I have a small book on my bookcase with one of the more unusual titles of any I own: “Jesus, Friend to Terrorists”. Yes, you read that right. The book was addressed to the terrorists, rebels, and revolutionaries around the world who want to change the world, albeit in very misguided and tragic ways. The book applauds their zeal and commitment to a cause, but encourages them to reconsider their brutal methods, consider what will happen if they succeed in overthrowing their oppressors only to become the oppressors the next generation seeks to overthrow, and instead commit themselves to the much better cause of Christ. In the end, it asks them to trade in the hate and envy of political revolutions, and the bloody violence of terrorism, for the love and hope brought by the most amazing revolution known: the divine transformation of a human soul. Last week, I offered some reasons why I think humanism, like so many other ideologies (including those of terrorists), is the wrong tool for solving the world’s problems. This week, I’d like to explain why I am persuaded that Christianity is the right tool for the job.
“Out There” vs. “In Here” Problems. Last week I noted that some of the goals that humanists aspire to, like ending war and poverty, are admirable. Yet they are only looking for an external problem to fix, like an allergen “out there” in the world, when the problem is more like a disease “in here”, inside each of us. Too often, we want to lay the blame on an array of external factors like how we were raised by our parents, the culture we grew up in, and on and on. The Bible shows us that the problem is an internal one called sin. But the Bible doesn’t simply diagnose the real problem; it points us to Christ, who removes the hatred and selfishness and pride in me and you, which ultimately addresses the symptoms that manifest themselves in society as a whole. Transformation inside is what’s required to fix the problems we see outside.
Collective vs. Individual Remedies. It’s far more comfortable to talk about “people” or “society” needing to change, but God commands us individually to change, and that can get uncomfortable quickly. But what is needed for a society to change? The individuals that form that society must change. And when numbers of individuals are radically transformed on the inside, their outside actions necessarily follow suit, and whole empires are changed.
Love. Two things that were noticeably absent in the Humanist Manifestos I read were the love and forgiveness that the Bible emphasizes so much. There seems to be a significant difference between helping the poor because it will supposedly help society flourish and helping them because one genuinely loves the person being helped. But the term “love” has become rather diluted in our culture, so what do I even mean by love? And what shall we base it on? Christian love isn’t a mere feeling of affection, for we are called to love even our enemies [Mt 5:44]. And it’s not “reciprocal altruism”, for we are also called to love those who could never return the favor. Rather, it is the willing of good for another and the giving of oneself to realize that good. While it is thoughtful, love is not only thoughts – it is action. While it can be spontaneous, it is also committed and enduring. And above all, it is unconditional. After all, what condition could an enemy satisfy to warrant such love and still be an enemy? Yet there are many examples over the last 2,000 years of Christians asking God to forgive the very people brutally torturing and killing them. Why should we go to such extremes? Because we were each enemies of God, yet He loved us first [Rom 5:8-10, 1Jn 4:19]. So then Christian love is grounded not in the ever-changing state of our emotions, but in the very nature of God [1Jn 4:8-11]. In fact, while the law is normally seen as cold and unloving, Jesus said that all the Mosaic Law could be summed up in 2 commandments: to love God with all that you are, and to love others as yourself [Mk 12:28-31]. The revolutionary, transformative love of God can change the vilest sinners into saints.
Do you want to see the world changed for the better? Forget humanist panaceas, cultural paradigms, economic schemes, and political solutions. Instead, recognize the problem of sin in yourself first, freely take of the remedy graciously provided by your Creator, and then go live out that love you’ve received, bless others as you’ve been blessed, and share the good news you’ve learned so others can experience the same joy. Do that and see if you don’t “turn the world upside-down” like the Jesus’ apostles [Ac 17:6 ESV].
This last weekend, I spent far more time than planned installing a new hot water heater at my house. But frustrating experiences can often be good teachers, and that project reinforced the importance of having the right tool for the job. Some tools are woefully inadequate for the task at hand, while the more appropriate tool makes quick work of it. The worldview we filter life through is similar in that the wrong worldview makes life less comprehensible and more difficult – or even impossible – to live out consistently; but with the right worldview, everything falls into place. Let’s work through an example of that today.
After finishing the home repairs, I read through the three Humanist Manifestos maintained on the American Humanist Association website. The first was published in 1933, with a second in 1973, and the latest in 2003. Other than the rejection of God, they have some admittedly admirable goals like the elimination of war and poverty, and the security of freedom. Some “freedoms” advocated aren’t so admirable, like unrestricted abortion and euthanasia. After all, killing another innocent human being is murder no matter what euphemism is attached to it. But the general intent seems to be one of sincerely wanting to improve the world they live in. Yet, you can sincerely wear yourself out trying to use a screwdriver on a 16 penny nail and never accomplish anything. Might I suggest, that despite all their sincerity, humanists are trying to use the wrong tool for the job when it comes to building a better world?
Humanism, according to their manifestos, has some views and goals worth comparing to Christianity. Here are just a few:
All 3 manifestos regard the universe as self-existing, in spite of the evidence pointing more and more over the last century to a beginning of the universe at a finite point in the past. Interestingly, the evidence that humanists are uncomfortable acknowledging points to what the Bible has said all along: “In the beginning, God created….”[Gen 1:1]
Unguided evolution is supported in all 3 manifestos, even though genetics and information theory has been steadily chipping away at that as a viable option. Science is already confirming what the Bible has said all along: we are fearfully and wonderfully made”[Ps 139:14].
But the idea that mankind can evolve socially and become better and better was evident in the first Humanist Manifesto of 1933, in spite of the horrors of the “war to end all wars” (World War I) that had destroyed that utopian idea for many already. With two world wars in its rear view mirror, the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II noted in its preface that the previous manifesto had been “far too optimistic”, and recognized “the depths of brutality of which humans are capable”, and that “science has sometimes brought evil as well as good.” Even so, the Manifesto still advocated the same optimism and blind faith in the power of humans to change themselves (to the point of being able to “alter the course of human evolution”). For those who have read the Bible, the preponderance of evidence of human depravity, both historically and in the dark recesses of our own hearts, is no mystery. Humanists may not want to admit that they (and every other human) are sinners, but it certainly does explain the world around us better than the naive optimism of humanism. That we are created in the image of God, but marred by sin explains why we humans seem capable of so much good, and yet still do so much evil.
Humanists want to “provide the purpose and inspiration that so many seek,” give “personal meaning and significance to human life,” and provide “abundant and meaningful life”.  This is to come about from a selfless commitment to the greater good of “broad-based cooperative efforts”, “participation in the service of humane ideas” and “working to benefit society”, with a goal of “a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good.” But I have to ask, why should a person want to do this? Why, if this life is all I have (as the 3 manifestos clearly state), should I spend it working and sacrificing to improve the lives of others? Not that I disagree with their goal of cooperation and selfless service; rather, I question their foundation for it. Even if society as a whole benefits from my sacrifices, why should I care enough to forfeit any of my limited time on earth to enjoy life? After all, we must find our fulfillment in the “here and now” according to humanism. I don’t think they really have a good answer to that, but the Bible does. We love because He first loved us [1Jn 4:19]; we serve because Christ served those He came to save [Mk 10:45] and because in serving others, we serve Him [Mt 25:35-40]; we are blessed in order to be a blessing to others [2Co 9:11]; we value others because we recognize them as created by God [Ge 1:27, Ac 17:26], loved by God [Jn 3:16, Rm 5:8], and precious in His sight – so how could we not want to give of ourselves to show love to them, even if they be our enemies [Mt5:44]? And we really do get the abundant life humanist seek! [Jn 10:10]
They want to “conquer poverty”, stating that “world poverty must cease.” Yet Christians, not humanists, have been the most generous force in human history by building hospitals, orphanages, schools, universities; donating food, clothing, services, money, and volunteer time to help those in need; translating languages and teaching native people reading and writing, basic hygiene, and life skills like improved farming; and working to end barbaric practices like slavery and suttee. We do it not out of commitment to an ideal, but out of genuine love for those affected by poverty. In fact, maybe the conspicuous absence of love in humanism is why Christians have traditionally given more to alleviate poverty.
The manifesto claims that “war is obsolete”. Far from being “obsolete”, war has been made more efficient than ever. Now we have the power to destroy entire countries in an instant with nuclear weapons, or in an agonizing time frame of our choice with biological and chemical weapons. Or we can target down to the individual, remotely, from the other side of the world, as if we were simply playing a video game. Rather than naively saying war is obsolete because humans can learn to not be selfish and to cooperate instead, the Bible shows us that we are all selfish apart from the transforming work of God in our hearts, and as long as there are sinful humans on this planet, some people will hate others or covet what others possess. These are the root causes of any unjust war, and they both really come down to that most ancient of vices: pride. Christianity deals with the ultimate cause of war, and all other acts of aggression, and prevents war by preventing the pride that starts wars.
Humanists claim to be “committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity”, yet their explicit support for abortion and euthanasia say otherwise. Some people’s lives apparently aren’t worth as much as others. The Bible is consistent in all human life having inherent worth because of our creation in the image of God [Gen 1:27, 9:6].
Supposedly, in spite of the vast weight of history, “humankind has the potential, intelligence, goodwill, and cooperative skill to implement this commitment in the decades to come.” Sadly, but unsurprisingly, humankind has missed that goal by a mile. Maybe that’s why, 3 decades later, the 2003 Humanist Manifesto III was one-quarter the length of the 1973 version, and with less concrete statements. Humans have potential, but it is only realized in the regeneration wrought by God. Without that, our only potential is for continued decay.
I’ve taken excerpts from 3 manifestos written over a 70 year period. I’m not trying to mix and match to paint them in the worst light. Rather, I hope I’ve shown a few ways that humanism has consistently missed the mark in addressing what ails the world. In the end, the fatal flaw of humanism may be found in their statement in Manifesto II: “As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.” And that, my friends, makes about as much sense as grabbing a saw when you need a screwdriver.