Faith In Humanism

Around the 1st century BC, one of the greatest orators and linguists of Roman times spoke what we know of today as Classical Latin. Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman politician and lawyer who served as consul in the year 63 BC. He is generally regarded as the greatest speaker in the history of spoken word. Cicero cherished his native tongue and was fond of the sermo vulgaris or “common speech”, a vernacular spoken by the Roman people, yet he referred to a more concise speech by which he and other scholars wrote as latinitas, or “good Latin.”

When he created his guidelines for orators, Cicero claimed that great speeches should contain three things: technique, substance and passion. Speakers should use classical techniques that emphasize logic and lyrical rhythm, they should speak with knowledge and moral purpose, and they should be able to project character and emotion when appropriate. These three means of persuasion have been philosophically embedded in the art of rhetoric ever since. It’s not so ironic that in great speeches throughout history you may notice a trend in using three main points to back up an idea as well, which came from the artistic technique of lyrical rhythm used by Cicero and others of his time.

From this era of such philosophically revered language and oration, the English language has imbibed a great amount of Latin vocabulary. In fact, over 60 percent of all English words have Latin or Greek roots, and about 10 percent of the whole of Latin vocabulary has found its way directly into English without an intermediary. This is done through a process known as morphological derivation, the process of forming a new word from an existing word often by adding a prefix or suffix, or by way of intermediary languages that have adopted Latin words in their own etymological ways.

In Cicero’s time, he and his fellow Roman citizens would have spoken of their families, their best friends, or their closest companions as folks that deserve complete trust or confidence. These great people of Rome would have used the noun fides meaning “trust”, or the verb fidere “to trust (a person or thing).” They ascribed the idea of knowing someone or something could be absolute to the extent that one could “trust” in the credibility of it, or have confidence that the person or thing would be absolute in a deserving way. From its Latin origin, the word was assimilated later into Old French as feid and later into Middle English as feith. However, while keeping its same semantic the word had received some religious treatment by the time it made its way into English as we speak today.

Around the 14th century, Biblical scholars began to attribute use of the word in describing “assent of the mind to the truth of a statement for which there is incomplete evidence,” especially “belief in religious matters.” It was matched with ideas of hope and charity in reference to the Christian church and began to even be disseminated into as many as seven different types of “faith” as described throughout the Bible.

As a humanist, I do not share in this idea of “blind faith” whereas I have to ignore reason and rationality concerning science and the known universe in order to expect the dogma of religion to lead me into the “heavens” after death by way of an omnipotent, formless being. I prefer to trust the power of knowledge and human advancement to provide the tools of wisdom by which we gain understanding in matters of the physical space in which we live and breathe. Moreover, it seems somewhat naïve to follow the morals of a divine, metaphysical being who established laws of humanity through ideas of good and evil that often times displayed outdated codes of conduct in reference to certain creeds that various established religions follow.

The power of education paired with written language has allowed generation upon generation to amass great works of literature by which we increase our capacity for understanding consciousness, the laws of the universe, and our existence within it. Throughout the ages we have developed our own codes of conduct by which we recognize moral assertion, and we continue to evolve with new insight as we collectively use compassion and reason to guide us toward moral certitude. For this reason, I would have to say I have a true faith in humanity. Humans all over the globe share a communal responsibility for the well-being of humankind and our environment. To recognize that this task of global prosperity relies upon the actions and thoughts of mankind is to assert a moral obligation to humanity without expectation of divine intervention. We are active participants in our own creation, and it is our duty to sustain it.

Interestingly enough, in terms of Westernized education students follow the path of the Classics, or Greek and Roman thought. It’s no coincidence that this Greco-Roman period of intellectual advancement had such an impact on the world as we know it today. Knowledge and understanding was a powerful tool to those ancient scholars, and in matters of fides to good ol’ Cicero he once said,

Nemini fidas nisi cum comederis sal

“Trust no one unless you have eaten much salt with him.”