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.
- 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.
- 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”.)
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.