Christianization and Humanization and our task in Zimbabwe

May 15, 2008

I’m not a human rights expert, so maybe I got this all wrong. But in our context at least, I think I got it right: Does humanism and human rights have anything to do with each other? Human rights isn’t received very positively in our Afrikaner Calvinist communities. In the common tongue it’s associated with “criminal rights”, protecting criminals who actually took away worse rights from others. And this is not the religious or political right only! Now, South Africa do have the second most liberal official understanding of human rights in the world (second to The Netherlands only), so maybe people anywhere wouldn’t have been that fond of our way of doing, I don’t know, I’m just observing for now.

Humanism is not being thought of very positively either. It’s associated with atheism generally. I remember times when I’ve been talking about social justice, that Christians would say that we must just be wary that we are not “only humanising” society, instead of “Christianizing” (obviously, my own choice of capital letter probably point out that I have my biases as well). Again, this is not only the evangelicals, but steady, mainline reformed Christians who are actively searching for social justice.

So, do the church have anything to say about human rights? About humanism? My first reactions when I heard these kind of sayings was that as Christians we should at least be humanists, at least take human rights very seriously. A few years later, I still think the same things. Maybe this was the reason I found it quite interesting when a lecturer told me the other day that Barth in his theology said that we should work for the humanization of society. I actually read a paper Barth delivered shortly after WW2, but forgot about it until that comment. What I remember is a very strong Christian approach (although this was delivered at a secular converence on humanization), but a very strong voice saying that the church has something to say about humanism, about the humanization of society.

I say this still sitting within a tradition that know the evangelicals very well, and that know christendom very well, and that sometimes forget that the ideals associated with these is gone. Within this new world, what should the church do? In South Africa the government is realizing that churches actually has abilities to help with the humanizing of society which the state do not. We have an infrastructure which the state do not. And should we play this role? Yes and no…

But for today, I’ll stick with yes. Yes, we need to work for the humanization of society, and we need to do this together with humanist organization, with human rights groups, we are fighting for the same thing. We need to do what we can, in South Africa also where the are of government cannot reach. There is a no, which says that we still need to be a critical voice, although a positive critical voice, and that we should not simply become the social work arm of a government, this church-state relations have cost us dearly, but I’ll leave that for another day.

We need to be a critical voice, a voice for the voiceless, for those who cannot speak for themselves. The strangers in our land, the strangers in our neighbouring country. We need to be a voice against governments when they do not recognize peoples human rights, do not recognize the humanization of society. But on the other hand we need to work with everyone else in the common goal of humanizing society.

This post is part of the May 2008 synchroblog on human rights, and below you will also find a list of the other synchroblog contributions from a group of Christian bloggers who post on the same general topic on the same day. We also join thousands of other bloggers around the world in blogging for human rights.

Other Synchrobloggers

And for a list of some of the other “Bloggers unite” posts, click here


4 Responses to “Christianization and Humanization and our task in Zimbabwe”

  1. Steve Says:


    Humanism can mean so many things. Secular Humanism is one thing, Renaissance Humanism is another, and the African humanism of former President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia was yet another (closer to what we in South Africa call Ubuntu, which is basically the Zulu translation of humanism, mumanity.

    But what is it in Afrikaans — menslik? And what is “onmenslik”? Perhaps that is what you should ask about when people say that human rights is linked with a godless humanism. Does God want us to be inhuman?

  2. […] van Wyngaard on Christianization and Humanization and our task in Zimbabwe. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Twins separated at birth marrya hot winter or a […]

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  4. Adam G. Says:

    Humanism? Not sure about that. The Good News calls all nations to faith and repentance, providing a restoration of the image of God. Christianity, rightly understood and expressed, is all about a (re)newed humanity. I appreciated your reflections on this topic.

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