Friday, August 15, 2008

Secular Humanism and even greater threats

Secular Humanism is indeed opposed to Christianity, but that brings up another issue, namely that its opposition is so mild (necessarily so in a democracy) that it ought to spur sincere Christians on to greater effort rather than subdue them. I remember reading some famous Churchman commenting about some timid evangelists scurrying out of a country where they had discovered a danger. This old Churchman scoffed, “there never was a successful evangelistic effort that wasn’t built upon the blood of its martyrs.” What would this old fellow think of our modern evangelists being discouraged by Secular Humanism?

I guess part of the reason I couldn’t think of the term, “Secular Humanism,” is that I tend to dismiss it and think the more serious issue, “Christian timidity” or more especially, “Christian anti-intellectualism” which might as well be called “Christian stupidity” (for isn’t ‘stupidity’ an antonym for intellectuality?).

But the philosophical attack against Humanism in the sense I was referring to, the sense in which the Renaissance discovered the Human to be capable of great understanding and great accomplishment, has been undermined by Freud, Lacan, etc., who tell him that the individual can’t be sure that his actions are his own. In fact they are not. Instead they are controlled by his unconscious which is built upon child-hood events, especially traumas that he can’t remember.

His Humanism is also undermined by the bourgeois social structure Foucault tells us about which manipulates, herds and suppresses him.

His Humanism is also undermined by the forces of history that Marx tells us about.

The Post-Liberal French thinkers I’ve been reading may sound a little strange, but think of the more common Existentialism which is a reflection of this sort of thinking. It seems to be neither Christian nor non-Christian. Wasn’t Kierkegaard an Existentialist? He was a Christian, so what’s wrong with Existentialism? Existentialism is in my opinion a more serious threat to Christianity than Secular Humanism. Existentialism is a false individualism: I can only know that I exist. Furthermore my existence is rather meaningless because the forces of the world are beyond my control. Nothing I can do is really going to count for anything. It’s all meaningless, meaningless, (said that proto-Existentialist, Koholeth). Perhaps if I can have my ten minutes of fame, I will at least have achieved something.

Perhaps, Sartre said, the best we can do is hunker down with like-minded people who care about us, people like the Communists. Or perhaps we should just hunker down in some church and wait for whatever is going to happen next.

That sort of thinking is insidious and it isn’t considered a philosophy or a series of philosophies. It is thought of as “just the way things are.” People who think this way might be called “street smart.” There is nothing smart about the modern Christian, however, when he falls victim to its insidious appeal. He hankers after its leeks and garlics.

And there is no danger of his figuring this out because he isn’t much inclined to study anything that pertains to these matters. Paul Boyer wrote When Time Shall Be No More, Prophecy belief in Modern American Culture, 1992. It provides an overview of all the hunkering-down Evangelicals have done in the past. There has been more date-setting and going-up-to-the-mountain-to-wait in our History than is realized. A few other Scholars have written on this subject, perhaps most notably George Marsden. Robert Mapes Anderson wrote Vision of the Disinherited, the Making of American Pentecostalism, and Ernest Sandeen wrote The Roots of Fundamentalism, British and American Millinarianism, 1800-1930. These describe why a huge number of American Christians would rather take a few simplistic beliefs and simply hunker down and wait for the Rapture than wrestle with the various problems we are confronted with intellectually today. For a description of what is wrong with current Evangelical thinking, read Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

We can see the Fundamentalist mote in the Islamic eye, but we can’t see the Fundamentalist plank in our own. If there is a danger in Secular Humanism it is that they have intellectuals out there in the world thinking up whatever new there is to be thought up whereas Christians are hiding their eyes at any new ideas and making the sign of the cross. We need more thinkers and fewer hiders. We need people who can wrestle with all that is new and fewer who take comfort in hiding in what is old.

God is not simply someone who lived and wrote 2000 years ago. He is God of the present and future as well. Did he give us minds to think with? Or did he give us minds just so we could find better hiding places? If we are Neocon, do we really think God intends for us to spread this Liberal-Democracy (which arose out of the Church as Marcel Gauchet so eloquently argued in The Disenchantment of the World, a Political History of Religion) throughout this world? Or do we think that it is merely as good a task as any while we await the Rapture which is sure to happen very soon because of all we are reading in the Newspapers and hear from Prophecy Theorists like Hal Lindsey who tell us, “yes, indeed, the time is very near.”

Lawrence Helm

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