Devon, PA.  DePaul University in Chicago has many distinguished qualities.  Most striking among them would seem to be that it is nominally a Catholic university, and yet not only are most of its students not Catholic — many of its students are unaware of its religious identity.  An acquaintance of mine was once touring the campus, and stopped to ask an undergraduate whether he believed the school adequately fulfilled its Catholic mission.  The boy responded with confusion, and finally anger, insisting that DePaul was not a Catholic school and never had been; he resented the very suggestion.

A charlatan administrator at a Catholic university, I once was told, solemnly declared, “What makes us a Catholic school rather than a secular one is . . .” he grew still, not with sober portent, but with the frozen, reaching, blank stare of uncertainty: “Well,” he finally stuttered on, “it is concern for the individual.”

One admits, this may be a reasonably well put answer, given that most institutions of higher education do indeed have contempt for human persons even if they all but pray to the individual as a fetish.  They inculcate philosophical materialism.  They induce a contempt for community.  They espouse a sentimental morality that can find fulfillment only in “confronting one’s privilege,” by engaging in “activism” to get some supranational body or another to legislate the absence of pain as a human right to be solved by “global initiatives.”

The students who run such a gauntlet come away believing a convenient concatenation of things: truth is “relative,” and yet they smirk with absolute contempt at anyone who believes a truth that binds them.  Their divorce-culture emotional dependence on their families grows, even as they become inured to all other particular attachments.  They become incapable of productively exploring any serious questions besides those of race and sex (indeed, they do not believe there are any such questions to be raised).  They conclude that the History of the West is a vacuous tale of power, the pursuit of power, and those who suffer at the hands of the powerful.  Thus, they resolve to be left alone, to make as much money as they can so that they will not be numbered among the powerless; and their sensibilities are reformed in such a way so that their conception of good will is to vote for whichever political party promises to help the distant poor with the omnicompetant hand of technocracy.  The sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church only promised to relieve penitence of temporal punishments; the regime of administered society, in contrast, forgives us every sin so long as one guility submits to is programs of altruism.

The reader familiar with the verbiage of the culture wars may pause over such a claim.  Is not the usual complaint that radical professors are indoctrinating our youth in radical communist ideologies?  Well, yes, sort of.  For some five or six girls in a Womens Studies course, the world will become a plain for consciousness raising and drum-beating for the reproductive rights of the oppressed, and for some dozen guys whose chief interest is a rather groggy version of ultimate frisbee, a major in Global Wrongess Studies will lead them to become telemarketers for the cause, earning pay checks by toiling in the sweaty phone banks of an evening.  For the other, as it were, 99%, instruction in the hermeneutics of suspicion and the illiberal curriculum of victimization leads them to conclude, “Columbus got his, and so I might as well get mine.”  And this is merely a more aquisitive way of saying, “If truth is a lie, nothing really matters.”  Nothing, that is, but matter.

I doubt that most Catholic universities do anything to moderate the act of soul killing in which their faculty blithely disport.  And yet, if one were, for a moment, to take seriously this supposedly Catholic “concern for the individual,” one would have to admit it is perfectly consistent (on these terms) with DePaul’s potent Catholic mission that it should invite E.O. Wilson to speak during its commencement proceedings this weekend.  Wilson, the entemologist and factotum, certainly has a concern for the individual:

While being interviewed for the 1999 Canadian radio series “From Naked Ape to Superspecies,” Wilson stated “if all humanity disappeared the rest of life would benefit enormously…the forests would grow back, the whole Earth would green up, the ocean would teem, and so on.” However, “If the ants were all to disappear, the results would be close to catastrophic.”

You see, DePaul’s Catholic mission charges it with concern for the individual.  The individual ant.  And what is a swarm of ants, but all those wonderful individual ants seen together?  Such is no light spiritual burden, and I am glad to see that DePaul takes it so seriously.

As I have contended repeatedly on this site, the contempt for human life and for nature more generally that the contemporary environmental movement, the population control movement, the normalization of sodomy movement, and the more wide spread contraception and abortion mentality routinely display is grotesque and staggering, looked at in isolation.  But as my little screed above judges, our great universities are fashioning the souls of students just so that they are incapable of seeing ugliness and untruth for what they are.  It is indeed a lofty privilege and a noble dignity — one worthy of gothic towers and ivied walls — to rob young people of the capacity to believe they were born for any purpose beyond sterile fornication, docile office work, and consumption in the technomarketplace — all seasoned, let it be remembered, with just that mode of sentimental moralism that will endorse the likes of Wilson as an elite policy wonk to solve our creaturely crises.

Our day’s version of liberal education would now seem to entail a morbid self-contempt, and a recognition that the image of God lies not in the intellect that crowns creation, but in the efficient ecology of the supernumerary swarm.  True liberal education tells us that freedom lies in nothing less than the dwelling in wonder of the Beautiful.  As those clever hermeneutists of suspicion rush to tell us, such an object of wonder comes with a politics.  Indeed, it comes with a politics, and a physics, and a theology — I do not deny it.  That is why to think well is to change one’s life, and to detach these things from one another is to falsify oneself.  The supposed intellectuals of our age, utterly immune to the grace and wonder of reality, also offer us a politics, a physics, and a theology, one zealously asserted by those who take to heart such words of E.O. Wilson: a theology that take’s man’s birth for original sin and his extinction for “Gaia’s” salvation; a materialist physics of empty space, endless motion, and atmoized matter; and a politics of guilt that looks with disdain upon that not very efficient species of ant called man.

 

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James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on subjects ranging from art, ethics, and politics, to meter and poetic form, from the importance of local culture to the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty. Wilson is also a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, and The American Conservative. He has published five books, including most recently, a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Raised in the Great Lakes State, baptised in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, seasoned by summers on Lake Wawasee (Indiana), and educated under the Golden Dome, Wilson is scion of a family of Hoosiers dating back to the early nineteenth century, and an offspring of Southside Chicago Poles whose tavern kept the city wet through the Depression (and prohibition) years.  He now lives under the same sentence of reluctant exile as many another native son of the Midwest, but has dug himself in for good on the margins of the Main Line in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife, dangerous daughter, and saintly sons. For information on Wilson's scholarship and a selection of his published work, click here. See books written and recommended by James Matthew Wilson.

11 COMMENTS

  1. “It was not Catholicism, after all, that invented the selling of indulgences, but liberal society.”

    What does this mean? On the face of it, it seems flat out false, as there was no “liberal society” in the Late Middle Ages when the sale of indulgences was rampant.

  2. “It was not Catholicism, after all, that invented the selling of indulgences, but liberal society.”

    Perhaps it would have been better to say, “liberal society is not immune to selling indulgences.”

  3. The parsing of selling indulgences is of limited benefit. Fluffing over fallen man’s ability to be enormously rapacious is equally short sighted.

    The Iron Curtain of thought which attempts to apologize for a “devil may care” approach to stewardship of our earth is likely one of the larger bait and switches of contemporary Media-thought, the mechanistic hive of passive aggressive crusaderism.

    Partisanship now supercedes the human instinct of survival

  4. Peace, gentlemen. The study of ants is the beginning of wisdom–except for those whose thinking has been ruined by the likes of Alexander Pope:

    Why has not man a microscopic eye?
    For this plain reason, man is not a fly.
    Say, what the use, were finer optics giv’n,
    To inspect a mite, not comprehend the Heav’n?

  5. Mr. Wilson, this is the kind of screed that gives Christians a bad odor. E. O. Wilson is one of the most distinguished and genuine scientists of our times. To read him is to be persuaded about the nature of certain material realities. He is not antireligious, let alone anti-Christian, though he does resent the attacks of willfully scientifically ignorant religious loudmouths on his and other scientists’ scientific work and integrity–as do I and a host of other Christians who, with the Holy Father, do not see religion and science as opponents, nor scientific theory as partisan fiction. When he says that the absence of man would be a boon to other life forms, he speaks of what seems, from his career of work with material reality, highly probable. He says nothing about the moral status of such a probability. You don’t have to hate man to believe that man’s works can be deleterious to other life forms.

  6. This article is really shocking. The quote you use clearly does not support the interpretation you put on it. The longest version of that quote which I can find online gives even less support:

    “How can I put this without sounding callous? If all humanity disappeared, the rest of life, except for domestic animals and plants, which only represent a minute fraction of the plants and animals of the world, would benefit enormously. The forests would gradually grow back, and relative stability would return to the ecosystem services that control global temperature and atmosphere. The fish in the oceans would recover, and the most endangered species would slowly come back. Of course, there would be no humans around to enjoy this, but as far as the survival of numbers of species goes, the planet would be better off.
    “However, if all members of one of the groups of smaller creatures, such as ants, were to vanish, the results would be close to catastrophic. Ants turn and aerate a very large part of the Earth’s soils. They’re major predators of other insects, and they’re the chief scavengers of small animals, removing and breaking up more than 90 percent of any small, dead creatures as part of the soil-nutrient cycle. They even pollinate many plants. If they were to disappear, there would be major extinctions of other species and probably partial collapse of some ecosystems.”
    (found at http://www.spaceandmotion.com/evolution-ecology-nature-culture-society.htm, a site which I haven’t had a chance to get to grips with, so please don’t conclude anything from the fact that I link to it.)

    How could you make out of this a misanthropic contempt for human life? And clearly you haven’t read any of Wilson’s many books, certainly not “The Creation: an appeal to save life on Earth”, which takes the form of a respectful letter to a Baptist pastor from a former Baptist, attempting to engage Christian leaders with the ecological crisis.

    The fact that ‘dwelling in wonder of the Beautiful’ is exactly the kind of thing Wilson would say, seems to be lost on you.

    I would have other things to say on your second-last paragraph, but I’ll restrict myself to an appeal to FPR, which I have greatly enjoyed reading, to maintain the minimum standard of debate which does not accept the wilful distortion of other’s views. God knows, there’s enough of that on the internet.

  7. Any perceived “contempt for human life” must always be compared against the actual actions of a species which seems to delight in peeing 360 degrees around themselves as a steady pastime. It is no mere recreational pursuit, it is all business, all the time. Nature, of course, is never part of the balance sheet, it is merely the toilet paper we wipe our arses upon.

  8. I don’t exactly agree with Mr.(J. M.)Wilson’s characterizations of (E. O.) Wilson and his statements about ants, and think that few, if any, environmentalists want to rid the earth of humans or care much about “Gaia.” However, the third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs of the piece offer one of the best takes on the state of “higher” education I have yet read.

  9. James,

    When EO Wilson published his Sociobiology, there was the regular PC lynchmob of Boasian Cultural Marxists out to silence him: Stephen J. Gould et al.* More recently, because of decades of attacks, EO Wilson has tended to focus more on environmentalism. Perhaps in this PC environment he doesn’t want his legacy to be the same as James Watson’s.

    Wilson’s sociobiology is important because it returns our conception of human nature** to the ancient hereditarian view, as opposed to the reigning dogma of the past 75 years: Boasianism / Culturalism / Blank Slatism / Cultural Marxism.

    * BTW, Gould has recently been proven to be a fraud: http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2011/06/stephen-jay-gould-incompetent-or-biased.html

    ** Or perhaps we should say “human natures”: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016328711001248

  10. A good point to make. People like Gould are as much a problem as any conventional environmentalist.

  11. I agree that the quote is used in a misleading way: Wilson thinks that the members of our highly intelligent social species have the reponsibility to preserve the planet as our only conceivable home. (See the last chapter of his new book on our planetary domination.) The Darwinians and the Porchers have overlapping arguments against the Cartesian liberationists, the transhumanists, and such. Wilson can also be used to support a social conservativism tha avoids “homophobia” but preserves heterosexual normativity and privileges the two-parent family. Wilson’s environmentealism is, admittedly not quite coherently, anthropocentric.
    Plus, he’s a great scientist. He school be invited to speak at Catholic schools. I agree that an atheist who identifies our religion with dogmatic tribalism shouldn’t be the graduation speaker.

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