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Indispensable Supports

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity [happiness]. Let it simply be asked, “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligations desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?”

And let us w̲i̲t̲h̲ c̲a̲u̲t̲i̲o̲n̲ indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. ‘Tis substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it [free government] can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796


The First Natural Bond of Human Society

Forasmuch as each man is a part of the human race, and human nature is something social, and has for a great and natural good, the power also of friendship; on this account God willed to create all men out of one, in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind, but also by bond of kindred. Therefore the first natural bond of human society is man and wife. Nor did God create these each by himself, and join them together as alien by birth: but He created the one out of the other, setting a sign also of the power of the union in the side, whence she was drawn, was formed. For they are joined one to another side by side, who walk together, and look together whither they walk. Then follows the connection of fellowship in children, which is the one alone worthy fruit, not of the union of male and female, but of the sexual intercourse. For it were possible that there should exist in either sex, even without such intercourse, a certain friendly and true union of the one ruling, and the other obeying.

St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage (De Bono Conjugali) 401 A.D.


The Diagram of Love Himself

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves


“The Great Books”

Here is another fine example of a Reflective Essay, this time by Aaron Bryant. Aaron decided to reflect on one of his favorite pastimes — reading. I’m happy to share it with below.

The Great Books

By Aaron Bryant

I have been reading for as long as I can remember. I have never been an extraordinarily fast reader, I have never read a Dostoyevsky in a sitting, nor do I blaze through several books all at the same time. I take a long time with good books. Cornelia Funke, one of my favorite authors said, “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” Some books ought to be just tasted, not read as ravenously as any of the “greats.” What makes these books so good though? What makes those books I have chewed and digested truly worth reading?

I once compiled a list of some of my favorite books, though I am afraid that list would take far too long to read, so an abridged version would include Ready Player One, Ender’s Game, The Thief, Plugged, Insignia, Pathfinder, The Dragonback Series, The Harry Potter Series, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy not to mention some 20 odd others. These are books that have great characters, perfect dialogue, and astoundingly realistic worlds, or else they have confounded me with an amazing plot. One of my favorite books that does just this is Ender’s Game. It is set in the war-ravaged, post-apocalyptic future, where a brilliant ten-year-old boy joins a school that is engineered to produce commanders for the ongoing war against an invasive alien race that threatens the Earth’s very existence. The “Buggers” have sent their final fleet and Earth is scrounging a force together to counter it. Ender, the main character, is to be one of the grand commanders of this fleet, but far in the future when the Bugger fleet actually arrives at Earth, right? Well, I am not going to ruin the end for any prospective readers, but I will say that it completely blew me away.

The Thief is definitely another one of my favorite books. One reason I really enjoyed this book is that I really relate to the main character, Gen. He is a sarcastic, smart-mouth thief that boasts at a local tavern of his ability to steal anything. He is then imprisoned for showing off an important object that he stole from one of the lords of his country. He was, of course, immediately silenced, but word of his boast got around. He eventually was summoned into the queen’s presence and commanded to steal something very important from one of the hostile neighboring countries. This book also has a stunner of an ending that made me reread the book from the start to try to see it coming. These plot driven books are rather like the Inceptions of the reading world. A good one can fry your brain. So be careful.

My other favorite books like Ready Player One, Plugged, Pathfinder, The Dragonback Series, and the Harry Potter series are some of my favorites because they create amazingly realistic worlds along with some seemingly living, breathing characters who can almost jump off the page. I have also enjoyed books that make me think about myself or the future. They have made me question what I would have done if I was the main character, or what the future will look like. Will it be like Rot and Ruin or The Enemy, that have the world ending in the zombie apocalypse, or more like 1984 or The Hunger Games with a terrifyingly oppressive government and an underground rebellion. What about the distracted future of Ready Player One, in which almost all human contact is made through a virtual-reality videogame, or the future of The Dragonback Series or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which humans are but one of the vastly inferior alien races in outer space? In his novel A Dance With Dragons, author George R. R. Martin says through his character Jojen, “‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. . . . The man who never reads lives only one.’” With books, we can live through the lives of other people in situations that are impossible for us to experience otherwise.

A good book is a rare thing. A book that is truly great, however, is even rarer. Any book hoping to be recognized as one of the greats, though, will find itself hard pressed unless it has an incredible plotline or great characters. I agree with C. S. Lewis when he says, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” The tea would have to be East Texas sweet, but I would read for the rest of my life if I could.


“Finding Strength to Focus on Fear”

Each spring the Regents juniors and seniors write a Reflective Essay, or a Reflection. The students write essays all the time, but the Reflection is different. While most essays the students write are analytical, highly structured, persuasive, and reason-oriented, the Reflective Essay is speculative. Its aim is to ponder, to play with an idea, to share a conclusion after bringing the reader along on the journey toward that conclusion. If a Reflection makes an argument, it is because the author feels strongly about it more so than because the author is convinced of its truth.

I am particularly proud of Haley Duke’s Reflection, which is an essay-length meditation on her experience of fear. Haley is one of our rising seniors, and she always does fine work — but this essay is an especially striking creation. As I share it with you below, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Finding Strength to Focus on Fear

By Haley Duke

Fear is like a fire. Something sparks it into existence, but unlike a fire, a fear is not meant to be extinguished immediately. It could be a chemical fire that burns forever or maybe just a grass fire—small, hidden, but still there. That fear may even be a forest fire that consumes everything in its path. Or maybe it is a combination of all three. The worst fears, though, are the ones we fail to recognize even as the smoke fills the sky.

I used to be afraid of bad dreams. Many nights a particular nightmare clouded my sleep and I had to endure disturbing images of spiders amidst a deserted town. I was always alone in this frightening place when the most comforting thing would appear: my mother. Then she would disappear; quickly ripped away and replaced by something horrifying. When I felt I could no longer stand this haunted loneliness, the town would flood. The water would rise and rise and rise until I felt it envelop me. Then I drowned. The next morning I would wake up early and trudge down the stairs. I never made it very far though. I always ended up sitting at the bottom of the stairs, staring out the front windows of my home and watching the sunrise. I remember the sunlight streaming through the glass, pushing away the darkness of the night and the darkness in my heart. I saw specks of dust floating in the air and imagined they were my fears flying far, far away. I haven’t had that nightmare in over five years, but that doesn’t mean I never feel like I’m drowning in my fears. For they are my fears. Mine to control. They are a part of me just like my strength is a part of me.

Most of us are eager to show our strengths, but whether we like to admit it or not, we all are afraid of something. And I bet we all have more than one fear. I once read a book in which a group of people, called the Dauntless, were the risk takers of society. They were brave, but not truly fearless. Each of them had to go through a drug induced simulation in which they discovered and tried to overcome their greatest fears. Most people had somewhere in the range of twenty to thirty fears, but one boy only had four. I’ve always envied his lack of fear but I’ve also wondered what I would encounter if I took that test. Would I be able to narrow my fears down so that all I needed were my hands to count them? Let’s see: zombies, sharks, broken bones, handcuffs, serial killers, failure, depression, betrayal, death, and loneliness. There… ten of my greatest fears. I have recognized them.

After we recognize our fears, we become so worried about overcoming them, that we rarely realize how they change us. My dad is a big believer in recognizing fears and observing how they affect our actions. Whenever I am ranting about something, he calmly looks at me and asks, “What are you afraid of?” Most of the time, I find this question annoying; however, I come to realize that at the heart of my anger or sadness or pride, is a fear. Fears do that… they hide themselves. They sit in the eye of your storming emotions, surprising you when you least expect it. Perhaps I was angry because I feared being wrong. Or maybe I was sad because I was afraid that something horrible might happen. Maybe I was prideful or mean because I feared my own inadequacy. Whatever the situation, I find fears affecting my life. I am not a coward, though. My fears are natural insecurities experienced by any human being. My dad says that it takes strength to admit your fears and recognize the fears of others. It’s a superpower of sorts. We can use them for good or they can become our kryptonite. Everyone has these superpowers, so if you understand the fears, you understand the person. What I have finally realized is that there is nothing wrong with being afraid and I should use fears to my advantage.

Brave people feel the fiery heat of their fears, accept it, and move on. I don’t know if I’m one of those people, but I do know that the first time I ever acknowledged that my nightmare frightened me, was the first time it no longer scared me. If we thought of our fears as a part of us—a part of our strengths—maybe we could better understand not only ourselves but others.


Pastor Douglas Wilson on “Parenting Young People”

When it comes to parenting . . . our parental responsibility does not consist in getting young people to grit their teeth and conform to the standard. The task before us is to bring up our children in such a way as to love the standard. This is not possible to do with externally driven rules. It is a function of loyalty, and loyalty is based on love and relationship. We should consider what this looks like.

“My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be a chaplet of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck” (Prov. 1:8-9).

“My son, forget not my law; But let thy heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and years of life, and peace, will they add to thee. Let not kindness and truth forsake thee: Bind them about thy neck; Write them upon the tablet of thy heart: So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:1-4).

“My son, let them not depart from thine eyes; Keep sound wisdom and discretion: So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck” (Prov. 3:21-22).

“My son, keep the commandment of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: Bind them continually upon thy heart; Tie them about thy neck. When thou walkest, it shall lead thee; When thou sleepest, it shall watch over thee; And when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee” (Prov. 6:20-22).

First, the instruction of your father and the law of your mother should be treated as a garland of grace for the head, and as an ornamental chain around the neck (Prov. 1:9). Second, a young person should take care to bind kindness and truth around his neck, and he does this by not forgetting his father’s law, and by cultivating a heart that keeps his commandments (Prov. 3:3). The result is a blessed life. Third, sound wisdom and discretion is life to the soul, and grace around the neck (Prov. 3: 22). And last, take up the commandments of your father, and do not abandon the law of your mother. Tie them onto your heart, and hang them around your neck. These are not a good luck charm, but Solomon almost speaks of them as though they were. But this is blessing, not luck. This is the triune God of all grace, and not some rabbit’s foot.

Obedience to parents is therefore a young person’s glory. What do you do with what your parents have asked? You do not trudge off reluctantly, muttering to yourself. No, the standard set forth in Scripture is to take what you have been asked to do and hang it around your neck like you would do with an Olympic gold medal that you had just won. If an athlete comes in first in the Olympics, he does not stuff the medal into his gym bag and slouch off halfway through the national anthem, No . . . what do you do with your glory?

Now this is the point where many parents are elbowing each other, and praying that their little pill of an adolescent is listening. This is the point where some are doing all they can to refrain from looking down their row to see if somebody is paying attention. But this is not a life of ease for parents, and the glory of raw obedience for teenagers, an obedience that drops mysteriously out of the sky. It does not work this way. Obedience, the kind described here, arises from personal loyalty, and this loyalty arises from love. Where does love come from? As always, God models it for us. What He asks us to do, He shows us how to do. And we love Him because He loved us first (1 John 4:19). And if we want our young people to love us, with grace around the neck, then we must show them how it is worn.


Who Are You Becoming?

Three Quotes by C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity:

We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it — whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a ‘virtue,’ and it is this quality or character that really matters.

I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.


Listen to Milton

Three thought-provoking quotes by John Milton (1608-74), author of “On Education”:

I will point ye out the right path of a virtuous and noble Education; laborious indeed at first ascent, but else so smooth, so green, so full of goodly prospect, and melodious sounds on every side, that the harp of Orpheus was not more charming.

Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.

The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.