Wed 27 Apr 2011
Are you a humanist? ‘Cause I sure am. But before you start sending me nasty messages about my being a godless atheist, let me assure that what I mean by the word probably isn’t what you think I mean. To be sure, most people today use the word humanist in a very anti-religious sense. In its secular (and most common) meaning, the word denotes the rejection of supernaturalism and faith as adequate grounds for living life. But it’s in the older renaissance sense of the term that I call myself a humanist: namely, as The Christian Humanist Podcast puts it, as “someone who studies the humanities.” I believe strongly in the value of liberal arts education and the importance of critical engagement with literature, philosophy, and the myriad other things that make up our cultural world.
In this sense, I join a long line of Christian humanists, including such luminaries as Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, the latter of whom’s visage graces the header on this website. Melanchthon, widely known as the author of significant sections of the Lutheran Confessions, is lesser known for his poetry and academic work on rhetoric, classical Greek literature, and education. But for Melanchthon, Luther and the numerous other humanists like them, these subjects and a thousand others are equally worthy of discussion. The world is pretty big ; so too must be the Christian understanding of it.
Two paragraphs back, I quoted The Christian Humanist Podcast. I hope you’re wondering what the heck that is, because that’s the real reason for this blog post. A couple of months back, I happened across their website, though I can’t for the life of me remember how. Their podcast (and accompanying blog) is devoted to discussing “literature, theology, philosophy and other things that human beings do well.” And that’s exactly what the podcast does: it takes up a different question each week, and discusses the ins and outs of the subject while offering a Christian appraisal of the good and bad in said subject. In the process, the hosts offer input based on their own areas of specialization – which, as the show is hosted by a medievalist, a Renaissance (and biblical) scholar, and an Americanist, generally means an overall analysis which succeeds in engaging intellectual thought on the subject from across the centuries.
If I might act like a fanboy for a few sentences here, let me just say that I absolutely love the show. I know no better place to hear such intelligent discussion of so many wide ranging topics. From dogma, to politics, to science, to literary theory, to sports, they take it all on. And they do so in a way which is, in the words of their original audio tagline, “unapologetically confessional and unabashedly intellectual.” I’m hooked. You should be too.
Currently, I’m working my way through their archives while trying to keep up with their new episodes as well. All of the episodes I’ve heard have been excellent, but I thought I’d highlight a few that new listeners might especially want to check out.
1. Episode 1: The Christian Humanist – For a fuller discussion of what it means to be a “Christian humanist,” check out this episode. It gives both a good history of Christian engagement with culture, while simultaneously explaining what the point of the Christian Humanist Podcast is.
2. Episode 20: Judas – Like the title suggests, this episode centres on the betrayer of Christ, discussing first the biblical accounts before later examining literary receptions of him over the next two millenia. It’s also an interesting episode as it highlights some of the theological differences the hosts hold. This isn’t a show with three talking heads simply parroting each other’s opinions. Real discussion of an issue often means recognizing real disagreement.
3. Episode 17: Great Books and Critical Theory – For you English major types, this one discusses the differences between the Great Books movement and Literary Theory, while highlighting the positives and negatives each approach offers the Christian interested in literature (and really, all Christians should be interested in literature if you ask me).
You can see the entire audio archive at their RSS feed here. Be sure to also check out their main site here, where you can also read the accompanying blog, with its episode notes, lectionary reading reflections, and articles on various subjects of interest to Christian humanists everywhere.