There is an ongoing debate in the wider, online, Freethought/secular/skeptic community.
While I don’t want to rehash the specifics, name names, or argue the semantics, it does highlight what I consider to be a divide between humanism and mere atheism.
There are countless essays, books, and manifestos that try to document what exactly this positive philosophy called humanism is about, but I find such academic exercises often less useful for actually getting the point across to real people (though there is still utility in academic works).
In a nutshell, humanism is simply a way of looking at the world based on reason and compassion.
Reason leads us to atheism via skepticism. There is no reason to believe in god because there is no evidence and no good arguments. Similarly, we should be skeptical of the claims of homeopaths, chiropractors, and conspiracy theories who also lack compelling evidence for their claims.
But more than pure rationalism, humanism requires compassion. Humanism is a progressive worldview. We care about social justice issues, because we care about one another. We support individual freedoms, but also about the health of our society. As demonstrated by Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, social contracts and strong (but not too strong) states prevent us from murdering one another. Injustice exists in the world, and we see it as our place to counter it.
We care about the environment, about poverty, about women’s rights (it was humanists that won the right for women to choose in Canada), and about LGBTQ issues. We believe that tomorrow can be better than today for everyone, but that it won’t happen magically.
This is why we joined the Walk for Peace, the Pride Parade, have a Light the Night team, and why I want to bring in policies that promote equality and ensure all of our members feel safe in our community.
It’s this compassion that not all atheists or skeptics share with humanism. Humanism challenges privilege by demanding our skepticism be turned inwards and at social structures as well as at the harder science topics.
Humanism is about far more than not believing in god (humanism may not even necessarily require atheism, but more about that later), it is about being good without god.
This is the basis for the kind of active community that I want to build. I hope you’ll support me.