Monday, October 11, 2010

Humanism and The Impossible Question

According to Wikipedia, humanism is defined as "an approach in study, philosophy, or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. The term can mean several things, for example:

1. A historical movement associated especially with the Italian Renaissance.

2. An approach to education that uses literary means or a focus on the humanities to inform students.

3. A variety of perspectives in philosophy and social science which affirm some notion of 'human nature' (in contrast with anti-humanism).

4. A secular ideology which espouses reason, ethics, and justice, whilst specifically rejecting supernatural and religious dogma as a basis of morality and decision-making."
There are various types of humanism but be it secular humanism, Renaissance humanism or modern humanism, the central theme is the human being or the qualities that make up the human character. My discussion relates to the definitions of (1), (3) and (4).
The way I see it, there are two ways of looking at humanism as a philosophy: (1) one is pragmatic humanism whereby we accept our human nature for what it is. We then find ways to nurture the best in us and impose laws and sanctions to restrain the worst in us from harming others.  (2) the second and more interesting humanism is idealistic humanism, a form which I used to subscribe to, half-hearted, from my teenage years up to my 30s.  
Idealistic humanism arises when we take a look at human nature and see how it is actually very weak and, often, destructive given the cruelty, wars, crimes, insanity and irresponsible exploitation of human and natural resources that was and continues to be committed by man. This is despite the fact there is a boundless capacity in us to be noble, kind, self-sacrificial and creative.

Idealistic humanists cannot accept this "mixed" nature and let it remain in such an unstable and inflammable state. Thus, the only recourse is to change the inner man through a program of mental and/or spiritual enlightenment, which, depending on your preferences, range from the New Age philosophies to cultural and political regenerative doctrines (e.g. Stalin's communism and China's cultural revolution).
Unfortunately, all these philosophies including the latest environmental cult of mother earth (Avatar) have failed to completely regenerate human nature from the inside out. So the lame excuse of humanism for its failures is to say that we are either limited or liberated by our own psychological self-imposed boundaries.

This is based on the positive thinking justification that we are what we believe: the more we believe we can or cannot do something, the more we turn that belief into a reality as if by a mere stroke of a pen. In other words, man is the master of his destiny and he has the free will to choose whatever goals and destinations he wishes as long as he does not harm another fellow traveller.

I think the question posed by humanists is the wrong one to pose because it assumes that man starts his journey from the point he was born. Instead of asking the question what is a man, what mankind can do and what mankind can realistically aspire to become, we should first ask who is man? Where did he come from and what purpose is there for his existence on earth?

That question is the pink elephant in the room that intellectuals tend to ignore because to comprehend this being called the human being in all his complexities, pretensions, strengths, genius and frailties, we need to know what is the meaning of the human being, not what is the meaning of humanity (you can find that out by reading history and the daily news).

When we ask that philosophical question we are putting man in the context of the universe. In other words, we are bound to ask if man is a creature of such marvelous complexity and intelligence, who is his creator then? Is there a God behind the universe and creation?

To make a simple analogy, imagine Martians have landed on the beach and discover a beautiful Rolex watch; they collect it and examine it and then try to figure out who is the creator of the watch. It would be quite ridiculous for them to assume that the watch evolved from the sands of the beach like a pearl in a shell over centuries of evolution and natural selection. (btw the pragmatic humanists among the Martians would wear the watch while the idealistic ones will try to disassemble it and transform it into a space navigator.)

The Impossible Question Needs to Be Asked
So the question about who we are and what we are destined to be invariably becomes a question of what is the purpose God (or gods) created us for. That remains the logical and intelligent start of a real enquiry into the truth of human nature and this strange thing called "humanity."

If humanists respond by saying there is no scientific or visible sign of God anywhere, then they are making the false premise that only what we see is real and what we don't see or cannot test scientifically, is non-existent. Does a blind man need to be shown proof that the sun exists when he can feel the warmth of sunlight on his face? His lack of sight does not hinder nor contradict his tactile senses.

Likewise, the agnostic's dismissal of all theological questions as impossible questions that can never be answered with any intellectual or scientific conviction is also intellectually dishonest. The humility of a good scientist and seeker of truth is to ask all impossible questions without worrying about their answers or consequences.   

Just because we do not have the right tools to climb the mountain does not mean the peak cannot be conquered. Much of the question about the existence of God can only be approached from circumstantial evidence and that evidence is most clearly proven by acts of faith. As a Christian, I have seen people healed miraculously by the power of God. 

But even if you have not witnessed these things, a fairly careful observation of the world around us testifies to an orderly universe and a creator who has good intentions for us. There is no need for theists (i.e. believers of a single God) to presume the supernatural: we experience and see the supernatural works of God almost everyday.

To conclude, there can never be an independent human being separate from the divine creator who created him. The real reason why humanism is such a strong belief system is because mankind refuses to give up all his weaknesses, his evil habits, his freedom of will and self-belief.

The humanism of New Age religions is based on a simple belief in a God-force who does not dictate how we live. That is a mere man-made invention of convenience and not the Truth, the Way and the Life which we will discover when we ask the impossible question with all our faculties, our senses and wisdom.

No comments:

Do You Want To Know God?

Do You Want To Know God?
Say this: Heavenly Father, I have sinned against You. Forgive all my sins. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose again. I give you my life to do as You wish. I want Jesus to come into my life & heart. In Jesus's name. Amen