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Humanism Definition and Evolution

By Edited Mar 24, 2016 3 4

Sometimes we should stop for a minute to think that things were not always as they are now. For example, the Church was not always separate from the state, because back in middle ages, there were no states and Church was the supreme authority on all things mundane and profane. The Church and the State were separated in a long process called secularization which is tied to emerging of ideology of humanism and man’s feeling of self-worth.

Humanism and the Seperation of Church and State

Martin Luther(108801)
The process started long ago, back in 16th Century, when educated Christians Martin Luther and John Calvin ideologically stood up against the intellectual lethargy of Catholic Church and its uneducated clergy. They both believed that every person should be responsible for their deeds and that there is no need for church. Even before them there were educated men and humanists who favored the same idea: Meister Eckhart was a 13th century Christian mystic who believed that God is the supreme spark of light in every man, Pico della Mirandola was a noted humanist writer in 15th century, and so was Erasmus of Rotterdam who criticized clergy’s stupidity in a satirical fashion. But, in 16th century Europe, the mood of the people was right to start getting official with the whole “separate from the church” thing and Luther and Calvin were the representatives of this idea.

Humanism and the Birth of the Renaissance

Almost simultaneously, the movement of Renaissance, which stood up for the revival of antic tradition and art, took place. The Renaissance seemed more human-oriented then the existing Christianity which was all focused on God, neglecting the man. The beginning of scientific experiments, especially by Galileo Galilei, male 16th and 17th century so important for science and humanism. The experiments were the obvious proof that the Universe does not function in an Aristotelian way, as church was telling us, but in a different way, worthy of exploring.

Nicolaus Copernicus
Copernicus crushed the old Ptolemaic picture of the Universe by noticing that stars move on the logically simplest way possible and thus the Earth is not the center of the Universe, but the Sun is. These discoveries, as many other, effected people to slowly start losing their trust in the Church.

But, Christianity could not be crushed simple as that. After all, it is a two millennia old tradition with some spiritual and moral significance. And priests hold to the secret of the afterlife as to their last straw, and they still could manipulate people’s fears by that. And although our fear of death did not cease to be even to this day, people back then were ready to turn away from the church and start believing in humanity.

Humanism and Living Without Fear

Justus Lipsius
Justus Lipsius was a Christian and a stoic author who believed that the supreme virtue is apatheia, apathy, the state without emotions, without fear, and that people are able to do the work of rearranging the state and the military by themselves, without the help of the church, by doing things for the common good. And he was a very influent author back then, so this all must’ve affected the society’s looks upon itself. The situation we are in today, at least those who live in developed and civilized countries, has deep roots in Justus’ viewpoints. Today, we are forced to cooperate with each other, driven by the need to coexist in our society and that is what makes this world more humane, that is what makes our countries developed – the need to coexist and the understanding of mutual dependence.  

Humanism Was Wery Clumsy at First

Humanism excluded the need for church but it had nothing to give in return, so the question arose – where do we get our morals from? If it is not from the Bible, and no other solutions are in sight, then we might just get immoral and do as we please. This is the main argument Christians like to pose against atheists: that they are immoral because only by following God’s word you can know what is right and what is wrong. But they missed out one thing: historical development of the idea of humanism. Yes, it is true that at first humanists were puzzled by the concept of morality – but they did not start killing each other because there is no God. They concluded that people are left for themselves so everything depends on them – so why make this world miserable if it doesn’t have to be so? Deism was a transitional idea between theism and full scale atheism. It was active for more than a century, even among the most prominent intellectuals and humanists, even philosophers of Enlightenment.

Humanism and the Enlightenment Movement

The Enlightenment movement was the next phase of the evolution of humanism. It believed that by educating more people, by letting them be aware of their surroundings, we could make world a better place. During the French revolution in 1789-99, people finally seized power from the repressive king Louis XVI and his regime. It shaped most of the modern world.

Today, people’s opinion on humanism and profanity are diverse. Enlightenment philosophers were mocking the monks because they have no role in the world, they are useless, they do nothing of social value - they just sit in their monasteries and try not to be heard or seen.

Jacques Martain
There are 20th century thinkers, such as Jacques Maritain, who advocate that there is no humanism without religion, no humanity without God. But, people are losing their interest in religion. They find morality in social norms and good manners. That is also not humane. Today, we balance out humanity on the razor’s edge. Well aware of what the Church has done in the past, but also aware that there is something more to morality than good manners and obedience. Humanism has come to the point when people understand that they create their own reality. Humanism is a condition of the developed world, sustained through education, knowledge, awareness, common- wealth. And it is not sustained on its own, we people have to sustain it, and it is a lot easier task then it was in past ages, because now we are aware we have the power to do it!

Chomsky's views on humanism, religion, and state-sanctioned fear.

part 1

Chomsky's views on humanism, religion, and state-sanctioned fear.

part 2

Chomsky's views on humanism, religion, and state-sanctioned fear.

part 3



Aug 10, 2012 2:23pm
Thank you for a very informative and interesting article. Thumbs up!
Aug 10, 2012 8:17pm
glad you liked it !!
Aug 11, 2012 9:14am
Hi--Extremely well written article--as a history buff and a student of world religions for a great many years--I loved your approach and especially appreciated the last paragraph in the piece. Two big thumbs!
Aug 12, 2012 6:27pm
Thanks Marlando. I too am very interested in different religions and religious philosophy. I'm sure I'll be writing more articles like this one in the future.
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