By Gene Rigelon -- firstname.lastname@example.org
While current forms of Christianity are engaged in a relentless struggle against secular humanism, other forms of Christianity past and present have been less confrontational and more accommodating. Are Christianity and humanism destined to be forever at odds or is some kind of rapprochement possible? I posed this question to retired Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong, who responded as follows:
"I do not see Christianity and humanism as enemies, reflecting mutually exclusive values. Indeed I believe the aim of both Christianity and humanism is to seek and encourage the expansion of human life. The differences are found in what each believes is necessary to achieve that goal and the definition of the goal itself. In the struggle to humanize our world, I think that Christianity and humanism are allies not enemies.
"Secular humanists have, however, frequently experienced Christianity as narrow, prejudiced and imperialistic. Christians have experienced secular humanism as anti- religious and anti-Christian. I believe both stereotypes are false.
"I look at the 20th century, which in many ways was a secular humanist century in which organized religion declined dramatically in influence and in power. Yet in that very century, the emancipation of women occurred, the end of Colonial domination of the less developed third world nations was largely ended, the civil rights movement broke the back of segregation and homosexuals began to overcome the prejudice that has prevented them from achieving full membership and justice in the social order. Each of these is a powerful achievement.
"A study of the history of that century reveals that the majority of the Christian world, expressed through the leadership of Christianity, resisted each of these changes. These accomplishments were achieved by and large, by the work of secular humanists saying that their purpose was to give life more abundantly, that is exactly what the death of prejudice and negative stereotypes minorities, women and homosexuals accomplishes. Mark and Luke quote Jesus as saying: 'If you are not against me you are for me.' Secular humanism is not my enemy. It is my ally in the struggle for justice. Indeed I see secular humanism as the glow of Christianity that remains when the interpreting myths of the past have been abandoned. It is the bloom of the rose long after the rose is severed from its roots.
"I see a bright future of cooperation -- I hope you do too."
Paul Kurtz is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, humanist laureate and president of the International Academy of Humanism, the chairman of the Institute of Science and Human Values, and the author of "Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Principals and Values."
Kurtz disagrees with the premise of many of my fellow humanists that secular does imply atheism (or agnosticism). " For a variety of reasons, we submit this position is mistaken, for it has distorted both secular humanism and humanism in general. Although we do not think there is sufficient evidence of God's existence, we should not lampoon or ridicule religious believers. We should indeed critically examine the many claims of religious traditions with a skeptical eye. Although we may profoundly disagree with our religious colleagues and/or adversaries, we should be respectful and dignified. And our discourse should be civilized. With this in mind we have proposed a new form of humanism that is not antireligious; hence neo-humanism.
Neo-humanists aspire to be more inclusive. They will cooperate with both religious and non-religious people to solve common problems. Neo-humanists recognize that countless generations of human beings have been religious and that we often have to work together with religious people to solve common sociopolitical problems. But neo-humanists are themselves not religious, surely not in literal acceptance of the creed. Nor do they generally adhere to a religious denomination, except nominally. On the other hand, neo-humanists are not avowedly anti religious, although they may be critical of religious claims, especially those that are dogmatic or infringe on the freedom of others."
Spong said he believes in God. Kurtz does not. Why does that matter? As Thomas Jefferson said: "The legitimate powers of government extend only to acts that are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 Gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
What matters is that these eminent scholars have put aside their personal beliefs and share a common goal to work for social justice . Given the present chaotic political climate in this country, can progressives do no less?
Gene Rigelon, 84 of Front Royal, is coordinator of the Shenandoah Area Secular Humanists, www.sash.wash.org