Despite all efforts to cancel good sense, common decency, a real sense of justice, respect for the law, and fear of God, these things will reassert themselves, as will the gifts of faith, hope, and charity. What better summer reading for an age of martyrs than the great works of the Western tradition that can once again provide foundations of order when the madness ends?
It feels ironic in mid-July to write about “summer reading.” The second session of our PEAK program is winding down and the arrival of this year’s freshmen class to prepare for their 21-day trip in the back country is just two weeks away. Reading at all, somehow, seems a little alien to the spirit of this strange summer, but the brief list I’m offering here reflects a few books that I’ve read and others that I hope to read.
Early this year, I took the advice of Bishop Robert Barron in his daily reflections to order Miracles by Craig Keener. I expected a slim, lyrical volume about miraculous interventions by the saints, perhaps with several moving personal accounts. What I received from Amazon, however, was a massive two-volume set, assiduously researched and painstakingly argued, with thousands of examples of miracles, predominantly healings, from antiquity to our own day. Dr. Keener is a Protestant (another surprise), the author of thirty or more books, a professor of biblical studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Three major intentions have emerged from the first 450 pages of this magisterial but always readable work: first, to demolish the highly influential argument against the credibility of miracles by the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume; second, to defeat by the same means the Protestant “cessationist” doctrine that miracles ceased after the time of the Apostles; and third, to demonstrate abundantly that miracles in the present age are continuous with those worked by Christ and the apostles in the Gospels and Acts. It is a compelling work, highly recommended.
Also recommended is Paul Tough’s The Years That Matter Most, a well-researched and engagingly written book about getting into college, staying in, and doing well. Tough explores the system itself, including the SAT and ACT, preparations for testing, college admissions procedures, strategies for retention, and the best means of working with students whose social background makes them likely to fail. Tough intelligently supports the American dream of social and financial improvement through education and shows how better to realize it. Although he unreflectively advocates the instrumental understanding of education that Wyoming Catholic College was founded to combat, I have learned a great deal from his book, including useful ways we might recruit the students who most need this unique education and keep the ones at risk when they get here.
Good fiction is a fundamental part of our curriculum, because nothing more effectively provides a “lived world” for the imagination, a powerful corrective—very much like the outdoor experience at WCC—to bodiless abstraction. Some of the world’s great novels fortify our courses (including Don Quixote, Madame Bovary, Moby-Dick, and The Brothers Karamazov), but many do not because of the constraints of our already overloaded curriculum. I doubt that Marilynne Robinson’s Lila will ever make it into our canon, but I am very much enjoying this story of a severely deprived child whose situation gradually unfolds through the novel. Robinson’s writing enacts, page by page, the increase in inner understanding that Lila achieves, first with the woman who rescues her, and then, much later, under the loving influence of her husband. Reading it is slow going—not difficult, uninteresting, or unduly “poetic” in texture, just slow going, like Lila’s gains. I have never read anything quite like it.
Among the books that I hope to read soon are two recently recommended. The first is The Restoration of Man by Michael Aeschliman, a book about C.S. Lewis and the belief that everything can be explained adequately by materialist science. Aeschliman follows up, I suspect, on the critique of scientism that informs Lewis’s novel, That Hideous Strength, with its unforgettable image of a disembodied brain kept alive by the agents of the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.). I have received another strong recommendation for John R. Ellis’s book, The Breakdown of Higher Education (which should be an interesting complement to Tough’s). I’m interested to see Ellis’s argument for defunding, not the police, but colleges and universities that more or less launder tax money for education into support for radical advocacy. Ellis’s book is either very popular or “canceled,” because the website says, “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” I got my copy on Kindle.
Speaking of cancellation, these are strange times indeed. Canonized saints and revered founders are no longer good enough for the new, morally perfect representatives of the current protests, who suffer past injustices with unparalleled intensity. Human feeling has never been so exquisitely refined. Who can fail to be impressed by superiority to St. Louis or George Washington, not to mention Our Lady, whose statues have also been attacked? And yet if contemporary suffering of past injustice seems intense, it is nothing next to their sensitivity to the least criticism of themselves or their causes. We must consider ourselves privileged to live at this rarest of moments in human history, when so many are so fortunate in their moral constitutions that they can confidently ascribe all fault to others.
Things fall apart, as Yeats said a century ago, but a strong reaction is surely coming. Despite all efforts to cancel good sense, common decency, a real sense of justice, respect for the law, and fear of God, these things will reassert themselves, as will the gifts of faith, hope, and charity—a high and difficult charity. What better summer reading for an age of martyrs than the great works of the Western tradition that have given our civilization coherence and that can once again provide foundations of order when the madness ends? Our freshmen are fortunate in the real sense: that they will come down from the mountains to find Homer and Sophocles and Plato, the Bible and Aristotle, and begin the journey of transformation that our culture most needs.
Republished with gracious permission from Wyoming Catholic College’s weekly newsletter.
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