I’ll begin by asking a potentially provocative question. Is it “enough” to love God, know the Bible and pray? I don’t mean for salvation, strictly speaking, but to remain faithful to authentic Christian principles in our culture today I’m specifically positing the question about whether or not it is “enough” to live a life of faith without the intentional development of the life of reason. Thereby focusing on salvation, without seeking to cultivate a Christian culture?
Throughout history the great leaders, writers and thinkers of Western Civilization asked questions and deliberated over the philosophies and ideologies undergirding the fabric of the society in which they lived. To this effect we have Homer considering the role and import of hospitality, Plato asking “what is justice?”, Aristotle exploring multi-faceted aspects of friendship and Boethius debating the influence of fate. Virgil brings to life Aeneas, the founder of Rome. Perhaps it was through their familiarity with the Aeneid our forefathers recognized a convergence of comparable events preceding their decision to break from England and pen these fateful words:
"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
The Founding Fathers were able to assess their situation without merely getting caught up in the flow of human events. Some may suggest our founding fathers were guided by a Christian perspective, others would argue that point. In either case, what is indisputable is the presence of mind they possessed which enabled them to identify and question the underlying assumptions in their situation. These men, steeped in the classics, familiar as they were with Virgil, Dante, Aquinas, Machiavelli and More, were ideally suited to penetrate their circumstances and grasp those violations against the human person which were daily inflicted upon the colonists by England. Reading the signs of the times, having exhausted all reasonable means of diplomacy, they deemed it necessary, at no small cost, to proclaim these principles upon which free men must either stand or perish:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
At CHA we are acutely aware of the times in which we live, situated as we are within the broader culture. No longer is it commonplace for educated persons to question the underlying principles compelling society in one direction or another. Rarely do men agree upon the fundamental reality of the existence of objective Truth. The “something more” which marries reason to faith, has disappeared. What it means to be human, or to be free, are seldom topics of discussion. Whether or not a particular advancement in science or technology will serve the human person is not a question considered by the voices of today’s media nor even by those responsible for executing such advances.
While we enjoy the blessings of liberty fought for and won for us by the earliest Americans, do we remain vigilant in guarding that freedom against threats from within and from without? What form might modern day impediments to liberty assume?
Our CHA graduates are formed to perceive reality. Chesterton reminds us that only dead things flow with the current. A man fully alive must know when to swim upstream to survive. Such a man is a man of character – a man who recognizes, from experience, what is True, Good and Beautiful. He is willing to sacrifice for those principles which uphold the good of the human person and those axioms that support authentic freedom. Upstream he goes.
And beyond the natural inclination she may experience to tackle the culture, the CHA graduate lives her life, not according to a measure of typical worldly success, but according to leisure. Authentic leisure, that is. Leisure that leads one to contemplation and worship. In this way, the CHA graduate leavens the lump, for a culture is ultimately defined by its leisure. Leisure, per Josef Pieper, is “an attitude of mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to receive the reality of the world.”
The moral man of character, saturated in the classics, imbued with a Christian worldview and well-versed with the process of logical and rational thought, will ask the questions and consider the implications of all the facets of our modern era with a mind toward the Good.
Perhaps the astonishing, useful and at times problematic developments within the fields of science and technology will provide a poignant case. Ethical dilemmas abound with respect to emerging technologies: gene editing, artificial wombs, exoskeletons for the elderly (technology that aids labor but postpones retirement), marketing products by way of bone conduction and even head transplants. These are all in the works.
Which does our society need more desperately – scientists who will ask, “What can we do with all these rapidly advancing technologies?” Or scientists who will ask, “What ought we to do?” Ideally, today’s scientists will be both. We want scientists who think outside the box – ideally scientists who don’t even know a box exists – and who retain an unquenchable thirst for wonder while imagining marvelous possibilities. Simultaneously, these adventurous souls will only serve themselves and society well if they also possess a moral compass pointed due north – straight at what is objectively True, Good and Beautiful. What we need most desperately are scientists who are not only Christians who recognize the existence of a natural moral order and who recognize the human person as the pinnacle of God’s creation and exercise their art coherently, but who are also those who relentlessly ask questions about the morality of what they’re doing and possess the understanding and experience necessary to follow a rational train of thought to its logical conclusion.
Is a vague, or even highly committed, faith in God enough in our world today? Navigating the ever-changing landscape of a society with diminishing respect for the human person and the denial of the existence of objective reality within a culture opposed, on many fronts, to the Judeo-Christian paradigm requires a sound foundation in piety, logic, rhetoric, philosophy, theology and the components of rational thought.
Whether we consider new technological developments or the myriad of moral dilemmas occurring daily in the defense industry, accounting firms, Board rooms and halls of justice, who will ask first, not, “What is the cost analysis for this product?”, “What are the strategic ancillary marketing possibilities?”, “How can we win this case?”, “What are the R&D projections for the next two years?”, but instead, “Should we do this?”, “Is this something that will truly serve the human person?”, “How does this contribute to the authentic, objective values of Truth, Goodness and Beauty?”
Will our children ask these questions? Do we want to form them to possess the capacity to think this way? Will they be so committed to working only toward those things which are consistent with the Good that they will actually take a stand in their work places and pose the tough questions? What about in their neighborhoods? At their children’s schools? Will they be willing to quit their lucrative positions before they violate the ethic of working for the good of the human person? Will they know when and how to ask the questions that will lead others to see the Good?
Our ideal CHA graduate will understand what contributes to the good of the human person and what does not because her studies continue to present to her those things which are Good, True and Beautiful. She comes to know these things well because she is immersed in the best of what Western Civilization within the Judeo-Christian perspective has to offer throughout her entire CHA career. Not only in the early years, when she memorizes the basics, builds a strong Latin vocabulary and masters the fundamentals of reading and writing, but even more so as she steps into the rhetoric stage and clicks together all she has learned with emerging abstract concepts of justice, friendship, truth, goodness and beauty. Every day she grapples with the logical flow of reasoned thought. Little by little she becomes familiar with how to employ the tools of deduction and logic to understanding, recognizing and applying abstract principles to concrete scenarios through both the spoken and written word.
As a high school student he wrestles with burgeoning ideas of his own and measures these against the greatest, most profound and enduring insights and expressions of the great minds that have shaped our civilization. In these years, bolstered by a safe and accepting environment, he develops the independence necessary to think on his own, to learn to ask the right questions and to marshal these questions through the rational process necessary to arrive at Truth.
I hope our CHA graduates will be Truth seekers. Because they have come to understand the authentic nature of Truth, Goodness and Beauty, they will readily recognize their counterfeits and always sincerely seek what is real. They have learned how to learn. Their faith has grown and matured as their reason has sharpened and developed. Their work will lead them to wonder, wisdom and finally to worship. Though they have drunk deeply of Truth, Goodness and Beauty throughout their CHA careers, our goal is that they leave embracing the life God has for them ever thirsting for more.