A Separation of Concerns

Several months ago I was asked to make a presentation on “What Humanists Want You to Know About Humanism”. As part of the preparation, I spent some time researching definitions of Humanism. The problem I ran into is that, almost exclusively, every definition of Humanism I found online excluded religion.

I am of the opinion that you can be a Humanist and be of any religion as long as you follow some basic tenets:

  1. You want to solve this world’s problems with solutions from this world
  2. You follow the Golden and/or Platinum rules:
    1. You treat others as you wish to be treated (the Golden rule aka the Ethic of Reciprocity)
    2. You treat others as they wish to be treated (the Platinum rule)
  3. Empathy is your guide to interactions with others
  4. You react first with compassion and kindness
  5. You assume good intentions in others

In my opinion, I think we can use the above points as a general framework for a Humanist ethical guideline without getting into comparative theologies. By making assertions about science and the validity of theistic beliefs I think this crosses from Humanism into skepticism.

While skepticism is a great foundation for critical thinking, I think it is a separate concern from Humanism. While skepticism challenges theistic worldviews and founds itself in critical thought, Humanism is more an emotional and moral framework. Don’t get me wrong, both are valuable and there is a significant overlap between Humanism, atheism, and skepticism, but we should not intertwine these systems as they are independent of each other.

I think you can be a Humanist without being a skeptic or atheist. Our sources of moral guidance may be different but we can get to the same destination. Just as people can travel separate roads to meet up, we can all come from separate theistic traditions and come together to share common moral ground. The Golden Rule can be found across religions and, I think, be considered a core foundation of our social nature.

By intertwining Humanism and skepticism we are replacing one set of tribalism with another. Many of my ex-Christian friends recognize the walls they put up around who was “in” and who was “out”. We’re doing that exact same thing by comingling two different values. We should recognize from past experience that this only serves to divide people into those who are included and those who are not. Humanism should be about uniting, not dividing. I think that Humanism grows through diversity and inclusion rather than tribalistic exclusion.

I think that if we narrow Humanism down to only those who don’t believe in the supernatural we limit our possibilities. We may disagree with people on what happens after we die but if we share the above premises we can accomplish much together.

As Humanists, we need to be the first to extend the welcoming hand. We need to reach out and show there is a better way. So many people who are religious are not aware that Humanism exists, much less what it entails. We should all act as ambassadors and show that what we have in common is far greater than what separates us.


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