Far More Than Atheism

Secular humanism is nonreligious, but it differs greatly from both atheism and religious humanism.

Reprinted from Free Inquiry magazine, with permission of the Council for Secular Humanism.

Secular humanism and atheism are not identical. One can be an atheist and not a secular humanist or humanist. Indeed, some thinkers or activists who call themselves atheists explicitly reject humanist ethical values (for example, Stalin, Lenin, Nietzsche, and others). Nor is secular humanism the same thing as humanism by itself; it is surely sharply different from religious humanism.

[S]ecular humanism is not antireligious; it is simply nonreligious. There is a difference. Secular humanists are nontheists; they may be atheists, agnostics, or skeptics about the God question and/or immortality of the soul. To say that we are nonreligious means that we are not religious; ours is a scientific, ethical, and philosophical life stance. I have used the term eupraxsophy to denote our beliefs and values as a whole. This means that, as secular humanists, we offer good practical wisdom based on ethics, science, and philosophy.


The term secular should make it clear that secular humanists are not religious. In contrast, the term religious humanism is unfortunate. It has been used by some humanists to denote a kind of moral and æsthetic commitment to a set of ideals and practices; but this is most confusing. Often it serves to sneak in some quasi-spiritual and/or transcendental aspect of experience and practice, aping religion.

It is puzzling that religiosity is so strong in America today and that even humanists are fearful of denying that they are nonreligious. In my view, cowardice is an important motive for many religious humanists who are embarrassed for anyone to know that they do not believe in God or salvation; and so they fudge, hide, mask, and obfuscate their real convictions in order to be socially accepted. They fear especially to be seen criticizing religion or to become known as an atheist. Ecumenism teaches that we should accept virtually all religions. In that spirit of tolerance, religious humanists do not wish to be seen as critical of any religion, whether Roman Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, or the numerous denominations of Protestanism.

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