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Subject: Percy-L: Literary, Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical Discussion of Walker Percy

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  • From: David Alan Beck <dabeck AT>
  • To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion" <percy-l AT>
  • Subject: Re: [percy-l] New reader
  • Date: Thu, 24 Jun 2004 20:48:04 -0500 (EST)

I agree with you. I think that Love in the Ruins is one of his best (I
like it much better that its sequel, Thanatos, though I know many will
disagree with me). My favorite passage (one of my favorites in all Percy's
fiction) is when Tom gives his confession and is surprised by Fr. Smith's
indifference (his unwillingness to be shocked by Tom's confession). Then
the wise priest says:

"Meanwhile, forgive me, but there are other things we must think about:
like doing our jobs, you being a better doctor, I being a better priest,
showing a bit of ordinary kindness to people, particularly our own
families--unkindness to those close to us is such a pitiful thing--doing
what we can for our poor unhappy country--things which, please forgive me,
sometimes seem more important than dwelling on a few middle-age

I think that this passage pretty much sums up what Percy is getting at in
his novels: do what is under our noses; don't try to change the world;
just try to make the "little" world around us more pleasant through our
love for those we see everyday; being kind to those we encounter,
etc. Make the abstract philosophy or ideas concrete, something
tangible. Percy's incarnational view (very Marcelian) is seen clearly in
this quote. (Did you really think that I could write very long without
mentioning Marcel--speaking of someone who is seldom mentioned on the
Good to see the list breathing again!

On Thu, 24 Jun 2004, Steve Dye wrote:

> I agree with your comments regarding Hitchens. Whatever your politics, I
> found his "defense" of the Iraq invasion to be somewhat "heroic", but
> definitely thoughtful and studied, unlike the more emotional and reactionary
> debates elsewhere. I also recently saw him on a panel discussion on CSpan
> and he held his ground nicely among a panel of more "liberal" commentators
> in a discussion of the Iraq situation. He has a unique approach to an
> amazing array of topics (including smoking!). I also agree that Percy would
> have liked him.
> As to this web site, I have been somehat surprised that "Love in the Ruins"
> is almost never mentioned. It is easily my favorite of Percy's books.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: <Robert_Pauley AT>
> To: <percy-l AT>
> Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2004 6:38 PM
> Subject: RE: [percy-l] New reader
> As a great admirer of both Percy and Hitchens, I tend to think each
> would have found something in the other to appreciate. Hitchens is a
> free-thinker who, like Percy, is capable of surprising us. As for
> Shadroui's piece, he slightly misrepresents Hitchen's charges against
> Mother Teresa (which were more thorough and convincing), and gives short
> shrift to Hitchen's eloquent and brave heterodoxy on the terrorism
> issue. To hear Hitchens in person debate the best and most vituperative
> on the Left is a stirring experience, and one would be hard-pressed
> coming away from it not at least sensing in the acidulous Brit a
> Christian spirit. Who knows what time will tell about the possibility of
> this development. Anyway, I cannot help thinking Percy would find
> Hitchens a man and voice necessary to our times and worth regarding.
> Rip Pauley
> -----Original Message-----
> From: percy-l-bounces AT
> [mailto:percy-l-bounces AT] On Behalf Of marcus AT
> Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2004 6:21 AM
> To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
> Subject: Re: [percy-l] New reader
> Yes, welcome to the list.
> Here's an article that might stir us out of our doldrums.
> Shadroui uses Percy to beat up on Christopher Hitchens'
> atheistic attack on Mel Gibson's The Passion. I think
> Shadroui takes Percy's language theory much further that
> Percy ever did and I have trouble with anyone who describes
> Joe Scarborough as a "fair-minded host."
> I am always cautious about invoking Percy in the culture
> wars (because Percy had a way of taking unusual approaches),
> but here it is.
> Marcus Smith
> Christopher Hitchens and the Issue of Faith
> by George Shadroui
> 22 March 2004
> Christopher Hitchens' criticism of The Passion strikes one
> as the rhetorical excess of someone predisposed to disdain
> Christianity.
> Christopher Hitchens, observed one critic recently, is a
> foul-mouthed man of little faith obsessed with
> homosexuality. One can appreciate this response to the
> apostle of atheism, but it misses a great deal as well.
> Hitchens has always gleefully sought to puncture the beliefs
> of those who in his mind hide nefarious motives behind
> sanctimonious claims.
> This is why he skewered Henry Kissinger. How is it, Hitchens
> asked, that a man whose policies led to the deaths of
> hundreds of thousands of people, who acquiesced to the
> violent overthrow of a legitimately elected government, and
> who lied about much of it, could be so honored? (Bear in
> mind I am presenting Hitchens' case, not agreeing with his
> conclusions).
> Likewise, Hitchens went after Mother Teresa, a saintly woman
> by virtually all accounts, but who nevertheless had to walk
> the same hard landscape as the rest of us. It was simply
> unconscionable to Hitchens that she might keep company with
> corporate CEOs who behaved sinfully. No saint was she,
> argues Hitchens, but rather a scam artist. At this point, I
> do not think it would be unfair to suggest that Hitchens
> would have likewise chided Jesus for supping with the tax
> collectors and for claiming to make blind beggars see.
> And so we come to Mel Gibson, and his movie about the final
> hours of Christ. Hitchens walked quite willingly into the
> lion's den on Scarborough Country over a week ago when he
> threw not only the kitchen sink at Gibson, but the entire
> inner furnishings of his rhetorical warehouse. Gibson, so
> spoke the apostle of atheism, is an anti-semite and the film
> he made about Jesus' final hours is nothing more than a
> piece of pornography specially wrapped for those who love to
> watch men flogged as an exercise in sexual depravity.
> Joe Scarborough, a fair-minded host, gave Hitchens all the
> time he needed to enflame an already grossly over-reacted to
> cinematic moment. In addition to attacking Gibson, Hitchens,
> no doubt remembering his lessons in Marx, labeled faith in
> transcendence infantile. Defenders of the film called
> Hitchens an outrageous anti-Christian bigot. Peggy Noonan
> later in the show called the uproar about the film a miracle
> of sorts. Better to debate this issue than the latest absurd
> actions by this or that celebrity. A silver lining in a gray
> sky, to be sure.
> I have not seen the film, but I must concede that the scenes
> widely shown on television, tempered my enthusiasm. Even
> those who have praised the movie have volunteered that the
> violence is difficult to take. My own taste for religious
> films runs more along the lines of Jesus of Nazareth, the
> remarkable epic made in the mid 1970s that depicts Jesus as
> a man of wit, compassion and strength of character whose
> mystical appeal was rooted both in earthly presence and
> divine grace.
> Hitchens is a paid provocateur who has trouble, from time to
> time, governing his tongue and his pen. He is nevertheless a
> man of great rhetorical skill and intellectual insight. And
> he was not alone in finding the film offensive. I doubt
> anyone would confuse Bill Buckley's religious commitments
> or his political affinities with those of Hitchens, but
> Buckley, too, found the film gratuitously violent in places:
> "It isn't only the interminable scourging, which is done
> with endless inventories of instruments. The Bible has
> Christ suffering the weight of the cross as he climbs to
> Golgotha, but that is not enough for Gibson. He has stray
> soldiers impeding Christ every step of the way, bringing
> down their clubs and whips and scourges in something that
> cannot be understood as less than sadistic frenzy."
> That Gibson might have overdone the violence would make him,
> well, like a great many others who direct films. But to
> suggest, as Hitchens does, that the film was anti-semitic
> pornography? This strikes one as the rhetorical excess of
> someone predisposed to disdain Christianity.
> And Hitchens is precisely such a person. He is totally
> immersed in a materialist worldview, which explains his
> infatuation with socialism and his disdain for anything
> smacking of religious insight. He fancies himself, also, the
> debunker of scams and the savior of modern-day lepers -
> homosexuals receive an inordinate amount of his sympathy,
> though, to be fair, he has been outspoken as well about the
> afflictions of slavery and imperialism and the ruthless
> practices of Stalinism.
> Hitchens caused a stir a while back when he came out in
> support of the Bush administration's war on terror,
> leaving his long-time leftist allies angry and bemused, or
> some combination of both. Bear in mind, of course, that for
> Hitchens this is a war against religious fanaticism, which
> partially explains his enthusiastic reaction. He is right
> about Islamic fascism, but even so, for a man of deep
> critical skills, Hitchens, we fear, has not seriously
> explored the issue of faith. Let us try to escape the
> confines of his Darwinian world for a few moments.
> C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien, two giant intellects who
> embraced faith, offered this: faith may well be a metaphor,
> but metaphors unveil truths that would be otherwise hidden
> in the forests of every-day parlance. That is why poetry can
> move us. Metaphors are not always literal, yet they produce
> images remarkable for their power and insight. Does this
> make them less or more true? Language can be a mystery
> almost as deep as life itself.
> Walker Percy, in his essay, The Fateful Rift: The San
> Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind, suggested that language is
> a triadic exercise, while other forms of knowledge in our
> natural world are dyadic. (He borrows this idea from Charles
> Pierce, the pragmatist philosopher.) The human capacity to
> form language enables us to address not only our everyday
> needs, but also to frame grand conceptual questions about
> existence and the universe itself.Percy sought to refine
> Descartes. The fundamental formulation isn't "we think,
> therefore we are," but rather we communicate therefore we
> are more than dust. Our use of language requires the
> interplay of creator, audience and thought itself. It is one
> of the great mysteries, Percy argues, and it carries us back
> to a truism that the paths to God are infinite. His own
> expression of his religious views was whimsical and yet
> somehow more profound than Hitchen's easy atheism.
> "This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to
> arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of
> it and have to answer, `scientific humanism.' That won't
> do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love a delight.
> Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for
> nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite
> delight; i.e. God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle
> for anything less. I don't see why anyone should settle
> for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed ahold of God and
> wouldn't let go until God identified himself and blessed
> him."
> G. K. Chesterton and Malcolm Muggeridge, who were Hitchens
> sorts in their early years, found themselves circling always
> back to the realization that truth emerged not from the
> hustle and bustle of human beings caught in the material
> web, but from words - words spoken 2000 years ago.
> Muggeridge, about whom Hitchens has written some nice
> things, suggested that faith leads us to a glimpse of
> eternity and that doubt is integral to faith. Only atheists
> are certain, Muggeridge suggested, which claim Hitchens
> proves.
> And yet, men and women far greater than Hitchens have
> concluded that if there is divine truth available to human
> discovery, it is certainly revealed in the Sermon on the
> Mount. We can stack up the genius of a hundred generations
> and not come to the insight of a single parable spoken by
> Jesus. His metaphors remain light-shedding guides and they
> are open, with all respect to my fundamentalist brothers, to
> critique, interpretation and layers of mystery. And yet the
> deeper you explore in humility and grace, the closer you
> come to inspired understanding.
> How ironic that Hitchens, who would claim to be at least
> partially a child of the Enlightenment, cannot see that the
> mission of Jesus came to fruition not in the medieval mind,
> but precisely in the Enlightenment he celebrates. That each
> individual has value in the eyes of God was a notion that
> began to shape the political context only when Enlightenment
> thinkers successfully challenged the notion that God worked
> directly through a single man - whether he be Ceasar, the
> Pope, or a given Monarch. God lives in everyman, and men
> should not be entangled in the yoke of bondage.
> It is not the teachings of Jesus that have caused the
> repression so obvious in Christendom and other religions,
> but the failure of human beings to allow their faith to
> transcend human passion, ego and tribalism. The record of my
> faith is mixed, generosity, compassion and love on the one
> hand, schism and sin on the other. Even so, whatever the
> sins of Christians, it remains soberly true that the most
> atrocious killing machines in history were run by modern-day
> atheists.
> Percy and other great Christian writers were on to
> something, I think, when they argued that language, the tool
> of Hitchens' trade, offers a glimpse at the eternal even
> if it does not guarantee human wisdom. Should Hitchens, wit
> and writer that he is, ever entertain a moment of doubt, he
> might yet find himself reading with renewed insight this
> sentence: in the beginning was the word...Thus does a
> different kind of journey begin.
> George Shadroui has been published in more than two dozen
> newspapers and magazines, including National Review and
> ----- Original Message Follows -----
> From: JHForest AT
> To: percy-l AT
> Subject: Re: [percy-l] New reader
> Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2004 05:59:58 EDT
> > In a message dated 6/22/2004 5:48:42 AM Romance Daylight
> > Time, billjee AT writes:
> > >
> > > I am a new subscriber to the list. I first read Lost in
> > > the Cosmos in college a few years ago and was hooked. I
> > > hope to learn more about the man and his thinking
> > through this discussion forum.
> >
> > Welcome to the List! It has in fact been a rather quiet
> > list lately -- the end of the school year, etc.
> >
> > What Percy books have you read since Lost in the Cosmos?
> >
> > Jim Forest
> >
> > * * *
> > Jim & Nancy Forest
> > Kanisstraat 5 / 1811 GJ Alkmaar / The Netherlands
> > Jim's e-mail: <jhforest AT>
> > Nancy's e-mail: <forestflier AT>
> > tel: (+31-72) 511-2545 / fax: (+31-72) 515-4180
> > Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site:
> > Jim & Nancy Forest web site:
> > * * *
> >
> >
> > --
> >
> > An archive of all list discussion is available at
> >
> >
> > Visit the Walker Percy Project at
> >
> >
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> An archive of all list discussion is available at
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> --
> An archive of all list discussion is available at
> Visit the Walker Percy Project at

David Beck

-In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
-W. H. Auden

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