Have you ever noticed that some terms are so common that you don't even think about what they mean?
Terms like socialism, fascism, and communism. How many of us have ever read Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto? I know there may very well be some of you who have read it. I admit I haven't. Only because there are so many things to read that are more interesting to me. But I hear those terms tossed about a lot these days.
One of the things I read is D.S. Leiters blog, "Assertive Spirituality." She kindly sends an email to my in box every Sunday morning - you can access her blog here. Dr. Leiter holds a PhD in Communication, and studies and teaches about stress, trauma, and conflict communication.
Dr. Leiter has written about what she calls "devil terms" and "God terms." God terms are things that are to be defended at all costs, and devil terms are things that are to be fought at all costs. It seems to me that our list of God terms and devil terms is growing every week.
God terms might be church, the Bible, white womanhood, babies, and those are the few I can think of. The church because Jesus bought her with His blood (I think that is how the hymn goes). The Bible because it is the WORD OF GOD. Babies because they are the unborn and deserve a chance. White womanhood because white women are the paragons of virtue.
I hope you can hear the irony in my words. Church is good, but we have seen and continue to see plenty of examples of Church gone wrong - the Catholic church is still reeling from allegations of sexual abuse by priests, and the Southern Baptist Convention is now dealing with its own allegations of sexual and spiritual abuse. I'm sure every denomination has its bad guys (and gals). The Bible (I wrote about the Bible here) is debatably inerrant or infallible or both or neither. The abortion debate continues to rage - sure, babies are good and innocent and deserve to be born to loving parents who can care for them. But sometimes nature goes horribly wrong and the baby can't survive, and sometimes parents can't care for them, and women deserve agency over their own bodies and wombs. And white women? Well, that is just a racist trope.
The point is that making something a God term takes the nuance, truth, and reality away from whatever it is. No concept or abstraction is worth defending at all costs, yet we seem to be leaning in that direction. Is that because we don't stop to think about what we are really defending? Do we even really know?
Devil terms are the opposite. Devil terms are to be fought at all costs. In this country, communism is definitely a devil term. So is socialism, fascism, gun control, abortion rights. "Democrat" and "Republican" are becoming devil terms, too, depending on which side of the aisle contains your seat.
D.S. Leiter's post on September 25, 2021 (here) was titled How Humanism (And Empathy) Became a Conservative Devil Term. Interesting!! And it got me to thinking - what do I even know about Humanism?
I know that sometimes when I make an argument for or against something - I can't think of an example - Jay will respond, "Well that's humanism." And the way he says it I know it is not a good thing. I don't want to veer off into humanism with my theological arguments (which we have regularly - discussions, really). But when I read Assertive Spirituality last week, I realized - I don't really know anything about humanism. So how can I be using it - or allowing it to be used - as a devil term?
What is humanism? I started to add, "exactly," but I can only give you a shallow understanding that I can glean from the internet. But I'll do my best.
Merriam-Webster defines humanism as a devotion to the humanities, devotion to human welfare, and a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values. Fred Edwards, of the American Humanist Association, describes several different types of humanism (Edwards, 2008):
- Literary Humanism is, as Merriam-Webster defines humanism, a devotion to the humanities and literature
- Renaissance Humanism arose at the end of the Middle Ages, and expresses confidence in human beings' ability to determine truth and falsehood for themselves
- Western Cultural Humanism constitutes a large part of the Western approach to science, political theory, law, and ethics
-Philosophical Humanism centers around human need, and may be Christian or Modern
- Christian Humanism advocates the self-fulfillment of humankind within a Christian framework
- Modern Humanism relies primarily on reason, science, democracy and human compassion. (Sounds a lot like Jesus to me - except that modern humanists also reject supernaturalism).
- Secular Humanism is an outgrowth of "eighteenth century enlightenment rationalism and nineteenth century freethought." Hmmm ... more research.
- Religious Humanism integrates humanist ethical philosophy with congregational rites and community activity which center on human needs, interests, and abilities. (from Wikipedia).
So if I study the Bible (literature), practice critical thinking skills
to determine what is true and what is not, believe in the advances of science and try to live an ethical life (I don't really know anything about political theory and only the surface-y law stuff), believe that humans have needs that deserve to be met, believe that Christianity calls me to a level of self-fulfillment that I would not achieve without God, and appreciate the symbolism and rituals of worship, am I a Humanist? Would that be bad?
I'd say no - but the byline for the Amercan Humanist Association is "Good without a God." Ah - there it is. Those who believe that humanism is a devil term say that humanists idolize humans and put humankind above God. And in the graphic I shared, the British Humanist Association says that Humanists put "human beings and other living things at the centre of [their] moral outlook." But the rest of it sounds pretty Jesus-like to me.
Here's what I'm thinking. Jesus may have been the original humanist because he cared about humanity, but he also knew God, intimately and personally because Jesus is God. So to say that humanism is a devil term means that all the teachings of Jesus about caring for the least and lost are also bad, which they can't be because they are the teachings of Jesus.
Whether we agree with Humanism or not, I think we need to look at all of our devil and God terms, because none of them are black and white. Before we accuse anyone of anything, we need to be sure that a) we know what the words mean and b) they actually apply. Accuse me of being a humanist, socialist, liberal, heretic or whatever, but please be sure you know what those words mean, because I am about to start asking - there will be a quiz on Monday.
And we need to start to put God at the center of everything. I was reading Romans this morning. Chapter 4:1-3:
4 1-3 So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.” (The Message)
This hit me a little like a thwack in the head! We talk about Abraham, Noah, Job, Isaiah, the Psalmist, Jonah and the big fish - and God is a supporting character in the stories. NO! God needs to be the main character - we need to start rethinking how we think about all these familiar Bible stories and put God - Jesus - in the middle of them. And once we have done that, then we need to look at our own stories, and take ourselves out of the middle of them and put God front and center. What is God actually saying to us? Are our God-terms really God, or are they idols? Are our devil-terms really all bad, or is God somewhere in those, too?
We've gotten things so mixed up. We need to look at our stories, our words, and our beliefs. Some we should hang on to, some we should revise, and some just need to be thrown out. Each of us will believe something slightly different, but if God is at the center of what we do and say, I think God will understand.
So much of what we assume is true - the United States was founded on Christian principles, for example (Founding Fathers were mostly deists) - just isn't. We can find Bible verses to support everything - including what to make for dinner, though I'll have to find the recipes elsewhere - but what is the overarching message of the Bible? Not hatred, not intolerance, and definitely not unrestrained capitalism.
Jesus cared for the least and lost. Jesus walked around and loved people - even people he disagreed with. Jesus sat down and ate with sinners. Jesus' parents weren't wealthy, powerful people, so presumably Jesus didn't grow up with a sense of entitlement and power. Jesus put the needs of humanity ahead of the wealth and power of those around him. I think that makes Jesus a humanist - but definitely not without God.
Edwords, Fred. "What is Humanism?" American Humanist Association. What Is Humanism? - American Humanist Association. 2008. (accessed October 4, 2021)
Humanism in a Nutshell. Image. https://chaplaincy.tufts.edu/humanist/files/Humanisminanutshell.png (accessed October 17, 2021)
Wikipedia contributors, "Religious humanism," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Religious_humanism&oldid=1041739492 (accessed October 4, 2021)