Secularist, Humanist, Atheist; How For Me, These Are Not mutually Exclusive

By Johanna S. Browne

7 June, 2024

A gathering aimed at fostering conversations around secular values and atheism. The stream was a vibrant melting pot of ideas, drawing individuals from various backgrounds who shared a common interest in promoting secular humanism. Our paths crossed in a discussion group focused on the intersection of humanism and social justice, where participants were encouraged to share their perspectives on how secular values can influence societal progress. Stephanie’s contributions to the discussion were particularly memorable. As she articulated her secular atheist humanist values, I was struck by how closely they mirrored my own beliefs.

Later, in a private chat, She spoke with clarity and conviction about her commitment to freedom from religion as much as freedom of religion, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a secular space where everyone, regardless of their faith or lack thereof, could coexist peacefully.

Stephanie’s passion for denouncing any form of hatred or bigotry that hides behind religious justification resonated deeply with me. She argued that religion should never be used as a shield for intolerance, and she was adamant that true humanism requires a rigorous critique of such practices. This viewpoint was exemplified in her critique of various religious movements that, in her view, misuse the concept of divine will to justify exclusionary and harmful behaviors. She expressed a profound respect for the human capacity to experience awe and wonder, particularly in the natural world. 

For Stephanie, the beauty of nature—from the rhythmic movement of the tides to the breathtaking spectacle of the aurora borealis—evokes a profound sense of joy and curiosity. This sense of the numinous, or the feeling of being in the presence of something greater than oneself, does not require a god, she argued. Instead, it is a celebration of the wonders of the natural world and our place within it.

Our shared appreciation for the natural world and its capacity to inspire without invoking any deity was a significant point that resonated with me. I found myself nodding in agreement as Stephanie described how “the wind in her sails” during a sailing trip or the sight of a star-filled sky at night fills her with a deep sense of wonder and gratitude. This secular approach to awe and beauty aligns perfectly with my own experiences. For people like us, the world is rich with opportunities for profound experiences that do not require a religious framework. Instead, these moments highlight our human capacity for discernment and curiosity, qualities that Stephanie believes are essential for fostering a more inclusive and compassionate society.

Stephanie’s views on the potential for changing hearts and minds were particularly compelling. She is a firm believer in the possibility of transforming societal attitudes by promoting the siblinghood of humanity. This concept, which emphasizes our shared human experience and the need for mutual respect and understanding, is central to her humanist worldview. 

Stephanie argued that our considerable gifts of discernment and curiosity should be harnessed to bring forth empathy and inclusivity. Like me, she sees all religions as impediments to this progress, arguing that they often divert the natural human sense of wonder into the externalized concept of a deity. 

However, Stephanie is not entirely dismissive of religious traditions. She acknowledges the potential for reform within these traditions, citing historical figures like Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd who exemplified the potential for critical thinking and human dignity within the Islamic tradition.

Stephanie’s nuanced perspective on religion extends to her views on contemporary religious practices. She believes that religious individuals and communities can contribute positively to society if they embrace questioning and critical thinking. 

For instance, she spoke about the “door of ijtihad,” a concept in Islam that refers to independent reasoning and critical thinking. She expressed hope that a revival of this practice could lead to a new generation of thinkers within the Islamic tradition who champion human dignity and progress. This balanced view acknowledges the potential for positive change within religious frameworks, while still maintaining a critical stance towards the dogmatic elements that often stifle progress.

One of the most striking aspects of Stephanie’s philosophy is her critique of atheists who, despite rejecting religious beliefs, continue to harbor bigotries. She argued that these individuals present the same problems to the world as those who cling to religious dogma. Bigotry, whether religious or secular, is a significant barrier to human progress, she contended. This viewpoint was exemplified in her criticism of groups like Atheists for Liberty, which align with regressive political agendas. Stephanie’s disdain for such groups underscores her commitment to genuine humanist values, which prioritize human dignity and oppose all forms of bigotry. She shared her concerns about the political affiliations of some atheists, particularly those who support policies that undermine the rights and dignity of marginalized groups. Her critique was not limited to religious bigotry but extended to any form of intolerance that hinders social progress.

In contrast, Stephanie expressed appreciation for those within religious communities who advocate for compassion and understanding. She spoke warmly of her Methodist Minister nephew, who, despite their theological differences, demonstrates genuine care and support for her. This personal anecdote highlighted Stephanie’s belief that individual actions and attitudes are more important than religious labels. She values actions that promote empathy and understanding, regardless of the religious beliefs that may underpin them. This perspective aligns seamlessly with my own worldview, making our meeting a profoundly affirming experience. It reinforced my belief that secular humanism, grounded in empathy, curiosity, and a commitment to human dignity, can bridge divides and foster a more inclusive society.

Stephanie’s willingness to engage in thoughtful, respectful dialogue about these complex issues was inspiring. Her secular atheist humanist values, articulated with such clarity and conviction, not only did they almost match my own, but also challenged me to think more deeply about my positions. Our conversation left me feeling hopeful about the potential for collaboration and progress within the humanist community.

If anyone shares these values and are interested in discussing or collaborating on these ideas, I am more than willing to have these important conversations.