What is Secular Humanism? – Paul Kurtz

I’ve noticed a problem; anyone can join a movement.

People nowadays seem to be big on labels, and the problem comes up when those labels (we are really referring to political labels here) became to large and all encompassing to mean anything too specific. There is no specific example I can nominate without offending someone, but imagine you were talking with someone who identified as you did on some political ideology, but when you got down to specific points you realized that you had very little in common with them when it came to what the ideology practically meant.

Doesn’t seem like a big deal to you? Then perhaps you haven’t encountered a situation where in you found someone seemingly strawmanning your ideology, and when you ask them where they found that belief, they tell you about an actual person who held your same label, but intended something rather different with it.

It does, and will continue to, happen. The problem is that people fail to realize that the necessary first step to having any argument is establishing that both parties are using terms consistently, even if those terms may be coming from different discourse communities.

This book can be explained pretty simply: it is a clear and simple manual that lays out what secular humanism is, and by extension, what it is not. It is perhaps a little more interesting to talk about who put it together, and seemingly why they did so. Paul Kurtz, finding that the term ‘humanism’ had somewhat been used poorly for a rather long time (in that it carried religious connotations), set about to see to it that the word took on a secular meaning. As a term, ‘secular-humanism’ had established itself as something of an amorphous American-fundamentalist boogeyman for all things evil in the world. So to combat this, Paul Kurtz established a number of organizations with the specific goals of promoting secular-humanism and the values of a secular society. This has, in turn solidified what secular-humanism is, so that it cannot (fairly) be used to signify ‘the godless heathens trying to tear down god’s America’. This little pamphlet helps seal it even further. He clearly lays out what a secular humanist is, and what someone using that table does (and to a certain extent, is).

Has this worked? I have no idea. In the (discourse) communities I frequent, Paul Kurtz’s use of the term is the default. I have no idea how society at large sees it, but I suspect

Some people would argue against the solidification of a movement being a good thing. Movements, and particularly their means and ends, are subject to change as different people with different needs join those groups. Keeping definitions loose (as is natural) helps from there being any kind of odd gatekeeping. But if that is the case, you can’t hold it against anyone when they end up strawmanning your position.


Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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