A Thought for Today
by Terrell Tebbetts
Humanism deserves a better reputation than it has among some of my fellow Christians.
It got a bad name among us because the secular branch of Humanism substitutes belief in man for belief in God or Theism. But Humanism does not necessarily oppose Theism. In fact, they can go hand in hand.
Shakespeare is a good example. He wrote some 500 years ago, when Humanism arose. In his sonnets, all easily available online for those wanting to sample them, Shakespeare celebrates how human beings carry out God’s promises to His people.
In many of his sonnets he does this as he writes about the #1 problem in human life—our mortality, our inevitable date with the Grim Reaper. Knowing that Jesus has promised His followers eternal life after death, Shakespeare shows how we can start claiming some forms of that eternal life even before death.
First, he shows a young man he loved how to claim one form of eternal life—by marrying and having children. After “forty winters,” he warns in sonnet 2, all the young man’s beauty will be lost in his wrinkled brow and “deep sunken eyes.” But he concludes that the young man can “be new-made when thou art old and see thy blood warm” if he will produce a “fair child” whose fresh beauty will be “by succession thine.”
In short, God is Creator. He created Mankind and made us in His image. Thus He made us creators too. So when we create children, we act in a small, human way as God acted at the beginning. And when we create that new life, we counter death’s destruction of us as we grow old. We don’t have to wait for heaven to enjoy that form of eternal life.
Second, Shakespeare celebrates the artist’s ability to grant another form of eternal life. In sonnet 18, he again warns that the young man’s “summer”—his prime of life—will have “all too short a date” since “every fair from fair . . . declines.”
But, he adds, he can give the young man one kind of “eternal summer” by writing about him in “eternal lines” of poetry. As a poet, he is a creator, so just as a father creates a child as one counter to mortality, the poet creates poetry as another.
Shakespeare doesn’t write this to say we should rely on man’s forms of eternal life instead of God’s. In sonnet 146, he writes in “terms divine” about eternal life after death, when “there’s no more dying then.”
Shakespeare is just saying that God didn’t make us to wait idly for Him to act. God made us in His image for a purpose, part of which is to join Him as we are able to create our own forms of immortal life as we prepare to share His.
Why should a Christian reject that kind of Humanism?
Terrell Tebbetts is the Martha Heasley Cox Chair in English at Lyon College. He can be reached at Terrell.firstname.lastname@example.org.