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Culture Q&A

Dangerous waves

Our culture, says surfer/philosopher Peter Kreeft, has created women with terribly low expectations and new Victorians who will make moral judgments about everything except sex

Dangerous waves


Peter Kreeft still has more years (73) than published books (59), but the prolific Catholic professor is closing the gap. He teaches philosophy at both Boston College and The King's College, New York City, and when he has spare time plays chess and goes surfing. The next book out of the chute is his first novel, An Ocean Full of Angels.

How is writing a novel different from writing nonfiction? Do you feel a little bit like God? It's a great analogy: the novel that God writes and the novel that we write. It shows how there can be predestination and free will at the same time. And it also shows how the Incarnation is not illogical, because it shows how a novelist can put himself in his own novel as one of his own characters-and then he has two natures.

So in our hobbies of novel writing, we are studying theology. Well, the Bible is more like a novel than like theology, actually. This is the one thing that postmodernism has shown us, that Enlightenment rationalism doesn't fit the fundamentally religious foundation of narrative.

Do you think you were predestined to become a philosopher? Yes, of course. Predestination is in the Bible. A good author gives his characters freedom, so we're free precisely because we were predestined to be free. There's no contradiction between predestination and free will.

You've written a book about surfing, which many mortals give up when they hit 70. What does surfing do for you? There are two kinds of surfing: hotdogging and soul-surfing. Hotdogging is professional surfing, like surf-prostitution. It's cheating. The wave is a magical instrument. It's the fundamental force of energy throughout the universe. It's the fingerprint of God. So when I surf on a wave, it's a foretaste of heaven.

How do you apply what you learn from surfing to cultural analysis? We're very good at technology, which is the conquest of nature. If that becomes the summum bonum, it's like hotdogging.

Let's move from surfing to sex. What does the Bible tell us about sex? It's the first commandment: "Be fruitful and multiply." I don't think He meant grow apples and memorize the multiplication tables. From there, everything goes downhill. History is a broken marriage, and God puts it back together again.

How do you define feminism? The heresy that women and men are not fundamentally different and that women ought to be as much like men as possible, especially as selfish and aggressive as possible. The two most ridiculous errors about men and women are unisexism and male chauvinism. The unisex feminist says that women and men are not different in value, therefore they're not different in nature. The male chauvinist says that men and women are different in nature, therefore they're different in value.

You quote G.K. Chesterton saying, "The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality and especially on sexual morality, and the madness of tomorrow will come not from Moscow but from Manhattan." What should we do to stand up against the madness? The relations between men and women are very radically different than what they used to be in terms of expectations and attitudes. The average woman today does not expect a man to respect her. She expects a man to use her. She tolerates that to catch him and maybe make a marriage that will last. Expectations are incredibly low. It seems to me that it's men more than women who today have to become knights and honorable. If enough honorable men stand up, that'll be a quiet revolution. That'll produce stable families and stable children who will take over the world.

You've written a lot about Socrates. If he were in the Senate, what would he do? He would ask those uncomfortable questions, such as, "President Obama, you sincerely believe that this healthcare bill is going to help helpless people. Who are these people? The poor? Why are the poor helpless? Because they don't have money? Why do we need expensive doctors? Why do you have more doctors than we did in ancient Athens? Because you have more diseases? How is that better?"

Some of the diseases result from certain unhealthy habits. . . . We are Victorians. We don't talk about "that." We don't make judgments about sex. We make judgments about everything else. I once watched soap operas all day because I was curious about what the "bottom of the barrel" was like in entertainment. They were very moral until it had anything to do with sex, and then anything goes. Two totally different moral universes. Most people want to take moral holidays, but they also want to feel good about themselves, so they have moral absolutes over here and moral relativism over there. For our society the "over there" is sex. If it has anything to do with sex, it's OK. Murder is OK, if it has to do with sex. That's what abortion is.

You've just published a book about Islam, so you know that some historians trace the decline of Islamic countries to a debate within Islam about 1,000 years ago where the idea of rationality was thrown out. That is one of the most fundamental issues in the world today because the conflict between Islam and the rest of the world will be decided by which Islam triumphs, the rational or the irrational.

Does Christianity have its own intellectual civil war? Christianity has always been traditionally more humanistic in the sense that through the Incarnation Christ shows us not only who God is but who we are.

Is college education overrated? A Harvard sociologist found that in Hitler's concentration camps the cruelest torturers were the most educated. She expected to find that the more educated you were the more refined you were; she found exactly the opposite. The percentage of atheists is almost directly proportionate to how many years of education you have. Charles Malik in Christ in the University points out that the university is by far the most powerful institution in the world today. It's doing most of what the church and the state used to do. That's where the future of the world is going to be decided. If you're not too smart, you can't deceive yourself. College professors can.

Would you say that there's a relationship between classical virtues and the direction of modern culture? Falling in love is the heart of everything. A culture moves where it loves. Every culture has heroes who specialize in certain virtues. A society fashions heroes because it believes in certain virtues. Our society is better at the soft virtues-compassion, mercy-than at the hard virtues-­chastity, honesty.

To hear Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Peter Kreeft, click here.

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