Category Archives: Culture

An Education

From the Opinion pages of today’s Wall Street Journal:

    When most people think of Oxford, what comes to mind are images of bright minds debating quantum physics or the existence of God.  But even the brainiest sometimes need a lesson in common sense.

    That’s exactly what the bursar at St. John’s College–the most richly endowed college at Oxford–delivered when he responded to students occupying his 15th-century quadrangle and refusing to leave until the college divested its oil-company shares.  The students want the college to sell the more than $10 million of its endowment now invested in Shell and BP, and they want it now.

    The Times of London reports that bursar Andrew Parker made them a counteroffer. “I am not able to arrange any divestment at short notice,” he wrote.  “But I can arrange for the gas central heating in college to be switched off with immediate effect.  Please let me know if you support this proposal.”

    The idea that the students themselves make a fossil-fuel sacrifice did not go over well…..

Truth, not Wishful Thinking

Erica Komisar recently wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that made me really sad.  It was titled “Don’t Believe in God? Lie to Your Children.”

The author is a psychoanalyst.  That is her perspective and milieu.  She starts:

As a therapist, I’m often asked to explain why depression and anxiety are so common among children and adolescents.  One of the most important explanations– and perhaps the most neglected– is declining interest in religion.  This cultural shift already has proved disastrous for millions of vulnerable young people.

She cites a Harvard study that reported teens who attended “a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness.”

And then this:

I am often asked by parents, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or Heaven?”  My answer is always the same.’ Lie.’  The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children.  Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss.  In an age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope.

God help us.  It is also critical for adults to finally understand it is absolutely true that God is, and God is in control, and God loves us!  I want to tell the author that it is never good to lie to our children.  How much better to doggedly search for the truth of who we are, and what is the meaning of life.  And it is revealed in the good news of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the God-man.  Our Savior.

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus is one of the best documented facts of antiquity.  Check it out.

Crying Out For Myth and Parable

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After reading this essay, I want to read Bradley Birzer’s book:

Myth, Tolkien thought, can convey the sort of profound truth that was intransigent to description or analysis in terms of facts and figures, and is therefore a more powerful weapon for cultural renewal than is modern rationalist science and technology.[11] Myth can emphasize the beauty of God’s creation as well as the sacramental nature of life.[12] “Our time, sick nigh unto death of utilitarianism and literalness, cries out for myth and parable,” American novelist and political philosopher Russell Kirk explained. “Great myths are not merely susceptible of rational interpretation: they are truth, transcendent truth.”[13] Tolkien believed that myth can teach men and women how to be fully and truly men and women, not mere cogs in the vast machine of modern technological society.

In his inimitable way, Chesterton once wrote that

imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural mystic does know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort of incantation that can call it up.[14]

Besides offering an essential path to the highest truths, myth plays a vital role in any culture because it binds together members of communities. “It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by a majority of the people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad,” Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy.[15] Communities “share symbols and myths that provide meaning in their existence as a people and link them to some transcendent order,” political theorist Donald Lutz explains. “The shared meaning and a shared link to some transcendent order allow them to act as a people.”[16] The man “who has no sympathy with myths,” Chesterton concluded, “has no sympathy with men.”[17] One cannot, it seems, separate men from their myths.

….For Tolkien, however, even pagan myths attempted to express God’s greater truths. True myth has the power to revive us, to serve as an anamnesis, or way of bringing to conscious experience ancient experiences with transcendence. But, Tolkien admitted, myth could be dangerous, or “perilous,” as he usually stated it, if it remained pagan. Therefore, Tolkien thought, one must sanctify it, that is, make it Christian and put it in God’s service.

Losing our Freedom

Thanks to Patrick Kurp for my introduction to Claire Berlinski, an American journalist in this entry on his blog.  Kurp quoting Berlinski:

“Our shrinking vocabulary is not merely a curious linguistic trend. It signifies that we are losing our capacity for complex thought—and liberal democracy cannot survive this. Liberalism, and the tolerance it demands of citizen, relies upon the public’s sense of, and respect for, the near-infinite complexity of life generally, and human societies, in particular.”

Kurp also linked Berlinski’s newsletter, from which this comes:

That Western academics have become enamored of the idea that nothing is true and only power matters was not an inevitable consequence of our freedom, but a contingent accident of our intellectual history. Nonetheless, academia, and with it our intellectual life and all that is downstream of it, has been degraded by this empty and trivial orthodoxy. This, combined with the revelation that our politicians have lied to us so many times, about so many things, has given rise to widespread cynicism about truth itself. None of this must happen in a free society; there was nothing inevitable about this. It just happened to happen. But this is precisely the climate that allows a New Caesar come to power.

New Caesarism is a regime of lies. Such systematic lying cannot be as effective as it is unless the public believes already that there’s not much of a difference between truth and a lie—that “truth” is a fiction created by power, and that it is natural and legitimate to manufacture facts and arguments to serve a desirable aim or power structure.

Read the rest here.

Strolling

I recently read a reference to our lost appreciation of walking for enjoyment, strolling.

Strolling used to be an American custom, but hasn’t been for a long time. It still remains a powerful one in most European countries, especially in the Mediterranean …. The courtship ritual of the paseo[that is in Italy] allows young couples to be alone in public. Wandering one late Sunday summer afternoon on the Janiculum Hill in Rome, I noticed that amid the strollers—young and old, fat and thin, single, in couples, and in larger groups—the only people moving at a more intense pace were the determined American joggers, oblivious of the pine trees, the views, and the fresh air, impervious to everything except their pulse rate and the chore at hand.
Willard Spiegelman, Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009), 61.es, “Never did running seem so inappropriate, so unnecessary, so modern.”

It reminded me of a favorite passage in Wendell Berry’s “Jayber Crow.”

“We walked always in beauty, it seemed to me. We walked and looked about, or stood and looked. Sometimes, less often, we would sit down. We did not often speak. The place spoke for us and was a kind of speech. We spoke to each other in the things we saw.”

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Like my parents, I have always enjoyed walking.  Here they are in Savannah in 2011.

 

 

What Lemmings Believe

At a recent Estate Sale I purchased a large book collection of all the New Yorker magazine cartoons, 1925-2004.  You can tell a lot about a specific time period just by looking at the cartoons from that era.

This one seems appropriate for our culture today that prefers to be flexible enough to deny there is truth and reality.

My short commentary on this cartoon would be “Believing something that is not true can be devastating.”

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The book:IMG_2618.jpg

 

 

Mickey Mousing All Those Nice Characters

More from The Private World of Tasha Tudor:

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My education, such as it was, revolved around books.  Aunt Gwen read aloud to us as only she could until ten or eleven every night, and then we went to school at eight the next morning, but it didn’t seem to affect us.  She read us all of Scott and Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Conan Doyle.  I was conversant with Huckleberry Finn and The Mysterious Stranger from the age of seven.

Of course we were brought up on Beatrix Potter, and I loved The Wind in the Willows.  That was one of my father’s favorite books.  Walt Disney should be sued for cheapening it as he did.  Imagine it, Mickey Mousing all those nice characters.  I’m surprised he didn’t do it with the New Testament.

There are certain books that you enjoy as a child, but when you read them again as an adult you find there’s nothing to them.  But then there are others that you get just as much pleasure out of: Gulliver’s Travels, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, Robinson Crusoe, and especially Moby-Dick.  That book has been ruined by teachers!  The pictures it creates in your mind you never forget.  You can even smell the food of the inn in the opening chapter.  When I read a story, I see it like a movie, moving and all in color.  Books are very real to me.  I greatly admire Emily Dickinson, who said, “There is no Frigate like a Book/To take us Lands away.”

I still haven’t read Moby-Dick, and I never before heard of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys beautiful things, whether they are ideas or physical objects.  It is more of a browsing, than a read through sort of book, more than half of the 129 pages are photographs, and many pages have a Tudor illustration.