Humanism means different things to different people and groups, making it hard to define on it’s own (if you’d like a summary on various types of Humanism, the American Humanist Association has an excellent write up on it here). For the sake of this post, I am going to focus on what I personally identify with most – Secular Humanism.
“Secular humanism refers to a branch of humanism that is based on exclusively secular principles. It is often associated with atheism and agnostism, however, it should be noted that not all atheists and agnostics identify as secular humanists.”
While the Council for Secular Humanism states:
“Secular humanism begins with atheism (absence of belief in a deity) and agnosticism or skepticism (epistemological caution that rejects the transcendent as such due to a lack of evidence). Because no transcendent power will save us, secular humanists maintain that humans must take responsibility for themselves. While atheism is a necessary condition for secular humanism, it is not a sufficient one. Far from living in a moral vacuum, secular humanists “wish to encourage wherever possible the growth of moral awareness and the capacity for free choice and an understanding of the consequences thereof.”
I personally identify as both an Atheist & a Secular Humanist, because as stated above, although they can overlap, they are not one & the same. Atheism is a statement of belief, not a comprehensive life stance.
On the same note, while Atheist and Anti-theist might sound the same, but they are not. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in a god or gods, while anti-theism is a conscious & deliberate opposition to theism. Many Atheists also consider themselves Anti-theists, but others simply use the term Atheist to define their personal beliefs but don’t oppose religion or give much thought to others practising religion at all.
Secular humanists generally agree that humans aren’t intrinsically good or bad, but that they have the ability to be good & have morals without a god or outdated religious texts. Rather, Secular Humanists have a ‘naturalistic worldview‘ and develop morals based on their beliefs in science, reason & experience. They will use real-world observations to predict the consequences of their actions & justify their decisions.
As the Council for Secular Humanism simply states:
“Human happiness and social justice are the larger goals of secular humanist ethics”
Or, as Stephen Fry puts it: