Thursday, September 1, 2011

During my White Coat ceremony, physicians put our pretty, fresh white coats on us for the first time.  These are the coats we ordered months ago and lusted over months before that when we first interviewed here.  When we put on the coat and took the Hippocratic Oath, we joined the profession of medicine.  Never mind that we don't know squat yet.  We are now part of the tribe.

But that's not really what I wanted to talk about, so let's talk about humanism.

We also received little gold pins to wear on our white coats for the ceremony.  They were supposed to embody the ideals of compassion and humanity in medicine, but unfortunately what they actually said was, "Humanism in Medicine".  I don't think that word means what you think it means.

I take sharp issue with humanism, so I wore the pin for the sake of symmetry and such during the ceremony and promptly removed it afterward.

Humanism can mean lots of things, but usually it involves a focus on human ethics, purpose, and reason.  It usually also involves (to some degree) some sense that humanity can and should achieve our highest purpose: to become more human, fully human, perhaps ├╝ber-human.  In essence, it's a strong focus squarely on humans.

I was homeschooled, so while certain things may have been lacking my education, an introduction to important world philosophies most certainly was not.  Since I first read about what humanism was, when it arose, and what it means, I have come to believe that humanism is perhaps the single most harmful and potentially dangerous idea in the world.

Humanism elevates humanity as our own ideal.  Man becomes man's own hero.  This idea really came into its own during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.  It drenches the art and music of the period.  It runs throughout the great philosophical works of the time.  It even has fingers in the Reformation and the economic theories of the day.
But I'm no historian, so I'll make only one example.

This is Michelangelo's David, perhaps the most famous statue in the world.  It is easy to see David as a representation of King David from the Bible, and perhaps in some way he is.  However, that figure is not King David's in one notable way: the figure is uncircumcised.

So what is David?  I'll leave the details of the case to the art historians, but some now believe that David was a statement of utter human perfection and of the perfection of humanity.  He towers over the onlooker, and such extraordinary detail and attention has been paid to his every line and feature. Michelangelo was one of the great humanists of the Renaissance, and this was one of his crowning works.

Look for humanism, and see if you can't find it in every seam, every pore, every mindless and intentional action of our society.  We arose from the Renaissance, and it shows. It pervades the fabric of our society, integral and invisible at the same time.  It is so universal in the modern world that it can be difficult to describe what it is.   If you're interested, get yourself a copy of Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live, which chronicles the rise of Western thought and how it influenced the modern world.  (I can't vouch for absolutely everything Schaeffer says, but the historical aspects of the book are excellent.)

I've heard the case made elsewhere that the average Christian thinks like a humanist, not because he wants to, but simply because of the world he lives in.

Let's go a little deeper.  I tend to think of the Biblical Fall as a metaphorical, symbolic description of an actual event that happened in some way, in some sense when human beings first became conscious. 

So is humanism perhaps the oldest lie of all?  How it ingrains itself into us!  How we carry it from birth!  Is this the echo of Adam's sin? Was that our sin: taking into ourselves the knowledge of good and evil, trying to make it part of us, to be found within us?  
This is how I see humanism when its trappings are stripped away: "... you will be like God, knowing good from evil..." 

Humanism is believing that we are god.  Isn't this the root of every sin - that we believe we are god?  Is it not simply a claim to be greater, to know more, to be more perceptive than God?

Is it not the root of our suffering?  How could we possibly be content or at peace while engulfed in such a glaring inconsistency as the delusion that we are god in a universe in which the deepest truth is that God is God?  Is not the source of our deep discontent exactly that we want to be god, believe we are, and yet the universe does not obey our will?  Do we not suffer because we want and do not have, because we lack and cannot fulfill ourselves?  We continue in this delusion that we are god, and the incongruities sting.

We tire, we ache, we hunger, we age.  A god does none of that, so we are frustrated and painfully perplexed.  But who has ever heard of a god who is perplexed?  This is another fresh source of misery.

Then we rage that the true God does not end our pain, stop our dying, and explain our confusion.  In other words, we rage at God for not making us gods.

When I look deep inside myself, I see this so clearly.  I want to be god.  This is my true nature.

So is my fall not of my own doing, when my soul utterly rejected God's supremacy?  What is Hell but having one's deepest longing most absolutely thwarted?  What is Hell but a being who longs for nothing more in all the universe but to be god, but knowing full well that it most certainly is not and never shall be?

Yet I cannot free myself of it!  Some part of me longs to be god so deeply that it believes the delusion that it is.  Yet having my deepest-held beliefs blatantly shattered every day is agonizing. Who will save me from this body of death?

This is just my late-night musings, and only that.  I'm just another human being, and a young one at that.  But this is what I wonder about.

Last thought of the day -
What, then, does it mean that now we eat the Body and Blood of God, by God's own command?  When God became man, a way was provided to free man from his delusion of being god.  Is Eucharist the antidote to the clutches of humanism?

Inspired by:

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you here, and I think you are very insightful. But to add subtlety to the question, there is a wonderful quote from St. Athanasius the Great: "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." (look it up; CCC 460, or straight from the source, St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation. Actually, you should read that whole book anyway, it's brilliant. St. Athanasius is my hero).

    Look up Deification, or Theosis. It is part of the theology of the church--it is particularly Eastern, yes, and the Orthodox hold to a much fuller understanding of it, but East and West came from the same roots and both contain this theology.

    We will never be God, of course. But we can become like Him through grace, and take on elements of deity in the same way that iron takes on elements of fire when it glows red and gives off heat.

    Humanity, after all, has always bridged the gap between the human and spiritual, as the pinnacle of creation--but now because of the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ, united in one person, humanity also bridges the gap between the material and the divine. Or I should say Christ does, and other humans can through theosis cross that bridge, if you will.

    Humanism has nothing to do with theosis, though, and is therefore destined to fail. It's certainly riddled with many problems, that's for sure.