Many misconceptions exist about humanism.
Humanism is often identified as something it is in fact in opposition with. It is important to beware of the ‘Black or White’ fallacy: the belief that ‘if it’s not this, it must be that’ (e.g. if you don’t believe in some ‘ultimate’ meaning or purpose to the universe, you must believe our lives can have no meaning at all). Beliefs do not have to lie at one or other extremes of a linear scale. Nor do they always easily fit on a linear scale at all.
Humanism is not:
Nor is humanism…
The historian Yuval Noah Harari uses a somewhat eccentric definition of humanism in his books Sapiens and Homo Deus. This is not a definition of humanism that most humanists or humanist organisations would share (many would see their humanism in direct opposition to Harari’s). For more about Harari’s unusual use of the word (and of his use of the word ‘secularism’) click here.
Sometimes people will describe themselves as being ‘religious humanists’. This may be because they feel they belong to a religion in a cultural or familial sense, but they hold humanist beliefs. Some may simply define ‘religion’ in a way that includes all worldviews or approaches to life, and therefore define humanism as a religion (this is more common in the USA than the UK). However, some may hold religious beliefs and define ‘humanism’ differently. It is important that students are aware that the word is being used here in a different way. Most modern dictionary definitions of humanism today define humanism as a non-religious worldview and define humanists as atheists or agnostics. That is also the way most humanist organisations understand the term.
Some humanists may use the word ‘spiritual’ to describe themselves. When doing this, typically they are using the word to describe a purely natural feeling of awe and wonder, connection, or escape from the day-to-day demands of life, not a belief in anything supernatural.
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