Pope Benedict XVI on C.S. Lewis, 1988

C.S. Lewis (image from FEE)

“Long before the outbreak of terrorism and the invasion of drugs, the English author and philosopher, C.S. Lewis, called attention to the grievous danger of the abolition of man which lies in the collapse of the foundations of morality.  He thus gave stress to humankind’s justification upon which the continuance of man as man depends.  Lewis shows the continuance of the this justification with a glance at all the great civilisations.  He refers not only to the moral heritage of the Greeks and its particular articulation by Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoa.  These intended to lead man to an awareness of reason in his being and from that to insist upon the cultivation of ‘his kinship of being with reason.’  Lewis also recalls the ideas of the Rta [sic] in early Hinduism which asserts the harmony of the cosmic order, the moral virtues and the temple rituals.  He underscores in a special way the Chinese doctrine of the Tao: ‘It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road.  It is the Way in which the universe goes on. .  . It is also the Way in which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.  Modern mankind has been persuaded that human moral values are radically opposed one to another in the same way that religions are.  In both cases the simple conclusion is drawn that all of these are human inventions whose absurdity we can finally detect and replace with reasonable knowledge.  This diagnosis, though, is extremely superficial.  It hooks on to a series of details which are set up in random fashion, one next to the other, and so it arrives at the banality of its superior insight.  The reality is that the fundamental institution concerning the moral character of being itself and the necessity for harmony between human existence and the message of nature is common to all the great civilisations; and thus the great moral imperatives are also a possession held in common.  C S Lewis expressed this emphatically when he said: ‘This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law, or Traditional Morality or the First principle of Practical Reason, or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value.  It is the sole source of all value judgements.  If it is rejected, all value is rejected.  If any value is retained, it is retained.  The effort to refute it and to raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory.’  Morality has been eroded and man as human being has worn away with it.  It is no longer prudent to ask why one should hold fast to this kind of survival.  Once more I would like to have C S Lewis put in a word.  He saw this process already in 1943 and described it with keen accuracy.  He discerns in it the old compact with the Magician: ‘ . . . give up our soul, get power in return.  But once our souls, that is, our selves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us . . . It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere “natural object” . . . The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his dehumanized Conditioners.’  Lewis raised this warning during the second World War because he saw how, with the destruction of morality, the very capacity to defend his nation against onslaught of barbarism was imperiled.  He was objective enough, though, to add the following: “I am not here thinking solely, perhaps not even chiefly, or those who are our public enemies at the moment.  The process which, if not checked, will abolish man, goes on apace among Communists and Democrats, no less than among Fascists.”  This seems to me to be a common of great import.  Lewis refers as well to the law of Israel, which unites cosmos and history and intends above all to be the expression of the truth about man as much as the truth about the world.  An appreciation of the great civilisations discloses differences in detail; but starker by far than these differences is the great common strain which reveals itself as early evidence of the human business of living: the teaching of objective values which are manifest in the being of the world; the belief that there are attitudes which are true in accord with the message of the All and therefore good and that there are other attitudes as well which are contrary to being and thus are wrong for good and for all.”

–Edited down version of a speech by then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Taken from Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Fisher Lecture” at Cambridge University, January 25, 1988. See “Cardinal Ratzinger in Cambridge,” BRIEFING 88, vol. 18, no. 3 (5 February 1988); reprinted in the CANADIAN CSL JOURNAL no. 63 (Summer 1988), 4-5.

On Loving Definitions ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Throughout history, of course, tyrants and demagogues have always manipulated language for their own self-interest and political advantage. Perhaps no tyrants in history did this with more skill than did the caesars in maintaining the language, institutions, and symbols of the Roman Republic while establishing the iron-fisted rule of the executive. To be sure, others have done the same. The grand sociologist Robert Nisbet went so far as to describe the entire history of the political state as the history of euphemism. What is surprising in 2019, then, is not that politicians and bureaucrats manipulate language, but rather that American and western societies as a whole have fallen for the propaganda so easily and readily. Even with blatant warnings from Ray Bradbury and George Orwell, we have still fallen hard. Critical words—such love, myth, and imagination—have become things they were never meant to become, inverted, converted, and ripped apart until almost unrecognizable from their original meanings. Lesser words—such have gay, faggot, and dogma—have taken on entirely new meanings as well.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/02/on-loving-definitions-bradley-birzer.html

Why Celebrate the Presidents?

By almost any objective standard, the institution of the U.S. Presidency is a failure. Certainly at a moral level as well as by the intent of the founding fathers, who worried collectively about creativity a “foetus of monarchy,” no right-minded person could defend the institution. Generally, it has been led by incompetents, many of them immoral or incapable of moral agency toward the good.

Even a cursory glance at Article II of the U.S. Constitution reveals that the framers worried most about a presidency getting out of hand. Hence, the office originally had next to no power, with restrictions on almost everything. Yet, today, the office possesses the greatest amount of power ever entrusted to a single person. At the tips of the president’s fingers reside not only the largest and most lethal military arsenal ever assembled by humanity, but also access to the most intimate information about every single American citizen.

There is nothing in the 1787 Constitution that allows for a “national emergency” to be declared by the president, nor does it allow for “executive orders.”

Yet, we take each of these things as a matter of course.

To my mind, only five to seven men have been worthy of the office–and I speak here from a constitutional standpoint, not a policy one–Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Cleveland, Coolidge, Eisenhower, and Reagan.

And, yet, we have a federal holiday dedicated to the failure and horror of the whole thing. Sickening.

The Top 10 Library Stories of 2018/Publisher’s Weekly and Dedra!

In a move that garnered significant media attention, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, voted at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans to remove the name of children’s book author Laura Ingalls Wilder from a popular award. The decision came months after a task force set out to consider the long-running scholarly discussion around “anti-Native and anti-black sentiments” in Wilder’s work. And predictably, the change touched off a chorus of critics who portrayed the move as political correctness run amok.

“Stripping Wilder’s name from this award,” Dedra McDonald Birzer wrote in the National Review, “creates a slippery slope for excising all literature that doesn’t adhere to a strict definition of ‘inclusivity,’ whether or not that inclusivity accurately reflects American history.”
Even William Shatner weighed in, getting into a Twitter beef with librarians over the change. Yes, Captain Kirk himself.
— Read on www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/78830-the-top-10-library-stories-of-2018.html

My beautiful wife, Dedra, quoted in Publisher’s Weekly!

Musings on suicide and secularism

My recent essay for The Imaginative Conservative, titled “Suicide and Secularism on a Wednesday Afternoon”,  was posted, fittingly, this past Wednesday. It reflects on the tragic story of “the tragic suicide of Tara Condell, a twenty-seven-year-old Manhattan dietitian who hanged herself in her apartment after posting a note online that is, in so many ways, a damning indictment of the widespread lie that health, a good job, a comfortable life, and an eclectic range of interests and pursuits are sufficient to provide meaning and purpose in this life.”

I write:

In Percy’s first novel, The Moviegoer (which won the National Book Award in 1962), the young movie-going Binx Bolling states that “the malaise is the pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo’s ghost.” Ms. Condell, for her part, readily admits having “a great life on paper,” filled with good meals and wide travel, but confesses: “However, all these facets seem trivial to me. It’s the ultimate first world problem, I get it. I often felt detached while in a room full of my favorite people; I also felt absolutely nothing during what should have been the happiest and darkest times in my life.”

Percy, like Eliot, recognized that the core problem is not one of mere morality—even though the jettisoning of basic Judeo-Christian morality is a key symptom and “an ontological impoverishment”—but a failure to really know what it means to be human. Secularism assumes that comfort is a necessity, but the Judeo-Christian tradition warns that comfort and the belief that one has “arrived” are often just strains of an undetected poison. The average person, wrote Percy in the essay “Diagnosing The Modern Malaise,” “has settled everything except what it is to live as an individual. He still has to get through an ordinary Wednesday afternoon… What does this man do with the rest of the day? the rest of his life?”

Read the entire essay.