MARS HILL AUDIO Journal
Guests on Volume 143: Mark Regnerus, on the effects of social changes in modernity on sexual behavior; Jessica Hooten Wilson, on the influence of Fyodor Dostoevsky on Walker Percy’s convictions and his approach to writing; John Henry Crosby, on the heroic witness borne by Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977) in his philosophical writings and his battle against Nazism; John F. Crosby, on the influence of the schools of phenomenology and personalism in the thought of Dietrich von Hildebrand; Wynand de Beer, on lessons from Hellenic cosmology about the metaphysical questions raised by organic diversity and change; and Sørina Higgins, on the perennial appeal of the stories inspired by the figure of King Arthur, especially in the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield.
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Mark Regnerus, on the effects of social changes in modernity on sexual behavior
“[Through contraception sexuality became] separated from the idea that this act could generate life, so I think the argument in the book (and I think the evidence bears it out) is that sex has become more of an infertile act in itself. Independently of what your partner is on or not on in terms of contraception, people are thinking of sex as a baseline infertile act . . . I think in this is a building of a new narrative, one that suggests that sex is infertile until proven otherwise.”
Sociologist Mark Regnerus examines how the dating market and marriage practices have changed over the past several decades. He also explains some of the particular data sampling challenges that sociologists have to hurdle when asking questions about sexuality and marital relations. Regnerus sees the disintegration of certain social structures that historically have informed men and women about what relationships should look like and what their purposes are as largely contributing to the changes in marriage rates and sexual activity. He introduces his readers to the prescient insights of sociologist Anthony Giddens, author of The Transformation of Intimacy, particularly the notion of a “pure relationship.”
Jessica Hooten Wilson, on the influence of Fyodor Dostoevsky on Walker Percy’s convictions and his approach to writing
“It’s part of our nature to imitate and to look back at our models. What does that mean for writers then? Why is it that we’ve disregarded our influences and we think that it kills our originality or we must protect our uniqueness by not admitting whom we’ve read before? Instead, Percy is coming out of this very humble place (having been a physician and not a novelist) and recognizing [that] in science you always stand on the shoulders of giants . . . So Percy had a habit of looking back at the writers that could influence him.”
Literary scholar Jessica Hooten Wilson explains how she realized that the writings of Fyodor Dostoevksy greatly influenced the writing of novelist Walker Percy. “Influence,” however, is often taboo among writers and artists for fear that they might lose credibility as creative or original. But Wilson wants to restore the place of imitation. Influence, argues Wilson, can never truly be avoided without losing artistic integrity. Wilson also discusses the diagnostic stance towards modern man that characterizes Percy’s novels as well as his skepticism towards modern “self-help techniques” that disregard a vision of man rooted in transcendence.
John Henry Crosby, on the heroic witness borne by Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977) in his philosophical writings and his battle against Nazism
“I like to say that unlike someone like Cardinal Newman, who read his way into the Church, or someone like Augustine, you know, the classic case of a conversion rooted in moral reformation, moral awakening, in von Hildebrand’s case, it was really the attraction through the beautiful.”
President and founder of the Hildebrand Project, John Henry Crosby, describes Dietrich von Hildebrand’s roles as philosopher, Christian witness, political witness, and cultural representative. Von Hildebrand wrote eloquently for his fellow Christians about theological matters from the perspective of a lay Christian. During the middle of the twentieth century when Nazism was growing, von Hildebrand risked his life to fight against the anti-humanism of totalitarianism. And as a critic of culture, von Hildebrand urgently defended beauty, arguing that beauty is an essentially human and Christian topic that demands and deserves as much reverence as questions of ethics and doctrine.
John F. Crosby, on the influence of the schools of phenomenology and personalism in the thought of Dietrich von Hildebrand
“[B]eauty somehow addresses us as persons and calls for appreciation, and yet [von Hildebrand] doesn’t want to cross the line into subjectivism as if the beauty doesn’t exist except in our appreciation. It’s there, but it has . . . this appeal to us, this — as he says in a few places, it turns its face to us and is somehow left incomplete if there’s no human who understands it and is caught up and edified by it.”
Philosopher and former student of Dietrich von Hildebrand, John F. Crosby offers some helpful descriptions of the philosophical schools called phenomenology and personalism and how von Hildebrand’s thought reflects these approaches. Von Hildebrand felt that things and people needed to be protected from a reductionist mindset that collapsed the integrity of a thing into something incomplete and incompatible with real experience. His reflections on beauty and human freedom both take into account the inner life of persons and of things that influences how we relate to the world around us.
Wynand de Beer, on lessons from Hellenic cosmology about the metaphysical questions raised by organic diversity and change
“It was [Étienne] Gilson who first showed me the etymology of the word ‘evolution,’ being derived from the Latin evolvere, meaning ‘to unfold.’ And only that which has been enfolded can be unfolded; only that which has been enveloped can be developed.”
Hellenic and Patristic scholar, Wynand de Beer introduces some alternative evolutionary theories that have existed since Greek philosophy and which offer a different metaphysics from that of Darwinian evolutionary theory. De Beer explains that Darwinian theories of transformation fit well within a modern understanding of causality that recognizes only mechanical or material causes, which may account for why Darwinian evolution is often presumed to be the only evolutionary option available. In his book, From Logos to Bios, de Beer explores how Greek metaphysics can inform how we think about the origins of life on earth.
Sørina Higgins, on the perennial appeal of the stories inspired by the figure of King Arthur, especially in the work of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield
“Their Arthurian works are there to communicate the idea that there is a union between what we tend to call the natural and the supernatural . . . [The Grail] is a physical locus where the natural and the supernatural touch. So another word that might work for all of this is ‘sacramental.’ I would say that The Inklings had a very sacramental vision of the world and Arthuriana and so the Grail works as an image for that.”
Literary scholar, Sørina Higgins talks about how the legend of King Arthur has served the English people in various political and social contexts. Due to its variety of sources, the Arthurian legend is particularly pliable and therefore easily adaptable for different political and social purposes, whether that be establishing ruling legitimacy — as in the Tudor era — or critiquing assumptions about class and gender — as in the Victorian period. For The Inklings, especially Charles Williams and J. R. R. Tolkien, Arthuriana material was a way of combating the destructive and reductive patterns of their late modern context.