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Forum – Humanism vs religion in cultural ethical & practical functions

The Humanist Association of Toronto

Every Saturday we meet to discuss a topic decided upon the previous week. These are topics of humanist interest, from a humanist perspective.

The topic of the discussion will be decided in a prior meeting, usually two weeks in advance. This week’s topic is: “Religion & Humanism: Function in Society, Past and Present” by HAT member Karen Lynn. Join us, won’t you?
John Shook in an article for the Center for Inquiry, Christian Humanism, Religious Humanism, and Secular Humanism at writes:

Christian humanism was essential to the rise of democracy in Europe, as thinkers from John Locke to Thomas Jefferson argued for liberty of body and spirit by appealing to our status as divinely created beings. Christians championed human rights during the formative era for modern democracy. While a few atheists such as Hobbes, Voltaire, and Paine cheered on the fight, the reformers who wielded political power were Christians.

Our ability to sustain life on this planet is now under serious question. One genetic strain of humanism might not be enough. Humanism may need all its varieties to provide a positive answer.

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Stephen Pinker, in Enlightenment Now (2018) says:

Some Eastern religions, including Confucianism and varieties of Buddhism, always grounded their ethics in human welfare rather than divine dictates. Many Jewish and Christian denominations have become humanistic, soft-pedaling their legacy of supernatural beliefs and ecclesiastical authority in favor of reason and universal human flourishing.

Evolution helps explain another foundation of secular morality: our capacity for sympathy…Evolution thus selects for the moral sentiments: sympathy, trust, gratitude, guilt, shame, forgiveness, and righteous anger. With sympathy installed in our in our psychological makeup, it can be expanded by reason and experience to encompass all sentient beings.


1. Since there is a ‘foundation for secular morality’ attended by sympathy etc., and since ‘our ability to sustain life on this planet is now under serious question’, how, in practical terms, should humanists express their ‘ethics in human welfare’?

2. Religious institutions have been providing for the welfare of their adherents for many years. They provide shelter, food, counselling, and clothing. And the right to do so is entrenched in governments and societies. Some institutions have become wealthy. Should humanism develop along similar lines? More of the same or something different?

3. How should humanism develop to manifest the compassion for humanity that it purports to have?

Meet our diverse group, trade perspectives in a free and open forum and learn from others as they learn from you!

BTW: don’t be concerned if there are not many RSVP’s. Many HAT members attend regularly but don’t sign up on Meetup. Our online meetings have been very popular with 20-30 attendees.

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