"It is essential that we enable young people to see themselves as participants in one of the most exciting eras in history, and to have a sense of purpose in relation to it." -Nelson Rockefeller
This quote from one of the best presidents the United States never had probably speaks to each generation; it is especially relevant though to our times. Arts Week allows us to see on display the extraordinary talents of our young people. I marvel at how well our student actors, artists and musicians can perform. True, we have put the means and resources before them, but they constantly respond and surprise us with their talents. We should all be grateful that here we continue to expose our young people to the best in art, literature and music. At a period in history where so much of Western Civilization is being dismantled and belittled, it is important and necessary to ensure we don’t totally dispense with the great good that has come along with it. Far too often, nay-sayers who know little of real history, are quick to condemn the Judeo-Christian values that have produced much of what the world, up until very recent times, has considered as the greatest manifestations of art, literature and music, not to mention the democratic principles and ethical standards upon which the Western world has based its civilization.
It continues to puzzle me when I hear of another statue being taken down or another textbook being removed to acquiesce to some group’s penchant for political correctness or anger against a previously dominant “other” group. History can be viewed honestly without terrorist tactics or iconoclastic outbursts of rage. Sadly, and too often such an approach is little more than an opportunity to exact revenge. Advocates of this confused revisionism seldom, if ever, consider the cost, but there is a cost.
It seems to me this gradual disintegration of established values, best embodied in the ethical and spiritual traditions upon which Western Civilization has its foundation, has quickly resulted in seeing and accepting mediocrity as the norm. (My apologies to mediocrity!) If one has never heard of the beauty of a Beethoven sonata then it can be understood, on one level at least, that Young Thug ft. Gunna “Chains Choking Me” might just be a winner. As one who occasionally still enjoys a song or two from a worn out Pink Floyd album, I understand the attraction to popular music but I do recognise it is not, and never will be in the same category as Mozart or Wagner. More significantly, popular music, like some modern art and literature cannot and does not transmit the same degree of meaning. Harry Potter novels may be an enjoyable read for some, not me, but it is simply ridiculous to confuse it with the merits of reading something written by a great author. To confound categories is to misunderstand the true essence of meaning and how and where we discover meaning. Naturally, I could apply this to many other aspects of culture and its broader definition – civilization. The point is there is much to be lost if we continue down this already very soiled path. Aristotle had it right when he declared that the worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.
The implications should be obvious as this relates to the education of the young. We replace things of quality because we ourselves are uncomfortable or we are made to feel uncomfortable, or even guilty, if we baulk at something due to misguided political agendas, which some day too, may no longer be in favour. We have forgotten that things can be good without being perfect. In the meanwhile, we can deprive our young people of what is best. These include the real and valuable contributions of Western art, music, literature, religion and philosophy. For what it is worth, from my vantage point, the moral relativism of our time, the culture of death imposed on believers, the obsession with the individual, the derision of Christian morality, and the distortion of marriage and family life, are hardly worthy substitutions and, if continued to thrive, will be the demise of a world of meaning and purpose. This crisis is very much the result of mistaking what is genuine and meaningful with what is fraudulent and expedient.
To those who revel in pointing out the supposed and genuine evils in Western culture, should be aware that many young people have figured out the shallowness of this agenda and the void it creates. Young people who are the beneficiaries of an education that values the best of the past will find meaning in the present and bring a sense of purpose to the future. If allowed to participate, I believe they may find the courage to turn the current course in a better direction.
Brother Domenic, fsc