Part deux? Or Dieu? (Heh. Philological joke there.)
See this posting for my first words on this subject.
On Quora recently, I responded to my friend Charles Tips, who is a libertarian atheist and humanist, having an iconoclastic view of the state of society and our political culture. A brilliant man, I’ve learned a lot from him. We exchange cordial comments on subjects of philosophy, economics and politics.
He continued, “And so an answer would depend on what the OP means by humanism and by “traditional Christian,” but even an arrant old atheist like myself sees beauty in relying on the Christian concept of brotherly/sisterly love for making our societies stronger.”
So I responded with an elaboration on my earlier point about Søren Kierkegaard: Charles, have you spent any time reading Søren Kierkegaard?
(Readers, unlike Jean-Paul Sartre, a famous French Secular Humanist and atheist, Kierkegaard was a Christian Humanist. His adherents believe his influence would have been enormous had he written in German rather than his native Danish, but instead languished somewhat.)
You see, Charles, I’m sympathetic to humanists, as in all honesty they rightly admit that as humans we are beholden to a human-sized frame of reference. But the question is, can we allow room for God in the mix? Or allow for anything beyond our frame of reference (i.e: metaphysics)
He wrote back, “I whiffed there. I got introduced to SK’s more religious writing first and was not interested. It was only well after I graduated college (and had little time for pleasure reading) that I realized there was probably something I could learn from him.”
To which I responded, mostly for the benefit of other readers, “While in college I met the two scholars (Howard and Edna Hong) who became Søren Kierkegaard’s most prolific English translators. They wove a story of what his influence might have been, had he been fully acknowledged in the philosophical conversations of the time. Overlaying this, upon what we now know to be the driftlessness and abject ennui of the post WWI era, where writers like C.S. Lewis and Tolkien himself stood athwart the wreckage of mechanized, rationalistic progressivism – a broken world that had shunned God – this was simply astonishing. (cf: The Second Coming, by Yeats as only one example of the wreckage of intellectual confidence that professed that science alone can save us.)
This theme has, I’ve found, woven through all the meanderings of my philosophical and humanities education. I was lucky, in that my high school humanities teacher, a fellow named Neal Luebke, gave me the only course that really challenged me, a survey of the Humanities that knit together the themes of western civ, and laid a foundation for understanding how these themes meshed.
Maybe because of the presence of the Hongs, other professors at my small college were clear to note that while secular humanists either shunned the notion of God or were silent about Him, naturally, the framework of humanism itself could allow for a Christian model, and in a very Lutheran sense, acknowledge our relative inability to think beyond our human senses, making “humanism” a natural point of view that ought not necessarily toss God out of the conversation.
Much later, I read The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggles for the Soul of Western Civilization, a fascinating book by Arthur Herman (2013), which contrasted Aristotle’s rationalism with Plato’s allowance of a metaphysics, and how all future philosophy would orbit around and between one or the other of these poles. Neither an Aristotelian or Platonic view would be good enough: each had its realms of sway, but neither could explain everything. Thus for me, God is no longer in a box, hedged by a human frame that would limit creation to a seven day event, or a Jonah that survived in the belly of a whale. But rather, to allow these as metaphors, and that Infinity in time and space nevertheless had a Prime Mover, and thus there is room for a larger conceptualization of a very patient God.”
This, my friends, is, I think, the basis of why Masons require a belief in God. We are circumscribed (i.e: limited) by the notion that we are mortal, and all fated to die, and while we do not point to the specifics of what a man should believe, or what happens after death, we believe that all of rationality points to a Prime Mover, a Creator, and that a good man ought to make peace with his God. We remind each other of this, and thus, Mackey, rightly points out, “Masonry is the Companion of Religion.”