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Secular Humanism: Not Just for Atheists

How can Secular Humanism be Compatible with Theism?


Note: to better explore the relationship between secular humanism and theism, this article was written by a guest author who considers herself both a theist and a secular humanist.

I’m rather new to humanism, at least by name. I started identifying myself as a humanist because of all the times I came across a copy of the Affirmations of Humanism (a list of principles which secular humanists generally consider descriptive of their position) and realized that I already accepted just about all of it — even the part which says that appeals to Divinity are not necessary in order to live a moral life.

Admittedly, it’s a rather odd philosophical niche to occupy: a secular humanist theist. Some might argue that it’s impossible to be both theistic and a secular humanist — I must be some sort of religious humanist instead. Yet one may legitimately ask whether the “secular” applies to the humanist or the humanism. Regardless of my beliefs on divinity, I find that my reasons for accepting humanism are wholly secular, so in that sense I think the term applies.

This is not as big a stretch as you might imagine, however. Perhaps the biggest reason to see theism and secular humanism as incompatible involves the nature of morality: is it derived from divine mandate or human experience? Yet if you are a theist, all you have to do is ask yourself honestly:

If God told me to kill somebody, would I do it?

Now, this question requires a few disclaimers. First, no copping out and claiming that the god you believe in would never ask such a thing of you — this is hypothetical, after all. Second, the person to be killed does, in fact, want to live: s/he did not request this, this is not euthanasia, nor does s/he deserve it for crimes committed. This is cold-blooded murder, with no mitigating circumstances or hidden aspects that would make everything all right in the end.

So, would you do it?

If the answer is yes, then perhaps you won’t gain much from reading further — we obviously have deep philosophical differences about the value of human life. But if the answer is no, then I submit to you that you may already have what it takes to be a secular humanist theist, even if you’ve never considered it before.

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