Guest Writer: Zach Van Duyn
To some, this opinion will be frustratingly insufficient and anodyne. To others, some of my statements may provoke and breed resentment. Overall, I’m taking an admittedly scatterbrained approach to describing where I believe humanism and Christian faith intersect, as well as the insufficiency of the former to lead us to eternal life.
I’ll start with what I consider one of the most transformational and inescapably pervasive quotes ever uttered about my faith: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important,” said C.S. Lewis.
I believe Lewis’ words cannot easily be dismissed. Does such a mindset necessitate that the Sermon on the Mount be interpreted with utmost literalism? It may.
Does it grant us, as Christians, carte blanche to do good works for their own sake—at best, merely presuming after their “performance” that they comport with the ethic of Christ—if we do them for that which God has created but not in the name of Christ himself? I don’t believe it does.
In my mind, inherent in secular humanism is a repudiation of both the Great Commission and the general idea of doing good works with our eyes and hearts fixed on Christ. And I cannot accept that the idea of “Christian humanism” is anything more than an oxymoron, as to do good works out of love for Christ is to do them on a basis that is no longer merely humanistic.
Consequently, neither can I shake the idea that a toxic evil inheres in teaching others that good exists apart from that which derives from Christ; too often, we teach others as much when we look after one another’s earthly needs and then consider the work finished.
We teach that completing good works is a sufficiently worthwhile end in itself, an end not subject to the Scriptural expressions of goodness that will grant us true relief and life after death.
Don’t get me wrong: humanitarian work in particular is extremely important and continues to improve our world through serving, indeed rescuing, each other in acts of selfless love.
I cannot allow myself to overcompensate—as one overcorrects when swerving off the road—and denigrate the relative utility of good works in advancing and otherwise demonstrating Christianity to its fullest extent. I don’t believe that Dominionism or theocracy are the ways to achieve an enduring problem that comes down to the status of our individual hearts.
Yet, good works that either actively reject or are indifferent to the Holy Spirit purport provisional moral systems that put our own conceptions of right and wrong above that which is expressed in Scripture.
We will always err, but we are called to do the best we can for Christ. Motive, then, is everything. What does it mean for you to live out your faith as infinitely, not moderately, important? You’re free to decide. But if you are a Christian and feel that the good that we can realistically do for one another on Earth is of a separate nature, with distinct requirements, from the conception of goodness that the Bible asks of us, I cannot agree.
Kurt Vonnegut famously opined, “I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead.”
Embedded in such a juxtaposition of humanism and religion is a cynical, if subtle, acrimony towards any motives behind good works that extend beyond a basic and ‘pure’ empathy for humankind. I feel a Christian duty not to prove his implication right.
Zach is a senior political science and economics major from Avon, Indiana.