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

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  • From: "Karl M. Terrell" <kterrell AT>
  • To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion" <percy-l AT>, "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion" <percy-l AT>
  • Subject: Re: [percy-l] New reader
  • Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 20:50:39 -0400

* * This communication is CONFIDENTIAL * *

I have enjoyed the few entries I've read here over the past few months
since joining in. Anything to do with Percy fascinates me. However, I
must confess, my interest has little to do with Percy's language theory
(at least not the technical aspects thereof), nor am I that interested
in the 'Catholic' issues (I am much too 'lapsed' in this area, as are
many of Percy's protagonists).

I am, instead, simply a fan of his magnificently fluid prose, his
trenchant observations on human nature, and his characters who -- while
dangerously alienated -- have struck me always as satisfyingly in tune
with the rhythm of life as it ought to be. Also, as a Southerner
introduced to Percy when I was a student at Chapel Hill 30 years ago, I
feel very much at home with Mr. Percy.

Binx Bolling was my Holden Caulfield. His later heroes were mine in my
later life.

I would enjoy hearing from Percy afficianados of similar ilk.



-----Original Message-----
From: RHONDA MCDONNELL [mailto:rhonda_mcdonnell AT]
Sent: Wed Jun 23 01:07:21 2004
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
Subject: Re: [percy-l] New reader

Thanks for the article, Marcus. I'm not sure that Shadroui has taken the
language theory too far--I'm still mulling that one over. Although, I do
find it odd to leap into the fray regarding a film that one hasn't seen.
In the meantime, I'm remembering my own experience seeing the film and
thinking of Medieval Mystery plays, which strove for the same effect
through much the same means (minus special effects, but that audience
was less jaded) that Gibson did. The intent of such plays (The York Play
of the Crucifixion, for example) was to forcefully make clear to the
audience that each one watching the play was responsible for the agony
of Christ, and that each sin committed was commensurate to re-crucifying
Him. Giving the lukewarm quality of much of today's Christianity, maybe
the seeing the film, as a triadic experience, isn't a bad idea for
professed believers

Nice to see a bit of life on the list.

----- Original Message -----
From: marcus AT<mailto:marcus AT>
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical
Discussion<mailto:percy-l AT>
Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2004 6:20 AM
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<http://www.inte>

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

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

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

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

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

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<mailto:JHForest AT>
To: percy-l AT<mailto: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<mailto: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<mailto:jhforest AT>>
> Nancy's e-mail: <forestflier AT<mailto: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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