In a recent article in the Catholic Times, a journalist reminds readers in the era of industrialization, the 'humanities' have been neglected but now a craze in our time. Books and lectures on the humanities are now popular.
The church is also involved in this opening to the 'humanities'. The organizations and groups within the church are taking a lead in its spread. Is it not possible to see it as a means of cultivating a rich life of faith?
What are the humanities? We can define it as referring to human origins, thought, and culture. The natural sciences approach the phenomena of nature and society empirically; the humanities— the meaning of existence—is approached speculatively. In other words, a discipline that seeks meaning so that we can live like human beings. This is the present interest in the humanities.
In the UN World Happiness Report released last year, Korea was 57th out of 157 countries. Among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries, it was 32nd among 34 countries. Considering that Korea's gross domestic product (GDP) was the 12th largest in the world in 2017, the feeling of happiness has not followed economic development. Proof that many cannot find meaning in life even with material abundance.
President of a Catholic University said: "Study in the humanities are necessary to regain what it means to be human. I think it grows when you eat barley rice, but many have thought that it came when we were able to eat hamburgers." The study of the humanities teaches us that is not the case.
Today, humanities are considered to be separate from faith. But historically, theology and the humanities have been inseparable. The Fathers of the Church in their sermons on the teaching of the apostles have had a profound impact on faith and church life and are representative humanist scholars. From that time on the Church has developed the humanities and given us many scholars.
Thomas Aquinas said that grace does not destroy nature but completes it. Here, nature refers to characteristics unique to humans, such as reason, emotion, and conscience. God respects the human nature of each of us; God leads us by grace, we cooperate with God through the power of nature. The role of the humanities is to cultivate and enrich human nature.
A professor at a Graduate School said that the Church Fathers brought the gospel to the people in their culture and thought—indigenized the gospel to the culture. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is called one of the teachers and great humanists of the West.
Humanities are still an important tool in religious education. St. Pope John Paul II, in the encyclical Fides and Ratio said: "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth, and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth." Philosophy is the indispensable means of communicating this to those without belief.
In the church, educators say the humanities can be a good way to reeducate believers who have a tendency to separate life from faith. We can connect life and faith based on our understanding of humanity and ourselves. Many believers in the modern world are accustomed to rational criticism, so if we do not systematically train and cultivate faith in the humanities, many will lose interest in religion itself.
Although the importance of the humanities in education is emphasized to believers, there is a danger that if you emphasize only the humanities, you may fall into materialism and atheistic thought. According to Pope John Paul II in Faith and Reason— "some philosophers have abandoned the search for truth in itself and made their sole aim the attainment of a subjective certainty or a pragmatic sense of utility." Criticizing philosophical thought that accelerated the separation of faith and reason.
Though delicate attention is needed, fear and unconditional rejection is not the answer. It is necessary to have an attitude of dialogue, critical confrontation and respect for a difference of opinion.
Since the church has always played a role in embracing and protecting the humanities, they are an area the church needs to advance. With the humanities, we can work together with all religions and all people to protect the dignity of the human person made in the image of God. We need to protect these human values.