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  • « Images of the Savior (29 – His Answering the Syro-Phoenician Woman) | Main | "I've Been Reading...": Quotable Quotes from Excellent Books, Issue 4- C. R. Biggs »

    "I've Been Reading...": Quotable Quotes from Excellent Books, Issue 3- C. R. Biggs

    A Contemporary Class of Monks?

    Prof. Morris Berman (Johns Hopkins Univ), in his new book 'Twilight of American Culture', argues for a new "monastic option" in order to engage in culture preservation in our contemporary cultural crisis. His solution for combating the decline of culture in America is to consciously preserve culture as a contemporary class of monks. His ideas are quite interesting and I submit this quotation for your consideration and thought.

    The context in which he writes the following is that he has argued for the decline in American culture and particularly in the decline of American character. He asserts that something personally (not governmentally) must be done to consciously try to preserve the good culture in America. He writes:

    "...I am referring to a group of individuals, specifically, monks- - who were not able to fit into the disintegrating landscape of the Roman Empire, and who experienced themselves as strangers in a strange land. What Roman culture had discarded, these monks treated as valuable; what the culture found worthwhile, they perceived as stupid or destructive. And so, beginning in the fourth century A.D., these men took it upon themselves to preserve the treasures of Greco-Roman civilization as the lights of their own culture were rapidly fading. In Ireland, and on the Continent, they sequestered and copied the books and manuscripts that represented the greatest cultural achievements of that civilization--material that, six hundred years later, proved to be a crucial factor in the dawn of a new European culture.

    ...When I speak of a contemporary class of monks...I do not, of course mean that literally. I am not talking about asceticism or religious practice, and certainly not organization into monastic orders. But I am talking about renunciation. Todays "monk" is determined to resist the spin and hype of the global corporate world order; he or she knows the difference between reality and theme parks, integrity and commercial promotion. He regards Starbucks as a sad plastic replica of the gritty (or bohemian) cafe' of bygone days.

    She has no truck with the trendy "wisdom" of the New Age, and instead seeks guidance about the human condition from Flaubert or Virginia Woolf, rather than the latest guru tossed up by the media or counterculture. Computers and the Internet are, for such a person, useful tools, not a way of life, and she understands that both the Republican and Democratic parties represent corporate interests, rather than genuine democracy.

    She has no problem being labeled an elitist, because she agrees with Garrison Keillor that "what's really snooty is to put out commercial garbage for an audience that you yourself feel superior to." The new monk is a sacred/secular humanist, dedicated not to slogans or the fashionable patois of postmodernism, but to Enlightenment values that lie at the heart of our civilization: the disinterested pursuit of the truth, the cultivation of art, the commitment to critical thinking, inter alia (trans. "among other things").

    Above all, he knows the difference between quality and kitsch, and he seeks to preserve the former in the teeth of a culture that is drowning in the latter. If she is a high school teacher, she has her class reading the Odyssey, despite the fact that half the teachers in the school have assigned Danielle Steel. If he is a writer, he writes for posterity, not for the best-seller lists. As a mother, she takes her kids camping or to art museums, not to Pocahontas. He elects, in short, to save his life via the monastic option."

    -Prof. Morris Berman, 'Twilight of American Culture', New York: Norton, 2000, 8-10.

    For Further Reading [related material]: Os Guiness, 'The American Hour', Free Press, 1994; David Wells, 'Losing our Virtue', Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1997.


    Posted by Charles Biggs on June 21, 2007 03:44 PM

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