Secular Humanists like their less sophisticated cousins, the atheists, do not accept supernatural explanations of existence and reality, but instead, claim that the material universe which can be tested and experimented on via science is the full scope of reality. They claim that nature is self-existing.1 Paul Kurtz, sometimes called the Father of Secular Humanism, says it this way, “…There is insufficient scientific evidence for spiritual interpretations of reality and the postulation of occult causes.”2 In basic terms this means that both atheists and secular humanists do not believe in God, or any of the God-stuff that is usually present in religious faith.
Secular Humanism focuses on the greater good of Humanity and holds this up as the ultimate purpose of humankind. Man is capable of being moral within his natural ability. The philosophy asserts that humans are social by nature and derive happiness and meaning from relationships, and taking part in the common good of Humanity.3
Secular Humanists claim that any ideology or philosophy should be examined by the individual with rationality and consideration. Worldviews should not simply be adhered to by faith. The primary way of ascertaining truth is through the pursuits of natural sciences, and reasonable philosophical pursuits.
Secular Humanism claims that morality is derived from human need and interest.4 Further, it is defined by its orientation to human flourishing. Morality, for a Secular Humanist, is primarily utilitarian in nature and is dictated by that which promotes human progress. T. Tristram Engelhart seems to imply that building a moral framework is central to the Secular Humanist agenda when he says, “Secular Humanism can be understood as the core of the modern hope to provide a common content-full moral framework”5
Paul Kurtz goes beyond denying the supernatural and attempts to gather empirical data on the subject. He cites a range of studies that have attempted to research the “hour of death” in his book, In Defense of Secular Humanism.6 He claims that the body of empirical data available does not support the existence of an afterlife. Secular Humanism as a whole focuses on “this life” as opposed to the afterlife. Since they claim that there is no supernatural at play, there is, therefore, no afterlife.
For the Secular Humanists, any liberation or salvation is only in the current physical world. Much of Secular Humanism aims to do is free humankind from the oppression of religious faith, and in so doing promote human progress. The lack of an afterlife and supernatural world is often used as a motivation to live well in the here and now. Since human flourishing is considered the greatest good, that which constitutes improvement in that arena is considered a worthy pursuit.
Secular Humanism denial of the existence of the supernatural doesn’t equate to a wholesale denial of Jesus’ natural existence. However, their orientation to Jesus has morphed over the last hand full of decades. There is a growing, and largely online, continent of non-believers who have appeared in mass to proclaim that Jesus never existed as a historical character. Many of these individuals are functionally Secular Humanists and often openly claim to be such. To claim that Jesus never existed historically is not a requirement of Secular Humanism. However, it is logistically required that a Secular Humanist deny his divinity and his miraculous works.
Certainly, there are historians who land squarely in the Secular Humanist camp, that believe Jesus was at least a historical figure. However, no Secular Humanist who is indicative of the whole believes that Jesus is anything more than human. As such the stories about his life must largely be fable.
1 American Humanist Association. “Humanist Manifesto III: Humanism and its Aspirations.” Humanist 71, no. 4 (2011): 39-39.
2 Kurtz, Paul. Humanist Manifesto 2000: A call for a new Planetary Humanism. Prometheus Books, 2000.
3 Humanist Manifesto III.
4 Humanist Manifesto III.
5 Engelhardt, H. “Bioethics and Secular Humanism.” Theological Studies 53, no. 1 (1992): xv.
6 Kurtz, Paul. In Defense of Secular Humanism. Prometheus Books, 1983. 171.