Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Word abides


Lord, Thy Word abideth,
And our footsteps guideth; 
Who its truth believeth
Light and joy receiveth.
Who can tell the pleasure,
Who recount the treasure,
By Thy Word imparted
To the simple hearted?
When our foes are near us,
Then Thy Word doth cheer us, 
Word of consolation,
Message of salvation.
Word of mercy, giving
Succor to the living;
Word of life, supplying
Comfort to the dying!
When the storms are o’er us,
And dark clouds before us,
Then its light directeth,
And our way protecteth.
O that we, discerning,
Its most holy learning,
Lord, may love and fear Thee,
Evermore be near Thee!

Friday, June 23, 2017

"A substitute religion in a secular era"

Which Hogwarts house would you be in? There are four options, and everybody fits into one. The brave and chivalrous are put in Gryffindor. Patient and loyal types head to Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw is for the witty and intelligent. The cunning and ambitious — and potentially evil — are destined for Slytherin. In the Harry Potter books, a pugnacious talking hat, known as the ‘Sorting Hat’, carries out the selection.

If you are like me and under 35, you probably didn’t need that explaining. Almost every young person who can read has read Harry Potter — 450 million copies have been sold worldwide. Not to do so was an act of rebellion. On Monday, fans will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first book’s publication — two decades on and J.K. Rowling’s tales of wizardry and witchcraft continue to bewitch us, even though we are meant to have grown up.

The ‘Potterverse’ is the millennial universe. It informs the way we see ourselves and the way we look at the world; our moral imagination. If you have ever wondered why young people are often so childish in their politics, why they want to divide the world between tolerant progressives and wicked reactionaries, it helps to understand that.

Harry Potter may be a literary fantasy but for many it is also a substitute religion in a secular era. The books are about the fight between good and evil, and the power of magic. They teach you that bigotry must be fought at all costs, that tolerance and difference must be celebrated. The great symbol of malevolence is Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort — or ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’. He wants to rid the wizarding world of Muggles (people from non-wizarding heritage) and is obsessed with the idea of blood purity.

The Harry Potter generation sees real-life Voldemorts everywhere. .... [more]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A foretaste of Hell

Dorothy L. Sayers:
If we refuse assent to reality: if we rebel against the nature of things and choose to think that what we at the moment want is the centre of the universe to which everything else ought to accommodate itself, the first effect on us will be that the whole universe will seem to be filled with an implacable and inexplicable hostility. We shall begin to feel that everything has a down on us, and that, being so badly treated, we have a just grievance against things in general. That is the knowledge of good as evil and the fall into illusion. If we cherish and fondle that grievance, and would rather wallow in it and vent our irritation in spite and malice than humbly admit we are in the wrong and try to amend our behaviour so as to get back to reality, that is, while it lasts, the deliberate choice, and a foretaste of the experience, of Hell.
From Introductory Papers on Dante as quoted in A Matter of Eternity: Selections from the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers (1973)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

'Goodness = what comes next.'

Wherein I found this poem
         Evolutionary Hymn
                       C.S. Lewis
LEAD us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.
Wrong or justice in the present,
Joy or sorrow, what are they
While there's always jam to-morrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.
To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.
Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.
Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
'Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.
On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present
Standards, though it well may be).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Eagle of the Blue

Old Abe

Herman Melville:
The bird commemorated here was, according to the account, borne aloft on a perch beside the standard; went through successive battles and campaigns; was more than once under the surgeon's hands; and at the close of the contest found honorable repose in the capital of Wisconsin, from which state he had gone to the wars.
Aloft he guards the starry folds
Who is the brother of the star;
The bird whose joy is in the wind
Exulteth in the war.
Amid the scream of shells, his scream
Runs shrilling; and the glare
Of eyes that brave the blinding sun
The vollied flame can bear.
No painted plume—a sober hue,
His beauty is his power;
That eager calm of gaze intent
Foresees the Sibyl's hour.
The pride of quenchless strength is his—
Strength which, though chained, avails;
The very rebel looks and thrills—
The anchored Emblem hails.
Austere, he crowns the swaying perch,   
Flapped by the angry flag;
The hurricane from the battery sings,
But his claw has known the crag.
Though scarred in many a furious fray,
No deadly hurt he knew;
Well may we think his years are charmed—
The Eagle of the Blue.



After the Civil War the eagle dwelt in Wisconsin's Capitol, being brought out for conventions of the GAR and the GOP. It is said that when brought into the room he would flap his wings and scream.

Monday, June 19, 2017

"Rich with teaching for life..."

Also included in Isaacs and Zimbardo, Tolkien and the Critics (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), is an essay by Edmund Fuller who was the chief book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal for over thirty years. From his "The Lord of the Hobbits: J.R.R. Tolkien" (1962):
.... In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, God is seen at work in history, taking an initiative, intervening in the affairs of His creatures. ....

In Tolkien's Third Age an Ultimate Power is implicit. There is the possibility of Sauron gaining total sway over Middle-earth, but it is clear that there are other realms where his machinations are inoperable. The "Blessed Realm" lies in the mystery of the West, beyond the Sea, and certain characters sail toward it in an image akin to the passing of Arthur to Avalon. ....

In Tolkien's Third Age, the powers that Gandaif and the High Elves can bring to bear against Sauron clearly are derived from the Prime Source, Who is in some way identified with the Blessed Realm. The great ancient names of men and Elves often invoked are on His side. Running through the story is a thread of prophecy being fulfilled, and Frodo is regarded as "chosen" for his heavy task.

Bilbo's acquiring of the Ring was not just a combination of chance and the power of the Ring itself to work its way back toward its master. Gandaif says to Frodo:
'Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it.'
A mysterious, over-arching purpose is manifested, too, in the enigmas of the odd, repulsive, but fascinating creature called Gollum, who had treasured the Ring for a long time before Bilbo came upon him. He haunts the Ring through the whole chronicle. There are moments when he is spared only in remembrance of Gandaif's early words:
'...he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many—yours not least.'
The intricacy of Tolkien's web of cause and effect, of the interactions of motives and wills, natural and supernatural, is extraordinary and notwithstanding the frame of fantasy profoundly realistic.

As for the choosing of Frodo, it is said:
'This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.'
There is no evading the problem of the Ring:
'...they who dwell beyond the Sea would not receive it: for good or ill it belongs to Middle-earth; it is for us who still dwell here to deal with it.'
And so it is that the hobbit, Frodo, quietly, reluctantly, in a sustained action surely as brave as any recorded in imaginative literature, assents:
'I will take the Ring,' he said, 'though I do not know the way.'
Thus, at its core, still leaving unreckoned all the wealth of its detailed unfolding, this wonder tale is rich with teaching for life as we lead it. This places it among the true elite of books that can claim to offer such rewards. ....
This may be the same book, retitled and from a different publisher: Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism. It has the same editors.

Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo, Tolkien and the Critics, University of Notre Dame Press, 1968

There are no final victories

W.H. Auden at the conclusion of his essay, "The Quest Hero" (1962):
"And so they lived happily ever after" is a conventional formula for concluding a fairy tale. Alas, it is false and we know it, for it suggests that, once Good has triumphed over Evil, man is translated out of his historical existence into eternity. Tolkien is much too honest to end with such a pious fiction. Good has triumphed over Evil so far as the Third Age of Middle-earth is concerned, but there is no certainty that this triumph is final. There was Morgoth before Sauron and, before the Fourth Age ends, who can be sure that no successor to Sauron will appear? Victory does not mean the restoration of the Earthly Paradise or the advent of the New Jerusalem. In our historical existence even the best solution involves loss as well as gain. With the destruction of the Ruling Ring, the three Elven Rings lose their power, as Galadriel foresaw.
'Do you not see now wherefore your coming is to us as the footsteps of Doom? For if you fail, we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.'
Even Frodo, the Quest Hero, has to pay for his success.
'But,' said Sam, and tears started from his eyes, 'I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire...for years and years, after all you have done.'

'So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.'
If there is any Quest Tale which, while primarily concerned with the subjective life of the individual person as all such stories must be, manages to do more justice to our experience of social-historical realities than The Lord of the Rings, I should be glad to hear of it.
W.H. Auden, "The Quest Hero" was reprinted in Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo, Tolkien and the Critics, University of Notre Dame Press, 1968, where I first found it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Death comes before resurrection

.... It neglects tragedy. Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship. The most basic liturgical elements of the faith, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, speak of death, of burial, of a covenant made in blood, of a body broken. ....

Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life. It should provide us with a language that allows us to praise the God of resurrection while lamenting the suffering and agony that is our lot in a world alienated from its creator, and it should thereby sharpen our longing for the only answer to the one great challenge we must all face sooner or later. Only those who accept that they are going to die can begin to look with any hope to the resurrection. ....

Even funerals, the one religious context where one might have assumed the reality of death would be unavoidable, have become the context for that most ghastly and incoherent of acts: the celebration of a life now ended. The Twenty-Third Psalm and “Abide with Me” were funeral staples for many years but not so much today. References to the valley of the shadow of death and the ebbing out of life’s little day, reminders both of our mortality and of God’s faithfulness even in the darkest of times, have been replaced as funeral favorites by “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “My Way.” The trickle down economics of worship as entertainment has reached even the last rites for the departed. ....

Of all places, the Church should surely be the most realistic. The Church knows how far humanity has fallen, understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer. In the psalms of lament, the Church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but the next. In the great liturgies of the Church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow. Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection. ....
From the Book of Common Prayer:

In the midst of life we are in death; 
of whom may we seek for succour, but of Thee, O Lord....

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"A disposition to enjoy"

.... To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to Utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one's own fortune, to live at the level of ones own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one's circumstances. With some people this is itself a choice; in others it is a disposition which appears, frequently or less frequently, in their preferences and aversions, and is not itself chosen or specifically cultivated. ....

The disposition to be conservative is, then, warm and positive in respect of enjoyment, and correspondingly cool and critical in respect of change and innovation: these two inclinations support and elucidate one another. The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better. He is not in love with what is dangerous and difficult; he is unadventurous; he has no impulse to sail uncharted seas; for him there is no magic in being lost, bewildered or shipwrecked. If he is forced to navigate the unknown, he sees virtue in heaving the lead every inch of the way. What others plausibly identify as timidity, he recognizes in himself as rational prudence; what others interpret as inactivity, he recognizes as a disposition to enjoy rather than to exploit. He is cautious, and he is disposed to indicate his assent or dissent, not in absolute, but in graduated terms. He eyes the situation in terms of its propensity to disrupt the familiarity of the features of his world. ....
Michael Oakeshott, "On Being Conservative," Rationalism in Politics and other essays, 1962.

"The knowledge that the soul survives its adventures"

G.K. Chesterton:
It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is pre-eminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged; God has kept that good wine until now. It is from the backs of the elderly gentlemen that the wings of the butterfly should burst. There is nothing that so much mystifies the young as the consistent frivolity of the old. They have discovered their indestructibility. They are in their second and clearer childhood, and there is a meaning in the merriment of their eyes. They have seen the end of the End of the World.
G.K. Chesterton, "Charles Dickens"

Friday, June 16, 2017

"But yet in love He sought me..."

A paraphrase of Psalm 23:



The King of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever.
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me,
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
Where streams of living water flow,
My ransomed soul He leadeth
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.
Thou spredst a table in my sight;
Thine unction grace bestoweth;
And, oh, what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me
And on His shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me.
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never.
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.

King's College Choir Cambridge Hymns The King of Love my Shepherd is - YouTube

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave"

As has become my custom on Flag Day I post this:

Several years ago I was part of an exchange with secondary teachers from Japan. The Japanese teachers spent time with us in Madison and in our schools and we did the same in Japan. As preparation for the experience, all of us were together in Washington, D.C., learning about each other, getting acquainted, and trying to bridge some of the cultural differences. In one of the sessions a Japanese teacher asked why Americans seemed to place so much emphasis on the flag. Many Japanese are, for understandable historical reasons, very skeptical of anything smacking of nationalism. I explained that in our case we have no national figure—no queen or emperor—who symbolizes the nation. Nor does the flag stand for blood or soil. It stands for our ideals—"the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It stands for what we believe in and aspire to be as a country. We honor the flag because it represents the Constitutional system that protects our freedoms and our rights.

In my files I came across a pamphlet, undated, published by the Marine Corps, titled How to Respect and Display Our Flag. A stamp on it indicates that it was distributed by the "Marine Corps Recruiting Sub-Station" in Janesville, Wisconsin. Since the flags in the illustrations have forty-eight stars, it must be from the late 1950s. The rules it specifies seem almost quaint after the events of the last half century. The flag has been burned and trampled by Americans. It is flown night and day in good weather or foul—even by those who intend to honor it. A colleague used to put one on the floor of his classroom, inviting students to decide whether to walk on it. How one treats the symbol became partisan, expressing a political rather than a patriotic allegiance.

Here is the section from that pamphlet titled "How to Display the Flag":
Respect your flag and render it the courtesies to which it is entitled by observing the following rules, which are in accordance with the practices approved by leading flag authorities:

The National flag should be raised and lowered by hand. It should be displayed only from sunrise to sunset, or between such hours as may be designated by proper authority. Do not raise the flag while it is furled. Unfurl, then hoist quickly to the top of the staff. Lower it slowly and with dignity. Place no objects on or over the flag. Various articles are sometimes placed on a speaker's table covered with the flag. This practice should be avoided.

When displayed in the chancel or on a platform in a church, the flag should be placed on a staff at the clergyman's right; other flags at his left. If displayed in the body of the church, the flag should be at the congregation's right as they face the clergyman.

Do not use the flag as a portion of a costume or athletic uniform. Do not embroider it upon cushions or handkerchiefs nor print it on paper napkins or boxes.
1. When displayed over the middle of the street, the flag should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street, or to the east in a north and south street.
2. When displayed with another flag from crossed staffs, the flag of the United States of America should be on the right (the flag's own right) and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.
3. When it is to be flown at half-mast, the flag should be hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-mast position; but before lowering the flag for the day it should again be raised to the peak. By half-mast is meant hauling down the flag to one-half the distance between the top and the bottom of the staff. On Memorial Day display at half-mast until noon only; then hoist to top of staff.
4. When flags of states or cities or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States of America, the latter should always be at the peak. When flown from adjacent staffs the Stars and Stripes should be hoisted first and lowered last.
5. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope, extending from house to pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out from the building, toward the pole, union first.
6. When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at any angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should go clear to peak of the staff (unless the flag is to be displayed at half-mast).
7. When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.
8. When the flag is displayed in a manner other than by being flown from a staff, it should be displayed flat, whether indoors or out. When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window it should be displayed in the same way, that is, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street. When festoons, rosettes or drapings are desired, bunting of blue, white and red should be used, but never the flag.
9. When carried in a procession with another flag or flags, the Stars and Stripes should be either on the marching right, or when there is a line of other flags, our National flag may be in front of the center of that line.
10. When a number of flags of states or cities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs with our National flag, the latter should be at the center or at the highest point of the group.
11. When the flags of two or more nations are displayed they should be flown from separate staffs of the same height and the flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.

A federal law provides that a trademark cannot be registered which consists of, or comprises among other things, "the flag, coat-of-arms or other insignia of the United States, or any simulation thereof."

Take every precaution to prevent the flag from becoming soiled. It should not be allowed to touch the ground or floor, nor to brush against objects.

When the flag is used in unveiling a statue or monument, it should not be used as a covering of the object to be unveiled. If it is displayed on such occasions, do not allow the flag to fall to the ground, but let it be carried aloft to form a feature of the ceremony.

On suitable occasions repeat this pledge to the flag:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The pamphlet also has the words of our National Anthem. We almost never sing anything beyond the first verse. The third is particularly good:
Oh, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Power that has made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust";
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

First posted in 2009

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"At the great rising-Day"

From Thomas Kidd this morning:
.... Noll focuses on Whitefield’s popular hymn book A Collection of Hymns for Social Worship (1753), which went through dozens of editions and was used extensively among white and African American evangelicals in Britain, America, and the Caribbean. You can see the whole 1758 edition here, in Google Books.

.... Following Watts’s example, the hymns featured innovative meters and poetic framing of biblical themes, rather than the older Protestant tradition of simply singing the Psalms. ....

The range of authors was wide, but they covered a narrow range of themes. The hymns primarily focused upon Christ’s work as the redeemer, and the believer’s gratefulness for salvation. ....
It's an interesting collection of hymns. One that particularly caught my attention was an unfamiliar (to me) Isaac Watts hymn which, I discover, still appears in some contemporary hymnals:

HYMN CXXVII.
At the Death of a Believer
Why do we mourn departing Friends
Or shake at Death's Alarms?
'Tis but the Voice that Jesus sends
To call them to his Arms.
Are we not tending upward, too,
As fast as Time can move?
Nor would we wish the Hours more slow
To keep us from our Love.
Why should we tremble to convey
Their bodies to the Tomb?
There the dear Flesh of Jesus lay
And left a sweet Perfume.
The Graves of all the Saints He blessed
And softened every Bed.
Where should the dying Members rest
But with their dying Head?
Thence He arose, ascending high,
And showed our Feet the Way.
Up to the Lord our Flesh shall fly
At the great rising-Day.
Then let the last loud trumpet sound
And bid our kindred rise:
Awake, ye nations under ground!
Ye saints, ascend the skies!

George Whitefield’s Gospel-Centered Hymn Book | TGCA Collection of Hymns for Social Worship: More Particularly Designed for the ... - George Whitefield - Google Books

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wretched


And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!


Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I've pulled off the shelf a book I inherited from my father containing only the poem and the illustrations for it by Gustave Doré. The book is in a very large format with a Doré illustration for just about every verse. Dad subscribed for a time for books distributed by the International Book Society. This one came with an LP record of a reading of the poem. The illustration is scanned from the book.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Judge of the Nations, spare us yet..."

Recessional by Rudyard Kipling (1897)
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law*
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!


*Orwell: "The phrase 'lesser breeds' refers almost certainly to the Germans, and especially the pan-German writers, who are 'without the Law' in the sense of being lawless, not in the sense of being powerless. The whole poem, conventionally thought of as an orgy of boasting, is a denunciation of power politics. British as well as German."

A Choice of Kipling's Verse made by T.S. Eliot, Faber & Faber, 1941.

Friday, June 9, 2017

An inverted religion

Russell Kirk once had "An Encounter with Ayn Rand":
Miss Ayn Rand is in the news nowadays. She has written two best-selling novels—Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead—and she has gotten up a curious philosophy which she calls “Objectivism.”

Recently she and I, with some other people, were on the same television program, Mr. Eric Sevareid moderating. Ayn Rand’s eyes glow with belief, and she still speaks with something of an accent, though she came from Russia as a child. She hates collectivism and sentimentality, and thinks the modern world ought to get rid of “altruism” and exalt self-interest.

Miss Rand and I argued that the mass-state means a new slavery, and that what often is called “social justice” today really amounts to nothing better than penalizing the able and industrious, through legislation, to reward the slack and shiftless—who do have votes.

But we disagreed thoroughly as to the whole purpose of life and of the civil social order. Ayn Rand literally would put the dollar sign in place of the cross: She does just that in Atlas Shrugged. And I say that life is not worth living without love, sacrifice, charity: we human beings were made for brotherhood (which does not exclude healthy competition), and if we live only for our own petty little selves, our souls shrivel.

Though I have nothing against free enterprise (which I believe to be a support of other freedoms, as well as the most efficient economic system), one cannot sanely make the accumulation of dollars the whole aim of existence. “Thou canst not serve both God and Mammon.” Mammon is thoroughgoing selfishness, dedication to self-satisfaction. The Cross is the symbol of sacrifice, suffering, heroism. The dollar sign is the symbol of profit, which is all right with me, so long as it is honest; but material profit isn’t happiness, let alone our whole duty. We really can’t live by bread alone.

Miss Rand is an atheist, despising religion as “non-objective.” But she burns with a fire curiously religious in intensity. She has an inverted religion—an ideology of efficiency and self-satisfaction—in economics, in politics, in sex. (Ideology, by the way, means pseudo religion, the substitution of political dogmas for religious doctrines.) And that way lies madness.

As Dante knew, it is love that moves this world and all the stars. Babies, though well nourished, can die for lack of love. Sexual relationships without love of spirit are only violent conquests of other human beings—as in Miss Rand’s novels. And the man who loves only dollars, or his own pleasures, loves simply dead things. Only other human beings are truly lovable. By all means, let us get away from sentimentality; but let’s not throw out our hearts when we react against collectivism.
This was a newspaper column from 1962. I first read it in a collection of Kirk's columns and essays, Confessions of a Bohemian Tory (1963).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"The mind will not endure a void"

From Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France:
We know, and, what is better, we feel inwardly, that religion is the basis of civil society, and the source of all good, and of all comfort. .... If our religious tenets should ever want a further elucidation, we shall not call on Atheism to explain them. We shall not light up our temple from that unhallowed fire. It will be illuminated with other lights. It will be perfumed with other incense than the infectious stuff which is imported by the smugglers of adulterated metaphysics. .... Violently condemning neither the Greek nor the Armenian, nor, since heats are subsided, the Roman system of religion, we prefer the Protestant: not because we think it has less of the Christian religion in it, but because, in our judgment, it has more. We are Protestants, not from indifference, but from zeal.

We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if, in the moment of riot, and in a drunken delirium from the hot spirit drawn out of the alembic of hell, which in France is now so furiously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness, by throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilization amongst us, and among many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition might take place of it. ....

Monday, June 5, 2017

"Any patch of sunlight..."

From Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis. Portions of Letter 17:
.... I was learning...that pleasures are shafts of the glory as it strikes our sensibility. As it impinges on our will or our understanding, we give it different names—goodness or truth or the like. But its flash upon our senses and mood is pleasure.

But aren't there bad, unlawful pleasures? Certainly there are. But in calling them "bad pleasures" I take it we are using a kind of shorthand. We mean "pleasures snatched by unlawful acts." It is the stealing of the apple that is bad, not the sweetness. The sweetness is still a beam from the glory. That does not palliate the stealing. It makes it worse. There is sacrilege in the theft. We have abused a holy thing.

I have tried, since that moment, to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don't mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different. How shall I put it?

We can't or I can't—hear the song of a bird simply as a sound. Its meaning or message ("That's a bird") comes with it inevitably—just as one can't see a familiar word in print as a merely visual pattern. The reading is as involuntary as the seeing. When the wind roars I don't just hear the roar; I "hear the wind." .... This heavenly fruit is instantly redolent of the orchard where it grew. This sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows, it is a message. We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore.

Gratitude exclaims, very properly, "How good of God to give me this." Adoration says, "What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!" One's mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun. ....

We—or at least I—shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasion if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have "tasted and seen." Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are "patches of Godlight" in the woods of our experience. ....

I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this "valley of tears," cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous. .... It is only in our "hours-off," only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for "down here" is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment's rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.
C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Hrcourt, Brace & World, 1964, pp.88-93.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Principle and possibility

David Walsh reviews a political biography of Edmund Burke, Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke. Burke is often considered the founder of modern conservatism. I've been interested in him since as a teenager reading Russell Kirk's Conservative Mind and later Kirk's biography of the man. The reviewer writes "Burke’s understanding of the reciprocal relationship between politics and principles is the foundation for this study." From the review:
.... He was compelled, as we are too, to make sense of the historical reality in which he found himself and thereby articulate the enduring principles by which it can be judged and addressed as best as possible. As a philosophical statesman, Burke is sui generis in the history of political thought. There have, of course, been statesmen capable of giving their convictions and actions the stamp of profound reflection, but scarcely any achieves the range of Burke’s penetration. Burke refounds politics in the modern era by confronting the problems of politics at their deepest level. Empire and revolution are only the tip of the historical iceberg that encompasses the imperative of founding a political order that always precedes any such attempt.

Even in his own time, Burke was viewed as a notorious defender of lost causes. Yet the story of his life was that political success or failure was, if not irrelevant, of considerably less relevance than the enduring principles that were the only means of remediation. In this sense, Burke was the complete opposite of a utopian. All of his interventions were undertaken in light of the field of possibility, without ever losing sight of the principles by which that possibility was glimpsed. ....

The chapters that detail Burke’s sympathetic involvement with the cause of American independence are among the most illuminating in the book. They show that Burke did not condemn revolution out of hand but indeed recognized a legitimate right to cast off government whose oppressive indifference had already robbed it of legitimacy. Yet the transition back to constitutional order would remain a precarious negotiation.

The Americans had been fortunate in the rupture that had merely transferred allegiance rather than overturned the established order of their societies. This was what made it possible for Burke to play the role of defender and ally of the Americans even as they separated from the British imperium. ....

...[W]hat made the French Revolution a new phenomenon in history was that it became a total demand for renovation. It ceased to be merely political and had assumed a messianic character. All of this is wonderfully evoked in Bourke’s concluding chapter aptly titled “Revolutionary Crescendo.” Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is not only a powerful summation of Burke’s own political thought but an extraordinary event in its own right. Rarely does an historical eruption coincide with a contemporary penetration of its significance.

It is this extraordinary coincidence that explains the immediate historical impact of the work. Almost single-handedly, Burke reversed the tide of British opinion that was hitherto moving in the direction of sympathy with the French revolutionaries. Far from merely reflecting on political history, Burke’s book played a pivotal role in history. ....

One thinks of the way in which Russell Kirk installed Burke as the founder of the conservative intellectual tradition. From there it was possible for the Burkean convictions to work their salutary effect on a rejuvenated conservative political movement that emerged in the middle of the last century and endures amidst its wanderings up to the present. Yet it has always been a mistake to tie Burke’s significance to that residual influence in the always variable world of politics. He has earned a place in that far more lasting horizon of the thinkers who ultimately shape the direction of that world. Burke is a political theorist of the first rank and it is one of the achievements of this remarkably impressive book to have established that conclusively. .... [more]

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A lesson of moderation

From Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 1:
Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected.... So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. ....
As quoted by William Kristol in the current Weekly Standard.