Archive for March, 2009

The Lady of the Lake

Dear Bill,

As I prepare for classes tomorrow, I notice that a number of good and interesting things have been written about President Obama’s forthcoming visit to the University of Notre Dame to deliver the main address at this year’s commencement exercises.

As someone (at the age of 13) who watched President Ronald Reagan deliver his famous address there on May 17, 1981, and who graduated from there in 1990, I’ve been especially interested in the controversy.

Most recently, Father Schall of Georgetown published his reflections at Catholic World Report.

Jim Otteson (U. of Notre Dame, class of 1990), a professor of philosophy and economics at Yeshiva University in New York, has published this.

Greg Scheckler (U. of Notre Dame, class of 1990), a professor of visual arts at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and an avowed atheist, has published this piece.

The bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, John D’Arcy, has issued this condemnation.

As of 4:30 today, 223,607 persons have signed a petition protesting President Obama’s visit to Notre Dame.

The University of Notre Dame holds great significance and meaning to American Catholics.  This visit clearly reveals profound tensions within American Catholicism, broader American Christianity, and American politics and culture.

It’s worth ending this post with Reagan’s masterful words, delivered at Notre Dame nearly 28 years ago:  “When it’s written, history of our time won’t dwell long on the hardships of the recent past. But history will ask — and our answer determine the fate of freedom for a thousand years. . . . Did a nation borne of hope lose hope? Did a people forged by courage find courage wanting?  Did a generation steeled by hard war and a harsh peace forsake honor at the moment of great climactic struggle for the human spirit?”


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Brideshead Revisited

A friend of mine gave me a box full of Evelyn Waugh books about a two months ago.  I brought them home, reached deep into the musty box and pulled out Brideshead Revisited.  I had never read the book.  My only previous exposure was the movie poster at the local Borders books.

From the opening page I was captivated.  I must admit that, at times, my somewhat redneck sensibilities were shaken… what is with this bunch of flaming homosexuals?!  But the plot continued to draw me into its impressive unfolding of God’s grace amidst hard providences.  This is not evangelical happy-clappy.  I was floored by the eucatastrophe, the transcendent mix of sorrow and joy which inspires us to tears as we consider the greater glory of our heavenly inheritance, even against the competing claims of various earthly allegiances, some noble (family, inheritance, tradition, aristocracy) some vain (the pleasures of the bottle, the flesh, and the “new”. 

Where is the body of Protestant literature that grasps the deep, biblical piety that Waugh expresses in Brideshead Revisited?  Could it be that evangelical culture cannot stand to much reality?  Although Reformed Protestants embrace our Augustinian heritage, do we embrace the tragic implications of earthly loves inextricably tied to the fortunes of the city of man even as we struggle to reorient our hearts toward our higher allegiance to the Heavenly City?  Where is the literary proof?  Where is the Protestant sense of the tragic?

Brideshead begins and ends amidst the wasteland.  World War II with all its centralizing destructions was shredding the very fabric of the world that protagonist Charles Ryder finds himself to drawn toward and repulsed by.  But the wasteland is not only the product of the external forces of war and modernity, but spiritual rebellion and the excess of our baser desires.  The world is broken.  Our lives are broken.  Even great families fall.  Great estates are lost.  Even our most noble earthly loves are fixed upon things passing away. All is vanity.  Everything is dust.  BUT… even in the midst of wasteland, God grace shines forth and Christ’s rule over tragic providences is affirmed.  He will fix all that is now broken.

Good stuff.  Read the book.

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Movement Conservatism

The kind editors at DRC (among them, my friend and former pastor, Charles Brown) invited me to make an occasional contribution to this blog. I’ve enjoyed following the discussions here over the past couple years, and it’s a great privilege to be able to contribute in any small way I can. My own plans for the near future (graduate studies this fall at Notre Dame, plus the birth of my firstborn in May) may prevent me from any strictly regulated posting, so to speak, but I’ll do my best.

* * *

Over at my homeblog, I mentioned a piece from the Washington Monthly which profiles the rise and fall of the webzine Culture11. If you’re not familiar with the journal, it’s worth poking around the archives. C11 sold itself as an outside voice of conservatism, one not afraid to challenge the reigning orthodoxy or talking points of movement conservatism. However, the autumn 2008 release of the new journal could not have been timed worse, economically speaking, and it closed up shop in January. Prior to its demise, C11 made practice of leveling scattershot attacks at both the liberal and conservative establishment. Sarah Palin was dissed right along side John Maynard Keynes. But the diverse range of the editorials was my favorite part of Culture11. Besides old-liners like Bill Bennett, you had crunchy cons like Rod Dreher, localists like John Schwenkler, and libertarians like Peter Suderman. 

After C11 failed, the general diaspora of talent extended into other blogs: Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, et al. And perhaps that’s for the best. But part of me still hopes (with self-defeating irony) for a central hub of anti-movement thought. The conservative monolith — represented by Fox News, talk radio, and a host of establishment journals — could use a strong outside voice.

With that in mind, I wonder sometimes about the legitimacy of conservatism as a movement. Movements tends to value unity over debate, whereas it seems to me that the primary value of political conservatism is its ability to provide a dose of social skepticism. Conservatism counters utopianism. Perhaps it’s better to view conservatism as a disposition, rather than an ideology.


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I realize this blog is somewhat expanding beyond the twelve tribes of NAPARC . But I thought this was as good a place as any to draw attention to a recent conference sponsored by the OP Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada on animus imponentis and confessional subscription.  This topic was indirectly raised here before.

Speakers were Alan Strange, John Fesko *, George Knight, John Muether.

Aside from the specific content of this conference, it seems commendable that presbyteries should sponsor such activities.

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I am chewing on Brad’s canons.  He will forgive me if I try to start referring them as De Regno canons!

Here is a question and I am open to answers from all sides- 

how do we set the boundaries for a “metaphysical, theological, and poetic” understanding of history? The Reformed Presbyterian Church used to confess what it referred to as a “Historical Testimony.”  The Historical Testimony was an attempt to provide a metaphysical/theological interpretation of history, although I dare say that it could not be called poetic.  

Rather, it was a dramatic representation of what Herbert Butterfield  called the Whig Interpretation of History. Butterfield warns against the temptation to view history as anything but a lying old reprobate.  Dawson certainly seems to disagree.  Having swallowed down my fill of the Whig Interpretation, I am cautiously skeptical.  At the same time, how can the historian not help to guide his students to grasp the mysterious hand of God at work… even when His works are inscrutable from our perspective. 

Can Butterfield be reconciled with Dawson?  Or is Dawson’s catholic interpretation the other side of the coin to Whig Interpretation of history?

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Lucky Geitner?

Has Lucky Geitner found a pot of gold?  Here is a link to my comments at the Upstate Conservative.

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