Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Further Thoughts on Westminster

August 26, 2009 · 2 Comments

My previous post on Westminster focused on the modern martyrs represented by statue on the church’s exterior as well as the riveting tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Something else has been reverberating in my head since I’ve left – humanism in the church. Humanism is a philosophy based upon the inherent human ability to reason and lead autonomous, dignified lives. Throughout history, The Church has prolifically opposed humanism. Faith, the most important and base-level aspect of Christianity, is inherently unreasonable. A basic precept of humanism is that all humans have dignity, the capability to accomplish anything they choose to set their minds to do, only limited by their own intelligence, ability, and motivation. Complete devotion and humility to God by means of faith limits dignity.

Here comes the ironic part. Juxtaposing the religious symbols and artifacts displayed in ubiquity was a whole slew of scientists, mathematicians, musicians, poets, writers, and a slew of other men and women of notability. The funny part was, none of them were known for their religious achievements. In fact, Charles Darwin himself, the guy whose teachings the Christian Right battles every day, is buried in the church. Right next to an altar where services are held.

I don’t know if ironic is the right word, actually. Sir Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics who happens to be enshrined on the altar exactly where a crucifix would be in any other church, was a deeply religious man. After publishing his works on gravity, he was asked how he could concurrently believe in gravity and in God. He told the inquirer that there is no doubt in his mind that the world is governed by gravity and his other findings. God simply set it all in motion. Legend has it that Darwin personally rescinded all of his discoveries with the hopes that he would end up in heaven.

Darwin, Newton, et. al. are champions of humanism. They accomplished everything by their own means. Despite their religious views, it was their dignity and appreciation of reason that allowed them to dramatically change the world in ways previously unseen. The decision to so proudly display such heroes of science and humanity gives me hope for the future of Christianity.

Categories: Andrew B
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2 responses so far ↓

  •   tejadaf // Aug 28th 2009 at 12:17

    I like your post. I didn’t make the connections that you have explained above… I liked that you took the time to explain to us (the reader) how humanism takes form at Westminster.
    I understand how the representation of Darwin and Newton gives you hope for the future Christianity, yet I question whether or not these so called “heroes” would have liked to be remembered in such grandeur ways.

  •   abarron76 // Aug 28th 2009 at 18:30

    You wouldn’t consider Isaac Newton to be a hero? Not Darwin or Atlee, the prime minister responsible for the National Health Service? When I speak of humanistic heroes I’m not only referring to scientists and mathematicians. The slew of writers and musicians interred within the cathedral are also champions of human dignity, the innate ability to accomplish whatever the mind is set to do. I don’t see why any of them would not want to be remembered for their accomplishments. Newton and Darwin especially, considering how religious they were. Burial in one of the most beautiful and famous churches on the planet would be an honor.

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