What is secular humanism?

Can anyone give me a clear idea of what “secular humanism” is? For that matter, can anybody explain to me what “humanism” is as well? Over the years of hearing people throw around this term, I’ve gotten the impression that no one really knows what it means either, even among self-proclaimed (secular) humanists.

Humanism is the view that human beings are valuable and that what matters is the flourishing of humanity.

Every true Christian, IMO, should be a humanist.

Secular humanism is humanism that does not involve organized religion.

This is the definition I use in my American History class when we discuss the rise of the Religious Right in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Stresses material well-being and personal gratification over religious conviction and devotion to traditional Christian values”

“the end of all being is the happiness of man” as opposed to Christianity which says “the end of all being is the Glory of God”. I heard this on a recorded message by Paris Reidhead titled “Ten Shekels and a Shirt”. You can Google this title and hear it if you want. It is Protestant though.:shrug:

Humanism is a focus on human beings as opposed to a focus on the Divine. The ancient Greeks and Romans were humanists. Even their gods were of human form. Judeo-Christianity had a focus on God. Thomas Aquinas blended classical thought and Christianity and thus developed Christian humanism. Modern atheists often call themselves secular humanists which doesn’t really mean much other than a rejection of religion.

George Orwell said, “Many people genuinely do not want to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.”

This contempt for the pursuit of the holy–and, as previous posters have mentioned, the elevation of humanity to the highest place–seems to me the chief characteristic of secular humanism. It is idolatry, with Mankind (but sometimes not actual human beings) in the place of God.

This may be true of some atheists, but for me secualr humanism is much more than a rejection of religion. I don’t think it even necessarily entail a rejection of religion. What is does entail, IMO is the rejection of religion as a decisive factor in what is good or not good for human beings/humanity.

I used to be Catholic humanist, but my views on most things haven’t changed since I became an atheist.

Of course the end of all being is the happiness of man. Even if God exists, the thought of humans as merely beings whose only end is to work for the glory of God seems to reduce the intrinsic value of humanity to virtually zero.

To work for the glory of God is what brings man true happiness and is what love is.


I found it interesting that these two definitions came one after the other in the list of postings. I think that they are both true, but that the latter statement is an outgrowth of the former statement.

I agree with this mostly. I have seen/heard Maslow and hierarchy of needs trashed recently by “opponents” of secular humanism. Secular humanism is basically a non religious view of man. Some people think this means man as God. I don’t think this is necessarily so. The “human potential movement” was more in that vein. Parts of secular humanism blend well with religion, in the “God does not make trash”. point of view. We are given talents, intelligence, etc. that we are to develop to the best of our ability to better give Glory to God. We can be joyous about that without being sinfully prideful. Maslow was kind of one of the originators of humanism from a psychological point of view. His idea that “based needs must be met for more mature needs to emerge” was the basis of many of the helping professionals development. In reading those theories, there was a quesiton of discontinuity at some points, as in how does altruism fit into situations where basic needs (food, water, shelter, etc) are not met. Examples of this are in concentration camps where people (saints) gave up their food, water, lives really, for the good of others. Maslow recognized that his theory was not complete. Nevertheless, some parts are still quite applicable, as in - how well can a child learn when they are not adequately nourished, or are cold, or are homeless. How can people seek out employment in a successful manner when they are hungry, thirsty, etc.

Seems to me the answer in some of these cases is either through a spiritual conviction, that is, a belief and connection with God, or that people are supported in meeting some of these basic needs through the action of people reaching out with corporal and Spiritual works of mercy. Often, these are Christians.

This book offers a good historical perspective:

What Is Secular Humanism?: Why Humanism Became Secular and How It Is Changing Our World

by James Hitchcock (Sep 1982)

Although 3 decades have passed since it came out, he predicted many of the changes that happened since then.

Our intrinsic value as human beings comes directly from being made in the image and likeness of God. Our value is intrinsic due to our creator. Humanists value themselves as if they are gods. Of course, their values do not necessarily extend to the value of the unborn for example but to their own creature comforts and their own personal wants and desires. Life without God is a meaningless life. It’s convenient to claim there is no God when your focus is self centered, and your main driving force is to get more of everything to satisfy your banal materialistic urges. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die sounds better to a humanist than the truth of our own eternity where the good or evil we do today will determine whether we live in eternal harmony with God or a living hell that never ends…May God have mercy on all those lost in darkness that they may come to see the light of Christ and their own spiritual value.

Happiness is a by-product, not the prime-product of being. Working for the glory of God actually INCREASES rather than decreases man’s intrinsic value. It is living for oneself (self indulgence) that reduces man’s intrinsic value and is the underlying cause of all misery in this world. Even people that don’t believe in God, if they lived by the Ten Commandments, would see a vast improvement in living conditions in this world.

1, There would be no need for locks on doors if people didn’t steal.

  1. No need for prisons or capital punishment if people didn’t kill.

3 No need for nuclear arsenals if everyone in the world obeyed the Commandments.

I could go on but hopefully you get the idea.

I’ll pick just one of what seems to be a post filled with misunderstandings and strawmen.
It is not true that humanists value themselves as if they are gods. Humanists value themselves in relationship to others.

The same vast misunderstanding here. Secular humanists do not live for themselves, they live for themselves and the other human beings.
Doing that, they end up living by the Ten Commandments, with the exception of the first one.

Of course not every secular humanist succeeds in doing so, but not every Christian or Catholic manages to live up to what he/she is supposed to do either.

Thanks for everyone’s input.

It seems that the vast majority of people in history would think that too. Pretty much every civilization which has ever existed thought that humans were “valuable” in some sense and that it’s good to “flourish.” So … I feel like I still don’t have a grasp on what “humanism” means here.

I feel like you might be right. But I’m not really sure why.

But it could involve unorganized religion? Private religious practice that involve prayers, etc.?

Pope Francis uses the world humanist a lot, for instance:

“The future demands a humanistic vision of the economy and a politics capable of ensuring greater and more effective participation on the part of all, eliminating forms of elitism and eradicating poverty. This is the road that we are called to travel: to see that basic needs are met and that human dignity, brotherhood and solidarity are guaranteed on every level.” - news.va/en/news/pope-francis-my-advice-is-always-dialogue-dialogue

Humanism is the belief that when the needs of people conflict with legalistic adherence to dogma, people always come first, that the glory of God involves loving our neighbor. Secular humanism goes one step further by not even having any religious dogma. In practical terms, the mark of a humanist, as the Pope says in that speech, is openness and dialog rather than erecting barriers as a few posters on this thread seem to want. :slight_smile:

That sounds like it has a strong Christian bias, though, considering Christianity isn’t the only religion in the world, and humanism really isn’t about material goods or personal gratification.

Humanism, in the non-philosophical sense of the word, is a synonym of humanitarianism.

This is the philosophical definition of it. It’s somewhat like deism, only instead of observing at the world to discover God, you observe it to discover what is ethical for humanity.

I like to think of it as, to a Christian, both are synonymous.

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