Living Well at the End of a World

Perhaps the greatest lesson Plenty Coups has to offer us is this: prudence and courage in the face of an unknown future make sense if they are grounded on God’s greater love for us and the promise of his abiding care. Hope impels us to hand on our religious and cultural inheritance even as many reject it. It encourages us to build new institutions as old ones fall apart.
The scope of the crisis of masculinity is unchartered territory for America and the broader West. Yet many of the most exaggerated masculine traits have an ancient ancestry and can be traced back to one of the greatest works of the Western canon.
A parallel challenge exists in preparing active participants for life as citizens and as members of church communities. Similar strategies can help both.
By co-creating with God, we imitate his goodness, participate in his governance, and bring more of creation into the divine unity.
The liberal tradition is an ongoing conversation in which participants speak in a wide range of accents, reflecting the various “nouns” to which speakers are committed: liberal individualists and liberal communitarians, liberal nationalists and liberal internationalists, liberal believers and liberal skeptics, liberal socialists and—yes—liberal free marketeers.
A book review is not an opening-night party for a book’s author, and it is not a quarrel carried on with brass knuckles. It is an exercise in considered, contextualized judgment for the benefit of readers.
Many students may not appreciate the importance of applying themselves rather than using AI, but we must encourage those who do. We should fortify promising students with the assurance that excellence in education is worth pursuing but requires taking a hard road.
At the moment, large language models are nothing like us, however easy it is for us to anthropomorphize their outputs. But as AIs develop, it will become increasingly necessary to ask: How much do we want them to become like us? Answering that question will certainly require human wisdom.
In his impressive 2020 book, Carl Trueman rightly exhorts readers to solidify their commitments to God and moral truth in a world of “expressive individualism.” But by reading human nature through the Marxist-Hegelian lens of Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor, he undermines the true individualism at the heart of the ethics that he wants to defend.
Nicholas Spencer’s new book is an important resource for anyone who wishes to understand the scientific and religious entanglements that have shaped, and continue to frame, our views of God, humanity, and the cosmos.
For Newman, the discovery of any reasonable political settlement would first require what both the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk and the Oxford Movement had hoped to do: prepare the public imagination for an apostolic church, an institution in which obedience without mental slavery was married to liberty without self-will.
A liberal education pursued in good faith, that is, with civility, generosity, humility, and an earnest desire (among teachers and students) to think for oneself and to learn from and with others, tends to render us all more thoughtful, reflective, and humane.
Classical schools embrace an older understanding of education, one that prepares students for festivity and friendship, rather than socially handicapping them. Like their ancient and medieval predecessors, classical educators maintain that a crucial purpose of education is to liberate students from a calculative, utilitarian mindset by teaching them how to enjoy intrinsically worthwhile activities for their own sake.
The point of a Christian liberal education is to take on the mind of God and to be conformed to Christ, or at least to begin to do so, for such a project is endless. This means that a Christian liberal arts school will seek to impart to its students some measure of wisdom and holiness.
The problem with the way that discussions surrounding university education are often framed is that they seem to accept as inevitable a pernicious anthropology that presumes students are autonomous subjects, consuming in order to be consumed. But we are more than what we achieve, more than we produce, more than our billable hours.
If our immediate surroundings and concrete responsibilities constitute the arena in which we are most uniquely competent, then reserving our attention for those objects is not quietism, but the pinnacle of activism.
Deep, broad cultural change often results not primarily from government imposition or propagation of ideas, but from committed social entrepreneurs who pilot alternative conventions. Public pronouncement of Christian values, absent change in underlying social conventions, is a poor substitute for deeply rooted change internal to the church.
Treating data centers, just like fleshly human bodies, as irrelevant or inconvenient, and claiming the world wide web, not the material world, as sovereign over our “true” selves, makes this kind of thinking into a form of techno-theology.
We do not need more self-conscious crusaders for the nation or even for Western Civilization, but instead more priests, teachers, businessmen, artists, writers, and parents who perform their own activities faithfully, serving—to borrow a phrase from Russell Kirk—as “leaven for the whole lump.”
In our fallen condition in which we are detached from relationship with God, our mortality is a gift. Scarcity grants meaning to our decisions, provides a merciful conduit for us to know the love of God and one another, and pushes us toward relationships broken by the Fall.
Pope Pius XII exhorts the faithful to participate in daily Mass, frequent confession, personal prayer, mortification, and works of mercy. These practices are not minor, weak, or irrelevant responses to a world crisis; on the contrary, the pope believes they are powerfully efficacious and necessary, strengthening the bonds uniting the mystical body of Christ and sowing the seeds of peace. His counsel is spiritual in nature, but socio-political in its effects.
In her new book A Philosopher Looks at the Religious Life, Zena Hitz situates her philosophical ponderings within the context of her own life, here spotlighting a crisis precipitated by her conversion to the Catholic faith. Like Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac at the Lord’s behest, Hitz realizes that unconditional love of God, “wholehearted commitment without compromise,” might demand the renunciation even of what she has held most dear.
If sexual attraction is one powerful force that God built into the world to counteract the individual’s inclination to self-absorption, then the combination of technological and cultural assaults on this urge doesn’t threaten only the formation of families, the basic unit of society. It also threatens something even more foundational: the nature of the person as a social being.
As 2024 approaches, there will be tremendous temptations to go still further in taking the gloves off in an attempt to prevail by any means necessary. There will be power at stake, but also tremendous profit as the purveyors of opinion seek to build audiences and sell advertisements. But we are not helpless. We can be more fair to each other and thus create the conditions for a more fruitful discourse.