2016: Terry Eagleton, Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University, delivers the ninth annual Theos lecture
The Case for Christian Humanism
5th December 2014
Humanism has come to perceived as non- or even anti-religious. But it wasn’t always like that. Indeed, until recently, humanism was a much broader and more generous term, with Christian humanism being one kind among many others, such as classical, scientific and secular humanism.
In this essay, Angus Ritchie and Nick Spencer argue that Christians ought to be more aware – and more proud – of their humanist credentials, rather than allowing humanism to become a cipher for atheism. Were it not for Christianity, they argue, the core ideas of humanism would simply not have developed in Europe.
They go beyond a mere celebration of Christian humanism, however, to argue that the Christian faith provides a much firmer foundation for humanist beliefs than evolutionary atheism. Taking their cue from the authoritative definition of humanism by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, they argue that a commitment to reliable rationality, to moral realism and to human dignity can only be secured on a theistic basis. Ultimately, atheism saws through the branch on which humanism sits.
Just as the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, so the price of humanism is philosophical rigour. The Case for Christian Humanism provides that rigour, thereby attempting, in T.S. Eliot’s words, “to point out the weak points in its defences, before some genuine enemy took advantage of them.”