One of the books I read recently was Christopher Wright’s absolutely epic “The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative“. By epic I mean in both senses – this may be the largest book I’ve ever read, and also this book is completely life-changing. It is an overview of the Bible as God’s story, written to explain His plan for the world to humanity rather than our story written to try to describe or explain God. Why is this revolutionary in the 21st century??? Well, one strength is that it shows history from a God-centred perspective rather than a humanist one. Now this is not my area of academics, so I’m a bit out of my league in commenting – I readily admit that!!! But perhaps it will be amusing if I do so anyway. 😉
I’ve listened politely to preachers who decry the “humanist position” and heard historians complaining about the effects of the Enlightenment. But, I have to admit I’ve secretly taken these comments with a grain of salt as, I am, after all, human and think there must be various advantages to taking this key fact into account. I’m also a Christian (just stating that upfront before I continue), and I believe humans have common needs – I’m happy to call these “rights”. I even believe that human behaviour should be governed by conventions lest another Holocaust is to occur. Interestingly, the most negative reactions from other Christians against humanism (that I’ve seen) have been in response to the field of psychology. I feel that in this instance, I’ve perhaps entered the debate a little too late to comment – not only is the discipline well entrenched now, my mother is a well qualified one, so there’s little use protesting!!!
I figured I should learn some more… and with the help of my Google friends I found an International Humanist and Ethical Union, which I checked out. Humanism seems as I thought, very pro-human, but also seems to be the cool cousins of Atheism… (http://www.iheu.org/about). Some comments I thought I could resoundingly yell “Amen!” after;
Our vision is … a world in which human rights are respected and everyone is able to live a life of dignity.
And then, other comments I think “ah, no, not so much”. Such as,
“To promote Humanism as a non-theistic life stance throughout the world”.
This is because I believe there is a BIG and very real Theos, i.e. God. But I also think, and maybe this is a bit simplistic, that if God made humans and died on the cross for them (do you ever think about that – GOD on a cross??!?!), he must be pretty interested in us and our welfare. I know I’m only now catching up, but I don’t see why we can’t substitute ‘theistic’ in there… Anyways, so that’s a blonde’s take on humanism…
Getting back to Wright’s book, there is something important in his thought that The Bible is unique because it is not only inspired by God, but that it is God’s story. He doesn’t ignore the fact it was written down by human hands. God wasn’t here auto-writing through people, but something far beyond the scope of understanding of the authors took place at the time – Paul has an incredibly high view of Scripture both old and new, e.g. Romans 15:4 “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope“. I believe that unique, divine inspiration is contained in these books and I esteem them as texts around which the Church has gathered in liturgy, in practical application, and in seeking the meaning of human life.
There is a section in Wright’s book that deals with the way humans deal with God. He outlines a human need for and tendency to promote gods, suggesting that if we do not have a God (with a big g) then we will and do promote gods (with a little g)… gods that are paler shades of the one, true living God. In this book, it identifies these as idols and identifies them in the Bible by function, pointing to places in the text where the Israelites chose to promote something else rather than worshipping YHWH. Wright identifies the things we are likely to promote as little ‘gods’ as:
– things that entice us
– things that we fear
– things that we need
– things that we trust
He traces the need for deity back into the primal religions Judaism encountered, and outlines God’s unfolding revelations of love in the Bible as God’s response… revelation which enabled the Jewish people to see God’s nature throughout different parts of their history, even when they failed to esteem Him and enabled other things to take a greater place in their lives. Wright shows how God proved he could be all these things, and more – their Jehovah Jireh, the God providing all their needs, answering their fears and proving Himself desirable and trustworthy.
The revelations continue – Wright explains each Biblical book as first a book from God to us, and secondly, an opportunity to see our behaviour through the eyes of YHWH. Anyways, so God is pretty interested in humans, as I mentioned before… and I do wonder if it’s possible to have a theistic humanism…. because it’s impossible to separate our spirituality from our being. But (sigh) there aren’t any Liberals around to debate with (you can see my last post and if you are one please let me know… I have a number of questions for you!!!)… So I guess I’ll have to continue to ponder, and eventually hopefully a theologian will take pity on me and enlighten me as to why it’s a much bigger debate than simply adding “theistic” into the definition of humanism.
(And for those of you who received half a post on the email last time, my apologies!! I’ve updated the post now so it makes some sense… not much). I bet you can’t wait until I’m doing Anthropology #101… 😉