Guests on Volume 53: Lawrence Adams, on the possibilities of religious pluralism in Islamic views of state and society; Dana Gioia, on the craft, popularity, and significance of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Elmer M. Colyer, on theologian Thomas F. Torrance's understanding of the Incarnation; R. A. Herrera, on how the Christian view of Creation and Incarnation shapes an understanding of history; Margaret Visser, on learning to recognize the deep meaning in the design of Christian churches; and Joseph Pearce, on Tolkien's other writings and on his view of myth and story.
"Reform tends to be something that brings Islam back to its roots, and creates a movement that's even more antithetical to Western society in its secular form, as we know it now. It's often been said--going back to the issue of tolerance--that Islam in its early centuries was very tolerant. You often hear it said it was more tolerant than the Christianity of the time was. But what it was tolerant of was a Medieval and Ancient form of Christianity."
— Lawrence Adams
Political philosopher Lawrence Adams discusses why some strains of Islam are threatened by the concept of a secular "New World Order." The Islamic worldview divides the world into places where Islam is practiced and places where it is not practiced. These are two distinct realms which ought not be conflated. Western states, however, seek homogenization, mixing religious and non-religious souls in pluralistic, secular communities. This is deeply offensive to many Islamists who do not share the West's understandings of tolerance and pluralism.
"Longfellow is not simply part of American literature, he's part of American history."
— Dana Gioia
Poet and critic Dana Gioia explains why Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) is one of the three great American poets. He was one of the first to understand that accounts of American nationality had to recognize the country's "extraordinary diversity" in order to be truly representative of the nation. He practiced what he believed and wrote about French Canadian Catholics in the Midwest, early British Puritans in New England, and Native Americans before the "white man" settled in North America. He was a master at developing atmosphere in his works and was very popular even in his own lifetime; his poetry appealed to readers across every age, social class, and region in the United States. Gioia says, "He . . . Was an extraordinarily sophisticated intellectual poet, but his gift was to take all of that learning and wear it lightly . . . And it's that combination . . . Of profound intelligence and the common touch that was Longfellow's calling card."
"If [the] triune God is not a solitary God, but a being in communion . . . And if in the Incarnation Christ assumes our broken humanity and restores it to union and communion to God, than we have to think of our humanity as radically relational. We can't be fully human without being in relationships, with God and one another."
— Elmer Colyer
Professor Elmer Colyer discusses Thomas F. Torrance's doctrine of the Incarnation and how it could influence the disorder found in contemporary culture. Colyer is author of How to Read T. F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian and Scientific Theology. Contemporary culture does not fully appreciate what it means to be human; Torrance understands the Incarnation as an indication of how greatly God appreciates humanity. When Christ became incarnate he assumed humanity in its brokenness and alienation from God, restoring humanity to full communion with God. Colyer explains the importance of this reality for contemporary culture, noting particularly that humanity is made for fellowship with God and one another.
"Once the world is created, then the philosophy of history becomes a possibility."
— R. A. Herrera
Philosopher R. A. Herrera explains why a linear view of history is such an important Judeo-Christian legacy for the West. Herrera is author of Reasons for Our Rhymes: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of History. While the Greeks had "wonderful philosophers and historians," history had no sense or meaning for them because they had nothing by which to order it; it was merely one cycle following another. The Judeo-Christian notion of Creation, of history as a story with a beginning and end, established an order for history while enabling an understanding of its meaning.
"We think of ourselves as so rich, but in many ways we're very, very, very poor. And I think we should reclaim the riches that are lying there waiting to be looked at in everyday life."
— Margaret Visser
In her book The Geometry of Love: Space, Time, Mystery, and Meaning in an Ordinary Church, writer Margaret Visser asks questions of a small church in Rome in order to discover the story it tells. Visser explains that church buildings sustain memory and meaning and have stories to tell. The memories, meaning, and stories can be discerned by attending to how the buildings are put together. Her book is an example of what it means to attend to the "plot" of a church, discovering meaning in what appears to be "banal and trivial." Visser explains how her work considers and refutes modernity's insistence that there is no meaning in matter.
"It's paradoxical, but really myth--at least good myth, in the way that The Lord of the Rings is good myth-- can be more realistic than a factually based novel."
— Joseph Pearce
Biographer Joseph Pearce discusses the paradoxical nature of myth and what J. R. R. Tolkien believed about human creativity. Pearce, author of Tolkien: Man and Myth, explains that myth deals with realistic issues (theological, ethical, or philosophical, for example) in a setting that is not realistic. The advantage of mythology, he says, is that one can get to the core of truth without having the whole message become "foggy with fact." Pearce also names some of the works in which Tolkien articulated why humanity is compelled to create and to tell stories. As images of The Creator and Storyteller, people can do no less.
On this CD bonus track, Dana Gioia talks about the sorrowful life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; the congenial literary circle that gathered around him; and the international recognition that he achieved for American letters.