By Nominis Expers

      Humanism has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy, generally associated with the pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras, who set forth his system under the motto "Homo mensura", or "Man the measure." The idea behind the motto is that man is the measure of all things; mankind itself is the ultimate norm by which values are to be determined. Therefore man is the ultimate being and man is the ultimate authority, making the system, in technical terms "Anthropocentric". This term is a simple compound word stemming from "anthropos" ("man", or "mankind") and "-centric" referring to a centrality of focus. One can immediately see the built in tension between this and other philosophical systems which are termed "Theocentric", having the view that God is the Ultimate Being, and which would derive its values from the ultimate authority and character of God.

      It's important at this point to make clear the distinction between the terms "Humanism" and "Humanitarianism". Humanitarianism is defined as a concern for the welfare of human beings. There are few philosophical systems that do not claim to be humanitarian. The term Humanism denotes a system that espouses humanitarian concerns, but also in its current state encompasses much more, including militant atheism and vitriolic opposition to religion.

      Such was not always the case. Renaissance humanism has been described as "man's discovery of himself and the world", and its proponents then had no trouble reconciling the valuing of classical culture and a theocentric worldview. In fact, the operative phrase of the day was "ad fontes"; "to the sources". This signified a rebirth of interest not only in the study of the humanities (history, literary criticism, grammer, poetry and rhetoric, taught from texts of the Greco-Roman period) but also renewed attention to Greek and Hebrew, the languages of the Scriptures. In fact it was this intellectual climate that was (along with other historical factors) responsible in large part for the Protestant Reformation. It was the "Prince of Renaissance Humanism", Erasmus of Rotterdam who in 1516 published a Greek edition of the New Testament together with his own Latin translation. His reconstruction of the Greek New Testament came to be known as the "textus receptus", which was the Greek text upon which The King James Version of the Bible was based. It is for another article to discuss in detail Erasmus' role in the reformation, but the point here is humanism at this stage in its history could not be accurately described as "atheistic".

      Humanism in the sixteenth century saw religion as, not valid in terms of its supernaturalist framework, but nevertheless valuable in its ethics and social impact. Its foundation was not the theocentric basis of Christianity, but it did embrace the values of the faith, considering them to be one dimension of the growth and development of the human race. Humanism gradually acquired its present-day association with agnosticism and atheism due to the repercussions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of the Enlightenment, and the influence in the nineteenth century of thinkers like John Dewey, who saw the conservative influence of religion as anti-progressive and damaging to the evolution of society. By the twentieth century, Humanism's antipathy to religion in general and Christianity in particular was well established.


      Since present day Humanism vilifies Judeo-Christianity as backward, its goal to assure progress through education necessitates an effort to keep all mention of theism out of the classroom. Here we have the irony of twentieth century Humanism, a belief system recognized by the Supreme Court as a non-theistic religion, foisting upon society the unconstitutional prospect of establishment of a state-sanctioned non-theistic religion which legislates against the expression of a theistic one by arguing separation of church & state. To dwell here in more detail is beyond the scope of this article, but to close, here are some other considerations:

      In the earlier spirit of cooperation with the Christian church the ethics or values of the faith were "borrowed" by the humanists. In their secular framework, however, denying the transcendent, they negated the theocentric foundation of those values, (the character of God), while attempting to retain the ethics. So it can be said that the Humanist, then, lives on "borrowed capital". In describing this stuation, Francis Schaeffer observed that:"...the Humanist has both feet firmly planted in mid-air." His meaning here is that while the Humanist may have noble ideals, there is no rational foundation for them. An anthropocentric view says that mankind is a "cosmic accident"; he comes from nothing, he goes to nothing, but in between he's a being of supreme dignity. What the Humanist fails to face is that with no ultimate basis, his ideals, virtues and values are mere preferences, not principles. Judging by this standard of "no ultimate standard", who is to say whose preferences are to be "dignified", ultimately?

The Horse's Mouth:

One can see the militancy against theocentricity in The Humanist Manifestos. The hostility and antipathy toward the Christian church in particular can be noted here.

Humanist Manifesto I (1933)

Humanist Manifesto II (1973)

Other Humanist Documents

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