Truth Against the World
Far Right Christian Fundamentalists’ Fear and Hatred of Secular Humanists
By Rob DeLoss
I ORIGINALLY STARTED THIS PROJECT over fifteen years ago as a book on fundamentalists versus humanists, but what with my studies over the intervening years and the recent turn of events in world affairs, i.e. the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I have decided to expand my topic considerably to be more comprehensive and to attempt to connect what at first may seem like unrelated topics.
Since the atrocities of September 11, 2001, the U.S. has focused its attention on Islamic fundamentalism as the primary source of terrorism in the world. I submit that it isn’t only Islamic fundamentalists who are responsible, but also Christian fundamentalists. I believe that fundamentalists of whatever persuasion are basically ignorant or uneducated, and therefore the real culprits are government and big business, which have almost total control over the media and our educational system.
I will also give suggestions as to some of the reforms necessary for us to reclaim control over our lives, our government, and our environment.
Part One Chapter 1: What is Humanism?
I BORROWED MY TITLE FROM American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was his family motto. I interpret it to mean that one must stand up for truth against the entire world if necessary. We must constantly strive for integrity no matter how great the cost. I would add that truth is life and ignorance is death.
My whole life has been a search for truth and wisdom, and it has been a lonely battle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have taken on a formidable task, but the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. Nothing is so elusive as the truth, but I will attempt it to the best of my abilities and am always conscious that it is only my truth in the final analysis. Nonetheless, I hope it will be useful to at least a few who read this.
There are several types of humanism, but the type that most Christian fundamentalists see as the enemy is secular humanism. According to Fred Edwords, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, “Secular Humanism is an outgrowth of eighteenth century enlightenment rationalism and nineteenth century freethought.” There is also a branch of humanism called religious humanism, and as Edwords states, “Secular and Religious Humanists both share the same worldview and the same basic principles… It is only in the definition of religion and in the practice of the philosophy that Religious and Secular Humanists effectively disagree.”1
Edwords also lists literary humanism, Renaissance humanism, cultural humanism, philosophical humanism, Christian humanism, and modern humanism. I’ll concentrate on secular humanism and humanism’s general tenets, as most fundamentalists make no distinctions among the various types and attack humanism in general.
Rationalism, according to scholar Jay Stevenson, is “the belief that we can have knowledge without experience.”2 I am definitely a believer in that. I don’t believe we have to learn everything by experience, as so many fellow Americans seem to believe when they say, “All you need is common sense.”
The other part of secular humanism is free thought. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines free thought as “free thinking or unorthodox thought; specifically 18th century deism,” and deism as “a movement or system of thought advocating natural religion based on human reason rather than revelation, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe.”
To be more explicit, because I know that philosophy can be perplexing and have experienced mental cramps on many an occasion while trying to fully comprehend various philosophical concepts, I will cite a passage from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the best representatives of deism, or natural religion:
1 Text of a talk regularly given by Fred Edwords since 1989. 2 Jay Stevenson, Ph.d., The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy (2nd edition, Alpha 2002).
Natural religion, as the Vicar [Rousseau’s mouthpiece in Émile] calls his doctrine, has no need of a revelation; if men had listened to what God says to the heart, there would have been only one religion in the world. If God had revealed Himself specially to certain men, this can only be known by human testimony, which is fallible. Natural religion has the advantage of being revealed directly to each individual.
There is a curious passage about hell. The Vicar does not know whether the wicked go to eternal torment, and says, somewhat loftily, that the fate of the wicked does not greatly interest him; but on the whole he inclines to the view that the pains of hell are not everlasting. However this may be, he is sure that salvation is not confined to the members of any one Church.
It was presumably the rejection of revelation and of hell that so profoundly shocked the French government and the Council of Geneva.3
Here we have the crux of why Christian fundamentalists hate secular humanists with such passion. Humanists don’t deny the existence of God, but they do deny the infallibility of the Bible. They say that men wrote the Bible and that men aren’t perfect. Men make mistakes, sometimes catastrophic mistakes on a massive scale, e.g. the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Hunts, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, etc. Isn’t it much more humane to admit that we don’t know for sure and to live and let live?
This is why I fear fundamentalists, whether they be Christian, Islamic, or whatever faith. They are so sure they have the one and only truth that if you don’t agree with them, they’ll kill you!
I can never get over how audacious they are in their certitude and self-righteousness. I’ll probably sound like an elitist, but fundamentalists I have come into contact with have usually been poorly educated. Because they are so limited in their exposure to the great thinkers of the world and have had such a narrow indoctrination, they are much more susceptible to sloppy reasoning and therefore that much easier to manipulate.
One of the greatest paradoxes of learning is that the more you learn, the less you know. The more knowledge you gain, the more you see how much more there is to learn; that you have just scratched the surface. If you know very little, you lack the wider and deeper perspective needed to see how much more there is.
That is why so many fundamentalists are separate from the general public and are usually homeschooled. Their parents are indoctrinated by their religious leaders to shelter their children from the evil nonbelievers. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil!
I side with John Milton, who says, “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”
3 Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (Taylor & Francis e-Library 2005), p. 630. 4 John Milton, Areopagitica: A speech of Mr John Milton for the liberty of unlicenced printing to the Parliament of England (1644).
What are the so-called good Christians afraid of? Don’t they have the courage of their convictions? If they’re so sure that they’re right, let them do fair and open battle with what they consider false. Instead, they condemn and run and hide any knowledge that might rock their world.
The quote from Milton alludes to Ephesians 4:14: “…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness and deceitful wiles.”5
Pretty powerful stuff, eh? Right out of the Bible. Children are naturally innocent and can’t be blamed for not knowing if something has been hidden from them, but there comes a time, as the saying goes, to put away childish things. Most fundamentalists I have met are very uneducated and argue from a very limited field of knowledge. If they want to be more effective, I would suggest that they read from a much greater range of materials.
I am also reminded of John 8:32: “The truth will make you free.”6 I have long believed that knowledge is power, to steal a quote from Sir Francis Bacon. I mean “power” in the sense of self- empowerment and not being so easily manipulated by the greedy and the unscrupulous.
I’m sure a lot of “good Christians” also feel that it is their duty to share with others what they have learned. But, unlike them, I have worked hard for decades in a serious and open inquiry into what knowledge, wisdom, and truth are. It offends me when someone comes to me and tries to shove their simplistic views down my throat when they haven’t done anywhere near the amount of research that I have, and have the nerve to look down their noses and pass judgment on me.
I warn you, the reader, to be careful of these folks. They are so positive of the righteousness of their beliefs that they are dangerous. I try to be humble and always preface my remarks, when arguing about such matters, that this is just my opinion and I could be wrong. But this would be tantamount to blasphemy for these Jesus jumpers. They can allow no room for doubt or their whole belief system begins to crumble.
I want to reiterate that if a person is truly secure in their beliefs, they are not afraid to do battle intellectually in defense of those beliefs. The more insecure a person is, the more they will lash out. If they can’t hold their own intellectually, they’ll resort to physical attack. Again, remember the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. The religious authorities were so threatened that they tortured you until you confessed or they killed you. Either way, you lost if you dared to question their dogma.
Why do you think the founders of our country thought it so important to separate church and state? I believe they felt it crucial because throughout Western history, either separately or united, both the church and the state kept the common man in a state of servitude. Remember that for centuries, the priests were the only ones who could read. Often, even the kings and the nobility couldn’t read. The priests told the peasants, Don’t worry, we’ll tell you the word of God, you don’t have to bother with learning how to read, it’s much too difficult for the common man. We have your best interests in mind and we’ll look after you—our flock, our little children. Yes, they loved this arrangement because they could sit on their asses and the peasants did all the work and fed them and built them nice places to live and were totally dependent on them. And the State, i.e. the government, the king, etc., said to the peasants, Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. You give us
5 Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version (Oxford University Press 1952). 6 Ibid.
most of your crops and build us great castles and mansions and we’ll protect you from other kings and barons, etc., who want to steal your crops and labor.
Keep the people ignorant and it’s much easier to control them. The poor peasants busted their asses all their lives and rarely, if ever, managed to even own their little plot of land or have any semblance of freedom. I believe our founding fathers knew only too well that if the church and the state continued in their domination of the common man—or should I say “the citizen,” which is what we’re supposed to be about?—the United States had little, if any, chance of survival.
Thomas Jefferson and the other framers of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were children of the Enlightenment. To quote Jefferson, whom I believe to be the primary genius behind our Constitution: “We are all Republicans—we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”7
Right on! That’s the kind of open-mindedness, tolerance and flexibility that made this country so unique in world history and have made it so powerful. The confident and the truly strong don’t persecute and oppress the weaker, because they know the real power is in understanding and cooperation, not control and coercion. The weak attempt to control by force because they know in their hearts they are wrong!
The tyrants will succeed for only so long. Eventually the oppressed will rise up and take back power. The French Revolution is a prime example. The people were starving and the aristocracy were living in obscene luxury. What happened? The people came to the Queen, Marie Antoinette, and begged for bread. Her response: Hah! Let them eat cake! She didn’t give a shit. Well, I’m sure you remember what her fate and that of many others in the French aristocracy was. The starving masses chopped off the heads of half the rich son-of-a-bitches in France.
People will only take the boots of oppressors on their necks for so long. We all want the same basic things in life, e.g. enough food to sustain us and our loved ones, a decent roof over our heads, adequate healthcare, a good education for our children and a hopeful future for them, etc. These are the things that we must continue to demand—not beg for. Just because we are born into a democracy, we can’t assume that our rights and freedoms will always be there. We must be eternally vigilant, and that means we must constantly hold our representatives in government accountable.
To quote Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., again in relation to Milton’s defense of free speech, which is relevant to the free marketplace of ideas:
When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe, even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct, that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade of ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That, at
7 Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address (March 4, 1801). 
any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.8
Pretty heady stuff. Just like this experiment we call America. I submit that these “righteous Christians” are trying, and have been trying for quite some time, to subvert our Constitution and make us subservient to their definition of “God’s Kingdom on Earth.”
I am reminded of Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. These fundamentalists have been slowly plodding along and building their power while the rest of us have been resting on our laurels and writing them off as kooks whom nobody in their right mind would listen to. It could be that we have been asleep at the wheel and it’s time to wake up.
I had a rude awakening when watching 60 Minutes on October 6, 2002. They did an exposé on the Christian Right that blew my mind. My wife and son are Jewish, and I have long been aware of the anti-Semitism of much of the “Christian” community. And yet, here on TV, I saw Christians dressed up as Jews, performing traditional Jewish dances and celebrating Jewish holidays. They even went to Israel and were received by the Prime Minister with open arms.
Why are they doing all this and celebrating the Jews whom they have long considered the enemy? Because they believe that supporting Israel and its invasion of Palestine will hasten the conflict in the Middle East that is foretold in the Bible as the last step before the Second Coming of Christ. They are playing down the fact that they believe the Jews will be killed if they don’t convert to Christianity. In the meantime, everything is lovey-dovey between the fundamentalists and the Israeli Jews. Fundamentalists are pretending to be good friends and supporters of Israel while harboring secret hopes for the destruction of the earth and the Jews who don’t convert!
President Bush had recently told Israel that they had to remove their tanks from Palestine. The “Christian Right” sent over 100,000 emails to the White House, and Bush never said another thing to Israel about the tanks. According to the exposé, the Christian Right is 70,000,000 strong in America. It didn’t specify how many of these were fundamentalists, but obviously they have a lot of clout. Why else would a President kowtow to them?
I too have been asleep at the wheel. I got distracted by other issues and now we’ve gotten to a point of serious danger.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m no anti-Semite, but am not 100% pro-Israel. I think Israel has done a lot of immoral things to “defend” itself. The Palestinians have committed a lot of atrocities themselves. But I see a similarity between Palestine and Israel, as between Ireland and England. The powers that be want to keep painting it as a matter of religious fanaticism to distract the world from the reality of the matter, which is political. As in Ireland, the Palestinians are saying, Get the hell off our land and let us run our own country. But if the media, which the Americans, British, and Israelis control, keep telling the world that it’s just a bunch of religious fanatics causing the trouble, the world writes them off and doesn’t listen to their side of the story. In fact, their side is seldom heard anyway, because the ones who control the media are the politicians, who are controlled by the big- money boys.
8 Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616,630 (1919).
From a book titled Holy Terror by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, I feel the following passage is pertinent:
In their holy war on the culture, the pro-lifers’ and creationists’ attack on science is only one arm of a larger fundamentalist right pincer movement. The other, the drive against the humanities, is being conducted as an independent attack on “secular humanism.” To most Americans, secular humanism is a vague, ho-hum tag. The term has no emotional component. But to millions of fundamentalists, it has become a rallying cry and object of blind rage. Most have no idea what secular humanism means, yet they feel it is their mortal enemy. The confusion may be deliberate, for as a catchall code word, secular humanism stands for a long list of fundamentalist right targets.9
In her excellent essay “Dominion Theology,” Sara Diamond states, “Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition says repeatedly that his organization wants nothing more than a representative voice in government, ‘a place at the table,’ as he puts it. Other movement leaders are more sweeping in their calls to make ours a Christian nation, a Kingdom of God on earth.”10 I believe Mr. Reed is trying to be low-key so as to not attract too much attention or concern, but that their real agenda, as some of the more extreme Christians openly state, is nothing less than total control of all our institutions. They believe they have all the answers, and if they get their way, anyone who disagrees or challenges them will face dire consequences.
Sounds more like Stalinist Russia than America. Many people don’t realize that Stalin killed and jailed more than 20 million of his fellow Russians. And, as Diamond points out, the Christian Right has been steadily building their power for the past 40 years or so and has been very effective while the Left has been distracted and divided. If you think I’m exaggerating the seriousness with which these fanatics want to take control over our lives, here is another excerpt from Diamond: “…advocates call for the imposition of an Old Testament style theocracy, complete with capital punishment for offenses including adultery, homosexuality, and blasphemy.”11
It doesn’t seem possible for any sane person in this day and age to really believe in such a society, but I say there is no limit to people’s capacity for stupidity and cruelty. You’d think with all the atrocities committed in human history that we’d have learned a thing or two and that we should have evolved to a much higher level of consciousness by now. Yet these people are dead serious, and while the majority of us sit on our butts watching TV and struggling for the almighty buck and more and more material possessions, these dangerous nuts are slowly plotting and building their power structure.
I sound like a kook myself, or an alarmist, but there is abundant evidence of what I’m saying, and we all share responsibility to be vigilant lest the freedoms that so many of us take for granted be slowly eroded away and we wake up in one giant prison complex.
9 Flo Conway & Jim Siegelman, Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on America’s Freedoms in Religion, Politics, and Our Private Lives (Doubleday 1982).
10 Sara Diamond, “Dominion Theology: The Truth About the Christian Right’s Bid for Power” (Z Magazine, Feb. 1995).
Look at how many of these “good Christians” have murdered doctors who perform abortions! I can’t get over their blind fanaticism. How can they call themselves Christians and say they’re pro-life when they take lives? And if human life is so sacred to them, why don’t they adopt every orphan in the country and the world? I’d have a lot more respect for their position if they did so, but no, they talk out of both sides of their mouths. Why do we have so many homeless and unwanted children if human life is so precious to them? If they truly believe what they claim, they should give the shirts off their backs and not allow one child to go hungry or be without a roof over their head. To me, they are coldhearted and lack compassion for their fellow human beings. A true Christian, in my book, is a person who empathizes with all of humanity and devotes their life to helping to relieve the suffering of humanity, like Mother Teresa. I believe these shallow excuses for human beings are really repulsed by everybody who isn’t a Christian in their narrow definition of the term, and quite literally want to be separate from all the rest of us ungodly, evil sinners. They are impatient for the end of the world; they are the truly evil ones!
Diamond goes on to say, “More prevalent on the Christian Right is the Dominionist idea, shared by Reconstructionists, that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns—and there is no consensus on when that might be. Dominionist thinking precludes coalitions between believers and unbelievers…”12
If this is so, how do you explain the recent phenomenon of the Christian Right’s support of Israel? I guess it must be a ploy to hasten the Second Coming of Christ. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, just waiting for their opportunity to strike at our nation of sheep.
They have an interesting explanation of how America became so corrupted by humanists:
The idea of taking dominion over secular society gained widespread currency with the 1981 publication of evangelical philosopher Francis Schaeffer’s book A Christian Manifesto… Schaeffer’s argument is simple. The United States began as a nation rooted in Biblical principles. But as society became more pluralistic, with each new wave of immigrants, proponents of a new philosophy of secular humanism gradually came to dominate debate on policy issues. Since humanists place human progress, not God, at the center of their considerations, they pushed American culture in all manner of ungodly directions, the most visible results of which included legalized abortion and the secularization of the public schools.13
Reminds me of something Archie Bunker would say, though Archie was being satirical and these morons are dead serious.
These fundamentalists’ myth that our founding fathers were Christians couldn’t be more wrong. Pluralism is exactly what our founding fathers intended. They believed that diversity of peoples and opinions would make America strong and ensure her ability to adapt and deal with the future problems a country embarking on such a grand experiment as ours would surely have to wrestle with.
12 Sara Diamond, “Dominion Theology: The Truth About the Christian Right’s Bid for Power” (Z Magazine, Feb. 1995).
These Reconstructionists were greatly helped by a Rousas John Rushdoony:
It was Rushdoony’s seminal 1973 tome The Institutes of Biblical Law that articulated Reconstructionists’ vision of a theocracy in which Old Testament law would be reinstated in modern society. Old Testament law classified a wide range of sins as punishable by death; these included not only murder and rape but also adultery, incest, homosexuality, witchcraft, incorrigible delinquency by youth, and even blasphemy. In the Reconstructionists’ vision of a millennial or “kingdom” society, there would be only local governments; there would be no central administrative state to collect property taxes, nor to provide education or other welfare services.14
Sounds a lot like these fringe extremist groups who claim to be White Supremacists, Libertarians, etc. And again I am reminded of how hypocritical these nuts are. They want the federal government to step in when it’s something they want, and when the government doesn’t back their particular interest, they rant and rave about too much federal intrusion into their lives. Corporate America is one of the biggest hypocrites in this regard.
Diamond points out,
The Reconstructionists are theologically committed to Calvinism… Calvinism is the by now almost archaic belief that God has already preordained every single thing that happens in the world. Most importantly, even one’s one salvation or condemnation to hell is already a done deal as far as God is concerned. By this philosophical scheme, human will is not involved in changing the course of history. All that is left for the “righteous” to do is to play out their preordained role, including their God-given right to dominate everyone else.15
How fortunate and how self-serving. They are not responsible for any of their actions. Sounds like the insanity plea in a court of law, or like Flip Wilson’s old comedy routine, “The Devil made me do it.” What about free will? How easy to just throw up your arms and say, I’m not responsible, it was all God’s will! How audacious for these blockheads to presume they have all the answers when they’ve never even strained their little pea brains!
Diamond goes on to state,
Calvinism arose in Europe centuries ago in part as a reaction to Roman Catholicism’s heavy emphasis on priestly authority and on salvation through acts of penance. One of the classic works of sociology, Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, links the rise of Calvinism to the needs of budding capitalists to judge their own economic success as a sign of their preordained salvation. The rising popularity of Calvinism coincided with the consolidation of the capitalist economic system. Calvinists justified their accumulation of wealth, even at the expense of others, on the grounds that
14 Sara Diamond, “Dominion Theology: The Truth About the Christian Right’s Bid for Power” (Z Magazine, Feb. 1995).
they were somehow destined to prosper. It is no surprise that such notions still find resonance within the Christian Right, which champions capitalism and all its attendant inequalities.16
I still can’t get over their blatantly selfish and uncaring attitude. Christians are supposed to care about the poor and the suffering. How far afield can these idiots go and still believe they’re “good Christians?” This smacks of the “divine right of kings.” Don’t dare question their authority; God told them they were superior and everyone else is inferior and condemned to servitude and lifelong suffering while the royalty and rich live high on the hog.
Diamond concludes her essay with a brief rebuttal to liberals and their conspiracy theory regarding the Christian Right, which I am sometimes guilty of slipping into:
A better explanation is that the Christian Right, like other mass movements, is a bundle of internal contradictions which work themselves out in the course of real political activism. Ideas have consequences, but ideas also have causes, rooted in interests and desires. The Christian Right is in a state of tension and flux over its own mission. Part movement to resist and roll back even moderate change, part reactionary wing of prevailing Republicanism. The Christian Right wants to take dominion and collaborate with the existing political-economic system, at the same time. Liberal critics, who also endorse the ruling system, can recognize only the Christian Right’s takeover dimension. Radicals can see that the dominion project is dangerous because it is, in part, business as usual.17
Radicals are closer to the real problem because they want to get to the root of the problem and therefore see that the problem the Christian Right poses is a lot deeper and much more sinister than the liberals can see. Liberals are only concerned with the tip of the iceberg. We have to challenge these dogmatists on a much wider scope. These issues are only a few of the many traps lying in wait for us as a society and as an international community.
A brilliant young man named Paul Cienfuegos has stated on his Portland Public Access program that we have to stop asking nicely for corporations to stop doing all the shit they’re doing like polluting the planet, ruining people’s lives, etc., and that we have to take back power and remind corporations that we are the sovereign and that they are not humans with rights like us. They slowly stole their powers by pushing through legislation while we slept. We have to stand up and let the corporations and the Christian Right know that we’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take this shit anymore! No more Mr. Nice Guy politely asking. We tell them how it’s going to be!
The central thesis of this paper is best summed up by the “modern-day Leonardo da Vinci” and the “planet’s friendliest genius,” whom I had the honor and pleasure of seeing shortly before he died, Buckminster Fuller: “This all brings us to a realization of the enormous educational task which must be successfully accomplished right now in a hurry in order to convert man’s spin-dive toward
16 Sara Diamond, “Dominion Theology: The Truth About the Christian Right’s Bid for Power” (Z Magazine, Feb. 1995).
oblivion into an intellectually mastered power pullout into safe and level flight of physical and metaphysical success, whereafter he may turn his Spaceship Earth’s occupancy into a universe exploring advantage.”18
To put it more succinctly, as H. G. Wells wrote nearly a hundred years ago, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”19
I start with these quotes because I believe at the bottom of all our human problems, the main problem is the lack of a really high-quality education that would enable us to put the brakes on the Christian Right, corporate robber barons, conservatives, etc. And no, I’m not arguing for an elitist conception of education, but an education that would develop people’s critical and analytical thinking so as to empower them to achieve their fullest potential and take back our world.
Life is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The more you learn, the more subjects and disciplines you study, the more pieces of the puzzle come together and the more you come to see the interconnectedness of everything; the closer you get to seeing the big picture.
As historian Edward P. Cheyney says, humanism has been defined in many ways: “It may be the reasonable balance of life that the early Humanists discovered in the Greeks; it may be merely the study of the humanities or polite letters; it may be the freedom from religiosity and the vivid interest in all sides of life of a Queen Elizabeth or a Ben Franklin; it may be the responsiveness to all human passions of a Shakespeare or a Goethe; or it may be a philosophy of which man is the center and sanction.”20
As you can see, humanism is a very broad and all-encompassing concept. One of the things that really infuriate Christian fundamentalists about humanism is our concept of man as being the center or primary human concern. Well, aren’t we supposed to strive to emulate God’s son, Jesus, as the Bible instructs us? Jesus was part mortal and part immortal, and our duty as human beings is to attempt, to the best of our abilities, to develop our moral and intellectual powers in order to become as fully human as possible. Of course, we can never become anywhere near as powerful as God or Jesus, but I believe they are role models for us to aspire to. We come closest to God and Jesus in our creative powers, and we are being more faithful to God’s plan by striving to be the best we can be.
Those fundamentalists who just blindly follow their preachers without ever making personal efforts to develop their own understanding of Christianity are being intellectually lazy. They accuse us of claiming that we are superior to God, but they couldn’t be more wrong. We believe that nobody has all the answers or the absolute truth and that we should all be tolerant and allow everyone to follow their own path in their search for salvation and the deepest meaning of life.
I was wrong for a long time when I thought that Christianity was based on Plato’s philosophy. Or rather, I was half wrong. Richard Tarnas writes, “Faced with the fact that there already existed in the greater Mediterranean culture a sophisticated philosophical tradition for the Greeks, the educated class of early Christians rapidly saw the need for integrating that tradition with
Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (Southern Illinois University Press 1969). 19
H. G. Wells, The Outline of History (George Newnes 1919-20), Ch. 41.
20 Prof. Edward P. Cheyney, quoted in Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism (8th Ed., Humanist Press 1997).
their religious faith. Such an integration was pursued both for their own satisfaction and to assist the Greco-Roman culture in understanding the Christian mystery.”21
I interpret this to mean that Greek and Roman philosophy lent intellectual respectability to early Christian teachings, and also helped people to understand Greco-Roman philosophy, which could be highly esoteric and mysterious, as some Christian teachings were as well.
Tarnas goes on to say,
Yet this was considered no marriage of convenience, for the spiritually resonant Platonic philosophy not only harmonized with, it also elaborated and intellectually enhanced, the Christian conceptions derived from the revelations of the New Testament. Fundamental Platonic principles now found corroboration and new meaning in the Christian context: the existence of a transcendent reality of eternal perfection, the sovereignty of divine wisdom in the cosmos, the primacy of the spiritual over the material, the Socratic focus on the “tending of the soul,” the soul’s immortality and high moral imperatives, its experience of divine justice after death, the importance of scrupulous self-examination, the admonition to control the passions and appetites in the service of the good and true, the ethical principle that it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit one, the belief in death as a transition to more abundant life, the existence of a prior condition of divine knowledge now obscured in man’s limited natural state, the notion of participation in the divine archetype, the progressive assimilation to God as the goal of human aspiration. Despite its having entirely distinct origins from the Judaeo-Christian religion, for many ancient Christian intellectuals the Platonic tradition was itself an authentic expression of divine wisdom, capable of bringing articulate metaphysical insight to some of the deepest of Christian mysteries. Thus as Christian culture matured during its first several centuries, its religious thought developed into a systematic theology, and although that theology was Judaeo-Christian in substance, its metaphysical structure was largely Platonic. Such a fusion was advanced by the major theologians of the early Church—first by Justin Martyr, then more fully by Clement of Alexandria and Origen, and finally, most consequentially, by Augustine.
In turn, Christianity was regarded as the true consummation of philosophy, with the gospel as the great meeting ground of Hellenism and Judaism. The Christian proclamation that the Logos, the word Reason itself, had actually taken human form in the historical person of Jesus Christ compelled widespread interest in the Hellenistic cultural world.22
I think it is abundantly clear how intertwined Christianity and philosophy are. Why do Christian fundamentalists fear and hate humanism so vehemently? Are they so ill informed not to have ever learned of these significant connections? The “existence of a prior condition of divine knowledge now obscured in man’s limited natural state” is clearly from Plato’s teaching that we know all things before we are born but forget everything due to the shock of birth, and that is why,
21 Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (Ballantine Books 1991).
as we mature and stumble across bits and pieces of knowledge, we have a sense of recognition. It resonates in our souls. It’s that aha! realization that we already knew it. Plato also had a hierarchy, or ladder, connecting the material to the immaterial (or metaphysical), and at the top of his ladder was the Absolute Good. The Christian founders simply substituted God for the Absolute Good.
So, it seems manifestly clear that the early Christian Church fathers had no problem with philosophy, and hence with humanism, but as time went by they became jealous and felt the need to denigrate humanism in an attempt to gain more power and influence for themselves.
Through his redemptive act, Christ mediated the soul’s access to the transcendent reality and thus satisfied the philosopher’s ultimate quest. In terms strongly reminiscent of Platonism with its transcendent Ideas, Christian theologians taught that to discover Christ was to discover the truth of the cosmos and the truth of one’s own being in one unitary illumination… It is indicative of this intimacy between Platonism and Christianity that Plotinus and Origen, the central thinkers, respectively, of the last school of pagan philosophy and the first school of Christian philosophy, shared the same teacher in Alexandria, Ammonius Saccas (a mysterious figure about whom virtually nothing is known). Plotinus’s philosophy, in turn, was pivotal in Augustine’s gradual conversion to Christianity. Augustine saw Plotinus as one in whom “Plato lived again,” and regarded Plato’s thought itself as “the most pure and bright in all philosophy,” so profound as to be in almost perfect concordance with the Christian faith. Thus Augustine held that the Platonic Forms existed within the creative mind of God and that the ground of reality lay beyond the world of the senses, available only through a radical inward-turning of the soul. No less Platonic, although thoroughly Christian, was Augustine’s paradigmatic statement that “the true philosopher is the lover of God.” And it was Augustine’s formulation of Christian Platonism that was to permeate virtually all of medieval Christian thought in the West. So enthusiastic was the Christian integration of the Greek spirit that Socrates and Plato were frequently regarded as divinely inspired pre-Christian saints, early communicators of the divine Logos already present in pagan times—“Christians before Christ,” as Justin Martyr claimed.23
If only our present-day Christians were as open-minded as these early theologians.
The deeper you dig in your search for truth, the more you see the interconnectedness of everything. This is why I have spent my life searching for meaning and answers. I find comfort and realize the more I pursue knowledge and wisdom, the spiritual high of discovering profound truths moves me to the marrow of my bones and the deepest depths of my soul! Material possessions are exciting for a while, but soon the attraction wears off. My pursuit of knowledge and the thrill of discovery never bores me or loses its charm.
From a book titled Tales of Philosophy by Félix Martí-Ibáñez, I find the following passages intriguing and relevant:
23 Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (Ballantine Books 1991).
Christianity emerged in Rome in an epoch when belief in myths was beginning to decline. For many, many centuries man had lived on these beliefs. Myths, the religion of the ancient civilizations… had been for centuries mankind’s spiritual nourishment and medicine… with the Greek and Roman loss of faith in their Mediterranean civilization, the Judaic religions from the East burst upon Rome and immediately acquired a ballast of Greek intellectualism and Roman regimentation. Thus the Church rose as a sophia—as a “science” and a hierarchy… Through the teachings of Christ, prophets and Christians put into action a formidable socioreligious propaganda against the rich, the powerful, the proud… In complete desperation, man turned his back on Caesar and delivered himself into the hands of God… Platonism had been the prelude to the Christian faith via Neoplatonism, but Platonism was not Christianity… But Plato believed, above all, in reason and in ideas, not in revelation, as did Christianity.24
There comes a time when the world is ready for a new idea. It seems Christianity came along at a time when people were hungry for spiritual sustenance, or food for thought, so to speak.
Charles Van Doren’s History of Knowledge offers further material reflecting how far from the gospel many in the Christian Right have strayed:
The most trenchant statement of the new doctrine is contained in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, in which he spelled out the modifications of the law of Moses for which he stood… “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”25
Let’s see: the poor in spirit, they that mourn, the meek, they which thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart. Doesn’t sound like most of what I hear the Christian Right saying. Wasn’t it Jerry Falwell who said that AIDS is God’s punishment of homosexuals? Or how about the Christian Right’s support for death squads in Central America? Or their killing, and supporting the killers, of abortion doctors? Or their support for Israel against the Palestinians no matter what atrocities the Israelis commit? Do they think God is stupid, or not watching them? I take comfort in knowing they will face their day of reckoning with God, and realize all of a sudden, much too late, how far they strayed and how they perverted biblical teachings. Aren’t we all supposed to be God’s children?
I seem to remember from a Sunday school lesson as a young boy that God was the only one fit to judge. “Judge not, that you be not judged.”26
Van Doren notes, “Jesus almost always spoke in parables, which required interpretation in those days and still do today. The wisdom of some of these parables, while profound, is perhaps not
24 Félix Martí-Ibáñez, Tales of Philosophy (Clarkson N. Potter Inc. 1967).
25 Charles Van Doren, A History of Knowledge: The Pivotal Events, People, and Achievements of World History (Ballantine Books 1991).
26 Matthew 7:1, Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version (Oxford University Press 1952).
so different from the wisdom of other ancient religious teachers. But there was also a core of uniqueness in the teachings of Jesus the man. He combined the earthiness of the Jews with the mystical vision of the Christians.”27
Reading this, I flashed on something one of my all-time favorite teachers said once in regard to fundamentalists: “The Bible is full of parables; these fundamentalists interpret them literally when, in fact, they are metaphorical life lessons.” Her name was Dora Polk, and I wish that I could have studied with her for all my classes in the four years of pursuing my B.A. I have never met a more compassionate, in-depth and far-ranging intellect.
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines a parable as “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.” A metaphor is defined as “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in the ship plows the sea).”
I may sound strident in my criticism of fundamentalists, but I really wonder about their intellectual capacities. Are they able to think critically at all?
In conclusion, Van Doren relates,
As with the great painters, the great authors did not hide man’s light under the bushel of religious piety. Much was written about religion during the years of the later Renaissance (from 1500 to 1650, say). Probably the majority of all published works, even in the vernacular, were religious in tone if not in intent. But the greatest writers wrote about man, not God, placing man in the center foreground, exalting him, praising him, questioning him, criticizing him, but not despising him and his worldly city as the Augustinians had been doing for a thousand years.28
It seems that, as at the beginning of the Christian religion when people were tired of their myths and were ready for something new to believe in, the Renaissance marked another such turning point in history when people were searching for something new and inspiring. The very term, Renaissance, means “rebirth.” And it was a rebirth, or rediscovery, of the Greek and Roman classics that had been lost for so many centuries and were like a breath of fresh air for the human spirit after the Dark Ages!
That is how humanism first attracted me: because it is so much more optimistic than Christianity. I have to believe the glass is half full rather than half empty, or the negativity becomes so overwhelming that at times it seems not even worth getting out of bed. Most Christians I have met seem to dwell on all the negativity in the world and believe it’s all preordained, and are just looking forward to the end. I can’t swallow that. They sometimes pretend to be positive in their love of Christ, but inevitably they keep harping on abortion, drug users, etc. I too focus on some negative aspects of our world, but bring them up in the context of how these good Christians and others are destroying it, with God supposedly on their side, and to show that those of us who believe a better world is possible—right here and now, not after we die—might know in what ways we have to
27 Charles Van Doren, A History of Knowledge: The Pivotal Events, People, and Achievements of World History (Ballantine Books 1991).
focus our attention and efforts. I think it is much too big a gamble to believe in an afterlife and believe it is an escape from responsibility while we are alive. We owe it to our children and to all future generations to make this a better planet than when we were born. I don’t see any contradiction between this view and that of whom I refer to as true Christians. If God does exist, he, she, or it can read our hearts; I believe that if your heart is pure, you have nothing to worry about in a possible afterlife. And if there is no afterlife, all the good we have done in our lifetimes has still benefitted our fellow human beings.
Philosopher Corliss Lamont writes, “In my judgment the philosophy best calculated to liberate the creative energies of mankind and to serve as a common bond between the different peoples of the earth is that way of life most precisely described as Humanism.”29
I’d say that humanists are life-affirming and fundamentalists are life-denying. It’s like raising children. When you keep telling a child that they are bad, they eventually internalize that message and go through life with a deep guilt, a negative outlook on life, and a suspicion of others. But if you praise and encourage children to develop their creative capacities, they go through life with a much more optimistic and happy outlook.
Our perception becomes our reality, or, as Marcus Aurelius put it, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”30
Ideas are indeed very powerful and we must take greater care of what kinds of ideas we fill our heads with. It’s getting harder and harder to do so with the constant bombardment of words and images in the modern world. To gain real knowledge sometimes takes many years, if not a lifetime, because you must first unlearn all the misinformation we have acquired or been taught in school as truth.
“Humanism focuses on man, and starts from human experience,” writes historian Alan Bullock. “It argues indeed that this is all men and women have to go on.”31
This, again, is such a terrible blasphemy in fundamentalists’ eyes because they believe we are putting humans above God. How stupid and fearful can they be? We can’t affect God, but we can affect humanity; that is all we’re saying. Let’s get our act together. Isn’t that what Christianity is all about anyway?
This revival of belief in the positive aspects of mankind began with the Renaissance, of course, and “during the Renaissance, Western Europe rediscovered classical Greek thought and literature. A new ‘humanism’ replaced the dry scholasticism of the universities—and Plato’s writings were all the rage among the new intellectuals.”32
One of the men primarily responsible for this revival was Petrarch, who,
if he was not the first to show an interest in humanistic studies,… brought humanism to life with all the flair of a great innovator. He knew more about the Latin classics than any medieval man before him; he discovered in Verona the lost text of Cicero’s letters, produced an emended text of Livy and restored Latin to the status of a living language by writing a whole series of original works. Among them are biographies modeled on Plutarch and collections of letters, which provide a fascinating and complex self-portrait
29 Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism (8th Ed., Humanist Press 1997).
30 Marcus Aurelius (121-180 C.E.), Meditations.
31 Alan Bullock, The Humanist Tradition in the West (Thames & Hudson Ltd. 1985).
32 Robert Cavalier & Eric Lurio, Plato for Beginners (For Beginners 2007).
of a man who has been called the first intellectual. Other studies were devoted to trying to reconcile humanistic studies with Christianity, to attacking the dominant scholastic philosophy and to invectives against all critics.33
This is a good point from which to jump into the wide, wonderful world of humanism in all its manifestations and ramifications.
33 Alan Bullock, The Humanist Tradition in the West (Thames & Hudson Ltd. 1985).