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Thursday, May 10, 2007

John Senior: Should We Moderate Our Praise?

In a recent discussion amongst the Restorationists, John Senior was mentioned several times with great admiration, even alongside names like Plato and Newman. These references recalled to me the impressions I formed last fall, when I first read The Restoration of Christian Culture. While it contained many ideas worthy of praise, some of his recommendations struck me as recklessly unqualified. Undoubtedly, his strength lay in storytelling - when he described his visit to Fontgombault, my heart throbbed with the beauty of it. I also agree heartily with his claims that children benefit from reading good books, that singing around a piano is infinitely better than watching a movie and that devotion to Our Lady inspired the cathedrals of medieval Europe. Indeed, John Senior offers many timely insights and is certainly worth reading. However, if we truly desire a restoration of Christian culture, we must take care, not only to captivate the heart and imagination, but to engage reason with clear and prudent distinctions.

Three bothersome passages:
1) In criticizing technology, he goes so far as to disparage the simplest of mechanisms, the abacus. While I appreciate his purpose, such extreme rhetoric discredits the entire argument. To my mind, technology signifies tools which increase the potential fruit of human activity. This increased potential fruit implies more than mere increased productivity. With the proper saws, a carpenter can fashion furniture decorative as well as functional. Those saws increase the potential beauty of his work, without necessarily increasing its quantitative fruit. From this it seems that we ought to judge the worth of technology by two standards: whether it increases fruitfulness; and whether the increased fruitfulness is achieved at the expense of a more important good. I cannot imagine that the abacus fails in either way.

2) I was also disappointed with his attitude toward adolescence. He warns against sheltering children excessively, claiming that the experiential knowledge of good and evil gained through moral failure must naturally precede spiritual maturity. This sounds dangerously like the deception at the heart of the Fall - that one must experience evil in order to understand it, that we cannot be "wise as serpents and simple as doves."(Matthew 10:16)

3)Finally, he mentions The Three Musketeers as a timeless novel every child should read. In the first place, Dumas was paid by the word and wrote tremendous volumes, which makes the literary value of his work very dubious. However, the impurity of the heroes in the aforementioned tale is even more troubling. Art ought to improve our likes and dislikes by revealing the desirability of goodness
and the baseness of evil. At times, this may require the depiction of sin, but good art always puts sin in the proper context.

4 Comments:

Blogger L'éminence grise said...

Lorraine,

is there some reason your text is running a mile off the right edge of the screen?

9:28 PM  
Blogger Raindear said...

L'eminence,

Indeed there is! I have minimal knowledge of HTML and use Mozilla browser. When I tinkered with my template many moons ago, I forgot to view it in Internet Explorer too. Don't really know how to make it IE friendly - hence the Recommended Browser link under my patron's icon on the left.

My most humble apologies for the inconvenience. Mozilla is a better browser anyway.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

All of Dumas' fiction was on the Index. Shame on Senior for recommending it.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Raindear said...

Indeed!

1:56 PM  

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