Isn’t Atheism Plus Another Name For Humanism?

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image of Atheism+ Equals HumanismIn the wake of some very public and nasty debates about diversity and lack of respect for women in the freethought community, Jen McCreight, author of the blaghag blog on the Freethought Blogs Network created what she is calling a “new wave of Atheism” whose name evolved into Atheist+. Her goal was to move Atheism from just dealing with the god question – Atheists don’t believe in a god – but to also deal with issues like diversity and social justice. It seems to me that Humanism addresses all the issues McCreight feels is missing from Atheism and Humanism is non-theistic. One question I have is why not be a Humanist?

Some of the issues Jen McCreight sees Atheism+ dealing with include Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Transphobia, Ableism, Classism, Ageism, Neurotypicalism, Animal welfare, environmental issues, and political issues (Health care, crime, drug laws).

Those are many of the same issues we Humanists are interested in with our efforts for Humans solving Human problems. And if you read the 10 Points of Humanism from Corlis Lamont, Humanism IS liberal and progressive about those issues.

McCreight also writes:

Honestly, I see A+ as Atheism + Humanism + Skepticism. Not all humanists are atheists or skeptical, not all skeptics are atheists or humanists, not all atheists are humanists or skeptics…but I want to bring it all together. And hell, not all humanists are progressive – you don’t know how many times I’ve had humanists yell at me for calling myself a “feminist” instead of a “humanist” because what feminism really means is hating men.

Why Atheism+ and not Humanism?

She is right that not all Humanists are atheists and not all atheists are Humanists but Humanism does bring “it all together” for those of us who are looking for that.

Atheism is my answer to the god question and secular humanism is my worldview. I came to Humanism because atheism didn’t have an answer for the social and economic justice issues I was concerned about. Atheism isn’t a complete worldview.

I share McCreight’s concern for a progressive response from the atheist/skeptical community to social justice issues and to see an end to the troglodyte behavior of some atheist men, but in my view Humanism is the answer.

New groups or ideas tend to pop-up from time to time in the freethought community – anyone remember the Brights. This happens because a sub-group within a larger group thinks the main group isn’t addressing the issues they want to address or not taking the action they feel should be taken, so they break off and form a new group.

It’s great that we have various flavors of Humanism (for example secular and religious Humanism) – and yet still operate within a larger group through consensus. We know we won’t have 100% of our concerns addressed 100% of the time but we will find a good majority addressed and others who share the same concerns we do.

What does concern me about the debate over efforts like Atheism+ is when people making the argument for Atheism+ don’t really have enough knowledge of what Humanism is really about to make a valid or persuasive argument for Atheism+. For example Greta Christina wrote in her blog:

Many humanist groups have a huge diversity problem. Many humanist groups are overwhelmingly made up of older, middle-class, college educated white men — and while the groups typically embrace the idea of diversity in theory, some individuals in them can be very resistant to the idea that maybe their lack of diversity is partly their responsibility, and that they should maybe consider changing the way they do things. And I can’t tell you how many humanists I’ve talked with who have been total douchebags about feminism: insisting that humanism is superior to and more important than feminism, that feminism is exclusionary and anti-male, that they “don’t see gender” and anyone who does is the real sexist, and that the best way to make sexism disappear is to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humanism in theory is on board with social justice — but the practice can be very different indeed. If every atheist who’s sick of sexism and misogyny in the atheist movement picked up their stakes and moved to humanism, it wouldn’t make these problems magically disappear.

There is a great deal of overlap between humanism and Atheism Plus. They are very similar ideas, very similar visions. There is great value in both. I suspect that many people will call themselves both, and I look forward to the two movements working in alliance for many years to come. But I don’t think they’re the same. And I think it’s reasonable for some people to identify primarily as one, and some primarily as the other.

CORRECTION/UPDATE: Several people who are more familiar with humanism than I am have informed me that Christian Humanism is not, in fact, humanism, and that a basic principle of humanism is non-theism. I stand corrected. (You have to admit that that’s pretty confusing.) The rest of my post still stands; but I apologize for the error.

Humanism Is Great — But It’s Not Atheism Plus

Now I like Greta Christina and her blog. She is a great person for speaking for the greater Freethought community and I appreciate that she admits and corrects her errors. We need more of that all around. But I was disappointed that she didn’t seem to have even a basic knowledge of Humanism. Only uniformed people would assume Christian Humanism is a kind of Humanism I subscribe to and I was disappointed she makes seem that it is our fault for her confusion.

And while she claims that Atheism+ wants diversity, she supports excluding the “douchebags” and that only a new group that excludes those people can promote diversity.

I don’t agree with it. It smacks of academic PC bubble fortification where in order to be diverse you must think and act exactly as the overlords command or be banished.

I’m glad Humanism is not like that and I don’t want it to be like that. One of the first principles of Humanism is believing in the unending questioning of basic assumptions and convictions, including our own. I know there are many atheists who refuse to evaluate their own assumptions does that mean we should chuck all of Atheism? No!

Yes Humanism has douchebags – all groups have douchebags and I believe that Atheism+ will have its own version of a douchebag and that might lead to another new group down the line — Atheism Plus Plus??

I also don’t like when one family member of the freethought community throws other family members under the bus to promote their own agenda – and they won’t acknowlege they are doing it.

Bill Cooke from the Center for Inquiry wrote this nice summary of Atheism vs. Humanism:

Atheism is not enough on which a viable nonreligious system can be built. Atheism states only what one does not believe in; the next step is to move forward and determine what one does believe in. Exploring the realms of naturalism and humanism are essential to giving atheism a positive orientation… Organizations that are united only by what they hate or fear are rarely going to prosper for long without feuding and dissension. But more important than mere organizational tension, such an approach misunderstands and fatally undersells humanism as a viable way of living without religion. Humanism is so much more than mere rejection of religion; it is a way of living based on an insatiable love of living, a recognition that one’s life is enriched by virtue of enriching the lives of those around us. Far from down-playing the role of atheism in humanism, this understanding of nonreligious living recognizes atheism as foundational, but equally recognizes that foundations are worthless without a completed building.

Atheist in a Bunker: Reassessing Madalyn Murray O’Hair

Atheists and Humanists are members of the same family but they address different concerns. I’m not saying you can’t expand Atheism beyond a rejection of religion and the supernatural but want to point out that you don’t need a new group – Humanism is that expansion.

I’m glad that Humanism can address my concern for social and economic justice while making room for and encouraging my atheism.

You can’t promote diversity by excluding people. That’s Orwellian doublespeak and I simply reject it as being a false idea.

I agree with the aims of Atheism+ but when I hear the name Atheist+ I will be thinking of Humanism.


A shorter version of this essay was posted on the website of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio (HCCO). As full disclosure I am a past president and current Board member of HCCO.

I added to the essay and published it on Doug’s Views after reading Greta Christina’s blog about Atheism Plus and Humanism because I wanted to address some of her points. I still stand by the original version on HCCO’s site however the additions in this version of the essay are entirely my personal view and is not necessarily the view of HCCO or its members.

This version of the essay was originally posted to Doug’s Views and is used with permission.

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