Erich Fromm distinguishes them, condemning the former and generally praising the latter:

The essential element in authoritarian religion… is the surrender to a power transcending man. The main virtue of this type of religion is obedience, its cardinal sin is disobedience. Just as the deity is conceived as omnipotent or omniscient, man is conceived as being powerless and insignificant. …

Humanistic religion, on the contrary, is centered around man and his strength. Man must develop his power of reason in order to understand himself, his relationship to his fellow men and his position in the universe.

He must develop his powers of love for others as well as for himself and experience the solidarity of all living beings.

His must have principles and norms to guide him in this aim. (164-5)

It’s ironic that Fromm’s “anti-authoritarian” “religion” is interspersed with so many “musts.”

Fromm completely ignores the crucial task of reforming criminals, psychopaths, perverts, and cruel abusers. A “humanistic” religion is for humans, but these miscreants are anything but; they are precisely subhumans who must be punished, including and especially for their own sake, lest they in their savagery destroy their own souls.

Eric Hoffer propounds the following monstrosity:

It’s disconcerting to realize that businessmen, generals, soldiers, men of action are less corrupted by power than intellectuals…

You take a conventional man of action, and he’s satisfied if you obey. But not the intellectual. He doesn’t want you just to obey. He wants you to get down on your knees and praise the one who makes you love what you hate and hate what you love.

In other words, whenever the intellectuals are in power, there’s soul-raping going on.

Now this is slander of astonishing viciousness. An intellectual is a man with interesting new ideas. It turns out, according to Hoffer, that having interesting ideas ineluctably leads one to rape others. What other pearls of wisdom will our author offer from on high?

In any case, however, there are people who must change themselves indeed to “love what they hate and hate what they love.” Such people need not intellectuals but demons to beat them with many blows. They need to purify their evil wills through strenuous self-denial and discipline.

I’d have thought that a murderer who finds pleasure in his victims’ suffering must go through a (hopefully) temporary stage where his ill-directed power must be reduced to nothing before he can cultivate his powers to do good. Complete surrender is indeed the hidden key.

Religion is and ought to be authoritarian whenever a man’s nature is corrupt and disordered; it becomes humanistic only when his nature is healed and grace is bestowed on him.

The Christian church, consistent with its mission of being all things to all people, thus properly retains within itself both authoritarian and humanistic aspects.

Then, Fromm writes, “God is not a symbol of power over man but of man’s own power.” (172, italics removed) Well, first, God is not a symbol; He is a real thing. Second, “man’s own power” can be either creative or destructive. If it is creative, then it is rather man who is a “symbol” of God, imitating Him. If, however, it is destructive, then the authorities of the world ought to punish him for violating the natural law.

E.g., love is a Christian, and not natural, phenomenon. If the natural law is fully heeded, no external religious constraints are necessary, and a man is free to “self-actualize,” including grow in charity; for a bad man, Christianity (justly) consists mostly in a litany of prohibitions.

Fromm’s thesis of course also suffers from failure to admit grace as the “beginning of glory” which lifts man above his nature into deiformity or the state of being godlike.

Finally, religion is not “humanistic” but divine insofar as the object of man’s happiness is God. Again, God is not a “symbol of man’s need to love”; God is the unique thing that is perfectly lovable by its very essence.


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