Friday, August 30, 2013

Do not unduly injure the Freshman

As the new school year approaches, an injunction from the past: "How to Treat the Freshmen, 1495":
"Statute Forbidding Any One to Annoy or Unduly Injure the Freshmen. Each and every one attached to this university is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at them with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, any, who are called freshmen, in the market, streets, courts, colleges and living houses, or any place whatsoever, and particularly in the present college, when they have entered in order to matriculate or are leaving after matriculation."
Leipzig University Statute (1495)

When the characters take over

Owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York and publisher of the Mysterious Press, Otto Penzler, on how Elmore Leonard's characters would take over the story:
.... It was his habit to have a vague idea of what he wanted to write and then hunt for names for his characters (the Detroit phonebook got plenty of use). Once they were named, he felt that they were real and he could get on with it. He gave them the words—the dialogue that readers came to love and admire for its authenticity—and they provided him with the story, since he rarely knew where the plot was going to take him. Oops. I meant to say where the characters were going to take him, because by the time he had gotten to the halfway mark, his guys, as he called them, had taken over, frequently surprising him.

He liked to talk about his books while they were in progress and once was dismayed about an unexpected turn of events. He was telling a story when he said he didn’t know what he was going to do. He was up to page 130 and some minor character had just shot the guy who was supposed to be the hero—or at least the most important figure in the book, as it was not Leonard’s style to make his characters genuine heroes. Few of his villains were evil, just people who wanted an easy buck, and it was often difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad ones.

I suggested rewriting the scene in which his protagonist went and got himself killed. He looked at me incredulously. “No, you don’t understand,” he said. “It already happened. He’s dead. You can’t bring him back.” ....
I believe I recall Dorothy Sayers writing that she couldn't make her characters do what they wouldn't do. Characters in books exercise will - even defying their creator.

Otto Penzler, "A Hard-boiled Music: Elmore Leonard's contribution to literature," National Review, September 16, 2013, p. 24.

Liberty for me, but not for thee

From the September 16 National Review:
The New Mexico supreme court ruled that state anti-discrimination laws obligate a photographer who objects to same-sex marriage to take pictures of a same-sex wedding ceremony. That might be the right reading of the legal provisions involved, which means that the legislature ought to change its statutes. One of the justices, Richard Bosson, used the occasion to lecture the photographer that her loss of freedom is “the price of citizenship” in our “multicultural, pluralistic society.” All of us must “leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation,” etc. It does not appear to have occurred to Justice Bosson that space for her beliefs is precisely what the photographer was after.
National Review, September 16, 2013, p. 10.

What will be will be

Joe Carter provides a helpful description of four Christian eschatologies and concludes:
Most evangelicals fall into one of these four categories, though the majority are functionally “panmillenialists” — folks who simply believe “whatever happens, it’ll all pan out in the end.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Kingdom of Heaven

"The Kingdom of Heaven", said the Lord Christ, "is among you." But what, precisely, is the Kingdom of Heaven? You cannot point to existing specimens, saying, "Lo, here!" or "Lo, there!" You can only experience it. But what is it like, so that when we experience it we may recognize it? Well, it is a change, like being born again and re-learning everything from the start. It is secret, living power—like yeast. It is something that grows, like seed. It is precious like buried treasure, like rich pearl, and you have to pay for it. It is a sharp cleavage through the rich jumble of things which life presents like fish and rubbish in a draw-net, like wheat and tares; like wisdom and folly; and it carries with it a kind of menacing finality; it is new, yet in a sense it was always there—like turning out a cupboard and finding there your own childhood as well as your present self; it makes demands, it is like an invitation to a royal banquet—gratifying, but not to be disregarded, and you have to live up to it; where it is equal, it seems unjust, where it is just it is clearly not equal—as with the single pound, the diverse talents, the labourers in the vineyard, you have what you bargained-for; it knows no compromise between an uncalculating mercy and a terrible justice—like the unmerciful servant, you get what you give; it is helpless in your hands like the King's Son, but if you slay it, it will judge you; it was from the foundations of the world; it is to come; it is here and now; it is within you. It is recorded that the multitude sometimes failed to understand. (Dorothy L. Sayers, The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement, London, Victor Gollancz, 1963)
A Matter of Eternity: Selections from the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers, Chosen and Introduced by Rosamond Kent Sprague, Eerdmans, 1973

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Roger Williams and religious liberty

.... Today, in our mostly secular societies, we assume that separation protects the state from the church and so it does. But the reverse is also true. When the Founders drafted the Bill of Rights, in the late 18th century, they aimed also to protect the church from the state.

The First Amendment begins with the ‘establishment’ and ‘free exercise’ clauses, which prohibited the recognition of an official church or national religion and prevented the federal government from regulating religious life. .... It also meant that, when the state fell into disrepute, religion was not dragged down with it; hence the absence of anti-clericalism in American history. Instead of weakening religion in America, then, the separation of church and state has actually created space for a vibrant and voluntarist religious life. ....

The central figure in Barry’s drama is Roger Williams, a Puritan minister and Cambridge graduate, who emigrated to America in 1631. Williams settled in Massachusetts, but chafed under the strict conformity of life under the New England Way. Drummed out for views that even the Puritans found too radical, he fled into what the colonists called ‘the howling wilderness’. Warned by his friend John Winthrop that he was about to be deported to England, where he faced arrest and probable execution for views deemed treasonous, Williams slipped into the dead of night, using a raging blizzard for cover, and headed south. After 75 miles of trudging through deep snow and canoeing through ice-ridden waters, he stopped on the shores of Narragansett Bay. Grateful to the mercies of a loving God, he named his new settlement Providence.

Like most Puritans in England, Williams had resented Bishop Laud’s Church of England and bridled at the abuses of power by Charles I. Yet, unlike most Puritans, he also resisted the rules imposed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He had fled repression in England only to find it in New England. Determined to avoid the abuses of power he had found in London and Boston, Williams embedded both religious liberty and participatory democracy in the charter of the new colony he founded, Rhode Island, most notably by prohibiting the establishment of any official religion. In Rhode Island colonists were free to believe in anything or in nothing. It is here, Barry argues, that we find ‘the creation of the American soul’, which grounded religious and political freedom in individual autonomy. .... [more]
My denomination's first church in North America was organized in Rhode Island in 1671.

Monday, August 26, 2013

We must do better

Carl Trueman returns to Cambridge and takes his son to Evensong at King's. He finds himself sitting next to a woman in a hijab which leads him to reflect on what she experienced that evening and, he decides, it was pretty good at the really important things abour the faith — much better than the average evangelical worship service. "What the Hijabi Witnessed (and What She Didn't)":
.... So what exactly had she witnessed, I asked myself? Well, at a general level she had heard the English language at its most beautiful and set to an exalted purpose: the praise of Almighty God. She would also have seen a service with a clear biblical logic to it, moving from confession of sin to forgiveness to praise to prayer. She would also have heard this logic explained to her by the minister presiding, as he read the prescribed explanations that are built in to the very liturgy itself. The human tragedy and the way of salvation were both clearly explained and dramatized by the dynamic movement of the liturgy. And she would have witnessed all of this in an atmosphere of hushed and reverent quiet.

In terms of specific detail, she would also have heard two whole chapters of the Bible read out loud: one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Not exactly the whole counsel of God but a pretty fair snapshot. She would have been led in a corporate confession of sin. She would have heard the minister pronounce forgiveness in words shaped by scripture. She would have been led in corporate prayer in accordance with the Lord's own prayer. She would have heard two whole psalms sung by the choir. She would have had the opportunity to sing a couple of hymns drawn from the rich vein of traditional hymnody and shot through with scripture. She would have been invited to recite the Apostles' Creed (and thus come pretty close to being exposed to the whole counsel of God). She would have heard collects rooted in the intercessory concerns of scripture brought to bear on the real world. And, as I noted earlier, all of this in the exalted, beautiful English prose of Thomas Cranmer. ....

...[I]n this liberal Anglican chapel, the hijabi experienced an hour long service in which most of the time was spent occupied with words drawn directly from scripture. She heard more of the Bible read, said, sung and prayed than in any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware - than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life. (emphasis added) ...Cranmer's liturgy meant that this girl was exposed to biblical Christianity in a remarkably beautiful, scriptural and reverent fashion. I was utterly convicted as a Protestant minister that evangelical Protestantism must do better on this score: for all of my instinctive sneering at Anglicanism and formalism, I had just been shown in a powerful way how far short of taking God's word seriously in worship I fall.

Of course, there were things other than a sermon which the hijabi did not witness: she did not witness any adults behaving childishly; she did not witness anybody saying anything stupid; she did not witness any stand-up comedy routine or any casual cocksureness in the presence of God; she did not see any forty-something pretending to be cool; in short, she did not witness anything that made me, as a Christian, cringe with embarrassment for my faith, or for what my faith has too often become at the hands of the modern evangelical gospellers. [more]

Friday, August 23, 2013

Jesu Juva

As the school year begins, Jason G. Duesing suggests, teachers and students would do well to approach their work as Bach did his compositions. (And it's also how each of us should approach every single day.)
.... In Pelikan’s Bach Among the Theologians, he explains that Bach operated under the conviction that “the highest activity of the human spirit was the praise of God, but that such praise involved the total activity of the spirit.” In other words, as one of Bach’s biographers summarizes “Music is an act of worship with Bach….for him the tones do not perish, but ascend to God like praise too deep for utterance.”

In a simple way, such consecration is seen in Bach’s own hand. As he started each composition, he would mark “J.J.” at the top of each page as an abbreviation for Jesu Juva or “Help me, Jesus.” Once he completed the work, Bach routinely concluded with the initials “S.D.G.” representing Soli Deo Gloria or “To God alone, the glory.”

As the seminary where I serve starts a new academic year, it occurred to me that Bach’s approach to musical composition serves as a worthy model for the academic enterprise of theological education.

As faculty and students convene together to study and renew their minds (Romans 12:2) they should also grow in their love and worship of God with all their hearts (Matthew 22:37). Bach rightly saw the eternal nature of all his work, and those preparing (and those teaching the ones preparing) for a future ministry should see their current academic pursuits not as a temporal means-to-an-end but rather as something that will not perish and will be examined (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). .... [more]

"We are fallen, broken creatures..."

.... Augustine, he argues, did not turn to Christianity so much because it solved his intellectual and psychological dilemmas, although often it did; he turned to Christianity because it was the first system of thought he had ever encountered that took the puzzles seriously.

Even more than this, it was the first system that was as passionate as he was, as angry as he was, about the radically incomplete, radically broken nature of humans. The abandonment of man, his dislocation from true reality, ought to have been apparent to even the weakest of pagan religions. The spiritual glimpses of the noumenal order that even half-baked religions like Manicheism sometimes manage ought not to have made people happy, with a little brightening of the usually dark, often painful, ordinary life. They ought to have made people furious—as furious as the young Augustine—at the darkness and pain of ordinary existence.

How else are we to understand the power with which he turned, while bishop of Hippo and the leading Christian writer in the Latin West, against Pelagius and his disciples? When the Pelagians attempted to weaken the apprehension many felt toward the effects of the Fall, they were not merely getting a theological point wrong; they were undermining the very reason that Christianity was necessary, the very reason Augustine had become a Christian. And so with the Donatists, too, against whom Augustine would also turn his anger. As rigorists who insisted that the church was a congregation of saints and not sinners, the Donatists were not just making small mistakes about ecclesiology; in Augustine’s view, they were also denying the deep reality of sin in the world—sin that needed Christian redemption. Against the Pelagians, Augustine took a sterner, possibly less accommodating position; against the Donatists, he took a sweeter, obviously more accommodating position. But in both cases, the origin was a sure grasp of what he knew to be the central fact of the human condition: We are fallen, broken creatures, and the world is not a kindly place for us. .... [more]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I shall not be moved


And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Everyone is crazy except me and thee, and I'm not sure about thee"

In "A nation of truthers," reviewing The United States of Paranoia, Laura Miller explains why we are inclined to credit conspiracy theories and why that is usually foolish:
...[O]ur brains are predisposed to see patterns in random data and to apply stories to explain them, which is why conspiracy theory can be so contagious. Although conspiracies do exist, we need to be vigilant against our propensity to find them whether they are there or not. The most sensible outlook would appear to be that of Robert Anton Wilson, who concluded that “powerful people” could well be “engaged in criminal plots” but who found it unlikely that “the conspirators were capable of carrying out those plots competently.” Or, I would add, of covering them up effectively. It’s the ineptness of human beings in executing elaborate schemes and then shutting up about it afterward that makes me skeptical of almost all conspiracy theories. Besides, if the U.S. government was masterful enough to engineer the 9/11 attacks, why couldn’t it also plant some WMD in Iraq? .... [more]

Multiculturism and democracy

The United States has, I think, done better at integrating religious, ethnic, and cultural minorities than much of the rest of the world. But we are in serious danger of messing up by making the same mistake Rabbi Sacks identifies in Britain:
.... “Liberalism is about the rights of individuals, multiculturalism is about the rights of groups, and they are incompatible,” he stated baldly. In his conversation with the Times, Sacks honed in on Britain’s unresolved anguish over the integration of its growing Muslim population. The radical contrast between the Jewish and Muslim experiences of living as minorities is, Sacks said, critical to understanding why uncomplicated integration has succeeded with the former, but not the latter: “The norm was for Muslims to live under a Muslim jurisdiction and the norm, since the destruction of the first Temple, was for Jews to live under a non-Jewish jurisdiction.” ....

.... Sacks has contested neither the reality nor the desirability of a multi-ethnic society; instead, he has consistently argued that the communally-centered model of multiculturalism that prevails in Britain has frustrated attempts to forge an overarching British identity. No one is talking about how to persuade Muslims to leave the historically Christian nations in which they’ve settled, but rather how they might remain on peaceable terms. .... [more]

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" should come first

When I first read the Narnia books they were numbered in the order of publication, i.e. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first. Now, based on a recommendation from Lewis himself, they are published in Narnian chronological order, i.e. The Magician's Nephew is number one. Lewis didn't get very much wrong but, in my opinion, he did on this. Charles Starr at the C.S. Lewis Blog explains some of the reasons:
Slightly modified
Original Release Order
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew
The Last Battle ....

....I want to offer the following reasons for reading the Narnia books in their original published order:
  1. The Magician’s Nephew doesn't captivate new readers as well as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does. I’ve heard stories of people reading Nephew and quitting the rest of the series! Wardrobe grabs readers more powerfully on a first reading.
  2. Some bits in Wardrobe don't make sense if you read Nephew first. Lines like, "None of the children knew who Aslan was anymore than you do…" (74) make no sense to readers of Nephew, and Aslan’s introduction in Wardrobe loses some of its mystery and power.
  3. Reading The Horse and His Boy fifth punctuates the book’s major theme: Providence. The first four books (if read in published order) all contain quests which are defined fairly early in the story. When we come to Horse, we suddenly encounter a story which has no clear quest until it’s been fulfilled. Nor do we encounter familiar characters or places in the beginning of the book as we do in Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair. We feel as lost as Shasta does. There's an "otherness" to Horse, a strong contrast between it and the first four books in the series. All this lends to the main point of The Horse and His Boy: that though real life looks meaningless, purposeless, quest-less, and confusing, God is operating behind the scenes toward amazing ends—the theme of Providence. There is a quality in Horse which mimics in theme and technique the biblical books of Ruth and Esther. Here we encounter almost secular stories which nevertheless show how God often operates in the world, behind the scenes. Horse is so very different from the other books in the Narniad because it is so very much like the common experience of lives in this (our) world. But it loses a lot of that quality if read second or third.
  4. Nephew gains mythic power by being read in order of publication. By itself, Nephew is good, but what makes it wonderful is that we read about a world we've already fallen in love with (by reading the other books first). We meet the Aslan we've grown to love so dearly, the old professor as a boy (who will then reappear immediately in The Last Battle so that we feel the freshness of his presence there). We delight in learning where the wardrobe that started all the adventures comes from (but the wardrobe will mean nothing to the first time reader of Nephew who begins with that book). The power in Nephew is born out of its status as a true prequel. Its meaning is made deeper, more wonderful, because of the tales we've encountered before.
I grant these arguments aren’t earth shattering, but I stand by the position that the best way to read the Narnia books is in their original published order. .... [more]

Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013, RIP

Elmore Leonard died this morning. From the LA Times:
Elmore Leonard, one of America's best known crime novelists, died Tuesday morning due to complications from a stroke....

His first book, "The Bounty Hunters," was published in 1953. His writing career began with pulp Westerns, only settling into the trademark Leonard realism, crime and wit with 1969's "The Big Bounce," which has been adapted for the movies twice. His most recent novel, "Raylan," was released in 2012.

Twenty-six of his books and short stories have been adapted for the screen, including "Hombre," "Get Shorty," "Jackie Brown," (based on 1992's "Rum Punch") and "Justified," TV shows based on 1993's "Pronto," 1995's "Riding the Rap" and the 2001 short story 'Fire in the Hole."....

In his widely circulated rules of writing, Leonard said, "Never open a book with weather; avoid prologues; keep your exclamation points under control; use regional dialect sparingly; avoid detailed descriptions of characters, places, and things; and try to leave out the part the readers tend to skip."

Most important, however, he said, "if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." [more]
His millions of fans, from bellhops to Saul Bellow, made all his books since "Glitz" (1985) best-sellers.

His more than 40 novels were populated by pathetic schemers, clever conmen and casual killers. Each was characterized by moral ambivalence about crime, black humor and wickedly acute depictions of human nature: the greedy dreams of Armand Degas in "Killshot," the wisecracking cool of Chili Palmer in "Get Shorty," Jack Belmont's lust for notoriety in "The Hot Kid." .... [more]
I have twenty-two Elmore Leonard's on my bookshelves and a few more on Kindle. I used to have more in paperback but as the paper became brown and brittle I discarded them, once giving a couple away to a guy who wanted to learn to write better dialogue. Leonard was particularly good at writing dialogue. I bought his books knowing they would be good and, not only that, but that they would bear re-reading, and I have never been disappointed. It's good to know that there are more out there, mostly early ones, that I haven't yet read.

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Take up the cudgels for the cow"

Wisconsin State Senator Joseph Quarles on March 27, 1902 arguing for butter and against oleomargarine:
Things have come to a strange pass when the steer competes  with  the  cow  as  a  butter  maker.  When the hog conspires with the steer to monopolize the dairy business, it is time for self-respecting men to take  up  the  cudgels  for  the  cow  and  defend  her time-honored prerogatives.... We ought not now to  desert  her  or  permit  her  to  be  displaced,  her sweet  and  wholesome  product  supplanted  by  an artificial compound of grease that may be chemically  pure  but  has  never  known  the  fragrance  of clover, the freshness of the dew or the exquisite flavor which nature bestows exclusively on butter fat to adapt it to the taste of man.... I desire butter that comes from the dairy, not the slaughterhouse. I want butter that has the natural aroma of life and health. I decline to accept as a substitute caul fat, matured  under  the  chill  of  death,  blended  with vegetable oils and flavored by chemical tricks.
In the "Dairy State" the dairy industry had a lot of political clout but "even the state’s dairy lobby failed to push through legislation that would have required margarine to be colored pink or brown." Wisconsin did have laws prohibiting margarine from being died yellow [although butter often was]. In the 1960's this prohibition came under political attack.
A great moment in Wisconsin political history...occurred in June 1965 when a blindfolded state senator named Gordon Roseleip stood in the Senate chambers and tried to distinguish butter from oleomargarine.

He failed.

“That’s oleo,” Roseleip said after being fed a small amount by a Senate colleague, Marty Schreiber, who later became governor.

It was butter. .... [more]
Most of the state senators who took part in the blind taste test (the choices: butter, margarine and a spread developed at the University of Wisconsin) identified them correctly but Senator Roseleip got it wrong. "After Roseleip’s death in 1989, one of his daughters revealed that the Senator truly had been handicapped. Worried about his health, his wife had, without his knowledge, substituted margarine for butter on the family table."


Mysteries and the rule of law

In his classic book on Golden Age mysteries, Murder for Pleasure, the critic Howard Haycraft makes the claim that the detective story can exist only in a democracy. The reason for this, he states, is that autocratic governments don’t care about punishing the right person, the individual who actually committed the crime. And of course autocratic governments don’t provide any protection for individual rights, whereas in a democracy there are strict rules of evidence and other means of protecting the rights of individuals.

In fact Haycraft is confusing democracy with freedom [or what we call a liberal democratic republic, using the older sense of the word "liberal"--ed.], a mistake most people make. The thing that guarantees the rights of the individual is the rule of law, not democracy as such. ....

It is important to note that Haycraft is talking about the actual detective story, not crime fiction in general. ....

It’s interesting that the puzzle type of detective story reached its peak of popularity in the 1930s. It remained very popular for some decades after that, but it is certainly no longer the dominant form of crime fiction. Does this reflect a change in society? .... [more]
W.H. Auden argued that the true detective story required not only "rule of law" but:
...an innocent society in a state of grace, i.e., a society where there is no need of the law, no contradiction between the aesthetic individual and the ethical universal, and where murder, therefore, is the unheard-of act which precipitates a crisis (for it reveals that some member has fallen and is no longer in a state of grace). The law becomes a reality and for a time all must live in its shadow, till the fallen one is identified. With his arrest, innocence is restored, and the law retires forever. ....
His criteria for the authentic detective story were rather strict:
Completely satisfactory detectives are extremely rare. Indeed, I only know of three: Sherlock Holmes (Conan Doyle), Inspector French (Freeman Wills Crofts), and Father Brown (Chesterton). The job of the detective is to restore the state of grace in which the aesthetic and the ethical are as one. Since the murderer who caused their disjunction is the aesthetically defiant individual, his opponent, the detective, must be either the official representative of the ethical or the exceptional individual who is himself in a state of grace. .... [more]
My reading for pleasure encompasses thrillers, noir, police procedurals, etc., and detection proper, which latter does, I think, require a society with the rule of law and the story ought to end with the just restoration of order.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Abortion extremism

Putting Texas into context: there are only four countries in the world that allow abortion after viability for any reason whatever:
...[T]here are nine nations that permit abortion after twenty weeks: Canada, China, Great Britain, North Korea, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Vietnam, and the United States.

...China, North Korea, and Canada [and the United States]...are the only in the world that allow the killing of a child after viability (usually calculated at twenty-four weeks) for any reason, or for no reason at all.

Friday, August 16, 2013

"People will...turn away from listening to the truth...."

Matthew Lee Anderson has been reading Roger Scruton's The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope which has resulted in a post "On Authority, Tradition, and Millennial Evangelicals," from which:
...[T]here’s an inherent modesty required both to speak authoritatively and to discern and respond to authorities.  When Jesus speaks “as one with authority” in Matthew 7, he teaches within the context of an established and authoritative body of work, the Torah.  He illuminates various aspects in new and distinctive ways, and the whole teaching is reframed around the advent of the Messiah.  Yet his teaching is authoritative only because it comes from within a tradition, in the first place, rather than because it questions or subverts that tradition.  He’s able to wrangle with the Pharisees in the Temple at the age of twelve because he knows his stuff. He’s done his due diligence, you might say.

.... There is within the progressive temperament that is now en vogue among many “millennial Christians” the temptation to make skepticism the fundamental posture toward religious authorities.  Never mind that authorities in other disciplines, like science, are somehow immune.  The disposition does not look at our received tradition as an inheritance to be enjoyed and lived on so much as a burden that has to be subverted and deconstructed.  Progressive Christians are not interested in measuring our  judgment against the tradition; rather, the progressive temperament judges the tradition against a conception of “reason” or “experience” that is currently popular (“we now know….”).

The difference between the progressive temperament and what Scruton describes above is not simply one of emphasis, then, but one of substance.  The person who places himself under authority is necessarily more interested in the gifts they have received than the gifts they have to give–and inasmuch as they are able to speak authoritatively (and not simply popularly, which is an important difference) they will speak out of that sense of deference.  To put it bluntly, theological progressivism has to speak from a posture of pride.  The progressive question is the theological “humblebrag”:  it refuses to give the benefit of the doubt to stances that we have inherited while treating the world as a blank canvas which we then get to “create” on.  Assimilation by a surrounding culture isn’t a bug of theological progressivism so much as a feature. .... [more]

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Edith Nesbit

"In those days Mr. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and
the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road.

C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

The Bastables were six children — brothers and sisters — who figured in a series of children's books by Edith Nesbit beginning with The Story of the Treasure Seekers (1899). Certain similarities to the Narnia books have been noted. Today The Guardian's children's library column celebrates the enduring appeal of the Nesbit books:
.... The secret of her perennial appeal is the fine balance she strikes between the exotic and the down-to-earth, the exalted and the humorously mundane. Her child protagonists, stolid, bumbling middle-class kids with the best of intentions, narrowly avoid the worst of outcomes through their own good natures and occasional magical intervention. But whether they're dealing with amulets, firebirds, railway porters or incensed uncles, they show a native imagination and shrewdness familiar to every child reader. They know how to coax favours from authority, how to turn away wrath with a soft answer, and how to fall from grace and be redeemed.

Nesbit also retains her popularity because she wears her learning and her large intelligence so lightly. The Story of the Amulet is rich with her deep, careful research into Egyptology, but she never overburdens her pages or her reader. Like Kipling, she lets her characters encounter towering historical and mythological figures – Caesar, Pharaoh, the Queen of Babylon – in a straightforward way that lets her young reader, too, hold immediate and arresting conversations with the past. Reading her books helped confirm me, and many others, in an early love of mythology, fairy tale and folklore far and wide. Occasional sour notes, like the large-nosed Jewish stockbrokers the children encounter in London, might make the contemporary reader wince, but they don't efface Nesbit's evident joy in the stories and peoples of the world.

Nesbit's personal life, uniquely turbulent and often contradictory, is idealised or reimagined complete in many of her books – most notably in The Railway Children, wherein the breadwinning, story-selling Mother remains the linchpin of the family after Father is unjustly imprisoned. Mother is funny, clever and kind, but she is invariably a respectable lady, even though jam AND butter on the same piece of bread now represents "reckless luxury". .... [more]
The book links above were not in the source article but added by me and are to the electronic versions of the books at ManyBooks.net where those and a great many other Edith Nesbit books can be acquired without cost.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"If a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?"

From the chapter titled "The Maniac" in G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy:
.... Once I remember walking with a prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of the modern world. Yet I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it. The publisher said of somebody, "That man will get on; he believes in himself." .... I said to him, "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Supermen. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums." He said mildly that there were a good many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic asylums. "Yes, there are," I retorted, "and you of all men ought to know them. That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself. If you consulted your business experience instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. Actors who can't act believe in themselves; and debtors who won't pay. It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail, because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one's self is a hysterical and superstitious belief.... And to all this my friend the publisher made this very deep and effective reply, "Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?" After a long pause I replied, "I will go home and write a book in answer to that question." This is the book that I have written in answer to it.
G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy

Why he is/is not a Fundamentalist

Reviewing Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, a book about the history of fundamentalism, Paul Miller explains:
I am a fundamentalist. I believe in the “five fundamentals” that originally defined the term: the divine inspiration of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the atoning work of Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and the historicity of Christ’s miracles. These five beliefs were spotlighted by The Fundamentals, a series of books published starting in 1910 about the core doctrines of Christianity from which the word “fundamentalist” was coined.

But I am not a fundamentalist—not in the sense that most people use that term. The “five fundamentals” are actually a pretty bad summary of the Christian faith. I’ll take the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed, plus the Reformation “solas,” over the fundamentals any day. The “five fundamentals” omit, for example, the divinity of Christ and the Trinity, which are sort of important. ....
The original fundamentalism emerged in the second half of the 19th century:
Urbanization, the Civil War, immigration, and new intellectual movements confronted the Evangelical establishment with insurmountable cultural challenges. “Higher criticism” seemed to challenge the inspiration of the Bible. Evolutionary theories seemed to challenge its accuracy. Science, generally, seemed to make supernatural explanations of the world unnecessary and quaint.

The evangelical movement split: one wing of Christians abandoned traditionalism in favor of theological liberalism. They jettisoned belief in supernaturalism, miracles, or even Christ’s divinity. They tried to reduce Christianity to a core of admirable moral maxims—and abandoned any semblance of historic Christianity in the process.

The other wing became the fundamentalists. ....
Miller says that two doctrines have come to define modern Fundamentalism and that explains why he is not a fundamentalist (emphasis added):
First, fundamentalism means a belief in seven literal days of creation, and it means believing that Charles Darwin’s scientific theory of biological evolution by natural selection is fundamentally anti-Christian. ....

The other issue that has come to define fundamentalism is its adherence to dispensationalism and preoccupation with end-times prophecy. .... [more]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Knowing the good is not enough

This year is the 200th anniversary of Kierkegaard's birth and consequently his thought is getting more attention than usual outside scholarly circles. Here, from "The gospel according to Kierkegaard: Sin, guilt and the offense of forgiveness," how Socrates got it wrong through no fault of his own:
.... Many atheists today claim that Christianity is "offensive" in some way or another. Kierkegaard would say this is quite in order — Christianity is offensive and must be so in order to remain what it is. The offensive aspect of the difference God makes to goodness is one that Kierkegaard thought Socrates missed, as he believed anyone without the benefit of revelation would have done, no matter how wise they were in other respects.

One area where Socrates and all human reasoning that carries on its work without the benefit of revelation falls short is in accounting for why people are so often not good. For Socrates all evils are simply the result of ignorance of what is truly good. If people only knew what was just, Socrates reasoned, they would automatically do what was just. ....

So the really interesting question to Kierkegaard would not be whether people can be good without God, but a twofold problem of how to explain why so often they are not good, with or without God, and what to do about that failure. That they will fail to be good is a reality to which all parties must concede. Take the most depleted moral code you care to posit, set the bar as low as you like, and the universal experience of all human beings, from the most morally ambitious to the most scandalously indolent, is failure.

No one is as "moral" — regardless of how they define being moral — as they aim to be. ....

For Kierkegaard, the first article of Christian faith as opposed to pagan philosophy is not the reality of salvation but sin, which logically has to come first as that from which we stand in need of salvation itself. And for him sin meant wilfulness, of a kind and to a degree that even the great Socrates would never have imagined possible. Religious revelation shows us, Kierkegaard thought, that, while it is certainly the case that people can be good with and without God, with shocking frequency they are not good, and they are not good not because they simply lack knowledge of what is good but because they don't want to be good.

Socrates could never have believed that people were capable of knowing the good and simply refusing to do it. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, thought that the Christian tradition taught that all too often people do what is bad because it is bad. If you are as convinced as he was that perverse, wilful evil is not only possible but commonplace, then Socrates's view is bound to appear dangerously naive. It is also a view that you could predict human beings would come up with to suit themselves; the Socratic view can be perceived as conveniently self-exculpatory: No one is that bad, just a bit confused.

This is one reason Kierkegaard thought the idea of sin had to be revealed. Nobody spontaneously thinks to himself "I really am a lousy jerk" even if he is a lousy jerk. It takes a God to tell us that we are lousy jerks, not because we are not lousy jerks and God is around just to make us all feel bad about ourselves, but precisely because we are lousy jerks, and lousy jerks are the last people who will recognize themselves to be lousy jerks without someone to tell them they are. .... [more]

Monday, August 12, 2013

"One wants something to engross the attention without tiring the mind."

Three of John Buchan's Richard Hannay adventures are available, free, at ManyBooks.net: The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), Greenmantle (1916), and Mr Standfast (1919). The only one missing is The Three Hostages.

A former head of MI-5 had this to say about "John Buchan and The Thirty-Nine Steps":
.... He (Buchan) was convinced that civilisation’s crust was thin; that hard and cynical men, operating on a global scale, were using liberal sentimentality as a stalking horse for activities which could eventually derail liberal institutions. He was not alone in thinking and warning about that, and there are many even today who would agree with him.

Against those nightmarish possibilities, Buchan champions the things he thinks best in British civilisation – education, gentlemanly and ladylike conduct, honesty, an adventurous questing, a self-sacrificing spirit and plenty of fresh air, long walks and cold baths. Could it be that these unfashionable virtues are what accounts for his enduring appeal?

The Thirty-Nine Steps introduces the reader to Richard Hannay, a man of action who puts his own safety second to the safety of his country. Hannay’s activities incorporate much of Buchan’s own experiences. ....

All the Hannay books involve a chase across wild country with the life of the hero and/or the villain at stake. And what villains they are. In addition to their strange eyes and penchant for libraries, they share an insatiable greed for power, a near-hypnotic control of large numbers of bad men and a kind of magical immunity, right up to the moment the end comes. ....

Buchan’s technique as a writer is simple enough and well displayed in The Thirty-Nine Steps. He understood that in a thriller, as opposed for example to a detective story, what matters above all is to keep the reader focused on what is going to happen next, irrespective of where things may end up. And also to keep him convinced that what he is reading here and now could really happen. ....

The Thirty-Nine Steps is more like a series of exciting episodes strung end to end than a carefully plotted tale. The speed is breathtaking, with each successive scene gripping the reader’s imagination, and with every place, actor and motive indelibly sketched.

It doesn’t matter that the reader has no clue where he is being taken or, when he gets there, how the thing happened as it did. All that matters is that once you’ve started, you can’t put the book down.

Buchan wrote in his autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, that he had no purpose in shocker writing except to please himself. Nevertheless, he must have been delighted to learn that The Thirty-Nine Steps had greatly pleased one important section of his contemporary readership. An officer at the Front in the First World War wrote: “It is just the kind of fiction for here. One wants something to engross the attention without tiring the mind. The story is greatly appreciated in the midst of mud and rain and shells, and all that could make trench life depressing.” ....
The free ebooks by John Buchan are here formatted for a variety of e-readers including Kindle.

Why am I a Baptist?

In "Is Jesus a Baptist?" Timothy George (who is a Baptist) explains why that is not the right question:
.... While I recognize myself as a Protestant, an Evangelical, and a Baptist, none of those labels defines my spiritual and ecclesial identity at the most basic level. Being an evangelical Protestant, a Baptist, indeed a Southern Baptist, are all important markers of my place within the community of faith, but there is a more primary confession I must make: I am a trinitarian Christian who by the grace of God belongs to the whole company of the redeemed through the ages, those who are “very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ” (Book of Common Prayer).

Far from being a new construal, this way of putting things goes to the very heart of what it means to be a genuine Protestant, a true Evangelical, and an authentic Baptist. Central to each of these commitments is a desire to be faithful to the Scripture-based apostolic witness of the early church. When Polycarp of Smyrna, a disciple of the Apostle John, was brought before the Roman tribunal before being cast into the arena with wild beasts, he confessed publicly the faith which he knew would lead to his certain martyrdom. In that critical moment, Polycarp did not say: “I am a Paulinist. I am a Petrist. I am a Johannian.” Neither did he say, “I am an Ignatian” (after his great contemporary Ignatius of Antioch), nor “I am an Irenaean” (after his famous disciple Irenaeus of Lyon). Rather he confessed: Christianus sum. “I am a Christian.” ....

So why am I a Baptist? I am a Baptist because it was through the witness of a small Baptist church that I first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of the things I still believe in I first learned in that modest Baptist community of faith.... Through the loving nurture I received from that congregation, I confessed my personal faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord of my life. I was then baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ....

It is important to say that all of this came to me as a gift from beyond myself. It is not as though I had studied carefully and weighed objectively every religious possibility before committing myself to the Baptist cause. My experience was rather of a person who finds himself standing, wading, and eventually swimming in a flowing mountain stream. The Baptist formation I received as a young Christian was a gift, unbidden and undeserved, for which I can claim no credit. Later as I studied the Bible more deeply and became aware of many other church traditions, doctrines, and denominations, my Baptist convictions grew stronger. I gradually came to understand the meaning of what I believed: Fides quaerens intellectum, a quest that continues still. What I first intuitively grasped or only dimly glimpsed, I came to own with greater clarity and confidence. I came to see that being a Baptist was for me the most faithful way of being an Evangelical, a Protestant, and a Christian.

Being a Baptist is a blessing but also sometimes a burden. From time to time I have considered the possibility of becoming something else. I once prepared a talk called “The Confessions of a Catholic-friendly, Pentecostal-admiring, Reformed Baptist with a Hankering after Lutheranism and a Strong Affinity for the Book of Common Prayer.” Each of these ecclesial traditions, among others, has enriched my life and calling to serve the Body of Christ. Each brings distinctive treasures to our common labors—pro Christo et ecclesia. Being a Baptist gives me all the freedom I need to appropriate as fully as I can the gifts they offer without abandoning the Baptist principles and ways that I cherish. .... [more]

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I'll Fly Away

Via Mere Comments



Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God's celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
....

Lagniappe - Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley - Mere Comments

Saturday, August 10, 2013

When God spoke Greek

Timothy Michael Law is the author of When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. In this interview he suggests reasons that Greek translation might be preferred to the Hebrew texts then available to either Catholic or Protestant translators:
...[T]he Septuagint, and not the Hebrew Bible, explicitly shaped some early Christian theology. For example, it was the Septuagint version of Isaiah, not the Hebrew Bible’s version, that shaped the most theologically profound book in the history of Christianity, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The primacy of the Septuagint continues after the first century, and one could not imagine the development of orthodoxy without it. None of this would be terribly significant if the Septuagint were merely a translation of the Hebrew; however, the Septuagint in many places contains a different message. Sometimes the translators of the Septuagint created new meanings in their translations, but there is also another reason the Septuagint is often different.

An alternative, sometimes older, form of the Hebrew text often lies behind the Greek. When the Reformers and their predecessors talked about returning to the original Hebrew (ad fontes!), and when modern Christians talk about studying the Hebrew because it is the “original text,” they are making several mistaken assumptions. The Hebrew Bible we now use is often not the oldest form of the Hebrew text, and sometimes the Septuagint provides the only access we have to that older form. ....

The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century put the final nails in the Septuagint’s coffin for the West. They followed Jerome’s logic, believing that the medieval text of the Hebrew Bible was indeed the most original text of Scripture. There were some exceptions—Zwingli, for example, had argued that the Septuagint version of Isaiah was superior to the Hebrew—but for the most part Jerome and the Reformers can be credited with burying the Septuagint in the West. .... [more]

Friday, August 9, 2013

Now the day is over, Night is drawing nigh

The Sabbath begins in Madison, Wisconsin:


The staff of life

I like bread. I'm conscious of my need to limit carbs, and consequently limit my consumption, but I do like good bread. I'm acquainted with people who can't eat wheat at all and so am grateful for the much greater availability of gluten-free foods. At the same time I don't get the avoidance of wheat by those who neither suffer from celiac disease nor from an allergy to wheat. I found a Slate article from last February helpful in making some distinctions:
According to USA Today, up to one-quarter of all consumers now want gluten-free food, even though only one person in 100 has celiac disease, the autoimmune disorder worsened by gluten ingestion. Going gluten-free seems somewhat faddish. ....

To understand the proper role of gluten-free diets requires untangling three separate and unrelated medical problems blamed on gluten: celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten intolerance. Here’s the thing: The first problem is almost certainly underdiagnosed, but the latter two are likely to be overdiagnosed. ....

...[T]he most confusing problems arise with the third problem blamed on gluten: so-called gluten intolerance. This condition is neither an autoimmune disorder, like celiac disease, nor an allergy, like true wheat allergy. There’s not even a mediocre blood test for gluten intolerance. The diagnosis simply relies on someone’s subjective feelings of bloating, bowel changes, or mental fogginess after eating gluten. This is a set-up for all manner of pseudo-scientific self-diagnoses, especially when you consider that 2 percent of people believe they have illnesses caused by magnetic fields. ....

...[T]he data suggest that almost two-thirds of people who think they are gluten-intolerant really aren’t. .... [more]
The avoidance of wheat by those who don't need to is particularly odd when it is remembered that people in western and African civilizations always ate bread [and often little else]. From "Bread in the Middle Ages":
...[I]t was the staple of life for the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, and was eaten throughout the Roman Empire.  It was made by grinding cereal grains, such as wheat, millet or barley, into flour, then kneading it with a liquid, perhaps adding yeast to make the dough rise and lighten, and finally baking. Bread comes in all shapes and sizes, but in his book Bread: A Global History, William Rubel notes that Europe has had a “loaf-bread culture” for the last 2,000 years, while flat bread remained popular in the Middle East and Africa.

By the beginning of the Middle Ages the preference was to eat white bread made from wheat - medieval physicians also recommended it as being the healthiest – but poorer peoples would bake darker breads with oats or rye. If one needed too, people could also add rice, peas, lentils, chestnuts, acorns or other foods into the mixture. In medieval France, most people would eat a type of bread known as meslin, which was made from a mixture of wheat and rye. ....

Terrence Scully notes “that bread was the basis of the medieval diet” and the amount that people ate throughout Europe was remarkably similar. He finds that records from England, France and Italy that workmen, soldiers and even patients in hospitals were supposed to get about two pounds of bread per day.

Like today, breads made in the Middle Ages came in all shapes and sizes. For example, in the Polish city of Wroclaw the people could buy and eat breads such as common white bread, common rye bread, black rye bread, wheat rolls, bagels, crescent rolls and flat cakes. Besides using bread just for food, medieval people often used it as their plates: known as trenchers, these were breads that were cut into thick flat slices. Then other foods like meats or thick sauces would be served on top of them. Once the meal was finished, the bread could then be eaten, or, if you were wealthy or generous enough, was given to the poor or to animals. .... more]
And then there is John 6:35.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul"

From G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy:
Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. (as quoted in Matthew Lee Anderson's introduction, and the book is available, free, here)
Orthodoxy (Moody Classics)

“An open mind, like an open mouth, should close on something”

George Weigel shares some quotations he collected but thus far has not used elsewhere:
  • Getting the conversation started properly: “How doth truth prosper in thy parts?” (an old Quaker greeting).
  • The evils of French revolutionary weights and measures:“If God had wanted us to use the metric system, he’d have given us 10 apostles” (an angry worker, struggling with metric tools).
  • Rarely an argument lost: “He can persuade most people of most things, and above all he can persuade himself of almost anything” (W.E. Forster on William Gladstone).
  • The limits of openness: “An open mind, like an open mouth, should close on something” (G.K. Chesterton [of course]).
  • Social ineptness: “Bore. A person who talks when you wish him to listen” (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary).
  • Good government: “When Dr. Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel, he was unconscious of the then undeveloped capabilities and uses of the word ‘Reform’” (Senator Roscoe Conkling).
  • A culture without reality contact: “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men” (George Orwell).
  • The earthen vessel of the Church: “No merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” (Hillaire Belloc on Catholicism).
  • Our task: “The Gospel must be preached by men. The angels have other duties” (plaque found in an old church). [more]

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Does the music serve the Word?

I suspect that my frequent links to posts like this one are annoying to at least some who visit this site. There are a great many people in evangelical churches — boomers and their children — who have seldom experienced worship that doesn't follow the pattern that Kevin DeYoung calls the "New Evangelical Liturgy" and a central part of that experience is a particular approach to worship music. Rather than simply following the pattern that has become the received way of doing things, pastors and worship leaders should seriously consider why they do what they do, and whether it best serves the purpose. In "On Whales and Worship Lyrics" Jen Wilken's concern is with the music. Her discussion group has been reading Bonhoeffer's Life Together.
.... The discussion centered around this quote concerning worship through corporate singing:
“All devotion, all attention should be concentrated upon the Word in the hymn…the music is completely the servant of the Word {Scripture}. It elucidates the Word in its mystery.”
We asked each other, is this true of church music today? Can we say of modern worship songs that the music serves the words of Scripture? Or do the words of our worship songs serve the music? Can we say that we, the worshipers love the words more than the melodies? How can we tell? ....

Bonhoeffer’s point is simple: When the words serve the music, we gratify self. When the music serves the words, we glorify God. In a culture that consumes music on an unprecedented scale, the church faces an uphill battle to maintain the high ground that the music must serve the words. Ten years ago, contemporary worship songs were plagued with the “I-Me-My-Mines”, every line filled with the knowledge of man. We have come some distance since then, praise God, with a shift back toward lyrics that extol the character of God. But we have further still to go.

If I supplied you with a copy of the lyrics to the 6500 hymns of Charles Wesley, two things would happen to you as you read it. First, you would be deeply moved by the truths the lyrics contained, whether you knew the melodies associated with them or not. Second, you would know your Bible better. Could the same be said if you read through the lyrics of our modern worship offerings?

Wesley composed his hymns during a time in church history when the music served the words, or more precisely, the Word. We live in a time when music, church or otherwise, serves our personal taste, and where lyrics are often an afterthought. Combine this with rampant Bible illiteracy, and we find congregational...shows so glutted on the wealth in their melodies that they ignore the poverty in their lyrics. A worship song is “anointed” if it moves us deeply, whether the words communicate anything coherent or not. Don’t make me give you a sloppy wet example.

What Bonhoeffer and Wesley would say to us is that church music must do more than move the emotions: it must feed the understanding. In doing so, it accomplishes its purpose of preparing our hearts and minds for the pinnacle of the worship service, the proclamation of the Word. We wrongly believe that the worship set should fill our hearts and the sermon should fill our heads. Corporate worship should enliven both heart and head, preparing us for a sermon which does both as well.

So, to my fellow worshipers, let’s consider together whether our adoration is given to music or through music. And to those worship leaders composing church music today, God bless you — you endure enormous pressure to create “worship experiences”. Consider Bonhoeffer’s message: whether your gifting runs toward hymnody or poetry, write lyrics that teach so much truth they can stand on their own. And then set them to music that magnifies their beauty. .... [more]

Thrillers

D.G. Myers, writing about thrillers, explains their appeal to readers:
A powerful work of fiction transports you into a different life, a different place and time, instilling in you the absolute conviction that what you are reading about, what you feel in the hairs on your skin, is real and is happening to real people.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What is the chief end of man?

Bethany Blankley responds to a symposium about how to pass on the faith with "Learning Theology through Catechism, Imagination, and Song":
.... The first question of the Westminster Catechism runs through my mind often: What is the chief end of man? The answer: To glorify God and enjoy him forever. God should be at the center of my universe at all times. This truth, that I learned as a child, has stuck with me throughout my life—no matter what circumstances I have endured, I had the foundation, the knowledge, the conviction, that God was with me, he loved me, and that he created me for a purpose: to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

The catechisms formed a foundation, a structure, for me to formulate my beliefs and calm my soul. But the reading of literature reinforced what I knew by awakening my imagination to learn about character and virtues to which I could aspire.

Children can learn much from literature. As a child I learned who God was through the eyes of Christian as he battled various temptations in Pilgrim's Progress, and through the eyes of Princess Irene who held fast to her grandmother's admonition during difficult times in George MacDonald's masterpiece, The Princess and the Goblin, and through the eyes of Lucy, who walked side by side with Aslan, as he comforted her during her adventures in Narnia. My imagination and spirit were enlivened by these characters as I saw how their faith guided their lives throughout difficult and frightening circumstances. I also learned the virtues a child should aspire to have: honesty, hope, trust, faith, perseverance, and selfless love, which brought me much joy. I knew that God was good through the lives of these characters and that I needed to trust him. Many children can relate to the struggles the characters face and can apply lessons of character development to their own lives. .... [more]

Chesterton, the Distributist

I like G.K. Chesterton: in particular his fiction and much of his Christian apologetics. He was also an advocate of an economic regime called "Distributism" that he considered a Christian alternative to both Socialism and Capitalism. It has some attractive elements summarized here by David Deavel:
Last week I outlined the views of distributists, identifying four areas of thought in which they offer some wisdom: 1) objections to the divorce of economics and ethics, 2) objections to the collusion of large business and government and the resultant concentration of power, 3) advocacy for entrepreneurism and widely distributed wealth, and 4) objections to the welfare state and its effects on the citizen’s relationship to government. Sadly, distributist thinkers don’t stop at these solid insights.
Deavel goes on to elaborate the deficiencies of Distributism, and they are serious deficiencies. The headings for the areas he addresses:
  • Willful Ignorance of Economics
  • Borrowed Infallibility
  • A Secret Lust for Big Government, from which:
.... Founding distributist Hilaire Belloc did not propose that all property be taken and redistributed by the state—though he was not in principle opposed to this, which explains his and Chesterton’s defense of the French Revolution; he believed that it was essentially a seizure of property that was returned to the peasants. ....

...[T]he devotion of distributists to freedom is open to question. Belloc and Chesterton were beguiled by Mussolini and his promise of corporatism. ....

...Chesterton gradually woke up to the fact that Mussolini was merely using distributist rhetoric to mask a totalitarian state. Belloc and many of the other distributists were fooled for longer. And no surprise: to repose so much power in a central government to regulate and redistribute wealth and property is a dangerous game. ....

Hudge and Gudge, the names by which Chesterton called big government and big business, are not twins, but perhaps they are brothers. The trick is to keep big business, or any business, from using the coercive power of its big brother, big government, to win, or even survive. ....
  • Are You a Price Slave?
  • Free Will Distributism in which Deavel explains that Distributism is fine if not politically coerced:
If you agree with distributism’s goals, you should spend your money that way and encourage others to do so. If enough people make those choices, that will help support an ample, thriving sector of independent farms and businesses....

The last thing that people who oppose concentrations of power, and who seek to keep alive the vital freedoms we cherish as Americans, should favor is a government that interferes in every decision we make as workers and consumers. Experience tells us that power does not elevate fallen men; it tends to corrupt them. .... [more]

Forgive us our debts

Commenting on a post about Pope Francis's emphasis on mercy, KC Mulville:
Mercy has two sides, i.e., two perspectives, that we shouldn't mix. The first Christians, following their Jewish backgrounds, portrayed sin as a debt. From the debtor's point of view, no matter what the debt-holder does, he still owes the debt. On the other side, whether the debt-holder chooses to demand full repayment is entirely up to him.

Mercy is in the hands of the debt-holder. The debtor has no right to demand it. And, more importantly, if the debt-holder chooses to release it, the debtor cannot say that he never owed anything. That's why mercy doesn't contradict justice; the debtor can't deny his indebtedness. Whether the debt-holder forces him to repay is another matter.

On the other side, I disagree with those who say that Christ's attitude was to demand repentance before he would forgive. If anything, Jesus frequently reminds us that our own debt is enormous, and urges us to remember our own debt while we're deciding whether to squeeze others to repay theirs.

When Jesus said, "turn the other cheek," nowhere does it say "after he apologizes to you."