Overview:

If there is no supernatural realm and no referent for the word ‘God,’ then everything humans do is human and this-worldly, even religion.

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Ten years ago, the American Humanist Association ran a clever campaign quoting any number of famed religious people, noting that a given quote sure “Sounds Like Humanism.”

The idea was this: You people are really one of us, even if you don’t openly admit it.

Ancient Christian intellectuals did the same thing, making the extravagant claim that everything beautiful and humane in pagan Greek and Roman philosophy, literature, and art was really Christian. Their reasoning was that anything truly brilliant and genuinely civilizing and lovely must be a type of the true religion.

In the 20th Century, a few Christian intellectuals performed something similar and spoke of non-Christians who by dint of personal excellence were ‘anonymous Christians’—even if that ‘anonymity’ extended to refusing every syllable of Christian belief and practice. The good Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Atheist were anonymous Christians.

That’s a slick trick maneuver and one that secularists should perform all the time: “You are really one of us” and “That’s really ours.” The religious saint of uncommon virtue is really a humanist, and that cathedral is really a humanist triumph, and that Mass in B Minor is a humanist jewel.

Humanists can call excellent Christians or outstanding Muslims or exceptional Hindus or any other highly talented religionists an ‘Anonymous Humanist.’

If there is no supernatural realm and no referent for the word ‘God,’ then everything humans do is human and this-worldly, even religion; and so humanists can claim all that’s good within religion is really (and simply) humanist.

From the humanist’s perspective, all religions are inventions of human imagination, products of secular ingenuity, and that means the best within the religions are mere human creations and may be appropriated by humanists and claimed as secular.

The religious saint of uncommon virtue is really a humanist, and that cathedral is a humanist triumph, and that Mass in B Minor is a humanist jewel.

If religionists ever produced high fluttering ethical rules, humanists may assert those rules as their own because no God ever gave humanity a moral decree; humans made those moral decrees.

If religionists ever constructed a beautiful building, humanists may mark the structure as a humanist offering and a product of human inspiration.

And if religionists ever created works of literary merit, humanists may take those works as their own because nothing other than humans created those books. If religionists ever made beautiful music, humanists may receive that music as their own.

The ancient Roman playwright Terence (circa 190 BCE) famously said, “Nothing human is foreign to me.” Secularists, humanists, and atheists should amend this statement and make it a motto: “Nothing human is foreign to me, not even religion at its best.”

J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religion since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington...