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Secular Humanism

Updated on February 2, 2013

What impact would the policies and proposals of secular humanists have on the American political landscape should they come to fruition?

What impact would the policies and proposals of secular humanists have on the American political landscape should they come to fruition? On other words, address the effects and propriety of proposals to eliminate religious influence from American political process.

First, let us look at just what secular humanism is. Secular humanism is a philosophy that is devoid of religious beliefs and practices and replaces religion with a foundation based on humanity, on reasoning and on observable, measurable scientific evidence. Secular humanists trace their roots back to rational philosophers in ancient Greece such as Socrates. In 1933, a humanist manifesto was published and endorsed by 34 leading humanists of the time. This document was updated in 1973 and the following statements reflect some of the key policies that define secular humanism:

- Humanist’s value knowledge based on reason and hard evidence rather than on faith. Prayer plays no part in humanism. Hard evidence is seen in the application of an antibiotic to cure an ear infection. Thus prayer as a form of healing would not be acceptable.

- Secular humanists reject the concept of a personal God and regard humans as the supreme form of life. Based on this, humanists believe:

o “The preciousness and dignity of the individual person is a central humanist value”. For humanists, mankind is at the center of the universe.

o The universe was not created but evolved along the lines of the theory of evolution. The universe behaves in accordance with natural laws.

o Ethical and moral codes of conduct don’t need to be divinely inspired but can be derived by reason based on fundamental human behavior. In other words, humans are free to make up our own rules. Humanists would argue that the Ten Commandments, for example, did not have to be divinely ordained. Such laws would come into practice in any civil society where humans reflect on what might be acceptable and what might be unacceptable behavior. Humanists would argue that throughout the history of mankind, behavior such as stealing and killing of a fellow human being was always frowned upon. We therefore don’t need a god to tell us what’s right from wrong. We can figure it out ourselves based on history, based on emotional impact and most importantly based on rational thinking.

o Humans must take full responsibility for how we interact with Earth’s resources, with the environment, with differing economic, political and military systems. There is no Supreme Being or God to intervene or spare us from disasters natural and otherwise. Humanists would argue that if the population of humans continues to grow at its current pace, disaster would inevitably result as the Earth’s resources would be overwhelmed. This is contrary to the Catholic mandate to “go forth and multiply” because God is there to save mankind in the end.

- Much historical progress has been made wherever secular systems have replaced religious systems. Humanists would point to the harsh societies that existed in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries when Christian governments ruled. Humanists would also point to the tyranny of the Islamic extremist Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the closed society run by the Saudi government in Saudi Arabia. Humanists suggest that the conflict between organized religions and secular society is a painful one but it inevitably results in a better social system for all.

- Promises of “eternal salvation” or “eternal damnation” by religious institutions are tools for controlling the masses based on basic human instincts of fear. Humanists assert that such practices are harmful and illusory. According to humanists, the notion of “believing” or “having faith” drives people to commit unspeakable acts in the name of religion. If there were no eternal salvation or eternal damnation then people would be forced to think and rationalize their actions. As a result, conflicts based on religious dogma would be less likely to occur.

- Humanists accept democracy and reject theocracy and secular dictatorships as dangerous to individual freedoms.

- Humanists believe strongly in separation of church and state.

- Humanists believe in freedom of inquiry, expression, debate and action. They are opposed to bigotry, hate, discrimination, intolerance and censorship.

- Humanists retain liberal views on topics that conflict with the teaching of traditional established religious institutions. Abortion, death punishment, death penalty, enforced prayer in schools, homosexuality, gay marriage, physician-assisted suicide are just a few battlegrounds for humanists and religious organizations.

- Humanists believe that there is no after-life. Moral values are derived from human experience. Thus humanists must strive to reduce conflict, poverty, pain, misery in the world. They should work to alleviate the struggle of others and participate in protecting human rights and the environment. In this regard, they share a common bond with people of sincere religious convictions.

- Generally speaking, secular humanists do not believe in:

§ a personal god

§ beings such as angels, demons, Satan, spirits, hell or heaven

§ existence of body, soul or spirit

§ existence past death

I believe that if secular humanism were to come into fruition, a dysfunctional system would result.

To have a system where religion plays no part whatsoever in the affairs of state would be disastrous. A political system must serve the needs of its people. In America, the vast majority of people (estimated at 73%, see references 4 and 8) are believers in Christianity. For Christians (and indeed for Jews and Muslims), religion is a way of life. It is sewn into the very genetics of the people from birth and from baptism. It is not something to be practiced only on Sundays (or designated holy days) but it guides each and every action and thought of the believer. As such, organized religion sees no distinction between church and state. The mandate of the church is to spread its message so that everyone in society including the state itself follows the practices and beliefs of the Church.

A system based on secular humanism would lock out the church from influence. Indeed the very existence of a godless state would be seen as a threat to the existence of the Church. There has been a precedent for this. Communism as practiced in the former Soviet Union and as practiced today in China can be considered to be a form of secular humanism. Communist regimes give us insight into what secular humanism can bring. Most everyone would agree that the goals and ideals of communism are worthy. However its implementation in the form of a godless state has been catastrophic. A key reason for this is the lack of accountability. Power that is unchecked quickly corrupts and becomes corrupted. Ironically the same is true when the Church is in power.

Religion, despite all its inherent failings, provides those who run the state with a much-needed check and balance mechanism. Religion provides a source of accountability, a sounding board of do’s and don’ts to guide the affairs of the state. Without this, the state is free to do as it wishes. This is all too evident in the abuse of individual freedom and in the lack of human rights in the former Soviet Union and in China today. Left unchecked, a godless state quickly succumbs to man’s baser instincts of power, greed, selfishness, self-interest, bias, hate and a severe lack of humility.

There are other ways in which the Church and ultimately followers of the Church would be affected. Presumably Churches would lose their tax-free status and funding for faith based initiatives would dry up. There would be no religious holidays such as Easter, Christmas or Hanukah. How would politicians appeal to voters? What would lawmakers promise on religiously charged issues like human cloning, stem cell research homosexuality, abortion, gay-marriage, intelligent design, prayer in schools and faith-healing just to name a few? There would be little incentive for an individual to vote because that individual’s belief would not influence the outcome. One of the fundamental underpinning of democracy is the need for everyone to have an equal say in all affairs of the state. This would not be possible in a secular humanist state.

Two things trouble me the most about secular humanism. The first is the belief that man is the highest form of creation and that man is at the center of the universe. This form of navel-gazing leads to a lack of humility. One of the important lessons in both science and religion is the need to be humble. In science we have seen time and time again that our understanding of nature is limited and often wrong. It was not long ago that we were led to believe that DNA controlled all processes in the body. Now there is evidence that even DNA is itself controlled by other proteins. We are constantly humbled by disasters such as Katrina and the Bird-Flu virus, yet we march on thinking we possess the intellect to control nature.

Secondly, I am troubled by the mechanism by which law makers would be picked in a secular humanistic state? How does one qualify? What would the criteria be? Would the criteria be high IQ, scientific scholarship or number of books published? Would a Rosa Parks qualify? The progress made by America in the area of civil rights in the last century has been due in large part due to the efforts of “ordinary” people like Rosa Parks. Behind the civil right movements was a very strong religious movement and this catapulted the masses into action. It was Abraham Lincoln’s deep religious conviction that slavery was offensive that drove him to fight against it. Secular humanism smacks of elitism and I fear this inevitably leads to fascism.

Those who oppose secular humanism suggest that secular humanism is itself a religion. In such a case, the implementation of secular humanism would not settle the age old problem of where to draw the line between state and church.

Finally, democracy flourishes and remains vibrant when everyone has a say, when everyone can participate. No one group or special interest has a monopoly on good ideas. Freedom to trade ideas, to debate positions, to question, to participate, to learn from past successes and failures provides the fuel that nourishes both man and the democracy he enjoys.

References:

1. Is Secular Humanism a Religion? http://atheism.about.com/od/abouthumanism/a/secularreligion.htm

2. What is Secular Humanism? http://www.christiananswers.net

3. Secular Humanism – Exclusion of God http://www.secular –humansim.com/

4. Humanism and the Humanist Manifesto http://www.religioustolerance.org/humanism.htm

5. Council for Secular Humanism http://wwwsecularhumanism.org

6. Secular Humanism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/secular_humanism

7. Is Secular Humanism a Religion? http://members.aol.com/patriarchy/definitions/humanism_religion.htm

8. Now with Bill Moyers / The PEW forum on Religion and Public Life. 82% of Americans identify themselves as Christians in 2001.

http://www.pbs.org/now/society/faithstats.html

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