Bunk-filled culture lacks critical thought

October 18, 2010

This morning I sat down to read the Edmonton Journal and saw the headline, “Gambling ban not in the cards.” Near the end of September, Archbishop Richard Smith issued a call to the Catholic School District to stop accepting funding raised by gambling.

The story quoted a piece the archbishop had previously written for The Journal accounting for his decision, part of which stated: “We recognize there are a range of practices that fall under the title ‘gambling,’ from harmless raffle tickets for a quilt to dangerous activities that feed addictive personalities and cause great harm, such as casinos. . . .

“Personal participation in a game of chance is, per se, morally neutral, but it does become morally problematic if it leads, for example, to addiction or deprives others of their due, such as family support.”

As a convert to Catholicism, reading these sentences sent excitement rushing through my veins. They have an unmistakable something about them, a something I first discovered when studying the thought of Thomas Aquinas and his complex but compelling philosophy, something I became familiar with while prayerfully perusing the Catechism: A succinct, yet packed style of explanation, a clear and crystalline common sense, a way of thinking about morality that was neither vague and flowery nor pragmatic and utilitarian, but was instead completely concrete while still thoroughly transcendentally-minded.


Ethical integrity and robust rationality — what better principles by which to govern education? This is Catholic thought at its best, and it was so exciting to encounter again because it is so rare.

I am from an evangelical background and am thus all too familiar with tortured arguments about just such topics as gambling offered by people crippled by bad theology and a lack of logical training. (“The soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes, and they were bad. Gambling is a sin.”)

Attending a public high school and a modern liberal arts college exposed me to more of the same, only on the other side of the equation — “I don’t believe in truth” is offered by some students with a straight face as a coherent sentiment.

Logic is a lost art, and common sense being uncommon is a common observation. A recent Pew Survey indicates that most “religious” people are quite ignorant of the faith they nominally profess. But New Age shallowness, therapeutic snake-oil-ism and self-help superstition are more prevalent and widely believed than ever.

The recently deceased cultural commentator Joseph Sobran famously observed, “In one century we went from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to offering remedial English in college.” How did we find ourselves in this tragic intellectual state?


It was once commonly held that God created the universe and thus was the source of all knowledge. Theology, therefore, was the queen of the sciences, and philosophy was her handmaiden. When God was dethroned from society, theology also lost its dominion. But rather than being elevated to that empty throne, philosophy ended up following her mistress into exile. After all, philosophers seem unable to give us the sort of certainty that say, the physical sciences furnish us with.

When we abandoned the perennial philosophy, we, consistently enough, scrapped the classical method of education along with it, which meant that the Trivium was no longer a necessary prerequisite to studying the other liberal arts.

The Trivium, in case you aren’t aware, consisted of grammar (suggesting that language has structure and that words are meaningful), rhetoric (enabling people to express themselves coherently and persuasively), and, sure enough, logic. Under classical education a student needed all three of these before he could advance on to something like astronomy or arithmetic.

Just as scurvy is a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C and can only be treated with vitamin C, the terminal case of the bunk our culture is afflicted with is caused by a deficiency of critical thought and the only remedy is a sound classical education informed by the perennial philosophy.

Thus we should applaud Archbishop Smith and all those who work to better Catholic education. Unfortunately, a renaissance of common sense appears nowhere on the horizon.

Yet hope is a theological virtue, and this is not the first time Christian civilization has been so threatened that it appeared to be on the brink of destruction.

There was also the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, where Christianity was also under serious threat from an alternative world view.

Then, that opponent was Islam as embodied in the Ottoman Empire, and the threat was in the form of a fleet of galleys.

Under the leadership of Don Juan of Austria and by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Christian forces won the day and arguably saved Christendom itself.

Pope Pius V promptly instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory to commemorate the battle on its anniversary: Oct. 7. Because it was the rosary that procured Our Lady’s aid, Pope Gregory XIII changed its name to the feast of the Holy Rosary two years later. In 1969, Pope Paul VI changed the title again, this time combining its previous two monikers into one: the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.


The interchangeability of the words “rosary” and “victory” is powerful in this context, and we should meditate deeply on this during the month devoted to the rosary.

When viewing the desolation of the intellectual landscape we need not despair. Not only does error have no rights, it also has a limited province. As well, we have not only the gift of eternal life but the weapons of prayer and of truth.

Pray, then, for Archbishop Smith and for all Church authorities; pray to St. Gregory the Great, St. John Baptist de la Salle, and St. John Cantius on behalf of Catholic educators; and pray the rosary daily, ever keeping in mind Our Lady’s 15 promises. The next generation may depend on it.