Saturday, February 3, 2018
Not so human humanities. . .
The arts have become brutal and hard. Spatters of paint and sharp metal edges compete with the likes of Botticelli and Rafael and Michelangelo and da Vinci. Self expression is promoted over the image and its fruit has been remarkable vulgar and harsh. Where once the canvas, the musical staff, and stone were employed to ennoble mankind and promote the cause of virtue, it is now employed to display our baser desires and to laud ugliness. The great wordsmiths of old were lauded for their ability to put a whole conversation in a few rich words, for their ability to flesh out characters and make them at least as interesting as the plot, and for their ability to make us want to be better than we are. Now it seems that authors delight in the exposé --finding and informing the general public of the worst we can think or know about a people or a time.
John Milton once said that education existed for the most part “to repair the ruins of our first parents.” Certainly that is the focus of the Biblical story. "The truth shall set you free," said Jesus. Not generic truth but the truth that does not change and the truth that endures forever -- the saving truth of the Word of the Lord. So once the humanities were built upon one unending divine revelation to which were added the best endeavors of the arts to know our broken condition and discover its repair. Perhaps the decline of the humanities is parallel to the disdain with which our world looks upon unchanging divine revelation and, specifically, the revelation of the Son of God (this is Epiphany, after all). I am not sure that the decline of those choosing the humanities is due to the lack of humanity found there, the difficulty in translating such a major into a decent job and income, or the despair that seems to have framed our whole educational endeavor when it comes to humanity and the future.
As a proud liberal arts graduate, it is to my great sorrow that the humanities have become not so human and the arts are seen as non-essential luxuries in a world more focused on practical progress and more enamored with technology. Literature, history, philosophy, the arts, rhetoric, religion, and languages may not be easily marketable as a major or as a high income producing vocation but once they formed us as a more noble people by teaching us to pursue something better, something bigger than self, and something that honored our Creator. The day may never come when we recapture this but I live in hope that the light will not be totally extinguished and will still shine through the winds of change that dominate the times. It will have to begin by remembering that the word human is what informs humanities. I am not so much looking for a softer, kinder, gentler approach as one that is, at least to my mind, more honest. The truth continues to set us free. . . if we let it. . .