Every society needs a unifying belief-system. In the past this was provided by religion, and in some parts of the world it still is. But in what is known as Western or European culture humanism has replaced Christianity as the cement that holds everything together. This is expressed in our media, in the schools, in politics – in every part of public life. It underlies our belief in democracy. Humanity has replaced God as the measure of all things. For example the courts do not ask whether someone’s action conforms to the law of God, but rather whether it is consistent with human rights. I think that it can well be argued that modern humanism historically arose out of the Christian emphasis on love for one’s neighbour, but it has cut itself off from its basis in God. And this leaves it vulnerable. Why value human life? Where do human rights come from? People do not, of course, have to be Christian to believe in human values and to be part of our humanist society, but I believe that the Gospel gives Christians a firm basis for living in this humanist society and a message to take to our friends and neighbours. God’s love sets the pattern for our relations with one another. As Jesus gave his life on the cross, we are called to sacrifice something of our comforts, our satisfactions and our time to serve others. Love one another is a basic Christian commandment because God loves all people. Every person is of worth because he or she is of worth to God. Love for one another means compassion, help for the powerless, mercy and forgiveness, but it also means a concern for justice and peace. Instead of seeing secular humanism as the great enemy of Christianity, we should embrace it on sure gospel foundations as the unifying principle in a pluralist society.
When Paul said, “I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some”(1 Corinthians 9:22) he was not just being pragmatic nor being dishonest. He was, it seems to me, reflecting the way God deals with people. God addresses them in their own language, taking into account the limitations of their horizons, their insights and their ignorance, their cultural blinkers and their outlook shaped by a particular place in time and history. So God speaks to people in whatever religion they have or none. In the records of ancient Israel we see God the Creator speaking to that people in ways that they could understand. Jesus couched his message in terms of the people’s expectations about a Messiah and God’s reign being established on earth. And this sets the pattern for the church’s proclamation of the gospel. There is only one God – the mystery beyond our describing, the Creator within whom we all live and move and have our being – but people around the world and of different age groups have many different perspectives because God speaks to them according to their ability to understand. Instead of assuming, each one, that our perspective is the only one and dismissing all others, we would be well advised to discover how God’s revelation has come through to other people so that our own understanding may be enlarged. Within the Christian church there are many different understandings of God, theologies, because people hear God speaking to them in their different languages and cultural environments. Outside of the church, God also speaks addressing people according to their capacity to hear.
We’d like to think that if life were devoid of all sadness we would be happy, but if there were nothing but happiness we would not know that we were happy. We only know happiness because we contrast it with other less-happy feelings. Without contrast there is nothing. Without dark there is no light. Without sorrow we do not know joy. Without absence there is no awareness of presence. Without illness there is no health. Without evil there is no goodness. Without death there is no life.