This was originally written for LRBC on September 17 2017.
About a fortnight ago I came across something called the ‘Humanist Manifestos‘ – a series of short documents that are the closest things to statements of faith for what is called ‘secular humanism’. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s a system of thought that gives highest importance to human issues rather than divine or supernatural matters. Consciously and unconsciously, this is probably the biggest engine of cultural change in western society today. If you read them you will probably see why.
These manifestos, published in 1933, 1973 and 2003, are useful and interesting because they articulate what is typically unsaid in our culture but nonetheless shapes our outlook on just about everything – education, community, individuals, work, knowing, ethics, the purpose of human life, etc.
The end of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto ends with these words: “Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement. He must set intelligence and will to the task.”
Considering this statement in light of Christian convictions, there is a certain sense in which Christ’s people can both affirm and deny its claim. The sense of responsibility resting on humanity’s shoulders is something we can acknowledge, in that we have been given the charge of managing our planet and making life better for others. But the power to realize utopia is not something we believe that humanity possesses. Our sights are set higher than humanism is allowed to dream. Our utopia is a return to a restored, beautified and God-centred universe – a pipedream in the opinion of humanist critics of Christianity.
But so that the observer has no grounds for criticism that our confident hope and expectant faith is a hindrance to humanity, we must work hard with an active love toward building the best world we can have in the here and now.