As Ricky Gervais accurately put it “we shouldn’t even need the word “atheism”. If people didn’t invent ridiculous imaginary Gods, rational people wouldn’t have to deny them.” This captures one of my problems with the term atheism: it does not state what I am, it merely states what I am not. It doesn’t actually say anything about me aside from the bare minimum: I do not believe in any gods. That is fine to some degree as it serves its function in a world where the majority of the populace are theists. However, my atheism doesn’t inform my ethics or beliefs. In fact, my atheism is a consequence of my beliefs and ethics. I am an atheist because I am a sceptic, because I am a proponent for LGBT rights, because I support gender and racial equality etc. All these things, and more, led me to my atheism, not the other way around. So to describe myself as an atheist is somewhat disingenuous as it isn’t a “motivator” if you will, there are no pathways between my atheism and my actions; however, there is a pathway between my ethics and my actions. So my atheism is, if you’d pardon the pun, a non-entity in the manner which I lead my life. So I find the use of the term atheism as a personal descriptor to be wholly inadequate. This is when I began reading about Humanism. I found that the Humanistic philosophy perfectly encapsulated my ethics and worldview.
At its simplest, Humanism articulates a value system centred on mankind and on our world: it does not depend on a divinity for its justification. Humanism is a philosophy, not a theology and (like religions) it is a way of thinking about humanity, this earth, the universe beyond, in an attempt to makes sense of what we see around us. Humanism is also an ethical system rooted simply in the common condition of humanity; ethics based on reason, compassion and integrity, offering guideline – not rules.
At the World Humanist Conference in 2002, an assembly of Humanist organisations agreed upon a set of fundamental principles which concisely define Humanism:
Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.
Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.
Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.
Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.
Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process. of observation, evaluation and revision.
Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.
Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
I very much doubt you would find many atheists who would disagree with these principles, yet people still prefer to adopt the atheist label. Personally, there is only one reason that I continue to use the term atheist, and that is because the term holds a certain stigma and vilification to it, so it must be used in order to remove such preconceived bias. Aside from that, I see no reason to prefer the term atheist over Humanist.