The Rise of Secular Humanism

Secular humanism began as regular old humanism in the 15th Century. This “re-birthing” of humanity in the Renaissance Enlightenment could be neatly summed up in the saying of a 5th Century B.C. Philosopher, Protagoras, “Man is the measure of all things.” Briefly defined, secular humanism is man’s attempt to lift human reasoning to divine status.

Unfortunately, the Protestant Reformation played a key role. Until this time, few ever questioned the “great chain of being.” But the Reformers questioned the authority of the Roman Catholic Church; one of the highest authorities in the world. Their questioning paved the way for humanist to question the Word of God with human reason.

The Roots

Humanism went mainstream through thinkers like Hobbes, Descartes, and Locke. Their claims of “intellectual autonomy” started a theological diversion that soon crossed the threshold of orthodoxy in later generations.

For this new modern man, religion had to take an exit. The new man believed that he could form truth through sheer reasoning. The Church was the ultimate authority to the Roman Catholics, the Word of God was the ultimate authority for the Protestants, and independent human thought became ultimate authority for the humanists. This human thought formed all truth and was the crowning source of all meaning. This then begot Rational Oneism, as Peter Jones coined. Salvation went from faith in God to faith in reason. Oneism “sees the world as self-creating and self explanatory.” Everything is made up of the same stuff. There is no distinction between Creator and Creation. As Jones puts it, “The classic term for this is ‘paganism,’ worship of nature.”

These optimistic humanists believed that the glorious kingdom of man on earth could come through reasoning. The first test run of this methodology came in the form of the bloody French Revolution in 1789.

The Leaders

A common thread of the leaders of the Oneism worldview was their hatred for God. Voltaire said of Christianity, “Crush the horrid thing.” Feuerbach called Christianity a “delusion.” Darwin essentially made God pointless and creation a self-generating mechanism. Marx believed religion was an “opiate of the masses.” Nietzsche declared, “God is dead.” And the proponents of Oneism still continued on! Freud argued that religion was a “collective neurosis.” These intellectual elites put man at the center of the universe.

Breaking Point

While there has been no sufficient monocausal explanation for the downfall of secular humanism, the fruits of the worldview are not encouraging for the humanist cheerleader. The Stalins, Hitlers, and Pol Pots of the world all argued and supported Oneism (all-is-one-ism), leading to the deaths of millions.

The Critique

“Rationalism, the Enlightenment’s path to earthly salvation, has reached a dead-end,” said Christian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi. Secular Humanism cannot account for what is essential to human existence, namely, spirituality. Now, these questioners are hoping to find a non-rational mysticism that might help. People long for wholeness. Secular humanism fails to deliver.


As thoughtful Christians, it is necessary for us to know where the cultural winds are blowing. To know the life and worldviews that we now face is a present moral urgency. Peter Jones’ book The Other Worldview is a helpful place to start to see what is Christianity’s greatest threat today.

Nicole Leaman

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Nicole Leaman is a wife and mother of four daughters. With a degree in Criminal Justice, she writes essays about social matters regarding women and culture as a Senior Contributor to The Reformed Conservative.

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