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Pillar: Education & Culture

Education & Culture

The fourth pillar, education and culture, is built upon the recognition of two essential realities. First, the Western intellectual tradition requires a dedication to and desire for truth. Second, education takes place not only within colleges and universities but within our broader culture, whose institutions and practices form us as whole persons.

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Isolation Bookshelf: History Outside the Academy

For reasons that pass all understanding, modern academic disciplines are where English prose goes to die. Fortunately, profound and compelling historical writing has a history of its own that predates the modern research university by two and a half millennia, stretching back to Herodotus in the fifth century BC. Such a tradition is resistant to the chloroform of the modern academy, so long as gifted storytellers find publishers and readers.

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Homer at the Beach

On Calypso’s island, we encounter both the allure and the dangers of the beach. There, Homer brings us right up against a mysterious fact: the fantasy of an undying beach body—even that of a love goddess whose collagen never loses its tensile strength—will not really make us happy. The best kind of lover will have skin in the game: skin that can age, that has aged, that is actively aging before our eyes. To escape the history that is written into our bodies is to escape the meaning, the meaningful struggle, of our lives.

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The News Makes You Dumb

We should stay away from the news lest we fall prey to its mania, foolishness, and stupidity. We should read books—difficult books—and be challenged to improve ourselves rather than settle for easy answers.

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Thought, “the World,” and Education

Inwardness, intellectual or otherwise, is the source and the safeguard of individual human flourishing, without which no community is judged to do well. Individuals must experience their learning as a mode of freedom and spontaneity, not a complex navigation of yet another structure of authority and achievement.

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Responding to a Fundamental Crisis Within Islam Itself

If we are to abolish the primordial cycle of hatred, tyranny, and violence that plagues humanity, and avert civilizational disaster, people of all faiths must work together to prevent the political weaponization of fundamentalist Islam. We should learn from the unique heritage of Muslims on the Indonesian island of Java, who defeated Muslim extremists in the sixteenth century and restored freedom of religion for all citizens, two centuries before the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and the Bill of Rights led to the separation of state and religion in the United States.

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Would America Be Better Off without Religion?

A great irony of the Jewish and Christian faith traditions: One must be willing to accept suffering and sacrifice for a greater purpose that transcends one’s particular material and sensual needs and desires. Counter-intuitively, it is these transcendent qualities of faith that eschew utilitarian aims for a greater purpose that create the circumstances for greater material well-being.

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Isolation Bookshelf: Words Matter

Each of the books I mention here can help us to be conscious—to be “in the know,” which is what Austen meant by the word—thus using the gift of speech in ways that accord with our nature as “the reflexive animal,” as Lewis calls us, governed by “the inner lawgiver” (Lewis again) of our conscience. And these conjoined obligations—to our nature and to our speech—are why even pronouns are a field of battle that truth-tellers should not surrender.

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Isolation Cinema: The Films of John Ford

John Ford’s America is a good deal like Ford himself—loud, brawling, and hard-charging. Ford’s Americans are also honorable, self-sacrificing, and faithful to their promises. That’s not the whole truth about America, not by a long shot. But it’s true enough that in John Ford’s films, we will forever see something of ourselves.

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