Is Humanism a (Guess What?)

Vic Stenger

Whether or not Humanism is a religion is a continuing debate within Humanist circles. As in many debates, both sides are right in their own minds, and wrong in their opponents' minds, because both sides define religion differently. Those who argue that Humanism is a religion call any attempt at seeking out fundamental meanings and truths a religious activity. Humanism obviously does this, so Humanism is therefore a religion, according to this view.

But science, art, poetry, music, and philosophy also seek out basic truths. Are these all then religions? Obviously this definition of religion is too broad. Other factors characterize religions than an intellectual interest in fundamental questions. In fact, they do not even exhibit such an interest. To religion, no question exists since the answer is known. Religion presents a particular solution to the problem of fundamental truth, and it is there where Humanism disagrees to such a profound level that equating Humanism and religion becomes ludicrous.

All of the world's religions are supernatural, and any reasonable definition of religion would include the necessity of a transcendent, non-material, component to the universe. Humanists see no evidence for the supernatural, no sign of spirits or miracles. While some humanists may be agnostics, most have personally decided that God is about as likely to exist and Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy - probably less likely than any of these. So Humanism is most definitely not a religion, if we are use the word religion to mean what most people think it means, and not extend the definition to to cover just about every human activity deeper than shopping or watching football.

Many humanists actively work against established religions, especially when those religions attempt to force their beliefs upon the rest of us. We work for reproductive choice and against censorship. We vigorously support the teaching of evolution in school and equally vigorously oppose efforts to tear down the wall of separation between church and state. But, for the most part, we are positive in our outlook. We think we have found a way to live our lives that is consistent with the facts about the universe brought to us by reason and science. While believers must struggle under the constant burden of guilt - because they can never live up to their cosmic status as fallen angels, humanists can take pride in their achievements and those of the rest of our species. To the humanist, the great works of art, literature, and science are the result of our own efforts - not something inspired from another realm. Ideas such as democracy and liberty are human ideas, not God's. Our individual fates and the future of humankind are not already written, in either the laws of nature or the mind of God. These fates are in our hands. These hands, and the mighty intellect that has evolved within our purely material brains, provides all the power we need to continue the upward advance of our species from the primeval mud of earth.