In The Idea of a Christian Society, published nearly 60 years ago, T. S. Eliot assesses with startling prescience our present condition–and he lays the blame firmly on the liberal philosophy:

We are living at present in a kind of doldrums between opposing winds of doctrine, in a period in which one political philosophy [liberalism] has lost its cogency for behavior, though it is still the only one in which public speech can be framed. This is very bad for the English language: it is this disorder (for which we are to blame) and not individual insincerity, which is responsible for the hollowness of many political and ecclesiastical utterances.

Eliot argues that modern liberalism vacates the societies it husbands of the very beliefs that made liberalism such a viable and powerful force in history. Liberalism discards “as superfluous or obsolete” vital “elements in historical Christianity” upon which it based its anthropology and doctrine of liberty. It confounds these vital elements “with practices and abuses which are legitimate objects of attack.”

The outcome is that our deepest convictions about the dignity of the human person and the transcendental nature of freedom are ripped from their religious sources and lose legitimization. An empty and fruitless shell is left that may be filled with whatever dogma or ideology is favored at the moment.


There is divine beauty in learning,
just as there is human beauty in tolerance.
To learn means to accept the postulate
that life did not begin at my birth.
Others have been here before me,
and I walk in their footsteps.
The books I have read were composed
by generations of fathers and sons,
mothers and daughters,
teachers and disciples.
I am the sum total
of their experiences, their quests.
And so are you.

Elie Wiesel

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act. Action will delineate and define you. You will find out from your actions. But you must act as an “I,” as an individual, because you can be certain only of your own needs, inclinations, passions, necessities. Only this kind of action is direct and is a genuine extricating of yourself from chaos, self-creation. As for the rest: isn’t it mere recitation, execution of a preordained plan, rubbish, kitsch?

Witold Gombrowicz

I have been reading tonight in Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the development of the novel and I began to revaluate the ways in which language can become archaic. I began to recognize connections between what his article is articulating about the development of the novel out of various genres: epic, chivalric romance, pastorals, etc. and the growing arcane nature of the Christian church and faith. I have over the past four years or so been struggling like any seemingly normal college student does when they move away from home with my own existence, my growing anxieties with my own faith, my preconceptions or conceptions that have been handed down about God, about relation to him. I have been disillusioned by the language of the church, the increasing incapability of the institution of religion to meet the spiritual needs of my generation or myself.

Mikhail’s article deals primarily with the development of the novel from the epic. The idea being that the genre of the novel is unique from other genres of literature in that it is the sole genre that continues to develop, that is as yet uncompleted. He contends that other genres like the epic have solidified into fixed forms that fail at being relevant to our present-day reality.

What the novel did well as a young genre is that it was able, because it was outside of the fraternity of older genres, to parody them, to expose the conventionality of their forms and their language. In other words, it did a good job of re-formulating and re-accentuating the older genres.

The novel is a more free and flexible medium for narrative discourse because it allows the writer and the reader to approach the subject not from an epic distance but from a dynamic yet closer look at the present in a way that allows us to see life as it is in some ways. It allows for humor, satire. It allows us to approach life in a new way; instead of looking at life through the parable of Cain and Abel, or the life of Jesus, it brings us to the real present in a way that allows us to more sensitively and deeply view the subject; to expose it, to lay it bare.

Like the epic, the church fails to have effective ways to criticize itself. It seems to me that the goal of the church is not a living and organic form but a calcified abstract and encyclopedic comprehensiveness. To understand what I mean by this one can look no further than the current trend towards the empty lyrics that drive the contemporary Christian music industry.

The problem that Christians today face is not that the lack of high ideals, or the willingness to grow in faith, but the failure to acknowledge the real world; we have become complacent. We have lost connection with the present. We fail to be open-ended, to acknowledge the world in its indeterminacy, to establish a living contact with unfinished, still-evolving contemporary reality (the open-ended now).

Basically what I am trying to say is that our relation to God was root in the deep faith of those primitive peoples that began forming myths. Those myths developed over time in the western world until they were usurped by Christians. As Christianity grew and fused with the tenets of Western thought, the language of the myth was brought high. Like the epic, whose place was in the high culture of the Greco-roman world, so too was the language of our spiritual myths taken to the high culture of the Roman Catholic church.

What has happened today to the language of faith is that it like the epic poem has lost its eros, its power, its ability to cut deeply, it has lost the Word cutting into the words. For this, it struggles to analyze and adapt to the contemporary reality. Our perspective to the world has changed in the last 2000 years, so has the modern consciousness changed. The church fails to develop a mode of being like the novel to challenge, morph, analyze, parody, bring close the realities of our current world.

I think until this happens our relation to God through the church will suffer. It is because of this inability to meet the spiritual needs of the people through language that people have begun to seek out other means of spirituality as a means of achieving wholeness.

Any relation to faith these days must honestly look at a world with genocide, increasing environmental decay, intense poverty. We must not as a faith turn our backs on the reality of the world.

“It is not what you keep, but what you give that makes you happy. We make our living by what we get. We make our life by what we give. Whatever you do, strive to do it so well that no man living and no man dead, and no man yet to be born can do it any better. As we face the unpredictable future, have faith that man and God will assist us all the way.”

“I am disturbed, I am uneasy about men because we have no guarantee that when we train a man’s mind, we will train his heart; no guarantee that when we increase a man’s knowledge, we will increase his goodness. There is no necessary correlation between knowledge and goodness.”

“There is an air of expectancy at Morehouse College. It is expected that the student who enters here will do well. It is also expected that once a man bears the insignia of a Morehouse Graduate, he will do exceptionally well. We expect nothing less….May you perform so well that when a man is needed for an important job in your field, your work will be so impressive that the committee of selection will be compelled to examine your credentials. May you forever stand for something noble and high. Let no man dismiss you with a wave of the hand or a shrug of the shoulder.”

“It must be borne in mind that the tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is sin.”

” It will not be sufficient for Morehouse College, for any college, for that matter, to produce clever graduates, men fluent in speech and able to argue their way through; but rather honest men, men who can be trusted in public and private – who are sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society and who are willing to accept responsibility for correcting the ills.”

Q: Was it hard for you to have been carrying that interim tag for so many months?

A: No. I’ve always been lucky that I understand and enjoy the day-to-day part of coaching and working with a group and recognize that importance of all that goes on on the inside a team. It is essential that you concentrate on the part you can control and not worry about the rest. I’ve always been lucky to have had that part and to have enjoyed that part over the years. I think that’s only been reinforced because when you work with good players and teams and have a two-way respect for what’s being done everything is reinforced in the right way.

I’ve always believed that challenges are important and I’ve been lucky to have had different ones. When I’ve been asked about national team, I’ve always said it is a great honor, now that’s the case without a doubt. It’s a challenge that I continue to be excited about, proud to be in this position.

Q: I’m sure you’ve been asked this question, but here goes anyway: Is this your dream job?

Bruce was the coach for eight years, he is one of my great fiends. Before Bruce, Manny [Schellscheidt] was a national team coach. I look at all the people that have had the opportunity and think about the different people involved in coaching on all levels everyday who would give anything to be as involved as I am.

At certain times this year, I’ve been asked about Mooch [the late Glenn Myernick]. He was also a great friend and an example to all of us in terms of just making a positive impact across the board with his service to the game in this country. To have this opportunity on behalf of all these people a great honor.

[This web version of “The Decay of Lying” is based on the text from Volume 7 of The Complete Writings of Oscar Wilde (New York: The Nottingham Society, 1909). Wilde’s original text has no notes, and all links have been added by George P. Landow, who scanned the text and converted it to html.]

CYRIL (coming in through the open window from the terrace). My dear Vivian, don’t coop yourself up all day in the library. It is a perfectly lovely afternoon. The air is exquisite. There is a mist upon the woods, like the purple bloom upon a plum. Let us go and lie on the grass and smoke cigarettes and enjoy Nature.

VIVIAN. Enjoy Nature! I am glad to say that I have entirely lost that faculty. People tell us that Art makes us love Nature more than we loved her before; that it reveals her secrets to us; and that after a careful study of Corot and Constable we see things in her that had escaped our observation. My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out. When I look at a landscape I [3/4] our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.

CYRIL. Well, you need not look at the landscape. You can lie on the grass and smoke and talk.

VIVIAN. But Nature is so uncomfortable. Grass is hard and lumpy and damp, and full of dreadful black insects. Why, even Morris’s poorest workman could make you a more comfortable seat than the whole of Nature can. Nature pales before the furniture of ‘the street which from Oxford has borrowed its name,’ as the poet you love so much once vilely phrased it. I don’t complain. If Nature had been comfortable, mankind would never have invented architecture, and I prefer houses to the open air. In a house we all feel of the proper proportions. Everything is subordinated to us, fashioned for our use and our pleasure. Egotism itself, which is so necessary to a proper sense of human dignity, is entirely the result of indoor life. Out of doors one becomes abstract and [4/5] the park here, I always feel that I am no more to her than the cattle that browse on the slope, or the burdock that blooms in the ditch. Nothing is more evident than that Nature hates Mind. Thinking is the most unhealthy thing in the world, and people die of it just as they die of any other disease. Fortunately, in England at any rate, thought is not catching. Our splendid physique as a people is entirely due to our national stupidity. I only hope we shall be able to keep this great historic bulwark of our happiness for In any years to come; but I am afraid that we are. beginning to be overeducated; at least everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching — that is really what our enthusiasm for education has come to. In the meantime, you had better go back to your wearisome uncomfortable Nature, and leave me to correct my proofs. [5/6]

CYRIL. Writing an article! That is not very consistent after what you have just said.

VIVIAN. Who wants to be consistent? The dullard and the doctrinaire, the tedious people who carry out their principles to the bitter end of action, to the reductio ad absurdum of practice. Not I. Like Emerson, I write over the door of my library the word “Whim.” Besides, my article is really a most salutary and valuable warning. If it is attended to, there may be a new Renaissance of Art.

CYRIL. What is the subject?

VIVIAN. I intend to call it “The Decay of Lying: A Protest.”
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