I’ve been wondering about this question for a long time now. How much can we mess things up? Will God always keep thing in line, or can people mess things up totally? Was it theologically possible that the world could have been destroyed by nuclear war during the 60’s and 70’s? Is it possible that humans can destroy humanity through global warming? How much can we mess things up?

See, the pragmatist in me say that reality is that we can mess things up really really bad. Maybe totally is too big a term, as 11th hour say, it’s humanity that is in trouble, not creation. Humans may become extinct, not creation. So let’s ask this question: Can humanity really mess up humanity? Can we wipe out humanity, or would God always keep humanity intact? (OK, until the second coming if you would).

On the other hand, the tradition in me say that God created and cares for humanity (good theist that I am), God will always keep the 7000 that serve God in place (1 Kings 19), God will never again destroy the earth by water (Gen 9).

Sitting in a class yesterday someone used the Missio Dei to say that we should sometimes relax, knowing that God is in any case working in the world, whether we are doing something or not. Now, I have some thoughts on the Missio Dei, but decided not to take part. I have my doubts whether we can say this, when I read the gospels and Acts it would seem like we are sent to the world, that caring for the world is a task given to the church.

What this illustrates, I think, is the danger of the extreme of the view that God will always keep thing intact (no, my classmate did not take this to the extreme), is passifism. On the other hand, I think the extreme of the pragmatist in me might be humanism (I’m not always sure that humanism is a bad thing, but as theologian I’m sure that as a believer there is more in following Jesus than you would find in humanism).

So, help me here: Theologically, would God always keep humanity intact, or can we mess thing up really bad? Is this a journey between the extremes of passifism and humanism? Is humanism the extreme?

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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