Friday, August 31, 2012

Living in the bubble

G.K. Chesterton explains how we "shut out the real world" by associating only with people like us:
The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing that is really narrow is the clique....The men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment like that which exists in hell. (Heretics)
Via Chicago Boyz

Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Sort-of-a-Rerun: Drucker and Chesterton on the Individual and the Community

Van the Man

Winding into a holiday weekend, it can’t be wrong to remember that Van Morrison — singer, songwriter and artist — celebrates his sixty-seventh birthday today. ....
Martin Scorsese documented Morrison’s performance with the Band on film in The Last Waltz (video above). Morrison overcame a major case of stage fright, first to save the show and then to steal it. Greil Marcus covered the show for Rolling Stone. Marcus described Van’s performance:
Van Morrison made his entrance and he turned the show around. I had seen him not many minutes before prowling the balconies, dressed nondescriptly in a shirt and jeans, scowling; but there he was onstage, in an absurd maroon suit and a green top, singing to the rafters. They cut into “Caravan” — with [producer] John Simon waving the Band’s volume up and down, and the horns at their most effective — while Van burned holes in the floor. He was magic, and I thought, Why didn’t he join the Band years ago? More than any other singer, he fit in, his music and theirs made sense together. It was a triumph, and as the song ended Van began to kick his leg into the air out of sheer exuberance, and he kicked his way right offstage like a Rockette. The crowd had given him a fine welcome and they cheered wildly when he left.
Scorsese’s camera caught Van with the barest hint of a smile as he exited stage left. “Hey, Van the Man,” Robbie Robertson exulted. .... [more]

Tending the Shire

Rod Dreher passes along some thoughts about "The Politics Of Frodo Baggins":
.... It is much easier to change the world around us for the worse than it is to change the world within us for the better, and until the world within us is better the world around us will be in bad shape. Because of this, politics is often a terrible way to fix things and often a great way to destroy things, because we ourselves do not truly understand what is good. Tending the ‘inner’ garden, attending to our church, our children, our communities, etc teaches us what is good. When the inner world is transformed the outer world will follow suit. An empire can overcome any political movement, but it cannot overcome even a single saint, and so the greater power to change the world lies within us. .... [more]
I have always been fascinated by politics. I used to tell students that C-SPAN was my favorite channel and election night was my Super Bowl. I believe that we have the responsibility to live out our faith in every aspect of life, including our duty as citizens in a democracy, but I do acknowledge the wisdom of keeping things in perspective. In politics there are no final victories and no final defeats and things do go on.

The Politics Of Frodo Baggins | The American Conservative

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

All those other gospels

Philip Jenkins expresses his annoyance at repeated journalistic ignorance about the formation of the new Testament canon:
.... As I discussed some years ago in my book Hidden Gospels, the fact that a text circulated among the “early Christians” (anywhere from the first through fourth centuries) is irrelevant to what it can tell us about Jesus or his world. ...[T]he reason early church leaders privileged those particular four gospels was that they were so evidently the earliest and most authoritative texts, without serious competition. No body of cranky patriarchs sat around and said, “Well, we have to vote out Mary because it’s, um, a tad sexual. John can stay because it spiritualizes everything, and that’ll be useful in a century or so when we get political power.” If you read the actual church debates over which texts should be canonized or excluded, you will be deeply impressed by the historical logic and good sense they demonstrate, and their powerful sense of history and chronology.

Forgive me for the obvious remark, but they never seriously contemplated adding most of the Nag Hammadi texts because they had not even been written in the mid-second century....

We find possible reference to a Gospel of Judas in the mid-second century, though it is not clear if this is the one that recently came to light. Possibly it was written fifty or a hundred years later. But assume for the sake of argument that it dates from 150. It offers precisely nothing suggesting any independent historical transmission, beyond a second century thinker meditating freely (and wildly) on what he/she has gleaned from one or more of the Four Gospels.

To put this chronology in perspective, it’s the difference between a first hand memoir of (say) a US Army unit in the First World War, written down in 1950, and an article on that same war that I just penned myself, relying wholly on secondary sources. My article might be brilliant, but it has no independent authority whatever for the era it seeks to describe, any more than do the Gospels of Judas or Mary.

All gospels were not created equal.
ALL GOSPELS WERE NOT CREATED EQUAL

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The limits of scientific knowledge

Scientific knowledge is extremely important and the discoveries of science have contributed immeasurably to our prosperity and physical well-being, but scientific knowledge isn't the only kind of knowledge. Darren Hewer indicates "Five Things Science Can’t Explain":
1) Existential Truth: Science cannot prove that you aren’t merely a brain in a jar being manipulated to think this is all actually happening. (Think of something like in “The Matrix”.) It also cannot prove that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age (and with fake memories in your head, and half-digested food in your stomach, etc). However it’s still rational to believe that our memories are true and that the world is real.

2) Moral Truth: Science cannot prove that rape is evil. While it is possible to demonstrate, for example, that there are negative physical or psychological effects of rape, there is no scientific test that can prove it is evil. Science can describe how the natural world is, but moral truth carries an “oughtness” (how things should be) about it that goes beyond what merely is.

3) Logical Truth: Consider the statement “Science is the only way to really know truth.” How could you prove that statement by science? It is actually self-refuting because there is no scientific test you could use to prove that it is true! Science cannot prove logic to be true because it assumes and requires logic in order for it to work.

4) Historical Truth: Science cannot prove that Barack Obama won the 2008 United States presidential election. There is no scientific test we could perform to prove it. We could have an investigation if we wanted to confirm that he did actually win, but the method for proving historical truths is different from testing scientific truths since historical truths are by nature non-repeatable.

5) Experiential Truth: Science cannot prove that your spouse loves you. When asked why so-and-so loves you, you may cite precedent (times when their behavior demonstrates their love for you) but this is a particular type of historical truth. There is no scientific test that can confirm a lifetime of experience of knowing a person.

None of this is meant to criticize science! There’s nothing wrong with the scientific method for testing the kinds of things it was meant to test. However, it would be a mistake to expect it to be able to test everything. There are more intellectual tools available to us than just science, and as the old saying goes, when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail!

For the kinds of truth listed above, science is not deficient in any way; it’s just not the right way to find those particular kinds of truth. .... [more]
Via The Wittenberg Door: Five Things Science Can’t Explain

Five Things Science Can’t Explain « Power to Change

Monday, August 27, 2012

Transient glory

Skye Jethani on the significance of Moses veiling his face:
.... According to the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3, Moses did not hide his face because the people were frightened, but to hide the fact that the glory of God was fading away. Whatever transformation he experienced in God’s presence on the mountain was temporary, and the veil hid its transient nature. Moses’ mountaintop experience was genuine, glorious, and full of God’s presence—but it did not bring lasting transformation.

Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through external experiences. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multimedia theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. Many of us ascend this mountain every Sunday morning wanting to have an experience with God, and many of us leave with a degree of genuine transformation. We feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.”

No doubt many, like Moses, have an authentic encounter with God through these events. But new research indicates another explanation for our spiritual highs.

A University of Washington study has found that megachurch worship experiences actually trigger an “oxytocin cocktail” in the brain that can become chemically addictive. The same has been found at large sporting events and concerts, but attenders to these gatherings don’t usually attribute the “high” to God.

“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshipers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” said Katie Corcoran, a Ph.D. candidate who co-authored the study.

The problem with these mountaintop experiences, whether legitimate (like Moses’) or fabricated, is that the transformation does not last. In a few days time, or maybe as early as lunchtime, the glory begins to fade. The mountaintop experience with God, the event we were certain would change our lives forever, turns out to be another fleeting spiritual high. ....

This pursuit of transformation by consuming external experiences creates worship junkies who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that will not fade. ....

.... If we have an ongoing, internal communion with Christ, then our gatherings will be where we reveal the continual worship that marks our lives. However, if we have no real communion with Christ through his Spirit, we will come to worship seeking a transient dose of glory to carry us along, and we will demand these external events to permanently transform us—something God never intended them to do. .... [more]
Out of Ur: When Worship is Wrong

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Prone to wander..."

From Stuff Christians Like [somewhat reformatted]:
.... The worship leader I talked to said when he performed “Come Thou Fount,” he changed the lyrics. I love that hymn.

.... My favorite verse, the one I found most encouraging, when things felt the darkest in my spiritual walk, was this one:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.
I would like to say that, when I became a Christian, I quit making mistakes. I quit sinning. I quit being “prone to wander,” but the truth is I still fail. More than I’d like to. And the beauty of that song and the honesty of that last verse meant a lot to me.

So what verse was the worship leader changing? That one. His argument? He wasn’t “prone to wander or prone to leave.”

At this point in the conversation, I realized he was not like me. Or Peter. Or David. Or “That’s not my wife, that’s my sister!” Abraham.

He was changing the lyrics to something like, “Prone to worship, prone to praise.”

And I thought about changing them too. Only mine would probably be, “Prone to bolt out the door like a dog if I see it cracked open for but the briefest of seconds, Prone to need grace one thousand times, for the things I promised myself I’d never do again but still did. ” ....

We tell each other we’re not prone to wander. We act like our days of falling down are forever behind us. And we create environments where no one can be honest.

You can’t share your whole life with somebody when the expectation is that you don’t fail.

You can only share the victories. And if you don’t have any victories that day or week, you better act like you do. Because as a Christian, you shouldn’t be prone to wander. And if you have, you just might not be a real Christian after all. [more]
The hymn at Cyberhymnal: Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, and all of the relevant verse:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Why people think Christians are fake. | Stuff Christians Like – Jon Acuff

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"We're all bastards but..."

The Christian Century invited a number of people to state "The gospel in seven words" and received some interesting responses. From the introduction:
In his autobiography Brother to a Dragonfly, Will Campbell recalls how his friend P.D. East had badgered him for a succinct definition of Christianity. East did not want a long or fancy explanation. “I’m not too bright,” he told Campbell. “Keep it simple. In ten words or less, what’s the Christian message?”

Campbell obliged his friend: “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway,” he said. To which East replied, “If you want to try again, you have two words left.” ....

Our respondents were not so blunt in diagnosing the human condition. Many seem determined to make grace, not sin, the prominent feature. Nevertheless, sin is acknowledged in some way. .... [more]
The gospel in seven words | The Christian Century

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Plenty of batteries, just in case

Another good article on books for kids—this time specifically for boys: Martin Cothran, on persuading boys to read:
It is now well-recognized that boys are not reading. What is the problem? Most commentators want to say that boys have an aversion to books. But the problem is quite the opposite: books—modern books, that is—have an aversion to boys. ....

.... The entire educational establishment has tried for over 50 years to force boys into their effeminate mold, and in the process, they’ve succeeded in evacuating literature of all the things boys like in books: action, adventure, danger, bloodletting—and an iron moral code that is taught, not by smarmy sermonizing, but by immersing them in the moral universe of a story about a hero who not only believes in this code, but enforces it with a vengeance. ....

Most boys are born cynics and are rightly suspicious of moralistic platitudes. They respect words only to the extent that they see them followed by actions. Tell them (in mere words) what the right thing to do is, and they will look at you suspiciously and walk away. Do the right thing—preferably at the risk of your own person or reputation, and they will follow you in zealous allegiance.

The older authors of books for boys knew this: they forsook the sermonizing for the story of men in action. G.A. Henty, Johnston McCulley, Anthony Hope, H. Rider Haggard, P.C. Wren, Howard Pyle, C. S. Forester, as well as Western authors like Louis L’Amour and Max Brand—these were authors boys not only didn’t avoid, but sought out. Even a few female authors were on to this secret about boys: Baronness Orczy, she of Scarlet Pimpernel fame, being the most notable, as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder. Their books were once illumined by flashlights under bed covers so that, late at night, when they were supposed to be asleep, the young male reader could find out what happened next. To do the same with most modern therapeutic fiction would be a waste of batteries. ....
And he offers some more suggestions, among which:
  • Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (and anything else Wilder ever wrote)
  • Robin Hood, by Roger Lancelyn Green
  • King Arthur, by Roger Lancelyn Green
  • Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Mask of Zorro, by Johnston McCulley (and the rest of the Zorro books)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel and El Dorado, by Baroness Orczy (and the rest of the Scarlet Pimpernel books)
  • Men of Iron, by Howard Pyle (and anything else Pyle ever wrote)
  • Shane, by Jack Shaeffer
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
  • Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
  • The Jungle Books, by Rudyard Kipling
  • Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tell your boy to read them. And when you send him to bed, tell him to go to sleep—but make sure there are plenty of flashlight batteries around the house. Just in case he needs them. [more]
The Dangerous Article for Boys | Catholic Lane

Encountering the living God

Jason Helopoulos considers the possibility of "casual worship":
...[L]et’s abandon the word “casual” as a descriptor of our worship services. Church dinners can be casual. Sunday School classes are casual. Let’s even call the church dress code casual (As many point out to me, I am a work of progress in this regard!). But let’s never call worship casual. Because worshiping God is anything but casual!
And earlier:
Worship is an encounter with the living, true, holy, sovereign God of the universe. And just think about encounters with God in Scripture that elicit worship: Moses takes off his shoes (Exodus 3), Israel is fearful (Exodus 20), Isaiah quakes (Isaiah 6), Job silences his lips (Job 40), John falls down as though dead (Revelation 1). Even the elders and angels, who are worshiping day in and day out before the throne, aren’t casual in their worship (Isaiah 6; Revelation 4). Casual worship of the living, true, holy, sovereign God of the universe just doesn’t exist! ....
Casual Worship – Kevin DeYoung

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Once upon a time

Jack climbed the beanstalk
In 1917 the Frederick A. Stokes company published Stokes' Wonder Book Of Fairy Tales, edited by Elisabeth Vernon Quinn and illustrated by Florence Choate and Elizabeth Curtis. The book has become scarce, but it has just been re-produced by National Review as The National Review Wonder Book of Fairy Tales, with lots of stories and 125 color and “wood-cut” illustrations [probably like the one here from the original book]. The stories include:
Hansel and Gretel • Little Red Riding-Hood • The Traveling Musicians • The Three Bears • Little Snow-White • The Sleeping Beauty • Aladdin, or The Wonderful Lamp • The Ugly Duckling • Cinderella • Big Claus and Little Claus • Puss-In-Boots • Rapunzel • Jack and The Beanstalk • The Tinder-Box • Beauty and The Beast • Hop O’ My Thumb • The Valiant Little Tailor • The Wild Swans • Rose-Red and Rose-White • “What The Goodman Does Is Sure To Be Right!” • The Enchanted Stag • The Goose Girl • Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves • Rumpelstiltskin • The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats • Dick Whittington •The Princess on The Pea • The Babes in The Wood • Tom Thumb • The Elves and the Shoemaker • The Tale of Peter Rabbit • Bluebeard • The Frog Prince • Jack the Giant-Killer • The White Cat • Goody Two Shoes • Old English • Diamonds and Toads • and many more
This is the kind of book that makes me wish for someone very young to whom I could read aloud. If you find this book tempting it can be ordered here for $25.

National Review Store — The National Review Wonder Book of Fairy Tales

Reading

I read for fun and for information, but Lifehacker provides some utilitarian reasons for doing so in "Want to Be a Great Leader? Start Reading":
The National Endowment for the Arts has found that "reading has declined among every group of adult Americans," and for the first time in American history, "less than half of the U.S. adult American population is reading literature." This is terrible for leadership....
  • Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through "a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills."
  • Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.
  • Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others.... And any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve his or her leadership and management ability.
  • ...[A]n active literary life can make you more personally effective by keeping you relaxed and improving health. Reading is a great way to relax, as reading for six minutes can reduce stress by 68%, and some studies suggest reading may even fend off Alzheimer's, extending the longevity of the mind.
Image courtesy of Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Want to Be a Great Leader? Start Reading

"Soli Deo Gloria"

Kevin DeYoung's blog posts this morning a guest entry by Ben Falconer encouraging believers to learn to appreciate and enjoy the enormous body of classical music that is part of the Christian heritage. "...[T]here is much in the classical repertoire that brings great honor to the Lord through the Biblical and Christ-centered lyrics that are set to soaring melodies.":
...[W]here would I encourage a believer to begin listening? I would start with a genre called oratorio. .... The reason I am drawn to oratorio is that we have so many to choose from that are explicitly Christian in their lyrics. As I review some of my favorite music, I am again amazed how composers took straight Bible passages and set them to incredible music. Composers like Bach, who made his living as a young man employed by various churches, truly were the worship leaders of their day.
And he lists his "top 5." (I inserted the YouTube performances):
5. Joseph Haydn’s The Creation – Of the top 5, this is the only one that is not primarily a biblical text set to music. Instead, Haydn’s libretto is almost entirely an interpretive extrapolation of the brief Scriptural account in Genesis 1. This work can be fun and lighthearted as God calls into existence all of his wondrous creation.


4. Johannes Brahm’s German Requiem – Brahms departed from the typical Latin requiem text and chose instead passages from Luther’s German Bible as the basis for his glorious funeral work. Brahms is at the top of my list of romantic composers and I love listening to any of his music....


3. Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah – .... The music is not as intricate or interesting as either earlier baroque or later romantic works, but what Elijah lacks in musical depth, it more than makes up for it in terms of conveying the drama of the events in Elijah’s life. The showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is worth listening to over and over. It helps that this work is in English, so it is easy to follow.


2. George Frideric Handel’s Messiah – .... From the opening tenor recitative “Comfort ye my people” all the way through to the closing chorus “Worthy is the Lamb”, I am taken up in the prophecy, life, death, and resurrection of my Lord. ....


1. Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion – .... The recitative text comes straight from the Gospel account and involves mainly the evangelist (narrator) and Jesus. This music is accompanied with minimum instrumentation and moves the drama of Jesus’ last hours along. Bach then inserts solo arias and chorus numbers to comment on the unfolding drama (you will recognize “O sacred head now wounded”). ....


Falconer also suggests how parents can teach young children to appreciate the music:
One of our practices we began a number of years ago is to give each child a different classical music CD for Christmas. Our aim is twofold: 1) to expose them to and encourage a love for a variety of different music from a young age, and 2) to give them an assortment of some of the great works of musical art so that by the time they leave our home, their musical collection is stocked with the classics. Thus far, our kids’ favorites have been:
  • Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, a playful introduction to a number of key instruments in the orchestra with memorable melodies and a plot the kids all love.
  • Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, the popular baroque violin concertos are thoroughly entertaining for children and adults alike. It’s no surprise this is a classic!
  • The Classical Child at the Opera, which has selections from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, and one of my all-time favorite songs (of any genre): Lakme’s “Flower Duet.” This is a staple in our car for any length of trip. [more]
An Ear for the Classics – Kevin DeYoung

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

20th century mysteries

The fiction I read for pleasure is almost entirely in the mystery/thriller genre. The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association has compiled a list of their "100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century" and, although I fall far short of having read all of them, I very much agree with them about those I have read. A few of their selections that I know and heartily recommend:
  • Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke
  • Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios
  • John Buchan, The 39 Steps
  • Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep
  • Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
  • Michael Connelly, The Concrete Blonde
  • Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • Dick Francis, Whip Hand
  • Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
  • Tony Hillerman, A Thief of Time
  • P.D. James, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
  • Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty
  • John D. MacDonald, The Deep Blue Good-by
  • Philip MacDonald, The List of Adrian Messenger
  • Ngaio Marsh, Death of a Peer
  • Ellis Peters, One Corpse Too Many
  • Ellery Queen, Cat of Many Tails
  • Dorothy L. Sayers, Murder Must Advertise
  • Ross Thomas, Chinaman's Chance
When I find an author I like I tend to read everything he wrote that I can find. Each of those above have authored other mysteries — in some cases many others — and I have enjoyed all that I have read.

"...But only God can make a tree"

Walter Russell Mead describes an environmental effort everyone can celebrate:
.... The American chestnut tree was once king of the Eastern forest. Its sturdy hardwood, its beautiful shape, and its nourishing nuts aided Americans’ construction, crafts, and cooking for hundreds of years. Tragically, a fungus from Asia killed billions of trees, and only a small number remain today.

A group of biologists from Syracuse may rewrite that history. Using genetic modification techniques, they have apparently found a way to protect native American chestnut stock from the blight. The Wall Street Journal reports that the massive restoration project has begun:
The efforts were picked up again in the 1980s by scientists and plant lovers who founded the American Chestnut Foundation. They applied a new method, called backcross breeding, which was first used for corn that imparts preferable traits over several generations.

The foundation started planting their new chestnuts—one-sixteenth Chinese and the rest American—in Virginia in 2006. More than 100,000 of the trees are growing across 19 states, with plans for millions more in what the group calls the country’s largest ecological restoration effort. Thousands of trees were inoculated with the fungus in June 2011, with 20% showing strong resistance and 40% with a more moderate amount, foundation president Bryan Burhans said. Scientists will select for the strongest resistances when breeding future generations, he said.
This is true environmentalism in action: conservation restoring the beauty and the riches of the world we have been given. ....
Next let's reverse the effects of Dutch Elm disease. And save the Ash trees.

 Scientists Reverse America’s Worst Ecological Disaster | Via Meadia

Monday, August 20, 2012

Making prudent and difficult choices

Paul Ryan's candidacy for Vice-President has brought forth a very vigorous discussion of whether his economic proposals are compatible with his Catholic convictions. Some Catholics are actually praying for his "conversion." Several Catholic prelates [see here and here] have indicated that—while they don't necessarily agree with his proposals and don't endorse candidates—there is nothing that he has proposed that is in conflict with his responsibility as a Catholic in public office. From a recent column by Catholic Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver:
A married friend of mine is loaded with debt. His home is double mortgaged. His wallet is full of credit cards, all of which carry substantial balances.

My friend claims not to enjoy racking up debt. He doesn't seem to think he has a choice. He pays the tuition of his college aged children, and he supports his family in a comfortable lifestyle. His children take private art and music lessons, and he pays the rent of his unemployed nephew. But as much as he desires to love his children, he isn't doing them any favors.

Eventually, for my friend, the debts will come due. When they do, his children will be in a difficult place. Never having sacrificed, they haven’t built or saved money, or prepared for financial independence. My friend’s imprudence will cripple no one more severely than his children. ....

Knowing what is coming; few would say that my friend is acting with compassion, or with a Christian sense of responsibility.

Christian responsibility—expressed sometimes as stewardship—is the practice of making prudent and difficult judgments. It is the recognition that we cannot give everything we wish to, we cannot spend what we do not have, and we cannot borrow what we can’t repay. ....

I am not a policy expert. I do not know whether Paul Ryan’s fiscal plans are the right plans for America’s present or her future. I cannot, nor would I, endorse him or any other candidate. But claims that Paul Ryan’s plan run deeply counter to Catholic social teaching are unfounded and unreasonable. Some criticisms are so insidious that one wonders whether the critics have actually read Ryan’s plans.

For Catholics there are certain social issues on which the answers are firm and absolute. Catholics must recognize the dignity of the unborn, and the injustice of legalized killing. Catholics must recognize the dignity of human sexuality and the immutability of marriage between man and woman. Catholics must recognize the preferential option—the Lord’s love—for the poor. These issues must inform the decisions Catholic leaders make in proposing or supporting policy.

Beyond these non-negotiable principles, there is room for considerable debate on particular policy choices or initiatives. But a primary element of the debate for Catholics—for all reasonable adults—must be the long-term consequences of our choices. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica insists that strategic decisions take place in light of our end, or purpose, and the means to get there—rather than the dictates of immediate sentimental inclinations. The just means, he says, include the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity—that is, authentic fraternity with the poor, and real respect for the family and the local community. .... [more]
In defense of Christian responsibility - By Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Baptist catechism?

When I was growing up the kids I knew who went to "Catechism" were Catholics and we Baptists were "non-creedal" which was somehow the opposite. The "Desiring God" site offers, free, a pdf of "A Baptist Catechism" — with Commentary from John Piper," and Piper argues its appropriateness for Baptists as he introduces it:
WHAT IS A CATECHISM?

In 1 Corinthians 14:19 Paul says, “In the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” In Galatians 6:6 he says, “Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.” Acts 18:25 says that Apollos “has been instructed in the way of the Lord.”

In each of these verses the Greek word for “instruct” or “teach” is katecheo. From this word we get our English word “catechize.” It simply means to teach biblical truth in an orderly way. Generally this is done with questions and answers accompanied by biblical support and explanation.

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THIS CATECHISM?

This is a slightly revised version of “The Baptist Catechism” first put forth by Baptists in 1689 in Great Britain. It was adopted by the Philadelphia Baptist Association in 1742. It is patterned on the well-known reformed Westminster Catechism. The few comments in the earlier questions are meant to help parents make things plain to their children.

IS THERE A BIBLICAL PATTERN OF DOCTRINE?

Several texts teach that there is. For example, in Romans 6:17 Paul gives thanks that “you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were committed.” 2 Timothy 1:13 says, “Follow the pattern of sound words which you heard from me.” Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us.” And Acts 20:27 says, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

So it appears that there was a body of authoritative instruction and even a way of teaching it in the early church.
A Baptist Catechism [pdf] It strikes me that this might be a good discussion starter for adult classes - to what extent are these things we actually believe? And, if we don't, should we? This catechism reflects a "reformed" theology and would have been used by "Particular" Baptists. Did "General" Baptists have anything comparable? Seventh Day Baptists of either tendency will have some difficulty with how the Fourth Commandment is explained on page 24, although each might approve the explanation of how the Sabbath should be observed.

"The Baptist Catechism" — with Commentary from John Piper - Desiring God

Friday, August 17, 2012

"There is no one righteous"

James Calvin Schaap, in "There is no one righteous," Part I of The Dakota War of 1862 [Part II comes on August 20] tells the story of how the Sioux Indian wars began with the temptation to steal some eggs.
In August of 1862, four young Wahpeton men return, empty-handed, from a hunting party, when they discover a nest of chicken eggs along a fence not far from a white man's house, a man named Robinson Jones. The Wahpetons are hungry, but one of them says they better be careful because if they eat the eggs they're going to risk getting Mr. Jones angry.

Another says that being afraid of the white man is something he's sick and tired of because life hasn't been all that great with all those white people moving into and onto their land, treaty or no treaty.

Big talk, another one says. What are you going to do about it?

You think I'm scared? If you think I'm scared, then let's go over to that house right now and kill them—Robinson Jones and all those white people.

Let's just shoot them down.

So they do. Brown Wing, Breaking Up, Killing Ghost, and Runs Against Something When Crawling—four Dakota men. ...[T]hey eventually shot and killed Robinson Jones, Howard Baker, and Baken Viranus Webster, dropped them dead in cold blood, then turned on Mrs. Jones and Clara Wilson, an adopted daughter: men, women, and children, dead.

It was August 19, 1862, not quite noon, 40 miles south of Acton, Minnesota, on the frontier of America, at a time when the nation was deeply at war with itself. That horrific incident filled the Minnesota River valley with blood, created a month of sheer horror. ....

Robinson Jones didn't ask to be murdered, nor did his adopted daughter. They were victims of what was to them totally unforeseen Dakota lawlessness and brutality.

Or were they? Who of the Dakota had asked white people to take over their land? Who of the Dakota had written up treaties that were sheer lies? Who of the Dakota had asked Europeans to come in and destroy their culture? .... [read on]
The link to Part 2: The Dakota War of 1862

The Dakota War of 1862 | Books and Culture

Thursday, August 16, 2012

At the "Bird and Baby"

Via Brandywine Books, "The Inklings Corner at the Eagle and Child Pub (the 'Bird and Baby'), Oxford," where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and others met for beer and talk. I've been there.

A conscience well-formed

Madison's Catholic Bishop, Robert Morlino, instructs those in his diocese about how they should apply their faith to their political actions:
.... It is not for the bishop or priests to endorse particular candidates or political parties. Any efforts on the part of any bishop or priest to do so should be set aside. And you can be assured that no priest who promotes a partisan agenda is acting in union with me or with the Universal Church.

It is the role of bishops and priests to teach principles of our faith, such that those who seek elected offices, if they are Catholics, are to form their consciences according to these principles about particular policy issues.

However, the formation of conscience regarding particular policy issues is different depending on how fundamental to the ecology of human nature or the Catholic faith a particular issue is. Some of the most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property.

Violations of the above involve intrinsic evil — that is, an evil which cannot be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. These evils are examples of direct pollution of the ecology of human nature and can be discerned as such by human reason alone. Thus, all people of good will who wish to follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism.

In these most fundamental matters, a well-formed Catholic conscience, or the well-formed conscience of a person of good will, simply follows the conclusions demanded by the ecology of human nature and the reasoning process. A Catholic conscience can never take exception to the prohibition of actions which are intrinsically evil. Nor may a conscience well-formed by reason or the Catholic faith ever choose to vote for someone who clearly, consistently, persistently promotes that which is intrinsically evil.

However, a conscience well-formed according to reason or the Catholic faith, must also make choices where intrinsic evil is not involved. How best to care for the poor is probably the finest current example of this, though another would be how best to create jobs at a time when so many are suffering from the ravages of unemployment. In matters such as these, where intrinsic evil is not involved, the rational principles of solidarity and subsidiarity come into play. The principle of solidarity, simply stated, means that every human being on the face of the earth is my brother and my sister, my “neighbor” in the biblical sense. At the same time, the time-tested best way for assisting our neighbors throughout the world should follow the principle of subsidiarity. That means the problem at hand should be addressed at the lowest level possible — that is, the level closest to the people in need. That again, is simply the law of human reason. ....
Some of the terms Bishop Morlino uses are foreign to this Baptist and Protestants are perhaps less inclined to be quite so definitive about which public policies are compatible with the faith, but I like what he teaches. Catholic social teaching, as he propounds it, is perfectly in harmony with how I apply my own Christian convictions to political decision-making.

I am, by the way, violating Bishop Morlino's wishes by quoting his column: "This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop."

Subsidiarity, solidarity, and the lay mission

What is gospel?

FAQ

Frank J. Fleming explains Christianity to the uncomprehending world:
There’s a brand new thing out there that has been confusing and frightening people lately: Christians. The first prominent Christian anyone ever heard of was probably Tim Tebow, and his appearance on the national scene was quite alarming to many, as his “Christian” behavior was seen as quite odd and new. More recently, people have learned about Dan Cathy and are disturbed to discover that some businesses may possibly be owned by Christians who express Christian-type views. And then there is Olympic champion gymnast Gabby Douglas, whose constant profession of faith in God is so frightening that an extremely bewildered author wrote an article about her in Salon.

Since ignorance is what leads us to fear something (unless we’re talking about platypuses, as the more you know about them, the scarier they are — did you know they’re poisonous?), I thought I’d write an FAQ about Christians to help explain what these strange new people are, so everyone won’t be all freaked out about them. ....
For instance:

.... Why are Christians always judging others?

Because Christians are a subset of people, they share the faults all people have and tend to get judgmental at times.

No. This is something unique to bad Christians. They are all closed-minded, ignorant, hypocritical bigots who are stupid and dumb. And they judge people.

Again, these are faults all people have. Christians often fall short of their goal, but the point is they keep trying.

I’m pretty sure they’re judgmental. Like that Tim Tebow, I’m pretty sure he’s judging me.

I’m not even sure he’s aware you exist.

Yeah, but the way he lives his life all “holy” and “nice” makes me really feel like he’s judging me for not doing the same.

I’m pretty sure Tim Tebow is just trying to do his best in the eyes of God and isn’t try to make you feel bad by it.

Still, I’d really feel better if he was caught doing something really licentious. It would make me feel less bad about myself. ....

Are Christians allowed to own businesses?

Under current understanding of the law, they are in fact allowed to own businesses, and many do.

But they’re not allowed to talk about all their weird Christany stuff while owning a business, right?

Most people would consider that to fall under our First Amendment rights — those protecting both freedom of speech and religion. Thus, people should be allowed to talk about their Christian beliefs without fearing government reprisal, such as politicians trying to block them from opening businesses. ....

But what if it’s a super hateful thing the Christians say, like being against gay marriage?

While homosexuals have often been treated hatefully (and hatefulness is certainly not a Christian value), there’s nothing hateful in opposing gay marriage. Christians simply believe that the Bible clearly states what God intends a marriage to be and want to respect that and not replace it with their own wants or judgments.

No, it’s hateful. So hateful, I’m going to write NoH8 on myself and put tape on my mouth for inexplicable reasons.

If you want to believe it’s hateful, you can, but that will prevent any rational discussion on the issue.

Hate! Hateful! Hater hate hate hate!

Now you’re just… let’s move on. .... [more]
PJ Media » An FAQ on Christianity for the Unbeliever

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Somebody tell Vanderbilt

"It is 'common sense, not discrimination' for a religious group to want its leaders to agree with its core beliefs" — uh, yes — someone tell Vanderbilt. From Christianity Today Liveblog:
...[T]he State University of New York at Buffalo has re-recognized InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) as an official student organization, just in time for the start of the 2012-13 school year.

After being de-recognized as a club amid a leadership scandal earlier this year, IVCF regained official status on July 27. SUNY Buffalo’s Student-Wide Judiciary ruled that it is "common sense, not discrimination” for a religious group to want its leaders to agree with its core beliefs.

According to the SUNY Student Association policy, an organization cannot exclude students from becoming members. IVCF requires its student officers to agree with the organization’s doctrinal and purpose statements, but has no restrictive membership clause. ....
Christianity Today Liveblog: InterVarsity Re-Instated As New York University Decides Leadership Policy Is "Common Sense, Not Discrimination"

The life or health of the mother

If this response in the UK House of Lords is at all comparable to the American experience, then much of the "pro-choice" argument disappears. If we eliminated all abortions except those for the life or health of the mother [and even allowed those for rape and incest] it would make up a tiny percentage of those committed each year. The question and response:
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty's Government how many abortions have been performed under the provisions of the Abortion Act 1967 (as amended by Section 37 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990) to the latest date available; and how many of those abortions were to save the life of the pregnant woman.[HL1563]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): Between 1968 and 2011 (the latest year for which figures are available) there have been 6.4 million abortions performed on residents of England and Wales. Of these, 143 (0.006%) were performed under Section 1(4), ie where the termination is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

A further 23,778 (0.37%) abortions were performed under Section 1(1)(c), ie that the continuance of pregnancy would involve the risk to the life of the woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated.

Lords Hansard text for 19 Jul 201219 July 2012 (pt 0001)

Monday, August 13, 2012

The itch that can't be scratched.

Christopher R. Beha writes about the “New New Atheists” among whom he places Alain de Botton, Sam Harris [who was also a "New Atheist"], and Alex Rosenberg, author of The Atheist Guide to Reality:
Rosenberg...insists that doing away with religion means doing away with most of what comes with it: a sense of order in the universe, the hope that life has some inherent meaning, even the belief in free will. If it’s true, as Rosenberg insists in contradiction of Harris and Botton, that we can’t have the benefits of belief without belief itself, this raises another question. Setting aside matters of truth and falsehood, are we not better off believing? Broadly speaking, atheists seem to fall into two camps on this matter. There are disappointed disbelievers, those who would like to believe in God but find themselves unable. Then there are those who find the very idea of such a being to be an outrage. ....

I happen to count myself among the disappointed disbelievers, which is why I was interested in the attempts of Harris and Botton to salvage some religious splendor for the secularists. So I was only more disappointed to find Rosenberg’s insistence that such efforts were hopeless far more convincing than the efforts themselves. During an email exchange with Rosenberg, I asked him which camp of atheists he fell into. His response acknowledged my impulse: “There is . . . in us all the hankering for a satisfactory narrative to make ‘life, the universe and everything’ (in Douglas Adams’s words) hang together in a meaningful way. When people disbelieve in God and see no alternative, they often find themselves wishing they could believe, since now they have an itch and no way to scratch it.”

"It's a terrible thing to have an itch you can't scratch." Leon in Blade Runner
So what are we to do about this unscratchable itch? Rosenberg’s answer in his book is basically to ignore it. The modern world offers lots of help in this effort. To begin with, there are pharmaceuticals; Rosenberg strongly encourages those depressed by the emptiness of the Godless world to avail themselves of mood-altering drugs. .... [more]
Wikipedia summarizes Pascal's Wager thus: "...there's more to be gained from wagering on the existence of God than from atheism, and that a rational person should live as though God exists, even though the truth of the matter cannot actually be known." But if you reject that argument there are always "mood-altering drugs" as an alternative.

The Literary Response to Radical Atheism—By Christopher R. Beha (Harper's Magazine)

"It is no small thing to turn the other cheek..."

A response by Tim Kelleher to some recent essays about Just War Theory:
I am...troubled by Christians who can ascertain divine warrant for say, capital punishment (an issue that, aside from his own death by such means, Jesus addressed at best obliquely), yet find ambiguity in such daunting Gospel moments as “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” ....

.... While it is no small feat to turn the other cheek, it is another thing when the cheek being struck is not one’s own but that of a loved one—or an innocent stranger. I like to imagine I could rise to the challenge of Gandhi and King’s model with respect to my own hide. I am decidedly less sure when met with hypotheticals, like whether my killing a dictator would spare millions suffering and death. ....
One Eternal Day: Aquinas and just war

Just War, In Theory and Practice » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Animal Farm

Via Instapundit, the 1954 animated film version of George Orwell's Animal Farm. I've seen this several times and believe I must have used it in class in my early years of teaching. It's quite well done and only departs at the end from Orwell's rather more pessimistic vision.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

For the most vulnerable

Via Alex Chediak, Paul Ryan on the right to life:
Now, after America has won the last century’s hard-fought struggles against unequal human rights in the forms of totalitarianism abroad and segregation at home, I cannot believe any official or citizen can still defend the notion that an unborn human being has no rights that an older person is bound to respect. I do know that we cannot go on forever feigning agnosticism about who is human. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” The freedom to choose is pointless for someone who does not have the freedom to live. So the right of “choice” of one human being cannot trump the right to “life” of another. How long can we sustain our commitment to freedom if we continue to deny the very foundation of freedom—life—for the most vulnerable human beings?
The Cause of Life Can’t be Severed from the Cause of Freedom

Honor your unbelieving parents

My parents were, and relatives are [to the best of my knowledge] all Christians, so, although I have friends whose circumstances are different, I don't share Darren Carlson's experience: "Sharing the Gospel with the People Who Changed Your Diaper":
.... When I signed up for a discipleship program out of college my Dad thought I was being brainwashed. When someone shared the gospel with my wife at UNC-Greensboro and invited her to a Baptist church, she had never seen such joy and became a believer. Her parents thought she joined a cult. A few weeks after her conversion she was part of YoungLife.

Our parents, our sisters, their husbands, and their children do not share our faith. Marriage has certainly brought out the stark contrasts in our lives, and the arrival of children even more so. We are not experts on how to share the gospel or how to relate to our families now that we have believed in Jesus and been saved. Family scenarios are diverse, and there is no one shoe that fits all situations. Still, knowing that many hold beliefs in stark contrast to their families I offer these suggestions. .... [read on]
Sharing the Gospel with the People Who Changed Your Diaper – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Friday, August 10, 2012

Liddell — after the Olympics

The Absolute Surrender site is devoted to a film project which I very much hope comes to fruition. The project's description:
The Film is based on the life story of Eric Liddell, the subject of the highly acclaimed and successful CHARIOTS OF FIRE. Following his Olympic success, he returned to China on the eve of World War II to join his family and continue his missionary work at tremendous personal sacrifice.
I previously posted about Eric Liddell here. His service as a missionary in China is — from a Christian's viewpoint — a much greater witness to faith than that brief portion of his life we know from Chariots of Fire.

The site also includes information about the film makers. The script was written by a Lutheran pastor, Eric Eichinger:
This summer, Eichinger traveled to Great Britain and Canada to interview Eric Liddell's daughters and nieces as a part of a video series launched on Absolute Surrender’s website this week. Along with conversations with family members, Eichinger provides rare footage of little known locations and facts as he follows in the footsteps of Eric Liddell. His goal is to bring awareness to the project and Liddell's remarkable legacy.
Eichinger is associated in the project with Howie Klausner whose films include Soul Surfer.

Absolute Surrender

Ratio Christi

http://ratiochristi.org
There are several good college student oriented evangelical organizations including InterVarsity and Cru [Campus Crusade]. Ratio Christi appears to be another, with the specific mission of providing students with the apologetic arguments they may need to sustain and share their convictions in a sometimes hostile secular environment. From the Ratio Christi site:
Ratio Christi (Latin for ‘The Reason of Christ’) is a global movement that equips university students and faculty to give historical, philosophical, and scientific reasons for following Jesus Christ. Bringing together faith and reason in order to establish the intellectual voice of Christ in the University, Ratio Christi is placing Christian apologetics clubs at universities around the world. We unashamedly defend the veracity of God, the Bible, and Christ’s resurrection and engage in the battle for the mind.
Thanks to Tom Gilson for the reference.

Ratio Christi

"Murder before the birth"

Although modern biology has dispelled notions of "quickening" and demonstrated the continuity of human development from the point of conception, thus reinforcing the humanity of the unborn person, the Christian case against abortion has been made since the earliest days of the Church — long before such evidence was possible. Charles Pope has been compiling "Ancient Testimonies Against Abortion." Selections from his post:
The Didache (“The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) ca 110 AD. Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion. (2:2)…The Way of Death is filled with people who are…murderers of children and abortionists of God’s creatures. (5:1-2) ....

Athenagoras the Athenian (To Marcus Aurelius), ca 150 AD: “We say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion…, [For we] regard the very fœtus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care… (# 35).

Clement of Alexandria: (circa 150 – 215 AD) Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of a perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, if order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings. Paedagogus, 2 ....

Tertullian (circa 160 – 240 AD): …we are not permitted, since murder has been prohibited to us once and for all, even to destroy …the fetus in the womb. It makes no difference whether one destroys a life that has already been born or one that is in the process of birth. Apology (9:7-8)

Tertullian (circa 160-240 AD): [John the Baptist and Jesus] were both alive while still in the womb. Elizabeth rejoiced as the infant leaped in her womb; Mary glorifies the Lord because Christ within inspired her. Each mother recognizes her child and is known by her child who is alive, being not merely souls but also spirits. De Aninta 26:4 ....

St. Ambrose: (339 to 397 AD) The poor expose their children, the rich kill the fruit of their own bodies in the womb, lest their property be divided up, and they destroy their own children in the womb with murderous poisons. and before life has been passed on, it is annihilated. Hexaemeron”, (5, 18, 58)

St. John Chrysostom (circa 340 – 407 AD): Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth? .... Why then do you abuse the gift of God and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the place of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? Homily 24 on Romans

St. Jerome (circa 342-420 AD): ….Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder. Letter 22:13 .... [more]
Via Gene Veith :"The early church on abortion"

Ancient Testimonies Against Abortion | Archdiocese of Washington

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Religious liberty in the "Show Me" state

The citizens of Missouri decided this week to reinforce in their state constitution an interpretation of religious liberty which, until recently, would have been taken for granted. "Missouri 'Right to Pray' amendment passes with large majority":
.... About 83 percent of voters, almost 780,000 people, favored the measure while 17 percent were opposed.

Amendment 2 says that government will not impose religion on Missouri residents or force any citizen to participate in religious activity. It also secures the right of individual or corporate prayer in public or private so long as the prayer does not disturb the peace or disrupt public meetings.

It guarantees elected officials the right to pray on government premises and public property.

The amendment allows students to express their religious beliefs in schoolwork, to opt out of school requirements that conflict with those beliefs, and to exercise their beliefs in private, voluntary and non-disruptive ways. ....
The amendment was, of course, opposed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri and Southern Illinois said that the amendment is "“possibly unconstitutional in its application, so now we’re headed for the courts.” They really do seem committed to restricting religious liberty in the public sphere. Will the federal courts find this amendment to Missouri's constitution consistent with the First Amendment?

The amendment [pdf].

From Christianity Today
.... Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have questioned how disturbance or disruption would later be defined. What if one person's "right to pray" intrudes on another's right to abstain from prayer, or to pray according to the tenets of his or her own faith? ....
I don't think I will ever understand how hearing a prayer forces anyone to pray any more than hearing the President speak can force me to be a liberal.

Missouri 'Right to Pray' amendment passes with large majority :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

"After strange gods"

R.R. Reno observes that "many, many influential writers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries harbored anti-Semitic sentiments," among them T.S. Eliot:
.... Eliot believed that human beings flourish best when subject to the authority of a specific tradition. It’s an idea he gave the most forceful expression to in AFTER STRANGE GODS, a series of lectures he gave in 1933. In those lectures, “tradition” has blood and soil connotations, and in a passing comment Eliot expresses the concern that “free-thinking Jews” undermine organic communities and their authoritative traditions.

The charge that Eliot’s entire poetic and critical project is implicated in anti-Semitism reflects a much larger modern liberal syllogism. Commitments to authority leads to authoritarianism, which gets expressed politically in Fascism, and leads to the gas chambers. Put in less dire terms: a commitment to authority necessarily involves drawing lines. Some things are “orthodox,” to use Eliot’s term, and some “heretical.” This is inherently “discriminatory,” and reinforces our malign tendency toward ethnocentrism, and etc. In this way of thinking, the charge of anti-Semitism is meant as a synecdoche. It points to the authoritarian consequences of a larger commitment to authority. The same often holds for charges of patriarchy, colonialism, and homophobia. To assert a normative claim–this is good, that is evil–that’s the fundamental crime.

Put in these broad terms the modern liberal outlook seems crazy, because it denies any strong moral claims. It’s a denial we saw in literary studies when the very idea of a canon was criticized and rejected. But modern conservatism, which Eliot represented and tried to theorize, really does present a problem. Where does the “free-thinking Jew” (or for that matter any heterodox person) fit into a world organized around orthodoxy? ....
Russell Kirk, who wrote a book about Eliot, addressed the question of Eliot, After Strange Gods, anti-Semitism, and tradition in a Touchstone essay from 1991:
.... Fifteen hundred copies of the first edition were printed in New York; no later edition has been published in this country. Why have these lively lectures been virtually suppressed? Chiefly because of an aside on page 20. There Eliot is discussing the conditions necessary for a tradition to develop and survive, with particular reference to Christian tradition and to Virginia. For tradition to endure, he remarks,
The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate. What is still more important is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.
.... [T]his alleged “anti-Semitism” was merely an illustration of the principle that a culture—which arises from a cult—cannot well abide two radically different religions. It would be equally true that a community of orthodox Jews would be distressed and resentful, were they to find themselves beset by a Comus’s rout of free-thinkers nominally Christian. The religion, or anti-religion, of the “free-thinking Jews” that Eliot had in mind was not Judaism, but rather secular humanism....

There being nothing more in the pages of After Strange Gods about Jews, whether free-thinking or orthodox, it is absurd to cry anathema and to keep from others’ eyes this outspoken little book. Does literature have an ethical end? Should books be judged by the moral suppositions they implicitly affirm or deny? Do Good and Evil matter? And may the operations of the Evil Spirit (capital letters Eliot’s) be discerned among us in the twentieth century? May they be descried, indeed, among men of letters whose talents are high and whose private characters are commendable? These questions are raised perceptively in After Strange Gods.

As orthodoxy had been Samuel Johnson’s doxy, so was she Eliot’s, in 1933 and so long as he lived. .... [more]
The full text of After Strange Gods can be found here.

T.S. Eliot and Anti-Semitism » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog, Touchstone Archives: T. S. Eliot On Literary Morals

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Not a historian

Those who have been paying attention know that David Barton doesn't get much respect from actual students of history. Greg Forster provides more evidence [if such is needed] why that is true:
World magazine breaks the story about conservative Christians who view David Barton of Wallbuilders as an embarrassment. The focus of the current controversy is Barton’s new book on Jefferson. My friend Jay Richards doesn’t mince words; he says this book and Barton’s other books and videos are full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”

I’m not a scholar of Thomas Jefferson, but I am a scholar of John Locke. Barton has an article about Locke on his website, so I thought I’d weigh in with my opinion on whether it matches Jay’s description of Barton’s methods. It does, and then some. .... [read on]
David Barton’s Errors » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Learning from Pooh

Maria Konnikova illustrates some of "What Grown-Ups Can Learn From Kids' Books," with The Little Prince, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and Winnie-the-Pooh. From her comments on Pooh:
...[T]he Winnie-the-Pooh stories offer astute character studies of some of society's most recognizable personality types.

Who hasn't met an Eeyore, the endless worrywart and eternal pessimist, who believes that the grass is the same dull brown no matter what side you're on? Eeyore is the one who, in response to Pooh's "how are you," offers a "not very how." And just contrast his and Pooh's approach to the Mystery of the Missing Tail. "You must have left it somewhere," says Pooh simply. "Somebody must have taken it," counters Eeyore. Eeyore is the sardonic one. And we shan't blame him if it rains.

And what group doesn't have a Rabbit, the doer and planner, the busybody who needs to ensure that everyone is doing just what they're supposed to be, when and how they are supposed to be doing it? Rabbit, the ever-practical. ....

There's Owl, the pompous scholar and aspiring intellectual, who is so much hot air behind his reputed ability to spell TUESDAY. Doubtless you've met him at a party or a conference, sometimes at the front of a classroom. Owl hides behind Big Words ("Can you read, Pooh?" he asks anxiously before agreeing to write a message for Eeyore's birthday) and manages to get Rabbit—the one who actually can read and write—to consult him, and not the other way around. ....

There's Piglet, the small animal who doesn't like to commit to anything without being fully certain of its safety and who always has something else to attend to when the danger reaches a certain threshold—but who can rise to the occasion when occasion demands (case in point: the day Owl's house falls down.) ....

And, of course, there is Pooh himself, who lives as in the moment as possible. The clock in his house is stopped perpetually at Luncheon Time—and there's nothing that can't be resolved with a little smackerel of something (preferably honey). But though Pooh sees himself as a bear of little brain, there's nothing little-brained about him. Recall what happens on the Expotition to find the North Pole when baby Roo falls into the river. While Piglet jumps up and down, Kanga runs beside the stream to ask Roo if he's all right, Owl explains what to do in a Sudden and Temporary Immersion, Eeyore puts his tail into the pool where Roo fell in long after Roo has gone downstream, and Rabbit authoritatively runs around and Organizes Everyone, Pooh is the only one who actually does something useful: He gets a stick, stands down-current from Roo, and helps Roo grab the stick when the current brings him to it. The essence of each character, revealed—as always with our true essence—in the height of emergency.

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," Piglet asks him as their adventures near an end, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" Pooh answers. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" responds Piglet.

Pooh thinks it over. "It's the same thing," he says. And as adults, we can at last appreciate just how right he is. It may seem silly to waste your time on books for children. But are we really wasting it—or using it to much better advantage? It's like the Red Queen tells Alice, "You may call it 'nonsense' if you like, but I've heard nonsense compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary." [more]