A Conversation with Daniel J. Mahoney

A Conversation with Daniel J. Mahoney
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Richard M. Reinsch II: This book is The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity. You're talking about humanitarianism in this book. However, what most people think about humanitarianism is that it's generally a good thing. You help the poor, you help those around the globe who are the victims of various disasters, wars, famines or things like that. It's about uplift and helping people, a sort of a secularized Christian ethic. Tell us what you think the humanitarian ethos is.

Daniel J. Mahoney: My book is not a critique of the Good Samaritan, or of people doing good work, or Doctors Without Borders, or anything of the sort. I think help for the poor, a philanthropic impulse, those things are not only required by the Gospel but are a fundamental part of what it means to be a human being. But humanitarianism and, specifically, the phrase “the religion of humanity” entails what the great French thinker Alain Besançon calls “a falsification of the good.” Virtue is reduced to an effort to transform the human condition on Earth and where various projects aimed at egalitarian social justice exhausts the meaning of the Good Samaritan or the Gospel's call for us to love our neighbor. Our politics focuses more and more on a kind of vague cosmopolitanism that forgets the arduous demands of the political common good in each political community. Of course, the term “religion of humanity” goes back to the 19th century thinkers Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill, who used it to refer to a self-conscious intellectual and moral project to eliminate God and establish a wholly atheistic humanism. I think the humanitarian ethos in the end at its deepest level and its most thought-out level entails a kind of self-deification of man and an utter valorization of the terrestrial experience of human beings. So instead of human beings being temporal and eternal, what it means to be human is reduced to the temporal sphere, and that is then reduced to an aggressive, leftist, and humanitarian ethos that isn't satisfied with the human condition as it is, but aims at initiating a broadly utopian vision of human perfection on earth.

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