A Thriving Secular Humanism Would Be More Valuable Than Atheism

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In my youth, atheism felt rebellious. I didn't choose it because it was rebellious. I didn't choose it at all. I sometimes compare atheism to losing one's hair. One can fight it (and many do), but it is going to happen. The rebellious part was something I learned to enjoy a few years after realizing I was an atheist. Its appeal was short-lived, but it was good while it lasted.

As I've grown older, atheism has receded into the background. It is still part of who I am. I still don't believe in gods. Atheism continues to be relevant because anti-atheist bigotry is common where I live. It affects how people treat me. But atheism has taken a back seat to something else: secular humanism. There's so much more to humanism, and I find it consistent with my desire to improve the world in the time I have left.

Telling someone I'm an atheist tells them almost nothing about what I value or how I treat others. It says little about my priorities or what kind of person I am. Atheism doesn't motivate me to do anything. I'm not sure it ever has. But what about humanism? Humanism can do all these things and more.

We can pick an obvious one. I'd like to support other atheists as they struggle to thrive in a religious society. But even this desire is more rooted in humanism than atheism. It reflects a sense of compassion and empathy that isn't an inherent part of atheism.

I reflect on the things I care about and ask myself why I care about them. Humanism is a far more common answer than atheism. This doesn't make atheism irrelevant; it illustrates how relevant humanism is.

If this is the case, why have I invested so much energy in writing about atheism? There are still too many misconceptions and too much bigotry. As strange as it sounds, it is humanism that has driven me to focus on atheism. Demonizing someone for not believing in one's preferred god(s) is harmful and needs to stop.

Would I like for there to be more atheists? Yes, I would. It is time we discarded the superstitions of our ancestors and made an effort to engage with reality. We'd be better for it. But I'd much rather have more secular humanists. They'd be atheists (that's the secular part), but they'd go well beyond that (that's the humanist part).

You see, I am not someone who believes that more atheists would result in an idealized utopia. Atheism doesn't make someone a good person. Being correct on the question of gods doesn't always generalize to other areas. It says nothing about morality. But what about atheists who strive to be good people and make the world better for others? Those are secular humanists, and it would be great to have more of them.

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