An Introduction to Religious Humanism
David S. Mathews
On Saturday, September 24, 1994, the Humanists of the Suncoast had their regular monthly meeting. What is the Humanists of the Suncoast? A local chapter of religious Secular Humanists, all of whom live in Pinellas County, Florida. Invitation to the meeting was provided by an advertisement in the weekly issue of Creative Loafing, an entertainment guide which has a pronounced liberal political and social agenda. Whether the two major local newspapers (the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times) contained advertisements relating to the meeting is not known, though it is highly unlikely, as the humanist group is small and statements during the meeting implied other-wise.
I was at work, passing time during my lunch break, reading Creative Loafing. Catching my attention was a particular statement: "Are You A Humanist and don't know it? Are you comfortable with organized religion? Call 813-446-0312 and find out." It is not uncommon to find various religious groups advertise in Creative Loafing, providing phone numbers or addresses so as to attract converts. In all the time that I have examined the listings, though, I had never seen any mention of humanism or any group of humanists.
Why was I looking for a humanist organization? Be-cause there are several active humanists in the region who make their views known in the letters to the editor sections of all the local newspapers of periodicals. One humanist in particular achieved much success in having letters published, a humanist of such stature that he received honors as the State Humanist of the Year (as reported and editorialized in the City Times section of the St. Petersburg Times, in an editorial titled "State Humanist of the Year infuriates readers" by Diane Steinle, March 14, 1994). Brent Yaciw, the local humanist who received the honor, was successful in having his views appear in the newspapers of the region, even though he spent most of his time in Tallahassee, Florida, acting as a lobbyist and activist promoting humanist causes and church/state separation.
Mr. Yaciw does not hide his low opinion of religion. In a letter to the St. Petersburg Times, he states,
"There is no `savior.' Not Jesus, not L. Ron, not Buddha nor Yahweh nor Zeus nor Jehovah nor any of the myriad fantasies invented by humanity to avoid accepting reality.... Reality is tough, but living a life of fantasy is no solution. The brand of religion you choose makes little difference, since all religion is based on escapist fantasy."
In a letter to Creative Loafing, Mr. Yaciw said, "Since Ms. Stone mentioned the religious right's opposition to feminism does she also know that both Hitler and the KKK were based on Christian doctrines fully supported by Biblical passages?" In a letter to the Religion section of the St. Petersburg Times, "As for the child abuse aspect of this, what else could you call indoctrinating a child into the superstitutions that will eventually subject him or her to ridicule by those taught logical thinking? ... We've taken steps to prevent physical child abuse; let's do the same for the mental abuse of religion." Mr. Yaciw's letters revealed that he is aggressively opposed to religion, and a man who needs to hear the truth.
As Diane Steinle reports in her editorial, "State Humanist of the Year infuriates readers," "He (Brent Yaciw) is probably the Times' most prolific letter writer. . . . His letters are also published in the Tallahassee Democrat, the Tampa Tribune, Creative Loafing, several university news-papers, humanist and atheist magazines and an occasional national publication, including USA Today." A man of such activity must possess great zeal and motivation. How many Christians make an effort to write a letter to the editor, or publicly proclaim the doctrines of Christ? It is a sad thing that our zeal is so much less, considering the nature of the gospel's message and its author, God!
Ever since my first contact with the letters of Brent Yaciw, I had a desire to meet him. My motivation in-creased following his honor as the State Humanist of the Year, as the honor identified Mr. Yaciw a prominent person in humanist circles. I was unable to contact him, as no address or phone number was present in the editorial, or in the phone book. Perhaps a local humanist organization would have the information? No humanist organizations are listed in the local phone books.
Lacking any means of contacting Mr. Yaciw, I felt the effort vain. Nonetheless, I continued searching the papers, hoping to find an advertisement or article about local humanist organizations. Finally, success was found in the Creative Loafing advertisement an opportunity to speak to religious secular humanists, and perhaps to engage in worthwhile discussion of the merits of religion, Christianity, and atheism.
Upon calling the number listed, I asked the man on the other end of the line about humanism, and attempted to reason with him. In the course of the conversation, I discovered that the humanists had not considered the questions which I brought up. Finally, the man invited me to attend the meeting of the Humanists of the Suncoast, and identified himself as Hal. Hal said that the humanists were going to meet at a restaurant, and the meeting would include a short speech (sermon?) by Brent Yaciw, the president of the Humanists of the Suncoast. Realizing the importance of the opportunity, I determined to attend the meeting, not only so that I might meet Brent Yaciw, but also that I might meet Hal, and perhaps engage in conversations with various members of the group.
I did not go alone to the meeting, as two other Christians also attended. Strength is found in numbers, and three people can provide strength and courage to each other, as each contributes his knowledge and study to the task at hand. As none of us had previously at-tended a meeting of humanists, we did not know what to expect, nor could we imagine how humanists might respond to the presence of Christians at their meeting.
What is the nature of the group, Humanists of the Suncoast? Attending its meeting were around two dozens individuals (excluding us), which seemed an absurdly small number. How can human-ism have such a great influence if its local organizations are so small?
There are several reasons why humanism is such a powerful influence in American society:
(1) Humanism is a religion which does not require (or even encourage) congregational meetings or attendance. For that reason, the number attending is small.
(2) Humanism is an individualistic faith. Emphasis is placed on the individual, and there is no moral obligation to a group or any other individual. For that reason, there are far more adherents to humanist principles than there are active, declared humanists.
(3) Humanism is a religion of intellectuals. Even though the number of intellectuals in a society is small, they have great influence, since average people imagine that the ideas of intellectuals are superior. Not only that, intellectuals attain positions of prominence in their field, and so can use their authority to promote their religion.
(4) Humanists are very zealous. Brent Yaciw consumes his time writing letters condemning religion and faith in God. His zeal is successful in getting his views published, and so humanism receives publicity beyond its numbers.
(5) As a religion of intellectuals, humanism finds adherents among the most successful including the producers, actors, and staff of the media. Humanists are present in large numbers among the national and local news organizations and entertainment sources. They have used these tools to promote political and social causes inspired by secular humanism.
For the above reasons, humanists have become leaders of American society. Just because local groups of humanists are small is no consolation to Christians, because the goals of humanism regarding religion and morality have achieved a level of success. How should a Christian respond to the successes of humanism? Christians should recognize that God has commanded that Christians teach, even if the forces of culture and society condemn the message of Christ and the Bible. Christians have al-ready surrendered too often, perhaps hoping that the evil forces of the world would be satisfied by appeasement.
Members of the group introduced themselves, and conversations followed. Humanists are not mean or unfriendly people. Many humanists have a distrust of religion derived from the many wars and disputes which are rooted in religion. Whether religion is inherently responsible for the wars of the Middle East and Europe is subject to doubt, although humanists teach dogmatically that religion is intrinsically evil and faith is a delusion.
A large number of humanists come from a Unitarian Universalist background, while there were a few within the group which came from Catholicism, and even less from Judaism. They speak of the confusion in the religious world as a reason to doubt the truth of all religious teachings. Denominationalism, with its thousands of different organizations conflicting and contradicting, has motivated many people to doubt the Bible, and mock any attempt at discerning absolute truth. Satan's efforts have achieved success. Even religious people who believe in God and are members of denominations have rejected the concept of truth and man's ability to discern the truth. Humanism merely takes that belief a step further, reasoning that religion, the source of so much confusion, can in no way reflect truth or provide evidence for the existence of God.
Christians ought to recognize the importance of unity and fellowship. Unity and fellowship are a result of truth. Unity and fellowship also provide a strong evidence for God's existence and the validity of Christ. As Christ prayed in John 18:20-21, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word: that they may all be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they may also be one in Us, that he world may believe that You sent Me." Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 14:33, saying, "God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints." How sad to see denominational ministers praising division! Christians must examine their own conduct to avoid falling into the same sin, as various contentions create divisions, and love for the truth is lost because of loyalty to a particular preacher, elder, or magazine. God speaks of the world's reaction to the sins of his followers in Romans 2:24, "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." Christians are not immune from fault, or guilt, in regard to upholding the truth and avoiding divisions.
Instead of religion and revelation, humanists look to science and reason as trustworthy sources of truth. Most humanists accept the dogma that "Humanism is in tune with the science of today." Faith in evolution is universal. Nonetheless, actual knowledge of science among humanists various with each individual. Very few have a complete knowledge of science. Rather, humanists possess a faith in science both as a truth worthy guide and a solution to all of the problems confronting humanity. Much of the faith is rooted in the overly confident predictions of scientists of the late 19th and 20th century that technology and reason was on the verge of solving all problems of mankind.
Although humanists possess faith in science and humanity, history does not validate their faith. Even humanists have retreated somewhat from their early confidence in man, as they comment in the first two sentences of the Humanist Manifesto II, "It is forty years since Humanist Manifesto 1(1933) appeared. Events since then make that earlier statement seem far too optimistic." Human nature has not changed, and sinful activity continues. There is no argument against humanism so powerful as the character of humanity. Contrast the optimism of humanism with reality. God's picture of man in the Bible is honest, objective, and troubling to most people specifically be-cause it does not gloss over man's weakness. Christians ought to confront humanists with the basic contradiction between their picture of human nature and the Bible's picture of human nature.
Once the meeting had concluded, after Mr. Yaciw's speech comparing belief in creation to belief that storks are the source of babies instead of sexual reproduction, and a talk by a college age atheist named Chris who encouraged atheists and humanists to evangelize, an opportunity came to speak to more humanists. Several humanists were pleased that religious people attended, and encouraged us to return at a future date. These people need contact with Christians, and they need to hear the gospel.
Christians should make every effort to meet with humanists, as well as adherents of u"' 2r religions. Have confidence in the gospel's message, have courage to stand for the truth in front of the enemies of the gospel. By doing so, you will have an opportunity to teach people you seldom come into contact with, and may, with diligent effort, convert some.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 5 p. 6-8