Monday, June 20, 2016

Learning From the Dead

Though he died, he still speaks.
- Hebrews 11.4

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
- GK Chesterton

Very early in life, we learn to learn from our mistakes. We intuitively know that it is in our best self-interest to pay attention to what brings health, fulfillment, and success, and what doesn’t. However, as life is short and our bank of experiences limited, the wiser among us also realize the importance of learning from the experiences of others, which includes the dead.

When I was around 10 years old, my dad decided to see if he could expand my choice of reading materials from Green Lantern and Superman comic books to something a bit more substantive. Toward this end, he would listen for whomever I seemed to admire and then leave a short biography of the person on my bed. It worked. I loved reading about Albert Einstein, Mickey Mantle, Madam Curie, and George Washington. While unaware of it at the time, this was a crucial aspect of my development, as I was learning about what was required of me to be successful in life, not just regarding the honing of skill-sets, but also the importance of character. I was learning, albeit unconsciously, from the lives of others.

It was during my senior year of high school, in my Honors American Prose and Literature class, that my unconscious learning from others became conscious. (Thank you, Mrs. Cogar!) Now, it wasn’t only biographies on the living and the dead who were teaching and inspiring me, but, also, fictitious characters and stories. The stories of authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorn, Edgar Alan Poe, William Faulkner, and Flannery O’Conner didn’t simply entertain me, they were teaching me about human nature, ethics, wisdom, and the quest for redemption.

Wisdom From Across the Ages
Whether it is the right ordering of the soul and our lives, or the right ordering of society, for century after century the wise have always sought out a body of literature that contains ideas and ideals that have been tried and found true regarding First Principles and Permanent Things: classics where “time and timelessness intersect.” (TS Eliot) This body of literature includes fantasy, fiction, poetry, biography, history, classical philosophy and Christian theology. Western Civilization grew out of such a particular bank of wisdom that guided our ancestors in their quest to discover and pass on to future generations the ultimate values and virtues of a prosperous and harmonious society.

(Today, most people in the US are clueless, or worse, uninterested, regarding the books that were seminal in the development of Western Civilization and the founding of our nation. This helps explain much of the loss of faith, humanity, vision, identity, purpose, and the demise of all that made us a civil society that we are presently experiencing.)

As we seek to order our lives and our culture, wondering where the path of wisdom and truth lies, relying solely on our own wits and intelligence will leave us wandering down corridor after corridor of confusion and dismay. God’s wisdom, which has been providentially revealed over the ages, calls to us offering knowledge and understanding. Only the naive or foolish will ignore the offer.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2016

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