MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 9

Guests on Volume 9: William Bennett, on the power of stories in the cultivation of virtue; Mark Juergensmeyer, on religious nationalism and the possibilities of new cold wars; Ed Knippers, on the spiritual reasons for the vivid physicality of his paintings of Biblical narratives; Joshua Gamson, on Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America; Ken Myers, on "attitude" and violence in pop culture and on the streets; Richard Doerflinger, on the ethical numbness of the NIH Embryo Research Panel; Richard John Neuhaus, on assisted suicide and the chilling prospects of modern eugenics; and Ted Libbey, on making an initial approach to classical music.

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Part 1

  • Description

    William Bennett on the power of stories in the cultivation of virtue

    The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (Simon & Schuster, 1993)

    William Bennett, former Education Secretary and Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, believes that stories are great moral teachers. Bennett compiled The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, a collection of tales that embody the moral tradition, captivate the moral imagination, and build character. In his diagnosis of America's moral decay, Bennett does not blame individualism. The problem, he insists, is that Americans have cast off conscience, inhibition, and restraint, unleashing behavior typically associated with unsocialized males who strive for immediate gratification, predatory sex, and violence. The current struggle in society, according to Bennett, is not about the clash of alternate value systems; it is a battle between civility and barbarism.

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    Mark Juergensmeyer on religious nationalism and the possibilities of new cold wars

    The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State (University of California Press, 1993)

    In his book The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer challenges Francis Fukuyama and other political theorists who contend that the end of the Cold War ushered in a worldwide ideological consensus regarding the virtues of secular democracy. In reality, Juergensmeyer argues, the emerging world order reflects a new ideological conflict between the Enlightenment ideal of the secular state and religious nationalism. Juergensmeyer explains that these religiously-motivated movements are not relics from a pre-modern era but efforts to synthesize traditional cultural values with the political and economic power of the modern nation state. Western secularists, with their faith in progress and modern technology, have underestimated the role of religious faith in the ordering of political life.

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    Ed Knippers on the spiritual reasons for the vivid physicality of his paintings of Biblical narratives

    Christ on the Cross (oil on paper) by Ed Knippers

    Painter Ed Knippers discusses how the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Lord's Supper influence his painting. In his fleshy portraits of biblical characters, Knippers attempts to capture the reality and mystery of the human body without reducing it to a wooden object or exalting it to the status of an idol. Knippers insists that physicality is a gift from God that must be appreciated but not worshipped. The artist's challenge is to strike the balance between these polar interpretations of the flesh.

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    Joshua Gamson on Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America

    Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America (University of California Press, 1994)

    Joshua Gamson discusses America's culture of celebrity and its effects on public life. In his book Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America, Gamson notes that audiences are increasingly cynical as they are exposed to more behind-the-scenes information about how celebrity is manufactured. The culture of celebrity is especially noxious when it spills over into the political realm. When political leaders are viewed as little more than celebrity figures, the public becomes increasingly skeptical about the democratic process and turns away from civic participation.

Part 2

  • Description

    Ken Myers on "attitude" and violence in pop culture and on the streets

    "The Code of the Streets," Elijah Anderson (Atlantic Monthly, May 1994) "Swagger and Attitude," James Bowman (The New Criterion, April 1994)

    Host Ken Myers comments on two journal articles that deal with the advent and acceptance of violence in popular culture and American life. The first article, entitled "The Code of the Streets," appeared in the May 1994 edition of Atlantic Monthly. In this study, social scientist Elijah Anderson chronicles the culture war going on in America's inner cities where "decent" families struggle against the Code of the Street which insists that "might makes right." In "Swagger and Attitude," which appeared in the April issue of The New Criterion, James Bowman studies how behavior that was once considered shocking has become a commonplace feature of popular culture. Obscene behavior, Bowman argues, has become a fashionable means for manufacturing celebrity: "being bad is cool."

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    Richard Doerflinger on the ethical numbness of the NIH Embryo Research Panel

    Stem Cell Harvest

    Richard Doerflinger, who works as the Associate Director for the pro-life arm of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, offers an inside critique of governmental policy regarding human embryo research. Doerflinger explains that most members who sit on the National Institute of Health's panel are research scientists who do not recognize the disturbing ethical dilemma involved with fetal research and cloning technologies. While panelists are not necessarily morally indifferent, they tend to value scientific progress over human dignity. Doerflinger explains that a utilitarian view of human embryos has stark implications for human rights in general. This segment also includes a brief history of how federal funding has been used to support human embryo research.

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    Richard John Neuhaus on assisted suicide and the chilling prospects of modern eugenics

    Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things, outlines the problems that arise when physicians become agents of death rather than ministers of healing. "Assisted suicide" as a medical practice directly contradicts the Hippocratic Oath, which defines the physician's self-understanding as a protector and nurturer of life, and provides the foundation for Western medicine. The "right to die" movement replaces the classical notion that life is inherently good with the idea that only "worthwhile" life is worth keeping. Such logic, which relies on subjective judgment as to which lives are valuable and which are disposable, can lead directly to so-called mercy killing and Third Reich-style eugenics.

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    Ted Libbey on making an initial approach to classical music

    The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection (Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 1992)

    National Public Radio's music critic Ted Libbey gives advice for novice classical music listeners. According to Libbey, appreciating music does not require intense intellectual preparation, only an open heart. Libbey's recent book The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection includes recommendations, reviews, trivia, and biographies. Libbey also shares his "top ten list" of necessary acquisitions for the beginning classical music enthusiast.