Blogging My Thoughts on Secular Humanism
Blogging my thoughts: New York Times, Obituary Page, A 21,
“Paul Kurtz, 86, Humanist Publisher, Dies.”
I’d like to feature a few of his citations with some response. First from his Humanist Manifesto:
“Traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species.”
Some religions are not traditionally dogmatic and authoritarian, but like other religious antagonists to knock down a straw man, he likes to classify all religions that way. Secondly, placing revelation and God above human needs is a peculiar way to think about God. God loves us and places our human needs in the divine forefront, loving us enough to send his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us. Thus God sets our needs above those of God’s own self. The Holy Spirit inspires us mutually to set the needs of others above our own as well.
Then concerning revelation, some scientists like Albert Einstein and Michael Polanyi, for example, would take issue with revelation as opposed to reason. Reason is instrumental, for the most part, like a tool that fails to have its own purpose within, but becomes used in a spirit and for a purpose external to itself. Revelation transcends reason, but can be verified or falsified by reason, except in the case of the Ultimate. Without revelation, reason and even the scientific method become lame. In a letter to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, Einstein in 1954 wrote, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Einstein had his theory of relativity revealed to him long before scientific experiments could verify it. Michael Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn have shown that science has also distorted its history and its way of operation, because the latter includes revelation. Scientists have often excluded it, I submit, because of naturalism and materialism, which are dehumanizing faiths.
Further a theology can be experience-based, the way Martin Luther’s or Friedrich Schleiermacher’s is. Luther did not dethrone reason from being the queen in its own house, but maintained that it can go out of bounds when it gets between the believer and God, displaces faith and tries to take God’s place.
There is nothing wrong with the Manifesto’s arguing “for a system of world law that would transcend the limits of national sovereignty.” But everything is wrong and becomes a disservice to science and reason with the Manifesto’s best known dictum: “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.” Human beings from time immemorial have known that the Transcendent has drawn them up into their real and full humanity and without transcendence they sink below themselves into an animal state that does discredit even to animals. God is the Transcendent, whose push and pull we experience toward our full humanity, which is a life lived for others, in mutual care and concern, not based on self-interest and saving ourselves.
The statement of warning from his “Secular Humanist Declaration” is observably true:
“’The reappearance of dogmatic authoritarian religions’ had become a threat to intellectual freedom, human rights, and scientific progress.’ The statement, signed by 61 scholars, directed its objections toward fundamentalist, literalist and doctrinaire Christianity; a rapidly growing and uncompromising Muslim clericalism in the Middle East and Asia; the reassertion of orthodox authority by the Roman Catholic papal hierarchy; nationalist religious Judaism; and the reversion of obscurantist religions in Asia.”
The accuracy of that statement is illustrated in the pseudo-science that some fundamentalists and literalists publish and teach, placing ultimate questions and beliefs on the same level as science, while science always has to remain open and vulnerable to new discoveries. On the other hand, the statement can also be illustrated by the scientism, in which such secular Humanists like Paul Kurtz are also complicit, when it goes out of bounds and makes pronouncements about the ultimate existence of God.
Just consider the latter citation once more in the light of Luther’s theology. Luther championed intellectual freedom and would not let the authority of the pope and emperor override his conscience and his reasoning at the 1521 Imperial Diet of Worms in Germany. He fought clericalism in declaring the priesthood of all believers, the way we have to fight secularism today, which often succumbs to nationalism and falls prey to dehumanizing naturalism and materialism. He deposed the papacy and its authoritarian hierarchy for a sound faith accessible to everyone having experienced being saved by grace.
Paul Kurtz must have sensed the problem of reason and Humanism which remains unguided by a sound faith in the Transcendent, when in his later years he resigned from the board of the Center of Inquiry saying, “Most of my colleagues are concerned with critiquing the concept of God. That is important, but equally important is, where do you turn?”
Perhaps he never heard the words of Jesus, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” (John 12:32)