Brass Spittoon: Bradley Birzer on Christian Humanism | Front Porch Republic

Stewart: One of the goals for your book is to rescue the term “humanism” for Christians who are suspicious of it based on the dominant strand that traces its lineage to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933. You offer five “canons of humanism” in order to recover an alternative variation of the tradition. Briefly, humanists are bonded by the following: 1) belief in human dignity; 2) defense of liberal education; 3) affirmation that humans are irreducibly spiritual and material; 4) citizenship in the Republic of Letters; 5) belief in “a power of some supernatural order” (1-11). What have Christians lost by holding this word in suspicion? Has suspicion of the word itself prevented the tradition as well?

Birzer: Great question, Matthew. Words matter, and, of course, as has happened so often in the English tradition, words evolve. Humanism became a serious “god-like” term—equivalent to liberty, democracy, etc.—in the nineteenth century. It became so popular by the 1890s and early 1900s that everyone wanted to claim humanism for their own. Like our current use of democracy, it had come to mean “everything that is good.” The height of such cultural capture of the term came in the late 1920s, when a wayward Protestant minister adopted the term for his own form of “religion.” That form of religion—devoid of anything supernatural and really, frankly, not so kind to the natural—eventually evolved into the powerful Humanist Manifesto of 1933, which its professions of desired secularism. Simply put, the writers of that manifesto captured the word and have held it in captivity—by their allies and their opponents—for nearly a century now. At its most simple definition, being a humanist means believing in the humanities, the liberal arts. At its most simple definition, then, being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ. A Christian humanist, properly understand and at the most fundamental level, means being a follower of Jesus Christ and being a lover of the liberal arts. Of course, the implications for these things are immense, especially when one starts getting into the Word and the Incarnation
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