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Links on Christian culture

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jan 06, 2016

Today I return to work after a relaxing Christmas vacation! Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve read a number of valuable pieces, all of which relate in some way to Christian culture.

A friend brought my attention to a remarkable First Things essay written in 2004 by Robert Louis Wilken: "The Church as Culture." Wilken reflects on the need for a revival of Christian culture, without which all the evangelical efforts, theology, philosophy and apologetics will be of no avail. He does not mean high culture, but “the ‘total harvest of thinking and feeling,’ to use T. S. Eliot’s phrase—the pattern of inherited meanings and sensibilities encoded in rituals, law, language, practices, and stories that can order, inspire, and guide the behavior, thoughts, and affections of a Christian people.”

Wilken brings to our attention three moments in the development of Christian culture: the emergence of a distinctively Christian material culture (art, symbols and burial practices) in the third century, the creation of the Church calendar, and the development and preservation of a uniquely Christian and Scriptural vocabulary by scholars like St. Augustine, Cassiodorus, and St. Isidore of Seville. Wilken argues:

If Christian culture is to be renewed, habits are more vital than revivals, rituals more edifying than spiritual highs, the creed more penetrating than theological insight, and the celebration of saints’ days more uplifting than the observance of Mother’s Day.

At Ethika Politika, Rachel Meyer observes that sometimes the much-criticized “throwaway culture” might be perfectly innocuous—at least when it comes to throwing away physical objects. If my toaster breaks, I could either take several hours repairing it myself or I could simply chuck it, buy a new one and spend those hours doing something more valuable, like “playing with my children, studying great Russian literature, or praying.”

I was pleasantly surprised by this piece, which demonstrates a level of economic understanding I don’t generally expect from Ethika Politika (not, of course, that the site doesn’t have its merits!). As Meyer points out, "human time is a valuable resource to be used wisely" just as much as material objects are, so when we choose to replace something rather than repair it, we are conserving what we deem to be the more valuable resource.

This is why it's important to understand *why* we do things a certain way before advocating a paradigm shift—Chesterton's fence. Otherwise we will misuse the word "waste", not realizing that there is a trade-off in every choice. This isn't the only thing to consider when discussing the "throwaway culture" (many things, if probably not toasters, should be considered in terms of more than their use-value), but it's an important one. Human time and labor are not less valuable, or less finite, than material objects.

Earlier this year, The Paris Review ran a provocative piece by Scott Beauchamp called “Sharia Law Goes to the Movies.” As an infantryman in Iraq in 2009, Beauchamp watched versions of The Wrestler and District 9 which had been edited in accordance with Sharia law—and found that he liked the censored versions better!

I like a point Beauchamp makes about how "censorship" by focus group is probably more dangerous to art than censorship by governmental or religious decree. On the other hand, censorship of the movies in America's past at least had the beneficial effect of reigning in self-indulgence and encouraging subtlety and ambiguity—when you can't show certain things directly, you have to work harder. Even today, TV writers like Louis C.K. and Vince Gilligan talk about ways in which the content restrictions of cable networks’ Standards and Practices departments have actually made their work better.

Two more pieces I enjoyed, sans commentary:

In America, Mark Plaiss reflects on the appeal of monasticism to his high school students, who find in the monastic life a sense of authenticity that, for whatever reason, they do not find in their parishes.

Did you know that the author of The Lord of the Things also translated the Biblical book of Jonah? As big of a Tolkien nerd as I am, I didn’t.

Thomas V. Mirus is an administrative assistant and writer at CatholicCulture.org. A jazz pianist with a music degree, he often takes the lead in our commentary on the arts. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Jan. 08, 2016 10:36 PM ET USA

    Thanks for the three interesting links. I got out my 1985 edition of the New Jerusalem Bible and found that I had highlighted Tolkien's name in the List of Original Collaborators. However there was no indication of his specific contributions.

  • Posted by: Thomas Van - Jan. 07, 2016 5:39 PM ET USA

    Randal, I tried the link and it didn't take me to a raunchy site, but it may be an advertising issue. I've removed that link just to be safe.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jan. 06, 2016 5:10 PM ET USA

    Focus your gaze. I clicked on the "robot saints" link and was transported to a raunchy site. The article on medieval mechanical gizmos is a curiosity piece, but not much else on that site is worth the time it takes to wait for it to load.