Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a multi-part series. Read Part 1.
What would our world look like if the humanities didn’t exist? Imagine our civilization, our workplaces, our economy, without the humanities. Post-apocalyptic or dystopian images ensue. The varied arts we voraciously consume would vanish, including all visual and entertaining arts from painting, photography, and cinema, to music and aesthetic design. Written language? Nonexistent. Verbal communication reverts to stone-age simplicity. No literature develops, no fictional stories transport our imagination. Not even a scientific journal article breathes without the careful attention to language usage. Written law? None. Property rights and records? Zip. Perpetually dependent on the language arts the vital transfer of knowledge, stories, and wisdom through time would be lost. Without the humanities, civilizations never rise out of the dust, never germinate, never see the light of day. Peoples without the humanities remain clans and tribes, far short of becoming a civilization. Absent recorded historical knowledge and the collective identity that gives a people purpose and values, civilization and its great gifts fail to launch. Critical thinking halts too since its home discipline of philosophy would be absent. Try to conceive the vaunted STEM disciplines without the womb of the humanities. Science was born after and because of two thousand years of the humanities, and while no longer an infant, science cannot survive alone. Without the humanities, we shiver in the infamous state of nature where life is, as Hobbes described, “nasty, brutish, and short.”
A society barren of the humanities looms grim . . . dystopian. Consider some present-day societies that now suppress the humanities, like North Korea. Our complex global civilization and its economy will not persist, much less flourish, without the humanities. Is this what we want? We need the humanities as much now as when Western Civilization first emerged. They retain a sin qua non status. Their role fades as science takes the spotlight, but without the chorus of the humanities, the curtains would drop on whole drama of every civilization in a grim technocracy where efficiency kills aesthetics, values, and human significance. Yea, that’s a big claim. Think about it.
A Christian worldview provides the solid ground for a robust team of humanities disciplines. The original idea of a university entailed a unified Christian vision of the world where all academic disciplines labored to understand different facets of the same cosmic jewel and its creator. It’s understandable why many today dismiss the humanities as havens for lunacy. They are! The train-wrecked humanities of universities today crashed because Christians abandoned them to professors pushing reckless assumptions of a dehumanizing methodological naturalism.
The perceived flakiness stems not from the humanities disciplines themselves, but from the bleak worldview of those who now dominate the universities of our dysfunctional, if not assassinated, Western Civilization. Endeavoring to be undertakers of our civilization, digging its grave, secular universities share no guiding assumptions with those who founded Western Civilization or even those who gave birth to modern science. Saying the humanities are worthless now is like saying Mexican food is worthless only because every restaurant in town is poorly run. Yet, Christians neglect the humanities. Few Christians influence the humanities much, theology and philosophy excepted. We fumbled; secularists recovered the turnover and scored. On the defensive, Christians now sit the sidelines of their lost intellectual arts, fussing over tattoos, worship styles, and whether they should wear skinny jeans to engage the culture. Relegating themselves now to inane in-house debates, talking about things that nobody cares, Christians relinquish deep engagement to an advancing army goose-step chanting the deafening metanarrative of naturalism. As evidence of cowardly Christian cultural retreat, simply try to find any academic discipline, outside of theology and philosophy, where Christians unmistakably hold ground.
Few people prepare for the workforce through the humanities today due to the demand for STEM skills. Applied sciences rule for their earnings. The fine arts lead to poverty except for the precious few who get a break, much like sports. Humanities skills languish, fading into the background, and remuneration straggles. This trend may not reverse, fueled by false perceptions of uselessness. Like an undervalued stock of a company with solid fundamentals, the humanities can engender extraordinary value, but it’s stock value tanks. The monetary side of our economy desperately needs the soft skills the humanities teach such as clarity, virtues, efficient communication, cross-disciplinary connections, cultural understanding, and global thinking. These fading skills in an emoji age can be the one weird trick that reinvigorates value creation.
In Part 3, we’ll consider the connection of the humanities to classroom dynamics and their prospects for assisting missions.
This article is a part of the Faith, Work and Economics Curriculum Project. Come back next week for a new installment.