I really don’t. Promise. This is a homemaking blog, not a blog about religion or philosophy, but I thought it might be helpful to give you some idea of what I mean when I say that I’m a secular humanist. If you are too, and have been looking for a friendly blog that “gets” you – welcome! If you aren’t a secular humanist and have been looking for a friendly blog – welcome!
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. American Humanist Association
What is secular humanism?
The answer to this is not completely straightforward.
If you ask ten adherents of any particular faith to define their religion, there will be a common thread (for example, Christians’ belief in the deity of Jesus), but the details may differ significantly from person to person (for example, speaking in tongues, support for marriage equality, the role of women in the home and in the clergy).
It’s the same for secular humanists. There are common threads, but some of the details are bound to vary from person to person. I am not a scholar or a philosopher or a skilled debater. Heck, I’m not even a vary gud wreyter. I’m not TheRepresentative for anything. But writing this blog has given me the opportunity to really be more clear in my own head, and answer these questions for myself.
There is a short definition of humanism in the Oxford English Dictionary that rings true to me. Humanism is “an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems,” with a further clarification in the definition of secular humanism as “…the belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God.“
So secular humanism is your religion?
Secular humanism is not a religion. It’s a philosophy and a way of thinking. A religion specifically uses a belief in a superhuman power or powers to define a set of ethics. Like religious folks, people who describe themselves as secular humanists generally follow a code of living. I’m most familiar with the moral codes of Christianity and the Baha’i faith, and I find that we will agree on many things, not the least of which is the ethic of reciprocity – the golden rule. The big difference is that humanism does not rely on command ethics, i.e. the belief that a deity or any supernatural power determines for us what is right and wrong.
Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead. Kurt Vonnegut
So are you a pagan, a heathen, an atheist, or what?
Although I suppose I would be defined as an atheist, I think sometimes people have an idea in their head about what an atheist or a humanist or a free-thinker is. Sheesh – take a look around the interwebz and you’d think the lot of us are horrid, angry, rude, miserable people. But that’s not true at all! Just like theists, non-theists come in all shapes and sizes. The internet has a way of bringing out the crazies who claim to represent the whole of their particular group. They do not represent me! I am your everyday, mini-van-driving, sailor-mouthed, wine-drinking, mom, wife, friend, daughter, sister who loves her kids and family. I just do it without a belief in anything supernatural.
The cosmos is also within us. We’re made of starstuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself. Carl Sagan
What does all of this have to do with a homemaking blog?
At the surface the answer would seem to be “not much”. But for all of us, our world view shapes the way we approach everything. Does my humanistic philosophy change the answer to the #EpicQuestion of what the best way to sanitize a sponge is? Not really, except that it was very important to me to seek solid scientific research to answer that question. I look to science to find answers to the whies of the world (yes, I totally made up that word, drop the “y”, add “i-e”). This is pretty straightforward when it comes to dirty sponges. I doubt there are many people who believe that something magical sanitizes sponges. But a secular humanistic outlook informs my ideas and opinions of less concrete matters as well.
I am driven by two main philosophies: Know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you. Neil deGrasse Tyson
The Developing Family Traditions section of this blog is a direct nod to my secular humanist beliefs. In the United States, particularly in the Deep South, it can be sort of lonely to feel like you’re the only heathen not in church on Sunday morning. Being non-religious doesn’t mean that you don’t want to develop traditions, a sense of gratitude, rituals in your family life and a sense of community. It is also helpful to forming stronger bonds in a family that has a mix of religious and non-religious people.
But you talk about celebrating Christmas and Easter. Those are Christian holidays.
I enjoy the cultural traditions of Christmas and Easter, but do not attach any religious meaning to them. I’m sure you’ve read many times that most of the American-style traditions surrounding those two particular holidays are not at all Christian. I’m neither Pagan nor Christian, but I can enjoy the concepts of family and friends coming together, sharing meals, and exchanging gifts as a symbol of affection for one another. I enjoy celebrating the coming of spring with symbols of fertility, the “rebirth” of fields after a long winter, and newness in general.
For me, this beautiful season is a joyous paean to life and love, a time that reminds us that, beneath the veneer of race, religion, and nationality, we are all members of a universal family. I celebrate Christmas as the victory of light over darkness, not merely the defeat of the winter darkness by the waxing sun, but the triumph every person of good will feels when our innate warmth and compassion rout our tendencies toward selfishness and malice. I celebrate Christmas as the resurgence of that sacred flame that dwells within every woman and man. John J. Dunphy
Is your husband a godless heathen too?
He is not. He is a lifelong Lutheran. The son and grandson of Lutheran ministers. How in the world did I hook up with him? At our wedding rehearsal dinner he indicated that it was because I was, “smoking hot”. Hopefully there was more to it than that, because these days the smoking hotness is more likely to be the result of a hot flash than it is the way I look in a pair of jeans. But when it comes down to it, we have the same goals even though sometimes we approach things from a different starting point. We want to live good honest lives, to treat others well, to raise compassionate and critically thinking kids, and to be happy.
Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years, May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth. popular adaptation of a wedding blessing from a scene in the 1950 movie Broken Arrow
How does being a secular humanist affect your parenting style?
It affects it in the sense that I don’t look to religion or deities to guide my parenting choices. There are some pretty universal core values that I think every one of us would like to teach our kids. Honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, and compassion are things I’m guessing every single one of us would like our children to learn and practice.
I’m a big fan of the books Parenting Beyond Belief* (Dale McGowan) and Raising Freethinkers* (Dale McGowan, Molleen Matsumura, Amanda Metskas, and Jan Devor). Parenting Beyond Belief opened my eyes to the fact that I am not alone in my conviction that raising ethical kids is not exclusively in the domain of theists. Raising Freethinkers provides lots of ideas for the practical application of basic humanist principles. It’s important to note that I treat these books and the ideas in them the same way that I (and probably you) treat the ideas and recommendations in any parenting book. They’re interesting and have some good information. I use what I like and leave the rest.
What we truly want is the satisfaction of seeing our children become mature, self-reliant human beings, at any age, thinking for themselves, free and happy. Dale McGowan
Let’s have a cuppa!
I hope this gives you some insight into where I’m coming from. I want every single person who visits this blog to feel comfortable and safe while they’re here and my comment policy reflects that. Hang around for a while and let’s get to know each other!