What is the main source of humanism in religion?

Deirdre McCloskey in her book Bourgeois Equality - How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World (2016), Chapter 41 “Printing and Reading and Fragmentation Sustained the Dignity of Commoners”, explains that the Lutheran and Calvinist Protestant Reformations, which embodied a requirement for more equality and more individualism in the judeo-christian tradition had many precedents.

The first use of a slightly free press was religious. Among the first profitable texts to come from Gutenberg’s press, ironically, were fill-in-the-blank forms for the very indulgences (that is, time off in Purgatory) whose prolific selling in the 1510s to finance the beginnings of Julius II’s Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome, and Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel (irony upon irony), outraged Martin Luther, the success of whose Reformation depended on… the printing press.3
The Church of Faith had earlier and repeatedly challenged the Church of Power— for example, the Henricians from the 1110s, the Cathars from the 1140s, the Waldensians from the 1170s, the Lollards from the 1380s—but failed in a Europe without printing and its widening of literacy.
The economic historian Jared Rubin has shown a powerful effect on the Reformation of closeness to printing presses.4

It was, according to her, the printing press which made possible/successful the Protestant Reformation (understand: not the powerful Renaissance humanist European movement).

So, although the Lutherian and Calvinist Protestant Reformations do show strong influence of humanism (Luther and Calvin were trained by Renaissance humanist philosophers), it would not be true that the main force of liberalism in the Church and religion in general is humanism.

I put that in contrast with Steven Pinker quote below (from the episode “Steven Pinker vs Nick Spencer • Have science, reason and humanism replaced faith?” of the show “The Big Conversation”, by Premier Unbelievable, online June 2018, around 3rd minute):

Journalist: Obviously in the book you make the case that science, reason, human are largely responsible for this progress. To what extent do you see Christianity, religion in general, as being a help or a hindrance in the progress ?
Pinker: (…) The institutions evolve, including religious institutions, including some but not all Christian denominations, and if institutions I think largely under the influence of Enlightenment values back off from the literal supernatural beliefs, back off from the iron age morality in a lot of the Old Testament such as capital punishment for homosexuals, and begin to align their goals with humanistic ones, then they can be a force for tremendous good by mobilizing communities, by encouraging altruism, but it depends very much on the extent to which each institution commits itself to humanistic values.

Question: This is how I would like to open this topic and question. What is the main source of humanism in religion? By “humanism” I understand here Reason, science, autonomy/individualism.[1]

Disclosure: Deirdre McCloskey described herself as a “postmodern free-market quantitative Episcopalian feminist Aristotelian” (her website).

[1] Not saying that this is the only form of humanism, let alone the only form of humanism allowed to exist.

I know that Christians and conservatives in general wish to inscribe things such liberal institutions and economics, even humanist ideals, into Judeo-Christianim, saying that they are more or less due to Judeo-Christianism (as very opposed to secular humanism, that they fear very much). See historian Larry Siedentop for instance.

So I think it is very important that we have this discussion here.

As usual, when one talks about religion, one must distinguish between the founders and the institutions which follow.

In the bible one can find everything, including strong violence noted positively.

Christian original message postulates a very humanist idea, the idea of equality of all men, in front of god. slavery was tolerated, at most.

The Christian institutions, in fact the churches forgot this message.

Church became a power, seeking for power, and not a liberal one, orthodoxy becoming a priority.

Still in the 19th century, a pope published an encyclopedia denouncing the idea of human rights.

In fact, the pope condemns all the principes of liberalism and democracy.

[Syllabus of Errors - Wikipedia]

Nowadays, being less powerful and having to adapt, the catholic church has changed its doctrine, with many limits.

Unless it’s belief like the late Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal Church or Fr. Tom Harper of the Anglican Church of Canada or a few others I could name, I’m not so sure there is humanism in religion. While man cannot serve two masters, women must serve God and their husband. Children must obey parents, especially the father, and God. The control of women and children by men is very strong in both Calvinism and Wesleyan denominations. However, my grandfather, an assistant minister, insisted Wesley had it right and Calvin had it wrong. Still, the literalist churches are very strict and stricter on women and children than on men. Now the Presbyterian (Calvinism), Lutheran (Calvinism), Methodist (Wesleyan), Episcopal Churches (Wesleyan) aren’t as strict, but they still have their ways of controlling people. Religion is a just means to control the Vulgar masses.


What would you respond to people (see the quote of McCloskey above) for whom Christianity was able to reform itself from the inside (the diverse Pre-Reformation movements which called for a purification of the Church, etc.)?

I recall hearing the argument that the Western ideas of equality and individualism came for Christianism (the believers is alone standing in front of God)

I don’t understand your question. The only humanistic Christianity I know of is that which Bishop John Shelby Spong and others like him preached and Unitarian Universalist Church.

But there apparently were already many religious movements at the beginning of the 1000s that aimed at higher humanism (the Cathars, the Lollards, etc.)

There are many who claim humanistic origins in the early formations of Protestantism, when the first translations of the Bible into common languages were being made. There’s some truth, in that the social justice aspects of Jesus were being highlighted, over the Catholic emphasis on salvation.

But, as often is the case, their influence on the rest of the world is overstated.


Caroline Fourest about the issue of our topic here:

Journalist: If ever, I think, everyone lived in relation to the sacred text as it is written, there would still be much less violence.
Caroline Fourest: Ah well no, because first of all many of the texts are very old and therefore they are full of patriarchal, sexist, homophobic, intolerant assumptions towards other faiths. This is the basis all the same, if we only talk about monotheistic religions, but it is valid for others too, they were all born in very dated contexts where the law was still to impose one’s beliefs on others. , and it was the law of the strongest.
So the texts themselves have already aged, so if you are with religious literalists and fundamentalists who want to apply these texts to the letter, it will never end well, even for Christians. Because Jesus also said “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” You will find everything and its opposite.
Conversely in the Koran you have a very beautiful surah, which is the surah of deliberation, which says, because in fact, even during the Medinan period which is the most political in the writing of the Koran, it was somewhat reluctantly, these were rules which were made to try to organize life in a community, but it is written in this surah that men deliberate among themselves about their affairs.
So, who chooses to take the most theocratic part, where religion is used to dominate others in a political way, and who on the contrary chooses to be more interested in the surah of deliberation, that’s what is interesting. It is that of human responsibility, and in fact, when we study religions a lot, it is still 99.9% of the story, because the sacred part or really breathed by God himself remains to demonstrate.
On the other hand, what is certain is that humans tell stories, believe in messiahs, believe in texts as being superior to other texts, and that within these groups of humans, there are still some who rather want to move towards open-minded interpretation, who know how to update themselves and who know how to be in harmony with others, and then there are some who want to take the side sacred to be able to hit others. It’s not very surprising actually.

In “Caroline Fourest, Journaliste - Une vie au service de la liberté d’expression”, interviewed in the Youtube channel InPower Podcast, published June 2023. Translated from French with Google Translate, checked bymyself. Around 38’ minute.

NB: Caroline Fourest is a journalist and a feminist activist, who fought for the marriage of homosexuals, and against Catholic and Islamist fundamentalism, and for secularism.

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Apparently, one major source of the humanist movement in the US and GB is the Ethical Culture and Unitarianism, forming what is called the “religious humanism” fringe of humanism.

Secular Humanism is an outgrowth of eighteenth century enlightenment rationalism and nineteenth century freethought. Many secular groups, such as the Council for Secular Humanism and the American Rationalist Federation, and many otherwise unaffiliated academic philosophers and scientists, advocate this philosophy.
Religious Humanism largely emerged out of Ethical Culture, Unitarianism, and Universalism. Today, many Unitarian Universalist congregations and all Ethical Culture societies describe themselves as humanist in the modern sense.

I mean, it really started from the inside, from Protestantism itself…

The secular humanism is another, distinct movement in humanism which has different roots (the Enlightenment, Comte positivism, etc.)

But the link doesn’t say that. It says the religious and secular movements converged in the 20th century.

Secular and Religious Humanists both share the same worldview and the same basic principles. This is made evident by the fact that both Secular and Religious Humanists were among the signers of Humanist Manifesto I in 1933, Humanist Manifesto II in 1973, and Humanist Manifesto III in 2003. From the standpoint of philosophy alone, there is no difference between the two. It is only in the definition of religion and in the practice of the philosophy that Religious and Secular Humanists effectively disagree.

Yes but “secular” is not a thing. It is the default state. Beliefs (“religions”) are acquired.

Let’s compare animalism with humanism. There is no difference between the occurrence of good vs evil.
Both express the exact same equation, but one is instinctual (survival) and the other is willful (excess).

Interesting point.

Why do you equate willful with excess?

Excess in a number of ways. Willful implies choice instead of instinct.
Take predation, a natural balance between predator and prey can last for millions of years.
But if you take more than what you need, you create an imbalance that results in extinction of one or both.

Humans are an invasive species and have shown that “choice” will always lead to that which is more desirable as compared to sufficient. It is human willfulness that is destroying the earth, big time.

But the movement of “enlightenment” produced the term “Humanism” as an appeal to our better nature, regardless of belief,

So you identify yourself as “animalist”, and not “humanist”?

No, I consider myself as naturalist and as such being bound to the earth that gave birth to mankind as well all other living creature on this marvellous macrobiome.
A recognition of responsibility to the earth and its inhabitants.

Just one last question: you consider yourself a naturalist, and not a humanist (because you deem humanism to be related to excess, desire, etc.), is it correct?

Naturalism is a word with a lot of different meanings, IMK.

Because I am here to learn, may I ask you to share a reference about the “naturalism” framework to which you identify? An author, or an association, etc.

From what I learn , it appears that mankind’s reach far exceeded its responsibility to the earth.
In 300 years we have consumed more oil than was sequestered in 300 million prior years. That is not just invasive, that is parasitic, where the parasite kills its host.

The problem with great intelligence is that it does not always translate into great wisdom.

ironically, we are experiencing this threat with AI, a potential competitor to our evolutionary existence.

p.s. an evolutionary result of “survival mechanism” is “greed” as an evolved result of “hoarding”, a much older survival mechanism.

There are many countries that do not share these naturalist, environmentalist values.

Let’s say we manage to convince people in the West to let down our industrial economies, how can we do in the face of countries who are industrialists, and have imperialistic tendencies?

How will we be able to defend our naturalist and environmentalist values? Without being economic, military, etc. powerhouses?

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Information? When you are destroying your world how can you expect to survive , rich or poor.

It just struck me that the people who worshipped Gaia as the life giver (birthplace) had it right.