The Peril of Humanism

CONSIDER these statements:

  1. All people are born free.
  2. All people are entitled to their human rights.
  3. Using reason and empathy to guide our decisions and actions, we can lead lives that are ethical, fulfilling and meaningful.
  4. The highest goal of anyone’s life is the pursuit of the happiness and wellbeing of themselves and everyone.
  5. The laws of a country must be made by its people, not imposed upon them. Democracy is the only legitimate form of government.
  6. Using science and the pursuit of knowledge, we can solve the world’s problems and bring about a just and prosperous society in which all can achieve their full potential.

That (I hope) is a fair appraisal of the beliefs and aims of the philosophy of Humanism. What do you think? Maybe you’re thinking it doesn’t sound particularly perilous. Maybe, even, you’re thinking that sounds a lot like Christianity.

Humanism is the dominant philosophy in the western world. Perhaps the reason more people are not aware of it, is that it is so pervasive that it has come to be accepted simply as common sense.

Of course, Humanism has a lot to be said for it. Humanists who take their principles seriously are good people: if there were more of them, the world would certainly be a better place.

The problem is, it is a fundamentally Godless philosophy. It is based on the assumption that this life is all there is. It denies the existence of God, and therefore elevates humans as the principal authority on life and how to live it. The clue is in the name. We can revisit each of those six points, and see how they each actually conflict with the Bible’s world-view:

  1. Freedom. The Bible is not particularly concerned with worldly status. Among the great people of faith in its pages you’ll find slaves, servants and masters. Masters are commanded to treat well those for whom they are responsible, and slaves to respect their masters (Ephesians 6:5–9). The Bible is more concerned with our spiritual status. We’re all slaves, either to our own sin or to God: ‘Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?’ (Romans 6:16).
  2. Human rights. The Bible sets great store by kindness. Jesus Christ prescribed the basis on which we should deal with each other: ‘Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them’ (Matthew 7:12). But the Bible says nothing of human rights, except our right to die because of our sin (Romans 6:23).
  3. Can we work out ourselves how to live good lives? Certainly most of us have a sense of right and wrong; but the Bible is clear that there is an immense gulf between God’s standards and ours. ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death’ (Proverbs 14:12).
  4. What makes for a “good life”? Somebody once asked this of Jesus, and this was his reply: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37–39). The primary focus of a good life is not yourself, or even your fellow humans, but God.
  5. Good government. There was a period in Bible history, in the time of the Judges, when ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25). It was a torrid period of corruption and civic failure. Bible history is clear that good government only happened under godly leaders (such as King David)—and Bible prophecy shows that the world’s destiny is the Kingdom of God, which will be imposed upon it by Jesus Christ returned as king (Luke 1:32–33).
  6. Can we solve our problems through the acquisition of knowledge? Science and learning can provide huge benefits, but the Bible sees knowledge from a different perspective: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction’ (Proverbs 1:7).

So it’s clear that there’s an unbridgeable gulf between Humanism and the Christianity of the Bible. The two are not compatible. But it’s worth asking the question—which is right? Given the choice, many people today prefer Humanism.

The last century and a half have seen a grand experiment in Humanism in the western world. In many ways it has triumphed: the pursuit of knowledge in all forms has been elevated to the highest importance; science has advanced at a bewildering pace, and provided many undeniable benefits; democracy is the dominant form of government; religious ethics have been replaced by human ethics, and we now decide right and wrong for ourselves; the motto “You only live once” is an axiom, and God has been relegated to a minority interest. But ask yourself this question—are we happier, better, safer people now? Are we really building utopia?

The Bible offers what Humanism cannot. It explains why people cannot live together in harmony—because we’re fallen creatures. It shows that the universe is not a random accident, but the creation of God Who loves us and gave His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. It demonstrates its reliability by fulfilled prophecy, and its promises span into our future with its solid assurance of the return of Jesus Christ to rule the world. And it gives us confidence for the future: ‘To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life’ (Romans 2:7).

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