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 Post subject: Secular Humanism
PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2006 2:02 am 
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I should say off the bat that I haven't come in here to cause mischief. I'm aware that this is a spiritual forum and a lot of my friends come here to express that side of themselves in this environment. I respect that.

Having said that, I thought that this would be an appropriate forum to discuss the philisophy/world-view/life-style that exercises and sustains my spirituality and feeds that part of me that needs to be fed when I move beyond the strictly here and now.

Before I outline what I think Secular Humanism is and what it means to me, I thought I would ask you to outline what the term Secular Humanism means to you and whether it has a positive or negative association for you. I ask this because the first time I heard the phase being banded about it was from my Christian friends who used it in a very negative sense. Increasingly I find that a myriad of social ills are being laid at it's feet from such religious luminaries as the Pope and the Anglican Bishop of York and I wonder how much that message is being picked up and endorsed by others down the line.

I would - in a non-judgemental way - be interested to hear what the religious and non-religious think of when they hear that term (if they think anything) and I thought we could start with those impressions rather than with me just wading in with my thoughts.

If you haven't heard of the term at all, here is a good place to begin with (I admit that I am a trustee of that organisation)

http://80.253.110.238/site/cms/contentChapterView.asp?chapter=309

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Last edited by Democritus on Sat Dec 09, 2006 2:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2006 2:13 am 
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Hi Democritus!

The term to me means a non-religiously oriented perspective on life. Mostly I've thought of it in terms of the expunging of religious expression from public life in the U.S. in schools, businesses, government, etc., because of our Constitution's separation of church and state. In other words, I've thought of the term in the context of politics or public policy, rather than as a purely philosophical term.

And that's about it, I'm afraid.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2006 2:29 am 
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Demo,

First let me say that this is a fine topic for this forum. It falls squarely within the kind of discussion we envisioned having here, even before the 'special rules' for this forum were eliminated.

My own emotional reaction to the term 'secular humanism' is quite positive, because that is the camp in which I would place myself, if I count only things that I ... have faith in, so to speak. Though I acknowledge spiritual experience to be important - that is to say, it *is* important to me - I don't think that religion is an appropriate basis for the formulation of ethics, and especially not public ethics which Socrates called politics.

Nevertheless I do consider it probably the largest philosophical challenge we face today to make sense of out ethics when they are approached from a secular humanist viewpoint. I have some thoughts about the exact nature of the problem, but I'll save that until a few more folks have answered.

Jn

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2006 2:47 am 
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Thank you for starting this thread, Demo. As Jn said, it is very much consistent with the purpose of this forum.

To my own surprise, I find myself having difficulty in enunciating what the term secular humanism means to me. I think I will need to give it some more thought (and probably read what others have to say) before attempting to respond substantively. (I'll start by reading some of the information at the site that you linked to.)

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2006 4:12 am 
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In short, I consider secular humanism to be Christian humanism without God ;).

You asked for the working definition, after all.

But no, I think of it as a product of the Enlightenment, and thus it gets "baggage" from that. I also think of it in terms of a materialistic world view, one in which the physical world is 'all that counts'. I know that's not always fair, but I do link the two in my thoughts.

I have mixed feelings about the word - humanism (valuing the human person) is hugely important and good. So, I'm okay with that part. But when it is linked to secular, I feel there is a warped understanding of what it means to be human, and so I tend to distrust the humanism, if that makes sense. I don't have a negative view of secular humanism, but I am not naturally trusting, either. More wary and ambivalent, I feel I have to keep an eye on it.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2006 9:27 am 
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MithLuin wrote:
In short, I consider secular humanism to be Christian humanism without God ;).



This comes pretty close to my own view of it...except I would amend it to say "without acknowledgement of God." Because I don't think any spiritual works are done "without" God. God works as God will...is the work of the Divine any less significant if it is done in a different name?

Before I came to the UK (and before a number of discussions with Demo! ;) ) I had a different opinion of what secular humanism was...if I thought about it at all. In the USA, at least where I come from. "secular humanism" is not any kind of organized community, working together for any kind of common good. Instead, if someone defined themselves as a "secular humanist" it basically meant that they never thought about any aspect of the Divine or life beyond the "here and now." It was basically someone who believed that they were a good person, period, and anything else was too much for their thought processes to handle and besides, they were too busy to think much about anything like that. It just made a handy label.

A huge part of spirituality (for me) is connection with others...a sense of community and the idea that, with others, we can improve the sorry state of the world. If we are, indeed, the hands and feet of Christ, then it behooves us to put those hands and feet to work in a practical manner. From what I know about the secular humanist organization here, the work it attempts to do is immeniently practical. And Jesus was, in many ways, a practical kind of guy.

Democritus wrote:
the philisophy/world-view/life-style that exercises and sustains my spirituality and feeds that part of me that needs to be fed when I move beyond the strictly here and now.


We all need to be fed in this way. But I think people need to find the food that sustains them the best. Many people never even realize that they are starving and never try to find the nourishment that they need. Seek and ye shall find, so it is said...and I believe that we should continue to seek for our entire lives.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2006 4:07 pm 
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"Secular humanism" is a "positive" in my eyes. Part of what makes it valuable to me is its placement of Man on Earth, as part of Earth and Nature, rather than as the centre of the Universe, apart from Nature.

There is much more I could say, but that will do for now.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2006 6:26 pm 
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Quick question:

Mith and JS - what gives "secular humanism," in your view, a "Christian" character?

Demo - I am an agnostic who has long been attracted to Judaism and seems to keep finding herself attending synagogue services, celebrating Jewish holidays, learning about Judaism, and making Jewish friends (both religious and non-religious) at a disproportionate rate. But I am still an agnostic - and from that perspective, my view of secular humanism is quite positive, though unfortunately not as informed as it should be. I look forward to reading the links you have provided and to learning more from conversations with you and others here.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2006 1:42 am 
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Mith - sheesh, will you get out of my head, girl?
You're always saying what I think. :D

I'll make an attempt at expressing my own ideas about it nevertheless.

(I should probably read the link first, but then I'd not be able to reply what my gut reaction to the term is. :P )

I'm not very familiar with the term "secular humanism" - I heard it the first time online (probably from Demo :P ), so I've not known it for many years.
What I am familiar with is the term "humanism". This is a philosophical school that was created in the Renaissance. The idea was to put Man (the human - st00pfid English for not having a gender neutral word) at the centre of one's worldview and interest.
In that, it was contrary to the religious evaluation of the time, which saw Man as a nasty piece dirt, destined to suffering, who'd be better off in the next world.
Given the living conditions of the time, this view seems accurate, but the newly created, humanist view is nicer because it allowed for a whole new appreciation of life for its own sake.
It also fostered education and, well, the renaissance of classical learning - humanism, for me, means the ideal of the "Renaissance Man".
In this sense, humanism = progress, hope = very positive.

However, (the way I perceive it) in placing man at the centre of its interests, humanism also created a new set of ethics that basically said that there are no ulterior limits to what Man chooses to do. Macchiavelli is a result of humanism, too. In creating a worldview that did not have God at its centre anymore, things like ambition or greed suddenly were not so reprehensible anymore.
But these are minor drawbacks, and no new idea is without its drawbacks.
(Although the drawbacks can become more noticeable, too - when I was reading the discussions between the Jew-turned-Jesuit Naphta and the Humanist Settembrini in "The Magic Mountain" I found myself equally put off by the ideas of both. :P But that's not so much to the point.)

In contrast to this, I have found the term "secular humanism" - well, not negative, but, as Mith said, inspiring mistrust from the outset. I think I have wondered why humanism should stress the fact that it's secular (because it always has been, in a more general sense of the word, in placing Man at the centre of its view, rather than God - but this is what God does, too, and the original humanist ideas were not meant to deny metaphysics, AFAIK).
To me, it means this is a new kind of humanism, that combines those qualities of humanism with a worldview that denies the existence of anything metaphysical. It would also seem that whoever coined the term also wanted to stress the difference to conventional humanism (otherwise why create the name?).

I'm wondering whether my reaction to find this "new kind of humanism" suspicious is rather because the old kind of humanism has positive connotations.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2006 2:16 am 
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That is a very good post Hobby, in fact I've been impressed with the general quality of the replies so far and will attempt to address these replies and expand on my thoughts on it tomorrow.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 10, 2006 4:58 am 
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Yes, Hobby, I found myself agreeing with your post as well ;). I think we understand one another.


But to answer your question, nel, Christian humanism is a philosophy that values the dignity of human beings and the sacredness of human life....within the context of faith in God. It is the precursor to secular humanism, what humanism was prior to the Enlightenment. But it is also what humanism still is in Christian circles. For instance, Pope John Paul II preached Christian humanism whereever he went.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 11, 2006 1:51 am 
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Democritus wrote:
That is a very good post Hobby, in fact I've been impressed with the general quality of the replies so far and will attempt to address these replies and expand on my thoughts on it tomorrow.


Who are you and what have you done with Demo? :shock:

;)

Thanks! :hug:


And thanks, Mith, too! :D

(But I used to think that Christian Humanism was a new word, too - because original humanism is just, well, humanism. Do you happen to know when the term first came up? )

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but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.


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