Monday, November 09, 2009


I am beginning to think that the struggles I have with many theological thinkers is that their philosophies are humanist rather than Christian. I'm probably getting the words wrong in a technical sense, but I want to get my thoughts out before I get confused! By humanist I mean that, loosely speaking, they believe that we should all live for the greater good of humanity. Now, apart from those who clearly only live for themselves, is this not the only sane philosophy for any human being? As Christians we are gung-ho, talking about transformation of the world. Is that humanist or Christian or both? Where does the difference come in?
I think that maybe the difference is in where we see that the repository of wisdom lives. Does it live in human experience and human rationalising? Or does it live in the revelation that God gives us about himself? Of course, this opens up a whole new can of worms - does God's revelation exist outside the realm of human experience? But the difficulties in answering the second question shouldn't stop us honestly answering the first.
On another tack, I am now realising that there are people who say that animal rights are just as important as human rights - and for this reason we do not live for the greater good of humanity, but rather the greater good of all 'creation'. In other words, medical advance (such as the discovery of insulin) which leads to the saving of human lives does not justify experiments on animals. How does this fit into Christian thinking? Humanist thinking?


Thomas Scarborough said...

Something that strikes me about urban ministry is that one cannot do it for results. The problems are way, way too large. One needs to do it for itself. And perhaps in saying this, I comes close to your question about where the repository of wisdom lives.

MR G said...

Could I throw some thoughts at your thoughts and see what happens? I don't think that Humanism is that "they believe that we should all live for the greater good of humanity." But that's beside the point. The point I'd like to make is that believing that we should live for the greater good of humanity is not a Non-Christian idea. In a sense it is a Christian idea. It's the definition of "good" that is in question most times.

I'm not sure if this is what you are asking but it seems you are saying "Can we know what goodness is without the God of the Bible?"(or possibly you mean without the bible?)

Steve Hayes said...

"Humanism" can mean many different things.

At one level it is the idea that "man is the measure of all things", and that is profoundly unChristian. It is that idea that C.S. Lewis satirises and denounces at the end of his novel Out of the silent planet.

But there is another kind of humanism that is profoundly Christian, urging love and compassion for all men.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Thomas, I think I know what you mean, but if you wanted to be a bit less oblique it would be interesting to hear :)
MR G: Steve has put what I am thinking quite well in a different set of words. We do also have a problem, as you said, when talking theology with the terms that we have. It would help if we could get some 'industry standards'. A word like 'theism' for instance means very different things to different people as far as I can understand.
But yes, my question is as you put it. Although you may be assuming that God desires our greater good. I believe it, but from a philosophical point of view we would need to take that step. Does God desire the greatest good for humanity? Is his idea of good the same as ours? Does he reveal it to us? OR are we safest working from the repository of human wisdom where in a sense we are 'in control'? Or even, does God expect us to work from human wisdom entirely? Do we trust God enough to say he is THE ONE who has the final say? Or do we want the final say? (Which leads to the next difficult question of how do we know what he is saying).