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Society and Culture

W. E. B. Dubois on Truth Transcending Color

Go I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So wed with Truth I dwell above the Veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?

Edward R Murrow on Media as Diversion

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To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic, and social climate in which they flourish. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. And our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late. ¶ … I do not advocate that we turn television into a twenty-seven-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live. … This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance, and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Princeton Faculty Statement on Free Speech

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Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.”

The Making of the Modern University

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What is the purpose of higher education, and how should we pursue it? Debates over these issues raged in the late nineteenth century as reformers introduced a new kind of university—one dedicated to free inquiry and the advancement of knowledge. In the first major study of moral education in American universities, Julie Reuben examines the consequences of these debates for modern intellectual life. Based on extensive research at eight universities — Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Chicago, Stanford, Michigan, and California at Berkeley — Reuben examines the aims of university reformers in the context of nineteenth-century ideas about truth. She argues that these educators tried to apply new scientific standards to moral education, but that their modernization efforts ultimately failed. By exploring the complex interaction between institutional and intellectual change, Reuben enhances our understanding of the modern university, the secularization of intellectual life, and the association of scientific objectivity with value-neutrality.

Patrick J. Deneen on the Presuppositions of a Great Books Education

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Books were understood to be a storehouse of wisdom from the past, a treasury and repository of hard-won experience and knowledge of these limits. What these books taught was itself a justification for an education centered around them. Because the present and future were believed to be fundamentally identical to the past, the past was understood to be a source of wisdom about our condition as humans in a world that we do not command. An education in great books was itself a consequence of a philosophical worldview, and not merely an education from which we derived a worldview (much less sought an education in critical thinking).

Jesus Outside the Lines

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Whether the issue of the day on Twitter, Facebook, or cable news is our sexuality, political divides, or the perceived conflict between faith and science, today’s media pushes each one of us into a frustrating clash between two opposing sides. Polarizing, us-against-them discussions divide us and distract us from thinking clearly and communicating lovingly with others. Scott Sauls, like many of us, is weary of the bickering and is seeking a way of truth and beauty through the conflicts. Jesus Outside the Lines presents Jesus as this way. Scott shows us how the words and actions of Jesus reveal a response that does not perpetuate the destructive fray. Jesus offers us a way forward – away from harshness, caricatures and stereotypes. In Jesus Outside the Lines, you will experience a fresh perspective of Jesus, who will not (and should not) fit into the sides. ~ Publisher’s Description

David Bentley Hart on the Discipline of Theology

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The majority of the faculty of most modern universities would surely regard the claim that theology constitutes some kind of “science” absurd and presumptuous. ¶ Religion, after all (as  everyone knows), is a realm of purely personal conviction sustained by faith, which is (as everyone also knows) an entirely irrational movement of the will, an indistinct impulse of saccharine sentiment, pathetic longing, childish credulity, and vague intuition. And theology, being the special language of religion, is by definition a collection of vacuous assertions, zealous exhortations, and beguiling fables; it is the peculiar patois of a private fixation or tribal allegiance, of interest perhaps to the psychopathologist or anthropologist, but of no greater scientific value than that; surely it has no proper field of study of its own, no real object to investigate, and whatever rules it obeys must be essentially arbitrary.

David Brooks on Protecting Offensive Views at Home

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In “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo“, David Brooks challenges us to live up to our self-proclaimed commitment to freedom of speech: “The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down. ¶ Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.”

Robert P. George on Friendly Disagreements

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Like my Swarthmore peers, I wanted to be sophisticated and enlightened — and to be regarded by others as sophisticated and enlightened. So a lot of what I believed simply as a matter of tribal loyalty was reinforced by a tendency to adopt views that conformed to the beliefs of what the late Irving Kristol dubbed “the knowledge class” — professors, elite journalists, and the like. With the exception of abortion, which I had thought about a lot, I hadn’t really thought myself into the positions I held. Rather, I had taken the short cut: I was content to believe what I thought sophisticated and enlightened people believed, or at least were supposed to believe. I simply, and rather unselfconsciously, assumed that an approach of that sort would reliably place me on the correct side of the issues. And, of course, it would give me access to a world I wanted to enter more fully — the elite world of important people who really counted and made a difference. If I got the right credentials, beginning with a Swarthmore degree, and held the right views, I could be someone who mattered. It was then, as it is now, a common motivation for students at elite colleges and universities.

On Jeremiah and Being Faithfully Present

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Samuel Goldman writes: “Rod Dreher has summarized the “Benedict Option” as “communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life.” And small but vibrant communities around the country are already putting the Benedict Option into practice. Without being rigorously separatist, these communities do aim to be separate. Some merely avoid morally subversive cultural influences, while others seek physical distance from mainstream society in rural isolation. ¶ But a neo-Benedictine way of life involves risks. Communal withdrawal can construct a barrier against the worst facets of modern life — the intertwined commodification of personal relationships, loss of meaningful work to bureaucratic management, and pornographic popular culture — yet it can also lead to isolation from the stimulating opposition that all traditions need to avoid stagnation.”

Peter J. Leithart on Unwelcome Truth Telling

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We might naively hope that the world would welcome salt-of-the-earth types who are committed to reconciliation, faithfulness, truth-telling, love, and piety. But some worlds are built on vengeance, lust, and hatred; some churches are energized by hostility toward other churches. Some religions turn piety into an honor competition. Such religions and worlds naturally see serious Christians as a threat to their way of life, because Christians are a threat to their way of life. Where mutual hatred determines the structure of social life, lovers are dangerous. Anyone who reaches across the barricades to bless an enemy is tampering with the way the world is, and ought to be. In a world such as ours, where virtually every sexual desire demands respect, disciples who urge the lustful to pluck out their lecherous eyes aren’t just prudes, but dangerous prudes. In a world of lies, truth-tellers must be silenced.

Cultures of Death and of Decadence

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Rod Dreher writes: “The decadence represented by Charlie Hebdo is probably a greater threat to Western civilization than anything the Islamists can dream up, and it’s important to keep that straight even as we defend the right to free expression and a free press. It destroys everything for the sake of … what, exactly? Charlie Hebdo was straightforward about its far-left agenda of driving all religion out of society. Houellebecq, who is not a religious believer, asks: what are people supposed to live by, then? Man cannot thrive without religion, he believes — and he believes this as a matter of sociology, not theology. … I don’t know what’s coming. Nobody wants to live under hard Islamism. The Islamists have nowhere built a society capable of thriving. But at the same time, the society the West has built and is building without God or any kind of sacred values other than the Self cannot be said to be thriving either. … We are morally compelled to defend artists and journalists against those who would kill them for what they draw or say. But we should be clear that we are defending one culture of death from another one.”

Christianity and Culture

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One of the greatest of the problems that have agitated the Church is the problem of the relation between knowledge and piety, between culture and Christianity. This problem has appeared first of all in the presence of two tendencies in the Church — the scientific or academic tendency, and what may be called the practical tendency. Some men have devoted themselves chiefly to the task of forming right conceptions as to Christianity and its foundations. To them no fact, however trivial, has appeared worthy of neglect; by them truth has been cherished for its own sake, without immediate reference to practical consequences. Some, on the other hand, have emphasized the essential simplicity of the gospel. The world is lying in misery, we ourselves are sinners, men are perishing in sin every day. The gospel is the sole means of escape; let us preach it to the world while yet we may. So desperate is the need that we have no time to engage in vain babblings or old wives’ fables. While we are discussing the exact location of the churches of Galatia, men are perishing under the curse of the law; while we are settling the date of Jesus’ birth, the world is doing without its Christmas message.

Emily Gould on How To Be Not Evil

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The good news is that “Big Bang Theory” is just bad, not evil. Aside from Penny’s unintelligence being played for “laughs,” the show is relatively progressive in its treatment of gender. In one of the episodes I saw, Penny and Amy and Bernadette are involved in a subplot where Amy, in an attempt to scientifically study something about friendships, tries to pit the friends against each other. In the course of this plot they have several conversations about work, thereby ensuring that the show passes the “Bechdel test” (female characters must talk, to each other, about something other than men). ¶ There aren’t any hot wife/schlub husband jokes, both men and women are seen to be nerds, and there isn’t anything overtly horribly racist going on, except the show’s mostly-whiteness and Raj’s “funny” accent. And the theme song, by the Barenaked Ladies, provides a brief history that begins with the titular “Big Bang” and goes on to cover concepts like Neanderthals using tools; it would not be compatible with a theory of the universe that takes the Bible literally. So that’s something, at least.  There’s hope for America yet.

Sean Davis on the Seriousness of Fabricating Quotes

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These are not ticky-tack fouls. In the world of publishing and public speaking, quotes are evidence. Quotes are to journalism what data are to science. If they’re not real, they’re irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how juicy and revealing they are if they never happened. Fabrication is the cardinal sin of publishing.

George Bernard Shaw on Lifelong Passion

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When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part. And though of course nobody expects them to do anything so impossible and so unwholesome, yet the law that regulates their relations, and the public opinion that regulates that law, is actually founded on the assumption that the marriage vow is not only feasible but beautiful and holy, and that if they are false to it, they deserve no sympathy and no relief.

Ryan T. Anderson on the Conjugal View of Marriage

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The conjugal view of marriage, we argued, has long informed the law — along with the literature, art, philosophy, religion, and social practice — of our civilization. So understood, marriage is a comprehensive union. It unites spouses at all levels of their being: hearts, minds, and bodies, where man and woman form a two-in-one-flesh union. It is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are distinct and complementary, on the biological fact that reproduction requires a man and a woman, and on the sociological reality that children benefit from having a mother and a father. As the act that unites spouses can also create new life, marriage is especially apt for procreation and family life. Uniting spouses in these all-encompassing ways, marriage calls for all-encompassing commitment: permanent and exclusive.

Robert P. George on Why Academic Freedom Matters

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We want our young people and those responsible for teaching them to be free from repression or invidious discrimination, but we should fight for these freedoms for a reason that goes significantly beyond them. We should fight for freedom from oppression on our campuses because we believe that academic freedom is freedom for something, something profoundly important—namely, the intellectual excellence that makes self-mastery possible. We should struggle to destroy political correctness on college campuses so that students and scholars can pursue understanding, knowledge, and truth more robustly across the arts and sciences and appropriate the great goods of human intellectual striving more fully into their lives for their benefit and for the sake of the common good. We should honor academic freedom as a great and indispensable value because it serves the values of understanding, knowledge, and truth that are greater still.

Benjamin Franklin on Journalistic Ethics

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In the conduct of my newspaper I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country. Whenever I was solicited to insert anything of that kind and the writers pleaded, as they generally did, the liberty of the press — and that a newspaper was like a stage-coach, in which any one who would pay had a right to a place — my answer was that I would print the piece separately if desired, and the author might have as many copies as he pleased to distribute himself, but that I would not take upon me to spread his detraction, and that having contracted with my subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining, I could not fill their papers with private altercation, in which they had no concern, without doing them manifest injustice. Now many of our printers make no scruple of gratifying the malice of individuals by false accusations of the fairest characters among ourselves, augmenting animosity even to the producing of duels; and are, moreover, so indiscreet as to print scurrilous reflections on the government of neighboring States, and even on the conduct of our best national allies, which may be attended with the most pernicious consequences. These things I mention as a caution to young printers, and that they may be encouraged not to pollute their presses and disgrace their profession by such infamous practices, but refuse steadily; as they may see by my example that such a course of conduct will not on the whole be injurious to their interests.

Conscience and Its Enemies

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Showcasing the talents that have made him one of America’s most acclaimed and influential thinkers, Robert P. George explodes the myth that the secular elite represents the voice of reason. In fact, George shows, it is on the elite side of the cultural divide where the prevailing views frequently are nothing but articles of faith. Conscience and Its Enemies reveals the bankruptcy of these too often smugly held orthodoxies while presenting powerfully reasoned arguments for classical virtues. In defending what James Madison called the “sacred rights of conscience” — rights for which government shows frightening contempt — George grapples with today’s most controversial issues: abortion and infanticide, same-sex marriage, genetic manipulation, euthanasia and assisted suicide, religion in politics, judicial activism, and more. His brilliantly argued essays rely not on theological claims or religious authority but on established scientific facts and a philosophical tradition that extends back to Plato and Aristotle. Conscience and Its Enemies elevates our national debates. It sets forth powerful arguments that secular liberals are unaccustomed to hearing — and that embattled defenders of traditional morality so often fail to marshal. It also lays out the principles and arguments for rebuilding a moral order.