11 November 2008

The Fruits of the (Humanist) Spirit

“Nothing human is alien to me.” - Karl Marx

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

During the summer I visited my parents and noted that a verse from “Galatians” in the Christian bible was stitched on a throw pillow. The phrase in particular was “Through love, serve one another”. On the face of it, it was a sentiment I could identify with -- I am a humanist, after all, and believe in Woodrow Wilson’s statement that ‘there is no higher religion than human service.’ While I am not religious, I believe religions were created by people to serve particular functions, and that one of those functions is to promote values -- and some of those values are bound to be good, just as some of them are bound to be rotten. As such, I like to read religious texts and beat the bad ideas out of them -- adding the good stuff that’s left to my own worldview.

Even so, I normally avoid the New Testament because of the cultural chauvinists who associate themselves with it. By this, I do not mean all Christians -- merely those who raised in a "Christian" culture and are obnoxious about it, even if their own worldviews aren't very "Christian" at all. Despite this, however, there must still be good to be found in the motley collection of books Christians call the "New Testament" -- regardless of the people who claim it inspires them.

When I re-read the “Fruits of the Spirit” in Galatians, I found myself surprised. Stripped of their supernaturalistic elements, these “fruits” have anagrams in my own worldview. As I began compare and contrast these values with my own, I thought I should share them for those who may not be aware.

1. Love:
- Christian: those who are sincere about their religion try to practice agape love, or “God’s love”. These Christians see their god as loving people unconditionally and believe that people ‘filled with the Spirit of god’ should be able to love people unconditionally.
- Humanist: Humanism as a life stance is rooted in both reason and empathy. The American Humanist Association partially defines humanism as “a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion.” What is the source of this empathy and compassion? Human beings, as mammals, are naturally given toward forging social ties -- especially with kin. We protect our family, or who we see as our family. The mapping of the human genome has proven that human beings are overwhelmingly more alike than not. Humanists by large see the entire body of humanity as one huge family, six billion strong, and thus feel natural empathy toward any human being in physical or emotional pain -- and experience feelings of kinship with all.

2. Joy:
- Christian: “Joy”, or invincible happiness that is not subject to random happenings, is supposed to be a natural gift from God. To quote a pastor I remember from my teenage years, “Happiness is based on happenings; joy is not.” This joy is typically associated with being saved.
- Humanist: I never fully understood the concept above until early 2006, when I began explore philosophy. I discovered in 2006 a source of inner joy -- or I should say sources. The root, I suppose, is a love for life. I am sometimes intoxicated by how happy I am, bewildered even. I cannot articulate why -- except to say that I have no reason to be otherwise. There is no kind of music that I can’t enjoy to some degree, no moment that I can’t seize and find some satisfaction in. Part of my own source of joy is a kind of stoicism, or realizing that I can’t control everything that happens to me -- and that I’m okay with that. (For more elaboration, I wrote an essay over a year ago entitled “All and Enough: Humanist Spirituality”.)

3. Peace:
- Christian: peace, or spiritual tranquility, is supposed to result from a relationship with God.
- Humanist: I see joy and peace as being part of the same essence. My own peace comes from the Stoic influences on humanism, or at least the influences I see. I believe that emotional maturity begins when someone realizes two things: one, that they cannot control everything; two, that they only thing they can ultimately control is their own self. When I realize that I am the master of my responses to what happens to me, and when I exercise that mastery, I maintain inner peace -- emotional stability.

4. Patience:
- Christian: Patience is fairly self-explanatory. Christian emphasis on patience seems to be on withstanding persecution or opposition.
- Humanist: Humanism is not a prescriptive worldview: there are no Ten Commandments, Four Noble Truths, Five Pillars, or list of “fruits of the Spirit”. The foundation of the worldview or “life stance” of humanism is reason and empathy, both of which come natural to human beings in various degrees and thus are not really prescribed -- just naturally practiced. As such, there’s no direct anagram but one can be derived from both reason and empathy. It is both rational and a practice of empathy to be patient, as it is to endure what one must. On the subject of “what one must”, you can read Stoic influences. I’ve read that Paul of Tarsus -- who wrote Galatians -- was influenced by Stoicism, which would not surprise me. Zeno -- the first Stoic -- preceded Paul by some 350+ years, and the early stoics believed in a universal being. (Stoicism, like all worldviews, is subject to interpretation. Marcus Aurelius, who inspires many of my own ideas, believed in the Roman pantheon -- not a universal spirit.) A quotation from Aurelius that applies toward patience is this: “Men exist for the sake of one another; teach them, then, or bear with them.”

5. Kindness:
- Christian: I’ve never actually heard a commentary on kindness by a pastor, so I have to wing this. I’m going to guess that kindness is “love in action” -- dealing with people justly and with compassion.
- Humanism: Kindness, of course, is central to humanism. I cannot exaggerate the influence that simple kindnesses have had on my own life: acts of kindness by a few people I knew in my youth inspired me to live in a spirit of empathy, which led to something of a rebirth for me. When I deal with people, I try to do in a spirit of loving kindness toward them -- which is not always easy with certain personalities.

6: Goodness:
- Christian: What is goodness? Again, this is something I’ve not heard much of a commentary on. The only universal definition of goodness I can think of -- one that applies to any worldview, from the best to the very worst, is this: how well do you fare when judged by your ideals? In a Christian worldview, a “good” person would be someone who lives in love, with perfect faith in their god, who strives to obey the guidance of their god who is supposed to be the ultimate ideal -- all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, etc.
- Humanist: The universal definition I used was “How well do you fare when judged by your ideals?” A humanist worldview, founded on reason and empathy, would define a good person as someone who lived in love and who strives to find truth with and live using reason.

7. Faithfulness:
- Christian: Interpretations vary. A faithful person is someone who keeps the faith, which is important in Christianity. It can also mean that someone who is faithful can be relied upon.
- Humanist: “Faith” has no real counterpart in humanism, it being a rational worldview that eschews emotional appeals that have no grounding in reason. Humanism is an optimistic worldview, however, and so it may be said that some humanists are faithfully hopeful.

8. Gentleness/Meekness:
- Christian: I’ve heard varying interpretations for this. One I’ve heard (and don’t particularly find helpful) is that meekness means to be humble and live subject to guidance from the pastor and God. This particular interpretation came from an authoritarian pastor, which will come as no great surprise. Another interpretation -- one that is basic and seems to be more helpful -- that being “gentle” is a combination of being both loving and peaceful -- to be motivated to help and so control one’s passions to further that end, without allowing strong emotions to endanger that goal.

- Humanist: When “winging” it and contemplating on the definition in the Christian section, I tend to rely on my own thoughts and then interpret them based on what I know of Christian doctrine. My own view, then, is my own thoughts without the Christian swing to it. I believe in dealing with people with a gentle and considerate manner. There are times when no amount of consideration on your part is going to help matters, but I find it’s a good idea to stick to ideals even in those cases just for the practice.

9. Self-Control
- Christian: Christian beliefs hold that humanity is basically corrupt and tempted constantly by carnal nature and the Devil to sin against God. Christians are to practice self control and abstain from worldly pleasures - -sex, alcohol, strong expressions of emotion (the use of strong language), etc. In a broader, more philosophical sense, this can be seen as evidence of stoicism.
- Humanist: Humanists believe that people contain within them the rational ability to abstain from doing evil -- to restrain our primitive, animal passions and treat one another civilly. My own worldview is both humanist and Stoic, and I am quite keen on self-control. I control my thoughts, and spent much time in consideration while trying to figure out a good way to respond to issues of life. I believe self control is crucial to peace of mind.

My rediscovery of the “Fruits of the Spirit” tells me that Christian philosophy and humanist philosophy need not be considered foes. Both philosophies, I believe, come from the same spirit -- the human spirit -- and thus are more alike than they are different. The problem is that the Christian religion often gets in the way of Christian philosophy.


Jonathon said...


Thank you for inviting me to read your post. I am delighted to see that you have been reading the letter of Paul to the Churches of the former Roman province of Galatia! This is a wonderful letter of antiquity that Paul wrote in approximately A.D. 48 in order to combat an insidious heresy that had found its way into the early Christian Church in that area. It was a teaching antithetical to the Christian gospel, and is one that continues to this day even within the ranks of some modern evangelical traditions.

Though Paul had been influential in birthing this local church, he says in Chapter 1 vs. 6:

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ."

There were false teachers in their midst that were advocating an ascent to God through circumcision and other works of human effort. We see similar distortions in radical segments of the Pentecostalism in which you were raised where one must speak in tongues in order to be validated as saved.

In contrast, the gospel of God as revealed in the Bible declares that mankind can never ascend to God through tongues or any other human effort.

Isaiah 53:6 says:

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.”

Expanding on the punishment for straying sheep, Jonathan Edwards said the following in his sermon, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners:”

“But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty. To have infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honorable. He is infinitely exalted above the greatest potentates of the earth, and highest angels in heaven; and therefore he is infinitely more honorable than they. His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience is infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him. So that sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment.- Nothing is more agreeable to the common sense of mankind, than that sins committed against any one, must be proportionally heinous to the dignity of the being offended and abused; as it is also agreeable to the word of God, I Samuel 2:25. “If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him;” (i.e. shall judge him, and inflict a finite punishment, such as finite judges can inflict;) “but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?” This was the aggravation of sin that made Joseph afraid of it. Genesis 39:9. “How shall I commit this great wickedness, and sin against God?” This was the aggravation of David’s sin, in comparison of which he esteemed all others as nothing, because they were infinitely exceeded by it. Psalm 51:4. “Against thee, thee only have I sinned.”-The eternity of the punishment of ungodly men renders it infinite: and it renders it no more than infinite; and therefore renders no more than proportional to the heinousness of what they are guilty of.”

Jonathan Edwards would also agree that there is Good News! It is found in the next statement of Isaiah in Chapter 53 and verse 6:

“and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

In the mystery of the incarnation, Jesus Christ descended for the expressed purpose of saving a people who could never ascend into the presence of the Father. Immanuel, God with Us, dwelt among us and was firmly rejected by all we who hate God. Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the law of Moses. In his unblemished perfection, He was presented as the final Passover lamb, and was slaughtered on a cross as a sacrifice for the sins of those who deserve eternal separation from an eternal God in an eternal Hell. He resurrected form the grave to confirm his divine authority, showed himself to many witnesses, and commissioned his disciples to spread his Gospel throughout the earth. In these objective facts of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is our Christian gospel. Those who put their trust in the saving merits of Christ will never taste eternal death.

Christians and non-Christians alike are familiar with John 3:16-17 which says:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

However, we should not stop there. In versus 18-20, Jesus said:

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already; because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment; the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”

Stephen, my prayer for you is that you would trust in the historical and risen Christ alone. No accompanying supernatural experience of speaking in tongues or euphoric feeling can ever replace the objective facts of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Every striving of human effort toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control might produce temporary, external conformity, but they will not produce a transformation of the heart unto eternal life.

If you re-read the text, you will discover that there are no fruit(s) (plural) of the Spirit. There is only one fruit (singular) of the Spirit. These traits are not separate from each other, but find their culmination in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, those who “belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

It was for love’s sake that Jesus became poor. It was for the joy that was set before Christ in obtaining the salvation of sinners that he endured the cross. He is the Prince of Peace who reconciled sinful man to a Holy God. In God’s forbearance and patience, he passed over former sins in order to fulfill his justice through the death of His Son. It is God’s kindness that leads man to repentance. There is no shadow of turning in God, and he is forever good. He is faithful when man is faithless. He has been gentle in his dealings with unrepentant man, causing rain to fall upon the just and the unjust. The power of evil desires can only be conquered through a self-control that comes from the Holy Spirit who is with us on earth, and is moving upon the hearts of men so that they are able to see and worship the triune God.

May you see Him today!

Your friend,


smellincoffee said...

My dear friend Jon:

Thanks for commenting. I have no interest, however, in "conforming" to other ideals or interpetations thereof. I seek inner growth to enrich my own life -- not to satisfy expectations from some deity or teacher of ethics or to obtain external reward. I see a life well-lived as its own reward.

You know from previous conversations the contempt I have for the idea of a god who wants to be worshiped and adored -- as well as for one who would use violence as "punishment", or need to. Vanity is a "carnal" failure -- the use of violence as punishment a human folly. I think the Christian and Islamic gods insult the very idea of deity. The Greek gods made have had human vices, but they were at least not obsessed with being worshiped.

As far as the historical Jesus goes, you should know that I am a skeptic there. I do not believe the "Gospels" portray an accurate idea of his life: they were written by human beings with motives, and are thus interpretations only. I am no more apt to believe that a Palestinian carpenter was a god than I am apt to believe that a Persian cobbler from the same period was. The real Jeshua of Nazareth might have been inspirational, but we will never truly know: unlike Marcus Aurelius, who I find exceptional, Jeshua/Jesus/Isa wrote nothing.

Clare said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clare said...

I like your Aurelius quote!

(Sorry, I removed this comment previously to correct a typo.)

smellincoffee said...


Thanks. :) Aurelius is very quotable, I find.