The Difference between Religious and Secular Humanism in Its Essence | Center for Inquiry


In a Guardian blog, New Humanist commentator Suzanne Moore has — if inadvertently — defined the key difference between religious humanists and secular humanists in a very few words.

Bewailing the poverty of atheist (particularly, New Atheist) argot when it comes to offering a supporting matrix for meaningful secular ceremonies, Moore writes: "We may find the fuzziness of new age thinking with its emphasis on 'nature' and 'spirit' impure, but to dismiss the human need to express transcendence and connection with others as stupid is itself stupid."

There's the difference between religious and secular humanism in its essence — in a nutshell, if you will. Religious humanists yearn to "express transcendence and connection with others." Secular humanists are fine with expressing connection with others, but inasmuch as they are secular, they attach great importance to the recognition that … hang on now … there is no such thing as "transcendence" or "the transcendent."

Essential to the secular view is the insight, rooted in science, that reality is mundane. It's the domain of matter, energy, and their interactions — andnothing else.

On that view, words like divine, spirit, and transcendent share one essential quality: they have no referents in the real world. There is nothing to transcend, because the domain of everyday experience is — so far as we can see, and the range of our seeing has gotten pretty good in recent decades — the whole of what exists. Being all that is, it cannot be transcended. There is nothing "above" it, nothing "beyond" it … there's just reality.

Written By: Tom Flynn
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  1. Subjectivity is something that one must “transcend” towards objectivity, even (especially) among secularists.

  2. Why fuss about with defining religious humanists and secular humanists? A humanist is a humanist. Humanism dictates nothing about supernatural beliefs. It’s not one umbrella term that denotes everything about your beliefs, it’s one factor of many.

    This is a bit like that whole agnostic atheist/ agnostic theist malarkey. Atheists are atheists and theists are theists, regardless of whether each one is agnostic.

    I’m agnostic, I’m atheist, I’m humanist.

    I don’t go around berating other atheists for not being humanists or agnostics. I don’t criticize other agnostics for not being atheist or humanist, and I don’t care if there are other humanists who aren’t atheist or agnostic.

  3. But there is a world beyond reality… Fiction.

    And the thing is that before things can become real, first they must be presented as a form of fiction, whether the medium is poetry or highly detailed blueprints. All out hopes and dreams for the future are fictional, in that they are not a part of reality. And without the ability to escape the here and now, they never will be. And sure it’s actually all happening inside out heads, but that’s the tricky think about words like transcendence. No one person gets to dictate how they are used or what they mean. Often it can be used interchangeably with ‘escapism’. As in what we turn to tv, movies, and games for. So secular humanism can offer such things.

    And perhaps we should be a little more careful before shouting so loudly that we can’t.

  4. Transcendence,Spirit,Divine.These are just woo-woo words that mean nothing.Ask a cleric to define them and you will get the usual nonsense.We should always ask believers to carefully define what they mean whenever they wheel out these terms.The usual response I get when I do, is “you’re and atheist you wouldn’t understand!’ My response is always ‘I was bought up as a catholic but never saw or experienced anything to make me believe these words had any substance, give me your definitions and supporting experiences and we can take it from there.” Result: silence !

  5. I was always uncomfortable with the word “humanism”. Any way you put it, it appears a tad too self-indulgent. Human supremacism, as it were.

    Has anyone here yet seen the movie “Speciesism”?

  6. In reply to #5 by aqk:

    I was always uncomfortable with the word “humanism”. Any way you put it, it appears a tad too self-indulgent. Human supremacism, as it were.

    I Don’t see it as self-indulgent at all — simply descriptive.

  7. As I suggested in another post about Suzanne Moore’s article bemoaning lack of ritual and transcendence among atheists and wanting a “blessing” for her baby , I feel she is searching for a religion or has not long been out of one.

  8. Religious humanism is simply a means for people who are afraid of being atheists to allow themselves a chance to doubt their invisible friend.

  9. In reply to #8 by Miserablegit:

    Religious humanism is simply a means for people who are afraid of being atheists to allow themselves a chance to doubt their invisible friend.

    Or simply suffering from “religion withdrawal” symptoms. Many people, even smart people don’t realize how addicted we can be to religious thinking. I had a catholic upbringing and as a child, I formed a belief that I was being punished by god whenever something bad happened to me (and spared/rewarded when I got a break).

    Even in adult age and after being enlightened by the writings of people much smarter than me, I find that I sometimes have to make a conscious mental effort to shed this misguided trait from my childhood to attribute agency to my misfortunes.

    Getting rid of religion/superstition in ourselves requires much more than just adopting a more lucid, rational point of view. The emotional aspect of recovery from “spiritual thinking” is far more challenging. And it takes time.

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