The Moral Education Of Secular Humanists


The nation's leading Secular Humanists have expressed their philosophy of life and action in four widely publicized documents:

  1. Humanist Manifesto I (1933)
  2. Humanist Manifesto II (1975)
  3. A New Bill of Sexual Rights and Responsibilities (1976)
  4. A Secular Humanist Declaration (1980)

In this last document drafted by Dr. Paul Kurtz and endorsed by 58 prominent scholars and writers we note the following exposition on "Moral Education" as understood by such exponents who publicly avow their denial of the existence of God and their "rejection of the divinity of Jesus" (# 6):

How Secular Humanists Define Moral Education

"Moral Education: We believe that moral development should be cultivated in children and young adults. We do not believe that any particular sect can claim important values as their exclusive property; hence it is the duty of public education to deal with these values. Accordingly, we support moral education in the schools that is designed to develop an appreciation for moral virtues, intelligence, and the building of character. We wish to encourage wherever possible the growth of moral awareness and the capacity for free choice and an understanding of the consequences thereof. We do not think it is moral to baptize infants, to confirm adolescents, or to impose a religious creed on young people before they are able to consent. Although children should learn about the history of religious moral practices, these young minds should not be indoctrinated in a faith before they are mature enough to evaluate the merits for themselves. It should be noted that secular humanism is not so much a specific morality as it is a method for the explanation and discovery of rational moral principles." (# 5)

A few paragraphs earlier the more "specific" agenda of what they term "democratic secular humanism" with regards to moral matters is revealed by Dr. Kurtz and his friends when they declare:

"Morality that is not God-based need not be anti-social, subjective, or promiscuous, nor need it lead to the breakdown of moral standards. Although we believe in tolerating diverse lifestyles and social manners, we do not think they are immune to criticism. Nor do we believe that any one church should impose its views of moral virtue and sin, sexual conduct, marriage, divorce, birth control, or abortion, or legislate them for the rest of society."

The signers of the Declaration make it quite clear that they "deny that morality needs to be deduced from religious belief." (# 4)

Some years ago the Catholic theologian, Fr. Henri de Lubac (now Cardinal de Lubac), wrote a remarkable book "The Drama of Atheist Humanism" (1944) and examined the philosophical and literary roots of the great wave of agnostic, skeptic, and atheist thought which would sweep over the remains of Christendom in modern times. It should be clear to Christians that the "democratic secular humanism" idolized by Dr. Kurtz and his intellectual allies is the current slickly-packaged version of that atheist humanism which seeks to destroy everywhere in the West belief in God and to eliminate from the minds of youth Judaeo-Christian tenets concerning moral behavior. As Prof. James Hitchcock, a leading Catholic observer of contemporary Secular Humanism, has noted:

"Secularists believe that no sincere and intelligent person possible could be a religious believer. Thus all religious belief has to be seen either as fraud or ignorance, and neither has any rights. Secularists are therefore not interested in 'dialogue' with believers. They are interested merely in conversions." (Columbia, July 1979)

Secular Humanist' Claim to a Monopoly of Reason

Many readers of "A Secular Humanist Declaration" will be amused at the pretentious arrogance characterizing the signers' claim to a kind of monopoly on critical intelligence, rationality, intellectual enlightment, scientific integrity, the moral virtues, and appreciation for political freedom and social democracy. Much might be said, moreover, concerning the acute contradictions that characterize Secular Humanism's attempt to sustain a morality without God, to provide a foundation for human values without God the Creator, to discover rational moral principles without a logical reference to their source and ground in a transcendent Deity whom we in Western Civilization call God (and Who is the foundation for all religious and moral obligations). Whereas George Washington, the Father of our country, specifically warned the American people to beware of those who would separate morality from religion, Secular Humanists bend their every effort to construct a moral code without God. They boast of placing their trust in human intelligence rather than divine guidance. Their view is that Revelation is against reason. That, of course, is itself an unreasonable view. Curiously, they remain spiritually myopic concerning Secular Humanism as an ultimate belief-system which may be said to constitute a religion. They react with a certain embarrassment when reminded of Torsaco vs. Watkins (1961) wherein the Supreme Court acknowledged "Secular Humanism" among the "religions" which do not teach the existence of God. It is delicious irony to witness Secular Humanists prostrating themselves before the altar of the public school regarded as sacred ground for the indoctrination of students in purely secular values.

Inherent Contradiction of Secular Humanism

Their exposition on "Moral Education" is riddled with self contradiction. In fact, it is based on a self contradiction as is all relativism. All Moral systems even faulty ones must be based on some moral principles. Let me return to several statements made in the humanist definition of Moral Education, with emphases added:

  1. "We believe that moral development should be cultivated in children and young adults."
  2. "We do not believe that any particular sect can claim important values as their exclusive property; hence it is the duty of public education to deal with these values."
  3. "Although children should learn about the history of religious moral practices, these young minds should not be indoctrinated in a faith before they are mature enough to evaluate the merits for themselves."
  4. "Nor do we believe that any one church should impose its views..."

We have here a few imperatives or moral judgments arrived at by secular humanists. Others are: "We ought not to steal." or "Abortion should be permitted." Such imperatives can never be derived from merely factual or declarative premises. They either are moral principles or must derive from premises at least one of which is an absolute moral principle. Actually secular humanism sets up its own moral system based on its own moral principles, which are the subject matter of indoctrination.

The adamant opposition against indoctrination is therefore self contradictory. It is precisely the purpose of indoctrination to acquaint the student with a set of moral principles. When they state: "Children should learn about..." "Public education should deal with these values:, they are actually advocating indoctrination of their own ideas. Secular Humanism ultimately contradicts itself when it claims for itself a set of moral judgments and values, while at the same time denying that "any particular sect can claim for itself important values". The addition of the words "as their exclusive property" adds to the contradiction since the Secular Humanist statement is claiming truth as its own property; it is actually a sect setting up a list of doctrinaire declarations.

In fact secular humanists claim for themselves the prerogative of being the authentic interpreters of a universal moral law, of "rational moral principles". They implicitly claim to be the universal ethical umbrella group for all humanity. They thus claim a pseudo-catholicity. They also claim that secular humanism is "a method" for the "discovery of moral principles". Thus they come very close to saying: "We are the way, the truth and the life."

We are familiar with the doublespeak of George Orwell's famous "Animal Farm" wherein slavery is termed "freedom", war is termed "peace", and totalitarian dictatorships are termed "peoples' democracies". Similarly, in the 'Declaration' immorality is termed "morality". and true morality is stigmatized as "immoral". Ethics is stood on its head as the Catholic Church (and other Christian communities) are lambasted as "immoral" for daring to baptize children and hand on the Faith "which comes to them from the Apostles". Such "democratic humanist" sentiments toward Christian practice are shared, interestingly enough, by the Communist persecutors of the Church wherever Marxism has triumphed.

Their Major Role in the Sexual Revolution

Not surprisingly, it is in the area of sexual morality that Secular Humanists in the liberal societies of the West pride themselves on the "progress" they have made. As they themselves have put it: "Humanists have had an important role in the sexual revolution." In the January/February 1976 issue of "The Humanist" magazine, Dr. Paul Kurtz published A New Bill of Sexual Rights and Responsibilities which certainly clarifies the meaning of that "morality" which Secular Humanists intend to promote through their "moral education" in the public schools. As Dr. Kurtz observed, the 'New Bill of Sexual Rights and Responsibilities' was endorsed by "humanist the forefront of humanistic sexology". Catholics and other Christians who have been battling sex education in both public and parochial schools these past two decades will recognize the names of some of the prominent sexologists and "sexperts" who have promoted the objectionable programs in the curricula of the nation's schools: Albert Ellis, Sol Gordon, Deryk Calderwood of SIECUS, ex-priest Robert Francoeur, Lester A. Kirkendall (main drafter of the document), Birgitta Linner (author of the influential volume "Sex and Society in Sweden" which paved the way for Swedish-Model Sex Education in U.S. schools), Dr. John Money, and Evelyn S. Gendel. Their 'New Bill' is suffused with sophisticated rhetoric concerning "meaningful human relationships" and "the humanization of morality", and assumes the most elevated moral tone. Suffice it to state here, however, that the following all receive the Imprimatur of the nation's most well-known permissive sexologists: fornication, adultery, contraception, abortion, masturbation, homosexuality and lesbianism, pornography.

Masturbation, for example, is declared to be "a viable mode of satisfaction for many individuals, young and old, and should be fully accepted." Traditional Jewish and Christian moral restrictions on sexual behavior are relegated to the status of "repressive and archaic taboos" and any effort to regulate the most aberrant consequences of sexual behavior by legislative enactments is regarded as "intolerable". "Forms of sexual expressions should not be a matter of legal regulation." The signers of the "A New Bill of Sexual Rights and Responsibilities" thus rhapsodize concerning their philosophy of sexual liberation:

At this point in our history, we human beings are embarking on a wondrous adventure. For the first time we realize that we own our own bodies. Until now our bodies have been in bondage to church or state, which have dictated how we could express our sexuality. We have not been permitted to experience the pleasure and joy of the human body and our sensory nature to their full capacity.

Not Neutral toward Biblical Ethic

It is not surprising that the sexual ethics of the Catholic Church would be singled out for especial opprobrium, with particular attacks on St. Paul and St. Augustine for their "negative" theology of Original Sin and "oppressive" view of the human body and its passions. The literature of Secular Humanism is permeated with a profound animus against the Catholic Church and the biblical ethic. Doctrinaire Secular Humanists are not neutral towards biblical religion. Writing in "The Humanist" (October 1985) Sol Gordon reveals his true sentiments towards the Bible and the Sexual ethic it represents:

  • The Bible is one of the most masochistic, pornographic things we have in terms of humiliation of women. If I were to talk about the real threat to women, I would talk about some of the influence of the Bible...
  • ...There is absolutely no evidence of a causal relationship between pornography and sexual acting out...It doesn't cause anything.

For the last twenty years via sex education and Values Clarification in the schools, "moral education" has undergone a radical revision with disastrous consequences for the conscience formation of both parents and children.
The sad fact is that Secular Humanist moral education has effectively divorced morality from the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and moral value from the objective truth concerning man and human relationships. It is certainly Secular Humanist morality which permeates sex education in the public schools of the nation. It is geared to encouraging the creation of the "morally autonomous" student, i.e., one whose personal freedom in making moral choices is so emphasized, exaggerated, and extolled -- that not only does it not conform to Catholic moral teaching, it is divorced from an objective moral order. Students are exposed to a progressive liberation from the natural order of things (as known by sound metaphysics and rigorous reasoning) and are led to look upon the teaching of the Church as a morally coercive instrument of an antiquated "conventional morality". The moral teaching of the Church is, in effect, replaced by the sophisticated rhetoric of a sophistical "Situation Ethics". This "Do Your Own Thing" Ethics substitutes subjective and arbitrary opinions (stemming from the desire to justify the basest passions) -- for judgments based on objective truth.

Is Indoctrination an Evil?

Comment should be made concerning the Secular Humanists' pejorative use of the word "indoctrination". In their outlook, "indoctrination" is considered an evil, the expression of sectarian ideology, the antithesis of the democratic process, the enemy of personal freedom. The Church, interestingly, has never had this kind of bias and prejudice against indoctrination - which, after all means nothing more than teaching a doctrine.

To superficial observers, the indoctrination characteristic of the Church or its Catholic schools may well appear to be the same as that engaged in by the Nazis, Communists, the vegetarians, Moonies, Hari Krishna devotees, Jonestown fanatics, or the advocates of Secular Humanist Moral Education. How can the indoctrination by these latter groups be regarded as evil or erroneous or misguided while that by Christians be regarded as good and desirable? The question is a critical one. The answer lies in the fact that the teaching of such questionable groups does violence to human nature, to natural truths demonstrated by reason, and to the ultimate free will of the person. Divine Revelation englightens man's reason, and awakens his conscience. The Church teaches and sanctifies him.

Even while ostensibly condemning all indoctrination as evil and as an unwarranted infringement on personal freedom, Secular Humanists in reality continue hypocritically indoctrinating students with their prejudices against objective natural law morality and the so-called "authoritarianism" of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is much more humble and realistic in assessing the nature of the educational process. It has never been afraid to confess frankly and honestly that it does teach, and makes no apologies for instructing its sons and daughters in that sacred doctrine unfolding God's plan for mankind. The Church will never apologize for giving its faithful - and especially its little ones - that healthy food for the mind, for which human nature has an instinctive appetite: knowledge of God, of self in relationship with God and all His creation. That is the one kind of "indoctrination" which is wholly justifiable and which is desperately needed - and which the Church as the "Pillar and Ground of the Truth" will defend to the end. It is an inevitable feature of Secular Humanist indoctrination in Situation Ethics that the Church's fixed moral teaching will appear as "authoritarian", "paternalistic", "moralistic", legalistic", the enemy of personal freedom, etc. Such buzzwords are staple fare of contemporary media hostile to the classical and Christian tradition of civility and decency. It remains profoundly true that all the talk about "values" characterizing "A Secular Humanist Declaration" (and the other Humanist Manifestoes) in the last analysis does not mean objective values but rather anything which satisfies our decadent secular liberal intelligentsia. Opposition to it is not tolerated. The bias against any indoctrination masks an absolutist hostility to a realistic metaphysics as well as to Christian dogma, and actually involves a servile adherence to the moral relativism embodied in Situation Ethics.

A Christian Social Order Best Antidote To Secular Humanist Threat

In conclusion, the concept of "moral education" as understood and propagated in "A Secular Humanist Declaration" is one which undermines man's intrinsic dignity (stemming from his existence in this world as a creature made in the image and likeness of God). Doctrinaire Secular Humanists are utterly opposed to Christianity, and in their radical attempt to divorce morality from theistic religion, actually destroy the idea of a universal moral law binding man to act in a certain way. As a consequence, when they attempt to establish some norm of morality for man, they can appeal to nothing more than an enlightened self-interest. Unfortunately for them, such "enlightened self-interest" quickly dissolves into subjectivity; society is plunged into chaos since the "enlightened self-interest" of individuals will vary profoundly from person to person. It is ironic that this dream of a secular liberal society contains the seeds of its own destruction for it is continually exposed to the disease of moral and sexual permissiveness, thus making social cohesion impossible. It is well-known that moral permissiveness in our society is already far advanced. Its destructive consequences with regard to the intrinsic dignity of the individual, the welfare of the family and the common good of entire nations can be met only by the establishment of a genuine Christian social order. The social dimension of the Gospel as set forth in the authentic decrees of the Second Vatican Council remains to be implemented in our own society. It is this task of realizing a Christian social order that the Second Vatican Council has entrusted the Catholic Laity. The current challenge of Secular Humanism, especially in the crucial areas of education and the media, should spur all Christians to greater efforts in this regard. Let us no longer hesitate; let those who have not yet done so, begin.

(The above address was recently delivered at a Conference on Secular Humanism in north Detroit that was co-sponsored by the American Council on Economics and Society (ACES), Catholics United For the Faith (CUF), the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), and the Thomas More Institute of Liberal Arts).
This article appeared in the February 1986' issue of "LAY WITNESS" the fine Catholic magazine of Catholics United for the Faith.

Dissent from the not compatible with being a "good Catholic".
- Pope John Paul II -