According to recent polls, Americans are angry. They are angry about the economy, about the role of government in their lives, about the direction their country has taken. They are angry with the president and with the Congress. Some are angry because the government gives too much, others because the government gives too little. Many want the government to “fix” the economy. (This comes from a people who owe enormous personal debt via credit cards and loans, who often refuse work if it doesn’t pay salaries to which they are accustomed, who often pay no income tax themselves, who have lamented the transfer of their manufacturing base overseas while at the same time buying Chinese at Wal-Mart, whose corporations move abroad because of high taxes or remain here because of no taxes, who have forgotten that dependence on government leads not to freedom but to slavery).
We are thoroughly politicized even in our daily lives, followers of ideologies — until recently, a distinctly un-American trait — rather than as citizens bound by a spirit of compromise, a common law, a belief in liberty, and the search for pragmatic solutions.
We have traded horse sense for nonsense.
In Beauty Will Save The World: Recovering The Human In An Ideological Age (ISBN 978-1-933859-88-0, $29.95), author and editor Gregory Wolfe sets out to show us a different path — or rather, how to return to the path once followed by even our recent ancestors. Put succinctly, and quite badly in comparison to Wolfe’s own stylish prose, Wolfe urges us abandon our ideological battles and return to the “old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty” as the criteria for making our democracy and our personal lives once again working propositions.
In the first two chapters of Beauty Will Save The World, Wolfe builds the foundation for this thesis. He tells us of his own struggles as a young man engaged in the culture wars, of moving from libertarianism to conservativism, and then beyond. His distaste for many who professed conservatism grew as he worked to elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, when his fellow politicos, despite having pushed forward a president who had promised to shrink government, “jockeyed for positions in the new administration, including jobs in departments those stalwarts had resolutely promised to abolish. My euphoria evaporated and was replaced by something close to moral revulsion.”
Unlike others who undergo such a sea-change, Wolfe did not turn to the left for answers. He realized that both camps lacked in some way the keys to life and spirit which he was seeking. Instead, he sought out these keys in the realm of art, culture, philosophy, and faith, and unlocked, it would seem, the doors which could restore for many of us the proper way to live and become fully human in an age political rants and rages. In his chapter titled “Art, Faith, and the Stewardship of Culture,” Wolfe gives us the heart of his argument:
“It was once a universally accepted notion that politics grows out of culture — that the profound insights of art, religion, scholarship, and local custom ultimately shape the terms of political debate. Somewhere in our history we passed a divide where politics began to be more highly valued than culture.”
An examination of the works of different writers and artists, and the way in which those works have played into our culture, takes up most of Wolfe’s book. He looks at writers of fiction as famous as Evelyn Waugh and as unduly neglected as Larry Woiwode; he examines in depth the work of various poets, especially that of the Englishman Geoffrey Hill; he analyzes the work of Southerners like Flannery O’Connor, Wendell Berry, and Marion Montgomery; he discusses painters like Fred Folsom (his in-depth exploration of Folsom’s “Last Call” is worth the price of the book alone).
In Beauty Will Save The World — this title comes from an enigmatic statement made by Dostovesky which fortunately for us once captured the imagination of Wolfe — the author issues a ringing call to turn from the ideological wars of our day, wars which are ruining both our government and our democracy, and to try and find common ground in our culture, in what can be deemed true and good and beautiful. Wolfe, like a few other observers of the battlefield, has here issued a manifesto that may not only lead to peace among neighbors, but to a deeper realization of what is truly worthy of our attention.
Beauty Will Save The World: Recovering The Human In An Ideological Age by Gregory Wolfe. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2011. 278 pages
Craig S. Bulkeley’s Hope For The Children Of The Sun: Curing The Sonnenkinder Syndrome Called Contemporary Christian Worship (the book may be ordered at your local bookstore or on-line at www.WorshipPress.com aligns itself well with Wolfe’s musings. Sonnenkinder refers to “children of the sun,” a popular name for the European youth culture between the two World Wars.
In this well-reasoned and well-documented short book, Bulkeley points out how the youth culture of the last 60 years has altered the liturgies and services of so many Protestant denominations. After analyzing the development of the twentieth century youth culture — he makes extensive use of Martin Green’s best-selling Children of the Sun — Bulkeley shows why “it is not surprising that the weak church would welcome the ways of the children into its worship practices beginning in the 1970s and 1980s and embrace them wholeheartedly by the opening of the 21st century.” Bulkeley then argues impressively for the return of maturity to the church and to its worship of God.
Bulkeley, who is an attorney and the pastor of Friendship Presbyterian Church in Black Mountain, brings to this book the clean arguments of a legal mind and the impassioned faith of a minister of God. This combination offers a finely-reasoned, clear read for all interested in this issue.