Friday, July 31, 2009

Postmodern Elites and Premodern Masses

This lapidary observation from Victor Davis Hanson:
"Our cynical intellectual elites are becoming ever more postmodern even as the undereducated majority becomes premodern."
A recipe for catastrophe.

Source: here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The London Conference

"Dealing as it does with interreligious dialogue, especially that between Christianity and Islam, our conference addresses one of the most salient symptoms of the larger issue which I try to address in this paper, namely, future of Western Civilization, which is at this moment in a very serious crisis, a crisis of its own making. Now I divide my time between carping on the venality, vulgarity, and moral odiousness of much of popular Western Culture – and working as hard as I can to retrieve and redeploy its neglected religious and moral sources. This is my main concern, and at the heart of this concern is the responsibility I feel for preserving and passing on the Christian faith which is the quintessential source of Western civilization. For all of the West’s historical mistakes and sins, as René Girard has argued, the West is the culture that the Gospel Christianized and that, in turn, has Westernized the world, awakening a secular form of Christianity’s salutary ethical concern for victims specifically and for the dignity of the individual more generally. More to the point, my concern here is with the responsibility we who have enjoyed the moral, political, material and cultural advantages of this civilization have for passing it on more or less intact to our children’s children."
Thus begins the full text of the presentation I prepared for the annual Colloquium on Violence and Religion conference held at St. Mary's University College, London earlier this month.

Due to time constraints, I was only able to present excerpts of the presentation at the conference. Inasmuch as the theme was one that is almost inevitably disconcerting, we decided to put audio files of the entire presentation on the Cornerstone Forum website. We divided the presentation into three roughly 20-minute sections.

They can be found HERE.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

C. S. Lewis

Quoted in the latest email compilation of recommended essays from the Catholic Education Resource Center this from the pen of C. S. Lewis:
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Here come the British

Just back from London. I will have more on that in due course.

Meanwhile, and just coincidentally on a British note, this from the Sunday Times of London:
A National Health Service leaflet is advising school pupils that they have a “right” to an enjoyable sex life and that regular intercourse can be good for their cardiovascular health.

The advice appears in guidance circulated to parents, teachers and youth workers, and is intended to update sex education by telling pupils about the benefits of sexual pleasure. For too long, say its authors, experts have concentrated on the need for “safe sex” and loving relationships while ignoring the main reason that many people have sex, that is, for enjoyment. . . .

Alongside the slogan “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away”, it says: “Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes’ physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?”
A profession which once upon a time was held in esteem, has sunk to this, and, alas, the trend in this direction on this side of the Atlantic is quite obvious.

The old fashioned idea that schools were for teaching math and science, literature and history, is now as passé as the other old fashioned idea that it was the job of parents to teach their children sexual morality.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Neda Soltan

This from Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch:
This is the poor young woman who was shot dead by Iranian security forces, and whose bleeding face became an image of the brutality and humanity of the mullahs. Now it turns out the Neda Soltani was a Christian -- a telling indication that the analysts who dismissed the protesters as simply wanting more Sharia, or better Sharia, or Sharia with a different face, were wrong: it just wasn't that simple.

It is also telling that the cross around her neck was cropped out when this photo circulated around the world.
For example:
How important is it that this young woman was a Christian? At one level, of course, it isn't important. Whatever her religion or lack of religion, her life was precious, and it was savagely taken from her. But neither can the fact that her Christian faith has quietly emerged subsequently be regarded as insignificant. Who can doubt that she would have wanted her crucifix to be recognized by those who mourn her murder and honor her memory? Even beyond that, however, we cannot know how this seemingly little footnote to a heartless killing might, in C. S. Lewis' words, cause death to start working backward.

God works in mysterious ways.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Common Decency

Mark Steyn can always be counted on to offer a combination of political and even geopolitical erudition, on one hand, and clever and sometimes merciless wit, on the other. Late last Friday, only a few hours after Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska, setting off a flurry of speculation as to why, Steyn wrote the following for The Corner, the National Review weblog. It's worth quoting in its entirety. Here it is:
With respect to many of the Palinologists below, I think they're getting way too hepatomantic over the entrails.

As a political move for anything other than the 2010 Senate race, today's announcement is a disaster. And I'm not sure it's a plus for the Senate - and, even if it were, the manner and timing suggest it was not a professionally planned event and therefore is unlikely to have any grand strategy behind it.

So Occam's Razor leaves us with: Who needs this?

In states far from the national spotlight, politics still attracts normal people. You're a mayor or a state senator or even the governor, but you lead a normal life. The local media are tough on you, but they know you, they live where you live, they're tough on the real you, not on some caricature cooked up by a malign alliance of late-night comics who'd never heard of you a week earlier and media grandees supposedly on your own side who pronounce you a "cancer".

Then suddenly you get the call from Washington. You know it'll mean Secret Service, and speechwriters, and minders vetting your wardrobe. But nobody said it would mean a mainstream network comedy host doing statutory rape gags about your 14-year old daughter. You've got a special-needs kid and a son in Iraq and a daughter who's given you your first grandchild in less than ideal circumstances. That would be enough for most of us. But the special-needs kid and the daughter and most everyone else you love are a national joke, and the PC enforcers are entirely cool with it.

Most of those who sneer at Sarah Palin have no desire to live her life. But why not try to - what's the word? - "empathize"? If you like Wasilla and hunting and snowmachining and moose stew and politics, is the last worth giving up everything else in the hopes that one day David Letterman and Maureen Dowd might decide Trig and Bristol and the rest are sufficiently non-risible to enable you to prosper in their world? And, putting aside the odds, would you really like to be the person you'd have to turn into under that scenario?

National office will dwindle down to the unhealthily singleminded (Clinton, Obama), the timeserving emirs of Incumbistan (Biden, McCain) and dynastic heirs (Bush). Our loss.

Mark Steyn

Saturday, July 04, 2009

July 4th - Part Two

The homily this morning at the Abbey paid due respect to the signers of the Declaration of Independence, most of whom paid a very dear price for that act of moral principle and political courage. It was the recessional hymn at the end of Mass, however, composed by Lloyd Stone and arranged by Jean Sibelius, that I found most moving. It is one of my favorite hymns and one that the monks often sing on July 4th.

Here are the lyrics:
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cover-leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh, hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms,
Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all men serve him.
And hearts united learn to live as one.
Oh, hear by prayer, thou God of all the nations,
Myself I give thee; let thy will be done.
This is a lovely reminder of something that Howard Thurman told me many years ago, namely, you can't be at home everywhere until you're at home somewhere.

Happy 4th.

July 4th

Holidays generally catch me by surprise. I find the post office closed and realize that it is a holiday. In the case of today's celebration of American patriotism, I was not caught completely off guard. The post office closed yesterday at noon. I had forewarning. But I have been busy working on a short presentation I will make at a conference next week in London – the theme of which is the relationship between Europe and Islam. On the spur of the moment I have decided to use my opening remarks for next week's little talk as my Fourth of July posting. In due course, if I think it of more general interest, I will post an audio version of the longer presentation. Meanwhile here are the opening few paragraphs:

I speak today as the son of a man who lost his life fighting on European soil for the survival – not of American democracy – but of Western Civilization. If I speak to my hosts and my host society more candidly than is perhaps appropriate for a visiting guest, I do so in the name of those whose bodies are buried in countless cemeteries all across Europe – men and women who crossed the Atlantic to risk and lose their lives in defense of the greatest civilization in the history of the world. I speak as one who believes, as they did, that this civilization – for all its failures and shortcomings – is not only eminently worth saving, but that it was then and is now the last best bulwark against the return of barbarism that now threatens us.

Unlike the generation that sacrificed so much to preserve our civilization, many of us have lately come to believe that our present responsibilities amount to little more than relaxing the religious, moral, social and cultural traditions lest those who opt for the culture’s fruits but reject the seeds that produced it might not feel unwelcome. This minimalist assessment of our cultural responsibility is a striking example of what G. K. Chesterton called Christian virtues gone mad. Contrary to its apparent logic, it has resulted in an alarming number of European newcomers who feel both unwelcome and ungrateful for the undemanding welcome their hosts have extended to them.

The transmutation of Christian virtue into madness has a long history. Long before we became enchanted with ideological multiculturalism, and before the prevailing bias of academic intellectuals and the commentariat was labeled political correctness, Chesterton himself described its English antecedents:

. . . there has been a queer habit among the English of always siding against the Europeans, and representing the rival civilization, in Swinburne’s phrase, as sinless; when its sins were obviously crying or rather screaming to heaven. . . . Now it is very right to rebuke our own race or religion for falling short of our own standards and ideals. But it is absurd to pretend that they fell lower than the other races and religions that professed the very opposite standards and ideals. There is a very real sense in which the Christian is worse than the heathen . . . But there is only one sense in which he is worse; and that is not in being positively worse. The Christian is only worse because it is his business to be better.

If at first this attitude of cultural diffidence and deference seems virtuous, on closer inspection it can be seen as a shrugging refusal to take mature responsibility for the often onerous task of protecting and preserving and passing along to posterity hard-won religious, moral and cultural treasures.

If our civilization is to survive in any form recognizable to those who went to such heroic efforts to fashion and preserve it, it will be because we will have recovered a degree of Churchillian and Chestertonian vigor, from the lack of which our culture has been suffering for decades.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Immanentizing the Eschaton

If this image makes no sense to you whatsoever, consult the March, 2009 Emmaus Road Initiative talk I have which is at the bottom of this page of the Cornerstone Forum website.

Hat tip to my friend John Meenagh.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

What a great blog . . .

The great thing about this blog is that those who comment on it are infinitely more interesting and well-informed and clever than the blogger-in-chief.

I say that with great gratitude. I love reading this blog, a small fraction of which I write myself.

Thanks everyone.