Friday, March 27, 2009

Humanism and Atheism

I keep seeing op ed.s about Humanists not standing for anything and the atheist world view. The reactions from Humanists and atheists don't always address the most common underlying misconceptions of the articles, that Humanist = atheist, and that atheism is supposed to contain a code of morality. Both are false.

I think theists have a hard time with this one because they think of atheism as a religion - complete with fully prescribed beliefs on metaphysics and morality. WRONG! There is only one factor that is shared by all atheists - they don't believe in gods. Some atheists go further to deny all supernatural things. Some don't. You can be a religious atheist. Buddhism is an atheistic religion - complete with rituals, metaphysical beliefs and moral proclamations, but without the assertation of the existence of any gods. (Why dont articles about the morality of atheists ever address this huge subset, I wonder.) Saying, "atheists believe in nothing" is like saying "plumbers believe in nothing." Atheists can only be categorized on one belief. The rest depends the individual.

You don't have to be an atheist to be a Humanist. Read the American Humanist Association's Humanist Manifesto. It doesn't mention gods at all. Unlike the religious, Humanists don't see their creed as infallible or unchanging. The AHA has revised its manifesto twice since the first was composed in 1933. Currently, the AHA's beliefs include: knowledge is gained through evidence and reason, serving others can give one purpose, and ethics are developed from human experience. Contrary to what certain op ed.s might claim, Humanist values are not centered on nihilism or hedonism, or even atheism. It's about humans trying to find happiness and meaning while remaining grounded in evidence-based, rationally determined beliefs.

To Recap: atheism != Humanism, atheism != a complete world view. If you want to know what Humanists stand for, try visiting a Humanism website.

3 comments:

Kyle P. said...

"The AHA has revised its manifesto twice since the first was composed in 1933." - See, I told you it wasn't as perfect as the Bible! It had to be revised!
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I'm a pretty good Xian impersonator, aren't I? I agree, by the way: It's absurd that all the articles you ever read totally discount religious atheists like Buddhists.

Jackie said...

"I told you it wasn't as perfect as the Bible!"
That strikes both my lol-reflex and my argh-reflex.

Rene Benthien said...

Those principles on the Manifesto are suitably general. They allow for conservative and liberal applications.