Thursday, October 22, 2015

Humanism: Secular & Sacramental

Looking for a definition of humanism, I came across a number of them:

  1. Any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate
  2. A system of thought that rejects religious beliefs and centers on humans and their values, capacities, and worth
  3. A variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God
  4. The denial of any power or moral value superior to that of humanity; the rejection of religion in favour of a belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts
The lack of unanimity in these definitions clearly reveals the lack of unanimity in the way the term is understood. This led me to leave the definitions and go in search for the original use of the term. In the fifteenth century Europe, the University curriculum consisted of religious as well as nonreligious subjects. To distinguish the nonreligious from the religious, the term humane litterae was used. A scholar enthusiastic in humanities was called a humanista. Thus a humanist was someone who studies nonreligious subjects. The 15th century European scholars like Erasmus and Thomas More were humanists. Their humanism could be defined by the first meaning given above.
In a couple of centuries, the term humanism acquired a different meaning. In the 17th century Europe the movement of Enlightenment was gaining strength, and humanism came to have the meaning of antireligious. In the 15th century it meant only non-religious, but in two centuries, it changed to antireligious.  The 2nd to 4th definitions given above are variations of this meaning. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is a union of more than 100 Humanist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, and free-thought organizations in more than 40 countries. It states its Minimum Statement on Humanism as follows:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.

The rise and evolution of humanism raises a significant question. What exactly led to the evolution of a non-theistic humanism? One may argue that Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity was a humanist in the sense that Erasmus and Thomas More were humanists. The wellbeing of humanity was the prime concern for Jesus. His declaration that Sabbath is for Man; not Man for Sabbath makes his stand crystal clear. The Christianity of Jesus was not an otherworldly religion. He asked people to pray Let thy Kingdom come, and not Take us from here to heaven above. Paul exhorted Christians to live together as a community that transcends the differences of gender, class, and race. The emphasis was to create a heaven on earth. Later on the Christianity of western Europe became an other-worldly religion with its emphasis not on the wellbeing of humanity. Instead of standing on the side of the exploited, Christianity stood with those who exploited them.
Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios made a distinction between Secular Humanism and Sacramental Humanism. By secular Humanism he meant the Godless humanism of modern Europe. Mar Gregorios argued clearly that a Godless Humanism cannot be the real Humanism, for humanity cannot even survive denying God. By sacramental Humanism he probably meant the humanism affirming God. The term sacrament often means a visible ritual that represents the invisible divine. The sacramental humanism views humanity as a visible expression or representation of the invisible divine; humanity as the image of God. The sacramental Humanism is the authentic faith of Christianity.

Mar Gregorios traces the development of secular Humanism from none other than Augustine of fourth century. Augustine believed that God's glory is inversely proportional to Man's glory. When man's glory rises, God's glory lowers; when man's glory lowers, God's glory rises. It was such a view of the western Christianity that forced the later proponents of Humanism to deny God, for in order to glorify humanity, it was necessary for them to lower God. The Eastern Christianity, however, has believed that God's glory is directly proportional to Man's glory. Being the visible image of the invisible God, when man's glory rises, God glory rises as well.  

The humanism of 15th century was a revolt against the corrupted Christianity of their time just like Jesus’ movement was a revolt against the corrupted religion of his time. But the humanism of 17th century went to the extreme of rejecting God. Let us sincerely hope that the humanity will soon realize that rejecting God is as unhealthy as a corrupted religion.

This situation may be generalized to include any religion of any time and place. Every religious movement begins as a humanistic movement, with the wellbeing of humanity as the primary goal. Eventually they get corrupted. Humankind gets marginalized and exploited by a corrupted religion. A reform movement starts to set right the goal of the religion. It may sometimes go to the other extreme of denying what ultimately exists.

1 comment:

T.K.V. said...

Yes, John, Religions are exploiting and joining with the exploiters. Religions donot care about the people. Religion care about that religion - some people claim, they are the religion- , they made God as their emblem or trademark. Very few people searching for God and
trying to follow His commandments.