Friday, September 22, 2017

The end?

Someone, a numerologist, has predicted that tomorrow will be the end of history. Russell Moore responds:
.... None of this has anything to do with biblical Christianity. Jesus, and then his apostles, told us to expect a day of final judgment, to look for the return of Christ to our present reality of space and time.

But the key to all of this is the unexpected nature of it. Jesus said that life would go on, just as it always does, until, suddenly — like a thief in the night — the eastern skies explode into light. The Bible verses the prophecy-mavens use to fix their dates — wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and so on — are spoken of by Jesus as the exact opposite. When you see these things, Jesus said, “see that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matt. 24:6). Upheavals of this nature will happen in every generation, as “but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt. 24:8). ....

History could, of course, come to consummation on Sept. 23, or on Sept. 24 or 1 million years from now, on Feb. 29. I don’t know. Neither do you. And we’re in good company. Jesus said that he himself, in his human nature, did not know the timing of his return, but only the Father (Mark 13:32).

One thing is for sure. When that day does arrive, we will not need numerology to figure out if it’s here. Jesus will be visible and indisputable. ....

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The cost of ignorance

Mark Bauerlein on "Camille Paglia's Teaching":
.... The very first question asked her about comparisons between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, to which she replied: “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.” ....

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.” Thanks to the (presumed) sensitivity of modern youth, Paglia says, students have not had a “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history.... Ancient history must be taught.... I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.” Without that background, she implies, our only standard of appraising current circumstances is current circumstances plus a few utopian dreams. We have so much material prosperity, they think, so why don’t we have more perfect people to enjoy it? ....

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"I began to suspect that life itself has a plot.”

In "The Mainliner Who Made Me More Evangelical" (behind a subscription wall) Russell Moore is reflecting on the importance of  Frederick Buechner as two new books by that author are published. I begin quoting with something Wendell Berry said to Moore:
.... “Isn’t it something, how we get what we need at just the right time?” he said. “The right book comes along at just the right time. The right friend comes along at just the right time. The right conversation comes along at just the right time. It’s grace.”

His words left me bursting with gratitude, but not only—or even primarily—for Berry. As I left his farm, I couldn’t help thinking of two authors who came along right when I needed them: C.S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner. ....

...[W]hy would I—a conservative evangelical of the Reformed stripe, a Southern Baptist of all things—keep coming back to the writings of this mainline Protestant from Vermont? One reason is that Buechner probably kept me from becoming a liberal Protestant.

As a teenager, I grappled with a call to ministry, but I was reluctant to enter the Bible-Belt ministry of the time, suspicious as it was of the intellect and imagination. ....

Then, meandering through a local library’s used book sale, I found Buechner. The book was his collection of essays, A Room Called Remember. This was someone who didn’t seek to manipulate my emotions or enlist me in a cause. He just told the truth as he saw it. And he clearly loved Jesus. So I voraciously consumed everything he ever wrote—and in the 30 or so years since, I’ve read much of it over and over again. J. Gresham Machen and Carl F.H. Henry taught me that I needn’t put my mind in a blind trust in order to follow Jesus. Buechner taught me the same about my imagination. ....

Buechner’s appeal to story is an apologetic—one as clear and compelling as Lewis’s treatment of the universal moral sense in Mere Christianity. “Writing novels, I got into the habit of looking for plots,” he says.... “After awhile, I began to suspect that my own life had a plot. And after awhile more, I began to suspect that life itself has a plot.” ....

...Buechner suggests that having a Christian vision of reality means paying attention to the seemingly humdrum, even boring, plotlines of grace in our lives. One’s life is not “just incident following incident without any particular direction or purpose, but things are happening in order to take you somewhere.” Looking back on his own life, Buechner sees “that very often things that seemed at the time to have had very little significance were key points in the plot of my life.” ....

...[T]he main thing Buechner has taught me and re-taught me...is to be a steward of tears. I found my eyes welling up several times over these pages, especially in Buechner’s stories of grappling with guilt, fear, and grief. “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention,” Buechner writes in Beyond Words.... “They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

But ultimately, Buechner wants us to see through our tears to the joy lying beyond. Again, as the writer of plots, he knows that joy is best glimpsed against a backdrop of conflict. He teaches us to feel what it is to suffer with Christ, but then to be held by him—to know he is there to hold us. “Joy is knowing that this is true from your stomach,” he concludes, referencing Deuteronomy 33:26–27. “Knowing that even though we see only through a glass darkly, even though lots of things happen—wars and peacemaking, hunger and homelessness—joy is knowing, even for a moment, that underneath everything are the everlasting arms.” A few minutes after reading this, I caught myself humming the tune to the old gospel song, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Once again, Buechner drove me further into my evangelical identity, not away from it. ....

Monday, September 18, 2017

Outrage on the hunt

In "The Joy of Destruction" Joseph Bottum writes about some of the reasons our politics have become so intolerant:
.... The glory of the Internet is that it allows like-minded people to find one another. And the horror of the Internet is that it allows like-minded people to find one another. Coin collectors, baseball-card enthusiasts, and used-book readers have all benefited from the opportunities offered by online connection. So have neo-Nazis, child-pornographers, and Communist agitators. Where they were once connected only by the sickly sweet smell of the ink from the mimeograph machine clumping away on the kitchen table, the forces of anger now have instantaneous links.

And that instantaneity allows a radicalizing more rapid than the world has ever seen. Back in a 1999 study called “The Law of Group Polarization,” legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein suggested that discussion among people with similar views causes a hardening of opinion. “In a striking empirical regularity,” he wrote, “deliberation tends to move groups, and the individuals who compose them, toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their own predeliberation judgments.” It hardly matters whether the groups are pro-gun, pro-abortion, or pro-anarchy. With sufficient group discussion on one side of an issue, everyone involved takes a step toward the extreme: The mildly supportive become strongly supportive, the strongly supportive become wildly supportive, and the wildly supportive become fanatical psychopaths.

In such books as Violence and the Sacred (1972) and The Scapegoat (1982), the French-American theorist René Girard offered an explanation for this kind of thing, developing his ideas about scapegoating and what he called “mimetic rivalry.” Against Freud, Girard argued that human desires do not always come packaged in predetermined forms. We create many of them in imitation of others. We learn to want by watching what others want, and we catch desire the way we catch a disease.

More recent years have seen some attention paid to the concept of “competitive victimhood.” A fascinating 2017 trio of surveys by Laura De Guissmé and Laurent Licata, for example, pointed out that a group’s empathy for the victimhood of others is significantly decreased whenever the group expands its own sense of victimhood. But Girard was there first, warning that the idea of victimhood, stripped of its Christianity, would itself become a device of cultural violence, with people competing for the status of victim even as they trample those who oppose them or merely fail to support them sufficiently.

If that sounds like the current protesters—if that sounds like too much of our current political agitation on both left and right—it should. Trying to understand antifa, the Washington Post recently described the amorphous group as a collection of “predominantly communists, socialists and anarchists who reject turning to the police or the state” to achieve radical ends, preferring to pursue their radical ends through violent confrontation on the streets. The disorganized organization could not have existed before the Internet—or, at least, it could never have found so quickly people...to march alongside it, before such leaderless collectives were made possible by computerized communication.

The group polarization of online discussions, the mimetic rivalry to show oneself more pure than others, the Twitterized brutality toward those who fail to show enough purity, the outrage on the hunt for something to be outraged about: The Internet sometimes seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of proving the social-contagion theories of René Girard. ....

Sunday, September 17, 2017

On Constitution Day

.... Several weeks into the proceedings, the octogenarian Benjamin Franklin proposed that the meetings open with prayer. "How has it happened," he pondered, according to a copy of the speech in Franklin's papers, "that we have not, hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our Understandings?"

This was a poignant but peculiar suggestion coming from Franklin, the great printer, scientist and diplomat. He described himself in his autobiography as a "thorough deist" who as a teenager had rejected the Puritan faith of his parents. Why would Franklin ask the Philadelphia delegates to begin their daily deliberations with prayer?

Even stranger, few convention attendees supported the proposal. A couple of devout delegates seconded his motion, but it fizzled among the other participants. Franklin scribbled a note at the bottom of his prayer speech lamenting, "The Convention except three or four Persons, thought Prayers unnecessary!"

If Franklin truly was a deist, he wasn't a very good one. Doctrinaire deists believed in a distant Creator, one who did not intervene in human history, and certainly not one who would respond to prayers. Yes, Franklin questioned basic points of Christianity, including Jesus' divine nature. Yet his childhood immersion in the Puritan faith, and his relationships with traditional Christians through his adult life, kept him tethered to his parents' religion. If he was not a Christian, he often sounded and acted like one.

The King James Bible, for example, had a significant influence on Franklin. From his first writings as "Silence Dogood"—the pseudonym he adopted when writing essays for his brother's newspaper, the New-England Courant—to his speeches at the Constitutional Convention, Franklin was constantly referencing the Bible. He knew it backward and forward, recalling even the most obscure sections of it from memory. ....

As a young man Ben did indulge some strident views and scurrilous behavior, especially on an extended trip to London. But he was certain that personal responsibility and industry were the keys to worldly success. He wrote of deism in his autobiography: "I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful." So he devoted himself to a personal "plan of conduct," through which he tracked his practice of godly virtues. ....

Then came the Revolutionary War. Its weight, along with the shock of victory and independence, made Franklin think that God, in some mysterious way, must be moving in American history. "The longer I live," he told the delegates in Philadelphia, "the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth, That God governs in the affairs of men."

He repeatedly cited verses from the Bible to make his case, quoting Psalm 127: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." Without God's aid, Franklin contended, the Founding Fathers would "succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel." At the Revolutionary War's outset, as he reminded delegates, they had prayed daily, often in that same Philadelphia hall, for divine protection. "And have we now forgotten that powerful friend?" ....

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Faith and works

Also from "Answers to Questions on Christianity," in God in the Dock:
The controversy about faith and works is one that has gone on for a very long time, and it is a highly technical matter. I personally rely on the paradoxical text: 'Work out your own salvation...for it is God that worketh in you.' It looks as if in one sense we do nothing, and in another case we do a damned lot. 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,' but you must have it in you before you can work it out.
C.S. Lewis,  God in the Dock (1970)
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (KJV)

Pray

Once again:
ALMIGHTY GOD, who art a very present help in time of trouble; Let not the heart of Thy people fail when fear cometh, but do Thou sustain and comfort them until these calamities be overpast: and since Thou knowest the cause and reason why this grievous disaster of wind and wave hath fallen upon men, so do Thou heal the hurt and wounded, console the bereaved and afflicted, protect the innocent and helpless, and deliver any who are still in peril, for Thy great mercy's sake. Amen (The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, 1906)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Happy?

From a chapter titled "Answers to Questions on Christianity," based on the transcription of a talk from 1944:
Question: Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?

Lewis: Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best. I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can’t give any advice on it.  
C.S. Lewis,  God in the Dock (1970)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A blubber of buzzwords

In "The Nashville Statement’s Imperfect Clarity" Samuel D. James reacts to the reactions to the Nashville Statement:
.... I suspect that what has turned off many people to the Nashville Statement is its clarity. The document’s fourteen affirmations and denials are short, unequivocal, and to the point. Could it be that Americans, even some who profess traditional beliefs about these issues, prefer their theology a bit vague? This has been the legacy of the “seeker-friendly” movement within evangelicalism, with its toned-down doctrine encased in the blubber of psychological buzzwords like “brokenness,” “authentic,” and “spirituality.” There is a tendency within American evangelicalism to avoid saying what the Bible really means—or even what you really mean, as Eugene Peterson’s recent embarrassing flap demonstrated. Though I am a believer in “mere Christianity,” not everything Christianity entails is mere. Sometimes it really does boil down to affirming and denying. The drafters of the Nashville Statement understand that. ....

Monday, September 4, 2017

Teaching history

I tell my students nowadays who are in graduate school and going on to become teachers—the number one thing is to have a real passion for your subject and to be able to convey that to your students. Obviously the content is important, but that's not as unusual as being able to really convey why you think history is important. I think that's what inspires students. ....

The first thing I would say is that we have to get away from the idea that any old person can teach history. ....

.... The number-one thing is, you have to know history to actually teach it. That seems like an obvious point, but sometimes it's ignored in schools. Even more than that, I think it's important that people who are teaching history do have training in history. A lot of times people have education degrees, which have not actually provided them with a lot of training in the subject. They know a lot about methodology. [That’s] important, but as I say, the key thing is really to love the subject, to be able to convey that to your students, and if you can do that, I think you'll be a great teacher.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Legacy

T.S. Eliot:
Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit, either rotten or ripe.
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of GOD,
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he stands alone on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers;
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity they will decry it.
Poem: Choruses from "The Rock " by T. S. Eliot

Friday, September 1, 2017

Dreams

Normally I sleep well. At whatever hour I go to bed I fall asleep almost immediately, sleep uninterrupted for seven or eight hours, and get up when I feel like it (an advantage of retirement). Last night wasn't like that. I woke up anxious and angry sometime around 4:30. The reason was a dream. I was a teacher again, sitting at my desk in my classroom sometime after school, when I heard a commotion in the hall. When I got out there what I dreamt I saw was akin to bear-baiting. A big, normally good-tempered, mentally-challenged, kid was being harassed by a bunch of guys. He was red-faced, enraged, running one way and then the other after one or another of them as they ran away laughing. I knew them all. I tried to assert authority and end it but was entirely ignored. That's a teacher's nightmare. I woke up angry, still thinking of ways to get after those (imaginary) idiots.

From Patrick Kurp's blog this morning, `Steep My Senses in Forgetfulness':
One of the minor inconveniences of living through a hurricane is the unsatisfactory nature of sleep. Normally, I quickly and effortlessly turn catatonic after slipping between the sheets. The subsequent six or seven hours are erased as thoroughly as time spent under anesthesia during surgery. With a storm raging on the other side of the wall, with fears of water-logged books, drowning pets and family members, days without air-conditioning and no cold lemonade, sleep is a sweaty, Coleridgean slide show of distasteful visions. One night I revisited the worst boss I have ever had, who died more than thirty years ago, and she was unhappy yet again with the job I had done. In dreams, we all return to childhood, a terrible fate. Boswell, during his adventure in Scotland, and without the help of a hurricane, would have understood. In the entry on this date, Sept. 1, in 1773, he writes in The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1785):
“I awaked very early. I began to imagine that the landlord, being about to emigrate, might murder us to get our money, and lay it upon the soldiers in the barn. Such groundless fears will arise in the mind, before it has resumed its vigour after sleep!”
Like Boswell, my newly awakened mind is murky on the best of mornings, before it has “resumed its vigour.” ....
Normally in the morning my mind "resumes its vigour" rather quickly and if I have remembered dreams, good or bad, they fade from consciousness quickly.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Truth

Two quotations from Dorothy L. Sayers in The Mind of the Maker:
The proper question to be asked about any creed is not, "Is it pleasant?" but, "Is it true?"

The popular mind has grown so confused that it is no longer able to receive any statement of fact except as an expression of personal feeling.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

"A ripping yarn"

The five books site asks people to recommend five books on a subject about which they are knowledgeable. Today the recommendations are about "The best books on Spies — a Five Books interview" with Ben Macintyre, a British columnist on "history, espionage, art, politics and foreign affairs." His five choices are all British, two non-fiction and three fictions. I've read four of them and like his recommendations. One that I read long ago and feel like pulling off the shelf and reading again is The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. Macintyre:
.... It’s a ripping yarn, it’s just so exciting. I first read it when I was about ten, and I’ve re-read it periodically since and it combines two of the things that I love most. It’s a great thriller, but it’s also brilliant about sailing. And it was written tremendously early – it was published in 1903. He really invented a new way of writing about international affairs.

It was incredibly influential. It had a profound political effect because it pointed up the fears about Britain being unprepared for war with Germany. The essential plot is about a man who stumbles across a German plan to invade Britain and it woke up a generation to the fears of German militarism. It’s terrifically old-fashioned in lots of ways: the main character is called Carruthers. ....

...[I]t combines derring-do, open air and a kind of lovely, thumping sense of duty that is very British as well. It sets the tone for an awful lot of what follows. I don’t think we’d have had James Bond in quite the same way if we hadn’t had Carruthers first.
First published in 1903 the book can be downloaded free for Kindle in a nicely formatted edition.  The Amazon description of the book:
The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service is a patriotic British 1903 novel by Erskine Childers. It is a novel that "owes a lot to the wonderful adventure novels of writers like Rider Haggard, that were a staple of Victorian Britain"; perhaps more significantly, it was a spy novel that "established a formula that included a mass of verifiable detail, which gave authenticity to the story – the same ploy that would be used so well by John Buchan, Ian Fleming, John le Carré and many others." Ken Follett called it "the first modern thriller."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Prudence

Michael Cromartie (1950-2017) died yesterday. He had been one of the most important Christians attempting to influence government in Washington. His death will be particularly felt because, as this speech demonstrates, he had given a great deal of thought respecting how Christians ought to think and act in the political world.
.... Prudence is defined as practical wisdom and it is the process of moral reasoning by which our ideals are approximated to the contours of a very fallen and imperfect world. So therefore, a prudent person asks what are the ends that we have seen, and then they balance and weigh the ends. And this balancing process may require that we reduce the scope of some of our ends and our goals. The prudent person is not an ideologue but instead is a person who is always open to new facts and new information and willing to adjust their views according to reality.

And so, therefor prudent Christians are Christian realists who understand that our ideals must be approximated because we live in an imperfect world. The prudent person realizes that the drawing of relative moral distinctions is a Christian’s social and political responsibility, [and] is prepared, therefor, to make imperfect choices between all terms, including not always the best alternatives we’d like to have. .... We have to make choices and sometimes the choices we have to make are not the best, but some are better than others. Therefore, learning to be prudent is vitally important because the dilemmas we face in this world are often fraught with ambiguity. The messiness of sin in this world makes many matters more contingent, relative, and uncertain. There will always be times and there will always be things that we hope for and things that we wish might have been. But being prudent means learning how to balance competing goods against lesser evils, while keeping a sharp sense of the many ambiguities that are at the heart of many of the ethical, moral dilemmas we face. ....

...I think it’s important for us to learn to develop, in whatever our vocation is, to learn to develop what I like to call Augustinian sensibility as we go about our work. Here’s what I mean: while affirming our responsibilities and obligations to the city of man, we need to remember that our true home is the City of God which is to come. So, while living in this earthly city we are to pursue temporal goals and to pursue justice. Parenthetically, Augustine said, “Remove justice and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a larger scale.” We need to pursue justice but we always need to be doing it with a keen sense of who we are and [an] awareness of the fragile character of our earthly communities and our earthly alliances.

We would do well to be reminded that in this world filled with profound suffering and terrible disorders, we can strive to maintain and to create an order that approximates justice and to work fervently to prevent the very worst from happening. For instance, one of the most difficult concepts for religiously motivated political activists to grasp are these four words: Now, but not yet. Now, but not yet. The kingdom of God has entered this age now, but the final kingdom has not come, yet. Keeping this in mind is very important as we go about our business of being faithful Christian citizens [in] our various vocations and callings and having an Augustinian sensibility will give us a spiritual and emotional balance and perspective as we remind ourselves constantly that we live now at the intersection of the ages between the city of man and the City of God that is to come. .... [more]

In times of flood

ALMIGHTY GOD, who art a very present help in time of trouble; Let not the heart of Thy people fail when fear cometh, but do Thou sustain and comfort them until these calamities be overpast: and since Thou knowest the cause and reason why this grievous disaster of flood hath fallen upon men, so do Thou heal the hurt and wounded, console the bereaved and afflicted, protect the innocent and helpless, and deliver any who are still in peril, for Thy great mercy's sake. Amen (The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, 1906)

O ALMIGHTY Lord God, who for the sin of man didst once drown all the world, except eight persons, and afterward of Thy great mercy didst promise never to destroy it so again; We humbly beseech  Thee, that although we for our iniquities have worthily deserved a plague of rain and waters, yet upon our true repentance Thou wilt send us such weather, as that we may receive the fruits of the earth in due season; and learn both by Thy punishment to amend our lives, and for Thy clemency to give Thee praise and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Book of Common Prayer)
Christian Social Action Disaster Relief (Seventh Day Baptist)

Monday, August 28, 2017

"The least of these"

Thomas Traherne (1637-1674):
He thought that he was to treat every man in the person of Christ. That is both as if himself were Christ in the greatness of his love, and also as if the man were Christ, he was to use him having respect to all others. For the love of Christ is to dwell within him, and every man is the object of it. God and he are to become one Spirit, that is one in will, and one in desire, Christ must live within him. He must be filled with the Holy Ghost, which is the God of Love, he must be of the same mind with Christ Jesus, and led by His Spirit. For on the other side he was well acquainted with this mystery—That every man being the object of our Saviour's Love, was to be treated as our Saviour, Who hath said, Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And thus he is to live upon Earth among sinners.
Centuries, "The Fourth Century"

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fences

One of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotations:
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. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion. (The Thing, 1929)
Very Burkean:
Instead of casting away all our old prejudices,* we cherish them to a very considerable degree, and, to take more shame to ourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have lasted and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them. We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages. (Reflections)
*By "prejudice" Burke meant something closer to what we would call tradition.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Without excuse

Browsing in The Conservative Tradition in European Thought (1970), I came across this by the Roman lawyer and Senator, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC–43 BC).
.... True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions. And it does not lay its commands or prohibitions upon good men in vain, though neither have any effect on the wicked.. It is a sin to try and alter this law, nor is it allowable to attempt to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is, God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst penalties, even if he escapes what is commonly considered punishment.... (Republic, Book III)
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness... (Romans 2:14–15)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The American civil war

Upon retirement I donated many of the books in the history section of my library but kept those about the War of the Rebellion. My Civil War shelf:


The earliest I acquired were Bruce Catton's three volume Centennial History of the Civil War. I also have his two volumes about Grant as general and the three volume Army of the Potomac. Catton is very readable. The best short history — political, social, and military — is James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom. It is also free of any illusions about what the war was really about: slavery.

Manhunt is about the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth after Lincoln's assassination. The Goodwin book is subtitled "The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" and is a very good read including biographies of the members of his Cabinet and how he managed that rather disparate group during the war. There are a few books on that shelf that I have never read but should.