The Hydra – The Many-Headed Monster of Secular Humanism

By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2004
Dr. Riser gives us a concise definition of 20 different humanistic world views that effect what we do and the way we think about our world today.

The Hydra—The Many-Headed Monster of Secular Humanism

How to Make Sense Out of Our Increasingly Secular Society


Is it possible to be practical when talking about the world of ideas, especially when consider­ing various philosophical and religious worldviews? Since what we think affects what we do, both individually and collectively, it is not only practical but also essential if we are to be like “the men of Issachar” and “understand the times” in which we live (1 Chr. 12:32). The aim in this article is to be brief, understandable and accurate as well as biblical and practical. It isn’t an easy task when dealing with the way that people think, but let’s try.

In Greek mythology, the hydra was a nine-headed serpent slain by Hercules as one of his twelve labors: when any of the heads was cut off, two others replaced it. There is a “hydra” loose in our contemporary culture and it is not a myth; this hydra, this many-headed monster, which is even more dangerous is called secularism, and it threatens you, your faith, your family, the church and our nation. The sad fact is that America is becoming increasingly influenced by secularism, which shows itself in a variety of ways; each one can be likened to one of the many heads of the hydra. The term hydra has come to be known as: any persistent evil with many sources or causes.

We may know the meaning of secular, but what is secularism? The addition of the suffix “ism” changes a word into a system of thought which affects the way in which we look at life. This system of thought is called a worldview. Secularism is the dominant “ism” of our society.

Secularism at its root is ignoring the eternal. It is living for this world only as if there is no God and no eternal consequence for our actions. It is the mark of a fool. “A fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). It is not living in light of eternity. It is easy to see how this kind of thinking is a logical outgrowth of denying God’s existence (atheism).

The monster is secularism, but what do the various heads of the hydra represent? What are the components of secularism? The following “isms” contribute to our increasingly secular society. (Some of these ways of thinking are old, some are new but they’re all compatible with and reinforce the dominant worldview in our culture: secularism.)

1. Pessimistic Existentialism— this cynical, fatalistic belief system asserts that man is a useless passionate creature with no intrinsic meaning or purpose in life. Feelings, instead of truth become the new standard for evaluating human significance. The most important question is not, “What do you think?” but, “How do you feel?” The problem is that how we feel may have no correspondence to what is true. “There is a way which seems right to a man but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Paul tells us that we are to be babes in evil but mature in our under­standing. Proverbs 18:2a says that, “a fool finds no pleasure in understanding.”

2. Moral Relativism— this belief system assumes that God does not exist, so there is no objective basis for believing in absolute morality; therefore, “everything is relative”—including morality and ethics. The basis of right and wrong becomes a function of individual opinion or group consensus, both of which are continually subject to change. According to George Barna,

71% of Americans subscribe in some way to this belief system. Judges 17:6 says, “…everyone did as he saw fit.” That’s the logical outcome of moral relativism.

3. Pragmatic Utilitarianism— Instead of asking, “Is it true? “pragmatism asks, “Does it work?” This is a results-oriented point of view, which says that the ends justify the means. Its motto: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Modern man tends to be pragmatic and tends not to engage in ethical and religious reflection and thought. Instead of saying “because it’s true, it works,” pragmatism says, “because it works, it’s true.” Since God’s will must be done God’s way, the ends do not necessarily justify the means.

4. Logical Positivism, or empiricism, is the belief that reality is limited only to what can be measured by the empirical senses—eyes, ears, nose, tongue and fingers. It involves the appli­cation of rationality and empiricism through science and technology. In other words, science becomes our “sacred cow” or god. Any truth that can’t be observed or experienced, such as moral or spiritual truth, is relative. The “scientist,” like Carl Sagan, would be the “high priest” in this modern movement. Motto: “The cosmos is all there is or ever will be.” Paul says that the Christian is to “live by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

5. Darwinian Evolution— this belief system assumes that God does not exist, so it needs to arrive at an alternative explanation for creation and the development of the human species. Theistic evolution is an oxymoron. If creation can be explained apart from a Creator, there is no longer any need for God as an explanation for the creation. This theory requires a strong “faith” since it is based on assumptions, that can’t be proven. The writer of Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (11:3). The fact is that the creation of the universe is outside the purview of scientific investigation.

6. Pagan Hedonism— the motto of hedonism is: “You only go around once in life so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto that you can get.” Instead of focusing on truth and falsehood, or good and evil, the hedonist focuses on pleasure and pain. In simple terms, the hedonist makes the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain paramount to all other pursuits in life. It says, “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die” (1 Cor. 15:32). Paul said that if Christ wasn’t resurrected, this way of thinking might make sense.

7. Crass Materialism— this involves the unbridled acquisition of things. Its motto: “Money isn’t everything, but whatever is in second place is sure far behind.” Jesus contradicted this point of view when he said, “life does not consist in the abundance of things that you possess” (Luke 12:15). You can’t serve two masters, you can’t serve God and materialism (Matt. 6: 24). Materialists consider shopping or consumerism a form of “therapy.” Unfortunately, greed and disillusionment get the best of such people.

8. Secular Humanism is a worldview that is man-centered rather than God-centered. In its simplest form it views man “as the measure of all things.” Man, not God, is the standard by which all norms and values are ultimately determined–all reality and life is centered on man. This belief system is summarized in the Humanist Manifesto I & II. Its motto: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Man-centered secular humanism is the most popular alternative to God-centered Christianity.

9. Marxist Communism is an atheistic and materialistic form of government with a socialistic economy based upon the government owning the means of production. Historically, virtually every significant effort aimed at improving people’s standard of living invested by socialistic or communistic theories of economics has failed miserably. Since communism is not compatible with human nature, it has never worked in the “real” world. Perhaps the last bastion of communism in America is the secular university.

10. Atheism is the belief that there is no God. The most important factor in any worldview is whether or not one believes in God. The Bible never tries to prove God’s existence; it merely assumes it and states that we are without excuse if we fail to come to that conclusion based upon the evidence (Rom. 1:18ff). Proverbs 14:1 says, “A fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” Studies show that most people have some concept of God. Many people who claim to be atheists are simply mad at God. Others choose to adopt a lifestyle that is not compatible with God’s existence so they rule Him out of their lives. If you define God as your ultimate object of loyalty, then everyone has a god. We will all trust in something or someone, the question is in whom or what will we trust? Is the object for our faith worthy?

11. Historical Revisionism is the attempt on the part of secular humanists to rewrite history based on the assumptions of what is considered to be a politically correct way of thinking. In particular, they would like to rewrite the history of the founding of our nation to cover up the fact that our founding fathers had deep religious roots and used the Bible as the primary source document for their writings. They prayed regularly and included God in numerous official docu­ments and practices of our nation. Revisionists would have us believe that our nation had a strictly secular foundation.

12.Narcissism is the excessive interest in one’s appearance, comfort, importance and abilities. It could be defined as extreme and unhealthy self-love to the point of self-absorption. A related term is “hubris”—arrogance resulting from excessive pride. This way of thinking is the result of our failure to think realistically and to regard ourselves and not God as the center of our universe. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Narcissism is the logical consequence of enthroning one in the kingdom of self. Paul says, we are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Romans 12:3).

13. Multiculturalism is the belief based on postmodernism, which assumes that all truth is cultur­ally biased and so there is no morality or truth that transcends every culture. Therefore, no one culture is any better than any other culture, just different. All cultures must be equally tolerated and celebrated. Multiculturalism is the result of the collective application of moral relativism.

14. Pluralism is the condition that exists in a society or culture, which possesses many different religions, worldviews and truth-claims when none is dominant. It is the belief that there is no way to bring divergent ideas into a coherent whole. It does not believe in universal truth or moral absolutes. Pluralism results from a failure to realize that all truth is God’s truth and He is the cohesive force uniting all of the universe. Colossians 1:17 says that Christ “is before all things and in Him all things adhere or hold together.”

15. Postmodernism is a particular worldview based on the belief that truth does not exist in any objective sense and is created rather than discovered. Truth is culturally biased, subjective and therefore relative. This way of thinking can best be understood as a reaction to the empiricism of modernism, which limits one’s understanding of reality to the five senses. Christians believe that truth is discovered, discerned or revealed rather than created. We are not the source of truth, God is. Jesus said, “I am the truth…” (Jn. 14:6) and “…Thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).

16. Political Correctness is the belief that is approved and the behavior that is accepted when measured by the worldview and assumptions of secular humanism, postmodernism, multiculturalism and universalism. The bottom line is that secular humanism is considered socially acceptable while biblical Christianity is not considered politically correct. Political cor­rectness is a means of putting social pressure on Christians to suppress their speech. Chris­tians are called not be ashamed of the Gospel, but to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

17. Universalism is a religious belief, which says, in effect, “all roads lead to Rome.” All religions lead to God. All worldviews can be valid avenues of salvation and any religion or worldview that attempts to be unique or exclusive is “wrong.” According to George Barna, 64% of Americans subscribe to this point of view. The simple truth is that either one religion is cor­rect, true and valid, or none are. All religions are mutually exclusive or contradictory to one another. Christianity is the only religion that teaches salvation “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:8,9). If it is true, all other religions must be false.

18. The New Tolerance is based upon the belief that all truth is relative and therefore every individual’s beliefs, values, worldview, lifestyle, and perceptions of truth are equally valid. Multiculturalism is simply secular tolerance applied to the culture rather than to the individual. Tolerance is the greatest virtue in a culture that is void of absolute truth and morality. It would appear that the only people not to be tolerated are biblical Christians, because their worldview is the only one that poses a threat to secularism’s relativistic morals.

19. Naturalism, as opposed to supernaturalism, states that this natural, material world is all that exists. Since there is no such thing as the supernatural, there’s no such thing as God or miracles. Whatever exists can be explained by natural causes; therefore the supernatural can­not exist. This belief is at the heart of the theory of evolution. Some naturalists refer to them­selves as scientific materialists—the name makes no difference; Materialism, naturalism and evolution go hand in hand—you can’t have one without the other.

20. Globalism (one world government)— if God does not exist, then He can’t help us solve our problems. We have to depend upon ourselves to solve our problems. The best way to do that is through Globalism, or a one-world government, with a socialist economy of course. There are currently serious efforts going on in our world through such organizations as the United Nations and World Court to do just that. Under such a government, all nations would have to surrender their sovereign status. In the last days, the Bible says that the antichrist will be in charge of a worldwide government.


What do all these “isms” have in common? They have all rejected the love of God as re­vealed in the Gospel of Christ and they have all rejected the wisdom of God as revealed in His Word–the Bible. They do not respect God or take Him seriously nor do they have any regard for His Word. Paul described it this way in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The way to avoid being adversely influenced by these non-Christian worldviews is to develop a Christian worldview—that is, to learn to think biblically.

If we want to avoid becoming the proverbial frog in the kettle, we must not allow the world to squeeze us into its own mold but rather we must allow God to transform us by the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:1-2). But more than this, we are called to go on the offensive and use the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul said, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Only the “sword of the Spirit” can slay the secular monster called the hydra.

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