Secular Humanism and Freedom

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Freedom is important to secular humanists.

To enhance freedom and dignity the individual must experience a full range of civil liberties in all societies. This includes freedom of speech and the press, political democracy, the legal right of opposition to governmental policies, fair judicial process, religious liberty, freedom of association, and artistic, scientific and cultural freedom. It also includes a recognition of an individual’s right to die with dignity, euthanasia, and the right to suicide. We oppose the increasing invasion of privacy, by whatever means, in both totalitarian and democratic societies. [1]

Again, they affirm

We are committed to an open and democratic society. We must extend participatory democracy in its true sense to the economy, the school, the family, the workplace, and voluntary associations. Decision-making must be decentralized to include wide-spread involvement of people at all levels – social, political, and economic. All persons should have a voice in developing the values and goals that determine their lives. Institutions should be responsive to expressed desires and needs. The conditions of work, education, devotion, and play should be humanized. Alienating forces should be modified or eradicated and bureaucratic structures should be held to a minimum. People are more important than decalogues, rules, proscriptions, or regulations. [2]

Kurtz wrote in A Secular Humanist Declaration,

As democratic secularists, we consistently defend the ideal of freedom, not only freedom of conscience and belief from those ecclesiastical, political, and economic interests that seek to repress them, but genuine political liberty, democratic decision-making based upon majority rule, and respect for minority rights and the rule of law. [3]

Freedom is a biblical concept. God gave man free will by allowing man to choose for himself how he could act. Civil liberty is also a biblical idea. The Israelites were to “consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev. 25:10). During the Year of Jubilee, indentured servants were to be freed (Lev. 25:39-43). Paul also wrote to the Corinthians, “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so” (1 Cor. 7:21).

Because God has given man free will, Christians dare not impose their beliefs on others. They cannot impose their beliefs, for God himself was not willing to impose his standard of right and wrong on humanity. But, because Christians should not impose their beliefs on others does not mean that they should do nothing. God’s children have a God-given responsibility to speak out about moral issues. Christians should be more than willing to engage individuals in dialogue and seek to persuade them of the truthfulness of Christianity, but not coerce them into accepting truth.

The aims of their humanist freedom are misguided. According to Humanist Manifesto II, freedom includes “a recognition of an individual’s right to die with dignity, euthanasia, and the right to suicide.” [4] The secular humanists’ support of euthanasia can be seen in a recent press release dealing with the Oregon right-do-die law before the United States Supreme Court. The statement read

Aggressively challenged by the Bush Administration, the Oregon law, by aiming to provide comfort to the terminally ill, and by giving doctors latitude in making the dying process as comfortable as possible for their patients, makes death with dignity a reality. “This is not an issue of the ‘right to die,’ it is about comfort through the living years and providing the right to reasonable self-determination to those in unyielding pain during the last stages of their life,” said Roy Seckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. [5]

Because the student had dealt with euthanasia following Terri Schiavo’s death, he saw no reason to deal specifically with the issue at this point in the lesson.

The root problem seems to be that the humanists want to throw off ethical constraints and say, “Whatever I have the freedom to do is the right thing to do.” That, however, is a gross misuse of freedom. Individuals legally have the right to engage in many activities: adultery, alcohol abuse, pornography, and the like. However, legal freedom – even free will as given by God – does not make an activity right. Paul told the Galatians, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the [flesh]; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13). The student realizes Paul spoke of religious freedom, namely, freedom from the Law of Moses. However, the principle is that individuals need to use freedom responsibly.

The desire for democratic decision-making undermines God-given authority. The student reminded the congregation of the statements given above from Humanist Manifesto II and A Secular Humanist Declaration concerning democratic decision-making. “In a democracy the will of the people is supreme.” [6] Scripture does not endorse the idea of a democracy but a republic. In a republic, the people choose representatives who then make law. [7] When Moses appointed judges over the people, he told the people, “Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you” (Deut. 1:13). When the Grecian Jews were complaining that their widows were being neglected, the Twelve told the church, “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them” (Acts 6:3).

Secular humanists want to extend democratic rule far too much; “We must extend participatory democracy in its true sense to the economy, the school, the family, the workplace, and voluntary associations.” [8] Schools cannot function with participatory democracy. Are teachers to take a vote among their students as to whether or not homework should be done? Should teachers take a vote among their students as to whether 2 plus 2 equals 4 or 5? Families cannot function with participatory democracy. Would the children have an equal vote with their parents? [9] Should parents take a vote to see what moral values are held in their home? Should parents take a vote to see whether kids should get to play unsupervised next to a busy highway? Humanists also want participatory democracy in “voluntary associations.” Would they include the church as a voluntary association needing participatory democracy? Would congregations take votes as to whether or not they needed to immerse or sprinkle for baptism? Would congregations take votes as to whether to continue the practice of a cappella singing or to introduce instrumental music?

Secular humanists also desire freedom through making the autonomous individual the fundamental unity in society. They have written

The preciousness and dignity of the individual person is a central humanist value. Individuals should be encouraged to realize their own creative talents and desires. We reject all religious, ideological, or moral codes that denigrate the individual, suppress freedom, dull intellect, dehumanize personality. We believe in maximum individual autonomy consonant with social responsibility. Although science can account for the causes of behavior, the possibilities of individual freedom of choice exist in human life and should be increased. [10]

Freedom through individual autonomy destroys the family as society’s basic unit. [11] Because individual freedom involves pursuing one’s own sexual interests, families are becoming dramatically different; for example, many people today live together without marriage, many people live together as homosexuals, and many seek their sexual fulfillment outside of marriage. Through individual freedom, husbands would no longer be the heads of their families, nor would wives be subject to their husbands. Through individual freedom, parents would not have authority over their children.

Individual freedom is not the highest achievement one can attain. The church includes individuals who have chosen to give up their autonomy and bind themselves together. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). Paul’s statement sounds drastically different than any idea of autonomous individuals; individuals cannot do whatever they choose, but they must consider how their behavior will affect others. Paul made that point in Romans 14:13-18:

Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

According to secular humanists, “People are more important than decalogues, rules, proscriptions, or regulations.” [12] Christians, however, recognize that God’s laws are not given arbitrarily, but that they serve an important role for man. About the Sabbath commandment, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). In other words, God did not arbitrarily decide to give a Sabbath commandment, but he knew man needed rest. Speaking of the Old Testament, Paul said, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law” (Rom. 7:7). Although Paul speaks specifically of the Old Testament law, an important principle is at work here: God’s law serves to inform man of God’s moral standards. The law, then, allows man to know what is right and wrong and what he needs to do to have fellowship with God. Concerning law, Paul told Timothy

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and lairs and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me (1 Tim. 1:8-11).

Law serves to retrain the actions of the ungodly. Again, an important principle is at work from the Old Testament law: the laws of this nation and state serve to some extent to restrain ungodly behavior. Therefore, laws have been enacted against murder, embezzlement, thievery, and the like.

[1]Humanist Manifesto II, Seventh.

[2]Ibid., Eighth.

[3]Kurtz, Humanist Declaration, 13.

[4]Humanist Manifesto II, Seventh.

[5]American Humanist Association, “Religious Freedom at Risk in Death with Dignity Case,” American Humanist Association, (accessed October 8, 2005).

[6]Woods, Disciplining, 11.


[8]Humanist Manifesto II, Eighth.

[9]Humanists “would give children authority equal to that of their parents in all family matters,” Robert L. Waggoner, “Sound the Alarm: The Goals of Humanism,” (accessed October 9, 2005).

[10]Humanist Manifesto II, Fifth.

[11]Waggoner, “Sound the Alarm.”

[12]Humanist Manifesto II, Eighth.

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