Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Humanism from a Latter-day Saint Perspective

As a devout believing and practicing Latter-Day Saint studying the Renaissance in my Civilization class at Brigham Young University, it is almost too obvious to avoid examining the similarities and differences of Italian Renaissance Humanism and Latter-Day Saint Theology.
Obviously, this is a subject that could easily fill a large volume, however, I will only briefly explore the subject matter here:

There are many interesting parallels between Latter-Day Saint Theology and Renaissance Humanism, as well as some stark differences.

Both humanism and LDS Theology emphasize the glory and grandeur of Human potential. Both stress the fact that Humans are superior beings in the Universe with divine potential. However, the source from which they derive these conclusions are significantly different. Humanism attributes Human greatness to their position as creation of God. Pico Della Mirandola explains it in these terms "Finally, the Great Artisan mandated that this creature who would receive nothing proper to himself shall have joint possession of whatever nature had been given to any other creature. He made man a creature of indeterminate and indifferent nature, and, placing him in the middle of the world..." On the other hand, Latter-Day Saints believe that is is humankind's inherent identity as literal offspring of God which gives them a spark of divinity.

Additionally, both perspectives place a strong emphasis on an individual's free agency--holding firm to the belief that each person's destiny is in their own hands. Consider the following quotes from a prominent humanist and Mormon:

"Whatever seeds each man sows and cultivates will grow and bear him their proper fruit...Above all, we should not make that freedom of choice God gave us into something harmful, for it was intended to be to our advantage. Let a holy ambition enter into our souls; let us not be content with mediocrity, but rather strive after the highest and expend all our strength in achieving it." (Mirandola)

"It has been said by one, years ago, that history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. Our lives will depend upon the decisions which we make—for decisions determine destiny...Decisions have their eternal consequences..." (Monson)

The last point that I will address is the similarities between the personally held beliefs of some humanist thinkers regarding scripture and the LDS perspective on scripture. The prominent humanist scholar, Erasmus, believed that the Biblical text had been corrupted as result of anachronistic interpretations and copyists. This perspective, though a peripheral tenet to both groups, has much in common with the Mormon belief that "we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly..." Erasmus's position also supports the LDS belief of a Universal apostasy following the death of Christ and his Apostles.

For some more reading on the subject, consider the pages below: