Ethics and relationship to religious belief.
“modern, organized Humanism began, in the minds of its founders, as nothing more nor less than a religion without a God”
In the 20th and 21st centuries, members of Humanist organizations have disagreed as to whether Humanism is a religion. They categorize themselves in one of three ways. Religious Humanism, in the tradition of the earliest Humanist organizations in the UK and US, attempts to fulfill the traditional social role of religion. Secular humanism considers all forms of religion, including religious Humanism, to be superseded.
In order to sidestep disagreements between these two factions, recent Humanist proclamations define Humanism as a “life stance“; proponents of this view making up the third faction. All three types of Humanism (and all three of the American Humanist Association‘s manifestos) reject deference to supernatural beliefs; promoting the practical, methodological naturalism of science, but also going further and supporting the philosophical stance of metaphysical naturalism. The result is an approach to issues in a secular way. Humanism addresses ethics without reference to the supernatural as well, attesting that ethics is a human enterprise (see naturalistic ethics).
Secular humanism does not prescribe a specific theory of morality or code of ethics. As stated by the Council for Secular Humanism,
It should be noted that Secular Humanism is not so much a specific morality as it is a method for the explanation and discovery of rational moral principles.
Secular humanism affirms that with the present state of scientific knowledge, dogmatic belief in an absolutist moral/ethical system (e.g. Kantian, Islamic, Christian) is unreasonable. However, it affirms that individuals engaging in rational moral/ethical deliberations can discover some universal “objective standards”.
We are opposed to absolutist morality, yet we maintain that objective standards emerge, and ethical values and principles may be discovered, in the course of ethical deliberation.
Many Humanists adopt principles of the Golden Rule. Some believe that universal moral standards are required for the proper functioning of society. However, they believe such necessary universality can and should be achieved by developing a richer notion of morality through reason, experience and scientific inquiry rather than through faith in a supernatural realm or source.
Fundamentalists correctly perceive that universal moral standards are required for the proper functioning of society. But they erroneously believe that God is the only possible source of such standards. Philosophers as diverse as Plato, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, George Edward Moore, and John Rawls have demonstrated that it is possible to have a universal morality without God. Contrary to what the fundamentalists would have us believe, then, what our society really needs is not more religion but a richer notion of the nature of morality.
Humanism is compatible with atheism and agnosticism, but being atheist or agnostic does not, itself, make one a Humanist. Nevertheless, humanism is diametrically opposed to state atheism. According to Paul Kurtz, considered by some to be the founder of the American secular humanist movement, one of the differences between Marxist-Leninist atheists and humanists is the latter’s commitment to “human freedom and democracy” while stating that the militant atheism of the Soviet Union consistently violated basic human rights. Kurtz also stated that the “defense of religious liberty is as precious to the humanist as are the rights of the believers”.Greg M. Epstein states that, “modern, organized Humanism began, in the minds of its founders, as nothing more nor less than a religion without a God”.
Many Humanists address ethics from the point of view of ethical naturalism, and some support an actual science of morality. Some philosophers like Peter Singer see Humanism as speciesist and lend themselves to more of a Personism.