Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A historical development that was new to me (until this morning): Christian Humanism

Even though I am not a believer of any religion, I am all for taking great ideas from any area of human thought, perhaps re-branding them if need be, & then using them to try to solve current problems in the world/trying to make the world a better place to live. Because I think all knowledge - whether it is ultimately sold to humans as secular or divine - is a part of human intellectual work & heritage. So, basically, non-believers should feel free to take great ideas & practices from religions & use them & also believers should feel free to do the same with ideas & practices that are at the moment branded as primarily secular or agnostic or atheist ideas.

A week or so ago I was speaking with some Buddhists (Sri Lankan family members & their friends) about what I see, comparatively, as lack of activity on the part of Buddhists world wide in helping the poor. Certainly not as much as I see Christians doing. Since it's always tricky discussing/debating possible weaknesses or shortcomings of someone's religion, specially when the said discussion is happening among family members, I think we closed the discussion with a family member saying that Christians are able to help the poor because they are rich & most Buddhists are not & me saying that at first Christianity was not a religion of the rich/empires/colonizers/whatever (which is one major way the West is looked at by people from "non-western" countries such as Sri Lanka). Anyway, my point being, it is interesting that a religion focused on the other world also does a lot to help the poor in this world.

Fast forward to this morning, I was waking up, coming up with my grand plans to save the world - or at least refining those plans (also those morning plans may have included some not so noble plans including watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona :). Anyway, my girlfriend Amanda asked me what I was up to, and I told her about my plans to try to re-brand humanism (already done, I am calling my version Positive Human or Positive Humanism, more info. on PH soon) so that it may be useful & accessible & exciting to more people world wide & that discussion lead to me finding out about Christian Humanism (thanks for the info. Ms. Amanda).

Not sure how I missed this in history class, but I did. Anyway, there was a point in the development of Christianity where the focus shifted from the next world to this world or helping people in this world on top of focusing on the next world - the history of Christian Humanism may have the exact dates & may provide the detailed story of how a religion focused on a savior from another dimension & life in heaven/not on Earth also became a religion that does a lot to help the poor in this world (even if it is as a recruitment device in some cases).

From the Christian Humanism page at Wikipedia, from Origins sections:

"Christian humanism may have begun as early as the 2nd century, with the writings of Justin Martyr. While far from radical, Justin suggested a value in the achievements of Classical culture in his Apology[2] Influential letters by Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa confirmed the commitment to using pre-Christian knowledge, particularly as it touched the material world and not metaphysical beliefs. Already the formal aspects of Greek philosophy, namely syllogistic reasoning, arose in both the Byzantine Empire and Western European circles in the eleventh century to inform the process of theology. However, the Byzantine hierarchy during the reign of Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) convicted several thinkers of applying "human" logic to "divine" matters. Peter Abelard's work encountered similar ecclesiastical resistance in the West in the same period. Petrarch (1304-1374) is also considered a father of humanism. The traditional teaching that humans are made in the image of God, or in Latin the Imago Dei, also supports individual worth and personal dignity."

And, from the In The Renaissance section:

"Christian humanism saw an explosion in the Renaissance, emanating from an increased faith in the capabilities of Man, married with a still-firm devotion to Christianity. Plain Humanism might value earthly existence as something worthy in itself, whereas Christian humanism would value such existence, so long as it were combined with the Christian faith. One of the first texts regarding Christian humanism was Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man, in which he stressed that Men had the free will to travel up and down a moral scale, with God and angels being at the top, and Satan being at the bottom. The country of Pico's nativity, Italy, leaned heavily toward Civic humanism, while the firmer Christian principles took effect in places other than Italy, during what is now called the Northern Renaissance. Italian universities and academia stressed Classical mythology and writings as a source of knowledge, whereas universities in the Holy Roman Empire and France based their teachings on the Church Fathers."

Read the rest of the page at Wikipedia.

Need to explore Christian Humanism further to see what useful ideas & practices an agnostic like I can take from that human tradition.

- Sujewa

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