Atheist and Religious Origins of Secular Humanism

Atheism and freethought trace their roots to ancient Greek philosophy, with its emphasis on rational inquiry and curiosity about the workings of nature. Other sources included early Chinese Confucianism, ancient Indian materialists, and Roman Stoics, Epicureans, and Skeptics. Submerged during the Dark Ages, freethought re-emerged in the Renaissance. With the Enlightenment, rationalist and empiricist thinkers laid foundations for the modern scientific outlook. Utilitarians emancipated morality from religion, foreshadowing consequentialism. The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ushered in a golden age for freethought. With the turn of the twentieth century, this flame flickered, but an abiding tradition remained that decades later would emerge as secular humanism.

Religious humanism also began with Greek philosophy and its hope of achieving the good life through human agency. Rome’s Epicureans and Stoics offered early human-centered value systems. Renaissance humanism, a literary and philosophical movement, assigned prime importance to earthly happiness. Ironically, even the Reformation left its stamp on religious humanism, infusing the notion of the primacy of individual conscience. Liberal religion would be religious humanism’s immediate ancestor. Universalism, originally a Christian denial of eternal damnation, was founded in 1780. Unitarianism, which renounced the Trinity, formed its first American congregation in 1785 and organized as a church in 1819. In 1876, Ethical Culture was founded by Felix Adler; it continues as today’s American Ethical Union.

Religious humanism budded from liberal religion in the early twentieth century. Humanist Manifesto I (1933) crystallized a movement among Unitarians that was already two decades old. Drafted by philosopher Roy Wood Sellars, Unitarian minister Raymond Bragg, and others, the unfortunately named Manifesto was signed by thirty-three Unitarian ministers and also philosopher John Dewey (1859–1952).


A list of the shoulders on which secular humanism is built philosophically and spiritually.

Folksonomies: skepticism atheism humanism secular humanism

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/science/social science/philosophy (0.466339)
/religion and spirituality/christianity (0.278816)

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Roy Wood Sellars:Person (0.775971 (neutral:0.000000)), Felix Adler:Person (0.744466 (neutral:0.000000)), American Ethical Union:Organization (0.738549 (neutral:0.000000)), Unitarian ministers:Organization (0.722109 (neutral:0.000000)), Raymond Bragg:Person (0.692709 (positive:0.321922)), John Dewey:Person (0.691924 (neutral:0.000000)), Rome:City (0.666793 (positive:0.336777)), two decades:Quantity (0.666793 (neutral:0.000000))

Humanism (0.957688): dbpedia | freebase
Philosophy (0.731090): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Secularism (0.705008): dbpedia | freebase
Unitarian Universalism (0.610217): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Atheism (0.558889): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Humanist Manifesto (0.557107): dbpedia | freebase
Renaissance (0.546197): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Unitarianism (0.495419): dbpedia | freebase

 Secular Humanism Defined
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Flynn, Tom (Summer 2002), Secular Humanism Defined, Council for Secular Humanism, Retrieved on 2011-03-30
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  • Folksonomies: enlightenment science skepticism humanism skeptics