Monday, January 26, 2015

"Faint not nor fear..."

Winston Churchill chose the hymns he wished sung at his funeral. There is considerable doubt that he was actually a believer. Mark Tooley writes that "He’s said to have called himself a flying buttress, supporting the church from the outside." Whatever the case may be, his funeral was thoroughly orthodox. Tooley lists and comments on each of the four hymns providing the words of each. They were interesting choices:
Tooley tells us about Churchill's choice of The Battle Hymn of the Republic:
"On New Year’s Day 1942 Churchill, with tears streaming down his cheeks, had stood beside FDR in George Washington’s pew at Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia singing Battle Hymn of the Republic. The priest had explained it was the first time the southern congregation had sung this hymn associated with Lincoln and northern victory, but the current world crisis necessitated national unity. Churchill would later say its inclusion in his funeral was a tribute to his American mother."
John Bunyan wrote the words of Who Would True Valour See:

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There's no discouragement          
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’l fear not what men say,
He’l labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’l with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.


Isaac Watts' O God Our Help in Ages Past is, of course, one of the greatest hymns. I was unfamiliar with the fourth hymn: Fight the Good Fight with All Thy Might:

Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy Strength, and Christ thy Right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.
Cast care aside, lean on thy guide,
His boundless mercy will provide;
Trust and thy trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its Life, and Christ its Love.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,    
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the Path, and Christ the Prize.

Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear.
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

more

Winston Churchill's Favorite Hymns - Juicy Ecumenism

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"For saints we know not..."

Via Conjubilant with Song, on "The Conversion of Saint Paul," "By All Your Saints":
 
By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,    
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would live our lives for you.
We pray for saints we know not,
For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Praise for the light from heaven,     
Praise for the voice of awe;
Praise for the radiant glory
The persecutor saw.
And, God, for his conversion
We magnify your Name;
So change our misconceptions
With your true Spirit's ray...


Tune: Nyland, pdf
Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864

"Some bright morning..."

Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, et. al.:



Some bright morning when this life is over
I'll fly away
To a home on God's celestial shore
I'll fly away

I'll fly away oh glory
I'll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away


Just a few more weary days and then,
I'll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I'll fly away

I'll fly away oh glory
I'll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

Friday, January 23, 2015

A political novel

First published in 1959, Advise and Consent was the first and one of the best political novels I ever read. It whetted my interest in politics. In "The Great Washington Novel" John Miller contends that, in addition to being a good story, it is still relevant:
One of the best descriptions of Washington, D.C., and its permanent political class comes in the second chapter of Advise and Consent, the 1959 novel by Allen Drury: “It is a city of temporaries, a city of just-arriveds and only-visitings, built on the shifting sands of politics, filled with people passing through. They may stay fifty years, they may love, marry, settle down, build homes, raise families, and die beside the Potomac, but they usually feel, and frequently they will tell you, that they are just here for a little while.” Yet they’re lying to themselves and everyone else, because even when they leave they always “hurry back to their lodestone and their star.” ....

Following a long stretch in which it could be found only in libraries and used-book shops, Advise and Consent has returned in a new edition. It’s amazing that it had slipped out of print for a generation, given its initial run: The novel spent nearly two years on the New York Times bestseller list, won the Pulitzer Prize, and became a popular film starring Henry Fonda and Charles Laughton. ....

Advise and Consent presents an abundance of characters, large and small, depicted in brilliant sketches. Drury writes of a Senate chaplain, for instance, who “was made further insufferable by the fact that he took with great seriousness the title ‘the Hundred-and-First Senator,’ which had been conferred upon him...in an unwise moment by a whimsical feature-writer.” Taken together, these figures bring to life a Washington whose traits we can recognize today. ....

Drury also targets the media. In Advise and Consent, the press functions as a Greek chorus, explaining the action on the stage — but also comes in for the critique of a man who knew its liberal biases well: “It was almost impossible for them to refrain from developing strong opinions, and almost equally impossible for them to keep their opinions from showing.”

The plot centers on the president’s pick for a new secretary of state. He nominates Robert Leffingwell, a man who benefits from “a protective screen of press adulation.” Leffingwell is an appeaser who would rather accommodate Soviet tyranny than confront it. Drury based him loosely on Alger Hiss, and a Whittaker Chambers–like figure emerges to make a controversial claim. Fred Van Ackerman, a brash senator from Wyoming, becomes a left-wing McCarthy, hurling accusations and rallying a group called the Committee on Making Further Offers for a Russian Truce, or COMFORT. .... [more, probably behind a subscription wall]
I once had a seatmate on a plane who had read not only Advise and Consent but all of its many sequels and — just like many Lord of the Rings fans — could discuss every character and plot twist in the entire series.

Miller also quotes from the author's NYT obituary:
When Drury died in 1998, his obituary in the New York Times...recognized that he wrote “in the tradition of Galsworthy, Dickens, and Thackeray” — in other words, he produced long novels full of sharp observations about social and political conditions.

"The guy wanted to know about everything except the music"

Bob Dylan's interview for AARP The Magazine(!) motivated me to get out and listen to what I still consider one of the best collections of his songs (at least up to 1985), Biograph.


From the AARP interview:
Dylan: I found the questions really interesting. The last time I did an interview, the guy wanted to know about everything except the music. People have been doing that to me since the ’60s — they ask questions like they would ask a medical doctor or a psychiatrist or a professor or a politician. Why? Why are you asking me these things?

Q: What do you ask a musician about? 

Dylan: Music! Exactly.

Fifty years ago

Winston S. Churchill died on the 24th of January, 1965. His mother was American and he was an honorary American citizen. I can recall flags being lowered to half-staff in his honor at our local post office and elsewhere.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"To Create a Race of Thoroughbreds"

Margaret Sanger was the founder of Planned Parenthood. In 1926 she spoke before a New Jersey chapter of the KKK. Paul Kengor reminds us what the KKK and Sanger had in common:
"for Better Stock"
Sanger was a passionate racial-eugenicist with a crowning vision for what she openly called “race improvement.” The Planned Parenthood founder lamented America’s “race of degenerates.” The nation’s landscape needed to be purged of its “human weeds” and “the dead weight of human waste.” This included the “feeble-minded,” the “insane,” and the just plain “idiots.” Sanger shared the disparaging view of humanity held by another progressive icon, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who declared that “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Like Holmes...Sanger hoped to finesse and refine the “gene pool.” She would do so not with gas chambers and concentration camps but with birth-control pills, eliminating human life before conception rather than after birth. Thus, her Planned Parenthood, which was originally called the American Birth Control League.

One of Sanger’s favorite slogans, so much so that it adorned the masthead of her Birth Control Review, was this: “Birth Control: To Create a Race of Thoroughbreds.”

In this Sangerian vision, blacks were singled out.

Progressives today dare not raise the alarming specter of Sanger’s “Negro Project,” or her correspondence with Dr. Clarence Gamble, one of her Negro Project collaborators. In a remarkable December 10, 1939 letter today held in the Sanger archives at Smith College (I have a photocopy), Sanger urged Gamble: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” .... [more]

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Teach the children

Jeff Robinson at The Gospel Coalition gives us seven good reasons to teach church history to children. They are just as applicable to adults. The first two reasons he offers:
  1. Because they must know that Christianity is a historical faith. Jesus really lived. He died. He rose again. He ascended into heaven. He is building his church, just as he promised. Church history bears witness to all these facts, all of which took place—and are taking place—in time and space and history. I don’t want them to confuse the story of redemption with The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Robinson Crusoe, or Rapunzel.
  2. Because we want them to avoid chronological snobbery. As C.S. Lewis put it, new does not necessarily mean better (or vice-versa). Like their parents, our children are constantly inundated with messages of “new” and “better”—versions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and the like. I want my children to know that the gospel is not new, cannot be improved, and will never change. They must know too that while there is no “golden age” with regard to the history of man, great awakenings in the past drive us to pray that God will do it again. [the rest of the seven and resources as well]
7 Reasons to Teach Our Children Church History | TGC | The Gospel Coalition

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"I can hear better when you read"

Good parental advice from Mark Bauerlein at First Things:
Everybody knows how important it is to read to toddlers. Apart from the emotional element, reading out loud every day during the pre-K years sends a child to kindergarten with a significantly larger vocabulary than a child without that experience possesses. ...
But many parents make the mistake of discontinuing reading when their children learn to read on their own, around ages 6–8. This is a mistake, for two reasons.

One, the emotional reason. As the latest reading poll from Scholastic points out, reported last week, kids want their parents to extend the practice. Fully 83 percent of 6–11-year-olds say they “loved” or “liked a lot” those reading sessions, but only 24 percent of 6–8-year-olds and 17 percent of 9–11-year-olds stated that their parents still conduct them.

And two, the intellectual reason. A child can understand words read aloud more easily than words in a book. A parent’s voice adds tone, cadence, volume, and other non-verbal markers of meaning, elements a child has to create on his own when he reads. This means that a child can understand a more advanced book with more sophisticated words and ideas if he hears it. Reading it by himself would be too stiff a challenge. .... [more]

Monday, January 19, 2015

The New Testament canon

I sometimes link to Michael Kruger's blog, canon fodder, which is subtitled "Exploring the origins of the New Testament canon — and other biblical and theological issues." Although ill-equipped to judge his scholarship I do appreciate his inclination to argue for the validity of the New Testament documents on the basis of historical probability. That seems to me a much better approach to apologetic argument than simply asserting their inspiration. A recent Kruger book, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate, is reviewed at Reformation21 by another scholar who finds it an attractive contribution:
Michael J. Kruger's The Question of Canon is an unqualified delight. It is clear-headed, attempts to be scrupulously fair to those with whom he disagrees, and is concerned to make no claims beyond what his arguments directly entail. It is a work of apologetics, responding to what Kruger takes to be the five most commonly held tenets of the liberal consensus on the history of the formation of the NT canon. This consensus view holds that the NT books were not written as canon but only became canon over time. Kruger calls this the 'extrinsic' model of the canon, as opposed to the evangelical 'intrinsic' model which sees canon as something inherent to the texts and in early Christianity themselves. ....

Kruger's overall conclusion is that canon is a seed evident in the church from the very beginning, which grew over time. He sees himself as having undermined the extrinsic model sufficiently to allow a fresh look to be given to the traditional intrinsic model.

Throughout, the author graciously finds as many positives as he can in the positions he critiques, while being clear about what he thinks is the solid ground for his own position. He thinks that his arguments hold water purely as history, quite apart from the views one holds on biblical inspiration. .... [more]

Friday, January 16, 2015

A truth that is true, regardless...

Last week two men died: Walter Berns and Harry Jaffa, each of whom made significant contributions to political philosophy. I first encountered them in the pages of National Review and then, later, in graduate school. The current issue of The Weekly Standard contains several essays about each man, from which I excerpt a few paragraphs of Andrew Ferguson's "Saving President Lincoln" about one of Jaffa's most important contributions:
.... In 1946, Jaffa was a young graduate student in philosophy at the New School in New York City, reading Plato under the famous philosopher Leo Strauss. Footloose and penniless, as grad students tend to be, Jaffa spent his free hours wandering the used bookstores that long ago lined lower Fourth Avenue.

One fall Saturday, browsing the history shelves, he came across a dusty edition of the debates between Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, held in 1858 as they contended for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. ....

Ten years later Jaffa published Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. It was not only his best book (he wrote several very, very good books, on Aquinas and Shakespeare as well as Lincoln), it was also, in the words of the Civil War historian Allen Guelzo, “incontestably the greatest Lincoln book of the century.” ....

Jaffa....approached Lincoln’s debates with Douglas as a classical scholar and a political philosopher. He did the two debaters the great tribute of taking them seriously and assuming that they were honorable and intelligent men whose words meant what they said. Against the wised-up historians of his day, Jaffa’s method looks almost innocent. And in a way it is—it has the innocence of intellectual generosity, guided by extreme sophistication and subtlety.

.... On the cusp of the Civil War Douglas asserted that slavery would be legitimate in any territory where a majority had declared it so. No, said Jaffa’s Lincoln: Either some things were just in themselves, or justice had no meaning. Slavery violated the self-evident truth on which the country was founded, that all men were created equal. This was a truth for all men in all places at all times; it varied only in how clearly it was acknowledged and acted upon. No majority vote could alter it. It was a truth that was true without regard to the say-so of passing arrangements of power or fashion.

Jaffa put it like this, in a paragraph that distills Lincoln’s mind better than any words not written by Lincoln himself.
If self-government was a right, and not a mere fact characterizing the American scene (more or less), then it must be derived from some primary source of obligation. There must be something, Lincoln insisted, inhering in each man, as a man, which created an obligation in every other man. And if any majority anywhere, however constituted, might rightfully enslave any man or men, it could only be because there was nothing in any man which, simply because he was a man, other men were bound to respect.
“That is the issue,” Lincoln said in one of the debates. “It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world.” .... Jaffa rescued Lincoln from the petty disputes of the academic historians and the other scholar squirrels and placed him in the company he deserved. The greatest American was returned to his exalted position in the American experiment, and the American experiment to its exalted place in human history. .... [more]

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Kingdom of Heaven

Dorothy L. Sayers:
The Kingdom of Heaven", said the Lord Christ, 'is among you." But what, precisely, is the Kingdom of Heaven? You cannot point to existing specimens, saying, "Lo, here!" or "Lo, there!" You can only experience it. But what is it like, so that when we experience it we may recognize it? Well, it is a change, like being born again and re-learning everything from the start. It is secret, living power—like yeast. It is something that grows, like seed. It is precious like buried treasure, like rich pearl, and you have to pay for it. It is a sharp cleavage through the rich jumble of things which life presents: like fish and rubbish in a draw-net, like wheat and tares; like wisdom and folly; and it carries with it a kind of menacing finality; it is new, yet in a sense it was always there—like turning out a cupboard and finding there your own childhood as well as your present self; it makes demands, it is like an invitation to a royal banquet—gratifying, but not to be disregarded, and you have to live up to it; where it is equal, it seems unjust, where it is just it is clearly not equal—as with the single pound, the diverse talents, the labourers in the vineyard, you have what you bargained for; it knows no compromise between an uncalculating mercy and a terrible justice—like the unmerciful servant, you get what you give; it is helpless in your hands like the King's Son, but if you slay it, it will judge you; it was from the foundations of the world; it is to come; it is here and now; it is within you. It is recorded that the multitude sometimes failed to understand.
The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement, Victor Gollanz, London, 1963.

An indirect compliment

Via G.K. Chesterton on Facebook:
"MOST Christians fail to fulfill the Christian ideal. This bitter and bracing fact cannot be too much insisted upon in this and every other moral question. But, perhaps, it might be suggested that this failure is not so much the failure of Christians in connection with the Christian ideal as the failure of any men in connection with any ideal. That Christians are not always Christian is obvious; neither are Liberals always liberal, nor Socialists always social, nor Humanitarians always kind, nor Rationalists always rational, nor are gentlemen always gentle, nor do working men always work. If people are especially horrified at the failure of Christian practice, it must be an indirect compliment to the Christian creed."

~G.K. Chesterton: Daily News, Feb. 13, 1906

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

By His infinite goodness and mercy

A post at Mockingbird suggested this to me. From the Book of Common Prayer (1662):
DEARLY beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us, in sundry places, to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloak them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by His infinite goodness and mercy. .... Wherefore I pray and beseech you, as many as are here present, to accompany me with a pure heart, and humble voice, unto the throne of the heavenly grace, saying after me;

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare Thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore Thou them that are penitent; According to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of Thy holy Name. Amen.

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of His great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all them that with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto Him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all that truly turn to Him.
COME unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. St. Matth. xi. 28.
So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. St. John iii. 16
Hear also what Saint Paul saith.
This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Tim. i. 15.
Hear also what Saint John saith.
If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins. 1 St. John ii. 1.

Monday, January 12, 2015

‘Nous Sommes Voltaire’

"From ‘Je suis Charlie’ to ‘Nous Sommes Voltaire’," or "freedom for the thought that we hate":
.... The loud expressions of support for free speech have been so striking because they contrast with the everyday silence on the subject.

In normal circumstances we in the West spend far more time discussing how to restrict and outlaw harmful or hateful speech than how to defend and extend that precious liberty. Almost everybody in public life, barring perhaps the Islamic State supporters’ club, pays lip service to the principle of free speech. Scratch the surface, however, and in practice most will add the inevitable ‘But…’ to button that lip and put a limit on liberty.

Even in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it was not long before the ‘Buts’ were back, from the feminist blogger who called the attack on the offensive magazine ‘understandable’, to the editor of the Financial Times who accused the ‘stupid’ Charlie Hebdo of ‘editorial foolishness’. Nobody said they were asking for it, but…

Of course, everybody with a shred of humanity condemned the cold-blooded mass murder by Islamist gunmen. Well done. Now, what have you got to say about the right of Charlie Hebdo or any other section of the Western press to publish whatever it believes to be true or just funny, regardless of whether it upsets Muslims or Mumsnet, Tories or the transgender community?

The right to be offensive has been a theme pursued by some of us for 25 years, since the backlash against Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Suddenly after Charlie Hebdo, it seemed that everybody was talking about it.

Yet most appear to endorse a very restricted idea of that ‘right’. They insist on their right to offend Islam or Christianity. But they show little tolerance for anything that offends their own cherished notions, such as the ‘homophobic’ attitudes of traditional religions.....

We need to face the hard fact that the Islamic gunmen who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo acted less as the soldiers of an ancient Eastern religion than as the armed extremist wing of a thoroughly modern Western creed.

As spiked has consistently argued, the West today is dogged by a creeping culture of conformism. From the official censors of the police and political elite to the army of unofficial censors online, the cri de coeur of these crusaders against offensive speech is You Can’t Say That. ....

The truth is you don’t have to be Charlie, read Charlie or like Charlie in order to defend it. Free speech is not the same as ‘me speech’. It is always primarily about defending what a US Supreme Court justice once famously described as ‘freedom for the thought that we hate’. .... [more]
Recognition of the "right" to say or write something doesn't, of course, require one to endorse what is said or written.

From ‘Je suis Charlie’ to ‘Nous Sommes Voltaire’ | Charlie Hebdo | Free speech | spiked

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The grandeur of God

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
The point of quoting this sonnet, “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, is that it has nothing to do with the modern world and everything to do with God’s world and our place within it. The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It is full of goodness, truth, and beauty. Furthermore it is full of rational beings who are able to recognize and experience its grandeur and to see that it is good, as God Himself saw that it was good when he first created it. For, as Chesterton said, we do not live in the best of all possible worlds but the best of all impossible worlds. We are living in the midst of a miracle. We are interwoven into the lines of the greatest poem ever written. We are part of the most beautiful landscape ever painted. We are part of the Great Music, the symphony of Creation, which the Great Composer has sung into being. .... [more from Pearce's essay]

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Loss and grief

C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after his wife's death from cancer. It was originally published pseudonymously. It was a very short book—about sixty pages—a journal of the emotional impact of loss and its consequences for belief. A new 128 page "reader's edition" includes essays by Rowan Williams (the former Archbishop of Canterbury), Francis Spufford, Douglas Gresham (Lewis's step-son) and Hilary Mantel responding to the original book. This is from what I presume to be Hilary Mantel's contribution:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” With his first line, CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed reacquaints his reader with the physiology of mourning; he brings into each mouth the common taste of private and personal loss. “I know something of this,” you think. Even if you have not experienced a “front line” bereavement, such as the loss of partner, parent or child, you have certainly lost something you value: a marriage or a job, an internal organ or some aspect of mind or body that defines who you are.

Perhaps you have just lost yourself on your way through life, lost your chances or your reputation or your integrity, or chosen to lose bad memories by pushing them into a personal and portable tomb. Perhaps you have merely wasted time, and seethe with frustration because you can’t recall it. The pattern of all losses mirrors the pattern of the gravest losses. Disbelief is followed by numbness, numbness by distraction, despair, exhaustion. ....

Grief is like fear in the way it gnaws the gut. Your mind is on a short tether, turning round and round. You fear to focus on your grief but cannot concentrate on anything else. You look with incredulity at those going about their ordinary lives. There is a gulf between you and them, as if you had been stranded on an island for lepers; indeed, Lewis wonders whether a grieving person should be put in isolation like a leper, to avoid the awkwardness of encounters with the unbereaved, who don’t know what to say and, though they feel goodwill, exhibit something like shame. ....

...[I]f God is good, why does he permit the innocent to suffer? Lewis had worked over the ground in theory. After his wife’s death he had to do the work again, this time in raw dismay: dismay not only at the terrible event itself, but at his reaction to it. Unless his faith in the afterlife is childish and literal, the pain of loss is often intensified for a believer, because he feels angry with his god and feels shame and guilt about that anger; this being so, you wonder how the idea began, that religion is a consolation. ....

A Grief Observed is a lucid description of an obscure, muddled process, a process almost universal, one with no logic and no timetable. It is an honest attempt to write about aspects of the human and the divine which, he fears, “won’t go into language at all”. At the heart of the enterprise is his quarrel with God, and in the end God wins, first philosophically, then emotionally. .... [more]
The image is from the cover of the edition I bought in Nyack, NY, in 1964.

"The fundamental orientation of the sane"

From an essay commending Samuel Johnson to today's young:
What is the chief motivation for doing good? Some ethicists call this motivation the “practical justification” for a moral system. The answer for Johnson is gratitude. That’s not unusual. You will find the same answer to Why be moral? throughout Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

But young people are often surprised by this response. In most cases, they have never considered the question at all. They are, in fact, in that boundary area between doing or not-doing on the basis of rewards and punishments, and doing or not-doing on the basis of inner convictions about what’s right and wrong. Therefore it’s an apt time to remind the young of gratitude as a motivational basis for doing good.

We are, the mid-century Yale theologian H. Richard Niebuhr said, responsible actors: responding as moral beings to the actions of God and of others around us and upon us. That’s our fundamental moral stance. Therefore if we’ve received much of value, then we overflow with a sense of gratitude: not simply a feeling of thankfulness but rather a steadfast inclination to look out for and to act on behalf of the good of others. Conscience, will, reason, and concrete deeds, not feelings alone, were important to Johnson. Stephen C. Danckert affirms that “Johnson saw gratitude as the fundamental orientation of the sane man and the taproot of being itself.” .... [more]

Monday, January 5, 2015

God of the gaps

Francis Beckwith responds to a Wall Street Journal column by Eric Metaxas: “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.”:
... Is the rational basis for believing in His existence really dependent on the deliverances of modern science? Should one calibrate the depth of one’s faith on the basis of what researchers tell us about the plausibility of the “God hypothesis” in recent issues of the leading peer-reviewed science journals? The answer to all three question is no, since God is not a scientific hypothesis. For this reason, it is equally true that advances in our scientific knowledge cannot in principle count against the existence of God. ....

When faced with a cadre of globally accessible, and endlessly annoying, village atheists who posit the findings of science as defeaters to belief in God, there is nothing quite like the Schadenfreude of pointing out to the self-appointed guardians of reason that they have been hoisted upon their own petard. But you should not acquiesce to this temptation. For in doing so, you concede to the atheist his mistaken assumption that the rationality of belief in God depends on the absence of a scientific account of whatever phenomenon is in question.

The key to responding to such misinformed unbelief is to challenge this assumption, which is relatively easy to do. First, philosophy, and not any empirical science, is the proper discipline from which to start one’s inquiry into natural theology. In fact, the unbeliever, ironically, assumes this very point by starting with science. How is that possible? His belief that science is the best or only way by which one may properly assess the rationality of belief in God is itself not a deliverance of science, but a philosophical belief about science and its relationship to the limits of our knowledge. So, whether he realizes it or not, the scientific critic of God begins with philosophy, which means that it, and not science, is where the reasonable person should begin. ....

Looking for improbable occurrences in nature that cannot be accounted for by either chance or scientific laws, and then from those concluding that one has “made a case for God,” as Metaxas argues, confuses a question of natural science with a question of natural theology. God, in the classical tradition, is not in competition with the contingent universe He creates. He is its First Cause that is itself not contingent. But He is not first in the order of time, but first in the order of being. This means that the contingent universe remains in existence because it depends on Self-subsistent Being, whether or not the universe has always existed. .... [more]

Sunday, January 4, 2015

In the bleak midwinter

On the tenth day of Christmas, and noting the weather predictions for this week, this carol seems particularly appropriate. Via Mere Comments:


In the bleak midwinter, 
    frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
    water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
    snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Angels and archangels may
    have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim

    thronged the air;
But His mother only,

    in her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him,
    nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away

    when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter

    a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.


What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,

    I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man,

    I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him:

    give my heart.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim,
    worship night and day,
Breastful of milk,

    and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him,

    whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.