Last night The Pillar hosted a live webinar with Anthony Esolen, author of Out of the Ashes - Rebuilding American Culture, and Dr. Esolen said some remarkable things.
First, here's a quote from Esolen's book, culled by one of our book club members ...
Say to yourselves and to your children… We must be clear about this. The world around us is not Christian. It is not even sanely pagan. It is quite mad and quite unhappy. …We can minister to them only by being sharply distinct. Those in the world…are longing for …the real language, which will restore to them the world’s lost beauty and goodness and point them towards what is beyond the world.
This is what the webinar did, in its own way.
The most memorable thing that Tony Esolen said in his hour-long visit with us was his answer to a question from one of the attendees. The questioner said (and I'm paraphrasing both the question and the answer, quoting from memory),
Q. "What would you have done differently 25 years ago when you began your career as an educator and a father, knowing, as you do now, how much the culture has decayed?"
Esolen became thoughtful, looked away from the camera, and replied from the heart. "I would not have assumed that nature would fix things. I assumed that my daughter, for instance, would manage to meet a good young man. But even dating has vanished. Boys no longer know how to approach girls. We need dances - and not just occasionally, but all the time. We need to teach boys how to get off their video games and approach girls - because it doesn't happen on its own anymore."
He continued with a memorable image. "It's a desert on one side, and a flood on the other. It's a desert of loneliness. Not only is there no dating in that desert, there's no friendship, no connection, no relationship with members of the opposite sex - period. On the other side of the divide, in the flood, there's the hook up culture, which is just as miserable and just as lonely, only in a different way."
My friends, I can't tell you how true this is. It's most serious for devout young Catholic women who are not sleeping around; but it's bad even for secular women who are. My most popular posts on my old blog, Waiting for Godot to Leave, were about the difficulties of dating and the complications of the Boy / Girl thing in the Devout Catholic world.
Esolen pointed out that, "The real vocations crisis is not in finding men for the priesthood - though that is a problem. The great vocations crisis is in marriage. It breeds all kinds of despair".
That was the most memorable part of the webinar for me. Here are a few more random notes I took while Esolen was speaking ...
- The books that most influenced Tony Esolen's understanding of our cultural crisis were
- The word "productive" is a horrible word. It's a word borrowed from the factory. Esolen (quoting Ruskin, I think) said, "Britain is productive. Britain produces everything but men."
- If men gathered together as men, it might be possible for them, once more, to correct one another. "Dude, get off the video games. You're wasting your life. You have a family to provide for. Start taking this seriously." If a wife says that to her husband, he will resist it and push back and tell her that she's nagging. But if his buddies say that when they're together as a bunch of guys, he might listen. "Male shaming" I think Esolen called it: men accusing other men of not being real men - when the need for such an accusation springs up ... which, today, it frequently does.
- Toleration is not simply "putting up with anything". It's admitting a state of affairs is bad, that there's something wrong with it, but that you'll endure it, anyway. "If your coworker is miserable and rude, you might be forced to tolerate this, but you don't endorse it." Modern liberals, however, are not "tolerant" at all. They seek power and the destruction of those who believe different things than they do. (This from a man who has recently been more or less crucified by his own intolerant students and administrators at Providence College.) And the politics behind much of this is the militant gay agenda.
- At a recent fundraiser for St. Gregory the Great Academy in Pennsylvania, Esolen was impressed by the boys who reside there. "They take away their phones and their computers. The administration allows none of that - no internet, period. Because they know that if the boys have access, they'll be on porn and they'll be poisoned. Instead, the boys end up doing what boys used to do. They go outside, they play sports, they have fun, they get in shape, and they build things."
- "The best young people I know were homeschooled. They went to good Catholic colleges. They got married. They're 23 with kids and they're happy. We need to witness to the secular world in this way. The best example we can give to these other people is being holy and happy. They will see us and say, 'I want some of what they're drinking'."
- The way to get back at bad bishops, especially those who impose "common core" on Catholic schools? "Bishops are not well educated in the humanities. Who is? But they understand money. Tell them, I am not supporting the schools you have forced common core on. I'm giving my money to this classical Christian academy over here. Tell them that. They may not understand much, but they will understand the dollar sign."
I was blessed to meet Anthony Esolen last month at the Prairie Troubadour Conference where we both spoke. And last night's webinar was almost as much fun as meeting him in person.
There's more of this sort of thing at the Pillar Book Club, so check it out!
And even though things are very bad all around us - we now have online book clubs! And good ones too! So there are occasional silver linings - silver linings behind the clouds that promise the rain that will irrigate the desert in which we live.