Not enough faith to be a humanist

DESPITE the temptation, I’ve never succumbed to the lure of humanism. I subscribe instead to the Christian perspective, namely that Man is basically and fundamentally flawed (or “sinful”, if you will).

I recall a Christian poet (I think his name was Steve Turner but I’m prepared to be corrected) who defined humanist philosophy thus: “I believe that mankind is basically good – it’s just his behaviour that lets him down.”

That struck a chord with me at the time and ever since. This was brought back to me recently when I saw an ad over at Spiked Online for these T-shirts. I understand the message, and sometimes I wish I were optimistic enough to buy into it. But I’m not.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Not enough faith to be a humanist

  1. Funny that, I didn’t think that slogan was anything to do with humanism or religion, more an antidote to the “Humans are destroying the planet” dogma.

    Perception is everything!

    (I enjoy Spiked, but not enough to bung them a few Bob).

  2. Dave H.

    Göthe had it well with something like “of that crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”*

    It’s often a reassuring thought when examples of (hopefully minor) corruption or failure are exposed in, say, a major public institution:

    “Well, it’s bound to have some, it’s got people in it…”

    Naturally, we should be far more concerned if we never heard of scandals at all. To change the subject completely, aren’t judges saintly?

    *That’s the only one I know. Worse, despite witnessing a good education, I first read it as a quote on a blog. Damn.

  3. Chris' Wills

    …..I wish I were optimistic enough to buy into it. But I’m not………

    That’s because you hang out with too many politicians, most normal people are peacable and friendly until provoked.

    Though I am a little concerned that you equate humanism with the human condition, after all humanism is a mish-mash of philosophies most of them inferred from materialism/monism.

  4. Jim

    Not sure I agree with you that mankind is “basically and fundamentally flawed”, but after reading the Comments against your recent posts, I understand why you might think that way!

  5. Ian B (1)

    Man is basically and fundamentally flawed (or “sinful”, if you will).

    Ah, but surely Tom you see the terrible trap of such thinking? If all the people are sinful, then the government is composed of sinners too. And so all that governments can impose is… sinfulness.

    Me, as you know, I’m a libertarian. And it seems that this fundamentally cynical view of humankind that you have (and Broon has been attributed a similar cynicism) is what separates socialists from libertarians. I believe that most people are good, or at least neutral, most of the time. That is not to deny that sometimes we are bad, and some people are very bad, all of the time. But in the main, most people are just ordinary folks trying to get on in a decent kind of a way. To be emotive, look at all the people selfless caring for their disabled, infirm, profoundly ill or elderly dependents. There is a vasty amount of goodness in the world, Tom, and it saddens me that so many of you wander around seeing only the bad in it.

    But libertarians also tend to believe something further. We believe (if I may be so bold to speak generally) that power attracts the bad at the expense of the good. It is the bad people who, in the main, will be attracted to authority, because of all the advantages it gives them to prosper at the expense of their fellows. And therein lies the rub; you have an impossible strategy- believing that all are evil, you then place some of those evil people over others, and bizarrely expect them not to do evil.

    We say that most people are good, and are best left to run their lives as they see fit, without mechanisms which enable the few evil ones to persecute them. Our defense against evil is to not give power to evil. One man who hates the Jews is a despicable thing, but can do little harm. One man who hates the Jews in charge of a mighty nation, with all the organs of power and state at his disposal, creates monstrosity beyond imagining.

    I am a libertarian because I am a pragmatist and, yes, have faith in the mass of humanity, if not in every individual. You and your fellows do indeed underrate us all.

  6. Ian

    Read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins – it may help.

  7. Tim

    If all people are sinful, then what is it contrasted to? If your answer is ‘to the divine’ which is flawless and sinless then you are professing belief in a being(God)/state that is remote from the mundane universe, and capable of influencing it without being corrupted by it (if the divine were incapable of influencing the mundane, it would be entirely irrelevant, if it were capable of being corrupted, it would become mundane).
    If we drop the word ‘sin’ and use the word ‘flawed’ instead, the argument remains; flawed by comparison to what? Human behaviour is the perfect example of human behaviour. ‘Human nature’ is, I think, a largely fallacious concept that stems, at least in part, from the fact that we are taught to view ourselves as unique, as defined by our behavioural traits or expressions. These are ideas that we have about ourselves, by which I mean to highlight that they are rather abstract. Our behaviour can also be viewed as a response to our situation, and analysed in terms of its appropriateness (its effectiveness in achieving our needs/aims/goals in that situation), as such, sticking to a certain mode of behaviour because you identify your ‘self’ with it, can be entirely self defeating and non-survival oriented. I believe that human nature is almost entirely maleable, given the right stresses, so I believe that trying to sum up human nature as ‘flawed’, or ‘basically good’ or anything else is something of a pointless exercise.
    That said, the wording on the t-shirt is ambiguous, and can be interpreted differently; it could mean ‘humanity’ as in ‘humanity towards others’, serving as an admonition that despite the many messages we receive (primarily in advertising) about putting self interest first, at the cost of others, in fact, putting the needs of others first is a good and valuable exercise.
    “Not enough faith to be a humanist” despite being surrounded and supported by the fruits of human endeavour, but enough faith (I infer, from your reference to Christianity, and use of the word ‘sin’) to belive in an invisible magical friend who is always with you and can always see you, though you can never directly percieve him/her/it… To go further, an inference made on the back of an inference, and I understand that I am going out on a limb here; your belief in God or a divine state reveals an authoritarian stance: God/the divine can influence the mundane, without being corrupted by it. If you believe this, then that reveals something about how you see authority – such as centralised government – as remote, and unimpeachable, and neccesary, given the inherently ‘flawed’ nature of the mundane/humanity.
    If you are right (at least, in the inferred stance that I have bestowed upon you) and I am wrong – that is, if humanity is inherently, and unresolvably flawed, rather then inherently and almost entirely maleable, what does that mean from a developmental perspective? It means that we are limited in what we will be able to achieve, as certain structures in human society must always be with us – centralised authority monitoring, protecting us from the mistakes/actions that our flaws would lead to, and picking up the pieces after we make mistakes.
    I don’t have faith in anything, not God, not my fellow man. I evaluate people and their actions in terms of their situation or circumstance, and what they achieve, and what they intended to achieve. Most people don’t dedicate so much conscious thought to their actions, and the implications and consequences thereof, but so long as you continue to view people as inherently flawed, you will have no reason to believe that people can be taught to be more reflective, more aware of themselves and of others, and more conscious. If people are constructively challenged on their behaviour, and are made to deal with the consequences of their actions, but helped to analyse why those consequences came about, they may start to question themselves. Inquisitiveness and heightened awareness are not things that can be imposed by an external authority, they can only be encouraged and stimulated.

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