Did Catholic theology cause Secular Humanism? and
Frances Schaeffer's "How Then Shall We Live?"
Catholics and Evangelicals agree that the Secular Humanism is one of the greatest threats to Christianity today. It has paved the way for abortion, same sex marriage, the sexual revolution, the banishing of Christianity from our schools, courts, governments, institutions and more. Unfortunately Francis Shaeffer led Evangelicals to lay the blame at the feet of the Catholic Church.
What is Secular Humanism?
Secular Humanism... can be defined as a religious world view based on atheism, naturalism, evolution, and ethical relativism - the belief that no absolute moral code exists, and therefore man must adjust his ethical standards in each situation according to his own judgment. If God does not exist, then He cannot establish an absolute moral code. Humanist Max Hocutt says that human beings "may, and do, make up their own rules... Morality is not discovered; it is made."
In the Evangelical world, perhaps the greatest force against human secularism was Francis Schaeffer, an orthodox Presbyterian who died in 1984. He called Evangelicals to get involved in politics (Dominionism). He advocated the protest of abortion, and the active promotion of moral conservative values. These are values the Catholic Church have long advocated.
In his last days, Frances A. Schaeffer began to move towards Catholicism. His last book was called "The Great Evangelical Disaster." Here's a recording of his son Frank talk about his father's change of heart towards the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, this has gone seemingly unnoticed in the Evangelical world, and no man's writings have done more harm to Catholic relations with Evangelicals since Hislop. Schaeffer is one of the main reasons so many Evangelical Christians have values that Catholics love, but who hate the Catholic Church so much. The book "How Then Shall We Live?" needs a critical analysis to separate the wheat and the chaff.
Criticism of traditional theology
Francis Schaeffer's assertion that Evangelicals need to get active in politics and moral issues such as abortion was good. He was also right in some of his criticism of the Catholic Church during the Renaissance. Most Catholic writers also criticize that period of Church history. Human beings tend to get Spiritually lazy when things start going well for us materially. Christianity seems to thrive when it is under persecution (which is why there are so many good things happening in China now) and things got a little too comfortable during the Renaissance. However, it is interesting how the industrial revolution that grew out of the Renaissance put the brakes on Islam's invasion of Europe. So the materialism was not all bad.
Schaeffer said Christianity should never have considered pre-Christian Greek writings. He said they were not Christian and were rotten humanistic roots to our faith. He criticized Thomas Aquinas (1250 AD) for reconciling Greek philosophy with Christianity. Schaeffer criticized what he considered the "evolution" of theology. He was also angry at Lutherans, Presbyterians and many other denominations that approached theology this way. Mr. Schaeffer believed that traditional theology causes a subordination of the Jewish modes of thought of the Old Testament and gives prominence of Greco-Roman forms of thought. He says this has paved the way to Secular Humanism. What Mr. Schaeffer doesn't say is that the Apostles Paul and John both acknowledge the place of Greek philosophy in the plan of God's Church and they are quick to make use of it in the Bible. You can't throw out Greek philosophy without throwing away the New Testament.
The rise of Human Secularism has a lot more to do with complacency and division among all Christians than with Catholic theology or the historical Catholic Church.
We are all to blame for the division. Catholic and Evangelicals.
It is our division and complacency which has caused our present situation. Divided we fall. We need to roll up our sleeves and work together.
The rest of this series of articles
There are parts of Francis Schaeffer's approach which are unfair, unhistorical, and unbiblical. That needs a critical exploration. In the next few articles we will try to address those issues.
- Part 1 - Intro to Secular Humanism (this page)
- Part 2 - Greek Philosophy in the Bible
- Part 3 - Humanism in the Renaissance
- Part 4 - Humanism in Modern day Christianity
- Part 5 - Side by side, Schaeffer's accusations with a response
- Part 6 - The Pope's speech on the Dehellenization of Christianity
Thanks to Fr. Terry Donahue, Art Sippo, Fr. Camille Jacques and Mark Bonocore
for their generous contribution of ideas for this article