Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"The future belongs to us"

"One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century." said President Obama in response to the murder of James Foley. Ross Douthat doesn't think those who oppose liberal democracy are necessarily on "the wrong side of history" because it is difficult to argue historically that history takes sides.
.... Both illiberal nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism are younger than the United States. They aren’t just throwbacks or relics; they’re counterforces that liberal modernity seems to inevitably conjure up.

So writing off the West’s challengers as purely atavistic is a good way to misunderstand them — and to miss the persistent features of human nature that they exploit, appeal to and reward.

These features include not only the lust for violence and the will to power, but also a yearning for a transcendent cause that liberal societies can have trouble satisfying. ....

Which is why liberalism’s current dominance is contingent rather than necessary, and why its past victories have often been rather near-run things. .... The ideals of democracy and human rights are ascendant in our age, but their advance still depends on agency, strategy and self-sacrifice, no matter what date the calendar displays. (emphasis added) ....

...[T]he most successful counterideologies, the most threatening of liberalism’s rivals, have always managed to give the impression that their ideas are on the winning side of history, and that it is the poor milquetoast liberal democrats who are antique and out of date.
This was obviously true of Marxist-Leninism, but it was true of fascism as well. The fascists were reactionaries, to a point, in their appeals to mythic Roman and Teutonic pasts. But they offered far more than nostalgia: What the late Christopher Hitchens called “the mobilizing energy of fascism” was inseparable from a vision of efficiency, technology and development, one that helped persuade many Europeans (and some Americans) that Mussolini and then even Hitler stood at history’s vanguard, that the future was being forged in Rome and Berlin. .... [more]

Monday, August 25, 2014

"I’ll never, no never, no never forsake"

Today Challies presents his selection of "The 10 Greatest Hymns of All-Time." They are all fine choices but, as witness the comments to his post, ten is much too small a number to encompass the "greatest." I particularly liked one of his ten:
How Firm a Foundation by an unknown author. This hymn is unique in the way it speaks in God’s voice, so that God himself assures us of his goodness, his care, and his mercy. Few hymns are sweeter in times of suffering or despair. “The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, / I will not, I will not desert to its foes; / That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, / I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
Very early at this blog I posted this. Here is a slightly modified version of that post:

How Firm A Foundation is my favorite hymn, especially when sung to the tune known as "Foundation" or "Protection." It first appeared in John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns in 1787, and was well-known and often sung in 19th century America. As with any good hymn, the words are all-important — and the words of this hymn are an affirmation of confidence in God and His promises. The verses affirm that God has more than sufficiently proven His reliability to us through His Word. What more could He possibly do or say than He has already said and done? Each verse is based on a passage from Scripture, especially from Isaiah. If we trust in His Word, everything that may happen to us will be for our good. The final verse is a paraphrase of Hebrews 13:5-6:
" content with what you have, because God has said 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'"
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
Isaiah 28:16; I Corinthians 3:11

"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed;
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious omnipotent hand."
Isaiah 41:10

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."
Isaiah 43:2a; Romans 8:28

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine."
Isaiah 43:2b; II Corinthians 2:9; Zechariah 13:9

"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"
Deuteronomy 31:6,8; Hebrews 13:5b-6

Two additional verses — seldom sung today — can be found here.

The 10 Greatest Hymns of All-Time | Challies Dot Com

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A scrap of paper

Great Britain entered the First World War on August 4, 1914 because of the German violation of the Treaty of London (1839). From The Spectator (UK), August 22, 1914:
...[T]he Imperial Chancellor expressed with considerable irritation his inability to understand the attitude of England, and added: “Why should you make war upon us for a scrap of paper?” The Times goes on to tell us that “Sir Edward Goschen is reported to have replied that he understood the German statesman’s inability to comprehend British action, but that England attached importance to ‘the scrap of paper’ (the Treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality) because it bore her signature, as well as that of Germany.” Here we have in a nutshell the causes which produced the war—that essential difference of opinion and conflict of will which when they occur can only be decided by the sword, or by one or other of the nations concerned giving way, and through fear yielding to or adopting the view which it began by contesting. To put it in concrete form, we had either to adopt the German view that “scraps of paper “—that is, the solemnly pledged words of nations—must be treated as mere shams of no binding force, or else endeavour to make our view that they are something more than” scraps of paper” prevail by the supreme sacrifice of war. Thank God! the British Government and people did not hesitate, but were unanimous in resolving to keep their plighted word, though it might be to their own hurt, and not yield to the “scrap of paper” view of public morality. .... [more]

Friday, August 22, 2014

Trying not to sound stupid

Reviewing an English grammar and usage book that he doesn't really like ("...a poor stylist with a propensity to gross overstatement probably shouldn’t write a book on English grammar and usage"), Barton Swaim explains the appeal of such guides based on his own experience as an "authority":
.... Nearly every day my phone would ring and someone would ask, “Is it ‘none is’ or ‘none are’?” or “Can you use ‘impact’ as a verb?” or “Do you capitalize ‘judicial branch’?”

At first I tried to respond with nuanced explanations about how this rule wasn’t followed much anymore or that usage was pretty common but best avoided. But I sensed impatience. All my questioners wanted to know was what was right and what was wrong. They didn’t care what was “generally accepted” or defensible; they wanted to know what they should say in order not to sound stupid. So I gave it to them on my own authority: “none is”; “impact” is never a verb; “judicial branch” is lower case. That seemed to satisfy.

And that’s all most readers want from a book on English grammar and usage. They want to know what to write and what to avoid—not because they want to follow arbitrary rules set down by the anonymous rulemakers of the past, but because they want to express themselves in ways that don’t cause distraction. ....

It doesn’t matter how many academic linguists tell us that language changes over time and that what’s accepted today was considered ungrammatical a century ago. .... All of this may be true, but none of it matters. Educated people still want to know whether they should write “amuck” or “amok,” “between” or “among,” “flounder” or “founder,” “infer” or “imply,” “it’s he” or “it’s him.”

The market is constantly ripe, therefore, for any book that will flout the fashion for permissiveness and explain to readers in direct, unfussy prose how they should construct sentences and what mistakes they should avoid. .... [more]

Carpe diem

Mockingbird offers "A Quick Peanuts":

And also links to a 2011 post about The Gospel According to Peanuts

The Mockingbird site describes itself as "...a ministry that seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways."

Political philosphy

When I was studying politics in college and graduate school the course work included both political "science" — the supposedly value-free study of how political systems work — and political theory, including political philosophy. I found political theory far more interesting than statistical studies. Today I discover "The Great Thinkers," a site devoted to political philosophy. From the introduction:
Political philosophy is the study of the fundamental questions of human life generally and political life in particular. Its first basic problem concerns the profound issue of human happiness: how should I live? Is the best way of life one devoted to the satisfaction of desire, the ethical and political virtue of a Lincoln or Washington, the intellectual excellence of a Socrates, religious faith and observance, or the poetry of a Shakespeare? Its second central question is how should we live? What is justice, and what is the most just form of government?

Political philosophy explores all the central phenomena of human action and political choice in the light of its two central questions. [more]
The twenty-two "thinkers" thus far included at the site cover a considerable range from Plato to Augustine to Maimonides to Burke to Nietzsche with brief biographies of each and links to their "Featured Works," commentary and video lectures.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Book

"I have a long-standing interest in the relationship between religious faith and the media in which it is presented: books make faith, and faith makes books" writes Philip Jenkins:
.... The story of Christianity is intimately bound up with the rise of new ways of presenting information, especially in the replacement of the traditional scroll by the codex, the ancestor of the modern book. (I am here drawing heavily on Alan Jacobs’s excellent article from 2011 on “Christianity and the Future of the Book”.)

The invention of the codex created the Bible. In Greek, ta Biblia can mean either “the books" (neuter plural) or "the book" (feminine singular). When the books of the Bible were available on separate scrolls, it was easy to see them as separate free-standing works, “the books”, which could be subject to a mix and match approach of acceptance and rejection. But when they were kept within a single text between two covers, then it was clearly The Book, one book, a concept that gave a mighty boost to the notion of canonizing certain texts and excluding others.

The codex was, in its origins, a highly theological invention. As Jacobs suggests, one primary goal of the new medium was to include both Old and New Testaments within one cover, to stress the harmony and continuity of the texts, and to refute heretics like the Marcionites who set the two at odds. As anyone could see or feel, clearly the two Testaments were one. This allowed and encouraged the quest for parallels and resonances between the two, the ancient quest for typology that so shaped Christian art through the centuries.

To return to the Reformation, in no respect were Protestants more radical than in the dominant forms of media used to teach and discuss religious truths, with all that shift implies for cultural sensibilities. As has often been remarked, the Reformation was a media revolution. Traditional societies had taught their truths through visual imagery, such as stained glass and sculpture; through music; and above all, through drama and ritual action, which often involved a large amount of communal participation. Protestants taught through the word, in the form of books and tracts, hymns and sermons. God became Word.

The new religious model was made possible only by the rise of printing, which we think of most directly in terms of books and especially Bibles. .... [more]

Monday, August 18, 2014

The best way to commit a murder

Very much related to the last post: Alfred Hitchcock's film Shadow of a Doubt includes two characters who are readers of that kind of mystery popular in the middle of the twentieth century: the protagonist's father Joseph Newton and his good friend Herbie Hawkins. They often meet to discuss the stories they have recently read and their own arguments about how to carry out the perfect murder:
Herbie: Say, ha-have you read this one? Huh? That little Frenchman beats them all. You can talk all you like about Sherlock Holmes. That little Frenchman beats 'em all.

Joseph Newton: I read it. Air bubbles don't necessarily kill a person. Those writers from the other side get too fancy. — The best way to commit a murder—

Herbie: — I know, I know. Hit 'em on the head with a blunt instrument.

Newton: Well, it's true, isn't it? Listen, If I wanted to murder you tomorrow, do you think I'd waste my time on fancy hypodermics? — Or on Inee?

Herbie: — What's that?

Newton: — Inee. Indian arrow poison.

Herbie: — Oh.

Newton: Listen, I'd find out if you were alone, walk in, hit you on the head with a piece of lead pipe or a loaded cane —

Herbie: What'd be the fun of that? Where's your planning? Where's your clues?

Newton: I don't want any clues. I want to murder you. What do I want with clues?

Herbie: Well, if you haven't got any clues, where's your book?

I'm not talkin' 'bout writing books. I'm talking about killing you!

Herbie: If I was going to kill you, I wouldn't do a dumb thing like hitting you on the head. First of all, I don't like the fingerprint angle. Of course, I could always wear gloves, press your hands against the pipe after you were dead and make you look like a suicide.

Newton: But you wouldn't beat yourself to death.

Herbie: I'd do it so it didn't look like murder. ....
And, in a later conversation:
Newton: What were we saying, Herb? Did I notice what?

Herbie: Well, did you taste anything funny about that coffee you had at my house this evening?

Newton: No. It tasted all right.

Herbie: That's what I mean. It wasn't all right.

Newton: — Put something in it?

Herbie: — Put a little soda. About the same amount that I'd have used if I'd wanted to use poison.

Newton: Well, you don't say? I never tasted a thing. Of course, I might not notice the soda.

Herbie: You'd notice the soda more than you would the poison. (Scoffs) For all you knew, you might just as well be dead now. ....

Playing fair with the reader

I am culling my library: discarding books, using as my rule of thumb whether I am likely to ever read the book again or to ever need it as reference. The latter, of course, is greatly influenced by the vast availability of material online. I will eventually considerably reduce the weight of books on my shelves — when I began I had about nine hundred hardcover titles and additional paperbacks. The discards will go to the Madison Public Library to do with as they please. Most will probably be offered for sale to raise money. A pleasant consequence of this process is the rediscovery of books I haven't looked at for a very long time. One that caught my attention today is The Art of the Mystery Story, edited by Howard Haycraft and published right after World War II. It is a wonderful collection of essays about mysteries that focuses on what has been called the "Golden Age" of the mystery story — the period before and between the world wars — the era of Chesterton and Sayers and Christie and so many more. One of the essays collected is S.S. Van Dine's "Twenty rules for writing detective stories" (also found here). Van Dine (actually Willard Huntington Wright) was the author of the Philo Vance mysteries. The rules:
  1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
  2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
  3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.
  4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretenses.
  5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.
  6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.
  7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.
  8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.
  9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his codeductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.
  10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.
  11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion.
  12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.
  13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.
  14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.
  15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.
  16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.
  17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.
  18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.
  19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.
  20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic seance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.
Agatha Christie famously violated number 4 and number 12 and no doubt others. But once done such tricks lose any surprise. These are "Golden Age" rules that have long since been superseded but I still enjoy such stories.

"If the right people don't have power..."

Via Kevin DeYoung:

Friday, August 15, 2014

The world at war

I am re-watching what I think is still the best documentary of the Second World War: The World at War. It was produced by the BBC in 1974 right at the point when many of the classified materials about World War II had been declassified but when many of the principle individuals on all sides who had participated were still available to be interviewed. The perspective is British which means from the beginning — not only from Pearl Harbor on. It is an extraordinary effort. Amazon's description:
More than 35 years after its initial broadcast, The World at War remains the definitive visual history of World War II. Unsurpassed in depth and scope, its 26 hour-long programs feature an extraordinary collection of newsreel, propaganda, and home-movie footage drawn from the archives of 18 nations, including color close-ups of Adolf Hitler taken by his mistress, that present an unvarnished perspective of the war s pivotal events. Penetrating interviews with eyewitness participants from Hitler s secretary to Alger Hiss to ordinary citizens who stood outside the battle lines add spine-tingling, first-hand accounts to an already unforgettable viewing experience.

Informative and unbiased, The World at War is the recipient of numerous accolades, including an International Emmy Award, The National Television Critics' Award for Best Documentary, and knighthood for its creator, Sir Jeremy Isaacs. Narrated by Academy Award winner Sir Laurence Olivier and painstakingly restored in 1080p high-definition (with newly-created 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks), this is epic history at its absolute best.
It is indeed "epic."


"Web Trolls Winning as Incivility Increases" says the headline at The New York Times. I belong to a conservative/libertarian site that has found a solution: Ricochet. They do succeed in weeding out the trolls:
.... We started with two principles: (1) The internet is full of rude, malicious people who will go out of there way to derail civil conversation; (2) These people are cheap.

Our solution? Basic economics (hey, we’re conservatives!). We created a small barrier to entry in the form of requiring a paid membership to comment on posts. And we fortified our commitment to civility by requiring our members to adhere to a Code of Conduct enforced by our editors. The result? A community so civil that it can generate a debate on abortion that runs to over 350 comments without degenerating into a flame war. Take that, assembled scholarly community!

Is the system perfect? No. We’ve had to drop the hammer on troublemakers from time to time, but that’s just the way of the world. .... [more]


Of all of Robert Louis Stevenson's books Treasure Island (1883) is my favorite. Kidnapped (1886) is a very close second. The best hardbound edition of that second book, with magnificent illustrations by N.C. Wyeth, was published by Scribner in 1913 and has been re-published periodically ever since. The cover illustration on the right is from one of the best of the later editions. I came across electronic versions of the book today at where, since the book is out of copyright, it can be downloaded free. 

From the title page of the book:
Kidnapped: Being memoirs of the adventures of David Balfour in the year 1751: How he was kidnapped and cast away; his sufferings in a desert isle; his journey in the wild highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious highland Jacobites; with all that he suffered at the hands of his uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so called.
My favorite Wyeth illustration from Kidnapped:

The Torrent in the Valley of Glencoe

Let me not fight for God as if the devil were in me

James M. Kushiner is the Executive Editor of Touchstone. In a recent email to its readers his subject was how doctrinal disagreement is best handled:
.... Two hundred years ago, President of Princeton, Samuel Stanhope, wrote this to his cousin, Samuel Blair, who happened to believe all men would be saved:
I shall never believe that you are to be rejected from salvation for holding that all other men are to be saved—therefore your asserting this principle will not provoke any pious rage in me. I will give your argument a fair and cool examination. If I am not convinced, I will represent my objections to you with the same candor—if I cannot answer you I will not grow angry—and that is more than you can say of every Christian Brother—but I have learned long since, not to fight for God as if the devil were in me. If reason and charity cannot promote the cause of truth and piety, I cannot see how it should ever flourish under the withering fires of wrath and strife.
His closing words seem wise—especially "not to fight for God as if the devil were in me." Jesus, though, did not speak softly nor politely (or did he?) when he saw the devil in someone else. "Get thee behind me, Satan!" he says to Peter. Of course, Jesus was never mistaken in his assessments and judgments. We see things less clearly, but at times we do see. ....

John Witherspoon, a prominent Evangelical minister from the Church of Scotland, emigrated in 1768 to become president of the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton). Concerning the importance of manners for clergy, he wrote, "Let no man seek to avoid that reproach which may be his lot, for preaching the truths of the everlasting Gospel, but let him always avoid the just reproach of handling them in a mean, slovenly, and indecent manner." ....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014), RIP

Lauren Bacall, the smoky-voiced movie legend who taught Humphrey Bogart how to whistle in To Have and Have Not, has died at the age of 89, according to her family. ....

Bacall launched her career with To Have and Have Not, the 1944 film that turned "Bogie and Bacall" into one of Hollywood's legendary couples on screen and off. ....

Bogart and Bacall, who married in 1945 and were together until his death 12 years later, were teamed up in three more Warner Bros. movies, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo. .... [more]
Bacall with Bogart:

To Have and Have Not (1944):

The Big Sleep (1946):

Dark Passage (1947):

Key Largo (1948):

And much later, in Murder On The Orient Express (1974):

Lauren Bacall, legendary actress, dies at 89 - LA Times

"The great repentance...."

A few posts ago I referred to the Yale Digital Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson. Included in that collection are sermons that Johnson composed, presumably, for preachers unwilling or unable to write their own. These were not published until after Samuel Johnson's death. This is from the second sermon in the collection:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,
and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Isaiah 55:7
...[T]here is mercy with him, therefore shall he be feared. It is reasonable, that we should endeavour to please him, because we know that every sincere endeavour will be rewarded by him; that we should use all the means in our power, to enlighten our minds, and regulate our lives, because our errours, if involuntary, will not be imputed to us; and our conduct, though not exactly agreeable to the divine ideas of rectitude, yet if approved, after honest and diligent enquiries, by our own consciences, will not be condemned by that God, who judges of the heart, weighs every circumstance of our lives, and admits every real extenuation of our failings and transgressions.

Were there not mercy with him, were he not to be reconciled after the commission of a crime, what must be the state of those, who are conscious of having once offended him? A state of gloomy melancholy, or outrageous desperation; a dismal weariness of life, and inexpressible agonies at the thought of death; for what affright or affliction could equal the horrours of that mind, which expected every moment to fall into the hands of implacable omnipotence?

But the mercy of God extends not only to those that have made his will, in some degree, the rule of their actions, and have only deviated from it by inadvertency, surprize, inattention, or negligence, but even to those that have polluted themselves with studied and premeditated wickedness; that have violated his commands in opposition to conviction, and gone on, from crime to crime, under a sense of the divine disapprobation.

Even these are not for ever excluded from his favour, but have in their hands means, appointed by himself, of reconciliation to him; means by which pardon may be obtained, and by which they may be restored to those hopes of happiness, from which they have fallen by their own fault.

The great duty, to the performance of which these benefits are promised, is repentance; a duty, which it is of the utmost importance to every man to understand and practise....

Monday, August 11, 2014

Eight lessons

I don't know whether — when I get to see it — I will think Calvary a good film. Quite a few reviewers like it a lot. But I do think the eight lessons for "faith-friendly" movies offered in this essay are good advice for any film maker intending to portray Christianity in a way that will gain a secular audience in our post-Christian society:
1. People come to listen to a story, not a sermon.
If your story can be summed up as “a nonbeliever learns the error of his ways,” it’s not a story, it’s a sermon. ....
2. Good intentions don’t replace good quality.
.... Message for moviemakers: Take time to learn your craft. Be willing to pay dues. Love the craft of writing, not just the message. Love the beauty of film work, not just the platform. If you don’t get excited about a long camera shot or a brilliant script, this isn’t the field for you.
3. Love all your characters, even the nonbelievers. ....

4. We’ve all got doubts. Make room for them. ....

5. Faith-friendly and family-friendly are not the same thing.
If your main goal is to make a PG rated film with no boobs or f-bombs, you’ll miss great human stories, including many of the ones in the Bible. Make great kids’ movies for kids, but make great grown up movies for adults. “Calvary” is rated R for language, brief violence, and adult themes, but isn’t salacious or graphic. ....
6. Acknowledge that believers sometimes do bad things.
.... Message to filmmakers: Be brave enough to show the downside of the faithful. God can take it.
7. Don’t pull your punches.
Father Lavelle is a priest. Who is Catholic. Like the Pope. He tells people what God has said in Scripture, calls them on their evasions, and never apologizes for what he believes. The best Christian characters are nuanced, but unapologetically Christian. It’s at the core of who they are. Audiences respect consistent characters. Don’t hint or use euphemisms or tiptoe around faith. ....
8. Go for the heart, not the brain.
Christian subculture films often focus on convincing the viewer of some sermon-friendly point. “Calvary” hits deeper. It makes the case for faith by presenting the emptiness of life without it.

When you think about it, most people occupying church pews didn’t come to belief through a logical debate. Ask people about the moment they found God and they will tell you emotional, mystic moments: The time they sat in Taco Bell and saw the beauty and diversity of the faces around them and knew there must be a Creator. The time they came to the desperate end of their own goodness in a hotel room and begged for mercy. The time they heard their baby laugh and knew there must be a soul.

Message to filmmakers: Film is about feelings. Find the emotion of faith, the dark night of the soul, the joy of being used by God, a deep love of humanity in its beautiful brokenness, or the experience of the God of the Universe touching a human heart—and you will find a movie worth making. For everyone. [more]

Friday, August 8, 2014

James Madison

I have always been interested in this, one of the most interesting of the Founding Fathers and I would have been even if I didn't live in a city named after him and hadn't taught for two decades at James Madison Memorial High School. Lynne Cheney's new biography, James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, is described by The Weekly Standard's reviewer as "consistently engrossing." From that review:
.... He was still in his early 20s and only recently out of Princeton when the crisis of the Revolution began. From that moment on, he lived and breathed politics, learning at a phenomenal rate and quickly drawing favorable notice from domestic and foreign observers. ...[T]he French minister to the new republic, the Chevalier de la Luzerne, described him in 1783 as “the man of the soundest judgment in the Congress.” On the other hand, he never suffered fools gladly and had no small talk. Martha Bland, a more frivolous contemporary, described him as a “gloomy, stiff creature,” adding that he was “the most unsociable creature in existence.”

Short in stature, unprepossessing in appearance, a workaholic, plain-spoken and typically unemotional, he suffered from a form of epilepsy. This affliction kept him out of the Army when the Revolutionary War began and dogged him throughout his career, especially at moments of great stress. His many friends and admirers cautioned him against working himself to an early grave, though he outlived all the other Founders, surviving until 1836 to die at the age of 85. ....

Cheney sees the preservation of political balance as the central issue of Madison’s career. Dismayed that the republic seemed to be breaking up in the mid-1780s, Madison worked to create a stronger federal government to which the states would be subordinate. In opposition to the Federalists of the 1790s, by contrast, he feared an over-mighty federal government, which made him join Jefferson in asserting states’ rights in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. He opposed the creation of a national bank in the 1790s, but later, as president during the War of 1812, came to believe that one was necessary.

Where most historians have understood him to have changed his views over time, Cheney argues for an underlying consistency to which each of these responses was a pragmatic attempt at preserving the balance. He was, however, willing, when opportunity knocked, to deviate from strict adherence to principle. President Jefferson agonized over the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase, especially as he had, until then, been outspokenly opposed to bold federal initiatives. Madison, the secretary of state who helped accomplish the purchase, was on hand to soothe the president’s conscience. .... [more]

Useless trifles and vain searches

Samuel Johnson:

NOVEMBER. Almighty God, in whose hands are all the powers of man; who givest understanding, and takest it away; who, as it seemeth good unto Thee, enlightenest the thoughts of the simple, and darkenest the meditations of the wise, be present with me in my studies and enquiries.

Grant, O Lord, that I may not lavish away the life which Thou hast given me on useless trifles, nor waste it in vain searches after things which Thou hast hidden from me.

Enable me, by thy Holy Spirit, so to shun sloth and negligence, that every day may discharge part of the task which Thou hast allotted me; and so further with Thy help that labour which, without Thy help, must be ineffectual, that I may obtain, in all my undertakings, such success as will most promote Thy glory, and the salvation of my own soul, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Via Brandywine Books where it is also noted that Yale has put the complete works of Samuel Johnson online.