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.