My liberal arts education at Wyoming Catholic College taught me the importance of first and last principles. Thanks to the school’s Great Books curriculum and wilderness training, I learned that the “world is charged with the grandeur of God,” and that the pursuit of the virtuous life is a long and arduous task, not for the faint of heart. (I sometimes felt this quite literally in my aching knees and sore muscles after weeks of backpacking.) Taking shortcuts, whether in the intellectual life or in the mountains, often only leads to rolled ankles and misery.
In the Inferno, Dante’s Ulysses shows us the peril of shortcuts. He tells Dante that after sailing through the southern hemisphere, he met his sudden and watery end gazing upon “the highest mountain [he] had ever seen,” Mount Purgatory. Ulysses, unlike Dante, did not undergo the necessary journey—through the inferno’s fire and ice—to merit such a destination.
As a junior fellow at First Things, I have become increasingly aware that we live in an age of shortcuts. Our society encourages us to desire instant gratification without struggle or sacrifice. We prefer quick satisfaction to lasting happiness; pornography to the long-term commitments of marriage and children; temporal pleasures to eternal aims. We have forgotten what it means to climb toward higher goods.
Fortunately, First Things remains dedicated to the path it set for itself when it launched: to “illuminate our highest purpose,” to combat the “monism that denies the variety of truth,” the “relativism that denies the the importance of truth,” and the “nihilism that denies the existence of truth.” First Things is committed to defending the knowledge that “temporal tasks are best conducted in the light of eternal destiny.” But we cannot do this without the support of our loyal readers.
The road before us is long, but worthy. I am glad that I can undertake this journey with a community that affirms first things, no matter how steep the path, how long the journey, how dark the wood.
Veronica Clarke is a junior fellow at First Things.
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