Both atheism and humanism became popularized during the Renaissance era between the 15th and 16th centuries. Although organized religion has remained a powerful force since then (mostly due to religious figureheads and politicians), both thought forms are still popular today and have been growing in popularity over the past decade. Despite the fact that humanism and atheism are typically associated with each other, though, they actually have some key differences.
The main difference between humanism and atheism is their attitude towards life. While some individuals are both atheists and humanists, most lean more to one side than the other. An atheist simply doesn’t believe in a deity, whereas a humanist is more focused on the human experience than they are on thoughts about God(s). Humanists tend to be active proponents of humanity, whereas many atheists tend to have a callous disregard for humanity.
In today’s post, I’m going to discuss some of the key differences between humanism and atheism so that you can decide which thought pattern you align better with. Whether you’re a theist trying to understand a different perspective or an atheist/agnostic trying to wrap your head around humanism, I hope to shine some light on both methods of thinking.
Understanding The Differences Between Humanism And Atheism
On the surface, it’s quite easy to confuse a humanist with an atheist. In fact, humanism often implies some level of atheism or agnosticism. Some atheists may also align with humanist perspectives and idealogy. Like much of life, there tends to be a lot of “grey area” when it comes to metaphysical ideas. However, theoretically, there are some obvious differences between atheism and humanism, especially once you look at the two as textbook definitions.
Defining Atheism And Humanism
Since we’re on the topic, let’s go ahead and look at an exact definition of the two forms of thought. This is a good place to start thinking about the differences between both.
- Atheism: “A disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.”
- Humanism: “An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.”
As you can see, humanism is a much more complex view of life. Whereas textbook atheists are content to not believe or care about God and go on with their lives, humanists take it a step farther. They believe that they do, in fact, have a purpose in life. That purpose is to be empathetic to their fellow humans and do everything possible to help the human race achieve harmony.
For example, many atheists believe that humans are no different than animals gifted with evolving free thought. This attitude tends to produce more disregard for the human race as there is no true “goal” to life. While they may share similar disbelief in God(s), humanists also appreciate and value the human race. They believe that the purpose of life is to advance the human race.
Perspective On God
Atheists have a rather strong perspective on the idea of God or gods. They firmly believe that they do not exist and that belief in God(s) or religion is foolish. Many atheists are active proponents of doing away with organized religion and are focused on “enlightening” their fellow mankind. Some atheists even refuse to [celebrate Christmas], simply out of spite of the holiday.
Humanists, on the other hand, just don’t care about God(s) or religion. Most humanists tend to identify with an agnostic viewpoint. Agnostics, by definition, are unsure about the existence of God and refuse to admit belief in a deity unless they’re shown strong empirical evidence to the contrary.
Unlike many agnostics (who are constantly searching for evidence to verify [their beliefs]), humanists believe that their time should be spent worrying about humans, not about God. By worrying about religious matters, humanity is wasting valuable time that they could spend educating and helping humans.
Perspective On Life
Atheist and humanistic perspectives on life tend to be quite different. Traditionally, atheists believe that life has no purpose. They believe that we’re just hyper-intelligent mammals on a giant rock flying through space and that life is meaningless. Sure, humans experience emotion and should treat each other decently, but other than that, nothing really matters.
Humanists, on the other hand, believe that life can be truly profound. Whether or not a deity exists isn’t their concern. However, they do recognize that humans are an enigma. There’s something special about us humans. We’re the only known creatures in the universe that possess free will and free thought. Humanity’s special place in the universe means that we should value every life and try to build up the race as a whole.
Can Humanists And Atheists Still Be Spiritual?
As I stated above, most humanists tend to be somewhat (if not entirely) agnostic. Although a small percentage identify with [agnostic Christianity], most just don’t care too much about God(s) and organized religion. “Everybody’s got their own cup of tea” would be a good motto for humanists.
However, that’s not to say that humanists can be spiritual. In fact, many Buddhists do not believe in deities either, but they are profoundly spiritual and connected to their fellow humans (although, there are a few sects of Buddhism that do pray to deities).
Even atheists can still be spiritual to a certain degree. Although they may not acknowledge any all-powerful God(s) who have control over their lives or admit their “sins” to a deity, some atheists are still in-tune and connected with their inner energy/life force. For instance, although many [atheists do not necessarily “pray,”] plenty of atheists also practice mindful meditation, which is very similar to prayer (at least as far as brainwaves and psychology are concerned).
Ultimately, whether you identify more as a humanist or an atheist isn’t relevant. Perhaps you’re a strict anti-God(s) atheist one day and believe life is utterly meaningless. Then, the next day, you might be more hopeful about humanity. One thing about humankind is sure, though- we all change.
Every single experience, thought, and emotion that we feel has the power to change our perspective and attitude towards the world. As long as you’re willing to accept yourself and your own ever-changing idealogy, then you can be a happy, healthy, and productive human being. Who knows, maybe you’ll even find an excuse to find some greater “meaning” in life after all!