8 July, 2020
Healthy human culture is inextricably linked to religion. Dawson and others have argued that ethical systems are unsustainable in the long term apart from a trust in the immanence of a good God:
‘Human nature always retains its spiritual character – its bond with the transcendent and the divine. If it were to lose this, it must lose itself and become the servant of lower powers, so that secular civilization, as Nietzsche saw, inevitably leads to nihilism and to self-destruction.’ (Christopher Dawson, The Formation of Christendom).
This is a hard saying that will understandably anger many of our friends who have no religious belief yet are highly moral in their lives and aspirations. Many such people have a religious background in the sense that they are well informed about the claims of religion yet choose to reject them: their quarrel is more with the institutional church than with God himself. Transcendent moral teaching remains their yardstick, even while doubting its source and denying the immanence of God.
But what about what we might call ‘the second generation’ of sceptics, those who have never had any kind of religious contact or formation? In modern Western societies they now constitute a majority. They think of themselves not as dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants, but as masters of a world of their own making. That explains the extent of the terror that Covid has unleashed on their world: it reminds them that they are not fully in control. Not a nice feeling if you don’t believe in objective truth and think that you can manufacture your own.
Science is their only saviour. Or at least Science as they understand it or would like it to be. But Dawson reminds us (in the same work quoted above):
‘The conception of the universe as an intelligible order has inspired the whole development of Western science, alike in classical antiquity and in modern times; and in the formative period of modern science from Galileo to Newton the belief in God as first cause and creator of the order of nature, as well as the supreme governor and lawgiver of the moral world formed an essential part of the scientific [view of the world].’
Take God out of the equation and science can be a dangerous ally. Germany after World War I was probably the most highly-educated nation on earth. Where did that lead? Without an overarching moral firmament Science can lead us into strange and sometimes sinister corners of the imagination: theories to justify racial inequality, for example, or to deny the physical realities of human sexuality.
Justice also takes a tumble when lawmakers forget the Source of all law and Truth becomes merely relative, when practitioners appear to give higher priority to winning, at almost any cost, than to their ethical obligations.
Western Christian Civilisation is in a perilous state. But here’s another thought from Dawson:
‘It is true that Christianity is not bound up with any particular race or culture. It is neither of the East or of the West, but has a universal mission to the human race as a whole…’
It may indeed happen that Western civilisation becomes overwhelmed, as other cultures have been throughout history, but we can be confident that God will have the last word.
Our website has been radically re-designed. Please take a look. Our thanks go to our Patron, Archbishop Porteous, for making that possible.
Most talks delivered to the Centre in recent years have been recorded and are available online at our own site on SoundCloud.
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A SUMMER SCHOOL IN PHILOSOPHY?
Our summer schools reflect my personal interests and skills (such as they are). I would very much like to extend their range and offer a one-week intensive course next January in Philosophy, . Would anyone be interested in teaching it?
‘ACKNOWLEDGE PAST INJUSTICE WITHOUT REWRITING HISTORY’ – Gerard Henderson on race relations.
CAN DEMOCRACY SURVIVE? Alan Moran: ‘A Democracy If We Can Keep It’.
DIALOGUE WITH ISLAM. Onetime Dawson Centre guest speaker Samuel Green debateswith Adnan Rashid: ‘was Christ crucified?’.
A TOLERANT SOCIETY?
The incomparable Brendan O’Neill on ‘the Cancel Culture‘.
KARL MARX THE RACIST? Augusto Zimmermann in Quadrant.
With best wishes always,
FOR YOUR DIARY
Our programme of speakers is in disarray after the Pandemic lockdown. I’m kick-starting it myself by offering the following:
‘The Skin of our Teeth’: Medieval Book Production
Hotel Soho, Davey Street, Hobart
Thursday 27 August, 2020 (to be confirmed)
6.00 pm, followed by two-course dinner, $35 per person (drinks not included), booking essential
The survival of Western Civilisation is almost entirely due to the monks and nuns who copied books by hand in the so-called Dark ages and in the Middle Ages that followed. This talk will describe the methods of writing, assembling and distributing the precious documents that have come down to us. Examples of original manuscripts will be on display and can be handled.
1. MEDIEVAL LATIN, 11-15 JANUARY 2021
This course, now in its 27th year, offers a general introduction to post-classical Latin, poetry and prose, sacred and secular. We shall read some splendid literature that has had a formative influence on Western Civilisation. Some prior knowledge of Latin is assumed. There will be an introduction to palaeography, including an opportunity to handle original manuscripts.
2. NEW TESTAMENT GREEK, 18-22 JANUARY 2021
An intensive course in the koine Greek of the New Testament. We shall read passages from the Epistles and Gospels, as well as the Septuagint and Christian literature of the apostolic age. The course is aimed at beginners, but it is strongly recommended that all learn the Greek alphabet before commencing; exercises will be posted out beforehand to assist with that.
Both January Summer Schools will be held at Jane Franklin Hall (University of Tasmania), 6 Elboden Street, South Hobart.
ROME LATIN SUMMER SCHOOL, 5–16 JULY 2021
Following the success of the Rome Latin Summer School in July 2019 we aim to run a repeat in 2021 for those who missed out, and for any others interested. The intensive two-week course is a study of Roman and Medieval Culture and the growth of Western and Christian civilisation through the medium of the Latin language. It is not intended for beginners, but for those who, though new to Latin, have studied other languages and are willing to do some hard work on their own in the meantime. Classes are taught in the mornings, leaving the afternoons free for walking and talking. It is planned to include a tour to Naples and Pompeii.
This course will be taught at the Bernardi Campus of the University of St Thomas, in the Prati district west of the Tiber.
Our annual conference has been postponed one year to 25 – 26 June 2021. We’ll be a year older, and perhaps wiser. It will be worth waiting for!
The theme will be secondary education, with a particular focus on the development of the spiritual and religious dimension of human nature. See our website for further details.