Stephen L. Carter Many of


Stephen L. Carter

Many of you may already be aware of the excellent work of Stephen L. Carter. I have long admired his nonfiction and his incisive intellect. I find, more often than not, that I agree with him entirely. I recently received a copy of his novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park from the library and expected him not to be quite so successful in fiction. I'm pleased to say that I am probably wrong there as well.

But what I want to share are some of his nonfiction.

from God's Name in Vain Stephen L. Carter

Ah, how depressingly common the refrain--even when, as in this case, those speaking in a religious voice were careful to be prophetic rather than coercive. The Vatican paper did not call for a new state regulatory regime to force advertising agencies to do the right thing. It did not demand a boycott or threaten litigation. The report tried instead, in the manner of the great prophets, to persuade the executives themselves to do the right thing. But the cultural wall of separation between religion and morality is often higher than the constitutional wall of separation between church and state. Even the prophetic voice, it turns out , is often dishonored, treated as though it should be ignored simply because it is religious. Our culture is so awash in self-seeking and self-fulfillment and simple selfishness that the merest suggestion of voluntary self-restraint is viewed as an interference with individual freedom. . . the freedom, that is, to hear no contrary moral argument. Maybe advertising agencies, like abortion clinics, should be entitled to the physical protection of special zone designed to prevent those who believe they are speaking the Lord's words from getting too close to those who do not want to listen.
(p. 111)

But American culture nowadays demands as much of our time as it can get. And, by allowing us all less time, our culture is beginning to devalue the very act that make us humans unique in the animal kingdom. I refer to thinking itself. We devalue thinking. Not thought--not intelligence-- but thinking. (p. 117)

"The mere suggestion of self-restraint is viewed as an interference with individual freedom." Lines like this ring like prophetic and deeply true indictments of American culture. While freedom is precious above a great many things, its corruption--license--drains the value of freedom. We are no longer a free society by a licentious society. We are offended if someone suggests that we might want to keep the pornographic magazines behind the counter. We begin to fly into a tizzy if anyone makes the suggestion that some things need not be said, and certainly should not be shared. We leap upon the first amendment guarantee of free speech as though it came from God Himself.

Freedom of speech is important, as is freedom of conscience. But perhaps more important is freedom of the intellect that guides the former--freedom from the constraints of societal pressures to mold it in ways that cause individual expression to be the highest good. We have in the recent past been exposed at various blogs to tales of people who have said things that once fed the fires of the holocaust they seek to reimage.

All of this supports the second post. People are not taught nor are they encouraged to think. What we call critical thinking is a series of tricks for parsing language and inferring what the questioner really wants to hear. We do not wish to think. We most especially do not wish to think if we are likely to be lead away from the flock. Thinking stands to separate us from others who may think differently and reach different conclusions. This is what we fear. But if we were to spend a moment considering the matter, we would also conclude that thinking is all that allows us to build bridges between those differences. Thinking allows us to dismiss prejudice and to see through some of the surface. Thinking allows us to discern the proper direction to go. Thinking, Divine Reason, is given us as a gift, a grace, and a guide. Learning the proper employment of such a faculty is of critical importance to the person who would follow Christ and lead others to Him. It is not the most important thing, but it is important and not to be neglected. However, we fear thinking. We fear ridicule. We fear arriving at a conclusion that would force us to take action that would make us different from others.

But more critically, as a society we have been made lazy. Thinking requires effort and it may require a momentary silence of the din, exterior and interior. Concluding a train of thought requires an effort of will. Thinking also requires that we rely heavily upon Grace. We all have the ability to do it, but too often we dredge up past arguments, meager slat-and-stile fences as a bulwark against change. But thinking, deep thinking, careful consider is an incredibly important activity that too often we refuse to engage in.

Mr. Carter's books are most wonderful because they challenge one to think. They seek to fill the deeply rutted paths into which we have sunk and to show that there are new and good places to go--places that are not threatening, but enlightening and a source of hope for people who have long been abandoned. Thinking is not our salvation, but it is one of the gifts we have been given, and one which we are expected to use. Remember the parable of the talents, and start to consider what you will respond when God asks what you have done with your marvelous gift of intellect.

Bookmark and Share



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 22, 2002 8:17 AM.

We Skip to the Romantics was the previous entry in this blog.

Another Very Old Poem is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll