Humanism vs. Atheism

A couple of days ago, a 21 year-old student asked me: "Is it a contradiction of terms to be a Humanist but not an Atheist?" I replied approximately as follows:

It depends on how you define your terms. I believe that the essence of humanism is a sense that humanity as a whole is more important than any of its subgroups. Basic
to humanism is an attitude that starts with a sense of togetherness,
a sympathy and a sharing, accompanied by a sense that you as an
individual share responsibility for our collective future with
all the rest of humanity.

If you believe there is a God specifically dedicated to the protection or care of the group you happen to belong to, whether that group is defined by religion or race or
whatever, and that your god supports your group as opposed to
other groups, I don't think you can properly be considered a true

If you believe that there is a God up there someplace that you can invoke to alter specific things that are going to happen, you are not a true humanist. You are in effect
passing the buck to an entity whose existence is unverifiable.
The humanist says, in effect, the buck stops here.

If you don't submit to either of those two beliefs, however, you can be a humanist in practice even if you choose to believe in some higher power. Some atheists might dispute
this, but I believe they are being unnecessarily exclusive, and
underrate the need for all of us to work together to combat the
pernicious forces of the conservative religious types. Issues
like the separation of church and state are very important, and
non-believers need to work together with sensible believers to
make sure we suffer no return to theocratic tyranny.

To put it in technical terms, there is a great gap between theists
and deists, where deists believe there is a power up there but
basically we are on our own. That gap is far more important, in
practical terms, than the gap in belief between deists and atheists.
As long as you recognize that human destiny is made here on earth,
by us humans, and that we are solely responsible for what happens,
whether you believe in God (the deist approach) or don't (atheism)
is a matter of choice, and an individual seriously concerned with
the future of humanity can go either way. A deist with strong
humanist leanings is likely to be a person that makes a positive
contribution to humanity as a whole. I am a humanist who prefers
not to believe in any superior power, but I welcome humanism wherever
I find it. We need each other.

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Replies to This Discussion

Nicely put, and in fact I could think of some Atheists who are not compatible with Humanistic beliefs. But, maybe we can thaw their hearts a little ;0
I for one could not be a humanist per your definition. Even though I'm compatible with maybe 80% of the humanist worldview (the reason I joined the group,) I also consider humans to be the most dangerous animals around. And I don't think humans exploiting inhumanely other humans are equal to to those they exploit.
"I am a humanist who prefers not to believe in any superior power,"

Which de facto makes you an atheist. As such how do you work with people who operate on magic-based assumptions?


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