Humanism is a philosophical belief that states that humans are the center of moral value. When paired with the word "secular" it indicates a sub-branch of that philosophy which is non-religious. The term is an important distinction from religious humanism, which refers to the humanist factor found in almost all religions. Some humanists prefer the term "Humanism" (capitalized) without the word "secular", since adding this word emphasizes the philosophy's specificity as a stand-alone term. Any secular philosophy which includes humanism is technically a form of secular humanism, while 'Humanism' incorporates additional ideas, described below. The Norwegian Humanist Association, Human-Etisk Forbund (HEF), is currently the largest secular humanist organization in the world.
As a philosophy, Humanism contains the following tenets:
- Beliefs need to be tested instead of being accepted solely on faith.
- Reason, evidence, and the scientific method are the best methods of finding solutions to problems and answers to questions.
- Fulfillment, growth, and creativity are emphasized for both the individual and mankind in general.
- A constant search for objective truth, with an understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our perceptions of it, and that scientific ideas should constantly change to better describe the real world.
- An emphasis on making this life the best it can be for everyone, since humanists (especially those who include the word "secular") tend to believe that this life is the only one a person gets.
- A search for a good system of individual, social, and political ethics.
- An ultimate goal of building a better world for ourselves and our descendents by working together.
Some people criticize secular humanism on the grounds that it offers no relationship with the divine. It is the belief of these critics that the lack of these things leaves humanity without a good anchor and that it makes secular humanism itself cynical and pessimistic. Part of the confusion which gives rise to this objection is a misunderstanding of the terms described above. Technically speaking, 'secular' simply means 'non-religious'. Religion and theism are different concepts, and a person who believes in god(s) may well still be a secular humanist, provided they meet the criteria (belonging to no religion and holding humans as the central moral value).
A individual aiming the above criticism at secular humanism is most likely confusing the term with Humanism, which is (typically) atheistic. Even this, however, is still a misdirected argument. Humanism having no relationship with the divine is not accurately a criticism of Humanism, but a criticism of atheism. As most of this site is dedicated to addressing criticisms of atheism, we need not expound upon the issue here.
Secular Humanism "Religion"?
Some maintain that secular humanism is a religion. Humanists deny this (humanism has no rituals, churches, etc), but do acknowledge that humanism (small 'h') is part of various religions.
By the definition of the word 'secular' if a form of humanism as become religious it has ceased to be secular humanism. It would then be a form of religious humanism.
There are several humanist manifestos:
- Humanist Manifesto II (1973)
- A Secular Humanist Declaration (1980)
- A Declaration of Interdependence (1988)
- IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism (1996)
- HUMANISM: Why, What, and What For, In 882 Words (1996)
- Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call for a New Planetary Humanism (2000)
- The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles
- Amsterdam Declaration (July 2002)
- Core Principles of Humanism
- Humanist Manifesto III (Humanism And Its Aspirations) (2003)