Secular Humanism: Between the Ideal and the Lie

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Secular Humanism

Between the Ideal and the Lie

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A war of philosophy and of what defines morality is being fought daily in the media, judicial benches and legislative halls across the Western world. Issues include separation of church and state, euthanasia, abortion, gay rights and whether “one nation under God” should stay in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance or “In God We Trust” should remain inscribed on U.S. currency.

On one side stand fundamentalist Protestantism and conservative Catholicism and on the other side secular humanism. The “religious right” claims that humanism is dragging the United States into an abyss of crime and relativism. Secular humanists point to incidents like the pedophile priest scandal rocking the Catholic Church to trumpet that Christianity is discredited and has failed to produce a moral and safe society.

Many find themselves in the middle, accepting some traditional religious ideas while embracing many secularist positions. What is secular humanism, and what are its effects on cultural development in the United States?

Humanist manifestos

In 1933 a small group of philosophers, educators and ministers issued the Humanist Manifesto. They presented their statement of 15 beliefs as concepts deeply rooted in the democratic ideals of American culture.

The document begins with assertions that progress in scientific knowledge has necessitated a radical change in the way humanity defines religion. The first statement of humanism is: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.” The cornerstone of the Humanist Manifesto is the belief that the universe is the result of mindless evolution.

In the following decades secular humanism continued to influence the philosophical and religious thought of many in the field of higher education. Humanism blossomed in the cultural experimentation of the 1960s. In 1973 the Humanist Manifesto II greatly broadened the philosophy in political intent and practice.

The 1973 Manifesto’s section on religion includes the statement that “we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species.” It goes on to claim, “Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful.” The document reaffirms the humanist tenet that human beings are simply a result of blind, purposeless evolution.

The section on the individual denies any divine authoritative code of behavior. This is specifically espoused in relation to human sexuality. The Manifesto states: “We believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religious and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized.”

It further contends, “Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire.”

The Manifesto explicitly condones euthanasia and, concerning politics, advocates a world community without national boundaries.

Obviously many secular humanist ideas have filtered into mainstream culture. Millions of Americans are abandoning long-held Christian ideals and standards and embracing secularism. Humanists point out that this increase in the acceptance of secularism exposes the failure of Christianity to fulfill people’s fundamental needs.

Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism, wrote: “Given the intense conflicts between contending fundamentalist dogmatic claims in the world today, many people have grown exasperated with policies formulated ‘in the name of God.’ They have asked for concrete secular, political, and ethical alternatives to resolve these conflicts.

“Here secularism has an important role to play. For it can show that it is possible to lead the good life, be a good citizen, and display exemplary moral conduct without benefit of religion or clergy. Indeed, contemporary secular European societies enjoy high standards of living and education, and they suffer less violence, addictive behavior, repression, or tyranny than religious societies.

“We hope the secular trends now emerging in the United States will continue to grow. This is the vision and the call of secular humanism—to demonstrate to everyone the positive reach of humanist values as an alternative to God-intoxicated theologies and the importance of keeping alive reason rather than faith” (“Bravo! Secularism Growing in the U.S. ,” Free Inquiry, Summer 2002).

Historical revisionism hard at work

A central argument in the political hoopla from both the “religious right” and secular humanists is that their positions are the original intent of the founding fathers of the United States.

There is no doubt that the individuals instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Constitution were religious men who believed in a Supreme Being. After all, the American colonies were strongly steeped in European Christianity.

Many original colonists came to the New World seeking religious tolerance. Among them were the Puritans of New England, Quakers of Pennsylvania, Catholics of Maryland, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, German Reformed, Lutherans, Baptists and Methodists, although large segments of the population continued to support the Church of England.

The framers of the Constitution envisioned a nation where people were free to practice their own religion and where the government couldn’t establish a state religion. It is historical revisionism to claim that the founders were anti-God and anti-religion. It is also revisionist, however, to claim that they were uniformly fundamentalist Christians, although most were.

Though it was generally looked down on, some in early America adhered to deism, the philosophy that God created humanity and a universe governed by immutable laws, but that He does not intervene in His creation. The Bible was seen by some deists as a compilation of good moral teachings along with much myth and evil teachings. God, it was thought, was to be discovered only in nature, not in supposed miracles or divine revelation.

Over time this and like ideas gained ground, though remaining very much in the minority. But throughout the 1800s proponents of humanism claimed scientific discovery discounted biblical accuracy. Evolution became the humanists’ answer to creation. Eventually, the religious beliefs of deism and the humanism of the 18th century evolved into modern secular humanism.

Despite remaining in the minority, these views have had a gradual and pervasive effect. How much has humanism molded the culture of the Western world? How much has it affected you?

Secular humanism and the Bible

It’s vital to understand that, from a biblical viewpoint, basic untruths underlie the heart of secular humanism. These deceitful assertions are increasingly accepted as wisdom in our postmodern, pluralistic culture. It is important that Christians identify these fraudulent claims and expose them for what they are.

One basic deception of secular humanism is that humanity is an accident of nature and that there is no plan of salvation. The result of this belief is the propagation of evolutionary theory, support of abortion and euthanasia, and disdain for organized religion. The societal consequences of these ideas include attempts to remove the Bible from public schools, the defamation or ridicule of those who claim to have a relationship with God, loss of a sense of purpose for humanity and abandonment of hope in a future after this life.

A second deception is the belief that all religions are equal. Not all humanists are atheists; some believe in some form of Supreme Being. But in the humanistic model, the Bible becomes just another book containing many ethical ideas but also one filled with myths and even promoting evil. This has led to dismissal of the Bible while accepting and propagating many forms and variations of non-Christian beliefs.

A third deception of humanism is that each person is his or her own ultimate authority. Frederick Edwords writes in “What Is Humanism?” published on the American Humanist Association Web page:

“The Secular Humanist tradition is in part a tradition of defiance, a tradition that dates back to ancient Greece. One can see, even in Greek mythology, humanist themes that are rarely, if ever, manifested in the mythologies of other cultures. And they certainly have not been repeated by modern religions. The best example here is the character Prometheus.

“Prometheus stands out because he was admired by ancient Greeks as the one who defied Zeus. He stole the fire of the gods and brought it down to earth. For this he was punished. And yet he continued his defiance amid his tortures. This is one source of the Humanist challenge to authority.

“The next time we see a truly heroic Promethean character in mythology it is Lucifer in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. But now he is the Devil. He is evil. Whoever would defy God must be wickedness personified. That seems to be a given of traditional religion. But the ancient Greeks didn’t agree. To them, Zeus, for all his power, could still be mistaken.

“Imagine how shocked a friend of mine was when I told her my view of ‘God’s moral standards.’ I said, ‘If there were such a god, and these were indeed his ideal moral principles, I would be tolerant. After all, God is entitled to his own opinions!’

“Only a humanist is inclined to speak this way. Only a humanist can suggest that, even if there be a god, it is OK to disagree with him, her, or it.”

The result of each person becoming his or her own ultimate authority is situation ethics. Institutions like lifelong marriage become merely personal choices on par with purchasing a new car. Homosexuality and divorce become acceptable as long as “no one gets hurt.” The societal consequences? Epidemic sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, mental illness, broken families, poverty, crime, war—the very ills humanists claim to want to change.

Paul’s denunciation of pagan Rome

In Romans 1:18-21 Romans 1:18-21 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has showed it to them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
American King James Version×
the apostle Paul confronts the idolatry of the Roman world of the first century. He writes: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (New International Version).

Paul says that the creation itself reveals the Creator so obviously that idolatry is senseless and futile. This same argument exposes secular humanism, which claims to be based on reasoning. Darwinism, the foundational concept of early 20th-century humanism, has been rejected as scientifically untenable by a growing number of scientists. The design and complexity of nature proves the intellect of a Designer. Yet secular humanists refuse to explore the possibility that their theories are flawed.

Paul continues in verses 22-25: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is for ever praised” (NIV).

The superstitious people of ancient Rome believed in a myriad of gods and goddesses while denying the Creator. Paul says they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” Humanists don’t worship idols of wood and stone. Instead they’ve tried to substitute the worship of humanity and self for the worship of the Creator God. In secular humanism every person is his or her own god.

Paul goes on to show the results of human theories that deny the Creator God: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (verses 26-32, NIV).

Ironically, the consequences of secular humanism in society aren’t any different than the idolatry of Rome: sexual immorality, homosexuality, lack of love and mercy, violence, destruction of the family and a hatred of God.

The only real solution

Only 34 men signed the original Humanist Manifesto, but a look at the names is revealing. One signer was John Dewey, founder and first president of the American Association of University Professors and one of the most influential men in reforming the public educational system in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Under the influence of Dewey and others, public schools went through dramatic changes. Science replaced religion as the foundation of education. Human reasoning replaced the belief that the Bible is the guiding truth of the Creator.

Secular humanists are correct when they claim that historical Christianity has failed to produce a utopian society. The problems with Christianity are the same as with humanism—human nature. When we seriously study the Bible, it becomes clear that the Christianity of Jesus and the apostles has been eclipsed by a counterfeit Christianity they would have difficulty recognizing. Until human beings are willing to submit to the Creator and the way of life He intends for us, we will continue to repeat the same tragic mistakes.

The Bible reveals that God is sending Jesus Christ to earth to establish His Kingdom. When that happens, all false religion—including mainstream Christianity as well as Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and, yes, secular humanism—will cease to exist as people at last learn the truth and submit to Christ’s authority. The results will be the peace and happiness that all people desire!

Before He returns you should get to know—by really studying—the Bible for yourself. Don’t be blindly swayed by humanistic criticism of it! GN