Humanism and the world’s religions are all philosophies – ideas that guide our behaviour and investigate the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. To that extent they are in the same ballpark. But humanism is not a religion: it is not based on belief in the supernatural.
However, as its history shows, humanism didn’t arrive fully formed in the 20th century as a philosophy for atheists and agnostics. It grew alongside and intertwined with religious thought from earliest times. Many great humanists over the centuries were also believers. Religion and belief in god span spectrums from rejection of worldly things to intense engagement with the world; from private piety to the highly political; from non-conformist to totalitarian. Opinions amongst humanists vary – as you would expect – as to how far religions and faith have contributed to human misery on one hand and human joy on the other.
A lot of Humanism’s dna, or history, is shared with religions, and sometimes we share the same goals, for instance when religion is focused on love, beauty and peace. So to make ‘non-belief’ the defining root of humanism is possibly to erect a false wall between humanism and religious faiths.
Today, those people and movements which promote social justice and human rights – including freedom of conscience – have more in common with each other than with those, nominally on their side of the faith divide, who advocate extreme or fundamentalist views which lead to violence and oppression.
This Wikipedia page gives a taste of the connections and clashes between humanism and religious thought.
Richard Norman, Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Kent and Vice-President of the BHA, is good on humanism and religion in ‘On Humanism’, 2004.
Trends in church going and beliefs in the UK
The British Social Attitudes Survey 28 (2011) showed that half the population do not follow a religion. That rose from one third, 30 years ago, and is increasing as less religious generations replace more religious ones. The Church of England lost half its followers in the same period and the survey said there was little evidence that substantial numbers find religion as they get older.
Only 14% of those who belong to or were brought up in a religion attend weekly services.
In the 2014 BSA survey, 50.6% of the population said directly that they had no religion, up from 47.7% in 2013. Just 41.7% regard themselves as Christian, the lowest ever figure.