Brief Summary of the Series
The first book compares the doctrine of Christianity with the religion of secular humanism. To maximize effectiveness in communication, we follow an outline which consists of an introduction and four parts. Part One addresses the basics of belief, why a belief system is necessary for us. Part Two addresses how we each formulate a belief system to accommodate our own, personal needs. Part Three addresses the actual doctrines of the belief systems we discussed at our meetings. And Part Four addresses how we practice our respective belief systems. In general, the first three sections address the theory and the last section addresses the application of the theory.
The second book compares the doctrine of Christianity with Judaism and Islam and the third book compares various Christian denominations with each other and with the doctrine of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Excerpt of Book 1
What We Believe: Doctrine of a Belief System
Darrel: Well then, what do you have?
Peter: We have a doctrine. Our basic beliefs are presented in our Manifestos.
Bobby: Well, now is the time to formally present your doctrine, Peter.
Peter: I have a copy of our Manifesto right here for each of you. As I hand this out to you, please keep in mind that you need to know that many people embrace our secular religion, many of whom have no idea that ours is the doctrine they are following. But many, many people know exactly what this doctrine is and why they believe that it represents the only truth we can know.
Darrel: Let’s take a look at your formal doctrine and see where we go when we apply reason to secular humanism.
Peter: This is precisely my agenda.
Bobby: The floor is yours, Peter.
Peter: OK. At first glance, you can see that there are actually six provisions in our Manifesto. As you read them over, I think you will see how reasonable each point of our doctrine is. This is why we claim that secular humanism is the only truly reasonable, rational belief system.
Knowledge of the world is derived by the scientific method. It is derived by the observation and experimentation and rational analysis. This is called empiricism. It is our evidence.
- Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.
- Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. This is called naturalism.
- Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
- Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
- Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.
Well, there it is in a nutshell. I believe that this Manifesto very clearly defines my belief system, a belief system that is obviously very different than Christianity.
Bobby: This is exactly why I think you will contribute a great deal to our discussions, Peter. Contrarian opinions typically serve a very important function in our pursuit of the truth. Historically, native Americans always included a contrarian in their pow wows just to keep them on track.
John: Yes, we shouldn’t want to limit these discussions to just preaching to the choir. I prefer a lively debate. Historically, Calvinists just love a good debate.
Peter: Well, what are your reactions to the doctrine of secular humanism? Any questions? Any points you want further clarified?
Bobby: Darrel, you seem to be champin’ at the bit.
Darrel: Where do I begin? Well, first of all, I would like to say I appreciate actually having what you believe presented in some kind of orderly format. Up until the time I first laid eyes on this manifesto of yours, I assumed your only doctrine consisted of opposing our doctrine. That may still be the main purpose of secular humanism but at least now we are given the appearance of a religion with some semblance of a doctrine with its various references to humane ideals, relationships, human need, experimentation, and so forth, and this sets the stage for our analysis of your belief system.
And I’ll give you credit for actually identifying with a defined belief system instead of just telling us you are an atheist and leaving it at that. After our discussion about the necessity and importance of having a belief system, this is an important admission on your part. After all, there are many, many people, these kinda Christians and practical atheists we talked about before, who subscribe to many of points of the secular humanist doctrine but don’t have the courage of the convictions you have to actually claim membership in your belief system. They try to combine Christianity and secular humanism and this cannot result in an effective belief system. I look forward to doing just that as we proceed with our discussions this season.
Dan: I second what Darrel just said. My first impression in reading the manifesto is that this looks like the twenty first century’s version of a naturalistic, atheistic religion which has been cobbling together from pagan worship, science and philosophy. And most every belief system has a sprinkle of the Judeo-Christian doctrine added for good measure to give it a moral foundation. Theologians call such cobbling together of several belief systems into a third “syncretism.”
John: Syncretism is an attempt to use compromise in religion.
Bobby: It doesn’t seem that way to me. As I look at this manifesto, and from what I know about the Christian doctrine, it seems that the best religion would be some kind of combination of the two belief systems. After all, you did say that all belief have at least a little of the truth in them and it seems there is something in each of them that makes sense to me.
John: First of all a hint shouldn’t be enough for people who are interested in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And second of all, these two belief systems are so opposite that confusion would result from trying to piece them together.
Bobby: Yes, I understand that the opposites cancel each other out but I see good points to each one. For example, secular humanism’s emphasis on us, our freedom to choose, our responsibility to create ourselves and all that, this is appealing to me. But, the doctrine doesn’t tell us how those ideals are to be accomplished and I think this is where Christianity, with its defined moral code, provides a unique and necessary contribution. I want both.
Dan: Actually, there are many people who agree with you, Bobby, and indeed man has designed a syncretistic belief system that seems to address both needs you mention. It is called postmodernism. And there are other variations on reformed Christianity that meet this need too. They are all examples of syncretism designed by men to meet our human needs and they are all false. God communicated His “design” to us in His word. We have the truth, flip side and all.
Bobby: Yes, of course, the emphasis should be on knowledge of the truth but it is also important that one follow a belief system that works best.
Darrel: I don’t really know whether kinda Christians or practical atheists would claim their belief system works very well for them or not. I really haven’t asked that question of them. All I know is that Christians believe we have the only key to salvation and the false religions do not. For us, this truth is expressed to us in John 10:9. In this verse Christ tells us that He is the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” Any religion that de-emphasizes the pivotal role of Jesus Christ in the salvation process is a second hand religion. Personally, I prefer the full meal deal.
Peter: Christianity itself is a syncretism. Isn’t that what Chesterton meant when he said it was a combination of mysticism and philosophy? Follow the logic. Here we have these two basic, universal goals: the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of happiness. Mythology works to some degree in relating to overcoming our fear of the unknown and the wish to lead a better life. Philosophy works best in addressing the pursuit of knowledge. Cobbling the two methods together to satisfy man’s need to know and need to be happy, as Chesterton opined, is a brilliant concept.
Darrel: Yes it is, isn’t it? The logic reveals that we should naturally expect brilliance from our perfect creator, by definition. It is brilliant because it is divine. Devising a plan for a belief system that satisfies our need to know and our need for happiness is precisely what God wanted to do for us because he loves us. Who knows best about meeting the basic needs of the creation than the creator? That only makes logical sense, doesn’t it?
Dan: We are challenged in this life to address these two basic needs. And God actually instilled in each one of us the urge to address them. It was God who put our concept of what we needed in our heads and hearts in the first place. He made us aware of that challenge but, as is always His custom, He gave us the belief system to meet that challenge. He gave us Christianity.
Bobby: So, if we agree with Chesterton and assume that Christianity did accomplish this reconciliation he was talking about, how did this exactly work?
Darrel: It worked because it best addressed one of our basic human needs, happiness. To be happy, we need to have hope and only Christianity offered mankind hope. The problem with mythology and philosophy is that they were, as Chesterton said, both sad; in the sense that they did not exhibit the hope that Christianity brought into this world. Yes, they had touches of faith or charity, but they did not encourage hope.
John: So true. Surveys indicate that most people recall they have experienced more sadness than gladness in this life. We talked about that before. Personally, I believe that my faith in a caring, loving personal God helps me deal with this reality. I rely on the hope that there is at least someone with credibility who really knows what is going on here, so to speak.
Dan: Yes, by focusing on love for God and love for each other, Christianity brought hope into our lives and, in doing so, satisfied those tendencies we had before Christ to constantly wage war on one another.
Darrel: Here, it’s best if I read to you the actual quote of Chesterton from my Kindle. He summed it up by saying that “the sanity of the world was restored and the soul of man offered salvation by something which did indeed satisfy the two warring tendencies of the past (the pagan myths and philosophies); which had never been satisfied in full and most certainly never satisfied together. It met the mythological search for romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being a true story.”
Bobby: It still sounds like a compilation of several approaches that work to address several needs of ours.
John: Christianity is not a compilation, it is a reconciliation of philosophy with a mystical story. It is a reconciliation of two sources of knowledge, reason and tradition. I said this before when I mentioned that the mythical sounding stories represent tradition as a source of knowledge and the philosophical aspects of the Christian doctrine represent reason as a source of knowledge.
Bobby: Yeah but, what role does philosophy play in Christianity? Scratch that question. I see by my watch that we don’t have the time to get into this. So it will have to wait until next week.
Bobby: Hey, guys, we need to be disciplined or we won’t quit until the tide comes in.