I receive emails occasionally from the Harvard Humanist Community. Recently they awarded comedian Eddie Izzard a Lifetime Acheivement Award, and featured one of his quotes on their Facebook page –“I don’t believe in a God. I believe in people.” That got me to thinking (as the Harvard Humanist Community usually does). This is a classic “either/or” point of view — a false dichotomy which arises out of a false assumption. Either you believe in God or you believe in people. Probably Eddie didn’t intend it that way. What he probably meant was you don’t have to believe in God to believe in the basic goodness of people. If so, that statement also makes me shake my head. Let me take you through my logic.
What is the source of human goodness?
The issue comes down to what is a human being? If we are only an evolved animal, with a large brain that enables us to become self-conscious and develop langauge — which is what the Harvard Humanist Community and Eddie Izaard place their faith in — then the source of our goodness is some kind of Darwinian process that equips us to survive better because we are good. To put it more bluntly, when we commit evil acts we are decreasing our chances of survival as a species. I think it’s admirable that some people can have such faith in “survival of the fittest” and devote their lives to goodness to increase the chances of humanity’s survival. As they say, “Whatever turns you on.” But let me contrast the Humanist position with the Christian belief about human goodness. In a nutshell, God gives us his life (grace) which enables us to do good acts. We are not alone in the struggle between good and evil. And, as we do good, collaborating with God, we become more and more like Him, in a process of inner transformation. We are meant to become like God and we participate in making ourselves like Him through our free choices. You can read this many places in the Bible but I’ll give you one quote to illustrate: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Romans 12:2]
Why be a Humanist? Why be a Christian?
As I read the Harvard Humanist Community’s aspirations I thank God that they are trying to achieve many of the same goals as we Christians are. I can agree with some of their philosophy (taken from their website) — “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” If someone simply cannot believe that they are a supernatural and transcendent person who will live forever, then it is good to “aspire to the greater good of humanity.” I will do everything I can to help them in this. But why settle for the “B Team”? Why eliminate the wonderful, mysterious possibility that God has created us to transform ourselves and the world and, in doing so, become like Him? It seems to me self-evident that Christianity is the “A Team.” Oh I know, religion raises its ugly head here. “I can’t be a Christian because of what they do in the name of religion,” quoting crusades, inquisition, bigotry and paedophilia among other evils committed by Christians, some in the name of religion. (All of which are factual but not at all characteristic of Christianity). My invitation to Humanists everywhere is to consider the promise of Christianity — then look fairly at a real local Christian community near you. My invitation to Christians is to befriend Humanists and help them in their work of improving the lot of mankind. Don’t worry about their beliefs; it’s really no contest in the race between the A Team’s and B Team’s beliefs.