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Can Humanists and Atheists Break Free From Human Supremacism?

Sentientism, humanism and atheism (generally speaking) share a naturalistic worldview that uses evidence and reason to ground our beliefs and credences. While many humanists and atheists do already share Sentientism’s “compassion for all sentient beings” and seem more likely to put that into practice than the general population – it’s fair to say that the centres of gravity of these movements remain firmly anthropocentric – even human supremacist.

Change is happening though – as you’d expect of any movement that includes this passage in its manifesto:

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

Humanist Manifesto III

I had the pleasure of talking in two humanist and atheist spaces recently. First, Amy Halpern-Laff organised for us to take a “headline Saturday night slot” at the American Humanist Association annual conference to talk about Sentientism. You can find our discussion and the following Q&A session here:

Second, I joined Nathan and Todd of the Beyond Atheism podcast. You can listen to our episode here on Apple and here on all the other platforms.

Please let the hosts and me know what you think. I’m always keen to hear feedback on how best to engage constructively and clearly on these often challenging topics. As ever, these conversations include plenty of personal perspectives with which other sentientists may well disagree!

As a final indicator of change in the Humanism movement here’s Andrew Copson in a recent video setting out a compelling case for Sentientism! Andrew is the CEO of Humanists UK (which has already updated its definition of Humanism to include “a concern for human beings and other sentient animals”) and President of Humanists International (which has also updated its definition to include “we feel a duty of care to all of humanity, including future generations, and beyond this to all sentient beings.”) Unfortunately, in his introductory definition of Humanism at the beginning of the video non-human sentients aren’t mentioned at all: “Humanism… centres questions of human well-being, human welfare, human fulfilment”. Although the initial animal cited is the easy example of the companion dog – human-caused suffering through food systems, animal testing & labour exploitation are mentioned. The obvious implication that we should end these practices remains unsaid, unimplemented and unrepresented in Humanist policies or campaigns. We still have a way to go…

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