Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Here is Love, Vast as the Ocean"

I learned a new hymn as I prepared for our Sabbath morning worship service this week, and some new history too. A few weeks ago one of our members suggested that we do a service using Welsh hymns. We are Baptists and, consequently—almost inevitably—several members have Welsh ancestry [including me]. There are many great Welsh hymns. The most famous—or at least the best known to us—is "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah." The new hymn I discovered was "Here is Love, Vast as the Ocean." It was unfamiliar to me and the music was not to be found in any of the hymnbooks I have collected. Eventually I found what I wanted online. The Google search indicated that it is not new to many others and, moreover, has seen several contemporary revivals as a worship song.

"Here Is Love, Vast as the Ocean," is identified many places as the "love song" of the great 1904 Welsh Revival. It is a great hymn and will be a part of our worship again - probably often. The music is good, the words are good, and they are good together. [To read the music, click on the image on the left.]

The first two verses are sung below. here is the third:

Let me all Thy love accepting,
Love Thee, ever all my days;
Let me seek Thy kingdom only
And my life be to Thy praise;
Thou alone shalt be my glory,
Nothing in the world I see.
Thou hast cleansed and sanctified me,
Thou Thyself hast set me free.

From YouTube, a performance by Huw Priday of the first two verses first in Welsh, then English:



Update: 12/1, I have significantly revised this post, primarily by removing the lyric which can be read in the score or found here at CyberHymnal.

YouTube - Here is Love vast as the Ocean, CyberHymnal: Here Is Love

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dawn Treader will be filmed

The Christianity Today blog reports that:
... 20th Century Fox will pick up the tab to co-finance the third Narnia film, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Variety reports that Fox and Walden "are still working out budget and script issues, but the hope is to shoot the film at the end of summer for a holiday 2010 release through the Fox Walden label." (Fox and Walden have partnered on most of Walden's other releases; only the Narnia films—The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian—were released through Disney.)

The Variety article also notes that while Caspian didn't earn nearly as much money as LWW, Caspian is also "considered the least commercially appealing of the seven C.S. Lewis Narnia novels" but nonetheless "ranked No. 10 in global box office performance last year. Dawn Treader is considered to be a more family film-friendly book, and the goal is to get back to the magical aspects present in the first Narnia pic but mostly absent from Prince Caspian."
I enjoyed Prince Caspian but would have enjoyed it more without some of the added elements and with more faithfulness to Aslan's role as in the book. This is very good news.

Fox Picks Up Next Narnia Film | Liveblog | Christianity Today

A living faith

A guest post by Holly McCarthy:
Living as Christ Would Have Us Live

Each day is a new opportunity to live as Christ would have us live. By following Jesus Christ, we can help make the world a better place through good works and helping our neighbors regardless of who they may be. There are many ways we can live each day in the active service of the Lord:
  • Offer a Helping Hand Helping those in need is a wonderful way to share love and joy with our neighbors. When we see someone in need, it is an opportunity to serve another individual and that is one of the greatest things we can do for our neighbors.
  • Prayer and Reflection Taking time each day to pray can help us become one with God. There is always time that can be set aside for reflection and communication with God. Doing this each day will help us become closer to God and His Son Jesus Christ.
  • Actively Seek Righteousness The temptations in the modern world are many and looking for the good in all situations requires discipline and effort. Actively seek the path of the righteous and walk with God.
  • Spend Time with Friends and Family Fostering fellowship begins in the home. Spend time with family and friends each day. A sense of community, fellowship, and common purpose will result from sharing time with one another in God’s service.
  • Let Your Actions Speak Louder Than Your Words Live each day as Christ would have you live. Our actions as Christians speak far louder than our words.

This post was contributed by
Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of the Christian college at http://www.christiancolleges.com/.
She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12@gmail.com

Toward a "true 'happily ever after'"

Eleanor Bourg Donlon, in "At Home with Dickens" provides another good reason to read that author in a pretty good argument that his portrayal of family encourages us to "see beyond the limits of grievance, through the violence of redemption, to familial joy that gestures ever heavenward."
.... With his appreciation of the place and function of the family, Dickens shows us both failure and redemption, and he delves into the essence of a true “happily ever after.” This is possible only because dysfunction, discord, and even extreme violence run rampant through the Dickensian canon on every familial level.

Nearly all Dickens’ novels begin with a broken or precarious home. Oliver Twist opens with a destitute mother who dies after embracing her newborn son. David Copperfield is born “a posthumous child” and is soon cursed with a vicious disciplinarian stepfather. Dombey and Son tells of little Florence, left motherless after her brother’s birth and utterly neglected by her father. In Martin Chuzzlewit old Martin is estranged from his willful grandson, and all of the family buzzards swarm in hopes of capturing the family fortune. Our Mutual Friend displays a host of disturbed families, with a living reenactment of the story of Cain. And the dreary catalogue continues.

This is the world of Charles Dickens. One might well ask: What is the point of all of these distressing details when the end of the novel will, in most cases, be a sentimentalized scene of happy family life? The test of true heroism is how the fruits of human striving play out over the course of a life—or, at least, eight-hundred-odd pages. Throughout, family remains the overarching paradigm, the original cell of social life, a community of persons. This literary trajectory images, in microcosm, man’s alienation from and return to his Father.

The family—responsible for nurturing, educating, protecting and loving—is the point of departure and the human goal. When broken, it is the primary catalyst to heroic growth; when purified through suffering and revitalized by love, it anticipates our ultimate reward. Finding and fostering the love of family is the goal of every true Dickensian hero, and losing it is the tragedy of every villain and victim. ....

There are plenty of absurd Dickensian families: the Fezziwigs, the Kenwigs, the Boffins, the Peggottys, the Cheerybles . . . and in them the strangest or most vulnerable characters—the neglected, the eccentric, the disabled—are able to find happiness. Dickens takes us again and again to the family. In the end, a true understanding of the family makes reverence and realism possible. The scene of the Cratchets welcoming a reformed Scrooge to their family hearth is more than an image for Christmas cards; it is an embodiment of man’s desire for God expressed in familial love.

Yes—violence, disruption, estrangement, betrayal—all of these come into play. Love requires the heroic striving of virtuous men and God’s grace beyond the most horrific scenes of family dysfunction. This virtue-based familial outlook does not stifle individuality, for to read Dickens is to encounter the flood of humanity gloriously and eccentrically delineated. Thus, Dickens posthumously undermines the phenomenon of dysfunction and challenges both the modern author and reader to see beyond the limits of grievance, through the violence of redemption, to familial joy that gestures ever heavenward. [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » At Home with Dickens

"We few, we happy few..."

Reading has always been one of my primary pleasures, and when reading for pleasure I'm usually reading mysteries, history, or historical fiction. I've probably learned almost as much history from good, conscientious writers of historical fiction as I have from those actual historians constrained by the documentary evidence.

One of the best historical novelists today is Bernard Cornwell. I have particularly enjoyed the Sharpe series, centered on an English soldier in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, fighting first in India and then in the Napoleonic wars. Sharpe's Waterloo helped me understand that battle better than any of the many other accounts I had read. Another superb Cornwell series follows an archer through the early Hundred Years War. My most recent acquisition — Cornwell's most recent book — is Agincourt. It was reviewed this week by Ronald Maxwell who, himself, has told the story of a great battle in the film Gettysburg, which he wrote and directed. Maxwell on Cornwell:
...Shakespeare, with "Henry V," has already taken us on this journey, as seen through the eyes of England's young king. Mr. Cornwell selects for his protagonist a man as lowly as the king is exalted, as powerless as the king is omnipotent. By the end of this gripping novel we understand that it was the common soldier — personified by a man named Nick Hook in Mr. Cornwell's telling — who embodied the English character and in large measure determined the outcome of its military adventures. Revealing as well is the fact that Hook is exceptionally skilled at a particular kind of warfare — shooting arrows with a longbow.

Anyone who has ever held a bow and arrow will savor Mr. Cornwell's affectionate descriptions of designing, crafting, maintaining, transporting and fighting with this weapon. He emphasizes that it was the English archer who often made the critical difference in 15th-century battle. He was trained from youth to develop the muscles of his arms, chest and back in order to acquire the reserves of strength to repeatedly draw a bowstring that most strong men could barely pull half-way — and trained as well in the art of guiding the arrow's flight to his prey. ....

Until recently, most adolescent boys growing up in the Western world have had the dream of being a knight in shining armor, part of a world involving chivalry, damsels in distress, brightly caparisoned destriers, turreted and crenellated castle walls, tapestries, tournaments, broad swords. These elements are present in Mr. Cornwell's story, but only as a thin outer layer that gets peeled away with every turn of the page. Here the medieval world transitioning to the Renaissance is much closer to Hobbes's vision of humanity: "continual fear, danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." .... [more]
Victory by Longbow - WSJ.com

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

O taste and see

While trying to find a new ringtone for my phone, I came across the Ralph Vaughn Williams "O Taste and See." It is a beautiful setting for my favorite verse. Listen:


O taste and see how gracious the Lord is;
blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
[Psalm 34:8, Coverdale, 1535]

The words above—the words sung—are the those used in the Book of Common Prayer [1662]. The King James Version, a later translation, reads:

O taste and see that the LORD is good:
blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
[Psalm 34:8, KJV]

YouTube - O taste and see

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The dream is ended; this is the morning

Via Ray Ortland's blog, Christ is deeper still:
"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are — as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands — dead. The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended; this is the morning."

And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. . . . And we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world . . . had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before."
[from the final paragraphs of The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis]
Christ is deeper still: When, in Christ, we die

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Still, small voice

In "The End of Solitude", William Deresiewicz on the loss of the conditions necessary for reflection, introspection, and — I would add — prayer.
.... Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. Though I shouldn't say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can. I was told by one of her older relatives that a teenager I know had sent 3,000 text messages one recent month. That's 100 a day, or about one every 10 waking minutes, morning, noon, and night, weekdays and weekends, class time, lunch time, homework time, and toothbrushing time. So on average, she's never alone for more than 10 minutes at once. Which means, she's never alone.

I once asked my students about the place that solitude has in their lives. One of them admitted that she finds the prospect of being alone so unsettling that she'll sit with a friend even when she has a paper to write. Another said, why would anyone want to be alone? ....

What does friendship mean when you have 532 "friends"? How does it enhance my sense of closeness when my Facebook News Feed tells me that Sally Smith (whom I haven't seen since high school, and wasn't all that friendly with even then) "is making coffee and staring off into space"? My students told me they have little time for intimacy. And of course, they have no time at all for solitude. ....

Young people today seem to have no desire for solitude, have never heard of it, can't imagine why it would be worth having. In fact, their use of technology — or to be fair, our use of technology — seems to involve a constant effort to stave off the possibility of solitude, a continuous attempt, as we sit alone at our computers, to maintain the imaginative presence of others. ....The more we keep aloneness at bay, the less are we able to deal with it and the more terrifying it gets. ....

And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life — of wisdom, of conduct. .... Lost, too, is the related propensity for sustained reading. The Internet brought text back into a televisual world, but it brought it back on terms dictated by that world — that is, by its remapping of our attention spans. Reading now means skipping and skimming; five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity. ....
Earlier Deresiewicz writes:
Man may be a social animal, but solitude has traditionally been a societal value. In particular, the act of being alone has been understood as an essential dimension of religious experience, .... For the still, small voice speaks only in silence. Social life is a bustle of petty concerns, a jostle of quotidian interests, and religious institutions are no exception. You cannot hear God when people are chattering at you .... Religious solitude is a kind of self-correcting social mechanism, a way of burning out the underbrush of moral habit and spiritual custom. .... [more]
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
(Psalm 62:5, ESV)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sacred music rescue squads

The most recent issue of Touchstone includes an article celebrating the revival of the hymn in worship: "Hymns Resurrected" by Meredith Henne [not available online - subscribe!]. A few excerpts:
.... Churches that have for years relied on modern choruses are taking another look at hymns, and their musicians are returning to the content and style of time-honored religious anthems for inspiration. Over the past ten years, groups of young musicians disenchanted with shallow praise songs have increasingly formed themselves into sacred music rescue squads, dusting off poetry and tunes long forgotten in their local congregations. These musicians tend to be Evangelicals with liturgical or traditional leanings.

The hymns they have introduced (or re-introduced) come in three varieties: (1) old hymns retaining their traditional melodies and wording; (2) old hymn lyrics with rewritten tunes, some with a very contemporary feel; and (3) completely original songs that make an honest attempt at timeless musical settings and theologically informed lyrics. ....

The impetus to revisit these classic songs frequently comes from churches and para-church groups with high percentages of the under-30 set. ....

The archaic language is not chasing youth away, either. In a Christian culture on a mad scramble for "relevancy," it is an amazing thing to hear a church full of twenty-somethings enthusiastically singing phrases straight out of the American Colonial era: "Spread for thee the festal board/ See with richest dainties stored/ To thy Father's bosom pressed/ Yet again a child confessed." ....
Unfortunately the return of hymn doesn't seem to be accompanied by a return of musical literacy - training in music has largely been abandoned by the church just as it has by public education.
It is fascinating that the return to hymns has not necessarily meant a return to hymnals, that is, a return to the use of musical notation. The thing that would make these new hymns easier to learn—couching the new music in the old written "notes on a staff' format—is the very thing that most churches do not do. An enormous number of American worship services exclusively use an overhead projector during singing, and projected slides rarely indicate anything besides words and the copyright licensing number. As a result, the overhead-dependent church has become largely musically illiterate.

Even church musicians, many of them talented amateurs, are themselves often unfamiliar with notation. Perhaps musical illiteracy has been the church's historical norm for generations, but given our modern advantages, it is regrettable that many parishioners have never actually seen musical notation in their sanctuaries, just disembodied words on an overhead screen.

It would be worthwhile to obtain copies of songs that include musical notation—staffs, clefs, and notes—and project them on the screen so our congregations, particularly the children, could become familiar with this language and develop a curiosity about it rather than a fear. ....

The growing hymn revival and the return to more traditional lyrical and musical expressions have serious didactic potential. Not only can the new take on hymns aid in teaching theological truths more rigorously and with a richer theological vocabulary, but it also has the potential to resuscitate a finer sense of musicianship and broader musical education among Christians.

Several years ago I was present at a worship service led by college students. It included hymns. When I congratulated them, they responded that the hymns actually contained doctrine!

As Ben argued below:
...Music should satisfy both our aesthetic and intellectual faculties. What makes the classic hymns so great and enduring? They combine both uplifting music and edifying prose. Songs that are well written, musically and lyrically, are a delight that goes deeper than mere feeling. It is the knowledge that what you are enjoying is fundamentally good. ....
Touchstone Archives: January/February, 2009

Theology by Snoopy

Via Christ is deeper still, "Theology, humility":

Christ is deeper still: Theology, humility

Friday, January 23, 2009

Re: Right to privacy

Yesterday, the anniversary of Roe v Wade, President Obama issued a statement implying that abortion was necessary to achieve equality for women:
On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.
With respect to which Justin Taylor remarks:
By "daughters" and "sons" he means "daughters and sons" outside the womb.
And later quotes Frank Beckwith:
Apparently, the only way our daughters can be successful is if they are permitted to kill our grandchildren.

So, without surgery so that women can be like men, women are unequal to men. Thus, according to Obama, women are congenitally inferior unless they can have abortions.

I don't even think the worst chauvinists in the world have implied anything so outrageous.
And, one day after the anniversay of Roe v Wade, our pro-abortion President took action:
President Barack Obama on Friday struck down the Bush administration's ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information — an inflammatory policy that has bounced in and out of law for the past quarter-century. Obama's executive order, the latest in an aggressive first week reversing contentious Bush policies, was warmly welcomed by liberal groups and denounced by abortion rights foes. ....

The Bush policy had banned U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion as a family planning method. ....

Between Two Worlds: Abortion and Obama's First Few Days, Obama reverses Bush abortion-funds policy - Yahoo! News

Vanity, suffering, love and hope

Peter Kreeft's newest book is Three Philosphies of Life, represented by three Old Testament books. Ignatius has put "Three Ways of Living," the introduction to the book, online. Some excerpts:
.... When you have read all the books in all the libraries of the world, when you have accompanied all the world's sages on all their journeys into wisdom, you will not have found three more profound books than Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs.

These three books are literally inexhaustible. They brim with a mysterious power of renewal. I continually find new nourishment in rereading them, and I never tire of teaching them. .... A classic is like the morning, like nature herself: ever young, ever renewing. No, not even like nature, for she, like us, is doomed to die. Only God is ever young, and only the Book he inspired never grows old. ....

There are ultimately only three philosophies of life, and each one is represented by one of the following books of the Bible:
  1. Life as vanity: Ecclesiastes
  2. Life as suffering: Job
  3. Life as love: Song of Songs
No more perfect or profound book has ever been written for any one of these three philosophies of life. Ecclesiastes is the all-time classic of vanity. Job is the all-time classic of suffering. And Song of Songs is the all-time classic of love. ....

The essence of Hell is not suffering but vanity, not pain but purposelessness, not physical suffering but spiritual suffering. Dante was right to have the sign over Hell's gate read: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Suffering is not the essence of Hell, because suffering can be hopeful. It was for Job. Job never lost his faith and his hope (which is faith directed at the future), and his suffering proved to be purifying, purgative, educational: it gave him eyes to see God. That is why we are all on earth.

Finally, Heaven is love, for Heaven is essentially the presence of God, and God is essentially love. ("God is love.') ....

Joy is the mood of love, young love, new love, "falling in love". That is the wonder in Song of Songs: that the beloved should be; that life should be; that anything, now all lit by the new light of love, should be--as mysterious a glory as it was to Job a mysterious burden. [more]
Three Ways of Living | The Introduction to "Three Philosophies of Life" | Peter Kreeft | IgnatiusInsight.com

One of the most inspired rotten kids...

Late last year Disney announced that it was pulling out of its deal with Walden to distribute a third film based on the Narnia books: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Patrick Goldstein at the LA Times explains why Disney broke the relationship, but also that hope for the next film is not lost.
.... Walden is moving ahead with plans to make a third book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which will have a new director, Michael Apted, at the helm but much of the cast, including Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian), from the previous films. The book is said to be far more commercial than the last installment, being more of a classic boy's seagoing adventure story, complete with fantastic sights, dragons, wizards and sea serpents, not to mention Eustace Scrubb, who I hear on good authority is one of the most inspired rotten kids in English literature. The real fascinating question is: Who will release it? Walden could announce a new deal as early as later this week.

It doesn't have a lack of suitors. The studio with the inside track is 20th Century Fox, which has first dibs on the project, since it already markets and distributes Walden projects under its Fox-Walden banner. ....

.... If Fox passes, both Sony and Warners have expressed strong interest in the project. It would be a good fit for either studio, giving Sony something it hasn't had in recent years--a fantasy-oriented family franchise, while it could provide Warners with a ready-made family-oriented franchise to replace the soon-to-be completed "Harry Potter" series. Whatever happens, it seems likely that "Narnia" fans will soon have another chance to visit the enchanted world of Narnia and other distant lands.
At the same paper, Mary McNamara, in an open letter to Disney, explained why their decision wasn't very smart:
.... So, part two, Prince Caspian, didn't make a gazillion dollars. What a surprise. Prince Caspian was always the dud, relatively speaking, of the series. For fans who read and reread "The Chronicles of Narnia," it was the one you could skip. The fact that Prince Caspian the movie did as well as it did was a miracle, and a testament to the filmmakers. It certainly did not have the built-in, can't-wait draw of the first Narnia film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Or, more important, of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is, hands down, the best book of the series, the one inevitably most dog-eared or lost entirely from the boxed set because in reading it for the 98th time, you left it in the backyard right before it rained or lent it to your cousin who lives in Virginia. ....

Cinematically, Dawn Treader is a no-brainer. It's a sea voyage, for Pete's sake. There's a dragon and missing knights and a wizard and all manner of magic involved. The moral ambiguity of slavery, the deleterious effect of great wealth, the meaning of the afterlife are all dealt with in entertaining and thrilling ways. Aslan barely makes an appearance, so you don't even need to worry about Liam's schedule.

Peter and Susan are gone, and in their place is the irritating cousin, Eustace Scrubb, one of the more inspired and believable rotten kids in English literature -- a career maker for some lucky young actor. Imagine the big-screen possibilities of the trip to the Island of Dreams or the battle with the sea serpent. Not to mention all the subsequent merchandising opportunities. Reepicheep is back, in a big way, and if you can't earn your investment back in Reepicheep plushies and pajamas, then, honestly, you aren't really trying. ....
The secret history of why Disney dumped 'Narnia' | The Big Picture | Los Angeles Times, A 'Chronicles of Narnia' voyage Disney should take - Los Angeles Times

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Right to privacy

From the Religion News Service blog:
The White House has just released a statement from Obama on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion 36 years ago today.

Here it is:
Statement of President Obama on the 36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.
At least on the level of rhetoric, the idea of a right to privacy seems to be central to the liberal argument for abortion. This is certainly a right characteristically championed by liberals, and has come up more recently in debate over the Bush administration's expanded intelligence programs concerning terrorism suspects. Legally, this right provided the core justification for the court's decision on Roe v. Wade. From the case summary via FindLaw:
"State criminal abortion laws, like those involved here, that except from criminality only a life-saving procedure on the mother's behalf without regard to the stage of her pregnancy and other interests involved violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects against state action the right to privacy, including a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy."
My own law professor recently pointed out that there is no language in the Constitution explicitly protecting a "right to privacy." The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment quotes thus:
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United Sates; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The right may be seen as implicit, perhaps included in the broad category of "liberty." But the fact that it is not expressly present is a difficulty.

What may be a more helpful observation is that President Obama's statement has a theme: women's rights. The issue of abortion is very much bound up with gender issues. What intrigues me most is the final paragraph, which seems to indicate that a woman's ability to choose abortion is a tool to equalize the opportunities of women with men. The implied statement is that unwanted pregnancies are a hindrance to those opportunities. Certainly they are; yet as the quote from Senator Edward Kennedy in 1971 in an earlier post indicated, such pregnancies are fundamentally the result of a free choice.

It is not the government's job to protect us from the consequences of our own free and individual choices, is it? Or is the problem simply that the biological (and perhaps social) facts weigh the consequences of unwanted pregnancies more heavily on women than on men?

Religion News Service Blog - "Obama on Roe v. Wade", FindLaw - Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

Sabbath Recorder, February 2009

The February, 2009, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

This issue of The Sabbath Recorder includes reports on the sessions of the Seventh Day Baptist World Federation held just before the 2008 General Conference sessions. Articles by Janet Thorngate describe the experience and summarize reports made by member conferences. Nedd Lozani, from Malawi in central Africa, recounts the experiences he and his wife had in the US.

There is also the usual variety of articles, columns and new items.

The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

"Once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth ...."

This is the anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that overturned every state law banning abortion, effectively legalizing abortion during every stage of pregnancy. Today the politics of abortion largely breaks along partisan and liberal/conservative lines. That wasn't always true. There was a time when liberals and Democrats were as likely to be as anti-abortion as any modern conservative. In an Alex Chediak interview with Anne Hendershott, she noted that
...Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore and Ted Kennedy were strongly pro-life. For example, Ted Kennedy wrote to a constituent in 1971 pledging his support for the unborn - from the moment of conception. I document others in my book. Jesse Jackson compared abortion to slavery.
Each one of them, today, is a defender of "the woman's right to choose" to end the life of the unborn child. Hendershott has written a book about how that political transformation happened. A quotation from Senator Edward M. Kennedy in 1971:
.... While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain right[s] which must be recognized - the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.

On the question of the individual's freedom of choice there are easily available birth control methods and information which women may employ to prevent or postpone pregnancy. But once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire. ....

When history looks back on this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the moment of conception.
Gene Edward Veith wonders "why do liberals support abortion?"
I know the usual arguments–that women should have the right to control their own bodies and no government should be able to force them to keep their babies, etc.–but these are not LIBERAL arguments, as such. It would make sense for an Ayn Rand, laissez faire, virtue-of-selfishness libertarian to talk like this, emphasizing a radical individualism and opposition to all restrictive laws. But liberals, as a rule, believe that the state should take benevolent actions and sometimes limit extreme individualism for the common good. Liberals claim to be on the side of the poor, the marginalized, and the downtrodden. So on what ideological grounds is an exception made for the unwanted child in the womb?

Is it because liberals, in their openness to change, back in the 1960’s embraced the sexual revolution and so reject any thing that would limit or place consequences on sexual freedom? Is that what it is? I don’t see how that is particularly liberal either. ....
Exactly what is liberal about fifty million abortions?

Why do liberals support abortion? — Cranach: The Blog of Veith, Alex Chediak Blog: Interview - Anne Hendershott - The Politics of Abortion

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Praying for the President

We have a new President. Many of us voted against him and are apprehensive about what he will do. This morning quite a few Christian bloggers are quoting from Ligon Duncan's "Pastor's Perspective" which addresses how we ought to think about praying for President Barack Obama.
.... First, it needs to be said, that we ought to commit ourselves to pray for our new President, for his wife and family, for his administration, and for the nation. We will do this, not only because of the biblical command to pray for our rulers, but because of the second greatest commandment "Love your neighbor" and what better way to love your neighbor, than to pray for his well-being. Those with the greatest moral and political differences with the President ought to ask God to engender in them, by His Spirit, genuine neighbor-love for Mr. Obama. ....

We will pray that God would change President Obama's mind and heart on issues of crucial moral concern. May God change his heart and open his eyes to see abortion as the murder of the innocent unborn, to see marriage as an institution to be defended, and to see a host of issues in a new light. We must pray this from this day until the day he leaves office. God is sovereign, after all.

For those Christians who are more concerned than overjoyed about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance that as our President, Barack Obama will have God-given authority to govern us, and that we should view him as a servant of God (Rom. 13:1, 4) to whom we should be subject (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). Thus, again, we are to pray for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to thank God for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to respect Barack Obama (Rom. 13:7). We are to honor Barack Obama (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17).

For those Christians who are more overjoyed than concerned about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance of our ultimate allegiance: Jesus is Lord (and thus, He, not we, decides what is right and wrong), we serve God not man, and the Lord himself has promised to establish "the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him" (Malachi 3:18). Thus, where our new president opposes or undermines biblical moral standards in our society, fails to uphold justice for the unborn, undermines religious liberties or condones an ethos that is hostile to the Gospel, we will pray for God's purposes to triumph over our President's plans and policies. [more]

The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson Mississippi: Pastor's Perspective

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The lyrics

Shakespeare, whose plays have moved us for centuries, found consolation for a broken heart when he wrote:
When griping grief the heart doth wound,
and doleful dumps the mind oppresses,
then music, with her silver sound,
with speedy help doth lend redress."
For a long time, the human race has known of the powerful effect of music. Plato wrote of music's penetration into the very soul. There is something about the music we listen to that great men and women throughout history have recognized, but is too easily lost in today's white noise.

Music is something that is fundamental to the human experience. It is, perhaps, the most intrinsic of the arts, and the most widespread; everybody has music in their lives, whether they surround themselves with it or whether it just happens. It is "intrinsic" in that its effect is immediate and the medium of its appreciation is primarily emotion, though through intellectual reflection one's experience of music is improved. But a person does not need to be intelligent to enjoy and benefit from music. The essential power that music carries is one of the beautiful realities of Creation.

That being said, I must express a conviction that has risen from my own experience: the choice of music that an individual makes is far more important than most people realize, and has a far greater effect on life. The essential danger - and the potential blessing - lies in the lyrics, I believe. The problem is this: since music is basically emotional, the intellectual side of it (the lyrics) often gets ignored. The "sound" is what is important to most of us, and what the song actually says has little impact on whether we like it or not. This only becomes more and more true when considering more and more popular music. I've seen this revealed when I've asked friends a simple question: "Why do you like this song?" The answer: "I don't know, it's got a good beat."

It's easy to just listen to music because it has a good beat; but a beat is not all that music has. Songs are emotional; they make us feel exuberant, or energetic, or passionate, or angry, or loving, or any one of the many emotions of human experience. The emotion stirred by music is wonderful, but music is more than a feeling.

We can do better. Music should satisfy both our aesthetic and intellectual faculties. What makes the classic hymns so great and enduring? They combine both uplifting music and edifying prose. Songs that are well written, musically and lyrically, are a delight that goes deeper than mere feeling. It is the knowledge that what you are enjoying is fundamentally good. And if the purpose of a song is to communicate something from the artist to the listener, then that purpose is best fulfilled when the two are in agreement both in heart and mind.

In my own experience, choosing good music to live your life to can only improve it.

A new contributor

I'm happy to welcome a new contributor to "One Eternal Day." Ben Wright is a pre-law student and has been an occasional commenter here. He is busy [certainly much busier than this retiree], and so we may not hear from him often, but I am confident that what he offers whenever he is able, will be interesting.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"To thee and thy mandates..."

Main Hall, Milton College
I attended Milton College in Milton, Wisconsin, as did my brother, father, grandfather, other relatives and many friends. My father and mother served on its faculty for many years. Dad was a professor of Mathematics, Registrar, Acting President, Dean of Students and then, at the end, manager of the college bookstore. Mom was Dean of Women for a time, and instructor of women's physical education. So all of the time I was growing up until I graduated in 1968 much of my life centered around the college - music recitals, Saturday night football and basketball, plays - especially the annual Shakespeare performance, and the library. The library was across the street from our house and I spent many, many hours there, first in the children's section, later graduating to general fiction, and then reading my way through the history books.

Milton was a small, liberal arts college, founded by Seventh Day Baptists, first as an academy in the 1840s and then chartered as a college soon after the Civil War. By the mid-Twentieth century its connection with the denomination had become tenuous and by the time I attended there was essentially none. The college expired in the 1980s, having acquired a lot of debt, never having had any endowment, and failing to find its role in the post Vietnam environment. The buildings are still there, all converted to new uses. This weekend my brother called my attention to a 1962 yearbook, from which these pictures are taken. They are of the old campus. By '62 quite a few new buildings had been added. [click on the images for much larger versions]
Main Hall, Milton College
The first two pictures are of Old Main, the oldest building on campus, part of which dates before the Civil War. The bell in the tower was rung every morning at 7:25. It was my alarm clock, growing up. It was also rung on important occasions - when a game was won, for instance, or when the budget for the year had been raised - thus ensuring another year of Milton College. Most of my history and political science classes were here.

Whitford Hall, Milton College - the college library
Whitford Hall was the location of the library until a new building went up while I was in college. The library where I spent so much time was on the first floor. The rest of the building was science classrooms and labs.

Brick walk to the Music Studio
The walk led from Main Hall up the hill to the Music Studio, where the music department had until very recently been located. The elms were all over campus and all over Milton - lining the walks and the streets. Dutch elm disease was about to take its toll. When it did, it entirely changed the feel both of the campus and the town.

"Our Colors" was the college song. This version comes from the Milton College Carmina, published in 1928. By the time I was a student the school colors had changed to blue and gold, but the rest of the words remained the same. The title of this post is taken from the first verse.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How does it look?

I've been tweaking the appearance of "One Eternal Day," most obviously in the new illustration behind the header. I'm curious whether it looks all right on computers with different aspect ratios or resolutions, or in browsers other than IE or Firefox. Feel free to comment on that or on anything else regarding appearance or layout. Are the fonts too small, for instance? Thanks in anticipation.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Defining the enemy

Edmund Burke once observed that "I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against an whole people." In the Wall Street Journal James Taranto argues that we are not in a "war on terrorism" or even on terrorists, and certainly not on Islam—but on specific people who adhere to a particular ideology:
.... There are strains of Islam that are ideologically moderate, and the vast majority of Muslims are far more moderate in their behavior than the terrorists of al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and other such movements.

So, how does one describe these movements? "Terrorist," as we have noted, is too imprecise, a reference to tactics, not ideology. What we need is a term that acknowledges that they are Islamic movements without implying anything invidious about Muslims who do not belong to such movements.

The answer: Islamic supremacy. The analogous term, white supremacy, is in no way offensive to whites, Indeed, condemnations of white supremacy generally succeed at shaming whites into shunning groups like the Ku Klux Klan, just as the West hopes to shame Muslims into shunning Islamic supremacist groups.

We would define Islamic supremacy as follows: a doctrine that seeks to subjugate or exterminate non-Muslims, or convert them to Islam by force. This is slightly different from white supremacy, in that there is no such thing as a racial conversion—but we think the analogy is close enough to be useful.

One might argue that supremacy is inherent in Islam, inasmuch as it claims to be the one true religion and (unlike some other faiths, such as Judaism) seeks converts. But the same is true of Christianity, which has largely made peace with secular modernity and religious pluralism. Reconciling Islam with religious pluralism is a task for Muslims. Combating Islamic supremacist movements is one for non-Muslims and nonsupremacist Muslims alike. [more]
It would indeed be helpful to find a way to acknowledge the reality of the religious motivations of the terrorists without indicting an entire religion.

'Islamic Supremacy' - WSJ.com

Farewell

Tonight President Bush delivered his Farewell Address to the American people. It included this:
.... I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere.

Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This Nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace. .... [more]

Politico: President Bush's Farewell Address

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"That their fasting may be seen by others...."

Mark Olson on contrasting reasons for fasting:
I was recently reading about some protesters fasting in order to raise awareness for one cause or another.

It struck me that the secular left and the religious right have very different notions about fasting and its means and purpose.

Fasting for me and the tradition in which I am a member (Christian Orthodoxy) is a constant thing throughout the year. More than a third of the year is devoting to fasting. Fasting itself is a way to both develop spiritual discipline, apatheia, and to remind ourselves that this life and world are not the important thing. It is to help us turn ourselves and our attentions toward God. There are two modes of fasting, one fasts by restricting (or eliminating) food intake and the other is by restricting dietary choices. Public attention to this fasting is contrary to humility and is at cross purposes with why one is fasting and is, as much as is possible, to be avoided.

When the left fasts, it is more often to gain public notoriety to a cause. .... [more]

Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Fasting. Left and Right

One Eternal Day "Wordled"


I just came across this Wordle based on text from One Eternal Day. Wordle creates images that indicate the frequency of use of words in the text entered. This one was made about six months ago.

Thanks to Ben Wright for the reference.

Wordle - Standfast

Small churches

Most Seventh Day Baptist churches [my denomination] qualify as small churches - some of them, like mine, very small indeed - and being part of a small church can be discouraging. Mark Tubbs at Discerning Reader writes an encouraging review of Why Join a Small Church?, by John Benton, which argues that membership in a small church can stretch you in good ways.
.... Benton isn’t content just to explain why it’s okay to join a small church, but explicitly encourages the reader to do so. He goes so far as to say that small churches are particularly special in God’s eyes: “In encouraging you to join a small church I am inviting you to get on board God’s agenda.” Benton extrapolates from Scripture to show how God delights in fulfilling his purposes through small things. Don’t be fooled: small things can lead to big things. He claims that smaller churches potentially
  • Enjoy closer fellowship
  • Will stretch you more as a Christian
  • Offer you a life’s work of real significance
  • Offer you the chance to confound the world
Benton’s piece de resistance is this circular argument: Unless solid Christians seek out, populate, and serve “little and very local” churches, the light of the gospel may go out in those areas. However, small churches can hold out the offer of the gospel in an authentic, small-scale way that bigger churches cannot: “Everyone needs to become a Christian and local churches are the God-ordained means of holding out the Word of life to the community.” For all the megachurches that successfully attract scores of unbelievers and nominal Christians to their services and functions, there is a disturbing lack of discipleship and retention occurring (see Willow Creek’s recent study, published under the title Reveal). Benton claims that these problems do not occur as often in the smaller church because everyone lives in one another’s back pocket. There is no place to hide, so sanctification occurs on a regular basis, in a very upfront and personal way.

I hasten to add the following: Benton in no way advocates that one ought to join any old small church willy-nilly. Three major criteria should inform the decision:
  • Is the love of Christ shown in the friendliness of the people?
  • Is the teaching biblical?
  • Is the church seeking to reach out with the gospel?
[more]
Discerning Reader: Review of Why Join a Small Church? by John Benton

Judge not, that ye be not judged


This morning the Wall Street Journal provides an interactive presentation about Bibles used at Presidential Inaugurations. The one shown here was used at Lincoln's First Inaugural in 1861. Fighting had already begun in what would become the American Civil War. That day, when Lincoln swore the oath, the Bible was opened at Matthew 7:1. This is the Bible that President-elect Obama intends to use next Tuesday.

Obama's Inauguration Bible - Lincoln, Clinton, More Presidents - WSJ.com

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In the light of history

Every human being is fallible and we are warned not to put our trust in princes, but some leaders do better than others. Historians have demonstrated time and again that the first take on a President's reputation often must be revised. As President Bush approaches the end of his second term his popular approval rating is very, very low. The verdict of history will probably be more positive. British historian Andrew Roberts reminds us of some of the reasons:
At the time of 9/11, which will forever rightly be regarded as the defining moment of the presidency, history will look in vain for anyone predicting that the Americans murdered that day would be the very last ones to die at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in the US from that day to this.

The decisions taken by Mr Bush in the immediate aftermath of that ghastly moment will be pored over by historians for the rest of our lifetimes. One thing they will doubtless conclude is that the measures he took to lock down America's borders, scrutinise travellers to and from the United States, eavesdrop upon terrorist suspects, work closely with international intelligence agencies and take the war to the enemy has foiled dozens, perhaps scores of would-be murderous attacks on America. There are Americans alive today who would not be if it had not been for the passing of the Patriot Act. There are 3,000 people who would have died in the August 2005 airline conspiracy if it had not been for the superb inter-agency co-operation demanded by Bush after 9/11.

The next factor that will be seen in its proper historical context in years to come will be the true reasons for invading Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in April 2003. The conspiracy theories believed by many (generally, but not always) stupid people – that it was "all about oil", or the securing of contracts for the US-based Halliburton corporation, etc – will slip into the obscurity from which they should never have emerged had it not been for comedian-filmmakers such as Michael Moore.

Instead, the obvious fact that there was a good case for invading Iraq based on 14 spurned UN resolutions, massive human rights abuses and unfinished business following the interrupted invasion of 1991 will be recalled.

Similarly, the cold light of history will absolve Bush of the worst conspiracy-theory accusation: that he knew there were no WMDs in Iraq. History will show that, in common with the rest of his administration, the British Government, Saddam's own generals, the French, Chinese, Israeli and Russian intelligence agencies, and of course SIS and the CIA, everyone assumed that a murderous dictator does not voluntarily destroy the WMD arsenal he has used against his own people. And if he does, he does not then expel the UN weapons inspectorate looking for proof of it, as he did in 1998 and again in 2001.

Mr Bush assumed that the Coalition forces would find mass graves, torture chambers, evidence for the gross abuse of the UN's food-for-oil programme, but also WMDs. He was right about each but the last, and history will place him in the mainstream of Western, Eastern and Arab thinking on the matter. ....

Mistakes are made in every war, but when virtually the entire military, diplomatic and political establishment in the West opposed it, Bush insisted on the surge in Iraq that has been seen to have brought the war around, and set Iraq on the right path. Today its GDP is 30 per cent higher than under Saddam, and it is free of a brutal dictator and his rapist sons.

The number of American troops killed during the eight years of the War against Terror has been fewer than those slain capturing two islands in the Second World War, and in Britain we have lost fewer soldiers than on a normal weekend on the Western Front. As for civilians, there have been fewer Iraqis killed since the invasion than in 20 conflicts since the Second World War.

Iraq has been a victory for the US-led coalition, a fact that the Bush-haters will have to deal with when perspective finally – perhaps years from now – lends objectivity to this fine man's record. [more]

History will show that George W Bush was right - Telegraph

Tolerance is for people, not ideas

Doug TenNapel thinks tolerance is only required toward people with whom you disagree [it's not needed otherwise] and that genuine tolerance is demonstrated by how you treat those people. From Big Hollywood: "Real Tolerance Training":
.... The exec informed me that religious imagery didn’t sell to American audiences, that it was intolerant and it definitely didn’t export. This was before ‘The Passion of the Christ’ so I can forgive his ignorance of the world’s most popular religion, but it was the word intolerant that struck me. How was the inclusion of religion not tolerant while the removal of it was? ....

Since that time when terms like tolerance or intolerance came up, I got all cringey. They don’t know what these words mean and have a funny way of showing it if they do. ....

It’s not hateful or intolerant to vote that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Tolerant isn’t a position, it’s how you treat people who hold positions you hate. ....

I hope some of you disagree with this post. Because this will be a perfect opportunity to practice true tolerance. The act of treating a political opponent with dignity and value used to be considered a high art form in debate. You can tell a lot about a person who treats someone with dignity and value whom they deeply disagree with. ....

All people are created equal, but all ideas are not. People should be tolerated, but ideas ought to be judged, weighed and accepted or rejected. We treat each other with civility because we are all creatures made in the image of God. But our ideas are not made in the image of God, so there are philosophical grounds to disrespect some ideas. Which is why I can be tolerant and still call your ideas of Global Warming a complete fraud. [more]
Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » Real Tolerance Training: Christian = ‘Intolerant’

The past is prologue

Christian History Magazine has a blog that, on the basis of its early posts, will be interesting to anyone who cares about the history of the Church. Consider, for instance, this on the charismatic gifts in the early church:
.... Sadly, many writers and teachers who are not cessationist continue to give the impression that miracles and extraordinary gifts were phenomena limited to the apostolic period. The way the early church is usually taught, we hear much about martyrdom and persecution; much about Gnostics and Arians and doctrinal disputes; much about how bishops and clergy roles evolved, and how the apostolic tradition was passed down and the canon of the New Testament evolved.

We hear how Tertullian scoffed at those who tried to translate the gospel into the categories of Greek philosophy; how Origen of Alexandria nearly single-handedly invented the systematic study of the Bible; how Irenaeus defended the faith against a host of heresies and spoke of the Work of Christ in illuminating new ways; how Cyprian insisted on the unity of the church and its necessity for salvation.

What we don’t usually hear is how these same august teachers and bishops from the 100s and 200s AD and beyond—Tertullian, Cyprian, Irenaeus, and many more—talked about miracles of healing, prophecy, and exorcism as everyday occurrences in the church. Tertullian is typical when he says “God everywhere manifests signs of his own power—to his own people for their comfort, to strangers for a testimony unto them” (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul).

In other words, we are usually not told that the early Christian church was a charismatic church. ....[more]

Another entry is a brief review of a book about English church architecture:
Timothy Brittain-Catlin’s Churches focuses its 256 heavily illustrated pages primarily on English church buildings and their architectural features, decoration, and symbology. It’s a visual feast for Anglophiles.

The history of the English church is tightly bound up with its civic, political, and cultural history. English village life, for example, often centered on the church, which was often at the literal center of the village. The parson (the person in charge) collaborated with the squire in the administration of family and property law, and the seasons of village life were propelled by the twin engines of agriculture and liturgy. So to walk into an English village church is to be exposed to a condensed version of local history. Memorial gifts and plaques, burial markers, stained-glass windows—all these things have connections to the history of a place.

This volume helps you “read” a church—from simple parish churches to grand cathedrals—by looking at the church’s architectural details (which will tell you when it was built) and the many furnishings that worshipers, families, and powerful political and business figures have donated across the years.
If you are interested in Christian history, bookmark this site or add it to your feed.

Christian History Blog: Signs and Wonders, Christian History Blog: Picture This

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Liberty without virtue?

In the current Weekly Standard Edward Achorn reviews Samuel Adams: A Life, by Ira Stoll, and includes in the review two quotations from Adams about liberty, each of which rings true still today.
“It is not infrequent, to hear men declaim loudly upon liberty, who, if we may judge by the whole tenor of their actions, mean nothing else by it than their own liberty—to oppress without control or the restraint of the laws all those who are weaker and poorer than themselves."

“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”

Samuel Adams was a radical and a revolutionary, but he was also a Christian and, as these quotations—particularly the second—suggest, profoundly conservative. The second quotation reminded me of Edmund Burke:
"But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint."
And, again from Burke's "Letter to a Member of the National Assembly":
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,—in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity,—in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption,—in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
For liberty depends on self-restraint. When most people do what is right most of the time because they believe they should, fewer laws and fewer police are required. This inclination toward self-restraint comes primarily from what each of us has learned from custom and tradition and family and faith.

Update 1/4/09: I added the quotation from Burke's "Letter...."

Weekly Standard, January 19, 2009, pp. 33-34

Thursday, January 8, 2009

To Christ and Christ alone

Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO quotes from Neuhaus's Death on a Friday Afternoon:
When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my own. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of "justification by faith alone," although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways—these and all other gifts I have received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will, with Dysmas, look to Christ and Christ alone.

Then I hope to hear him say, "Today you will be with me in paradise," as I hope with all my being—because, although looking to him alone, I am not alone—he will say to all.
Neuhaus - Ramesh Ponnuru - The Corner on National Review Online

Richard John Neuhaus, RIP

Joseph Bottum, the editor of First Things, on the loss of Father Neuhaus:
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away today, January 8, shortly before 10 o’clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and the next day, in the company of friends, he died.

My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.
For those of us who did not know him, but who shared his Christian faith and political and social convictions, his writing will be much missed. I am particularly grateful for the magazine he began and served as editor-in-chief, First Things. I will miss his written contributions - both the longer essays and the shorter comments in the back of the book. I learned from him.

This morning I re-read "The Idea of Moral Progress" from 1999. This portion is found at the end of the essay:
.... Within the civilizational circle, there is moral progress (and regress!) in how we live, but there is no progress in the sense of moving beyond the moral truths that constitute the circle itself. We can develop the further implications of those truths, or we can step outside the circle by denying that there is such a thing as moral truth. It has become the mark of hyper-sophistication in our time to echo the question of Pontius Pilate, "What is truth?" Pontius Pilate, an urbane Roman ever so much more sophisticated by worldly standards than the prisoner who stood before him, was a forerunner of the barbarians now in power.

Those permanent truths are sometimes called natural law. In the Declaration of Independence they are called the laws of nature and nature’s God. Or they are called the first principles of ethics. First principles are, by definition, always first. Moral analysis cannot go beyond or behind them any more than human consciousness can go beyond or behind human consciousness. Fifty years ago, C.S. Lewis, borrowing from Confucianism, called these first principles the Tao. In The Abolition of Man, he anticipated with great prescience today’s debates in biomedical ethics about reproductive technologies, genetic engineering, and eugenic progress. The Tao, Lewis said, draws support from all religious and moral traditions in inculcating certain rules such as: general beneficence toward others, special beneficence toward one’s own community, duties to parents and ancestors, duties to children and posterity, the laws of justice, honesty, mercy, and magnanimity. Whether drawn from the Torah, the Sermon on the Mount, Chinese Analects, Cicero, or the Bhagavad Gita, these are the truths that constitute the civilizational circle.

Like all tradition, the Tao is vulnerable. Those who want to violate it ask, "Why not?", and it is not always possible to give a rationally convincing answer, or an answer that is convincing to everybody. In response to the assertion of rules that set limits, the avant garde offers the challenge, "Sez who?", and the invoking of authority, even of the most venerable authority, carries little weight in our time. Most corrosive is what is called the hermeneutics of suspicion, in which every rule or law or custom is perceived to have behind it some hidden purpose, some power protecting its own interests. Thus the Tao is debunked, we "see through" its supposed authority, and the force of its commands and limits is "explained away." The result is what Peter Singer approvingly calls the collapse of traditional ethics. Lewis had a keen appreciation of what was happening in our intellectual culture. Recall again that remarkable passage from The Abolition of Man:
But you cannot go on "explaining away" forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on "seeing through" things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to "see through" first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To "see through" all things is the same as not to see.
To which many of our contemporaries say, "Precisely. To see through the first principles of ethics is to see nothing, which means to see that there is nothing except what we will to do; and, if there is nothing, all things are permitted." So speak the barbarians among us. .... Whether they will rule us in the future depends upon our ability to argue-and to give public effect to the argument - that there is such a thing as moral knowledge. It is in the nature of knowledge that we can argue endlessly about what we know and how we know it. Or at least we can argue until, in the happy phrase of 1 Corinthians 13, we finally know even as we are known. Lewis’ Tao provides one minimal foundation for such argument. My suspicion is that, while it is useful, it is too minimal; that a firmer and publicly effective understanding of natural law and first principles requires the specific acknowledgment of the God of Israel and the achievement of the Greeks, as these find expression in what is rightly called the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. That particularist tradition provides the most solid foundation for a truly universal ethic. But that is a discussion for another time.

The answer to the question of whether the barbarians will rule us in the future depends upon parents, religious leaders, educators, scientists, politicians, artists, and writers who are not embarrassed to give public expression to what they know about right and wrong, good and evil. The first proponents of the idea of progress, including moral progress, were right to believe that knowledge and progress are inseparable. There can be no progress beyond but only within the civilizational circle of the moral truths into which we were born, by which we are tested, and to which we are duty bound, in the hope of sustaining the circle for those who come after us. The alternative is the willed ignorance of nihilism.
Richard John Neuhaus was "not embarrassed to give public expression to what" he knew "about right and wrong" and he was a very effective advocate for the good and the true. He will be missed.

FIRST THINGS: Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009, FIRST THINGS: The Idea of Moral Progress