We have an interesting guest on Atheists Talk radio this morning: Jay Bakker, a Christian, pastor, theologian, and the son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. I’m the host for this show, which means I’m not doing the active interviewing part (that’s all Travis Peterson, president of Minnesota Skeptics – Go Travis!), and as a result I’m typing this in the studio as Jay and Travis are speaking.
Travis and Jay spent the first two segments of the show talking about Jay’s experiences growing up as the son of the Bakkers and in the shadow of the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club TV show. Right now, Travis is asking Jay why, after all of his experiences and struggles, he’s still a Christian. Good question.
[Oops – I got distracted with listening to the interview – I’m a shitty live blogger, lol. You’ll have to catch the podcast to hear Jay’s answer]
So, show’s over – and just when it started to get extra interesting, darn it!
Jay and I started to debate about the definition of Humanism in the last two minutes of the show. We continued speaking off air for a while, but we didn’t reach a resolution.
To be clear, I don’t really have a problem with the term Christian Humanist as modern Christian Humanists seem to use it: that they are Christians who value their fellow human beings, and who perform good deeds for their fellow man. But Humanism isn’t just defined as someone who wants to be good to other people. Humanism puts humanity above all other ideals, including gods.
Christian Humanism is predicated upon the idea that we are made in God’s image, and it promotes the humanity of Jesus Christ. It implies that Christianity is what inspires one’s goodwill towards men. If someone wants to do good because of the golden rule, or because Jesus died for them, or because they’ve chosen to interpret the book to mean that they should do good, then they are putting their god above humanity. Which doesn’t change the fact that good deeds are being done, and I will give them props for doing so (unless there’s evangelism involved – that changes my views a bit). I’d prefer if people were good to people without needing the Christ part because the Christ part complicates shit, and as we’ve seen, it has the potential to go really, really badly. “Christian” Humanism complicates the philosophy of Humanism.
The beauty of Humanism is that we don’t need to bring Christianity into it. Of course one can be a Christian who does good deeds, and if they overlap with my interests, I will support them (note the earlier evangelism caveat). If you are a Christian who does good human-focused deeds, I’m down to collaborate!
And that’s why on a functional, actionable level, I don’t really care if someone wants to call themselves a Christian Humanist. I find it an interesting thought exercise, but in the end what I want is for more people to do good, to think of others, to promote peace, happiness, equity and fairness in world. I want less war, greed, starvation and disease, and humanism is the philosophy that will get us there. So while I may grumble, if you’re in the humanist camp let’s work together and keep this little blue and green ball rolling.
I did disagree with Jay Bakker when he called himself a Christian agnostic – that is, a Christian who accepts that he can’t know for sure if his beliefs are correct. An agnostic is someone who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God. An agnostic claims neither faith nor disbelief in God. Jay Bakker is a pastor who has devoted his life to evangelizing through his church, his personal website, his books, and his speaking engagements. Jay may not know if he’s correct about his all of his beliefs about Christianity, but he has most definitely chosen a belief and he proclaims his faith in God and Jesus Christ. He is a Christian who is willing to accept that he might be wrong, but he is not agnostic about his theological stance.
Human words are human constructs. We assign them definitions. Those definitions can change, and in small group settings it can be useful to define the terms that we are using in order to ameliorate ambiguity. But if we are not going to define our unique use of a word and get agreement from our audience that the use is acceptable or at least understood, words lose their meanings and conversations and debates will come to a screeching halt (or spin in circles).
I’d be interested to hear from you about your thoughts on Christian Humanism or use of language.
It might seem weird that an atheist radio show would invite a practicing Christian – a pastor! – to join us on air. It might seem weird, but as we state on our website:
Our volunteer producers, hosts, interviewers, and contributors are committed to presenting topics of interest to atheists and humanists. Topics include, but are not limited to, general atheism and humanism, separation of church and state, science, religion, gender, race, culture, and the arts.
I find religion to be fascinating and terrifying. If we’re going to speak about religion, I think it’s grand that we have a religious person in the room while we have those discussions. It was a pleasure and thought-provoking to listen to Travis Peterson and Jay Bakker’s conversation this morning. The interview is posted here and on iTunes.