The Man, The Horse, The Wolf

“A horse having a wolf as a powerful and dangerous enemy lived in constant fear of his life. Being driven to desperation, it occurred to him to seek a strong ally. Whereupon he approached a man, and offered an alliance, pointing out that the wolf was likewise an enemy of the man. The man accepted the partnership at once and offered to kill the wolf immediately, if his new partner would only co-operate by placing his greater speed at the man’s disposal. The horse was willing, and allowed the man to place bridle and saddle upon him. The man mounted, hunted down the wolf, and killed him.

“The horse, joyful and relieved, thanked the man, and said: ‘Now that our enemy is dead, remove your bridle and saddle and restore my freedom.’ “Whereupon the man laughed loudly and replied, ‘Never!’ and applied the spurs with a will.” Isaac Asimov~

A slow process takes us from freedom to tyranny. Identifying the influence of multiple elements helps us track the descent.

In our culture that once encouraged self-control, personal morality used to be just that, personal. No more.

Behavior shifted from publicly accepted mores to license, and on to the despotism of an imposed moral code. The culture that asked restraint of young and old became one that embraced “free” sex among the unmarried, including unlimited abortion, and no-fault divorce among the previously committed. From there emerged LGB, then T, and now to an assortment of alphabetical self-identities limited only by one’s imagination.

The new moral code arising from the “freedom” era requires us to embrace and approve of any sexual choice, and apparently now the push is on for any choice at any age.

Not until Bud Light and Target aimed at the young did a significant reaction occur–as if the frog in the slowly heating pot had suddenly awakened. The end result of that reaction remains to be seen.

Do not be mistaken: the young are the goal and have always been.

Eleven states require a positive classroom presentation of “LGBTQ+ history.” Only four of those allow students to opt out. Five others prohibit such teaching, but Florida for example, limits the prohibition to the early grades.

Some call for a return to basics in the public classroom. Gillian Richards says those making such assertions miss the mark.

“For years, some conservatives have responded to morally toxic content in schools by implying that proper education should be morally neutral. The left has a campaign to “teach the whole child.” These critics counter by saying, ‘No, teach just a part.'”

Richards goes on to quote C.S. Lewis: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Lewis would be shocked to find his geldings metaphor to have become so literal today.

Rochards continues, “It is a bitter irony that some Americans on the right now invoke the very thing Lewis critiqued as the cure to the ideologies that have replaced progressivism—critical theory, gender ideology, and the like.” 

An education without moral formation is, it seems, no education at all.

Richards looks back for the answer. “The Founders and early Americans saw a core part of education as cultivating virtues, morality, and religion—all of which sustain a free and prosperous society.”

Where do we find such virtues?

Primarily in history and books.

As a college instructor, I was astonished at what my students did not know. Too many didn’t know a simple timeline of America’s “big wars,” the War for Independence, the Civil War, World Wars I and II. They seemed unaware of which century, not to mention which decade important events occurred.

Here’s part of why that’s the case.

Last fall, I attended a teachers’ conference. I participated in this conference for English teachers twice before but had been absent for more than a decade. The transformation was astonishing.

I’ll paraphrase my main takeaway. “The world has changed. We can no longer teach old books.”

The world has changed indeed. But students in too many schools (not all) today are sentenced to a life of ignorance about its various transformations, both from a technological and a literary perspective.

They read books about the world today. Books focused on the issues they see, their depression, their sexual confusion, their lack of understanding mirrored back to them in a resolution of false wisdom.

We have a long way to go to get back to the basics. The journey to wisdom and virtue is further yet.

In order for our society to teach virtue, we must first embrace it ourselves. Selfishness was the seed that produced the fruit we live in today.

Asimov: The fall of Empire . . . is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.”

In order to rescue our nation, we must become the horse that can throw off its own bridle.

Difficult, yes.

Impossible?

Asimov thought so, but he did not know that only One who could stop the decline into desolation.

With God, all things are possible. Let’s look to Him.

Photo Credit: Pexels

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Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduIce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Reading in a New Year

It’s been my New Years’ resolution for the past several rotations around the sun. Every year I build a stack of books in no particular order. Some fall by the wayside displaced by new texts that call my name.

This year’s stack seems a bit more solid. Most I waited to obtain. One was a surprise.

It may help that our television rendered itself useless last summer, and we’ve committed to adding more seating in its place for conversation, including the silent kind that moves from writer to reader.

At the top of the pile sits Dante, an ambitious–perhaps even a bit afflictive commitment. A grandson and I began last summer with his youth version and my noteless translation. In the previous school year, we had read middle school versions of Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid in the classroom.

Dante seemed like the next place to go for a youthful foundation in the classics, but I struggled to keep up while googling the confusing parts. So much for a noteless rendering. As the weeks of summer passed, we remained in the infernal regions. I want to climb higher this summer.

For Christmas, his mother found me versions of Inferno and Purgatorio with notes by Anthony Esolen. (His annotated but difficult-to-find Paradisio arrived yesterday. Apparently, it’s an elusive text on the more well-traveled sites of book vendors showing that everybody really does want to go to heaven.

I plan to walk further into Dante’s vision with this grandson when the school year ends. Perhaps we can find Paradise before the start of another academic year.

In the meantime, I rang in the New Year finishing A Canticle for Leibowitz. Sci-fi, post-apocalyptic–even post-post (far after) the flame deluge otherwise known as nuclear war. Dry in spots, hilarious in others, vastly profound overall, Canticle is worth your time. I punctuated my reading of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s final few pages of the text with frequent exclamations of “Wow!”

Toward the bottom of the pile sits my first foray into the works of Isaac Asimov. I’m not quite halfway through Foundation, the first in a series. Both Asimov and Miller emphasize the importance of recording and remembering history.

The men’s divergent worldviews are apparent. Miller’s text presents a secular world in which a Christian remnant champions the effort to rescue literacy and preserve the past in the hopes of preventing humanity’s self-destruction. Miller invites us to remember what the world is, and is not.

Asimov’s text makes no allusion (so far) to faith. His depiction of the political is apt, some may say accurate, others, cynical. Asimov is the easier read. Miller is worth the work.

The rest of the stack is non-fiction. Ross Douthat presents our society, The Decadent Society: America Before and After the Pandemic. He offers us two possibilities for COVID’s ultimate outcome: catastrophe or renaissance. We are truly at a crossroads.

Carl R. Trueman offers The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution. It’s another study of how we got where we are.

The Final Pagan Generation: Rome’s Unexpected Path to Christianity by Edward J. Watts provides insight into what the world was like as the power structure of an empire was turning upside down, from pagan to officially Christian. That seems pertinent in our world as a form of paganism, at least in the West, displaces Christianity.

Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind by Grace Olmstead discusses the ramifications of the uprooting many (most?) Americans have experienced today.

I remember the local communities of my youth, neighborhoods within our city. The second and third generations removed from immigrants felt a connection to the motherland and to our locale. The grandparents and great-grandparents came here but kept close ties through the fellowships of the Sons of Italy social hall or the Unter Uns (German) Society.

Some of those ties still bind smaller communities together. Many have scattered. Olmstead calls them home, truly and virtually.

The cover jacket calls the book “part memoir, part journalistic investigation.” It promises Olmstead will help us cultivate “rootedness.”

In a similar vein, Sohrab Ahmari’s work The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos proposes a way to find happiness, not in a self-crafted identity, but in pursuing virtue and accepting limits. Ahmari emigrated to the US from Iran and, among other job titles he holds, is a contributing editor for the Catholic Herald. He calls himself a “radically assimilated immigrant” and invites us to examine our lives to “live more humanely in a world that has lost its way.”

Ahmari’s book is the surprise in the pile, a gift from a son who often finds gems I’ve not stumbled over yet.

Finally, Christopher Hollingsworth has crafted The Poetics of the Hive: The Insect Metaphor in Literature. I don’t like bugs, but I anticipate the delight of following a thread of metaphor through literature.

As I write, I realize that, including the bugs, these books are about the importance of remembering history, understanding our own culture, and urging society toward renaissance instead of catastrophe.

Reading can be easy or hard depending on the text. The remembering, understanding, and urging are hard work. But important work, work with eternal purpose.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58 ESV).

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduIce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”