We’ve been learning for the past week now about the worldview that, supposedly, started the Renaissance: humanism. We’ve also learned that humanism as a belief still exists today. But it can’t be the same religiously naturalistic worldview as it was six centuries ago… can it? The short answer is no. Why? Read on, intrepid bloggers.
Humanism, many believe, began with the teachings of Petrarch, a philosopher of the 14th century who decided to read religious texts in a different way. Instead of reading snippets from the text, as most 14th-century philosophers did, Petrarch believed that understanding the context of the quotes that had made Christianity what it was. In addition, Petrarch came up with the idea of not looking to external influences for moral guidance, but instead to look inwards; Petrarch believed that the greatest (“tallest”) religious book was “scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation”. But it only took a few centuries to go to an even more extreme point.
Now, humanism still exists. But it’s in a very different form. Humanists today believe far less (if at all) in a higher power, and consider themselves, by and large, atheists. Even though Petrarch, the original humanist, believed fervently in God (even if he believed that, though, God does not tempt and cannot be tempted, “he still may prove us, and often permits us to be beset with many and grievous trials”), it has become clear that there is no trace of Christianity left in humanism. This is a rather unfortunate fact, as humanists refuse to believe that such a thing as a supernatural world exists, or that a loving power such as God can be possible. Not all of the effects of humanism’s modernization have been negative, though. Science, truly begun during and after the Renaissance, is a key part of the beliefs of humanism. The use of humanist philosophies and naturalism in schools (consider OES’s mission statement: students “may realize their power for good”) has probably helped the scientific and mathematical world. But the crucial problem remains for humanism. This atheistic worldview seems to have forgotten its beginnings as the idea of a very religious man, and in doing so, it has left its members and philosophers without a power to pray to; this means no assistance in difficult times, nowhere to travel for moral guidance, and the depressing belief that death is final. In essence, many of those who believe in this worldview have lost some of the most precious commodity in this world or the next: hope.
Petrarch. “The Story of Griselda.” Hanover Historical Texts Project. N.p., Mar 2001. Web. 14 Feb 2012. <http://history.hanover.edu/texts/petrarch/pet06.html>.