God created humanism
Christians have a message for the secular values of our world, says Theo Hobson, and it starts with ‘yes’
Who are we? I think that a major muddle surrounds the question of Christian identity. It prevents us from giving a clear account of our world view.
The uncertainty relates to the culture around us: we don’t know what to think of it. Is it good or bad? Is it to be condemned for its secularism, its individualism, its materialism? Or should we affirm the positive, and highlight the affinity between humanism and Christianity?
We tend to veer between the two options, as our mood dictates. To some extent we follow theological fashion (which a generation ago was liberal, and now is not). This isn’t really good enough, I suggest. We need a stable account of how we relate to the dominant culture around us that is neither wishy-washy nor chippy and defensive.
First, we must decide what to call the dominant ideology around us. I think that ‘liberal democracy’ is too cold and technical, and that ‘liberalism’ is too full of baggage. We need a term that conveys the positive belief in equality and human rights, and one that states the obvious fact that this is expressed in secular terms. ‘Secular humanism’ fits the bill.
What should our attitude to secular humanism be? It should be highly affirming, I suggest, but in a very particular way.
We must express a clear belief that secular humanism deserves to be affirmed as the best possible public ideology. For, in a free society, the ideal of human flourishing will necessarily be expressed in a form that includes those of all religions and none, and that means in secular form. We should strongly affirm this moral universalism, this vision of social justice.
Furthermore, we should proudly point to the Christian roots of this creed: it originates from the Christian belief in the equal worth of all people, and the Protestant insistence upon liberty of conscience, which gradually widened into today’s notion of human rights. So, secular humanism should be affirmed as a good thing, with Christian roots.
But if we praise secular humanism too much, isn’t there a danger that we make our faith seem redundant? …
This is an extract from the May 2017 edition of Reform