STUDY TWO: SECULAR HUMANISM

© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015

Secular humanism is the mental framework that has formed and dominates contemporary society. Its thought patterns are exclusively concerned with human interests and human activities. It holds a view of ‘man’ that excludes all concepts of God or anything supernatural. The human being, not God, is the centre and measure of all things. In our own hands we hold both our individual and global destinies.

Schaeffer: ‘Humanism in the larger, more inclusive sense is the system whereby men and women, beginning absolutely by themselves, try rationally to build out from themselves, having only Man as their integration point, to find all knowledge, meaning and value.’ p 9 Complete Works, Vol 1
 
Secular humanism is not a harmless ideology quietly drifting in as we forget about God; rather it is an aggressive, planned strategy to rid the world of God. Expressed by Huxley in The Humanist Manifesto I and II in 1933 and 1973, the humanist philosophy is deliberately and aggressively atheistic and man-centred, presenting itself as an alternative religion, and actually being recognized as a religion by the United States government in 1961.

A. THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMANISM

Francis Schaeffer in his book How Then Should We Live? traces the development of humanistic thought. Below are a few quotes from this book. [Page numbers from The Complete Works of Francis A Schaeffer.]

‘Beginning from man alone, Renaissance humanism – and humanism ever since – has found no way to arrive at universals or absolutes which give meaning to existence and morals.’ p104

‘Man made himself increasingly independent and autonomous, and with this came an increasing loss of anything which gave meaning, either to the individual things in the world or to man. With this we begin to see the dilemma of humanism which is still with us today.’ p113

‘It is worth reiterating the ways in which the infiltration by humanistic thought – growing over the years but fully developed by 1500 – showed itself. First, the authority of the church was made equal to the authority of the Bible. Second, a strong element of human work was added to the work of Christ for salvation. Third, after Thomas Aquinas there had come an increasing synthesis between biblical teaching and pagan thought. … The various branches of the Reformation had differences among themselves, but together they constituted one system – a unity – in contrast to the humanism which had come into the church on one side and to Erasmian humanism on the outside. …One could say that the Renaissance centered in autonomous man, while the Reformation centered in the infinite-personal God who had spoken in the Bible. In the answer the Reformation gave, the problem of meaning for individual things, including man, was so completely answered that the problem – as a problem – did not exist.’ p122-123.

‘The humanist elements which had risen during the Renaissance came to flood tide in the Enlightenment. Here was man starting from himself absolutely … To the Enlightenment thinkers, man and society were perfectible.’ p148

‘… humanism has no final way of saying certain things are right and other things are wrong. For a humanist, the final thing which exists – that is, the impersonal universe – is neutral and silent about right and wrong, cruelty and noncruelty. Humanism has no way to provide absolutes. Thus, as a consistent result of humanism’s position, humanism in private morals and political life is left with that which is arbitrary.’ p152.

Schaeffer proceeds to explain the humanistic basis of the French Revolution, Marxism, Hitler’s Nazism and Communism, and the popular acceptance of Darwin’s evolutionary theory and Huxley’s Humanist Manifesto.

 

B. WHAT HUMANISM TEACHES

Among the fifteen points of The Humanist Manifesto I are the following [in summary form] that specifically stand in contrast to Biblical concepts:

1. The universe is self-existing and not created.
2. Man is part of nature and emerged as the result of a continuous process.
3. Rejection of the traditional dualism of mind and body.
4. Religion is the result of the evolution of culture.
5. Modern science invalidates any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values.
6. Theism, deism and modernism are out of date.
7. Religion consists of actions, purposes and experiences that are humanly significant.
8. The complete realization of the human personality is the end of man’s life.
9. Prayer and worship are replaced by personal life and promotion of social well-being.
10. There are no uniquely religious attitudes and emotions.

This quote is taken from a summary statement at the end of the fifteen points:

‘Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement. He must set intelligence and will to the task.’

Recently The Humanist Manifesto III has been written and embraced. Below are two expressions of this updated manifesto.

Study task: Read through these statements and underline statements that seem to you to be contrary to the Scriptures.

[1] Humanist Manifesto 2000

1. Preamble
Humanism is an ethical, scientific, and philosophical outlook that has changed the world. Its heritage traces back to the philosophers and poets of ancient Greece and Rome, Confucian China, and the Charvaka movement in classical India. Humanist artists, writers, scientists, and thinkers have been shaping the modern era for over half a millennium. Indeed, humanism and modernism have often seemed synonymous for humanist ideas and values express a renewed confidence in the power of human beings to solve their own problems and conquer uncharted frontiers.

II. Prospects for a Better Future
For the first time in human history we possess the means provided by science and technology to ameliorate the human condition, advance happiness and freedom, and enhance human life for all people on this planet.

III. Scientific Naturalism
The unique message of humanism on the current world scene is its commitment to scientific naturalism. Most world views accepted today are spiritual, mystical, or theological in character. They have their origins in ancient pre-urban, nomadic, and agricultural societies of the past, not in the modern industrial or postindustrial global information culture that is emerging. Scientific naturalism enables human beings to construct a coherent world view disentangled from metaphysics or theology and based on the sciences.

IV. The Benefits of Technology
Humanists have consistently defended the beneficent values of scientific technology for human welfare. Philosophers from Francis Bacon to John Dewey have emphasized the increased power over nature that scientific knowledge affords and how it can contribute immeasurably to human advancement and happiness.

V. Ethics and Reason
The realization of the highest ethical values is essential to the humanist outlook. We believe that growth of scientific knowledge will enable humans to make wiser choices. In this way there is no impenetrable wall between fact and value, is and ought. Using reason and cognition will better enable us to appraise our values in the light of evidence and by their consequences.

VI. A Universal Commitment to Humanity as a Whole
The overriding need of the world community today is to develop a new Planetary Humanism—one that seeks to preserve human rights and enhance human freedom and dignity, but also emphasizes our commitment to humanity as a whole. The underlying ethical principle of Planetary Humanism is the need to respect the dignity and worth of all persons in the world community.

VII. A Planetary Bill of Rights and Responsibilities
To fulfil our commitment to Planetary Humanism, we offer a Planetary Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, which embodies our planetary commitment to the well-being of humanity as a whole. It incorporates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but goes beyond it by offering some new provisions. Many independent countries have sought to implement these provisions within their own national borders. But there is a growing need for an explicit Planetary Bill of Rights and Responsibilities that applies to all members of the human species.

VIII. A New Global Agenda
Many of the high ideals that emerged following the Second World War, and that found expression in such instruments as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have waned through the world. If we are to influence the future of humankind, we will need to work increasingly with and through the new centers of power and influence to improve equity and stability, alleviate poverty, reduce conflict, and safeguard the environment.

IX. The Need for New Planetary Institutions
The urgent question in the twenty-first century is whether humankind can develop global institutions to address these problems. Many of the best remedies are those adopted on the local, national, and regional level by voluntary, private, and public efforts. One strategy is to seek solutions through free-market initiatives; another is to use international voluntary foundations and organizations for educational and social development. We believe, however, that there remains a need to develop new global institutions that will deal with the problems directly and will focus on the needs of humanity as a whole. These include the call for a bicameral legislature in the United Nations, with a World Parliament elected by the people, an income tax to help the underdeveloped countries, the end of the veto in the Security Council, an environmental agency, and a world court with powers of enforcement.

X. Optimism about the Human Prospect
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as members of the human community on this planet we need to nurture a sense of optimism about the human prospect. Although many problems may seem intractable, we have good reasons to believe that we can marshal our talent to solve them, and that by goodwill and dedication a better life will be attainable by more and more members of the human community. Planetary humanism holds forth great promises for humankind. We wish to cultivate a sense of wonder and excitement about the potential opportunities for realizing enriched lives for ourselves and for generations yet to be born.’ [sourced from https://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php/1169]

 

[2] Humanism and its inspirations
'[Humanist Manifesto III, a successor to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933*]

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfilment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

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. This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfilment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain that it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours  and ours alone.’
 
* Humanist Manifesto  is a trademark of the American Humanist Association— c 2003 American Humanist Association'
[from http://americanhumanist.org/Humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_III ]


In brief, the basic teachings of secular humanism are simple:

[1] There is no such thing as ‘god’ (thus secular humanism is also atheism).
[2] ‘Nature’, of which man is the most developed part, is all that exists.
[3] We are capable of and responsible for fulfilling our own destiny.
[4] Our own happiness and development is all we should aim for.
[5] Religion works contrary to the humanists’ goals.

We need to be aware that these are the teachings embraced by many in positions of power and authority: by educators, by media personnel, by politicians, by writers, and by some supposed ministers of the Gospel. These beliefs either bombard us directly or subtly make inroads into our thought patterns from almost every direction. Their impact is felt right through our society and into the mind of the church.

Research Task: Identify Scripture texts or concepts which stand in contrast to the statements or phrases you underlined in the humanist statements above. Discuss how you would use these Scriptural truths to combat humanistic beliefs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

C. WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF SECULAR HUMANIST BELIEFS?

While the teaching can be simply expressed, its implications are deep and complex:

Implications about God:

[1] If there is no God, then the Bible is not his Word and Jesus is not his Son.
[2] If there is no God, then his so called commands are not valid.
[3] If there is no God, no Word of God and no command, then there is no sin.
[4] If there is no sin then I can decide for myself what is right and wrong.
[5] In fact there is no absolute right and wrong.
[6] If there is no sin there is no need for either a Saviour or salvation.
[7] The entire Christian message is redundant and a lie.
[8] Jesus is just a man who lived and died.

Implications about ‘me’:

[1] If God is not there, he didn’t create me.
[2] If God didn’t create me I have no more significance than a tadpole.
[3] If God is not there he is not looking after me.
[4] If he is not looking after me I stand alone, with no one to depend on, in a hostile world in which every individual is looking out for himself.
[5] If God is not there, when I die my death is no more than the death of a tree; there is no meaning, no purpose, no goal. I might as well have not lived.
[6] If God is not there, he cannot save me from my inner lostness, my inner alienation, my inner despair and meaninglessness, my guilt and shame. All that is left to me is to attempt to pull myself up by my own bootlaces.

 

D. CONTEMPORARY IMPACT OF SECULAR HUMANISM

Schaeffer: ‘We are in a time when humanism is coming to its natural conclusions in morals, in values, and in law. All that society has today are relative values based upon statistical averages.’ P143 Vol 2.

It is out of this womb of secular humanism that many of our contemporary problems and confrontational issues have been born, for example:

[1] The readily observable decline in moral standards, both personal and legislated, is directly the product of the absence of God. In discarding God our society has discarded also his absolute moral standards, taking on board a system of ethics which is self-governing (according to what is the ‘norm’) and situational. Right and wrong no longer exist as absolutes, but vary from person to person, from day to day, and from situation to situation. I decide what is right for me. Or, collectively, we, through our government, legalize behaviour which as a society we now accept. In our life time we have seen the government facilitating divorce, recognizing  de facto relationships, condoning extra-marital relationships in young people, considering the legalization of homosexual relationships, and so on. If the spiral continues there is nothing to stop the acceptance of polygamy, incest, paedophilia and bestiality. Without absolute standards imposed by an outside-of-me God, who will, and who can, draw the line?

[2] Similarly, attitudes to the taking of life have been coloured by the absence of God. Here we are confronted by the question of abortion and by the euthanasia debate. If these are allowed and legalised the next in line will be the extension of permission to abort relative to sex preferences, infanticide in the case of deformed babies, non-voluntary euthanasia of the helpless elderly and others who are a burden to society, and so on. This godless mindset drove Marxist Germany to these practices, and also to genocide. God and his law give significance and dignity to the human: secular humanism, discarding God, discards also the uniqueness of human life, and thus renders human life as disposable as animal life, and of no more intrinsic value than animal life.

[3] We have seen over the last few decades an incredible increase in depression and suicide. Much is said about loss of self-esteem and low self-image. Young girls are experiencing the slow death of anorexia nervosa. Tens of thousands are addicted to drugs. All of this points to the despair and meaninglessness of trying to live in the absence of God.

[Read Schaeffer’s Whatever Happened to the Human Race for insight into the horrific impacts of humanism.]

 

E. WHAT CAN WE DO?

[1] As Christians we must be alert to the inroads secular humanism has made and is making into our own value systems and into the mind of the church. We must stand back and take an honest look at ourselves as individuals, and collectively as the church.

[2] We must discipline ourselves to bring every thought into submission to God and his absolute standards.

[3] We must refuse to allow the man-centred religion of secular humanism to divert our focus from God and his glory and onto the human and the supposed ‘human rights’.  By deposing God secular humanism thinks that it gives dignity and significance to the human: rather, life in the absence of God not only robs us of our essential dignity, but also casts us adrift in a hopeless, meaningless vortex.

[4] Because this is the case we must also as Christians, relate with great understanding and compassion to the confused, despairing casualties of our humanistic society.


F. BIBLICAL INPUT

Biblical research:
Read these scriptures. In what way do they portray the mindset of humanism?
Genesis 3:5

Genesis 11:1-9

Judges 17:2


Now read these. How do they describe the importance of our minds in our commitment to live for God?
Romans 12:1,2

 

Ephesians 4:17-19

 

ADDITIONAL NOTES:
1] There is a great distinction between secular humanism, described above, and humanitarianism, which is, briefly, a commendable, active concern for the well being of humans, especially those who are suffering.

2] There are a number of terms we need to remember to help us recognize secular humanism within the church: liberalism and modernism when applied to the study of the Bible indicate a rejection of the supernatural and of the divine origin of the Bible. Situation ethics indicates a rejection of the Biblical absolutes of right and wrong.