypical response is, “What’s humanism?”

The good news is that you’ve now been provided a perfect opportunity to share your philosophy. The bad news is that most of us aren’t sure what to say when asked about humanism. We know we should focus on the positive, but it’s so much easier to talk about the things we are not or the ideas we reject. To help overcome these natural tendencies, I’ve compiled a list of seven things you probably shouldn’t do (with suggestions for what you should) when talking to strangers about humanism.

1) Don’t expect a negative reaction. Most people have a positive initial reaction to the word “humanism” or “humanist.” They likely want to hear what you’re going to say, and chances are they’re going to agree with a fair amount, except the rejection of the supernatural. So don’t ruin someone’s initially good impression of the word humanism by assuming he or she is going to react negatively to the philosophy; a positive response allows you to lead with a positive introduction. Of course, there’s also a chance that the person you’re talking to is a humanist and just doesn’t know it.

2) Don’t begin a debate. Don’t bait someone into an argument just to show off your critical thinking skills. It’s rude. If you’re asked to explain humanism, that’s what you should do, nicely and without suggesting the person is stupid or inferior.

3) Keep your definition of humanism simple. When asked to explain his or her philosophy, a humanist can get wordy, even launching into a history of the ancient Greeks and the humanists of the Renaissance. The problem is that these things really don’t help people understand what humanism is in that moment.

The very first thing out of your mouth should be a short and quick definition. Do your best to keep it simple and sincere (even reciting a short prepared statement can seem obtuse). The American Humanist Association defines humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” This works in written form, but for a personal interaction try something like, “humanism is about being a good person for the sake of being a good person.” Another good tactic is to quote a famous humanist, for example: “Kurt Vonnegut said that ‘being a humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.’”

4) Don’t talk about God. Most people, including most religious people, have very little interest in talking about the existence of God. And in our scenario, you haven’t been asked about that topic. You were asked about humanism. What’s interesting is that you wouldn’t even have to make a rejection of the supernatural explicit—people understand immediately that a deity is missing when you don’t invoke God or religion as the basis for your morality.

5) Don’t make it about them. The person who asked you about humanism didn’t ask you to critique their personal beliefs. If you are interested in raising questions about another person’s beliefs, the best way is to have them consider yours. In other words, if you stick to talking about what you believe in and value, they will do the hard work of questioning their ideas on their own.

6) Don’t denigrate religion — any religion. Just as your hypothetical conversationalist didn’t ask for your views on God they also didn’t ask for a diatribe about organized religion. They were simply curious about humanism. Moreover, most people think denigrating religion is offensive, even if they agree with you. The idea is to show how nice a humanist can be.

7) Don’t forget to talk about morality. The most attractive thing about humanism is its strong moral foundation. And yet most of us feel an urge to talk to strangers about the existence or non-existence of God. Don’t make this mistake. Talk about morality for the sake of morality without even going into the fact that yours isn’t grounded in a God belief. The truth is, most people consider morality a highly important topic, and the most exciting part about discussing moral issues with people is that if it turns out they are also irreligious, they will at this point get really excited and want to become your friend. It happens to me all the time!

Jennifer Hancock is the author of the new book, The Humanist Approach to Happiness: Practical Wisdom. She lives in Florida and for some reason finds herself talking to strangers about humanism several times a week. She can be found online at www.Jen-Hancock.com.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Gregory Lynn

    People Matter. Health is better than sickness. Life is better than death. Less pain is better than more pain.

    It pretty much all follows from there.

    • Momma J

      This doesn’t set you apart from many groups though. I can’t think of many organized groups that don’t believe in those things. I would want to know what kind of evidence  I see in someone’s life that I could look for and say “ah, that person is a humanist!” 

      I’m a bit confused on some of these responses….

      • Eskomo

        How about if the words “for everybody” were added to each claim. For many groups, they want those for the in group, not the out group.

        • Momma J

          Hmm….alright. That does eliminate some groups. However, I can’t think of that many groups that want a better life for only those that are are associated with themselves. 

          According to the past 2 definitions that makes me a humanist. I’ve never used that term to describe myself. Point #1 is even more interesting to me then. I had a negative connotation to the word previously. My apologies! I am definitely for the things that Greg mentioned for all people!

          For some reason I thought in the past that “humanist” was a term that was employed to try and separate one’s belief from a theistic one. I personally believe in God and I want the best for people in this life and the next :)

          • Gregory Lynn

            I would suggest that there is a difference between Humanism and Secular Humanism.

            My Humanism is secular. If yours is theistic then we have differences but they are small ones. 

            • Mihangel apYrs

              Gregory/Momma

              the differences between you is in the detail not the outcome:

              A believes in treating people well because they’re all created in god’s image and hir brothers and sisters

              B is committed to treating people well because a human being has intrinsic worth to be values.

              Both feed the poor – no difference in the manifestation of their humanism

  • Charles Black

    I’ll talk about each of the following points on their own merits from an outsider wanting to know about humanism
    1. That would certainly by true as the term humanist is nowhere as much a dirty word than atheist.2. If I were the person asking about what it means to be humanist, I just want an idea what it is to be a humanist not some public debate when I didn’t call for it.
    3. Same as point 2, that being I’m not here for a history lecture but rather the definition of humanism.4. Don’t change the topic as humanism is what is being talked about, not the existence (possibly) of any diety.
    5. Its not about me.6. This isn’t an anti-religion conversation I’m looking for.7.Tell me about the moral code underlying humanism & I might like it very much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    I like to just say it’s about leading a progressive ethical life for the greater good of something bigger than ourselves. This way I can assert that I do believe in and stand for something bigger than myself without invoking or directly rejecting religious belief.

    • Momma J

      How can a human that is a humanist, claim to be living a life for something bigger than humanity?  What is bigger than yourself/humanity that you are standing for? Sorry for my ignorance. I’m just not quite grasping what you are saying :/

      • Anonymous

        How can a human that is a humanist, claim to be living a life for something bigger than humanity?  What is bigger than yourself/humanity that you are standing for?

        The greater-good-of-humanity is something that’s ‘bigger’ than oneself as an individual.

        Seemed pretty clear to me.

        • Momma J

          I think I’m starting to see this a bit more clearer, but who decides what contributes to the greater good and what takes away from it? I could see some people having a lot of different opinions on this :/

          • Anonymous

            who decides what contributes to the greater good and what takes away from it? I could see some people having a lot of different opinions on this :/

            Who decides?  we all do, collectively.  What happens when there’s disagreement?  Then you have to bring your best argument to the table and have points to support it.   The main foundational principle being equality and fairness.  Someone saying ‘this group shouldn’t have this right/privilege that everyone else has’ has to have some pretty persuasive reasons for suggesting such inequality.

            (which is why the same sex marriage issue will soon be a moot point in the US ~ because those opposing it haven’t been able to offer any valid reason for doing so)

            If one’s arguments are based on nothing beyond:  ‘the God i believe in says so’, then *buzzer sound* sorry, not good enough to be considered.  Certainly not when it comes to rules that pertain to all people.

          • Mihangel apYrs

            MommaJ
            religion gives certainty if not correctness: a secular humanist weighs the question bringing empathy, and an evaluation of outcomes.  One isn’t always right, in either case, but honest and honourable intentions allow one to evaluate one’s mistakes without self-loathing

  • Maevwen

    sounds like a great basis for billboards.

  • Hitch

    I don’t think I have ever encounter someone who had no notion at all that that could mean or  more would come out claiming to be against humanism.

    So I am not quite sure what the list is supposed to achieve.

    But when it does come down to ethical issues and one does end up considering what that means the list just safe-guards “god” talk again. But sadly that is where some of the contentions are. The issue is not that there are “humanists” here and a bunk of other folks there. In reality many people consider themselves humanists yet what that means is filled with different content. Mother Theresa without doubt considered herself a humanist and is considered perhaps by the vast majority a humanitarian, yet one can have diverging views over whether her help really was humane and ethical.

    In other words humanism is a rather broad and empty concept and worse on the atheist side it has been used in the past as a way to dodge stigma. “Secular humanist” as a way to dodge not having to deal with people that would stigmatize disbelief or skepticism. Yet the stigma itself is unethical.

    So while on the surface I agree with many points. I have reservations with the assumptions that are underlying. Sure, don’t break debates just to pretend to be critical. But that’s Communication skills 101 and not a guide to discussing humanism. And yes, if a conversation does not naturally land on “god” or “organized religions” then there isn’t a particular reason to push them. But here too I would argue there are a set of assumptions about who is bound to make it about god talk, who will push what, what can be talked about without portraying an image deemed undesirable etc.

    • http://stochasticscientist.blogspot.com/ Kathy

      I completely agree.  Humanism can mean anything to anyone.  After all, who doesn’t think humankind would benefit by adopting their values?

      • Momma J

        I’m agree with Hitch too. It seems to be rather broad term that could mean something different to a lot of different people. I’m a Christian….and a humanist. Many people who visit this board would call themselves something besides a Christian…and a humanist.

        But wait! This could be a good thing! That means we have something in common right? We are both seeking good things for humanity. While we disagree on some of the finer, specific details on what is good for humanity, we apparently have some common goals. I think this could be a nice foundation for the conversations about society issues when God or church does come into the conversation. Rather than parties getting irate at each other and attacking, can’t we see that we want some of the same things? Hmm….. something to chew on for this guy right here (myself). 

        Does this make anyone else think just a bit?

        • Anonymous

          This could be a good thing! That means we have something in common right? We are both seeking good things for humanity. While we disagree on some of the finer, specific details on what is good for humanity, we apparently have some common goals.

          I completely agree :)   I think acknowledging the values/goals we have in common is a great starting point and foundation for whatever follows…….mainly because we’ll hit the contentious stuff eventually, so it would be nice to establish that we do have many things in common before that :)

    • Anonymous

      “Secular humanist” as a way to dodge not having to deal with people that would stigmatize disbelief or skepticism

      I don’t see it as a ’dodge’…..I see it simply as an apt label.  When it comes to the current plethora of labels for oneself, ‘secular humanist’ is probably the one that best represents my worldview…..not ‘dodging’ anything.  I’m quite open to talking about my skepticism/disbelief as well :)

  • Anonymous

     “humanism is about being a good person for the sake of being a good person.” Another good tactic is to quote a famous humanist, for example: “Kurt Vonnegut said that ‘being a humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.’” / quote

    I like it. 

  • Anonymous

    I think rule #1 is a good idea, but should be used with a dose of realism. If you are talking to someone who lives in the evangelical bubble, they may have heard of “Secular Humanism” in a way that is not positive

    at all.  I still agree that  it’s a good idea to act as if you cannot even imagine a negative reaction, because for most people, a big open smile is very disarming. Even if they’ve heard bad things about Humanists, a bright friendly attitude will confuse the hell out of them, as it will appear to be in frontal contradiction with the terrible things they’ve been told. The nicer you are and the less you can be baited into aggression the better you will look, both with the person you are speaking to and to any bystanders. Still, even as you smile outwardly, be ready in case you encounter a negative reaction.

    #3 is essential, and probably one of the hardest ones to get. I hesitate to call myself a Humanist, because though I’m fairly certain I agree with most principles of Humanism, I don’t actually know too much about it, and it seems wrong to self-define as something you cannot readily…well, define.

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

      I think that reaction to “secular humanism” is more to do with the word “secular” than “humanism”. In religious circles all around the world “secular” is a very filthy evil word and anything associated with it is automatically considered vile.

      • Anonymous

        I absolutely agree. In fact I’m convinced that this prejudice is the reason you will almost never see anyone opposed to Humanism refer to it alone. The fundies always say “Secular Humanism” in order to attach the stigma of the secular to the rather more unknown and friendly sounding “Humanism”. So far as I can tell, Secular Humanism is a bit of a redundancy, since secularity is pretty much assumed within Humanism anyway.

        • Anonymous

          Not necessarily. Modern Humanism as as originally conceived in the 19th and early 20th century didn’t deny the existence of gods. In fact there were many religious humanists and organizations. They saw organized religions as failures, but instead of giving up on it they wanted to replace it with the new religion of Humanism. They were against dogmas and creeds, but faith in some form was still very much part of it. It’s a bit like UU in that regard and in fact UU is probably the best example of religious Humanism today

    • monyNH

      I also don’t generally call myself a humanist, although I know enough about it  to understand that I am one. I prefer to call myself an atheist in part because it requires little or no explanation. But mostly it’s to help dispel the negative opinion some have about atheism. If people who know me and know I’m a good egg find out that I am an unabashed atheist, they might be more likely to consider secularism in a more positive light–not as a choice for themselves, necessarily, but maybe be less likely to believe that non-believers are evil handmaidens of the devil plotting the downfall of all that is good and right in America.  ;)

      I like that humanism is an affirmative statement of what most of us believe (what we DO believe, versus what we DON’T believe)…but I’d rather reclaim the word “atheist” and show the world that there is no shame in being a non-believer. (Not to say that those who prefer “humanism” are ashamed, or living in the closet–this is strictly based on my own personal choice, and what I feel is best for me.)

  • http://twitter.com/InspFreethought Mike

    This is nonsense. Why can’t I, when introducing humanism, talk about religion and God in a critical manner?

    • Anonymous

      You can, but whether you should depends on your goal when talking with the other person.

      Do you value increasing the number of Humanists, or at least increasing the number of people who view Humanism positively, even if they themselves are religious? Do you want the conversation to continue, with the person you are talking to interested in learning more, and not merely in a defensive pose?

      Is it unfortunate that the fact of talking about god/s in a critical manner automatically leads people to shut down and stop listening? Yes, it is, but it’s a fact. It will happen if you open your explanations about Humanism with criticism towards a god, which statistically (if you are in the US) is their god. So you can certainly do it, but it’s simply less likely to get you a positive response and educational conversation.

      • http://twitter.com/InspFreethought Mike

        The best and more courteous way for me to continue a conversation is to be honest. One cannot talk about the benefits of leading an ethical and moral life for the sake of humanity without repudiating the idea that there exists a monotheistic dictator who commands morality based on his will.

        It seems that if we are to spread humanism, that point has to be understood by both sides in any conversation. It would be wrong of me to tell people that they can be “humanists” without giving them the full truth. I recommend full disclosure, not nebulous contract terms for the sake of tricking people into thinking like us.

        • Trina

          Mike, it seems to me that it would depend upon whether the person is asking about Humanism or Secular Humanism.  There are, indeed, theist humanists, and they probably like to know each other.  It would be easy enough to mention that both exist, and which you are, without initiating a judgmental conversation, if you were so inclined.  Nobody says that you have to be so inclined, and certainly many skeptics and atheists are not.  You have that right, as much as I have the right to seek common ground, which I generally find that I can do without any loss of integrity as an atheist. 

          Perhaps it comes partly from having once been married-into a family of attorneys, but arguing for the sake of hearing my own voice doesn’t appeal to me as much as does an actual dialogue.   I know that one can have such a dialogue, with some individuals, even when starting-off with criticism of religion, but it’s  not that common, at least where I live in the central U.S.  

          It tends to place people on the defensive, especially given all the ‘war against god’ stuff that tends to be spoken within many religious communities.  Why should I add fuel to that fire? 

          Generally speaking, when I’m speaking with a theist, I’d rather take a bit of a gentler tack, let them see that I don’t have horns and a tail, and have the possibility of a fruitful discussion about what I don’t believe, and why, if that person is interested. 

  • Alex

    I’d also like to add here that humanism does not necessarily imply atheism. One can believe in some notion of deity and be a happy humanist. Not all theists are holy rollers that affirm god as an all-powerful control freak that will send you a lump of coal if you don’t behave. (did I get that one right?)

  • EJC

    Rule #8 – Think for yourself and discuss however you want. Avoid taking advice from others. Shy away from those who speak as if they “know” how to talk to someone.

    Rule #9 – Be critical of religion and the dogmatic residue it spreads over society. Do not be shy to call out the myths and foulness of it all. Stand up and be counted. 

  • EJC

    Rule #10 – Ignore Rules #1-#9 and think for yourself.

  • Former Thumper

    I appreciate the spirit in which this article was written but am critical of the need to downplay the role that nonbelief plays in the philosophy.  Humanism is altruistic and humanitarian by nature but is specifically within the context of not believing in a personal intervening deity.  If the lack of belief in god is removed than the term loses meaning.  I’ve personally experienced staunch theists who upon hearing the watered down definition declare that they too are Humanists, not realizing the full implications.  I have found that it is less confusing to simply tell it too them straight.  Even if that means you get the occasional “So your an Atheist!?”.

  • mulikinc

    Or can it be said  - ’It’s about trying to behave decently and lead a progressive & ethical life for the greater good of humanity just for the sake of it, without any expectation of rewards or fear of punishment after you are dead’.

  • SpinozasCat

    As an example of how NOT to talk to a theist….

    I recently reconnected with an old high school friend from the south via social media. when explaining why I would not want to live there anymore, I summed it up like this: “NASCAR and Jesus make me gag.”. Yes… definitely not the best approach. The line amused me, but I haven’t heard from him since. When you live in a diverse and relatively secular community, it’s easy to forget how seriously even the ‘liberal’ theists take this stuff.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I think these are excellent guidelines to follow IF you are interested in communication. Unfortunately, many, many people are not interested in communication, they’re only interested in expression. They just want to get their opinion out there, and actually being clearly understood, or having a clear exchange of mutual understanding is not really considered important, often not even thought of. I think this might be why some people would object to rules number 4 and 6.  They want to get it off their chest, but not necessarily have any positive effect on a listener. The listener’s presence becomes almost incidental. That kind of expression could be done alone in the woods just as effectively.

    Communication requires talking with your ears, rather than with your mouth.

    As these guidelines suggest, choose your words and your direction by how they will be heard. Use empathy as best you can to imagine how the person is hearing and responding to what you say, rather than focusing on how it sounds to you.

    Another problem is even if you are going for communication, the person who asked you the question about humanism might only be interested in expression.  You might not get two sentences completed before you’re interrupted by what they suddenly want to express, and their interest in your ideas has evaporated.

    I’m a good listener. I ask someone an open-ended question, and then I shut up and listen very attentively. The only time I might talk is to briefly clarify what they’re telling me once in a while, so that we both know that I’m understanding them correctly. Then I repeat what they were saying so that my interruption does not cause them to lose their train of thought, and they can continue.

    But for me to listen like that took professional training and years of practice.  That doesn’t come naturally to most people. So be patient when the ideal scenario described in the original post is filled with bumps, snags, and dead-end tangents. Do the best you can to steer it back toward communication, even if it is far from perfect.

    • Anonymous

      for me to listen like that took professional training and years of practice.  That doesn’t come naturally to most people.

      Soooo true.  As Fran Lebowitz said:  “the opposite of talking isn’t listening, the opposite of talking is waiting

      It’s definitely a skill that requires effort :)

      • EJC

        Yes, pithy, but that makes no sense at all….Lebowitz is a GREAT photographer, but eloquent and logical she is not.

        • EJC

          DOH! I got my Lebowitz’s wrong this morning…Mondays….anyhoo, don’t like her logic, waiting is not the opposite of talking, waiting is waiting, the opposite of talking is listening…

          • Gerry

            You know, EJC, AxeGrrl and one of  the Lebowitz’s actually make a good point. I had never really thought about it, but one of the listening techniques I’ve developed, and one that works really well when you’re trying to get to the pith of a discussion, is that when the other person has finished speaking, instead of taking that as a cue to start talking, I just wait, and they continue to flesh out their thoughts. It’s a helpful technique to get to a deeper level.

  • Erik Cameron

    “people understand immediately that a deity is missing when you don’t invoke God or religion as the basis for your morality”
    No they don’t. They often passively assume it’s there. That’s why so many people think that the US was founded a christian country. People implicitly see their god in good things (and toast for some reason).

  • Anonymous

    “Most people, including most religious people, have very little interest in talking about the existence of God”

    Thanks for the laugh.

    • Laura Swist

      Actually, unless it’s just a “thank God” or “God was watching over us” generic reference, it’s uncomfortable in casual conversation. There is always this uneasy feeling that the other person is either judging me or might think I am judging them.
      Since most Americans believe in God, but I don’t run into many people that talk about Him constantly.  That includes coffee and donuts after Mass, too. Geez, one lady in the parish hall was selling See’s candy as a fund raiser for one of the affiliated charities last Christmas. When she handed me my change, she told me “Happy Holidays!” I told her it was ok to say “Merry Christmas” without offending me. Then we laughed about Bill O’Reilly getting all worked up about the “War on Christmas” before Thanksgiving happened. 

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        That’s probably because you’re Catholic. In my experience, Catholics don’t generally run around inserting God and Jesus into every conversation. Even socializing in or around church, they’d be more likely just to have a regular talk without constantly referring to the supernatural. It’s quite a contrast to the evangelicals, many of whom actually do manage to work their deity into every possible discussion.

        • Nordog

          That’s been my experience with both groups you mentioned.

  • Anonymous

    When asked  the question I have answered, ” Humanists believe in people, not Gods or other supernatural entities”. One woman answered  What about ghosts? They exist don’t they?” She wasn’t concerned about God at all!

  • Drew M.

    I just cite Bill and Ted. It’s all about being excellent to each other.

  • Momma J

    Okie dokie all. I need some help on this article. It has become clear to me that I’m not nearly learned enough on the terms for which the people who frequent this board associate themselves with.

    I thought I knew but humor me a bit. 

    1) Atheist
    2) Secularist
    3) Humanist

    I am in need  for definitions of these three if it’s not too much trouble please. 

    I’m also confused on the vagueness of the suggested responses that the author gives. Can someone unpack the idea of #7 for me? I’m especially confused on  ”talk about morality for the sake of morality.” That sounds a bit odd to me. How can morality benefit by me just talking about it in isolation without talking about where it comes from? Different people groups have different morals don’t they?

    I think talking about where our morality comes from is extremely valid as without God in the picture, then everyone’s morality is going to look different. There will be common points to agree on, but people’s beliefs on things like giving to the poor, the treatment of different ethnicities, alcohol and drugs, abortion/women’s rights of choice, is revenge okay, will all be different. Heck, if everyone’s morals are made up by themselves, then lets say a person finds $100 lying on the ground. What is the moral thing to do? a) Finders keepers? b) Hang on to it for a certain time to see if anyone claims it and if not its yours? or c) See if anyone claims it and then if not give it to someone in need?

    Morality affects the way we react to the situations that we are faced with. It’s a valid conversation in my book. If someone does not want to talk about that then I would strongly wonder why not? I also question someone who does not know where there morals come from. And please, don’t say “humanity”  because again, not each individual has the same set of morals. How did you answer the $100 bill question!

    • Laura Swist

      Hi Momma J
      I’m a Christian (Catholic, to be specific.) who has been watching on the side lines for a while now. This seems like an unusually friendly forum compared to the more heavily trafficked atheist sites.
      The Moral Argument is how philosophers refer to your position. I’m an amateur, but here goes: there are absolute morals, aka. things that are either right or wrong.  Otherwise, everything is relative to what a particular society agrees upon. Because some things are always wrong,  except under very special circumstances. Say murder. Murder is always wrong, unless it’s done in self defense. Therefore, there must be a law-giver.  Hence God.
      This is not one of the arguments I personally find particularly compelling.  Basically, I see morals/ethics as an adaptive trait humans that allows humans to trust each other. Without the ability to work as a team, how could we have survived as a species? Not to mention our incredible accomplishments. 
      I think that when that when that level of trust is perceived as threatened, we react with fear. Fear is expressed as anger, distrust, and seeing the enemy as evil (immoral). We worry that what motivates our enemy to behave ethically might not be as sound or as pure. Can we trust them? 
      So I can see how focusing on the values themselves, rather than the source or rationale for behind them,  permits us to trust each other as fellow human beings. This is ultimately more productive.
      But you can see in this thread, atheists (some, not all) fear believers. They are suspicious that we are behaving out of our own self-interest. I don’t know about you, but fear of going to Hell or getting into Heaven isn’t usually the primary factor motivating me to behave as a productive member of society.
      Thoughts of the after-life come up when someone I know passes away. 

      Nice to meet another intrigued Christian!

      • Laura Swist

        An atheist usually describes him/herself as lacking a belief in God/gods. A Humanist is an atheist or agnostic who participates in a community similar to a faith community, sort of church alternative.
        Not sure about Secularist outside of “Secular Humanist”.
        A secular society is one that adheres to the 1st Amendment. But I imagine a Secularist might be one who embrace the  freedom FROM religion ideology.
        Now, someone will come by and use the proper semantics.
        Non-believers are as varied as believers, I’ve found. Hence the variety of identities. They’ll might even argue with each other about  it too (this thread). 

        • Sue

          “A Humanist is an atheist or agnostic who participates in a community similar to a faith community, sort of church alternative.”

          I have to disagree with this one.  I do nothing of the kind, but I’m still a humanist.  Humanism is a philosophy – it doesn’t require going to meetings.

      • Anonymous

        Basically, I see morals/ethics as an adaptive trait humans that allows humans to trust each other. Without the ability to work as a team, how could we have survived as a species? Not to mention our incredible accomplishments. 

        Nicely said Laura :)

      • Anonymous

        I just wanted to say what a huge relief it is to find a Christian who does not go to “If there are morals there must be a morality giver” and volunteers the secular explanation herself. Thank you for that.

        I’d just like to add an explanation for the matter of fearing people who use Heaven and Hell as their standard. Atheists will often say they are afraid of people, or disgusted by the notion, that the rules in the Bible are the only thing that’s stopping a given believer from going out on a rampage of rape and pillaging. This must sound ridiculous to you, rightly so. However this is usually said in response (and sometimes in anticipation) to theists who will say that without belief in God we cannot be moral, and that the Bible is what provides us with a moral guide. This does not go over well in atheist circles because it touches on a frequent prejudice that atheists are somehow less moral than believers. So the response is to say that if the Bible is all that stands between you and murder, I’m scared. While I certainly can’t speak for all atheists, I can guarantee that for many this isn’t an honest expression of fear, but meant as a challenge to the theist, to think about how absurd it sounds that a holy book (the one they happen to believe in) is all that stands between a Homo sapiens and moral bankruptcy.

        I can totally see where a non-fundamentalist like yourself would be surprised and insulted by the notion that you need to be feared because only Hell is holding you back. Please know that most of us don’t honestly feel that’s the case, and we merely want to make that point to the fundamentalists who somehow think it is.

    • Anonymous

      I think talking about where our morality comes from is extremely valid as without God in the picture, then everyone’s morality is going to look different.

      Have you noticed how many different sects of Christianity there are?   They’re different because they have disagreements about certain points of Christian doctrine/morality…..

      So, even if ‘God’ IS in the picture, peoples’ morality differs to some extent.

      When the entity at the heart of a religious belief (‘God’) seems absent from existence, and doesn’t communicate to ‘clarify’ these disagreements, there is no ‘rock’ upon which to build…….despite what believers say about it.

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        Not to mention, there are thousands upon thousands of different gods and goddesses. Momma J obviously believes that her god is real, but all those other people believe that their deities are real, too. Every religion has a different moral system, and people who follow those religions have vastly different opinions on what is permitted and what is prohibited.

    • Ubi Dubium

      I’ll take a stab a quick definitions for you:

      1) Atheist
      Someone lacking belief in a god.
      2) Secularist
      Someone who may or may not believe in a god, but who thinks that goverment and public life in general should be uninvolved with religion.

      3) Humanist
      Someone who may or may not believe in a god, but who thinks that the problems of humans should be solved by humans.

      How’s that?

      • Momma J

        Ubi, your definitions line up the closest to how I was thinking about the terms prior to me jumping in on this thread. #1 is an easy soft toss but it’s still good to know I’m not totally wrong ALL of the time :) #2) I like your definition here. Again, that’s along the lines of how I would have described it as well #3) I guess this is where I’m the most confused. There’s some problems with your definitions. Rather, there are some problems with me being able to identify myself with humanism, according to your definition. According to others it seems as long as you have a genuine concern for people over yourself then that qualifies one. I would fit under that umbrella! 

        So I guess to be safe I probably shouldn’t call myself a humanist just in case it would offend someone if they found out I’m a Christian or something. I will say that I have a lot in common with humanists and can identify with them up to a point. 

        I feel this has possibly been the most enlightening thread that I’ve read on this blog. Thanks everyone for helping me learn some things today :)

        • Anonymous

          Just in case this helps you, Humanists believe that humans, by themselves, have the capacity to make good moral decisions, help others and make the world a better place. This implicitly means that we don’t need a god to do it, but does not make any commentary on whether that god is present or not. Though most Humanists are atheists, agnostics or deists (people who believe in a non-interventionist god), there is no reason at all why a non-fire and brimstone Christian cannot be a Humanist, as long as they accept that humans can independently act as moral creatures.

          There’s an old song which I’ve forgotten but the upshot is “We could use a little Heaven ’round here”, which sumarizes Humanism well. It’s about not waiting around for instructions or help from a deity, and not waiting for things to get better in Heaven, but getting up and working today, to make the real world we actually see around us as good as we can. Whatever you think about the supernatural, that is a worthwhile goal.

          Now, though I’m pretty sure you could get behind many of the goals of Humanism and even the attitude of making life good, I think you should know a few things. It’s likely, if you identify as Humanist, that you will be defined as a nonbeliever by default unless you make it otherwise clear (like by saying “Christian Humanist”) just because most Humanists are nonbelievers. Another thing you should know is that many Humanists have a very dim view of religion indeed, and though they may like and appreciate the individual religious person like yourself, they will strongly oppose the larger belief system. If you hang out around Humanists, please expect that your religious belief system will not be treated with anything approaching the high levels of respect it gets in the rest of society. On the brighter side, people self-identifying as Humanists are usually more interested in what positive things can be accomplished for the good of humankind than getting into fights over beliefs.

          • Anonymous

            Even most religious Humanists aren’t that hot about orthodox religion and reject most of its trappings. Humanism was originally a religious movement. But it was established as a kind of new religion because people were fed up with the existing ones. Secular Humanism grew out of it. Unitarian Universalism is an example of a humanist religion and it has precious little to do with Christianity

      • guest

        ^this.  Very concise and yet shows the differences.  Although I would add that one could be one of the three, two, or all three.  They are not mutually exclusive or a coherent package.

  • Anonymous

    There’s something hugely important missing from this discussion. Humanists respect and embrace science and reason as tools to improve our lives and make them healthier and more comfortable. Humanists demand evidence for what they are told to believe, and for this reason reject woo and notions of an afterlife that are nothing but wishful thinking. It seems to me this is a pretty central component of humanism and needs to be included in any definition.

    • Ubi Dubium

      Hugh, to me you have defined a “skeptic”, rather than a humanist. (Although there is a large overlap between people who are skeptics and people who are humanists, I don’t think it’s the same thing.)

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    I’d never self-identify as a secular humanist, even though I agree with the principles. The word “atheist” just seems a lot clearer and more direct. However, if I did, I would certainly emphasize the fact that lack of belief in the supernatural is what distinguishes us from religious humanists.

    • Anonymous

      I’d never self-identify as a secular humanist, even though I agree with the principles. The word “atheist” just seems a lot clearer and more direct.

      I agree that it seems a little more ‘direct’ when it comes to the issue of your ‘position’ on the supernatural, but not necessarily when it comes to communicating what your values are.  ‘Atheist’ only tells the world one thing about you ~ ‘secular humanist’ tells a lot more.

      For me it largely depends on what question I’m being asked.  If the subject is strictly the existence/non-existence of gods then ‘atheist’ is obviously the apt word to use ~ but if the question involves my overall worldview, then ‘atheist’ would be a bit lacking, imo.

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        I guess if it got to that point, I would explain my value system. But I don’t particularly identify with the secular humanist movement, even though I agree with the principles. It’s just not a label that resonates with me. I don’t go to their meetings or really follow what’s going on. I read Good Without God by Greg Epstein and found a lot to disagree with. I also don’t like the trend of replacing church culture with humanist communities and humanist chaplains. So if someone asked me, I’d be more likely to explain what I believe about morality without using the word “humanist” to describe myself.

  • EJC

    I still don’t understand why people are reticent to say they are atheists. It is like the word “fag”. For the longest time gay men did not use the word “faggot” except among themselves, but now, in the LGBT community it is heavily used and accepted. They took the gravitas out of the word “fag”.

    We need to do the same with atheist. Stand up and exclaim it proud, and let all others adjust to US, not vice versa.

  • Eleanor O’Neill

    Those looking for a well-reasoned explanation of good grounds for moral decision-making (MommaJ) might do well to study this web page:
    http://www.iamanatheist.com/blog/2q/ 

    The author doesn’t blog often, unfortunately, but has a nicely logical mind. Briefly, the two questions are:

    1) Does my philosophy contradict itself? (Lying is wrong, but you do it yourself)

    2) Would I condemn another for reasoning as I do? 

    MommaJ says (above):
    “…lets say a person finds $100 lying on the ground. What is the moral thing to do? a) Finders keepers? b) Hang on to it for a certain time to see if anyone claims it and if not its yours? or c) See if anyone claims it and then if not give it to someone in need?”
    In 2Q terms: If I believe I should keep it (“finders keepers”) then I must be ok with others doing the same.
    For examples of using the “2Q” (two questions) concept described in the linked page, there are many blog entries at that site that have been tagged as such. 

  • Mihangel apYrs

    I’ve always thought that humanism is the practical manifestation of the principle of the golden rule.  It doesn’t need a religious foundation, but it doesn’t exclude those who apply religious tenets to achieving the goal of treating human beings well.

  • Stephen

    Glad
    to find this post. Reading these comments helps me understand some
    things about Humanists more clearly. Here are a few things I’ve learned
    (or that have been confirmed) by reading this article and its resulting
    comments.

    I will call this Seven Things to Bring Up In Conversation With a Humanist/Atheist.

    1. One Humanist, living on his own, separate from all other humans can
    be right. Two or more can never be, as there is no rational way for them
    to accurately define Humanism—much less overcome their differences—and
    still be right. Both will claim to be right, yet their views can be
    opposing. Hence, neither can be sure he is right by way of rational
    deduction and thus, any claim for either to know what is right is simply
    a contrived falsehood in the name of tolerance. At best, they both will
    agree that both are right even though they disagree. Of course, a
    rationalist recognizes this as an irrational conclusion or a ‘faulty
    result’.

    2. Absolute truth exists whether or not it is accepted by those who call
    themselves Humanists, Atheists, or something else and it is, by
    necessity and by definition, not only rational but also external. Try to
    think through it rationally if you can: Absolute truth is the opposite
    of relative truth (which is essentially the same as outright denial of
    truth, as many Atheists will claim). Absolute truth is external;
    relative ‘truth’ is internal (i.e., necessarily unique to each
    individual). Absolute truth exists in creation but it requires no
    participation for its existence just as light and dark (or Venus and
    Mars) exist, whether or not there are any humans to affirm them;
    Relative truth only exists by participation of the individual. If one
    chooses not to participate in Absolute truth it is not changed, however,
    relative truth necessarily changes by the actions of its participants.
    Thus, Humanists can (and will) claim to determine their own truth, even
    if it is not truth.

    3. No amount of purely rational thought results in the view of Atheism
    (whether or not it is called by that name or another, like ‘Humanism,’ a
    term intended to be less offensive and thus, more
    acceptable/tolerable). Atheism is ultimately the result of an emotional
    decision that must override the rational conclusion that science proves
    (and that we witness personally through our own life experiences every
    day): Every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause. But, as a
    Humanist/Atheist denies the possibility of the supernatural, his first
    [irrational] choice must be to deny that the creation in which he exists
    was created. Thus, by such denial of a supernatural beginning of the
    Universe, a Humanist, whether or not he recognizes it, first must deny
    his own existence since it cannot be proven to exist by natural causes,
    which he claims ‘include all possibilities’. Denial of absolute truth to
    a Humanist/Atheist then becomes necessarily more important than knowing
    truth or coming to agreement that absolute truth exists. Therefore, the
    Humanist/Atheist (yes, choose your own religious label) is left to
    claim that “all truth is relative” which is an irrational and false
    statement that contradicts itself (since the statement itself claims to
    be absolutely true).Thus, it becomes obvious to the rational thinker
    (who does not allow his emotional decisions to override his rational
    conclusions), the CHOICE to be a humanist is an emotional one, not based
    upon any rational conclusion or logical deduction.

    4. Ultimately, it is deemed impossible, thus of no great importance to
    the Humanist that he should know real truth even though he may search
    for it or even claim to already know it. These assumptions and actions
    are determined by forces of ego and self-realization, which both have
    self-imposed limitations or prohibitions to knowing absolute truth.
    Thus, instead of truth, the first matter of importance for a Humanist
    becomes tolerance of other views (except any view that includes an
    acceptance of absolute truth, of course). A Humanist, by definition,
    must be tolerant of all views except those theistic views that are
    opposed to it. Thus, humanism can never be completely tolerant without
    force to ensure it.

    5. Humanism is a religion. Atheism is a religion. Their names are proper
    names and thus, are correctly capitalized. It doesn’t matter that the
    names differ or that their adherents claim to be non-religious. By
    definition, they are religions (and U.S. Courts have upheld such a
    decision to say that Atheism is most definitely a religion and thus, an
    Atheist has the right to claim such as his religion and that his
    religious views are thus protected by the U.S. Constitution.) Then, for
    one to claim that Humanism or Atheism is not a religion is simply being
    ignorant of the facts or being intellectually dishonest.

    6. For one who calls himself a Humanist or an Atheist to determine that
    his ‘truth’ is any more viable or valuable than a theist’s is purely
    wishful thinking. By his own definitions, the Humanist or Atheist has
    already concluded that real truth cannot be known. Thus, one person’s
    relative truth cannot be any better than another person’s relative
    truth. The truth of a Humanist who believes that human life is no more
    sacred than that of a cockroach is no more true or valuable than the
    person who believes a human life is sacred or of more value than that of
    a cockroach. The true Humanist is not ‘bugged’ by such a conclusion
    because, backed into his little corner, he has no other choice but to
    agree with such irrational gobbledygook. Remember, to a Humanist,
    tolerance is more important than truth, since real truth ‘cannot be
    known’.

    7. Regarding morality, a Humanist/Atheist has no leg to stand on when it comes to defining what is good for others because
    a) what is truly good cannot be known by his methods, and
    b) he has forfeited his right to determine what is good for others
    because his own philosophy makes it impossible to know what is good even
    for himself. For this we see plenty of evidence all around us.

    Still, after reading the article with its many comments (there are more
    than 60 at this time), I am left with this bugaboo question: Why does a
    Humanist/Atheist, who believes that his own existence is the result of a
    whole series of cosmic accidents, care at all about what is good or
    moral? (And I’m even skipping the whole “When, where and WHY did good
    begin and how did it arise from an amoeba or primordial slime” debate).
    If Darwinism (Atheists’ most accepted doctrine) is correct, that our
    very existence is the result of ‘the survival of the fittest’, which
    determines what Darwinists call ‘improvement’, then Humanists/Atheists
    should, in following their own philosophical conclusions, focus their
    time, energy and resources on killing each other to get to the top of
    the heap as quickly as possible. Theoretically, they should try to kill
    all of the theists first, right? Then, the ‘fittest’ would survive and
    ‘all would be good’, right?

    Wrong. But, I don’t expect every Humanist/Atheist to agree because
    denial is a powerful force controlled by the human ego or ‘pride’.

    Even though we see evidence of that kind of Humanist/Atheist thinking, I
    admit that such a conclusion to me seems entirely irrational so I will
    leave it up to you—any Humanists/Atheists who have such an irrational
    desire—to ‘set me straight’.

    • Anonymous

      And of course it isn’t surprising that you haven’t even the slightest clue what evolution or “survival of the fittest” really means. Always the same…

      • Stephen

        Stev84, by “always the same…” do you refer to your inability to cope. Why not just answer any one of my 7 points rather than waste bytes and everyone’s time. Go for it.

        • Anonymous

          Why bother, since you already demonstrated your inability to understand the subjects at hand (and I’m not just talking about evolution). It’s not like anyone is going to change anyone’s mind here. I’ve already seen this conversation played out dozens of times. No need for another round.

          • Stephen

            Then, without your effort, your “bother”, I accept your concession. One might wonder if these questions are too difficult to answer. Using only relative truth to support your arguments, I would agree that it is an uphill climb. I sincerely hope you find the truth.

    • usclat

      Shit, I don’t even know where to start in responding to your stunning lack of basic knowledge on anything you’re writing about and your equally stunning skill at making things up as you go along. Wow. I think you think you’re right. Most dogmatic zealots do. I just hope you don’t leave a lot of progeny in your wake. 

      • Stephen

        Be bold. Just begin.

    • Stephen

      My
      apologies for the awful formatting of my previous posting attempt. Will
      try again here but I don’t see a way to preview before posting so will
      just hope it’s better with this submission. This also has additional text at the end.

      +++++

      Glad to find this post. Reading these comments helps me understand some
      things about Humanists more clearly. Here are a few things I’ve learned
      (or that have been confirmed) by reading this article and its resulting
      comments.

      I will call this Seven Things to Bring Up In Conversation With a Humanist/Atheist*

      (While I realize that there are definable differences between Humanism
      and Atheism, mentions here focus on their areas of similarity or
      overlap.)

      1. One Humanist, living on his own, separate from all other humans can
      be right. Two or more can never be, as there is no rational way for them
      to accurately define Humanism—much less overcome their differences—and
      still be right. Both will claim to be right, yet their views can be
      opposing. Hence, neither can be sure he is right by way of rational
      deduction and thus, any claim for either to know what is right is simply
      a contrived falsehood in the name of tolerance. At best, they both will
      agree that both are right even though they disagree. Of course, a
      rationalist recognizes this as an irrational conclusion or a ‘faulty
      result’.

      2. Absolute truth exists whether or not it is accepted by those who call
      themselves Humanists, Atheists, or something else and it is, by
      necessity and by definition, not only rational but also external. Try to
      think through it rationally if you can: Absolute truth is the opposite
      of relative truth (which is essentially the same as outright denial of
      truth, as many Atheists will claim). Absolute truth is external;
      relative ‘truth’ is internal (i.e., necessarily unique to each
      individual). Absolute truth exists in creation but it requires no
      participation for its existence just as light and dark (or Venus and
      Mars) exist, whether or not there are any humans to affirm them;
      Relative truth only exists by participation of the individual. If one
      chooses not to participate in Absolute truth it is not changed, however,
      relative truth necessarily changes by the actions of its participants.
      Thus, Humanists can (and will) claim to determine their own truth, even
      if it is not truth.

      3. No amount of purely rational thought results in the view of Atheism
      (whether or not it is called by that name or another, like ‘Humanism,’ a
      term intended to be less offensive and thus, more
      acceptable/tolerable). Atheism is ultimately the result of an emotional
      decision that must override the rational conclusion that science proves
      (and that we witness personally through our own life experiences every
      day): Every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause. But, as a
      Humanist/Atheist denies the possibility of the supernatural, his first
      [irrational] choice must be to deny that the creation in which he exists
      was created.

      Thus, by such denial of a supernatural beginning of the Universe, a
      Humanist, whether or not he recognizes it, first must deny his own
      existence since it cannot be proven to exist by natural causes, which he
      claims ‘include all possibilities’. Denial of absolute truth to a
      Humanist/Atheist then becomes necessarily more important than knowing
      truth or coming to agreement that absolute truth exists. Therefore, the
      Humanist/Atheist (yes, choose your own religious label) is left to claim
      that “all truth is relative” which is an irrational and false statement
      that contradicts itself (since the statement itself claims to be
      absolutely true). Thus, it becomes obvious to the rational thinker (who
      does not allow his emotional decisions to override his rational
      conclusions), the CHOICE to be a humanist is an emotional one, not based
      upon any rational conclusion or logical deduction.

      4. Ultimately, it is deemed impossible, thus of no great importance to
      the Humanist that he should know real truth even though he may search
      for it or even claim to already know it. These assumptions and actions
      are determined by forces of ego and self-realization, which both have
      self-imposed limitations or prohibitions to knowing absolute truth.
      Thus, instead of truth, the first matter of importance for a Humanist
      becomes tolerance of other views (except any view that includes an
      acceptance of absolute truth, of course**). A Humanist, by definition,
      must be tolerant of all views except those theistic views that are
      opposed to it. Thus, humanism can never be completely tolerant without
      force to ensure it.

      5. Humanism is a religion. Atheism is a religion. Their names are proper
      nouns and thus, are correctly capitalized. It doesn’t matter that the
      names differ or that their adherents claim to be non-religious. By
      definition, they are religions (and U.S. Courts have upheld such a
      decision to say that Atheism is most definitely a religion and thus, an
      Atheist has the right to claim such as his religion and that his
      religious views are thus protected by the U.S. Constitution.) Then, for
      one to claim that Humanism or Atheism is not a religion is simply being
      ignorant of the facts or being intellectually dishonest.

      6. For one who calls himself a Humanist or an Atheist to determine that
      his ‘truth’ is any more viable or valuable than a theist’s is purely
      wishful thinking. By his own definitions, the Humanist or Atheist has
      already concluded that real truth cannot be known. Thus, one person’s
      relative truth cannot be any better than another person’s relative
      truth. The truth of a Humanist who believes that human life is no more
      sacred than that of a cockroach is no more true or valuable than the
      person who believes a human life is sacred and most definitely of more
      value than any bug or animal. The true Humanist is not ‘bugged’ by such a
      conclusion because, backed into his little corner, he has no other
      choice but to agree with such irrational gobbledygook. Remember, to a
      Humanist, tolerance is more important than truth, since real truth
      ‘cannot be known’.

      7. Regarding morality, a Humanist/Atheist has no leg to stand on when it comes to defining what is good for others because
      a) what is truly good cannot be known by his methods, and
      b) he has forfeited his right to determine what is good for others
      because his own philosophy makes it impossible to know what is good even
      for himself. For this we see plenty of evidence all around us.

      Still, after reading the article with its many comments (there are more
      than 60 at this time), I am left with this bugaboo question: Why does a
      Humanist/Atheist, who believes that his own existence is the result of a
      whole series of cosmic accidents, care at all about what is good or
      moral? (And I’m even skipping the whole “When, where and WHY did good
      begin and how did it arise from an amoeba or primordial slime” debate).

      If Darwinism (Atheists’ most accepted doctrine) is correct, that our
      very existence is the result of ‘the survival of the fittest’, which
      determines what Darwinists consider ‘improvement’, then
      Humanists/Atheists should, in following their own philosophical
      conclusions, focus their time, energy and resources on killing each
      other to get to the top of the heap as quickly as possible.
      Theoretically, they should try to kill all of the theists first, right?
      Then, the ‘fittest’ would survive and ‘all would be good’, right?

      Wrong. But, I don’t expect every Humanist/Atheist to agree because
      denial is a powerful force controlled by the human ego or ‘pride’.

      Even though we see evidence of that kind of Humanist/Atheist thinking, I
      admit that such a conclusion to me seems entirely irrational so I will
      leave it up to you—any Humanists/Atheists who have such an irrational
      desire—to ‘set me straight’.

      Test this statement, a core belief of Humanists and Atheists:

      “All truth is relative.”

      Is the statement true? No, it is not. Can you see the self-contradiction
      it embodies? If all truth is relative then this very statement cannot
      be rightly said to be true or false. We have no way of knowing, by our
      own definition, any truth. So, were we to restate, we could say “No
      truth is relative”. Would that also be true? Or false? All seems very
      complicated, doesn’t it?

      Compare it to this statement:

      “All truth is absolute.”

      Test the statement. Is it true? If so, it would always be true. Is there
      anything we can consider absolutely right or wrong all of the time?

      How about premeditated murder? Is it always wrong? Is premeditated
      murder different than accidental? Is murdering a fellow citizen
      different than killing a military enemy? If a drunk driver’s car strikes
      a car being driven to a scheduled abortion and it causes the death of
      the baby in a mother’s womb should it be considered manslaughter or an
      abortive measure? Who determines the answers to such questions?

      With relative truth we could never be certain of any of these, so laws
      are are made and made again, and more and more, subject to change to
      accommodate today’s truth. “Soon there will be a law for everything” it
      has been said. Do we see evidence of this trend? Just last week, January
      1, 2012, 40,000 new laws went into effect nationwide. It takes a lot of
      resources to accommodate relative truth.

      Absolute truth is actually much easier for those who find it. How can we
      be absolutely certain? One must trust an external source of truth in
      order to know for certain. Is all truth absolute? Or restated, “Is truth
      necessarily absolute?” To both, I would say yes.

      Regarding any who might claim that Christianity demonstrates relative
      truth as a godly concept, I would enjoy learning which verses you
      reference.

      _______________________

      **There are wide variances and exceptions to these, of course.

  • Stephen

    For those who believe ‘there is no God’, can someone please explain:

    1. What defines the difference between a human and a lion, tiger or bear.
    2. Why is it considered immoral (‘bad’, ‘evil’) for one man to murder another and eat him for dinner (or leave him to rot), yet it is not considered immoral, bad or evil for a lion, tiger or bear to do the same thing?

    Especially if you believe in Darwinism, how do you explain these things?

  • http://twitter.com/JentheHumanist Jennifer Hancock

    Hi – very interesting discussion here. Love it.  Just to let you know – the original essay was quite a bit longer. But basically – I have tested the don’t bring up god thing on several occasions – because I really do talk to complete strangers about Humanism just about every day. Anyway – I’ve double checked that they understand Humanism is a secular philosophy and that it is not religious and that our morality is not based on supernatural beliefs or god or anything like that. And every single person I’ve talked to responds  with a “well obviously.” 

    What I would say to the Humanists on this thread – is try it out and see how it works for you. See if they get it. My experience, is people of faith get it and they like the fact you can talk about ethics and morality without invoking god. Most of them don’t invoke god in their ethics either and so will enjoy the conversation. As one of my religious friends pointed out – the reason to be good isn’t because God wants you to be, The reason to be good is so you don’t lie awake at night wracked by guilt. Yes, this approach works and yes, people get it is without God and they actually like that the ethics are practical and not religious – that’s a big part of the selling point of the philosophy believe it or not even among people of faith   And …. if it turns out you are talking to a person who is a Humanist and just doesn’t know it yet, you have a better chance of getting them interested in the philosophy if you keep your discussion focused on what really matters to them, which is how to be a good person and how to be good to other people.  If you start going on and on about something they have already decided is irrelevant to them, you will turn them off.

    Now – for those of you who have questions about Humanism, it’s history etc – I am giving away a free ebook on the subject at my website: http://www.jen-hancock.com/handyhumanism/

    Take care everyone.

    • Stephen

      Jennifer,
      you offer an enticing sales pitch. I look forward to reading your eBook
      to learn more about your ideas of why Humanism is better than
      “religion” as you say.

      It is refreshing to note that you capitalize the word Humanism. Even so, you deny that Humanism is a religion. Sure, you can simply call it a philosophy, just the same way I might refer to my Christianity as philsophy, which it certainly is.
      Maybe under closer scrutiny of what defines religion and
      your ideas of Humanism you will see that Humanism is very much a
      religion.One of the points I made in my reply on this page, which I
      called Seven Things to Bring Up In Conversation With a Humanist/Atheist
      is that simply by saying something is true or not doesn’t necessarily
      make it what one says. That, I would suggest, is one of the weakest
      links of Humanism and the relative truth upon which its precepts are
      based. The weakest link, in my opinion, is this one:

      “Humans are inherently good.”

      First, I would love to see your evidence for such an assumption. I would argue that, were that actually the case, we would not be living
      in a world today where wars proliferate and have existed for millenia.
      We are no closer to solving the problems of humans warring against each
      other today than we were 6,000 years ago. Some would even suggest that
      humans have benefitted from millions of years of evolution yet humans kill one another like animals—no amount of
      ‘evolution’ can explain why people still war today. By the same token, no amount of
      ‘evolution’ (or education) will convert humans into inherently good
      beings. That is, unless one believes that wars are good, which a Darwinist might
      well argue in support of the concept of ‘survival of the fittest.’

      But, just because a person chooses to avoid the word religion—usually
      because he or she vehemently considers the adoption of religion
      abhorrent, or possibly due to his or her hate of God (or anger with
      God)—therefore the decision, an emotional one, is to avoid it by calling it something else.
      While one might ‘feel’ that that works, in truth, feeling has no
      bearing on truth. The feeling is simply one of denial and does not move
      one closer to truth. That fact is, your method of ‘getting the word out’
      about Humanism is no different than other religious evangelism I see
      taking place: write books, make videos, create websites, start discussions. You just
      call it by a different name.

      Personally, I would be very interested in hearing you address one or
      more of the seven issues I have introduced as they represent topics of
      discussion that are likely to come up in conversation between a Humanist
      and a theist. Definitely, should a Humanist argue the points you have suggested, I will be countering with these (and more). I would think those you hope to teach might benefit from
      hearing how you would address these issues with a knowledgeable Christian.

      While I recognize that you choose not to involve the discussion of God
      in your answers to others about the ‘benefits’ of Humanism (and suggest
      that others avoid the topic also), again, you are simply choosing to
      avoid the issue but that doesn’t make it go away. One cannot make an
      ‘elephant in the room’ disappear simply by ignoring its existence. We sure see many politicians attempting exactly that but the problem is just made worse by their refusal to deal with the real issue.

      To be fair to the topic, I will point out that you seem to have a severe misunderstanding of one
      essential religious concept, at least as it applies to Christianity
      (which I suspect is the religion you disdain foremost), that concept
      surrounding the reasons why a person “should be good” as you suggest.

      You said, “[with Humanism] the reason to be good isn’t because God wants you to be, The reason to
      be good is so you don’t lie awake at night wracked by guilt.”

      The reason a true Christian wants to be good is because he or she loves
      God and desires a close relationship with God. That relationship is
      found, developed and improved through goodness. True goodness is not self-serving just as true love is not self-serving, nor can it be forced. The reason to ‘do good’ is not so you can ‘sleep at
      night’. While that is certainly a benefit of doing good, it is not a
      true Christian’s goal or objective. Why not?True Christianity is about
      being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. A true Christian understands
      that ‘being good’ isn’t enough to get to heaven. A person does not ‘earn
      his way’ to heaven. Sadly, some who call themselves Christian do not
      understand this either. In some cases they have been misled; more often they have not sufficiently studied what God’s word actually says.There is no amount of good works a person can do
      to ‘earn’ what he does not deserve. We do not deserve Heaven because,
      like it or not, humans are NOT inherently good and this can be proven by
      observing the behavior of a roomful of two-year olds left to their own devices. Heaven (like God) requires
      perfection. No human can be perfect, no matter how hard he tries or
      wants to be. Perfection is not found in human nature. Only Jesus Christ makes a way—by way of His perfection and his ‘payment’ for our sins on the cross—for a person to live
      eternally in Heaven. That’s the best part of it. With that, I can sleep at night and I also don’t have to ignore the ‘elephant in the room’.

      That’s all I will say here about that but, again, my point is that I do
      not believe you have correctly understood, or at least described, this aspect of Christianity. Especially if you wish to avoid ‘religious’ discussion, you will want to understand it enough to avoid mischaracterizing it. In this example, had you not mischaracterized it, the several previous paragraphs wouldn’t exist here. By your own words, you caused ‘religious talk’ to enter into the discussion. If you or your readers are to present your arguments truthfully, you will want to be accurate in your representations of other religions.
      I look forward to hearing your views on this.

  • IceBeam

    Guess I can’t be a humanist then – because religion must be fought.


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