The Classical Humanist and Christian Worldviews

I was recently asked to explain the difference between the Christian and Classical Humanist worldviews. For the sake of brevity, the difference between the Christian and Classical Humanist worldviews is best understood by looking at the source of wisdom, moral authority and knowledge of right and wrong for each. Fundamentally, these two separate sources explain the major differences in the simplest terms. When one understands that the Christian looks to God, the Creator and sustainer, to find wisdom, morality, and to know right and wrong, and that the classical humanist looks to man and man's intellect alone to find and define these things, he instantly understands the contrasts between the two worldviews.

The simplicity of this can be seen by a quick glance at Augustine, a champion of Christianity and Socrates, a champion of the humanist tradition. Augustine and Christians believe that reason alone can not serve as a suitable guide in life. This is because any reasoning of man that is void of God's guidance is insufficient to guide men accurately. Lacking God's, Augustine would say, one could not attain true wisdom or free him from sin. Simply put, moral man is not moral enough. Whereas, Socrates and the classical humanist would maintain that wisdom could be found through man's intellect and defended rationally. For one group the source of wisdom is God. For the classical humanist the source of wisdom is man, himself.

Each view produces opposing outlooks in regards to one's view of his own life and importance, one's interpretation of history, one's future outlook, one's life pursuits and accomplishments, and one's dealings with fellow human beings. The classical humanist is concerned with a temporal, pragmatic life centered on himself and man in general, while the Christian is concerned with an eternal, morally acceptable life centered on God and man's devotion to God.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul outlines beautifully the Christian's basic outlook on wisdom and God's role as its source and chief proliferator. Take a moment ad read 1Cor. 1: 18-2: 16. Take particular note of verses 1Cor. 1:22 and 25; 1Cor. 1: 27-29, and 1Cor. 2: 6 and 9-10, as they clearly display the contrast between the Christian worldview and the humanist worldview.

As a quick reading of these verses shows, for the Christian, God alone is the source of wisdom. He is the judge of human conduct, and all human thoughts and reasoning are subject to the light of His wisdom. Even the seemingly wise thoughts of men pale in comparison to God's wisdom.

In fairness, I believe each view has its own shortcomings. Humanism is fatally flawed, in that each person is left to his own devices. If actually realized, this would lead to anarchy. Just think of one of life's simple concepts … a red light. Left to one's own rational thoughts, different degrees of importance are placed on red lights by different people, and deaths regularly occur because 'wisdom' and 'moral agreement' is relative, not a fixed concept. The classical humanist readily admits this.

We will not speak here of the wars and atrocities that have taken place at the hands of 'rational' leaders and pragmatists either. That moral man is inherently 'sinful' should be a generally accepted concept. Even if we all could arrive at a place of wisdom and general enlightenment, history proves that does not guarantee we'll each heed wisdom and act prudently in all cases. Ideally, classical humanist thought is a nice concept; practically, however, it is impractical and fallacious.

Christianity (as well as any major religion), on the other hand, while more promising, is itself, flawed. I write this respectfully, as a Christian, myself. I think the problem arises because for the Christian worldview to work (basing it on Augustine's concepts) man needs to:

a) Possess divine guidance

b) Comprehend ultimate truth

c) Allow a continual process of consecration in their lives (regeneration)

d) Obey

While Judeo-Christian values ​​can be credited with undergirding centuries of peace and civility among men, the abuses, corruptions, and wars that are attributed to religion are numerous as well. The problem, again, lies in the very need for the solution itself, that is, man's sinfulness. We are all free moral agents, and even if divine guidance was available and heeded each moment by each individual, moral man would still need to choose to obey it.

Can man trust himself and his 'reflections'? Can man truly 'know' and listen to God. Are religion and religious rules enough? Both classical humanist thought and Christianity attempt to answer these questions. Both approaches are different, in that they focus on different sources of moral authority and a different source of wisdom.