In this series of posts, the late James Montgomery Boice helps us avoid being “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) by unpacking the 5 major “isms” that dominate the modern world.
It’s All About Me
I have acknowledged that there is for Christians a proper concern for secular things, though secularism as a worldview is wrong. The same qualification holds for this next popular “ism,” humanism.
Obviously, there is a proper kind of humanism, meaning a proper concern for human beings. Humanitarianism is a better word for it. People who care for other people are humanitarians. Christians should be humanitarians. However, there is also a philosophical humanism, a way of looking at people, particularly our- selves, apart from God, which is not right but is rather wrong and harmful. Instead of looking at people as creatures made in the image of God whom we should love and for whom we should care, humanism looks at man as the center of everything, which is an essentially secular point of view. This is why we often couple the adjective to the noun and speak more fully not just of humanism but of “secular humanism.”
A Biblical Example
The best example of secular humanism is in the book of Daniel. One day Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was on the roof of his palace looking out over his splendid hanging gardens to the prosperous city beyond. He was impressed with his handiwork and said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). It was a statement that everything he saw was “of” him, “by” him, and “for” his glory, which is what humanism is about. Humanism says that everything revolves around man and is for man’s glory.
God would not tolerate this arrogance. So he judged Nebuchadnezzar with insanity, indicating that this is an insane philosophy. Nebuchadnezzar was driven out to live with the beasts and even acted like a beast until at last he acknowledged that God alone is the true ruler of the universe and that everything exists for God’s glory and not ours. He said,
I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ (vv. 34-35)
Humanism is opposed to God and is hostile to Christianity. This has always been so, but it is especially evident in the public statements of modern humanism: A Humanist Manifesto (1933), Humanist Manifesto II (1973), and A Secular Humanist Declaration (1980). The first of these, the 1933 document, said, “Traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to love and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.” (1)
The 1973 Humanist Manifesto II said, “We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural,” and, “There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body.” (2)
Where Does It Lead?
Where does humanism lead? It leads to a deification of self and, contrary to what it professes, to a growing disregard for other people. For if there is no God, the self must be worshiped in God’s place. In deifying self, humanism actually deifies nearly everything but God.
Several years ago Herbert Schlossberg, one of the project directors for the Fieldstead Institute, wrote a book titled Idols for Destruction in which he showed how humanism has made a god of history, money, nature, power, religion, and, of course, humanity itself. (3) As far as disregarding other people, consider the bestsellers of the 1970s. You find titles such as Winning through Intimidation and Looking Out for Number One. These books say, in a manner utterly consistent with secular humanism, “Forget about other people; look out for yourself; you are what matters.” What emerged in those years is what social critic Thomas Wolfe called “the Me Decade” (the 1970s) and later, in the 1980s, what others saw as the golden age of greed.
Concerning humanism as well as secularism, the word for Christians is “do not conform any longer.” Do not put yourself at the center. Do not worship the golden calf. Remember that the first expression of humanism was not the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 or even the arrogant words of Nebuchadnezzar, spoken about six hundred years before Christ, but the words of Satan, who told Eve in the Garden of Eden, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).
(1) Humanist Manifestos I and II (New York: Prometheus, 1973), 13.
(2) Ibid., 16, 17.
(3) Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1990).
This excerpt was adapted from Whatever Happened to The Gospel of Grace?: Rediscovering the Doctrines That Shook the World by James Montgomery Boice.
James Montgomery Boice was senior minister of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for thirty years and a leading spokesman for the Reformed faith until his death in 2000.