There is a formal secular humanist organization in America, and it has very few members. They act like a church, in the sense of having services and an ethos, but they don't subscribe to any Godly metaphysics.
Now, immediately forget about them. That's not who I'm talking about, and that tiny, pointless organization provides nothing but distraction on this issue. I'm talking about people who are secular humanists, not just the people who self-identify as secular humanists. Which means liberals.
And liberals are secular humanists. Just think about the terms. Do they support secular policies? Clearly. Do they subscribe to a moral view that could be considered humanist? Definitely.
Espousing effective utilitarianism, for lack of any other social goal? Check.
Occasionally getting pissed at other people's judgmentalism? Check.
Extremely excitable about the separation of church and state, even where the issue doesn't exist? Check.
Totally unconcerned about the relationship of religion to science, taking science's side when conflicts come up, saying religion must "evolve" or lose relevance? Check.
Preference for "underdog" religions, if any religion must be tolerated? Check.
Hears stuff about "be fruitful and multiply" and hates it, because something something global population is too damn high? Check.
Conflates freedom of religion with freedom FROM religion? Check.
The occasional, casual comparison between religion and military brainwashing research? Check.
Uses the term "open-minded" a lot, especially when talking positively about people like themselves? Check.
Does not actually refer to himself as a humanist, but wonders how anyone could possibly have a problem with humanism, as it's so obviously a sensible view? Check.
Lots of people hold these opinions, and don't think of their worldview as secular humanism. They think their worldview is just reasonable, the modern view, unimpeachable, everything else is based on hocus pocus. That's secular humanism. Like any successful faith, it becomes so dominant that people do not really question it. They just absorb it from their interactions with the world, and think every sensible person thinks the same way. Of course, it's a cultural phenomenon.
Their concepts bear some resemblance to what Hayek called "scientism". But scientism is somewhat different: a purely scientific view posits that people are organisms which operate as any other organism that can be studied, understood, and controlled in that context. These are the people that view the mind as the byproduct of brain functions that occasionally misfire, the kind of people who have no problem looking at a sociopath or Cluster B personality and prescribing drugs. Somehow, this point of view does not make it impossible to take human authorities who pretend to impossible wisdom seriously.
The decision not to actually call themselves secular humanists is strategic. When you define a group, you allow it to be attacked as a group, and that's the problem. The left in America knows perfectly well that, were their views to take on a name, they could be grouped up and stereotyped and pounced on, with far greater ease than they are now. They won't let themselves be labeled. This is a propaganda war. They would rather be seen as neutralists, taking no side at all, making no principled judgments at all, being pragmatically interested only in utilitarian welfare for all, above the fray. And there is no such thing when talking about matters of not just whether you go to church, but whether you see the world the same way those around you do. There is no "none of the above" position. Everyone looks at the world in SOME way, and the best term in existence that describes the ideology and worldview of modern liberals is secular humanism.
Their unwillingness to identify themselves as such is dishonest and dishonorable, and that's what I despise in them. They will not stand for anything.
The activist atheist wing of liberalism is its own set of problems. This excellent article by Jim Goad pretty much expresses my point of view.
The longer I look at the debate going on here, the more I agree with John Locke, for once: atheists are troublemakers.
You can bring up the first amendment if you like, but it really doesn't say much about interactions between people. It limits the government... and just the government. The first amendment gives people peace of mind when it comes to the government taking action against them for their beliefs. But that's it. It doesn't imply overwhelming public secularism, and any investigation into the intent of the founders will make that clear. If a community has a dominant religion, then it's allowed to have it, and those who disagree are protected from having the local government jail them or charge them with a crime for not believing. That's all. If you try to extend the principle out to mean that all religious practice should be kept out of the public sphere, then you have to understand that the public sphere comes into existence any time people interact anywhere except on their private property, meaning in most of their day to day interactions. Were "freedom of religion" to be enforced here, meaning no one "pushing their religion on others", then it means that religion is not free but effectively outlawed and talking about belief is on its way to becoming taboo. Atheists win. Of course, they know this.
The real issue for these atheists, these secular humanists, is not avoiding the formal establishment of religion but in altering the religious marketplace. Religions with high subscription have an innate advantage over religions that are smaller, and also over non-religion. The secular humanists want government to play the same role with religion that they want it to play with business: anti-monopoly, promoting the highest possible level of choice, forms of regulation. Any form of social influence from religion is to be squashed, which nullifies the positive, binding effects of religion. That is explicitly what the founders did not want government doing: interfering with the religious marketplace. Hegemony, or lack thereof, is not the government's business from this perspective, but in the modern world, where government provides structures like schooling, the issue becomes much more difficult because of the tremendous degree of interference the government plays in people's lives.
The separation of church and state, for the modern atheist, means an outward hostility towards religion as a civil matter, and as a public choice, from the government and through the government to the populace. Now, if you view atheism as just another choice of beliefs in the maisma, then it's gained a degree of power that IS a violation of the separation of church and state. An economist might call this "regulatory capture": the simpler term is "corruption".
But that may be going too far as to their intention. They aren't looking to monopolize atheism. What's more likely is an attitude towards Christianity specifically which places it in the same vein of consumer goods. They don't want to get rid of it exactly, just de-institutionalize it. Christianity has been a social institution for centuries here, which in the way of a powerful corporation, should mean influence but not by government fiat, rather through the aggregated choices of individuals. A Christian society may not establish religion in the same way the English government did with the Anglican church, but if the religion describes a worldview, then the beliefs will show themselves in the behavior of the people, including through the vote. That's what the atheists want gone, and they've already succeeded to a great degree.
There are secular humanists who go to church on Sunday and call themselves Christian in conversations or questionnaires. They go to church, but don't view church as what it says it is, a belief system; they view it like a club. They do not see it as being truth in a way which morally demands that they defend its position in the world. They do not promote it, which makes their "faith" something less than a faith. It's merely a preference, at most a symbolic element for their otherwise rationalist, secularist modern worldview. A true Christian is morally obligated by their worldview to spread the Word; when you see how archaic this position is, you might realize how much ground Christianity has lost since at least the 1960's, and really, since the Protestant Reformation half a millenium ago. Evangelizing for religion, just about any religion, is currently looked down upon by cultural tastemakers. Evangelizing for no faith at all is perfectly acceptable.
I'm not a Christian. Even if I really wanted to be, I couldn't; my mind simply will not take the metaphysics seriously. I've been tempted to call this the rational viewpoint, but really, it's just my subjective viewpoint and it's a product of living in the society I live in. For those genuinely interested in open-mindedness, start here: it's all shakier than you think it is, the certainty of the modern world, the control we think we have over it, the comfort with which we think we get how things work... Dig in a bit, and realize that we know very little, and our way of life is not only unproven, but continually causing problems.
Are you sure you know what you know? Are you sure that the secular humanist way, where God is relegated to the role of a product on the shelves, is really an improvement? Or does the lack of a shared worldview beyond the consumerist have a hand in the alienation and constant inability to agree on anything that our current society is dealing with now?
A question that occurred to me came from reading the law history of secular humanism at the top of the page, and seeing the case where the Bible may be studied for its "literary and historical" qualities in public schools. Since Christians view this book as sacred, the question should be asked: does this constitute harm to the faith, to take a sacred text and analyze it or read it without affirming or even mentioning its possible sacredness? In other words, would a young Christian who study the Bible in school as simply a book end up with a perspective that undermines the high value placed on that book by his faith? This is one of those areas where the inherent conflict between religion and secularism seems very bright to me. If you have a view on this, email me or comment.