((released 2011-12-01) (handle mh-112-cd) (supplement ))
Volume 112 (CD Edition)
Guests on Volume 112: Christian Smith, on why “emerging adults” feel compelled to keep all their options open, in life and in thought; David L. Schindler, on how modern liberalism fails to acknowledge the reality of God's love in the order of Creation; Sara Anson Vaux, on the moral vision of director Clint Eastwood; Melvyn Bragg, on the origins and profound cultural influence of the King James Bible; Timothy Larsen, on how Victorians were united in their preoccupation with the Bible, whether or not they believed in God; and Ralph C. Wood, on the sacramental vision of G. K. Chesterton, and on the enigmatic message of The Man Who Was Thursday.
“That creates a background understanding simply for earning a livelihood that: don’t get stuck, don’t settle in, don’t settle down, don’t get too confident, always be ready to move, always be ready to upgrade, keep all your options open, never burn any bridges. And I think there’s kind of a cultural transposition between that realization of the implications of that economic fact, and the rest of life, which is just sort of kept open indefinitely.”
Sociologist Christian Smith begins this issue of the Journal with a discussion about the cultural conditions that shape emerging adults. Smith insists that emerging adults are not cultural aberrations, but fully in line with the culture that was handed down to them and is sustained by the wider society. It's a mistake to blame the youth, as if the problematic nature of emerging adulthood is merely a result of individual bad decisions. Smith describes how the expansion of higher education, delays in marriage, continuing parental financial support, technological changes, and changes in the global economy provide conditions for the development of emerging adults. These forces go hand in hand with a moral sensibility characterized by an unwillingness to invest in moral commitments because they don’t matter.
“That memory of God is something that has to be recapitulated and unfolded in my subsequent way of life and subsequent acts of consciousness. . . . The implicit recognition that we are not our own, that we’re given by another, and therefore it is always the case that we are more loved than we love, and therefore the movement of our consciousness already has built into it this implicit call to be grateful.”
—David L. Schindler
Theologian David L. Schindler explains the metaphysical centrality to all of reality of love, understood not merely as positive affections and acts of the human will, but as a given order of relationships and a rational and meaningful structure in all of Creation that exists prior to human engagement with it. It involves facts and values, public and private; it is not merely subjective, but objective as well. Love is not merely a human construction or activity, but a given, rationally-intelligible shape in Creation precisely because the Creator is a Logos of love. Liberal societies attempt to order life procedurally and apart from ultimate loves because questions of love involve non-neutral metaphysical claims which are understood categorically as dangerous or unfair. But this is not merely destructive since humans were made for love, but indeed impossible because even the denial of love (and other metaphysical claims) is itself a non-neutral metaphysical claim. To claim that societies can be governed apart from metaphysics is itself a metaphysical claim about the nature of reality. Schindler notes this becomes clear in any discussion of what freedom is. He observes that liberal conceptions of freedom, while overtly denying the presence of metaphysical claims, actually smuggle them in definitionally with enormous consequences for the lives of citizens.
“He’s mining something really deep about how and why humans get involved in slaughtering each other, even people very close to them.”
—Sara Anson Vaux
Sara Anson Vaux examines the ethical concerns of Clint Eastwood. Vaux describes the qualities of Eastwood’s directing that she appreciates and also discusses some of the themes that are prevalent in Eastwood’s films: the capacity of humans for slaughtering others, betrayal, beauty, bonds of friendship, the needs of community, and the relationship between members of different generations. In the process, Vaux draws on a number of Eastwood films, including The Outlaw Josey Wales, Mystic River, Unforgiven, Changeling, and Invictus.
“It is probably the most single important trigger in bringing us to where we are now. In language, in democracy, in the abolition of slavery, in philanthropy, in the empowerment of women, and on it goes.”
Melvyn Bragg reflects on the King James Bible’s (KJV) massive literary and cultural influence in the world. Bragg begins by giving an account of his own experience in the Church of England and how the prose of the KJV was pervasive in the cultural institutions that ordered his experience. He argues that the KJV’s influence on literature, politics, democracy, and civil rights has largely been airbrushed from history, despite its incontrovertible influence on cultural figures such as William Shakespeare. In Bragg’s view, virulent strains of atheists and secularists are responsible in part for this loss of knowledge, and he laments the hubristic displacement of mystery that often accompanies overly enthusiastic proponents of science. Bragg relates some of the history surrounding the writing of the KJV, the reasons King James had for commissioning it, and the principles Tyndale used in writing the translation.
“There are ways in which she clearly believed more about the Bible than she was able to articulate in a theological scheme.”
Timothy Larsen talks about the extent to which the King James Bible saturated the Victorian period and people. He notes that in the Victorian era, even atheists took it upon themselves to become experts on the Bible. The Bible was the primary literature through which the schools taught children to read, and its influence continued into adulthood. Larsen discusses the place of doubt in the experience of Victorians and the reasons for and meaning of the doubt. At some level, the tremendous doubt of the Victorians arose out of the pervasive importance and influence of the Bible in its texts, its symbolism, and its metaphors. Because it was so highly regarded, it was so closely scrutinized, and doubt and belief mixed together in the Victorian soul in paradoxical and complex ways. At the deepest levels, the Bible shaped the patterns of thinking and feeling not merely for churchgoers, but for atheists, agnostics, and heretics.
“Good and evil are not obvious.” —Ralph C. Wood
Ralph C. Wood discusses G. K. Chesterton’s sacramental imagination on this last segment of the issue of the Journal. Wood describes what sacraments do, and he views G. K. Chesterton’s imagination as especially fruitful in conveying grace and edification to his readers. He does this not merely by creating storied images of the true, good, and beautiful, but also by critically illustrating the false, evil, and ugly in our world. His voice was prophetic in that respect, calling out authorities for their moral failures. Wood describes Chesterton’s spiritual journey since his youth, especially his encounters with nihilism in particular schools of art and public figures and intellectuals. “Nightmare” is the way this nihilism is represented in Chesterton’s writings; for him, the world has a nightmarish quality to it. Finally, Wood comments on Chesterton’s novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, which evokes the complexity and frequently ambiguous appearance of good and evil.