Jonah Goldberg posted a great piece on Saturday titled “Why the Left Will Never Talk about Its Real Agenda” and in it he brings up a person he has written about several times, including him in his essential anthology of progressivism, “Liberal Fascism”. That person is the French philosopher, Auguste Comte.
I came to learn about Comte several years before Liberal Fascism was published as I was doing my own research of the progressive movement. Comte was a key player, even coining the terms “altruism” and “sociology”. Comte also provides a direct bridge between secularism and progressivism, he was a student and secretary for Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon – the Father of French Socialism. Comte’s social theories culminated in the “Religion of Humanity”, a humanist religion which influenced the development of religious humanist and secular humanist organizations in the 19th century.
Humanism as it was conceived in the early 20th century rejected so called “revealed knowledge”, theism-based morality and the supernatural. It is a religion of science, a philosophical and ethical position that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, valuing critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism).
A religion without God? Yes, religion is defined as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” Replace God with any little “g” god and there you have it.
There are two types of humanism – secular and religious. Secular humanism eschews every ritualistic aspect of theistic religion. It is solely based on human reason, ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making. Religious humanism is different – it is an integration of humanist ethical philosophy with religious rituals and beliefs that center on human needs, interests, and abilities. This is what Comte created because he believed that the ritualistic aspects of theist based religion aided in man’s acceptance of belief systems.
Living a life based on pure logic and reason would seem to be the most orderly way to go…a pure societal organizing principle – at least that is what Comte and the empiricists of the age thought – but humans are less than 100% rational – that is what makes us human. We have the capacity to create amazing things that reason would say are impossible. We can conceive of such esoteric concepts as love, freedom and liberty – all of which sometimes defy logic.
Funny that the very basis of humanism thought to be its strongest foundation, “science”, is also its Achilles heel. It is so because the seeming lack of critical thought embodied in the general public today has allowed actual scientific fact to be replaced with emotion and opinion. Make such a substitution and instead of birthing an army of Spocks imbued with the Vulcan devotion to logic and reason, religious humanism gets you a gaggle of hormonal teenagers devoted to texting and vampire movies starring Kristen Stewart. One might say such circumstance represents the Twilight of humanity (pun intended).
Secular humanism is dangerous but religious humanism is even more so. By rejecting the organizing rituals of theistic religion, secular humanism represents an individualist approach – but add in the ritualistic aspect and a whole other level of cultish delusion is possible. Then substitute opinion for scientific fact, and it is a recipe for disaster.