IntroductionA growing number of people today identify themselves as liberal humanists embracing an atheistic attitude to life to find how people can live a good life together.
That means they are atheists in the positive sense since they do not accuse theists for their belief. Liberal Humanist differentiate themselves from the Humanists of European cultural history such as Erasmus and Thomas Moor. They also refuse to align themselves to the various religious or literary humanist groups.
So simply put liberal humanism, for the purpose of this paper, is an atheistic attitude to life to find out how people can live a good life together. So the question is "How is the endeavour or practice of a Christian to live a good life different from that of a Humanist."?
This may sound an irrelevant question, but it is an important one, as humanism becomes more wide spread. The question arises what Christ told us which stands out from all other philosophies, i.e. humanism. Of course, faith and the belief in an afterlife are dominant themes but then we can ask how that affects “living a good life” and how is this different to the philosophy of the humanist.
The problem in answering such a question is that all the emphasis in Christianity centres on belief, which is assumed will lead to better outcomes. But what I propose to do is to examine the early roots of Christianity and their application in modernity to ascertain significant differences to that of the liberal Humanist.
Christ behind the whitewash of Nicea in AD 325
The problem with elucidating what Christ intended for us as a way to live the good life possibly met its nemesis at Nicea in AD 325. Up until then that question was possibly much more of a hot debate until political consensus was achieved in Nicea. Up until that point there was evidence of flourishing and warring communities as evolving Christianity spread out into the world but not much is known by way of specifics as to how they embraced the teachings of Christ for everyday living.
At Nicea there was possibly well over 200 bishops in attendance at Constantine’s request for the express purpose of negotiating peace and unity amongst the then disparate groups of Christians. The result was the Nicean Creed and later on adoption of the books that make up the New Testament in 380AD.
Hence our view today of what Jesus said is hidden in the politics and consensus selection that adopted certain texts to be made available in the NT. Even so in the much earlier writings of the apostle St Paul and those attributed to his followers, (which make up nearly half of the New Testament) we have a good idea of how the first early fledgling communities interpreted and applied Christs teaching to living the good life.
Freedom to live life to the fullestPaul remains an enigmatically unique character – virtually unknown in a historical sense other than to be remembered in Jewish disagreements amongst followers, but one who professes to be willing to understand all things and become ‘as one’ to all men to further the cause of being “in Christ” which arose from his mystical experience on the road to Damascus. This factor has led many to interpret his work in a more complicated manner than is needed, which I assess to be primarily devoted to championing a freedom from the Jewish law and to shake off shackles of religious ritual.
Although much has been made of the abstract nature of Pauline theology as a bridge from the more individualistic Judaism into Christianity (with the idea of justification by faith) I rather think the stronger case can be made his primary aim is to champion the new found freedom from the Jewish law.
Hence St Paul is of significant interest to secular philosophers because his ideas carry with them the idea of a universal unencumbered system of unity which presupposes through grace existential philosophical aspects to life; to hold our life existence as sacred, to ascertain and acknowledge ones gifts for the benefit of the whole community, to joyfully exist in a state of grace without fear of death, to be free and remain free from guilt, to share in all things and to place love and affection ahead of all other known things.
These rather lofty ideals may be seen also as the province of the humanist, who might argue that existential philosophy does not require any of Paul’s preoccupation with the idea of “bring in Christ” as being implied or necessary to be fulfilled.The problem, of course, is that in Paul’s communities, it is evident that many fell well short of achieving such lofty ideas. But Paul also acknowledges our humanity and the imperfect cradle of existence which will continue to see communities struggle to straddle the idealism that is encapsulated in their new understanding and freedom from their law only to fall prey to the usual earthly failings.
Paul sends his letters of encouragement and hope in the expectation that the experience of freedom from the law will bring joy to existential living to transcend earthly suffering and sorrow. This possibly is the key difference to humanism in that the spark of Christs teaching as interpreted by Paul as in the “resurrected Christ” enables one to live to the fullest regardless of circumstance compared to just rational reasoning selected by the liberal humanists. It is hard to see how , being chained to just rational thought can sustain one during the more difficult periods of one life or ensure one continues to find meaning.
That might mean a form of surrender of one’s reliance on the rational to a contemplative state of trust in something bigger- the mystical union in Christ that is of comfort to many which makes the good life more amenable.The Gospels and parables as an example of good living.
In the synoptic gospels Jesus is mostly made known to us via the parables and entwined as a charismatic apocalyptic preacher in the story of his public ministry. Hence the ongoing theme is largely eschatological with continued references to a messianic kingdom yet to come. But what Jesus does leave us with is the idea of a universal ethic of love, some definitive ideas on living as described in the Sermon on the Mount and food for thought in regard to the parables, which continue to offer many different interpretative outcomes.
The key point of difference to the liberal humanist then is more to do with functionality as Christianity places more emphasis on contemplation and renewal in the spiritual sense from reading theses passages. Hence the Christian might be persuaded of the need to give expression to those surviving religious instincts which lie deep within us in contemplation of the parables and how best to be a server in the vineyard. In other words to give expression to vitality for life, both individually and collectively accepting we need not all be slaves within one ideology but to find comfort in the ideals of Christianity.
Acknowledging the prior input and review by my good friend Dr John Stuyfbergen who is an academic/lecturer at La Trobe University.
You can read his article on multiculturalism by clicking here http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=25577#.Va8ixPmqqkq