Every December, Christians are subjected to a host of dour, skeptical, and cynical claims about Christmas. We are told that, back in the day, Christmas was actually a pagan holiday. We are told that Jesus was actually not born on December 25th. And even after the mountain of evidence against these skeptical claims is sorted out, there is also the accusation that Christmas has become nothing more than a cash grab.
What follows is a quiz I have given on the book Frankenstein.
How do you tell a father his son is headed for an unhappy life?
How could anyone be so stupid?
It is this question we invariably ask while reading horror stories or watching horror films. To the vexation of viewers, characters in horror films are in the habit of naively walking down dark hallways, getting lost in the woods after sundown, and picking up hitchhikers in the middle of nowhere. If the characters in a horror story are not uniformly stupid, their IQs nonetheless dip in clutch situations. We shout advice to them, marvel at their blindness, and when they get skewered, we have a hard time really feeling bad for them.
All classic literature aims at answering the Question, “What does it mean to be human?” Authors who agree on nothing else are nonetheless of one mind when it comes to the need to answer this Question. All great literature is born from some troubling of the mind, for the Question, “What does it mean to be human?” is a vexing, awful question to ask. The Question obviously implies the answer is unknown. We do not know what it means to be human. What is worse, the Question itself implies the Question may be the wrong one to ask.
Thanksgiving dinner is the holiest meal eaten in the American household. While the holiness of Christmas and Good Friday surpass Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner is merely an accident of the Nativity liturgy and neither is Easter dinner conducted by a cleric. On the other hand, the Thanksgiving meal is something of a worship service in and of itself. If Thanksgiving has not already overtaken the Fourth of July as the most sacred day in the American civil religion, the exchange will certainly take place within this generation.
Some of the most important questions asked in class are bad questions. Despite a common prejudice against the expression “bad questions,” I simply must allow it, for I judge many of the most important questions I have ever asked to have been very terrible. Let me give you an example of a bad question I once asked: Isn’t the Father at war with the Son on the cross because it says somewhere that God cannot look at sin, and when Jesus was on the cross doesn’t it say God turned away His face? When I say this was a bad question, I do not mean it did not need an answer.
Harold Burroughs Black was born July 16, 1945.
What are the strongest indicators of future success for a high school student? If a teacher were a gambling man, what character traits and personality attributes at the age of sixteen are most apt to become happiness and success at the age of thirty-six? I am tempted to say happiness is simply too slippery, too elusive a fish to catch with predictable lures and conventional methods. I have been in and around classical school since I was fourteen, and I have seen class clowns get rich and valedictorians tank.
By the time a man is ten years into his career, he will have professionally encountered a few people who cannot stand him. A man makes his way in the world, sets goals, refines his methods, and in the midst of it all, at least one person with whom he has a professional relationship will say, “I do not like you and I intend on doing something about it.” Politicians meet such adversity every day. Missionaries often meet such adversity. So do classical educators.
In Paradise Lost, the hours before the Fall see Adam and Eve in a disagreement about work. Eve tells Adam they should part ways for the day so they can get more done, for when they are together, they distract one another with conversation and flirtation. Eve is not content the two are accomplishing enough. Every night, the day’s work of pruning and trimming is undone by the natural growth of the limbs and branches and fruit. But Adam is not persuaded this really matters. God cares little about the shape of the garden and much about man’s delight in it.