Thursday, March 16, 2017

Teach me to live, that I may dread / The grave as little as my bed

A friend on Facebook reminded me of this evening hymn. Re-posted from last year:

Glory to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light:
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings.
O may my soul on Thee repose,
And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close;
Sleep that shall me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.
Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done;
That with the world, myself, and Thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.
When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply;
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.
Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed;
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the awful day.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Thomas Ken, 1692

The performances I've found on YouTube leave out the fifth verse, "When in the night I sleepless lie..." I like that verse.


I probably posted this Schulz cartoon before. It's a favorite.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The greatest drama ever

On June 4, 1955, C.S. Lewis wrote to Dorothy Sayers to thank her for a pamphlet and letter she had sent him. He noted, in passing, that "as always in Holy Week," he had been "re-reading [Sayers's] The Man Born to Be King. It stands up to this v. particular kind of test extremely well." We might, I think, do far worse than imitate Lewis in our own Lenten reading.
In 2011 I posted this:

Joel D. Heck gives us "C.S. Lewis and The Man Born to be King," about a series of radio plays by Dorothy L. Sayers. I first read them in my college years. As valuable as the plays themselves are Sayers' introduction and notes explaining her dramatic choices. Excerpts from Heck's account:
My copy
In 1943, Dorothy L. Sayers’ script of twelve radio broadcasts was published by Harper & Brothers as The Man Born to Be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. She had written these dramatic episodes for the radio at a time when there was no precedent for such writing. Many deemed these broadcasts sacrilegious and some even considered them wicked. Far better, it was thought, to quote the Bible than to interpret it, especially on stage. .... She wrote one Nativity story, six stories from the period of Jesus’ ministry, and five Passion plays beginning with Palm Sunday. Some characters had to be invented, such as Elihu, who was the captain of the guard at the tomb of Jesus, but Baruch the Zealot was the only main character of importance that she invented. Judas could not be a worthless villain lest Sayers cast a slur upon either the intelligence or the character of Jesus for choosing him as a disciple. Sayers uses many direct quotations from the Gospels, then adds detail to the story for the flow of the narrative. Those details certainly could have happened, but they are invented for the sake of the story. .... .... Finally, in addition to being the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, her episodes comprise “first and foremost, a story—a true story, the turning-point of history, ‘the only thing that has ever really happened’” (Sayers, 22). Especially in the post-resurrection conversations between Jesus and His disciples the message and implications of the Gospel are thoroughly explained. For Dorothy L. Sayers, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). ....
Sayers and C.S. Lewis were friends. Heck quotes CSL about their relationship: "She was the first person of importance who ever wrote me a fan letter. I liked her, originally, because she liked me; later, for the extraordinary zest and edge of her conversation—as I like a high wind. She was a friend, not an ally." Lewis approved of The Man Born to be King:
Lewis enjoyed her play cycle so much that he read the plays in the year when her book was released and then every Holy Week thereafter. In fact, his first letter to her, on May 30, 1943, contained high praise:
Dear Miss Sayers— I’ve finished The Man Born to be King and think it a complete success. (Christie the H.M. of Westminster told me that the actual performances over the air left his 2 small daughters with “open and silent mouths” for several minutes). I shed real tears (hot ones) in places: since Mauriac’s Vie de Jesus nothing has moved me so much. I’m not absolutely sure whether Judas for me “comes off”—i.e. whether I shd. have got him without your off-stage analysis. But this may be due to merely reading what was meant to be heard. He’s quite a possible conception, no doubt: I’m only uncertain of the execution. But that is the only point I’m doubtful on. I expect to read it times without number again…. Yours sincerely C.S. Lewis (Collected Letters, II, 577f)
.... The Man Born To Be King became one of the books he would recommend, along with the works of Chesterton, Charles Williams, George MacDonald, St. Augustine, George Herbert, and others, which is high praise indeed!  .... [more]
The Man Born to Be King is available in paperback at Amazon for about $15.

Touchstone Archives: The Greatest Drama Ever, C.S. Lewis and The Man Born to be King

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"A 'truth' that will not debate is a truth that deserves to lose"

Stephen Carter is a professor of law at Yale. Here he explains the ideological rationale for campus intolerance. He calls those who refuse to permit speech they dislike "downshouters." Carter:
.... Students who try to shut down debate are not junior Nazis or proto-Stalins. If they were, I would be content to say that their antics will wind up on the proverbial ash heap of history. Alas, the downshouters represent something more insidious. They are, I am sorry to say, Marcusians. A half-century-old contagion has returned.

The German-born Herbert Marcuse was a brilliant and controversial philosopher whose writing became almost a sacred text for new-left intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s. Nowadays, his best-known work is the essay “Repressive Tolerance.” There he sets out the argument that the downshouters are putting into practice.

For Marcuse, the fact that liberal democracies made tolerance an absolute virtue posed a problem. If society includes two groups, one powerful and one weak, then tolerating the ideas of both will mean that the voice and influence of the strong will always be greater. ....

.... The only way to build a “subversive majority,” he writes, is to refuse to give ear to those on the wrong side. ....

Opening the minds of the majority by pressing one message and burdening another “may require apparently undemocratic means.” But the forces of power are so entrenched that to do otherwise — to tolerate the intolerable — is to leave authority in the hands of those who will deny equality to the workers and to minorities. That is why tolerance, unless it discriminates, will always be repressive. ....

Today’s campus downshouters, whether they have read Marcuse or not, have plainly undertaken his project. Probably they believe that their protests will genuinely hasten a better world. They are mistaken. Their theory possesses the same weakness as his. They presume to know the truth, to know it with such certainty that they are comfortable — indeed enthusiastic — at the notion of shutting down debate on the propositions they hold dear. Marcuse, as I said, was a brilliant philosopher, but on this question he was simply wrong. My own old-fashioned view is that a “truth” that will not debate is a truth that deserves to lose. ....

.... The downshouters will go on behaving deplorably, and reminding the rest of us that the true harbinger of an authoritarian future lives not in the White House but in the groves of academe. [more]

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"The wrong this day done"

Yesterday afternoon and evening C-SPAN showed several panels of historians discussing the period known as Reconstruction — the term referring to the post-war occupation and "reconstruction" of the states of the defeated Confederacy. That was the period which gave freed slaves the greatest hope of achieving equal rights in this country before the mid-20th century. After 1876 Democrats regained control of southern governments, suppressed violently the right of freedmen to vote, and proceeded to pass legislation designed to segregate the races and consolidate white supremacy. All of these actions violated the post Civil War 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Consequently cases eventually reached the Supreme Court arguing that such laws were unconstitutional. The Court did not acquit itself well. Arguably the most important case was Plessy v Ferguson (1896) testing a Louisiana law that segregated railway carriages by race. The Court upheld the state's law, ruling that separate facilities were Constitutional so long as they were equal, thus "separate but equal." That decision was the legal justification for the system of segregation that prevailed in the South for the next sixty years. The vote on the Court was eight to one. The single dissent was by Justice John Marshall Harlan. From his dissent:
.... In respect of civil rights, common to all citizens, the Constitution of the United States does not, I think, permit any public authority to know the race of those entitled to be protected in the enjoyment of such rights. .... I deny that any legislative body or judicial tribunal may have regard to the race of citizens when the civil rights of those citizens are involved. Indeed, such legislation, as that here in question, is inconsistent not only with that equality of rights which pertains to citizenship, National and State, but with the personal liberty enjoyed by every one within the United States.

...[I]n view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is, therefore, to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a State to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race. ....

The arbitrary separation of citizens, on the basis of race, while they are on a public highway, is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.

If evils will result from the commingling of the two races upon public highways established for the benefit of all, they will be infinitely less than those that will surely come from state legislation regulating the enjoyment of civil rights upon the basis of race. We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow-citizens, our equals before the law. The thin disguise of "equal" accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead any one, nor atone for the wrong this day done.
People who know more about Constitutional law may find my opinion simple-minded but it has always seemed to me that the Brown v Board decision labored much too hard to demonstrate that separate was inherently unequal. I think they ought to have simply used Harlan's reasoning and overturned Plessy. Harlan's argument had nothing to do with social science or statistics. It had nothing to say about groups. It was about the right of each individual American citizen, without regard to race or any other category, to be treated equally before the law.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"The fundamental questions...have been settled"

William Deresiewicz, socialist, atheist, college professor, "On Political Correctness" on campus. If you have the time read all of it.
.... Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion. ....

What does it mean to say that these institutions are religious schools? First, that they possess a dogma, unwritten but understood by all: a set of “correct” opinions and beliefs, or at best, a narrow range within which disagreement is permitted. There is a right way to think and a right way to talk, and also a right set of things to think and talk about. Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern. The presiding presence is Michel Foucault, with his theories of power, discourse, and the social construction of the self, who plays the same role on the left as Marx once did. The fundamental questions that a college education ought to raise—questions of individual and collective virtue, of what it means to be a good person and a good community—are understood to have been settled. The assumption, on elite college campuses, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth. This is a religious attitude. It is certainly not a scholarly or intellectual attitude. ....

That, by the way, is why liberal students (and liberals in general) are so bad at defending their own positions. They never have to, so they never learn to. That is also why it tends to be so easy for conservatives to goad them into incoherent anger. Nothing makes you more enraged than an argument you cannot answer. But the reason to listen to people who disagree with you is not so you can learn to refute them. The reason is that you may be wrong. In fact, you are wrong: about some things and probably about a lot of things. There is zero percent chance that any one of us is 100 percent correct. That, in turn, is why freedom of expression includes the right to hear as well as speak, and why disinviting campus speakers abridges the speech rights of students as well as of the speakers themselves.

Elite private colleges are ideologically homogenous because they are socially homogeneous, or close to it. Their student populations largely come from the liberal upper and upper-middle classes, multiracial but predominantly white, with an admixture of students from poor communities of color—two demographics with broadly similar political beliefs, as evidenced by the fact that they together constitute a large proportion of the Democratic Party base. As for faculty and managerial staff, they are even more homogenous than their students, both in their social origins and in their present milieu, which tends to be composed exclusively of other liberal professionals—if not, indeed, of other liberal academics. Unlike the campus protesters of the 1960s, today’s student activists are not expressing countercultural views. They are expressing the exact views of the culture in which they find themselves (a reason that administrators prove so ready to accede to their demands). If you want to find the counterculture on today’s elite college campuses, you need to look for the conservative students.....

.... There is always something new, as my students understood, that you aren’t supposed to say. And worst of all, you often don’t find out about it until after you have said it. The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.

You were also always under surveillance by a cadre of what Jane Austen called, in a very different context, “voluntary spies,” and what my students called the PC police. Regimes of virtue produce informants (which really does wonders for social cohesion). They also produce authorities, often self-appointed authorities, like the writing director at Scripps who decreed that you aren’t supposed to use the word crazy. Whenever I hear that you aren’t supposed to say something, I want to know, where did this supposed descend from? Who decided, and who gave them the right to decide? And whenever I hear that a given group of students demands this or says that, I want to ask, whom exactly are we talking about: all of them, or just a few of them? Did the group choose its leaders, or did the leaders choose themselves? ....

The power of political correctness is wielded not only against the faculty, however, but also against other groups within the student body, ones who don’t belong to the ideologically privileged demographics or espouse the approved points of view: conservative students; religious students, particularly Christians; students who identify as Zionists, a category that includes a lot of Jewish students; “athletes,” meaning white male athletes; white students from red states; heterosexual cisgendered white men from anywhere at all, who represent, depending on the school, between a fifth and a third of all students. (I say this, by the way, as an atheist, a democratic socialist, a native northeasterner, a person who believes that colleges should not have sports teams in the first place—and in case it isn’t obvious by now, a card-carrying member of the liberal elite.) I haven’t heard too many people talk about creating safe spaces for Christians, or preventing micro-aggressions against conservatives, or banning hate speech against athletes, or disinviting socialists. .... [more]

Pay attention

The easiest and cheapest way to force people to pay attention is to be at odds with them: to be a victim, to be offended by the use of ordinary words, to insist that your toilet preferences be made a matter of federal law. To be pleasant, content, and deferential is to be unnoticed, which in the age of social media is akin to ceasing to exist for a certain sort of person.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Is it really my fault...?"

Free inquiry on campus

Heterodox Academy provides "Free Inquiry on Campus: A Statement of Principles" by some Middlebury College faculty. Good to know that there are still people on that campus that believe in a liberal education. (UC Berkeley faculty?) A few of the points included in the statement:
  • A protest that prevents campus speakers from communicating with their audience is a coercive act.
  • No group of professors or students has the right to act as final arbiter of the opinions that students may entertain.
  • No group of professors or students has the right to determine for the entire community that a question is closed for discussion.
  • The purpose of college is not to make faculty or students comfortable in their opinions and prejudices.
  • A good education produces modesty with respect to our own intellectual powers and opinions as well as openness to considering contrary views.
  • All our students possess the strength, in head and in heart, to consider and evaluate challenging opinions from every quarter.

Monday, March 6, 2017

"Un-working" males

The most recent Commentary magazine includes an article by Nicholas Eberstadt, "Our Miserable 21st Century," that does, indeed, paint a very depressing picture of American society today with future prospects even more bleak. One of the subjects he writes about is the impact of opioid use, especially on men. The statistics are terrible — deaths from drug overdoses now surpass those from car accidents, suicides, and firearms. Eberstadt:
.... The opioid epidemic of pain pills and heroin that has been ravaging and shortening lives from coast to coast is a new plague for our new century. The terrifying novelty of this particular drug epidemic, of course, is that it has gone (so to speak) "mainstream" this time, effecting breakout from disadvantaged minority communities to Main Street White America. .... In Dreamland, his harrowing and magisterial account of modern America's opioid explosion, the journalist Sam Quinones notes in passing that "in one three-month period" just a few years ago, according to the Ohio Department of Health, "fully 11 percent of all Ohioans were prescribed opiates." And of course many Americans self-medicate with licit or illicit painkillers without doctors' orders.

In the fall of 2016, Alan Krueger, former chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, released a study that further refined the picture of the real existing opioid epidemic in America: According to his work, nearly half of all prime working-age male labor-force dropouts—an army now totaling roughly 7 million men—currently take pain medication on a daily basis.

We already knew from other sources (such as BLS "time use" surveys) that the overwhelming majority of the prime-age men in this un-working army generally don't "do civil society" (charitable work, religious activities, volunteering), or for that matter much in the way of child care or help for others in the home either, despite the abundance of time on their hands. Their routine, instead, typically centers on watching—watching TV DVDs, Internet, hand-held devices, etc.—and indeed watching for an average of 2,000 hours a year, as if it were a full-time job. But Krueger's study adds a poignant and immensely sad detail to this portrait of daily life in 21st-century America: In our mind's eye we can now picture many millions of un-working men in the prime of life, out of work and not looking for jobs, sitting in front of screens—stoned.

But how did so many millions of un-working men, whose incomes are limited, manage en masse to afford a constant supply of pain medication? Oxycontin is not cheap. As Dreamland carefully explains, one main mechanism today has been the welfare state: more specifically, Medicaid, Uncle Sam's means-tested health-benefits program. Here is how it works (we are with Quinones in Portsmouth, Ohio):
[The Medicaid card] pays for medicine—whatever pills a doctor deems that the insured patient needs. Among those who receive Medicaid cards are people on state welfare or on a federal disability program known as SSI... . If you could get a prescription from a willing doctor—and Portsmouth had plenty of them—Medicaid health-insurance cards paid for that prescription every month. For a three-dollar Medicaid co-pay, therefore, addicts got pills priced at thousands of dollars, with the difference paid for by U.S. and state taxpayers. A user could turn around and sell those pills, obtained for that three-dollar co-pay, for as much as ten thousand dollars on the street.
You may now wish to ask: What share of prime-working-age men these days are enrolled in Medicaid? According to the Census Bureau's SUP survey (Survey of Income and Program Participation), as of 2013, over one-fifth (21 percent) of all civilian men between 25 and 55 years of age were Medicaid beneficiaries. For prime-age people not in the labor force, the share was over half (53 percent). And for un-working Anglos (non-Hispanic white men not in the labor force) of prime working age, the share enrolled in Medicaid was 48 percent.
By the way: Of the entire un-working prime-age male Anglo population in 2013, nearly three-fifths (57 percent) were reportedly collecting disability benefits from one or more government disability program in 2013. Disability checks and means-tested benefits cannot support a lavish lifestyle. But they can offer a permanent alternative to paid employment, and for growing numbers of American men, they do. The rise of these programs has coincided with the death of work for larger and larger numbers of American men not yet of retirement age. We cannot say that these programs caused the death of work for millions upon millions of younger men: What is incontrovertible, however, is that they have financed it—just as Medicaid inadvertently helped finance America's immense and increasing appetite for opioids in our new century. .... [more]
Nicholas Eberstadt, "Our Miserable 21st Century"

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The burial of the dead

I've been thinking about Christian funerals recently, and especially the "celebration of the life" of the deceased in a Christian context. Obviously a funeral or memorial service for a Christian will spend some time remembering the life, the character, the faith, and the contributions — the achievements — of that person. But it seems to me that should not be the primary focus. Of course for a dead  non-believer that may be all that can be said. For a believer the emphasis should be on the Hope we have.

The Book of Common Prayer has a section titled "The Order for The Burial of the Dead," and like every section of that book it rests very heavily on Scripture. The prayers are good, too. I chose readings from this section for my mother's funeral and was somewhat surprised afterwards to be complimented for the choices. I thought they would be familiar to anyone who had attended a funeral. They should be.

The service begins with these words:
I AM the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.
I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.
We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
More, later in the service:
I WILL lift up mine eyes unto the hills; from whence cometh my help?
My help cometh even from the Lord, who hath made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; and he that keepeth thee will not sleep.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord himself is thy keeper; the Lord is thy defence upon thy right hand;
So that the sun shall not burn thee by day, neither the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil; yea, it is even he that shall keep thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in, from this time forth for evermore.
JESUS said, Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
I HEARD a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours.
O LORD Jesus Christ, who by thy death didst take away the sting of death; Grant unto us thy servants so to follow in faith where thou hast led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in thee, and awake up after thy likeness; through thy mercy, who livest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
I AM the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"Deep roots are not reached by the frost"

Tim Challies is re-reading The Lord of the Rings and is impressed with "What Tolkien Did So Well, What We Do So Poorly":
.... One of the great strengths of Tolkien’s work is its grounding in history. One of the great weaknesses of the contemporary church is its detachment from its own history. Few of today’s Christians have a clear sense of how the church came to be. They know of Acts and Reformation and Billy Graham, but the rest is a blur. They do not know their forebears, the ones who faithfully proclaimed and finally handed down the faith. They have no grounding in history—their own history. ....

There are many reasons we ought to teach believers their history. History gives us purpose. History gives us hope. History gives us theological grounding. But as much as anything, history reminds us that we live in the shadow of those who have come before and that those who follow will, in turn, look back to us.

The characters in The Lord of the Rings know they are set within a wider drama that began ages prior and will continue ages hence. They are determined to act in ways that honor their forebears and leave a worthy example for their descendants. ....

We’d do well to learn from their example. We, too, need to set believers within their history. We, too, need to teach them they are small but significant players in a much wider, grander drama. They must always be aware of those who have gone before and always think of those who will follow. They do not stand alone in the story, but always in the shadow of their forebears. What Tolkien did so well is what we do so poorly.
Not Challies:

People will not look forward to posterity
who will not look backward to their ancestors.
Edmund Burke

Not to know what has been transacted in former times
is to be always a child.
If no use is made of the labors of past ages,
the world must remain always in the infancy of knowledge.

Marcus Tulius Cicero

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you..."

"By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you 
not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, 
but to think with sober judgment, 
each according to the measure of faith 
that God has assigned."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Let not mind thwart spleen"

Alan Jacobs no longer tweets but he did check Twitter today. He found tweets denouncing something one of his friends had written. From "a word of exhortation" (which includes a really good book recommendation):
.... Some of the commenters were stupid people, of course, but a number of them weren't. However, they were trying to be. That is, they couldn't possibly have been dumb enough, or sufficiently incompetent at reading, to believe that the post's author had said the things they were claiming he said. But making those ridiculous and insupportable claims gave them the opportunity to score political points. Or, at least, they believed, and rightly, that people who shared their politics would think points had been scored.

I left Twitter and picked up a book — P.D. James's Death in Holy Orders, which I had read (and loved) when it first appeared but which has receded far enough in the rear-view mirror of memory that I can now enjoy it a second time. And what struck me about the book, as I immersed myself in it, was simply this: that it was written by a very intelligent person who valued intelligence, not least in her readers. Imagine that, I thought; believing that intelligence matters, that the exercise of it is good, that it is good for us all if we pursue it together.

I think I have been away from Twitter long enough now to see what it has become: a venue for people who don't just preen themselves on their righteous anger, but who also work diligently to suppress their intelligence so that that that righteous anger may be put before the world in a condition of laboratory purity. Let not mind thwart spleen — that is the unofficial motto, now, of Twitter.

Let me exhort you, people: close Twitter and read a book. ....

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Nobody is ever going to take you seriously.”

Mark Bauerlein explains certain truths that parents need to convey to their offspring:
.... All of you who are parents must institute a list of proscribed words in the home. The idiom of adolescence must go. Start with six words:
  • like
  • awesome
  • cool
  • whatever
  • stuff
  • basically
When the “likes” pop up, as they do in nearly ever thought some youths utter (“...and I was just like...and he was like...”), hold up your hand and start counting them. When the “awesome” comes, stop your child and say, “Hey, give me five synonyms for it,” and help him with “marvelous, wonderful, astounding ….” When a sentence gets punctuated by stuff (“Yeah, I had to go to the library and do some homework ‘n stuff”), ask for details.

As you train the young in better speech, you should justify your efforts, as I do with my students when the juvenile banter fills the room:
“Guys and gals, you may think you live in a non-judgmental, tolerant, free-spirit society that takes you as you are and appreciates your individuality. That's certainly what your friends and social media lead you to believe. But when you go out into the big world, you're going to be judged all the time. People will judge you on how you dress and how you stand and sit. They will judge you by your words. They will judge you even when they say nothing, but only look at you and listen to you. If you insert a like into every sentence, nobody is ever going to take you seriously.”
These are hard truths, but explaining them is a parent's duty.
When I take the Badger Bus to Milwaukee to visit my brother I am almost invariably surrounded by University of Wisconsin students going home for the weekend or for a holiday. Having to listen to their personal or cellphone conversation is excruciating.

Monday, February 20, 2017

George Washington's faith

Mark Tooley republishes his review, "George Washington's God," "in honor of Washington’s Birthday and of Michael Novak, who died Friday, February 17, 2017." Michael Novak and his daughter, Jana Novak, were authors of Washington’s God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country, published in 2006; it was written at the request of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. From Tooley's review:
.... The assumption of the last century’s scholarship that Washington was irreligious is partly his fault. Reserved and emotionally reticent, he left no extant theological treatises on his personal religious beliefs. The clues must be extracted from Washington’s ecclesial habits, his family life, his character, and the numerous references to the Almighty in his public writings and personal letters. ....

Most of Washington’s family, friends, and associates assumed he had at least conventional if not necessarily expressive Christian faith. “He took these things [religion] as he found them existing, and was constant in his observance of worship according to the received forms of the Episcopal Church in which he was brought up,” James Madison matter-of-factly observed of his fellow Virginian. ....

Washington was indeed tight-lipped about the specifics of his theology. But he was surprisingly frequent in his references to the Deity. His God was not remote or impersonal. Washington’s God, as he described Him in his public declarations and personal letters, was quite active and quite personal. This deity saved the young Washington several times from French and Indian bullets, saved Washington’s army from near destruction by the far larger British army, and saved the young republic from chaos and division. ....

Washington’s few specific references to Jesus Christ and his lack of Trinitarian language helped fuel the assumption that he was a deist. The Novaks devote a whole chapter to deism, which they explain as a rationalization of Christianity. The deist God is a creator whose world is governed by natural laws and who desires moral living by humanity, whose conduct will be judged in the afterlife.

Much of early Protestantism initially rejected Catholicism’s use of human reason, choosing instead to focus on faith alone. Deism, the Novaks suggest, allowed Protestants to incorporate the language of reason during the Enlightenment. Some deists remained Christians, while others would follow the European model of strict rationalism. Washington, as he related the many interventions of his God, clearly believed in a continuously active deity who was more than the detached “clockmaker” of strict deism. ....

The Washingtons usually attended Pohick Church near Mount Vernon and sometimes Christ Church in Alexandria. Either trip by carriage involved a couple hours of travel round trip. Washington financially supported both churches and gave considerable personal time over the decades to his work on the church vestry. Throughout his presidency he regularly attended churches in New York and Philadelphia. ....

Washington’s spiritual life within his family appears to have been conventionally orthodox. He prayed before meals, read sermons out loud to Martha, and bought devotional material for his stepchildren. When stepdaughter Patsy was dying, he prayed audibly while on his knees at her bedside. ....

.... Washington’s public utterances about God were unifying rather than divisive and were admired by Anglicans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and even Jews. He carefully wrote to their congregations, visited their places of worship, and received their delegations, commending their faith and urging their loyalty to the new republic and its promise of religious liberty to all. .... [more]
From 10 George Washington Quotes Pointing to God's Providence":
“Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise for the wonders which his goodness has wrought in conducting our fore-fathers to this western world…and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory.” — Washington’s General Orders, November 27, 1779
 George Washington's God - Juicy Ecumenism, 10 George Washington Quotes Pointing to God's Providence - Juicy Ecumenism

Saturday, February 18, 2017


...[B]iblical Sabbath is not an injunction against work for work's sake. We don't idle the body only to improve its performance. That is our culture's impoverished, work-centric, and inevitably anxious view of rest. Rather, biblical Sabbath displaces work from the centre of human life and reimagines a world cohering in Christ—a world where houses are built by more than human industry, where cities are protected by more than human vigilance, even a world where work is imbued with greater dignity and urgency because "in the Lord [no] labour is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Sabbath, in the most Christian sense, affords a rest by which we are not so much restored as re-storied—not simply refreshed but freed to "be still and know that he is God." Sabbath rest is more satisfying (and possibly even busier) than retirement. ....

Friday, February 17, 2017

Political thought of C.S. Lewis

From an interview with one of the authors of C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law:
Berny Belvedere: Your book is on C.S. Lewis’ political thought. But didn’t Lewis avoid politics at all costs?

Justin Dyer: There is some truth to the notion that Lewis was apolitical.

Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, said flatly that “Jack was not interested in politics.” In the 1950s Lewis turned down the honorific title of Commander of the British empire because he worried that his writings would be viewed as political propaganda. He claimed he never read a newspaper and once wrote to his brother that he “loathed great issues” and would prefer to see a “Stagnation Party — which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place.” ....

Belvedere: Where do you turn in Lewis’ sizable catalogue to see examples of his political thought?

Dyer: There are political themes in nearly all of Lewis’ works.

In his academic magnum opus, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis gives sophisticated treatments of political theorists such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Hooker.

Lewis’ Abolition of Man chronicles the consequences of humanity’s attempt to conquer human nature, and he presents those themes in fictional form in the third volume of his Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength — which centers on a nefarious government bureaucracy called the National Institutes for Coordinated Experiments (or N.I.C.E. for short).

In letters and shorter essays, Lewis wrote about equality, criminal justice, capital punishment, pacifism, nuclear war, unalienable rights, social contract theory, Christian political parties, and the welfare state, among other explicitly political topics. But even some of the less overtly political works, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, have political themes running throughout. .... [more]

"Well-meaning, censorious puritans"

Was Ray Bradbury more prescient than Orwell? Fahrenheit 451 than 1984? Patrick West thinks so:
In [Fahrenheit 451] firemen go round not extinguishing fires, but igniting them — specifically to burn books that are deemed too dangerous for people to read, to protect people’s feelings and shield them from suggestive thoughts and ‘evil ideas’.

The society imagined in Fahrenheit 451 is one in which hyper-sensitive identity politics have been taken to their logical conclusion. As the book-burning police chief, Captain Beatty, explains: ‘All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean… Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it… You must understand that our civilisation is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred.’

The dystopia represented here isn’t an Orwellian, top-down tyranny, but one created from the bottom, by well-meaning, censorious puritans. Beatty elaborates: ‘It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time.’ ....