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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Uniformitarianism and Humanism

Just to review - Uniformitarianism.

Okay, we have already reviewed that. So lets take a look at Humanism. I am going to be excerpting some comments back and forth between people concerning weak and strong faith and Humanism versus Christianity.

A Christian has agreed that God is the final authority. God makes the rules. So a Christian then tries to follow the teachings of the Bible, which primarily boil down to the words spoken by Jesus Christ: Matthew 22: 34-40 -

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”


So a Christian is to love and obey God and strive to love his neighbor, others, as himself. This is not a self-centered, vain philosophy but one that should work to the benefit of mankind. It is a philosophy based upon absolutes. The moral code of the Bible is adhered to above the reasoning of men.

Humanism

Like Wikipedia, Humanism sounds pretty good on paper. However, there is no allowance for absolutes. The humanist judges for himself what is right and wrong for him. If God is on the throne of the Christian's life, then in the life of a Humanist it is man on his own throne and ultimately man is on his own throne, answerable first to himself, actually answers to no one. He may run afoul of the rules of society, but in his heart he makes the rules.

Of course, Humanists in general adhere in general to much of the moral code found in the Bible. However, in their philosophy they are not bound to that code or any other code. Many Humanists declare themselves to have the highest possible motives and that they live a life that is exemplary and useful to society. Yet a good Humanist can be completely self-centered and still qualify.

There are great Humanists and rotten Christians. Man is naturally selfish and very capable of screwing anything up. I ask you, though, which mindset and moral foundation is more likely to produce members best for society? Is it the one based on an absolute moral code whose adherents are told to seek the good of others? Or is it the adherents to their own code who are told "to thine ownself be true?"

One commenter said this:

"My own experience has been very different from yours, you see. In shedding my faith I feel I have grown as a man; I have become more compassionate, more forgiving, more tolerant, more patient, more confident in myself and therefore more of a help to others; I have certainly become happier and more content."


and also this:

"Incidentally; I'm curious about something; on your blog you describe yourself as "an ex-humanist become Christian." But in this comment you say you practiced "a self-centered hedonistic lifestyle". To me this is a contradictory statement. In my humanist philosophy there is no room for hedonism or self centredness. Which Humanist thinkers did you consider as informing your ethical choices? Or do you just use "humanist" as a sort of catch-all pejorative for anyone not attached to a religious philosophy?"

These comments puzzle me a bit. Then again, before I became a believer I thought I was a pretty good guy. Afterwards I looked back and saw how self-centered my life had been. I can still be pretty selfish, blah, but I seek to avoid that and try very hard to live a life pleasing to God. But at any rate, Christianity is supposed to be as I have described it. I have seen it twisted into a legalistic and prideful mockery of true faith. Humanism can be a philosophy that benefits others, but it can also be an excuse for the worst kind of debauchery and horror. It appears that Humanism has room for any moral code one chooses and therefore can easily produce any kind of man.

I'll put it this way. The Christian is to base his life on the teachings of the Bible. What is the foundational guide, the absolute, for a Humanist?

11 comments:

Juggling Mother said...

"Yet a good Humanist can be completely self-centered and still qualify."

No, a true humanist does wht is good for humanity as a whole. Whereas this may sometimes co-incide with what is good for him as an individual, it is not his individual needs that he is looking to satisfy, in the same way that a Christian may well fulfill himself while following Gods rules, but he is doing it because God said so, not because it is good for him right then and there.

Therefore a humanist can not be completely self centred, they are, by definition, other-centred.

Of course, many people would define themselves as humanists without following it through to that kind of extreme, but then many people define themselves as Christians without sharing all of your beliefs. Even more people define any non-religious person who appears to have some morals as a humanist, irrelvant of the fact that it does not fit.

Anonymous said...

"Kohlberg's classification [of stages of moral development - really, reasoning] can be outlined in the following manner:
LEVEL--STAGE--SOCIAL ORIENTATION

Pre-conventional.1.Obedience and Punishment
......................2..Individualism,
..................Instrumentalism, and Exchange
Conventional........3.."Good boy/girl"
......................4..Law and Order
Post-conventional..5..Social Contract
......................6..Principled Conscience
[. = spaces - does bloggercomments has any sort of space-preserving formating option?]

The first level of moral thinking is that generally found at the elementary school level. In the first stage of this level, people behave according to socially acceptable norms because they are told to do so by some authority figure (e.g., parent or teacher). This obedience is compelled by the threat or application of punishment. The second stage of this level is characterized by a view that right behavior means acting in one's own best interests.

The second level of moral thinking is that generally found in society, hence the name "conventional." The first stage of this level (stage 3) is characterized by an attitude which seeks to do what will gain the approval of others. The second stage is one oriented to abiding by the law and responding to the obligations of duty.

The third level of moral thinking is one that Kohlberg felt is not reached by the majority of adults. Its first stage (stage 5) is an understanding of social mutuality and a genuine interest in the welfare of others. The last stage (stage 6) is based on respect for universal principle and the demands of individual conscience. While Kohlberg always believed in the existence of Stage 6 and had some nominees for it, he could never get enough subjects to define it, much less observe their longitudinal movement to it.


(source)

Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on this, actually.

Why am I putting this up here? Well, I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Anonymous said...

"Man is naturally selfish and very capable of screwing anything up. I ask you, though, which mindset and moral foundation is more likely to produce members best for society?"

See, I don't buy it. Our nature and limitations mean, as you point out, that we can screw anything up, any ideology. As long as there are certain standards or tendencies, I think the difference is going to be fairly marginal. If you want to be practical, ask this - given that Christianity is in some quarters waning* (for better or worse is irrelevent, only that it is), which is more capable of, etc, etc.

I suspect that we agree that one problem of modern society is the tendency for individuals to lack a strong foundation, so to speak, and thus be susceptible to being blown around by, say, empty materialism (in a social "The world is too much with us, late and soon/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers" sense**, rather than a philosophical or methodological one)

* Yes, more complex, but you get the general idea.

** This really is just an excuse to quote Denise Levertov, just because:

O Taste and See

The world is
not with us enough.
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination's tongue,

grief, mercy, language
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking
the fruit.


-Dan S (not the poem, though - and the last coment's also mine)

Anonymous said...

Religioustolerance.org's little intro to humanism page.

By the way, my wife and I had a very nice Ethical Culture marriage ceremony . . .

(Although I was a bit doubtful at first, on the grounds that they really were rather religious : ) . . .

-Dan S.

Anonymous said...

" given that Christianity is in some quarters waning (for better or worse is irrelevent, only that it is), which is more capable of, etc, etc."

Scratch that. Given that Christianity is waning, which is better, that we have Christianity and the various other religions, and no non-theistic moral framework, or that we have all those and a non-theistic moral framework? After all, it's not like humanism is running around doing missionary work; rather, there are various social forces pushing and pulling people towards nontheism. Wouldn't you want a moral framework in place for them?

Of course, the whole 'Christianity is more practical' angle shades towards the Straussian-influenced tendency among at least some neoconservatives to - while not having religious belief themselves - support traditional religion as a necessary prop for the masses, keeping them on the right road. This faith-free embrace of religion as an instrument of social control - even benign social control - is very different, I imagine, from your devotion to God.

-Dan S.

A Hermit said...

"I ask you, though, which mindset and moral foundation is more likely to produce members best for society? Is it the one based on an absolute moral code whose adherents are told to seek the good of others? Or is it the adherents to their own code who are told "to thine ownself be true?"

I love this idea that there is some "absolute moral code" out there that makes Christian morality superior to everyone else. I've yet to meet a Christian who really abides by, or even actually believes in, such a code.

Is lying always wrong? If so were the people hiding the Frank family from the Nazis acting immorally whenever they said "No Herr Obersturmfurher; there are no Jews in this house...?

Is killing always wrong? Or do you make exceptions for self defense, war, capital punishment?

Seems to me even those who claim they follow an absolute code actually make all kinds of exception based on circumstances. And of course Christians can't agree on what those absolutes entail, as evidenced by the thousands of different Christian sects, each with their own distinct and exclusive version of the "absolute" truth.

"To thine own self be true" is, of course, from Shakespeare's Hamlet, and you should really finish the quote if you want to get the real meaning of it; "...to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." It's a little more meaningful if you read it in context, too. It is anything but a selfish declaration.


"Humanism can be a philosophy that benefits others, but it can also be an excuse for the worst kind of debauchery and horror. It appears that Humanism has room for any moral code one chooses and therefore can easily produce any kind of man."

This is what I was anticipating in my earlier comment when I asked "...do you just use "humanist" as a sort of catch-all pejorative for anyone not attached to a religious philosophy?" This appears to be what you are doing here. You say you used to be a humanist; I'd like to know which humanist authors you read, if any. Was this seriously a philosophy you followed, or have you just hijacked the word to describe your own non-religious life? Can you demonstrate for us just where and how humanism has been used an excuse for "debauchery and horror?" (and don't give me Communism as an example; Communism is not humanism, and as far as I'm concerned it's just another religion.)

You're making a lot of blanket statements about humanism and humanists which appear to me to be born of ignorance about the actual history and nature of humanist thought. Self-centredness is certainly not a viable approach to humanism; nor is it correct to say that "humanism has room for any moral code one chooses." That would be more like nihilism; a different animal entirely.

"What is the foundational guide, the absolute, for a Humanist?"

I would say the foundation is the desire to make the world a better place for all of us; to put real human needs ahead of dogma or institutional interests.

Or, as Paul Kurz say sin his "Affirmations of Humanism: "We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences."

There are plenty of good reasons for behaving ethically and morally, none of which require the existence of god(s). As for absolutes, like I said I don't believe even those who claim to base their behaviour on such a thing really follow an absolute moral code.

I feel a discussion of the Euthyphro Dilemma coming on...>;-}

Sincerely

A Platonic Hermit

A Hermit said...

And a hat tip to anonymous Dan S. again; excellent comments sir...

Sincerely
A Humble Hermit

A Hermit said...

Oh, and Mrs Aginoth too, well put...

And while I'm at kudos to Radar for inviting us in.

A Thorough Hermit

creeper said...

"I ask you, though, which mindset and moral foundation is more likely to produce members best for society?"

I give up. Which one? Supporting evidence please, not just self-serving speculation.

radar said...

Lots of comments here worth noting. I am endeavoring to post responses as posts instead of continuing the comment thread here.

Anonymous said...

"And a hat tip to anonymous Dan S. again;"

You're too kind - anyway, right back at you. And everyone, pretty much - there's always something interesting to read here. :)

-Dan S., feeling appreciated!