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Humanism: What is it? Where is it? (Chapter 5, Pt. 1)

In this week’s podcast, Shawn and Ivy discussed the first half of Ravi Zacharias’s chapter on humanism. This can be a heavy topic, but Ivy summed it up brilliantly with some personal, practical questions.

  • Where am I living as a humanist instead of a Christian?
  • Where does my life look more like I think the answers come from me or education rather than from God?
  • Where am I hearing this in the world around me? In my arts and entertainment? In education or everyday conversation?
  • How can I develop a prayerful awareness of humanism?
  • Can I ask better questions and love people more because of this awareness?

It sounds like we’re going on a humanism hunt this week. I can’t wait to hear what you discover.


First, I want to thank Shawn for normalizing my experience with this chapter. Like him, I also felt completely lost and had to do a re-read. Even then, I considered giving up. Like Shawn, I found myself needing to research as I read, discovering who the people were that Ravi was quoting so I could better frame the narrative. This meant it took me much longer to get through the chapter.
Ivy’s take a way qutestion, ‘what can I affirm about humanism?’ reminded me of a friend who’s worldview closely resembles humanism and who takes seriously her responsilbity to live an ethical life, and longing to contribute to the greater good of humanity. This chapter has given me insight for future conversations with her.
Two of Ivy’s practical questions really stood out to me.

  1. Where am I hearing humanism in the world around me? Everywhere, is my answer, even within the body of Christ. Well meaning, good people that I believe really do love God, but have bought into the lie there is more than one answer to the meaning of life.
  2. Where does my life look more like I think the answers come from me or education than from God? Oh this was very convicting. When up against a challenging situation I’m very prone to seek knowlege from books, people, or even google as my first resource rather than seek wisdom from thee One that has the answer for every challenge. I recall the statement on page 139 where Kronman said ‘secular humanism was born at a moment of doubt’ and have to ask myself do I doubt God’s omniscience? Do I doubt that the sacrifice He made for me is for more than just a trip to heaven? I don’t believe it’s wrong to seek counsel and find wisdom in other’s words, but it should never be my first response. I fully recognize that God desires to be invited into every challenge I face and that wisdom comes from Him. I’m already watching and waiting for the next opportunity to seek God first. This is my greatest take a way for this week.
    I thank Shawn & Ivy for your time comittment, thought provoking conversation, and challenging questions.

I am challenged by “developing a prayerful awareness of humanism”. Going through the Core Module as well as the book podcast can be a cerebral exercise for me. Can some of you share specific circumstances where you’ve encounter humanistic concepts in your reading, tv viewing, conversations with others? Your own tendencies?

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This is such a good question Brenda and I’m so glad you asked it. You’ve put in writing what I’ve been asking in my head throughout the chapter. I’m very interested to see other’s specific examples. I just today finished the chapter and Shawn’s and Ivy’s Part 2 discussion. This chapter was very difficult for me to decipher and I’m still not sure I fully understand the definition of humanism.
I’ve spent the last hour doing RZIM searches for previous conversations on this topic; I haven’t see examples but have found the conversation very interesting.
I’m really looking forward to more conversation here.

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@Ter and @b4marshall, thanks for your thoughts and questions. I’m finding this chapter quite challenging. It’s hard for me to name examples if I don’t have a good definition, but Ravi quoted Alan Bullock at the beginning of the chapter, saying that humanism is a word “that no one has ever succeeded in defining to anyone else’s satisfaction.” No wonder I’m struggling!

The definition that helped me the most is the one from the American Humanist Association on p.146.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

If I were to put that in my own words, I’d say the following:

Secular humanism teaches that we should live moral lives and serve humanity, but it rejects God as the source of human value and morals. Instead, humanists seek the answers within themselves.

Would you consider this an accurate rewording?

I’m puzzled by the comments about Eastern mysticism on pages 147-148. How much spirituality is allowed before it’s no longer secular humanism? Does the spirituality need to come from inside man rather than an outside source? Would they accept the idea of a general spiritual force in the world? Do they just reject a personal God?

More help defining humanism-
As I’m now on to chapter 6, Relativism, on page 165, Ravi mentions Micah 6:8 “…to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God” then goes on to state, “if you remove the third of Micahs three imperatives, (walk humbly before your God), you are left with the same terminology as humanism espouses: justice and compassion.

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@Ter, looking at Micah 6:8 that way helps a lot. I’m sensing that most of the time when we see people committed to justice and compassion but rejecting God, we’re probably looking at humanism.

@b4marshall, I’ll attempt an example of humanism from my reading material this year. I’d love feedback on whether I’m interpreting this correctly.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani is about a twelve-year-old girl, Nisha, who becomes a refugee during the partition of India in 1947. Her father is Hindu. Her mother, who died when Nisha was born, had been Muslim. Nisha considers herself half Hindu and half Muslim. This book treats religion like a trait inherited from one’s parents.

Nisha can’t understand why the Hindus and Muslims are killing each other. Nisha writes in her diary, “We all have the same blood, and organs, and bones inside us, no matter what religion we’re supposed to be.”

Later in the book, she says, “I used to think people were mostly good, but now I wonder if anyone could be a murderer.”

In The Night Diary, Veera Hiranandani promotes tolerance, demonstrating the need to love each other no matter what our religion is. She founds this ethic in our common humanity, implying that her morals come from humanism rather than religion.

She leaves the question of the origin of evil unanswered. I’m curious how humanists would answer that. I’m also curious whether the humanist values of the main character reflect the values of typical refugees during the 1947 partition or whether they are contemporary values superimposed on historical fiction.

If you’re interested in a more detailed summary of the book, see LibrisNotes: The Night Diary.

Here’s an example of humanism from my life as a music teacher – a quote that appears on gift items.

Music will save the world.

I’ve heard that the famous cellist, Pablo Casals, said this after listening to 400 Suzuki students perform in Tokyo in 1961. I can’t verify that information, and the quote’s source is insignificant unless someone wants to collect a percentage of the profits from the items plastered with these words.

Some music teachers embrace this quote to fuse their profession with meaning. As we teach music, we’re training students to work hard, listen carefully, lead, follow, encourage, critique, and unite their hearts with each other as they create artistic performances. I love my profession, but can it really save the world?

Performers also turn to this quote as affirmation that they are doing more than entertain. Music at its highest level seems to lift our hearts into a different realm, moving us to love each other and strive for the common good. But will the emotions last? Will any change be permanent?

Music is a beautiful tool when used for the glory of God. When we treat it as our savior, is the epitome of humanism.

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. ~ C.S. Lewis

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