In the secular age, alternatives to organized religion have been desired more than ever before. New Age philosophies are one such alternative experiencing a boom today, the other is Secular Humanism. While New Age thrives on the symbolism, rituals and mystical experiences of many religious traditions, Secular Humanism thrives on science. Hobson and Jenkins describe Humanism with the following ideas:
- Humanists do not recognize a God that is responsible for the creation of the universe or that is directly involved with day to day human life.
- Morals are thought to have come to be through evolution. The cornerstone of Humanist morality is that there is nothing more important than people. Humanists believe that positive change can be brought about through human intervention alone.
- Humanists look to science for answers about the world we live in and believe the scientific method is the only way of adding to our knowledge.
- Due to a lack of scientific evidence, Humanists do not believe in life before birth or life after death.
- They work continually to find ways to improve the Earth’s environment and the human race.
- Humanists do not believe in absolute truths, but instead look continually for new evidence that may support, dispute or challenge existing ideas.
These ideas would function universally in the attempt to help all of humanity regardless of race, religion or creed. There are many religion-based organizations focused on providing charity, but religious and cultural differences can get in the way. The Secular Humanist perspective does well to avoid this problem. Its universal and unbiased nature is a great strength. However, I do not see Secular Humanism as the perfect solution. Like any other philosophy or ideal it has challenges to face.
While the ideas outlined above are beneficial to address basic human needs, they do not recognize any spiritual need among humans. Much less, any means of addressing these needs. Hobson and Jenkins discuss how even some scientists acknowledge, “… that the human mind needs a ‘something’ more ethereal and mystical than the matter-of-fact approach of science. They find religious practices to be emotionally satisfying, fulfilling some indefinable need” (1994, 60). I find the response as to how Secular Humanists fill this need rather unsatisfying, “The Humanist also often feels the need for what some would regard as non-rational or ‘unwinding’ activities and they meet it by taking part in, for example, competitive games, walking in the country… reading poetry or fiction, dancing or listening to pop music” (Hobson & Jenkins 1994, 60). Equating mystical experience or sacred rituals to non-rational and unwinding activities trivializes religious acts and the importance they hold in people’s lives. Secular Humanists regard religion as a good, “… source of comfort, uplifting ideas and moral inspiration” (Hobson & Jenkins 1994, 63). This language does not convey and respect for religion, but rather treats it as simply means to an end.
In the past, people with innovative minds were often persecuted by religious institutions as heretics. I fear in this age of science and reason, the opposite could occur. It would certainly not be the first case of reverse discrimination. In such case, religion will become archaic, laughable and trivial at best. The religious attitudes, beliefs and philosophies people follow has been shifting. In our modern world it seems the next step is philosophy that disregards the supernatural entirely as Secular Humanism does. In the past scholars interested in religion viewed monotheistic traditions like Christianity as the most evolved form of religion (Habel, O’Donoghue & Maddox 1996, 8). Such thinking promoted hierarchy and the mistreatment of traditions viewed as primitive or less developed. I hope that this unfortunate past does not repeat itself and that followers of non-theistic philosophies do not claim superiority over people of faith. For Secular Humanism this would be disastrous in its primary goal of improving the welfare of the entire human race.
Habel, Norman, Micheal O’Donoghue & Marion Maddox. Myth, Ritual and the Sacred: Introducing the Phenomena of Religion. Underdale, South Australia: Texts in Humanities, 1996.
Hobson, Alfred & Neil Jenkins. Modern Humanism: Living without Religion. London, UK: Adelphi Press, 1994.