The Past Is a Foreign CountryDecember 09, 2016
by Carl Trueman
There is a line from one of the choruses in Sophocles’s Antigone that first struck me some thirty years ago: “There are many terrifying things, but none is more terrifying than man.” The word for “terrifying” is deliberately ambiguous, and Sophocles chose it with care. It can mean “inspiring terror” or it can mean “inspiring wonder and awe.” In that ambiguity lies the greatness, and the mystery, of what it means to be human. That we can inspire awe both in our virtues and in our vices sets us apart from every other creature. And in the reduction of the liberal arts to an adjunct branch of contemporary politics, we are seeing the elimination of that ambiguity, that complexity, that capacity for awe.
I was reminded of that line from Antigone and of our current malaise last week, when Tony Esolen penned a beautiful paean (or poignant elegy?) to liberal education and its connection to human identity. It is hard not to read his words without mourning for the current generation of students in higher education. They have been short-changed, cheated of understanding what it actually means to be truly human. I am no poet, but as a historian, I resonate with his concerns.
Earlier this year, I heard Tony give a lecture on what is wrong with contemporary education. He highlighted four curricular lacunae of immense significance: We no longer teach poetry, philosophy, or history, and we do not impart a sense of transcendence. The latter point is, of course, really a function of the first three. To lose poetry, to lose metaphysics, and to lose history is to posit a present that really transcends nothing at all. For there is nothing to transcend. . . .
Pastoral Authority in an Anti-Authoritarian AgeDecember 05, 2016
by Timothy Witmer