Cultural Decline

Moses-on-U.S.-Supreme-Court-Building

The Requirements of the Law

As a full-time parish priest and an armchair theologian, it gives me great pleasure to rub shoulders—from time to time—with real theologians, and to plagiarize some of their ideas. One of them observed, “The Church teaches doctrine, not theology.” The thought was provocative enough to open many intellectual doors for me as I began to [...]

Preparing for the Apocalypse

With hopes that I’m not falling into some heresy, I find myself persuaded by mainstream libertarian economists. Their general positions include: economic law of free markets with limited or no government interference; the law of supply and demand; the responsibility of central governments to collect taxes only for those activities the private sector can’t or [...]

Brave New World: The Future Is Now

“Do you take milk or cream in your coffee, Anna? I'm so forgetful these days.” “Neither, dear. Don't fret about it.” Anna gave a little sigh and passed the cup to her friend Liz. Then they sat quietly for a moment at the table, Anna stirring the sugar in her cup and clinking the spoon [...]

The Contemporary Denial of Reality

Prudence, writes Josef Pieper in The Christian View of Man, is the root of all the natural virtues, and there is an obvious reason why. It is the virtue of seeing reality as it is. There can be no true virtue without it, because the virtues are to be exercised among imperfect human beings, not among angels [...]

The Paris Horror: Real and Explicable

There is a film clip of Charles Trenet singing the song he wrote, “La Romance de Paris” in Jean Boyer’s film of the same name, with smiling people gathered round as the accordionist accompanies the swaggering “fou chanteur” with his broad grin and popping eyes. It is charmingly nostalgic until you realize that it is [...]

Revolution and Regression

"Times have changed. It's not the nineties anymore." So says a TV commercial for a brokerage firm. Presumably, the lesson is that investment strategies that worked then won't work now: the market has changed and so should you. Times have changed in other respects also. The assumptions that one could safely make about the world [...]

Despair in the Face of Cultural Decline

In the last months, particularly after the Supreme Court decision on homosexual marriage in late June, I’ve noticed a pronounced malaise in many of my friends and family. For some, this looks awfully close to despair, for others a scornful anger, with a kind of dazed escapism haunting yet others hoping they are in a [...]

Reform and Renewal Starts with Us

Let's get straight to the point. We no longer live in a culturally Christian state. We do not live in a robust pagan state, such as Rome was during the Pax Romana. We live in a sickly sub-pagan state, or metastate, a monstrous thing, all-meddlesome, all-ambitious. The natural virtues are scorned. Temperance is for prigs, [...]

What Prospects for Thought?

Last month I suggested that a one-sided emphasis on will and power over transcendent realities has meant less and worse thought. That problem applies especially to public life, but man is social, so it spills over to private life as well. To respond to the situation, I proposed a renewed emphasis on institutions, like family and church, [...]

Imagining a Family Friendly Political Order

Like boiling frogs, we may be forgiven for failing to notice an all pervasive atmospheric change; forgiven but not spared. Whether we can look it in the eye or not, we have entered the era Pope Benedict XVI described as the mustard seed church. Our stature and influence are gone and the world has become [...]

How to Identify a Healthy Culture

How should we judge the health of a culture? We might do it by pointing to its greatest virtues. The Greek city states between 500 and 300 B.C., though they were not especially densely populated, gave the west the architectural “language” it still employs for everything from grand hotels to private homes. The colonial house, [...]

Shamelessness in Public and Private Life

We often hear that there is no sense of shame anymore. For decades, that has been evident about sexual matters. Sexual behaviors, even perversions, which were once not only unmentioned but even unthinkable are now in the mainstream. Not only this, but opposing thinking—such as the value of chastity and sound sexual ethics—is held to [...]

Physician-Assisted Suicide and Spiritual Suicide

On the morning of Friday, February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the law against assisted suicide was unconstitutional. Canada now joins a small, elite group of madly progressive countries in abandoning the most fundamental principle in all of nature. All living things, from an ameba to a human being seek to [...]

Pro-life Legislation is Not Enough

There is no way to end abortion short of changing the way we love and live. Without addressing abortion as a corruption of how we love, the greatest legal victory is a sand castle on a beach before the tide comes in. The tide will win no matter how large the sand castle, or how [...]

Normality is Not Hatred

Very recently the view that homosexuality is entirely normal has become not only widespread but compulsory in secular public discussion. Leaders of thought tell us the change has been part of a general deepening of moral insight and improvement in the art of living. The older outlook oppressed millions out of fear, bigotry, and ignorance. [...]

When Textbooks Upheld the Ideals of Our Ancestors

I am musing upon a fine book written by a teacher and prolific author, Leroy Armstrong. He is introducing the reader to the life and the work of John Greenleaf Whittier, the old Quaker poet who was once one of the most beloved writers in America. He directs our attention to “Snow-Bound,” which he says [...]

How Christians Can Rebuild Our Culture

Editor’s note: The following essay is adapted from an address delivered August 6 at the Archdiocese of Toronto’s “Faith in the Public Square” symposium. In the beginning, Genesis tells us, “the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Gen 1:2). Creation begins in chaos. On each day of [...]

You Can’t Have a Culture of Life if You Have No Culture at All

It should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a moment that it is always far easier to destroy than to create.  One bomb or wrecking ball can shatter in an instant the cathedral that it took human hands and minds fifty years to build. What is true of buildings is true of [...]

When Grace was a Staple of Popular Entertainment

I haven't watched more than two episodes of any contemporary television series in twenty years, but I do watch baseball and football and so I get a fair barrage of commercials advertising what is supposed to be funny or “edgy” or seriously dramatic and so forth. My wife likes to watch home decorating shows and [...]

How to Accentuate the Positive

In recent decades the Church has tried more than ever to accentuate the positive. As a result, she talks less about rules and prohibitions than in the past. Those things are important, the thought seems to be, but they exist for a purpose, and the positive teachings tell us what the purpose is. After all, [...]

Why Do We Read Good Books?

Not long ago, one of my older essays was published in these pages to counterbalance, and to caution against, the unqualified praise of Flannery O’Connor’s fictional stories. As I expected, a great many O’Connor enthusiasts took exception to my critique. But amidst the ensuing disparagement, the common confusions, and the rebuttals of arguments never made, [...]

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