Is Christianity a Viable Alternative to Humanism?

I saw this essay img_1719from Ann-Marie Slaughter today over at Foreign Policy.  It is entitled, “The Only Way Forward,” and the by-line was “Can the new world order be saved by humanism?”  The essay described a good number of world events that ranged from confusing, to concerning, to troubling, to downright horrible.  She went on to highlight a number of initiatives undertaken by political, social, and business entities to counter some of the bad stuff; and she concluded that the world must embrace humanism in order to survive.  Specifically we must be “advancing humanist values” and “increasing our respect for all living beings.”  While she never defined humanism, she encouraged humanity to move beyond humanitarianism (a reactive approach) and “embrace the values of humanism in the service of self-interest,” which I assume means that we need to develop a deeper sense of empathy and a willingness to help those in need.

While I admire Ms Slaughter’s desire to bring an end to human suffering (or at least human-inflicted suffering), a few things struck me as lacking.  First, the human nature that gives us affection for others is schizophrenic and tends to be completely self-centered.  In other words, human nature is in conflict with itself and is extraordinarily poor at self-regulation.  Second, history is replete with examples of highly-civilized societies that disintegrate spectacularly when human reason is deemed to be the path to utopia.  Third, the illogic of a cosmic accident developing a survival instinct (to say nothing of empathy) is almost universally glossed over by humanists.  Nevertheless, the sentiments expressed are nearly universal.

Christians and humanists agree on the symptoms.  They both lament the senseless suffering caused by the cruelty that humans inflict on each other—something universally called “evil” (overlooking for the moment the fact that evil is always justified by those that perpetrate it).  They partially agree on the cause:  the competition, rivalry, and jealousy among people.  They agree on the desired outcome:  a world free from self-inflicted suffering.  The critical difference is the means by which this is accomplished.  A humanist worldview encourages everyone to try harder.  A Christian worldview acknowledges the need for an outside agent, the divine assistance of the Creator, in order to keep the dark side of human nature in check.

To the Western world that is becoming increasingly disillusioned by Christianity, what do Christians have to offer those that see only the idealogical similarities between Christianity and humanism?  In other words, what would make the Christian worldview more attractive than a humanist worldview to a third party?

The answer, I’m afraid, is disheartening.  Christianity in America is almost completely characterized by its veneer of religion.  Outsiders looking in see a fractured group that attends weekly religious services and demands complete assent to a specific set of doctrines before they accept newcomers.  A by-product of the religious establishment is the trend I’ve seen in evangelical circles for Christians to view the purpose of Jesus’ redemptive work as merely a means to get to heaven.  In other words, this life is little more than an opportunity to “get saved” and to convince others to get saved so that we can all go to heaven when we die.  I believe that this is an extremely limited view of God’s plan for humanity.  Jesus’ message was that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  While the meaning of the phrase “is near” is debated by Christians, I believe that Jesus was telling us that He was establishing the beginning of His kingdom, in a spiritual sense, on earth during His lifetime.

Jesus Himself said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “ ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.”  While there is a spiritual aspect to these words in the spatial sense, the kingdom of heaven is already here in a temporal sense.  This, I believe, is thematic throughout Jesus’ teaching and ministry.  Without minimizing the significance of the next life, there is much work is to be done, much personal development to be accomplished, and many adventures to be had in this life.  Christians would do well to maintain a balanced outlook that keeps the future in mind yet focuses on the life we’re currently living.

Jesus’ made it abundantly clear through His teaching and example that caring for others was second only to loving God—and if you loved God, you would care for others.  “I give you a new commandment – to love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”  He also spoke of the day when he would invite people into the more fully-developed kingdom of heaven—those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, extended hospitality to strangers, fed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoners.

We live in a world full of people that are hurting and looking for hope.  Followers of Christ are in a unique position to offer hope, healing, and relief.  They have been set free and now have some exhilarating news to share:  our rescue from the human condition has begun!  A way has been provided to be reconciled to God.  Our ability to embrace a relationship with God should result in love for others.  The spiritual reconciliation should be manifested on the physical plane.  You can’t and shouldn’t try to argue people into a relationship with God.  Perhaps if we had something more than religion to offer them, they would realize that lasting peace and reconciliation can only come through Jesus.  If we lived out the words of Jesus, set aside all the religious stuff, and focused on taking care of each other, I suspect that nonbelievers would flock to the followers of Christ when they saw true community exemplified.  After all, it’s pretty hard to argue with results.  If following Christ is a better alternative than humanism, then Christians need to demonstrate this to the world before it will be accepted.

All quotes by Jesus from the NET Bible.

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