October 2013

* culture as scripture

"We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us."
(Winston Churchill)


Education is something that the secular world prides itself on taking very seriously. Huge amounts of money devoted to education. The question is, what is education for? Well, when the politicians talk about it, the prime explanation is that education will provide us with the skills necessary to take up a place in modern capitalism. So education will give us technical and business skills, to make our societies richer and safer.

There's another claim that you often here on modern education - the suggestion that education can in some ways make you into a better human being. A fuller, richer, nobler person. It can make you into a grown up citizen. Now I like those claims. They do sound rather beautiful. And I want to explore them. I think in some ways, we have failed to honor that second claim associated with education, and I think we partly failed to honor it because we have forgotten about religion.

Let me explain.

In the nineteenth century in the UK, church attendance started falling off a cliff. And this set off a real panic amongst many people who wondered where on earth society was going to find it's sources of consolation, it's ethical framework, it's guidance, it's morality -

they had been the preserve of religion, where were they going to be found. Now, there was one influential group who came up with a fascinating answer. People like John Stewart Mills, Matthew Arnold, suggest that there was a ready made replacement for religion. And that replacement was called, with a capital C, culture. Works of culture ranging from the essays of Plato, to the plays of shakespeare, the novels of Jane Austen, they comprised a corpus of knowledge and wisdom that could do very much all the things that religions have traditionally done.

In other words, culture can replace scripture.
(Alain De Botton, Ideas at the House)

John Stewart Mill


"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest. The feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is ugliest."

"Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."

"Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character had abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and courage which it contained."

"He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that."

"The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people."

"No slave is a slave to the same lengths, and in so full a sense of the word, as a wife is."

"Originality is
the one thing which
minds cannot
feel the use of."

Matthew Arnold

"Resolve to be thyself: and know that he who finds himself, loses his misery."


"Use your gifts faithfully, and they shall be enlarged; practice what you know, and you shall attain to higher knowledge."

"Greatness is a spiritual condition."

"To have the sense of creative activity is the great happiness and the great proof of being alive."

"Journalism is literature in a hurry."

"Culture is properly described as the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection."

"Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties!"


"Culture is to know the best that has been said and thought in the world."

"The need of expansion is as genuine an instinct in man as the need in a plant for the light, or the need in man himself for going upright. The love of liberty is simply the instinct in man for expansion."

"Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things."