My Christian Humanist Manifesto
While going through my notes, I found a technical definition of Christian Humanism that we touched upon in the first class session. It said that Christian Humanism is a system of thought that studies humanity in relation to other humans, nature, and God and Jesus shows us what it means to be human.
In my opinion though, a simple and concise meaning of Christian Humanism was lectured to us within the first couple of weeks of the course. This is the notion that God is love. Dr. Ryan discussed this in his lecture and said that love is measured by activity and transforming power. If we do all things through God and in love, than we can confidently say that we are living a Christian Humanist lifestyle. Without both of these aspects, a key element for Christian Humanism is missing.
Indeed, when assessing the current situation of the world, I find it to be a world in need of compassion, love, and acceptance of all people without judgment. These needs are also, in my opinion, some of the key elements to living out a Christian Humanist lifestyle. Some of the values and traits I feel that a Christian Humanist needs to possess are that the person lives a Christ-centered life, performs selfless actions, and the end goal trying to be reached is a habit of acting according to God’s will. It is not enough to believe, because it would lead to an incomplete understanding of God’s love and our relationship with Him. “Faith without good works is like a seed without soil and water. It can not grow” (Reuter, 22 October 2003).
The Christian Notion of Justice that Reuter discussed should be the basis, for a Christian Humanist, of a pre-thematic self-awareness and sub conscious level of thinking. This notion states that the idea of charity is to love others because we love God” (Reuter, 29 October 2003). I feel that we are obligated to do this if we truly believe that humans are created in the image and likeness of God. If we believe this, then we must also believe that humans are worthy of respect and equality.
Creation in the Image of God
We were presented with the question of whether or not humans are essentially good and I firmly believe that in order to be created in the image of God, humans would have to be good since God is good. We are also created in the likeness of God, which instills in us an internal relationship and similarity to God and His ultimate goodness. Creation in the likeness of God gives us a background for right behavior or ethics but does not necessarily show how to achieve these goals.
While God created us in his divine image, He also gave humans the freedom to think and act without restriction. This way of thinking does not always lead to actions that are representative of God and His love.
“[O]ur human “nature” is to a great extent something which God has empowered us to freely imagine, create and shape” (Sachs 47). God has given us the ability to determine our own set of rules and ethics to live by, and we govern the world we inhabit with the restrictions of freedom that we have placed ourselves.
God places the responsibility on us to establish moral codes and rules that will benefit rather than restrain people from living freely. It is important that rules reflect the common good of the people so that the full potential of life may be reached. The Parliament of World Religions developed four principles based upon the general ideas of world religions. These four principles encourage a life that is wholly good and respective of all people and God:
1. Respect for life/non-violence
2. Deal honestly and fairly
3. Speak and act truthfully
4. Respect and love one another (Syllabus 19-22).
These four principles, which should be common sense, will help us to achieve “[a] just social and economic order, in which everyone has an equal chance to reach full potential as a human being” (Syllabus 16).
It is when we have developed a standard of living that fosters love and growth that we can find unlimited freedom. For biblical faith, freedom is the central characteristic of human nature. The essence of this freedom is the capacity and responsibility for self-determination in community with other persons and with God” (Sachs 47). Freedom does come with a certain amount of responsibility, and thus freedom can be affective at bringing us closer to God. While freedom is absolute within the mind, it can at times be hindered by external forces or people’s actions, of which some are inherently evil.
It is hard to imagine that God would create evil in order to challenge good. However, it is possible to think of sin and suffering as a challenge from a loving God because he did not maliciously set forth evil in the world to harm us. Rather, he created a world that creates natural actions, some of which contain natural evil. The processes of the world behave according to their natures and are acting within a world of order. Therefore, natural evil is the result of God creating the universe to behave in an ordered fashion (Reuter, 3 Sept. 2003).
The paradox of a loving God allowing suffering can be solved by acknowledging the difference between natural and moral evil. The only evil we as human beings can control is moral evil, as we chose to know of its existence when we were created. Moral evil is acting against all accordance with God’s will, whereas natural evil is the result of the world acting in its order.
Another way to justify evil in the world is to think of it as a challenge God has set before us to enlighten our path to salvation. In this justification, “[t]he world is seen, instead, as a place of ‘soul-making’ in which free beings, grappling with the tasks and challenges of their existence in a common environment, may become ‘children of God’ and ‘heirs of eternal life’” (Syllabus 47). The events of the Holocaust, while horrific and tragic, have served as a learning experience for the rest of the world of the abuse of power and desire to act as God. This forced evil upon innocents can be thought of as a test and a learning experience not only for the people who it directly affected but also for all of humanity now and in the future. If “[s]in is the failure to recognize certain boundaries to human power and knowledge” (Malone) then the Holocaust can serve as an example of the ultimate sin placed upon humanity.
If we believe that humans can perform evil actions, then it is hard to say that humans are essentially good. However, evil is a perversion rather than a necessity of our existence. (Reuter, 3 Sept. 2003) Other indulgences such as sex and materialistic living can distort our vision of reality but God chooses to forgive us through His grace, just as He can forgive evil as a perversion and distorted version of our reality that we feel remorse for.
While He knows that we are aware of conscious choices we make, but if we also make a conscious choice to seek reconciliation for our sins He will honor this request for forgiveness. It says in Genesis 3:5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When we chose this, we chose a responsibility that God maybe had never intended for us, but also knew we could handle the consequences if we made that choice.
The Humanity of Jesus
The incarnation of Jesus accomplished three main things. When the Word became flesh it bridged the gap between God and His people, enhanced human dignity and gave humans a tactile leader and example for us to model our lives after. While Jesus lived an ordinary life among people, he accomplished extraordinary things by loving and accepting all people and sharing his life selflessly with them.
The Humanity of Jesus enhanced human dignity because God, the ultimate source of divinity chose to send a part of Himself down to earth to live among His people. This made part of what we are as humans divine, because He became an active member of humanity. As a member of this society, Jesus lived and acted as any other human. He also taught through parables, which reflected normal everyday life because he was fully human, but emphasized a divine message to the people.
It is important to emphasize the dual humanity and divinity of Jesus so that we may be able to not only relate to Him, but to respect Him as well. The emphasis on both of these aspects is what makes Jesus unique among prophets, because He was truly the Son of God and could promise us salvation and at the same time live among us and share in our struggles and suffering. To understand the possibility of this notion, understanding the pre-thematic and thematic self-knowledge of God is necessary. This is emphasized through an Ascending Christology. Because Christ experienced life on earth as a human, He was not always fully aware of His divinity and that he was the Word of God in flesh, though it influenced his choices that he made consciously. His thematic thought that occurred on a conscious level was his role as a teacher, healer, son, leader, friend, and prophet and these choices were made based upon his influence as the divine Son of God.
Jesus defines how we should structure our lives based upon his relationships and choices. Most importantly, He maintained a solid relationship with God through prayer and scripture, but He also shared a relationship with other people. Jesus emphasizes a concentration on humanity and God, not on material things or self-desires. Jesus lived and worked on earth with us, experiencing pain, and the evils of the world. His unconditional love drove him to selflessly abandon His human form so that we may in turn be saved, as He was (Johnson 69-70). His death and resurrection displayed the true power of a fully human and fully divine Christ to humanity.
The Resurrection of Jesus
The Resurrection of Jesus gave humanity hope for their future place in the Kingdom of God. It not only clarified and enforced the divinity of Jesus, but also showed humanity the fulfillment of a promise from God that we will indeed join Him in heaven after death. It also gave us an idea of how we will be, as complete and perfect versions of both our body and soul, glorified in Christ. “In fact, it [the resurrection] signaled the ‘end’ of history and the beginning of a new age” (Sachs 86). Before the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, there had not been a personal relationship between God and His people. After the resurrection, the door was opened to sharing in a loving and comfortable relationship with God.
The resurrection was the “culmination of God’s action ‘for us and for our salvation’” (Sachs 86). The resurrection signaled what would come, but also enforced that the Kingdom of God begins on earth, giving new meaning to living a life that is good and representative of the examples that Jesus taught.
The resurrection also enforces the necessity for the human body and that it is indeed necessary in order for the soul to thrive. “The empty tomb stands as a sign that this future fullness is not attained by shedding the body as worthless refuse. By virtue of God’s power, the whole of Jesus’ human life is saved and transformed” (Sachs 87). The body remains as a vessel for the glorified soul.
After death, Christ’s body, which becomes incorruptible, and soul are equally dependent upon each other. In other words, the Resurrection is the perfection of bodily life (Sachs 90).
The Resurrection symbolizes the end of Jesus’ existence in human form on earth, but serves as a reminder that we can all achieve this state of fulfillment if we live as Jesus did. The Resurrection affirms sacredness of the material world and of Jesus as the savoir of all the natural world (McFarland, 10 Nov. 2003). Jesus died so that we may live, and this drives me to live my life as a Christian Humanist to its highest potential, while maintaining Christian values and morals.
The redemption and salvation of people is the drive that keeps human beings striving to maintain a Christian Humanist perspective and lifestyle. Redemption is the end goal for Christian Humanists, and living a full and positive lifestyle influenced by God is the means by which we try to attain that end. Without this promise of salvation, there would be no basis for Christian Humanism.
This is our obligation as Christian Humanists. It is the giving of ourselves freely to God so that we may act according to Him, in response to his act of sending Jesus to be crucified for our sins. “The world is in sin, and the Father in his great mercy wishes to save us. Therefore, he freely hands his Son over to be crucified, which will accomplish this salvation” (Johnson 120). This gift from God is something that Christians cannot take for granted. Through Catholic mass, we reflect and honor the crucifixion of Jesus in memory of what He did so that we may be saved. His death and resurrection represented to us that our life on earth is not completely fulfilled, and emphasized the necessity for life and a transformation of ourselves after death (McFarland, 15 Oct. 2003).
After the death of Jesus, we begin to understand the need for a personal relationship with God and our relationships on earth. It is through the people we experience life with that we see God and can fully appreciate the gift of life that we have been given. Although we begin to experience the Kingdom of God on earth through relationships with other people, it is only through our redemption that our lives are perfected and transformed into a complete human being united with both humanity and God.
What Does it All Mean to Me?
I would like to say that I am a Christian Humanist. While I feel I may not always do everything through Christ as I should, I know that most of my beliefs and morals are based on a Christian upbringing and thus I sub-consciously make choices based on these beliefs. I assert that I am often in need of reconciliation with God, but this does not prevent me from trying to maintain a relationship with Him and to live as He desires.
I arrived at my beliefs as a result of examining the current state of the world and my place in the world. My beliefs are also based upon personal experiences and my acquired knowledge of concrete and abstract ideas that have helped to give me an educated and supported opinion about ideas and things.
I feel the most important thing that Christian Humanists need to do is to not judge other people for what they believe. After this semester, I have felt that the need to label and categorize everything is rather unnecessary. I feel that I am in no place to judge someone else’s beliefs, and I need to focus on my beliefs before I can form an opinion on others. I think it is also important that in order to be defined as a Christian Humanist people live rightly for their personal well being, to benefit others and also to live rightly in the eyes of God. The latter is what I feel separates Christian and Secular Humanism.
I think the largest criticism of Christian Humanism lies in the everyday actions of Christian Humanism. There is a difference between representing something and forcing something upon other people. I think that if we strive to be an example of Jesus and His actions to other people, rather than trying to teach them to other people we will make more of an impact in the end. I would compare this to students representing Saint Joseph’s College. I can say I am a student of Saint Joseph’s College but then act entirely out of accordance with everything the school stands for. If I do this, I am not only contradicting myself, but also creating a false image of the school. Just as I can say I am a Christian Humanist, and then not follow through with representative actions of Christian Humanism. In order to be a sincere and genuine Christian Humanist, it is necessary to also act as a Christian Humanist, representing Christianity in its true form.
While Secular humanists base their beliefs on another cause, “[w]e are working toward a view of life, of the world, of God, of all people, and of our relationships to the preceding that has the label ‘Christian Humanism’” (Syllabus 9). This system of belief is something I want to strive for now and in the future, so that I may achieve a state of fulfillment with God after death.
Core 9: Toward A Christian Humanism. Syllabus. Saint Joseph’s College, 2003.
Johnson, Elizabeth A. Consider Jesus. New York: Crossroad, 1990.
Malone, Michael. “Sin and Grace: Undoing and Uplifting.” Core 9 Lecture. Saint
Joseph’s College. Rensselaer, 24 September 2003.
McFarland, Timothy. “Jesus’ Life: What did he Accomplish?” Core 9 Lecture.
Saint Joseph’s College. Rensselaer, 15 October 2003.
McFarland, Timothy. “Jesus through Ages and Cultures: How do we ‘see’ him?”
Core 9 Lecture. Saint Joseph’s College. Rensselaer, 10 Nov. 2003.
Reuter, Rob. “The Mysteries of Evil.” Core 9 Lecture. Saint Joseph’s College.
Rensselaer, 3 September 2003.
Reuter, Rob. “Are You Saved? Toward a Christian Humanist Notion of
Salvation.” Core 9 Lecture. Saint Joseph’s College. Rensselaer, 22 October 2003.
Reuter, Rob. “Jesus and Justice.” Core 9 Lecture. Saint Joseph’s College.
Rensselaer, 29 October 2003.
Ryan, Thomas. “The ‘Ends’ of Human Life.” Core 9 Lecture. Saint Joseph’s
College. Rensselaer, 29 September 2003.
Sachs, John R. The Christian Vision of Humanity. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1991.