From the Huffington Post: Federal Prison system now recognizes Secular Humanism
A note from Al:
Defining religion is a difficult but enjoyable task for scholars and educated laymen. It can get very technical. But some definitions are fairly easy to grasp. For instance, my favorite is that religion is a person’s “ultimate concern”. What is one’s ultimate concern? It is whatever functions as the organizing principle of one’s life. It could be pursuit of happiness or love of money or imitation of Buddha. One’s “ultimate concern” is the one overriding concern that all other interests and concerns must bow. It is the standard by which all other things are measured. Al Gore, for instance, sees the environment or creation care as the central organizing principle of individuals and the nations. He has imbued care for the environment with the aura of ultimacy. Nothing is more important.
I’ve always liked the definition of religion as “ultimate concern” because one’s ultimate concern can be supernatural or natural. As a Christian, I believe all are created in God’s image. We are made for God and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. So even atheists must fill the vacuum in their heart. If they don’t relate to the authentic God, they will fill that vacuum with surrogate deities or idols of their own making. The most influential American philosopher of the twentieth century, John Dewey described secular humanism as our “common faith.” Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, had an older brother who headed up UNESCO. Julian Huxley believed in a type of quasi-scientific religion he called, “Religion without Revelation.” Julian was also enamored with the Jesuit paleontologist and theologian Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and wrote the preface for Teilhard’s most influential book, The Phenomenon of Man. Both Julian Huxley and Teilhard were proponents of what I call “Evolutionism”, a speculative merging of various theories of biological and cosmic evolution meant to answer all our important existential questions: who we are, where we are, what’s wrong with this world and what’s the solution. Younger brother Aldous, however, despaired of scientific facts ever offering meaning to life. He adopted a type of pseudo-mysticism based on experiences with LSD, peyote and other mind-altering substances.
Another definition sees religion defined by three Bs: believing, behaving and belonging. Doctrine, ethics and community, together, form one’s religion. Ask of a group, what is the common creed? What are the communal practices and commandments which define the good? And, lastly, how do we determine who holds that common creed and agreed upon ethical practices? How do we draw the lines to determine who is in the circle of belief and behavior and who is not?
Many definitions insist on the presence of supernatural persons, a God who is beyond nature and requires worship or an ultimate reality or divine mind with whom we must reckon at the hour of our death or at the end of history.
Sociologist Robert Bellah and others, including the late, evangelical Quaker philosopher, D. Elton Trueblood, have identified an “American civil religion.” The national creed includes a belief in ordered liberty as God’s goal for humans, the rights of persons are guaranteed by Nature’s God, a confidence that America has a divinely willed role to play bringing the gospel of ordered liberty to the nations. American civil religion even has its Scriptures in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. American civil religion was best defined during the Cold War when we saw ourselves in contrast to atheistic communism.
Secular Humanists hold that man is the measure of all things, i.e., man, not God, determines what is real. They also believe that this world is the end of all things. No immortality; the grave swallows us up and we are food for worms. Man is simply a more neurologically complex beast. Secular humanists have published a number of manifestos (1933, 1973, 1980, 2000) in which they present themselves as a religion. This is not unusual. Shortly after the start of the French revolution (1789), a cult or religion of reason claiming “One God only- the People” was established to displace Christianity (1792). Later, the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857) often called the ‘father of sociology’ invented a “religion of humanity.” In the 1950’s, Humanists sought and obtained tax-exempt status as religious organizations. In response, Christians began to challenge the “establishment of religion” which Secular Humanism in public schools represented. Secular Humanists, ashamed to be called religious, now insist that Secular Humanism is “scientific.”
But many observers, including the Supreme Court continue to secular humanism as “religious”.
In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins listed Secular Humanism was a religion. Secular Humanists, in my estimation, are non-theistic religionists. Justice Scalia wrote: “In Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495, n. 11 (1961), we did indeed refer to “SECULAR HUMANISM” as a “religio[n].” (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) note 6).
Justice Harlan elaborated in footnote eight: “This Court has taken notice of the fact that recognized “religions” exist that “do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God,” Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495 n. 11, e. g., “Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, SECULAR HUMANISM and others.” Ibid. See also Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia, 101 U.S. App. D.C. 371, 249 F.2d 127 (1957); 2 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences 293; J. Archer, Faiths Men Live By 120-138, 254-313 (2d ed. revised by Purinton 1958); Stokes & Pfeffer, supra, n. 3, at 560. Welsh v. United States 398 U.S. 333 (1970) note 8.”
So secular humanists can have their cake and eat it too. In our public schools, secular humanism is the default point of view into which students and parents are being indoctrinated. A teacher, for instance, is free to sound off as a secular humanist, list his beliefs and defend them as “non-religious” but still influencing the philosophical and spiritual formation of his students in the classroom. A Christian teacher is, of course, told he cannot proselytize in the classroom. For purposes of the establishment clause, secular humanism is not a religion. In other words, the Supreme Court has not disestablished secular humanism as the functional religion of the state. However, secular humanists get all the benefits of free exercise. They receive tax exemption, conscientious objector status in military matters and other protections traditionally accorded Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. Now United States Federal Prisons will recognize humanism as a religion deserving of time and space for activities, visits by humanist chaplains, access to secularist creedal literature.
I don’t mind that secular humanists have free exercise. I do mind that our justices are too blind to see that secular humanism is currently the de facto state religion.