Volume 146

Guests on Volume 146: Mark Mitchell, on liberalism’s false metaphysical claims about purpose, human nature, and tradition; Hans Boersma, on the cultural implications of the beatific vision; Henry T. Edmondson, III, on Flannery O’Connor’s understanding of political life; Brian Clayton and Douglas Kries, on the common and faulty assumption that faith and reason cannot be reconciled; Conor Sweeney, on wrestling with the ‘death of God’ with the help of hobbit wisdom, religious experience, and sacramental theology; and Carole Vanderhoof, on the creative, intelligent, and demanding integrity of Dorothy L. Sayers.

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Part 1

  • Description
    Mark Mitchell, on liberalism's corrosive effects on tradition, freedom, and our understanding of human nature
    The Limits of Liberalism: Tradition, Individualism, and the Crisis of Freedom (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019)

    “What we have is a kind of competitor to that view: the idea that there is no normative human nature; there is no teleological structure to human life; and what human beings are at core is Will. That human beings are creatures of various and competing desires and to impose from the outside a kind of constraint on those desires, or a structure upon those desires that says ‘this is what human beings ought to do by virtue of their nature,’ is perceived as a constraint on one’s individual freedom.”

    Mark Mitchell

    In the midst of so much turmoil surrounding the sustainability of political liberalism, professor of government, Mark Mitchell asks whether there is anything that truly binds Americans together beyond their commitment to self-creation. Because liberalism presents an impoverished anthropology, which denies both a normative nature and a given social context to human beings, the result is that human beings are nothing more than uninhibited wills and a combination of various competing desires. In his book, The Limits of Liberalism, Mitchell examines the threat that liberalism poses to tradition especially and looks at three prominent thinkers who placed a high value upon tradition: Michael Oakeshott, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Michael Polanyi.

  • Description
    Hans Boersma, on the cultural implications of the beatific vision
    Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition (Eerdmans, 2018)

    “In an important sense, all of the world is a theater of God’s glory. It makes present God himself, so that . . . to the extent that we have spiritual eyes, we see God there. And when we see God there, that’s when we’re going to act, talk, think differently.”

    Hans Boersma

    Theologian Hans Boersma argues that the beatific vision described throughout scripture is foreshadowed in “this-worldy experiences,” and that, particularly because of the Incarnation, eschatological experience is not only something in the future somewhere else, but is in fact connected with historical experience. Through this world, our purpose is to both perceive God’s glory and to be formed more and more like Christ, so that in the fullness of time we will be able to see God. This end, or telos, is built into all of creation and forms the horizon within which we engage with creation.

  • Description
    Henry T. Edmondson, III, on political themes that emerge in the writings of Flannery O’Connor
    A Political Companion to Flannery O’Connor (University Press of Kentucky, 2017)

    “Rather than God being some component of history, I think she would say that history was a component of God. That we are interacting, whether we know it or not, with a transcendent order.”

    Henry T. Edmondson, III

    Political science professor, Henry T. Edmondson, III, talks about Flannery O’Connor’s understanding of political life, which was influenced by a range of thinkers including Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Eric Voegelin, and Russell Kirk. She shared with Kirk a suspicion of a “politics of tenderness” that focused on sentimentality over charity and his proposal for a prudential application of principles in favor of firm adherence to an ideology. Nonetheless, like Voegelin, O’Connor’s confidence in natural law and the supernatural allowed her to conceive of God as intrinsically acting within history.

Part 2

  • Description
    Brian Clayton and Douglas Kries, on recovering a more expansive understanding of reason as the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty
    Two Wings: Integrating Faith & Reason (Ignatius Press, 2018)

    “With the Enlightenment, suddenly there was this restriction of the scope of reason . . . It could tell us principally about natural science or it could be a calculative kind of thing . . . but it doesn’t have anything to say about the big questions anymore . . . This narrowing of the scope of reason means ([Pope Benedict] went on to argue) that theology or faith doesn’t have anybody to talk to anymore. And that was his point about how in order for the dialogue between faith and reason to move forward, reason has got to expand. It has to have a little confidence in its ability to say what’s true.”

    Douglas Kries

    Philosophers Brian Clayton and Douglas Kries discuss how their students often approach the relationship between faith and reason, noting that faith is frequently reduced to a set of affirmed propositions and reason to a scientific and calculative faculty. The two categories are usually either opposed or simply assumed to be separate. But in lived experience, faith and reason inform each other quite often and are often mutually reinforcing. A more expansive understanding of faith involves trust as well as an element of desire or love, which motivates our reasoning towards practical, material, moral, or spiritual ends. Likewise, a more expansive understanding of reason is able to think compellingly about questions of being, goodness, truth, and even beauty.

  • Description
    Conor Sweeney, on why baptism is the key to sustaining vibrant faith in the context of postmodern nihilism
    Abiding the Long Defeat: How to Evangelize Like a Hobbit in a Disenchanted Age (Angelico Press, 2018)

    “For me, it’s about wrestling with the ‘death of God.’ Confronting the forces of Sauron, if you will, for us really requires going back to the sources. And to do that, I think, baptism is like the ultimate template: this adoption into God’s inner life through the Son. [Baptism] for me is one of the primary Christian things that probably I think many of us have forgotten just how radical it is and just how constitutive it is for the Christian life and the Christian difference.”

    Conor Sweeney

    In order to properly respond to the challenges of postmodernity, philosopher and theologian Conor Sweeney argues that Christians need to get back to the sacramental structure of faith, meaning that fundamentally, our faith is a gift. Sweeney observes that within the culture of the Church, love, worship, and beauty have been eclipsed and that our recovery of these three depends a great deal on how we understand baptism — the sacrament that is pure gift and through which we are grafted into the family of God.

  • Description
    Carole Vanderhoof, on the creative, intelligent, and demanding integrity of Dorothy L. Sayers
    The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays (Plough Publishing, 2018)

    “All the way through, she insists on integrity and this high professional standard. You can hear her saying ‘Buck up! And get it right!’ and that was her attitude.”

    Carole Vanderhoof

    Editor Carole Vanderhoof talks about the work and personality of mystery writer and translator of Dante, Dorothy L. Sayers, whom C. S. Lewis fondly dubbed the “gleeful ogre.” Dorothy Sayers’s high standards for creativity as well as moral order and truth showed through in her works and in her actions, despite her “knowing how to have a good time.”