By: Paul Murano – October, 2010
I went to a debate the other night between Humanists and Christians sponsored by the Chesterton Society of Worcester on the question of which offers the greater hope for humanity. I was impressed by the good will displayed between both groups, but it wasn’t too long before I realized those representing Secular Humanism were not debating Christianity, but rather distortions of it. They rattled off several fundamentalist ideas they found unreasonable, such as hostility to the environment, the vengeful attitude displayed after 9/11, the world being 6000 years old, and everyone going to hell who doesn’t explicitly believe in Jesus.
A lady in the audience also brought up the Calvinist claim that everything is pre-determined including one’s eternal destiny. But those representing Christianity that night were Catholics and would also reject those things. I have often found that those who reject the Catholic Church usually aren’t rejecting Catholicism at all, but a false image or representation of it.
I came to realize the difference between the two sides was not these common misconceptions, but something more basic. One side respected reason as a way to attain truth and so did the other. One side had a love for the scientific method and so did the other. But one side recognized something more than these two avenues to the truth. For the Christian, faith is added. Faith in authority, which is common to all people, is extended to the ultimate Authority who has revealed Himself to restore our relationship. The humanists would readily trust human authorities but were not willing to look to any transcendent Source. This is a considerable difference.
The Garden of Eden story in Genesis speaks of a great rebellion at the beginning of history called original sin where personified evil in the form of a serpent offered man his ultimate seduction: Reject God and become your own ultimate authorities. That seduction echoes throughout history and although it leads to death secular humanism embraces it.
The Humanists considered their position to be the humble non-elitist one because they claim not to have received any special revelation from above. But I would challenge that on two counts:
1. They were certain that supernatural claims are make-believe. But how could someone know this, for such knowledge would transcend the limits of reason and science? It is like a fish claiming to be certain there is no reality outside of his experience of ocean life. A foolish claim.
2. Secular humanism claims man to be his own ultimate authority, his own god; that he can create his own truth according to his liking (as we have seen with the definition of marriage and the beginning of life). This seems considerably less humble than recognizing and submitting to One higher than oneself.
So why do Christians believe that this supernatural realm does exist? The onus would actually be on Humanism to prove that it doesn’t. Religion and language are two universal traits that separate humans from all the other animals. They are “hardwired” into human nature signifying an immaterial spiritual component to the human person that can grasp immaterial things like thoughts and ideas. Children and primitive tribes have always had the sense of the supernatural and an innate propensity for symbolic language. We come into the world with a propensity to speak and to believe in something higher than what the five senses can experience; beyond what could ever be known empirically. Religious belief remains until or unless we are persuaded out of it; and this usually occurs today at the time of adolescence when the loud voice of cynicism in the media and academia make their pitch.
Every human propensity has an external object that satisfies it: hunger is a sign that there is food for the body, thirst that there is water, a mind that thinks and conceives ideas points to an immaterial dimension to the world, a heart that seeks perfect love is a sign there is a perfect Lover that will fulfill it, and hope for a happily-ever-after found in literature throughout history is a sign that there is a heaven. All of these desires are common and universal springing innately from human nature, and each points to an external reality that satisfies them.
Let’s look at the debate’s main question: Which holds the greater hope for humanity? Secular humanism claims that we can create a better and more peaceful existence without God. Let’s see if this deems true. They would claim that religion has been the cause of many wars. I would say people are the cause of wars and religion has often been used as an excuse. Humanist utopias have been tried and failed, and in the past century the humanist man-centered movements of Communism and Nazism created the greatest number of killings in human history.
On the smaller scale secular humanists would live their lives for ordinary goals that everyone does – developing talents, cultivating friends, loving one’s spouse, caring for children, contributing to the community, etc. Mixed in with all this is the usual tragedy, heartbreak, sickness, suffering, and death. If we’re lucky we may have eight or nine decades of this before we die. Then our body decays and within a couple of generations no one on earth will remember us.
Christian hope on the other hand is tied to eternity and eternity is tied to time. Life would be meaningless otherwise. It recognizes God who wants to help us through the injustice and pain we have caused ourselves so that those innate desires can be fully satisfied in a never-ending joy. The New Testament reminds us that all things work for good for those who love God; and that eye has not seen nor ear has heard the wonders that God has on store for those who love Him… where every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death or mourning, weeping or pain, for this old order will have passed away.
So which of the two worldviews offers the greater hope? You make the call.
Paul Murano taught theology and philosophy at Assumption College and Northshore Com. College. He is also former co-host of The Paying Attention! radio program on WCAP and Host “Beneath the Surface” on Burlington Cable Access. You can E-mail Paul at PJDM@aol.com