When I entered the room set aside for the seminar, there were not many people. As more people began to come in, I enjoyed listening and observing. There was a student who was not here because she had to, but was grateful that Franciscan hosted these conferences and that she had the opportunity to learn from the speakers. There was a man in olive pants, tweed jacket, and slightly muddy shoes whom I judged to be a speaker. Especially when the student who was messing with the sound equipment came up to him with a little clip microphone. There was a student with maybe a German accent (I discovered that I was correct in that assumption later) behind me, talking about classes and theology and marketing. I caught a glimpse of her dark, long coat and skirt, and bright blue scarf in my peripheral vision.
Most of the people on the first day seemed to be older than myself. I overheard talk of coming from Pittsburgh and New York, but it did seem as though most people probably had some connection to Franciscan University.
To start the conference, a priest was invited up to pray. His eyes were mostly directed up, but were very lively and warm. It almost seemed as though he was uncomfortable standing in front of the group. But he prayed. It was a very earnest prayer, not long; but just thinking back to his prayer--I do not remember any precise words--still as he prayed for the Holy Spirit to work amongst us and bless our efforts to bear to witness to the truth I felt like crying.
Then James Kalb was introduced and he did an excellent job of introducing all that was to follow. It was a thick sort of discourse. I am very glad I took notes, but I certainly plan to go back and do some reading, which is the idea of this sort of thing--whet people's appetites for what is true and good and beautiful, and they should then continue to pursue the true and good and beautiful. I am afraid I do not do that enough as a teacher. Anyway, back to the topic.
One of the points that stood out in the first discourse was the idea of restoring a healthy understanding of Natural Law. This was brought up as a way to confront the current technocratic approach to life and law.
What is technocracy? "the government or control of society or industry by an elite of technical experts." This definition exactly fits what Dr. Kalb was talking about. Part of his complaint against the current liberal technocratic approach is that there is a tendency to disregard the voices of those not considered experts and expertise is increasingly defined by an increasingly atheistic humanist world-view. What is reality is described as atoms, the void and sensation. Also, there is a denial that they are exercising power. They merely recognize the power and rights of every person, and act as arbitrators--the neutral protectors of everybody else.
So how do we respond? Compromise? Emphasize our traditions in terms of symbolism? Emphasize functionality? These are not adequate. There is no compromise, because they see themselves as outside the debates about right and wrong--the "technical experts" inform us of what we need to do and if we don't understand, we must be ignorant. Remaining loyal to tradition and defending it with symbolism and rhetoric only plays to their claim that traditionalists are illogical and narrow-minded bigots. Functionality--well, how can we even begin to talk about function unless we agree that things are ordered to purposes? This is where an understanding of natural law could really help.
We also need to have a renewed understanding of ultimate goods, the importance of sacrifice in society--our need for God. We cannot merely tell the world that something is wrong; we must show them something better. "Nothing is going to get better unless we get better."
I'm not sure if it was in answer to a question, but at the end of my notes on the first presentation was this, "Not anti-institutional
God, thinking, church, community
One of the criticisms leveled against the technocratic world view is that it is reductionist, broadly-- figure out what the properties of a thing are in order to do what you want to do with it. This stands against a more traditional approach of seeing a whole system of life that cannot necessarily be completely understood.
The next lecture was not delivered by the author as the author was ill. While the first had been somewhat dense in information, technical, thoughtful, and engaging; the next was engaging in a very different way.
It had more of an element of anecdote--describing writing, looking out the window and remembering growing up as a "free-range kid." He spoke of the sense of wonder in childhood that some grow out of, and some grow out of early on in their childhoods. He spoke of the importance of wonder in accepting God and in seeing the world for what it is rather than what we can get. He illustrated the idea of wonder and its opposite, excessive ambition, by the way of Shakespeare's Tempest. Now, The Tempest is a familiar play to me, and one of my favorites by Shakespeare, but to hear it described in terms of wonder--think of all the magic and music of Prospero's island--made me want to revisit the play. I would absolutely love to see an excellent presentation of it.
Another lecture that still stands out after a year was by Sheila Liaugminas, a journalist. She spoke about the power of words and the importance of telling stories that tell truth. In that, she also emphasized reading and writing from a heart centered on the ultimate Truth.
For a few little thoughts:
Nihilism--This word keeps cropping up as a word to describe the current situation of culture in the West generally and in the United States in particular.
Humpty Dumpty language and the LBGT movement--turning words inside out to insist that what is bad is good, what is wrong is right.
Objective good--a restoration of this idea being near impossible without the restoration of a right understanding of natural law, which also came up in various people's talks.
Ultimately, it comes back to a need to recognize who God is and what has He called us to be.