human virtue and detachment

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’ve perused 2 non-religious philosophy blogs (h/t to Arturo for the last one, see the link at the bottom of his post) and find they have such a different character than the Christian ones. I suppose they have a humanist point of view. I don’t know when humanism started, but I don’t get the same sense from reading Plato. Plato does talk about human virtues, but his appeal to the gods keeps him from being such a material humanist. When did strict materialism take hold? I suppose it reached it’s pinnacle with Nietzsche in the 19th century. Here’s what the Wiki article on humanism says:

But in the mid-18th century, a different use of the term began to emerge. In 1765, the author of an anonymous article in a French Enlightenment periodical spoke of “The general love of humanity . . . a virtue hitherto quite nameless among us, and which we will venture to call ‘humanism’, for the time has come to create a word for such a beautiful and necessary thing.”[7] The latter part of the 18th and the early 19th centuries saw the creation of numerous grass-roots “philanthropic” and benevolent societies dedicated to human betterment and the spreading of knowledge (some Christian, some not). After the French Revolution, the idea that human virtue could be created by human reason alone independently from traditional religious institutions, attributed by opponents of the Revolution to Enlightenment philosophes such as Rousseau, was violently attacked by influential religious and political conservatives, such as Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre, as a deification or idolatry of man.[8] Humanism began to acquire a negative sense. The Oxford English Dictionary records the use of the word “humanism” by an English clergyman in 1812 to indicate those who believe in the “mere humanity” (as opposed to the divine nature) of Christ, i.e., Unitarians and Deists.[9]

I think it is so hard for us to hold two things in our hands at once – the spiritual and the material. Revelation and reason. It’s easier to take extremist positions on either side, and thus to villify the other. In the case of human virtue, it seems the humanists take a Pelagian view. Orthodox are sometimes labeled semi-Pelagian because we do believe that human nature is virtuous and sin is unnatural. When non-Christians are virtuous, they are being more true to their human nature than a non-virtuous Christian. Salvation, also known as deification, to the Orthodox Christian is more than being a good person. It is a person in a united, synergistic relationship with God. Cultivating virtue and purging onesself of sin tills the soil, as it were, in preparation for the seed of God’s presence. Is a person powerless to do this on their own? Not entirely. We see non-Christians overcoming alcoholism, loving their children, and working very hard to make constructive things all the time. But I think there’s a certain loneliness about it. We’re made for relationship with God.

The philosophy blog mentioned above also has an article on Buddhist detachment. One western dabbler talked about how one can practice Buddhist detachment without being religious. He also said that it can be a way to reject one’s own roots. In light of my post yesterday about dwelling in the present instead of the past, I wonder if this rejection on its own has a certain appeal. I’ve also been thinking of abused animals. I don’t know if they remember the specifics, but they can become afraid and very nervous around humans because of it. A person has to detach themselves from wrong treatment, which is based on a lie. Philosophy and religion are supposed to be about finding the truth of who we are, where we came from, and where we are supposed to go. In the case of lies, one has to detach from one’s particular source of lies and reattach to another, hopefully more truthful, universal source. Buddhism may have good techniques for this type of detachment, but only Christianity offers the correct Person, and people, to reattach to.