Monday, August 30, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tolerance and argument

Nick Cohen, in the UK's Standpoint, writes about "Radical Islam's Fellow-Travellers," with particular attention to the antagonism toward Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the applause accorded Tariq Ramadan. In the course of the article, Cohen makes an important point about the difference between tolerance and respect.
.... On one question, however, Ramadan speaks plainly. The religious tolerance of the Enlightenment is not good enough for him. Tolerance means suffering the presence of "the other," he says. Only when we move from tolerance to respect will we "recognise that the other is as complex as we are; he is our equal, our mirror, our question."

Forget the sanctimonious sentiments for a moment. Forget, too, that Ramadan refuses to condemn or even mention the religious oppression and violence in much of the Muslim world, and consider what he is asking us to throw away. Religious tolerance received its classic Enlightenment definition in Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom of 1777: "No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever...All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion."

Jefferson's key phrase was "by argument." Toleration did not limit debate but removed the barriers of state and church that had stood in debate's way. Argument is not in its nature always respectful of "the other's" point of view. At its best, it is robust and demanding. Ramadan's insistence on "respect" is a way of erecting new barriers in place of old, of ruling debates off limits. .... [more]
Radical Islam's Fellow-Travellers | Standpoint

Friday, August 27, 2010

Celebrating virtues

Ryan L. Cole, reviewing an exhibit of Norman Rockwell's paintings, explains to the obtuse why they are worthwhile, and why they remain popular.
.... Though its subjects often coincide with and chronicle events of the twentieth century, Rockwell’s work touches on timeless, universal emotions and aspirations. In the foreground of “Boy Reading Adventure Story” (1923), a child, draped in shadows, studies a novel (perhaps Sidney Lanier’s The Boy’s King Arthur). In the background, a distant, dreamy pastel image of the boy heroically mounted on a steed, suited in knightly armor, a beautiful maiden nearby, projects his mind’s eye. ....

Rockwell’s work also celebrated civic engagement and its accompanying liberties, as in his famous depiction of the Four Freedoms (of Worship and Speech, and from Want and Fear) that Franklin D. Roosevelt set out in his 1941 State of the Union address. The series, published in 1943 and subsequently used to sell war bonds, is represented in the exhibit by a sketchy, early draft of “Freedom of Speech,” which shows a man, surrounded by fellow citizens, rising to speak at a town-hall meeting.

To Gopnik and other critics, this rendering is emblematic of all that is wrong with Rockwell. Why celebrate interchangeable Americans participating in harmless, small-scale civic duty? Because in America, as Rockwell knew, democracy is most often found in school-board, city-council, and town-hall meetings. It takes courage to stand up in a crowd of friends, family, and neighbors and make an argument for or against something. Rockwell was right to celebrate those willing to take public stands on issues; without them, the American idea falls apart. And though not featured in the exhibit, paintings like “The Problem We All Live With” and “Murder in Mississippi,” which championed the civil rights movement, proved that Rockwell’s vision of America was hardly reactionary or blind to changing times.

But it took integrity for Rockwell to continue to paint in his traditional style amid the postmodernist convulsions that elevated abstraction over realism and artistic angst over subject matter. He continued to celebrate virtues that came increasingly under attack amid the self-doubt of the second half of the twentieth century. Perhaps the most fitting coda for Rockwell, then, is “The Connoisseur.” In this work from 1962, an older man, dressed in the formal attire of an older generation, examines a Jackson Pollockesque painting. This forms a kind of self-portrait: Rockwell the connoisseur gazes at a new generation of trendsetters, but holds fast to his own style, now hopelessly out of date. .... [more]
The Storyteller by Ryan L. Cole, City Journal 27 August 2010

Such a thing as truth

A few years ago in some liberal circles a favorite conspiracy theory had to do with the supposed malign influence of "Straussianism," which somehow inspired an equally awful neoconservative foreign policy. The promoters of the conspiracy theory misrepresented Leo Strauss whose ideas about political theory are pretty straightforward and which, as Brian Bolduc reports in the Wall Street Journal, are about to become more accessible as recordings of his lectures are made available online.

Strauss sounds like a very good teacher. Bolduc:
Greater familiarity with Strauss's lectures may demolish this myth of him as a neoconservative Svengali. Instead, people may come to recognize him as, among other things, an engaging teacher.

Students loved Strauss because he rebelled against his profession's norms, especially historicism—the belief that all thought is the product of its time and place. Aristotle, historicism contends, believed the Greek city-state was the best regime because he lived in one. His insights are inapplicable to a modern liberal democracy.

This tenet still infects political science today, causing students excruciating boredom in their (typically, required) classes on political theory. Why should students care about Plato if they're taught that his philosophy is obsolete?

Listening to the tapes, you hear Strauss's different approach. He believes that thought—at least by great minds—can transcend its time and place. In other words, he believes there is such a thing as truth.

Instead of cataloging philosophers for rows of classroom note takers, he throws students into an ongoing argument: How should we live? He forces students not merely to study political philosophy but to engage in it. ....

...[H]e spent so much time answering students' questions that his class often ran past its allotted time. "At times a course went on for so long that Mrs. Strauss had to come in and stop it," says Werner Dannhauser, a former student of Mr. Strauss.

The reason for Strauss's energetic exchanges was that he took students seriously. "He said, 'When you're teaching always assume there is a silent student in the class who knows more than you do,'" remembers Roger Masters, another former student. ....

.... Political scientists who refuse to bend to their field's reigning ideology need a standard-bearer. And what a quizzical standard-bearer Strauss was: a chubby, balding little man with a thick German accent, a squeaky voice and a constant cigarette in his hand.

"You would not think that this man either in his appearance or in his speech would be a Pied Piper to students," says Jenny Strauss Clay, his daughter. "It wasn't for reasons of style or eloquence; it was for something else."

It was for his love of political philosophy, which—despite critics' objections—he believed to be more than an academic exercise. For him, it was a way of life.
Leo Strauss, Back and Better Than Ever in New Recordings and Transcripts of His Political Philosophy Lectures - WSJ.com

Every church is liturgical

Every church, however formal or informal it intends its approach to worship to be, develops patterns and behaviors that become habitual. Those that claim to be non-liturgical are kidding themselves. Attempting to clarify various misunderstandings about the "Ancient-Future" movement which has been attractive to some Evangelicals, "Chaplain Mike" at Internet Monk has this to say about liturgy in worship:
Ancient-Future types believe that liturgy is the means by which we worship God. Furthermore, they understand that everyone has a liturgy.

The Baptist pastor of my youth would have been appalled had anyone suggested his church was liturgical. But every week, he simply took the bulletin from the past Sunday, crossed out the specific hymn numbers, texts, and sermon topic, and wrote in new details for the next Sunday. Everything stayed in the same order. Once a month he added communion. We were as strict and standardized as any Mass.

Most “contemporary” churches claim to be “free,” but that has not been my experience. Those on the Ancient-Future path are not seeking liturgy in contrast to non-liturgy. They are seeking better liturgy in contrast to insufficiently thoughtful and purposeful liturgy. ....

As mentioned above, every congregation has a liturgy by which they worship. Evangelical services are known for music designed to stir the emotions followed by preaching/teaching designed to lead listeners to a decision. This is the revivalist liturgy that is about 200 years old.

The basic form of the traditional liturgy is different. Though specific elements may vary in different incarnations of the liturgy, the church’s worship has been defined traditionally as “Word and Sacrament.” Therefore, the liturgy is comprised of two primary sections: the Service of the Word and the Service of the Table. The beginning of the service, prior to the Word, is a time of gathering before God in praise, confession, and prayer. The ending of the service, following the Table, is when we receive God’s blessing and are sent into the world to share the Good News.
  • Gathering: We come before God
  • Service of the Word: We hear his Word and respond with confessions of faith and prayers of intercession
  • Service of the Table: We give thanks and are nourished at his Table
  • Sending: We are sent into the world to serve as God’s blest people
For those on the Ancient-Future path, this order is attractive. Whether it is worked out in an elaborate high-church service with a multitude of elements and formal style, or in simple fashion without a lot of accoutrements, the service focuses on Christ and the drama of redemption. Every Sunday, God’s people are immersed in the Gospel through the liturgy, which begins with acknowledging the worthiness of God, then confessing our sins, then hearing and responding to his Word, then receiving grace afresh at his table, and finally being sent into the world empowered by his Spirit.
Don’t Misunderstand the Ancient-Future Path | internetmonk.com

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Losing oneself in the maw of collective self-satisfaction"

David Rieff in "The Unwisdom of Crowds," discusses the desire for comradeship and the inclination to surrender your own judgment to that of the crowd.
.... Anyone who was ever bullied in a schoolyard, or, more to the point, anyone who ever joined in the bullying or just stood by while it was going on, knows full well where that feeling that no blame attaches to you if you are doing what everyone else is can lead. You end up doing, or at least condoning, things that you would never do solo, and that you have a hard time justifying once the crowd disperses and you are on your own again. Recapturing these scruples — at once the burden and the blessing of individual consciousness — does not mean moving from the utter conformity of the crowd to its polar opposite, an absolute non-conformity. To be a true non-conformist is rare, which is probably just as well, since absolute non-conformity would mean rebelling not just against some particular convention, but rather against all convention, and, by extension, all continuity with the past. Taken to this extreme, non-conformity becomes the moral equivalent of economic autarky — self-sufficiency taken to the point of nihilism, and few travel down that road (our modern pose of non-conformity is another matter). ....

.... As a teenager during the late 1960s, I spent a great of time demonstrating against the war in Vietnam. I have changed my mind about a great many things in my life, but I remain as opposed to that war at 57 as I was at 17. But I remember vividly my profound discomfort before joining every protest rally I ever participated in, and my equally profound sense of relief when I could finally detach myself from the crowd. The former seemed like losing oneself in the maw of collective self-satisfaction..., the latter like recapturing one’s identity, complete with all the dissatisfactions that are the mark of our individual humanity. In a crowd, one can only say, “Yes, we can.” But it takes an individual to say, “No, we can’t.” ....

The lesson, whether about geopolitics or daily life, should be clear: if what you are thinking could just as easily be expressed in a slogan, and shouted out or held aloft on a banner by a crowd, then you are probably not thinking at all. And in troubled times such as our own, times of the most enormous moral, social, cultural, and technological dislocation, that is immensely dangerous. [more]
The Unwisdom of Crowds | Big Questions Online

The President's faith

Terry Mattingly comments on the journalistic coverage of the President's religious affiliation in "Obama and Allah, past and present," and, based on his own research, doesn't think the public has been well served by the media. Mattingly's own column on the subject is here. Part of his GetReligion commentary:
After reading the ongoing waves of coverage of the Pew Forum poll, I set out to write a column that was based as much as possible on three sources: (1) Obama’s own words, (2) statements from the Obama team and (3) mainstream news coverage of his faith history, drawing only from on-the-record sources.

I created a thick file and pulled out my marked-up Obama memoirs. I have concluded three things:
  • There is no question that, despite all the denials, the young Barry practiced Islam in Indonesia. He went to mosque, said the prayers, studied the Koran in Arabic and some of his Muslim friends remember him as being quite devout. But here is the big question: Would it help or hurt public discourse if members of the Obama team stopped denying this?
  • There is reason to believe that some, repeat “some,” Muslims might consider Obama to be an apostate Muslim, due to his early faith history and his public conversion to Christianity. But this requires viewing the issue from one Muslim point of view, one of several competing Muslim points of view on issues of faith and identity. As always, let me stress a point we often make here at GetReligion — there is no one Islam, no monolithic approach to many, many issues of tradition and law.
  • How anyone can doubt that Obama is a convert to a liberal, Universalistic Christianity — as he has said — is totally beyond me. He is a liberal Christian. Conservative Christians can argue that some of his beliefs are wrong (to which, as an Eastern Orthodox believer, I would certainly say, “Amen”), but how can anyone say that he has not given frequent public confessions of faith? Yes, it would help if Trinity UCC would clearly verify that he was baptized (there is online debate about this, of course). Journalists need to do a better job of quoting Obama’s testimony and his many statements about his faith, struggles and beliefs. Period.
With so much chatter and misinformation out there, I also think it would be constructive if citizens knew more information about Obama’s past. Journalists must be willing to quote, to the best of their abilities, what is accurate in order to note that is inaccurate. .... [more]
Note: The image is also from Terry Mattingly's post at the GetReligion site.

Obama and Allah, past and present » GetReligion

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Anti-Semitic fellow-travelers

From a review of a book describing a connection between the Nazi regime and Islamist extremism in the person of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini:
Just after the Allies defeated Rommel’s forces at El Alamein during the Second World War, Arab-world listeners heard this exhortation from Radio Berlin:
“Arise, o sons of Arabia, fight for your sacred rights. Slaughter Jews wherever you find them. Their spilled blood pleases Allah, our history and religion. That will save our honor.”
The speaker was Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. This man, more than any other individual, can be regarded as the “godfather” of modern-day Islamic terrorism. Every group that daily makes headlines with their atrocities—the Muslim Brotherhood, the PLO, Hamas, Al Qaeda among them—can trace its origins back to Al-Husseini. His hatred for Jews, but especially the Zionists in Palestine, never diminished in his lifetime (~1895-1974). ....

As a terrorist, Al-Husseini innovated suicide bombing, not just against Jews but also moderate Muslims who dared even to negotiate with the Zionists.

From 1937 onward, he was on the Nazi payroll; he moved to Berlin in 1941, being settled in a house taken from a Jew and treated throughout the war like a visiting potentate; he visited the extermination camps incognito, criticizing them for not being efficient enough in executing the “final solution”; he lived off the proceeds of the Sonderfund (money and valuables such as gold teeth taken from Holocaust victims) which he used to set up Bosnian-Muslim SS formations in the Balkans.

When the Third Reich collapsed in 1945, he fled to Egypt with hundreds of Nazis, using the Sonderfund and numbered Swiss bank accounts to finance the escape....
New Book Fills in Gaps in the History of Islamic Terrorism | The American Culture

Christianity and conservatives

William F. Buckley's God and Man at Yale [1951] was the book that first brought him widespread public attention. It was an indictment of increasing secularism and socialism at Yale. Buckley's remedy was controversial even among conservatives - Russell Kirk disagreed, for instance - but not his description of what had happened. Joe Carter, in "God and Man in the Conservative Movement", thinks much the same thing - at least with respect to Christian belief - is happening in movement conservatism.
.... In God and Man, he unapologetically declares, “I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.”

Who would have the courage to make such a claim today? Can you imagine the reaction if a prominent conservative were to say that at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference? After the crowd recovered from fainting at such a bigoted religious view, they’d boo him from the stage. How dare he besmirch the good conservative atheists? They have as much claim to the title “conservative” as anyone else. ....

Of course you can still be a Christian—even an evangelical one—within the movement, for the conservative elite is not openly hostile to the faith. In fact, many of the leaders in the movement are, like the administrators of Yale in the 1940s, good churchgoing folk. They are all in favor of religion, provided it is practiced in private and not forced on others. Christianity can be a harmless pastime, similar to woodworking, quilting, or homosexuality.

When it comes to the expression of religious convictions in public and as a defining mark of conservatism, these movement leaders are moderately pro-choice. Christianity should remain safe, legal, and—like Judaism—rare. ....

Stop by a trendy D.C. bar and strike up a conversation about social issues with a group of young Congressional staffers, think-tank interns, and associate editors of opinion journals. If you can tell the difference between the liberals and conservatives based on their view of same-sex marriage I’ll buy the next round; if you can find more than one committed social conservative in the group I’ll buy you the saloon. ....

Increasingly, the elites of the institutional conservative movement do not reflect—much less emphasize—the traditional religious values of their supporters. The obvious question we should be asking ourselves is the same one that Buckley presented to the Yale alumnus: Since they do not support our values, why do we continue to financially support them? .... [more]
God and Man in the Conservative Movement | First Things

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tradition

As I read this internetmonk.com post about how the Church should think about tradition, two points came to mind — one made there, and one largely my own. First, that every Christian tendency has tradition, just as every church has liturgy, the only question being whether it is recognized and intentional. Second, that none of them get it all right. My denomination is very small and remains separate from other Baptists only because of a single doctrinal position. If we are right about that position, there can be only one reason we have been preserved all these years and that is because, just as with every other tendency within the Church, we may have a truth that should be a part of the whole.

The book by John H. Armstrong quoted below is Your Church Is Too Small.
.... John Armstrong reminds us that Christians also have a Tradition with a capital “T”.
Just as a person or family has a history and memory, so does the body of Christ. Tradition is nothing more or less than the means by which we understand this memory. This is how we know who we are as God’s people. The New Testament itself came about through three centuries of life, reflection, and discussion. (p. 129f)
Sadly, he observes that modern evangelicalism, a movement whose traditions go back only about 200 years, has had an extremely negative view of this Tradition.
Much of the modern evangelical movement has been built on schism—a schism rooted in an antitradition perspective. We thought this was the best way for a church to remain faithful. A simple study of early church history would divest us of this idea. I am convinced that as long as we remain opposed to Christian tradition, we will never solve this problem. We will keep building churches on the foundation of strong human personalities and then follow these leaders, much as the Corinthians did with various teachers in their context… (p. 131)
In the following video clip, John Armstrong talks about Tradition with a capital “T” and encourages us to adjust our perception of its value to our future as Christ’s church. “If we don’t have love for the past, we will make mistakes—not only that have been made—but we will learn none of the good things we can learn from the Tradition.”
 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Progress and the persistence of evil

Reviewing Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, Brendan O'Neill summarizes some of the material improvements that have made life easier for almost everyone:
.... There are more people (or “mouths to feed,” as the pessimists insultingly refer to us) than ever, yet we are better fed and healthier than ever, too. Since 1800, Ridley points out, the world population of human beings has risen sixfold—from 1 billion to over 6 billion—yet in the same period, average life expectancy has more than doubled and average real income has risen ninefold. In just the past 50 years, the average human “earned nearly three times as much money (corrected for inflation), ate one-third more calories of food, buried one-third as many of her children, and could expect to live one-third longer.” ....

...[A]mong Americans officially designated as “poor,” 99 percent have electricity, running water, and a fridge; 95 percent have a television; 71 percent have a car; and 70 percent have air conditioning. .... How much backbreaking female drudgery was wiped out by the invention of the washing machine? How many man-hours have been saved by the availability of cars for shopping, school-drops, and visiting relatives? How much healthier is our food, and longer-lasting, now that virtually everyone in the Western world has a refrigerator? ....

In short, being better off does, generally speaking, make us happier. And, says Ridley, while the environment might be taking some serious body-blows in China right now, in the longer developed West, it is improving. “In Europe and America, rivers, lakes, seas, and the air are getting cleaner all the time. ... American carbon monoxide emissions from transport are down 75 per cent in twenty-five years.” And so on. The more developed a society is, the more resources that can be devoted to cleaning up the environment. Once China and India reach the West’s level of development, the better their air and water quality will become. ....
And yet, as a favorite essayist, Theodore Dalrymple, argues here, however much success there has been in ameliorating human suffering and want, moral evil continues and grows even as we fail to see it for what it is:
.... The Enlightenment held out the hope that with enough of this “proper study,” man would come to know himself sufficiently to eliminate the evil and suffering that had always beset his existence. Man would obtain something like a Newtonian knowledge not only of the universe but of himself, with all the predictive and mechanical advantages that such understanding had brought in the study of inanimate nature.

And in a certain sense, the promise of the Enlightenment has been triumphantly fulfilled in our modern societies—surely as regards natural evil. Thanks to rational inquiry, to take but one instance, the infant-mortality rate since Jenyns wrote has fallen 98 percent. We live lives cleaner, more comfortable, and freer from pain than those of any people who have ever existed. Nobody today has to endure one-hundredth of the physical tortures, brought by illness and the efforts to treat it, that Philip II of Spain and Charles II of England had to endure. ....

But an uninvited guest has arrived at this banquet of human advancement: evil. Whether men behave better or worse, individually or in the aggregate, than they did before the Enlightenment, is probably a question that we cannot answer approximately, let alone definitively. But what is certain is that moral evil has not only failed to disappear but has taken on a more deliberate, calculated character. ....

The two greatest moral catastrophes of the twentieth century, wrought by Lenin and Hitler, were perverse effects of the Enlightenment. Lenin and Hitler were creatures of the Enlightenment not in the sense that they were enlightened, of course, but in the sense that they believed they had the right and the duty to act in accordance with their own unaided deductions from their own first principles. Everything else they regarded as sentimentality. Lenin preached no mercy to the non-proletarian, Hitler none to the Jew. The truth of their theories, supposedly rational and indubitable, was more evident to them, more real in their minds, than the millions killed as a consequence of those theories. If a syllogism ended in a command to commit unspeakable evil, you did not doubt the premises or the argument but obeyed the command.

This post-Enlightenment way of thinking continues to have its defenders. The celebrated British historian Eric Hobsbawm, a lifelong Marxist, said not long ago that had the Soviet Union turned out much better than it did, the deaths of 20 million to achieve it would have been a worthwhile price to pay. One cannot accuse Hobsbawm of thinking small.

That evil has not disappeared pari passu with German measles puzzles and troubles us. Evil remains a conundrum, as evidenced by Marxist literary theorist Terry Eagleton’s recently published book On Evil. Eagleton is not one of those Marxists for whom, like the late historian and Stalin apologist Edward Hallett Carr, the problem of evil does not exist. “I don’t think there are such things as bad people,” Carr once said. “To us Hitler, at the moment, seems a bad man, but will they think Hitler a bad man in a hundred years’ time, or will they think the German society of the thirties bad?”

Eagleton sees clearly that this will not do. Helping him in this recognition is that he is a Christian as well as a Marxist, and no Christian can believe wholly in social determinism. The problem of the human heart is real, not just a remediable social artifact. The relationship between society and human behavior is dialectical, Eagleton believes. Society has its effect, but it is acting on an already imperfect nature, which in turn is bound to produce an imperfect society.

Significantly, Eagleton begins his book by citing the case of two ten-year-old British boys who abducted, tortured, and killed three-year-old Jamie Bulger in 1993. Here is the opposite of childhood innocence, for the two boys knew that what they were doing was deeply wrong but went ahead and did it anyway. The human mystery is that neither their environment nor their nature can fully explain them. Man is not only wolf to man; he is mystery to man.

So the Enlightenment project has failed, at least in explaining man fully to himself. However successful it has been in other regards—and we are all, even its bitterest enemies, children of the Enlightenment—we do not know ourselves any better than we did in Jenyns’s and Johnson’s day. Self-understanding may even have regressed since Johnson, for no man was better at self-examination than he. If more people proved adept at it, perhaps the prevalence of evil would decline. .... [more]
Thanks to Insight Scoop for pointing me toward the Dalrymple essay.

The American Conservative -- Down on the Upside, Modernity's Uninvited Guest by Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal Summer 2010

What is the Bible about?

Via The Gospel Coalition Blog, Tim Keller in 2007:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Abolition of Man

In a post quoting from and commenting on C.S. Lewis's Abolition of Man [1943] there is a link to an online version of that book, provided "because the book is only in print sporadically." It is a very nice to have it available in this form. The individual links:
  1. Men Without Chests
  2. The Way
  3. The Abolition of Man
  4. Appendix-Illustrations of the Tao
Although the book was written in the midst of the Second World War, Lewis was concerned about dangers which would outlast the Nazis:
I am not here thinking solely, perhaps not even chiefly, of those who are our public enemies at the moment. The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany. Traditional values are to be 'debunked' and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it. .... [The Abolition of Man, Chapter 3]
From the flyleaf of my 1947 American edition:
The book is a forceful and brilliantly effective demonstration of the necessity of teaching "the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false." Humanity, if it is to survive and progress, must obey the traditional morality common to its conception in all forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental; for that is 'the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time." It is the Way by which a regenerate science can "conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her and buy knowledge at lower cost than that of life."
As it happens, the book is currently available as a mass market paperback and in a Kindle edition, but the hardcover is not in print and a "used" one at Amazon is listed at $127.

The Abolition of Man

Blessed is the man...




Blessed is the man that hath not walked
in the counsel of the ungodly. Alleluia!
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous,
but the way of the ungodly shall perish. Alleluia!
Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice unto Him with reverence. Alleluia!
Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him. Alleluia!

Arise, O Lord; save me, O Lord my God. Alleluia!

Salvation belongeth unto the Lord,
and Thy blessing is upon Thy people. Alleluia!

Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

both now and ever and to ages and ages. Amen. Alleluia!
Glory be to Thee, O God. Alleluia!

The Ancient-Future Path | internetmonk.com

Well, at least they're reading...

And some Christian parents were worried about Harry Potter!

"Thou shalt not discriminate...against monsters"

Mark Driscoll:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Written on the heart

J. Budziszewski, a political philosophy professor who has written much about the natural law tradition, is interviewed here about that subject and about his new book The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction. Parts of the interview:
7. What in your experience are the major obstacles to recognizing or accepting the natural law in today’s society?

Several years ago I suggested that we are passing through an eerie phase of history in which the things that everyone really knows are treated as unheard-of doctrines, a time in which the elements of common decency are themselves attacked as indecent. Nothing quite like this has ever happened before. Although our civilization has passed through quite a few troughs of immorality, never before has vice held the high moral ground. Our time considers it dirty-minded to treat sexual purity as a virtue; unfeeling to insist too firmly that the sick should not be encouraged to seek death; a sign of impious pride to profess humble faith in God. The moral law has become the very emblem of immorality. I still think this is true. The question is why it is true, and what can be done.

8. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the moral and political future of American society?

I never predict; I hope. If I believed in extrapolation, I would be pessimistic, because things are falling apart more and more rapidly. But I don’t believe in extrapolation, partly because human beings are not iron filings in a magnetic field (as I once believed), and partly because we have help. Doesn’t our very nature long to love better than it does? Doesn’t this longing leaven the listless dough of culture so that it quickens, rises, and glances upward? And what of that veiled and clandestine grace obscurely moving among the nations, silently entreating them to feel after the unknown God, darkly inciting them to long for light and purity, prickling them with sparks from hidden fire?

9. In your most recent book, The Line Though the Heart, you talk about the importance of revelation for the natural law. What are the implications of this relationship for the reception of natural law arguments in modern secular societies?

Quite apart from revelation, there are compelling reasons to believe in natural law. However, revelation helps to see more deeply into it. To give but a single example, we are at odds with our own nature, and natural law theory alone does not contain the resources to explain either why this is true, or what the cure may be. Our actual inclinations are at war with our natural inclinations; our hearts are riddled with desires that oppose their deepest longings; we demand to have happiness on terms that make happiness impossible. These disorders merely stun the mind when contemplated apart from the graces of creation and redemption. For this reason, a truly adequate understanding of nature’s malaise requires some hint, some glimpse, some trace of its supernatural remedy.

Some thinkers would find these remarks scandalous. The philosophical method of our day is minimalist. It assumes that people can consider propositions about reality only in small doses, one dry pill at a time. I suggest that at least sometimes, the very opposite is true. The reason the pill goes down so hard is that it is only a pill, for the mind, like the stomach, desires a meal. Just as some foods are digestible only in combination with other foods, so also some insights are difficult to take in except in combination with other insights. In order to stand firm they need context, as the single stone requires the arch. ....

12. Could you recommend a few recent books on natural law that everyone interested in the subject should read?

That everyone should read? That means the books should be fairly accessible. And how recent? Books on natural law don’t age quickly. An eclectic starter set might include Hadley Arkes, First Things; Russell Hittinger, The First Grace; and C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. Robert George, The Clash of Orthodoxies, defends a somewhat different theory of natural law. John Paul II, in Fides et Ratio and Veritatis Splendor, places natural law in the context of Christian revelation. David Novak, Natural Law in Judaism, provides a Jewish perspective on the tradition. Jacques Maritain, The Rights of Man and the Natural Law, illustrates the post-World War II neo-Thomist revival and the foundations of humans-rights jurisprudence. If you want to take a chance on one of my own books, try The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction. [more]
Thanks to Insight Scoop for the reference.

An Interview with J. Budziszewski

You don't exist

Somehow or other up until this point I have missed out on CollegeBinary's Three Minute Philosophy YouTubes. The entry on David Hume:



YouTube - CollegeBinary's Channel

To End All Wars

Brandywine Books posts this preview of a new release of a 2001 film I haven't seen. I think I should see it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Boredom

Has ADHD become the new normal? Adam J. Cox in The New Atlantis, "The Case for Boredom," describes a condition hardly limited to adolescents:
.... The adolescent mind is nowadays so hyper-stimulated that the absence of stimulation — boredom — is unsettling, while the chaos of constant connection is soothingly familiar. A languishing teenager feels irritable and instinctively knows how to rev up: go online, turn on the TV, call someone, text. Continuous stimulation and communication comprise the new normal. It is a state of being that conflates sensory pleasure with happiness. Meanwhile, the gaps between moments of heightened stimulation have been shrunk, and are on the verge of disappearing altogether. ....

As the synaptic mindscape of daily life becomes increasingly marked by peaks and the disappearance of valleys, we might reasonably expect to see some signs of distress among the hyper-stimulated. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, we are witnessing an adaptation so massive and rapid that it raises the question of where disorder really lies: when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that many millions of Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, this putative disorder is arguably no longer a disorder at all — it’s just the way we are. .... [more]
About which Alan Jacobs comments:
“The Case for Boredom” isn't really a case for boredom as such, but for pauses — for moments, especially in the lives of young people, when external stimuli cease long enough for some actual thought to arise, or contemplation to occur, or (mirabile dictu) mere silence to settle in for a time.

In Boredom: the Literary History of a State of Mind, Patricia Meyer Spacks explains that boredom as such is a relatively recent invention, from the eighteenth century at the latest. Before that we had melancholy (which was a kind of affliction of the spirit) and, further back still, acedia (which was a sin). What’s distinctive about boredom is that we don't see it as either a condition of our own selves or a sin, but rather something that just happens to us. When we’re bored, we don't think there’s anything wrong with us: we think the world is at fault. Stupid old world — it doesn't interest me. And interesting me is the world’s job. [emphasis added]
Constant external stimuli aren't necessary if you are capable of thought, or reflection, or, perhaps, prayer. The alternative to boredom needn't be "continuous stimulation and communication."

The New Atlantis » The Case for Boredom, Text Patterns: boredom

"In a culture of hurt feelings and thin skin"

Kevin DeYoung is doing a series on "The Ministry of Rebuke" and all four parts have now been posted. This is how he introduces the subject:
There are two kinds of Christians: those who like to rebuke and do it often and those who are scared to rebuke and never do it. The irony is both kinds of Christians are prone to sin. Those who enjoy giving a good rebuke are usually the least qualified to give one, while those who would rather do almost anything else are often the very people who would serve the body best with their correction.

We live in a strange day. With email, blogs, and social media, rebuking has never been easier. And yet in a culture of hurt feelings and thin skin, rebuking has never been more suspect.

So which is it? Do Christians rebuke too much or too little? Well, of course, that depends. Some Christians are limp noodles. Others are trigger happy. One-size advice does not fit all. We need wisdom.

At the risk of excessive enumeration, let me suggest a twenty point checklist in administering rebukes. The twenty points can be distributed under four headings: Why we rebuke. When to rebuke. How to rebuke. How to receive rebuke.
The links:
The final point in "How to Receive a Rebuke":
Jesus sees all your sins right now. Why not see them for yourself? The way of godliness is the way of confession, cleansing, and change. One of the reasons we aren’t really changing, is because we aren’t really confessing. And we aren’t really confessing because we aren’t really seeing. And we aren’t really seeing because few of us love enough to give a rebuke and very few are humble enough to receive one.
The Ministry of Rebuke: Why We Rebuke, When to Rebuke, How to Rebuke and How to Receive Rebuke

"Variety, mystery, tradition, the venerable, the awful"

Russell Kirk was my introduction to political thought. I read and re-read The Conservative Mind and then everything else of his that I could find, including the fiction. One of the highlights of every issue of National Review was his column about educational matters. After a lecture in Janesville, Wisconsin, a friend and I had the opportunity to sit and talk with him. He was gracious and friendly and talked of his upcoming book about T.S. Eliot's work that became Eliot and His Age. An article about him by John J. Miller, originally published in 2007, has been made available online. Some excerpts:
At a time when conservative principles are reshaping American law and culture, it is difficult to imagine that half a century ago, the conservative movement barely existed. Its few adherents struggled against the widespread perception, voiced by 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, that they comprised “the stupid party.” The literary critic Lionel Trilling equated conservative thought to “irritable mental gestures.”

Into this environment stepped Kirk, who claimed that conservatives were the inheritors of a proud tradition whose members included the likes of Edmund Burke, John Adams and Nathaniel Hawthorne. This genealogy was idiosyncratic as well as useful: it presented conservatives with an intellectual pedigree that they sorely needed.

“Before Kirk came along, conservatives didn’t even know what to call themselves,” said Lee Edwards, a historian at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. “After Kirk, they had a name for themselves.”

In The Conservative Mind, Kirk outlined a set of basic principles that defined conservatism, such as belief in a divine moral order, an understanding that private property and political freedom are linked, and a disapproval of radical change. Above all, Kirk insisted on a deep respect for time-tested traditions: “Even the most intelligent of men cannot hope to understand all the secrets of traditional morals and social arrangements; but we may be sure that Providence, acting through the medium of human trial and error, has developed every hoary habit for some important purpose.” He often made this point by stating, simply, “The individual is foolish, the species is wise.” ....

By the time Kirk finished his doctoral studies in Scotland, he concluded that although he might have made a career as a professor, he didn’t want one. Shortly after the release of The Conservative Mind, he informed the administration at Michigan State that he didn’t want to return. He resettled in Mecosta and spent the rest of his days at the old farmstead, a home, barn and assorted outbuildings he called Piety Hill.

Kirk typically woke late, answered correspondence in the afternoon, and worked on his books and articles when the sun went down. He dressed formally, even when he didn’t plan on seeing anybody in particular. .... His jackets were specially tailored to include what he called a “poacher’s pocket” on the inside—a pocket big enough to let him carry a book wherever he went. He also loved to go on long walks, often planting trees in areas that had been clear-cut many years earlier. ....

This night-owl routine produced not only an enormous amount of writing, but also an enormous range of it. In addition to high-minded nonfiction, Kirk published short stories in Fantasy and Science Fiction, London Mystery Magazine and New Terrors. In 1958, T.S. Eliot wrote to him: “How amazingly versatile and prolific you are! Now you have written what I should have least expected of you—ghost stories!” ....

“Mine was not an Enlightened mind,” [Kirk] wrote, “it was a Gothic mind, medieval in its temper and structure. I did not love cold harmony and perfect regularity of organization; what I sought was variety, mystery, tradition, the venerable, the awful.” .... [more]
Kirk once wrote an appreciative review of a book by an author even more important to me: C.S. Lewis's spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy.

Russell Kirk Shaped Conservative Thought from a Northern Michigan Farm - My North - August 2010 - Northern Michigan

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"The funniest writer ever to have put words on paper"

Wooster: "If you ask me Jeeves, art is responsible for most of the trouble in the world."
Jeeves: "It's an interesting theory, Sir. Would you care to expatiate upon it?"
Wooster: "As a matter of fact, no Jeeves. No The thought just occurs to me, you know, as thoughts do."
Last night I began watching, once again, the Jeeves & Wooster series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry and recovering, as I always do when reading Wodehouse or watching this version, a thoroughly innocent pleasure quite abstracted from the controversies of this day. The Amazon price for all twenty-three episodes, all four seasons, is a genuine bargain — just over a dollar an episode.

Today I came across this 1999 article, "Wodehouse saved my life," by Hugh Laurie in his Bertie Wooster voice:
.... I was, in truth, a horrible child. Not much given to things of a bookery nature, I spent a large part of my youth smoking Number Six and cheating in French vocabulary tests. I wore platform boots with a brass skull and crossbones over the ankle, my hair was disgraceful, and I somehow contrived to pull off the gruesome trick of being both fat and thin at the same time. If you had passed me in the street during those pimply years, I am confident that you would, at the very least, have quickened your pace.

You think I exaggerate? I do not. Glancing over my school reports from the year 1972, I observe that the words "ghastly" and "desperate" feature strongly, while "no", "not", "never" and "again" also crop up more often than one would expect in a random sample. My history teacher's report actually took the form of a postcard from Vancouver.

But this, you will be nauseated to learn, is a tale of redemption. In about my 13th year, it so happened that a copy of Galahad at Blandings by P. G. Wodehouse entered my squalid universe, and things quickly began to change. From the very first sentence of my very first Wodehouse story, life appeared to grow somehow larger. There had always been height, depth, width and time, and in these prosaic dimensions I had hitherto snarled, cursed, and not washed my hair. But now, suddenly, there was Wodehouse, and the discovery seemed to make me gentler every day. By the middle of the fifth chapter I was able to use a knife and fork, and I like to think that I have made reasonable strides since.

I spent the following couple of years meandering happily back and forth through Blandings Castle and its environs - learning how often the trains ran, at what times the post was collected, how one could tell if the Empress was off-colour, why the Emsworth Arms was preferable to the Blue Boar - until the time came for me to roll up the map of adolescence and set forth into my first Jeeves novel. It was The Code of the Woosters, and things, as they used to say, would never be the same again.

The facts in this case, ladies and gentlemen, are simple. The first thing you should know, and probably the last, too, is that P. G. Wodehouse is still the funniest writer ever to have put words on paper. Fact number two: with the Jeeves stories, Wodehouse created the best of the best. I speak as one whose first love was Blandings, and who later took immense pleasure from Psmith, but Jeeves is the jewel, and anyone who tries to tell you different can be shown the door, the mini-cab, the train station, and Terminal 4 at Heathrow with a clear conscience. The world of Jeeves is complete and integral, every bit as structured, layered, ordered, complex and self-contained as King Lear, and considerably funnier. .... [more]
Wodehouse saved my life

God is not distant


And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
[Luke 1:46-49, ESV]


Rev. Ben Dueholm last Sunday:
.... Reflecting on the approach of death, and the question of God, [Roger] Ebert writes:

"I was asked at lunch today who or what I worshipped. The question was asked sincerely, and in the same spirit I responded that I worshipped whatever there might be outside knowledge. I worship the void. The mystery. And the ability of our human minds to perceive an unanswerable mystery. To reduce such a thing to simplistic names"—I imagine here he has in mind God, YHWH, Allah, Christ, and the rest—"is an insult to it, and to our intelligence."

I should say before I go on that I love Roger Ebert and don’t mean to bag on him. .... His words are eloquent and the sentiment is common. It is even, in a way, noble. Lots and lots of people look for God—forgive my use of a simplistic name—at the edge of life. We look for God at the edge of consciousness, at the edge of scientific knowledge, at the moment of death. ....

This is a very different claim about God than we hear in the famous song of the Blessed Virgin Mary in today’s Gospel. Mary’s God is at the center of life, not at the edge of it. Mary’s God is magnified by her very soul, by her mind. She does not place God in a void at the outer limits of her mind’s journey. She unabashedly accepts that God has done great things, not just in general but for her. Her God is not an unanswerable mystery, but a God who inspires fear and grants mercy. God sets the proud wandering the their own futile thoughts; breaks the thrones of the mighty, feeds the hungry, spurns the rich, and makes and remembers promises to the people of Israel.

This God is known by many names, perhaps all of them simplistic, but Mary blesses God’s proper Name as holy. There is nothing in Mary’s witness of faith that reduces the mystery of God. Rather she celebrates it, magnifies it, worships it.

...Mary’s God is not at the margin, watching and waiting for our awe, intervening now and then. Her God is at the center of life, and at this moment the center of life is her. Jesus is growing in her womb, conceived in mystery. She has heard the awful charge from the angel to bear this wondrous child despite her own fears and her own frailty—she was just a girl and the pregnancy was potentially scandalous, after all. The mystery was not out there past the limit of her knowledge; it was what she knew, what she felt every day as it quickened and took flesh within her. And in doing that, God truly is thwarting the mighty and lifting up the lowly. God indeed is scattering the thoughts of those too proud to find God in such a humble place, who take God’s silence for God’s absence, who make God in their own majestic, glorious, noble image.

This is the God not of the void or of the beyond, but the God of the center, the God of Jesus Christ. God is not distant but near. God is not where we give up. God is where we start—in our homes, our work, our knowledge, here in our gifts of bread and wine. God is also where we end—in wonder, in fear, in the void, at the hour of our death. And God is present in between, as we are born, as we struggle, as we serve, and as we learn and change. .... [more]
The Private Intellectual: The God of the Center

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Continuity, roots and staying power

Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk is posting a series about "movements" among evangelicals. He intends to discuss "the ancient-future movement spearheaded by Robert Webber; second, the emergent/emerging movement spearheaded by young thinkers and leaders like Brian McLaren ... and third, the revival of Calvinism among the NeoReformed." His attitude about them [with which I am in sympathy]:
The longer I have been a believer in and follower of Jesus, the less I have been attracted to “movements” (“fads?”) in the church. I realize this puts me at odds with those who think I am constantly missing “catching the wave of the Spirit” as he does “new and exciting” things among his people. It’s just that, the older one gets, the more one sees these movements come and go, ebb and flow, morph and get swallowed up into other waters. The relentless changes and enthusiastic voices exclaiming the arrival of the “next wave” get shrill and annoying after awhile. Count me as one who longs for continuity, roots, depth, and proven staying power with regard to matters of faith.

If that makes me an obstreperous old coot, then so be it.
The first of the movements he is discussing is the emergent/emerging one — which many evangelicals argue is already passing or past. He confesses that he has never read anything by Brian McLaren put off by the titles alone [e.g. "The Secret Message of Jesus sounded too much like gnosticism to me, Everything Must Change—well, no"].

I wonder whether his yearning for "continuity, roots, depth, and proven staying power" may incline him to be more sympathetic to Webber.

Convince Me! | internetmonk.com

A monument to criminals

It would be nice to hear more voices acknowledging that the issue regarding the mosque in New York City is about the wisdom of the decision to build at that location — not the First Amendment or the rights of private property. Provocation is incompatible with reconciliation. From a column yesterday in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, director-general of Al-Arabiya TV  "The Majority of Muslims Do Not Want or Need a Mosque Near Ground Zero."
.... I can't imagine that Muslims [actually] want a mosque at this particular location, because it will become an arena for the promoters of hatred, and a monument to those who committed the crime. Moreover, there are no practicing Muslims in the area who need a place to worship, because it is a commercial district. Is there anyone who is [really] eager [to build] this mosque?...

...[T]he idea of a mosque right next to a site of destruction is not at all an intelligent one. The last thing Muslims want today is to build a religious center that provokes others, or a symbolic mosque that people will visit as a [kind of] museum next to a cemetery.

What the citizens of the U.S. fail to understand is that the battle against the 9/11 terrorists is not their battle. It is a Muslim battle – one whose flames are still raging in more than 20 Muslim countries... I do not think that the majority of Muslims want to build a monument or a place of worship that tomorrow may become a source of pride for the terrorists and their Muslim followers, nor do they want a mosque that will become a shrine for the haters of Islam....
Al-Arabiya Director: The Majority of Muslims Do Not Want or Need a Mosque Near Ground Zero

Arguing for the sake of Heaven

Via Brandywine Books, a quotation from the Introduction to Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter:
To claim that all religions are the same is to misunderstand that each tradition attempts to solve a different aspect of the human condition. For example:
  • Islam: the problem is pride / the solution is submission
  • Christianity: the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
  • Confucianism: the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
  • Buddhism: the problem is suffering / the solution is enlightenment
  • Hinduism: the problem is the endless cycle of reincarnation / the solution is release
  • Judaism: the problem is exile / the solution is our return back to God and to our true home
When we gloss over these differences we fail to appreciate each religion on its own terms.
And from a recent essay by Prothero, "Against the 'Answer Bank' Theory of Religion":
.... One of the most common misconceptions about the world’s religions is that all of them plumb the same depths, ask the same questions. They do not. Only religions that see God as all good ask how a good God can allow millions to die in earthquakes and tsunamis. Only religions that believe in souls ask whether your soul exists before you are born and what happens to it after you die. And only religions that think we have one soul ask after “the soul” in the singular. Every religion, however, asks after the human condition. Here we are in these bodies. What now? What next? What are we to become?

There are wonderful traditions of argumentation in Hinduism’s Upanishads, Tibetan Buddhist sutras, and Christian theology. But the argumentative tradition that has most captured my imagination in recent years has been created and sustained inside rabbinic Judaism.

This tradition makes an invaluable distinction between two types of arguing: arguing for the sake of ego (which it does not value) and arguing for the sake of heaven (which it does). Today our radio and television stations are clogged, on both the Left and the Right, with arguments on behalf of ego. The point is to cling to the answers you already have, even as you shove them down the throat of your antagonists. It is no wonder that so many of my students are allergic to argument. Happily, however, there is an alternative.

The name Israel refers to one who has wrestled with God (Genesis 32:28), and for millennia, Jews have done just that. They have also wrestled with one another, and with their own tradition’s tensions between story and law, exile and return, mercy and justice. According to the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, “If a Jew has no one to quarrel with, he quarrels with God, and we call it theology; or he quarrels with himself, and we call it psychology.” .... [more
Brandywine Books, Against the “Answer Bank” Theory of Religion | Big Questions Online

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fundamentalisms

One of the differences among us is the ability to deal with ambiguity. There are those who are willing to believe that various approaches to truth may provide seemingly contradictory answers and who are willing and able to wait to discover which is true or whether there may be satisfactory ways to reconcile the contradictions. Others insist that their internally consistent system rules out any other possibility. Peter Berger belongs to the first category. From his blog, "The Return of the Village Atheist":
Over the last few years there was published a flurry of books marketed and discussed under the heading of “The New Atheism”. The best-known authors are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. While differing in emphasis and style, their books have in common an aggressive, indeed vituperative hostility to religion in all its forms (though particular venom is directed against Christianity and Islam). Agnosticism is rejected in favor of an unambiguous atheism. Also rejected is the widespread tolerance of non-believers for believers deemed moderate—all religion is dangerous and morally objectionable. ....

The books at issue here regard atheism as science. It is useful to compare them with a vastly more successful genre of books which treat faith as science—the literature spawned by creationism and “intelligent design,” mostly written by American Evangelicals (though some Catholics have jumped on the bandwagon). Though often thrown together by the media, these two attempts to support faith by an alleged science are quite different. Creationism proposes to demonstrate, scientifically, that the Biblical account of creation is correct—thus alleging that the theory of evolution is false and that the earth is only some six thousand years old (the creationists have a nice term for this—they speak of a “young earth”). “Intelligent design” does not challenge modern biology, but asserts that the universe simply makes no sense unless one assumes that it is the product of an intelligent creator. This assertion is also allegedly supported by scientific evidence.

These two projects of deploying science in the service of religion are very different. It seems to me that anyone who successfully completed a high school course in biology could not find creationism plausible. The phrase used by its adherents, “creation science,” is an oxymoron. On the other hand, “intelligent design” reiterates what any religious believer (certainly a believing Christian, Jew or Muslim) would say—that the universe provides testimony to its creator. In the words of Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” ....

The “New Atheists” have a faith masquerading as science. The creationists are doing the same, on the other side of the fence. And the ID types mistakenly want science to provide a way of proving faith. All three are variants of fundamentalism—the assertion of certainty where no certainty is to be had. There are perfectly plausible reasons for being an agnostic: God, if he exists, has not made it easy to believe in him. Atheism is an altogether different matter. An atheist could be defined as someone to whom a voice from heaven has proclaimed that there is no heaven. ....

What impresses me most about atheists is the flatness of their worldview. They have this in common with all fundamentalists, religious or secular. Fundamentalism is a decision to avoid the mystery of the human condition. [more]
The Return of the Village Atheist - Peter Berger's Blog - The American Interest

Friday, August 13, 2010

Christian community

Chaplain Mike commends Bonhoeffer's understanding of Christian community and concludes "Nothing I have read describes Jesus-shaped Christian community better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together." From the post:
.... What interests me at this point is ... the theological bases upon which he believed Christians ought to relate to each other as they share the common life in Christ. He had a specific concept of what “life together” is about. And what I love about Bonhoeffer’s understanding is how Jesus-shaped it is.
Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Christ Jesus. (Life Together, p. 7)
Bonhoeffer warns us that our conceptions of Christian community may be flawed. Many have a strong desire for “something more” than what Christ has established—an extraordinary social experience, some wishful, utopian ideal of ecstatic experiences, lofty moods, constant joy and peace, and profound piety.

He urges us not to love our dreams of Christian community more than the reality. If we insist on our dreams rather than on what God has actually given, we will become proud and demanding, turning against our brethren and ultimately against God himself. A Christian community that springs from our own “wish-dreams” rather than from the reality that we are sinful human beings brought together only by God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ will lead only to disillusionment.

God has given us this: brothers and sisters “who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of His grace.” The key to genuine Christian community is learning to give thanks for the actual brothers and sisters who are related to me in Christ. .... [more]
“Wish Dream” Community | internetmonk.com

"He who marries the spirit of the age..."

From comments responding to a post on "The Sad State of Pastoral Thinking" at Internet Monk:
Lauren says:
August 13, 2010 at 9:22 am
The modern church seems to confuse “relevant” with “cool and hip.”  I'm certain God and His Word do not need our help to be “relevant.”

Chaplain Mike says:
August 13, 2010 at 9:25 am
As a wise person once said, the only way to be always relevant is to focus on the eternal.

Miguel says:
August 13, 2010 at 12:35 pm
…and another said, He who marries the spirit of the age will soon find himself a widower.
The Sad State of Pastoral Thinking | internetmonk.com

Youth ministry: why equipping is better than entertaining

I passed thirty-five years spending most of my professional day every day with people between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. During that time I made some discoveries: it is impossible for an adult to be "cool" by trying, and it is impossible to keep up with what is "cool" because it changes about every five minutes. If kids like and respect adults, the reason is likely to have more to do with integrity and lack of artifice than with anything more superficial. Actually enjoying and liking teenagers helps a lot, too. And if you are a teacher, genuinely, transparently, and effectively conveying that what you are offering and demanding is valuable and interesting goes a long way.

These thoughts were inspired by Jon Nielson's essay about the challenge of being a youth pastor: "Teens Want More Than Pizza."
.... Faced with increasingly busy schedules—packed full of sports, music, drama, and college-prep classes—many teenagers are finding little time (or need) for the church. While youth group and youth retreat attendance skyrocketed in the late 1990s, many youth pastors are now finding that students are “not even coming for the pizza anymore.” Maybe the pizza was part of the problem to begin with. ....

I’ve been a high school pastor for about eight months now; I certainly have much to learn! In just those eight months, though, I have formed a few convictions from which, by God’s grace, I will not soon depart:
  • I cannot compete with my students’ culture in the area of entertainment.
Some youth pastors can keep up much better than I can. Still, even the savviest, coolest, most-in-touch youth pastor around will find himself unable to entertain students in a way that will keep them coming to his youth group. The competition is simply too stiff.
  • I can offer high school students the real gospel of Jesus Christ—and they can handle it.
The gospel—the objective reality that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” which is received by faith alone—is what high school students really crave. The amazing (and constantly humbling) thing about continually offering the gospel to students is the response it brings. The response is not: “Wow, Jon, you’re cool,” or “That music was off the hook!” It’s actually a much more biblical response: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. High school students crave the real, true, life-changing, not-watered-down gospel of Jesus Christ. Woe to us if we give them anything less.
  • Growth happens not by entertaining, but by equipping.
.... It is time that youth pastors return to a surprisingly ancient concept. God gave pastors and teachers to the church to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 5). Chris Palmer, a youth pastor quoted in the USA Today article, was on to something when he described his new approach to youth ministry: beginning to teach that following Jesus is “hard work,” as well as “radical and exciting.” If high school students crave the true gospel of Jesus Christ, they desire to see lives (including their own) that are radically and genuinely affected by a relationship with Jesus Christ. They spot hypocrisy better than most of us adults. .... [more]
Teens Want More Than Pizza – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Must we choose?

Christopher Benson is engaged in an exchange at Evangel about what Christians must or needn't believe about evolution. Yesterday he provided links to a number of "Resources on Science and Religion." One of them is a paper by Tim Keller, "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople [pdf]," from which I excerpt the following as he lays out the problem:
Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.

This creates a problem for both doubters and believers. ....

In my estimation what current science tells us about evolution presents four main difficulties for orthodox Protestants. The first is in the area of Biblical authority. To account for evolution we must see at least Genesis 1 as non-literal. The questions come along these lines: what does that mean for the idea that the Bible has final authority? If we refuse to take one part of the Bible literally, why take any parts of it literally? Aren’t we really allowing science to sit in judgment on our understanding of the Bible rather than vice versa.

The second difficulty is the confusion of biology and philosophy. Many of the strongest proponents for evolution as a biological process (such as Dawkins) also see it as a ‘Grand Theory of Everything.’ They look to natural selection to explain not only all human behavior but even to give the only answers to the great philosophical questions, such as why we exist, what life is about, and why human nature is what it is. Doesn’t belief in the one idea—that life is the product of evolution—entail the adoption of this whole 'worldview'?

The third difficulty is the historicity of Adam and Eve. One way to reconcile what current science says about evolution is to propose that the account of Adam and Eve is symbolic, not literal, but what does this do to the New Testament teaching of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 that our sinfulness comes from our relationship with Adam? If we don’t believe in an historical fall, how did we become what the Bible says we are—sinful and condemned?

The fourth difficulty is the problem of violence and evil. One of the greatest barriers to belief in God is the problem of suffering and evil in the world. Why, people ask, did God create a world in which violence, pain, and death are endemic? The answer of traditional theology is—he didn’t. He created a good world but also gave human beings free will, and through their disobedience and ‘Fall’, death and suffering came into the world. The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops. If God brings about life through evolution, how do we reconcile that with the idea of a good God? The problem of evil seems to be worse for the believer in theistic evolution. ....

...[B]elow I will lay out three basic problems that Christian laypeople have with the scientific account of biological evolution. Nothing here should be seen as meeting the need for rigorous, scholarly arguments in answer to these questions. These are popular-level pastoral answers and guidance. As a pastor I have had to draw heavily on the work of experts. The first question, about Biblical authority, requires that I draw on the best work of exegetes and Biblical scholars. To answer the second question, about evolution as a ‘Grand Theory of Everything,’ I need to draw on the work of philosophers. When we come to the third question regarding Adam and Eve, I must look to theologians.

In short, if I as a pastor want to help both believers and inquirers to relate science and faith coherently, I must read the works of scientists, exegetes, philosophers, and theologians and then interpret them for my people. .... [and he does, here in his paper]
Timothy Keller, "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople"