How does one respond to a line of reasoning so ramshod and pot-holed that it would be far better to simply throw it all out and start anew? Such is the nature of Rich Elfers’ column “Man, God and the measure of all things” (published Jan. 18).
The piece begins with a barrage of pithy cliches meant to impart a sense of “you’re already humanist but just don’t know it yet” to the reader. “The voter knows best” is not a tenant of free democracy, but rather humanism. “The customer is always right” is not free-market wisdom, it’s humanism. “Think for yourself” is not ancient common sense – no, it’s a brand-new concept, and you can thank humanism for it. A very odd inclusion into Mr. Elfers’ Hall of Humanistic Accolade is “if it feels good – do it”, a self-evident disaster of a concept, but more on this later.
Next Elfers attempts to categorize all combatants of WWII into some camp of humanism. Painting all Western Allies as (liberal) humanists should draw considerable ire. While it’s true that 34 people signed A Humanist Manifesto in 1933, no self-respecting student of history could ever characterize mid-20th century America as “humanist”. This is simply wrong.
Elfers does accurately relay the embrace of humanism by both the Communist and Nazi parties. Humanism (or it’s lesser preferred moniker “atheism”) was the prevailing ideology behind both Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s death camps. A handful of years later it would enable Mao Zedong’s engineered famine against his own people. The common thread among these atrocities being convicted men striving for utopia justifying their actions with the mantra of “if it feels good – do it”.
After awkward, shoehorned references to current events (Ukraine, Hong Kong) and childish delusions of immortality (computer brains!), we come to the thrust of Mr. Elfers disposition – that we few religious should be made aware of this new religion called “humanism”.
Mr. Elfers – you have greatly misread the situation.
Humanism is the very basis for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions – it is precisely what these faiths are a response to. The spirit of humanism is literally birthed in the first act of the Bible when the Serpent seduces Eve saying her “…eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5).
It prevails abundantly as King Nebuchadnezzar exclaims this “great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my power and for the glory of my majesty” (Dan. 4:30). The birth of the Christian church took place in the bosom of humanism – first century Rome whose citizens worshipped their emperors as gods. Humanism is why the Apostle Paul exhorts “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…” (Rom. 12:2)
I sincerely hope, Mr. Elfers, you continue your quest for truth, humanist or not. Please take heed though to those words of that beloved scientist Carl Sagan, “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out.”
C. K. Shreve