Some parishioners have recently expressed distress over an Ad campaign of the American Humanist Association. Rather provocative Ads are appearing on buses and subways here in the Nation’s Capitol and I suspect elsewhere as well.
As Christmas draws near, the “Humanists” have made it a practice in recent years to tweak Christians (as well as Jews and Muslims) and attempt to make the concept of faith look ridiculous. They generally do this by quoting a sacred text and interpreting it in a mechanistic, fundamentalist and literalistic manner. The notion of quoting any other text that might balance it or perhaps make distinctions does not fit their scheme so they don’t do it. They claim to be thinkers but little thought is really evident in their attacks for they “think” that one-liners can represent a faith tradition thousands of years old.
Clearly too, they seem to violate their own “humanist” notions, for it seems in that they show no real human respect for their believing opponents. They claim to be the decent folks in the discussion but their disrespectful treatment of ancient faith traditions belies their self described decency and open-mindedness. In effect their charges against believers is that we are, homophobic, misogynistic, genocidal, homicidal, and generally unthinking. They of course show no bigotry at all in these charges and their simplistic use of our Scriptures. No they are the enlightened ones, kind and noble. They are “humanists” after all, and the rest of us are, well, “unenlightened” and responsible for just about everything bad there is on the planet. Or, so it would seem, based on their “kindly” assessment of us.
It will be noted that each Ad has the following format: “Some people believe…… We think…….” The implication being of course that they think and we do not. They do not see faith as a way of thinking. I am not sure what part of the human person they think faith resides in but they surely do not think it can be in the intellect. But of course faith IS a way of knowing. In know certain things and can think on them because God has revealed them. I know them by faith, but I do KNOW them.
Further, the secular humanist cannot claim he knows nothing by faith. In fact most of what we know, whether we are atheist or religious, we know by faith. It is simply not possible for most of us to personally verify everything we know. I cannot get on a plane and personally go to a foreign country and observe some event. I usually just trust what I read or hear on the news. I cannot get in a time machine and personally verify that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Neither can I personally verify that Paul Revere said, “The British are coming.” Yes, such things are in history books. But what if some folks were lying? Maybe the facts in the history books are wrong. So in the end I know these sorts of things by a human kind of faith. I trust that previous generations have largely handed the true facts. Faith isa fundamental human disposition. Without it we could not really claim to know much.
So what the humanists claim to “think” or know, is also largely based on beliefs and values that cannot simply be scientifically verified. For example, that men and women are equal is a fine value which I share. But it not really something that can be scientifically proved. Rather, it is based on values and a personal decision to regard the differences of men and women as of no significance in terms of what we mean by “equality.” But this is a belief. Another example, they claim that homosexual behavior is validly equal to heterosexual behavior. But this too is a belief, not a pure scientific thought. So even as they ridicule my belief and values they engage in belief and values of theirown. Even as they claim to “think” independent of faith, their thought, like mine is steeped in presuppositions rooted in faith and values.
So let’s take a look at some of their ads and videos.
Here’s the first ad.
Well of course the first thing to note of the Ad is the rather crude use of Scripture. It is not an authentic use of Scripture to simply quote one verse and think that you have captured all that Scripture has to say on that subject. Frequently, one verse will clarify another, or make distinctions. Sometimes one passage of scripture will balance another or tell the “other side” of the story.
Yet Another factor in this Ad is that it seems to treat all Christians alike in their interpretation of this passage. The fact is that a passage like this has a number of different interpretations and applications. If you were to walk into any Christian Church you would not find in most of them, women silent and having no practical authority. Women exercise great authority in churches and denominations. Even in the Catholic Church with a male only priesthood, woman have a lot of leadership. Hence this verse has not been read by most Christians in the absolute or literal sense that our Ad author wants us to think. St. Paul who wrote this passage elsewhere commends women who are catechists (e.g. Rom 16:1)and deaconesses (those who assisted in baptisms) . He speaks with great respect of many women who were patrons of the early Church (e.g. Lydia, Dorcas et al.) What Paul is probably saying here is that a woman was not to preside over liturgical functions or give the homily, reserved to priests and deacons. It is probably a liturgical context that Paul has in mind. This may still not please everyone but it is far from the extreme our Ad wants us to see.
As for marriage, Scripture does teach male headship. But that headship is rooted in love and service, not power. A husband is to love his wife (cf Eph5:19ff). The humanists are free to assert that they favor what they call “perfect partnership” (which seems to want to deny any form of headship). But that too is a belief. Notice that their response uses the word “should.” It is a belief, not a scientific fact, that equality can only exist in the absence of headship. Christians believe that authority exists, but it is exercised among equals. The Pope has authority in the Church but he is no more a Child of God than you or I. Before God we are equal but we do have some different roles among ourselves. But different does not mean unequal. Humanists have different beliefs in this regard but it is a belief, no less than ours. More on headship and equality here: http://blog.adw.org/2009/08/an-unpopular-teaching-on-marriage/
When the Ad says “some” believe this, I’d like to know who. In quoting the Old Testament the Humanists are not seriously contending that some Christians or Jews hold slaves today or beat them are they? Here too their real goal is probably more to ridicule Scripture. It is an undeniable fact that slavery was a feature of the Biblical world. However, slavery was not exclusive to the Biblical world. Further, the slavery of the ancient world was different in many respects from the slavery of more recent times. In the ancient world slavery usually the alternative to death or jail. People were enslaved for three usual reasons. Either they had debts they could not pay. Or, they had committed certain crimes. Or, they had been soldiers in a war wherein they lost. Instead of killing the soldiers or merely imprisoning debtors or criminals they might be permanently or temporarily enslaved. This history helps explain why the Scriptures did not condemn this practice. It was an alternative to things that may have been far worse. and, frankly our modern prisons aren’t shining examples of humanism either. These historical differences did not make slavery a wonderful thing but it is not the same as the slavery of the 16th Century wherein people were enslaved who had committed no crimes, waged no war, and owed no debts. It went by the name of slavery but it was different reality and as people woke up to this it was ended. Christians, Jews and non believers were all part of the battle to end slavery. The “humanists” cannot claim some sort of credit for ending slavery. Many of different backgrounds including Christians and Jews fought powerfully to end slavery. As for you humanists who are committed to treating each person as having inherent dignity, welcome to the crowd. You cannot claim this for yourself alone.
Here too, to say that “some believe” that homosexuals should be stoned is simply a hateful caricature of Christians and the “humanist” author of this Ad knows it. No Christian or Jewish creed calls for the death penalty in this matter. In ancient Biblical times many punishments were severe as considered by today’s standards. Adulterers were also to be stoned. Children could also be put to death for dishonoring parents. But these severe punishments were largely set aside by the Jewish people as they came forth from the desert and settled in the Promised Land. The punishments were ameliorated but the moral teaching on these matters were not. It is a consistent Biblical teaching from the early to the last passages of Scripture that Homosexual activity is sinful. So is illicit sexual union between heterosexuals (fornication and adultery). This is our principled belief as Catholics rooted in consistent Scriptural teaching. Now the Humanists are free to disagree but they too are expressing a belief. They cannot scientifically prove what the ad calls the “validity of sexual equality.” In fact any scientific study would seem to point away from it. Homosexual unions are not fertile and any scientific look at the the body parts in question will indicate that the man is made for the woman and the woman for the man. Further the preponderance of disease related to homosexual activity and other forms of promiscuity among heterosexuals backs the biblical prohibitions more that the “humanist” permissiveness. Perhaps our humanist “thinker” should think through the evidence a bit more. Have “considered” humanism in this matter I find it wanting. More on Biblical teaching on Homosexuality here: http://blog.adw.org/2009/10/biblical-teaching-on-homosexual-activity/
Here we see our “humanist” interlocutor ridiculing what he or she does not understand. Christian tradition distinguishes between servile fear and filial fear. Now servile fear is not commended and should be conquered. Filial Fear however is based in love and consists in a deep reverence for God whom I dread to offend on account of my love and deep respect for him. Now my reverence for God is surely based on the fact that he will one day judge me, and Jesus who is quoted here, reminds us that it is better to fear him than to fear man. For, ultimately a man can only kill my body, but the Lord has authority over my soul and eternal destiny. Hence our reverence for God should be higher than for man. Here too one verse of Scripture is not the whole of Scripture and the crude use of Scripture made by our “thinking” humanist should also include other scriptures that balance the notion of servile fear. For example, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18). This particular text goes on to say that the love of God drives out sin in us and hence we no longer fear punishment as sin is increasingly driven away. Hence while the Lord speaks of the fear of punishment by God as more necessary than fear of man, Scripture elsewhere distinguishes that this sort of fear is something that should give way over time as we grow in love and faith.
Finally, the quote by Bertrand Russell also needs some additions or distinctions. I cannot imagine that he or humanists really argue that all fear is bad. There are some things of course that are rightly feared. For example, I ought to fear dangerous or reckless behavior. I ought to fear genuinely harmful things. I need not be in a panic but rather, an appropriate, reverential fear of things that can harm me is often called for and reasonable. Surely a “thinking” humanist would concur with this.
I sometimes wonder too if humanists fear us who believe. I say this because of the “over the top” quality of some of these Ads. They seem so rooted in a kind of bigoted fear that simplifies and tries to ridicule us. I sense fear fear in this.
Well now, this is the silliest Ad of all. Had our thinking humanist bothered to consult even the most basic Scriptural commentary he or she would have discovered that this verse employs Jewish hyperbole. This is not a call to hate. It is a Jewish way of speaking that emerges from the fact that the Hebrew language does not contain many comparative words such as more, less, greater, fewer and so forth. Hence if I prefer Chocolate ice cream to vanilla I would say in the Hebrew or Aramaic idiom, “I love Chocolate and hate vanilla.” But what I mean is that I prefer Chocolate, not that I really hate vanilla. Hence the Lord teaches us here that we must love God above all things and people and that he must have priority in our life. The humanist may reject this notion but it is still wrong for them to misrepresent our Scripture. Since all humanists are fair, loving and kind, according to this Ad, they really should check with us about what our Scriptures mean before presuming such terrible things about them or us. This Scripture is not saying what they claim it says. It seems once again that the real purpose here is to ridicule what they do not understand. This is rooted more in bigotry than kindness. There is nothing “kind” about this Ad and the humanist author might consider that his creed (pardon the expression) that he “BE KIND” does not seem to apply to Christians.
Well there are three videos I will post tomorrow that are also part of this campaign.
In summary, having considered the humanism on display in these ads, I have found it wanting. There is little in them that is any way considerate or humanist. All the kindness and moral high ground these Ads claim that humanist have seem to give way to condemnation rooted in ignorance, simplifications, and erroneous understanding of basic doctrines of faith. Indeed, I would call these ads amateurish at many levels. Even simple fact checking was not done. In the end these Ads are not rooted in critical “thinking” at all. They seem far more expressive of the kind of bigotry and fear based ignorance they claim to condemn.