Discover more from Scott’s Substack
VIP Lists, Manifestos, and the Greater Grace of Ordinary Faithfulness
God has his own ideas about how to change the world
Have you ever felt so hopeful about an idea or an agenda or a movement—one that seemed to have so much promise and momentum—that failure seemed impossible…
…and then failure happened?
Twentieth century British writer and social commentator, H.G. Wells, experienced such a failure with the secular humanist worldview he had once championed. Coming from a post-Enlightenment, social engineering point of view early on in his career, Wells spoke persuasively about how, in his estimation, it was only a matter of time before the human race achieved the wonderful, “utopian” world that past generations had only dreamed about. In 1937, he wrote:
Can we doubt that presently our race will more than realize our boldest imaginations, that it will achieve unity and peace, and that our children will live in a world made more splendid and lovely than any palace or garden than we know, going on from strength to strength in an ever-widening circle of achievement?
Oddly, as H.G. Wells wrote these hopeful words about human goodness and progress, Adolf Hitler was simultaneously rising to power in Germany and his murderous agenda was gaining disturbing momentum. Stalin was on a similar course as Hitler, and Japan and China were at war with each other. Only after World War II would Wells awaken to a world that was actually deeply broken and to a humanity that was showing no signs of moral improvement. By the time Hitler died and the war came to an end, Wells had undergone a radical shift from optimism and hope to one of pessimism and despair. Reflecting on the cruel atrocities he had witnessed, he wrote about how his fellow human beings had come near to breaking [his] spirit altogether.
Aldous Huxley, Wells’ contemporary whose 1931 science fiction novel, Brave New World, satirically popularized the secular humanist utopian vision, would also shift to a more cynical posture in his final years. “Maybe,” Huxley would later speculate, “this planet is another planet’s hell.” On his deathbed in 1963, afflicted with cancer and too weak to utter words or sentences, Huxley handed a written note to his wife that read, “LSD, 100 mg.”
Considering how two intellectuals like Wells and Huxley could begin with such brimming optimism, only to plummet into an abyss of cynicism and despair about people and the world and the future, one wonders how their initial optimism could later be so easily resurrected by some of the top academics of the late twentieth century. And yet, that’s what happened.
In 1973, at the dawn of the technological boom, secular thinkers were once again enthusiastic about what human beings seemed poised to accomplish and become. From this collective spirit, the Second Humanist Manifesto (the First had been released during the era of Wells and Huxley in 1933) was written. Signed by approximately 150 of the world’s top secular academics—many of whom were disciples of Wells and Huxley—the Second Manifesto presented a similar vision for human progress that included the following words:
The next century can be and should be the humanistic century. Dramatic scientific, technological, and ever-accelerating social and political changes crowd our awareness. We have virtually conquered the planet, explored the moon, overcome the natural limits of travel and communication; we stand at the dawn of a new age, ready to move farther into space and perhaps inhabit other planets. Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life (emphasis mine).
Now, just a few decades later, it is an understatement to say that both the First and Second Manifestos of secular humanism failed significantly to reach their goals. In spite of humanity’s best and brightest efforts, the world is still plagued by violence, poverty, racism, economic inequality, greed, child neglect, loveless marriages, sex addiction, human trafficking, global hunger, political divisiveness, and ideological outrage. The current political climate has us jaded about public leadership of any kind. Technologies designed to build greater connectivity have left us lonelier than ever. Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high. So are online mob culture and shaming, teen bullying and suicide, pornography, prostitution, child abuse, fatherlessness, genocide, persecution, and terrorism.
It seems that the humanist project has left the world worse, not better.
Sensitive souls are left to wonder if there is any answer to the troubles that plague us. After all the advances in technology and research, what are we to make of a world that still seems more tired than energized, more hurting than whole, more sick than healthy, more life-sucking than life-giving, more divided than united, and more bent toward decline than toward progress? Furthermore, what, if anything, can be done about it? If the world’s top thinkers and leaders can’t succeed in moving the world in a more life-giving direction, who can?
According to Jesus, there is and always has been a group of ambassadors endowed with the resources to begin nudging the world toward peace, healing, wholeness, and flourishing. These ambassadors are unique. Less inclined to depend on the strength of the human spirit, the intelligence of the human mind, and the moxie of the human will, they are called to lean instead on the strength of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of God, and the determination of God’s vision to bring about desired peace, health, wholeness, and flourishing.
Included among Jesus’ ambassadors are academics and scientists and celebrities and politicians and movers and shakers and such, to be sure.
But in addition to these, Jesus also includes those like himself who aren’t part of the world’s elite clubs, VIP lists, and manifestos. These are people like Amos and Bathsheba and Peter and the Virgin Mary, easily dismissed as “weak” and “common” and “foolish” and “low” and “despised,” but who, time and time again, find themselves right in the center of God’s strategy to bless and heal the world:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast…Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).
 H.G. Wells, A Short History of the World.
 Laurence J. Peter, Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time.
 The Second Humanist Manifesto, 1973.