What do recent developments in the rebuilding of Notre Dame cathedral tell us about trends in ecclesiastical and civic architecture? How does the sacramental understanding of architecture compare with modern architectural designs, including the proposal to rebuild the spire of Notre Dame cathedral along postmodernist lines? Jason Van Boom discusses these questions with architect and theologian Steven Schloeder. In this conversation they compared contemporary attitudes towards design with medieval understandings, looking at how these competing attitudes reveal a clash in what it means to be human. Van Boom and Schloeder also explored some of the symbolism of Catholic and Orthodox church structures, and what this tells us about God’s relationship to mankind.
My friend, Ollie Perry, recently uploaded a video he took from when I spoke at the George MacDonald Gold Country Gathering 2018. The purpose of this gathering was to launch my father’s new biography of MacDonald, A Writer’s Life, and to celebrate the release of The Cullen Collection. I spoke about my own experiences growing up with a writer as a father, and the important role that George MacDonald’s books have played in my own Christian life. I was joined by my friend Dave Hiatt who spoke about the spiritual potency of MacDonald’s imaginative vision, and MacDonald’s relationship with Charles Dodgson, the author of Alice in Wonderland.
I wanted to expand on some themes that Jason and I talked explored (albeit tangentially) back in the second episode of our podcast.
In this show I observed that in America today we are involved in the futile act of attempting to construct various political philosophies without reference to more foundational philosophical and anthropological questions.
Within contemporary medical discourse, the two most important ethical axioms are “choice” and “patient autonomy.” Even with issues that we might expect to be animated by broader ethical considerations–for example, life and death issues like abortion and euthanasia–there is a large body of thought which truncates discourse on these questions to “choice” and “patient autonomy.”
This being the case, I want to know why the principles of choice and patient autonomy are thrown out the window when it comes to needing to take statin drugs to lower cholesterol. In particular, when doctors tell their patients that they need to take statins to lower cholesterol, are they also letting their patients know that there is a vibrant medical debate about the health and efficacy of statins? Are doctors letting their patients know that not all practitioners consider high cholesterol to be bad, and that many consider cholesterol to be correlated with heart disease rather than causative of it? Do doctors give high-cholesterol patients all the information (both sides of the argument) so they can make informed decisions for themselves? We all know that the answer is no. When it comes to high cholesterol most doctors prefer to keep their patients in ignorance that there even is a vibrant debate within the medical community.
Jason Van Boom broadcasted this podcast from an expedition in Siberia, where he has been studying the similarities between Russia and America. He was joined (in the podcast but not the expedition) by Robin Phillips and Thomas Craffey. The three gentlemen discuss how there are striking similarities between the two nations that can easily be overlooked amidst the political tensions. By comparing Russia and America we can learn much about history, travel, human nature, and cultural anthropology.
“…a lot of parents with traditional Christian values are increasingly unhopeful about being able to pass those values on to the next generation… And one of the things we’ve noticed is that when parents feel pessimistic about their chances of success, the temptation can be to take short-cuts and to settle for getting our children to assent to the beliefs and lifestyle choices that reflect our values without actually helping them to develop the type of critical thinking and thoughtful disposition that’s necessary for them to really make those values their own. It’s a lot easier to settle for the intermediate goal of just getting our children to tick the right box, to parrot back our traditional values, instead of actually inculcating within them the type of attentive and thoughtful and engaged and reflective disposition that’s necessary if those values are going to become part of who they are. And so essentially, we develop a kind of tribalism where we make the children feel that it’s not okay to question the tribe, or we may use control and manipulation to shut down critical discussion. And of course, then what happens is that the children go away to college and become exposed to another tribe – say, something like social Marxism – and because they haven’t been taught to ask questions, they just become like sheep to the slaughter.”
In Episode 4 of “The Robin and Boom Show,” I observed that our goal as parents is not just to help our children develop critical thinking skills, but to help them grasp the beauty of critical thinking. Here’s what I said.
“…we can show the beauty of critical thinking to our children if critical thinking is seen and taught and lived out as a subset of wisdom. It’s very possible to, and indeed necessary, to show our children that wisdom is beautiful. This comes across in the wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures where wisdom is portrayed as a beautiful woman and with metaphors that show that wisdom is not just the right thing to do – it’s not just the right thing to do to go and get wisdom – but this is what a beautiful flourishing life looks like. If as parents we raise our children with a holistic lifestyle where we’re living out what we’re teaching them, where we’re showing them that wisdom and critical thinking are part of the good life, part of what human flourishing looks like, then critical thinking can be situated within this larger context where they see it as beautiful.”
“…what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether. At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern skeptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.” G.K. Chesterton
In this second interview with Dr. David Wang, we continue to learn about Notre-Dame Cathedral and the significance of the recent fire. Dr. Wang explains how Notre-Dame cathedral is an incarnation of a sacramental ordering of the world, a way of looking at creation in which “the small human being is in the embrace of an immensely larger immaterial reality, such that the small human being receives benefit.” Drawing on his experience as former head of the architectural department at Washington State, Dr. Wang contrasts this ancient sacramental understanding of buildings with postmodern architecture. The conversation steered into the implications of living in an increasingly machine-driven culture, in which our reliance on cyberspace and “disembodied communities” (i,e., communities bereft of any organic relationship to the immediate vicinity around where we live) are orienting human beings to new ways of negotiating embodiment.