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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Activities like gardening—what Josef Pieper has called “active leisure”—offer even more than third places can. They too are a meeting ground for people of any background, but active leisure is more deeply rooted in a true vision of our condition: creatures responsible for stewarding what’s been given to us alongside others.
In Christendom: The Triumph of a Religion, Peter Heather wishes to dismantle some of the conventions that have governed how the story of Christian history is told.
That’s really what I want out of this whole project: for us to see that it’s all saying something, whether it’s a cheesy T-shirt, or a simple country church building, or a medieval cathedral. I want us to really pay attention and ask, “What is it saying? What is true and good and beautiful in what it’s saying, and what is not?”
A book in its entirety, once given to the world, is a kind of integer, a whole from which nothing should be subtracted if it is to remain what it is.
What is useful is inherently teleological: calling something “useful” invokes the question “useful for what?” But modernity resists this question by multiplying means without any clear ends. We live an infinite regress of usefulness with little sense of the point of our labors. In a world that only understands useful things, interest in humanities and religious faith (both of which consider human purpose) will inevitably decline.
Like the Bible, Russian literature came to be perceived “not as a series of separate books but as a single ongoing work composed over many generations.” It is a conversation with both the present and the past simultaneously.
Museums assume, both for the country and the individual, a special trust of preservation and civic encouragement. That encouragement need not involve glossing over the failings of our past. We distort our history both when we whitewash it and when we overemphasize our shortcomings.
It is not always easy to buy books for friends—or even for family. The nature of the relationship one has with another, and the knowledge of the other’s interests and capacities, will affect one’s choices. Of books in the pleasure reading category, we have as many choices as our knowledge of our friends’ and loved ones’ tastes and reading history allows. But it is in the third category of books, the ones Francis Bacon said must be “chewed and digested . . . with diligence and attention,” that a real challenge arises.
Cormac McCarthy, who passed away today, gives readers reason to suspect that he did not shut the door on God before his life ended. His last two novels, The Passenger and Stella Maris, offer more than just an artistic representation of reality’s inescapable brutality. They forcefully struggle with the greatest questions of human existence. Like any good work of art, these books don’t allow any reader—religious, atheist, materialist, Christian—to walk away feeling perfectly comfortable in their understanding of the world.
Fidelity to place, to the community of one’s birth, is not merely one virtue among others, but a foundational and formative source of our character. We first learn to be faithful husbands and wives from the unchosen example we witness of our own parents. We first learn to be faithful citizens as we explore the small postage stamp of terrain that we did not choose to go to, but simply awakened to with our first dawn of consciousness.
As we begin this inaugural Fidelity Month, we recommit and rededicate ourselves to God. You were made to know God. He is your ultimate happiness. Knowing God is not a rejection of creaturely good. It is vantage point that allows us to enjoy creaturely good as intended “from the beginning.”
Seven hundred years ago the Catholic Church canonized Thomas Aquinas. Today he is often considered a consummate authority for Catholic philosophy and theology. We should remember, however, how revolutionary his views were.
It’s not just that many have been taught that the wrong things make them happy, and that their deliberation leads to choices that make them miserable—though that does happen in many cases. Far too often, they have not been given enough tools for moral thinking and acting at all.
My death will most likely come from a side effect of one of the medications I’m on to keep my body from rejecting my transplanted lungs. This makes some recipients resentful or angry, as seen in a recent New York Times op-ed by Amy Silverstein. She and I received the gift of a healthier and longer life when we received our transplants. The medications that she’s decrying are the ones that have kept her—and me—alive. These years are an inexpressible gift.
Pastor Keller preached the Gospel as true. He would blush when I told him he was a genuine apologist. But he deserved this cherished title as one who, in a compelling, credible, and colorful way, could present and defend the basic truths of God’s revelation. No watering down, no wavering, just the truth—which, he would repeat, has a name: Jesus.
In denying students access to their history; in dumbing down art, music, literature, and even the sacred liturgy; and in celebrating obscenity over beauty, you detach people from their past, their home, and the transcendental dimension of the human experience. You make them strangers to themselves, to the soul, and the soil.
As a moral framework for assessing regimes in an imperfect world, Nigel Biggar’s Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning has much to recommend it.
It is through deep feeling that we see truth and beauty. Spiritually emotional people are fully conscious of their object, fully immersed in it. Someone who is profoundly sorrowful can see life’s purpose more clearly than any practitioner of science and technical skill who is devoid of feeling.
Prose is not poetry, yet it has its own rhythms; and the writer’s meaning—conveyed not in bare words alone but in emphases, inflections, punctuations—can be clarified by speaking and hearing it as well as by seeing it. But reading well aloud takes practice.
Too many universities treat students as atomized wills, encouraging them to follow their passions in and out of the classroom. Our colleges must change course and remind students that their familial relationships and their accompanying responsibilities can and should play a more decisive role in their lives than their careers will.
Augusto Del Noce’s The Problem of Atheism refutes the pessimistic notion that “in every philosopher, from Descartes onward,” “the history of philosophy is a process of secularization.” Although Descartes perhaps enabled rationalism’s rebellion against Christianity, his intended project was quite the opposite. He meant to preserve Christianity’s distinctive and closely related commitments to freedom, transcendence, and human dignity.
Ernst Jünger’s 1957 novel, The Glass Bees, is prescient. But it also clarifies many of our own present challenges as we struggle with the role of technology over our lives. In a society defined by sound bites, 280-character tweets, three-minute TikTok videos, and deep fake videos, the line between what is authentically real and what is mere performance or imitation is blurred.
The bad good (or great) books must be read and taught in just the same way as the good great books. The teacher must be a wrestling coach, instilling in his students a readiness to grapple equally with every kind of argument, accepting nothing on which they have not tested their own grip.
What continuing, large-scale “nonversion” away from traditional Christianity means for the nation—both presently and in the years ahead—is a huge “macro-level” question. And a pressing question, not just for sociologists and theologians, but for all of us one way or another. Stephen Bullivant’s prognosis in Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America is neither grim nor naïve, not unduly pessimistic or optimistic, but realistic.

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