The Arrogance of Humanism, by David Ehrenfeld
The goal of the Christian religion is the salvation of the soul—without the body. My goal is also salvation, but since I believe that our spirits and our animal bodies are inseparable, my goal is the salvation of humanity in the flesh . . . for at least a little while longer. All my art and magic is for this.
Ironically, it is the humanistic paradigm that may finally be the undoing of our species. No one understands and articulates this better than David Ehrenfeld. His book, The Arrogance of Humanism, written in 1978, is a darkly realistic assessment of the damage done by humanism as a religious force, acting through numerous institutions of culture, over centuries of time.
The foundation of humanist religion is the primacy of humanity in Creation and the belief that everything that exists can and should be offered for our use. It includes a belief in the inevitability of our success as a species and faith in the ultimate value of reason, science and technology. Our unique characteristic intelligence will save us, humanists insist, from any damage we may do or mistakes we may make.
Ehrenfeld explores these and other false assumptions, separates out the myths and realities of humanism, delves a bit deeper into the issues of scientific rationalism and the taint of humanism on efforts to “conserve” the planet, and finally offers his sad assessment of our possible future: nothing short of a miracle will save us from ourselves. Mr. Ehrenfeld is currently a professor of Biology at Rutgers University. I wonder what he is thinking about now, and how he has managed to live with his dark vision these past 30 years?
The blindness and denial of humanists and other dominator followers has only increased in recent years, but I believe in miracles. I believe in the power of magic and art and in humanity’s ability to love. There is still a chance for salvation. Who knows what this spontaneous new wave of animism might accomplish? The delicately balanced environmental systems, through whose grace we live, are fragile but paradoxically strong. As Mr. Ehrenfeld clearly states, we cannot predict how systems will react to change. A butterfly beats its wings in Japan to transform the weather in Chicago. Why couldn’t a rag-tag bunch of pink-skinned and traditional animists seep their magic into the cultural soil and enrich it?
I urge you to read The Arrogance of Humanism yourselves. It’s gone from most library shelves, but readily available through used book outlets. Let me end with some interesting quotes:
. . . people are spending too much time and causing too much damage by pretending that our efforts in politics, economics, and technology usually have the effects we intend them to have . . . [I firmly believe that cultural transformation and the solution to our problems lie in what we call art, magic, or religion rather than in these other fields of endeavor.]
In effect, we still believe that the force of gravity exists in order to make it easier for us to sit down.
. . . deep within ourselves we know that our omnipotence is a sham, our knowledge and control of the future is weak and limited, our inventions and discoveries work, if they work at all in ways that we do not expect, our planning is meaningless, our systems are running amok—in short, that the humanistic assumptions upon which our societies are grounded lack validity.
“Desert-makers” is truly as appropriate a title for humans as “tool users.”
Why is it that we seem incapable of appreciating our own cleverness and recognizing our limitations at the same time?
Ehrenfeld begins and ends with quotes from the Bible, which I appreciate as a religious person. He quotes Isaiah, scolding the humans for their arrogance, saying,
It was your skill and your science that led you astray. And you thought to yourself, “I am, and there is none but me.”