[Revised Sept 18, 2010 – changes in boldface]
I recently found a very stimulating set of posts going back to July over at The Immanent Frame, featuring critiques and discussion of Stefanos Geroulanos’ new book, entitled An Atheism that is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought (Stanford U Press 2010).
In two related posts, Geroulanos outlines the development of an anti-humanist line of thought among high-profile French atheists writing from 1925-55. What follows is not a review of the book (there’s a link to the book at the site). This is a simple Sunday afternoon take-off from my view of the book’s historical thesis.
I suggest that these French writers have uncovered a truth about atheism as well as a “new” negative view of humanism. This discovery was made available to them in the chaos of their unique experience of the apocalyptic failure of civilization between 1914-1939. Leaving aside the meaning of this collapse for Christian sectarianism (which is certainly implicated and condemned in that catastrophe as well, in my view), I would argue that the atheist’s sudden aversion to humanism represents more than a ‘localized’ historical artifact. It seems more likely the case that the intensity of the historical crucible in which they lived and thought had attained the specific toxicity required to show the link between the two to be dissolved – proving atheism and humanism to be ultimately unrelated.
I’m tempted to go so far as to suggest that all philosophical atheisms which call themselves “humanist” are simply naive – that atheism has always had the seed of anti-humanism within it. Admittedly that’s a bit of a stretch. I doubt Geroulanos would consent to all or any of my conjectures, but I can say he has caused some wheels to turn from my side.
And I’m perfectly cognizant of the fact that there is a brand of theism whose anthropology might be called anti-humanist as well. This theistic anti- humanism is not new, however, and I believe it is wrong, and that the true Christianity is one which has the seed of a true pro-humanism within it. But this could be easily misunderstood.
Still interesting, I think, to consider both atheism and humanism as quite independent impulses rather than joined at the hip, as all of our benevolent and self-righteous new atheists imply.