Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Humanism in Literature

Humanism is the idea that the human body and intellect should be the main focus of life. It was depicted in the art, religion, and literature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There are many things both good and bad that came out of this worldview, but anything taken to an extreme is sinful. It can be found in many works, but 'Paradise Lost', 'Utopia', and the 'Damnable Deeds and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus' give an excellent taste of humanism.
Mankind has always been egocentric, but at the beginning of the Renaissance in the sixteenth century humanism flourished as Greek ideology was resurrected. Humanism brings about an acute realization of mankind and when used for good our flawed nature. Men like Michelangelo were able to portray the beauty of the human body in an ideal form while showing at the same time the corruption of mankind (The Last Judgment). But on the other end men deified the human mind and body making man the ultimate standard.
In 'Paradise Lost' humanism is shown in a good way when God creates man in His own image and sets him as a ruler over all. Milton portrays the body as good and useful for the purpose God created it, but during the fall secular humanism begins with Eve wanting to be a god unto herself and Adam sees the evil actions of men toward others as something to be honored. Michael explains that this is not the case, but many like Adam will see it as such. Also Adam is warned not to worship Eve or deify her, for there is but one God and He is Lord.
In 'Utopia' the search for the ideal society is found. Men want to create a society where they are able to be a law unto themselves and be good in and of themselves. The men who go there are very impressed with the ideal society that verges on making intellect king. These men share the Gospel and the native Utopians accept this and recount that before they had come they had known most of what was told them through there own logic.
In the 'Damnable Deeds and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus' humanism itself is shown as unfulfilling. Faustus knows everything there is to know. He is a lawyer, a scientist, a doctor, and a well studied, well respected, well known man, but the lack of fulfillment is shown when he continues to seek more. He knows he is going to Hell, so He does not seek to change his status with God, but rather become a powerful lord of the world. He seeks the apex of humanism without God, to be a god unto himself. When he sells his soul to the Devil, he realizes that in the end that egocentric worldview has subjugated him even more than before.
Each of these works of literature portray the hopelessness of uncontrolled humanism, but it is not humanism itself that is evil, but rather what our corrupted sin nature does with humanism. Humanism is good when it causes us to give God more honor, praise and glory, but like anything else when made a religion is condemning.


  1. I liked it Kate. Good conclusion. I was the first follower. :D
    - AJ

  2. Hi Kate! Great blog and article! I'm signed in under mom's name since she already has a google account... just wanted to let you know it was me :) - Bonnie