Is "Atheism Plus" Just Secular Humanism?

Since Jen McCreight’s piece proposing a new wave of atheism — and her follow-up, on the suggestion that we call this new wave of atheism “atheism plus” or “A+” — one of the most common objections is that “atheism plus” already exists… it’s called humanism.

I’m working now on a piece about this “atheism plus” thing (tl;dr — I’m for it), and it will address that question, among others. But on that particular question, I’m largely going to say, “What Ashley F. Miller said.” If you have this objection — or think the topic is worth considering and discussing — go read her piece.

Is "Atheism Plus" Just Secular Humanism?

22 thoughts on “Is "Atheism Plus" Just Secular Humanism?

  1. 1

    As I said on Ashley’s blog, I like humanism and pretty much agree with the philosophy. I have a major problem with with organized humanism. I see groups like the Harvard Humanists pushing for godless churches, complete with temples, rituals, hymns, and all the other trappings of churches with gods being an optional extra. If I wanted that, the Universal Unitarians have that niche filled.

    Secular humanism means humanism without gods or religion. I’m willing to be a secular humanist. I will not be attending the humanist revival meetings so dear to Greg Epstein and James Croft.

  2. 2

    I tend to feel that, yes, Atheism plus is basically secular humanism. I also consider the term to be a bit redundant, since the things I’ve encountered that are called religious humanism are entirely nonsensical. Humanism is a philosophy centered on the needs and abilities of humans; if you start adding gods and whatnot to it, it’s not humanism anymore, it’s some kind of religion.

  3. 3

    Atheism is either the belief is the absence of god(s) or the absence of belief in god(s), depending on which operative definition you are using. Humanism, in the context you are asking about, is a philosophy based on the value of each individual. These labels represent two distinct spheres. A person can easily belong in one but not the other: there are many humanists of faith, and as we have seen, there are many atheists who do not hold humanist values.

    Secular humanism is a school of humanist thought which holds that humanist values are best expressed in a secular society. It make no statement regarding belief or non-belief: it is quite common for humanists of faith to identify as secular humanists even as they are active in their religious communities.

    Atheism+ reaches the same general area, but along the axis of atheism rather than humanism. I would consider it to be a school of atheist thought which holds that non-belief, by itself, cannot lead to the kind of secular society that we want.

    So to answer your question, No.

  4. 4

    That’s exactly my point, though. Functionally, humanism requires secularism, and prohibits religious decision making processes, because that’s what works to promote human flourishing. It’s possible to be both humanist and religious only in the same sense that it’s possible to be a scientist and religious: Massive compartmentalization will allow you to ignore your humanist/scientific values while you are actively engaged in religious behaviors and vice versa.

  5. 5

    As I said on Ashley’s comments, I was already identifying as an “atheist humanist” quite happily. Why do I have to join your new club when I am in an already existing one? We atheist humanists have been here all along!

  6. Rod

    I’m very much for “A+”. I’ve been waiting for this, especially over the last year.

    As I see it, secular humanism hasn’t really carried the battle against religious privilege – that’s been left to the openly identifying atheists.

    And that’s why, though I agree with much of humanism, I don’t identify as humanist. To me, they don’t carry the water, and there’s some unnecessary claptrap, too.

    But this resonates with me – it directly states what I’ve felt for ages – though I’d add ableism, too.

    Atheists plus we care about social justice,
    Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
    Atheists plus we protest racism,
    Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
    Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

    If it takes a new label, and a slight shift to emphasize that we reject gods/supernatural and thus reach the conclusions the all people deserve equal respect and an equal chance, then I’m for it.

    I don’t get the arguments that existing labels cover it – because they haven’t. They haven’t energized, they haven’t truly lead social change, they haven’t really confronted religion.

    This is an attempt to create a new movement, to mobilize and fight for change. To identify atheists who also stand for more than just no gods, as the natural extension of seeing there are no gods, and so social policy should not be based on pointless superstition.

  7. 8

    Humanism is fine and good for atheists that have gotten that far in their thinking, but what about atheists that haven’t made a conscious decision to be a humanist? Atheism+ is inclusive. To put Humanism on all the stationery excludes those atheists that are not that sure where they belong or whether they can adhere to humanistic principles. Atheism+ will snap up the apatheists and agnostics that humanism leaves aside. I think.

  8. 10

    It’s been an interesting evening. Although the arguments about the difference between Humanism and Atheism+ are becoming more nuanced, it doesn’t alter the fact that the two groups will be more or less identical. If the biggest real difference in membership is that atheists don’t like being called humanists, and humanists don’t like being called atheists, that may come across as pretty pathetic.

    From the point of view of marketing, maybe you’re right: the different branding will attract new people, but do remember you’re doing this at the expense of creating a schism between people who believe exactly the same things.

    And I do think you should give more recognition to a worldwide movement that has worked for 50 years to make our society more open, equal and accepting, and not give the impression that it’s not good enough for you.

  9. 11

    I love it that this discussion is happening. As a nearly lifelong Unitarian Universalist, my initial response to reading this blog was to wonder how you could see religious humanists as mere allies but see misogynist atheists as fellow-travelers. That made no sense at all to me, so I really like the idea of atheist humanists having our own identity and treating both non-humanistic atheists and religious humanists equally as useful and even valuable allies, but not fellow travelers in significant ways.

    As for names, Gregory in Seattle has described the relevant terms very nicely, and he’s right that atheists and humanists aren’t completely overlapping sets. Like IIM, I prefer the term “atheist humanist,” as it pays homage to a longstanding and dignified movement. In the end, though, call it what you want. I’m in!

  10. 12

    Why do I have to join your new club when I am in an already existing one? We atheist humanists have been here all along!

    If you value humanist ideals, you should be happy that people are getting excited and standing up for such causes regardless of what name it’s under.

  11. 13

    I was already identifying as an “atheist humanist” quite happily. Why do I have to join your new club when I am in an already existing one? We atheist humanists have been here all along!

    InvincibleIronyMan @ #5: You don’t have to. You can be an atheist humanist all you want. I like humanism, I will happily work with (most) humanists, I even think of myself as a humanist. But I want to do something different. I find “atheism plus” to be more invigorating and inspiring than humanism. So, apparently, do many many many other people. If you don’t, and you don’t want to participate, that’s fine. Do what inspires you. I will do the same.

  12. 14

    I won’t presume to speak for anyone else, but to me “Atheism Plus” isn’t mainly about adding something new to humanism. It’s about handing the rest of the “movement” (the part that’s been flooding every skeptical/atheist website, youtube channel, forum or blog with toxic waste since a woman had the audacity to say “Guys, don’t do that”) my divorce papers, cleaning out the closet, burning all the bridges and never looking back.

  13. 15

    Yes, it is secular humanism by the most common definition. There is no law against multiple words for the same thing, though, so what we should be asking is “should we avoid making up a new word for secular humanism?”

    Atheism Plus sounds sexier and firebrandier. Secular humanism includes or strongly implies the disbelief in the supernatural, but it puts the focus on the humanist part. It is not a term that inspires hate mail. Whereas atheism has only recently stopped being considered an automatic disqualifier from elected office by the majority.

    Among “not believing in God” and “being a good person”, I know the latter is the important part, but it’s not the one that currently has to fight for societal approval. Therefore, I think more progress can be made by identifying as an atheist who also cares about social change, than as a secular humanist who’s really serious about the secular.

  14. 16

    One advantage for secular humanists is that Atheism + does allow secular organizations much more leeway to reach out to the more liberal religions and “spiritual” folks.

    We’ve already had this problem with the Atheist/accommodationist divide. Two groups that work together to fight for secularism, social rights,

    I think the big test for Atheism + is whether it actually matters. Are we going to be able to work together with existing social groups on the key issues? Can we actually grow the movement by creating a safe space and fighting for intersectional justice issues? Can we make a difference in politics, culture and the world outside the internet?

    Or are we just going to nail potential allies to the little crucifix we added to the letter?

    I don’t have a problem with A+ being a temporary movement. It might be depreciated as people merge with the existing secular humanist organizations, or become so dominant in the atheist community at large that it reverts to just being plain old “Atheism” again.

    But I would like it to make a positive difference.

  15. 17

    Whoops, lost a paragraph:

    “Two groups that work together to fight for secularism, social rights, science, education and anti-quackery, but have different stances on the promotion of atheism. Will we be able to work with these groups on the points we share, even when opposing them with them on the points we disagree on?

  16. 18

    Out in the general public ‘humanism’ will probably play out as a slightly fuzzier euphemism for ‘atheism.’

    Atheism+ is easier to sell than what we really seem to need: Atheism MINUS, i.e. an atheist movement (or movements) minus the economic and political quackery of the libertarian fringe and anarcho-capitalist sociopaths.

  17. 19

    It sounds like what Ashley is describing is specifically secular humanism, but trying to give it a new name, Atheism+. I really this this is redundant, sorry. And, from what I understood from her piece, what’s missing from secular humanism for her is validation for atheists in mainstream society? I think this is a worthy goal, but the “new name” thing detracts from this. Looking forward to what you have to add to this, Greta.

  18. 22

    The way I see it, secular humanism is a group dedicated to putting religion and atheism aside and doing what is best for everyone based on the facts. A+ from the small information I’ve seen so far is more Anti-theist Humanism, but I think putting religious beliefs aside to help people would be a lot more effective in the long run; religious people working alongside atheists who are intelligent and charitable would help them benefit a lot more than creating an Atheist only movement.

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