Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Mission (further explanation)

B. A. Gerrish, writing in the The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought summarizes John Calvin as believing that "The vocation of humanity -- their unique role in the created order -- is to render continual thanks to the Father and the fountain of Good."  Or, as Calvin is often paraphrased -- the purpose of Man is to Glorify God. Even though he was a Reformer, Calvin had not strayed far from Medieval thought that God was the center of everything.  Think of Dante's view of Paradise, the most boring of the three books, because it describes banks and banks of angelic choirs all singing in the Glory of God.  Humanity, at least while it lives, is the back row of the choir, inattentive and goofing around.

Liberal Religion is the "religion with no name" that replaced that Medieval conception, by making an unstated shift in the premise.  The purpose of humanity is human well-being.  For almost all human beings since the dawn of time, with the exception of professional theologians, this has been pretty obvious.   Liberal Religion was created in the Western tradition by this shift from theo-centric worldview to a human-centric worldview.  And that shift was connected with a turn toward empiricism and science as the primary way of knowing and understanding the world.

My assertion in the previous post "The Mission of Liberal Religion Is.." liberal religion was human-centered was speaking to this distinction.  One of my oldest friends in the world chided me for being 'species-ist' by this statement in a comment on Facebook.  I think that our enlightenment forebears were species-centric, but we don't have to be.  My colleague, Clyde Grubbs, similarly points out the narrowness of the enlightenment world view which pulled the isolated intellect out the world to observe it from afar.  True, but we don't have to go backwards to pre-modern theological scholaticism to escape that blind alley.  

Human-centered worldview could be and has been summarized by the word "humanism".  Unfortunately, the word "humanism" has become the trademark of atheism, especially in UU circles, so  it has been narrowed.  In this context, I am using it to mean a human (and all life-centered) worldview as opposed to what was dominant before.

2 comments:

John A Arkansawyer said...

I wonder about terminology. There are two different axes I can measure humanism on: Theistic to non-theistic humanism (which is more about belief) and secular to religious humanism (which is more about association). I myself would identify as a non-theistic (no belief in gods or the supernatural) religious (seeking meaning through association with a group of fellow humans) humanist (relying on human action to solve human problems).

I think there's a tendency away from secular humanism, in the sense of being broadly anti-religious, in the UUA. I hope my fellow non-theistic humanists don't leave due to that.

Tom Schade said...

John, I am trying to revive an older understanding of humanism, which describes a shift in understanding the purpose of the human race. The Medieval view was that the purpose of humanity was to glorify God, or delight God. We were here to fulfill God's purpose. The humanist turn (many look at Erasmus as an early humanist) was to argue that the human purpose was human well-being and happiness. I argue that turn is an essential piece of the creation of "liberal religion". You can argue with the phrase "human well-being and happiness" (is it only humans or all sentient beings or the whole web of life? Does well-being and happiness really describe what the aforementioned need or aspire to?) but as long as the goal is here and earthly, instead of for God, or the Divine, you have entered into the realm of humanism. I am a Christian humanist.