Because it has appeared throughout history in a variety of forms and with a variety of emphases, humanism can be hard to define. Perhaps the best way to summarize its major tenets is to use the ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras’ statement homo mensura, which means “man the measure.” In its secular form, humanism has taught that man is the measure of all things. Man is the ultimate, autonomous norm; that is, he is a law unto himself. His reason, not subservient to divine revelation, is the basis of ethics.
Not every humanist has denied God’s existence, but even those religious humanists have said that belief is merely one aspect of our humanity. Removing faith from the center of existence made it easy for humanists in the nineteenth century to question the Bible’s validity and define it solely as a record of primitive man’s experience of religion. As a result, many seminaries began to deny the supernatural, producing pastors and other leaders who denied the resurrection but tried to keep many of the ethical teachings of Jesus. The consequence of all this was the “Social Gospel,” which emphasized feeding the hungry and other works of charity without telling people of their need for salvation from sin. This incomplete Gospel is directly linked to the decline of the so-called “mainline denominations.” If we do not need to be saved from sin, there is no reason for us to sit under a preacher and hear platitudes about giving to the poor. Such good works can be done without the trappings of religion.
Beginning in the twentieth century, humanists began to articulate more honestly that subjectivism is the inevitable consequence of making man the final arbiter of what is true. Without an objective, transcendent norm all we have are individual preferences to guide us. We must then ask, whose preferences will guide us? More often than not this has led to some form of statism wherein the preferences of the few are made into laws for the many.
Coram deo: Living before the face of God
The naturalism that is taught alongside humanism makes humanity into a cosmic accident with no real value, hence the ease with which we abort children and abandon the elderly. Only the Christian worldview, where God is the measure of all things, can preserve life and liberty. Only those who believe that man is made in God’s image have grounds for attributing any kind of worth to humanity. Remember this as you engage other worldviews.