Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Group-think and stupidity

Annie Holmquist at Intellectual Takeout on avoiding stupidity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
.... “Stupidity,” he said, “is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice,” for the latter is more recognizable and gives “human beings at least a sense of unease.”
Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical—and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.
He goes on to say that stupidity is hard to deal with, for the stupid person will not accept reason, but is instead “utterly self-satisfied and…easily irritated.”

Where does this stupidity come from? Bonhoeffer supplies an answer:
If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem.
In other words, stupidity happens when we allow our sensibilities to be worn down and influenced by the group-think around us. ....

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Prudence

.... For Edmund Burke, the concept meant “a moral rather than a complexional timidity.” That is to say, Burke urged caution not out of cowardice but out of humility. His conservatism was grounded in modesty, and in recognizing that neither he nor any man had all of the answers. In the face of uncertainty, prudence dictates hesitating before making a drastic change.

Yet, maddeningly for those in search of a precise guide to life, Weiner tells us that prudence also demands bold action at times. Burke, at times, demanded such boldness from his country’s government, especially when it meant confronting the regicides of revolutionary France. Simple caution might call for a negotiated peace with the Jacobins; prudence demanded unyielding resistance to the destructive effects of the French Revolution. Lincoln, too, mixed caution with indefatigability when faced with the challenges of secession and Civil War. Even before his election, Lincoln’s prudence separated him from other abolitionists. He argued against slavery logically and effectively in his debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858, but understood the political necessity of moving gradually toward the ultimate goal.

Lincoln, like Burke, also knew when prudence demanded he act drastically. Gradual abolition was fine in peacetime, but when the dispute over slavery erupted into war, the political and moral calculus changed. .... (more)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Savant

In an essay about Susan Sontag Joseph Epstein introduces us to the "savant-idiot" (not idiot savant):
An idiot savant, as is well-known, is a person with serious learning disabilities but gifted in a peculiar and extraordinary way, often mathematically or musically. A savant-idiot, as is not well- known, since I have only just now coined the phrase, is a person who is learned, brainy, even brilliant, but gets everything important wrong. Simone Weil, who starved herself for the good of humankind, was a savant-idiot. So was Jean-Paul Sartre, never giving up on revolutionary Communism even in the face of the mass murders of Stalin and Mao. Hannah Arendt, who wrote a significant book on the crushing oppression of totalitarianism and then turned round to argue that Jews faced with the most systematically murderous totalitarian system of all conspired in their own death, was yet a third savant-idiot.

The classic American savant-idiot was Susan Sontag. This is the Susan Sontag who called white civilization “the cancer of human history.” She it was who, after a trip to Hanoi during the Vietnam War, idealized the North Vietnamese and said, “They genuinely believe life is simple . . . full of joy . . . they genuinely love and admire their leaders.” She claimed that the more than 3,000 innocent people killed on 9/11 in effect had it coming to them, for America, through its imperialist policies, had brought this attack on itself. Sontag waited until 1982 to decide that Communism was little more than “fascism with a human face” (what, one wondered at the time, was the least bit human about it?). Only a savant could be so idiotic.

A savant is a thinker, someone less specialized than a scholar or scientist; he or she is a generalist, an intellectual. ....

Auden on the BCP

W.H. Auden on the abandonment of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer by American Episcopalians (the 1928 Prayer Book was replaced in 1979, but the Auden letter was written in 1968 unwelcome innovations having already appeared):
I think our church has gone stark raving mad. We had the Providential good-fortune, a blessing denied to the Roman Catholics, that our Prayer Book was compiled at the ideal historical moment, that is to say when the English language was already in all essentials the language we use now — nobody has any difficulty understanding Shakespeare’s or Cranmer’s English, as they have difficulty with Beowulf or Chaucer — at the same time, men in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries still possessed what our own has almost totally lost, a sense for the ceremonial and ritual both in life and in language. Why, except in very minor details, any Episcopalian should want to tinker with either the Book of Common Prayer or the King James Bible, and go a-whoring after cacophonous and sometimes heretical new versions passes my comprehension. ....
And then in a 1971 letter:
.... The odd thing about the Liturgical Reform movement is that it is not asked for by the laity — they dislike it. It is a fad of a few crazy priests. If they imagine that their high-jinks will bring youth into the churches, — they are very much mistaken. ....
Stand Firm | W.H. Auden on the Book of Common Prayer, A Word About Auden And The Book of Common Prayer

Sunday, November 17, 2019

"Defenceless under the night / Our world in stupor lies..."

"The Auden Poem Auden Hated" is a review of a book about "September 1, 1939," composed by Auden upon the outbreak of World War II in Europe. The entire essay interested me, sent me back to the poem, and can be found here.
.... Never did Auden employ his gift of accessibility more effectively than in “September 1, 1939,” the poem he wrote immediately after Nazi Germany started World War II by invading Poland. Published in the New Republic that October, “September 1, 1939” contains within its nine 11-line trimetric stanzas more widely quoted phrases than any of Auden’s other poems. It was there that he called the ’30s “a low dishonest decade,” described the stunned members of his generation as “lost in a haunted wood, / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good,” and—most memorably—warned his readers that they “must love one another or die.” ....

It is, one may safely assume, the grandly resonant generalities of “September 1, 1939” that offended their author’s postwar sensibility, in much the same way that Waugh would feel the need to prune away the “rhetorical and ornamental language” of the original version of Brideshead Revisited when he revised the novel in the early ’60s.

But Auden was wrong to think that “the whole poem…was infected with an incurable dishonesty.” Indeed, “September 1, 1939” is powerful above all because of its willingness to tell the unvarnished truth about England and Europe in the ’30s....

.... Yet it is what the author of “September 1, 1939,” chastened by the failure of his own ventures into politics and bolstered by his embrace of Christian faith, very plainly espouses therein—and it is the reason the poem continues to speak to readers who, like Auden before them, “cannot swallow another mouthful” of the totalitarian ideologies with which the repeating cycles of history present them time and again.

“May I,” he cries in its last lines, “Beleaguered by the same / Negation and despair, / Show an affirming flame.” That he succeeded in doing so in “September 1, 1939” is the reason the poem survived all his attempts to mute or suppress it, and why successive generations of readers continue to turn to it in times of trial. It is, and will always be, an affirming flame of hope.

September 1, 1939
 W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?
Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The Auden Poem Auden Hated - Commentary

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

“Résumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues.”

This morning David French quoted from a several years old column by David Brooks:
The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
French today:
.... For quite a few people, when you ask them to take a stand for a particular set of values, like religious liberty or even the ultimate truths of their faith, it turns out that you’re asking them to risk the thing they value the most—the career they see as the summit of their life—for the thing they value less, the core virtues and values that build cultures and character.

Why won’t a politician speak the truth? Why won’t a pastor take responsibility for abuse in his church? Why do corporate executives turn a blind eye to rampant misconduct? Well, it turns out that when we ask for accountability and responsibility, we should understand that we’re asking leaders to potentially sacrifice the very thing that gives them more meaning and purpose than their relationship with their spouse or their own children. ....

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Testing orthodoxy

At GetReligion today the post includes three doctrinal questions the wrong answers to which would clearly place a person outside Christian orthodoxy.:
If you have been reading GetReligion for a decade or so, you have probably seen references to the “tmatt trio,” a set of short questions I have long used to probe the doctrinal fault lines inside Christian hierarchies, institutions and flocks. ....

.... The goal is not to hear sources provide specific answers, but to pay close attention to the content of their answers or non-answers. Here are the three questions, once again:
  1. Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Was this a real – even if mysterious – event in real time? Did it really happen?
  2. Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Is Jesus the Way or a way?
  3. Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin? The key word is sin. ....
It's the unorthodox answers that are significant. Orthodox answers less so since orthodoxy requires much more.

Friday, November 8, 2019

"Awake, my soul"

Re-posted

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise, 
To pay thy morning sacrifice.
Heav’n is, dear Lord, where’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart;
For to my soul ’tis hell to be
But for one moment void of Thee.
Thy precious time misspent, redeem, 
Each present day thy last esteem,
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.
Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.
By influence of the Light divine
Let thy own light to others shine.
Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.
Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.
In conversation be sincere;
Keep conscience as the noontide clear;
Think how all seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.
I would not wake nor rise again
And Heaven itself I would disdain,
Wert Thou not there to be enjoyed,
And I in hymns to be employed.
Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
All praise to Thee, who safe has kept
And hast refreshed me while I slept
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake
I may of endless light partake.



This stirring morning hymn was the work of Thomas Ken (1637—1711), one of the most saintly figures in the history of the Church of England.

Left an orphan as a young child, he was brought up by Izaak Walton, the author of The Compleat Angler. He was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, and ordained at the age of twenty-six. Six years later he returned to his old school as a teacher and chaplain, becoming also a Prebendary of Winchester Cathedral.

Ken later achieved considerable fame as chaplain to King Charles II, whose amorous adventures he found impossible to sanction. On one celebrated occasion Charles found himself in Winchester with his mistress Nell Gwyn and asked Ken to put them up in his house. Ken refused, declaring, 'Not for your kingdom would I allow such an insult on the house of a Royal chaplain.' ....

'Awake, my soul' was written while Ken was still at Winchester and before he had become embroiled in the world of politics. In 1674 he published a manual of prayers for the boys at the College, and in the 1695 edition of that work this hymn appeared together with hymns to be sung in the evening and at midnight. ....

Modern hymn-books tend to print a shortened version. The hymn is generally sung to the tune Morning Hymn by François Hippolite Barthelemon (1741-1808). Also known as Hippolytus and Magdalene, it was specially written for 'Awake, my soul' at the request of the chaplain of a female orphan asylum in London and was first published in 1785. ....

At his own request Ken was buried at sunrise in the churchyard at Frome, Somerset, with his beautiful morning hymn being sung.
Ian Bradley, ed., The Penguin Book of Hymns, 1989.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Complicity

I taught about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. And I taught about the genocide committed by the Nazis. But I didn't teach about this because I just didn't know much about it. From "New evidence shows FDR's bigotry derailed many Holocaust rescue plans:
Not only was US president Franklin Roosevelt perfunctory about rescuing Jews from the Nazis, but he obstructed rescue opportunities that would have cost him little or nothing, according to Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff. ....

“Roosevelt used almost identical language in recommending that the Jews and the Japanese be forcibly ‘spread thin’ around the country,” Medoff told The Times of Israel. “I was struck by the similarity between the language FDR used regarding the Japanese, and that which he used in private concerning Jews — that they can’t be trusted, they won’t ever become fully loyal Americans, they’ll try to dominate wherever they go.

During the 1920s, when Roosevelt was already a seasoned politician and a vice presidential candidate, he expressed racist views in editorials and interviews. Regarding new immigrants — and Asians in particular — he bemoaned the creation of ethnic “colonies” in major cities.

“Our main trouble in the past has been that we have permitted the foreign elements to segregate in colonies,” Roosevelt told the Brooklyn Eagle daily newspaper in a 1920 interview. “They have crowded into one district and they have brought congestion and racial prejudices to our large cities.”

During these key years before Roosevelt entered the White House, he also wrote and spoke about “the mingling of white with Oriental blood” and preserving other forms of “racial purity.” According to Medoff, all of this was part of a long-held worldview that later guided Roosevelt during his three terms in office.

“Roosevelt’s unflattering statements about Jews consistently reflected one of several interrelated notions: that is was undesirable to have too many Jews in any single profession, institution, or geographic locale; that America was by nature, and should remain, an overwhelmingly white, Protestant country; and that Jews on the whole possessed certain innate and distasteful characteristics,” wrote Medoff. ....

In 1939, as the world went to war, Hitler broadcast his intentions to annihilate European Jewry. Simultaneously, FDR refused to support a bill that would have let 20,000 Jewish German adolescents into the US. Anne Frank and her sister Margot could have qualified to be included, since they were German citizens and under age 16, said Medoff.

Roosevelt’s determination to keep Jews away from America knew few limits, as probed in several chapters of Medoff’s book. Although it is well-known that Roosevelt turned away the St. Louis ship packed with German Jewish refugees, the president took other steps that have been omitted by most of his biographers.

For example, when the Dominican Republic made a public offer to take in 100,000 Jews on visas, the administration undermined the plan. From Roosevelt’s point of view, explained Medoff, that country was too close to home, and Jews deposited there would inevitably come to America. Officials in the US Virgin Islands, too, were willing to rescue Jews by letting them into the country, but Roosevelt halted the plan, wrote Medoff. ....

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Christian founding?

In "Founding Deists and Other Unicorns" James Bruce reviews Did America Have a Christian Founding? by Mark David Hall. He begins by asking "What determines whether or not America had a Christian founding? .... Did the members of the founding generation identify themselves as Christians? .... But that doesn’t tell us much. People can be bad believers, or they can be good Christians self-consciously founding a secular regime. .... And there’s a theological issue, too. At what point does a historical figure become a non-Christian due to his privately held unorthodox beliefs, even if he publicly identifies himself as a Christian?"

It's a good, informative, review/essay, from which:
.... Let’s consider one concrete case in order to illustrate Hall’s method. In 1784, Patrick Henry proposed a bill to tax individuals for the support of their local churches. James Madison wrote his celebrated Memorial in the summer of 1785 in the hopes of preventing the bill’s passage that autumn. On a standard telling of the American story, an Enlightenment Madison saved the country from religious fanatics. Is that, in fact, what happened?

Not at all. Hall notes that “an earlier evangelical petition” received far more signatures, by a margin of 4,899 to 1,552 (out of 10,929 Virginians who signed any petition on the matter). That petition said Henry’s bill was “contrary to the spirit of the Gospel” and that the church was not helped “when Constantine first established Christianity by human laws.” Lest we think Madison’s Memorial spawned the other petitions, including this evangelical one, Hall notes that the evangelical petition was written at least seventh months before Madison wrote his Memorial. Furthermore, Madison’s Memorial itself includes “a number of overtly religious arguments,” suggesting a broader purview than the unaccompanied Enlightenment. And let’s be clear: almost half the Virginians who signed a petition signed the evangelical one, thereby endorsing its Christian appeals for religious freedom. The Memorial by itself, based on its share of signatories, could not have carried the day. The evangelical petition, all by itself, could have. ....
And
.... Hall identifies eight great founders regularly claimed for deism: Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Allen, and Paine. Hall gives us plenty of reasons to question the alleged deism of most of these men. But he observes, quite persuasively, that even if these founders were all deists, they still had to persuade (from a secular point of view) the vast unenlightened hordes clinging to God and their guns. Eight men—even eight great and influential men—still represent a minuscule segment of the national population.

More importantly, these eight represent only a tiny sample of the people we call founders. Hall works through the founders by denominational affiliation, noting that “there is little reason to doubt, and much evidence to indicate” their orthodoxy. From Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Roger Sherman, James Wilson, and John Witherspoon, on the Reformed side, to John Jay and Patrick Henry on the Anglican side (just to name a few), Hall offers a laundry list of Christian founders.

By contrast, in the founding period, only Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine offered defenses of deism. Hall argues persuasively that Allen’s Reason: The Only Oracle of Man exercised little influence (selling less than 200 copies) and that Paine’s Age of Reason received almost universal scorn. Hall offers a veritable who’s who of founders that criticized Paine’s book.... (much more)
The argument isn't that because the nation was predominantly Christian then it should be a theocracy now. It wasn't a theocracy then and it won't be ever — or at least until the end of time. This argument matters simply to inform an understanding of the constituting documents and to correct what many non-believers prefer to believe.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Dogs

Jonah Goldberg on dogs (he has two):
.... Unlike all other “companion” animals—cats, horses, parrots, monkeys, hawks, Packers fans (I kid), etc.—dogs chose to partner with humans. When I first started making this argument, it was just that—an argument. Now science has pretty much confirmed what was obvious to those who paid attention. Dogs have the ability to read human facial expressions; wolves don’t. Dogs are wired to love humans. They volunteer for duty. All other animals have to be conscripted. Horses, birds, monkeys, and even cats can be bent to serve humans to one extent or another, but it is not natural for them. It is natural for dogs. It’s what they want to do. Some breeds are more eager to please than others, but as a species, they are our compadres.

.... I just want to point out that we have a special obligation to dogs. Our ancestors cut a deal with dogs, and the contract is still binding. This is particularly the case for dogs that are asked to fight alongside us and protect us. They are doing it because they believe we are family. The question of their intelligence is secondary to the fact of their love. ....

Friday, November 1, 2019

A great cloud of witnesses



A hymn most appropriate for All Saints' Day sung to Ralph Vaughan Williams's SINE NOMINE ["without name"], perhaps referring to all those saints whose names are not remembered on earth:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to God, the Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

John Mark Reynolds, after the death of his great aunt, wrote:
.... Many suffered and all died, but none were forgotten by God. All of them passed from the horrible moment of death to His presence. They struggled and gasped and then they were at rest forever...not the cold unfeeling rest of physical death, but the vibrant life of souls awaiting a second life and a new body. They throb with the music of the spheres and the future triumph of King Jesus is obvious to them.

There is no doubt in one dead man that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We struggle in this life and we strive and we hope and we plan...and we exhaust ourselves in politics, business, and religious activity, but an end will come. Our striving is often lonely, but we are never alone. ....

Death is a reminder that for a Christian there is a community formed that is indifferent to time. We are surrounded by an ever growing multitude of those who know, who have set aside all doubt, and who rejoice in an imminent victory that they can see.

I am not alone.

You are not alone.

There is hope, because someone, some hundreds of thousands probably, have faced worse and gone on to victory. God’s grace is sufficient and the ever growing band of victorious Christians is to His glory and honor. We never are alone in our struggle, because millions of brothers and sisters are done with their labor and wait for us to join them.

Glory to God! .... [more]
Never Alone: All Saints » Evangel | A First Things Blog

Thursday, October 31, 2019

"Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold..."

I am really enjoying The Dispatch and, for the time being, it is free. From David French today:
I urge everyone to read Ross Douthat’s insightful piece in Tuesday’s New York Times. He makes a key point about the continuing decline in American Christianity—it’s mainly occurring in the more lukewarm quarters of the faith. Here’s Ross:
The relative stability of the Gallup [church-attendance] data fits with analysis offered by the sociologists Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock in a 2017 paper, “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion.” Drawing on the General Social Survey, they argued that the recent decline of institutional religion is entirely a function of the formerly weakly affiliated ceasing to identify with religious bodies entirely; for the strongly affiliated (just over a third of the American population), the trend between 1990 and the present is a flat line, their numbers neither growing nor collapsing but holding steady across an era of supposedly dramatic religious change.
Put another way, Americans who used to categorize themselves as Christians by default or heritage—those nominal Christians who rarely darkened the doors of a church—are more likely to simply say they don’t belong to any faith.

A verse in the book of Revelation comes to mind: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” ....

...[W]hile Protestant attendance numbers are relatively steady (because the Evangelical church grows as the Mainline shrinks) the Catholic condition is more grim: “after a long period of immigrant-supported stabilization, in the current ‘aftershock’ it’s mostly Catholic mass attendance that’s been falling, even as Protestant church attendance bobs up.”

Thus, it’s not exactly right to say that America is becoming a “post-Christian nation” in the way that Europe is thoroughly secularized. In reality America is becoming a religiously divided nation—divided not between Christian sects, but rather between the faithful and the secular, with the faith community comprised of a critical mass of devout believers with a much smaller number of nominal or traditional hangers-on.

Finally, Ross accurately identifies a fascinating cultural reality. It’s simply wrong to say that the faithful are clustering in one American political party. White Evangelicals have moved decisively to the GOP, yes, but black Democrats are one of the most devout American demographics.

In fact, the Democratic Party contains an interesting alliance of both the most faithful (African-American) and secular (white progressive) communities in the United States. ....

Today

Today is Reformation Day and tomorrow is All Saints' Day:

This Reformation Day is the 502nd anniversary of the day Martin Luther issued his challenge to debate his 95 theses – not the beginning of the Reformation but an important point in it. Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. Days were thought of as evening to evening so the eve was the beginning of the next day – think New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve. Although today most approach it as a secular holiday that wasn’t its origin and for us Protestants all believers are “saints” – and All Saints’ Day is when we acknowledge “the great cloud of witnesses” who have passed on. So today we can celebrate both the Protestant Reformation and all those believers who have gone before.

Therefore being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand,
and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2 [KJV]

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"Sinning saints, righteous wretches, and...justified jerks"

Re-posted

Tomorrow, October 31st, is Reformation Day. Kevin DeYoung reminds us of some of the most important reasons we are Protestants:
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered the launching point for the Protestant Reformation.

The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. ....

There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.

First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).

Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. .... I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. .... We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).

Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.

Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. ...[E]vangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.

Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. .... It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved. [more]
From Nathan Finn: "Baptists and the Reformation":
...[O]n this Reformation Day, I’m thankful for the Protestant heritage we Baptists enjoy. We stand with Luther and Calvin on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We stand with the Anabaptists on a believer’s church committed to radical discipleship and confessor’s baptism. We stand with all three of these groups in their commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture. And as good Protestants, we ultimately stand where we stand, not because others stand there as well, but because we believe the Spirit still speaks through His Word to guide Christ’s people on the narrow way.
Five Key Concepts in the Reformation Understanding of Justification – Kevin DeYoung, Baptists and the Reformation

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Nor'easter

Via The Imaginative Conservative, a painting I don't recall seeing before, “Northeaster” (1895) by Winslow Homer (1836-1910):

A new believer

David French listened to Jesus Is King last weekend and reflects on "Kanye West and the Power of the New Believer":
First, new believers demonstrate the power of God over the human heart. When I first listened to Kanye’s new album, the thought popped in my head that this is why we pray so earnestly for a person’s salvation. This is why you never give up on a person. ....

Second, new believers remind us that the Gospel is totalizing; it should make us rethink everything. The revolution isn’t just spiritual. It should touch every aspect of our lives. ....

Third, new believers expose the church’s flaws. There’s nothing like watching a man rejoice in the Lord and rethink every aspect of his life to convict a person of their own joylessness and spiritual compartmentalization. From the moment of conversion, worldly forces attempt to claw the person back into the darkness, and even if your soul is ultimately beyond the enemy’s reach, he’ll still attack your faith, your hope, and your joy. While the sheer exuberance of new belief is difficult to sustain in a fallen world, we should remain fundamentally hopeful and faithful even in the face of immense adversity. The presence of a new believer can remind us of the joy that we too-easily lose.

But the flaws in the church go even deeper. In Jesus Is King, Kanye notes the opposition he’s gotten from fellow believers. This is sadly no surprise. On one side, Christian scolds never fail to point out all the things new Christians get wrong about theology, politics, culture, or the church. They seem to work overtime to drain the joy out of a new life, neglecting the fact that the process of sanctification occurs over a lifetime. ....
So, pray for every new believer.

Monday, October 28, 2019

No fear!

My annual reminder:

As Halloween approaches it is useful for the more excitable among us to be reminded that the Evil One has already been defeated. From "Concerning Halloween" by James B. Jordan:
.... "Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.) ....

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. ....

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even — Hallow-E’en — Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ — we have NO FEAR! .... [more]
Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"He prayeth best..."


Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

"Teach me to live, that I may dread / The grave as little as my bed"

Re-posted.
Glory to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light:
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings.
O may my soul on Thee repose,
And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close;
Sleep that shall me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.
Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done;
That with the world, myself, and Thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.
When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply;
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.
Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed;
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the awful day.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Thomas Ken, 1692

The performances I've found on YouTube leave out the fifth verse, "When in the night I sleepless lie..." I like that verse.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Manners

Edmund Burke, First Letter on a Regicide Peace (1796)
Manners are more important than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or sooth, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and colour to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Agincourt

Today, October 25, is St. Crispin's Day:


Shakespear's Henry at Agincourt:
He which hath no stomach for this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispin:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see his old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,
And say "Tomorrow is Saint Crispin":
Then he will strip his sleeve and show his scars
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names
Familiar in his mouth as household words:
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us on Saint Crispin's day.

~ William Shakespeare (1564-1616) (King Henry V, Act 4, Sc. 3)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Decadence, totalitarianism, or something else

Ross Douthat is reading Watership Down to his daughters. He writes "One of the virtues of reading a narrative aloud, to children or indeed to anyone, is the way that vocalizing a story clarifies its power, especially in the quavering passion that you try to keep from your voice (because you don’t want your kids to think their dear dad is too emotional) but that bleeds through in spite of everything. And with a hundred pages to go I can already tell that when I get to the climax of Watership Down, I’m going to be a wreck."  A conclusion he has come to from this re-reading of the book is that it has political relevance. From the essay:
...[E]ssentially Adams’s novel offers a portrait of a political founding, the establishment of a new homeland by a band of rabbit adventurers who escape from a doomed warren when one of their number, a mystic named Fiver, has a vision of its destruction at the hands of developers. But that founding doesn’t happen in a vacuum; instead the band of rabbits engage with two very different warrens, two alternative models of political order, on their path to making a new order of their own.

The first warren, where they briefly try to settle, appears at first to be idyllic. The rabbits are sleek and well-fed, they have plenty of space (the burrows are oddly underpopulated), the lands around are completely clear of predators (“elil” in Adams’s rabbit tongue, Lapine), and best of all the local farmer just tosses leftover produce in the fields.

But soon it becomes clear that this warren has shed all the rabbit-y virtues, cunning and daring and courage and mischief, in favor of odd imitations of human culture — attempted sculptures, existentialist poetry. Its denizens are bored or irritated by tales of adventure and heroism; they cultivate a condescending skepticism about El-ahrairah, the rabbit trickster-prince of legend; they seem comfortable and smug and yet subtly depressed. And then comes the revelation: Both the absence of predators and the presence of food is the work of the local farmer, who protects the rabbits from normal harms while trapping and killing a consistent percentage for their pelts and meat — a dark bargain the warren has learned to live with by building a sophisticated system of denial, a culture of pleasure and of death.

This warren is an appealing-seeming snare from which the book’s questing heroes ultimately slip free. The next alternative, Efrafa, is a totalitarian prison house: Instead of surrendering an essential rabbitness for the sake of ease and safety, Efrafa’s dictator, the terrifying and omnicompetent General Woundwort, deals with the enmity of men and predators by running a police state, one that keeps its rabbits underground and regimented, trains the strongest bucks to fight and rule and dominate, denies any agency to the warren’s females, and refuses diplomacy and cooperation with fellow rabbits as much as with any other creature. ....

.... No reader of Watership Down, and few readers of the literary and political traditions on which its narrative depends, would accept that totalitarianism and decadence exhaust the available political alternatives. Indeed the novel is compelling precisely because its new-founded warren, its good regime, is remarkable yet also homely, its founders heroic and also ordinary, with nothing utopian or superhuman or impossible about them. .... (more)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Moral instruction

.... Since private and publick Vices, are in Reality, though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost Pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of Children, and the moral Sense kept alive, and that the wise Institutions of our Ancestors for these great Purposes be encouragd by the Government. For no People will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when Knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own Weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.

The People of the Book

The significance of Simchat Torah, which is today, explained:
...Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the noted British theologian and member of the House of Lords [writes] "We stand in its presence as if it were a king. We dance with it as if it were a bride. We kiss it as if it were a friend. If, God forbid, one is damaged beyond repair, we mourn it as if it were a member of the family." If a Torah scroll is accidentally dropped, everyone who witnesses it is expected to fast in penance. When a synagogue is burned, whether by accident or by arson, there is an immediate, palpable anxiety to know whether the Torah scrolls were saved or lost.

Simchat Torah occurs on the last day of a three-week sequence of fall holidays. It follows Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (the feast of Tabernacles). Unlike those holidays, however, Simchat Torah is not biblically ordained. It was not imposed by religious authorities from the top down, but grew organically from the bottom up. Its roots reach back 15 centuries to the ancient Jewish community of Babylonia, which formalized the practice of publicly reading the entire Torah — from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy — over the course of a year. The completion of the annual cycle became an occasion of joy, marked by singing and dancing around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls. Adults and children alike take part in the festivities. And as soon as the final verses of Deuteronomy are chanted from the end of one scroll, another is opened and the first chapter of Genesis is chanted: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The Jewish engagement with the Torah never ends; as soon as we finish, we start again.

The "people of the book," Jews are called. The phrase comes from the Koran, where it appears 31 times — an apt emphasis, for no nation has ever been as closely identified with a book as have Jews with the Torah. Sacks notes that by the time Simchat Torah had spread throughout the Jewish world, Jews had lost everything that would seem indispensable to national survival: land, sovereignty, political freedom, a military. Yet they still had their book to study and teach and rejoice with. Somehow, through the centuries of wandering and exile, that was enough to keep Jewish peoplehood alive. ....

Monday, October 21, 2019

World-worrying

From Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence this morning:
.... Panic is pandemic. Everything is a crisis. Looked at historically, in context, everything is proceeding as usual, but ordinary people, newly armed with social media, have grown extraordinarily fond of melodrama and cheap, unearned emotion. Eighty years ago, Smith had already diagnosed our problem:
“There is a sort of hubris in this world-worrying. For if you have achieved peace in your own mind, when the worst happens (if it does) you will have reserves of strength to meet it. And if you have not achieved peace in your own mind, how can you expect the world to do any better.”
This is realism, not quietism. A man’s got to know his limitations, as a movie star one said.... (more)
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
 the courage to change the things I can, 
 and the wisdom to know the difference. 
Reinhold Niebuhr

Anecdotal Evidence: 'A Sort of Hubris in This World-Worrying'

Sunday, October 20, 2019

There is a country...

Peace
by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)
My Soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars;
There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles, 
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend
And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

Peace by Henry Vaughan | Poetry Foundation

Friday, October 18, 2019

When does life begin?

It isn't a religious question. It is a question of scientific fact. The religious or philosophical issue would be "when is it right to take a life?" This is fascinating: "I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn't Popular":
.... I found that most Americans believe that the question of “when life begins” is an important aspect of the U.S. abortion debate (82%); that most believe Americans deserve to know when a human’s life begins in order to give informed consent to abortion procedures (76%); and that most Americans believe a human’s life is worthy of legal protection once it begins (93%). Respondents also were asked: “Which group is most qualified to answer the question, ‘When does a human’s life begin?’” They were presented with several options—biologists, philosophers, religious leaders, Supreme Court Justices and voters. Eighty percent selected biologists, and the majority explained that they chose biologists because they view them as objective experts in the study of life. ....

.... I emailed surveys to professors in the biology departments of over 1,000 institutions around the world.

As the usable responses began to come in, I found that 5,337 biologists (96%) affirmed that a human’s life begins at fertilization, with 240 (4%) rejecting that view. The majority of the sample identified as liberal (89%), pro-choice (85%) and non-religious (63%). In the case of Americans who expressed party preference, the majority identified as Democrats (92%). .... (more)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

A culture of discipleship

From a Wall Street Journal story today: "Religion Is on the Decline as More Adults Check ‘None’" — "Religiosity in the U.S. is in sharp decline, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center on Thursday, with the ranks of people who don’t adhere to any faith growing fast while church attendance has fallen steeply. ...." How Christians should respond may be found in the early history of the Church. Christianity Today has published an article by the author, Gerald L. Sittser, of Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian "Third Way" Changed the World, from which:
.... The success of the early church was certainly not inevitable. Christians could have accommodated to the culture to win recognition and approval, which would have undermined the uniqueness of their belief system and way of life. Or Christians could have isolated themselves from the culture to hide and survive, which would have kept them on the margins—safe, to be sure, but also irrelevant.

Instead, Christians engaged the culture without excessive compromise and remained separate from the culture without excessive isolation. Christians figured out how to be both faithful and winsome. They followed what was then known as the “Third Way,” a phrase that first appeared in a second-century letter to a Roman official named Diognetus. ....

The Third Way spawned a new movement—new in theology, in story, in authority, in community, in worship, and in behavior. Christian belief was so new, in fact, that it required Christians to develop a process of formation in the Third Way to move new believers from conversion to discipleship, from outsider to insider, from observer to full-fledged member, which produced generation after generation of believers who, established firmly in the faith, were able to grow the movement over a long period of time. ....

They viewed worship as a bridge between divine and human worlds, as if in worship Christians stepped into a liminal space between heaven and earth. They did not see themselves primarily as consumers who attended worship to hear a good sermon and sing a few familiar songs but as beholders of the unspeakable glory of God. Worship not only ushered them into the very presence of God but also prepared them to return to the ordinary life of market, home, and neighborhood as disciples of Jesus. ....

Christians became a nation within a nation, a new oikoumene or universal commonwealth that spanned the known world, crossing traditional cultural barriers. Their primary loyalty was to fellow believers, not nation or race or tribe or party or class. Christians created a new oikos (house church), too, which established a different kind of family. God was true Father; they were all brothers and sisters. The Christian movement was therefore both radically global and local at the same time. Both oikoumene and oikos had the effect of undermining and transforming the traditional social order. ....

As long as Christians assume we are still living in Christendom, the church will continue to decline in the West, no matter how ferociously Christians fight to maintain power and privilege. If anything, the harder Christians fight, the more precipitous the decline will be, for cultural power and privilege will come at an increasingly high price. Christians will either accommodate until the faith becomes almost unrecognizable, or they will isolate until their faith becomes virtually invisible.

Nothing short of a change of church culture will suffice—from a culture of entertainment, politics, personality, and program to a culture of discipleship. Such a radical change will require patience, steadiness, and purposefulness. .... (more)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"What do we love more than life?"

Charles J. Chaput, Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, will soon retire having reached the age of seventy-five. I've appreciated various things I've read of his ever since he was in Colorado. Here he speaks about "Things Worth Dying For: The Nature of a Life Worth Living":
.... The good news about turning 75—the very good news—is that I’ll finally be able to retire. The not so good news is what sooner or later comes after it. When you get to be my age, a topic like “things worth dying for” has some special urgency. As one of my Domer friends likes to point out, dying is a downer.

Or that’s one way of looking at it. My own feelings are rather different. My dad was a mortician in a small Kansas town. So in my family, death and all of the complex emotions that surround it were a natural part of living. To put it another way: The meaning of a sentence becomes clear when we put a period at the end of it. The same applies to life. When we talk about things worth dying for, we’re really talking about the things worth living for; the things that give life meaning. Thinking a little about our mortality puts the world in perspective. It helps us see what matters, and also the foolishness of grasping at things that finally don’t matter. Your hearse, as my father might say, won’t have a luggage rack. ....

We’re living in a moment of vigilant, even vindictive, political correctness on matters ranging from sex to the meaning of our national history. It can be very hard for a young scholar to get a job at many American universities if he thinks marriage is only possible between a man and a woman—and he makes the mistake of talking about it. People working in corporate settings tend to learn very quickly that “diversity training” is not an invitation to free and open discussion. It’s often the opposite. And our politics often seems gripped with amnesia about the price in human suffering extracted by the bitter social experiments of the last century—always in the name of progress and equality.

Obviously the courage of our convictions needs to be guided by prudence. In the early years of Christianity the faithful suffered waves of persecution. The Fathers of the Church criticized those who were too eager for martyrdom. ....

Life—all life, no matter how poor, infirm, unborn, or limited—is a great gift. We should never be in a hurry to foolishly risk it. The same can be said for professional success, or even just the good of earning a decent living and providing for a family. Silence and avoiding situations that force us to state our convictions can sometimes be the prudent course of action.

The key word in that sentence is “sometimes.” Cowardice is very good at hiding behind a number of virtues. Too often we censor or contort ourselves to fit into what we perceive as approved behavior or thought. We muffle our Christian beliefs to avoid being the targets of contempt. Over time, a legitimate exercise of prudence can very easily become a degrading habit; a habit that soils the soul. ....

It’s a good thing, a vital thing, to consider what we’re willing to die for. What do we love more than life? To even ask that question is an act of rebellion against a loveless age. And to answer it with conviction is to become a revolutionary; the kind of loving revolutionary who will survive and resist—and someday redeem a late modern West that can no longer imagine anything worth dying for, and thus, in the long run, anything worth living for. ....

Monday, October 14, 2019

Apocrypha

While in college I acquired a Jerusalem Bible, largely because I knew J.R.R. Tolkien had been involved in its translation into English. It is a Catholic Bible and so contained what we Protestants usually think of as the Old Testament Apocrypha. That was my introduction to them. Philip Jenkins' post today, "The Second Canon," includes an account of how these "Deuterocanonical books" came to be absent from modern Protestant Bibles:
The Apocrypha in the KJV (1611)
.... Just how Protestants came to lose these books is a curious story. Up to the Reformation, there was no real question about the acceptance of those extra books. Reformation-era debates over the Bible naturally focused on issues of canon. The Reformers naturally held to the most stringent standards of inclusion, which usually meant accepting the familiar Jewish definition of the Hebrew Bible. In fairness, let me add that some sixteenth century Catholics also placed the Deuterocanonicals in an inferior or apocryphal position. But after some disagreement at the Council of Trent, Catholics fully accepted the Deuterocanon, a term coined in the 1560s by Sixtus of Siena. Although historical interpretations decided the two positions, Catholics also favored books favorable to their theology, and Protestants accordingly disliked these same works. One text in Maccabees, for instance, supports the idea of prayers for the dead.

But excluding books from the Protestant canon certainly did not mean abandoning them overnight. Most early Protestant Bibles did indeed include the “Deuteros,” but segregated in a special section of apocrypha, sandwiched between the Old and New Testaments. This was the solution of Luther (1534) and it was followed by the Geneva Bible, the standard English text for most mainstream Anglicans and Puritans alike for a century after its publication in 1560. (It was many years before the King James overtook it in popularity).

Church authorities were careful to stress that these books should not be taken as fully authoritative. In 1563, for instance, the 39 Articles of the Church of England listed these “other Books (as [Jerome] saith) [that] the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The Westminster Confession of Faith in 1647 was tougher still, declaring that “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”

Even so, these texts were included in Bibles and were presented in exactly the same manner as the canonical books, in similar typeface and appearance. The books continued to have authority and religious significance, and the stories they told remained widely known. I could give countless examples, but let me take one English moment. In 1746, the Duke of Cumberland returned to London after bloodily defeating the Jacobite rebellion. Handel composed an oratorio for the occasion, and naturally turned to the Bible for an appropriate story of a heroic general fighting for his nation and faith against a pagan foe. Also, the story had to be a famous piece well known to a Protestant audience. Where else would he turn, then, but to the story of Judas Maccabeus? Patriots of the American Revolution loved the story of Maccabees.

English-speaking Protestants lost the Deuterocanon not through any calculated theological decision, but through publishing accident, and at quite a recent date. Prior to the early nineteenth century, Anglo-American Bibles included the apocryphal section, but this dropped out as printers sought to produce more and cheaper editions. Increasingly too, during the nineteenth century, anti-Catholic sentiment encouraged Protestants to draw a sharp line between the two variant Bibles. If Catholics esteemed books like Maccabees and Wisdom, there must be something terribly wrong with them. In the nineteenth century US, the right to use particular Bibles – Catholic or Protestant – was one of the major forces driving Catholics to create their own parochial school system, independent of the public schools. That supposed “rejection” of the Bible in turn further fueled popular anti-Catholicism. .... (more)
Interesting. The Anglican 39 Articles (1563), as quoted above, said this and then listed the books:
And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
The Third Book of Esdras
The Fourth Book of Esdras
The Book of Tobias
The Book of Judith
The Song of the Three Children     
The Story of Susanna
Of Bel and the Dragon
The rest of the Book of Esther
The Book of Wisdom
Jesus the Son of Sirach
Baruch the Prophet
The Prayer of Manasses
The First Book of Maccabees
The Second Book of Maccabees

Friday, October 11, 2019

Sayers and crime

Today CrimeReads gives us "Dorothy L. Sayers: A Crime Reader's Guide to the Classics," an excellent introduction to the novels (and more), from which:
In the Golden Age of British detective fiction in the 1920s and 1930s, four women were universally considered the four Queens—Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy L. Sayers (don’t forget the middle initial, please, she was most adamant about that). She earned that title largely on the strength of eleven extraordinary novels published between 1923 and 1937, featuring the iconic character of Lord Peter Wimsey and, in four of them, the inestimable Harriet Vane, as well as dozens of short stories and one stand-alone novel. ....

Entertaining, erudite, lucid, filled with ingenious puzzles and even more ingenious solutions, written with grace, elegance, flair, wit, and an acute attention to character and psychological development, these novels combined the best qualities of the detective story with a novelist’s attention to the mores and manners of the day.

She was obsessed with Fair Play—all the clues should be laid in front of the reader, all the deductions should be ones the readers could make, if only they were able. No writer should lie: “Any fool can tell a lie, and any fool can believe it; but the right method is to tell the truth in such a way that the intelligent reader is seduced into telling the lie for himself.” ....

Sayers believed the characters had to be real, the settings had to be real, and the crimes had to be real. George Orwell once chided her for “an extremely morbid interest in corpses,” but for Sayers, the violence of murder was not something that should be papered over, and she could be graphic in her depiction of corpses, autopsies, and exhumations. Murder had real-life consequences, not only for the victims, but for all who knew the victims, and those who investigated the victims’ deaths. As Sayers wrote, “Violence really hurts.” It wasn’t all a jolly game. ....

This can be seen in the shadings and evolution of her main character, Lord Peter Wimsey. Wimsey, 32 years old when we first meet him, is rich, well-educated, athletic, expert in many things, and as the second son of a Duke, has no family estate to look after—that’s the responsibility of his “beef-witted” older brother, Gerald—so he doesn’t actually have much in his life that he has to do. When first met, he seems somewhat fatuous and silly—the very caricature of a foolish dilettante aristocrat—and indeed there have been some readers who have never tried the Sayers books out of just such an impression.

They would be mistaken. ....

She cared about the characters and the prose and every one of her readers just having a good time. .... (much more)
Dorothy L. Sayers: A Crime Reader's Guide to the Classics | CrimeReads

"Leave out the parts readers tend to skip"

This is Elmore Leonard's birthday. I've posted a number of times about his books. They have given me hours and hours of pleasure.  In 2001 he listed ten "rules for writing."
  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control!
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Same for places and things.
  10. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"A kind of daylight in the mind"

I have always preferred Chearfulness to Mirth. The latter, I consider as an Act, the former as an Habit of the Mind. Mirth is short and transient. Chearfulness fixed and permanent. Those are often raised into the greatest Transports of Mirth, who are subject to the greatest Depressions of Melancholy: On the contrary, Chearfulness, tho’ it does not give the Mind such an exquisite Gladness, prevents us from falling into any Depths of Sorrow. Mirth is like a Flash of Lightning, that breaks thro a Gloom of Clouds, and glitters for a Moment; Chearfulness keeps up a kind of Day-light in the Mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual Serenity. ....

If we consider Chearfulness in three Lights, with regard to our selves, to those we converse with, and to the great Author of our Being, it will not a little recommend it self on each of these Accounts. The Man who is possessed of this excellent Frame of Mind, is not only easy in his Thoughts, but a perfect Master of all the Powers and Faculties of his Soul: His Imagination is always clear, and his Judgment undisturbed: His Temper is even and unruffled, whether in Action or in Solitude. He comes with a Relish to all those Goods which Nature has provided for him, tastes all the Pleasures of the Creation which are poured about him, and does not feel the full Weight of those accidental Evils which may befal him.

If we consider him in relation to the Persons whom he converses with, it naturally produces Love and Good-will towards him. A chearful Mind is not only disposed to be affable and obliging, but raises the same good Humour in those who come within its Influence. A Man finds himself pleased, he does not know why, with the Chearfulness of his Companion: It is like a sudden Sun-shine that awakens a secret Delight in the Mind, without her attending to it. The Heart rejoices of its own accord, and naturally flows out into Friendship and Benevolence towards the Person who has so kindly an Effect upon it.

When I consider this chearful State of Mind in its third Relation, I cannot but look upon it as a constant habitual Gratitude to the great Author of Nature. An inward Chearfulness is an implicit Praise and Thanksgiving to Providence under all its Dispensations. It is a kind of Acquiescence in the State wherein we are placed, and a secret Approbation of the Divine Will in his Conduct towards Man. .... (more)