Humanism needs Christianity says religious think tank
Former Archbishop of Canterbury writes foreword to controversial report
Christians should claim back humanism from atheists, according to a controversial new report from the religion and society think tank Theos.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, lends his support by writing a foreword to the report The Case for Christian Humanism, which explains that not only is humanism not the same as atheism but that only belief in God can provide a robust foundation to sustain humanism’s most fundamental claims.
The report, which draws on major philosophical thought over two millennia, but also bases its thinking on “the official defining statement of World Humanism” (the 2002 Amsterdam Declaration of the International Humanist and Ethical Union), argues that only Christianity can truly answer the three main claims of humanist thought: that of rationality, respect for human dignity and moral realism.
For example, it points out that without a reference to the existence of a God who loves all humans permanently and equally, the concept of human dignity is highly vulnerable. If human dignity is based solely on our cognitive capacities, as many atheist humanists argue, then this raises worrying questions about how severely mentally disabled children and adults are regarded.
Most controversially, the report argues that it is not Christian belief that is a threat to human rationality but atheism, because a worldview based only on evolution provides no good reason for us to trust our minds. Evolution, after all, is driven by survival, not truth.
“For most of its history, ‘humanism’ has been a broad church, and Christianity and humanism have been anything but enemies,” the authors write. “Not only is it quite possible to ‘do both’, but the very idea that there was some kind of irreconcilable antagonism between the two is a very recent invention, which would have been anathema to most humanists through history.
“Commitment to rationality, morality and human dignity is wholly good and merits the unqualified support of Christians. But only belief in God can provide a sufficiently robust philosophical foundation to sustain these claims.”
In his foreword, Lord Williams calls for Christians to fully participate in a conversation about humanism: “The idea that human flourishing had to entail the decline of religion needed – and still needs – demythologizing,” he writes. “But that will only happen if we can inject some clarity into what is often a sterile debate between Christians and secular humanists.”
Commenting on the report, Nigel Biggar, Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, said:
“The choice before us is not whether our public orthodoxy will be Christian or humanist, but whether it will be the kind of humanism that is capable of resisting its several formidable enemies, whether nihilism, consumerism, or violently apocalyptic religion. This clear and succinct essay makes a persuasive case that Christianity can tell a better, more coherent, and more cogent humanist story than atheism.”
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Notes for Editors
1. The Case for Christian Humanism: Why Christians should believe in humanism, and humanists in Christianity is published by Theos and available at https://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/publications/2014/12/05/the-case-for-christian-humanism
2. Theos is a religion and society think tank which offers research and commentary on issues of faith and belief. It was launched in November 2006 with the support of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the former Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
3. For further information about Theos, visit www.theosthinktank.co.uk