Is Humanism a new religion?

Humanism is the simplest of philosophies – common sense, observation of the world, and kindness. No magic, no supernatural beings, no afterlife, no weighty sacred texts. Morality is a human concept, though also seen in other animals, especially those which live communally.

Unsurprisingly, humanist thinking emerges alongside monotheism. (Ditching hundreds of gods, why keep any?) Evidence from India and Egypt suggests that humanist ideas predate Buddha and Confucius (circa 500BC), both of whom quoted the Golden Rule.  Many Greeks shared a philosophy which was essentially Humanism and their  ideas were widespread among educated people throughout the Roman empire, well into the early Christian period. Humanist thought is centuries older than Christianity or Islam.

Humanists were easy prey for war-like religions, Hinduism in India, the political Christianity of Roman emperors, and later,  militant Islam. Most of Europe, the Middle East, and N Africa descended into the dark and middle ages dominated by Christian and Islamic religiosity. Fortunately, Islam preserved many ancient texts, including humanist ideas, which were thus able to survive Christendom’s burning of heretical books, not to mention slaughter of heretics.

During the European renaissance thinkers began to rediscover ancient philosophy, and challenge the Christian view of the world. The enlightenment of 17th and 18th centuries emphasized reason and individual responsibility rather than blind obedience to religious tradition –  prominent figures included Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.

Humanism today is a synthesis of these humane and rational ideas, refined in the light of scientific discoveries, including our understanding of the universe and Earth’s position in it, and Darwin’s theory of evolution, and its explanation via the genetic structures which underpin life.

There are Humanist groups in many countries of the world. Humanists UK is the lead organization in the UK, and RH is a partner. You can found out more about Humanism on their website here.