Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wisdom and Knowledge Are Not the Same

Dr. Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing web site wrote a very good article, "The 'Unexamined' Life," which I would like to recommend. Here is the first paragraph:

Some years ago, a Catholic Great Books school asked me to speak to the faculty. The lecture room had Socrates’ saying over the door: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I expected this sort of thing, and had prepared a talk for those very fine people instead about why the unexamined life, in a certain sense, is most definitely worth living. Catholics particularly need to be clear about this.

Now is perhaps a good time to mention a concern I have about our contemporary American culture: we tend more and more to place the attainment of a high level of education on the tallest pedestal. Now, we should respect education. But we should also have respect--even greater--for wisdom and holiness.

This is a key point that we should be careful not to forget: being a wise person and being knowledgeable about a particular subject are not the same thing. And further, holiness is different from either of these.

Wisdom pertains to what one needs in order to live life well in the particular context in which one lives; knowledge gives a person a deep understanding about a certain subject(s); holiness makes one ever more like Christ. Ideally, all three will be present in us to a high degree; such would best manifest the human person "fully alive." (Saints such as Thomas Aquinas, Dominic, Bonaventure, and Francis de Sales, among others, are good examples.)

It is by no means automatic that acquiring a great deal of knowledge will also make one wise. For instance, if I were to go to law school and become expert in constitutional law, I could still be a very unwise person in how I live my life. Similarly, if I were to go to medical school and eventually become a cardiologist, my expertise in the physical heart would not make me holy.

We expect something quite unreasonable when we assume that the knowledge acquired by a college education will also make a person good at living life (i.e. wise). And we Christians make a mistake if we presume that a college that is Christian in name will necessarily help a young person come closer to Jesus.

We should strive for the highest cultivation of our minds that is possible given our ability and circumstances. But let us not forget that wisdom and holiness should never be neglected in favor of knowledge alone. No matter the level of education a person has--even very basic--high degrees of wisdom and holiness are always possible with the help of God and others. The Christian saint in training strives to live in such a way that knowledge, wisdom, and holiness are smoothly integrated and mutually supportive of each other.

Monday, July 27, 2009

American Principles Project; Religious Liberty

Here is a short video where Dr. Robert George, founder of the American Principles Project, speaks about the importance of defending religious liberty and the mission of APP.

Resuming after involuntary hiatus


My personal (laptop) computer went on the blink a few weeks ago. This necessitated my absence on this, my blog, in recent weeks.

After having to do an emergency restore to my hard drive (reloading the original software package and thus overwriting the existing data), I am back up and running.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tolkien's Mythology Began in a Need for Beauty During War

First, I would like to say,

Happy Birthday America!!!

Despite our nation's many problems, we who are citizens of the United States of America are incredibly blessed to live in this great nation.

Have you ever seen this particular type of firework? I find them rather enjoyable: An exploding sphere divided evenly into two colors. Imagine a globe. Everything above the equator (one hemisphere) is one color; everything below the equator (the other hemisphere) is another color. Translate this into a typical firework expanding ball of many points of light, and you have what I mean. Perhaps one might refer to such a firework as a "dual-hued orb"! (Thanks to you know who for this idea.)

Back to some thoughts about art . . .

Is there a limit to the amount of ugliness and suffering beyond which a human person immersed in such can no longer conceive of trying to create art that would lift the human spirit and call it upwards to greatness? There may be such a limit. But if there is, it would seem to be very great indeed.

The great British author and professor, J.R.R. Tolkien (who wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy and other works), was a soldier during World War I. He saw the awful face of war at close hand. It had a significant impact on him as a writer. He worked on his mythology throughout his adult life. But when did he begin creating his enticing mythological world? He began it in a seemingly highly unlikely context.

A few months ago I listened to a very good lecture delivered in 2003 by Bradley J. Birzer, Professor of History at Hillsdale College, on the work of Tolkien. He titled the lecture, "The True King: Tolkien and the Medieval." (Available online here from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute). Accrding to professor Birzer, Tolkien started writing down his mythological creation in the midst of war. In his presentation Birzer made the following remark about the genesis of Tolkien’s mythology, ending with a quote from Tolkien:

[Speaking of The Two Towers] This is when Sam, Frodo, and Gollum are crossing the dead marshes [looking down and peering into dead faces over which they are walking]. And they look down and they see the horror; they see the faces everywhere. And this was Tolkien’s experience during the war—looking down in the trenches, walking on officers, walking on enlisted men who were dead, all of them laid out in the trenches… And so for Tolkien the only way he could survive, the only way—and this was true of many men in his generation—… [was] to create some form of beauty. He had to find some form of beauty. And the only way that he could find it, in the horrible mechanized warfare of WWI, was to make it himself. And this is where the mythology starts.

[Tolkien] wrote: "My mythology was written when I was a poor and undisciplined officer. It was written in grimy canteens, at lectures in cold fogs, in huts full of blasphemy and smut, by candlelight in bell tents, and quite often, even under shellfire in the dugouts."

It is quite amazing the dark context in which a great work of art such as The Lord of the Rings--so adept at capturing the noble aspirations and the great potential of even fallen human hearts--can begin to be created. Even in the midst of terrible ugliness and violence, a sensitive and gifted soul might create an interior place, a hidden refuge, in which he refuses to give up on the potential beauty and nobility of the human person.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Art Needs the Engagement of Artist and Audience Both

Following up from my post yesterday with some thoughts about art and the artistic process. . .

Just as being true to one's calling as an artist requires the artist to have a generous mindfulness of his (or her) audience during the creative process (yet still maintaining his own special vision and insight), so too the audience taking in a work of art needs to be open to the artwork and what it might communicate to them. There needs to be a relationship of sorts between the artwork and the audience, an open interchange of spirits transcending isolated selves, in order for art to serve as art.

I could walk into an art museum and wander around looking at great works of art, yet not have an experience of the greatness of the art. I might be closed up within myself--my heart, mind, and soul hardened, preoccupied, stale. Or, perhaps I were simply lazy and gazed around without any effort to see what was there to be seen. It is possible to look upon even great artworks and, because of something going on (or not going on) in ourselves, not be able to receive what they have to say. Art is not a static thing. It involves a real spiritual dynamism, a reaching-out of persons, an intersection of lives.

And so the audience also has to engage. They have to be receptive, open, willing to work to discover what the art has to say.

Together with what I wrote yesterday, and considering the whole context in which art truly serves as art including the creation, presentation, and reception by an audience, this means that the dynamism of the phenomenon of art, when it is fruitful--when it brings the audience into an experience of lasting meaningfulness, of real depth and poignancy--when it succeeds as art--is endowed with a concurring spirit of openness and receptivity to each other in both the artist and the audience. The interchange is human: personal, somewhat mysterious, unpretentious.

A gifted artist may assist the audience to awaken from any sort of self-enclosure; he may invite them with his artwork to open up their spirits. But he may not force them. They remain free, as does the artist remain free himself, to hold themselves (himself) in solipsism. But when art and audience are both as they should be, cor ad cor loquitur (heart speaks to heart).

[This post again reflects insights shared with me by my friend Rachel]