Is secular humanism a religion?
Secular humanists believe and state emphatically that their views do not constitute a religion. Tom Flynn writes fairly extensively about this matter, saying, “I still stand by a definition of religion I offered in these pages in 1996: Religion is a “life stance that includes at minimum a belief in the existence and fundamental importance of a realm transcending that of ordinary experience” (Secular Humanism Defined).
Although Flynn’s statement may sound persuasive, it may not be complete. The most basic point of determining if a life stance is religious must first be based upon the most important and glaring question that confronts all individuals—what caused mankind and the cosmos to come into existence? The answer adopted by each individual effectively becomes a religion.
In their book, I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Athiest, Geisler and Turek include a revealing statement taken from Robert Jastrow’s book, God and the Astronomers. Jastrow, an agnostic, reveals the underlying truth about religion in atheism. Consider Jastrow’s comments (italics added):
Theologians generally are delighted with the proof that the universe had a beginning, but astronomers are curiously upset. Their reactions provide an interesting demonstration of the response of the scientific mind—supposedly a very objective mind—when evidence uncovered by science itself leads to conflict with the articles of faith in our profession...There is a kind of religion in science...every effect must have its cause...” (Geisler and Turek, p. 88).
Jastrow is spot-on. Everyone will have faith in something—particularly what is believed to be the originator of life and the cosmos—whether it be the God of the Bible or the universe and nature itself.
In her book, Finding Truth, Nancy Pearcey provides some quotes that should be considered in this matter. To begin, she quotes Pierre Hadot, the author of Philosophy as a Way of Life. Hadot points out that the importance of one’s philosophy is essentially a religious matter because all of life is viewed through the lens which that philosophy forms in human thinking: “Hadot says accepting a philosophy is like a religious conversion: It involves ‘a total transformation of one’s vision, life-style, and behavior.’ It ‘turns our entire life upside down.’ You literally stake your life—and your eternity—on a set of ideas being true” (Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 236).
Pearcey goes on to quote Alain de Bottom, author of Religion for Atheists.
“Bottom is founder of a school in London where students study philosophy not to earn an academic degree but to ponder ‘the most important questions of the soul.’ One class, titled, Filling the God-shaped Hole, helps people fill the vacuum in their lives when they abandon traditional religions” (ibid).
Yet another quote Pearcey provides is as follows (italics added):
“The common thread running through these examples is that they are all attempts to fill the God-shaped hole with something other than God. One book makes the claims frankly in its title: The Little Book of Atheists’ Spirituality. Atheists are even founding their own churches. Britain now has its first atheist church. According to news reports, ‘Dozens of gatherings dubbed ‘atheist megachurchs’...are springing up around the U.S.” (ibid).
The point is simply this: when anyone removes God from their life, something must take its place. The thing or idea that takes the place of God is to that individual a substitute for God. Even secular humanists hint at this as found in this example: “The recent American Humanist Association series of brochures vividly illustrates that numerous religious traditions share many principles and values that are the basis of and common to humanism. Indeed, many people find humanism from a wide variety of paths.” (taken from https://americanhumanist.org/paths/). The statement seems to acknowledge that people from one path simply move over to another—shall I say, from one path of religion to another?
Finally, James Sire points out that when anyone turns from belief in God, another view of life will need to be adopted: “...naturalists who cannot (or refuse to) believe in God are searching for a way to find meaning in their lives, atheistic existentialism [secular humanism] will be of service” (Sire, The Universe Next Door, p.140).
You see, everyone will find a foundation to view the meaning and purpose for life—whatever it may be. Everyone will locate a cause for their existence—whatever it may be. Everyone will decide on an explanation for the origins of all the universe—whatever that explanation may be. Once that explanation is found, it will become essentially a religion used to base an understanding for life and the world in which he or she lives. In the end, everyone is a religionist, including secular humanists!
In our next section we will make a short study on the future of secular humanismTo next section Homepage