Old Western Culture


The trailer for Wes Callihan’s Western Civilization series. This looks like an amazing resource!


A Conversation about Standardized Testing

I recently had the privilege of recording my first Quiddity podcast for the CiRCE Institute with David Kern.  We had a conversation about standardized testing and classical education.  Take a listen HERE!

Margaret Sanger in Her Own Words

By Dr. George Grant (from “The Quick and the Dead“)

These quotes, as the title indicates, reflect Margaret Sanger in her own words.  The sources are all footnoted in Dr. Grant’s book “Grand Illusions”:

“We must discourage the defective and diseased elements of humanity from their reckless and irresponsible swarming and spawning.”

“The mass of Negroes, particularly in the South, still breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes, even more than among Whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit.”

“We propose to hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. And we do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”

“The most merciful thing a large family can do to one of its infant members is to kill it.”

“The government of the United States deliberately encourages and even makes necessary by its laws the breeding–with a breakneck rapidity–of idiots, defectives, diseased, feebleminded, and criminal classes. Billions of dollars are expended by our state and federal governments and by private charities and philanthropies for the care, the maintenance, and the perpetuation of these classes. Year by year their numbers are mounting. Year by year more money is expended . . . to maintain an increasing race of morons which threatens the very foundations of our civilization.”

“We can all vote, even the mentally arrested. And so it is no surprise to find that the moron’s vote is as good as the vote of the genius. The outlook is not a cheerful one.”

“The dullard, the gawk, the numbskull, the simpleton, the weakling, and the scatterbrain are amongst us in overshadowing numbers–intermarrying, breeding, inordinately prolific, literally threatening to overwhelm the world with their useless and terrifying get.”

“Birth control appeals to the advanced radical because it is calculated to undermine the authority of the Christian churches. I look forward to seeing humanity free someday of the tyranny of Christianity no less than Capitalism.”

“Even if we accept organized charity at its own valuation, and grant it does the best it can, it is exposed to a more profound criticism. It reveals a fundamental and irremedial defect. Its very success, its very efficiency, its very necessity to the social order are the most unanswerable indictment. Organized charity is the symptom of a malignant social disease. Those vast, complex, interrelated organizations aiming to control and to diminish the spread of misery and destitution and all the menacing evils that spring out of this sinisterly fertile soil, are the surest sign that our civilization has bred, is breeding, and is perpetuating constantly increasing numbers of defectives, delinquents, and dependents. My criticism, therefore is not directed at the failure of philanthropy, but rather at its success. These dangers inherent in the very idea of humanitarianism and altruism, dangers which have today produced their full harvest of human waste.”

“The most serious charge that can be brought against modern benevolence is that it encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents, and dependents. These are the most dangerous elements in the world community, the most devestating curse on human progress and expression. Philanthropy is a gesture characteristic of modern business lavishing upon the unfit the profits extorted from the community at large. Looked at impartially, this compensatory generosity is in its final effect probably more dangerous, more dysgenic, more blighting than the initial practice of profiteering.”

The Real “St. Nick”

Today, December 6th, is the feast day of St. Nicholas.

Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, lived during the tumultuous fourth century, when both false teaching and the Roman Emperor continually assaulted the Church. Fascinating stories swirl around the life of Saint Nicholas, and while we face some difficulty in distinguishing the tall tales from the true tales, they all combine to create the portrait of an inspiring man.

Orphaned when he was young, Nicholas’s wealthy parents left him a small fortune. As Nicholas grew older, he developed into a man after God’s own heart, passionate and compassionate, zealous for truth and mercy. His passion and zeal for truth compelled him to slap Arius the heretic across the face at the Council of Nicaea (“You’d better watch out…Santa Claus is coming to town”), but his compassion and mercy are the foundation for the more well-known tales of his life. These stories gave rise to Nicholas’s “alter-ego,” Santa Claus.

Santa Claus stands as a centerpiece of the Christmas season and though the feast of Saint Nicholas lasts but one day (December 6th), the Santa frenzy will continue through the holidays.  Children around the world will find it hard to sleep, anxiously waiting for him to swoop down the chimney, leaving presents under the tree. But, where did the idea of gifts from jolly ole Saint Nick come from?  The tradition stems from an event that vividly displays the “gentler side” of Saint Nicholas.

When not assaulting heretics, Nicholas ministered as a bishop with a true pastor’s heart. One night, while walking through the village where he lived, Nicholas heard a girl crying. He stopped to listen and overheard the girl lamenting the fact that her family was too poor to provide dowries for her and her two sisters. In those days, dowries were given from a father to the suitor of his daughter and young ladies had little prospect of marriage without one.

Unable to bear the girl’s sadness, Nicholas filled a bag with gold coins and tossed it into the poor family’s house, providing enough for the girl’s dowry. The following two nights, he did the same for the two younger sisters. All three girls were married the following spring, thanks to the mercy and generosity of Bishop Nicholas. The family never knew who provided the money.

Details of the story vary. Some say the bags of coins were thrown down the chimney, giving rise to the idea that Santa Claus comes down the chimney to leave presents. Others suggest that the coins landed in shoes or stockings left by the fireplace to dry, inspiring the practice of putting out stockings or shoes for Santa to fill with gifts. But all agree that Saint Nick’s stealthy delivery skills continue to thwart those trying to catch him in the act.

May the warm and generous spirit of Saint Nicholas inspire the same in us all.  Merry Christmas!

Culture-Makers or Culture Warriors?

Part One

My journey into classical education mirrors the story of so many others.  I came across a catalog from a Christian classical publishing house, which led me to Dorothy Sayers’s essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” which led me to internet searches, which led me to The Abolition of Man, and so on.  I was quickly drawn into the world of C.S. Lewis, including and beyond Narnia, to Middle Earth, to G.K. Chesterton, and so on.  Such are the nostoi (“return stories” or homeward journeys) of so many in the classical renewal.

Sayers, Lewis, Tolkien, and a few others have ushered many into the renewal, and have come to be viewed as the “founding fathers” of the movement. Their works rightly garner wide readings, their lives become the subject of conference talks, and they have inspired many young men to twill coats and pipe-smoking.  And while they are deserving of the high praise they receive in many classical school circles, there may be a downside to their elevation. As Gregory Wolfe observed in Beauty Will Save the World:

Among Christians who care about the arts, there are many who cling to the works of a few figures, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, T.S. Eliot, and Flannery O’Connor, who have forged a compelling religious vision in the midst of a secular age.  But the danger in celebrating these Christian artists is that we isolate them from their cultural context, from the influences that shaped their art.  There is a large body of believers who have essentially given up on contemporary culture; they may admire a few writers here or there, but they do not really believe that Western culture can produce anything that might inform and deepen their own faith.  One might almost say that these individuals have given in to despair about our time.  For me, the most depressing trend of all is the extent to which Christians have belittled or ignored the imagination and succumbed to politicized and ideological thinking.

A couple of things need to be pointed out directly.  First of all, Wolfe is not downplaying the marvelous contributions of those artists.  In fact, he goes on to specifically praise the influence of both Eliot and O’Connor later in the book.  It should also be noted that Wolfe’s argument against “politicized and ideological thinking” is far more developed than what I shall present here.  So read his book.

But with these qualifications in mind, let me say that Wolfe’s point must be taken seriously, and applied by both Church and school.  For too many in the classical renewal, Sayers, Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, Eliot, and so on, have been a very ineffective gateway drugs; that is, while these culture-making giants have drawn us to the threshold of a whole new world, too often we have not stepped through.

Classical education, unlike forms of modern education, aims at the nurturing of the soul, the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.  This stands in contrast to arming students with ready-made answers – the problem of “ideology,” according to Wolfe.  We claim our desire is for students to know how to think, not just what to think; yet we seem to fall short of that reality.

For example, in many Christian classical schools, the teaching of logic and the growing emphasis on apologetics courses belies a truly defensive slant, the courses being taught as a way of protecting students from an ungodly culture. And, while there is nothing wrong with arming students for defense, it does not stop there. Even rhetoric has been reduced to the mere production of persuasive essays and speeches, rather than developing (as Aristotle said) the “faculty of discovering in any given case the available means of persuasion” – an art that could include story-telling, creative writing, poetry, and more.

The result is that classical educators are preparing culture warriors but not “culture-makers.”  In holding up the works of Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, et al, then, we hold up museum pieces because rather than stressing the need for great artists, musicians, songwriters, poets, and authors, we merely equip our students to argue.  We have called them to uphold truth and, perhaps, goodness, but beauty has been left out of the equation.

To be continued…

“Culture Without the ‘War'”

A recent article in The American Conservative addresses Gregory Wolfe’s impact on our current method of cultural, political division.  It begins:

Some 18 years ago, Gregory Wolfe used his position as editor of Image, the excellent arts and letters journal he founded in 1989, to proclaim his position on this country’s unceasing culture wars and their politicization of every corner of our lives: understood to be a man of the cultural right, he had decided to become a conscientious objector.

He went on: “I’ve burnt my draft card to the culture wars. It may sound unpatriotic and irresponsible, but I have come to the conclusion that these wars are unjust and illegitimate, and I will not fight in them. If necessary, I will move to Canada.” (The threat was merely rhetorical; Wolfe continues to reside in Seattle.)

Wolfe argued that without projects like Image, the culture wars would expand and our civic life would be increasingly tribalized. “Our culture will then be like the place in Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, a country ‘where ignorant armies clash by night.’”

And, while I certainly recommend reading the entire article, the highlight for me was this insight:

Putting it another way, we are so hag-ridden with politics by this point that few of us still believe art provides the necessary contemplative space to send us back wiser and more fully human into the realm of action…Our “conservative” materialism in fact resembles the Marxian preference for revolutionary action over the “classical-Christian belief in the primacy of contemplative understanding of transcendent order”…

Click HERE to read more!