Wednesday, April 25, 2007

From First Things

Thanks to sharp eyes on the Bayly Blog, I was reminded of the good stuff to be found in First Things, now linked here. These excerpts come from a recent speech transcribed there, given by Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of Denver.
But Americans now face the same growing spiritual illness that J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Christopher Dawson, Romano Guardini, and C.S. Lewis all wrote about in the last century. It’s a loss of hope and purpose that comes from the loss of an interior life and a living faith. It’s a loss that we can only make bearable by creating a culture of material comfort that feeds—and feeds off of—personal selfishness.

Humility is the beginning of sanity. We can’t love anyone else until we can see past ourselves. And man can’t even be man without God. The humility to recognize who we are as creatures, who God is as our Father, what God asks from each of us, and the reality of God’s love for other human persons as well as ourselves—this is the necessary foundation that religion brings to every discussion of free will, justice, and truth, and to every conversation about “the common good.”
And quoting from Frank Sheed:
It’s incredible how long science has succeeded in keeping men’s minds off their fundamental unhappiness and its own very limited power to remedy their fundamental unhappiness. One marvel follows another—electric light, phonograph, motor car, telephone, radio, airplane, television. It’s a curious list, and very pathetic. The soul of man is crying for hope of purpose or meaning; and the scientist says, “Here is a telephone” or “Look, television!”—exactly as one tries to distract a baby crying for its mother by offering it sugar-sticks and making funny faces.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Men Without Chests

In the wake of the Virginia carnage, theories and cultural analyses abound. For me it's time to revisit a C.S. Lewis classic The Abolition of Man, 1947 McMillan.

A handful of Christian writers demonstrate that remarkable prescience which makes their decades-old identification of trends more useful than most contemporary analysis. Among them are A.W. Tozer on the church, Francis Schaeffer on culture, and C.S. Lewis on both.

Abolition is a small book beginning with a chapter entititled Men Without Chests. His premise: that in modern culture, a shift was taking place in the education and moral development of children. Rejected as outmoded sentimentality, shared values (common understandings of what is good and beautiful) give way to a subjectivism that leaves all definitions and judgments in the mind of the beholder. While seeming to inoculate students against emotional manipulation by others, the product of this new humanism is inhumanity, a kind of soul-lessness, the abolition of man.

People become merely intellectual and visceral, imagination and appetite, with no "chest," no heart in between to mediate between the two and train the impulses of either. The result in culture is cognitive dissonance. We want (desperately need) people to be good, restrained and controlled in their behavior, understanding and tolerant in their views of others, respectful—in a word, civilized—and yet deny any common, binding definition of what it means to be civilized. In one of his better-known quotes:
And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible....We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
More later as I make my way through this one more time, but when shocking and horrific soul-lessness shows up again as it has in Virginia this week, this is one of the books worth re-reading.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

And the Award Goes to...

Mikhael Gorbachev. For the sincerity, strength and brilliance of this statement regarding the U.S. plan to develop a missile shield to protect Europe from imminent rogue state threats:

"It is all about influence and domination in Europe," Mikhail Gorbachev said. "I believe it is wrong that America did not even bother to consult its NATO allies."

The second Amnesia Helmet [see my 3/14/07 post] is hereby awarded to the former Soviet President who seems to have forgotten that NATO was in fact created to resist the influence and domination of Russia in Europe—and further that untold American time, effort and treasure were and continue to be poured into Europe in order to protect it first from his nation and now from others with similar designs. And of course we all know how much influence we enjoy in Europe today.

Whether all European members were adequately consulted, I don't know. I just find it amusing when deep concerns about the finer points of henhouse security come from a representative of the fox.

He will add this prestigious award to his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, the Orders of Lenin, and the Red Banner of Labour. You can read all about him at, a site which like all grand socialist experiments promises much but doesn't actually work (at least in my browser).

Monday, April 09, 2007

An Inconvenient View of Global Warming

This piece in Newsweek by an MIT climatologist introduces a note of sanity to the discussion in the mainstream media. Money quote:
The current alarm rests on the false assumption not only that we live in a perfect world, temperaturewise, but also that our warming forecasts for the year 2040 are somehow more reliable than the weatherman's forecast for next week.

Monday, April 02, 2007

C.S. Lewis: Dreamer of Narnia

At long last my daughters and I sat down with this 75 minute documentary feature included with the Chronicles of Narnia DVD. What a delight! It's the story of Lewis's life interwoven with themes and excerpts from all the Narnia books and punctuated with commentary from all sorts of people—literary names to former Oxford students to Douglas Gresham, Lewis's step-son. The visuals include clever animations of the Pauline Baynes original illustrations.

His conversion to Christianity is clearly presented, and much of the "first-person" narration seems to come from his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Included were a couple of my favorite quotes from that book:
[on Atheism]
I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.
[on Atheism and books]
A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere—"Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.
[on his conversion]
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not see then what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms.
Highly recommended.