fbpx

A Reflection for a New Year

The antidote to despair is not perfect politics, an impossibility, a mere ideology; the cure is hope. Moral panic reveals despair at the state of things: craving the fullness of the kingdom of heaven now, but upon discovering decadence and depravity—and who can deny our time’s troubles—responding with the sadness of despair. Despair cannot be overcome with certainty or perfection, but only by hope and the truth of concrete action undertaken in the light of hope.
Again we keep Thanksgiving Day; again we have the chance to become grateful, and not just for this single day. Again we are able to hold those we love, to feast in body and soul, and to become attuned to the freshness deep down in all things.
In the past fifteen years, we’ve published articles on the moral, cultural, religious, and political issues of our time, including the most controversial and sensitive; but we have done so in a manner of which we can be proud, respecting the intellect and personhood of our readers, interlocutors, and intellectual contestants.
There is no romance without the real presence of God, no sacramental imagination without the sacraments, and the wonders of fantasy cannot be asserted of primary reality itself.
The coalition of the sensible is not a coalition of the soft, the weak, the “can’t we all get along?,” or the squishy moderate. This is not a mood calling for peace, peace, when there is no peace; neither is it compromise for its own sake or a winking cynicism about the possibility of moral rights and wrongs. The coalition of the sensible is statecraft, and the realization that statecraft is not found in imaginary utopias, dreams of perfection, or big, brash theories of politics, but in the actual details of human action.
We are attempting a struggle against a dehumanizing revolution—but we are all attempting to overcome the same common threat. City building isn’t pretty, and it isn’t all that calm. At the same time, in our efforts against revolution, we should not respond with our own revolution.
“What I see in modern America is something maybe a little bit different than what other folks see. I think the nation vis-à-vis its laws is far more just than it has been at virtually any point in its previous history. Racial discrimination is outlawed de jure. You have an extension of the First Amendment to all American communities. You have greater religious freedoms in a concrete way than we’ve ever enjoyed in the history of the United States. We have a lot of problems, but we’re better than we’ve been.”
Benedict lived in a faithless time when people lost themselves and their hope. He reminded them of who they were, and who they could be—children and heirs of God. What good fortune we had to have lived at a time when a man such as this taught us.
Reading recommendations from Public Discourse and the Witherspoon Institute.
For too long we’ve imagined the rights of parents, rights of conscience, and religious freedom in overly-individualistic ways, which has encouraged a privatization of these rights. But the rights of the natural family and the rights of the Church are among the most important rights. Therefore, the rights of the natural family quite easily trump the claims made by the pornographers and drag queens to access the public library.
North Park isn’t the only Christian university with inner turmoil about human sexuality. Not just colleges and administrations, but denominations and pastors have collapsed and caved on these teachings as well. Some of this is a lack of courage, a failure of spine in the face of cultural disdain; some of this is personal, an experience of a child or friend whose sexual appetites do not easily fit doctrine, and so doctrine must change. But it is always a loss of faith.
For the rationalist or fundamentalist character, hope cannot but seem inadequate, even corny. Such a character has a rage for order and cannot but suffer an anxious repulsion for disorder. Hope, on the other hand, is not blind, or merely optimistic, nor is hope something we churn up in ourselves as a kind of subjective attitude. Hope, rather, is a virtue. It is a state that perfects us, makes us well, capable of thinking, living, and acting in the freedom of excellence.
Perhaps maturity requires moderating our admiration for the intellectuals, the clerks, and the clever types. Surely a person of good judgment, stolid character, and immoveable rectitude is every bit as praiseworthy as the inventive and the quick—and in political and social life far more important.
It is a day to praise those stalwart men and women who kept faith, for half a century kept faith, and who today might cite the words of the poet, “now the great vision which we dared believe through slow and savage years is our own.”
For the conservative theorists of the poison pill, everything becomes about ideas. According to them, Ockham, Scotus, Bacon, Descartes, Locke—they are the important bad guys who determined the decadence of our time and the problems we should be talking about. But ideas don’t work this way; reality does not proceed with perfect logic like it so conveniently does in the textbooks.
Reading recommendations from The Witherspoon Institute’s staff.
Given the overreach of government, and perhaps especially given the failure of so many elected officials to remember that they do not rule us, it’s all too easy to slip into libertarianism by default. But government is not alien or unnatural to our condition and needs. It emerges from the community’s associations, affections, bonds, and mutual sense of self-responsibility.
All this week Public Discourse will be republishing select essays from "Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism," a project of the Witherspoon Institute that was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of its "We the People" initiative. At a time when we have called our traditions and history into question, we provide a primer into the history of our people and our ways of properly understanding freedom and the liberal order.
Every human lives out the drama of existence in his or her way, and with great risk: they gain or lose heaven, embrace or reject love, bring a child into being or not, form friendships and romances or sink into loneliness, become sages or fools. If we forget or forgo the primacy of the person, choosing instead the story of power and chaos, it seems likely we’ll lose the cosmos of our own souls.
Who would deny that liberalism is falling apart, that the center is not holding, or that a vindictive and evangelistic progressivism is afoot? If so, the natural law cannot but feel like feeble comfort. Still, some of us are unwilling to reject public reason or the hopefulness of John Courtney Murray, for we never assumed his optimism was naivete.
Easter reflections are supposed to be lighthearted and joyful. But I’m gravely concerned by the unkindness in the name of kindness so evident in our cultural moment. Our society appears determined to return to the mastery and enslavement of Egypt. We have become forgetful of human limits, do not stand in awe of God’s acts, and so we have become cruel. Jewish and Christian holy days remind us of the need for mercy if society is to overcome its hatreds.
Humans are frail creatures, depending on much beyond our control. Those who do not recognize this have never seen their father watch the clouds, or had livestock die, or waited as the ultrasound searches for a heartbeat that will never be heard. God is good, and he loves what he has created, but we are dust, and he allows the winds to blow.
According to Carl Trueman, focusing myopically on problems with sexual morality often results in misguided responses to the sexual revolution. Instead, we must grapple with “a much deeper and wider revolution in the understanding of what it means to be a self.”
In the current moment, we critique and demand, but from a negation; we know—or some think they know—what they don’t want, but it is quite unclear if they know what they do want. And since they have rejected moral norms it is impossible for them to give a rational justification for their wants and dislikes. Theirs is an exercise of will, for they have exorcised the logos, and mere will—willfulness—remains.