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Humanists are sometimes accused of being ‘materialists’. This word is ambiguous. If people mean by ‘materialist’ someone who ultimately values only the possession of money and material goods, then humanists are no more likely to be materialist than anyone else.
Of course, a person must have a certain level of material comfort in order to live a happy life, but humanists typically value many things other than material prosperity and have a kaleidoscope of values. They may value the natural world, fellow feeling, loving intimacies, family and friends, the qualities of toleration, fairness, compassion, play and humour.
The term ‘materialist’ also denotes people who believe that a proper understanding of human beings and the world should not make reference to immaterial souls and supernatural gods – to things other than the physical, in fact.
In this sense, humanists are materialists – but note that this is in a very technical philosophical sense! Even within this meaning, some humanists believe that human beings cannot be ultimately understood in the terms used by scientists. After all, are there any scientific laws that use concepts such as ‘promising’ and ‘awe’?
Still, even this position rejects the idea that there need be any reference to souls or gods.