Monday, October 31, 2011

HRH Wilhelm?

The Commonwealth nations have agreed to change the rules for succession to the British throne. No longer will the throne pass to the eldest son, but to the eldest child of the monarch whether male or female. James Bowman points out one of the consequences had this rule been in place early in the last century:
The Queen herself [Elizabeth II] would never have been the monarch if the new rule had been in effect in Queen Victoria’s day, since the latter’s eldest child, Princess Victoria, would have succeeded her, reigned for less than seven months, and then have been succeeded in her turn by none other than Kaiser Wilhelm II — who would thus have added Britain and her Empire to the German Empire without the tiresome necessity of going to war as he was to do — unsuccessfully, most people are still glad to think — thirteen years later. .... [more]
Yet Another Losing Battle by James Bowman - The New Criterion

The Lark Ascending

Ralph Vaughan Williams is my favorite among 20th century composers. While looking for something else, I came across this YouTube presentation of "The Lark Ascending," a very good recording of my favorite of all of his compositions — heartrendingly beautiful.

"The Lark Ascending" by George Meredith

For Reformation Day

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My little policeman

I've been re-watching the BBC productions of the Hercule Poriot stories starring David Suchet in the title role. Today I came to "The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly," a story about the threatened kidnapping of the four-year old title character. His father is frustrated by the reluctance of Scotland Yard to do anything to protect his son.
Waverly - "That policeman is a fool!"

Poirot - "Ah, no. Japp is a good policeman. Prevention of crime is not what policemen are good at. They would have to have one constable for every citizen and go everywhere with him. But, fortunately for the human race, most of us have our own policeman up here (pointing to his forehead). This kidnapper has, perhaps, no little policeman."
Most of us do have our own little policeman and that is fortunate because without it freedom could not coexist with order. Order would prevail and freedom would be lost.

Simple old-fashioned fun

The Internet Monk re-posts a "Halloween Rant" by the late Michael Spencer. I didn't grow up in a fundamentalist church like he did but otherwise his Halloween church experience was very similar to mine — as was, later, the reaction to supposed pagan or satanic influences in that holiday [and Christmas, too]. Spencer:
.... I grew up among Southern Baptist fundamentalist Baptists. The KJV-only, women can’t wear pants, twenty verses of “Just As I Am,” Jerry Falwell, Jack Chick, twice a year revival kind of fundamentalist Baptists.

We were serious about things like beer. By sheer quantity of attention in sermons, drinking beer was the most evil act one could describe. We were serious about movies, cards, and something called “mixed bathing,” which normal people would call “swimming.”

We were serious about the Bible, Sunday School, suits and ties, and walking the aisle to get saved.

And we were big time into Halloween.

No, that’s not a typo. I said we were big time into Halloween.

From the late sixties into the early seventies, the churches I attended and worked for—all fundamentalist Baptists—were all over Halloween like ants on jam. It was a major social activity time in every youth group I was part of from elementary school through high school graduation in 1974.

We had haunted houses. Haunted hikes. Scary movies. (All the old Vincent Price duds.) As a youth minister in the mid to late seventies and early eighties, I created some haunted houses in church education buildings that would win stagecraft awards.

The kids loved it. The parents loved it. The pastors approved. The church paid for it! ....

And then, things changed.

Mike Warnke convinced evangelicals that participating in Halloween was worshiping the devil. Later, when we learned that Warnke may have been one of the most skillful of evangelical con-artists, lying about his entire Satanic high priest schtick, the faithful still believed his stories.

Evangelical media began to latch onto Halloween as some form of Satanism or witchcraft, and good Christians were warned that nothing made the other team happier than all those kids going door to door collecting M&Ms.

Evangelical parents decided that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and if their kid dressed up as a vampire, he’d probably try to become one. If there was a pumpkin on the porch, you were inviting demons into your home, just like it says in Hezekiah.

A general fear of the occult, manifesting itself in Satanic ritual abuse mythology, crept into evangelicalism and took a deep hold on many churches. ....

Today, if you want to split your church, divide your singles group, get a fight started with parents or see the youth minister fired, just find some way to have an old-fashioned Halloween event in your church. .... [more]
The Internet Monk Annual Halloween Rant |

Justice before mercy?

Reflections on a recent film elicit from Joseph Susanka these observations:
We often find ourselves thinking of justice and mercy as two sides of the same coin, fervently hoping that the coin "comes up Mercy" on the Day of Judgment. To paraphrase Hosea, it is mercy I desire, not justice. ....

Yet what can one possibly mean without the other? We must recognize the vast gulf between our actions and what we could and should have done, before God can offer mercy.

In the Gospel, the prodigal son not only recognized his great folly; he asked his father to deal with him justly: "I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would your servants..." Yet it was his very desire for justice that permitted the father to show his son such profound mercy.

How can God forgive someone who does not recognize their own need for forgiveness? Sure, a "debt" could be paid, but what would that payment mean if there was no spiritual transformation to accompany it? We must be transformed if we are to be perfected, yet there is no transformation without recognition and acceptance of our own personal, insurmountable failings.

And there is no way to recognize those failings without first embracing Justice.

Shakespeare says that humans are most like God "when mercy seasons justice," and perhaps he's right. But we are most dear to Him when our desire for justice seasons our desperate pleas for mercy.

For it is only once we want Justice that we can truly get Mercy. [more]
It is not, I hope, necessary to "want" justice in order to receive mercy. I hope it is sufficient to confess that we deserve it.
"Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa"
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; according to Your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of His name. Amen [BCP]
No Justice; No Mercy!

Friday, October 28, 2011


Halloween has for years now been a major event where I live — but not in the way I remember it was when I was a kid. Then there was trick-or-treat from door to door in our neighborhood and, when I had outgrown that, greeting the young trick-or-treaters coming to our house, admiring their costumes and awarding the treat. There was also the annual church Halloween party — with participation by all ages, the challenge of figuring out who was who, and the awarding of prizes for the best disguises. All of that was fun. I'm sure it is like that in many places still.

Today Mollie Hemingway asks "Could We Tone Down the Halloween Mania a Smidge?" and refers to Amity Shlaes' column arguing that "Halloween’s Pagan Themes Fill West’s Faith Vacuum."

I've previously posted blog entries arguing that Halloween's origins were not pagan but that it has lost its innocence. Those posts:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Lady Vanishes

"In Which I Read Vintage Novels" continues "Vintage Movie Week" with a review of one of my favorite Hitchcock films — and, for me, a favorite Hitchcock qualifies as a favorite among all films. The Lady Vanishes was one of Hitchcock's pre-WWII British films. The special effects require a willing suspension of disbelief and it has been re-made several times but, even so, this original is by far the most enjoyable version. The Criterion Collection is about to release a restored Blu-ray DVD of it. From Suzannah's description:
.... It's a snowy night in the little mountain country of Mandrika and a little village hotel is stuffed to the rafters with people trying to get back to England and points west. The train is delayed, so its passengers are forced to try to find a room to themselves: Iris Henderson, an American socialite returning home; Gilbert, a young musical eccentric who won't take any nonsense; Miss Froy, a sweet little Miss-Marple-type who won't stop chattering about her governessing jobs; Caldicott and Charters, two Englishmen very disgruntled about possibly missing the next big cricket game; and many others.

Nothing odd happens right away. But the next morning, on the train, Iris wakes after a nap to find that the friendly Miss Froy has vanished without a trace. Even more disturbing is the fact that every other person on the train denies having ever seen her. Is Iris surrounded by conspirators, or has she gone mad?

The Lady Vanishes is another excellent vintage movie, full of humour and mystery. .... [more]
In Which I Read Vintage Novels: Vintage Movies: The Lady Vanishes

Merely modern

G.K. Chesterton:
The first use of good literature is that it prevents a man from being merely modern. To be merely modern is to condemn oneself to an ultimate narrowness; just as to spend one's last earthly money on the newest hat is to condemn oneself to the old-fashioned. The road of the ancient centuries is strewn with dead moderns. Literature, classic and enduring literature, does its best work in reminding us perpetually of the whole round of truth and balancing other and older ideas against the ideas to which we might for a moment be prone. ["On Reading," The Common Man]
G.K. Chesterton on Dan Brown: The Interview | Carl E. Olson | Ignatius Insight | September 14, 2009

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"While in Him confiding..."

From a reflection on William Cowper's great hymn "Sometimes a Light Surprises" I've excerpted this portion about the final verse:
Though vine nor fig tree neither, their wonted fruit shall bear, though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there; yet God the same abideth, his praise shall tune my voice, for while in him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
Cowper chose the text from Habakkuk 3 for the fourth and final verse of "Sometimes a Light Surprises." It is an interesting choice for a number of reasons. First of all, it is likely that Habakkuk was a musician. Scholars believe that Habakkuk was a Levite and associated with the temple singers. The last chapter of Habakkuk is in the form of a liturgy with a prophetic prayer meant to be sung.

Secondly, Habakkuk 3 includes the language of lament and, according to one commentator, "provides one of the most moving statements of faith and trust found in Scripture (vv. 16-19)." There is something about honest lament that bridges our limited, finite humanity with our infinite, covenant Lord.

Often when we look around at our circumstances we want to cry out, "Lord, what are you doing? What is going on?" There is something telling in this kind of stark and honest dialogue with God. It may seem obvious, but lament, rather than revealing a distance from God, reveals that an actual relationship is intact. When we feel close enough to God to talk to him honestly about our circumstances, intimacy is revealed. Moreover, it is often through intimate, honest lament that clarity is received. Though it begins with a description of tough circumstances, Cowper's lyric ends with the assurance of God's faithfulness: "yet God the same abideth, his praise shall tune my voice, for while in him confiding, I cannot but rejoice." ....
Sometimes a Light Surprises: The Treasured Gift of a Troubled Soul – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Denial and rage

A New York Times article reports that the state of Rhode Island is in dire financial shape, cutting back on spending, and in danger of reneging on its pension and other obligations. Other states and municipalities are not far behind. Walter Russell Mead predicts that the Times reporter, Mary Williams Walsh,
...can expect angry push back from a whole sector of American political life that thinks this whole problem will go away if we tax the rich, clap our hands and all say together, “I believe in government.”
Mead blames the "Ostrich Party" for bringing Rhode Island — and not only Rhode Island — to this pass. "Unrealistic assumptions about rates of return helped hide the ugly truth about the looming pension meltdown — and anybody who tried to raise the alarm about the coming crisis was hooted down as an enemy of the workers." In this column he describes what happened and why.
.... No Rhode Island retiree can rely on getting the benefits promised; nobody can predict how this will all work out.

That is not the kind of uncertainty that 70 year old retired teachers and firefighters should have to face. A decent society would not let that happen — but the blue social model in its decadent late shark-jumping years of fake promises is anything but decent. Political chicanery, fuzzy math, denial, rhetoric, ambition: this is how a union betrays its members, this is how politicians betray their constituents.

To give the devil his due, this monumental crack up was the result, in its early stages, of ignorance and complacency more than anything else. The union leadership and the statehouse pols took growth for granted. They had grown up in the post war boom; good times were what they expected. They believed that the American economy would continue to grow richer every year and that there was a never-failing cornucopia of “more” somewhere that would somehow make sure that there was always enough money in the kitty to redeem the promises made. You could always squeeze another quart out of the milk cow. ....
Mead writes that there are three approaches taken to respond to the crisis:
  • There is the true blue ostrich approach of the unions themselves and their closest allies: denial and rage.
  • There is the attitude of more centrist Democrats like Governor Cuomo and Mayor Emanuel: make prudent cuts, hold the line on spending, work to quietly make government more efficient without jumping into a full scale confrontation with the unions.
  • And there is the Scott Walker, dragonslayer approach: take them on.
.... [I]f the Mama Bear New Democrats serve their porridge too cool, the Papa Bear Republicans like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich risk serving it too hot.

Polarizing politics and demonizing state and local government workers is not a good idea. It is unfair for one thing; it is bad politics for another. Toxic blue model legacy costs are the problem: rigidly bureaucratic government structures, unrealistic costs, years of underfunded pension plans, regulations that choke growth and initiative, outdated progressive ideas about how change works — these are the roots of our problems, not the middle school teacher down the street or the retired post office worker living modestly on a pension that may be underfunded but is hardly a bonanza.

The fifty year old teacher, fireman or police officer may have been naive to believe his or her union leaders, the politicians and the journalists who all said there was nothing to worry about — but most of those workers cannot be called “greedy” or “selfish”. They are victims of a complex, multi-player Ponzi scheme and have been lied to by a lot of people for a long time. They also face some serious financial costs. Not only are their pensions likely to be less generous and solid than they were led to expect; they may well face layoffs and wage freezes as states struggle to cope with legacy costs.

Reform cannot and should not be understood simply as an assault on state and local government workers — although these workers cannot be insulated from the general consequences of a major failure of our political system. The problem is not that teachers and firefighters earn “too much” money; the problem is that we have developed a dysfunctional social system which cannot pay its bills. ....

Ultimately the only solution is for the country to move on to a new post-blue economic model that can generate enough wealth to cover our existing debts. In the absence of a serious growth agenda, both the Cuomo and the Walker approaches can’t get the job done. And what the country needs is a competition between growth strategies, not a contest between strategies for cutbacks. .... [more]
Rhode Island: Athens of America? | Via Meadia

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


"The Frugal Traveler" who blogs at The New York Times spent a few days in my city recently and rather enjoyed himself. From "My Trip to Madison: Bikes, Brews, Burgers and a B&B:
.... Armed with an impossibly long list of restaurants and bars to try, I crisscrossed Madison from the University of Wisconsin campus on the west side (which is also home to the Babcock Hall Dairy, makers of my first Madison “meal,” an excellent cone of orange custard chocolate chip), across the isthmus splitting Lakes Mendota and Monona that serves as the center (and location of the State Capitol, home to a fantastic farmers’ market on Saturdays) and as far east as the Ale Asylum....

.... It’s almost impossible to find a beer on tap that’s not made in Wisconsin. The bustling Old-Fashioned, a popular bar and restaurant across from the Capitol, serves more than 50 beers on tap, all from Wisconsin, and more than 100 in cans or bottles, with just one that is not: Grainbelt from Minnesota, which is pointedly listed under “Imports.” And people here know beer. I’m usually happy to argue that New York City is the height of sophistication, but I could only cringe as I compared Wisconsin’s vast beer choices with the Amstel Lights and Stellas at many New York bars. ....

...Madison turned to be as much a burger town as anything else. I tried the famed Plaza burger, staple of campus post-boozing life, and found it excellent in a greasy spoon kind of a way. And the cheeseburger at the Laurel Tavern on the west side was a $5 masterpiece. But my favorite was the black and blue burger (with bacon and hot sauce), $7.29 at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry. Stand-out sharp flavors, and not so much burger to fit in your mouth ....

I have a very forgiving stomach but even so, I had to stop eating occasionally and visit a few Madison cultural attractions. Every single one was free, unless you count the 25 cents I dropped on a map of the grounds of the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. The gardens were shockingly lovely, a colorful, calm escape from a city that there’s not much need to escape from. I also took a nice walk out to Picnic Point around Lake Mendota....

This is more a football town than an art town, though, and the big event of the weekend was the Wisconsin Badgers game at Michigan State. I settled into State Street Brats (packed with students and families clad in Badger red) to have a $4.50 sausage, drink a pint of Leinenkugel beer (from Wisconsin, obviously) and watch the first half, and then biked back downtown to catch the rest of the game (and close out my weekend of drinking) at the Great Dane.... [Note: I've added many of the links]
There is quite a bit more. He seems to have hit many of my favorite places downtown, and he seems to have ignored our demonstrators - who were definitely there on his weekend. He doesn't mention the Union Terrace [the picture above] but he may well have begun his trek to Picnic Point from there.

My Trip to Madison: Bikes, Brews, Burgers and a B&B -

Ugly buildings

Why are so many modern buildings ugly and inappropriate for their surroundings? I'm no architect but the explanation offered by Michael Mehaffy and Nikos A. Salingaros in "The Architect Has No Clothes" sounds plausible to me:
Have you ever looked at a bizarre building design and wondered, “What were the architects thinking?” Have you looked at a supposedly “ecological” industrial-looking building, and questioned how it could be truly ecological? Or have you simply felt frustrated by a building that made you uncomfortable, or felt anger when a beautiful old building was razed and replaced with a contemporary eyesore? You might be forgiven for thinking “these architects must be blind!” New research shows that in a real sense, you might actually be right. ....

.... Not only do architects notice and look for different aspects of the environment than other people; their brains seem to synthesize an understanding of the world that has notable differences from natural reality. Instead of a contextual world of harmonious geometric relationships and connectedness, architects tend to see a world of objects set apart from their contexts, with distinctive, attention-getting qualities. ....

This phenomenon has important consequences for the kinds of structures that architects produce—consequences whose seriousness we believe are largely under-appreciated, and, very likely in some cases, repressed. We can begin to explain common contradictions as, for example, when architects produce a building they clearly think is wonderful, but a large majority of non-architects are found to hate it. .... Architects do not see how certain designs disconnect and isolate people and create hostile environments that cannot be shared. ....
A possible explanation:
Why do architects see the world in this unique way? In part this seems to be because of the peculiar environment in which students of architecture are educated (Gifford et al., 2002). Students are typically asked to produce drawings that are pinned up next to one another, and then evaluated in a “crit” (or critique). In such an abstract setting, it is difficult for anyone to evaluate how well a project integrates with its context, if at all. Moreover, projects that are especially distinctive—object designs that stand out visually in an imaginative way by presenting an unusual structure—tend to get more attention from the faculty, and often, better grades. Those architects get rewarded, and selected out to be the later stars of the profession.

This focus on object-design has a deeper history in architecture. Up to about 1900, architects were understood to be practicing an adaptive craft, in which a building was an inseparable part of a dynamic streetscape and a neighborhood. “Blending in” respects the extant complex connective geometry, where components contribute to overall coherence. A building was assumed to meet the physiological and social needs of the people of that neighborhood first and foremost, and only then it would express its artistic qualities.

With the coming of the industrial revolution, and its emphasis on interchangeable parts, the traditional conception of architecture that was adaptive to context began to change. A building became an interchangeable industrial design product, conveying an image, and it mattered a great deal how attention-getting that image was. The building itself became a kind of advertisement for the client company and for the architect (and in the case of residences, for the homeowner seeking a status symbol). The context was at best a side issue, and at worst a distraction, from the visual excitement generated by the object. .... [more]
Guernica / Michael Mehaffy and Nikos A. Salingaros: The Architect Has No Clothes

The Gospels as history

Denny Burk found this lecture by Peter Williams, "The Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts," "absolutely riveting":
Peter Williams is the warden at Tyndale House in Cambridge, England. He is also one of the bright lights of evangelical scholarship. Last March, he gave a fascinating lecture at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas titled “New Evidences the Gospels were Based on Eyewitness Accounts.” John Piper has called this presentation “the most remarkable (video) lecture on the reliability of the Gospels I’ve ever heard.” I would agree with Piper. I found this lecture to be absolutely riveting.
I've posted it before. If you have the least interest in the historicity of the gospels this is very much worth watching


Monday, October 24, 2011

Countless hours explaining the obvious

From a great essay by Stephen Marche in the NY Times yesterday:
.... First they came for the Kennedy scholars, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Kennedy scholar. Then they came for Opus Dei, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Catholic scholar. Now they have come for me.

Professors of Shakespeare — and I was one once upon a time — are blissfully unaware of the impending disaster that this film means for their professional lives. Thanks to “Anonymous,” undergraduates will be confidently asserting that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare for the next 10 years at least, and profs will have to waste countless hours explaining the obvious. “Anonymous” subscribes to the Oxfordian theory of authorship, the contention that Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Among Shakespeare scholars, the idea has roughly the same currency as the faked moon landing does among astronauts.

.... You don’t have to be a truther or a birther to enjoy a conspiracy theory. We all, at one point or another, indulge fantasies that make the world seem more dangerous, more glamorous and, simultaneously, much more simple than it actually is. But then most of us grow up. Or put down the bong. Or read a book by somebody who is familiar with both proper historical methodology and the facts. ....

.... There are many questions in this world over which rational people can have sensible confrontations: whether lower taxes stimulate or stagnate growth; whether abortion is immoral; whether the ’60s were an achievement or a disaster; whether the universe is motivated by a force for benevolence; whether the Fonz jumping on water skis over a shark was cool or lame. Whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare is not one of these questions. .... [more]
A frustration of teaching high school history is the student who has seen or read — on the Discovery Channel, or the "History" Channel, or online — and been convinced that the moon landings were fake, or that unseen gunmen assassinated JFK, or, more recently, that a conspiracy involving thousands was responsible for the destruction of the World Trade towers.

Wouldn’t It Be Cool if Shakespeare Wasn’t Shakespeare? -

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"He made no new contribution to theology."

On the occasion of his eightieth birthday Christianity Today reprints a 1990 interview with Thomas C. Oden, United Methodist theologian, professor at Drew University, and proponent of Christian orthodoxy. From the interview:
What were the turning points in your movement away from modernity?

Think of an idealistic kid in high school who is actively engaged in the World Federalist Movement, who, when he goes to college, becomes a pacifist and later becomes enamored with socialist theories and reads Freud. Between 1945 and 1965, every turn I made was a left turn. When I decided to go to theological school, it wasn't because I was strongly committed to the biblical message, but to the hope that the church could be an effective instrument of social change. It was at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas that my political radicalism became somewhat moderated by reading Luther and Reinhold Niebuhr. They shocked me out of my pacifism around 1955. ....

In After Modernity … What? you write that you date your entrance into the postmodern world to the day you had to select the books you would take with you for a research year. Why was that event so significant? What books did you take?

Up to that point most of my theological and psychological study was in contemporary sources. As I was leaving for that research year, I realized that the books I really needed were classics. I had already paid my dues to modernity twice over. I didn't have to do that again. What I needed at that point was a firmer grounding, so I took along the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Augustine, Nemesius, Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, Wesley, and others. I also took along classical writers such as Aeschylus and Dante. That was a moment of recognition: I realized that my consciousness had shifted away from the idolatry of the new, which I didn't know until I packed the books. ....

In place of modernity you call for "a careful study and respectful following of the central tradition of classical Christian exegesis." In other places you call this orthodoxy. What is orthodoxy?

Lancelot Andrewes, a sixteenth-century Anglican divine, stated the answer as memorably as anyone, with a five-finger exercise: "One canon, two Testaments, three creeds [the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian], four [ecumenical] councils, and five centuries along with the Fathers of that period," by which he meant the great doctors of the first five centuries: Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom in the East; and Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great in the West. ....

If we have the Bible, why do we also need the consensual teaching of the first five centuries?

The Bible is crucial to the Christian life because these texts alone incomparably convey the history of God's saving action. It is the textual center of orthodoxy. But the Holy Spirit does not simply drop the Canon into our laps, as it were. The Canon itself emerges out of a history. The process of canonization itself evolves out of a specific history in which these writings were being challenged by false teachings.

The first five centuries are important, then, because during this time the church definitively hammered out a consensus about Christian teaching and the meaning of the baptismal formula. The consensus formed in these centuries clarified for the church what it meant to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Christological and Trinitarian issues that were defined against severe challenges in those first five centuries expressed the church's attempt to be accountable to its own baptismal act, the fundamental act of inclusion within this community. ....

What would you say to someone who claims, "I've got the Bible. I don't need church history or systematic theology"?

We would not even have the Bible without its reliable transmission, which is another way of talking about the work of God the Spirit. Orthodoxy understands that God is at work in the body of Christ to form that body in history, awaiting God's own coming in the return of Christ.

Christ promised the early church the Spirit, who came on the first Pentecost and continues to dwell in the lives of the faithful. He promised that the Spirit would abide with this community, guide it, lead it to all truth, and help it recollect the words of the Lord. This is just what has been happening for the 20 centuries since the ascension. We're moving in the wrong direction when we say individualistically, "I've got my Bible; I don't need anything except these words." Protestants now need to recover a sense of the active work of the Spirit in history and through living communities. Our modern individualism too easily tempts us to take our Bible and abstract ourselves from the wider believing community. We end up with a Bible and a radio, but no church. ....

What elements of classical orthodoxy have evangelicals tended to ignore or misunderstand?

I see a sad neglect of great fourth-century evangelical writers like Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem. Augustine and John Chrysostom are also too often ignored. Why the neglect? The patristic writers' use of allegorical interpretation has scared some evangelicals away. But evangelicals would gain much by entering the world of biblical figures and types as understood by the patristic writers. The greatest Protestant writers were able to do just this. If you read Calvin, John Owen, Matthew Henry, or Richard Baxter, you find a consuming interest in biblical typology. ....

What guarantee do we have that the early generations of Christians were any closer to the essence of the gospel than we are today? Why is old better?

Old is not better. Old can be worse. The apostolic criterion is not flatly whether something is old or new. The criterion is whether it is truthful or not—truthful in the sense of true to the apostolic testimony to God's revelation, the truth personally incarnate in Jesus Christ. There was in the first five centuries a great suspicion of novelty. Novelty was regarded as heretical. Antiquity was one of the criteria for orthodoxy. If it belongs to the apostolic testimony, it is orthodox. ....

You have told about a dream in which you were walking in the New Haven cemetery. You came across your own tombstone and the epitaph read, "He made no new contribution to theology." Were you happy or distressed to read that?

In my dream I was extremely pleased, for I realized I was learning what Irenaeus meant when he warned us not to invent new doctrine. This was a great discovery for me. All my education up to this point had taught me that I must be compulsively creative. If I was to be a good theologian I had to go out and do something nobody else ever had done. The dream somehow said to me that this is not my responsibility, that my calling as a theologian could be fulfilled through obedience to apostolic tradition. .... [more]
Back to the Fathers | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction


Suzannah, who reads "vintage novels" and recommends good ones at her site, is beginning a week of recommending vintage movies. Her tastes in books and films seem to frequently coincide with mine so it was no surprise that her first post is about one that I have enjoyed since childhood, The Mark of Zorro. She also recommends similar swashbucklers. I am happy to say that I have almost all of them in my DVD collection. Suzannah on The Mark of Zorro:
Of all the old swashbucklers we've seen, the favourite in our home is an unassuming little picture from 1940: The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Basil Rathbone. Tyrone Power plays Don Diego Vega, the son of the alcalde of California who is sent to Spain to complete his education. On his return, he finds California changed since he went away: the peasants seem afraid, the new alcalde is spoken of with fear and hatred, and his evil henchman Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone) is bent on squeezing every last penny out of the taxpayers.

Don Diego can see that something must be done. By night he is the bold and daring Zorro, terror of evildoers. By day he becomes the effete and foppish Don Diego, an inveterate flapper of lace-edged handkerchiefs and languid suitor of the alcalde's enchanting niece Lolita (Linda Darnell). Will he dislodge the evil alcalde from California, or does discovery, disgrace, and death await him? ....

If you enjoy The Mark of Zorro, take time to sample the other great swashbucklers of cinema. Captain Blood is one of the very best, of course; but don't miss the Ronald Colman The Prisoner of Zenda, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea-Hawk, or the hilarious Court Jester. .... [more]
Another might be The Scarlet Pimpernel (I prefer the 1934 version with Leslie Howard).

In Which I Read Vintage Novels: Vintage Movies: The Mark of Zorro

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Totally, like, you know, not?"

Re-posted because it is so good.

"To do my duty to God and my country"

Kathleen Arnn compares the original Boy Scout Handbook to the current one in "Scouts' Honor." Today's isn't bad but it would be much better, she thinks, if it retained the original's emphasis on good character:
The Boy Scouts of America celebrated their hundredth anniversary last year, and this year is the centennial of The Handbook for Boys, their first official manual. Comparing it with the current edition of the handbook—the 12th, published in 2009—shows that the small outpost of civilization manned by the Scouts holds on bravely in America. But decades of aggressive political correctness have had their effect, and the Scouts have lost some of the confident American boyishness that loves heroes and makes for heroes. This is too bad for the more than 3 million boys enrolled in the Scouts today, and for the society in which they will grow up to become men. ....

In the original handbook, Scouts' honor is explicitly traced back to the chivalry of the ancient knights. The Pilgrims and the American pioneers carried this knightly virtue to America, and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have taken up their standard. Honor, as the handbook explains, is sacred to a Scout: It "will not permit of anything but the highest and the best and the manliest." "A good Scout must be chivalrous," it tells us:
[H]e should be as manly as the knights or pioneers of old. He should be unselfish. He should show courage. He must do his duty. He should show benevolence and thrift. He should be loyal to his country. He should be obedient to his parents, and show respect to those who are his superiors. He should be very courteous to women. One of his obligations is to do a good turn every day to some one.
The handbook doesn't shrink from invoking shame to motivate Scouts. For example, under Courage: "It is horrible to be a coward. It is weak to yield to fear and heroic to face danger without flinching." There are examples, like the dying Indian who "faced death with a grim smile upon his lips and sang his own death song" and the cowardly knight who fled the battle of Agincourt, much to the disappointment of his lady at home. The original handbook teaches through heroes, providing Scouts with a host of manly examples to emulate. Above all, it cultivates spiritedness, teaching Scouts to defend their honor, their friends, and their country like the great men of the past who "were accustomed to take chances with death" for the sake of the things they loved. ....

We learn about America's great moments through the heroes who lived them: George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Boone, Betsy Ross, Johnny Appleseed, and most of all, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is a hero among heroes, a central figure in the handbook's discussions of patriotism and of virtue. He is "in heart, brain, and character, not only one of our greatest Americans, but one of the world's greatest men." The manual relays the whole story of his life, from his lowly beginnings that taught him the value of hard work, to his education, and to his presidency and untimely death ("the emancipator of the slave, the friend of the whole people and the savior of our country died, a martyr to the cause of freedom.") This discussion ends with the closing paragraph of the Second Inaugural, "words with which every boy should be familiar, voicing as they do the exalted spirit of a great and good man." ....
Almost all of that, she writes, is missing from the current Handbook.
Robert Mazzuca, the Chief Scout Executive of the BSA, has been quoted as saying that the organization is suffering from "a little arthritis" but is making efforts to modernize. If this means using Gore-tex boots on hikes and ripstop nylon tents instead of canvas, the Boy Scouts may be all right. If it means teaching leadership rather than moral virtue, and timidity rather than manliness, that's another story entirely—one of obtuseness, trendiness, and decline. .... [more]
The Claremont Institute - Scouts' Honor

A different sort of Fundamentalist

Joe Carter was annoyed by an op-ed that appeared in the New York Times yesterday:
Evangelicals who take an interest in the life of the mind inevitably encounter two types of fundamentalists. Although the two types are similar, they are easy to distinguish. Both types believe that their views of the scripture, creation, and/or history are the only legitimate interpretations and condemn anyone who disagrees with them and their preferred “experts.” But the first type filters their beliefs through the KJV while the second type filters their beliefs through the NYT.

Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens are the second type of fundamentalists. Yesterday, they published an embarrassingly simple-minded op-ed in the New York Times decrying the “simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism” of evangelicals who hold beliefs that differ from their own. .... [more]
Carter refers to Rod Dreher's reaction to the same essay:
I generally agree with Evangelicals Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens, who contend that Evangelicals have to do a better job reconciling their faith with science. And I agree with them that fundamentalists who deny what science is telling us about human origins, preferring instead a literalistic interpretation of Genesis, are badly off course. But then there’s this description of the sort of intellectually respectable Evangelical they prefer:
They recognize that the Bible does not condemn evolution and says next to nothing about gay marriage. They understand that Christian theology can incorporate Darwin’s insights and flourish in a pluralistic society.
That gay marriage point is, ironically enough, a sign that the authors accept, when it suits them, a fundamentalist, literalist approach to Scripture — precisely the thing they condemn! Deciding that if the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn a thing, then the Bible must implicitly permit is, is reverse proof-texting, one designed to suit liberal ends.

Of course Scripture says nothing about gay marriage. Such a thing was unthinkable in the days of the Bible. The Bible doesn’t say anything about the atomic bomb either. By this logic, “reason” tells us that Christian condemnation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is irrational.

That would be absurd, of course. If Christians condemn the atomic bombings, they do so based on what Scripture tells us about the dignity of human life, of innocence, of war, of justice and mercy. We derive Christian moral teaching about a particular phenomenon based in part on the larger context presented to us in Scripture. That, and in the way the interpretive tradition developed. For example, by Giberson & Stephens’s logic, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity — the central dogma of the Christian faith — must be rationally denied, because there is nothing explicit in Scripture defines it. Do Giberson & Stephen deny the Trinity? I’m sure they don’t, but if not, why not? The Bible says “next to nothing” about the Trinity, after all.

On gay marriage, one has to make all kinds of leaps to reconcile it with Christianity and Biblical moral teaching about the meaning of marriage. Aside from St. Paul’s explicit condemnation of homosexual behavior, there is no way — or at the very least, no easy way — to reconcile same-sex marriage with the Christian moral tradition.

This is not, let me be clear, an argument against legalizing same-sex marriage. That is a different argument. What I’m focusing on here is an argument among Christians, about how we Christians are to interpret our own Scripture and tradition. .... [more]
And then Alan Jacobs reacts:
There’s some truth to this, of course, but — forgive the griping — it’s deeply annoying to me. First, it doesn’t say anything that Mark Noll didn’t say in 1994; and second, the only reason it’s in the NYT is that it flatters the prejudices of the readership. .... [more]
A Different Type of Fundamentalist » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog, Rod Dreher » Gay marriage, fundamentalism, and the Evangelical mind, more than 95 theses — The rejection of science seems to be part of a...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kreeft on Lewis

Via Justin Taylor, Peter Kreeft on the book and the movie The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Kreeft gave the movie B+ but thought it left out some very important things in the book. Kreeft is an authority on Lewis and the lecture goes beyond Voyage to an exploration of Lewis's worldview.

The Worldview of C. S. Lewis and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – Justin Taylor

Monday, October 17, 2011

Good intentions and evil results

Before the publication of Sybil [1973] fewer than one hundred cases of multiple personality had been diagnosed in the history of Western medicine. The book's publication, a review at the New York Post notes, had considerable consequence:
Soon, “multiple personality disorder,” or MPD, became an officially recognized diagnosis, and a handful of cases exploded into 40,000 reported sufferers, nearly all of them female. The repressed-memory industry was born. Only in the last decade or so has the psychiatric profession begun to question the validity of Sybilmania.
Along with the diagnosis came accusations of abuse by family members and others—sometimes leading to convictions and prison time—that supposedly led to the creation of alternative personalities ["alters"] created to dissociate from those horrible [and false] memories.

Laura Miller reviews Sybil Exposed about the book Sybil here in “Sybil Exposed: Memory, lies and therapy." "Sybil" was really a woman named Shirley Ardell Mason and her therapist was Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. Sybil was by Flora Rheta Schreiber. From the review:
.... Mason did at one point attempt to jump off Wilbur’s train, writing her doctor a long letter confessing that all the multiple-personality stuff — the lost time, the named “alters” and the grotesque tortures supposedly inflicted on Mason as a child by her supposedly psychotic mother — had all been made up. Wilbur briskly dismissed this as a “major defensive maneuver” designed to derail the “hard work” of therapy lying ahead. The pitiably vulnerable Mason soon caved. ....

Mason, like so many patients diagnosed with multiple personality disorder (now rechristened “dissociative identity disorder,” in part to shake the bad rep of MPD), improved markedly under certain conditions — namely, the absence of her therapist. For several years after her therapy concluded, she lived happily as an art teacher at a community college, even owning her own house. But the publication of Sybil destroyed that life; Schreiber, who had invented so much of her biography, had so thinly disguised other details that many acquaintances recognized her. Too self-conscious to endure this exposure, Mason fled back to Wilbur and lived out the rest of her life as a sort of beloved retainer, cooking her doctor breakfast and dinner every day and nursing her on her deathbed.

Wilbur, on the other hand, thrived, presiding over the explosion of MPD diagnoses as one of the foremost experts on the condition. She played a key role in promoting the belief that conspiracies of fiendish, sadistic adults were secretly perpetrating murder, child rape and mutilation, human sacrifice, and cannibalism across the country and that repressed memories of such atrocities lay at the root of most MPDs. Innocent people were convicted of these crimes on the basis of testimony elicited from highly suggestible small children and hypnotized adults. Families were sundered by therapists who convinced their patients that they’d suffered similar ordeals despite having no conscious memory of it. .... [more]
Revised at 5:00 pm to include the quotation from the New York Post.

“Sybil Exposed”: Memory, lies and therapy -, Multiple-personality drama “Sybil” was a fraud, says new book -

Pilgrim's Progress

There are lots of different editions and adaptions of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. .... But the classic book-length adaption for children is Eerdmans’s Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress. The language of the original is retained, and the illustrations are plentiful and imaginative—accurate enough that this book is probably not best for the youngest kids.
And then he provides this reading of the book [the video is almost two hours long] using the book's illustrations.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

As Halloween approaches is interesting to note that there is a Seventh Day Baptist cemetery in Connecticut that allegedly has a ghost. The SDB congregation that created the cemetery emigrated to New York state by early in the 19th century [to Brookfield?]. The recorded burials include names like Palmiter, West, Crandall, Davis, and Stillman — family names known to anyone familiar with the history of Seventh Day Baptists. There have been no burials since 1838 and apparently the grounds have not been maintained. The location is undoubtedly more familiar to the ghost-hunter community than to Seventh Day Baptists. It makes number four in this list of "The Top Five Most Haunted Places in Connecticut":
The Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery in Burlington CT: The history of the Seventh Day Baptist Church is said to be filled with misfortune and death, and it’s possible many of the group may have passed away due to smallpox years and years ago. They left the area in the early 19th century for upstate New York. The cemetery itself dates back to at least the 18th century, and over time, a number of the stones have either fallen over or been worn smooth by the elements. One of the only gravestones left standing is of Elisabeth Palmiter, who died in 1800 at the age of 30, and is believed by some to be the Green Lady, who has been reported to have been seen multiples of times throughout the area. Creepy huh?

Another site, Damned Connecticut, has additional information:
.... The tale of Elisabeth’s transformation into the Green Lady more or less goes like this: after her husband Benjamin didn’t return from a trip to town when expected, Elisabeth went out into a terrible storm to find him, and then tragically drowned in a nearby swamp during the search. Some people have questioned the story and wonder if Benjamin may have murdered her and covered up his heinous deed with the drowning alibi. Evidence for either story is fragmented; regardless of exactly what caused her demise, she supposedly has been roaming the damned earth for centuries.

As with any allegedly haunted area, there [are] also other events accompanying the story of the Green Lady, including reports of other spirits being seen (such as Benjamin Palmiter searching for Elisabeth with a lantern) and curiosity seekers meeting bad ends. ....
I don't believe in ghosts except as fiction but the fiction can be enjoyable - perhaps especially at Halloween. For a couple of years I've posted All Hallows' Eve which quotes from this good article: Biblical Horizons:  Concerning Halloween.

Scope - Hill Regional Career High School - The Top Five Most Haunted Places in Connecticut, Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery, Burlington - Damned Connecticut, the cemetery picture comes from this site

A support group for hypocrites

Ann Althouse commented today on this article:
Atheists recently went public with a new website aimed at creating a community for clergy who have lost their faith. ....
“We know there must be thousands of clergy out there who have secretly abandoned their faith but have nowhere to turn,” Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher who now serves as co-president of FFRF, said in a statement Friday.

“Now they do have a place to meet, a true sanctuary, a congregation of those of us who have replaced faith and dogma with reason and human well-being.”
The Clergy Project is the brainchild of outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, philosopher Daniel Dennett, researcher Linda LaScola and Barker. ....

Dawkins and Barker believe clergy need help in exiting the ministry, saying it is "near to impossible" to leave.
"If a farmer tires of the outdoor life and wants to become an accountant or a teacher or a shopkeeper, he faces difficulties, to be sure. He must learn new skills, raise money, move to another area perhaps. But he doesn't risk losing all his friends, being cast out by his family, being ostracized by his whole community," Dawkins writes on the website.

"Clergy who lose their faith suffer double jeopardy. It's as though they lose their job and their marriage and their children on the same day."
Althouse notes:
A farmer who "tires of the outdoor life" is not a fraud, is not deceiving the people he cares about telling the truth to. It's funny that Dawkins didn't put that problem first. That says something about Dawkins, no?
Atheists Form Support Group for Nonbelieving Pastors, Christian News, Althouse: "We know there must be thousands of clergy out there who have secretly abandoned their faith but have nowhere to turn."

Friday, October 14, 2011

"The bullet is in me now..."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes the anniversary of the assassination attempt on Theodore Roosevelt in Milwaukee in 1912:
It was 99 years ago Oct. 14 that former president Theodore Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt near what is now the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee at W. Kilbourn Ave. and N. 4th St. He was campaigning in Milwaukee as the Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party presidential nominee. His shirt bloodied by a bullet still lodged in his chest, T.R. insisted on delivering an hour-and-a-half long speech anyway at the Milwaukee Auditorium, notable for this declaration:
“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet — there is where the bullet went through — and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”
The assassin was John Schrank, an opponent of Presidential third terms who had followed TR for thousands of miles, finally finding his opportunity in Milwaukee. Shrank wrote that the ghost of William McKinley had advised him in a dream to avenge his [McKinley's] death by killing Roosevelt.

A description of the event:
.... He [TR] stopped for the afternoon at the Hotel Gilpatrick, and after dining with local dignitaries, readied to leave for the Milwaukee Auditorium (now the Milwaukee Theatre) to give a campaign speech.

As he was getting into his vehicle, Roosevelt paused on the floorboards to turn and wave goodbye to well-wishers. Unfortunately, this moment cleared the way for would-be assassin, John Schrank, to take the shot he had been plotting for more than three weeks as he followed Roosevelt's campaign across eight states. Schrank fired his .38 revolver from close range, hitting Roosevelt in the chest.

In the ensuing melee, in which Schrank was immediately caught, Roosevelt's car left, but it was supposedly several moments before Roosevelt fully comprehended that he had been hit. The tenacious Roosevelt insisted, however, on continuing on to his speech anyway. (It could be that he felt he owed the speech it's day — it was the speech's thick manuscript, folded in his breast pocket along with a metal glasses case, that absorbed most of the bullet's force.)

Upon entrance to the Milwaukee Auditorium, Roosevelt announced to the stunned audience that he had been shot, proclaiming: "It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!" He then proceeded to speak for 80 minutes before reluctantly going to a Milwaukee hospital for treatment.
Only after the speech did Roosevelt permit himself to be taken to the hospital  The bullet was not removed and remained in his body for the rest of his life. A transcript of the eighty minute (!) speech is here.

Pictures related to the assasination attempt can be found here along with another briefer account including what happened to Shrank:
Schrank was arrested at the scene and Milwaukee officers had to protect him from the crowd. On November 12, 1912 Schrank pled guilty to assault with intent to commit murder. He was found insane by the court and sent to Northern Hospital for the Insane located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Shrank died not long after FDR became President.

TR's bloody shirt - JSOnline

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Isn't tradition the point?

Walter Russell Mead reacts to Prime Minister David Cameron's proposal that the Act of Settlement [1701]—setting the rules for succession to the English throne—be revised to permit an oldest daughter of a monarch to take precedence over her younger eldest brother and also to allow the ruler to have a Catholic spouse:
.... On the one hand, we think the days when RC monarchs tried to drag the country back into papist slavery are pretty much done. No more heretics will be burned at British stakes no matter how many rosaries they say at Buckingham Palace. So that part is OK.

On the fair play for princesses side, there is also no problem. The English seem to like queens, so why shouldn’t they have more of them? The only objection, and it is frankly a faint one, is this: isn’t tradition the point of a monarchy? The monarchy is inherently ‘unfair’ in that some people get to be royal while most don’t. The point isn’t fairness and it isn’t transparency. Modernizing a monarchy by making it more equal is a little like reforming a religion by taking out God. Very much more rational, as Jane Austen once wrote, and very much less like a ball.

The ultimate way to modernize a monarchy is to abolish it; maybe that will be Britain’s next step.
More Queens, Please | Via Meadia

A competent Turk?

Can an orthodox Christian vote for a Mormon [or a Buddhist, or an atheist, or anyone who isn't a Christian — the issue is much the same]? The question most recently arises because of comments regrading Romney's candidacy. The answer, it seems to me, is obviously yes, depending almost entirely on non-theological considerations. That is an entirely different question than whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a Christian denomination. Kevin DeYoung helps out on that one with "Mormonism 101":
Mormonism is back in the news. And with two Mormon presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney (the front runner for the Republican nomination), there’s a good chance we will be hearing much more about Mormonism for the next twelve months. Denny Burk has a very helpful piece on whether Mormonism is a cult, and Albert Mohler has written a thoughtful article on “Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking.” I won’t repeat their arguments, except to reiterate Mohler’s reminder that voting for a president should include examining the candidate’s religious beliefs, but should include other considerations as well.

Presidential elections are important. But believing the truth is even more important. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to provide a brief overview of Mormon history and theology. I won’t try to debunk Mormonism or prove Christianity. But I hope this quick survey will show that the two are not the same. .... [follow the link to DeYoung's short summary of LDS history and theology]
In the Mohler column to which DeYoung refers he makes this political point:
.... Christians, along with the general public, are not well served by political leaders who, though identifying as Christians, are incompetent. The Reformer Martin Luther is often quoted as saying that he would rather be ruled by a competent Turk (Muslim) than an incompetent Christian. We cannot prove that Luther actually made the statement, but it well summarizes an important Christian wisdom.

Furthermore, Christians in other lands and in other political contexts have had to think through these questions, sometimes under urgent and difficult circumstances. Christian citizens of Turkey, for example, must choose among Muslim candidates and parties when voting. Voters in many western states in the United States often have to choose among Mormon candidates. They vote for a Mormon or they do not vote at all.

Furthermore, we must be honest and acknowledge that there are non-Christians or non-evangelicals who share far more of our worldview and policy concerns than some others who identify as Christians. The stewardship of our vote demands that we support those candidates who most clearly and consistently share our worldview and combine these commitments with the competence to serve both faithfully and well. ....
Mormonism 101 – Kevin DeYoung, – Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The pursuit of death

Not long ago I quoted at some length from an article by Joseph Bottum about Christianity in detective fiction. I have just finished re-reading Margery Allingham's The Tiger in the Smoke (1952) which Bottum commended as successful at combining good detective fiction with a Christian sensibility. I agree. The book is also a good read and, like most of Allingham's books, is still in print. Toward the end of the book there is a conversation  between a rather unworldly Anglican priest and the "Tiger" of the title, a multiple murderer, in a darkened sanctuary in the middle of the night. The murderer believes he has, uniquely, discovered the secret of success:
"Don't blether." The voice, stripped of all its disguises, was harsh and naïve. "You always blethered. You never said anything straight.. What do you know about the Science of Luck? Go on, tell me. You're the only one who's understood at all. Have you ever heard of it before?"

"Not under that name."

"I don't suppose you have. That's my name for it. What's its real name?"

"The Pursuit of Death."

There was a pause. Curiosity, fear, impatience bristled behind Avril. He could feel them.

"It's a known thing, then?"

"You did not discover it, my son."

"No, I suppose not." He was hesitating, a torn and wasted tiger, but still inquisitive. "You've got it right, have you? You have to watch for your chances and then you must never go soft, not once, not for a minute. You mustn't even think soft. Once you're soft, you muck everything, lose your place, and everything goes against you. I've proved it. Keep realistic and you get places fast, everything falls right for you, everything's easy. Is that it?"

"That is it," said Avril humbly. "It is easier to fall downstairs than to climb up. Facilis descensus Averni. That was said a long time ago."

"What are you talking about?"

"The Science of Luck." Avril bent his head. "The staircase has turns, the vine climbs a twisted path, the river runs a winding course. If a man watches he can see the trend and he can go either way."

"Then you know it? Why are you soft?"

"Because I do not want to die. A man who pitches himself down a spiral staircase on which all his fellows are climbing up may injure some of them, but, my dear fellow, it's nothing to the damage he does to himself, is it?"

"You're crazy! You're on to a big thing, you can see what I see, and you won't profit by it."

Avril turned round in the dark. "Evil, be thou my Good—that is what you have discovered. It is the only sin which cannot be forgiven because when it has finished with you, you are not there to forgive. On your journey you certainly 'get places.' Naturally; you have no opposition. But in the process you die. The man who is with you when you are alone is dying. Fewer things delight him every day. If you attain the world, you cannot give him anything that will please him. In the end there will be no one with you."
Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smake, 1952, pp. 224-225.

Not even in the pulpit

Via Justin Taylor, C.S. Lewis on Hell:
.... You must forgive me for the crude monosyllable. I know that many wiser and better Christians than I in these days do not like to mention heaven and hell even in the pulpit. I know, too, that nearly all the references to this subject in the New Testament come from a single source. But then that source is Our Lord himself. People will tell you it is St. Paul, but that is untrue. These overwhelming doctrines are dominical. They are not really removable from the teaching of Christ or of His Church.

If we do not believe them, our presence in this church is great tomfoolery.

If we do, we must overcome our spiritual prudery and mention them.
C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time” (1939)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hope in a hopeless world?

Andy Crouch in the Wall Street Journal considers an aspect of the life and death of Steve Jobs not much commented on elsewhere. From "Steve Jobs, the Secular Prophet":
.... Steve Jobs was extraordinary in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (demanding and occasionally ruthless) leader. But his most singular quality was his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple's early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and turned it into a sign of promise and progress.

That bitten apple was just one of Steve Jobs's many touches of genius, capturing the promise of technology in a single glance. The philosopher Albert Borgmann has observed that technology promises to relieve us of the burden of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world. The biblical story of the Fall pronounced a curse upon human work—"cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life." All technology implicitly promises to reverse the curse, easing the burden of creaturely existence. And technology is most celebrated when it is most invisible—when the machinery is completely hidden, combining godlike effortlessness with blissful ignorance about the mechanisms that deliver our disburdened lives. ....

Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. He believed so sincerely in the "magical, revolutionary" promise of Apple precisely because he believed in no higher power. In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly about his initial cancer diagnosis in 2003. It's worth pondering what Jobs did, and didn't, say:
"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."
This is the gospel of a secular age. It has the great virtue of being based only on what we can all perceive—it requires neither revelation nor dogma. And it promises nothing it cannot deliver—since all that is promised is the opportunity to live your own unique life, a hope that is manifestly realizable since it is offered by one who has so spectacularly succeeded by following his own "inner voice, heart and intuition." ....

For people of a secular age, Steve Jobs's gospel may seem like all the good news we need. But people of another age would have considered it a set of beautifully polished empty promises, notwithstanding all its magical results. Indeed, they would have been suspicious of it precisely because of its magical results.

And that may be true of a future age as well. Our grandchildren may discover that technological progress, for all its gifts, is the exception rather than the rule. It works wonders within its own walled garden, but it falters when confronted with the worst of the world and the worst in ourselves. Indeed, it may be that rather than concealing difficulty and relieving burdens, the only way forward in the most tenacious human troubles is to embrace difficulty and take up burdens.... [more]
Shortly after reading that I came across this at a site devoted to the Oxford Inklings. In 1969 the young daughter of J.R.R. Tolkien's publisher, working on a school assignment, asked him to answer this question, "What is the purpose of life?" From the letter Tolkien wrote in response:
.... If you do not believe in a personal God the question: 'What is the purpose of life?' is unaskable and unanswerable. To whom or what would you address the question? ....

Those who believe in a personal God, Creator, do not think the Universe is in itself worshipful, though devoted study of it may be one of the ways of honouring Him. And while as living creatures we are (in part) within it and part of it, our ideas of God and ways of expressing them will be largely derived from contemplating the world about us. (Though there is also revelation both addressed to all men and to particular persons.)

So it may be said that the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis: Laudamus te, benedicamus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam. We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendour.

And in moments of exaltation we may call on all created things to join in our chorus, speaking on their behalf, as is done in Psalm 148, and in The Song of the Three Children in Daniel II. "PRAISE THE LORD ... all mountains and hills, all orchards and forests, all things that creep and birds on the wing."
Jobs, of course was right: "...[D]eath is the destination we all share." That truth is inescapable. But I am very happy, joyful even, that I have a hope greater than that offered by technology, and am "moved by it to praise and thanks."

Steve Jobs, the Secular Prophet -, The Inklings: What is the Purpose of Life?