By Edward L. Ericson
The Humanist Way—An Introduction to Ethical Humanist Religion©
Since a nontheistic conception of religion is basic to Naturalistic Humanism, it may be helpful to be as specific as possible in our usage of that term. At the outset, it is essential to understand that “nontheistic” is not used as synonym or euphemism for “atheistic.” The atheist, like the theist, takes a definite position with respect to the doctrine that God exists. The atheist denies or disbelieves it. The theist affirms it. But while the individual member of the Ethical Humanist movement may be an atheist, agnostic, theist, deist, or believe whatever else the individual regards to be probable or true about the God question, the ethical philosophy takes no official position with respect to such belief.
As nontheistic religion is defined, the prefix “non” should be understood to mean simply that the theistic reference does not apply. Ours is a religion or belief of a totally different type in which the God question is not of primary concern. As we have emphasized before, Ethical Humanism’s starting point is ethics, not speculative theology.
Ethical Humanism is commitment to a way of life, to a creative relationship to others and thereby to ourselves, in which metaphysical and theological arguments are set aside. Whether or not God exists may be an interesting question. But the answer to that question–if answerable at all–should make no crucial difference in how we ought to live, how we ought to treat our fellow beings. My ethical obligations and potentialities–and yours–remain exactly the same, whether God exists or does not exist. Our shared task is to live decently, compassionately, and caringly in the world we inhabit.
Albert Einstein said it best on behalf of all Ethical Humanists when he commended the New York Society for Ethical Culture on the occasion of its seventy-fifth anniversary year. He noted that the idea of Ethical Culture embodied his personal conception of what is most valuable and enduring in religious idealism. Humanity requires such a belief to survive, Einstein argued. “Without ‘ethical culture’ there is no salvation for humanity,” the great physicist and Humanist observed.
That thought, we are convinced, is the greatest idea in the world.
Edward L. Ericson
The Humanist Way—An Introduction to Ethical Humanist Religion ©