Christianity vs. Humanism?

Christianity vs. Humanism? September 5, 2014

Christianity vs Humanism

Hemant Mehta shared this. It certainly bears some resemblance to the differences between many conservative Christians and at least some humanists. But for many liberal and progressive Christians, the left hand side is simply false. We don’t subscribe to much in the way of dogma, and have been at the forefront in pointing out that even when conservative Christians claim to adhere to unchanging dogma, rarely is it actually the case. We have been at the forefront of revising our beliefs in light of evidence, and not only is doubt and questioning allowed, it is essential.

And of course, on the other side, I’ve heard people who self-identify as humanists show themselves happy to doubt and questions views that they want to reject, but show stubborn resistance to taking a critical look at their own beliefs which they want to be true.

But most importantly, for liberal Christians, as for many humanists but apparently not the person who made the chart, the whole notion of pitting Christians vs. humanists is viewed as unnecessary, undesirable, and unhelpful. There have been and continue to be plenty of Christian humanists, and even when it comes to interacting with those who would reject such a label, the aim of liberal humanist Christians is to encourage critical examination and reflection, not to foster a “we’re better than you are” mentality that almost always undermines our sense of need to critically examine ourselves.

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  • Ignorantia Nescia

    Yes, simplistic x vs. y charts like that one are always self-serving.

    As a nitpick, how does one base a culturally meaningful set of beliefs on reason if one doesn’t try to include culturally conditioned beliefs with ‘reason’ via the backdoor? You’d need to base those views on more than just reason.

    • histrogeek

      Well that’s been a pretty big flaw in the pretensions of “reason.” The idea since the Enlightenment is that rational people everywhere with the same amount of information will reach essentially the same conclusions as in science. Except of course that doesn’t happen because the only way to produce that result would be if those people all had the same education, which would mean they were effectively in the same culture.

      • Ignorantia Nescia

        Well said. That Enlightenment view of “reason” (or rather “Reason”) is cultural dogma indeed.

  • loricaliforni

    So much for finding comfort in “reality” – what a skewed chart designed without facts and slanted for an agenda. Not sure anyone – even humanists – will be buying what you are trying to sell here.

    • Ignorantia Nescia

      “You”? Dr McGrath isn’t the salesman you’re looking for. His post is a critique of the chart.

    • Worthless Beast

      I personally don’t find much comfort at all in reality. I prefer videogames and good novels. I think I’ve been trying to escape “reality” ever since I was aware of it.

  • belovedspear

    I’d be a humanist, but I know too many humans.

    • PorlockJunior

      I’d be a humanitarian, but for some reason it’s illegal, though there’s no such discrimination about vegetarians.

  • histrogeek

    In which column section to we get to put “Smug sense of superiority?” I know it goes on both sides of the x-axis but is it a positive or negative?

  • Andrew Dowling

    More smug false dichotomy . . .there’s a robust tradition of what could be called Christian Humanists.

  • the_Siliconopolitan

    We don’t subscribe to much in the way of dogma

    “Much” being the operative word. Dogma is still there, even if it’s less than in WBC, say. You’re still a little bit pregnant.

    The tu quoque is a nice touch, but I don’t recall Humanism (or humanism) advertising itself to be faultless. I’ll be the first to point out that plenty of atheists and selfdescribed skeptics are horrible people who cannot apply skepticism to themselves. As for humanism, I’m as misanthropic as they come.

    • Ignorantia Nescia

      If you mean “dogma” in the sense of set beliefs to which one must ascribe to be a member, you are certainly wrong for much of liberal Christianity but there might be some liberal churches that have dogma in that sense. However, most liberal Christians accept a wide variety of beliefs in their churches and don’t seek to regulate them. Even non-liberal mainstream churches admit a lot of freedom after dialectical theology established that, to the point that often enough even atheists are tolerated as full members and only people who’d deny Jesus existed would be in trouble. So much for that dogma.

      If you mean “dogma” in the sense of personal beliefs about which one is dogmatic, well, that applies to plenty of humanists, too. That point is moot. Consider the adulation of “reason” in the image that has been featured in the OP.

      As for not being faultless, only conservative churches would think they are anything like that. I don’t think liberal Christians ever thought they were infallible, though they have sometimes acted the part during the nineteenth century.

      • the_Siliconopolitan

        So a Christian does not need to be baptised or take communion? Does not need to believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God and that he died for our sins? Does not need to confess that he rose on the third day as the first-fruits and a promise of life everlasting for those who believe in him?

        Just what *is* Christianity then?

        • This is very much the same thing as asking what it means to be Jewish, or American. Traditions are diverse in any given time period, and they change and evolve over time. We tend to use “Christian” even for the works in the New Testament which never use the term, because we recognize that they are part of the same tradition that eventually came to bear that label. This includes the Letter of James, which seems to have no interest in any of the things you mentioned in your comment. And so we have gone from Christianity that had none of the things you mentioned, to Christianity being unimaginable to some without those components.

  • Kevin Pope

    Seriously? “Christian Humanist?” Please. Just stop trying to write. Back away from the keyboard.

    First of all, yes, Christians are ALL ABOUT dogma. Are you seriously trying to posit that Christians are barely dogmatic? The very foundation of the religion is dogmatic. Unchanging “truths” such as God really exists. Jesus really existed. Jesus performed miracles. You must accept Jesus to be saved. If you’re not saved you’re going to hell. These are the basic principles upon which the religion is rooted and it is dogmatic to the core at even the most basic levels. It’s like trying to say you don’t really use much concrete in your construction, and the entire foundation is concrete. It makes you look like you have no idea what you’re writing about.

    Secondly, the idea that a Christian would call themselves a Humanist is completely absurd. Christians are taught, dogmatically, to love God first. That, and everything that flows from it, is inherently anti-humanist. It’s as ridiculous as an executive at a Big Oil company calling himself a green fossil fuel advocate. Any Christian who calls themselves a Humanist doesn’t know what a Humanist is, and probably knows about as much about it as they do their own Bible.

    Thirdly, I’ve never met a Christian who didn’t “evaluate their beliefs” from within the confines of the religion itself and I do agree with the idea that the only reason why Christians change their behavior is because of society, not because of religious thinkers. There are plenty of things that Christians are not able to do because it is illegal. I don’t see Christians running around claiming that it’s wrong. Why not? Because society has determined that a particular part of the Bible is not socially acceptable anymore. In the exact same way that everyone else gets their morals, so too do Christians, who then try to attribute their morals to their God – who society just had to say was wrong. See the irony?

    And most importantly, I think Christians feel like pitting Christianity and Humanism is unnecessary, undesirable, and unhelpful, because it shows the glaring truth that they would rather obey a non-existent deity out of fear and superstition than actually care about other people FIRST. Christians aren’t capable of “critical examination” because if they were, they wouldn’t be Christians in the first place. So if a Christian thinks that comparing two sets of ideals to each other undermines the ability of one to critically examine introspectively, then perhaps that person needs to evaluate their psychological defensive mechanisms and religious brainwashing to try to figure out why. If the chart provokes someone THAT BADLY, then something is wrong and it isn’t the chart. Although, that is pretty much the default response from Christians. “I don’t like it, therefore stop.” So much for critical thinking…

    • It sounds from this that you have met only one sort of Christian. I would encourage you to broaden your circle of acquaintances.

      • Kevin Pope

        You mean to suggest that there are Christians who don’t believe that Christ existed, and one doesn’t need to accept him as Lord and Savior to avoid torture for eternity?

        Then they wouldn’t be Christians, would they?

        • The historicity of Jesus as a person is established by secular history, and so doesn’t need to be a tenet of faith, but if you apply historical criticism to our sources, then you end up with conclusions that challenge some things that Christians have claimed for a long time.

          But the oddity is that, if you accept uncritically the claim of conservative Christians in our time to represent “true Christianity,” then of course they define as “not Christians” anyone that disagrees with them. But what makes them your authority for what Christianity is? Isn’t doing so simply begging the question?

          • Kevin Pope

            I have to disagree. I apologize for not being able to elaborate, it’s 9 am and I have work to do. *sad face*. Perhaps I’ll be able to respond later, but I really don’t want to get pulled into a theological debate.

            Have a great day Mr. McGrath.

          • If at some point you’re able to respond, it would be helpful, since otherwise your claim – especially in light of the sheer amount of space devoted to discussing liberal Christianity on this blog – is unlikely to be found persuasive here. 🙂

          • Kevin Pope

            I don’t care if it’s persuasive or not. I’m not trying to argue or change minds. I’m saying that from the perspective of myself as an Atheist Humanist, your blog was a little absurd and I explained why. Nothing else to say, really. I don’t care what branch of Christianity you want to call yourself, you adhere to dogma, you take the religion on faith, and none of it can be proven, which has a direct impact on how people are viewed and treated. It’s why Christians have led every single anti-human rights movement in the country and continue to do so today. So instead of pointing fingers at Atheists and Humanists, get the log out of your eye and get your own house in order. Simply trying to disassociate yourself so you can be held blameless is simply not possible.

          • If you don’t care if you are persuasive or not, then why are you even commenting here? You seem never to have encountered a liberal Christian before. We have been in the forefront of the development of Biblical criticism and an openness to revision. That you would talk to someone representing a tradition that has been the first to highlight Christian blameworthiness and to seek to bring about change, suggesting that we are somehow trying to disassociate ourselves to avoid blame, suggests that you are determined to press ahead with your point of view with no concern either to inform yourself or to listen to the person you are talking to. If so, then that doesn’t make your atheist humanism seem like an attractive approach to life.

          • Kevin Pope

            So the only reason why anyone ever speaks their mind is to try to convince people they are right? You’re a rather confrontational one, aren’t you? You seem to be here to argue, plain and simple. I stated what I think and yes, you are still a Christian and liberal or not makes no difference at THE CORE, which is what I specifically stated in my original posts. I disputed all your ridiculous claims to which you have not addressed. Sorry, but I think we’re done here.

          • No, but if someone doesn’t share your premises, and points out reasons to think they are mistaken, then simply pressing ahead and ignoring those points makes little sense. If you disagree with the points I’ve made about the narrowness of your exposure to Christianity, then it seems as though you would want to either (1) end the conversation, or (2) accept the correction, or (3) try to persuade me to change my mind in light of evidence that you present. The point is not that persuasion is the only reason to have a conversation. The point is that lack of interest in evidence and accuracy undermines what you say.

            I am not here to argue. I am here to blog. You came to this blog, made some comments which reflect your own narrow experience of Christianity but not the liberal tradition, and now seem happy to make arguments with no sense that your stance ought to have something to do with reality, evidence, etc.

            If you are done, then that is well and good. But it seems unfortunate that you happened onto a liberal Christian blog and are determined to leave without broadening your own horizons and finding out at least a little about that Christian tradition.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            By definition an argument aims to persuade. You made arguments in your initial post. Therefore you aimed to persuade. If you do not aim to persuade then why did you make arguments in your initial post?

          • Kevin Pope

            You don’t know the difference between a persuasive argument and a refutational statement?

            No, I came to this blog, stated my opinion, and was attacked for being ignorant about Christianity, of which I have been one, known thousands, participated in multiple denominations, and even studied in-depth as a part of my undergraduates, not to mention firmal exegesis and higher biblical criticism.

            Again, I’m not here to argue with laymen over the fact that all Christianity is dogmatic, and it is not compatible with Humanism as currently recognized by Atheists.

            That is all.

          • I know atheists who would disagree with you, but apparently you are the spokesperson for Atheism with a capital “A” and those who disagree with your definition are not really atheists, just as those who do not fit your definition of Christianity are not Christians.

            Did you by any chance study Biblical criticism in a school associated with a conservative denomination? It sounds as though you were presented the development of higher criticism as a few aberrations from conservative Christianity, whereas they were in fact mainstream expressions of liberal Protestantism.

          • arcseconds

            don’t forget that the Atheists with the capital ‘A’ are also apparently the authorities on who gets to be Humanist with a capital ‘H’.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Even the language of “higher criticism.” Who actually uses that language outside conservative circles?

          • At least one spokesperson for Atheist Humanism also uses the term, apparently, but unlike him I am reluctant to generalize based on that limited experience of mine. 🙂

          • Jonathan Bernier


          • Jonathan Bernier

            “as currently recognized by atheists”–and who exactly gave atheists the patent on “humanism”?

            Do you do realize that a refutational statement still aims at persuasion? It aims to persuade the interlocutor(s) that the proposition being refuted is in fact false.

            Wonderful that you were a Christian, that you have known thousands, and studied some Christianity and formal exegesis and higher criticism as an undergraduate. Prof. McGrath and I are Christians, have presumably known thousands as well, and *teach* Christian thought, formal exegesis, and higher critical to undergraduates. If we are laymen then what you are?

            I only raise the issue of credentials of course because you did first. In other words: don’t open a door you don’t walk others walking through.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      Yes, absolutely, Roger Bacon, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Adam Smith, Gregor Mendel, to name a few, were all incapable of critical thinking because of their Christian commitments. This means that the man who formulated the classic articulation of the scientific method, the man who articulated the classic articulation of heliocentrism, the men who formulated the bases for modern physics, astronomy, and mathematics, the man who formulated the basis for modern economics, the man credited with discovering the basics of genetic inheritance: none of them capable of critical thought. Or, alternatively, it’s just you.

  • Talis Mancer

    “Christian Humanist” – A Humanist that puts God first? It’s an oxymoron.

    • I’m not sure that it is, although obviously it may depend what one means by “God.” But even in teaching attributed to Jesus in the New Testament, we see him encouraging people to prioritize concern for other people over purity rules and other such things that were believed to have been imposed by God. And so the way he is depicted as applying what he is supposed to have said were the two greatest commandments is not necessarily at odds with humanism, is it?