Christian Humanism: An Oxymoron?

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Humanism, the idea that people are capable of bettering themselves or society through effort, has in modern times become a term monopolized by secularists.  That is probably why the words “evangelical humanism” jumped out to me when used to describe Menno Simons.

What does humanism have in common with a leader in centuries ago Christian movement?

Today many Christians (including those claiming “Menno” as their namesake) seem to have a terrible fatalistic streak.  There are token forms of ‘outreach’ that appear only marginally interested in creating real lasting solutions to practical problems.  There is also no shortage of negativity about the world and cynicism about our ability to change it.  It could seem resignation to the current state of affairs is even view as the epitome of faith.

Dreams Beyond the Status Quo

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their own dreams.”  (Eleanor Roosevelt)

It was that quote of the illustrious first lady on a motivational poster that stirred my thoughts again.  What it describes could be both humanistic and evangelical faith.  Secular humanism is motivated by doing good for the sake of good, while religious faith is supposed to be about doing good for the sake of God.  Both are concerned with humanity and aim for a better future.

The difference could be that the religious are too often less practical in aim than their secular counterparts and this could be because the promises of eternity deadens the urge to be an agent of change in the world today.  The secular humanist, on the other hand, is committed to practical change today and attempts to deliver more than just promises of future paradise.

Knocking at doors at 7:30 am to tell people about Jesus might have a ring of faithfulness to it.  However, unless you show up with coffee and an egg sandwich to give, you probably just created another annoyance—a door slammed in your face might be your just reward.  It could be you are getting the cart ahead of the horse.

Eternity Can Wait, Love Practically Today

Without practical love Christianity loses the strongest evangelical tool that it has.  Jesus was extremely practical.  Jesus was so practical that many of those following him thought he would lead a revolt against Rome.  He did practical things like provide beverage for a wedding, healing sick people and feeding thousands.  He promised a kingdom soon at hand that would change practically everything:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near…”  (Matthew 4:17 NIV)

The “kingdom of heaven” isn’t just some future ‘pie in the sky‘ ideal.  No, it is something that must be lived out practically today.  And, not as a purely informational campaign or token help either.  Christianity should be about making heaven a literal reality for as many people as we can today and in as many ways as humanly possible.  When we have faith and pray as Jesus did, this is not just wishful thinking:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  (Matthew 6:9-13 NIV)

We act on what we believe is possible.  We should not wait to free ourselves from temptation, we should not hesitate to forgive others if we want to be forgiven and we certainly cannot expect bread to come to us without our own effort.  So why do we assume ourselves powerless to bring to “earth as it is in heaven” and instead practice fatalism as if it is faith? 

We would be much more convincing if we put our money where our mouth is and gave people a taste of heaven rather than give them hell.

Humanist and Christian Hypocrisy

Ironically secular humanism often breaks down the same way religions do, in that adherents become less practically oriented and more ideological only and lazy.  People look to institutions and charismatic leaders to show the way rather than do their part by fully living their ideals.

This is how Al Gore ends up in a sprawling mansion while preaching climate change dogma.  This is how Christians preach Christ Jesus and leave many sharing the same sentiments of Joe Hill or of the quote below:

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  (Mahatma Ghandi)

If you want to convince others of your dreams or ideals start first by living them and if you are Christian especially.  If your faith does nothing for real human needs, and is only about future rewards and glory, then it is just theory.  Being like Jesus requires you to change the world for good with the talents you are given.

Be a Human Example of Good

Don’t ask anyone (including God) to do anything on your behalf.  Leadership is not pointing out how others are doing wrong.  Leadership is being an example and laying down our own life for sake of love for humanity and God.  Be a leader for Christ’s sake.

Don’t wait on conditions to improve before acting; act to improve the conditions.  Be an evangelical humanist.  Endeavor to do what is impossible by acting in faith in a power greater and beyond your own comprehending. Bring heaven to earth today.

Christian humanism might or might not be an oxymoron, but faith without practically applied love for humanity is certainly an oxymoron.

Dream big, be practical.

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