Philosophic Humanism

Modern Humanist Philosophy and Religion

Humanism as a philosophy today can be as little as an perspective on life or as much as an entire way of life; the common feature is that it is always focused primarily on human needs and interests. Philosophic Humanism can be distinguished form other forms of humanism precisely by the fact that it constitutes some sort of philosophy, whether minimalist or far-reaching, that helps define how a person lives and how a person interacts with other humans.

There are effectively two sub-categories of Philosophical Humanism: Christian Humanism and Modern Humanism.


Modern Humanism

The name “Modern Humanism” is perhaps the most generic of them all, being used to refer to almost any non-Christian humanistic movement, whether religious or secular. Modern Humanism is often described as Naturalistic, Ethical, Democratic, or Scientific Humanism — each adjective emphasizing a different aspect or concern which has been the focus of humanistic efforts during the 20th century.

As a philosophy, Modern Humanism is typically naturalistic, eschewing belief in anything supernatural and relying upon the scientific method for determining what does and does not exist. As a political force, Modern Humanism is democratic rather than totalitarian, but there is quite a lot of debate between humanists who are more libertarian in their perspective and those who are more socialist.

The naturalistic aspect of Modern Humanism is somewhat ironic when we consider that early in the 20th century, some humanists stressed that their philosophy was opposed to the naturalism of the time. This is not to say that they adopted a supernaturalistic outlook in how they explained things; instead, they opposed what they considered the dehumanizing and depersonalizing aspect of naturalistic science which eliminated the human part of the equation of life.

Modern Humanism can be conceived of as either religious or secular in nature. The differences between religious and secular humanists are not so much a matter of doctrine or dogma; instead, they tend to involve the language being used, the emphasis on emotions or reason, and some of the attitudes towards existence. Very often, unless the terms ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ are used, it can be difficult to tell the difference.


Christian Humanism

Because of the modern conflicts between fundamentalist Christianity and secular humanism, it might seem like a contradiction in terms to have “Christian Humanism” — and indeed, fundamentalists argue just that, or even that it represents an attempt by humanists to undermine Christianity from the inside. Nevertheless, there does exist a long tradition of Christian humanism which actually predates modern secular humanism.

Sometimes, when one speaks of Christian Humanism, they may have in mind the historical movement more commonly referred to as Renaissance Humanism. This movement was dominated by Christian thinkers, most of whom were interested in reviving ancient humanistic ideals in conjunction with their own Christian beliefs.

Christian Humanism as it exists today does not mean exactly the same thing, but it does involve many of the same basic principles.

Perhaps the simplest definition of modern Christian Humanism is the attempt develop a human-centered philosophy of ethics and social action within a framework of Christian principles. Christian Humanism is thus a product of Renaissance Humanism and is an expression of the religious rather than the secular aspects of that European movement.

One common complaint about Christian Humanism is that in attempting to place humans as the central focus, it necessarily contradicts the fundamental Christian principle that God must be at the center of one’s thoughts and attitudes. Christian Humanists can readily respond that this represents a misunderstanding of Christianity.

Indeed, it can be argued that the center of Christianity is not God but Jesus Christ; Jesus, in turn, was a union between the divine and the human who continually emphasized the importance and worthiness of individual human beings.

As a consequence, putting humans (who were created in the image of God) in the central place of concern is not incompatible with Christianity, but rather should be the point of Christianity.

Christian Humanists reject the anti-humanistic strands of Christian tradition which neglect or even attack our basic humans needs and desires while devaluing humanity and human experiences. It is not a coincidence that when secular humanists criticize religion, exactly these features tend to be the most common targets. Thus Christian Humanism does not automatically oppose other, even secular, forms of humanism because it recognizes that they all have many common principles, concerns, and roots.