touchstone archives


Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.

Issue: Nov/Dec 2022

I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.

Groucho Marx

nature Commonplaces #147 Nov/Dec 2022

Language is the dress of thought; every time you talk, your mind is on parade.

Samuel Johnson

education Commonplaces #148 Nov/Dec 2022

A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

Analects 13.3, translated by James Legge

education Commonplaces #149 Nov/Dec 2022

[L]ife is responsibility: wealth is responsibility, noble birth is responsibility, power is responsibility, marriage is responsibility—all the circumstances of life demand order, self-discipline, courage, insight and discretion, industry. And only through a right, living relation to God can men gain strength to live rightly.

Sigrid Undset
Stages on the Road (1934)

society Commonplaces #150 Nov/Dec 2022

The majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith; and when the ordinary man calls himself a sceptic or an unbeliever, that is ordinarily a simple pose, cloaking a disinclination to think anything out to a conclusion.

T. S. Eliot
Introduction to Pascal’s Pensées

society Commonplaces #151 Nov/Dec 2022

If you bury yourself in Psalms, you emerge knowing God and understanding life. . . . We learn from the psalms how to think and act in reference to God. We drink in God and God’s world from them. They provide a vocabulary for living Godward, one inspired by God himself. They show us who God is, and that expands and lifts and directs our minds and hearts.

Dallas Willard
The Divine Conspiracy (1998)

Christianity Commonplaces #152 Nov/Dec 2022

What is so striking and particular about the woke culture is that it is using the language of Christendom but with a different goal. In a subtle and subversive way it intends to restore the priority of the primacy of power. It uses victimhood as a way of both bolstering up relativism and stripping moral authority away from objective truth and Christian ethical values. . . .

But it also poses an important theological challenge to the Church. A whole culture has been built on the sanctification of victimhood. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross [takes] weakness and brokenness that flow from the vulnerability of Love and uses [them] to provide freedom and forgiveness from guilt and moral condemnation. But when “victimhood” is detached from Jesus and used as a means to a different end, used instead to claim moral high ground but with the intention not of freeing and forgiving but of displacing and condemning, something different and terrible is happening. We should become more alert to the danger of the corruption of our own language and values and not [be] taken in by appearances. Not all victimhood is virtuous.

We should do more than accept its currency at face value, asking instead what the concept is being used for. Is it rooted in sacrifice and mercy, a process in which pain and suffering are offered transformatively, producing forgiveness and compassion flowing from a voluntary acceptance of suffering to bring good to another? This is the Christian model. Or is it being used as a means of blackmailing an opponent who caused pain and damage and [as] ethical leverage to exercise a moral power that is intended to produce revenge or reparation for some kind of physical, sexual or political abuse? A means, in other words, of exchanging one kind of power for another.

The differences between these two kinds of suffering depend firstly upon whether the victim is willing to forgive and secondly [on] what the outcome is intended to be. The competition for the allegiance of our culture is no longer the straightforward choice between power and compassion, Nietzsche and Jesus. Our opponents have become more subtle and have clothed their will for power and revenge in the trappings of love and compassion. We need to exercise discernment and intelligent discrimination to tell the difference.

Gavin Ashenden
“Coercive Victimhood—The Trojan Horse of Cultural Change,” The Catholic Herald (July 26, 2022)

society Commonplaces #153 Nov/Dec 2022

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