Monday, December 24, 2007

Mary Ann Glendon on Today's Youth

Hello Peoples!

As I am sure many of you know Mary Ann Glendon is awesome. She was recently installed as the US Ambassador to the Holy See. Here is an excellent speech she gave in 2004:


"Generation Y Bears Unusual Burdens"

ROME, APRIL 5, 2004 ( Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon prepared this address for the Pontifical Council for the Laity's 8th International Youth Forum, held near Rome this week. Glendon was recently named president of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences. The text was slightly adapted here.

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University Students Today: Portrait of a Generation Searching

By Mary Ann Glendon

Since most of you are students, I'm sure you know what it is like to be assigned to write a paper in a field where you are not an expert. So I think you can imagine my reaction when the Council for the Laity asked me to give a talk titled "University Students Today: Portrait of a New Generation." I was honored, but a bit daunted.

I. What the Social Scientists Say

I began my assignment the way you probably would. I went to the library to find out what the social scientists tell us. There I found that there is an enormous literature about the young men and women who were born after 1979, who came of age with the new century, and who for that reason are sometimes called the Millennials. In fact, no generation has been more studied than the cohort sometimes also known as Generation Y.

The social science data tells us that you are blessed in many ways. We are told that you are the best-educated generation in history. More young people from more diverse backgrounds are attending universities than ever before (although large gaps still exist between affluent and developing countries, and between rich and poor within the more affluent countries). Girls in particular have never had more opportunities to develop their full human potential.

A circumstance that has given a decisive stamp to your age group is that you and the personal computer grew up together. The first computers for homes, offices and schools were introduced by IBM in 1981, and you are skilled with them in a way that few of your elders will ever be. Another blessing many of you enjoy is that -- thanks to improved longevity -- no generation has ever had the opportunity to know their grandparents for so long a time.

In certain other respects, however, Generation Y bears unusual burdens. Probably nothing has had more profound influence on the hopes and fears of your generation than the social revolution that took place between the mid-1960s (when most of your parents were the age you are now) and the 1980s when most of you were born. Beginning in the 1960s, birth rates and marriage rates plummeted in the affluent nations of North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. At the same time, divorce rates rose steeply, as did the rates of births outside marriage, and the incidence of non-marital cohabitation.

The scale and speed of these phenomena were unprecedented -- with increases or decreases of more than 50% in less than 20 years. When these rates finally stabilized at their new, high levels toward the end of the 1980s, we found ourselves on a social landscape that was utterly and completely transformed. Customary understandings that had governed human sexual behavior for millennia were not only widely disregarded, but openly rejected.

With hindsight, we can see that the changes in behavior and ideas that took place in those years amounted to nothing less than a massive social experiment. Though few realized it at the time, it was an experiment that was conducted largely at the expense of children. We now understand what should have been obvious all along -- that when the behavior of adults changes, the environments in which children grow up are changed as well.

By giving priority to adults' quest for personal fulfillment, society changed the whole experience of childhood: More children than ever before grew up in households without fathers. More were left in non-parental care at younger ages. Little thought was given to what these changes might mean for children, or for the future of the societies most affected.

Some of you may have heard reflections on that subject by Father Tony Anatrella, the psychoanalyst who addressed this gathering last year. According to him, the changing experience of childhood has had an adverse effect on the ability of many young people to have trust in others, and even on their ability to have hope for the future. He was rather harsh in his criticism of the generation that came of age in the 1960s. He claimed that while they, like all parents, wanted their children to be happy, many failed to teach their children "the basic rules of social life, the customs that are the treasures of a people, and the Christian life that has been the matrix of diverse civilizations."

The story in the developing world is different, but changes in family life there have been equally rapid and profound. Industrialization, urbanization and globalization have accelerated the disruption of age-old customs and patterns of family organization. In many countries, the process of industrialization that had been spread out over a century in the West was accomplished in little more than a decade. In some parts of the world, children have been robbed both of their childhood and their parents by the ravages of AIDS -- or by violent ethnic and political strife.

That is the sort of information I found when I looked to see what social scientists tell us about Generation Y. But as a university teacher, a mother and a grandmother, I felt that something was missing. I wanted to know more about what young people themselves make of their situations as they prepare to assume responsible positions in an era of turbulent changes wrought by globalization, conflict and widespread disruption of family life. And I wanted to know more about how Catholic university students, in particular, see themselves.

II. Some Voices of Young Catholics

So, to try to get a sense of your own hopes and fears for the future, I asked some colleagues and friends who deal with young Catholics in universities and youth organizations to circulate a little questionnaire for me. Here are two of the questions I asked: What social developments do you most hope for in your lifetime, and what do you fear the most? What developments do you most hope for in your personal life, and what do you fear the most?

What was most striking about the replies I received from Catholic students all over the world was the similarity in the way these young men and women expressed their personal hopes and fears.

From the Philippines to Kenya, from Europe to North and South America, the students mainly spoke of hopes for three things: hope to find the right person to marry and found a family with; hope for work that is satisfying as well as rewarding; and the hope to be able to help to bring about positive changes in society, which many express as building the civilization of love. Their chief anxieties concerned their ability to realize these hopes.

Thus, one young Spaniard wrote, "I look forward to marriage and the birth of each one of my sons and daughters, and I hope to find the kind of job that will enable me to better society. What I fear are the same things, because these are the most important decisions in my life and I fear choosing in the wrong way." Along the same lines, a German student wrote, "I hope for a great family life and for the kind of work that will enable me to return some of what God has given me, but I fear not finding the right person to spend the rest of my life with."

Anna Halpine, a remarkable Catholic activist who founded the World Youth Alliance five years ago when she was still in her 20s, summed up the reaction of her co-workers to my questions this way: "Our experience is that all young people are searching for meaning and purpose to their lives. Once this has been established, once they recognize the profound dignity that they possess, they are in a position to extend this to others. Before this cornerstone has been laid, they are unable to give any proposal to the world and any rationale to their own existence."

Last year, the director of the European branch of the World Youth Alliance, Gudrun Lang, gave a speech to the European Parliament where she described her contemporaries this way: "It is my generation that is the first to experience what it means to live in a more or less 'value-free' continent. It is we who witness a society of broken families -- you are aware of what that entails for the individual, the spouses, the children and all the people around them. It is we who witness a society of convenience at all costs: killing our own children when they are still unborn; killing our older relatives because we don't want to give them the care, the time and the friendship that they need."

She went to say, "Many young people I work with have experienced this loss of respect for the inviolable dignity of every member of the human family. Our own families are broken, our own relatives are lonely, and many do not see a meaning in life." But at the same time, she noted the emergence of a determination to change things for the better. Her generation, she said, has "experienced the ideologies of the second half of the past century put into legislation -- and we are not happy with them."

III. The Quest for Meaning in the Postmodern University

What emerges from these data and impressions, it seems to me, is a portrait of a generation that is searching -- a generation of young men and women who want something better for themselves and their future children than what has been handed on to them; a generation that is exploring uncharted territory and finding little guidance from its elders. It is only to be expected that, for many members of Generation Y, the search for meaning takes on special urgency when they enter the university, a place traditionally dedicated to the unrestricted quest for knowledge and truth.

What better place than a university, one might think, to pursue one's quest for meaning. What better place to learn how to make measured and informed judgments. What better place to acquire skill in distinguishing between what is important and what is trivial. What better place to learn to identify what is harmful even it if seems attractive, and to discern what is true even if defending it may cost you friends or worldly esteem.

But if those are your hopes, you are apt to be disappointed in many of today's universities. For universities themselves seem to be losing their sense of purpose and meaning. As a young woman from the United States put it in her answer to my questionnaire: "If I could sum up what has been drilled into my generation's minds in one word, that word would be 'tolerance.' While this has resulted in us being pretty nice people, it has also produced in my opinion a generation that has little concept of objective morality or truth. We are equipped with few guidelines for judging right and wrong."

A young woman who teaches in Kenya wrote that university students there "need role models and something to believe in and they search for these desperately. There is a constant clash between how their parents brought them up and what society is offering them." Sad to say, the postmodern university seems even to be losing its vaunted regard for tolerance of diverse opinions -- at least where religiously grounded moral viewpoints are concerned, and especially if those viewpoints are Christian.

Thus we find ourselves in a curious situation where all too many of the most highly educated men and women in history have a religious formation that remains at a rather primitive level. Have you noticed how many well-educated Catholics seem to be going through life with a kindergarten level apprehension of their own faith? How many of us, for example, have spent as much time deepening our knowledge of the faith as we have on learning to use computers!

I must admit that when I read in the Holy Father's letters to the laity that we are supposed to fearlessly "put out into the deep," I can't help thinking there should be a footnote to the effect that: "Be not afraid" doesn't mean "Be not prepared." When Our Lord told the apostles to put out into the deep, he surely didn't expect them to set out in leaky boats. When he told them to put down their nets, he didn't expect those nets to be full of holes!

This brings me to the most important point I wish to make today: I want to suggest to you that poor formation represents a special danger in a society like ours where education in other areas is so advanced. In contemporary society, if religious formation does not come up to the general level of secular education, we are going to run into trouble defending our beliefs -- even to ourselves. We are going to feel helpless when we come up against the secularism and relativism that are so pervasive in our culture and in the university. We are going to be tongue-tied when our faith comes under unjust attack.

When that happens, many young Catholics drift away from the faith. Countless young men and women today have had an experience in the university comparable to that which caused the great social theorist Alexis de Tocqueville to lose his faith 200 years ago at the height of the Enlightenment. All through his childhood, Tocqueville had been tutored by a pious old priest who had been trained in a simpler era. Then, at the age of 16, he came upon the works of Descartes, Rousseau and Voltaire. Here is how he described that encounter in a letter to a friend many years later:

"I don't know if I've ever told you about an incident in my youth that marked me deeply for the rest of my life; how I was prey to an insatiable curiosity whose only available satisfaction was a large library of books. ... Until that time my life had passed enveloped in a faith that hadn't even allowed doubt to enter. ... Then doubt ... hurt led in with an incredible violence. ... All of a sudden I experienced the sensation people talk about who have been through an earthquake when the ground shakes under their feet, as do the walls around them, the ceilings over their heads, the furniture beneath their hand, all of nature before their eyes. I was seized by the blackest melancholy and then by an extreme disgust with life, though I knew nothing of life. And I was almost prostrated by agitation and terror at the sight of the road that remained for me to travel in this world."

What drew him out of that state, he told his friend, were worldly pleasures to which he abandoned himself for a time. But his letters testify to a lifelong sadness at his incapacity for belief. How many young Catholics have fallen into those same pitfalls when they had to make the difficult transition from their childhood faith to a mature Christianity. Tocqueville at least was confounded by some of the greatest minds in the Western tradition. But many of our contemporaries are not even equipped to deal with simplistic versions of relativism and skepticism!

Some young men and women, like Tocqueville, may spend their whole lives in a kind of melancholy yearning. Others may start to keep their spiritual lives completely private, in a separate compartment sealed off from the rest of their lives. Still others imitate the chameleon, that little lizard who changes his color to blend in with his surroundings. When parts of their Christian heritage don't fit with the spirit of the age, the chameleon just erases them.

How many of these lost searchers, I wonder, might have held their heads high as unapologetic Catholics if somewhere along the way they had become acquainted with our Church's great intellectual tradition and her rich treasure house of social teachings?

Today, in the age of John Paul II, there are really no good excuses for ignoring the intellectual heritage that provides us with resources to meet the challenges of modernity. No Catholic who takes the trouble to tap into that heritage has to stand tongue-tied in the face of alleged conflicts between faith and reason or religion and science.

In "Novo Millennio Ineunte," the Holy Father has a message that is highly relevant to the topic of this conference on "Witnessing to Christ in the University."

"For Christian witness to be effective," he writes, "it is important that special efforts be made to explain properly the reasons for the Church's position, stressing that it is not a case of imposing on non-believers a vision based on faith, but of interpreting and defending the values rooted in the very nature of the human person" (51).

Three implications of those wise words need to be spelled out:

First, those of us who live in pluralistic societies have to be able to give our reasons in terms that are intelligible to all men and women of good will, just as St. Paul had to be "a Jew to the Jews, and a Greek to the [pagan] Greeks." Fortunately, we have great models of how to do that in Catholic social teaching, and in the writings of John Paul II.

Second, we who labor in the intellectual apostolate need to keep our intellectual tradition abreast of the best human and natural science of our times, just as St. Thomas Aquinas did in his day.

And third, because we live in a time when our Church is under relentless attack, we need to be equipped to defend her. That does not mean we have to react to every insult no matter how slight. But we do need to learn to have and to show a decent amount of pride in who we are.

There is nothing wrong with taking pride in our Church's intellectual tradition -- a tradition that predates and outshines the impoverished secularism that is stifling thought in many leading universities. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in our Church's record as the world's foremost institutional voice opposing aggressive population control, abortion, euthanasia, and draconian measures against migrants and the poor.

At a time, and in a culture, where Christianity is under assault from many directions, Catholics do a great disservice when they do not contest the myth that the history of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular is a history of patriarchy, worldliness, persecution, or exclusion of people or ideas.

As a university teacher and a parent myself, I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to "witness to Christ in the university." Thus, I was delighted to read last month of the Holy Father's proposal to the bishops of Paris for the creation of "schools of faith" at the university level. After all, why should religious education cease just at the point when faith is apt to be faced with its most serious challenges -- and just when many young men and women are for the first time away from home?

It seems to me that the Church needs to follow her sons and daughters to the university. She needs to find ways to accompany them on that dangerous journey toward a mature Christianity. There are many ways this could be accomplished. In many places, the great lay organizations are already present to university students -- they have done wonderful work, showing that formation and fellowship go hand in hand. But much more can and must be done along these lines. I would also like to mention two wonderful recent books that have appeared just in time to serve as "travel companions" to members of Generation Y: "Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter's Questions About God," by Michael and Jana Novak, and "Letters to a Young Catholic" by papal biographer George Weigel.

IV. Conclusion: The Answer to the Question that is Every Human Life

To sum up, then: I would suggest that the "Y" in Generation Y might stand for yearning -- yearning, questioning, searching, and refusing to be satisfied with easy answers. No one has understood this better than Pope John Paul II -- and that, I suspect, one of the reasons why young people love him so much and why the World Youth Days have been such a transformative experience for so many.

As he wrote in "Tertio Millennio Adveniente," "Christ expects great things from young people. ... Young people, in every situation, in every region of the world do not cease to put questions to Christ: they meet him and they keep searching for him in order to question him further. If they succeed in following the road which he points out to them, they will have the joy of making their own contribution to his presence in the next century and in the centuries to come, until the end of time: 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever'"(58). Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life.

What a difference you Catholic university students are going to make in the world! No one can foresee just how each one of you will respond to your baptismal callings to holiness and evangelization. But one thing is certain: there is no shortage of work to be done in the vineyard. There are families to be founded and nurtured; intellectual frontiers to be explored; young minds to be taught; the sick to be cared for; the poor to be lifted up; and the faith to be handed on to future generations. My wish for you is that the Lord will multiply you, and that each one of you will touch thousands of lives.


Serenity, The Lord of the Rings, and other little reasons to make Heaven

“A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where edible substances exist." CS Lewis - The Weight of Glory

I was watching Serenity yesterday and I wished that Joss Whedon had continued on with the story, either with more movies or with several years of a series like Firefly. I've had a similar but much greater experience with the fantasy of JRR Tolkien, where I'll be deep in Middle Earth journeying along with four hobbits, an elf, a dwarf, and three men... and never want to leave. When I do "come back" as it were I feel like the world I inhabit is somehow less "real" than the world I left. Now, I know that Lewis' quote above needs to be taken with a grain of salt, for not all desires speak to the design of the Creator, but this desire of finding the really real, of living in a world that speaks to the soul more easily than the one we currently inhabit, of understanding the beauty of existence more tacitly than the honking, green-back, work-a-day world we become so immune to does seem to point to something inherent to our humanity.

The Mission, a movie about the Jesuits in South America has a insightful dialog dealing directly with this point:

Hontar: We must work in the world, your eminence. The world is thus.
Altamirano: No, Señor Hontar. Thus have we made the world... thus have I made it.

We make the world as much as we are made by the world, it is so easy to write off the sufferings we encounter in daily life as not caused by us but by the society, another person, the president, our boss, God... but when it comes down to it: We are the ones responsible. Fantasy illustrates this point by realizing the desire within us for a beauty, a culture, a reality that is more real than the one we have helped create. Fantasy lets us have a comparison for the reality around us to what it can be in opposition to what it is, either for better or worse. For there are fantasies that let us realize how good we have it, not only how much we miss.

Inasmuch as we have a yearning for these "other worlds" I think that, in a sense, we will experience them in Heaven. Just as beauty, music, art, people, sex, good food, exercise, friends, and everything else that acts as a finger pointing to the moon will exist in Heaven inasmuch as it is good, so too I think that I will meet Gandalf, Merry, Pippin, Digory, Mr. Vane, Lilith, and Bombadil. Not necessarily in the sense of meeting the persons themselves but rather, the yearning that I have to meet them will be satisfied as much (and more) as if I had met them. For I will know Gandalf as Tolkien knows him, I will know Digory as Lewis knows him, I will know Lilith as MacDonald knows her, because I will know them better in Heaven than I know anyone here on earth.

If you haven't read Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories" do yourself a favor and look it up; it is pure delight and helps us understand those odd people dressed up with hairy feet, Trekkie uniforms, or glasses and lightning bolts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In Defense of Humilty by GKC

A DEFENCE OF HUMILITYThe act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has to-day all theexhilaration of a vice. Moral truisms have been so much disputed thatthey have begun to sparkle like so many brilliant paradoxes. Andespecially (in this age of egoistic idealism) there is about one whodefends humility something inexpressibly rakish.It is no part of my intention to defend humility on practical grounds.Practical grounds are uninteresting, and, moreover, on practical groundsthe case for humility is overwhelming. We all know that the 'divineglory of the ego' is socially a great nuisance; we all do actually valueour friends for modesty, freshness, and simplicity of heart. Whatevermay be the reason, we all do warmly respect humility--in other people.But the matter must go deeper than this. If the grounds of humility arefound only in social convenience, they may be quite trivial andtemporary. The egoists may be the martyrs of a nobler dispensation,agonizing for a more arduous ideal. To judge from the comparative lackof ease in their social manner, this seems a reasonable suggestion.There is one thing that must be seen at the outset of the study ofhumility from an intrinsic and eternal point of view. The new philosophyof self-esteem and self-assertion declares that humility is a vice. Ifit be so, it is quite clear that it is one of those vices which are anintegral part of original sin. It follows with the precision ofclockwork every one of the great joys of life. No one, for example, wasever in love without indulging in a positive debauch of humility. Allfull-blooded and natural people, such as schoolboys, enjoy humility themoment they attain hero-worship. Humility, again, is said both by itsupholders and opponents to be the peculiar growth of Christianity. Thereal and obvious reason of this is often missed. The pagans insistedupon self-assertion because it was the essence of their creed that thegods, though strong and just, were mystic, capricious, and evenindifferent. But the essence of Christianity was in a literal sense theNew Testament--a covenant with God which opened to men a cleardeliverance. They thought themselves secure; they claimed palaces ofpearl and silver under the oath and seal of the Omnipotent; theybelieved themselves rich with an irrevocable benediction which set themabove the stars; and immediately they discovered humility. It was onlyanother example of the same immutable paradox. It is always the securewho are humble.This particular instance survives in the evangelical revivalists of thestreet. They are irritating enough, but no one who has really studiedthem can deny that the irritation is occasioned by these two things, anirritating hilarity and an irritating humility. This combination of joyand self-prostration is a great deal too universal to be ignored. Ifhumility has been discredited as a virtue at the present day, it is notwholly irrelevant to remark that this discredit has arisen at the sametime as a great collapse of joy in current literature and philosophy.Men have revived the splendour of Greek self-assertion at the same timethat they have revived the bitterness of Greek pessimism. A literaturehas arisen which commands us all to arrogate to ourselves the liberty ofself-sufficing deities at the same time that it exhibits us to ourselvesas dingy maniacs who ought to be chained up like dogs. It is certainly acurious state of things altogether. When we are genuinely happy, wethink we are unworthy of happiness. But when we are demanding a divineemancipation we seem to be perfectly certain that we are unworthy ofanything.The only explanation of the matter must be found in the conviction thathumility has infinitely deeper roots than any modern men suppose; thatit is a metaphysical and, one might almost say, a mathematical virtue.Probably this can best be tested by a study of those who franklydisregard humility and assert the supreme duty of perfecting andexpressing one's self. These people tend, by a perfectly naturalprocess, to bring their own great human gifts of culture, intellect, ormoral power to a great perfection, successively shutting out everythingthat they feel to be lower than themselves. Now shutting out things isall very well, but it has one simple corollary--that from everythingthat we shut out we are ourselves shut out. When we shut our door on thewind, it would be equally true to say that the wind shuts its door onus. Whatever virtues a triumphant egoism really leads to, no one canreasonably pretend that it leads to knowledge. Turning a beggar from thedoor may be right enough, but pretending to know all the stories thebeggar might have narrated is pure nonsense; and this is practicallythe claim of the egoism which thinks that self-assertion can obtainknowledge. A beetle may or may not be inferior to a man--the matterawaits demonstration; but if he were inferior by ten thousand fathoms,the fact remains that there is probably a beetle view of things of whicha man is entirely ignorant. If he wishes to conceive that point of view,he will scarcely reach it by persistently revelling in the fact that heis not a beetle. The most brilliant exponent of the egoistic school,Nietszche, with deadly and honourable logic, admitted that thephilosophy of self-satisfaction led to looking down upon the weak, thecowardly, and the ignorant. Looking down on things may be a delightfulexperience, only there is nothing, from a mountain to a cabbage, that isreally _seen_ when it is seen from a balloon. The philosopher of the egosees everything, no doubt, from a high and rarified heaven; only he seeseverything foreshortened or deformed.Now if we imagine that a man wished truly, as far as possible, to seeeverything as it was, he would certainly proceed on a differentprinciple. He would seek to divest himself for a time of those personalpeculiarities which tend to divide him from the thing he studies. It isas difficult, for example, for a man to examine a fish withoutdeveloping a certain vanity in possessing a pair of legs, as if theywere the latest article of personal adornment. But if a fish is to beapproximately understood, this physiological dandyism must be overcome.The earnest student of fish morality will, spiritually speaking, chopoff his legs. And similarly the student of birds will eliminate hisarms; the frog-lover will with one stroke of the imagination remove allhis teeth, and the spirit wishing to enter into all the hopes and fearsof jelly-fish will simplify his personal appearance to a really alarmingextent. It would appear, therefore, that this great body of ours and allits natural instincts, of which we are proud, and justly proud, israther an encumbrance at the moment when we attempt to appreciate thingsas they should be appreciated. We do actually go through a process ofmental asceticism, a castration of the entire being, when we wish tofeel the abounding good in all things. It is good for us at certaintimes that ourselves should be like a mere window--as clear, asluminous, and as invisible.In a very entertaining work, over which we have roared in childhood, itis stated that a point has no parts and no magnitude. Humility is theluxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing ora large one, but to a thing with no size at all, so that to it all thecosmic things are what they really are--of immeasurable stature. Thatthe trees are high and the grasses short is a mere accident of our ownfoot-rules and our own stature. But to the spirit which has stripped offfor a moment its own idle temporal standards the grass is an everlastingforest, with dragons for denizens; the stones of the road are asincredible mountains piled one upon the other; the dandelions are likegigantic bonfires illuminating the lands around; and the heath-bells ontheir stalks are like planets hung in heaven each higher than the other.Between one stake of a paling and another there are new and terriblelandscapes; here a desert, with nothing but one misshapen rock; here amiraculous forest, of which all the trees flower above the head with thehues of sunset; here, again, a sea full of monsters that Dante would nothave dared to dream. These are the visions of him who, like the child inthe fairy tales, is not afraid to become small. Meanwhile, the sagewhose faith is in magnitude and ambition is, like a giant, becominglarger and larger, which only means that the stars are becoming smallerand smaller. World after world falls from him into insignificance; thewhole passionate and intricate life of common things becomes as lost tohim as is the life of the infusoria to a man without a microscope. Herises always through desolate eternities. He may find new systems, andforget them; he may discover fresh universes, and learn to despise them.But the towering and tropical vision of things as they really are--thegigantic daisies, the heaven-consuming dandelions, the great Odyssey ofstrange-coloured oceans and strange-shaped trees, of dust like the wreckof temples, and thistledown like the ruin of stars--all this colossalvision shall perish with the last of the humble.

In Defense of Baby-Worship also by GKC

A DEFENCE OF BABY-WORSHIPThe two facts which attract almost every normal person to children are,first, that they are very serious, and, secondly, that they are inconsequence very happy. They are jolly with the completeness which ispossible only in the absence of humour. The most unfathomable schoolsand sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes ofa baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at theuniverse, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but atranscendent common-sense. The fascination of children lies in this:that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is putagain upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us thosedelightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which markthese human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that withinevery one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was onthe seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new systemof stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea.There is always in the healthy mind an obscure prompting that religionteaches us rather to dig than to climb; that if we could once understandthe common clay of earth we should understand everything. Similarly, wehave the sentiment that if we could destroy custom at a blow and see thestars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. This isthe great truth which has always lain at the back of baby-worship, andwhich will support it to the end. Maturity, with its endless energiesand aspirations, may easily be convinced that it will find new things toappreciate; but it will never be convinced, at bottom, that it hasproperly appreciated what it has got. We may scale the heavens and findnew stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have notfound--that on which we were born.But the influence of children goes further than its first triflingeffort of remaking heaven and earth. It forces us actually to remodelour conduct in accordance with this revolutionary theory of themarvellousness of all things. We do (even when we are perfectly simpleor ignorant)--we do actually treat talking in children as marvellous,walking in children as marvellous, common intelligence in children asmarvellous. The cynical philosopher fancies he has a victory in thismatter--that he can laugh when he shows that the words or antics of thechild, so much admired by its worshippers, are common enough. The factis that this is precisely where baby-worship is so profoundly right. Anywords and any antics in a lump of clay are wonderful, the child's wordsand antics are wonderful, and it is only fair to say that thephilosopher's words and antics are equally wonderful.The truth is that it is our attitude towards children that is right, andour attitude towards grown-up people that is wrong. Our attitude towardsour equals in age consists in a servile solemnity, overlying aconsiderable degree of indifference or disdain. Our attitude towardschildren consists in a condescending indulgence, overlying anunfathomable respect. We bow to grown people, take off our hats to them,refrain from contradicting them flatly, but we do not appreciate themproperly. We make puppets of children, lecture them, pull their hair,and reverence, love, and fear them. When we reverence anything in themature, it is their virtues or their wisdom, and this is an easymatter. But we reverence the faults and follies of children.We should probably come considerably nearer to the true conception ofthings if we treated all grown-up persons, of all titles and types, withprecisely that dark affection and dazed respect with which we treat theinfantile limitations. A child has a difficulty in achieving the miracleof speech, consequently we find his blunders almost as marvellous as hisaccuracy. If we only adopted the same attitude towards Premiers andChancellors of the Exchequer, if we genially encouraged their stammeringand delightful attempts at human speech, we should be in a far more wiseand tolerant temper. A child has a knack of making experiments in life,generally healthy in motive, but often intolerable in a domesticcommonwealth. If we only treated all commercial buccaneers and bumptioustyrants on the same terms, if we gently chided their brutalities asrather quaint mistakes in the conduct of life, if we simply told themthat they would 'understand when they were older,' we should probably beadopting the best and most crushing attitude towards the weaknesses ofhumanity. In our relations to children we prove that the paradox isentirely true, that it is possible to combine an amnesty that verges oncontempt with a worship that verges upon terror. We forgive childrenwith the same kind of blasphemous gentleness with which Omar Khayyamforgave the Omnipotent.The essential rectitude of our view of children lies in the fact that wefeel them and their ways to be supernatural while, for some mysteriousreason, we do not feel ourselves or our own ways to be supernatural. Thevery smallness of children makes it possible to regard them as marvels;we seem to be dealing with a new race, only to be seen through amicroscope. I doubt if anyone of any tenderness or imagination can seethe hand of a child and not be a little frightened of it. It is awful tothink of the essential human energy moving so tiny a thing; it is likeimagining that human nature could live in the wing of a butterfly or theleaf of a tree. When we look upon lives so human and yet so small, wefeel as if we ourselves were enlarged to an embarrassing bigness ofstature. We feel the same kind of obligation to these creatures that adeity might feel if he had created something that he could notunderstand.But the humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of allthe bonds that hold the Cosmos together. Their top-heavy dignity ismore touching than any humility; their solemnity gives us more hope forall things than a thousand carnivals of optimism; their large andlustrous eyes seem to hold all the stars in their astonishment; theirfascinating absence of nose seems to give to us the most perfect hint ofthe humour that awaits us in the kingdom of heaven.

A Defense of Ugly Things by GK Chesterton

A DEFENCE OF UGLY THINGSThere are some people who state that the exterior, sex, or physique ofanother person is indifferent to them, that they care only for thecommunion of mind with mind; but these people need not detain us. Thereare some statements that no one ever thinks of believing, however oftenthey are made.But while nothing in this world would persuade us that a great friend ofMr. Forbes Robertson, let us say, would experience no surprise ordiscomfort at seeing him enter the room in the bodily form of Mr.Chaplin, there is a confusion constantly made between being attracted byexterior, which is natural and universal, and being attracted by what iscalled physical beauty, which is not entirely natural and not in theleast universal. Or rather, to speak more strictly, the conception ofphysical beauty has been narrowed to mean a certain kind of physicalbeauty which no more exhausts the possibilities of externalattractiveness than the respectability of a Clapham builder exhauststhe possibilities of moral attractiveness.The tyrants and deceivers of mankind in this matter have been theGreeks. All their splendid work for civilization ought not to havewholly blinded us to the fact of their great and terrible sin againstthe variety of life. It is a remarkable fact that while the Jews havelong ago been rebelled against and accused of blighting the world with astringent and one-sided ethical standard, nobody has noticed that theGreeks have committed us to an infinitely more horrible asceticism--anasceticism of the fancy, a worship of one aesthetic type alone. Jewishseverity had at least common-sense as its basis; it recognised that menlived in a world of fact, and that if a man married within the degreesof blood certain consequences might follow. But they did not starvetheir instinct for contrasts and combinations; their prophets gave twowings to the ox and any number of eyes to the cherubim with all theriotous ingenuity of Lewis Carroll. But the Greeks carried their policeregulation into elfland; they vetoed not the actual adulteries of theearth but the wild weddings of ideas, and forbade the banns of thought.It is extraordinary to watch the gradual emasculation of the monstersof Greek myth under the pestilent influence of the Apollo Belvedere. Thechimaera was a creature of whom any healthy-minded people would havebeen proud; but when we see it in Greek pictures we feel inclined to tiea ribbon round its neck and give it a saucer of milk. Who ever feelsthat the giants in Greek art and poetry were really big--big as somefolk-lore giants have been? In some Scandinavian story a hero walks formiles along a mountain ridge, which eventually turns out to be thebridge of the giant's nose. That is what we should call, with a calmconscience, a large giant. But this earthquake fancy terrified theGreeks, and their terror has terrified all mankind out of their naturallove of size, vitality, variety, energy, ugliness. Nature intended everyhuman face, so long as it was forcible, individual, and expressive, tobe regarded as distinct from all others, as a poplar is distinct from anoak, and an apple-tree from a willow. But what the Dutch gardeners didfor trees the Greeks did for the human form; they lopped away its livingand sprawling features to give it a certain academic shape; they hackedoff noses and pared down chins with a ghastly horticultural calm. Andthey have really succeeded so far as to make us call some of the mostpowerful and endearing faces ugly, and some of the most silly andrepulsive faces beautiful. This disgraceful _via media_, this pitifulsense of dignity, has bitten far deeper into the soul of moderncivilization than the external and practical Puritanism of Israel. TheJew at the worst told a man to dance in fetters; the Greek put anexquisite vase upon his head and told him not to move.Scripture says that one star differeth from another in glory, and thesame conception applies to noses. To insist that one type of face isugly because it differs from that of the Venus of Milo is to look at itentirely in a misleading light. It is strange that we should resentpeople differing from ourselves; we should resent much more violentlytheir resembling ourselves. This principle has made a sufficient hash ofliterary criticism, in which it is always the custom to complain of thelack of sound logic in a fairy tale, and the entire absence of trueoratorical power in a three-act farce. But to call another man's faceugly because it powerfully expresses another man's soul is likecomplaining that a cabbage has not two legs. If we did so, the onlycourse for the cabbage would be to point out with severity, but withsome show of truth, that we were not a beautiful green all over.But this frigid theory of the beautiful has not succeeded in conqueringthe art of the world, except in name. In some quarters, indeed, it hasnever held sway. A glance at Chinese dragons or Japanese gods will showhow independent are Orientals of the conventional idea of facial andbodily regularity, and how keen and fiery is their enjoyment of realbeauty, of goggle eyes, of sprawling claws, of gaping mouths andwrithing coils. In the Middle Ages men broke away from the Greekstandard of beauty, and lifted up in adoration to heaven great towers,which seemed alive with dancing apes and devils. In the full summer oftechnical artistic perfection the revolt was carried to its realconsummation in the study of the faces of men. Rembrandt declared thesane and manly gospel that a man was dignified, not when he was like aGreek god, but when he had a strong, square nose like a cudgel, aboldly-blocked head like a helmet, and a jaw like a steel trap.This branch of art is commonly dismissed as the grotesque. We have neverbeen able to understand why it should be humiliating to be laughable,since it is giving an elevated artistic pleasure to others. If agentleman who saw us in the street were suddenly to burst into tears atthe mere thought of our existence, it might be considered disquietingand uncomplimentary; but laughter is not uncomplimentary. In truth,however, the phrase 'grotesque' is a misleading description of uglinessin art. It does not follow that either the Chinese dragons or the Gothicgargoyles or the goblinish old women of Rembrandt were in the leastintended to be comic. Their extravagance was not the extravagance ofsatire, but simply the extravagance of vitality; and here lies the wholekey of the place of ugliness in aesthetics. We like to see a crag jutout in shameless decision from the cliff, we like to see the red pinesstand up hardily upon a high cliff, we like to see a chasm cloven fromend to end of a mountain. With equally noble enthusiasm we like to see anose jut out decisively, we like to see the red hair of a friend standup hardily in bristles upon his head, we like to see his mouth broad andclean cut like the mountain crevasse. At least some of us like all this;it is not a question of humour. We do not burst with amusement at thefirst sight of the pines or the chasm; but we like them because they areexpressive of the dramatic stillness of Nature, her bold experiments,her definite departures, her fearlessness and savage pride in herchildren. The moment we have snapped the spell of conventional beauty,there are a million beautiful faces waiting for us everywhere, just asthere are a million beautiful spirits.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

CS Lewis on Masculine and Feminine

Hello All,

I know it has been awhile since I have had a real post rather than just a bit of someone else's writing but I promise that I shall throw up some on my own ideas soon. Here is an excerpt from Lewis's Perelandra on Masculine and Feminine. I am currently writing a paper on it for Peter Kreeft and plan on posting that, along with an undergraduate paper on Tolkien's idea of Male and Female in the near future.

All the best! May the hair on your toes never fall out,


Perelandra is the second of his “Space Trilogy” and occurs on the young planet of Venus where a creation story similar to that of Earth’s is transpiring. Near the end of the volume Ransom, the hero of the trilogy, encounters two angels, or eldils, as they are called in the fantasy,

"Both bodies were naked, and both were free from any sexual characteristics, either primary or secondary. That, one would have expected. But whence came this curious difference between them? He found that he could point to no single feature wherein the difference resided, yet it was impossible to ignore. One could try – Ransom has tried a hundred times – to put it into words. He has said that Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody. He has said that Malacandra affected him like a quantitative, Perelandra like an accentual, metre. He thinks that the first held in his hand something like a spear, but the hands of the other were open, with palms toward him. But I don’t know that any of these attempts has helped be much. At all events what Ransom saw at that moment was the real meaning of gender. Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and other feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the word. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, not feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity… Malacandra seemed to him to have the look of one standing armed, at the ramparts of his own remote archaic world, in ceaseless vigilance, his eyes ever roaming the earth-ward horizon whence his danger came long ago. “A sailor’s look,” Ransom once said to me; “you know… eyes that are impregnated with distance.” But the eyes of Perelandra opened, as it were, inward, as if they were the curtained gateway to a world of waves and murmurings and wandering airs, of life that rocked in winds and splashed on mossy stones and descended as the dew and arose sunward in thin-spun delicacy of mist." (Perelandra 200-1)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Lewis on Priestesses

Priestesses in the Church?
by C.S. Lewis
"I should like balls infinitely better," said Caroline Bingley, "if they were carried on in a different manner ... It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."
"Much more rational, I dare say," replied her brother, "but it would not be near so much like a Ball." We are told that the lady was silenced: yet it could be maintained that Jane Austen has not allowed Bingley to put forward the full strength of his position. He ought to have replied with a distinguo. In one sense, conversation is more rational, for conversation may exercise the reason alone, dancing does not. But there is nothing irrational in exercising other powers than our reason. On certain occasions and for certain purposes the real irrationality is with those who will not do so. The man who would try to break a horse or write a poem or beget a child by pure syllogizing would be an irrational man; though at the same time syllogizing is in itself a more rational activity than the activities demanded by these achievements. It is rational not to reason, or not to limit oneself to reason, in the wrong place; and the more rational a man is the better he knows this.
These remarks are not intended as a contribution to the criticism of Pride and Prejudice. They came into my head when I heard that the Church of England was being advised to declare women capable of Priests' Orders. I am, indeed, informed that such a proposal is very unlikely to be seriously considered by the authorities. To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other Churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds by the operation. My concern with the proposal is of a more theoretical kind. The question involves something even deeper than a revolution in order.
I have every respect for those who wish women to be priestesses. I think they are sincere and pious and sensible people. Indeed, in a way they are too sensible. That is where my dissent from them resembles Bingley's dissent from his sister. I am tempted to say that the proposed arrangement would make us much more rational "but not near so much like a Church".
For at first sight all the rationality (in Caroline Bingley's sense) is on the side of the innovators. We are short of priests. We have discovered in one profession after another that women can do very well all sorts of things which were once supposed to be in the power of men alone. No one among those who dislike the proposal is maintaining that women are less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning and whatever else seems necessary for the pastoral office. What, then, except prejudice begotten by tradition, forbids us to draw on the huge reserves which could pour into the priesthood if women were here, as in so many other professions, put on the same footing as men? And against this flood of common sense, the opposers (many of them women) can produce at first nothing but an inarticulate distaste, a sense of discomfort which they themselves find it hard to analyse.
That this reaction does not spring from any contempt for women is, I think, plain from history. The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could be plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost "a fourth Person of the Trinity". But never, so far as I know, in all those ages was anything remotely resembling a sacerdotal office attributed to her. All salvation depends on the decision which she made in the words Ecce ancilla; she is united in nine months' inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word; she stands at the foot of the cross. But she is absent both from the Last Supper and from the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the record of Scripture. Nor can you daff it aside by saying that local and temporary conditions condemned women to silence and private life. There were female preachers. One man had four daughters who all "prophesied", i.e. preached. There were prophetesses even in Old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses.
At this point the common sensible reformer is apt to ask why, if women can preach, they cannot do all the rest of a priest's work. This question deepens the discomfort of my side. We begin to feel that what really divides us from our opponents is a difference between the meaning which they and we give to the word "priest". The more they speak (and speak truly) about the competence of women in administration, their tact and sympathy as advisers, their national talent for "visiting", the more we feel that the central thing is being forgotten. To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents us to God and God to us. Our very eyes teach us this in church. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East - he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second. But why? Why should a woman not in this sense represent God? Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she may be as "God-like" as a man; and a given women much more so than a given man. The sense in which she cannot represent God will perhaps be plainer if we look at the thing the other way round.
Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to "Our Mother which art in heaven" as to "Our Father". Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.
Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity. Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask "Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?"
But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. And as image and apprehension are in an organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul.
The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters.
As the State grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters. This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality. There we are not homogeneous units, but different and complementary organs of a mystical body. Lady Nunburnholme has claimed that the equality of men and women is a Christian principle. I do not remember the text in scripture nor the Fathers, nor Hooker, nor the Prayer Book which asserts it; but that is not here my point. The point is that unless "equal" means "interchangeable", equality makes nothing for the priesthood of women. And the kind of equality which implies that the equals are interchangeable (like counters or identical machines) is, among humans, a legal fiction. It may be a useful legal fiction. But in church we turn our back on fictions. One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.
This is what common sense will call "mystical". Exactly. The Church claims to be the bearer of a revelation. If that claim is false then we want not to make priestesses but to abolish priests. If it is true, then we should expect to find in the Church an element which unbelievers will call irrational and which believers will call supra-rational. There ought to be something in it opaque to our reason though not contrary to it - as the facts of sex and sense on the natural level are opaque. And that is the real issue. The Church of England can remain a church only if she retains this opaque element. If we abandon that, if we retain only what can be justified by standards of prudence and convenience at the bar of enlightened common sense, then we exchange revelation for that old wraith Natural Religion.
It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity lays upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. That would, of course, be eminently sensible, civilized, and enlightened, but, once more, "not near so much like a Ball".
And this parallel between the Church and the Ball is not so fanciful as some would think. The Church ought to be more like a Ball than it is like a factory or a political party. Or, to speak more strictly, they are at the circumference and the Church at the Centre and the Ball comes in between. The factory and the political party are artificial creations - "a breath can make them as a breath has made". In them we are not dealing with human beings in their concrete entirety only with "hands" or voters. I am not of course using "artificial" in any derogatory sense. Such artifices are necessary: but because they are our artifices we are free to shuffle, scrap and experiment as we please. But the Ball exists to stylize something which is natural and which concerns human beings in their entirety - namely, courtship. We cannot shuffle or tamper so much. With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.