Hold your ear up to a seashell and you can “hear the ocean,” but if you listen to it even more carefully, it can instruct you on beauty and redemption in the universe.

Back in February, one of my best friends and I went down to Santa Monica beach early on a Sunday morning.  Before leaving in the late afternoon, I insisted upon finding her a seashell.

Up and down the coast I hunted for a shell. I wasn’t interested in the broken or incomplete ones; I wanted to find something excellent to serve as a small, physical reminder of an excellent day (one look at my room would tell you I am a hoarder of such objects). While I splashed through the retreating ocean trying to find a shell in the seconds between waves, she mostly watched from a dry distance. As the minutes rolled by, I eventually looked back at her, shaking my head in disappointment. She smiled back at me holding up something high in her hand. Racing back to her, I saw she held an ice cream-yellow and white seashell, about the size of my palm. She found the shell without truly trying. But the feeling of unfairness burned off as I closely examined it.

This is a great, searching vision. In its majesty and profundity, in its perception of the evil inherent in human nature, it exposes the shallow religiosity of a born-again White House that, against every Augustinian and Calvinist insight, proclaims the doctrine of the inherent goodness of man and the aspiration to produce a government as good, decent, virtuous, loving, etc., as the American people. The challenge to American smugness and hedonism, to the mediocrity of our mass culture, to the decline of self-discipline and civic spirit, is bracing and valuable.