Why Christian Humanists?

That our name makes some readers uneasy at first blush demonstrates that words and phrases and ideas have histories just as much as nations and cities have histories. Our name would have been almost meaningless a thousand years ago, uncontroversial four hundred years ago, yet sets some people’s teeth on edge in the twenty-first century. For a brief discussion about what Christian Humanism means, we invite you to listen to episode one of The Christian Humanist Podcast at your leisure. Until that leisure materializes, we can say a few things about our brand of Christian Humanism here:

  • We’re Humanists in the Renaissance sense. Borrowing the Latin word humanitas from Cicero and other classical writers, the Italian Renaissance humanists and later Erasmus of Rotterdam (whose picture is on the left on our site’s banner) borrowed that Roman idea of disciplined education as a program to reform and reinvigorate the Church and European culture, opposing what they perceived as the strict limits of Scholastic thought and the elitism that grew out of its schools and practices while most of Europe remained illiterate.  Embracing learning from the modern and postmodern secular academy and dedicating ourselves to teaching what we learn to any who will be taught, reserving judgment on this or that school of thought’s adequacy or inadequacy to reality as experienced and revealed, we twenty-first-century Christian Humanists proceed with the conviction that good ideas will resonate with the faithful intellect, bad ideas will prove their wretchedness in the fires of critical conversation, and those scholars and saints who have gone before us likely held up as important the books and ideas they held up for some reason; it’s for us to taste and see, not throw ideas out before we taste.
  • We’re friends in the Aristotelian sense. As you read this site and listen to our podcast (and we hope you do both), you’ll notice that each of us has certain scholarly interests, philosophical tendencies, and favorite topics of thought that differ from the others.  Read a while longer and you might suspect that each of us thinks that the other two get certain things very wrong.  That’s why we keep talking. We believe that one of the highest sorts of friendship is the sort that seeks excellence together, and one way that we do so is to pound on each other’s ideas until the weak ones break.  While we hope not to congratulate ourselves for being ecumenical or open-minded or any of those sorts of things, we do hope that, by listening to one another, we’re acting out an acknowledgment of our own limitations, and further we submit to the possibility that in the course of things we might learn something from the questions at hand and from one another.
  • We’re intellectuals in the Dantean sense. In the Florentine poet’s great Comedy, what separates the saved from the damned is not merely circumstances of birth or desire to do good but properly oriented loves.  The souls in Limbo certainly suffer in some sense from being born out of season, and certain souls seem to have been despairing even before they ended up in Inferno, but what marks their fate and shapes their punishments is the way that they began to satisfy the desires of the flesh without the checks of duty and order, to seek power without responsibility to God, to exercise the wiles of the mind without a love for the truth.  And those in Paradiso come before the Pilgrim grouped according to the baptized desires that defined their lives, whether for the goods of scholarship as framed by revelation, the goods of justice as framed by God’s sovereignty, or the goods of contemplation as given to the faithful by a faithful God.  We believe that the intellect is a good gift from God, one inadequate to save the soul but nonetheless a good gift.  And our exercise of that intellect is itself an act of worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.
  • We’re Christians in the broadest sense. David and Michial are disciples of the Magesterial Reformation, and Nathan claims influences from the Anabaptists.  Michial is a Christian existentialist, and although Nathan is almost convinced, David isn’t quite as sure.  Every one of us loves Augustine for a very different reason.  Each of the three of us serves a local congregation in different ways and in different capacities, and none of us is convinced that the books the others most often cite are worth citing.  Yet our confession of Jesus as the Christ we hold in common, and our podcast conversations and blog posts begin from within the broad but intelligible tradition that we call Christianity.

Additionally, our introduction states that we aim to be “unapologetically confessional, unabashedly intellectual . . . taking the question at hand seriously and ourselves not at all.” We put a good amount of thought into that introduction and believe that it sums up our mission very well:

  • Unapologetically confessional. We believe that denominations, creeds, and doctrine are important and that the differences between Christian groups are nearly as important as the beliefs that tie us all together. Additionally, we believe in the truth of the historical Christian message over and against the doctrines of other religions and philosophies.
  • Unabashedly intellectual. We believe that Christianity has nothing to fear from sustained inquiry and that the truth will always survive whatever attacks it undergoes in the Marketplace of Ideas. (The metaphor, not the podcast.)
  • Taking the question at hand seriously… The things we discuss on our podcast and in our blog entries are important to us, and we seek to treat the questions and the informed answers others have given with the utmost delicacy and respect.
  • …and ourselves not at all. There is no room in the Christian life–not even the Christian academic life!–for ego, and we make an effort to use as much self-deprecating humor as we and our listeners can tolerate.

Though we know that CHP listeners are smart enough to know this already, we do want to make public that the views and opinions stated on the Christian Humanist Podcast are the hosts’ ideas and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the University of Georgia, Emmanuel College, or any other institution with which the hosts participate, including but not limited to congregations, denominations, Modern Language Associations, or other affiliations.  We also might change our minds about certain things–we do believe that mortals are always learning, after all.

by Michial Farmer and Nathan Gilmour