Friday, June 14, 2019 - Updated: 3:41 pm
QUESTION: I was with a group of neighbors and they were talking about religion. Someone asked new neighbors what religion they were. They answered that they were “humanists.” I have no idea what that means. I always thought that humanists were people who were just nice to everyone. Is humanism really a religion?
ANSWER: Humanism is frequently understood from the perspective of philosophy. In that light, humanists say they consider reality by beginning with human beings rather than abstract ideas or the material world. “Person-centered” is at the heart of how they say they act.
There are several types of humanism, but one distinction is that humanists are either Christian or secular.
Christian humanism is rooted in appreciating human life as created in “the image and likeness of God.” It contends that human nature and human reason have a value distinct from grace, and so form the foundation for grace. Catholic heritage contends that grace builds upon nature, perfecting but not destroying it.
Secular humanism also begins with human beings as a focus, but does so without reference to God or the origin or destiny of our race. In doing so, the human is abstracted and considered almost in a vacuum that admits neither a supernatural origin or eternal future.
There are many types of secular humanism. Some Unitarians have attempted to develop the “search for the good life” into a kind of religion. It remains “secular,” however, because although it may be compatible with belief in the supernatural, it does not find it necessary or essential.
There also is a type of secular humanism that emerges in the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin. With them, the human being has value only as part of a process to achieve certain ends. Materialism and an exaltation of science direct their understanding of human perfection toward an achievement of excellence (without any reference to God or an afterlife).
Secular humanism also appears in philosophy and literature. F. W. Nietzsche, Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, each in their own way, propagated a kind of secular humanism that exalts the heroic in the human without any need or reference to the divine.
Secular humanism is one way of understanding the human condition. Many see it as today’s greatest intellectual danger and spend most of their time condemning it. Perhaps, however, it is more productive to enter a dialogue with secular humanists with whom we share a common appreciation for the goodness found in the human.
Since we have so much to add to the dialogue it would be unfortunate if we were to remain arrogantly aloof from the secular humanists. As we participate in that dialogue we will be able to contribute a unique understanding of the human by reference to a divine origin and eternal destiny.
Secular humanism, however, would likely not be considered a religion in the usual sense of that word. The word “religion” comes from a Latin word, “relingare,” which means to “connect” or to “bind together.” The word religion describes some relationship between humans and God. Secular humanism does not feel the need to “connect” with any sort of divine being.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.