We Are More Than Consumers: The Problem with Secular Humanism and the Material World

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In a recent article, we saw why Christians should care for creation. Yet too often, we don’t care about creation, and we have a distorted view of the entire material world. Why is that?

One reason is that we’re surrounded by a multitude of competing worldviews. Believers can be confused by this multiplicity of views, which can lead to an inconsistent view of the material world.

One of those worldviews which can distort our perspective on the material world is secular humanism, or materialism. Here’s what it claims — and why it’s problematic.

Secular Humanism

In modern Western culture, the most prevalent worldview is secular humanism, also called materialism. This is the perspective of the world that you’ll find among atheists, agnostics, many nominal Christians and others without a formal or defined religion. The materialist view of God is quite simple: God does not exist, at least not in a tangible way. Secular humanists who do believe in the existence of God would affirm that God is absent or divorced from the created order, equivalent to an absentee landlord. Thus, from an accountability standpoint, moral interaction with the material world is not an entirely relevant issue for secular humanists.

Secular humanism robs people of their dignity and the creation of its inherent value.

The materialist view of mankind is a corollary to its view of God. In short, secular humanism affirms that by evolution, design or default, humanity is lord of the universe. Moreover, at the heart of secular humanism is a supreme confidence in humanity to solve the problems of the world via education and technology. You can clearly see this emphasis in the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II, which reads,

Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.

Of course, your interpretation of history in the decades since the appearance of the Humanist Manifesto II will influence your conclusions regarding the statement’s optimistic view of mankind’s potential.

Secular humanists view the material world as mechanical and eternal (or, at least, as having evolved out of preexistent eternal matter). Materialists understand the created order to operate according to fixed natural laws. Thus, God does not intervene in the material world — either because he does not exist, lacks power or knowledge to intervene or is altogether absent and unconcerned. Secular humanism recognizes that nature can be appreciated for its sense of beauty as defined by humanity, yet this ideology teaches that the created order has no inherent value other than to meet human needs. This view, then, is an anthropocentric view, as it understands the material world to have been formed ex materia (out of matter). Within secular humanism, the proper use and misuse of the material world is measured solely by self-interest and self-preservation. Consequently, materialist views of labor, rest, wealth, poverty and the like tend to be completely pragmatic and utilitarian.

The Problems with Secular Humanism

From a Christian perspective there are many problems with a secular humanistic worldview. Obviously, this position has a faulty view of God, even denying his existence or overemphasizing his transcendence. A by-product of materialism’s denial of God’s power is that humanity assumes the vacated role of God within this worldview. Yet, historically speaking, humanity’s assumption of God’s authority has proven to be problematic at best. Indeed, humankind seems ill suited to handle the sovereignty bestowed upon them by this worldview.

Consequently, within this system the natural world ceases to be an environment to be properly stewarded under God’s authority and is reduced to a resource to be consumed by humanity. Secular humanism, then, is both personally unfulfilling and destructive to the created order, for it robs people of their dignity and the creation of its inherent value.

This article is a modified excerpt of Dr. Jones’ new book, Every Good Thing. Details>>

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David W. Jones

Dr. Jones is a Professor of Christian Ethics and serves as the Associate Dean of Theological Studies and Director of the Th.M. Program at Southeastern Seminary. He is the author of many books, including Every Good Thing, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics and is the co-author of Health, Wealth, and Happiness. He comments on the Bible over at redeemedmind.com.

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