Humanism, even Christian Humanism, is a curse word among certain circles.
And I admit I fell into this category for a long time…
I brushed the term aside as a fancy word for saying: “Atheism.”
(“Agnostic” is the fancy way of saying “Atheism,” if you don’t know.)
Haha. Ok. Calm down. It’s just a joke.
“Humanism” is a much-vexed, highly contested word whose meaning has zigged and zagged in strange ways over the centuries, and has equally often been used to praise and to damn. Its history is intrinsically fascinating, and moreover essential to any attempt to make sense of the arguments about cultural renewal that emerged among Christians during the Second World War.
Traditionally, humanism is the belief that all knowledge is derived from human experience. All moral and ethical grounds can only come from rational thinking, for example, empiricism.
But see, the history of Christian Humanism is something deeper.
It was a love of reading, literature, and the classics (the humanities). Not only as texts to practice but texts that could convey and teach the very underpinnings of the ethical societies that we wished to preserve.
How else should we fortify the foundation of Western culture than by studying and learning from the foundations of that culture?
As Paul Oskar Kristeller explained long ago in what remains a useful treatment of the history, in the early modern period and especially in Italy, “the studia humanitatis came to stand for a clearly defined cycle of scholarly disciplines, namely grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy,” primarily pursued through reading the greatest Latin writers, though eventually including in a secondary way the major Greek figures.
This change of meaning thru time and place reminds me of the word
“Liberal” did not mean the same thing in 1776 as it does today. The term does not mean the same thing in the USA as it means in France.
And it does not mean the same thing at a Cato Institute conference as it does on the evening news.
Anyway, we have lost most of these teaching methods today – and it shows.
Let’s raise great kids.
And let’s teach more from great books, shall we?