On Humanism
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

On Humanism

Though people of faith and secularists often find themselves in conflict, historically secular and religious thought have influenced each other. A core tenet of secular humanism – that all people have intrinsic value – seems to accord with the Bible’s description of Jesus’ teachings. I do not think this is a coincidence. Humanistic elements of the widely influential Judeo-Christian tradition laid the groundwork for the development of secular humanism.

Admirably, secular humanism affirms the dignity and value of all people. However, it fails as a comprehensive, cohesive ethic to the degree that it ignores the needs and rights of nonhumans. Indeed, most secular humanists vigorously champion the rights of members of ethnic, LGBT, and other vulnerable human minorities, yet the vast majority continues to endorse and even sponsor the extreme abuse and murder of nonhuman beings.

How can this be? I suspect that an underlying, infrequently articulated assumption of humanism is that humans are exceptional creatures. Most humanists believe in evolutionary theory, which sees Homo sapiens as simply one species among many. Yet, in what appears to be a contradictory stance, humanists generally regard humans as much more valuable, perhaps infinitely more valuable, than other creatures. While humanists tend to reject white supremacy, male supremacy, and the like, they cling to the convenient and self-serving tenet of human supremacy, which permits massive abuse of nonhumans for food, skins, entertainment, research, and other supposed human benefits.

In addition to supporting crimes of great magnitude against by nonhumans, this view is problematic for humanists themselves. Humanists defend human rights on the grounds that people the world over are very similar, so there are no legitimate grounds for excluding humans from equal moral consideration. While they employ science to make this claim, science also shows that humans and many kinds of nonhumans are fundamentally very similar. If humanists lift up science only when it suits their particular concerns and ignore science when it yields inconvenient truths, they undermine the moral and intellectual grounds upon which humanism is based.

Go on to: On Evil, part 1
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