Just a Little Common Sense

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Humanism PR Advice: Drop the “Secular”

with 43 comments

There are a lot of Humanist organizations and individuals out there who insist on calling themselves “Secular Humanist” rather than just “Humanist”.
While it’s easy to see why (since most Humanists are rather well-educated, many of them have a little fetish for academic accuracy), I do not think that being meticulously precise is a particularly smart idea in this case. The Happy Human, cheering for the one life we have.

So here’s a little PR advice: Drop all qualifiers. Do realize that most people on the street have never even heard of the term “Humanism” before. That fact alone is enough to make it the smarter move to present a united front to the public, as uncomplicated as possible.

Humanism is fine as it is.
From a PR point of view, “Humanism” is already a brilliantly chosen name. Most people who’ve never heard it before can already guess that it’s a somewhat humanitarian idea, and this is a positive association that we should strive to maintain at all cost. The same is true for the “Happy Human” symbol: It’s perfect. Don’t fix what ain’t broke. The name and the symbol give exactly the right impression, and that, as any PR-pro will tell you, is worth incredibly much.

Disassociating ourselves from “religious” Humanists isn’t worth it.
I am aware that there is a recognized form of religious Humanism out there. But if you google “Humanism”, if you look it up on Wikipedia, or any encyclopedia, they are not what comes up first. We are. Humanism is in itself a secular idea: The name itself makes it perfectly clear that humans are what it’s all about, not deities or other allegedly “higher” ideals. We, the secular ones, are the mainstream of Humanism, and calling ourselves “secular” or “agnostic” Humanists is to surrender that, to leave the term for others to claim.
Again: We are the mainstream. If the few religious Humanists do good, it will be free PR for us. If they don’t want that, fine. Then we ought to leave it up to them to disassociate themselves from us, not the other way round. What we most definitely should not do is to surrender our brand, our trademark, just because we don’t want a few modern, liberal and harmless theists on our side.

POST SCRIPTUM: Some people seem to have misunderstood what I was getting at. My aim was never to play down the role of secularism or criticism of religion. Both are deeply necessary, and if you are familiar with this blog you know that I spent some serious time debating faith-heads and arguing against religious tenets, religious organizations, and even wrote a post pointing out the damage that is caused by even the most moderate and liberal theistic belief.

But Humanism has an agenda. We strife to change our society, even all societies. This entails the pursuit of very concrete political goals, and to achieve those goals as a group of non-government organizations, we have to think practical. The various religious communities around the globe have demonstrated what a lobbyism can achieve in nominatively secular democracies. Non-believers are usually ignored, and the majority of them is completely unaware of all the religious privilege they unknowingly sponsor with their tax-dollars.
So there is a dire need for a Humanist lobby. Religious organizations are crumbling, their numbers dwindling, and Humanism needs to demonstrate its ability to fill the gap.
In a democracy, the political power comes with the number of people one can claim to represent. Humanist organizations are in need to gain some weight to toss around in the political arena. This is the reality of the situation that we need to face. To put it in radical terms: We have a product to sell on the market place of ideas, and the competition is hard. We need to awaken interest and cater to the masses. This is not a simple task, but there are known and proven ways to get there. From this point of view, the “secular” is not only superfluous, but even counterproductive and damaging to our cause.

Yes, it is important to criticize religion. But it is important as a result of the values we hold, because it is a cause of suffering, and at the same time poses one of the largest obstacles on the road to societal change and progression.
Criticism of religion is thus important purely for practical reasons, and has no inherent value of its own. It is not, by itself, a core principle of Humanist thought, but merely a result of it.
My donations to charity, too, are results of my Humanist values. Like criticism of religion, they are not by themselves a tenet of my creed, but merely a means to the end of alleviating suffering. Like my loud and uncompromising secularism, donating to charity is something my Humanism compels me to do, but not by themselves the center of my Humanistic thinking.

The reason I don’t call myself a “secular” Humanist is the same reason I don’t call myself a “donating” Humanist.

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Written by Phil

August 30, 2011 at 19:14

43 Responses

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  1. I see your point that mainstream humanism is already secular. However, for me, the good reason to keep “secular” is not to disassociate ourselves further from humanist theists, but to disassociate ourselves from cultural relativists, unable to criticise religion in general and islam in particular, even though they are atheists and despite a mountain of evidence that the criticism is well-deserved.

    Joachim

    August 31, 2011 at 16:37

    • My point was that disassociate ourselves from anyone is not worth the price of surrendering the great brand-name that is Humanism in its single-worded, simple form.
      Adding a qualifier makes it sound complicated, because it instantly implies that there is more than one form of Humanism, and that those differences, whatever they may be, are important enough that each group wants to be ostentatiously separated from the others. That is: It gives the impression that our differences are more important than our similarities. Compare that to religions that have evolved marketing-strategies over hundreds of years:
      No Christian, for example, will object to being called “a christian”, however generic that term is. Now from a PR point of view, that is SMART. If you want to learn more about them, you may ask them what particular brand of christianity they adhere to, but the most important thing in the description is that their world view somehow involves the person of Christ. That is the core point they want to get across, that’s what’s important. The details simply don’t matter that much.
      Humanists ought to adapt that strategy. We need to make “Humanism” a known and recognized brand, before we start splitting hairs over the details. It simply doesn’t matter that much for now. Humanism is not stable enough a construct for such nitpickery. The core of Humanism is the acceptance of mortality, the focus on our one life, the pursuit of happiness. That is what we need to be recognized as standing for, that is what we need people to think of when they hear “Humanism”.
      Once we established Humanism in people’s heads, make it a well-known and wide-spread life-stance, then we may fuss over the details. But being that precise now is to put the cart in front of the horse. It’s PR-suicide.

      What’s more: “Secular” has a negative connotation in most people’s heads, as it is associated with the current, often negativistic fight against religion. We cannot use that now. We must not be thought of as those who point the finger at the obvious flaws of religion, screaming “haha, look at those dumb religious folks!”. We need a positive image if we want to achieve societal change, we need to be recognized as those who focus on human (and sometimes animal) well-being, the ones who stand for equality, freedom and tolerance.
      That is simply more important (or should be, in any case) than rubbing into people’s faces that the separation of church and state is one among our goals.

      Ochiudo

      August 31, 2011 at 17:31

      • “No Christian, for example, will object to being called “a christian”, however generic that term is. Now from a PR point of view, that is SMART.” — I disagree that it’s smart, assuming of course that they want me to associate themselves with something positive. My initial, emotional reaction to someone saying they’re “Christian” is to picture the fundamentalist, literalist, and legalistic versions of Christianity. I doubt that I’m the only one who has that reaction, at least in the US, where I’m at. If, on the other hand, someone said they’re a “progressive Christian,” I’d still want details, but I wouldn’t tense up as much.

        Similarities are extremely important, but differences are just as important. Academic accuracy is something that far more people would do well to pay more attention to (consider the use of “theory” in science vs. the use of “theory” in common language). Not paying attention to the differences leads to confusion, which will most likely lead to more problems. I don’t want people to hear that I’m a humanist, and then conflate that with “religious humanism,” which I think happens more than you credit.

        Furthermore, while true that “secular” has a negative connotation in most people’s minds, that’s not a reason to refuse the label, or avoid it in any way. It’s a reason to use the label, in connection with the good and positive things that secular humanists do, so that the negativity can be combated. This is a case of needing to reclaim a word, so that people can recognize the value of secular viewpoints, not avoid it.

        I am completely willing to work with the religious toward common goals, but I would prefer that someone either like or dislike me for who I am, and not because they’re confused due to a lack of precision in terminology.

        NathanDST

        September 1, 2011 at 03:10

        • My initial, emotional reaction to someone saying they’re “Christian” is to picture the fundamentalist, literalist, and legalistic versions of Christianity. I doubt that I’m the only one who has that reaction [...]“

          It’s a statement in itself if that really is your reaction, as fundamentalists are but a very small fraction of religious believers. The huge majority of believers are pretty liberal. Only in online discussion forums the fundies are so ubiquitous, because they are the only ones who actually perceive us as a threat, so they are the only ones who bother spending significant time fighting this battle of ideas. BY THE SAME TOKEN, passionate Secularists like us are only common online, NOT in real life. Our actual number is tiny. It may not seem so on the internet, but that is irrelevant: We want to get Humanism out there into real life, into politics and the minds of other people, and for this goal it is extremely important that we do not give in to the temptation to think that the online-world is representative of the real one. Just because there are more atheists than fundies on the net, that does not mean that we, unorganised as we are and lacking a lobby, are more powerful than them in the real world.
          We’re not. We’re just on average a much younger demographic. I think it’s safe to say that all atheists who care about religion are online – we should not make the mistake of assuming that the extremists of the other side have the same priorities as us. They don’t: Atheists are active on facebook, our adversaries are handing out flyers and raising funds on the street, preaching in churches, and funding elections.
          Where we choose to write blogs and start grass-roots movements, they are writing “concerned” letters to schools, show up at PTA meetings, invite their town’s mayor and his wife over for dinner or for lunch after sunday mass.
          Just because we rule the online-world we should not fall victims to illusions of superiority. It’s a different approach, that’s all.

          Furthermore, while true that “secular” has a negative connotation in most people’s minds, that’s not a reason to refuse the label, or avoid it in any way.

          If most people’s minds is exactly what you aim to change, then it’s the best reason there is. Just talk to an ad-man. Anyone in the PR industry. There are no things you do on principle in this business, you use whatever works, and preferably the easiest and most efficient tool that does. You never, ever, use any stuff with even a remotely negative connotation. For example, you do not ever use an arrow pointing down in advertising, not even if your product was an arrow pointing down.

          Yes, the negative connotation of “secular” is something we ought not to accept, and that we ought to strife to change, someday, in the far future. It is NOT a priority for now, and it sure is no reason to sacrifice a possible PR advantage for a childish act of defiance.
          The gay pride movement did not achieve a victory by stubbornly insisting that “homosexual” is not a bad word despite its negative connotation in most people’s heads. Instead, they chose a new and more positive word, claimed it for themselves, assigned the connotation they wished to it, and THEN sparingly used the word “homosexual” again, once they had achieved enough so that what was left of the word’s negative connotation did not matter anymore.
          For us, it matters.

          Ochiudo

          September 7, 2011 at 19:13

          • It’s a statement in itself if that really is your reaction, as fundamentalists are but a very small fraction of religious believers. The huge majority of believers are pretty liberal. Only in online discussion forums the fundies are so ubiquitous, because they are the only ones who actually perceive us as a threat, so they are the only ones who bother spending significant time fighting this battle of ideas.

            True, it says something about me (something that might not be entirely positive). I could point to the family I grew up in as the reason, or I could point to two names that are more appropriate to this discussion: Michelle Bachmann, and Rick Perry. Both of these candidates for the Republican presidential ticket have a great deal of popular support, and both could be described as fundamentalists. It is NOT just the online forums where fundies are so ubiquitous, it’s in the politics that shape America’s future (I hope it’s different in Germany; I’m guessing it is, based on what you’ve said). You bring up politics yourself, when you mention the fundamentalists funding elections.

            Atheists are active on facebook, our adversaries are handing out flyers and raising funds on the street, preaching in churches, and funding elections.
            Where we choose to write blogs and start grass-roots movements, they are writing “concerned” letters to schools, show up at PTA meetings, invite their town’s mayor and his wife over for dinner or for lunch after sunday mass.
            Just because we rule the online-world we should not fall victims to illusions of superiority. It’s a different approach, that’s all.

            In this, I agree with you, and is a problem that I’ve been thinking about lately.

            If most people’s minds is exactly what you aim to change, then it’s the best reason there is. Just talk to an ad-man. Anyone in the PR industry. There are no things you do on principle in this business, you use whatever works, and preferably the easiest and most efficient tool that does. You never, ever, use any stuff with even a remotely negative connotation.

            Well, that may be a problem. There are things that I will do on principle, even if it’s disadvantageous, and I hope the same could be said of you, or of anyone. And if we’re trying to avoid something without even remotely negative connotations, I think we are doomed to fail. Even “humanism” has negative connotations. A philosophy that sets up “humans” as being more important than whatever is beyond us? Idolatry! Heresy!

            Yes, the negative connotation of “secular” is something we ought not to accept, and that we ought to strife to change, someday, in the far future. It is NOT a priority for now, and it sure is no reason to sacrifice a possible PR advantage for a childish act of defiance.

            Except that it should be a priority, now, not in some distant day in the future. And not because of some “childish act of defiance,” but because the issues matter now, here, in the present. We continuously have to battle to keep religion out of the school curriculum, especially in regards to the teaching of evolution. We have politicians saying, in all seriousness, that climate change won’t happen because God wouldn’t let that happen (he promised not to flood us again). We have politicians like Herman Cain going on record as not being willing to have a Muslim on staff.

            Not all religious people will be willing to identify with humanism, even if they happen to have ethics in line with humanism. But we might be able to convince them that a secular government and secular public policy is beneficial to everyone, regardless of religious viewpoint. “Secular” doesn’t have to mean the exclusion of religion; sometimes it means it’s inclusive of all religions. Different contexts require a different sense of the word. If not the word “secular,” than what word do you suggest?

            You still haven’t addressed my point that differences do matter, at least as much as similarities. You even implicitly endorsed my view when you pointed out that the majority of Christians are liberal, not fundamentalist. If the difference isn’t important, why mention it?

            NathanDST

            September 7, 2011 at 22:01

            • Sorry to leave you waiting for so long.
              I must say that knowing you’re from texas makes your attitude on this a LOT easier to understand.

              Differences and similarities
              Yes, the situation is much better in Germany, as it is in most of the western world… The US are quite an exception when it comes to religion. But the ubiquity of fundamentalism in your country should stress, more than anything, the importance of focussing on efficiency rather than matters of principle.
              Most of my readers are from the US, I am well aware of that and it’s not a coincidence. Because of the incredible influence of America on world politics, the fight is more important in the new world than it is anywhere else.

              My view that our differences should take the back seat for now are based on what I know about the psychology of advertising and the human mind, especially the knowledge of how important it is to make the right impression. As I said, we have a brand to sell on the market place of ideas. Our chances of success are MUCH better when we act as one large company than when all the sub-groups try it on their own. For example all Humanists agree as to what the core principles of ethics should be, and that we want nations to act accordingly. We want a government that does not act on prejudice but bases reasonable decisions on the available scientific evidence. We all want a government that works for the people and recognizes equality as a virtue, not only as something to pay lip-service to while catering to the monetary elite.
              I argue that that value, which all Humanists share, is undoubtedly more important than our petty fights over wether or not there is an inherent human “need” for rituals.
              My focus on societal change leads me to say that whatever our differences are, we can sort them out AFTER we’ve achieved a victory of Common Sense over religious fundamentalism.

              In Europe, by the way, fundamentalism is rare. Not as rare as I’d like it to be, but still rare. Biblical literalists are laughed at, so one might argue that over here, the fight against fundamentalism is already won. Except that it isn’t. People are still irrational – they’ve largely turned from religion, but only to find pseudo-science and “spirituality”: Horoskopes, Homeopathy and other new-age-hippie-shit. Many of them still fight against science and reason and fail to think critically.
              What happened here is that while religion slowly degenerates, Humanism has failed to step up and fill the gap. Our culture is distinctly influenced by the Enlightenment, but there is no formal acknowledgement of the values that are the basis of our constitutions and legal systems. Now that is a mistake that need not be repeated in the US – here we still have the chance. Fighting against religion is not enough, for people who stop being religious do not by default become reasonable – they just substitute one superstition for another. To win the fight, we do not only need to make people turn away from fundamentalism, but towards a culture of ethics, art and science; of compassion, tolerance and reason.

              Hence my valuing the promotion of Humanism over the fight against religion. Hence my insistence that we ought to present a better alternative to religion, instead of just battling the status quo.

              So, that’s why our differences don’t matter for now. Religious differences, especially between moderate believers and fundamentalists, do matter very much, because they present two different target groups to our marketing, requiring different strategies to reach them.

              Our choice of words
              To illustrate why we ought to abandon the word “secular” (as well as the word “atheist”, by the way) I brought up the example of the gay rights movement. Names are important only to marketing, not to the product. The product stays the same, however you call it. Thus we may promote tolerance and “separation of church and state”, rather than writing “secularism” on our flags. Note the difference: While “secularism” with its current connotation implies “no religion”, the phrase “separation of church and state” implies only “no organized & institutionalized religion”. This is something many moderates will be much more open to, it will make them much more willing to listen. Plus, the phrase “separation of church and state” can be found in the US constitution and the writings of many (if not all) of the founding fathers – an incredibly strong argument to move public opinion in the US.

              There is an episode of south park in which the kids are horrified to find out that “veal” is the meat of dead baby cows. The episode makes the point that nobody would buy the product if its name was an accurate description of what it actually is – Few people would add a pack labelled “dead baby cow” to their shopping carts. By making up the word “veal” though, the industry has no problem getting their product sold at all. There are a great many psychological factors playing into this effect, and it is extremely interesting and well worth the effort to read up on it. In short, though, one can simply acknowledge that this is the awesome power of language in marketing.
              Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Anti-Life, Anti-Choice – these guys have understood that, too. There is a reason for both sides to chose their own words, not those of the others, to describe where they stand on the issue.
              Secularism is an idea that can be sold and fought for under many different names – we may even make up new ones. It doesn’t matter what we call it, what matters is that we get the point across. We may have a much easier time doing so if we were clever enough not to accept the labels others push on us, but choose our own instead.

              Ochiudo

              September 11, 2011 at 17:27

              • Just a couple of quick minor things: I’m from Minnesota (Bachmann’s state), not Texas (Perry’s state). Sadly, it seems to actually make a difference what state you’re in when dealing with a country the size of the US.

                Plus, the phrase “separation of church and state” can be found in the US constitution and the writings of many (if not all) of the founding fathers – an incredibly strong argument to move public opinion in the US.

                Actually, that phrase is not in the US constitution, or the amendments. This fact has actually been used by some to argue against a strict separation. But it is in the writing of certain founding fathers, that is true.

                I do intend to give a full reply to you, but for now my wife desires my attention.

                NathanDST

                September 11, 2011 at 21:22

                • Perhaps a part of our disagreement comes about via how we see humanism, and secularism. I do not see either, of necessity, entailing the other.

                  I see humanism as a primarily ethical worldview, but not one which necessarily requires a separation of church and state, or for that matter, strict skepticism. You mentioned new-age-hippie-shit. When I had a belief in various new age stuff, I nonetheless believed that I needed to base my ethics on the notion that the only life which matters is this one. There were various reasons, but primarily because we have to live together in this world and somehow make it work. I didn’t know of humanism then, but looking at it now, that attitude seems to have been a humanistic one. Had I known the terms, I probably would have considered myself a “religious humanist.” I had no issues with faith as virtue. Even now, I could easily see someone calling themselves a “Christian humanist,” and I would not argue with that.

                  Secularism, on the other hand, while it does have values and touches on ethics, has a focus on the skepticism and rationality that leads to a rejection of pseudo-science and new-age-hippie-shit (I like that; I may have to keep using that). It also has a particular rejection of religion built in — at least as it pertains to public policy. It can be inclusive, as I’ve mentioned before, but only as an issue of fairness. Secularism, unlike humanism, does entail a separation of church and state.

                  I would not trust right off the bat that someone who identifies only as a “humanist” would also reject pseudo-science, or value a strict separation of church and state. I would make that assumption if they identified as a “secular humanist.”

                  Speaking of church/state separation:

                  Note the difference: While “secularism” with its current connotation implies “no religion”, the phrase “separation of church and state” implies only “no organized & institutionalized religion”.

                  I don’t wish to sell merely “no organized & institutionalized religion.” That leaves the door open to still seeking a creator’s blessing prior to sessions of Congress, or to arguing against abortion rights because there “must be a soul.” Not all religion is organized and institutionalized, and if the point that NO religion should be a part of public policy is not made, we risk it becoming institutionalized through the back door.

                  You mentioned the gay rights movement to illustrate dropping the use of certain words, and picking new words. First, while that may have worked for a while, somewhere along the way “gay” started being used to mean dumb or stupid, as in “This party is so gay.” This has now come to necessitate the radio ads I keep hearing in my car fighting against that usage. Should the word “gay” be given up now, because it has come to have a negative connotation? How many more words must be appropriated and then lost before someone decides it’s time to just stick with one?

                  Negativity can be turned around. The pork industry had a problem with pork being viewed as fatty, and not that great. In 1987 they introduced the “The Other White Meat” campaign to turn around the poor reputation of pork. It worked extremely well (they’ve recently retired that campaign in favor of one aimed at those who already like and eat pork, to get them buying even more, as opposed to generating new customers). This, I contend, is what we need to do with “secular,” “atheist,” and even “humanism.” There is no other word that can properly replace any of these, because there is no other word that means what they mean. Yes, name and product are not the same thing. But you can’t always change the name. Sometimes you have to embrace it, and change the perception of the name, which will help to change the perception of the product, which will help to change the perception of the name, which will . . . You get the point.

                  NathanDST

                  September 12, 2011 at 02:45

                  • Well, for one the pork-campaign you mention was funded by a huge industry, and involved advertising on a massive scale. With such means, you can basically achieve anything you wish, probably even change the public attitude towards child labour.
                    We don’t have those means, so we need a strategy that can be employed on a somewhat smaller scale, with less funding.

                    You are right that the term “gay” is often used to mean something entirely different, but that’s simply fashionable speech by now, as using the term “gay” in the manner you described is not a sure sign for a homophobic attitude of the speaker. The Gay Rights campaign served well to change attitudes and DID achieve political victory (and is continuing to do so, regardless of the change of ways in which the word is used!)

                    About the whole “secular” thing: Indeed our understandings of that term differ. I looked up the definition, and it turns out that you’re right, and I’m wrong. I confused the meaning of the term with what is apparently more properly described as “Laicism”.
                    I am right about the definition of Humanism though: All definitions available agree that it’s a naturalistic worldview, and thus necessarily scientific. There is no room in Humanism for any belief in the supernatural. Ethics and a focus on this life are not enough to make a Humanist. Thus, a “christian Humanist” would be only somebody who identifies as “christian” in the cultural way (much in the manner of secular jews), but not actually adhere to the classic christian doctrine. That would be one of these annoying people who view jesus as “a great man and moral teacher”, but do not believe the supernatural part.

                    I suggested “separation of church and state” as a “product name” because religious people are usually more open to this idea than to criticism of their doctrines themselves. But of course I didn’t mean to suggest to abandon secularism (this time in your definition of the word). “Separation of Church and State” is merely a step-goal. It works as a first line of attack, because once you got people to agree with you on institutionalized religion, the step to criticize the doctrine itself is but a small one. So it’s merely deceptive psychology, if you will, as most marketing strategy is. It’s not meant to be an actual change of the policy we advocate.

                    I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. I do see your point, I just still place my priorities elsewhere. However, I have given up hope that I’ll convince you ;)
                    Who knows, perhaps if I’d live in Minnesota, I’d be more in line with your thinking. :D

                    Anyhow, I feel this has been a very enriching exchange of views so far. Thank you very much, I sincerely hope this won’t be the last time!

                    Ochiudo

                    September 12, 2011 at 13:48

                    • Well, for one the pork-campaign you mention was funded by a huge industry, and involved advertising on a massive scale. With such means, you can basically achieve anything you wish, probably even change the public attitude towards child labour.
                      We don’t have those means, so we need a strategy that can be employed on a somewhat smaller scale, with less funding.

                      Good point. I can’t argue with that.

                      You are right that the term “gay” is often used to mean something entirely different, but that’s simply fashionable speech by now, as using the term “gay” in the manner you described is not a sure sign for a homophobic attitude of the speaker

                      Something about this bothers me, but I’m not sure what exactly. I’ll think about it.

                      The Gay Rights campaign served well to change attitudes and DID achieve political victory (and is continuing to do so, regardless of the change of ways in which the word is used!)

                      True, to an extent, but the fight’s not over (not that I think you believe it is). Too bad you’re not in Minnesota; we could use someone of your skill to fight this damn same-sex marriage amendment.

                      “Laicism” is not a term I’ve heard before. Interesting.

                      I see your point about “separation of church and state,” and it being a step-goal to deal with the institution. It makes sense, and as much as I would like to just attack the doctrine straight on, I think we do need people who will take it on bit by bit. But as I said to someone on another site, we need both: those who will attack straight on, going for the very foundation, and those who will take things piece by piece.

                      I’m going to consider what you say about the definition of humanism. A search is pulling up one or two instances in which the naturalistic side is not stressed at all, but most of it is agreeing with you. I would simply point to the religious humanists that you acknowledged yourself early on, but then we might get into a debate about how to define “religion,” and whether it must include a supernatural component. I’ve had that discussion elsewhere, and could not come to a satisfactory definition of religion.

                      I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. I do see your point, I just still place my priorities elsewhere. However, I have given up hope that I’ll convince you ;)
                      Who knows, perhaps if I’d live in Minnesota, I’d be more in line with your thinking. :D

                      Well, if we must, we must. Not my favorite ending to a discussion such as this, but sometimes that’s how it goes (for the record, my favorite ending is when someone convinces the other — even if I’m the one who changes his mind, since that just means I’m no longer wrong, and that’s a good thing). I also see your point, but I am still thinking that we need to emphasize “secular” as much as “humanist.” But perhaps that’s only true in the US, and I would think differently were I in Germany.

                      I quite enjoyed this conversation. Feel free to stop by my site sometime and disagree with me there :D. I’ll be checking back here periodically.

                      NathanDST

                      September 13, 2011 at 08:54

                • Separation of church and state was first recommended by Richard Hooker, the formulator of the theological basis for the Church of England under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth 1.

                  It is regrettable that she did not go along with his advice. She entangled the church with monarchy. Humanists could well call them back to their roots in Hooker.

                  Today, separation of church and state would be easy to defend if only its advocates would be a bit more aggressive about it. For instance, it would be quite easy to design a hard-hitting ad for the WASHINGTON POST to contrast North Korea, which has a state-approved ideology, with Japan, where General Douglas Macarthur in 1945 made separation an immediate demand of his military occupation.

                  If the Humanists ever awaken from the Victorian-era dream of bashing god-belief as their mission, they may realize that Humanism has the potential to change the world and that indeed that was the intent of its founders. A major goal would then be to educate the world on the need for separation of church and state, not just debunking other people’s metaphysical delusions. Don’t just “Oppose religion” – “Occupy religion.” This century can be and should be the Humanist century. Seize it!

                  “Though we consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers no longer adequate,
                  the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind.
                  Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible
                  for the realization of the world of his dreams,
                  that he has within himself the power for its achievement.
                  He must set intelligence and will to the task.”
                  — Humanist Manifesto 1 (1933)

                  Why not make THAT challenge the message of billboards and bus ads?

                  Francis

                  December 24, 2011 at 20:58

                  • A beautiful quote there, Francis. Also, I agree with the sentiment of your comment. This century can be ours. The throne of religion is crumbling, all we need to do is provide a net for those who are falling.
                    I intend this to be the main focus of my blog: Less anti-religion, more pro-humanism. Let’s focus on “GOOD (without god)” rather than being “(good) WITHOUT GOD”. These priorities are important, and the chance we have now might be the only chance we get.

                    I value your comments, I hope I’ll have a chance to read more of your feedback at the new location of this blog over at blogger.com: commonsensehumanism.blogspot.com

                    Phil

                    December 26, 2011 at 23:53

                    • I would like to see more people focus on BEING GOOD. I really don’t care whether it is “:with or without Gods” because I don’t know what they are and if they exist or do not exist is NOT a question that has any impact at all on my life nor would any resolution of the question (if the question even exists) make any difference whatsoever to my choices of how to behave.

                      The compilers of the original Humanist Manifesto were wise – they don’t even use the “G” word.

                      Francis

                      December 27, 2011 at 00:39

  2. The American Humanist Association and the International Humanist & Ethical Union see your point, as well as the American Ethical Union and the Society for Humanist Judaism. The Council for Secular Humanism might be who you want to talk to, but AHA and IHEU are really the main players. A religious humanist would have to clarify ‘religious’ and then explain what exactly that means – ie, humanism is better than what my religion teaches and my god is ok with that (coincidental matches of ethics notwithstanding).
    Humanists call themselves secular when it’s appropriate, but I think your will is done. Almost all the humanist groups don’t bother to specify humanist in their name and humanism is secular… no need to state the obvious.

    Jason

    August 31, 2011 at 17:10

    • Dear Jason,
      The plain fact that there is so much heated discussion about this topic flies in the face of your claim that there is no need for statements of this kind. It is far from being a clearly solved issue.

      Ochiudo

      September 12, 2011 at 13:49

  3. I think this is a brilliant post and excellent advice. “Humanist” is quite enough.

    James Croft

    August 31, 2011 at 18:12

    • I don’t quite agree, James. I think Secular Humanist should keep the term “Secular” because at the moment it remains exactly that. If you do any quick search for “humanism” over 50% of the messages you see are about religion – NOT about everything else that humanism stands for.

      I do agree with your point about humans being what it’s all about, though, Philipp. This is spot on. While humanist organisations continue to go on and on and on about their lack of religion, however, these organisations don’t DESERVE the non-secular moniker. They are missing the point: ultimately whether you are secular or non-secular is irrelevant to what I consider to be true humanism.

      Nathan Haslewood

      September 1, 2011 at 05:29

      • Nathan,
        I do see your point, but even if I were to agree with you that those who elevate “religion-bashing” to a sport and the entirety of their Humanist activity do not deserve to be mentioned alongside “mainstream” Humanists (which, by the way, I don’t), I’d still say the same:
        For PR reasons it is an absolute tactical necessity to present a united front to the public, no matter what our differences may be. The need for a more powerful political lobby must surpass such internal rivalry. We simply cannot afford to start fighting about what constitutes “true” Humanism now.
        There is more than enough which we all can agree on: Let us first and above all focus on that, and channel our efforts to putting it into practice.

        Ochiudo

        September 1, 2011 at 19:43

  4. This is as true in the US as it is, apparently, in Germany.

  5. This has already been done. Since 1988, with the IHEU’s declaration that Humanism should be used alone with no adjectives, with a capital “H”. Since then most have followed that. Any mention of “secular humanism” is done by (a) critics and (b) a few remnants and holdovers. But note – “Humanism” is not just another name for secular humanism. It is a broad term that includes both secular humanism and religious humanism. Both of these are fully empirical and naturalistic worldviews. The only difference is that one chooses a religious format with ritual, etc and the other chooses to consider it a philosophy with a format very much unlike a religious one. Ultimately, what matters are that they share the same beliefs and values. Whether one calls Humanism a religion or a philosophy should be up to the individual – much like Buddhism, for example.

    IHEU Declaration:

    http://www.iheu.org/humanism-is-eight-letters-no-more

    DT Strain
    Humanist Minister

    DT Strain

    September 1, 2011 at 03:13

  6. The adjective “secular” was seldom attached to “Humanism” until 1980. Its origin was a footnote to the Supreme Court finding in Torcaso v. Watkins in 1961. But the adjective is really rather pointless since all that “secular” Humanism stands for is already implied in “Humanism.”

    But in 1979 Paul Kurtz used the term “secular Humanism” in an editorial in THE HUMANIST. I think that was his last issue because his editorship was not renewed. The American Humanist Association was then asserting its rightful control over the magazine, its property, and Paul would soon be gone.

    Not to be discouraged, Paul then started his own movement, and by 1980 it was launched. He used the name “secular humanism,” dropping the capital H. He stated publishing his own magazine, FREE INQUIRY. My surmise is that the purpose in adopting the lower case “h” and the redundant adjective “secular” was to carve out his own niche distinguished from the standard Humanism of the AHA.

    The International Humanist and Ethical Union has recommended use of the capital “H” and the avoidance of all adjectives. They are correct. Qualifying “Humanism” with adjectives can only weaken the impact of what is intended to be universal.

    As for the capital “H,” the movement which first achieved public identity in 1933 from its birthplace in Chicago is now well established, worldwide, and its identity is well defined by a very substantial body of literature. It is no longer vague. Humanism deserves its capital “H” just as surely as the Pope is not “catholic” but “Catholic.”

    Francis

    September 1, 2011 at 07:22

    • Boy, you sure know your history. Thanks for the info, interesting stuff!

      Ochiudo

      September 1, 2011 at 19:30

  7. So long as U. S. religious right activists continue to argue that ideas ranging from evolution to the correct age of the universe should not be taught in public schools because they are tenets of “the religion of humanism” — and so long as there exist explicitly religious humanists whom neutral observers can mistake for “proof” of this absurd contention — there will be a clear need for secular humanists to present themselves as a distinct group, specifically a group that is non-religious. For the same reason, it is important not to capitalize the label, so as to emphasize that one’s humanism (or secular humanism) is not a religious stance. Can the capital “H” cause confusion on this issue? Just ask Francis, a previous commenter who closed by saying, “Humanism deserves its capital ‘H’ just as surely as the Pope is not ‘catholic; but ‘Catholic.’” Um, I rest my case. BTW, The Council for Secular Humanism is a proud member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), but we respectfully disagree with their stance on capitalizing “Humanism” and using it without a modifier. In part, we believe that this position stems in part from the fact that the conditions that make our stance necessary are specific to the United States.

    Tom Flynn
    Executive Director
    The Council for Secular Humanism

    http://www.secularhumanism.org

    Tom Flynn

    September 1, 2011 at 16:08

    • I have yet to come across an activist of the religious right using those kinds of arguments. Of course that may be coincidence and is not in itself of any significance. Nevertheless, I find it surprising that you seem to encounter these arguments so often that you ascribe to them such relevance that you think we ought to structure our entire PR policy accordingly. To me, these arguments seem incredibly weak, and (more importantly), they do not stand a chance to hold up in court should the need ever arise.
      Humanism can be proven not to be a religion, to not fit all the various accepted definitions or what constitutes a religion. Also, Humanism (again, by any accepted definition) holds a commitment only to the scientific method, not to any particular claim regarding the origin of species, evolution, or the age of the earth – so these hardly qualify as dogmatic tenets of the “Humanist creed”.

      I accept that under the specific circumstances you described, concessions may be in order. But clearly this ought to be the exception, not the rule. I can imagine the situation you described would be relevant in the countryside of Texas, but I find it hard to believe that the issues you raise are of relevance in any major city of the US.
      As for shunning the religious Humanists: I am willing to admit that I may be underestimating the issue due to lack of experience. To me, religious Humanists are like mythical animals; I’ve never met one, never even heard of someone who knew of someone who would describe himself as a religious Humanist. I’ve never seen any content in that direction anywhere on the web, except as a passive generic mention that there is such thing as religious Humanism. I’ve read rather a lot of liberal religious thought as well as Humanist writings, but I never came across the writings of a professed religious Humanist.

      A check on wikipedia did not reveal membership numbers, web links lead only to generic “Humanist” institutions and organizations. I’d like to see some definite numbers, and will do a more extensive search once I find the time, but as long as religious Humanism presents itself in the manner it does right now, I will continue to doubt the movement’s relevance to the interests of (us) mainstream Humanists.

      Ochiudo

      September 1, 2011 at 19:25

      • Humanism can be proven not to be a religion, to not fit all the various accepted definitions or what constitutes a religion. Also, Humanism (again, by any accepted definition) holds a commitment only to the scientific method, not to any particular claim regarding the origin of species, evolution, or the age of the earth – so these hardly qualify as dogmatic tenets of the “Humanist creed”

        Except that the US Supreme Court declared humanism a religion in 1961, Torcaso v Watkins. And Humanist Celebrants in most (if not all) states of America are licensed to perform weddings only because humanism is considered a religion.

        Also, do a search for “religion of humanism” in Google. You will find religious right sites arguing that humanism is a religion, though I admit I did not find anyone prominent saying that, so that’s probably not worth much in addressing your specific point.

        NathanDST

        September 2, 2011 at 02:27

        • Confusion arises when people mistakenly take “religion” as a synonym of supernaturalism. The correct meaning of “religion” derives from its etymology – “ligare,” which has nothing to do with anything supernatural. It refers to “binding,” as in “ligament,” and “bonding,” as in the French Foreign “Legion.”

          I certainly hope Humanists enjoy the sense of being bonded together; if so, they have no need to fear the word “religion.” What they do need to fear is abjectly surrendering to stupid fundies who want to define our language for us.

          Fundies are in fact a minority of worldwide Protestantism which is in turn a minority of the world’s Christians. Most of what is visible in American fundamentalism consists of Bachmanesque hayseeds worthy of a horse laugh.

          If you lived in Sri Lanka or Burma you would find yourself immersed in a culture of Theravada Buddhism which IS certainly a religion and outnumbers America’s dumb fundies and does NOT promote belief in a supernatural “God.”

          Francis

          December 24, 2011 at 21:20

          • Etymology is hardly the be-all and end-all of meaning in a word. Language changes and evolves over time.

            NathanDST

            December 27, 2011 at 10:07

  8. It is saddening to see an able Humanist leader, Tom Flynn, intimidated by the fundies into surrendering to them the power to define our terminology.

    There is an old saying: “If you let your adversary define your language, you have already lost the debate.”

    Francis

    September 1, 2011 at 19:49

  9. To assert “God does not exist” is just as much a metaphysical statement as “God exists.” Neither are either true or false because both are devoid of meaning.

    Humanism is not a metaphysical position. It is an ethical process through which we can all move above and beyond the assertions and denials and dogmas of past religions.

    Within an empty set, all propositions are neither true nor false – or, if you prefer, both true and false. Aristotelean logic cannot apply where there is nothing to apply it to. The set of all gods is a null set.

    Francis

    September 1, 2011 at 19:58

  10. NathanDST is quite mistaken. Look up the decision in Torcaso v. Watkins. It is easily googleable. The passage in question is just a footnote, written by one justice, and it does NOT say Humanism is a religion. It says that “secular Humanism” provides many of the same services that religions provide and deserves equality of rights in such matters as carrying out celebrations as equivalent to an organized religion.

    Francis

    September 2, 2011 at 02:40

    • Yes, it’s a footnote, but the footnote actually does identify humanism as a religion. From the decision:

      *495 We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers,[10] and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.[11]

      –Emphasis mine.

      Then, going to footnote 11, the footnote in question:

      [11] Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others. See Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia, 101 U. S. App. D. C. 371, 249 F. 2d 127; Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda, 153 Cal. App. 2d 673, 315 P. 2d 394; II Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences 293; 4 Encyclopaedia Britannica (1957 ed.) 325-327; 21 id., at 797; Archer, Faiths Men Live By (2d ed. revised by Purinton), 120-138, 254-313; 1961 World Almanac 695, 712; Year Book of American Churches for 1961, at 29, 47.

      –Again, emphasis mine.

      This clearly identifies secular humanism as a religion, and not simply that it provides the same services religions provide.

      NathanDST

      September 2, 2011 at 02:50

    • Further research is indicating two things: 1) That despite the clear statements in the decision, footnotes generally are not held to hold full legal status as being the Court’s opinion. 2) That nonetheless, the religious right likes to use that footnote against humanism.

      NathanDST

      September 2, 2011 at 02:56

  11. Why do some Humanists get their knickers in a knot about Humanism being considered “a religion?” There are many definitions of what is a religion, and the 1933 Manifesto does identify Humanism as a religion with a definition so broad as to be practically meaningless.

    I prefer to go to etymology. The word “religion” derives from “ligare” – which just means “binding” or “bonding.” It does NOT have any necessary implication of supernatural belief. It is silly and pointless to be concerned with the adjectives “religious” and “secular” in application to Humanism because Humanism incorporates elements of both.

    Nor is Humanism hostile to religion. It need not oppose religion because it will outperform them all, supersede them, and do better everything good that organized religions can do. Humanism not only does better the best of what organized religions do – it also infiltrates them and takes them over.

    Organized religion has been civilized by absorbing Humanist thought ever since the Renaissance. Humanism will replace stale old religions with a vibrant naturalistic faith rooted in respect for mankind, which in orthodox Christian terms is the Pelagian heresy. Augustine taught heritable guilt; Humanism like Pelagius stresses human potential for growth in good. Life is a do-it-yourself job. more and more people accept this. This century can be, should be and will be the Humanist century.

    Francis

    September 2, 2011 at 02:55

    • I cannot speak for other humanists on this question, Francis, as I haven’t heard their reasons. The reason I’m bothered by it is because I think words are our primary means of communication, and if communication is going to be accurate, with the least chance for misunderstanding possible, then we need our words to go along with that. If the definition is so broad as to be practically meaningless, then that seems a practically useless definition — and that is not good. Definitions need to have meaning in order to be useful, or we end up arguing past each other and misunderstanding each other far more than is necessary.

      In the particular case of humanism and religion, it matters because just as we argue that Christians should not teach their religion in schools, they argue that humanist principles should not be taught in schools because humanism is a religion, and then include the theory of evolution among the humanist principles that should not be taught. Yes, there are problems with that argument. But if it is clear from the start that humanism — or rather secular humanism — is NOT a religion, then we don’t even have to deal with that argument, and can save time, money, and effort. I don’t just mean the legal argument, I mean the social argument. The people might acknowledge that the law doesn’t consider secular humanism a religion (assuming it doesn’t), but if they think it is anyway, the will treat it as one. I don’t see that having positive results.

      As to etymology, it’s an interesting study at times, but generally not relevant to the way people use language in everyday usage. Words change over time, which might be unfortunate, but is nonetheless true. The actual meaning of the word as it is used currently is what matters, not what it might have derived from (except when that history is still being dealt with in a very real way, but that’s a different debate perhaps).

      I do agree that humanism, even secular humanism, is not necessarily hostile to religion. I also sincerely hope that you’re right about humanism doing the good things organized religion does better, and thus replacing it entirely.

      NathanDST

      September 2, 2011 at 03:22

  12. Well, big deal. So what if you want to call Humanism a religion? That does NOT imply belief in anything supernatural, indeed Humanism specifically REJECTS supernatural beliefs as a basis for ethics, and ETHICS, not metaphysics, is what Humanism is about.

    Humanism neither accepts nor rejects “belief in” the existence of anything. It rejects supernatural belief as a necessary foundation for identifying right and wrong.

    So far as I can recall, the word “God” does not even occur in any of the three Humanist Manifestos. Why should it? They don’t mention unicorns, mermaids or leprechauns either. Humanism offers a framework or ethical decision-making free from supernaturalism. Those who think it is terribly, terribly important to assert that gods and unicorns exist, or to deny that, are welcome to have a ball. That is metaphysics, and it has nothing to do with Humanism, an ethical process.

    Francis

    September 2, 2011 at 03:07

    • I don’t want to call secularhumanism a religion! That’s part of my problem with this post! Too many people do consider humanism a religion, and it causes issues. Since there is a difference between religious humanism and secular humanism, I think that difference needs to be acknowledged and recognized, not ignored.

      I agree with everything else that you said in this comment (except the implication that “religion” doesn’t imply a belief in the supernatural; until the last few days when James Croft pointed out Ethical Culture, I’d never even heard of a religion that doesn’t have some belief in the supernatural — and I’m still not thinking I agree with their definition, but I’m not finished pondering it).

      NathanDST

      September 2, 2011 at 03:31

  13. In Sri Lanka and Burma there are millions of people who do indeed adhere to a religion, Theravada Buddhism. They do NOT promote belief in any “God.” In fact, i think they teach that it is a VIRTUE to rid your mind from belief in gods.

    I am really, really tired of mouthy fundies pretending they have some authority to tell the world what “religion” is, what “God” means, etc. This is a fallacy of the creationist fundies and they should stay in Kansas. They do not speak for Christianity. They do not speak for America.

    Francis

    September 2, 2011 at 03:51

    • A god, no. But they still teach reincarnation, which is also supernatural.

      NathanDST

      September 2, 2011 at 04:19

  14. The word “atheist” was promoted and coined NOT by atheists but by their enemies. It serves the purpose of marginalizing them. The implication is that theism is the default and atheists are just dissenters. This is like the terms “nonconformists” and “dissenters” used to marginalize those who were not embraced by the established Church of England. In America, the late unlamented Senator Joseph McCarthy classed his targeted victims as “Un-American.”

    Rather than “atheist,” a more desirable word is “freethinker.” This claims for us the high ground of being free and being thinkers.

    Francis

    September 14, 2011 at 07:32

    • While that history is likely true (I’m sorry, I don’t feel like verifying it, but have no reason to doubt you on this), I will still happily accept the term “atheist” as one label to describe myself (among others). By definition, it describes quite succinctly my position on belief in a deity. And while not strictly denotational, it has developed the connotation of not believing in anything supernatural. It’s purpose might have been to marginalize, and there’s no doubt that atheists are currently marginalized, but it’s still a good word. It says what it says, and little more. And at this point in history, with the power of religion so ubiquitous, I think we need a word that so readily sets us apart from the theists (humanism is not yet recognizable enough to do that).

      “Freethinker” is also a good one, but describes an attitude or condition (free) and a habit or skill (thinking), without automatically saying anything about belief in god(s). Frankly, I think I could see calling some who believe in the supernatural as freethinkers. Probably not too many, but some.

      You could say that the position of “atheist” is a result of being a “freethinker.” Or of being a “skeptic.” I like that one too.

      NathanDST

      September 14, 2011 at 08:48

  15. As a resident of rural Kentucky in the 80′s, we received a broadside in our mailbox from a Christian organization that warned about the threat of “Secular Humanism.” They described a group of Secular Humanists as a sort of Satanic cult attacking American children and beating down religion. I found the flyer alarming in a way they did not intend. The warning I received was to not introduce myself as a “secular humanist,” ever, in case there should be some misunderstanding.

    Know this when you use the term: It has already been, literally, demonized in the eyes of many people.

    Verdandi

    December 24, 2011 at 18:51

  16. Well, I am more than ever glad to live in California. I never expected to meet a Humanist who would be terrorized out of saying he was a Humanist by a bunch of hillbillies. I don’t know how I would react. Possibly attend their church and try to get into conversation with them and offer to form a discussion group to work it out.

    I do know that caution is sometimes necessary. In Europe in 1972 when asked where I was from I learned never to say “America” because it inevitably led to a harangue about bombing innocent Cambodian women and children. But if I replied “California” it led to smiles and discussion of palm trees and surf beaches.

    Maybe an advantage of the word “freethinker” is that if the other party opposes you they have to accept being against freedom and thinking – you have already seized the high ground.

    Francis

    December 24, 2011 at 21:46

  17. I like pineapples

    Anonymous

    July 16, 2013 at 06:49


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