From Angry Atheist to Happy Humanist: How to Stop Hating on Religion and Start Celebrating Secularism

I deconverted from Protestant Christianity over 5 years ago, right after I began my freshman year in college. It was, I suppose, a fairly typical and drama-free deconversion: I progressed out of the fundamentalism of my childhood, becoming more and more concerned with the verity of my worldview all throughout high school, only to then be exposed to a diversity of new ideas and information in college. I participated in a fairly moderate, non-denominational Christian congregation for the beginning of my freshman year, until eventually coming to the conclusion at my dorm one night, under the stars, that I was, indeed, an atheist.

angry-atheistThe first 3 years of being “religion-free” went by for me with a certain level of ambivalence for all things spiritual. However, in more recent years, I have noticed a less tolerant trend in my attitudes and approach to religion. For a while, whenever I encountered religion or a religious person, I would become frustrated and discouraged, and my mood would be immediately dampened. “Religion in all its forms is backwards, outdated, and just plain wrong,” I would silently say to myself. “Why is it that a majority of people in my culture believe in an anthropomorphized, invisible deity in the sky, when there is so much real beauty, majesty, and wonder in the universe surrounding us?”

This article is not going to attempt to answer that question. Instead, it will focus not just on denouncing the religiosity around us, but on what we freethinking, godless, and sometimes angry atheists can do to better represent ourselves and our worldview, while being empathetic and diplomatic towards believers. I am confident, given global trends towards secularism, plus the truth value of atheism, plus time, that religion will continue to diminish as a cultural force, until it no longer holds the level of normative sway that it currently enjoys in most parts of the world. Below is a list of things to remember that might help atheists and secularists be less angry at religion until then, while also being able to communicate with those who are still very much invested in religious worldviews.

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Clarifying the Relationship between Naturalism and Secular Humanism

Civitas Humana is a website dedicated to exploring and advocating secular philosophy, metaphysical naturalism, and secular humanism. However, I would like to make a point of clarification about the interrelation between these terms.

Naturalism is the metaphysical/ontological view that the natural world is a closed system, in that nothing that is not a part of the natural world affects it. In other words, “nature” is all that exists and nothing supernatural or non-natural either exists or affects the natural world (for further elaboration about the definition of naturalism, see here). Often times the naturalist metaphysical view is paired with the secular humanist ethical view, as is the case on this blog.

In Humanism: A Very Short Introduction, philosopher Stephen Law defines the core beliefs of secular humanists as follows:

  1. Secular humanists place particular emphasis on the role of science and reason.
  1. Humanists are atheists. They do not sign up to belief in a god or gods.
  1. Humanists suppose that this is very probably the only life we have.
  1. Humanists usually believe in the existence and importance of moral value.
  1. Humanists emphasize our individual moral autonomy and responsibility.
  1. Humanists are secularists in the sense that they favour an open, democratic society and believe the State should take neutral stance on religion.
  1. Humanists believe that we can enjoy significant, meaningful lives even if there is no God, and whether or not we happen to be religious.

Notably, naturalism is not included in the beliefs of secular humanists outlined above. As Law explains in his recent blog post, “Secular Humanism: DON’T Define It as Requiring Naturalism,” one does not have to sign up to metaphysical naturalism to still be a secular humanist. In fact, Law himself is a secular humanist who does not identify as a naturalist (although Law does state that he “leans towards” naturalism).

Law lists two reasons why secular humanism should not be defined as requiring naturalism:

  1. Because it unnecessarily excludes many from the secular humanist club who could and should be invited in.
    • In other words, atheists who are not naturalists will seem excluded from secular humanism, if it is defined as requiring naturalism. If it is not defined as such, then more atheists can be welcomed into the secular humanist movement.
  1. Because it creates an unnecessary hostage to fortune.
    • Law explains that, if secular humanism is defined as requiring naturalism, then all a critic of secular humanism has to do is attack naturalism in order to refute secular humanism. This should not be the case, since there are many plausible forms of secular humanism that do not necessarily require naturalism.

I would like to state, as one of the editors and contributors to Civitas Humana, that I fully agree with Law’s argument. Secular humanism should NOT be defined as requiring naturalism, even if many secular humanists subscribe to a naturalist version of secular humanism. There are other non-naturalist versions of secular humanism that are held by atheists, and they are welcomed here on Civitas Humana!

Why then does Civitas Humana advocate BOTH naturalism AND secular humanism? The reason why is that the version of secular humanism promoted on this blog is a naturalist secular humanism. As Law notes, naturalism can be paired with secular humanism, and this is not in the least an awkward combination. Naturalism is a secular metaphysical view and secular humanism is a secular ethical view, both of which nicely go together. But the two do not necessarily have to go together.

As such, when naturalism and secular humanism are associated on this blog (as is the case in my metaphysics series), please understand that this is only the version of secular humanism promoted on this blog. This blog acknowledges that there are also non-naturalist forms of secular humanism, and we also welcome ideas and feedback from non-naturalist secular humanists.

I hope this clarifies the positions discussed here on Civitas Humana! If you have any further questions or comments about the relation between naturalism and secular humanism, let us know in the comments below!

-Matthew Ferguson

Three Problems that the United States Must Address by the Mid-21st Century

One of the upshots of secular humanism is that it encourages us to look towards the future and the needs of our descendants when shaping our values, goals, and policies—instead of living selfishly and only in the demands of the present. As such, one of the major topics that secular humanists need to begin seriously discussing is how we are to take care of our homelands, both in a national sense and in a global sense, in the 21st century and beyond. As we move into a new era of progress and change, having abandoned so many decrepit past systems of practice and belief, we must continue to root out those systems still in place that are antiquated, no longer serving us most effectively or justly. Where these systems have decayed, we must replace them; where they have become destructive, we must reformat them entirely. It is only by this self-evaluative process that citizens of advancing nations—and especially of the United States—can truly hold themselves as good custodians of their country and protectors of their people.

The following list contains three of the most pressing issues from a secular humanist standpoint that currently weigh on the United States:

  1. Economic Inequality
  2. Domestic Issues of Social Justice
  3. Climate Change/Renewable Energy

This list is by no means extant, and in the course of its arguments will present some uncommon or uncomfortable evidences; however, the astute reader will notice the common themes of systemic injustice and political inefficacy that underlie each point. Ultimately, although solutions have been hinted at where possible, only through the increasing discussion, awareness, and action of (or on behalf of) those currently most affected by these budding challenges will the United States be duly prepared to set sail into the latter half of the century.

 1. Economic Inequality

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