Flannery O’Connor, Women, and the Home

Barbara Wheeler

We cannot underestimate the roles of home, family, and community in shaping Flannery O’Connor as a writer. In her essay entitled “The Regional Writer,”Flannery O’Connor states: “Unless the novelist has gone utterly out of his mind, his aim is still communication and communication suggests talking inside a community.” She goes on to say, “I wouldn’t want to suggest that the Georgia writer has the unanimous collective ear of his community, but only that his true audience, the audience he checks himself by, is at home.” Home forms a major motif in Flannery O’Connor’s stories, particularly in “The Lame Shall Enter First” and “The Enduring Chill.” [Read more…]

Communion of the Saints

Shannon Berry

On the first of November, All Saints’ Day, my boyfriend Kim and I drive nearly an hour away to an ecumenical bonfire on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Two Lutheran girls from the university I attend as a graduate student cram themselves into the miniscule, low-ceilinged backseat of my Toyota, as I try to carefully maneuver the bumpy country roads and the new fallen snow. I apologize in advance for giving them headaches. As we drive, we talk about hometowns and courses and the difficulties of getting students involved in our various organizations, ours the Catholic campus ministry, theirs the Lutheran. The conversation surfaces but never dives; we stay in the safe territory of small talk. [Read more…]

Breathing with Both Lungs

Tonita M. Helton

How can we be fully credible if we stand divided before the Eucharist, if we cannot live our sharing in the same Lord whom we are called to proclaim to the world?
Orientale Lumen, John Paul II

John Paul II stood on an elevated platform before the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and celebrated the Holy Mass before a crowd more than one million strong. The date was August 15, 1991—a day of triumph and joy. This was the first time ever that large numbers of young Eastern Europeans were able to participate in World Youth Day. In addressing the Eastern pilgrims, the Holy Father thanked them for the “precious treasure” of their Christian witness, a witness for which they often suffered persecution, death, and imprisonment behind a geopolitical wall that created “nearly impassable borders.” The collapse of communism in the East, however, had ushered in a new era and he rejoiced that “the Church in Europe [could] now breathe freely with both of her lungs.” [Read more…]

Pre-Christian Infusion: Faith. Hope and Charity in The Lord of the Rings

David Rozema

In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes the four cardinal moral virtues of fortitude, temperance, wisdom, and justice from the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (charity). He maintains that the moral virtues of fortitude, temperance, wisdom, and justice are virtues only in “a restricted sense”: they bring only a “natural happiness.” But the very same moral virtues can be a part of a “supernatural happiness” if the practice of them is supported by the theological virtues. So a person may possess the moral virtues of fortitude, temperance, wisdom, and justice without possessing the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, but that person’s moral virtue will be imperfect. [Read more…]

A Light Provoking: A Response to the Paintings of David Anthony Harman

Christopher M. Petter

In 1905 Albert Einstein published papers on light and special relativity that disagreed with much of the scientific consensus and clarified much of the rest. No, he wrote, light is not just a wave. Look! Look how it acts like a particle. Look here: watch it bend around the edges of large objects—such as the earth. You should not see but half the sun, in these first moments of its setting—but see there it dips below the horizon. The light bends around the curvature of the earth to give you that final, full glow. That is what he said. (Those are not his exact words, but they are accurate enough to serve our purposes.) Only after ten years did the scientific community (hesitantly) begin to see all of what he saw. (This is only one of a number of discoveries from these seminal papers.) And as far as I can tell, our intuitions, our general and implicit understandings of light, are still having trouble taking Einstein’s insights to heart. [Read more…]

Style and Substance: A Reconsideration of J.F. Powers

Zach Czaia

It is more or less universally agreed that J.F. Powers was a master. In appreciative essay after essay, critics have saluted the man’s craft as a writer—especially his craft as a writer of short stories. Fellow writers of fiction especially never fail to praise his ability to move from sentence to sentence with utter gracefulness and ease. However, what rarely—if ever—comes in for praise is Powers’ predominant choice of subject matter, the lives of Roman Catholic priests. Considering the irreligious nature of the contemporary world, this should come as no surprise. Nor is it necessarily unfair. Powers’ material, like that of any writer, is not inherently praiseworthy; rather, it is what he has done with it that has made it come alive, and thrillingly so. His priests live, and live on, in our imaginations. [Read more…]

Benque, 2005

Zachary Czaia

Central America. Belize. A village—Benque Viejo del Carmen, which translated means “the old bank of Carmen.” Old bank on which beats gently, gently, the Mopan River. By the Mopan I sat on stones, reading Dickens. My students leapt and laughed in the gently foaming tides.


In those days I was in love with love and wrote love letters to the manifestation. I wandered in a haze through those days of hundred degree heat and humidity with my face pressed to large glass bottles of Coca Cola which I would buy for a buck fifty Belizean from Delia at the corner store, along with her home-made polvarones cookies, which were hard, dry, and sweet and meant to be dunked in coffee for breakfast.

I ate them after dinner for dessert, my mouth stung and dry from all that sugar.


Polvo means “dust” in Spanish.

“Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust you shall return.” 


At the end of each day I would write in my notebook, epistle-style, to the girl who wasn’t my girl but who I wished was. I told her everything, a hundred wide-ruled pages of earnest 22-year old thoughts.

When you are in love with love and writing to the manifestation of that love, everything matters: the iguana you heard drop into the Mopan yesterday reading Tolstoy, the long-time volunteer’s motorcycle you rode back of, through the bush, the poem you tried and failed to pull off on the other side of the page. Everything.

And why lie? I wasn’t only in love with a manifestation, but a person, too. That person is now a nun.


Late fall that year we had a missionary priest come, a Mexican, Father Gaetan. Fat and jolly and always talking about spiritual warfare and the Eucharist. Tengo hambre, he would say. Tengo hambre por la eucaristia. The crowds came out for him, hung on his every word. I hung on his every word, too, his Spanish big and slow enough even for a gringo like me to grab hold of, wrap my arms round and ride into the darkening bush.


Milton says, He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things ought himself to be a true poem . . .

I want to be a true poem. The true poem of Benque Viejo del Carmen. I want my memories to father forth my manhood, whatever that is, true as it is, young as it is.


The first time I had to tell one of the third form boys I taught that he was out of line, my heart beat wildly in my chest. I felt I was play-acting, and I felt he knew that I felt I was play-acting and that he felt it, too, could read the wonder in my child-like face when I said, “You need to respect me.”

And the boys laughed at me when I told a group of them they needed to come with me, back to the classroom, though the school day was over. And though they laughed, they came. And in the humid room with the bush encroaching through the open windows and on the cracked cement stone floor, I demonstrated a push-up, ten push-ups, twenty push-ups, for the boys.

“Give me some time for the time you wasted,” I said, or something like it, acting what I’d heard from old coaches and teachers. The boys laughed, but they tried the push-ups anyway, and also sat against a wall as if there was a chair beneath them as I showed them to and sweated while I called out the time. Fifteen seconds. Thirty seconds. Done.

“Maestro, you were in the military?”
It wasn’t easy after that, but it was better.


True poem. What kind of a poem was I in those days? Sentimental? Reckless? A piece of juvenilia?


I remember sitting in the back of another teacher’s truck, the gorgeous night whipping past in orange and purple dusk. Getting ready for the city lights of the Cayo District. Beer. A dance club.


Father Gaetan is saying a Mass at our school, where we have all of our all-school masses, outside, in our home basketball court. The girls fill the bleachers and the boys drag their hard, heavy wooden desks out into the middle of the court. The boys form rows with their desks, more or less straight.

We teachers are to perform crowd control during the mass, as usual, but we don’t need it today. Father Gaetan has their attention. He speaks of the Devil and of Jesus as he has been speaking of them all weekend, as if he is ready for their knocks at the door of his rectory later that night. Like him, they are both hungry for dinner.

At the end of the Mass, when the students are going up to receive Jesus in the communion wafers, I hear gasps behind me. A girl has fainted. A minute later, another. This is not so unusual: after all, it is a hundred degrees and humid. All that standing and sitting. I receive Jesus in the host, sit back down, try to pray.


Again, Milton: He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things ought himself to be a true Poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men, or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and practice of all that which is praiseworthy.


Delia’s nephew—or was it her son?—worked with her at the corner store. He was also a student at the high school. He was a gentle soft-spoken boy.

Benque was not an easy place to be a gentle, soft-spoken boy.

Maricon. If I heard boys say that word, I would stop them. “We don’t use that kind of language,” I would say.

According to my Google-searching, maricon derives from the word, “marica,” meaning Australian magpie. The root word is “Maria.” So maricon means “little bird” or “little Mary.”

I don’t know if anyone told me that when I heard the word maricon I should translate that in my mind to the English word “faggot,” but that is what I did.


One day, one of my third form boys stopped me after class and said, “Maestro, when I was five years old, my uncle raped me.”

I remember when he told me what had happened we were sitting down on the steps of the school, near the teacher’s lounge. It was warm and full of sunshine as it often was. I remember saying, “that’s very hard,” and falling silent.

Radical evil entered this boy’s world at age five. At seventeen, he is called a little bird. And wants to fly away.


Jesus once said, “If you cause one of those little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you if you had a millstone tied around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Sin, for Jesus: something to fall into, like the sea.


In the teacher’s lounge after Father Gaetan’s all school Mass: there are girls, seven or eight of them, shouting and screaming and shaking. I move from girl to girl with the other volunteer teachers, the young gringos like me who have been called to serve, and try to hold down the shaking girls. I see a pair of eyes rolled back white. I hear a low voice come from out of a young girl’s mouth. I watch Father Gaetan move from girl to girl with his golden crucifix. He asks the shaking girls to kiss it. They will not. I cry. I say, Jesus, help us. Jesus, help me.


A day after the lounge, in the dark of my bedroom, I felt a fell spirit. I say I felt a fell spirit, and I know it was one, as personal as any letter from a beloved, and I knew it knew me, but not as a love knows but as fear knows, clutching, grasping, desperate, the hold I hope I never hold with, the hold that has lost its grasp of what is human.


That is all. That is the nub, the heart of things. I am nine years from that memory now, nine years from the teacher’s lounge in Benque Viejo del Carmen. Some day I will be ten years, some day fifteen, some day, God willing, a lifetime, and I will be old, with my old flesh and bones, wondering how I once held those girls and prayed Jesus, help us, and I will probably say those words again, as my own final cross comes into view. I see it from time to time now, that golden cross in Father Gaetan’s stubby fleshy hands. Now, I blow it a kiss from the distance. Then, up close, its sweat-stained metal will brush my face.


There is a good woman, flesh and bone, who I love and who loves me, who will read these words. She is why I write these words, brief testament to flesh and bone, to what is and what will be.

Some day I will be dead, as dead as any martyr or heretic, as dead as any willful human bereft of will, memory and desire. And then Benque will only be dust in my mouth, dust with other dust, mixing and mingling beneath my skull. And I will wait as others wait in the valley, to be remade, to dance in my fitful way with the other resurrected bodies. I will wait to be clothed again with flesh.

On the Strange Squid Near at Hand

“If trees were tall and grasses short, / As in some crazy tale”
—G. K. Chesterton, “By the Babe Unborn”

What parent has not both delighted and despaired at the never-ending inquiries of children? First come the “whats” of the small child who has barely learned to speak, a stage that can be endearing and exciting for adults. But even the parent who first swelled with pride at his child’s questions—taking them as a sure sign of great genius—may well find himself cursing under his breath by the time young Einstein has uttered his thousandth “What is that?” in a week. As a child, my wife inadvertently made a parody of herself—providing us with a perfect illustration of this developmental stage—when, after winning the “Most Inquisitive” award at her preschool graduation, she approached her mother and asked: “Mom, what’s ‘inquisitive’?”

Then come the dreaded “whys” of the adolescent: Why can’t I wear that skirt? Why do I need to learn chemistry? Why do I have to go to church? By this time, the formerly proud parent will wish he could only trade his great genius for any well-mannered moron who would just do as she’s told. Alas, no such trade is possible, and Dad—if Dad be of a philosophical bent—must resign himself to hope that behind the bite in these questions hide a daughter’s first probings into the mysteries of beauty, nature, and the transcendent. Then again, perhaps he does not hope in vain. As the transition from “whats” to “whys” suggests, when children grow so does the depth of their questions; the comparatively simple matter of naming and identifying objects sets the stage for wondering about reasons and purposes. As Joe Sachs puts it in his translation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, “[a]ll human beings by nature stretch themselves out toward knowing.”

Skip ahead a few years, however, to when these adolescents reach the twelfth grade.  As a high school economics teacher, this is when I see many of them for the first time. I have often noticed with discouragement that by the time the students get to me, they have lost something of that urge to know. While they still ask questions, all too often they are of the purely rhetorical kind: the possibility of finding an answer does not even seem to be on the horizon. For example, the class may be discussing a text touching on ethics, politics, or economics, and eventually someone will inevitably ask: “Who’s to say?” As I like to point out to my students, this question could mean, “What makes for a reliable judge?” Taken this way, the question could move the discussion into deeper waters, but unfortunately it almost always means: there is no reliable judge.

At what would seem to be the opposite extreme, many of the other questions I get betray a desire to get from me a simple, clear cut answer that will require little further thinking and ensure an A on the test. At times, the class seems to me a balancing act between keeping the students from a jaded nihilism one second, and an unthinking acceptance of my oracular economic wisdom the next. This strange mixture of intellectual jadedness and naïveté should especially concern believers, for a young Christian who sets upon life in the modern world suffering from either affliction—or both, as is often the case—is unlikely to remain one for long. In the end, either extreme tends toward the same result: to cut off at the root the process of “stretching out” that, according to Aristotle, lies at the heart of our nature. How are educators to prevent such an outcome?

If human inquisitiveness is such an important part of who we are, it should be surprising—not to say distressing—to witness how much, in thought and practice, we’ve parceled out knowledge into countless independent fiefdoms. Vartan Gregorian, former president of Brown University, addressed the problem of academic fragmentation in “Higher Education in an Age of Specialized Knowledge,” his 2003 Jaroslav Pelikan Lecture for the Library of Congress. “Higher education has atomized knowledge by dividing it into disciplines, sub-disciplines and sub-sub-sub-disciplines, ‘even though . . . scholarship, learning and life have no such artificial boundaries’” he states, citing a 2002 report on higher education sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. In the current climate, a student or scholar of theology considering mathematics, a natural scientist inquiring into political history, or, for that matter, a businessman pondering a work of art, will find it hard to be taken seriously—such interests will mostly be perceived as hobbies or distractions from his real work, irrelevant to the small branch of knowledge or practice that is his proper concern.

I speak from personal experience. A few years ago, I completed a master’s degree in Liberal Arts at St. John’s College in Annapolis. When people ask, I enjoy describing the program as a de-specialization; over four intense semesters, we studied some of the most influential works ever written in the areas of literature, politics, history, philosophy, theology and . . . math and science? People are used to lumping together the first set of disciplines under the broad title of the humanities, so it is not difficult for most to envision connections between them, but many find it hard to imagine how math and science could fit alongside the others into one coherent curriculum of graduate study. When I recently spoke with a friend about some of my classroom activities—dissecting a squid, for example—his puzzlement about my program only increased. He proceeded to ask a series of questions which boiled down to this: “I thought you were a literary sort; what does a dead squid have to do with anything?

What indeed. I confess that despite my enthusiasm for this class and the program as a whole, I could not then find a coherent way to answer. Am I, after all, just a hobbyist? Wasting my time? Failing to begin serious work in a particular field? A vague reference to “the unity of knowledge” will not do. As my inability to answer suggests, my friend’s question is a legitimate one. Knowing many facts (or even many ideas) about many things is not equivalent to having a grasp of the whole—of the universe of knowledge. Understanding connections is paramount, especially in our increasingly fragmented world.

Perhaps the first thing I should propose is that the question of the squid is not necessarily legitimate by nature; it may have arisen simply as a symptom of pathologies particular to contemporary academic culture. It may be a consequence, wholly or in part, of our own artifice as regards thought and practice about knowledge—of the current tendency within the Academy to fragment knowledge into “sub-sub-sub-disciplines,” as Gregorian teases, and the effect this process has had even upon popular culture. Note that the question would seem absurd to the child asking “what is it?” while he points to every other thing in sight, as it would to an Aristotle or a Leonardo. Of course, there are differences between forms of knowledge, but it is significant that the child whose curiosity has not yet been deadened desires to know simply, not to know linear algebra, or French military history, or late medieval painting. Still, none of this can brush aside the question. Calling it a symptom does not remove the difficulty. The question itself must be addressed.

Those who inquire about knowledge inquire also about learning, and it is with the latter that our search for an answer should begin. What sort of thing is learning, and what place or purpose does it occupy within the context of human life? Here, the monster of theory threatens to rear its head, but instead of dealing in abstractions, why not engage in the act of learning itself and consider what insight we might gain by staying close to the particular problem at hand? That problem, of course, is the squid.

Perhaps you have never seen a squid other than in pictures or in a plate of fried calamari. If so, then the best description I can give is that it is a creature that, were you to encounter it in a science fiction novel, you would consider lacking in verisimilitude. Nature and life often play these tricks on artists: there are real skies and landscapes so perfect that if you saw them in a Thomas Kincaid painting you would find them ridiculous, and no novelist would ever get away with inventing a death like my grandfather’s—the way he passed away at the exact moment the priest finished administering the sacrament, laid his hands upon him and said “I leave you in the grace of God.” I say that the squid is this kind of creature: too strange to be real, except that it is.

The squid is classified as a cephalopod, and this title alone should give you an idea of its strangeness, for it means the creature’s feet are attached to its head. Just below its large dark eyes they start: ten tentacles, two longer than the rest, smooth on one side and covered with fleshy round suckers on the other. As if all this were not odd enough, it is not the creature’s anus but its mouth that you will find between its legs. And what a mouth it is! Instead of the fleshy opening one might expect is a dark beak—a beak such as one might find on an owl or some other bird of prey. Then above the eyes, underneath the smooth surface that an innocent onlooker might take for an extremely large forehead, are its gills, ink sac, digestive tract, as well as the counterparts to its heart. Had the creature dissected been a male, there also would we have found its penis. And yes, you read that right. It’s above its eyes. Under its “forehead,” which opens on one side around the head like a skirt. Now do you understand what I mean when I say it is too strange to be real?

So it can hardly be denied that the squid is an interesting animal. What then? What is the value of considering this animal, if any, beyond satisfying the particular interests of the biologist? Perhaps the first thing to note is that whether or not we see the point, as non-specialists, of studying the squid, we are inevitably drawn, upon observing it, to ask questions. “What is it? How does it live?” we wonder. “Why is it?” we may even be tempted to ask. But such questioning, inevitable as it is, is a complicated matter. We bring all sorts of assumptions into the asking, and even more into the act of investigating. When we attempt to understand a thing we are assuming much about its nature, our own, and that of the entire cosmos. Good questioners that we are, we must not leave our questioning itself unconsidered.

Because the end or purpose of an object or an activity must be some sort of good (real or perceived), as Aristotle points out in the Nicomachean Ethics, it follows that in asking and investigating we are manifesting a belief that knowledge and understanding are somehow good for us. It follows, too, that if wonder and questioning come naturally to the healthy human being, then so does this belief. We may be conscious of it or not, but our actions declare that one way or another it must be present within us. Thus we bring to light a fundamental assumption about our own nature that we had previously ignored, or as Socrates might put it, we recollect something we already seemed to know about ourselves, but had forgotten. And all this because of a dead squid.

Digging a little deeper, we discover a second important assumption: the idea that things in the world have a particular way of being that can potentially be understood. This assumption becomes evident when we consider how deeply we abhor pointless tasks. We might feel less pity for Sisyphus eternally pushing his stone up the mountain if only there were some ultimate object to his labors, no matter how intense they may be. But it would be pointless to undertake a task whose end we judge to be truly, inherently impossible. Therefore, into our first inquiries about the world we bring the assumption that that world speaks our language and can share with us its secrets—if only we can persuade, press, or woo it into doing so. To state it differently, we begin our career as questioners with the assumption that the world functions rationally; that the active being of things is somehow analogous to the workings of our minds; that what is outside us is somehow commensurable with what is within, and therefore knowable.

This idea may or may not be correct—modern philosophers like Kant would certainly deny its truth—but the point here is only that it is present as a starting point to our questions, and that it was the dissection of a squid (of all things!) that gave us occasion for bringing it to light. In allowing us to unearth these assumptions or previously unconscious insights about ourselves and the world, a dead squid can be a doorway to wonder and self-knowledge. One might say the beginning of all philosophy is a dead squid. For, as Aristotle would put it,

by way of wondering people both now and at first began to philosophize, wondering first about the strange things near at hand, then going forward little by little in this way and coming to impasses about greater things, such as about the attributes of the moon and things pertaining to the sun and the stars and the coming into being of the whole.

Moreover, by allowing us to engage in this activity, the strange, as-yet-unknown squid becomes an opportunity for self-realization, for in the process of introspection that our original “what is it?” initiates, we discover that the asking of such questions is essential to our being and identity. This is because we can recognize ourselves, know ourselves, and therefore be ourselves, precisely through and in this act. But we must not stop there. We must realize also that since questions are ordered toward answers, an openness to the possibility of knowing truth is an essentially humanizing stance.

Learning, then, has everything to do with being human, and cannot be atomized and fragmented lest we do the same to our very being. Thus the question of the squid is turned on its head: if a dead squid is pertinent to the act of being human, to what is it, from our perspective, not relevant? Because our excessive compartmentalization of knowledge is highly artificial, to ignore a small thing like a squid as a part of the whole can impair our vision of other particulars, and thus negatively affect an activity that is at the heart of who we are. Consider also that when educators focus exclusively on the idea of critical thinking, without emphasizing at the same time constructive thought that reaches toward answers, they effectively destroy their students’ hope even in the possibility of truth, undermining the entire process of “stretching out” that the search for it initiates. In other words, the current approach to learning can cripple our souls.

Consider again Aristotle—perhaps the father of all broad thinkers—and the way he drew upon knowledge of the arts and crafts to illuminate the workings of nature, politics, and ethics. Time and again throughout his Parts of Animals, Aristotle likens nature to a craftsman who endows his creations with every tool necessary to live their own particular kind of life. So used are we to this way of thinking—even within the context of evolutionary theory and the way nature selects for parts that provide an advantage to the organism—that we forget there is a metaphor involved, without which it may have been impossible to begin making sense of nature. The metaphor involves a creative leap, for throughout the Parts of Animals Aristotle insists, as a sort of premise or hypothesis, that nature does not work in vain. For him, the identity of a thing is inseparable from its activity: an eye that cannot see is not an eye except ambiguously, like a glass eye or a painted eye might be. Consequently, he is always inquiring after the functions of the different parts, assuming that each has a particular object and activity. It is not necessary that this be so, but approaching nature in this manner allows Aristotle to begin making sense of it, to begin understanding patterns and connections. Moreover, the analogy of art gives Aristotle a motivation for investigating nature:

If we study mere likenesses of [natural things] and take pleasure in so doing, because then we are contemplating the painter’s or carver’s Art which fashioned them, and yet fail to delight much more in studying the works of Nature themselves, though we have the ability to discern the actual causes—that would be a strange absurdity indeed.

The same approach allows Aristotle to gather much keen insight into a variety of particular subjects, much of which would have been lost had he subscribed to the popular notion of learning and knowledge that is dominant today.

Of course, we do not need and cannot have an expert’s knowledge of every possible subject. Rather, we need to cultivate the habit—which is to say, the virtue—of regarding knowledge as interconnected and making an effort to understand new ideas and information within the context of the whole. Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that given the current patterns in schooling, most students who don’t plan on becoming veterinarians would ever see much value in dissecting a squid. We teach our students a range of subjects, assuming this will magically make them “well rounded,” but never give them the tools for bringing to the surface the questions that naturally arise in the course of their studies, and relating them not simply to a potential profession, but to their personal and even spiritual lives.

Current initiatives to bring coherence to our educational system, such as the Common Core Standards, are likely to exacerbate this problem rather than fix it, because they ultimately regard education merely as training. Perhaps the public school system can hope for little more, but private and faith-based schools, especially Catholic schools, could do much better by turning for their “common core” to the obvious alternatives: philosophy and theology. I do not mean merely adding classes in these disciplines to the course catalog, in which case they may become two more irrelevant electives, but rather ordering the entire curricula of our schools, as well as the school culture, towards the love and pursuit of truth. Instead of thinking of philosophy as an ancient ancestor from which the modern branches of learning evolved, we ought to think of it as the one sea into which flow the many streams of knowledge, each of them contributing its little part to our understanding the whole (and, in Christian schools, to our knowledge of God and his Creation). It is possible to teach math and chemistry—or economics, for that matter—in ways that explore the subjects fully and sincerely, while also pointing beyond them. I know because I’ve seen it done as a student, and because as much as possible I try to do it myself as a teacher. Economics, for example, is the social science that deals with making choices under conditions of scarcity. This definition involves the assumption that we choose what benefits us (in economic terms, we seek to “maximize our utility”), but how can we do that without exploring first what is actually good for us or for society, and thus reaching out to ethics and politics? If this model of education sounds utopian, look up “Great Hearts Academies,” talk to one of their graduates, or consider the work being done in many classical high schools and Great Books colleges throughout the country. As they prove, it is possible to educate young men and women who can tell the difference between a bumper sticker slogan and an actual thought, who can distinguish between science and scientism, who can see life and learning as one and the same.

It goes without saying that this is not an easy task, especially when fragmentation within the Academy feeds into the more devastating divorce of learning from life. This rupture must be undone if a universe of knowledge is ever to be reconstituted from the countless, self-contained multiverses that Gregorian describes. Today, only niche schools and parts of the homeschooling movement have taken seriously the fight against fragmentation, but they cannot win it alone. Christians, especially those whose tradition emphasizes the unity between faith and reason—think, for example, of the tremendous effect the Catholic educational system could have—are in a unique position to lead the way towards a model of schooling that takes seriously the humanizing value of education. Moreover, in a world where a naïve fideism simply will not do, we need to educate a generation of Christians who can see through the flimsy thinking that supports many common objections to their faith—who are able to make careful distinctions and stretch themselves to understand the truths of reason and revelation as contiguous and coherent. In our cacophonous Internet Age, only those who can regard learning as an essential part of their humanity will be able to meet without despair the challenge of contextualizing the countless bits of information they encounter daily into a coherent picture. Those who care about the future of scholarship and education—not to mention human happiness—should find this a difficult but worthwhile effort. Because constant wonder about the strange squid near at hand is the duty of everyone who aims to be serious about the business of being human.

Naming Sin: Flannery O’Connor’s Mark on Bruce Springsteen

Damian J. Ference

Not so long ago Bruce Springsteen made a surprise visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland to take in an exhibit dedicated to his life’s work.1 The exhibit, which took up two entire floors of the museum, was filled with artifacts from Springsteen’s life, including guitars, clothing, hand-written lyrics, and walls of photographs. One of the photographs was of an eight year-old Springsteen, standing with hands folded in front of the high altar at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Freehold, New Jersey—Springsteen’s first communion picture. [Read more…]