Humanist Religion?

Christianity has a strong humanist core in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Much the same is true of Judaism and Islam and their prophets. And much of the specifics of that core are unoriginal / inherited / shared around many other social and religious traditions – love for fellow man, the golden rule n’all that. Origin stories and creation myths too.

In order to emphasise our natural atheistic distinction versus supernatural theistic nature of (most of) these religions, most of us humanists reject any suggestions of being a religion. God forbid. It establishes clear water between organised humanism and organised religions where the latter depend on rules associated with teachings of their prophets posthumously recorded in their great books. Rules which their organised churches may enforce as dogma, even if great debates and schisms continue on interpretations, and many adherents may accommodate with the pragmatics of everyday living.

Humanism however has some key worldview aspects – values – we share as humanists, whether signed-up as bona-fide members of any formal humanist organisation – such as Humanists UK in my case – or not. In my book, those views which bind us in that shared identity do make us a religion by definition – religiare – that which binds us. And some of those values are pretty axiomatic if not dogmatic.

One of those is the natural view – the rejection of any supernatural deity – philosophy as natural science and the ecology of humanity within that. A lot more is said about that in this Psybertron project.

The other is the human aspect itself. Essentially since 1948 stemming from the Universal UN Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent freedoms of thought and expression and shared responsibilities for the global ecosystem. With acknowledgements due, of course, to all the precursor thinkers and campaigners that led to these being adopted. Axioms which are not beyond being legally enforced, by socio-economic political pressures and by force of physical intervention. Axioms many of which are also enshrined and protected in national legal systems. Axiomatic by means of constitutional and revisable democratic arrangements, but not so democratic we wouldn’t all be outraged if a populist movement ignored or overturned them?

It is only ignorance of the naturalistic fallacy (the “appeal to nature” fallacy, in fact) that prevents most humanists accepting that these humanist axioms are not themselves natural, and depend on being maintained by collective human will. Humanism is the most widespread religion in all but accepted identity.

5 thoughts on “Humanist Religion?”

  1. Your etymology seems to be correct. But why does it seem unconvincing? I think that a mere set of beliefs that bind a community together seems too inclusive. Isn’t it likely that if you were to survey lay users of the term, religious or nonreligious, at least from cultures influenced by the Abrahamic tradition, there would always be some reference to the supernatural at the core?

  2. Yes, absolutely. In an important sense that’s what I’m addressing, that “non-religious” people have kinda imposed their / our narrow definition on the world.

    I want to keep the natural / supernatural distinction between theistic and non-theistic religions, but in tarring all religions with the same brush, atheists do a disservice to humanism.

    (A more interesting debate for all of us would be the limits to the “natural” understanding of the world – where we bump up against metaphysical / theological / (err … “spiritual”) / transcendental concepts – and self-denial of our own axioms. The equating of natural with orthodox scientific is what is limiting that debate. The “thin end of a wedge” defence of humanism, etc.)

  3. David Sloan Wilson likes to cite Emile Durkheim’s definition of religion, which is much more neutral and natural:

    “A unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things…which unite into one single moral community…all those who adhere to them.”

    (see this tweet, for example

    By that definition, Humanism could absolutely be a religion.

    Since I know you are reading some of my stuff, here are two things related to this:

    1) A talk I gave to my local Humanist group about worldviews and what the Humanist one can learn from evoluttion

    2) An essay I wrote “in defence of Humanism” (which also explains why I capitalise it in certain instances)

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