Why I’m a Humanist: Choosing the Secular over the Sacred

Our beliefs and values lie at the core of who we are. A lot of our beliefs and values are determined by political leanings, life experiences, and are often shaped by what we have learnt, but for me, a significant influence on my own beliefs is the fact that I’m a Humanist. I take beliefs and values from this philosophical stance, and I have also come to call myself a Humanist because my existing views are in line with the movement. When people ask me why I am a Humanist, I’m not particularly good at articulating it, so as I’m better at explaining stuff through the written word over the spoken word, I thought I’d write a blog post about it.

Note: By writing this article, I’m not saying that I am right or that Humanism is superior to other philosophies. Rather, it is the one that works best for me, and I appreciate that for other people, their sacred or secular beliefs work best for them. It’s also worth noting that whilst there are religious Humanists, I’m going to be focussing on Secular Humanists (which is how I identify).

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I first heard about Humanism in a GCSE Religious Studies lesson when learning about alternatives to religious views on a variety of ethical dilemmas. I’d called myself an atheist for a long time, but I’d struggled to define my beliefs within that definition. I went away and did some research, and I found that the descriptors on websites like Humanists UK and Humanists International really summed up my stance on life.

In school and society, we all get taught and learn about the key religious traditions, which I of course think is important for understanding the perspectives and lives of others, but there’s not as much space dedicated to educating people about atheism and Humanism, and at age 16, this was the first time that I’d heard about it. I think many people would find that their beliefs align with those of Humanism without really realising it, once again because it’s not as well-known as the global religious traditions.

Humanism means different things to different people, but there are some key points that we tend to agree on. Here are some definitions (they’re quite lengthy, so I’ve highlighted the key bits):

“Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.”

The Minimum Statement on Humanism (1996)

A rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.

–    https://www.lexico.com/definition/humanism

Now, we could go into a long conversation into whether or not God exists (that would take up an entire blog) but this post is more about why I am a Humanist, not why I am not religious, or atheistic (if that makes any sense). Sure, the latter two come into the former, but I think it goes without saying that just because I chose to deviate from religious norms it doesn’t mean that I don’t respect religious practices and continuously seek to learn more about them. When The Minimum Statement on Humanism mentions that Humanism is an “ethical life stance” it’s not saying that organised religion lacks this, just that this is one of the key values that humanists have.

So how do I set my moral compass? Some say that non-religious folks are morally bankrupt, but I would say that my account’s in pretty good shape. I transact intuition and human experience when faced with a dilemma or a decision, or to make a judgement on what’s happening in the market. I hope my bizarre financial metaphor makes sense: essentially, it’s about empathising and using your experience of feelings and emotions to decide whether something’s right or not.

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I’m no scientist, but the focus on science and reason really stood out to me. Of course, there are a lot of intersections between Humanist beliefs and religious beliefs, but in this post-truth world where we aren’t listening to experts enough, a world-view with these values at the forefront really appealed to me. I liked the opportunity to focus on the tangible in the world around us; I’d also called myself a naturalist (someone who believes that only natural laws operate in the universe) and Humanism felt like the obvious next step.

If you want to know more about Humanism, I strongly suggest taking a look at the Humanists UK page, which has a plethora of information as well as a quick, informal quiz that takes a look at your beliefs and how close they are to a Humanist’s. They also offer free membership if you are a student. Let me know in the comments what your experience is with Humanism: have you heard about it before? Are you or anyone you know a Humanist? I’m looking forward to hearing your views!

Further Reading:

Humanists UK – https://humanism.org.uk/

Humanism International – https://humanists.international/

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