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The Case for Declaring Secular Humanism a Religion

By Carl S ~

Maybe you haven't heard of Raymond Loewy, the great American industrial designer. (There's an article about him in Atlantic magazine Jan/Feb 2017.) Loewy believed consumers are torn between two opposing forces: 1. a curiosity about new things, and 2. a fear of anything too new. He called his grand theory, “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable,” or, MAYA. He noted that people gravitate to products that are bold, but instantly comprehensible. Recently, Prof. Paul Hekkert of Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands, came to a similar conclusion: 1.” humans seek familiarity because it makes them feel safe, 2. “People are charged by the thrill of a challenge, powered by a pioneer lust. This battery between familiarity and discovery affects us on every level.”

Hmm... Would this knowledge enable us to declare humanism a religion? After all, A. humanism is familiar – the majority of humans ascribe to humanist values; they are “instantly comprehensible.” B. reinterpreting humanism as a religion is an exciting challenge just waiting to be acceptable, being new, but not too new. It's bold and assertive and has a familiar social chutzpah, like the Declaration of Independence. Wouldn't it fill a need for a secular religion for all the “nones” in this world? Secular humanists oppose any hint of fellowship with the superstitions of religion, yet most members of those religions share their own versions of humanism. There is also a legal case for making such a claim: In the interest of equal rights under the First Amendment against the demands of all fundamentalism, we might consider the historical tradition of secular humanism as likewise, a religion.

What we would require is a broad definition of what “religion” means. Dictionary definition of “religion”: A. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator or governor of the universe. B. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief. C. A cause or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

Doesn't ”religion” definition 'C' describe humanism? “The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles,“ by The Council for Secular Humanism, or “The Humanist Manifesto” of American Humanists, fit that definition. We're so accustomed to religions defined as beliefs in a God or gods, as described in definitions 'A' and 'B' that we forget that Unitarianism, Scientology, and Buddhism have no God nor gods in them, though they are referred to as “religions.” Neither do all religions have churches, mosques, temples, etc. Some have fellowships and meeting-houses. Secular humanists have celebrants instead of clergy.

What criteria does the U.S. Internal Revenue Service require to determine what definition of “religion” is legally acceptable for tax-exempt purposes? “The IRS makes no attempt to evaluate the content of whatever doctrine a particular organization claims is religious, provided the particular beliefs of the organization are truly and sincerely held by those professing them and the practices and rites associated with the organization's belief or creed are not illegal or contrary to clearly defined public policy.” There are additional qualifications, of which only some combinations are necessary. Of them, we may choose: “formal code of doctrine and discipline,” “membership not associated with any other church or denomination,” “ literature of its own,” and “ordained, commissioned or licensed ministers.” (We can understand the humanist rejection of the label “religion.” If these criteria are recognized by the IRS, then clubs of alien abduction members might, if they unified, qualify as a “religion.”)

Government-infiltrating Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists constantly attempt to coerce our secular government into handing them special exemptions to the laws of our country.There is another, much more important reason to seek recognition of humanism as a secular religion than tax-exemption status: First Amendment rights. Government-infiltrating Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists constantly attempt to coerce our secular government into handing them special exemptions to the laws of our country. For example, they are trying to overrule our laws using the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” so that individual Christians and Christian organizations are free to act with prejudice in denying Constitutional rights to citizens. If humanism is recognized as a religion, members can declare, “We have rights, too, as do those Christians who disagree with us, and they are stepping on our rights.” (Even though those rights are “unalienable,” we still need to fight like hell to keep them.)

Would “the Nones” be willing to sign on to humanism as a secular religion? The majority of humans already ascribe to humanistic values. (To quote Annie Laurie Gaylor of FFRF, “Most Americans live their lives like atheists.”) Aren't those who are out protesting, with marches, rallies, blocking entrances to traffic/streets, and shouting down the promoters of hatred and bigotry, essentially humanists?

America's Declaration of Independence asserts each individual person is, “endowed with certain 'unalienable ' Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the governed.” Not some deity. Isn't the word “unalienable” comparable to “sacrosanct?” This United States is not a “Christian nation,” but is founded on, lives, and has made its great social progress, through humanistic values and beliefs. These are of, by, and for, the People. Secular humanism needs to be legally recognized as a religion, as an established credo for humanity, the finest “cause and activity pursued with zeal and conscientious devotion.” Most Americans will be agreeable, “pursued by the thrill of the challenge.”