Sunday 23 October 2011

Why I call myself a humanist

This is essentially a response to a post by Clio Bellenis on the Hampshire Skeptics Society blog, "Why I do not call myself a humanist". I'm posting it here as well for completeness, but any comments ought to go over there.
Ever since I came to consider myself an atheist (that’s many decades ago now) I’ve maintained that my atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in any gods. My atheism is not a worldview, though my worldview is necessarily derived from atheism — and I find humanism is the closest fit to that worldview. The “good without God” issue is a clear and straightforward one for me now, though I struggled for a long time with the persistent notion that my moral grounding had to be rooted in Christianity. These days I consider the idea of moral values being based on scripture to be an admission of moral failure — that blindly and unquestioningly following rules handed down from above is an abdication of moral responsibility. It’s far better, in my view, to examine moral decisions based on context and consequences, even if such decisions flout so-called moral rules.

The point about “humanism” being the obvious default stance is a valid one, but humanism as a consensus view needs to be seen in the light of what it’s up against. This is especially important in relation to the question of morality. The Christian view, in this officially Christian country, is that it may well be true that one can live a good life without religion, but that the ability to discern good from evil (even when atheists do it) is only possible because of religion (or to use the jargon — because everyone, even an atheist, is made in the image of God). It’s this erroneous view that humanism endeavours to correct, and why I’m happy to label myself a humanist.