We all need to become humanists

Yet I Still Want to be a Catholic A theological blog 25 iii 20

Post 3: We all need to become humanists.

Our biggest problem about religion is that so many of us were taught it in an infantile way when we were children and we have never got over it.  The messages we received then became stamped on our souls and we urgently need to escape from them.  I spent twenty-five years in a monastery and six studying theology but it is only now that I am getting out of an infantile religious condition.  No wonder my RI classes were complete rubbish.  We need to begin again. We can never know whether the propositions of religion are true or not because they are articles of faith, so by definition they are uncertain and may be untrue.  This is the whole point of belief. Otherwise it would be knowledge.  Newton’s laws of motion are certainly true (actually, in a most important sense they aren’t certain either but I’ll come back to that) but that Jesus rose from the dead is not certainly true.  But we do know that we share a common humanity.  It is to humanism, therefore, that we need to turn. I greatly admire humanists for two reasons.  The first is that they try to lead rational lives so far as they are able and practise kindness and humanity.  I particularly admire Richard Dawkins partly because of his wonderful writing about science,  but  it is the sincerity with which he attacks religion that impresses me most.  He certainly woke me up.

But there is another reason too.  Humanism sets us free from God. The old penny catechism taught us that we were made by God to serve him in this life and love him in the next.  It is amazing how it managed to cram three major theological howlers into one sentence.  Love is an essentially free gift given by two equally independent lovers to each other.  God didn’t make us, the earth made us (dust of the earth animated by the breath of life, Genesis got it right) and servants don’t give love but service.  God did not condemn us to servitude in this life.  By showing us that we can be independent and free of this servitude to which the penny catechism would condemn us, the humanists have done us all a great service.  One of the great services Richard Dawkins did me was to make me realise that in spite of all the Catholic theology I learnt (though in my defence much of it was in Latin and I hardly understood a word of it) in my heart I was as Protestant as Paley.  We all were.  We all thought that God made the world and then, because man was so bad that only a perfect sacrifice could appease God’s anger, so he sent his son to be tortured and killed which at least kept the monster quiet for now, and if you stepped out of line, especially in the sexual area, God would zap you hard and might even send you to hell.  How could we have believed all this?  None of it is in The New Testament.  Thanks Richard.

Yet for all my admiration for humanists, for me, now, humanism is not enough.  I took The New Humanist for ages but I gave it up because for me it was just too self-satisfied and bland.   Humanism doesn’t penetrate into the darknesses of the human heart in the way that The New Testament does.  All the humanists I know have an idea of the God in whom they don’t believe that is even more infantile than that of the religious infantilists.  They all think that religion teaches that God made the world in seven days (yeah some religious believers attempt to reconcile the Bible with evolution but that’s double think) and God sent his son to be sacrificed in the most horrible way currently available, and how can a good God allow so much suffering and evil in the world.  No wonder they don’t believe in God.  But none of this is what The New Testament teaches.  Have they really looked into the Catholic belief they condemn so readily?  Much as I admire Richard Dawkins he knows a lot more about biology than he does about religion.  If God is supposed to be so omniscient, says Richard triumphantly, why didn’t he foresee Auschwitz and if he’s supposed to be so omnipotent why didn’t he stop it?  Get out of that one, God.  For Dawkins God is still the Headmaster at his public school.  If the guy was up to the job why didn’t he realise the boys were smoking pot and if he was competent why didn’t he stop them? Dawkins thinks in his essay Viruses of the Mind that Catholics think that in the Mass the priest turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ by magic (actually he’s not entirely wrong either, unfortunately lots of Catholics do think that).  Dear Richard, do please read de Lubac’s Corpus Mysticum.  How many humanists have pondered deeply on Aquinas’s view that God doesn’t exist, God is existence, or even know that Aquinas said that?  How many of them have read an up to date biblical commentary on the first chapter of Genesis or the sacrifice of his son by Abraham (it was even worse according to Dawkins, God put Abraham through all the mental anguish and then sniggeringly says just joking; come on Richard, that’s one for talking after lights out in the dorm), how many of them have read the Second Vatican Council’s document on the redemption?  How rational is it to condemn out of hand something you’ve hardly bothered to find out about, and instead just go on repeating all the old humanist received mantras?

Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. God stepped in at the last moment.  from Timothy Lutheran Bible Study.com

In every age and in every place people have had mystical experiences and none of them thought there was a God beyond the sky because all of them experienced a presence dwelling deep in their hearts that bursts the boundaries of our ordinary experiences.  Above all we have to be independent and free so that we can love God independently and freely.  That is why humanism is important and why we live in a Darwinian world that is outside God’s control.  There is evil precisely because God isn’t responsible for it.  Of course, to the humanists, mysticism is manifestly nonsensically mythical (mystical is Dawkins’ favourite boo word).   But how rational is it to tell us that Terra del Fuego doesn’t exist when you’ve never been there?


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