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The Intolerance of Humanism


Malcolm Muggeridge once recounted how foreign journalists posted in Moscow during the 1930s used to amuse themselves by measuring the credulity of visiting intellectuals.


Malcolm Muggeridge once recounted how foreign journalists posted in Moscow during the 1930s used to amuse themselves by measuring the credulity of visiting intellectuals. They would feed them tall stories about the Soviet regime; the name of the game was How far can you go? Muggeridge found himself ahead of everyone in the game after planting the story that Soviet citizens were so eager to devote themselves to the construction of socialism that they would not allow themselves any rest. As the story went, Soviet authorities, therefore, had to plan food shortages to force people to rest while waiting in queues in front of food stores. The story went down very well, finding acceptance among such distinguished members of the British intelligentsia as George Bernard Shaw, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

Such credulity is typical of modern secular humanists who, claiming to have liberated themselves from the God myth, profess unbounded faith in mankinds ability to resolve human problems. Now, the question is: What is it that makes these unbelievers so naïve?

The answer lies in their understanding of human nature. Far from having freed themselves from every kind of belief, they have merely switched from a religious faith to a secular one, from belief in a transcendant God to belief in an immanent one. They view the human person not as a creature and hence dependent upon his Creator but as an entirely autonomous self-evolving entity. Man somewhat becomes his own Creator. It all sounds very modern, but in fact it is an old story, at least as old as the Greek myth of Prometheus. And its culmination is not a more scientific age, but just the opposite, as far into the fantastic, even, as the New Age Movement popularized by Shirley Maclaine and others of the same stripe.

That secular humanism is akin to religion is reflected by the fact that it has its own set of dogmas. These include denial of any moral authority greater than the individual human will, the primacy of personal satisfaction, the relativity of moral values, etc. all unjustified assumptions most of which have been refuted time and again by the sages of human history, those men who have really thought about such things.

Indeed, the writings of the Fathers of secular humanism are replete with dogmatic assertions. Rousseau is a case in point. In The Social Contract, he emphasizes the need for a civil religion which he describes as follows:

Now, it matters very much to the community that each citizen should have a religion. That will make him love his duty; but the dogmas of that religion concern the State and its members only so far as they have reference to morality and to the duties which he who professes them is bound to do to others

Further on, Rousseau argues that tolerance should be given to all religions that tolerate others, so long as their dogma contain nothing contrary to the duties of citizenship. In other words, it is for the sovereign state to determine what religious beliefs are acceptable and which are not.

Another example can be found in John Dewey, who might properly be considered the father of contemporary progressive education. Dewey often used religious terminology to describe his own secular beliefs. In a statement first published in 1897, entitled My Pedagogic Creed, he argued that in helping children to become members of a secular society the teacher is always the prophet of the true God and the usherer in the Kingdom of God. For Dewey, the true God is not, of course, the God of Abraham or of Christians, but rather the human community. Similarly, the true kingdom of God is not Heaven, but rather secular society developed through progressive education. Dewey believed that public schools, in pursuing this objective would succeed in doing what traditional religion had always strenuously sought but miserably failed to do, namely provide universal happiness.

One could go on indefinitely with similar examples. Canada has a few of its own, notably Farley Mowat who, in a recent interview, went so far as to say that if he ever had the chance, he would eliminate all traces of Judeo-Christian-Moslem religions from the earth. The point to note is this: every form of secular humanism, be it marxism, fascism, nationalism, freudianism, etc. claims to hold the key to human happiness. And each believes that the key resides, not in the way one lives ones own person life, but rather in the way social life is organized.

The historical record shows, however, that wherever it has been able to impose its social programs to produce happiness, secular humanism has caused misery. It is precisely in societies that have replaced Christianity by some secular creed that one finds the greatest cruelty and callousness. Nobody except certain intellectuals can ignore the fact that the two societies that have systematically fought Christianity root and branch Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia have also been the two most grossly inhumane. And as Western democracies do away with their Christian heritage, they become more and more cruel and inhumane. The deliberate starvation of Downs syndrome babies, unrestricted abortion, euthanasia, devaluation of life-giving and life-supporting roles such as motherhood and fatherhood, all bear testimony to the fact that ours is increasingly becoming a death culture like Nazi and Soviet culture. The incredible rise in the rate of suicide among teenagers over the past two decades should alarm us the way that the death of canaries in coal mine tunnels alerted coal miners of another age: the air we are breathing is poisoned.

The intolerance of secular humanism can be seen everyday in the news. Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, who likes to boast about his atheism, is a good example. The world press has played this affair as a remarkable case of retrograde barbarism against freedom of speech. By doing so, it has completely ignored the issue of the relation between the sacred and the secular which is of prime importance not only for Muslims but for all believers. No Christian would deny that Khomeinis order to kill Rushdie is a case of vicious intolerance. But Rushdies own intolerance his book refers to Abraham, the father of all believers according to Jews, Muslims and Christians as the bastard hardly ever gets mentioned.

But why is secular humanism intolerant? It is because it views each human person as a creature of society rather than of God. If God does not exist or if we cannot know anything about Him, then the only possible source of authority is society. Human nature, in other words, is not to be viewed as having been created and made subject to certain divine laws, but rather as able to be developed and shaped by society, i.e. the Almighty State. That is why secular humanists usually have no qualms about supporting totalitarian experiments in societal control. (Who among them has criticized Chinas forced abortion policy?) That is also why they have no qualms about redefining what all traditional religions have held as natural. They will argue, for example, that homosexual relations represent merely an alternative approach to sexuality. Or that basic male and female roles can be redesigned according to societys desires. Or that the unborn child is not human.

Secular humanism refuses to deal with values and morals because it perceives them as being a matter of mere opinion, of personal preference. It denies the existence of a natural law, i.e., of any objective moral norm. The only thing that counts is scientific knowledge, which is precisely what Rousseau, Marx, Fichte, Nietzsche and other Fathers of secular humanism claimed they were expounding. They opened the way to the great social engineers of our century the Lenins, Hiders, Maos and Pol Pots, etc. all of whom have been acclaimed, at some point or other, by secularist intellectuals.

In short, the acid test of the true humanist is the claim not to believe, but to know, and to know scientifically. As Walter Lippman, the epitome of American secular humanism, put it in A Preface to Morals, we must live ... in the belief, that the duty of man is not to make his will conform to the will of God, but to the surest knowledge of the condition of human happiness (my emphasis). The problem, however, remains: the proposition that the scientific method is the only sure source of knowledge and that it can be applied indiscriminately to human affairs is an act of faith. It cannot itself be scientifically proven. Even the staunchest secular humanist must admit that he has given assent to a kind of dogma.

All of this leaves one big question unanswered: if we cannot escape dogmas, how should we choose between different dogmatic systems? The answer is: judge the tree by its fruits. And see which system proposes the high concept of man: the one that makes human happiness a function mainly of personal virtue or the one that makes it depend mainly on social engineering. Therein lies the basic moral difference between secular humanism and all traditional religions. The former posits a line between good and evil that runs through the structure of society, the latter a line running through the heart of each person.

In short, we cannot have two masters. There can be no compromise between secular humanism, on the one hand, and Christianity (or any other traditional religion for that matter) on the other. At a personal level, mixing them together is an affront to human intelligence. At a social level, they may co-exist for some time, although not without striking sparks.

Here, of course, secular humanists will throw in arguments about the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition or Galileo to suggest that Christians are in no position to lecture others on tolerance. But they fail to recognize the contradiction in their own position. While Christians readily admit that they do fall quite short of what they teach and that they must seek forgiveness for their sins, the secular humanists can never do so. In order to admit of any shortfall, one must first acknowledge the existence of something from which to fall short. The denial of objective moral norms prevents secular humanists from doing so.

It is precisely awareness of our own failings, i.e., of our sinfulness, that makes us tolerate the failings of others. Without such awareness, why should there be any tolerance at all? Tolerance, therefore, is a Christian virtue. Secular humanism rejects the notions of virtue and vice and substitutes for them the categories of right and left. To be left is to be right. And to be right is to be wrong. That is intolerance.



Bastien, Richard. The Intolerance of Humanism. Challenge (February, 1990): 23-24.

The Author

Richard Bastien is Vice-President of Justin Press in Canada and the director of the Catholic Civil Rights League for the Ottawa area.

Copyright © 1990 Challenge Magazine
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