Tuesday, 8/8/17

  1. The cost of a ticket from the grey town
  2. Vocationalizing the humanities
  3. A pox on both parties
  4. It’s all related
  5. Comprehensively bankrupt
  6. Another pox, just on one party
  7. “Running a white flag up the pole?” redux
  8. Harvesting air


[I]n CS Lewis’ novel, The Great Divorce. There, a bus-load of people make a journey from the shadows of hell (the “grey town”) to the edge of heaven. They are allowed to stay, but every case involves some matter of change, or “loss.” Most of the changes involve strangely cherished habits or matters of identity. An Anglican bishop finds that his “theological” work will be of no use and balks. A mother whose identity seems bound to a child actually demands to have her son (now in heaven) returned to her so she can take him back with her. The injury (murder) of another person has established a grievance. However, the grievance needs to be given up. It has no place within heaven itself. Some things seem rather trivial – a woman’s grumbling, another woman’s sense of embarrassment. But every case poses the question of the truth of a person’s identity. What is it about us that continues into eternity?

… Lewis … offers a character who is enthralled to a besetting sin. In the story, the sin is portrayed as a small lizard that sits on the man’s shoulder. To every suggestion offered by an angel to destroy the lizard, the lizard protests and whispers fearful pleas into the man’s ear. Anyone who has ever known the power of an addiction can relate to the pitiful scene Lewis describes. In the end, in exasperation, the man cries out that the angel can do what it wants. The lizard is seized and killed. And this is where the genius of Lewis comes in. The lizard collapses in a heap of ashes on the ground. However, within moments, something comes forth from the ground. What was once a hideous lizard is now a mighty steed. The newly liberated man mounts on its back and gallops into the greater, deeper realms of heaven. It is the only image of a completed transformation in Lewis’ collection of vignettes. It contains something important in the question of our identity.

Sin, like evil, is never a thing-in-itself. It is always a misuse, or disfigurement of something good. Everything created by God is good, only its misdirection and distortion makes it evil.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Truth of the Soul) I have written often of the influence The Great Divorce had on me 20-22 years ago. It’s one of Lewis’s two odd masterpieces: along with The Screwtape Letters, it probably is in the bottom 50% of his oeuvre for sheer literary quality (at least the genre is odd enough to be hard to compare), but it packs a powerful spiritual punch for those who, through some providential process, are ready to hear.

Thanks to Fr. Stepen for putting it “in other words.”


Judged by the catalogs, curricula and websites of American colleges and universities, American higher education already is vocational. The number of degrees in nursing, social work, education and the holy quartet of STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—vastly outweighs those awarded in the humanities, which is where we’re supposed to find the pure arts of thinking. One out of every five bachelor-level degrees is in business—which is to say, accounting, marketing, management and real estate—while one in 10 is in a health-related field.

Business and education lead the parade among master’s-level degrees; the bulk of doctoral degrees are in medicine, law, biology and engineering. The highest-growth fields since 2008 have been homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting, parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies.

Even education in the humanities has become vocationalized, although the transformation is subtle. Take almost any college or university literature department at random, and its faculty will be composed of people who have been trained in other college and university literature programs to be literature professors. History majors are, in department after department, seen—and taught—as future history professionals, whether in museums or colleges. Even in schools that still valiantly defend the virtue of a liberal arts education, much of it tends ineluctably toward professional formation, not breadth or understanding. Vocational training is what higher education has been doing without even realizing it.

(Allen Guelzo, College Is Trade School for the Elite:Even education in the humanities has become vocationalized, though the transformation is subtle)

I would not be surprised were this true of humanities within the modern multi-versity, but am dubious that it’s true of liberal arts colleges.

But what do I know?


“It is impossible,” [Matthew Walther] wrote, “to reconcile Catholic orthodoxy — the immortal teachings of the church that have not changed but only developed, like a musical theme, since the death of the last apostle — with the platforms of either major political party.” The Democratic Party’s liberalism on social issues clearly contradicts Catholic teaching, while “the libertarian economics championed by the Republican Party are absolutely at odds with a plain reading of the documents that together comprise the church’s social teaching.”

(Jeff Cimmino, The American Solidarity Party Charts Its Own Path)

As an Orthodox Christian, I disagree that “Catholic orthodoxy” has not changed, but there’s substantial agreement between extensive Catholic social teaching and what appears, from less extensive sources, to be the Orthodox consensus, and many Orthodox Christians are affiliating with ASP.


A lapsed Catholic, become “Emergent Church,” then eventually Orthodox, blogged her journey to Orthodoxy in an “Almost Orthodox” blog, then was invited to write a book of that title. After thinking it would be easy, a reworking of blog posts,

I threw out all the blog posts. None of those blog posts made it into the book. Not a one. Maybe a paragraph here or there. But really what I did was take the struggle that I had with becoming Orthodox and put the overlay of my life on top of it and went, “well, what brought me here?” Nothing is this sort of “Oh, I had this struggle with Orthodoxy and it wasn’t related at all to anything else in my whole life.” No, it’s all related.

(Angela Doll Carlson, guest on The Areopagus podcast) Boy, was that ever timely! I think this “life overlay” is what I may have achieved in Less Bark, More Wag.

Carlson was quite insightful, and symbiotically drew some unusually good insights out of the hosts (Pastor Michael Landsman and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick) as well.

It made me want to subscribe to her own podcast, which I have now done. The most recent episode was good and, literally, “close to home” — to-wit, Lafayette, Indiana.


James Howard Kunstler distills into one paragraph the core conviction that, in my experience, drives most of his blogging:

The United States is comprehensively bankrupt. The government is broke and the citizenry is trapped under inescapable debt burdens. We are never again going to generate the kinds and volumes of “growth” associated with techno-industrial expansion. That growth came out of energy flows, mainly fossil fuels, that paid for themselves and furnished a surplus for doing other useful things. It’s over. Shale oil, for instance, doesn’t pay for itself and the companies engaged in it will eventually run out of accounting hocus-pocus for pretending that it does, and they will go out of business.

I feel toward this core conviction what I feel about some other things in life: I just can’t un-see it.


Contemplating the fragility and intellectual decline of both parties is unavoidable for readers of Mark Lilla’s forthcoming book The Once And Future Liberalwhich will be in bookstores on August 15. I read it in one sitting this weekend — a tribute to its ability to engage the reader, but also to its length. This polemical book is short, only 141 pages, but this is a virtue. It’s exactly as long as it needs to be. Though it’s a book written by a liberal Democrat for liberal Democrats, every conservative who cares about the future of American politics should read it. Somebody on the Right — I’m looking at you, Michael Brendan Dougherty — needs to pen a similar volume for our side.

The thesis of Liberal is that the Democratic Party, and liberalism in general, has shipwrecked itself on the shoals of identity politics. “We have been repudiated in no uncertain terms,” he writes. “Donald Trump the man is, frankly, not the greatest of our worries. And if we don’t look beyond him there is very little hope for us.”

Lilla, who teaches humanities at Columbia, continues:

American liberalism in the twenty-first century is in crisis: a crisis of imagination and ambition on our side, a crisis of attachment and trust on the other side of the wider public.

The book is dedicated to diagnosing that crisis and prescribing a cure …

Lilla has a knack for pithy, stinging phrasing. Look around, he says to fellow liberals, and see that the Republican Party, at the state level, dominates. They keep winning elections. They do so in large part because “they have successfully persuaded much of the public that they are the party of Joe Sixpack and Democrats are the party of Jessica Yogamat.”

If liberals really want to improve the lots of minorities within their broad coalition, they have to first win elections. But the way they think of politics all but guarantees that they won’t. Lilla visits the Democratic Party’s website, with its pages and pages for various identity constituencies, and moans, “You might think that, by some mistake, you have landed on the website of the Lebanese government — not that of a party with a vision of America’s future.”

(Rod Dreher) Dreher adds that in the unlikely event the Democrats heed Lilla, they will be a formidable political foe to the GOP instead of losing, losing, losing so often they’re tired of it.


If you were interested in Running a white flag up the pole?, be advised that I’ve updated it twice.


There is a wind farm on I-65 that evokes a sense of longing – for peace, for stillness, for quiet. What does it mean for us, in a busy and loud world, to stay engaged, to seek out that stillness, to harvest this like the wind turbines harvest air?

(Angela Doll Carlson, The Wilderness Journal)

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Fiat justitia ruat caelum

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.