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Humanist Association of San Diego's Meetup Group Message Board › Humanism vs. atheism

Humanism vs. atheism

A former member
Post #: 13
I want to reach some sort of understanding on a topic that has baffled me since I attended the Southern California Secular Humanist Conference this spring.

Why was this conference labeled as a Humanist conference when all but one attendee identified as atheist? Why do the majority of groups in the San Diego Coalition of Reason call themselves Humanists instead of atheists? My first impression was that they call themselves Humanists for the same reason liberals now call themselves progressives, because the term liberal has been imbued with an evil connotation. But when I posed this hypothesis at the conference I was met with a look that I can only describe as the look a parent gives a kid when they ask “Where do babies come from?” And then the subject was politely changed. Did I commit a faux pas? Is this subject off limits?

I don’t consider myself to be a Humanist--I’m an atheist with an existential philosophy--and I wasn’t quite sure I belonged at the conference. In fact, I’ve had to look the definition up a half-dozen times and I still don’t quite understand Humanism. Perhaps it is the incredibly nondescript moniker of Humanist that has me perplexed. Is Humanism a set of specific beliefs that are unique to that philosophy and which differ from the label atheism which itself confers no set of beliefs?

Here’s what the dictionary said;

humanism |ˈ(h)yoōməˌnizə­m|
an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.
• (often Humanism) a Renaissance cultural movement that turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought.
• (among some contemporary writers) a system of thought criticized as being centered on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the unintegrated and conditioned nature of the individual.

Okay ... that didn’t clear anything up for me. It seems that “attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters” suggests that Humanists are atheists or at least agnostic. I think most people, religious and non-religious, “stress the potential value and goodness of human beings” and every atheist I know “seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.” So what is the difference between a Humanist and an atheist? I feel like the slow kid sitting in the back of the class who asks a question everyone else knows the answer to.

The reason this labeling is important is because every person who I told of my plans to attend the Humanist conference, and there were some highly educated people in this group, responded the same way, “What’s a Humanist?” When I told them it was an atheist conference they all immediately understood.

By labeling ourselves as Humanists we effectively become invisible to the general population. Our outreach to the community as believers in reason and logic, our attempts to educate the public that a lack of belief in gods does not mean a lack of beliefs is severely compromised by the invisibility of the Humanist label. I know that the rational community acknowledges this problem because we felt the need to create the San Diego Coalition of Reason. We know as a group that we are stronger with one voice than with many voices. So why is this voice predominately called Humanist and not atheist? Humanism may be more inclusive of agnostics but it also excludes atheists like me.

From a marketing standpoint we have it completely backwards. The more Humanism is used to describe our philosophy the weaker our message becomes because fewer people know what Humanists believe.

I am going to suggest that if Humanists do not want the label of atheist then perhaps we can follow the lead of the LGBT community and have an acronym that is all inclusive. I am suggesting AHA!--the atheist, humanist and agnostic community and also a perfect description of that moment when reason and logic lead to enlightenment ... that a ha! moment. The LGBT acronym has been very successful at creating one voice to end discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity. AHA! could be just as effective at creating one voice for the rational community.

A recent article in the Gay and Lesbian News giving Debbie Allen some much deserved praise for starting a petition encouraging the Padres to join the “It gets better” campaign defined SDCoR as a Humanist organization and said Humanists “believe in and advocate for equal rights for all people, among various other causes.” Since few people know what a humanist is most people will not have made the connection to the atheist, Humanist and agnostic community. Wouldn’t it have been a much more effective acknowledgment of our community, and dispelled many myths, if the article read, “The atheist, Humanist and agnostic community supports equal rights among other causes?

If we commit to including this acronym for all media contact like the LGBT community has so successfully done with their acronym, we can create a sense of inclusion for all people of reason whenever our group is discussed publicly. But any turf battles between the label Humanist, atheist or agnostic will only move to set back our agenda of achieving equality, respect, and the right to live free from religious dogma. I am calling on the Humanist Association of San Diego to rename their conference the atheist, Humanist and agnostic conference and SDCoR to commit to identifying as an atheist, Humanist and agnostic organization. I don’t see any benefit to continuing these arbitrary labels which only serve to separate us.

Your thoughts?
San Diego, CA
Post #: 1
I just joined yesterday, and as I was filling out my profile, it asked if I was humanist, atheist, skeptic etc.. I had to stop and think a moment. I've always just been atheist. So I decided to look up humanist and find what wikipedia defines humanist as.. As I read it, I thought, it sounds like I'm humanist too, and since it's a humanist group, then I suppose I should call myself humanist.

I just moved to San Diego from Milwaukee. Back home I'd heard the term humanist, but all my friends who were atheist just called themselves atheist. I kind of like the idea of having an acronym to unite, because I agree that to get people to listen, to get changes made, you have to have numbers. If everyone atheist, agnostic, humanist.. whatever it is your beliefs may be.. if we all have the same general ideas for what direction we want progress to move in, then I say having an umbrella from which to unite under might not be a bad idea.

Personally, I don't really care what I'm called, but giving me a title for my general beliefs to make it easier to find others who share them doesn't sound like a bad idea to me!
user 6538808
San Diego, CA
Post #: 9
Take this topic over to the Humanist facebook page and you'll get some great interplay.


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