On the Nature of Things

The Circe conference this year is centered on the theme of Nature. From what I understand it is not just about the natural world, but also about the nature of things: the nature world around us, the nature of God, the nature of students, the nature of the seven liberal arts, the nature of teaching, etc.

Andrew K. made a great statement in one of the conference planning meetings yesterday. Although I don’t remember it as eloquently as he asserted it, it went something like this…”if one doesn’t inquire into and show reverence for the nature of something, he is prone to misuse, manipulate and exploit it”. One can bring this principle into the recent discussions in society. On using food for fuel or stem cell for research: so we CAN, but based on the nature of corn or stem cells, SHOULD we?

Take an example from education – the need for understanding the nature of a child. If we don’t embrace the full view of the child being made in the image of God, we will have a tendency to view the classroom as a mechanistic, problem-solving endeavor to be performed by selecting the right techniques versus the harder, yet more fulfilling journey of investigating the soul of a child and engaging him where he is – capturing the experiences that he has already encountered. One leads to all the sterility of a production line…one leads to all the beauty of a lush vineyard producing fruit.

I would urge you to continue to contemplate the world around you, even the simple things, for the goal of understanding the God-designed nature of things.

Attending the Circe conference would be a great start!

Clarence Thomas, The Economy, and Natural Law

Archimedes once claimed that if you gave him a fulcrum he could move the whole world. He understood leverage.

In the last 160 years, but beginning even before that, the world has been moved. We do not live or think as people did 200 years ago. This is not an unmixed curse. Life 200 years ago was not ideal and there were no “giants in the land” in 1809. Or maybe there were – and maybe there are now too.

But the world has been moved. People no longer believe in truth, only in opinions (that which is “true for you”). People no longer believe in goodness, only utility  (“good for you”). And certainly, people don’t believe in beauty, only in what is pleasing to the senses, or at least stimulating.

Nothing, therefore, is subject to a standard beyond the isolated individual. Whatever else you can say of this age, it is an age of despair, quite literally. The common person and the intellectual both deny the possibility of truth, goodness, and beauty and therefore, since these are the food of the soul, they deny the possibility of spiritual and psychological growth.

This cannot last. Nothing unnatural can last.

Which raises the question: how did we get to such an unnatural state?

The answer is intriquing, if not ironic. We came to such an unnatural state by denying nature. In other words, we deny, formally as a culture, the concept of nature – we deny that things have a nature that should be honored, respected, and treated as it is due.

That is the fulcrum on which the world was moved.

Consider, The United States is founded, formally, on a doctrine. That doctrine is or at least contains “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Christians like to spend a lot of time on the word “God” in the declaration, and I suppose that makes sense. But the battle wasn’t lost over the question of God. It was lost over the question of nature.

Our forefathers declared independence because their rulers had violated the laws of nature. There was simply no other justification for the war. The tea tax was not egregious. The amount wasn’t the point.

The point was that it violated the laws of nature.

Now we have, sitting in the chair of the vice president of our United States, a man who mocked a potential Supreme Court Justice during his confirmation hearings. And what did he mock him for? Believing in “natural law.” Clarence Thomas was confirmed, but not without staggering opposition.

We are a country founded on a doctrine we no longer believe in. The world has moved.

If not nature, then what do we ground our national spirit in? For some, a fairy tale past of devout relgious men who developed our constitution because they were so godly. For others, a “way of life” that revolves around consumption of useless goods. (We are dying of consumption). For others, an abstract idea of freedom drawn from whatever impulse dominates at the moment.

When any people forgets the law of nature, written on our hearts by God, discoverable with ease through daily practice and the most modest of observations, that people has pulled out the pins that uphold their souls and communities.

I do not know how deep our current economic crisis will go, but I do believe it is rooted in a rejection of the natural law and that, if this is the day of reckoning, as president Obama has suggested, it may be much deeper and longer and painful than we are willing to admit.

If you want to see the future of the American economy, I might suggest you look at the American school system. With Wall Street, Hollywood, and Washington, DC, our schools are the fortress of the war on nature.

And the Christian schools, while perhaps not aggressive in their opposition, are too often utterly indifferent to this idea. “If it ain’t in the Bible, I don’t believe the sun rises in the morning.” As thought the Bible is at war with the nature of things.

Nature never loses. That’s just the nature of things.

So please, restore this idea to the forefront of your thinking. Think about nature. Think with the idea of nature. Treat things according to their natures. Live according to nature. Follow the natural law. And teach nature to students in a manner consistent with nature. You cannot succeed any other way.