How is secular humanism different from atheism?

Secular values ​​instead of religious revelation

The New Humanism that has emerged in the last few decades sees itself as a worldly alternative to religion, as a world view that does without gods, prophets and priests, knows no holy book supposedly dictated by a god and no dogmas, knowledge of the world and wins people above all from the natural sciences, has broken away from traditional, metaphysical moral concepts, instead orienting ethical norms towards the fundamental needs and interests of people.

It is therefore to be contradicted the opinion that is often expressed that secular humanism or atheism is also a form of faith, sometimes it is even referred to as “religious atheism”. If the essence of a religion includes the assumption of a divine or transcendent power that influences my life in any way, then it is nonsensical and illogical to assign religious traits to secular humanism or atheism or to designate them as a "belief" . Secular humanism is a strictly this-worldly oriented concept of life without any transcendent reference.

Put simply, this New Humanism consists of three components: a naturalistic worldview, a secular value system and a strict focus on this world. For me personally, I would describe my humanistic commitment as follows, and I think that a great many of my humanistic friends can subscribe to this view.

First: I consider what today's natural sciences see as currently confirmed knowledge, for me first of all as authoritative and as the basis for all further considerations. Above all, it is the rational, logical and systematic way of thinking of today's natural sciences and their empirical anchoring that I have taken as a model.

I am extremely skeptical of everything that claims validity, even truth, without being able to give at least plausible reasons for it. However, it cannot be denied that there is still much that science cannot explain today, and that our knowledge will be limited and may never be complete.

Second: A secular value system knows a reason-based ethics instead of a divinely established morality. Such a secular value system orients its norms and rules to the fundamental needs and interests of the people. So the human being is the measure of all things, not an alleged, unrecognizable authority over us. This secular value system is expressed in humanistic principles and generally recognized human rights such as self-determination, equality and freedom of people, solidarity and social justice, tolerance towards other worldviews.

Man is actually the measure of all things

In any case, at the center of my humanistic concept is the statement, which may sound like a provocation to many people, that man is the measure of all things. I am very well aware that simply exchanging instances does not guarantee a better solution. However, it is not individual people who should decide on fundamental norms and problematic ethical questions, but people who communicate with one another and who weigh and judge based on their expertise, life experience and impact assessment.

In this respect, ethics commissions would have their justification if they were actually a reflection of the moral and ethical views of the citizens and were not often one-sidedly ecclesiastically and religiously dominated.

Since people naturally have different needs and interests, the principle of a fair balance of interests should apply. Different interests must be negotiated according to the principle of fairness. This means that for the sake of social peace one always has to ask oneself: What is equally good and acceptable for all parties involved?

You only have this one life

And third: My strict orientation towards this world is based on the insight that I - most likely - only have this one life. Consequently, I should try to make the best of my life. However, this striving for the fulfillment of my life must always keep an eye on my fellow human beings who want to be just as happy. That is why the best way to achieve a fulfilling life is to get involved in society, be it in the political, humanitarian, perhaps artistic fields.

And finally: Anyone who has made an effort and who has succeeded in looking back on a fulfilled, happy life will find it easier to step back from this stage of life.

But there is one more point that needs to be addressed. A naturalistic worldview is often accused of "emotional poverty", a "reduced perception of reality" or "blindness to the emotional needs of a person who is in existential need". These allegations are not entirely unjustified. Because those who reject religions and also reject the idea of ​​an afterlife usually avoid thoughts on topics that point beyond us, questions that, to a certain extent, relate to the ultimate things. Because non-believers are worried, as before, of falling into irrational or esoteric waters again.

Nevertheless, non-believers also deal with questions that lie beyond the rational management of everyday life. Even non-believers think about the source of all being, about the incomprehensibility of reality, and know feelings of being one with nature. Such topics address what one could say, a spiritual dimension.

In any case, the topic of spirituality is now perceived by many non-believers, albeit with great reluctance, as a dimension that enriches existence. With the thought of the finiteness of one's own existence, however, the promise of a further life in the hereafter offers no consolation for a non-believer. To him, this religious promise is too obviously wishful thinking, a mere illusion.

The author is a professor emeritus for educational informatics at the Free University of Berlin. He is the author of the book "Why I don't want to be a Christian - My way from the Christian faith to a naturalistic-humanistic worldview", Tectum-Verlag.

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