Humanism and Authority

Autonomous Man Holds No Authority

In 1973 the American Humanist Association came out with Humanist Manifesto II.  In this document, among other things, is found this statement: “We believe in maximum individual autonomy consonant with social responsibility.”  The document goes on to associate “social responsibility” as not harming others.  That premise, however, is a relative one.  It is left up to the individual to decide what is or is not harmful.  This places the emphasis upon “maximum individual autonomy.”  The manifesto rejects strictures on the individual in the forms of religious injunctions and sexual constraints.  It is the personal autonomy of the individual that is left to make such decisions for himself ultimately using his own judgment and reason.  It is the humanist contention, then, that no one individual, as an individual, has a right to tell any other individual, as an individual, what not to do.  This is the essence of “maximum individual autonomy.”

But have not the humanists just told individuals what to do?  That is, in making the statement “no one individual, as an individual, has a right to tell any other individual, as an individual, what not to do” hasn’t the one affirming that statement to another just told another what he may not do?  Wherein is the authority for affirming such a statement, if it is not with the individual?  Is it with groups of individuals?  Is it with the majority?  Is it simply might makes right?

The bottom line is that man, as man, holds no intrinsic authority within himself.  The notion of autonomous man is a myth, a hoax, a lie, because any autonomy I claim for myself necessitates a claim upon another individual’s autonomy over me.  Take the example of prayer in school.  One student wishes to pray out loud.  Another student objects, and ends up forcing silence on all.  Has not the defense of one student’s personal autonomy resulted in the subjugation of the autonomy of the other students?  Many similar examples could be presented.  Autonomous man really holds no authority.  Jeremiah declared such to be the case when he said, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

If there is no autonomous authority intrinsic to the individual, from whence does one’s authority for living one’s life derive?  Surely it does not derive from one’s sheer arbitrary will, for then one could do what one pleased regardless the consequences to others.  Does it lie with the government?  Many would answer that governments of the past have gone horribly awry in directing the lives of their citizens, and many still do.  Do the wealthy/powerful (the aristocracy) hold authority?  Certainly abuses have been documented by these also.  There is only one source upon which men may call for authority in all matters: God.  I do not know anyone that would dispute the point that if God exists, He holds all authority.  What is equally true is that if God does not exist, no man holds any intrinsic authority.

We confidently affirm that God exists and that He has all authority to direct and guide the affairs of man.  Moreover, it is our affirmation that God does this through His inspired word, the Bible.  This issue of the Christian Worker explores these various aspects of God’s authority over man, and how that authority is expressed.  Today, God has given all authority to His Son, Jesus the Christ (Matthew 28:18).  It is incumbent upon us to seek Christ’s authority, respect Christ’s authority, and submit to Christ’s authority.  May God so help us to do.

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