Friday, September 19, 2014

"Cautious out of prudence"

Federal Appeals Judge Richard Posner responded to some of the argument in favor of Wisconsin's law prohibiting same-sex marriage by saying "Can tradition be a reason for anything?" That inspired this response at Ricochet:
.... Tradition is the foundation of rational conduct, and the means through which mankind passes on the social capital which has accumulated through the experience of thousands of generations that have already confronted the vicissitudes of life. As T.S. Eliot noted in the context of poetry: “he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely present, but the present moment of the past… not of what is dead, but what is already living.” (emphasis added). ....

There can be no doubt that the loss of essential legal traditions would destroy the courts. The doctrine of stare decisis, for example, requires courts to abide by prior decisions and the rulings of higher courts. The doctrine emerged from centuries of common law jurisprudence, a legal framework steeped in respect for tradition.

It’s nearly impossible to define tradition in rationalist language. Burke explained that traditions — though he used the word “prejudice” synonymously — are “cherished because they are prejudices and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they prevail, the more we cherish them.”

Why? Because:
We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason: because we suspect that the stock in each man is small, and that individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.
Critics of tradition insist, of course, that those who adhere to past wisdom are cranky old know-nothings. In a sense they’re right. A traditionalist will agree that he knows only a little: that is his greatest virtue. Traditionalists are pessimistic by nature, and cautious out of prudence. Adam Smith said “it is acquired wisdom and experience that teach incredulity, and they very seldom teach it enough.” For this reason, a traditionalist is humble because he knows that unrestrained novelty invites disaster. .... [more]
G.K. Chesterton:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. (The Thing)

Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. (Orthodoxy)

"Until He the last day"

From Ray Ortland today, "The Second Coming of Christ is not a peripheral doctrine." The painting Ortland uses is one of Doré's 19th century illustrations for the English Bible:

Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day.
Article IV, The Thirty-Nine Articles
The Second Coming of Christ is not a peripheral doctrine

Necessary leisure

Daniel Ross Goodman, "a writer, lawyer, and rabbinical student" notes the passing of S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, perhaps the only fast food chain that observes a "Sabbath" — albeit on Sunday. From Goodman's essay about the value of a Sabbath:
The Greeks said that leisure was necessary for the soul. Similarly, Judaism and Christianity, by imploring their adherents to observe a Sabbath once a week and to observe a Sabbatical year once every seven years, mandated leisure as a religious precept. Mussar (Jewish ethical-devotional literature) advocated freedom of the mind as an ethical and religious imperative by equating mental drudgery with the Jewish slavery in Egypt and by associating mental freedom with the Exodus from Egypt.

This precept of “necessary leisure” (theologian Rabbi Irving Greenberg’s term) is embedded in the institution of the Sabbath and in the biblical concept of the sabbatical:
Shabbat (the Sabbath) [provides] the necessary leisure to be one’s self and to enter into deeper relationships.

Rest is more than leisure from work, it is a state of inner discovery, tranquility, and unfolding.... The Sabbath commandment is not just to stop working, it is actively to achieve menuchah (rest) through self-expression, transformation, and renewal. On this day humans are freed to explore themselves and their relationships until they attain the fullness of being.

[The Shabbat’s] focus remains the enrichment of personal life. In passing over from weekday to Shabbat, the individual enters a different world. The burdens of the world roll off one’s back. In the phrase of the zemirah (Sabbath table song): “Anxiety and sighing flee.” In the absence of business and work pressure, parents suddenly can listen better to children. In the absence of school and extra-curricular pressures, children can hear their parents. Being is itself transformed. The state of inner well-being expands. As the Sabbath eve service text states: “The Lord...blesses the seventh day and [thereby] bestows holy serenity on a people satiated with delight.” The ability to reflect is set free. Creative thoughts long forgotten come back to mind. One’s patience with life increases. The individual’s capacity to cope is renewed.
A society in which the ethic of necessary leisure—or, in the terminology of the siddur [prayer-book], “holy serenity”—is not respected is a society that degrades the human being and, consequently, depreciates the image of God. This is why the Torah and the ba’alei mussar [authors of ethical-devotional literature (lit., “masters of ethics”)] fiercely advocate the absolute, inviolable necessity for periods of leisure—Sabbath days and Sabbatical years—during which we can be self-reflective and thereby rejuvenate our inner image of God. .... [more]

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Dwight Longenecker takes us on "An Imaginative Literary Tour of Oxford," including:
If we wander down cobbled Merton Street we will avoid the traffic on the High Street and find ourselves almost at the entrance to C.S. Lewis’ Magdalen College. First we will stop at the botanic gardens—a hidden secret in Oxford. Not only did the fictional Sebastian Flyte stroll through the gardens, but Lewis Caroll loved spending time there, and until recently an ancient Black Pine grew here which was the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s ent, Treebeard.

Watch your step as you cross the busy high street to enter Lewis land. You can visit the chapel at Madgalen where he worshipped daily and as you pass through the quad to the left through an archway you will see the “New Buildings” where C.S. Lewis kept the rooms where he would tutor his students and where the Inklings would head after the pubs closed to continue their rowdy meetings. Did you know the poet John Betjeman was a student of both C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot? Lewis at Magdalen and Eliot when Betjeman was a boy at Highgate School where Eliot taught for one unhappy year.

Turning to the right you will see a gate opening into what looks like woodland. It is the semi-wild park that runs beside the River Cherwell. There is Addison’s Walk named after the eighteenth century essayist. Lewis, Tolkien and Hugo Dyson walked this circular walk that frosty night when they had the important conversation about myth that helped bring Lewis to the point of his conversion to Christianity. ....

Turl St. and "The Mitre"
Nipping back across the High Street, we will watch out for red double decker buses, black cabs and students on battered bicycles with gowns a flapping. Jostling with crowds of tourists, we have to visit the church of St. Mary the Virgin—the University Church. This is where Blessed John Henry Newman was vicar from 1828-1843. In that pulpit not only stood John Henry Newman, but C.S. Lewis preached his famous sermon, The Weight of Glory, here. John Wesley preached here and Thomas Cranmer—author of The Book of Common Prayer along with the Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were tried in this church for heresy before being burnt at the stake in the Broad Street just a few hundred yards away. ....

If we go up the High Street a bit further and turn right we will come into the delightful little street called “The Turl,” which links the High Street to the Broad. .... As we go up the Turl we will peep into Lincoln College on the right. That is where John Wesley was a fellow and where Methodism got started. .... A bit further down the Turl is Exeter—Tolkien’s college. We will stop in to see the bust commemorating him in the chapel.

The Turl opens out into the Broad where more of literary Oxford awaits. Around the corner beyond the Bodleian Library is Hertford College where Charles Ryder and his creator Evelyn Waugh were students. Tucked in behind that is the Turf Tavern where Oxford sleuth Inspector Morse downs a pint, and a bit further on, if you know how to find St. Cross churchyard we could look for the grave of Charles Williams. .... [there is more]


Challies calls attention to Kindle bargains today on three C.S. Lewis titles:
  • Mere Christianity ($4.27), perhaps the most influential work of Christian apologetic in the 20th century, never out of print.
  • The Great Divorce ($4.27), Lewis speculates about what might happen if individuals in Hell were given an opportunity to visit Heaven, and stay if they choose.
  • A Grief Observed ($2.99), written by Lewis pseudonymously after the death of his wife, Joy Davidman, in the form of a journal.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Kevin DeYoung really likes P.G. Wodehouse. So do I and for the same reasons:
Wodehouse (1881-1975) is hands down one of the best writers in the English language. Ever.

He isn’t profound. He isn’t penetrating. His books may not be dissected in lit classes. But his command of vocabulary and syntax is amazing. And his humor is, unlike many humorists, actually very, very funny. There’s nothing like unwinding with a little Jeeves and Wooster after a four hour elder meeting to get the old egg cracking again, what? ....

The stories are about nothing, but the characters are so memorable (e.g., the newt loving Gussie Fink-Nottle), and the dialogue so perfectly ridiculous (“Hello ugly, what brings you here?”), and his insults so ingenious (“It was as if nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment”) that you can’t help grin, chuckle, and even occasionally cackle. ....
Uncontrollable laughter is my personal experience. That's alright in private but less so among strangers in public transit.

DeYoung gives several examples from Wodehouse, funny but funnier in context. A few of his chosen Bertie Woosterisms:
  • She looked at me in rather a rummy way. It was a nasty look. It made me feel as if I were something the dog had brought in and intended to bury later on, when he had time.
  • I ordered another. If this was going to be fish-story, I needed stimulants.
  • Honoria, you see, is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welter-weight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge.
  • There was a death-where-is-thy-sting-fulness about her manner which I found distasteful.
  • For the first time since the bushes began to pour forth Glossops, Bertram Wooster could be said to have breathed freely. I don’t say that I actually came out from behind the bench, but I did let go of it, and with something of the relief which those three chaps in the Old Testament must have experienced after sliding out of the burning fiery furnace, I even groped tentatively for my cigarette case.
  • She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say “when.” [more]
Early Wodehouse has come into the public domain, including some very early Jeeves and Wooster,  and are downloadable at ManyBooks, free, for Kindle, etc. DeYoung recommends Right Ho, Jeeves as a good place to start reading Wodehouse and the link in this sentence leads to the free e-book of that title.

Another Novelist to Consider Reading | TGC

Monday, September 15, 2014

Left behind

The current issue of CSL: The Bulletin of The New York C.S. Lewis Society includes several tributes to the late Christopher Mitchell. Mitchell was the former director of the Wade Center at Wheaton College. Diana Gyler, author of The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, quoted this from W.H. Lewis (Warnie, CSL's brother) writing about the death of Charles Williams:
There is something horrible, something unfair about death, which no religious conviction can overcome. “Well, goodbye, see you on Tuesday Charles” one says — and you have in fact though you don't know it, said goodbye forever. He passes up the lamplit street, and passes out of your life forever. .... And so vanishes one of the best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet. May God receive him into His everlasting happiness.
The Inklings: The Death of Charles Williams

He who is not with us...

G.K. Chesterton on the requirements of a truly neutral "secular education":
"It is obviously most unjust that the old believer should be forbidden to teach his old beliefs, while the new believer is free to teach his new beliefs. It is obviously unfair and unreasonable that secular education should forbid one man to say a religion is true and allow another man to say it is untrue. It is obviously essential to justice that unsectarian education should cut both ways; and that if the orthodox must cut out the statement that man has a Divine origin, the materialist must cut out the statement that he has a wholly and exclusively bestial origin." (G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, Aug. 8, 1925)
Anthony Esolen in "The Illusion of Neutrality":
We have all heard what has come to be a liberal dictum, that the State must remain neutral as regards religion or irreligion. One can show fairly easily that the men who wrote our constitution had no such neutrality in mind, given the laws that they and their fellows subsequently passed, their habits of public prayer at meetings, and their common understanding that freedom without virtue, and virtue without piety, were chimeras. To show that that understanding persisted, all one need do is open every textbook for school children published for almost two hundred years; or recall that Catholic immigrants established their own schools not so that their pupils might read the Bible, but so that they might choose which translation they were to read. ....

The virtue of religion, as our founders used the word, pertains to the duty that a person or a people owe to God. Now there either is a duty or there is not. You cannot say, “The People must remain absolutely neutral as to whether the People, as such, owe any allegiance to God, to acknowledge His benefits, and to pray for His protection.” To say it is to deny the debt. It is to take a position while trying to appear to take none. To decline to choose to pray, now and ever, is to choose not to pray. It is to choose irreligion. One should at least be honest about it.

.... My point here is that for certain questions, neutrality is an illusion. The nakedly secular state is not a neutral thing. It is something utterly different from, and irreconcilable with, every human polity that has existed until a few anthropological minutes ago. It is itself a set of choices which, like all such, forecloses others; a way of living that makes other ways of living unlikely, practically impossible, or inconceivable. [more]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Hobbit

From YouTube, "...[T]he 1974 Argo Records release of The Hobbit as read by Nicol Williamson," a superb reading of the book by Williamson with appropriate music and sound effects. It should have long since been made available on CD.

I still have the 4 LP set. The recording is available at Amazon as an MP3 download.

Standing athwart history

The reviewer notes that Robert P. George has been called "[t]his country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker." The book is Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism, a collection of Professor George's essays. From that review:
George, who holds the McCormick Professorship of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, builds his conservatism around “three pillars” he says stand at the foundation of any decent society: respect for the human person, respect for the family, and a “fair and effective system of law and government.”

Respect for the human person means recognizing the profound, inherent, and equal worth of every member of the human family “irrespective not only of race, sex, or ethnicity but also of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency.” A community that fails to respect the basic human dignity of all persons, George contends, will sooner or later regard some “as mere cogs in the larger social wheel” and, therefore, as disposable. ....

.... He reminds us that individuals are born into families and, without properly formed families, individuals and society suffer. Family breakdown leads to the poverty and social pathologies that, in turn, lead to demands for big government. Those who want to limit the size and scope of government, not to mention protect the most vulnerable members of society, should strive to cultivate healthy, stable families. ....

The book’s essays supporting George’s third pillar of society, a “fair and effective system of law and government,” pertain to the political ecology needed to sustain a healthy liberal democracy. He reminds us that constitutional structures, important as they are, are not enough; citizens must understand them and possess sufficient virtue to live well within them. .... Far from leading to an intrusive or an overbearing state, the recognition of moral truths about the nature of the human person and the common good are the foundational principles for liberal democracy and establish the proper limits on governmental authority. ....

...[T]hose looking for a straightforward introduction to “the new natural law” will find the chapter “Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity” quite helpful. Finally, the book offers a very good essay on the value and purpose of a true liberal education, “Liberalism, Liberation, and the Liberal Arts.” Here, George nicely contrasts today’s impoverished version with an older, richer understanding. .... The older understanding, George explains, focused not on creating the self but on improving one’s soul. It upheld self-mastery—placing one’s desires under the control of one’s reason—as the mark of a true liberal education. It therefore sought to direct young minds toward the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. .... [more]

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Order and beauty

A graduate student, an admirer of Roger Scruton — "author of more than thirty-five books and hundreds of essays, currently visiting professor at both Oxford and St. Andrews" — is dumbfounded when, in an autobiographical essay, he reads “I do the cooking and the housework; she looks after the animals.” The student wonders how he too could manage to do all of that. Writing to Scruton he asks for advice:
.... He, being rather wise, didn’t give me what I asked for. Instead, he wrote to explain how he approached cleaning and cooking. Not a chore for him; they are “aesthetic undertakings.” Beauty and order are intertwined such that one brings about the other. The beautiful is orderly and the orderly is beautiful. Cleaning the house creates order, and therefore creates beauty. No one need undertake the task of rearranging matter as a draining labor to be endured. Cleaning is an art to be cultivated.

.... Every blade of grass cut, every circuit wired, every dish washed, every carpet vacuumed is an ongoing work of the highest art: art that aspires to create beauty rather to mock it. .... [more]

"Evil prospers when good men do nothing"

Jan Karski served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the Nazi occupation. He was the first to inform the governments of the United States and Britain about what was happening to Jews in occupied Poland. Karski had been to the Warsaw Ghetto and inside Bełżec. Millions of Polish Jews, and many others, died in the Holocaust. The truth of Karski's reports was doubted. Power Line quotes Walter Laqueur's explanation for that doubt:
Democratic societies demonstrated on this occasion as on many others, before and after, that they are incapable of understanding political regimes of a different character.... Democratic societies are accustomed to think in liberal, pragmatic categories; conflicts are believed to be based on misunderstandings and can be solved with a minimum of good will; extremism is a temporary aberration, so is irrational behavior in general, such as intolerance, cruelty, etc. The effort needed to overcome such basic psychological handicaps is immense.... Each new generation faces this challenge again, for experience cannot be inherited. (Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth About Hitler’s “Final Solution,”)
Unless we actually witness the piles of bodies or see the beheadings...

The world is a dangerous place to live; 
not because of the people who are evil, 
but because of the people who don't do anything about it.
Albert Einstein

Jan Karski’s message | Power Line

Friday, September 12, 2014

Against the tide

Michael J Kruger describes an era not unlike our own:
.... In the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice. And it didn’t like what it saw. Christians were seen as strange and superstitious—a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of a decent society. Christians were, well, different.

So, what was so different about Christians compared to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture? One distinctive trait was that Christians would not pay homage to the other “gods”....

But, there was a second trait that separated Christians from the pagan culture: their sexual ethic. While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices.

For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need. But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives.”  ....

We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides. Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union.” ....

A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix. In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:
Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all.
.... In the end, Christianity triumphed in its early Greco-Roman context not because it was the same as the surrounding pagan culture, but because it was different. [more]
“A dead thing goes with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
― G.K. Chesterton

In all things charity

In Essentials Unity,
In Non-Essentials Liberty,
In All Things Charity

Rupertus Meldenius.(c. 1627)

A Calvinist warns against unwarranted heresy hunting:
Heresy can be what you believe, but perhaps just as often, heresy is the weight you give an issue you believe. “Fundamentalism” might be understood, in part, as too much weight given to certain aspects of Christian doctrine or practice.... Some people give such enormous weight to minor issues that the gospel itself is obscured. ....

Everything in the Bible is important, especially things that relate to salvation and evangelism. I have my own convictions. But we must learn to be comfortable with certain scriptural tensions, and live with grace and freedom in some places God has not bestowed clarity to the degree we’d prefer. As Alister McGrath says, the ability to live within scriptural tensions is a sign of maturity, not immaturity.

Supposedly Deuteronomy 29:29 was John Calvin’s favorite verse:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of the law.
According to that verse, God has chosen to keep certain truths hidden from us. Most systematic theologians (myself included) don’t like the concept of “hidden things.” As a guy who minored in math in college, I want to resolve all tensions, remove all mysteries, and try to bring every hidden thing to light. ....

It takes humility to learn from people you disagree with. But that is how God has worked historically in his global, 2,000-year-old church. Let’s show the world that we can still be one body united around the gospel of Christ, even as we passionately disagree about other issues. .... [more]

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A true and faithful witness

The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, 
I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:6
Lord Christ, let me not be put to shame.
Christ, I beseech you,
    let me not be put to shame.
Christ, come to my aid,
    have pity upon me,
    let me not be put to shame.
Christ, I beseech you, give me the strength
    to suffer what I must for you.
Dativus the Senator martyred in the Diocletian persecutions, c. 304

This is the end,
    but for me
It is the beginning
    of life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer hanged at Flossenburg Concentration Camp, 1945

Blessed be the God and Father
    of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who of His great and abundant goodness ,
    willed that I should be a partaker
of the sufferings of His Christ
    and a true and faithful witness
of His divinity.
Ignatius of Antioch executed in Rome c. 107
From Prayers of the Martyrs, Zondervan, 1991. I hadn't had this book down from the shelf in a long time but its relevance to current events drew my attention.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"The clean sea breeze of the centuries"

A friend's link on Facebook reminded me of the argument C.S. Lewis made in his 1944 introduction to a translation of Athanasius's On the Incarnation. That introduction has often been reprinted as an essay titled "On the Reading of Old Books," from which:
.... Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them. .... (The entire essay is available here in HTML  and here as a pdf.)

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]