Is secular humanism a religion?

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Is secular humanism a religion as a Duke professor declares?

John Staddon, an emeritus professor of biology and psychology at Duke University, authored an article that engendered a wee bit of controversy when he claimed that “secular humanism” was a religion. He went so far to say that atheistic “secular humanism” has been “intolerantly thuggish, imposing dogma, punishing blasphemy, and harboring an acute hatred for Christianity.” 

Not surprisingly, we read such reactions: “Evolutionist seethes as Duke professor analyzes secular ‘religion.’” Atheist Jerry Coyne writes: “The editors (of “Quillette”) screwed up by accepting a piece that makes very little sense, and arrives at its conclusion by some risibly tortuous logic … Why did the editors of “Quillette” publish this odiferous serving of tripe?”  As one observer notes, Jerry Coyne’s reaction tended to “confirm Staddon’s hypothesis about atheists tendency to be “censoriously thuggish.” 

Is it true to say that atheism or secular humanism is a religion? Staddon points out that a 1995 court case concluded that evolution was not a religion, but goes on to cite a 2006 BBC program called “The trouble with atheism” which portrayed atheists as claiming their “beliefs” were “proved” by science. The presenter, Ron Liddle, concluded that Darwinism is a religion. Although secular humanism does not embrace supernatural belief it does hold to certain dogmas, and as Staddon emphasizes, has its rules and morals that he links to various well known theists. 

He writes: “In terms of moral rules, secular humanism is indistinguishable from a religion,” though it has escaped the kind of attacks directed at Christianity and other up-front religions for two reasons: Its name implies it is not religious, and its precepts cannot be tracked down to a canonical text.” 

Staddon really ruffles feathers when he points out how “secular humanism makes moral claims as strong as any other faith. It is therefore as much a religion as any other. But because it is not seen as religious, the beliefs of secular humanism increasingly influence U.S. law. The covert nature of these principles is … a great advantage in the political/legal context.”

Staddon endeavors to explain how and why cultural changes have occurred so dramatically and quickly within our increasingly “secular” culture that has in many ways banned public expressions of traditional religion. He describes the secular humanist commandment of “the omnipotence of personal passions” and its “blasphemy rules” that prohibit anyone from objecting to such passions. 

As I waded through the reactions to this article I was especially intrigued by one who identified himself as an older member of the LGBT community. He wrote: “I have to say the sudden push for and rapid success of the gay marriage platform has always puzzled me… Gay men were largely uninterested in marriage and lesbian women considered marriage a patriarchal institution.” He then wrote: “We were used as a wedge to … change society … the point always seems to be, in the end, to dismantle traditional religious structures.” He closes by saying that those theists pushing their anti-Christian dogma are “usually disappointed and confused to find out I am traditionally religious.”

One of the bloggers, Dr. Sam, stated rather bluntly: “Atheism is a religion.”  He then went on to explain why. Atheist are “believers in ‘magic creation.’  Just through enough of billions of years at it and ‘puff!’ you have Man.”  Atheists believe “in a supreme being – man himself is supreme.  ‘Self’ rules and is at the center of the atheist’s world and worldview… Atheism is the ultimate expression of full blown narcissism.” He states: ‘No Higher Law except man himself. Man determines what is right or wrong with no outside point of reference…”

What do we say? Is secular humanism a religion? While many atheists are not religious in the sense they are not bound up with atheistic dogma or an anti-religious crusade, there are those like Richard Dawkins who are. They certainly embrace and express a religious type crusade that was manifested in its extreme and violent forms both in the French and Russian Revolutions, and was very much embodied in Communism. 

When we seek to understand secular humanism it is wise to read and examine the “Humanist Manifestos, I and II.” In the preface to these manifestos published by Promethus Books, Paul Kurtz wrote: “Humanism is a philosophical, religious and moral point of view as old as human civilization itself. It has its roots in classical China, Greece, and Rome; it is expressed in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, in the scientific revolution, and in the twentieth century …” 

He went on to say: “In 1933 a group of thirty-four liberal humanists in the United States defined and enunciated the philosophical and religious principles that seemed to them fundamental. They drafted the ‘Humanist Manifesto I.’”  Within this manifesto we read about these humanists’ desire for a “vital, fearless, and frank religion capable of furnishing adequate social goals and personal satisfactions … to establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present.” They affirmed certain “beliefs” such as how “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.”

They wrote:  “Profit-motivated society has shown itself to be inadequate and that a radical change in methods, controls, and motives must be instituted.  A socialized and cooperative economic order must be established to the end that the equitable distribution of the means of life be possible.”

After the horrors of both communism and nazism exposed the innate naivete of secular humanism, a second manifesto was authored, though the preface did say: “As in 1933, humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to love and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith.” 

The manifesto declared: “In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct.” Although within this paragraph we read “a civilized society should be a tolerant one,” today’s secular humanists tend to be most intolerant of those who hold to Biblical sexual morality. We are portrayed as having committed “blasphemy” against the new humanist order.   

As we stand in awe of the cultural changes that have occurred within the early part of the twenty-first century, who among us can deny that secular America is being driven increasingly by a religious zeal to do what the “Humanist Manifestos” plainly proposed: Replace Judeo-Christianity and all other traditional religions with a progressive, socialized/communized, certainly secularized, and self-directed religion free to indulge one’s passions and pride.

As the ancient Israelites were confronted with Baalism and other pagan religions, we modern Christians are confronted with secular humanism that has become the one legally acceptable “religion” in shaping public and political life.

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