Many of my blog posts concern atheism or atheism’s relationship with theism. It would be understandable to think that my major identity is atheist. But it is not. My major identity is secular humanist. Unfortunately, in the United States if there’s a philosophical term more misunderstood or more vilified than atheism, it is secular humanism.
The reason secular humanism is my foremost interest is that it addresses the most vital matter in the lives of human beings (or, taken a step further, all sentient beings): our ability to live together most beneficially to human (or sentient) life. Atheism or, for that matter, deism is only useful in the face of widespread theism. (I’ll refer in this post to atheism/deism rather than to atheism alone. The reason is that, while deism maintains there to be a god or gods of great creative power—just as much as the god or gods of theism—there’s no godly interaction with humans and their affairs. Consequently, any argument between atheists and deists is for academic enjoyment, for neither has implications for worship, defining good and evil, or dogma.)
Atheism/deism makes impossible the delusion that moral rules for human life are imposed by an unseen, undocumented, supernatural being. It is crucial that the delusion be thwarted, for as long as much of the human race believes that a primitive phantasm is the best source of morality, we will be caught up in pleasing the delusion, not human needs. We will worry about earning the favor of a god, not the wellbeing of the human race. (Those who think these are the same thing are naive or uneducated.) I have written enough in earlier posts on what humanist ethics are based on (“The sin of sin,” Jan. 2, 2015; “Morality in secular humanism,” Mar. 16, 2015; “Lust,” June 16, 2015; “Lust still OK, damaging sentient beings is not,” June 25, 2015). Here I wish only to add that the broad development of humanist ethics is obstructed so long as superstition-based morality clutters the field.
It is not that all atheists/deists are secular humanists, but that their non-theism is a prerequisite to avoid theism’s damage to ethical development. I am engaged in the struggle against the inhumanity, absurdity, and cruelty of theism; that is, I’m an atheist. But I am also engaged in the struggle for fairness, scientific discovery, and enlightenment; that is, I’m a humanist who is secular. Not having the distraction of trying without end to find god or gods, and without the distraction of a moral code based primarily on what we think such god or gods have to say, we are able to turn our attention to what is best for humanity, what constitutes the good life and, indeed, what may reasonably be called goodness at all.
Your opinion suggests that without religious faith, humans would be far less charitable or helpful to each other. The “opinion” I expressed is founded in research on large groups, young children, and even animals. It is doubtful that helpfulness of the latter two groups arrives from religious faith. However, I find misunderstandings on this issue to be troubling enough to put in line for a blog post within the next few weeks.
What if “pleasing the delusion” requires serving human needs? There’s lots of evidence that sincere theists believe serving human needs is a fundamental obligation of their theism, and is demonstrated in their actions of humanitarian aid missions all over the world. I don’t recall reading or hearing about organizations that identify as atheistic doing the same, but then I’ve been wrong before.
Humans have an innate tendency to help each other with or without religion, though, as you indicate, some religions add an extra incentive to be helpful. Two considerations about the volume of theists’ charity: (a) An unidentifiable portion is diluted with proselytizing. (b) Donations to ROs (religious organizations: churches, synagogues, mosques) are not ipso facto charitable since so much is spent on ROs’ buildings, grounds, and personnel. Nonreligious persons are more likely to donate chiefly through nonreligious channels, e.g., food banks, health charities, relief foundations, Doctors without Borders, UN Children’s Fund, Red Cross. In recent years, however, specifically nontheist channels have grown quickly, ones like Humanist Crisis Response, Foundation Beyond Belief, Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort, Humanist Charities, Non-Believers Giving Aid Disaster Relief Fund, The Richard Dawkins Foundation, and more. However, even with that said and even after RO donations are adjusted (per ‘a’ and ‘b’), I think it still likely that nontheists donate to charity at a lower rate than theists. This is not a happy finding, so it’s a hopeful circumstance that nontheists’ charitable inclinations are on the rise.
“Humans have an innate tendency to help each other with or without religion,” JBC
That is your opinion stated as if it were an indisputable fact. I happen to believe (OK, it’s opinion too) that people of faith, especially Christians and Jews, can rightfully explain their desire to help each other flows from a natural result of their faith, not an innate quality of their humanity. Absent a religious imperative to help each other, I believe humans’ innate interest is only in themselves, and any tendency for the non-religious to help others is an exception, not the rule.
Enjoyed this post – thanks.