Comparing the Secular Humanist, Machiavelli and the Religious Humanist, Erasmus

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Comparing the Secular Humanist, Machiavelli and the Religious Humanist, Erasmus

One can often identify a person's political, religious or cultural orientation by his or her reaction to certain words. A case in point is the expression "secular humanism." For religious conservatives those words sum up much of what is wrong with contemporary society.

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary gives several definitions for humanism, a word which made its appearance in 1832. The first is "a devotion to the humanities or the revival of class, individualistic and critical spirit, and emphasis on secular concerns characteristic of the Renaissance." Renaissance is capitalized. Another definition reads as follows: "a doctrine, attitude, or
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Because it is difficult to reach agreement on values, why we exist or what we should do, Western society has concentrated on the "how" of life. If you can't answer a hard question, ask an easier one. For example, we may not be able to describe love, but we have made enormous progress on the description of the physical manifestations of sexual arousal. I am reminded of a character in Ambiguous Adventure, a French African novel, who is advising her brother to send his child to a Western school. She tells him, "We must learn from the West the art of conquering without being in the right." By that statement she recognizes the divorce between power and morality.

When you read the short excerpts from Machiavelli's The Prince from our text I hope that he made you feel angry and defensive. Reading Machiavelli makes me bristle; I want to argue with him. His formulas for political success contradict my most basic religious beliefs, those I have held from childhood, and help me to see why Mennonites have traditionally been so suspicious of politics. And yet I know that his pragmatic approach is the very basis of modern political theory. Because we have, as citizens of the twentieth century, to a large extent followed his advice, I am put on the defensive. I am astonished to see how

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