Friday, January 19, 2018

"More mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear"

Another quotation—or a variation thereof—I (and many others) have falsely attributed to Chesterton:

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, 
but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

What he actually wrote:
.... Fairy tales...are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. .... ("The Red Angel," Tremendous Trifles, 1909)

Nazis and the New Age

Chesterton never wrote "“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything,” but he well could have. The following is from a review by Philip Jenkins of Eric Kurlander, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich:
.... Kurlander shows just how extensively occult and esoteric ideas influenced the German leadership in the Nazi era. More accurately, he shows that the power of such ideas in the larger society ran wide and deep, and by no means only among people who placed themselves on the extreme Right. Among many others, these included interests in astrology and parapsychology; “Ario[Aryan]-Germanic paganism, Indo-Aryan spirituality, and the Nazi search for alternative religions;” and a range of pseudo-sciences, including World Ice theory and dowsing. ....

Like all good New Agers, the Nazis were also fascinated by the Mystic Powers of the ancient East, and sought to launch expeditions into deepest Tibet. Had the British not been so firmly in charge of the Indian subcontinent, they would undoubtedly have made their pilgrimages there, like so many other later would-be disciples in search of a guru. Only a very sober reader can address such stories without inevitably thinking back to the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Those occult interests extended to such mythical beings as vampires and werewolves, who to some activists were no mere characters of fiction and metaphor. When the Germans designed what was hoped to be a secret resistance army to oppose the invading Allies, its members joined Operation Werewolf. Borrowed partly from popular culture, vampire imagery shaped Nazi interpretations of the allegedly blood-sucking Jews. ....

At this point, the question obviously arises: did the Nazis really take this stuff seriously? The answer is mixed. Some German activists certainly did, and a few had the ear of key figures in the Nazi regime. Heinrich Himmler could usually be relied on to be a gullible listener. Other Nazi leaders were happy to use the occult ideas to produce propaganda, depicting Hitler as not just a world-historical figure but as a magus. ....

In praising Hitler’s Monsters unreservedly, I do raise one objection, specifically about viewing these German conditions as in any sense unique. Kurlander rightly suggests that esoteric ideas achieved unparalleled influence in Germany, but in many ways, they were no less widespread in other countries, especially the United States. In the first forty years of the twentieth century, the United States was the world capital of all manner of esoteric interests – Rosicrucian, Spiritualist, Theosophical, pseudo-Oriental, Aryan, and what would later be termed New Age. All these ideas inspired numerous sects and cult movements, but a few went on to achieve real mass memberships. In the 1930s, several of these sects were reaching audiences in the millions....

From 1941 to 1945, the Vice President of the United States was Henry A. Wallace, about whom much bad can be said in terms of his secular politics. Very fortunately, he was not permitted to run for a second term, so that when FDR died in 1945, his successor was instead the truly capable Harry Truman. Wallace was deep into Theosophy and other mystical sects. ....

Throughout the West, occult and esoteric ideas were simply in the atmosphere in a way that is hard to reconstruct today. That was a fact of intellectual and cultural life that historians disregard at their peril.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Edinburgh Castle

Librarians don't just curate books. They discard them  The usual excuse is that they haven't circulated for some time. A book I retrieved from the discarded books at the Milton College Library sometime in the mid-'60s was The Story of Edinburgh Castle by L. Weirter, published (I think, there was no copyright date) in 1913 and printed by The Ballantine Press in London (My copy was from the John C. Winston Company, Philadelphia). I bragged about my find to the person who, it turned out, had made the decision to discard the book. It is a  large format volume 12.5" X 9.4" with twenty-five tipped in illustrations protected by tissue paper, including those below. I hadn't looked at it for some time. The thirteen chapters include "The Black Dinner," "The Blackest Day for Scotland," "Bonnie Prince Charlie," "The Story of the Regalia," and "Mons Meg and Other Relics" (Mons Meg is a very large cannon).
The first time I was in Edinburgh I stayed on the third floor in a hotel on Princes Street. My window looked out over the Walter Scott monument and toward the Castle which is floodlit at night. Of course I visited the Castle and inhabited the Royal Mile between it and Holyrood Palace for several days. Standing by the gate of the Palace one morning I happened to see the Queen only a couple of feet away as she left by Rolls for, as I recall, a department store opening.
The Castle from the Vennel
The Castle Hill

Monday, January 15, 2018


From Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ:
1. Troubles and crosses?
They're good:
they often make us examine ourselves,
they remind us we live in exile here,
they keep us from trusting the world.
    When we're crossed?
Good too, even when we intend the best.
These adversities
nudge us to humility,
defend us against pride,
push us toward God for inward approval when we put up with condemnation and don't get deserved credit.

2. Settle yourself so fully in God that you don't need much comfort from people.
Troubled by evil thoughts?
Now you understand better your great need of God, without whom you can do nothing good.
Now you sorrow, grieve, and pray; now life drags, death looks inviting, and you wish you could live in heaven with Christ.
Now you know perfect security and full peace cannot come from the world.
Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Baker, 1982, p 27.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The faith of the Queen

From a Washington Post story by Sarah Pulliam Bailey: "Fact checking ‘The Crown’: Queen Elizabeth’s close relationship with preacher Billy Graham." I watched most of the first season of that series but haven't kept up with this one. This season has been criticized for more historical inaccuracies than the first. The Post story is an effort to get it right.
.... Scholars believe the queen possessed a “deep vibrancy of her faith” as someone who read scripture daily, attended church weekly and regularly prayed, said Stan Rosenberg, a member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford. Despite suffering some public attacks for her handling of Princess Diana’s death and her political views, she is widely admired for her faith, and “folks here know her to be thoughtful, authentic, serious, and devout but not a pressingly intrusive Christian,” he said.

The queen’s Christmas messages, a British tradition that goes back to 1932, have provided a window into her private faith.

“I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad,” she said in 2002. “Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God. … I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.” ....

The queen’s meeting with the evangelist came about after Graham launched one of his evangelistic “crusades.” Graham had spoken to “the greatest religious congregation, 120,000, ever seen until then in the British Isles,” according to a biography of the late John Stott, a chaplain to the queen. During one of his rallies, Graham preached for 12 weeks, drawing 2 million.

Graham delivered a sermon for the queen on Easter Sunday in 1995 in the royal family’s private chapel.

“Good manners do not permit one to discuss the details of a private visit with Her Majesty, but I can say that I judge her to be a woman of rare modesty and character,” he wrote in his autobiography Just As I Am. ....

...Queen Elizabeth has made several public comments about the role of forgiveness in her life.

“Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith,” she said in 2011. “It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.” ....

Saturday, January 13, 2018

When He returns

The iron hand it ain't no match for the iron rod.
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God.
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He who can reduce me to tears.
Don't you cry and don't you die and don't you burn.
Like a thief in the night, he'll replace wrong with right
When He returns.
Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that is passes through.
He unreleased His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice ?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness ?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride ?
Will I ever learn that there'll be no peace, that the war won't cease
Until He returns?
Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask.
He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask.
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned.
He's got plans of his own to set up His throne
When He returns.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Apostle Paul and women

At the Anxious Bench Beth Allison Barr offers "It's Time to Stop Using Paul Against Women: A Short Reading List." So far the list contains only two items but she will grow it. Barr writes "Today, at the age of 42, Paul no longer frustrates me. I have realized, as one of my very astute students once said, that when we are confused about God, it is never God who is wrong. The fault always lies in our own understanding."

The first item on the reading list is an essay by Charles H. Talbert considering the correct interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-36:
34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignore this, they will themselves be ignored. 39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
Hopefully you already notice an awkward transition from vs. 35-36. Here is what Talbert argues about it: “verse 36 begins with a particle (e in Greek) which is translated “What!” in the RSV. The force of that particle indicates that what has come before is rejected or refuted by what follows [which is the same as the particle functions in 1 Cor. 11:22]…if verses 34-36 are read together, then verse 36 is a refutation of verses 34 and 35, not a conclusion drawn from them. This leads naturally to a reading of this passage as an instance of the diatribe: verses 34 and 35 are Corinthian assertions, reflecting cultural values like those of pagans and Jews; and verse 36 is Paul’s response, rejecting the Corinthian stance about women. Paul’s position here would then be in harmony with that taken in Gal. 3:27,28 and 1 Cor. 11:2-16. Whereas some Corinthians rejected the participation of women in the leadership of worship, Paul responded with horror.”

Talbert, in other words, suggests this reading:
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. What?! Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
Instead of a command for women to be silent in the churches, Paul is instead rebuking those who are silencing women. ....

It's Time to Stop Using Paul Against Women: A Short Reading List

Monday, January 8, 2018

"If you tarry..."

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Saints and angels joined in concert,
Sing the praises of the Lamb;
While the blissful seats of Heaven
Sweetly echo with His name!
Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
Sinners here may do the same.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
Sinners here may do the same.
I will go to Jesus.


Russell Moore on "Why Theocracy Is Terrible":
.... Theocracies are awful and abusive, not only because they oppress human beings but because they also blaspheme God. ....

To see why, a Christian does not need simply to look at the historical and sociological data on how these theocracies harm their own people; we can also see clearly why this is the case by looking at our own gospel. The central claim of the gospel is that, as the Apostle Paul put it, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:6). God rules and reigns through his Word, and his Word tells us that now is the time of God’s patience, when all people everywhere are called to repent of sin and find mercy in Christ (2 Pet. 3:9-10).

Does God intend to rule the entire universe, with his will done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)? Yes, but this kingdom is found in Jesus Christ, not apart from him. Jesus is the one anointed to rule over the cosmos, and anyone else who claims this is a pretender to the throne. Jesus himself has told us that in this time between his kingdom’s inauguration and his kingdom’s fulfillment, he is gathering a church of redeemed people, making a clear distinction between the church and the world (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

Our call to the world at this point, Jesus tells us, is not to uproot the “weeds” in the garden (Matt. 13:29). We also are not to grab the sort of power that would cause people to pretend as though they were part of God’s kingdom—a kingdom that comes through the transforming power of the Word upon the heart—when they are merely cowering before earthly power. Our power comes by the open proclamation of the truth, not by the clattering of the sword (2 Cor. 4:2-3).

Jesus told us to beware those who claim messianic authority between his first and second comings. He will come to us the next time not through some person or committee claiming authority from God, but with obvious, indisputable, and unrivaled glory in the eastern skies. What is hidden now, seen only by faith, will be revealed then, perceived by sight. ....

Violent and authoritarian regimes claim to speak for God so that they cannot be questioned for their morality or their competence. They wish to use God’s glory and God’s authority without God. ....

Is there a better bedtime prayer?

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
And if I should die before I wake,
I pray Thee Lord my soul to take.

The greatest act of faith a man can perform is the act that we perform every night. We abandon our identity, we turn our soul and body into chaos and old night. We uncreate ourselves as if at the end of the world: for all practical purposes we become dead men, in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection. (G.K. Chesterton, "The Meaning of Dreams")

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"God within, and God without..."

The last four lines of the prayer are a variant of one I prayed when young but the rest of this bedtime prayer was unfamiliar to me.


Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four Angels there be spread:
One at the head, one at the feet,
And two to guard me while I sleep.
God within, and God without,
And Jesus Christ all round about;
If any danger come to me,
Sweet Jesus Christ deliver me.
Before I lay me down to sleep
I give my soul to Christ to keep;
And if I die before I wake,
I pray that Christ my soul will take.,

Friday, January 5, 2018


The Journey of the Magi
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot
From "Poem for Epiphany" by Dwight Longenecker:
This was one of the first of Eliot’s poems I encountered, and I have loved it since. I especially like the way he uses various imagery from the gospels to load the poem with a mysterious level of meaning–pointing us to a contemplation of the deeper meanings–meanings that have yet to be revealed.

“Feet kicking empty wineskins”, “Six hands dicing for pieces of silver”, “three trees on a low sky” then my favorite image, “an old white horse galloped away in the meadow” ....

The “old white horse galloped away in the meadow” does not represent the Old Testament dispensation or the former lives of the three kings or the departure of purity or youthful power. Instead it is meant to evoke an emotional response in the reader which is beyond words. In other words, how do you feel when you hear those words? I feel strangely nostalgic and thrilled. I feel a poignancy and longing at the words. This is how Eliot’s poetry is supposed to work, and those who keep trying to find specific symbolic or allegorical meanings are missing the point.

What interests how Eliot’s use of evocative imagery that connects to the Biblical imagery is similar to the way Tolkien uses imagery in Lord of the Rings. The characters speak and act in a world that constantly echoes the world of the Church and the Scriptures, and yet never descends to the one on one correlation of allegory or to the specific allusion of a reference or quote. ....
"Poem for Epiphany" by Dwight Longenecker

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
(The Fellowship of the Ring)

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (The Fellowship of the Ring)

It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule. (The Return of the King)

Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens. (The Fellowship of the Ring)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Be about doing what you know.

From 2009, but modified to update.

Kevin DeYoung's book title alone would seem to sum up its thesis: Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. The intended audience is apparently young adults, but as DeYoung described its purpose, it is just as relevant to any Christian.
The gist of the book is that too many of us spend too much time trying to divine God's will and too little time striving to obey the plain commands of Scripture. God's will is not a corn maze or magic eight ball. His will is our sanctification. God promises to direct our steps all throughout life, but he never promises to show us what each step is ahead of time. Too many of us are prone to passivity and indecision, because doing nothing feels more spiritual (and less risky) than doing something. So we stumble around in chains of subjective impressions and wander here and there and in and out of our parent's basement.

God's will is not a bullseye to hit, but a life to live.
DeYoung made the first chapter available here as a pdf.

I've read the book and highly recommend it. It called to mind an earlier book (1980) that greatly influenced how I think about discerning God's will for my life, Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View by Friesen and Maxson. Friesen and Maxson are concerned with those who are burdened by the need for specific direction out of fear that they might be "out of God's will" for their lives. DeYoung focuses on those who lack decisiveness and find safety in inaction—for whom not knowing God's specific will grants permission to do nothing.

Friesen and Maxson argue that quite enough of God's moral will for our lives is clear in the Scriptures, and that we should occupy ourselves doing what we know. From that book:
...[T]he emphasis of Scripture is on God's moral will. In fact, the Bible reveals nothing of an "individual will" governing each decision. Rather, the teaching of Scripture may be summarized by these basic principles:
  1. In those areas specifically addressed by the Bible, the revealed commands of God (His moral will) are to be obeyed.
  2. In those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (nonmoral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the moral will of God is acceptable to God.
  3. In nonmoral decisions, the objective of the Christian is to make wise decisions on the basis of spiritual expediency.
  4. In all decisions, the believer should humbly submit, in advance, to the outworking of God's sovereign will as it touches each decision.
By "spiritual expediency" in point three, they mean wisdom, and say "The ultimate Source of the wisdom that is needed in decision making is God. Accordingly, we are to ask Him to provide what we lack. God mediates His wisdom to us through His Word, our personal research, wise counselors, and the applied lessons of life."

Both Decision Making and Do Something seem to be saying that we should be about doing what we know is God's will—not agonizing over, or complacently waiting for, what we do not know.

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Just Do Something

Monday, January 1, 2018

"Grant that by longer life..."

Samuel Johnson on the occasion of the new year, 1769:

LMIGHTY and most merciful Father, who hast continued my life from year to year, grant that by longer life I may become less desirous of sinful pleasures, and more careful of eternal happiness. As age comes upon me let my mind be more withdrawn from vanity and folly, more enlightened with the knowledge of Thy will, and more invigorated with resolution to obey it. O Lord, calm my thoughts, direct my desires, and fortify my purposes. If it shall please Thee give quiet to my latter days, and so support me with Thy grace that I may die in Thy favour for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Happy New Year!

On, Wisconsin!

Today I happened across an article describing how Wisconsin got a state song. The Journal Sentinel describes its origin as a UW football fight song (1909) (the words familiar to most of us) but the official words of the state song (1913) are different:

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Grand old Badger State!
We, thy loyal sons and daughters,
Hail thee, good and great.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Champion of the right,
"Forward," our motto —
God will give thee might!

It's not every day that a governor signs a bill with brass-band accompaniment.

But Gov. Gaylord Nelson did on July 7, 1959 — which actually made sense, since he was signing into law the measure that made "On, Wisconsin!" the official state song.

At the time, Wisconsin was reportedly one of just 10 states that didn't have an official song. ....

Sunday, December 31, 2017

"Everything except rules got shorter and shorter."

Something I missed in the film version of Lord of the Rings was the return to the Shire in the chapter Tolkien named "The Scouring of the Shire." It contains the most political commentary in the books. One of the earliest collections of critical essays about the Trilogy that I acquired was A Tolkien Compass edited by Jared Lobdell (1975). It includes an essay by Robert Plank, ""The Scouring of the Shire": Tolkien's View of Fascism." From that essay:
.... The political changes were not essentially constitutional changes. The laws have been perverted more than amended. The traditional offices have not been abolished, but new power is wielded by a new ruling group. The essential political innovation is the rise of an unprecedented police force, headed by the Chief Sherriff. The character of government is totally altered while its forms are not markedly changed. Whereas before the Shire enjoyed an easy-going laissez-faire regime, with maximum freedom and a minimum of government interference, the new regime operates through monstrously expanded restrictive rules, enforced by equally monstrously expanded military and paramilitary forces. These troops are not productive; in fact, they do not contribute anything that would be in any way necessary if the regime were different. All their work serves their own selfish ends: the purpose of government is plainly to maintain, consolidate, and expand its own power.

Even if they were not motivated by ill-will toward the citizenry—which they are—these troops would have to consume a large part of the goods and services that were formerly available to the people. But they do make themselves inimical first by taxation, then confiscation, then barefaced robbery. A problem arises that apparently was unknown in the Shire before: What should be done to a citizen who 'talks back' to the government? The solution is simple: He is imprisoned and often beaten.

The economy is now controlled. Under the pretext of 'fair sharing', a system of government requisitions and of rationing has evolved. Shortages result, and when consumer goods are in short supply they have a way of ending up, to nobody's great surprise, with the privileged militia. Farmer Cotton has summed it up better than I could:
There wasn't no smoke (tobacco) left, save for the Men; and the Chief didn't hold with beer, save for his Men, and closed all the inns; and everything except rules got shorter and shorter.
It may seem improbable that such a regime could ever establish itself, either in the Shire or in a more sizable country. But history has a trick of making the improbable happen. The sorry state of the Shire looks like a portrait—or maybe caricature—of something that actually happened in fairly recent history. It is a perfectly recognizable portrait of fascism.

Democracy has been simply defined as 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people'. Fascism is its antithesis. It is government of a clique, by the clique, against the people—like the government of the Shire before the scouring. Note the details that logically follow from the basic principle: the proliferation of the military and bureaucratic arms of government, the control of the economy, the pretense of legality, the cynical disregard for freedom and the rights of individual citizens, the violence, the brutality.

...[J]ust as fascism got its start with the help of certain upper-class elements who thought it would serve them as a bulwark against what they were pleased to call the greed of the working man, so the ruffians get their first foothold from the Sackville-Bagginses. Let me again quote Farmer Cotton:
He'd funny ideas, had Pimple. Seems he wanted to own everything himself, and then order other folk about... Folk got angry, but he had his answer. A lot of Men, ruffians mostly, came with great wagons, some to carry off the goods south-away, and others to stay. And more came. And before we knew where we were they were planted here and there all over the Shire....
And just as those who helped the Fascists and the Nazis into power saw their mistake when it was too late, so Pimple—pardon me, Mr. Lotho Sackville-Baggins—goes to his reward. He is murdered and perhaps eaten. ....

Saturday, December 30, 2017

"Lead us not into temptation"

Should we, as Pope Francis suggests, alter a phrase in the Lord's Prayer?

“Lead us not into temptation,” the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, has long baffled many Christians. Why even assume that God would lead us astray? In an effort to correct the misunderstanding, the French Catholic bishops recently introduced a new translation, “Let us not enter into temptation” (Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation). On Italian television, Pope Francis criticized traditional translations, following the usual lines of the debate. He praised the French revision, although it strays from the original Greek, in which we ask God unambiguously not to lead (or bring) us into peirasmon: a peril, or trial, such as martyrs face under the sword. Jesus prayed “Let this cup pass from me” and taught his disciples to pray the equivalent. The word “temptation” (together with its cognates in modern languages) is no longer recognized as a derivation of the Latin word for “trial.” So substitute “trial” for “temptation.” Problem solved. The verb is fine. Stop fiddling with it.
.... U.S. Catholics’ New American Bible formerly read “subject us not to the trial,” while the 2011 revised edition says “do not subject us to the final test.” ....

Other modern translations:

“Keep us from being tempted” (Contemporary English Version). “Do not cause us to be tempted” (New Century Version. “Don’t allow us to be tempted” (God’s Word). “Do not bring us to hard testing” (Good News Translation). “Keep us clear of temptation” (J.B. Phillips paraphrase). “Keep us safe from ourselves” (The Message paraphrase). “Keep us from sinning when we are tempted” (New International Reader’s Version). “Don’t let us yield to temptation” (New Living Translation). “Rescue us every time we face tribulation” (The Passion Translation).

Roughly similar, but those different shadings are the sort of thing that keeps theologians up nights. ....
.... The words of Jesus are clear. The original Greek is not ambiguous. There is no variant hiding in the shelves. We cannot go from an active verb, subjunctive mood, aorist tense, second person singular, with a clear direct object, to a wholly different verb—“do not allow”—completed by an infinitive that is nowhere in the text—“to fall”—without shifting from translation to theological exegesis. The task of the translator, though he should be informed by the theological, cultural, and linguistic context of the time, is to render what the words mean, literally, even (perhaps especially) when those words sound foreign to our ears. ....

The words of Jesus, as words, are clear. Their implications are profound. They are hard for us to fathom. They strike us as strange. That is as it should be. Let them stand. (Esolen's entire argument is worth reading.)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Bogart and Bacall

The evening after Christmas day my brother and I watched several films. One of my requests was The Big Sleep with Bogart and Bacall. They made four films together; each of them a favorite of mine.

Scenes of Bacall with Bogart:

To Have and Have Not (1944):

The Big Sleep (1946):

Dark Passage (1947):

Key Largo (1948):