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Pillar

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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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.
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.
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.
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.
John Guillory’s Professing Criticism is a thorough and complex work of scholarship. It’s also a bracing call for literary scholars to significantly reform how they think about their profession, and its relationship to their students and reading public in general. At its core is a challenge that is simultaneously reasonable and radical: professors of literary study must be more modest in their aims and promises to suit the realities of their field in the twenty-first century.
Audiobooks’ greatest potential is to encourage a sense of receptivity and leisure throughout the rest of life, not just one’s reading life. Listening to a novel, accepting its rhythms and flow of detail on the book’s own terms, is a gentle reminder that life’s most glorious things demand quiet, silent admiration, and loving acceptance.
If we take seriously Thomas Kelly’s ideas about bias blind spots, then we should seek public universities composed of a high degree of biased parts. Such universities would intentionally hire faculty members and administrators who harbor contrary views on divisive cultural issues. This would probably create campuses that can boast of having teaching and scholarship that have much less pejorative bias than their peer institutions.
The movie’s most profound insight is its distillation of pop feminism: a praise of women so unceasing that we no longer feel comfortable being normal human beings with blemishes, weakness, and fertility.
We need to study history as a subject in its own right, acquiring a deep appreciation for the story of Western civilization, with all its abysses of failure and all its deservedly celebrated achievements. We need to help our students understand old texts at a deeper level, in less anachronistic ways. Above all, we need to arm them against the hostility to their own tradition that has become such a destructive force in our culture.
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.

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