Secular Humanism

Secular humanism of course shares with other forms of humanism the basic principles of an overriding concern with humanity, the needs and desires of human beings, and the importance of human experiences. For secular humanists, it is the human and the humane which must be the focus of our ethical attention.

Like other forms of humanism, secular humanism traces its roots back to the 14th century Renaissance Humanism which developed a strong anti-clerical tradition in which the repressive atmosphere of the medieval Church and religious scholasticism were targets of intense critique. This inheritance was developed further during the Enlightenment of the 18th century, in which the case for independent, free inquiry into matters of state, society, and ethics were emphasized.
What differentiates secular humanists from other sorts of humanists can be found in the nature of the concept of secularism. This term can be used in more than one way, but two of the most important are found in the concept of secular humanism.

In the first place, secular humanism is necessarily non-religious. This doesn’t mean that secular humanists are anti-religious — there is a difference between non-religion and anti-religion. Although secular humanists are certainly critical of religion in its various guises, the central point of being non-religious simply means that it has nothing to do with spiritual, religious, or ecclesiastical doctrines, beliefs, or power structures.

The “secular” of secular humanism also means that, as a philosophy, it does not give any place to the veneration of things holy and inviolable. Acceptance of humanist principles lies in a rational consideration of their value and appropriateness, not in any sense of their having a divine origin or of their being worthy of some form of worship. There is also no feeling that those principles themselves are “inviolable,” in the sense that they should be beyond critique and questioning but instead should simply be obeyed.

Secular humanism also commonly makes advocacy of secularism a defining principle. What this means is that secular humanists argue for a separation of church and state, for a secular government that gives no special consideration to any theological or religious systems, and for a secular culture that values diversity in religious viewpoints.

Such a secular culture is also one where critique of religious beliefs is accepted rather than pushed aside as “rude” and inappropriate on the notion that religious beliefs, whatever they are, should be placed above criticism. Secularism in this sense becomes a close companion of the humanist principles which value freethinking and free inquiry, no matter what the subject.


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