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Posted May 29, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Naturalism, secularism and humanism

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Gene Rigelon

By Gene Rigelon - info@nvdaily.com

Unfortunately, a vast majority of Americans have a distorted view of atheism. According to a recent survey, 7 in 10 of randomly selected adults said they would be troubled if someone in their family married someone who did not believe in God.

Atheism is not a belief system. There is no dogma. It is not a rejection of God per se, rather it is simply a rejection of the theistic conception of God. There is a vast difference. No atheist worth his or her salt can say nor does say there is no God with absolute certainty. It is possible to reject theism and still believe in God, as does retired Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong, who has devoted his life to his God, his church and his savior Jesus Christ.

Once one rejects theism, it opens up the human mind to explore new and exciting possibilities. Some enlightened theologians like Spong seek a new way to define God and others like myself and my humanist friends embrace a philosophical world view based on reason and scientific inquiry which has much in common with liberal/moderate religiosity.

What are we humanists all about?

There is no doubt that we reject the theistic conception of God. Still, we cannot nor should not be defined for what we are against. Yes, we are nontheists, but we should not be defined as only atheists. We are much more than that. We believe that we must do more than reject theological claims: we must come up with new and innovative ideas to improve the human condition.

So what are we for?

First, we are scientific naturalists; second we believe in the principals of secularism; and third we are committed to humanist ethics. Our agenda does not begin with the fact that a supernatural God does not exist but rather with the world and life as we find them. We seek to explain these things in natural terms.

From our perspective, naturalism is first and foremost not supernaturalism. For our primitive ancestors, the world was a mystifying place full of unexplainable events. They attributed natural events, like thunder and lightning, illness and death to mysterious occult forces. Because they were afraid of what would happen to them, they understandably invented the gods. We humans have come a long way since then. Thanks to science, we have naturalistic explanations of those events. Supernaturalism was replaced by naturalism. Medical science has reduced pain and suffering and even prolonged life.

Thus we are naturalists first, because we use reason and scientific inquiry to account for what we encounter in nature. We reject the notion that disasters are attributable to wrathful gods who reward and punish human behavior. We acknowledge that the universe is full of unexplainable events. We approach these matters as an agnostic with an open mind. Skepticism and doubt are essential to scientific inquiry. We recognize that we may be wrong and are ready to modify our conceptions in the light of new evidence.

There is also the misconception that naturalists lack any grounds for morality. The fact is that human civilization has developed powerful moral principles and values rooted in the human experience. Our sense of right and wrong, our moral sense, preceded religion.

The National institutes of health is using brain imaging and psychological experiments to study wether the brain has a built-in moral compass. The results are showing that many aspects of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain, most likely the result of the evolutionary process. Morality has deep biological roots that have been around a long time.

Secular humanists are committed to realizing the best that we are capable of as human beings. We seek a naturalistic view of the meaning of life that has the highest consolation value that it can, allowed by or consistent with possessing the highest truth value. Our commitment to truth comes first, but we cannot and must not overlook the power of love and compassion in enriching our lives. We are leading the way to toward an authentic celebration of human diversity and developing an attitude of goodwill toward others of a different color, class, language, religion and sexual orientation.

There is much creative and productive work to do; no one should be denied the right to participate. This is not a religious or secular issue. We must all, the religious and the secular community, work together to create a better world -- to bring about a creatively joyful life for ourselves and others.

Gene Rigelon, 84 of Front Royal, is coordinator of the Shenandoah Area Secular Humanists, www.sash.wash.org


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