The waters of Western culture are deep and sometimes dark. For those of us without a classical education, the thought of diving in is daunting. Everything that brought us to this present moment—the literature, philosophy, history, and music—is within reach. But where do we start? How do we start? In light of what we know now, is looking back in that direction even worthwhile?
To add to the confusion, there are a few voices arguing against the celebration of Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Plato, or C.S. Lewis. Some of the ideas presented in their works are outdated, offensive, and unsavory. Meanwhile, the defenders of Western thought can get so caught up in the argument that they forget to actually teach, learn from, and enjoy the very things they say they love.
Spencer Klavan, Ph.D., looks to cut through all the noise in his new podcast The Young Heretics. Promising conversations about “truth, beauty, and the stuff that matters,” Klavan wants to enrich and strengthen the souls of his listeners in a world he feels has gone mad. To achieve that, while still making an entertaining show, requires a deft touch that will inevitably ruffle some feathers.
Halfway through the fourth episode, Klavan explains, “In this podcast, part of our goal is to shrug off (the) way of thinking about texts that judges them by the standards of the present. … Judging the past by the standards of the present makes you stupid and deprives you of everything that people have to tell you that is different from what you currently think and believe.”
He goes on to say that we can hold onto our contemporary values without dismissing everything the ancient thinkers have to say. Navigating those philosophical waters can be difficult, especially as we encounter, for example, the Greek’s attitudes toward gender or sexuality. But Klavan sets his course with a sure hand, both as a Christian and an academic.
Adding to the experience, Klavan enjoys reading aloud from the source texts. In the first episode he voices selections from Homer’s The Iliad in both English and the original Greek. Later episodes offer readings from Shakespeare, and Latin is also within his grasp. Klavan clearly knows what he loves and why he loves it, and occasionally invites like-minded guests onto the show to share in his fun.
Some have criticized The Young Heretics for steadfastly ignoring the other side, those who are uncomfortable with or dismissive of Western thought. Isn’t that engaging in the culture war in and of itself? In response, Klavan says, “Yup. Correct. Absolutely right.” He believes we can all benefit from the legacy of Western culture without having to constantly argue in its defense. Whether Klavan’s “it is what it is” approach is useful or appropriate is up to the listener to decide.
New episodes come out every Tuesday, with bonus segments appearing throughout the week, giving those inclined ample opportunity to get their feet wet in the sometimes murky depths. (Apple Podcasts)