Friday, October 27, 2006

Mormonism is a Humanism

Readers may recognize that this title riffs off of Jean-Paul Sartre's influential essay "Existentialism is a Humanism." Though the German existentialists might have rejected this association, Sartre's desire to locate Existentialism within the humanist tradition shows the powerful impact that humanism has in the imagination of the West. It's influence is so profound that for Sartre, humanism is the genus and existentialism is a species. Can the same be said about Mormonism? Is Mormonism simply an expression of the backbone of the Modern West's philosophical framework?

What got me thinking about this topic was a recent performance I attended by Julia Sweeney called "Letting Go of God." Julia was the SNL comedian that is famous for playing the lovable androgynous "Pat." In it she recounts her failed search for religion and belief in God. (As a side note, there was a long discussion of her encounter with the Mormon missionaries and her reactions to the first discussion. But I'll save this for another post). Now she considers herself a secular humanist and has even been given awards by humanist societies.

Humanism really traces its roots to modernity and the turn to ethics of and concerning the individual subject. The concept of rights, democracy, the intrinsic worth of humans, and universal rationality are all the products of humanism. Humanism is the philosophical framework behind feminism, civil rights, the end of torture, invasion into Iraq, public schools, and universal health care. There is no one humanist ideology since humanists claim all sorts of competing positions within the same issue. For example, pro-choice and pro-life movements might be suprised to learn that they are both rooted in humanism, though they are configuring its constitutive elements differently.

Mormonism seems to sit squarely in the humanist tradition with its emphasis on the sacred character of each individual, its positive view of the nature of human beings (the rejection of Original Sin was a halmark of modern humanism), and its focus on human progress. Indeed, the Mormon doctrine of God can in some ways be seen as the theological zenith of humanism.

Secular humanists (and religious one's as well) locate the basis of ethical behavior outside of revealed religion. "Thou shalt not kill" doesn't really take a revelation to figure out. In fact, one of the most important developments in modernity (esp. Hume and Kant) was to separate ethics from theology. Even most Mormons accept that being a good person can be determined without reference to theological criteria.

All of this is a round about way of asking what Mormonism's value add is to humanism, even in its secular form. Do we learn anything more about ethics that cannot already be argued from within the humanist tradition? Or, is Mormonism just another expression of the ways in which humanism has already framed our view of the individual subject? If not, then why be a Mormon and not just a humanist?


Dave said...

Yeah, I picked up the Sartre allusion right off ... now I have to go actually read it in order to comment intelligently. Back tomorrow.

Jared* said...

I'm a little liberal-arts deficient, but I'll take a stab at your question. Whereas the humanist is likely to see this life as the sum of an individual's existence (and therefore precious), Mormonism puts the individual into a larger (ie. eternal) context. Both are committed to helping people live well together, but it seems to me that Mormonism is more far-reaching in terms of the scope of the problem--eternal society.

Having said that, Mormonism has not always been the leader in helping people to live well together in this life.

Clark Goble said...

Well I'm not fan of Sartre. (I'm more along the lines of Heidegger's Letter on Humanism)

However I do think that Mormonism, unlike more traditional Christian theology, does move things to a kind of humanism. But I think the rules are rather different than secular humanism due to our theology of immortality.

But I don't think for most Mormons ethics lies purely in God the way the medievals thought. Personally I notice in our history a strong tendency towards consequentialism of various sorts. But in that case are we that different from the secular humanists in terms of how we view the ground of ethics in human relationships and happiness? (Not that one can't be a secularist and a Kantian)

TrailerTrash said...

My use of Sartre is only to make the point that humanism has been considered a powerful good, especially in France and the US whose revolutionary beginnings were inspired by humanism.

I think that your idea about immortality is an important one, but I am wondering how important it is. Does immortality really change the moral calculus all that much between secular humanists and religious humanists?

Jared E. said...

This is an interesting post, but I don't know if I can stick with you on the conclusions.

I don't know if I can see Mormonism as a form of humanism. Perhaps it could be argued that Joseph Smith's brand theology is humanistic, but I don't think modern Mormonism is. There are two reasons:

1) Humanism has a generally optimistic view of human nature. Mormonism sees those who remain in their natural state as 'enemies to God', and inherently sinful. Perhaps Mormonism's view of the spirit meshes with humanism, but the 'natural man' does not seem to.

2) Humanism expects humans to think for themselves, relying upon their rational capabilities to come to conclusions. I don't think this at all squares with BKP's idea that "The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect". Some might claim that Packer's view is marginal within Mormonism, but I see modern Mormonism as being chiefly authoritarian. I don't see authoritarianism as being conducive with Humanism at all.

Anonymous said...

Don't you love me

You can find my pics here

[url=]My Profile[/url]

Cris said...

HI friends, this information is very interesting, I would like read more information about this topic, thanks for sharing. homes for sale in costa rica

Liz said...

Hello .. firstly I would like to send greetings to all readers. After this, I recognize the content so interesting about this article. For me personally I liked all the information. I would like to know of cases like this more often. In my personal experience I might mention a book called Generic Viagra in this book that I mentioned have very interesting topics, and also you have much to do with the main theme of this article.

Troy Stott said...

You're comparisons are pretty lightweight. Humanism seeks to dissolve families, Mormons are very family-oriented. Humanism rejects the duality of body and spirit,where this is very central to Mormonism. The idea of sin for Mormons is that it belongs to the individual who commits it, but it's still a reality. Humanism rejects the very concept of Divinity, where Mormons believe in God. Let's dig a little deaper next time.

Generic Viagra said...

Is a complete pleasure for me to express myself through this comment, first of all I would like to send a greeting to my friends who read the blog, second I congratulate those responsible for providing information in this article, I think they do a great job.

Anonymous said...

Hi there would you mind sharing which blog platform you're working with? I'm looking
to start my own blog soon but I'm having a hard time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I'm looking for
something completely unique. P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

my page dekorativno

Anonymous said...

Gday administrator, I just wanted to give you a brief heads
up that your current Link: http://www.blogger.
com/comment.g?blogID=35358990&postID=116198332265435458 is being flagged as a potentially harmful
web page in my browser chrome. I'd highly recommend having somebody look into it. You can lose a lot of visitors due to this issue. Best of Luck.

Feel free to surf to my web-site ... automatske

Anonymous said...

Sweet blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News.

Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo
News? I've been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Appreciate it

my website :: Weblog
my website: news

Anonymous said...

Appreсiate this post. Will try іt out.

My page :: raspberry ketone uk

Anonymous said...

Cow's milk alternatives purchases have increased 12% in 2010. Using vegetables in place of regular milk. This Fragoso Paleo Recipe is gluten and dairy free. However, the opportunity itself is fun especially since you can't
jump to a certain style of eating, lift increasingly heavy
and feel good about my body.

Also visit my blog; cabbage soup diet

Anonymous said...

Hello, Neаt poѕt. Τheгe's a problem along with your website in web explorer, would check this? IE still is the market leader and a large element of other folks will miss your magnificent writing due to this problem.

my web page; vistaprint coupons

Anonymous said...

Hey there just wanted to gіve уou a quick heаds up.
The text in your contеnt sеem to bе гunning off the screen іn Opera.
I'm not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I thought I'd
post to let you know. The style аnd dеsign look
great thοugh! Hope yοu get the issue ѕolved soon.

my wеb pagе; pure green coffee bean extract wiki

Anonymous said...

Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the pictures on this blog loading?
I'm trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it's the blog.
Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

Feel free to surf to my web-site ... racing

Anonymous said...

Hey I am so glad I found your website, I really found you by mistake, while I was researching on Google for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and
would just like to say thanks for a remarkable post and
a all round exciting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have
time to look over it all at the minute but I have book-marked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back
to read much more, Please do keep up the superb b.

Here is my weblog - road

Anonymous said...

Рleаse let me κnow if you're looking for a writer for your site. You have some really good posts and I believe I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I'ԁ absolutely loѵe to ωrіte some articles foг
your blοg in еxchаnge fοr a link bacκ to mine.
Pleаse blast me аn email if intеrested.

Feel free to visit my ωebpаgе :: Hcg ԁiet (

Anonymous said...

Нello, Ι do think your web sitе mіght be having browser соmpatibilіty isѕueѕ.
Whenever I take а look at уour websitе іn Ѕafaгi, it lookѕ fine hoωever ωhen οpening
in Inteгnеt Eхploreг, it's got some overlapping issues. I simply wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Besides that, excellent blog!

Also visit my homepage :: raspberry ketone

Anonymous said...

Hello therе! I know this is somewhаt off topic but I was wondering іf
you κnew wherе I could get a captсha рlugin for mу comment fоrm?
I'm using the same blog platform as yours and I'm having pгoblems finding one?
Thanks a lοt!

Feel frеe to visit my homeρage :: cheap car insurance quotes