Before being able to discuss existential humanism as a religion, we first need to come up with a working definition of what religion actually is. If you ask people on the street how they would define it, a common response, especially where Abrahamic religions are popular, might be that religion requires a belief in God. However, there are many atheistic religions in the world such as Buddhism and in the USA the government recognizes atheism itself as a religion. Atheism is discussed more fully is a separate section, and for the purposes of a universal definition we can conclude that supernatural entities are not necessary for a religion.
A: Religion has no requirement for God or gods.
Another response a person may give is that religion is a belief system. However, humanist religions and others who extol questioning do not require belief. Belief and faith are certainly part of many religions and they are discussed more fully here, but for the purposes of a universal definition, belief is not a requirement.
B: Religion has no requirement for belief or faith.
Perhaps a more appropriate approach is not to ask ‘what’ religion is, but ‘why’ it is? Why do we have it? From this approach we come up with religion is a set of core principles that someone lives their life by, or the means to seek knowledge and truth, to answer the question of where they fit into the universe. We could refer to this as a worldview.
C: Religion satisfies a need for answers to the big questions such as where does an individual fit in to the world/universe.
Humans are social creatures, and religion is also is a social construct offering the individual a sense of belonging or community with other people with like minds.
D: Religion includes a community of other people who share a similar worldview.
By examining the ‘why’ one comes up with a working definition of religion, then, as something that meets the individual needs of (1) answers to life questions, and (2) a sense of community.
Existentialism can certainly meet the first need by providing the means to understand the relationship of the individual with the world they live in, but leaves one alone without any human interaction.
Humanism does satisfy the social need, but as an organized religion it focuses on the group, promoting humanism itself rather than addressing the needs of the individual.
Flexibility and truth
Humans have the need to ask questions about everything, an insatiable desire to search for truth. Most religions attempt to provide the answers, but by providing static answers and clinging to established dogma they do not allow for the dynamic of change as new information is discovered. It is, therefore, important to have an understanding of what truth actually is, and the details are provided here.
Existential humanism recognizes truth as a working dynamic and accepts the scientific method as the means to find answers. Thus, making it the only religion that has a built in dynamic to always have the most up to date version of the truth.
Science and religion
Religion can employ questioning and the scientific method, and in fact many religions did so until those questions and resulting answers caused people to question the core principles of what their particular religion was about. A good example here is with Christianity during the first millennium where ‘science’ was conducted by the church, until time of Galileo caused such a rift.
The ideal religion
Using the working definition of religion as (a) a set of core principles upon which people base their lives and (b) provides a sense of community with like minded people, the ideal religion will have the following characteristics:
Answers an individual’s need for knowledge
Is focused on the individual
Shared worldview with others
Flexible, allowing for updates as new information is available
Tolerant of other points of view
.. Simone de Beauvoir, in her book The Ethics of Ambiguity, argues that embracing our own personal freedom requires us to fight for the freedoms of all humanity. This sentiment can most appropriately be used when discussing freedom of religion and strongly suggests that the ideal religion is one that recognizes all other religions equally and respects the choices made by other people to subscribe to them.