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About This Issue

On cleaning up human behavior.


“Why in the wake of so many failures is the project of cleaning up human behavior ever renewable?” asks Stanley Fish in the Christ the King 2023 issue of The Lamp. In an essay examining nine systems through which modern societies vainly seek perfectibility (see page 19), he concludes that behind every impossible project is a desire for radical purity: knowledge in the deepest sense, “where knowledge becomes identity” and is absorbed into the very reality it seeks. “It is a glorious vision,” he writes, “and I blame no one for celebrating and desiring it, but unfortunately it is incapable of being realized in the vale of tears we call human life.”

Still, sometimes we receive a glimpse of the things beyond. The things of Heaven sometimes visit earth, as Carlos Eire (page 12) recounts in his analysis of Saint Teresa of Avila’s levitations. “When I tried to resist these raptures,” the saint wrote of her own ecstasies, “it seemed to me that I was being lifted up by a force beneath my feet so powerful that I know nothing to which I can compare it.” And sometimes, even tangibly, the things of Hell visit, too, and tempt us to forget Heaven: “Faced with the reality of evil, we are tempted to deny the essential truth about ourselves—that we are made in the image and likeness of a loving God Who desires eternal union with us,” writes Joseph Koczera (page 62) in a personal reflection on The Exorcist, which was filmed at Georgetown University, where he decided to become a Jesuit.

There is much else to recommend in this issue, particularly in the Arts and Letters department. John Ladouceur (page 42) surveys the whole dramatic sweep of Peter Brown’s life and career, discovering an unexpected bond between him and Edward Gibbon. Theodore Dalrymple (page 51) peers at life behind the Berlin Wall, surmising that perhaps it wasn’t as good as recently advertised. And Julian G. Waller (page 48) considers Patrick Deneen’s prescription for America after liberalism, finding his diagnosis engaging, and yet, in the end, limited.

We hope you enjoy this issue much in the same spirit that Joseph Epstein (page 38) reads and re-reads his favorite novels: “I do not worry overmuch about having lost the plot of novels—even of superior novels—because I am confident that they have nonetheless left a rich deposit in my mind of a kind that, I like to believe, goes well beyond recollecting the details of their plots.” Though we forget, we remember.

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