Defeating the Father of Lies: 10 suggestions for rebuilding culture…
(CUSA) – This article by Bishop James Conley of Lincoln was originally published by the National Catholic Register and when posted on Facebook last year was censored. Still a powerful indictment of modern culture.
It’s good that the enemies of order and culture are reading it, even if they reject every word of it. With this as his purpose one can see why:
Reading is, in the modern world, a solitary pursuit. But for most of our history, books have been read aloud, and stories have been told by the fireside or at the dinner table or on a walk. Ideas germinate best when they are shared, and they tend to matter most when a community shares them.
My hope is to spur the imagination, to open the mind and to encourage each of you to be “born anew in wonder,” to marvel, in your heart and your imagination, at the glory of the Lord.
Bishop Conley’s article is a wonderful synopsis of Western Literature that engages the struggle of human life in tension with the divine. Our problem today is that we deny that tension even exists. —Ed.
BISHOP JAMES CONLEY—
The men and women who have been most influential in my own life were readers, too. Professor John Senior, teacher and godfather, seemed to have the whole canon of Western literature and poetry at his fingertips. Blessed John Henry Newman, my spiritual mentor, was a man of letters. My grandfather was an avid reader of American history, and my father was a reader and author.
Russian playwright Anton Chekhov said, “The business of literature is not to answer questions, but to state them fairly.” I’m not certain that is true. Literature does raise questions, but it can also point us to the final answers, to the permanent things.
Good literature forms a worldview: It offers us insight into our families, our communities and ourselves.
Great literature offers us insight into our relationship with God and the world.
Literature reflects culture and forms it. The history of Western culture can be traced in the stories told over the past millennia. Whether we read much or not, we’ve all been formed, at least in part, by the ideas and hopes expressed in the history of Western literature.
Today, we face an unprecedented crisis of culture. The family is disintegrating. Women and children are objectified in new and dangerous ways. Pornography is ubiquitous. Abortion is pervasive. Civil and moral discernment has become a lost art.
I talk about beauty a great deal. And I am sometimes asked whether paying attention to literature, music, poetry and art is a waste of time. I’m asked whether it would be more prudent to spend all of our energies fighting the political effects of secularism, rather than spending time reading books. In a situation as grave as ours this is a legitimate question.
We need to be active in the political arena. We need to propose policies that support the dignity of the human person and the institutions that animate and order society. We need to protect the unborn, freedom of conscience, traditional understanding of marriage and the sovereignty of the family.
But we won’t be successful in the political arena if we don’t first succeed in transforming culture.
The crisis we face today is cultural with political consequences. Good policy is born of good minds and good hearts, and bad policy is born of dull minds and small vision — of egoism, greed and lust.
Our battle is not just for policies. It is a battle for hearts and minds.
Our crisis is, in some ways, a literary crisis — and thus a crisis of the imagination.
Very few people today are reading good books. We’re busy with families and professions. Television tempts us to spend mindless hours taking in sports or crass comedy or the over-scripted melodrama called “reality television.”
The Internet demands our attention, and when we do read, it’s often only email, tweets, or blogs. Or we read books which neither satisfy our intellects nor our imaginations.
Finally, modern methods of education too often favor reading as a technical exercise — as a necessary skill to prepare us for a career, instead of as a way to become more fully human.
The cultural content we consume today is mostly uninspiring. And the media is dangerous. While the technology we possess offers great potential, it can also have the effect of making us hooked on instant gratification, bored without immediate stimulation, lonely for real connections instead of text messages, tweets and Facebook “likes.”
When we aren’t careful, our technology can make us flat-souled — very bored and very lonely.
In moderation, television can be worthwhile. And the Internet can be a source for good. But we’ve lost the literary culture that formed the heroes of Western history. We’ve replaced it with noise. Literature, which once formed hearts and minds towards greatness, is forgotten.
But literature — and poetry, music and the fine arts — is the antidote to our flat-souled culture. And it is critical to solving our culture’s real crisis.
We need to understand the humanity taught by Plato, Augustine, and Shakespeare, because we need to understand our own humanity. In the darkness of elective illiteracy, we can too easily lose our sight, even of ourselves.
‘Born Anew in Wonder’
Literature opens our imaginations to wonder. it exposes the contemplative part of our humanity. Good books can spur in us a sense of justice, charity, and generosity. They can expand our souls and inspire our hearts to strive for greatness.
Just as the priest prays in the liturgy, addressing the faithful in the preface, Sursum Corda — “Lift up your hearts.” That’s what our faith does and what good literature can do.
If we want to solve the problems of Western culture, we need, desperately, a renewal of the Western mind. All of us who wish to bring forward a renewal of Christian culture in our world should begin on our knees, in prayer.