Over the past week, I've discussed a few essays (one by Fr. Raymond Schroth, S.J., in America, another by Samuel Goldman in First Things) which have lamented the decline in the humanities. Those essays were long commentaries on reports that echoed the same concerns. Among a few differences in outlook, pretty much all the authors and reports agree on one thing: the humanities are important in forming us as human beings.
In my recent posts, I've asked variations of these questions, "Are the authors right? Do we need the humanities to help us to be human?" I come at the question as someone who is solidly in the pro-humanities camp. However, I weigh the question about the value of the humanities not only from my own intellectual background but also from the perspective of the acts and words of Jesus and the holy figures of the Gospel and Christian history. Some of the saintliest people I know are the least educated, at least according to the dominant understanding of what being educated means. In other words, they haven't read the classics, they haven't attended prestigious colleges (or in some cases any college), and they can't detect allusions to the Book of Job or Paradise Lost. But they are men and women as generous as the sun is bright, ceaselessly loving and humble, hard working and sacrificial. They embody the Beatitudes. They "go, and do likewise."
When it comes to the issue of what makes us human, or what teaches us the roundedness of the human spirit, I would never say that those who fall in this group are deficient because they haven't read "Hamlet." This isn't to say that they shouldn't study great works of music, literature, or art, but their reason for doing so cannot be because they don't know what it means to be human. If the fullness of our humanity is in living and loving like Christ, oftentimes those who are least intellectually credentialed are the ones who can teach us the most.