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Disciple: one who knows the story of which his life is necessarily situated. The fulfillment of his human vocation will very largely depend on how closely the story in which he rather unconsciously imagines himself to be participating accords with the actual situation of his existence, of the world in which he lives, and of the unique circumstances of his moment in that unfolding drama.
All has taken place as if the normal domain of man, even the believing man, were the secular domain; as if it were understood in advance that, in order to interest men seriously, it was necessary to speak to them of other things besides religion itself. Other things that were often excellent, indeed, necessary, but that were found to be a pretext for avoiding the essential. – Henri de Lubac, SJ
A 2004 presentation by René Girard to the Stanford University Catholic Community.
In this 1997 presentation Gil Bailie provides a guided tour of the history of history. History actually has a history. It was not always the case that humans lived in history. That is what lies behind the idea of ‘pre-historic’ human experience which was purely cyclical and mythic in nature. With the advent of the biblical God’s call to Abram to come out of his ‘pre-historic’ culture the human race begins a journey towards an unknown horizon.
This journey’s path leads to the Advent of an incarnation in Bethlehem, through the dusty roads of Roman Judea where death from crucifixion opens a tomb and ultimately to the parousia and revelation of Jesus Christ as the universal Lord of history.
Advent is the road for those with a journey to make, where we look back with contrition and forward with hope.
In a lecture on the work of historian Christopher Dawson given in 1993, Russell Hittinger wrote:
“From his first published work, Progress and Religion (1929), to the lectures given during the twilight of his career in America, he was emphatic in the judgment that the chief enemy of culture is not liberalism or the other secular religions of progress but technology.” Indeed, early in his writing career Dawson spoke dismissively of “the weary old religion of progress.”
Fall has arrived with shorter days, cooler nights, the beginning of another school year…. And our annual Fall Appeal. This is our only direct request for support we make each year, and we hope it finds you safe and well from the ravages of the pandemic and any of the other calamities afflicting our land and world. Last year amid local fires and national turmoil Gil Bailie and I did our best to stay on the job ‘keeping faith and breaking ground’. Gil’s latest manuscript is currently being reviewed by a publisher and we have completed bringing several of Gil’s presentations from the 1990’s, including the latest – Reflections on the Bible: Creation, Fall, & Sacrifice, into the digital age. You may listen to an excerpt from this here:
With the help of those who find our efforts worthy of support we hope to continue this work as Gil begins a new writing project and we bring more items from the audio archives into our podcast libraries as well as CD and MP3 offerings in our webstore.
We invite you to read Gil’s reflections on adapting to our current cultural and historical situation and also about our current efforts to engage with Christian classical educators. Thank you for your interest in our efforts, and we ask you to please respond generously to our request for support.
Our introduction over the summer to Christian classical education opened our eyes to the possibilities of engagement with this important and vibrant alternative to government schools and academic institutions where Christian faith and culture are increasingly scorned. Among those leading this educational renewal René Girard’s influence is already apparent in the concept of ‘mimetic teaching’ adapted from one of Gil Bailie’s articles in 2006. Our interest in this, however, began a few years before Gil’s article appeared.
In the first years of the new millennium we were contacted by a woman who was the founder and head of a prestigious private school in Washington DC. She invited us to come to her home and discuss how Gil’s work might be made available to a wider audience. She eventually decided to fund the initial iteration of what later became the Emmaus Road Initiative. That multi-year project brought Gil Bailie to a dozen venues across the country and ultimately came to fruition in the publication of God’s Gamble – The Gravitational Power of Crucified Love. In our conversations with her over the subsequent years she expressed apprehension at the societal and academic changes she saw effecting the education of children and adolescents. Often the identification of the underlying causes of this concern were difficult to pinpoint among all the noise and distractions of rapidly evolving technologies and educational theories, but the evidence was obvious – education was in trouble. When our patroness passed away in 2009 a movement known as Classical Liberal Education was already well underway that would begin to address the underlying causes in primary and secondary schools through a return to basic educational principles found in the teaching of grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the trivium) and arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry (the quadrivium).
Needless to say, this approach is no minor adjustment to the current Common Core educational schema but rather a dramatic deviation and rejection of it. Homeschooling Christian families became interested in this alternative to the secular curricula available from the educational establishment. Today there are many rapidly growing Christian classical schools around the country.
With the help of some on our board of directors who have experience in Christian/Catholic classical education Gil and I have been learning how our efforts may align with both classical educators and those training them. We look forward in the coming months and years to exploring ways for integrating our efforts into these educational renewal projects.
Schools have recently become another point of contention in the on going remaking of culture where “woke” elites have felt it necessary to overhaul traditional values and standards in order to instantiate the autonomous cosmopolitan gender fluid ‘new person’ in the lives of school children. It looks as if they may have pushed this too far for many parents who during the pandemic lockdowns witnessed some of this propaganda being foisted onto their children. For many parents this is not acceptable. However, with public schools being funded by property taxes and private schools charging tuition it is difficult for financially struggling parents to find alternatives. Charter schools, some of which have undertaken the classical liberal education model, are one option. Many Catholic schools have begun to transition to the classical model as well. But until parents are given the freedom to choose the school they wish to send their children to by means of some kind of voucher system the government run schools will have the advantage of public funding.
One of the vendors at the conferences we attended this summer has produced a short video about the historical setting of public education in America and the alternative perspectives fostered in classical liberal education. We feel even this depiction, lacking as it does a mimetic understanding of personhood, shows where the work we do can help provide a more Catholic and grounded understanding of the goals of education.
We will be keeping those interested in our work updated on our efforts to bring René Girard’s mimetic theory and the insights of Catholic thought to bear on these important topics. But, as we always say, none of this would be possible without the support we receive from our donors and the prayers of all who find value in our efforts. Please make a donation if you find our work helpful. We wish all a happy Thanksgiving and a blessed Advent!
“There are certain times when one sees springing up in every direction the symptoms of an evil which catches on like an epidemic … To those who are afflicted by it, everything becomes matter for denigration, and this is not just a case of irony, quarrelsomeness or bitterness which are at all times a perpetual threat to a certain kind of temperament. Everything gets a bad construction put upon it, and knowledge of all kinds, even when accurate, only serves to intensify the evil. Half-digested new discoveries and clumsily used new techniques are all so many occasions for believing that the traditional foundations of things have become shaky. The spiritual life goes but limpingly – so much so that nothing is really seen in the light of it any more.”Henri de Lubac
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you …”Rudyard Kipling
Is there a more a more succinct assessment of the situation we face today?
One of the frequent joys of bringing Gil Bailie’s recorded presentations from analog cassette tape into the digital world involves finding a reference to long forgotten experiences such as the following:
Below is a link to the YouTube video of the Pecos Bill story Gil mentioned. This video includes a short lead-in about the the Rabbit Ears Entertainment company. The Pecos Bill episode begins at 2:00 minutes – and will be interrupted occasionally with ads. Enjoy!
Amid all of the critical re-evaluations of all things American so prominently on display in current repudiations of US history no doubt this particular story would not pass muster by our ever vigilant overseers. The brutal treatment of animals and racist tone of the voicing will likely bring down the cancel curtain at some point. However, if one were to suspend such judgements long enough to take in the voice(s) of Robin Williams, the music of Ry Cooder, and the drawings of Tim Raglin as they weave this version of the uniquely American Pecos Bill tale it might be possible to hear and experience a bit of that underlying story that made America what many of us feel to be a great country.
In preparing for the In Memorium blog post earlier this month I had been rereading Lawrence Wright’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Looming Tower – Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. In the book Wright referenced an interview Osama Bin Laden gave to ABC News journalist John Miller in 1998. The leader of Al Qaeda is asked about his view of the future of American involvement in the Middle East, his response ends with this (seen in hind sight) prophetic statement:
We anticipate a black future for America. Instead of remaining United States, it shall end up separated states and shall have to carry the bodies of its sons back to America.Osama Bin Laden in an interview with ABC news journalist John Miller in May 1998
It is of interest that Mr. Bin Laden 23 years ago seemed to envision a state of affairs in America that closely resembles what we are experiencing today. Only a month ago we witnessed the bodies of 13 of our soldiers being returned from Afghanistan to US soil where the divisions between Americans have become deeper than at any time since the Civil War. The increasing reciprocal distain expressed by progressives and conservatives for one another has been tearing apart the social fabric of the United States for years. Each side righteously excoriates the other as the source of all the problems facing the nation. There is no longer any expectation of compromise. It is a zero-sum game. The Republican and Democratic politicians who only a couple of generations ago used to socialize together rarely do so now. Such behavior would be tantamount to betrayal.
In the US today the out of power conservative factions do what they can to obstruct the woke corporate and governmental elites who have eschewed policies of toleration to demand obedience to their dictates. If and when elections reverse the positions it will be no surprise to find a similar state of affairs will obtain. One need only recall the experience of the Trump presidency. The narrative broadcast by pundits of the opposing sides appears to follow a template of outrage, disdain, and mockery when describing their opponents while praising the vision and strengths (and downplaying or ignoring the failures and foibles) of their own leaders.
What will come of this? I revert to another prophetic source, the efficacy of which may be as suspect as Bin Laden’s but comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition in the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s 1997 song Not Dark Yet that ends:
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer / It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.