In this posting, I will take apart the term I used in Humanist Europe, that term being humanism. Why does this notion interest me apart from the fact of being myself a human being? My overriding thought in the present maelstrom is seeking a positive philosophy of life – for myself and others – in the place of the current trends towards post-humanism, totalitarianism and a new and larger-scale form of feudalism. The very antithesis of humanism is human evil. This notion of evil is something I have often dwelt upon in some articles in this blog. It is one of the most perplexing mysteries of faith, philosophy and science.
I was searching for the word ponerology in Google and came across this article Ponerology, the Science of Evil by a person going by the name Howard. He draws many ideas from the Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Łobaczewski, but expands them with research from others who have also studied borderline and narcissistic personality disorders and psychopathy. Howard’s judgement of religion, as with any political ideology, is severe. Is religion an intrinsic cause of evil, any more than atheism going by its own or a neighbouring ideology? Is the notion of humanism vain, passé, nothing more than a delusory dream? I wrote some days ago about Nikolai Berdyaev for whom humanism had come and gone, and that we had to return to the purgation of a new middle ages, only this time without faith or beauty, only the limitless void of the Ungrund. Is there no hope for humanism? Is it a part of an inevitable historical process of man returning to a default condition of evil?
I have just finished reading Graham Vanbergen’s Brexit: A Corporate Coup D’Etat. The present situation, which is nothing to do with any kind of populism, is all about having the UK gutted by big business without any regard to humanity, human rights, the population or any concern other than profit. Considerations of recovering sovereignty from foreign globalist agendas and improving the economic situation are only red herrings. There is plenty of fear-mongering in the media, largely fuelled by the line of the current Prime Minister: my deal or no-deal. The real problem is that the financial resources of the UK are not adequate to maintain a welfare state, and that the choice it faces is the same as that of Hitler in the 1930’s and 40’s. It is a problem of population and Lebensraum. Priority could be given to people and the environment, and solutions could be found to deal with the sick, disabled, unemployed and refugees fleeing war and persecution. But, that would mean something along Socialist lines or some system where people would be voluntarily open to the other. If we are not prepared to open our own homes to strangers and people who might have evil or deceitful intentions, only the solution of survival of the fittest and brutal competition remains. We find ourselves at the same watershed as in the 1930’s. Our consciences are torn apart until we close our eyes and sense of pity.
What do we do? At this stage, the sacrificial victim would have to be the entire political system in the UK. The problem is that the extreme left-wing or right-wing replacement solution would be worse. Whether we crash out or stay in the EU, at this stage, we face something like what Berdyaev saw during the 1930’s in the rise of Nazism. The future is darkness, hatred and death – or God and humanity.
Does our Christianity or adhesion to Christian ideals retain any validity? In most of their expressions, probably not. The Christian ideal has been hollowed out and manipulated to such an extent that our only reaction can be that of Dietrich Bonhöffer as he witnessed the accommodation the state Lutheran Church and other denominations made to Hitler’s regime in Germany. According to some ways of seeing the rise of the Third Reich and World War II, it was all about hidden and obscenely wealthy corporations and individuals depressing the value of everything, buying it all up and reselling at a profit, no matter how many would die. Hitler had to be financed by someone, and he was just a useful idiot – who threw himself on his sword when it was all over for him. What makes humanity so dispensable? In a word – technology.
Mortality is something we all have in common. We are all called to die, at any age and from any cause. Man has always sought and desired a meaning to this finite life, and philosophers from every age have given ideas of transcendentals known as truth, beauty and goodness. Christian philosophy treats the transcendentals as a part of theology. They are described as the desires of man above his animal existence of something that eats, reproduces and defends its life. These transcendentals in these or other words are shared by all human cultures. In the spirit of a desire for these transcendentals, humanism is a philosophical expression that cares for the welfare and needs of humanity. A human being has intrinsic value which gives the basis of rights like those of life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Human beings are autonomous, moral and rational. Secular humanism comes in when institutional religion is perceived as opposing this positive notion of humanity, usually through some kind of theocracy motivated by human greed and evil. From its reaction against institutional religious ideology, it rejects the very notion of God and places the emphasis solely on reason and science. However, humanism is recovered on the top of both faith and reason by adding human emotion and imagination. This is the Romantic world view.
Humanism has taken many forms. As a system of thought in the western world, it sought to recover the values of antiquity to temper the harshness of medieval Christianity. This was the new world of the Renaissance, which emphasised aesthetics, freedom and the study of ancient Greek and Latin literature. The Renaissance had a tremendous amount of influence in the European Church in the wake of the Reformation and the Council of Trent. We are brought to think of the early Jesuits and their selfless service to humanity in other parts of the world, exemplary bishops like François de Sales and Charles Borromeo and eccentric “fools for Christ” like St Philip Neri. From this came a whole new paradigm of Christian humanism. Christians also become interested in the sciences and exploration of the world, in discovering new horizons in the desire for a greater degree of human potential. In theology, it encouraged study, reason, free enquiry and the original and pure meaning of liberalism.
A humanist will see humanist ideas in the teachings of Christ recorded in the Gospels, and the whole ideal emerges as something fresh and new in comparison to the way it had all been suppressed under different forms of theocracy and totalitarianism. Some of these ideals emerged in the teachings of some of the Reformers until they imposed their own orthodoxies and tyranny. Christian humanism is constructed on several key notions like man being created in God’s image and likeness. We are created with the image of God or a “spark of divinity”. We are to love our neighbours as ourselves, do to others as we would have them do to us. Our nobility is measured in terms of compassion for the weak and not competition and greed. St Paul attested to the value of a classical education as did Justin the Martyr. Christianity contains a vast kernel of Gnostic notions that were suppressed in later eras. Thus St Paul can be read in a totally new light when we have discovered the wealth of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures and a whole tradition of esoteric wisdom. We find a whole new notion of truth as something we yearn for rather than possess as property.
Christian humanism promotes the arts and everything we do for a cause above and beyond our selfish needs and desires. It is a part of that nobility of spirit which is the highest apologia for Christ and his ideals.
This ideal is mostly rejected in favour of totalitarian theocracy and ideology, seeking to crush all but the wealthiest and most powerful. The Renaissance gave way to Classicism and the abolition of faith in favour of cold rationalism. In its turn, the Enlightenment was darkened by the mob and Jacobinism in the 1790’s. The nineteenth century was blighted and marked by violence and revolution. Romanticism was only ever a tiny beam of light from individual persons, but the general situation of Europe was one of darkness. That current of thought developed into the horrors of the twentieth century, and which continue today.
Against a backdrop of institutional paralysis and greed in the government of my country, we have to turn our eyes to what is positive and healthy, away from the influence of those who lack empathy and care for humanity. To seek the good, true and beautiful, we need a better understanding of evil. Evil is essentially a lack of empathy, which is our ability to respond to the emotions and thoughts of other people. Those who have no empathy treat others as objects to exploit. During the Nuremberg Trials, the army psychologist Captain G. M. Gilbert was assigned to observe the Nazi defendants from a psychological point of view. He summarised all his observations as follows:
In my work with the defendants, I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.
Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as having said:
When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall — think of it, always.
And finally Christ himself:
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.