Friday, October 25, 2013, 11:39 AM
The new issue of Touchstone is heading to your mailbox. See the table of contents and articles available for online reading at www.touchstonemag.com, like this one by Anthony Esolen.
A Divine Gift of the Muses
The Great Epics Are Theological & Mark the Hard Path to Beatitude
Some years ago I got into a rather tense conversation with a couple of students in the office of the English department. We were talking about The Lord of the Rings, and I remarked that nothing like it could be written now, because our culture—for want of a better word, I must use the word “culture” to describe our mass habits, after the reality of culture has withered away—no longer possesses a vision of the world and of man that would sustain such a work. Tolkien himself could write his trilogy only because he was something of an anachronism, as he was steeped in the medieval epics—the sagas of Snorri Sturluson, the Finnish Kalevala, the Nibelungenlied, Beowulf, and so forth—and was a devout Catholic, seeing all things by the light of revelation and three thousand years of meditation upon the ways of God to man.
The students resisted. No youngster likes to hear that he lives in an age of decline and decrepitude. But over the years I’ve grown more convinced that my hunch was correct. Not only about the decrepitude—the palsy of the soul that mistakes cynicism for sophistication, and cold-hearted lust for love. Consider the ringing verse from Isaiah: “For my ways are not your ways, nor are my thoughts your thoughts, saith the Lord. For as high as the heavens are above the sea, so far are my ways from your ways, and my thoughts from your thoughts.”
That’s a verse that would set Homer himself to thinking. It expresses the vast distance between the divine and the human. But it is also addressed to man: it is a clarion call for man to set out on a journey to cross that distance, even as God reaches out to man in the events of human life. The sentiment on the part of the prophet is not despair but fear and wonder, and the appeal of an adventure in being itself.
continue reading . . .
Monday, September 23, 2013, 2:29 PM
From the current issue of Touchstone:
Christian Schools & Racial Realities
Hunter Baker on Desegregation & the Rise of Christian Education in the South
I live in Jackson, Tennessee. Our town of about 100,000 people sits between Memphis and Nashville. One of the outstanding features of Jackson is that it features an unusually large amount of Christian and other private schooling. Three public-school-sized parochial (or semi-parochial in one case) entities occupy positions on the north side of town. Another smaller one with a Great Books emphasis (the paradoxically new thing in Evangelical Christian education) is the proud owner of a smaller building outgrown by one of the three flagships. It also happens that the public schools of Jackson only recently gained their independence from federal supervision dating back to the racial tensions of segregation and desegregation.
Many view Christian schools with suspicion because a significant number of them began operation in the period when the United States was grappling most earnestly with desegregating American school systems in the hopes of vindicating our fundamental belief in equal opportunity. Statistics buttress this suspicion. From 1961 to 1971, enrollment in non-Catholic private schools doubled. The natural inference is that enthusiasm for Christian schooling was little more than a cover for racism. Some even referred to emerging Christian schools as “new segregation academies.”
Wednesday, September 18, 2013, 3:13 PM
From the current issue of Touchstone:
Fundamental to our nature is the fact that we communicate. God speaks; as his image-bearers, so do we. God is a community of persons; we were made to live and can thrive only in community, to know who we are by virtue of communicative relations with others. Because communication and community are so basic to our existence and our sense of identity, technologies that enable and direct how we communicate can have a powerful effect on how we imagine who we are.
All technologies shape the way we engage with things and people, and they thus encourage certain ways of understanding things and people. Technologies do not just enable us to perform tasks; they work on our imaginations. They give us metaphors for understanding that shape our experience and our desires. They also establish patterns of everyday practice that arrange our perception of reality. And often, if we perceive things in certain ways, we easily begin to conceive of them in certain ways. This is why communications technologies—gadgets and systems of gadgets that structure our giving and receiving of ideas and experiences, that mediate the world to us—have such a powerful impact in shaping our culture.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 3:40 PM
A book review by S.M. Hutchens
One of my teachers, a distinguished theologian thoroughly trained in the tradition of German academic theology, once said of an acquaintance that the poor chap felt incapable of preaching the gospel unless he felt up on “the latest poop from Germany.”
Thomas Albert Howard demonstrates in this magisterial and brilliantly executed study why the preacher’s dilemma was rooted in far larger and deeper considerations than slavish devotion to German school theology—the relationship between the critical science of the modern university (Wissenschaft), born and reared in Germany, and the peculiar knowledge claimed by the Christian Church, a knowledge that one time supported the claim that theology was the queen of sciences to which all others must apply for meaning and place.
Saturday, July 27, 2013, 3:46 PM
by Patrick F. Fagan & William L. Saunders
Two years ago, in an article titled “How U.N. Conventions on Women’s and Children’s Rights Undermine Family, Religion, and Sovereignty,” we considered the difficulties inherent in two United Nations conventions: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).1 In particular, we called attention to the fact that the committees entrusted to review implementation reports by state parties are acting far beyond their actual powers in what can only be described as an “ideological” manner.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 11:20 AM
by Kiernan Schroeder
Nearly every Tudor royal, statesman, and courtier has starred in a book or film in recent years: Queen Elizabeth I, Thomas More, King Henry VIII and his many wives—even Mary Boleyn, forgotten sister of the more famous Anne. Perhaps the most unlikely person to join this cast of reincarnated characters is Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s right-hand man and the statesman who finally engineered Henry’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon. In the Hans Holbein portrait, Cromwell is a short, chubby man, tightly gripping a piece of paper and staring with a frown out the window. He doesn’t look like the sort of man you’d want to keep company with. He seems ruthless, calculating, Machiavellian—not at all an ideal hero for a novel.
Saturday, July 20, 2013, 10:31 AM
by Russell D. Moore
There’s nothing quite as bleak as a city street the morning after Mardi Gras. The steam of the humidity rises silently over asphalt riddled with forgotten doubloons, broken bottles, littered cigarettes, used condoms, clotted blood, and mangled vomit. This sight was, for some of the convictional Evangelicals in my hometown, a parable of what was wrong with Roman Catholicism. I wasn’t so sure.
I am a product of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” By that I don’t mean the 1994 statement of cultural co-belligerency led by Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus. I mean that since my father was the son of a Southern Baptist preacher and my mother was a Roman Catholic, I am, quite literally, the product of an Evangelical and a Catholic, together. Half my family was Southern Baptist and the other half Roman Catholic, and my family divide perfectly summed up the larger community around us.
Thursday, July 18, 2013, 11:25 AM
R.R. Reno reviews The Beauty of the Infinite, by David B. Hart
Some decades ago the novelist Malcolm Cowley observed that literary culture tends to shift and change in thirty-year, generational stages, an insight that surely applies beyond the realm of literature. One need not be a brilliant social critic to observe that the last three decades have been relentlessly and homogeneously “post-sixties.”
Gore Vidal still writes diatribes. David Horowitz still inveighs against tenured radicals. Undergraduates still read Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. Book catalogues burst with new titles, but the assumptions, themes, and rhetoric are anything but new. By a thirty-year reckoning, American intellectual life is creakingly old—perhaps even dead and worm-ridden.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 10:25 AM
by Lance Nixon
An odd thing happens to Samwise Gamgee on the journey toward Mordor. Defending his wounded master, Frodo, from the attack of the giant spider Shelob, Sam is all but certain that he is going to die. Then a thought comes to him “as if some remote voice had spoken,” and Sam takes up the Phial of Galadriel, the gift of the elf queen, and speaks her name out loud. J. R. R. Tolkien goes on to say inThe Two Towers:
And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know:
“A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel,
le nallon sí di’nguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!”
Saturday, July 13, 2013, 9:19 AM
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by Leon J. Podles
Jews have for millennia felt the temptation to be like other peoples, to be like the nations, to have gods they can see and touch, to have a king, not to stand out and be despised by the Gentiles. It is a temptation, because God has chosen them to be set apart from all other nations, to be his holy people, for his own mysterious purposes, until the time comes when the Messiah shall unite the Gentiles and the Jews in their historical reality. Until that time, assimilation is a temptation—and a temptation that will lead to the disappearance of the Jews who want to become like Gentiles.
Over the past two centuries, some Jews have been tempted to imitate liberal Protestantism in abandoning the unique role of the male, especially of the father. Liberal Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist) has succeeded in doing this, and thus, like liberal Protestantism, liberal Judaism is disappearing.
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