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The Good, the True, and the Beautiful…

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful by way of John Senior, and Ben Cash

Have you ever heard of John Senior?  If not, and you’re a Christian, you should make yourself acquainted with him.  More Catholics than Protestants have heard of this teacher, but in this day and age we can all benefit from his kind.  There is a fantastic biography of him by Fr. Francis Bethel, OSB called John Senior and the Restoration of Realism.  During the 1970’s Senior was a professor at the University of Kansas and was instrumental in developing an Integrated Humanities Program there.  Interestingly the college shut the program down after several students converted to Christianity, many of them becoming Catholic.

The ideas the Senior put forward were that we are only truly human when seeking and finding the good, the true, and the beautiful, and doing so with our minds and our senses.  Not only were the classics taught in abundance, Senior and several other professors introduced the students to dancing, star gazing, poetry, and even singing.  Truth was presented as it really is; fixed and real.  Goodness as something to be pursued because it is rooted in truth.  The flip side (rejecting Truth), Senior argued, results in depression and hopelessness, destructive personal behavior, which in turn leads to a breakdown in society and culture.  Sound familiar?  Maybe sound like what’s going on in Western culture right now?  (Go check out the suicide statistics, study the trend, and then let that sink in.)

When I first watched Captain Fantastic, which I reviewed here just the other day, I instantly (and somewhat ironically) thought of John Senior and his method of teaching.  As I mentioned in my review of the movie Ben Cash is the father of the Cash clan and his method of teaching included star gazing, anatomy, copious amounts of reading and debating, music and singing, and exercising one’s mind and body through physical encounters with the real world.  I said “ironically” above because Ben Cash apparently despises Christianity (at least through much of the movie), which John Senior championed and also held up as the ultimate lynch pin of everything, including the true understanding of the humanities.

Both Senior and Cash seem to hold some key to the massive sense of… ennui we currently seem to have in our society.  Technology isn’t evil, but I think we can all agree that in most cases what was supposed to draw us closer together either hasn’t produced that promise, or, perhaps worse, has made us all engage in compulsive comparisons which then results in depression.  Keeping up with the Joneses has become global, and when the Joneses only post the highlights of their lives on social media it compounds the problem (folks, here’s the secret; Mr. Jones has a gambling addiction, Mrs. Jones is contemplating suicide, the kids hate each other, and they are in debt so far over their heads they’ll never get out… well, maybe that’s hyperbole, maybe not.)  Consumerism has run amok, mental health issues are on the rise, and we are more divided as a people than ever.

Both Senior and Cash call us back to our senses; we are whole and complete creatures only when our physical selves are involved.  Seeing someone’s picture or even a live vid of them is great when that’s all you can get, but isn’t a hug 100 times better?  You can see the real person, feel them, heck, even smell them (hopefully it’s a nice smell!).  How about nature?  Seeing a picture or a vid of a tree isn’t anything like experiencing a tree with our senses.  When our senses are involved it speaks to the concrete nature of our world, it gives us experiences that are more rich and steeped in truth.  When you are out hiking and trip on a root or a rock and fall, you are experiencing gravity first hand, and yes, you experience physical pain.

We have become divorced from nature and nature’s God.  We’ve even become divorced from each other.  And, yes, I’m speaking in generalities, as there are those who actually make an effort to experience life first-hand, instead of through a screen (however, I know more people who gripe about tech and social media and yet still have their noses shoved up against screens 24 hours a day).  How many of us still hike, stargaze, grow our own food, hunt our own food, write letters with a pen and paper, hold books in our two hands, bury our noses in roses, learn to actually dance with a partner in a manner that takes finesse and skill…  The classics of literature are being trashed (sometimes literally), and cast aside.  We read less and less (especially the males of our society) and watch TV more and more.

What Senior and the fictitious Cash calls us toward is a reconnect with what makes us human, something that gives us roots and wings.  I think of Tolkien’s hobbits when I read of Senior as well; comfort, and parties, and food… a warm, dry house, and a full belly while strolling in the garden that you planted and tended.  Sure, Bilbo and Frodo were grand adventurers and heroes, but that is because their roots were in the good, the true, and the beautiful represented by the Shire.  Ben Cash’s kids were indeed brilliant, but lacked that incredible piece of the puzzle that makes us fully human; society.  Now our society itself lacks the good, the true, and the beautiful, and it’s up to us as individuals to seek them out, and to offer them to others as much as we can.  (BTW, Ben Cash, and his wife, both turned their backs on God and that was the other major piece of the puzzle missing… interesting how Cash’s downfall involved rejecting both key commandments summed up by Christ; Love God, and love your neighbor.  So, as much as Cash reminded me of Senior in his teaching style, that’s the major difference and why Cash became so disconnected to the world he tried to teach his kids about.)

We need more physical activity, more time in nature, more unprocessed food, and to share that healthy food with others, more gratitude.  Instead of basking in the glow of our electronics, perhaps a good ol’ fashioned cookout is in order, with the glow and the warmth of the fire reflected from friendly faces.  When is the last time you read a classic?  How about some poetry?  Go visit someone you haven’t seen in forever, take ’em some home grown veggies, flowers, or just yourself.  After it’s all over, find and acknowledge those feelings of gratitude.  God hasn’t gone anywhere, perhaps spare some time for Him, and that’s to fulfill your needs, not His.

In other words, let’s remember what it’s like to be fully human in the world we inhabit; seek and find the good, the true, and the beautiful, share it with others, it’s still there.

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The Fruit of the Spirit, pt. 6; Goodness…

If gentleness is the “passive” side of kindness of character, “goodness” is the active side, or rather the more “pervasive” side.  The Spirit doesn’t just produce that mellow, gentle, and kind character, but lights a flame of action in us as well.  In the Greek, “goodness” is agathosune, it is the virtue of goodness in all aspects of self, including our actions.

When looking at this definition it is absolutely imperative that we are reminded that this is not our work we produce in us, but rather an aspect of the fruit that the Spirit produces.  One interesting aspect to this that I came across researching this term, was the idea that includes spurring others to good, or right action.  So, in a way, it is one aspect that is overtly “shared” with others, instead of being a strictly “internal” state.

Much of what is presented in churches is the idea that we have to strive to do good; that we have to work at it.  Well, when we have the Spirit, it isn’t “work” at all, not something to strive for, but something that “naturally” occurs as a result of the Spirit bearing fruit through us.  And, it isn’t our job to be fruit inspectors for everyone else.  What the Spirit wants to produce, as far as work, in fellow believers is between them and God.

Also, since this is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, we should be encouraging others to listen to and yield to the Spirit as He guides them, not as we think that they should be guided.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: 12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is none good but God, and it is His goodness that we are promised will develop in us because of Him and through Him and His grace.  Just as the Spirit gives different people different gifts, we should also expect this goodness in action to expressed in us differently from person to person.  For some, it is directly working with the poor and destitute, for some it is serving their family with an open heart, for some it is visiting the sick, for some it is working a 9 to 5 job to provide for their families, and on and on.

I know that, for me, it is indeed a great comfort to know that my character and my actions are in His hands, and as long as I have trust in Him, He works on me from the inside out, just as He does for all believers.

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The problem of evil? Part 3…

In this installment, I’ll look at another solution to “the problem of evil” discussed in part 1 and part 2.  The reason I pulled this “solution” out from the rest is that it is a popular one to discuss, and in fact it resembles a story that often goes around the ‘net in forwarded emails.

St. Augustine was quite fond of this solution, and wrote quite a bit about it.  The solution is that evil is the absence, or privation of goodness.  What makes this a solution revolves around what God is directly responsible for in His creation.

What God directly creates, so the idea goes, He is responsible for.  So, did He directly create evil?  Well, that’s the catch.  If one views evil as the privation of goodness, it was never “created” as such.  Here are the popular analogies used to try to help explain;

First the matter of “cold.”  Cold actually doesn’t “exist” as an independent thing.  Rather, we define cold by heat; cold is the absence of heat.  When you take the temperature of something you are actually measuring it’s heat, not it’s “coldness.”  As we approach absolute zero, there is less and less heat measured.  Cold is a term that we came up with to be able to communicate certain concepts.  So, if I say, “it’s cold,” it is absolutely meaningful, though I’m really saying, “there is an absence of heat.”

Second, the matter of dark, or darkness.  Darkness, as with cold, is completely dependent on something else; light.  “Dark” isn’t made up of particles, or waves…darkness is merely the absence of light.  Light waves exist certainly, but there isn’t “dark waves.”  When we say the room is dark, we are actually commenting on the absence of light.

So, the same idea is applied to evil in this solution.  God, so the argument goes, did indeed make all things good, but also “changeable.”  Meaning He did not create a robot-like universe, instead, while not creating evil, He did create goodness and the ability for the corruption of goodness.

In On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine says this (emphasis added), “Every good is from God.  There is nothing of any kind that is not from God.  Therefore, since the movement of turning away from good, which we admit to be sin, is a defective movement and since, moreover, every defect comes from nothing, see where this movement belongs: you may be sure that it does not belong to God.  Yes, since this defect is voluntary, it lies within our power.

God wouldn’t be responsible for the non-being, or “non-thing” of evil.  He didn’t create it, as it, by definition completely dependent on goodness, which God did create.  When we see someone doing something “evil” we are commenting on the absence of goodness in that person’s actions.

This solution is interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, we do know that God declared His creation “good,” in the beginning, so that would kind of flow with Augustine’s position.  And secondly, it quite rightly shifts the responsibility to us when it comes to our actions.  Oftentimes even believers look around and bemoan the state of things without wondering what we can do to make it better.

This sets up the discussion for part 4 of mankind and free will.

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