It’s hard to avoid news about social media right now and understandably so. The power available to these few corporations has never been so evident. Many who’ve watched “The Social Dilemma” will know that the founders of the biggest social media companies assumed their apps would increase unity and understanding across the world. Yet, what we see is the dividing of America, with each tribe attributing the worst motives to the other.
So, why does social media aim so high but fail so hard? Why do they think that people will all be nice, if there are just enough incentives? Why do they assume that being exposed to different opinions will cause the formation of a singular, harmonious worldview? There are many possibilities, but one potential reason is that there’s something in the water in Silicon Valley – humanitarianism.
If you tuned in to the Saturday Morning Chill when Pastor John Bombaro was a guest, you would have heard him warn against humanitarianism, the biggest, baddest ideology everyone assumes is all sweetness and light. While many of us are familiar with progressive identity politics and its insatiable appetite, Pastor Bombaro says it is only the spawn of the larger beast: humanitarianism. Mad Christians will recognize different aspects of this worldview as we lay it out, but Pastor Bombaro’s definition is “humanity serving humanity for humanity’s sake alone.”
Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) formulated a nascent version of humanitarianism which he called “positivism.” Comte believed that humanity should move from a primitive “theological and military order to a scientific and industrial one..ushering in a ‘great…Republic‘ that would culminate in the comprehensive unity of the human race.”
Politics professor Daniel J. Mahoney argues that humanitarianism is actually democratic pantheism. It is a religion which “refuses to distinguish between God and man, peoples and nations.” So while we couldn’t nail down a airtight definition, here is our attempt to deep-dive into the belly of the beast…
- Humanitarianism presumes the ultimate reality is humanity, not God, and that it is the rightful object of our adoration. But as Professor Mahoney points out, no one really experiences “humanity.” While thinking about humanity as a whole can be useful, in reality, “we live in the only way we can live—in families, neighborhoods, countries, with particular persons in particular places.”
- Humanitarianism is relativistic. Subjective ideas about the “good of humanity” or “meeting human need” are the basis of a DIY morality. “Without a transcendent source of value, all reasons for action become equally valid,” says Mahoney. But those who think humanity is bound for glory, by its own collective effort are “woefully ignorant of sin and of the tragic dimension of the human condition.” A denial of God’s law and man’s sin nature can only result in those with power forcing their morality on everyone else.
- Humanitarianism denies the political and social nature of humans. Early critics of Comte’s ideas accused him of wanting “to abolish the political realm of human existence in its entirety.” He assumed that in a humanitarian Utopia, people would “always act in the best interests of humanity as a whole” doing away with the need for local civic life and institutions. Comte’s global hive mind of human goodness has never materialized, but it hasn’t stopped people from buying into his lofty ideals to create a global village.
- For all the grandiose causes that get filed under humanitarianism, it is “remarkably passive.” You can claim to be humanitarian yet detach yourself “from the great ‘communities of action’, such as nations and churches.” Professing love for humanity is the only virtue that matters and this can be achieved, Mahoney says, through “a vague and undemanding sentimentality.” Shall we call it something like…virtue-signaling? He goes on to point out that what is lost is real virtue. Courage, faithfulness, self-control and charity are all forged within communities of people, from our families on outward. Mahoney laments that with humanitarianism, there is no formation of “heroes or saints.”
- It is softly totalitarian. With the moniker “humanitarianism,” you would presume it would have a place for every human. But this “religion of humanity” turns on anyone who refuses to worship mankind and its improvement.
We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this, but in some ways, humanitarianism feels like the Voltron-form of many bad ideas that came before it. It contains the human-centric swagger of the Age of Reason, the Postmodernist retreat from truth, the disembodied navel-gazing of mysticism and the “woke” exclusivity of gnosticism. There are also similarities to America’s last religion, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism but minus the “D.”
Pondering the world’s problems and wanting to solve them is something Mad Christians can and should do. Yet the tenets of humanitarianism seek to subvert the true Faith, reducing “religion to a project of this-worldly amelioration,” as Professor Mahoney says. He challenges the church to examine how we think. He warns that humanitarian “categories and language have inserted themselves…into Christian thought. This infiltration prevents Christians at times from noticing that they’re arguing not in Christian categories but humanitarian ones.”
So how do we start to detect it? How we speak (and think) may betray where the fissures are forming. The endless mangling of language from political correctness right through to Critical Theory’s semantic assault on reality have distracted the church into using words that are not her own. Rev. Fisk’s passion for recovering our way of speaking, especially about authority, men, and fathers is a place we could start.
The ham-fisted attempt by our culture to bring about equality by erasing distinctions, especially between men and women (here and here for example), is a creeping fog we need to constantly push back against. Filling our minds with Scripture will help transmit the clarity of God’s words through the white noise.
Also, Pastor Bombaro noted that humanitarianism deals in generalities, not specifics, which provides another rubric to assess whether we are thinking Christianly. When we consider ways to help “our neighborhood,” do we think of an abstract group of people, or of actual neighbors God has placed in our lives? Is your energy to help “the poor” or to help a particular poor person you know of?
Resistance is not futile and we don’t need to be assimilated into the collective. We know who has the words of eternal life and his word is truth and life.
God is the rightful object of our worship and his Law tells us what is good.
He so loved the world and saved it by redeeming actual people, sinners, from different tribes and tongues, from different vocations and ranks.
His love for us compels us to love and serve our neighbor.
While the humanitarian ideology seeks conformity to a prescribed identity and a global cause, the saints are, to borrow from Glenn Beck, stones not bricks. While it is easier to build a global empire with bricks, we broken and misshapen stones, are being built into a holy temple, with Christ as the Cornerstone. That is a more glorious future than any devised by men.