Humanism belongs to believers – Not Atheists Atheists and rationalists often like to call themselves ‘humanists’. But a report published this week argues that the concept is rooted in Christianity and, deprived of its roots, it cannot thrive

When St Paul spoke to the Athenians, he began by noting the things they knew that they did not know. “For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god’. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23)

Today’s intellectual climate is rather different. By and large, secular culture does not know what it doesn’t know. In a recent speech, Pope Francis highlighted one of its “unknown unknowns”. He warned the European Parliament that “a Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul and that ‘humanistic spirit’ which it still loves and defends”.

Pope Francis’ comment was simple yet revo­lutionary. While most people now take humanism to be opposed to anything religious, Francis was suggesting that the “humanistic spirit” can only survive within a culture that is open to transcendence. However, linking humanism and Christianity would not have surprised previous generations. Renaissance humanists were thoroughgoing Christians. It was not until the mid twentieth century that the non-religious seized on “humanism” as a description of their beliefs.


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