Reflections on Peter Leithart’s “Why Protestants Can’t Write”

Here is a wonderful piece by Peter Leithart, “Why Protestants Can’t Write.” In it he focuses on Flannery O’Connor, who insisted that we look at the world as it is, this world, not another world of all beauty and inspiration. “Writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable. In some cases, these writers may be unconsciously infected with the Manichaean spirit of the times and suffer the much discussed disjunction between sensibility and belief, but I think that more often the reason for this attention to the perverse is the difference between their beliefs and the beliefs of their audience. Redemption is meaningless unless there is case for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.”

O’Connor was that most unusual of people, a Southerner who was also a Roman Catholic. As an RC her writing was expressive of a sacramental theology, that the physical world as it is can reveal, can be, the divine. Thus, the writer does not ignore the real world to inspire us with beauty or a moral tale. The story to be told is the real world. Christ will be there.

Suspicion of Modern Ways and Medievalism

In my World Religions class I spend some time focusing on Gandhi’s affirmation of the caste system. This seems to us as counterintuitive. Who woulda thunk? His concern was that democracy had elements within it that would dissolve the glue of social coherence. If society became individualism run amok, the greater work of self-rule would be compromised.

This is one of the critiques Arundhati Roy, the wonderful English writing Indian novelist, offers of Gandhi. She is NOT mild in her criticism. Gandhi certainly criticized the more brutal aspects of the caste system but continued to believe it was essential for social/political/economic flourishing. Restlessness in social position was a deal breaker, at least at that stage of India’s development.

It’s at this point I think of JRR Tolkien and his suspicion of modern ways. Like CS Lewis, he was a medievalist and found in it a wonder and order that informed his works. Today I came across these words at the First Things website. “Tolkien was an unapologetic monarchist as well, believing that hierarchical distinctions are necessary for the flourishing of any polity, whether academic or ecclesial or governmental. He longed, in fact, for the return of Roman Catholicism as the established state religion of England.”

Some of the authors I have come to respect and read are medievalists, like Peter Kreeft, for whom the medieval period was a Golden Age. Protestants of my tradition skip over the medieval period in church history like we are walking on coals. But for some time I have been wondering. What was Christ doing during this one thousand years period other than getting everyone ready for Martin Luther? How does that connect with the Evangelical Protestantism that is my home? This is an area if reading and thought for me now.

Here is the link to the First Things article.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yesterday, January 27, was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Next week is the class on Judaism in my World Religions class, and this is one of the subjects I cover when we review the Jewish festival days. Here are 70 stories of Auschwitz on youtube by those who survived it. Hard to view, but we must not forget the evil people can do to people.

Tisha B’Av (lit. “the ninth of Av”, a month on the Jewish calendar) is an annual fast day in Judaism which commemorates the anniversary of a number of disasters in Jewish history, primarily the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The class looks at the modern day Jewish attempt to get the Jewish people to observe the day, seen by many as too negative and difficult. Plus, it occurs during July-August, a usual vacation time for many, complete with long days of sunshine and warmth. Hardly a time for meditating upon disaster.

To meditate long upon evil and the horrors people can perpetrate upon one another probably can never be a popular thing to do. This is especially true in our modern Western culture hyped up on “positive steroids” as it is. Lament and mourning is not our thing. Seems to be true in the church, too. Perhaps this is one of the reasons it is difficult to get the church to pay attention to pro-life issues consistently. To think about what happens in abortion clinics day after day, hour after hour, just twists the mind and makes it hard to breathe. Hard to do in a church overcome with the message “be your best you” versions of Christianity.

Winsome Words 1/27/2015

Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?

She tells them of Life and Death, and of all they would forget.

She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.

She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.

They constantly try to escape

From the darkness outside and within

By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.

… T. S. Eliot