Joss Whedon (creator of the incredible Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse) recently received the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from the Harvard Humanist Society, and delivered an interesting address at Memorial Church at Harvard. Here’s a snippet of it, but the most interesting part is the last 20 odd seconds, in which this quotation is heard:

The enemy of humanism is not faith; the enemy of humanism is hate, is fear, is ignorance, is the darker part of man that is in every humanist, every person, in the world. That is the thing we have to fight. Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God is believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary.

I agree with some parts of Joss’ point. He considers the “dark part of man” to be the enemy of humanism. And every person has this dark part inside of them. I don’t disagree that there is evil inside all of us (we call it “sin” or peccator). What I am surprised (and a bit confused, to be honest) by is why he would still put his faith in humanism if the enemy of humanism is in every person, including every humanist?

I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I am guessing that Joss means he would put his faith in the goodness, selflessness, creativity, beauty, intelligence, quest for knowledge that are also in every human being. I don’t disagree with him in believing that we are also these things. I just happen to believe that such good things come from God (James 1:17). So if I believe that the good that is in me comes from God, obviously I would put my faith in God, rather than the good that is in me. If one denied the existence of God but still believed in the validity of human goodness, then humanism is a good belief system to hold. But if it is true that the enemy of humanism is in every person and in every humanist, then aren’t humanists putting their faith in a battleground where the enemy still lurks?

I guess humanists would consider faith in humanity (in the battle ground) to be better than faith in what Joss calls the “sky bully”. There is a sense that belief in humanity – in all its complexity and messiness – is much more sophisticated and much more realistic. After all Joss calls humanity “a huge amount of proof”, and calls God the “sky bully looking down on us telling us what we’re supposed to do”. But I think our view is equally complex – look how many conversations we devote on just what it means to be simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously justified and sinful)! It’s not simplistic to have faith in God. It’s just as complex and complicated, if not even more so, because there’s an added variable – GOD. It’s not just us making sense of our messy lives; what does it mean for our lives to be messy and complicated when we believe in and follow a good, loving, merciful, formidable God? What does it mean for us to still have both good and bad inside of us when we also claim to believe that we have been forgiven of our sins, saved by Jesus and washed as white as snow? I personally think that’s a MUCH more interesting question for us to encounter and live out than a humanist approach!