Secular Humanism

Secular humanism is a worldview that purports to rely on reason, logic, and naturalism — explicitly in opposition to religion and other forms of spirituality — to understand humanity and the universe. 

People holding to this worldview tend to see life today as a byproduct of vast amounts of time and chance, with ethics and morality being dependent only upon human decisions and reasoning. Others, meanwhile, say the government, public schools, and the media are elevating science as the only ultimate truth, in essence creating a type of secular humanist “religion.”  

Believers in secular humanism hold that life’s origins had absolutely nothing to do with supernatural entities, particularly a God or gods. For secular humanists, mankind’s ability to reason is the measure of all things, and life is nothing more than time, matter, and chance. Furthermore, the question of ethics and morality is left to each individual’s subjective reasoning, leaving much room for differences in what is right and what is wrong.

Many conservatives believe it is vitally important to discuss and think deeply about the implications of indoctrinating children into a secular humanistic worldview.  Conservatives argue secular humanism elevates science to a god-like status, leaving no room for speculation outside of what “science” declares is truth.

Some stand strongly on the grounds that the tenets of secular humanism are simply an ideology that allows for moral teachings and ethical relations outside of the context of any religion. The tenets of secular humanism, many liberals argue, are beneficial for society at large. This makes these tenets completely nonreligious and should, based on this, be acceptable within schools, media, and government. 

Some oppose that view and believe the “truth” about facts and morality, what is right and wrong, rapidly changes in a secular humanistic society. The scientific theories or concepts about morality that we should follow, they argue, seem to be dictated by whoever is in charge or popular at the moment, whether it is a government leader, a group of experts, or scientists who are considered credible at the time, bureaucrats in schools or government who determine accepted tenets behind closed doors, or perhaps just the judgment of the prevailing popular culture. For many, the nature of secular humanist  “truths” rapidly changing underlies very clearly their inherent weakness and unreliability. They see this as a danger to all of society and argue for the acceptance of more universal, long-standing, and proven tenets, often provided by religion. 

Many liberals and progressives look at atrocities from our history that were performed in the name of religion. The aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks and the war in Iraq saw a rise in secular humanist discourse as well as a great influx of religious attendance, showing that people from all backgrounds were trying to make sense of these atrocious events. The advocates see secular humanism as a way to protect society from the purported dangers of religion, which journalist Christopher Hitchens said “poisons everything.”

Meanwhile, many argue that the Supreme Court has not been legally consistent considering the finding of secular humanism as a religion. If there really is to be a wall of separation between religion and the state, as the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment states, how can there be such an overwhelming presence of Secular Humanistic tenets taught within our public school systems? As well-renowned Humanist theologian, Charles Francis Potter wrote, “Education is thus a most powerful ally of humanism, and every public school is a school of humanism. What can the theistic Sunday school, meeting for an hour once a week, and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teachings?” 

While many people may hold to the tenets of secular humanism, they may not identify themselves with it. They reject religion as a source of truth and moral guidance and accept science and human institutions as a source of truth and moral guidance. They consider truth and wisdom to encompass more than just objectively observable facts or scientific analysis and believe that some things of great importance are ultimately unknowable or unexplainable by the limits of observable reality and science.

Many others outside of this binary accept reason, logic, and naturalism as useful tools without rejecting religion. They do not believe that having religious beliefs necessarily means rejecting science, nor that science is an infallible god or the source of all truth. Instead, this group sees science and religion (or spirituality) as complementary tools to understanding reality, and rejects embracing solely a scientific or solely a religious view, but argues for the integration of both. 

Questions to play with:

What do you view as the proper role of science and religion in the discovery of truth? Do you tend to lean more towards one or the other?

What qualifies as “religion”? Do you think that religion encapsulates more than just theistic, mainstream religions? 

How do you view the modern-day public school curriculum? Do you think there is a need to be concerned with indoctrination, or is this just a way to get rid of material deemed offensive?

Do you see any way for public schools to explore myriad views without being accused of either secular or religious indoctrination?