When Man is the Measure

by John Henson
In a recent movie about Nelson Mandela and the emergence of South Africa from apartheid, the character playing the first black president quotes a poem by William Earnest Henley, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
The quote echoes the philosophy of secular humanism, defined simply as, “making man the measure.” Humanism means precisely what Henley said in his poem. Man is the master. Man is the captain.
Some think humanism is a relatively new philosophy, arising during the 20th Century with pragmatism, but that idea is incorrect. Instead of being recent, humanism is as old as man himself. In fact, some Old Testament characters supported the main tenant of humanism.
King David of Israel believed in humanism for a time. When he saw a naked Bathsheba from the roof of his palace, David became a humanist. His change of philosophy resulted in the sin of adultery and the murder of an innocent patriot, Uriah, all in the name of fulfilling the king’s desire, which is precisely what humanism is. If man is made the measure, then any kind of desire must be immediately granted.
In the poem David wrote, reflecting his sorrow and repentance for his humanistic conduct, the king took steps away from humanism. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin,” (Psalm 51:2 ESV). David knew he had violated God’s objective standard and had sinned. Humanists don’t accept the Bible as an objective standard, and don’t even believe such a standard exists.
Humanism embraces relativism, which is the belief that men can understand and evaluate beliefs and behaviors only in terms of their historical or cultural context. Common statements reflecting relativism might be, “That’s true for you, but not for me,” or, “You can’t judge others by your standards.” If those statements are familiar, it’s because of the influence of secular humanism and relativism.
Simply, when a man becomes the master of his “fate,” he makes up his own rules. The problem with this is that man can’t make up his own rules, because when he does he violates them. In fact, the rules he makes aren’t rules at all, because everything is “relative,” isn’t it?
God has already covered this aspect in his word, too.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV).
People of the world can descend to accept their own ways, but when they do they give up any possibility of ever aspiring to anything higher and nobler than themselves. This is where humanism has led the world.
If we ever wish to become higher and nobler beings, we must reject the idea that man is the measure and must return to the only being who can restore us to greatness, and that is the one, true God.
John serves with the Grand Blanc, Mich., church. He’s a graduate of University of Tennessee at Nashville and Tennessee Bible College.

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