Friday, December 30, 2011

"Mem's of 7th day B'pt Church"

Dissenting took a bit more political courage in the days before the secret ballot. In "Abraham Lincoln and Pope County" C.A. Crisp, who has a "hobby of finding cemeteries" in Pope County in southernmost Illinois, notes reference to an 1860 voter who was distinctly in the minority — and proud of it.
"…The 1860 election records show that Abraham Lincoln received only 127 votes in Pope County, while Stephen A. Douglas, received 1,202 votes…Opposition to Lincoln’s election in 1860 was so strong that one farmer in the northwestern section of the county was assaulted physically at the polls when he showed up to vote for the 'Rail Splitter.' Matthew Bracewell lived to a ripe old age and never regretted the way he cast his vote…" Pope County History and Families, Vol. 2, page 16, ‘The Civil War in Pope County’ - submitted by Ricky T. Allen.

The small cemetery where Matthew Bracewell and Irenne, his wife, were buried is located almost 4 miles west of Delwood. It is in a small grove of trees surrounded by a field. On his tombstone it reads:

"Mem’s of 7th day B’pt Church" ....

Matthew’s ripe old age was 81 years 1 month and 5 days.
Abraham Lincoln and Pope County | Pope County, Illinois Cemeteries

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tinker, Tailor, ....

I haven't yet seen the new film of John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The cast list is full of fine British actors [Gary Oldman as Smiley, Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, etc.] and I will certainly see it at some point — but the reviews I've read thus far do give pause. Those who loved the book find inexplicable changes in the film and argue that too much plot is pressed into too little time. Reading about the new version did inspire me to re-watch the superb 1979 BBC miniseries. Alec Guinness was George Smiley in that one, with such players as Anthony Bate, Ian Richardson, Ian Bannen, Bernard Hepton, and Alexander Knox. It was perfectly written, cast, and acted. It does take about six hours but it is much easier to keep everything in mind watching it in a long evening instead of the seven weeks it took on Masterpiece Theater in 1980. The BBC Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is available from Amazon and can be rented from Netflix — although not Netflix streaming for some reason.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

ESV on Kindle




Kindle owners who prefer the English Standard Version [ESV] should know that it is available free for the Kindle here at Amazon: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

This single Truth


No love that in a family dwells,
No caroling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
John Betjeman

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wondrous Love

Filippo Lippi, Medici Nativity, 1455-59
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
[Luke 2:6-7]

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To lay aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
To lay aside His crown for my soul.

What Wondrous Love is This

Friday, December 23, 2011

Of the Father's love begotten

Arguing

G.K. Chesterton:
"If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason."
G.K. Chesterton, from Orthodoxy (1908)

Conversations@Intersections: G.K. Chesterton's Madman

Why December 25?

Mollie Hemingway, commenting on news articles common to this season:
For instance, everyone knows that Dec. 25 was an arbitrary date stolen from Pagans celebrating Saturnalia, right?

Wrong!

You can read William Tighe's fuller treatment of the topic here, but I'll summarize for you.

Early Christians chose what is now Dec. 25 (calendars have changed a bit, obviously) as the likely date of Christ's birth based on a widely held belief of that era that great prophets were conceived and died on the same date. They called this "integral age." Early Christians calculated that Jesus died on what would work out to March 25 -- the date for Passover of the year of his death.

You add 9 months and what do you get?

My favorite part of this story? In all likelihood, Aurelian probably set his sun festival for the same date in an attempt to co-opt what was already becoming a minor Christian feast day. The actual Pagans of that era had their sun festivals in August.

No, my actual favorite part of the story is probably that these myths about how the date was chosen were started by Christians. One was a Protestant trying to undermine the liturgical calendar. The other was a Benedictine monk trying to show how you could co-opt the culture without it causing harm. If only they knew ...
Is Christmas A Pagan Holiday? - Ricochet.com

"To save a race by sin undone"

A Blesséd Christmas!

O Heavenly Word of God on high,
Whose love has brought salvation nigh,
And from the Father's heart didst come
To save a race by sin undone.
All praise, eternal Son, to thee
Whose advent sets thy people free,
Whom with the Father we adore
And Spirit blest, for evermore.
Latin, 10th century

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"A restless desire for change"

Via Justin Taylor [and others], P.D. James:
We live in an age notable for a kind of fashionable silliness and imbued with a restless desire for change.

It sometimes seems that nothing old, nothing well-established, nothing which has evolved through centuries of experience and loving use escapes our urge to diminish, revise or abolish it.

Above all every organisation has to be relevant—a very fashionable word—to the needs of modern life, as if human beings in the twenty-first century are somehow fundamentally different in their needs and aspirations from all previous generations.

A country which ceases to value and learn from its history, neglects its language and literature, despises its traditions and is unified only by a common frenetic drive for getting and spending and for material wealth, will lose more than its nationhood; it will lose its soul.

Let us cherish and use what we still precariously hold.

Let us strive to ensure that what has been handed down to us is not lost to generations to come.
P.D. James, “Through All the Changes Scenes of Life: Living with the Prayer Book,” in The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present and Future: A 350th Anniversary Celebration, ed. Prudence Dailey (Continuum, 2011), p. 51.

"Tidings of comfort and joy"


God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Far over the Misty Mountains

In a year:




http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTSoD4BBCJc

"For to do us sinners good"


The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn. Chorus
Chorus:
Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the quire.
The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all. Chorus
The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Savior. Chorus
The holly and the ivy,
Now are both well grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown. Chorus
The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to do us sinners good. Chorus



The Holly And The Ivy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Evermore and evermore!"


Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

[Prudentius, 5th Century]

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Thou who wast rich"



Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.



Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour

Friday, December 16, 2011

Watered down Evangelicalism

Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Seminary, on "Watered Down Evangelicalism":
In his 1937 landmark book, The Kingdom of God in America, Richard Niebuhr memorably described the message of Protestant liberalism as “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." In the ensuing years Niebuhr’s statement has become one of the more well known summaries of the failure of Protestant liberalism to properly reflect the apostolic message.  Tragically, Niebuhr’s devastating critique is on the brink of being equally applicable to contemporary, evangelical Christianity.  Who has lost sight more of the depth of human sin, the certainty of God’s judgment and the call to repentance and transformation at the feet of a crucified savior than today’s populistic, evangelical churches? .... [more]

Knowing

In an interview at Christianity Today about his new book Alvin Plantinga argues that there is no real reason to believe religion and science are incompatible but he does think "naturalism" and science are.
In the last, much briefer section of the book, you discuss whether there is a fundamental incompatibility between naturalism and the theory of evolution.

I think that's an extremely interesting and important point, though to argue for it properly is quite complicated; it's hard to do in a brief compass. The basic idea, which is far from being original, is that if you are a naturalist and think that we have come to be by evolutionary processes, then you will think that the main purpose of our cognitive processes, our mental faculties, is survival and reproductive fitness, not the production of true belief. Evolution doesn't give a rip about whether your beliefs are true. It only cares whether or not your actions are adaptive, whether they contribute to your fitness. From the point of view of evolution together with naturalism, you wouldn't expect that our faculties would be really adjusted to truth or aimed at truth. They would just be aimed at fitness.

But if this is true, if our minds are aimed at mere survival, not at truth, then it's not probable that our minds should be reliable—that is, produce an appropriate preponderance of true over false beliefs; and if that is so, then one who believes both naturalism and evolution should reject the thought that our minds are reliable. But that's a crippling position to be in. Nietzsche is among the people who have suggested this problem. Some contemporary philosophers—Thomas Nagel, for example—have voiced the same worry, and so did Darwin himself. [more]
C.S. Lewis made a similar argument in Chapter 3 of Miracles, parts of which are quoted here, including this:
"…a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: 'If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.’ (Possible Worlds, p. 209 […] [Naturalism] offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behaviour; but this account, on inspection, leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends.[…] It is agreed on all hands that reason, and even sentience, and life itself are late comers in Nature. If there is nothing but Nature, therefore, reason must have come into existence by a historical process. And of course, for the Naturalist, this process was not designed to produce a mental behaviour that can find truth. There was no Designer; and indeed, until there were thinkers, there was no truth or falsehood. The type of mental behaviour we now call rational thinking or inference must therefore have been 'evolved' by natural selection, by the gradual weeding out of types less fitted to survive." .... [more]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Evangelizing respectfully

From Chicago Lutheran bishop Wayne Miller's introduction to a discussion of the topic "Should We Evangelize?":
.... The mass exodus from the current manifestation of mainstream liberal Christianity suggests the possibility that even if history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, history rhymes. Christian virtue that retreats or hides from Christian evangelism inevitably withers by cutting itself off from the source of its own love and power. And by bearing witness to its own goodness while keeping the source of that goodness hidden in the shadows so as not to offend anyone, our virtue bears witness to a lie.

The challenge to Christianity in a pluralistic cultural landscape is NOT to figure out how to be Christian without evangelizing. The challenge is to learn how to evangelize respectfully. And the reason we must learn to evangelize respectfully is not merely so that we can all tolerate our neighbors in a state of detached peaceful coexistence. We must cultivate respectful evangelism because a style of evangelism that is violent, manipulative, dominating, controlling or otherwise disrespectful is a force that drives others away from the love and power of Jesus instead of inviting them into it. Paradoxically, evangelistic activity that alienates or devalues others becomes the very barrier that authentic evangelism is sworn to dismantle.

Respectful evangelists must begin their work by listening openly and honestly to those who differ, and then continue by taking responsibility for the clarity and conviction of their own identity and their own witness, rather than by trying to control another person’s response to their witness. .... [more]

I hate small talk

I have long thought of myself as an intensely shy person who successfully developed certain coping mechanisms. But I may well just be an introvert. I certainly identify with many of the characteritics of introverts described here:
Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.
Thanks to The Anchoress for the reference.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Can science explain everything?

A summary of an interesting discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science:
There’s a new bully on the intellectual block, shoving scholars around. Lots of them are caving into the threats. The bully’s name is “scientism,” the belief that science has a monopoly on all real knowledge. All other knowledge, scientism asserts, is simply opinion, irrationality, or utter nonsense.

That was the perspective Ian Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offered at an event titled “Can Science Explain Everything?” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science this week. Lisa Randall, a professor of physics at Harvard University, had a different take. ....

Science has two key elements, reproducibility and clarity, Hutchinson said. Reproducibility means essentially that an experiment done in one place by one person can be repeated somewhere else by someone else. Clarity refers to the unambiguous nature of science’s measurements, descriptions, and classifications. History is an example of a discipline that has produced real knowledge that is not scientific knowledge, he said. History at its best is based on facts, but historians cannot reproduce Henry VIII’s exploits to find out if accounts of them are true.

Mr. Hutchinson listed other phenomena that may be “true” but that he believes are outside of science’s scope: the beauty of a sunset, the justice of a verdict, or the terror of a war. Many humans may share similar perceptions of these phenomenon but the basis of those perceptions will lack clarity. “Ambiguity is an intrinsic part of these things,” he said. ....

In audience questions after the two talks, one person cut to the chase and demanded “yes” or “no” answers to the evening’s challenge: “Can science explain everything?”

“No,” said Mr. Hutchinson.

“We don’t know,” said Ms. Randall.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"To desire to be out of the world"

.... Donne tells us that “There cannot be a greater unthankfulnesse to God then to desire to be Nothing at all, rather then to be that, that God would have thee to be; To desire to be out of the world, rather then to glorifie him, by thy patience in it.” The desire to be “nothing,” Chesterton said somewhere, is the ultimate rejection of being, of existence, of what is. It is the real temptation of the suicide. ....

Here Donne objects to the whole Stoic tradition that showed its superiority over reality by refusing to acknowledge that any pain could or should touch its will. This was really a classic form of pride. Those who prefer nothing and those who are not affected by reality suffer from the same disorder of soul. Without being flippant, they could be said to lack “cheerfullness”; they think everything depends on themselves. ....

Donne ends his sermon by recalling the passage from Psalm 38: “Thine arrows were followed and pressed with the hand of God; The hand of God pressed upon them in that eternall decree, in that irrevocable contract, between thy Father and thee, in that Oportuit pati, That all that thou must suffer, and so enter into thy glory.” This is the alternative Donne sees to the “nothingness” or to a stoic pride that shows its sober superiority even to God by refusing to acknowledge even suffering.

In a passage worthy of Handel’s music to accompany it, and indeed from the same source in the Book of Revelation, Donne assures us of a “confidence” in God’s “decree.” We can rely on those already “in heaven.” We can “joyn” them “with that Quire in that service, in that Anthem, Blessing, and glory, and Wisdome, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever, and ever, Amen.”

...[M]uch modern preaching is mainly about improving this world with little attention to the direction of Donne’s sermon. We think that we can and should bypass all suffering as if it were a proof, not of the importance of our lives, but of their uselessness and but occasion for our defiance of reality.

In the end, we must confess a certain envy of those who “joyn” that “Quire” as it sings the great refrain—“glory, and Wisdome, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever, and ever.” What strikes us, looking at such exalted words, is that they are not directed to ourselves, but, freely, yes, cheerfully, to what is not ourselves. Such striking words were spoken at Lincoln’s Inn, London, in the spring of 1618, by a man who loved letters and psalms. No reason can be found why his words do not remain with us in our time or in any time. None of us, to recall his heritage, is an island, sufficient to himself. That fact alone is a sufficient basis for our cheerfulness. .... [more]
The sermon: John Donne - For Thine Arrowes Stick Fast in Me

The University Bookman: On Instruction in Cheerful Forms

Lesser evil?

One of the great moral issues of the last century, at least among non-pacifists, has been the decision of President Truman to drop nuclear bombs on the Japanese cites Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The rules of war long advocated by Christian theologians had forbidden the intentional killing of non-combatants. Here Wilson Miscamble, a priest and professor at Notre Dame, responds to those who condemn Truman's decision in "The Least Evil Option":
.... Some evidence suggests that Truman also worried that he had blood on his hands. In this, of course, he hardly stood alone among the participants in the enormous, ghastly struggle of World War II. Well over fifty million people lost their lives in that conflict, which descended to new lows of barbarism in both European and Pacific theaters. Restraints that previously had directed soldiers to spare non-combatants were thrown off as the Allies battled to defeat their powerful foes. As a number of writers have noted, a “moral Rubicon” had been crossed long before Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indiscriminate bombing had become the norm for the Anglo-American forces well before 1945: Churchill and Roosevelt both approved the harsh endeavors to break the morale of their foes, which they hoped would ultimately secure victory and save lives. The devastating Tokyo fire-bombings took place on FDR’s watch, after all.

Surprisingly, however, in the moral assessments of the war, Churchill and FDR escape much of the condemnation heaped on Harry Truman for using the atomic bombs. Truman’s critics should refrain from putting him in some singular dock of history. They might instead carefully consider the responsibility of the Japanese government for its people’s fate. In moral terms, the Japanese leadership had a responsibility to surrender by June of 1945, when there existed no reasonable prospect of success and when their civilian population had suffered so greatly. Instead, the neo-samurai who led the Japanese military geared up with true banzai spirit to engage the whole population as combatants of sorts in a national kamikaze campaign. Their stupidity and perfidy in perpetrating and prolonging the war should not be ignored.

Of course, the question remains: Was it right? I suggest that, in retrospect and within the privacy of his heart, Truman likely understood that he had been forced by necessity to enter into evil. And so, I argue in my book, he had. He ordered the bombing of cities possessing significant military-industrial value, but in which thousands of noncombatants, among them the innocent elderly and the sick, women and children, were annihilated. Evaluated in isolation, each atomic bombing was a deeply immoral act deserving of condemnation. The fact that the bombings entailed the least harm of the available paths to victory, and that it brought an end to destruction, death, and casualties on an even more massive scale, cannot obviate their evil; it should, however, satisfy those who accept a utilitarian approach to morality, in which good ends can justify certain immoral means. I am not in that number.

Yet I remain sympathetic in evaluating Truman and his decision. He was a person who knew that the confusing fog of war sometimes places the policymaker in circumstances where he has neither a clear nor an easy “moral” option. Perhaps Truman had his A-bomb decision in mind when he wrote fifteen years later, in a discourse on decision-making (in his Mr. Citizen), that “sometimes you have a choice of evils, in which case you try to take the course that is likely to bring the least harm.” That is how his decision regarding the atomic bombs should be assessed.

From the perspective of over six decades, Truman’s use of the bomb, when viewed in the context of the long and terrible war, should be seen as his choosing the least evil of the options available to him. .... [more]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A mysterious affair

I spent a significant amount of time in college and graduate school reading every book Agatha Christie wrote. I have always been more inclined to read a good mystery than just about anything else — especially something I ought to be reading. This LA Times column is by someone who reads through a cycle of Christie's books every year. I've only read them once but I do understand:
.... It's hard to beat Dame Christie, who died in 1976 at age 85. With deft and cheerful economy, she could conjure a character in three sentences, set an intricate plot moving in five and plumb the depths of the human soul using snatches of overheard conversation and a bottle of hat paint. ....

There are many mystery writers who owe Christie something. The genre was popular long before she took a stab at it with The Mysterious Affair at Styles (which sat in the publisher's office for five years before it was accepted for a pittance and published in the early 1920s), but it was much more hidebound.

There are those who dismiss Christie simply because she was so prolific, because her books eschew the epic or deeply psychological in favor of a story best told quickly and with deceptive ease.

And yes, the genre has changed, grown darker and more brutal (a shift Christie deplored as early as 1975), but as a die-hard fan I don't want to hear the words "formulaic" (she invented that formula) or "predictable" (I defy anyone to find a more surprising motive for murder than the one in The Mirror Crack'd or better crimes than those committed in Curtain or Murder on the Orient Express).

And I don't want to hear the term "cozy." Christie was not cozy. She earned the title the Queen of Crime the old-fashioned way — by killing off a lot of people. Although never graphic or gratuitous, she was breathtakingly ruthless. Children, old folks, newlyweds, starlets, ballerinas — no one is safe in a Christie tale.

Some of her books are truly great — Death on the Nile, And Then There Were None, The Secret Adversary, Murder on the Orient Express, Curtain to name a few — and some are not. But even the worst (The Blue Train, The Big Four) bear the marks of a master craftsman and make us appreciate the successes, and the woman behind them, that much more.

It was the character Miss Marple who became the most vivid symbol of Christie's worldview.

With her white hair, cornflower blue eyes and gentle ways, Miss Marple took a lively interest in the world around her but knew from experience, alas, that pretty much everyone was capable of anything, including murder.

People can be wonderful creatures, my dear, she would inevitably say, but still it pays to keep your wits about you.

It's a dictum that has lost neither its social nor literary resonance, though it's difficult to think of anyone since who has wielded it more effectively. .... [more]
Agatha Christie's pacing, talent were second to none

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Anti-Intellectualism

Via Instapundit [whose title I borrowed], a theory that may explain why so many very bright people are so often wrong. Frank J. Fleming:
If something is simple, then dumb people will believe it.
And if dumb people believe something, then soon some conclude that smart people should believe something else.
There’s a flaw in that philosophy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Seventh Day Baptists

Pastor Steven James of the Verona, NY, Seventh Day Baptist Church shared this video on YouTube. It was produced in 1993 as a way to publicize Seventh Day Baptists. It is somewhat dated and it is sometimes obvious that non-professionals provide the voices and acting, but that is also part of its appeal. A Choosing People: The Seventh Day Baptist Story [as of right now the beginning of the program is repeated at about the six minute mark, but it then continues with the entire content]:

What is the mission of the church?

I recently posted a portion of Mark Galli's "Why We Need More 'Chaplains' and Fewer Leaders." That column has recieved some polite pushback and here Galli responds, explaining what he believes the mission of the Church is and why he is not attracted to the "missional" approach:
.... The one New Testament letter that spells out the purpose and function of the church is Ephesians. And Ephesians is about nothing if it is not about worship, “to the praise of his glory.” The mission of the church there is to worship.  And this, of course, accords with the ultimate “mission” and destination of the church: worship in heaven (Rev. 4, for example).  The mission of the church on earth—if it is to have integrity--must reflect its ultimate “mission” and destination, otherwise what in the world are we evangelizing people for?  Merely to become evangelists?  No, we evangelize people so that they might join the heavenly throng and worship—forever and now.

The other mission of the church in Ephesians, of course, is bringing to maturity the members of the church, to the full stature of Christ, so that everyone in the church will live in the unity of love.  There is, in fact, very little missional language in Ephesians as we use the term missional today.  The only time that happens, (like in chapter 3) is when Paul talks about his unique calling.  But nowhere does he suggest that his calling is to be adopted by everyone.  He understands his calling as unique. But when it comes to talking about the church’s general calling, things missional are hardly to be found.

Now let me be clear: ONE of the callings of the church is to send certain people out in mission!  Thus the gifts of apostleship and evangelism.  But only some members have these gifts.  It’s not the way the entire church’s purpose is ever talked about.  I would even argue that the Great Commission is the commission to apostles (those like the original 12 who are “sent out”), but not such to each and every member of the church.  It is only the church’s commission because apostles are identified and supported by the church.  The church, as such, has a fuller, more complete “mission”: worship of the living God and bringing people to maturity and unity in Christ.  As noted, this is a fuller vision because this is what we will do for eternity.  To worship and grow together in unity is our reason for existence, from beginning to end (Eph. 1).  ....

.... I have deep admiration for the motives and passion of those committed to the missional movement, in its varied forms. So much of what goes on in the name of missional is right and good and frankly inspiring (albeit intimidating: the commitment of some missional leaders is amazing). I just happen to think this model makes unrealistic demands on most church members, creates needless guilt, inculcates pride, and in the long run leads to despair. .... Okay, I’m being dramatic.  But I still think the missional model has pastoral and theological problems. I want what missional leaders want: a healthy church that displays the love of Christ to the world. I just think the missional approach, as I understand it, will backfire soon enough, because it traffics too much in contemporary cultural assumptions about what is important, useful, effective, and so forth.

I think there is a reason the early church, when it thought about what it meant to be a church, put the emphasis on worship, catechesis, and the presbyter/overseer as shepherd and teacher of the flock, not the general of an army. .... [more]
It Takes A Church...: Mark Galli Responds: Pastors in a changing world--Leaders or Chaplains?

"A date which will live in infamy"

Seventy years ago today the Japanese attacked targets all across the Pacific including Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where the US Pacific fleet was based. The attack was devastating, sinking or damaging eight battleships, three cruisers and three destroyers. 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded. It was a surprise attack on a nation at peace. The next day President Roosevelt went before Congress to ask for a Declaration of War:
Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. ....

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island. ....
Although several films have been made about the attack, the most accurate account of what actually happened remains 1970's Tora! Tora! Tora!. It is also a very good film. A review of the new Blu-ray DVD of the film can be found here.

"A Date Which Will Live in Infamy": FDR Asks for a Declaration of War

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Losing the past

I confess to a temperamental sympathy with Viscount Falkland's "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change." When questioning tradition the presumption should be in favor of the of the past — innocent, if you will, until proven guilty. Obviously tradition cannot stand if it contradicts truth but the case needs to be made.

That came to mind as I read what Kevin DeYoung wrote about the discomfort many older people have felt about continual innovation in worship.
.... The worship wars could have been mitigated greatly if younger generations wanting newer songs had taken the time to remember memory. Church leaders may say, “It’s about reaching young people.” Or, “We need music that resonates with the culture.” These may even be good reasons to change some things. But we have to realize that those who grew up with hymns don’t just lose the songs they prefer, they lose continuity with their past. They lose a whole lifetime worth of experiences–happy times, sad times, birth, marriage, death–a thousand bits of life that get embedded in the songs we’ve always sung.

None of this means we can’t sing new songs. Praise God that we can have new songs to be filled with new memories for a new generation. But we have to do more than honor the past. We have to sympathize with those who lose their connections to the past, in church of all places. More than that, we have to remember the past and make an effort to preserve what is best from it. We forget at our own peril. For the Church’s memories should be our memories. And our memories are not just our own, but belong to those who come after us. We must not hide them from our children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done (Psalm 78:4).
Chesterton:
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”
And
"Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up."
Remembering Memory – Kevin DeYoung

Monday, December 5, 2011

Entrepreneur or chaplain of souls?

Mark Galli at Christianity Today explains "Why We Need More 'Chaplains' and Fewer Leaders":
.... It's becoming increasingly common to infer that when a pastor becomes a "chaplain," the church is in trouble. A few years ago, one website encouraging "innovative" ministry listed five types of pastors that a church might call: Catalytic, Cultivator, Conflict-Quelling, Chaplain, and Catatonic. The page clarified that "each of these types carries positives and negatives," but it seemed clear that the further one went down the list, the more problematic was the pastor. At the top of the list were Catalytic pastors, who are "gifted in the prophetic and tend to be charismatic leaders. These pastors have lots of energy and are focused on the mission of the church … that is, reaching the community for Jesus Christ. In the 'right' church, they'll grow it without a doubt."

A Chaplain pastor, on the other hand, was mired near the bottom. A Chaplain pastor is "wired for peace, harmony, and pastoral care. This is the type of pastor that has been produced by seminaries for several decades, though a few … a very few … seminaries are retooling. Chaplain pastors eschew change and value status quo. They don't want to stir the waters; rather, they want to bring healing to hurting souls." And if that weren't bad enough, "Chaplain pastors don't grow churches. In fact, a Chaplain pastor will hasten a congregation's demise because they tend to focus on those within the congregation rather than in bringing new converts to Jesus Christ."

The assumptions here are all too common, I'm afraid. So we hear in many quarters that pastors should be leaders, catalysts, and entrepreneurs, and the repeated slam about pastors who are mere chaplains. ....

It's...interesting to note the way Jesus framed how his disciples should think about their ministries: "And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles like to be seen as "leaders," "entrepreneurs," "catalysts for growth," and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many' " (Mark 10:42-45).

Okay, I paraphrased a bit. But I'm not convinced the paraphrase is false to the sense of Jesus' words. In any case, it seems clear that Jesus was a chaplain of souls, and that he encouraged his disciples to think of themselves in the same way.

One wonders where we got our other ideas about the pastorate. For centuries, the pastorate was thought to be about "the cure of souls"—souls being understood not as the spiritual part of us, but as the fullness of our humanity. The pastor has traditionally been thought of as one who does ministry in the midst of a people who are sick and dying, and who administers in word and sacrament, in Scripture and in prayer, the healing balm of the Lord.

So who told us that the pastor is primarily a leader/entrepreneur/change agent and anything but a curer of souls? And why do we believe them? .... [more]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Never judge, never criticize, never take a position"

Anyone teaching in the humanities or the social sciences has had an experience much like this:
In "Moments of startling clarity: Moral education programming in Ontario today,” Stephen L. Anderson recounts what happened when he tried to show students what can happen to women in a culture with no tradition of treating women as if they were fellow human beings with men:
I was teaching my senior Philosophy class. We had just finished a unit on Metaphysics and were about to get into Ethics, the philosophy of how we make moral judgments. The school had also just had several social-justice-type assemblies—multiculturalism, women’s rights, anti-violence and gay acceptance. So there was no shortage of reference points from which to begin.
I decided to open by simply displaying, without comment, the photo of Bibi Aisha. Aisha was the Afghani teenager who was forced into an abusive marriage with a Taliban fighter, who abused her and kept her with his animals. When she attempted to flee, her family caught her, hacked off her nose and ears, and left her for dead in the mountains. After crawling to her grandfather’s house, she was saved by a nearby American hospital. I felt quite sure that my students, seeing the suffering of this poor girl of their own age, would have a clear ethical reaction, from which we could build toward more difficult cases.

The picture is horrific. Aisha’s beautiful eyes stare hauntingly back at you above the mangled hole that was once her nose. Some of my students could not even raise their eyes to look at it. I could see that many were experiencing deep emotions.

But I was not prepared for their reaction.

I had expected strong aversion; but that’s not what I got. Instead, they became confused. They seemed not to know what to think. They spoke timorously, afraid to make any moral judgment at all. They were unwilling to criticize any situation originating in a different culture.

They said, “Well, we might not like it, but maybe over there it’s okay.” One student said, “I don’t feel anything at all; I see lots of this kind of stuff .”

Another said (with no consciousness of self-contradiction), “It’s just wrong to judge other cultures.”
Anderson reflects,
While we may hope some are capable of bridging the gap between principled morality and this ethically vacuous relativism, it is evident that a good many are not. For them, the overriding message is “never judge, never criticize, never take a position.”
One reason might be this: For thousands of years, most thinkers assumed that virtue was something specific; it could be described, and could be distinguished from not-virtue (vice). Courage, for example, was a virtue—a cardinal virtue. Cowardice was a vice. One ought, they said, to aim for courage because it is intrinsically worthy, and avoid cowardice because it is intrinsically a disgrace. Those thinkers are—in the students’ terms—judgmental!

In recent decades, a new view has taken root. The new view is that courage and cowardice have no intrinsic reality. Neither does the classical virtue of justice or the vice of injustice. It all depends on how you feel about things, which in turn depends on your culture. That underlies the students’ inability to move from “I feel bad” to “This is wrong.”

One outcome has been the popular convention that all cultures are of equal value. If Afghan men see their treatment of women as just, then it must be so. We lack any legitimate basis for saying it isn’t. .... [more]
Thanks to Tom Gilson for the reference.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"The battle...is not to the strong alone"

.... Perhaps the best example of an openly conservative Christian among the major founders was Patrick Henry. Henry, a lifelong Anglican (or Episcopalian, as they were called after the war), weaved faith into his speeches in a way that resonated with rank-and-file Patriots. Perhaps that is why Henry became the most inspiring orator of the Revolution: he knew how to speak the people's language, and during the Revolution, that was a language shaped by the Bible.

Thirty years before the Revolution, the revivals of the Great Awakening had shaken the colonies and converted thousands to evangelical faith. Henry himself had been profoundly influenced by the revivals as a teenager, and later, many said that he spoke like a preacher. Henry's most famous speech, the "Liberty or Death" oration, came in 1775 as Virginia was considering whether to take up arms in light of the British threat against American liberty. The speech, delivered at Richmond's St. John's Church, was a politicized version of a revival sermon. No highbrow political theory or Enlightenment philosophers were in it, just moral exhortations delivered in the literal language of the Bible.

A number of phrases in "Liberty or Death" came straight from the holy text, but one might easily miss those references today, because in the Bible-soaked culture of Virginia in 1775, Henry did not need to cite chapter and verse. People knew the Bible when they heard it. America's millions, "armed in the holy cause of liberty," Henry thundered, "are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us." At the speech's dramatic conclusion, Henry declared, with arms raised toward heaven, "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" ....
.... Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of the means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable — and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, "Peace! Peace!" — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A snow day

Kevin DeYoung's kids got a snow day today in Michigan. I remember as a student, and later as a teacher, feeling just as he describes. Unlike a vacation a snow day is free - because unexpected there are no plans, not even obligations you have placed on yourself. From "Heaven is Your Snow Day":
.... When I was a child I figured only kids liked snow days. But now I know parents and teachers are just as thrilled. No need to get up early. No lunch to pack. Nowhere to take the kids. The little ones will be ecstatic. They’ll be  throwing snow balls and making forts. The older ones will welcome the day off.

Everyone wishes for a snow day. Everyone cheers its arrival–especially the unexpected blanket of mirth in November.

We got the word around 6:00–no school. A day for rest. A day for play. A day together. A day where everything dying gets covered in white and everything beautiful sparkles.


If you aren’t from around here, you might not understand the title of this post. But trust me, heaven has to be like the best snow day ever. In midst of darkness, in the midst of cold and gloom, in the midst of danger and foreboding skies, you hope and hope. You wonder if tomorrow might be the day. You wonder if it might all be worth it. You wonder if you’ll wake up to hear happy news. You wonder if tomorrow is your snow day. And when it comes, you will play and sing and spend your hours among angels.

To all who are crestfallen, brokenhearted, afraid, or alone, take heart: winter may last for the night, but a snow day comes in the morning.
Heaven is Your Snow Day – Kevin DeYoung

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Preach the gospel at all times...."

Aaron Rogers, asked in a radio interview how, given the controversy over Tim Tebow, he feels about publicly sharing his faith:
"Well I started playing before Tim, so these are things I’ve thought about for a long time, and I think one thing that I try to look at when I was a younger player, and I mean, in high school, junior college, and Division I, I was always interested in seeing how guys talked in their interviews, talked about their faith, or didn’t talk about their faith. And then the reactions at time, I know Bob Costas at one point was critical about a player thanking Jesus Christ after a win, questioning what would happen if that player had lost, or do you really think God cares about winning and losing. That's all to say that I feel like my stance and my desire has always been to follow a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, who said, 'Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.' So basically, I’m not an over-the-top, or an in-your-face kind of guy with my faith. I would rather people have questions about why I act the way I act, whether they view it as positive or not, and ask questions, and then given an opportunity at some point, then you can talk about your faith a little bit. I firmly believe, just personally, what works for me, and what I enjoy doing is letting my actions speak about the kind of character that I want to have, and following that quote from St. Francis.’’
And Kurt Warner's advice to Tebow:
"You can't help but cheer for a guy like that," Warner told the newspaper. "But I'd tell him, 'Put down the boldness in regards to the words, and keep living the way you're living. Let your teammates do the talking for you. Let them cheer on your testimony.

"I know what he's going through, and I know what he wants to accomplish, but I don't want anybody to become calloused toward Tim because they don't understand him, or are not fully aware of who he is. And you're starting to see that a little bit. ....

"There's almost a faith cliche, where (athletes) come out and say, 'I want to thank my Lord and savior,' " Warner told The Republic. "As soon as you say that, the guard goes up, the walls go up, and I came to realize you have to be more strategic.

"The greatest impact you can have on people is never what you say, but how you live. When you speak and represent the person of Jesus Christ in all actions of your life, people are drawn to that. You set the standard with your actions. The words can come after."
Update 12/2: Apparently the quotation from St. Francis is bogus. Mark Galli:
I've heard the quote once too often. It's time to set the record straight—about the quote, and about the gospel.

Francis of Assisi is said to have said, "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words."

This saying is carted out whenever someone wants to suggest that Christians talk about the gospel too much, and live the gospel too little. Fair enough—that can be a problem. Much of the rhetorical power of the quotation comes from the assumption that Francis not only said it but lived it.

The problem is that he did not say it. Nor did he live it. And those two contra-facts tell us something about the spirit of our age. .... [more]

The pagan origin of Christmas?

As we begin Advent it seemed to me appropriate to once again remind my Christian friends that there is nothing wrong with celebrating the Season. Re-posted from December 5, 2008:

In 2003 Touchstone published "Calculating Christmas", by William Tighe. Since, every now and then, people appear in our churches who fall into the category he defines as "the fringes of American Evangelicalism" and vehemently oppose Christmas or some aspect of its traditional observance, and since atheists are also apt to charge that the day is really a pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice, the article may be helpful in setting the record straight. Read it all.
Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.

The idea that the date was taken from the pagans goes back to two scholars from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many “degenerations” that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the gospel.

In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. But in fact, the date had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which (maintained by the clan into which Aurelian was born or adopted) celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome. And in any case, none of these cults, old or new, had festivals associated with solstices or equinoxes. [the explanation]
The conclusion:
Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.

And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. ....
The Biblical Archaeology Review provides "How December 25 Became Christmas," indicating that the date probably owes more to certain Jewish customs than to any pagan influence.

Touchstone Archives: Calculating Christmas

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The unfortunate influence of John Stuart Mill

Roger Kimball contends that John Stuart Mill's On Liberty won the war of public opinion even though it had been effectively refuted by James Fitzjames Stephen. "Sifting and winnowing" doesn't always work.
.... Mill’s essay was ostensibly about the relation between individual freedom and society. Mill famously argued that the only grounds on which society was justified in exercising control over its members, whether that control be in the form of “legal penalties” or simply “the moral coercion of public opinion,” was to “prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”
James Fitzjames Stephen

This part of Mill’s argument quickly attracted searching criticism. The British judge James Fitzjames Stephen, for example, went to the heart of the problem when he observed that Mill assumed that “some acts regard the agent only, and that some regard other people. In fact, by far the most important part of our conduct regards both ourselves and others.” As for withholding “the moral coercion of public opinion,” Stephen observed that “the custom of looking upon certain courses of conduct with aversion is the essence of morality.”

Stephen’s criticisms of Mill were published in his book Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, which appeared about a decade after On Liberty. Many of the criticisms are devastating. Intellectually, Stephen made mincemeat of Mill. But that has hardly mattered. Mill’s doctrines have taken the world by storm, while Stephen has receded to become a footnote in intellectual history.

Why? One reason is that Mill said things that people wanted to hear. Mill seemed to be giving people a permanent vacation from the moral dictates of society. How often have you heard the argument “It’s not hurting anyone else” put forward as a justification for self-indulgence?

But it was not simply what he said about the relation between individual freedom and social control that made On Liberty such an influential tract. Much more important was the attitude, the emotional weather, of the book.

On Liberty is only incidentally a defense of individual freedom. Its deeper purpose is to transform the way we regard established morality and conventional behavior as such. In brief, Mill taught us to be suspicious of established morality not because what it says is wrong (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t) but simply because it is established.

Think about that. The tradition that Mill opposed celebrated custom and established morality precisely because they had prevailed and given good service through the vicissitudes of time and change; their longevity was an important token of their worthiness.

John Stuart Mill
Mill overturned this traditional view. Henceforth, the customary, the conventional was suspect not because it had failed but simply because if was customary and conventional. Consider, to take but one example, what has happened to the word “prejudice.” When was the last time you heard it used in a neutral or positive sense? And yet originally “prejudice” simply meant to prejudge something according to conventional wisdom. It was in this sense, for example, that Edmund Burke extolled prejudice, writing that “prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit. . . . Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.”

Mill was instrumental in getting us to associate “prejudice” indelibly with “bigotry.” He wanted to take the wisdom out of the phrase “conventional wisdom.” He repeatedly argued against the “despotism of custom” — not because it was despotic, but simply because it was customary. ....

The fate of Mill’s teaching harbors a number of important lessons. One lesson concerns the relative weakness of reasoned arguments when they are pitted against a doctrine that exercises great emotional appeal. Critics like James Fitzjames Stephen and David Stove pointed out fatal weaknesses in Mill’s teaching about freedom. By any disinterested standard, Mill lost the argument. But he won the battle for our hearts and allegiance. If you think that is a merely academic phenomenon, consider the recent career of the phrase “hope and change.” .... [more]

Monday, November 28, 2011

Danger signs

Danger signs in church leadership. Each point is elaborated in the original post:
One or two of these in isolated instances are likely handle-able. A pattern of any one or any combination of these signs in a pastor or the leadership culture of a church likely indicate a stalled or dying movement.
  1. Insulation from criticism and/or interpretation of any criticism as attacks or insubordination.
  2. Paranoia about who is and who isn't in line.
  3. Need to micromanage or hold others back from leadership opportunities or other responsibilities.
  4. Impulse to horde credit and shift blame.
  5. Progression has become reaction.

"And lo...."

Even in the '60s the networks were completely clueless about the American people. From "The Gospel According to Peanuts":
.... Few headlines about network television make me giddy. Fewer still make me hopeful that all is good in the world. But back in August of 2010, I read the following headline from the media pages with great excitement: "Charlie Brown Is Here to Stay: ABC Picks Up Peanuts Specials Through 2015." The first of these to be made, the famous Christmas special, was an instant classic when it was created by Charles Schulz on a shoestring budget back in 1965, and thanks to some smart television executives, it will be around for at least another five years for all of us to see and enjoy.

What people don't know is that the Christmas special almost didn't happen, because some not-so-smart television executives almost didn't let it air. You see, Charles Schulz had some ideas that challenged the way of thinking of those executives 46 years ago, and one of them had to do with the inclusion in his Christmas cartoon of a reading from the King James Bible’s version of the Gospel of Luke. ....

...[T]he executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible. ....

As Charlie Brown sinks into a state of despair trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, Linus quietly saves the day. He walks to center of the stage where the Peanuts characters have gathered, and under a narrow spotlight, quotes the second chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, verses 8 through 14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.
.... And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown, Linus concluded. ....

When CBS executives saw the final product, they were horrified. They believed the special would be a complete flop. CBS programmers were equally pessimistic, informing the production team, "We will, of course, air it next week, but I'm afraid we won't be ordering any more."

The half-hour special aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965, preempting The Munsters and following Gilligan's Island. To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award. .... [more]
The Gospel According to Peanuts - National Review Online

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How do we know what we know?

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus." [Boswell: Life of Samuel Johnson]
Tom Gilson summarizes the thesis of Alvin Plantinga's new book in the title of his review: "There’s No Good Argument For Design, But Who Needs One?" His description of Plantinga's argument reminded me of the exchange between Boswell and Samuel Johnson quoted above. Gilson on Plantinga:
.... Plantinga’s specialty is in epistemology, the philosophical study of how we know, and how we know that we know. He applies this to the question of whether we can know that nature is intelligently designed, just by examining it. Following detailed and rather technical discussions....he concludes that the arguments in favor of design are not compelling. ....

That argument swings both ways, of course. If Plantinga is right, and if there is no good argument for God in nature’s design, there is also no good argument against God in nature. Plantinga mentions that in this context but he does not dwell much on it. ....

...[I]f there is no design argument, does that mean no design, and no designer? No. For Plantinga it’s much simpler than an argument. Design is just apparent in the world. We can see it, as we can see that the world wasn’t created intact in its current form just five minutes ago, that our memories are at least somewhat trustworthy, that there are other people (other minds) in the world besides ourselves. No argument could prove these things true, yet we know them trustworthy knowledge regardless. These are “basic beliefs:” things we know without having to call upon a string of inferences to support that knowledge.

We can see design just as clearly, says Plantinga.
The same goes if you are on a voyage of space exploration, land on some planet which has an earth-like atmosphere, but about which nothing or next-to-nothing is known, and come across an object that looks more or less like a 1929 Model T Ford. You would certainly see this object as designed; you would not engage in probabilistic arguments about how likely it is that there should be an object like this that was not designed.
(The emphasis is added.) Of course Plantinga knows that perception of this sort can be mistaken. He goes on to analyze ways we can judge whether it is mistaken.... [more]