The purpose of my blog post last week was to shed some light on the somewhat obscure concept of Humanism. Today I’d like to address a concept I’ve heard mention of lately, the idea that Christians can also be Humanists. Is it possible?
Humanism believes in a scientific approach to understanding life, placing importance on the evolution of knowledge, reason, and empirical evidence. Christianity is a faith-based system (faith here meaning the strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.) Christianity proposes that the word of God is permanent and unchangeable and that it takes precedence over scientific evidence (1 Tim 6:20). Also, by definition Humanism is inclusive of all people, regardless of their beliefs, while Christianity is exclusive. Christianity’s message is that only followers of Jesus will inherit eternal life (Acts 4:12). So we see at a high level, before diving into much detail, that Humanism and Christianity are incompatible. However, for the sake of a thorough exploration, I will dive into detail. Here’s one quick disclaimer, before I do.
I have found that Christians stand firmly behind the Old Testament when a particular verse defends an unsavory position on a heated issue. In 1820, for example, the OT was used to defend slavery. In 1637, the OT was used to defend genocide. In 2016, the OT was used to oppress and offend members of the LGBTQ community.
On the other hand, when the Old Testament is as embarrassing to Christians as it is to the rest of us, they employ the convenient excuse that Jesus came to change the Old Testament, although they word it differently. I’ve often heard it put this way: “He came to fulfill the law, so the law doesn’t need to be followed anymore.” This is like a quarterback calling the perfect football play for Team Christian. It negates the story or verse in question, without admitting that the Old Testament is wrong, or that Jesus might have disagreed with the Old Testament. Doing so, of course, would undermine the concept that Jesus and God are the same entity, two parts of the same whole, Dr. Evil and Mini Me.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this, it’s that the Old Testament can only be used by Christians to persecute others. When quoted by rational, thinking people to prove that the Bible is unjust or discriminatory, that the Judeo-Christian god is a perpetrator of unacceptable crimes against humanity, and that the inconsistencies and impossibilities in it render “God’s Word” so miserably fallible that it’s comedic, it is negated as a reliable source by Christians themselves. Either “Jesus came to change all that,” or “I am misinterpreting the verse.” For example, when I cringe at a verse like “How blessed will be the one who seizes your young children and pulverizes them against the cliff!” (Psalm 137:9) I am taking the verse too literally. it’s just a sweet metaphor of his love for us.
To avoid this double-standard as we dive into our discussion on Humanism and Christianity, I will focus only on the teachings of Jesus. Clearly the OT God would score zero on the Humanist scale (genocide, rape, misogyny, and animal abuse being things that Humanists fight against, not for). If I ignore the Christian belief that Jesus claims to be OT God, I’d probably score him at about a 5 out of 10. Using last week’s definition of what it means to be a Humanist and stories from the New Testament, let’s explore.
In Luke 4:18, Jesus defends the poor, the oppressed, and the captive. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus speaks favorably of the poor. Humanists also believe in the fair and equal treatment of others, regardless of social status.
Jesus also defended women, in a radical way for his time. Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the Bible story in which an adulteress was about to be executed by stoning and Jesus intervened. His memorable defense statement was, “He who is without sin should cast the first stone.” After some introspection, the condemners left the scene, and the woman’s life was spared. If Humanists roamed the Earth nearly 2,000 years ago, they would probably high-five Jesus for that revolutionary move.
Another time Jesus stepped up to the plate was when he criticized the religious leaders of his time, because “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden,” and, “Everything they do is for show.” (Mat 23:4-5) In this teaching and others, Jesus exemplifies Humanism by putting love for others above religion.
Lastly, Jesus instructed his followers to love one another (John 13:34), feed and clothe the poor (Mat 25:35-40), and to refrain from judging others. (Mat 7:1) These are all honorable commandments, and reflect the values held by Humanists worldwide.
Sadly, not all of his teachings are quite so benign. Even though Jesus mentioned setting captives free, the New Testament directly commands slaves to obey their masters. (Eph. 6:5) In Matthew 17:7, Jesus says: When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, “Come in and eat with me?” No, he says, “Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.” And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, “We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.”
This is no way to treat another human being! His words show that Jesus completely approves of the heartless treatment of servants, and suggests that he intends to treat his followers in this same cruel way, as “worthless” beings designated only to serve and obey.
According to the Bible, Jesus heals blindness, muteness, and lameness by “casting out demons.” (Mat 12:22 and Luke 13:11) To suggest that people’s physical differences are the result of demon-possession is an extreme untruth that is demoralizing of others. Not only does Jesus support the belief that demons cause humans to be differently abled, at one point he proceeds to murder 2,000 helpless animals by “casting demons into them.” What’s worse, he committed this atrocity at a demon’s request. (Mat 8:28-32) At this point, Jesus is not looking like a person/god that I would be interested in worshipping.
In Matthew 10, Jesus says, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Here, too, we see an example of Jesus placing greater value on following him into a supposed afterlife, than loving others on Earth. This directly conflicts with the values of Humanism.
In Mark 16:16, Jesus says, “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.” Now let me point out that, as bad as OT God was, he never threatened his people with hell. It was Jesus that brought the concept of eternal punishment into the Bible. Perhaps the most elemental teaching in the Bible is that all of us deserve to be punished because we are born guilty of sins committed by the first humans, Adam and Eve. Jesus chose to receive our punishment through death and rebirth (which was really only a spanking compared to burning in eternal hell—perks, perhaps, of being the boss’ son). The caveat being we have to believe the story. If we are born into a different religion, or approach life with a scientific or atheistic view, or don’t get baptized, or die before we’ve repented of our sins, it’s straight to hell we go.
That’s because the core message of the Bible is that humans are born without inherent worth. Our worth is dependent entirely on God and his salvation through Jesus. Without him, we are dead branches to be thrown into the fire. (John 15:6) The core value of Humanism is that all humans are born with inherent worth and dignity. We are each beautiful in our own way and have the ability to make lasting ripples in the universe through our unique beliefs, talents, and contributions.
Therefore, at its heart of hearts, Christianity will never be compatible with Humanism. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide which message of the two is positive, makes the most sense, best impacts our world, and is worth following.
(PS, I felt it only fair to share a photo of myself singing on a worship team. During my time as a Christian, I worked hard to uplift and encourage my human family. Christians are strongly motivated by love of others. Some, like myself, find themselves questioning the possibility of a God that would treat their human family with the unfathomable cruelty of eternal punishment. When they do, they have already begun their journey away from religion, and towards Humanism.)