Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Q & A

Q: What kind of Catholic are you?
A. Bad.
Q: No. I mean are you liberal or conservative?
A: I no longer know what those words mean.
Q: Are you a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?
A: I don’t know what that means, either. Do you mean do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?
Q: Yes.
A: Yes.
Q: How is such a belief possible in this day and age?
A: What else is there?
Q: What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy.
A: That’s what I mean.
Q: To say nothing of Judaism and Protestantism.
A: Well, I would include them along with the Catholic Church in the whole peculiar Jewish-Christian thing.
Q: I don’t understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative?
A: Yes.
Q: Why?
A: It’s not good enough.
Q: Why not?
A: This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.
Q: Grabbed aholt?
A: A Louisiana expression.
Q: But isn’t the Catholic Church in a mess these days, badly split, its liturgy barbarized, vocations declining?
A: Sure. That’s a sign of its divine origins, that it survives these periodic disasters.
Q: You don’t act or talk like a Christian. Aren’t they supposed to love one another and do good works?
A: Yes.
Q: You don’t seem to have much use for your fellowman or do many good works.
A: That’s true. I haven’t done a good work in years.
Q: In fact, if I may be frank, you strike me as being rather negative in your attitude, cold-blooded, aloof, derisive, self-indulgent, more fond of the beautiful things of this world than of God.
A: That’s true.
Q: You even seem to take certain satisfaction in the disasters of the twentieth-century and to savor the imminence of world catastrophe rather than world peace, which all religions seek.
A: That’s true.
Q: You don’t seem to have much use for your fellow Christians, to say nothing of Ku Kluxers, ACLU’ers, northerners, southerners, fem-libbers, anti-fem-libbers, homosexuals, anti-homosexuals, Republicans, Democrats, hippies, anti-hippies, senior citizens.
A: That’s true – though taken as individuals they turn out to be more or less like oneself, i.e., sinners, and we get along fine.
Q: Even Ku Kluxers?
A: Sure.
Q: How do you account for your belief?
A: I can only account for it as a gift from God.
Q: Why would God make you such a gift when there are others who seem more deserving, that is, serve their fellowman?
A: I don’t know. God does strange things. For example, he picked as one of his saints a fellow in northern Syria, a local nut, who stood on top of a pole for thirty-seven years.
Q: We are not talking about saints.
A: That’s true.
Q: We are talking about what you call a gift.
A: You want me to explain it? How would I know? The only answer I can give is that I asked for it, in fact demanded it. I took it as an intolerable state of affairs to have found myself in this life and in this age, which is a disaster by any calculation, without demanding a gift commensurate with the offense. So I demanded it. No doubt other people feel differently.
Q: But shouldn’t faith bear some relation to the truth, facts?
A: Yes. That’s what attracted me, Christianity’s rather insolent claim to be true, with the implication that other religions are more or less false.
Q: You believe that?
A: Of course.
Q: I see. Moving right along now –
Walker Percy (1916-90), excerpt from Questions They Never Asked Me So He Asked Them Himself (Self-Interview, 1977)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stone is not Stone

There was a time when stone was stone
And a face on the street was a finished face.
Between the Thing, myself and God alone
There was an instant symmetry.
Since you have altered all my world this trinity is twisted:

Stone is not stone
And faces like the fractioned characters in dreams are incomplete
Until in the child’s inchoate face
I recognize your exiled eyes.
The soldier climbs the glaring stair leaving your shadow.
Tonight, this torn room sleeps
Beneath the starlight bent by you.
Carson McCullers (1917-67), from Georgia.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

“We are, we are: the youth of the nation…”

Pedro Garcia, 13, Smith Academy of International Languages, Charlotte: I believe that the economy is like a cycle. Say if people don’t buy from this company the company won’t have money and goes out of business. Bush is damaging our economy because he is wasting much money in the war in Iraq, buying weapons, cannons and tanks. Instead of giving that money to companies that we can benefit on. Gas and food prices are affecting my family these days. I could even buy a pair of shoes with 25 gallons of gas a week. Seriously the government should have an eye on businesses to make arrangements about it.

Sarah Kerman, 12, Piedmont Open I.B. Middle School, Charlotte: I believe the U.S economy is in a recession, no doubt about it. We need federal bailouts because they’ll help get our economy back on track. But we must start with the source of the problem. It’s like fixing a leak, do you try to patch up the leak or patch the source of the leak? The leaders of our country didn’t regulate who could get certain kinds of loans and the government let lenders get greedy. The lenders took advantage of lack of government regulation and gave loans to people who didn’t know what they were getting into. Now those people are in trouble and it’s affecting the investors on Wall Street. We need more rules!

Danielle Blake, 14, North Stanly High School, New London: I think that the government should be overseeing more businesses. I think that if the government did put regulations on businesses, then fewer businesses would get in financial trouble and not over charge people. The government should regulate more businesses in order for our economy to be go up instead of go down. If the government would oversee more businesses, then gas prices probably wouldn’t have gone up so much in the past few weeks. My family is feeling the effects of gas going up. We cannot go as many places as we used to.

Samantha Chandler, 14, North Stanly High School, New London: I think the government should oversee the businesses. Especially the gas business!!! I think our country is charging way too much for gas!!! I understand that gas is not cheap right now but that is not the way to earn the money back!! Gas prices rise and drop all the time, but not dramatically like it did that night when it jumped almost two whole dollars! Gas prices are the main reason for our country’s economical state along with the rising prices of groceries. A gallon of milk is like double the price it used to be! We need to bring all prices down on essentials like gas and groceries. Maybe our country thinks everyone needs gas so they will buy it no matter what the price might be. If the people would just stay at home, or walk, or ride the bus, gas prices might come down. I am afraid of what the gas prices are going to be when I drive in a year and an half!! We need to seriously do something about this!!!

Sarah Baucom, 14, North Stanly High School, New London: Right now, we are having one of the worst times in the United States. Gas prices are going up everyday, companies are going bankrupt, and more and more people are unemployed. I believe that the government should be in more control. The government needs to be in control of the way banks give loans out to future-home buyers. If the government watches this, then there will be less foreclosures and possibly even unemployment. Also I believe that if the government is completely in charge of the gas prices, then maybe the prices would be at a more reasonable price.

Camren Summerlin, 14, North Stanly High School, New London: I think that the economy is struggling because of the rising price of gas, which is what has sent us plummeting down in our economics. As the price of gas goes up, everything else goes up because we are an oil-based country. If that could be changed, it would help this economy. The money is out there but it’s just back in to the same hands that distributed it. What I am saying is that everyone who has money is who is responsible for the gas prices. I think that the government should do something about this gas crisis.

Sierra Wyrick, 14, North Stanly High School, New London: I think that the government should not raise the gas prices up any higher because some people don’t have the money for gas. The government shouldn’t raise it any higher because of people losing their homes. They shouldn’t just focus on themselves; they should think what other people think. I think that everyone is getting frustrated because the government is against what everyone thinks and they have the money to buy the gas while other people don’t. It goes up ten or more cents everyday.

Tiffany Weaver, 15, North Stanly High School, New London: I think that if we would’ve planned for things like this in the past then things would’ve been a little better in the future. The government should oversee gas prices and control them so they could possibly lower the prices. I don't think that individuals should control the gas prices. To make things right, all the problems should be put in the government’s hands so they can help solve the problems that we’re having today.

Whitney Thorpe 14, North Stanly High School, New London: The government should be seeing that many families don’t have a lot of money and can’t pay $5 for a gallon of gas. Many people have to get to work and take their kids to school. I think that the government should be trying to lower gas prices and quit raising them. Soon everybody is going to lose their jobs and kids are not going to be at school. Many people will go into poverty. Also places and restaurants are going to be going out of business since nobody will be going out to eat or going anywhere. My family is suffering through this same problem. We don’t go out as much and I don’t get to go out and hang out at the movies or the mall with my friends. The government should really start changing and lowering the gas prices.

Source: The Charlotte Observer

Friday, September 19, 2008


I’ve heard that holy madness is a state
not to be trifled with, not to be taken
lightly by jest or vow, by lover’s token
or any green wreath for a public place. Flash
in the eyes of madmen precious fountains,
whose flesh is wholly thirst, insatiate.

I see this graceful bird begin to wheel,
glide in God’s fingerprint, a whorl
of night, in light a thing burnt black,
unhurried. Somewhere something on its back
has caught his eye. Wide-winged he descends
like angels to the business of this world.

I’ve heard that saintly hermits, frail, obscene
in rags, sack-fleshed, eyes like jewels, kneel
in dry sand among the tortured mountains, feel
at last the tumult of their prayers take shape,
take wings, assume the brutal rush of grace.
This bird comes then and picks those thin bones clean.
George Garrett (d. 2008), former poet laureate of Virginia

Monday, September 15, 2008


In the necessary field among the round
Warm stones we bend to our gleaning.
The brown earth gives in to our hands, and straw
By straw burns red aslant the vesper light.

The village behind the graveyard tolls softly, begins
To glow with new-laid fires. The children
Quiet their shouting, and the martins slide
Above the cows at the warped pasture gate.

They set the tinware out on checkered oilcloth
And the thick-mouthed tumblers on the right-hand side.
The youngest boy whistles the collie to his dish
And lifts down the dented milk pail:

This is the country we return to when
For a moment we forget ourselves,
When we watch the sleeping kitten quiver
After long play, or rain comes down warm.

Here we choose to live always, here where
Ugly rumors of ourselves do not reach,
Where in the whisper-light of the kerosene lamp
The deep Bible lies open like a turned-down bed.

Fred Chappell, poet laureate of North Carolina

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Favorite Passages: Richard M. Weaver on Robert E. Lee

The tendency to see a thing in its moral relationships, to discipline egoistic impulse, and to subordinate self to a communal idea of conduct appears in Lee’s often quoted saying that duty is the most sublime word in the language. It is fairly certain that he did not intend here the narrow military sense in which mission is accepted and executed. His conception seems much nearer the celebrated categorical imperative, that sense of obligation to act as one would have others act, out of a love of order and accomplishment.

…The ideal of duty is related to the quality which above all else gives Lee an antique greatness, his humility. He believed that there is an order to things. That order is providential in the sense that mortal wisdom is not to be compared to infinite wisdom. This truth, however, conveys nothing of fatalism or determinism; the individual is not exempt from exerting his will in the world and seeking to influence the course of things according to his light. Man cannot withdraw; he must weigh and wager, and abide the consequences. To assume that his light is always sufficient is pride. Education is discipline and education is lifelong; indeed, we have Lee’s own statement that no man’s education is completed until his death. If one has respect for the order of things, it is then possible for him to accept failure as instruction rather than as total repudiation. I do not see how Lee’s serenity in the face of crisis and self-possession in the days of distress can be explained save through this conviction, which is in essence the answer of Christianity to the paradoxes of existence.

As we approach that time at which his education was complete, we are eager to know whether, on the broad issues of this life, he stood with the pessimists or the optimists. This is putting the matter in simple terms, of course; but humanity has a clear mind on this issue; it will not have for its great teachers those who despair of the condition of man. It will read them for excitement; it will utilize them as corrective, but it will not cherish them as the final oracles. It prefers Aristotle to Diogenes and Augustine to Schopenhauer. It does not wish to hear said, however brilliantly, that life is a tale told by an idiot; it wants an unmistakable, if chastened, recommendation of life.

From this point of view too we may say Lee is philosophically sound. Despite failure in the great effort of his career, and despite a twilight of five years during which, it seemed to Stephen Vincent Benet, “He must have lived with bitterness itself,” he gave no sign of despondency. His expression, we are told, took on a look of settled
sadness, but he never allowed feeling to assume control. Whatever of doctrine Lee knew was derived from Christianity, and there we read that God sometimes appoints to men the task of contending and falling in a righteous cause. …Lee has survived in the national mind as a hero in defeat; and it is inconceivable that he could have done so had not his own philosophy accommodated the idea of temporal failure.
Richard M. Weaver, “Lee the Philosopher” (1948), from The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver, (Liberty Fund, 1987; George. M. Curtis & James J. Thompson, ed.), pp. 176-178.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Favorite Passages: A Yankee Speaks

I speak and write uneasily on the Southern (conservative) tradition, an unpopular subject that has been gnawing at me for more than three decades. I am a native New Yorker who was born and raised in New York City and who has spent almost all except the last eight of his sixty-three years as a resident of New York State. My pretensions to being a Southerner – for, alas, pretensions are all they are – rest on my having become fascinated with Southern history while an undergraduate at Brooklyn College and on having settled my heart in Dixie soon thereafter. Certainly, I am devoted to the sentiment expressed in the bumper sticker: “Get your heart in Dixie or get your ass out!” There are a great many reasons for Southern partisanship, the most important of which arose from my early recognition that the people of the South, across lines of race, class, and sex, and as generous, gracious, courteous, decent – in a word, civilized – as any people it has have been my privilege to get to know. And yes, I know that I am open to the charge made against all converts of being plus royaliste que le roi, plus catholique que le Pape.

…I am alarmed at the “modernization” that is transforming the South. Doubtless, the transformation has much to recommend it, especially with respect to long overdue if incomplete justice for black people. But I increasingly suspect that its desirable features are coming at a price Northerners as well as Southerners, blacks as well as whites, will rue having to pay and need not pay. That price includes a neglect of, or contempt for, the history of Southern whites, without which some of the more distinct and noble features of American national life must remain incomprehensible.

The Northern victory of 1865 silenced a discretely Southern interpretation of American history and national identity, and it promoted a contemptuous dismissal of all things Southern as nasty, racist, immoral, and intellectually inferior. The Northern victory did carry out a much too belated abolition of slavery. But it also sanctified Northern institutions and intentions, which included the unfettered expansion of a bourgeois world view and the suppression of alternate visions of social order. In consequence, from that day to this, the Southern-conservative critique of modern gnosticism has been wrongly equated with racism and white supremacy.

Rarely these days, even on Southern campuses, is it possible to acknowledge the achievements of the white people of the South. The history of the Old South is now often taught at leading universities, when it is taught at all, as a prolonged guilt-trip, not to say a prologue to the history of Nazi Germany. Courses on the history of the
modern South ignore an array of movements and individuals, including the Fugitive poets, the Agrarians, Richard Weaver, and such intellectually impressive successors as the late M.E. Bradford and those engaged in today’s political and ideological wars. These nonpersons have nevertheless constituted a movement that, by any reasonable standard, ought to be acknowledged for its outstanding contributions to American social, political, and cultural thought.

To speak positively about any part of this Southern tradition is to invite charges of being a racist and an apologist for slavery and segregation. We are witnessing a cultural and political atrocity – an increasingly successful campaign by the media and an academic elite to strip young white Southerners, and arguably black Southerners as well, of their heritage, and, therefore, their identity. They are being taught to forget their forebears or to remember them with shame. …It is one thing to silence people, another to convince them. And to silence them on matters central to their self-respect and dignity is to play a dangerous game – to build up in them harsh resentments that, sooner or later, are likely to explode and bring out their worst.

Recall that great speech by Martin Luther King in which he evoked a vision of the descendants of slaves and of slaveholders, sitting together on the hills of Georgia as Southern brothers. …Black Americans have good reason to protest vehemently against the disgraceful way in which their history has been taught or, worse, ignored, and to demand a record of the nobility and heroism of the black struggle for freedom and justice. But that record dare not include the falsification or obliteration of the noble and heroic features of the white South. To teach the one without the other is to invite deepening racial animosity and murderous conflict, not merely or even primarily in the South but in the North. For it is worth noting that our most vicious urban explosions are occurring in the “progressive” North and on the West Coast, not in the “bigoted” and “reactionary” South.

It is one thing to demand – and it must be demanded – that white Southerners repudiate white supremacy. It is quite another to demand that they deny the achievements of their own people in a no less heroic struggle to build a civilization in a wilderness and to create the modern world’s first great republic – to demand that they repent in sackcloth and ashes not only for undeniable enormities, but for the finest and most generous features of Southern life.
Eugene D. Genovese, The Southern Tradition: the Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism (Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. ix-xiii.