67. The Battle with Humanism: Greek Philosophy versus Hebrew Faith

Clifford Denton

The conflict between the Kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven has been compared with Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities”. In our case, however, the two cities are Athens and Jerusalem, or, possibly, Rome and Jerusalem. Greece and Rome are linked together because of the way the Empires of the World developed. Greece influenced the world before Rome became the dominant Empire, so that Rome became influenced by the Greek forms of art, science, philosophy, politics, religion, and so on, considering them to be a glorious inheritance.

The fascination for the “Classical World” represented by the Empires of Greece and Rome continues to this day. The natural human being is bewitched by the apparent achievements and longs to recover these ancient foundations and build on them afresh. One definition of humanism is the seeking after the so-called glories of Greece and Rome. It is no wonder that these glories are seductive because they present the achievements of man, in his own strength, as something to be admired. Man views his own achievements and considers himself capable of securing all knowledge, order and control of his environment without the need for God. Indeed, since there is no place for God, man becomes god himself.

In our day the seeking after god within the make-up of natural man is being encouraged, and an umbrella for all religions is being erected. Any religion or modification of a religion which denies the sinful nature and sees man as inherently good or “godly” fits under this umbrella, which is presently termed the New Age Movement. This movement has been aptly described as spiritual humanism. Thus we can see that the conflict between Athens (or Rome) and Jerusalem is rising in prominence at the climax of the ages. Humanism or Spiritual Humanism will constantly press in on those who prefer a life of self-accomplishment rather than a life of faith according to biblical tradition. The battle has been there, in fact, for many centuries and reached peaks at various times, such as when Mattathias roused the people to revolt against the Jewish Hellenisers and the Greeks, when Israel itself was being seduced a century and a half before the birth of Yeshua.

Though humanism can seem very close to Christianity at times, particularly when we are off our guard, and particularly when we are exalting man and his ministry too high, it is as different from the true faith as the statue which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream (Daniel Chapter 2) and the stone cut without human hands which struck it and caused it to disintegrate. In fact the head of Greece is Babylon and Babylon is reviving through spiritual humanism of our day. Whether we label the origin of humanism as Greece, Rome or Babylon, we are describing the same power at work behind the scenes. Humanism is not only a human government or ideology – it never was – it is a spiritual power. We will see this more and more as the End Times approach, though we will need discernment lest we be drawn in by its seductive power. Zechariah surely is speaking of this when he says, “For I have bent Judah, My bow, fitted the bow with Ephraim, and raised up your sons, O Zion against your sons, 0 Greece, and made you like the sword of a mighty man.” (Zechariah 9:13)

With this in mind, as we search for the true roots of the Christian faith, the issue of humanism is of high priority for investigation. We must train ourselves to distinguish the seductive power of the Kingdoms of this world as we also seek to purify ourselves for the days ahead. Which of us would prefer not to live in the context of conflict? Unfortunately, we cannot avoid it if we are counted among the sons of Zion. If we want to settle for a comfortable life we will go the way of the world, which is, in one way or another, linked with the power behind humanism, a power which is in direct opposition to the Kingdom of Heaven.

This issue of Tishrei is intended to alert readers to the contrast that must be made. A search after the deep roots of our faith eventually exposes the counterfeit. Perhaps we are being drawn into the depth of our inheritance in Yeshua in a new way because of the troubled times. We must be prepared for radical assessments because compromise is all around us; it is in our schools, in our politics (even democracy is short of the biblical model for ruling nations), in our arts, in our social structures, in our sciences, in our economics, and it is making strides in our church communities.

Let me take one example to illustrate my point, by quoting from a book entitled The Message of Greek Art (HH Powers, Macmillan, 1928). The book analyses the design and intent of Greek art and, in so doing, demonstrates its power and purpose. It is not a passive instrument but one that can work on the faculties of natural man to stir emotions and direct thoughts and intentions – even concepts and beliefs. The author likens art to a form of language, but also says that one must go beyond language: “But our plea is not merely for a larger recognition of Greek achievement, and for the study of Greek art as well as -even in lieu of – Greek syntax. We must study Greek art in a larger way. In art as in linguistic studies we have been more careful of syntax than of sense.”(p. 5) The author then goes on to consider an intimacy that is intended in the study of Greek Art which is comparable to the intimacy of personal friendship. He speaks of how one can train ones mind to accept the deeper message of the arts, even using a principle of Scripture in a way which (to us) demonstrates the seduction and deeper intent: “The things of the spirit must be spiritually discerned. The essential thing, therefore, in studying art, is to create in our minds a certain emotional susceptibility, an appreciative mood. The mind thus sensitized is quick to receive the impress of the artist’s imagination, while historic and technic data acquire a new significance. But to explain art to a mind not thus sensitized is like photographing on an unsenstized plate. We may know all about a picture or statue, and if we have not felt, we do not know it as art.” (p. 7) The method and intent of Greek art continues to be expounded by the author. Eventually we come (p. 53) to a very telling statement:

“In this dim twilight of Greek art it is especially important that we place ourselves in the position of the primitive worshiper and learn to think his thoughts and feel his impulses. As we measure his achievements and his shortcomings, we are prone to measure by our own standards and assume that he was seeking our goal.” …. “A religion full of mysticism and of the imaginings born less of reason than of hopes and fears, found in these dim shapes the effective symbols of the inscrutable cosmic forces in whose grasp his fragile life is held fast.” …. “Would the Zeus. that is most like a man be most like the Thunderer?”

These are brief indications of the thrust of our argument, that in art, as in every other device which seeks to organise and control our society (even our beliefs) there is intent. Through human needs and through emotional channels we can be seduced into a way of thinking and sympathy with a system that eventually captures us in the worship of pagan gods. We must be aware of the seductions around us and escape from their clutches as we seek the One True God who expects us to live the life of true faith brought to us through the traditions of the Patriarchs and revealed through the Hebrew Scriptures. In the church today we are slipping from the depth of our inheritance and are susceptible to the powerful forces around us. These forces are at work in all areas of our lives and are intent on making us worship the one behind the deceptions (ultimately). Humanism first works on the emotions of people; it causes them to seek their own value and potential. It also draws them into what seems like acceptable ways of conducting and ordering our lives in human strength. These powers work on human weakness and desire for self-achievement. It is only later that we might find ourselves worshipping an antichrist rather than the true Lord of Heaven and earth. The forces are subtle and yet powerful. They come from literature and science as well as art, and are subtly conveyed through the communications media of our day, with all the power that advertising has to transform our desires and goals in life. They come through virtually every institution of our humanistic universities, and can even influence the programmes of our Bible Colleges when our guard is down.

Taking another example, by way of powerful illustration, it has been said that to understand Shakespeare’s works completely, one should first study the legends and literature of ancient Greece. Indeed, it has been suggested that the works attributed to Shakespeare were a deliberate attempt to neutralize the effects of the Protestant Reformation. Yet, gullibly, we allow the works of Shakespeare to stand alongside the Bible for their literary merit, and in so-doing reduce the Bible to a comparable literary gem from a humanistic standpoint, while exalting Shakespeare’s works to something higher than is safe, carrying in their train works of literature which also emanate from a humanistic world view, with all the spiritual power of the Greek Empire to seduce us.

Add to this examples from science (particularly teaching about evolution), politics (including democracy), philosophy (which comes close to religion), economics (from which humanistic principles have failed to feed the poor, however plausible their design), and on and on and we see the power and strength of the battle that we are in or with which we compromise. Victory in this battle is as costly as the Sacrificial death of Yeshua and the martyrs of the Faith. Compromise is as powerful as the alliance with Rome at the time of Emperor Constantine.

In a day when many in the Church are seeking to advance the Kingdom of God forcefully, it is appropriate to consider this issue, because forceful advance of the Church can be born out of human ambition. These few articles in this journal can be a start. We have also turned our contemporary issue over to a topic which is a part of our appropriate response, namely, a deep reflection on the holiness of God.

(Reprinted from Tishrei Vol 4 No 1, Humanism, Winter 1995/96)



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