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November 13, 2008

Comments

ms

Wasn't humanistic thinking (discarding God and relying on their own careful reasoning) foundational to the evolution of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and communist China? Talk about despair!


Alex Marshall

Humanism was also the driving force behind the American Constitution.

CS

If, according to paragraph 2, the use of emotional reflection helps determine our ideals and principles: There are certain people who need to remove a week of the month from their reflecting or who knows where the emotions & hormones will have them landing. How do you deal with changing emotions that we all deal with when you are trying to set an ideal or principle - wavering emotions need to be removed from the equation and something more stable (possibly TRUTH?) should be your yardstick or foundation. But, that's just how feel about it today, ask me again tomorrow.

ms

"The US Constitution is a humanist document, though I wouldn’t term it a “secular humanist” document because that term is too loaded (and the categorization would be arguably inaccurate). It is however, a classically liberal humanist document." Jonathan Rowe, Classical Liberal Humanism

Alex, I think we all see a huge difference in the U.S. Constitution and the secular, even atheistic "humanism" seen in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and Communist China.

Jim Fleming

Alex,
Could you please provide source citations for original resources that substantiate your claim? Or is this your personal assessment?

Wes

Should this offend Christians? Should we be proactive by answering with a billboard in opposition? In my study of John 10:22-42, I don't sense that Jesus was offended, rather, expecting the opposition and prepared with an answer (If there is no God why acknowledge Him with this billboard designed to oppose Him?). Opposition is expected. Why be offended? Why not use this as ammunition for prayer and evangelism (the "egg timer" illustration comes to mind). Go right to the source (God and the organization). Shouldn't Christians demonstrate maturity (e.g. the fruit of the spirit) that manifests the character of God. Is God offended or would he say, "Now, son, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." When someone, particularly a Christian, says, "Christians will be offended by this," I experience embarrassment.

Human emotions are notoriously unreliable. I've let my emotions guide my path. They led me to isolation and darkness that bolstered behavior designed to “disconnect” from the real world. Now how was I suppose to accept and appreciate the world if all I did was medicate the “hand” it dealt me. "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's." If we were to measure all things by our emotions, we would never be able to heal - always in a viscous cycle of torment and sin.

Gods Word is eternal, therefore, infinitely reliable and trustworthy. Filled with hope, God’s Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. “For Thou dost light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness.” When God’s Word illuminates the darkness inside me, it scares me. I run to His Word and “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake.” His rod and His staff, they comfort me.

When we allow our emotions to dictate our actions, bondage ensues and the result is damaging. Let God’s Word dictate your actions and all will see the character of God.

ms

When Jesus spoke of a "generation of vipers," he was expressing offense, was he not? Emotion is not necessarily irrational. We are to defend the faith. If we do not speak up, we might as well give up. Is embarrassment at offense a more valid emotion than being offended? No, we must not let emotions rule, but that is not to say they have no input whatsoever.

ms

One more comment. If I am to be "good for goodness' sake," just what is this goodness and why should I be mindful of it? Do we have any examples of this type of goodness? What on earth are they referring to? How is this a reason to adjust my motivations or my behavior?

Alex Marshall

My argument is consistent with what Jackson Spielvogel (long time history professor at Penn State) says, though I'm not basing it exclusively on his writings. If I had time I would look up some more references, he just happens to be the most recent writer I've read who says something like this.

My understanding (based on what Spielvogel and others say) is that liberal humanism and secular humanism are very connected. Liberal humanism arose out of the enlightenment and provides the backbone for the modern western political thought on which our constitution is based. Liberal humanism was itself a shift towards secularism in that it attempted to remove itself from the theistic domination of society in Catholic Europe prior to the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. Thus, liberal humanism was primarily deistic in nature. This thinking continued to shift towards secularization with the French Revolution, which was more dramatically secular (and more violent), and then reached its ultimate culmination in secularization with the Russian Revolution. I really wouldn't call the Nazi movement secular humanist. It was more ultra-nationalist. Of course, there are some humanist ideas in it. But post enlightenment, humanism has been the foundation of western thinking, so this is not surprising. Communist China I would also not call humanist. They are decidedly non-western in most of their philosophical views (even today, hence the disdain for human rights concerns). Sorry, didn't mean to write an essay...

mjc

To be "good for goodness sake" apart from God is not possible, because God is goodness. It is not just a "character quality," but who He IS. I do not have the capability to be good or do good apart from Him. Human "goodness" is fleeting. God is ever-lasting. I need a sure foundation on which to stand and this world of man-following, shaky financial leadership and an incredibly skewed moral compass does not offer sure footedness. I will put my trust in God alone. Period.

I love in 1 Corinthians 4:3 where even Paul states, "I do not even examine myself." We cannot trust ourselves, because we are still contaminated by humanism. My definition for humanism is selfishness. Goodness requires me to involve the welfare of another and on my own I have very little inclination to do so. Do I desire to do good? Yes, but without belief in God who is HIMSELF good, I am left to my own devices. John 15:5 "...for apart from Me, you can do nothing."

ms

Thanks for the points of clarification, Alex. I think the point is whether or not God is acknowledged as the source of goodness. Is there a "good" atheistic government? Has there ever been? Technically, I don't believe that would be possible. However, is there one where you would be willing to pledge your allegiance?
I know some atheists, and even some that follow the rules and give to charities, but I don't find them "good" to be with. I certainly wouldn't trust them to put my best interests before their own self-interest. We can "imagine" along with John Lennon, but, without God, we cannot produce. At least I have seen no evidence of it.

Alex Marshall

I think it depends on what we mean by good. Christians sometimes interchange meanings of that word that aren't completely compatible.

But in a very general sense- I believe its very possible to learn or know morality "naturally" without or apart from a knowledge of God. I think that there are moral principles that are universally known and appealed to in different societies and cultures. We can't take that too far- certainly every society and culture puts different amounts of weight on different principles and applies them in different ways. But I think if you dig a little you find a common set of principles underlying the different ways that we "practice" morality. As such, I think that it is possible to be good without a knowledge of God. Christianity does not have an exclusive claim on understanding morality.

However, that is different from saying that there is a reason for this goodness apart from God. In other words, Christians believe that morality stems from God and his nature. We can say that others can know and understand what is moral, and can even be moral, but that doesn't mean they understand the source of morality. Atheism, taken to its logical conclusion, implies an absolute "determinism" in which everything that ever happens (both actions and all our thoughts and desires and beliefs) was set by the physical laws of the universe at the moment of the big bang. This view of things doesn't provide much of a reason for morality to exist much less for us to be moral. At most, it could say that morality is a set of conventions that have arisen among humans. This gives rise to the idea of "moral relativism" (though its not the only logical path that leads to that), what was said in the paragraph about our principles "evolving over time" being a good expression of that. But in atheist thought this then has to be balanced with the admission that this progress of human thought is just a physical phenomenon that was set in motion at the big bang. So morality is utterly meaningless in addition to being relative.

Secularism is a bit different from atheism, though. Secularism is an attempt to be "universal" in the sense of adopting beliefs that are not specific to any particular religious persuasion (including atheism). As such, I think a secularist can avoid the conclusion that morality is utterly meaningless. So I think it is possible for a secular government to be good in a general sense (as opposed to a specifically Christian sense). But is very difficult for an atheist government to give reasons for being good.

Randy

Alex, quick, change your major before it's too late! Your brain is turning to mush.

Jim Fleming

Alex,
"Original resources" would be direct citations from people living at the time and involved in the framing of the Constitution. Do you have quotes from any of the original framers that would support your view?

ms

This "universalism" concept intrigues me. When editorialists have written about these common values or morals that are not specific to any particular religion, I have written to ask that they name one - just one - that is not validated in the Bible. To date, no one has responded.
Alex, or anyone reading, can you cite one universally accepted value is not God-given?

Alex Marshall

I think we may have a misunderstanding of what we mean when we say "universal" in reference to morality. This doesn't mean that the idea isn't part of a religious belief, but it means it is not specific to that religious belief. So lets take a pretty non-controversial example- it is immoral to murder someone. That belief is not specific to Christianity. Christianity definitely believes this, its part of the ten commandments, etc., but Christianity is not the only belief system that holds this belief. In fact, this belief is virtually universal. I am a Christian (granted, don't always take the "traditional" Christian view of things, but I promise I am a Christian), and as such I believe that morality is God-given (though we should be careful what we mean when we say that or we make morality arbitrary and then we are taking the Islamic position). So I believe that any moral principle can be substantiated in the Bible. A secularist is not going to dispute that. But they are going to say that they could arrive at an understanding of morality that essentially agreed with the Bible (excluding some moral principles very specific to Christianity, such as worshiping the Christian God) without ever opening the Bible. Christian philosophers and Theologians have substantiated this secularist claim. Thomas Aquinas (arguably the most influential medieval theologian) argued for Natural Law Theory- the belief that morality is self-evident apart from knowledge of God (though he certainly believed morality was expounded in the Bible as well). Many others have held the same view.

Jim,

If you are asking if I know of any quote where a framer of the constitution comes out and says "this is a secularist document" then I don't off the top of my head. Though, we could look at the constitution and I think it would be fairly evident that it is humanist. For instance, in the preamble we see the purpose being to establish a government "by, for, and of the people." That's a humanist statement. Or the Bill of Rights, which prevents the establishment of a state religion and protects the freedom of speech and defines property rights- those are all humanist ideas. And we know the founders were very influenced by humanist philosophers- the most obvious example is Jefferson quoting Locke in the Declaration of Independence. So even if they don't come out and say directly that it is a humanist document, I think it is fairly evidently a product of humanistic thinking.

ms

Alex, I appreciate your response, although it seems that you are side-stepping the issue. The question was not "is there a 'universal' moral imperative that isn't part of a religious belief," but is there any universal morality apart from the Bible? Did Thomas Aquinas mention a Natural Law that is not found in the Scriptures? It is amazing to me that people want to discard or disregard the Bible when they cannot state any good that arises apart from it. One specific example, please.

Alex Marshall

Question: do we say that "good" arises from the Bible or that the Bible shows us what is good? In other words, is something good because it is in the Bible? Or is it more appropriate to say that morality stems from God and the Bible merely records what God has revealed? I think this is probably the case, and this is the justification for natural law theory. Natural law theory says that not only has God revealed what is moral in the Bible, he has revealed it in "nature" so that everyone understands what is right. The Bible actually acknowledges this (take Romans 1, for instance). So natural law theory is not at all an attempt to disregard the Bible. It has actually been used most often to say that people are accountable regardless of their knowledge of the Bible because they can also know right and wrong naturally.

Humanism came about because the church in Europe had abused the idea of God's authority to excuse corrupt practices. It wasn't an attempt to usurp God or disregard the Bible (most early humanist philosophers were Christians), it was an attempt to define morality apart from the conceptions of the church at the time. In other words, they were trying to build an understanding of morality (among other things) that appealed to the common understandings of people (stemming from natural law) rather than having to rest on the views of the clergy about how to interpret scriptures (the church didn't really promote people studying the Bible on their own at the time). In later times, humanism came to be an attempt to balance the ideas of morality and the separation of church and state. Appealing to the Bible to justify laws would be the equivalent of establishing a state religion, so instead they opted to appeal to common understandings of morality. But none of these are attempts to disregard the Bible.

Now, granted, atheist thinkers do disregard the Bible. But, as I said before, I don't know that they can coherently justify any sort of morality, so their appeal to humanism isn't very strong either. The group that posted this sign on the bus may fall into that category, in which case I would say they are probably incoherent and inconsistent. But this doesn't mean all other attempts to use "universal" morality fits into that same category.

ms

Thanks, Alex. This makes more sense to me, because it acknowledges that God is the author and origin of goodness. The secular editorialists I have read want to ignore or even toss out God and the Bible, yet retain all the values derived therefrom. You would think that, after all these years of trying, they could come up with one common value invented by man, but, if they have, they are keeping it under wraps. Or, why don't they turn to Him and His word and derive even more benefits?

Jeff

"You would think that, after all these years of trying, they could come up with one common value invented by man, but, if they have, they are keeping it under wraps. Or, why don't they turn to Him and His word and derive even more benefits?"

It's the same problem with scientists when they make conclusions that point to evolution: because they can't make it themselves, but they cannot accept that there is a God so for them, God is never even a thought in their equation. So even when we go, "Yeah, but look at what God said...," to them, it's like saying, "Yeah, but look at what Mickey Mouse said..." God is fiction to them, which points out how vital the Holy Spirit is in softening their hearts and our being able to discern a person who's willing to hear it and who will shut us out.

I wish I wasn't sick last week because I really would've liked to have gotten involved in the discussion. Reading through, it was vaguely creepy how much Alex and I track similarly in thought. I guess us mushy-heads gotta stick together!

Jeff

To answer the initial question, there's the way I'd like to respond and the way I do respond to someone with the viewpoint of, "I don't need God to know what is good."

The way I'd LIKE to respond is that I'd say, "If that is true, I want you to give me your address and I will kill you in your sleep for disagreeing with me. Who's to tell me that's wrong? I don't like you disagreeing with me and I'd prefer you dead if you won't agree, so killing you seems right to me." *sigh* I wish I could respond to people like that...

The way I DO respond actually takes the kind of thinking from above but breaks it down a lot less colorfully. I would ask the person who determines what is good. I would work on pointing out to them the travesties of government that ms pointed out when you take humanism to it's most secular level. I'd question who gave people the authority to change my morality. I'd ask them if a person could be led in a way that diverges from the consensus if the action seems the most reasonable to that person. Then I'd probably point out that that person is making himself god and ask if any one person is really capable of making those types of decisions.

For starters, anyway...

John

I couldn't possibly add anything profound to the postings of the erudite. But I have the Despair catalog. My favorite item is the poster of the sinking hulk, with the caption, "perhaps the purpose of your life is simply to be a warning to others."

Austin

"We can have ethics and values that aren't set in stone. Our ideals and principles can evolve over time to reflect our ever-changing and increasingly complex world."

Determining what mores are valid seems to be, to me, an essentially epistemological issue. But, another issue is: how would morals' utility vary if human society were to embrace a non-static view of them? I would argue that moral concepts, whatever they are, have to be immutable. Otherwise, some significant efficiency problems result.

How do you know what the right thing to do is? Presumably, you know from past experiences, or because someone told you. But, what if past experiences stop being a guide? This would probably slow down individual decision-making substantially: 1) if every moral decision were a blank slate, it would require alot more reflection to evaluate 2) if morals aren't constants, this reduces morals' utility as a guide for behavioral planning.

If you know murder is bad in advance, you won't do it. On the other hand, you may do lots of bad things if you can't tell what's bad and what's not--making it a real possibility that you might inadvertently curry society's wrath. The moral paralysis that could ensue would be really debilitating. No matter what they are, if rules or mores aren't constant, individual autonomy is retarded, and experience becomes ever more useless.

For that reason, I think the idea of mores changing according to circumstances is a practical prescription for all kinds of chaos.

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