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


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)

"We stand before our God"

Via Power Line, the prayer German Rabbi Leo Baeck composed for Yom Kippur, October 10, 1935. "The Gestapo discovered the text of the prayer and arrested Baeck."
Rabbi Leo Baeck (1873–1956)
At this hour the whole House of Israel stands before its God, the God of Justice and the God of Mercy. We shall examine our ways before Him. We shall examine what we have done and what we have failed to do; we shall examine where we have gone and where we have failed to go. Wherever we have sinned we will confess it: We will say “we have sinned” and we will pray with the will to repentance before the Lord and we will pray: “Lord forgive us!”

We stand before our God and with the same courage with which we have acknowledged our sins, the sins of the individual and the sins of the community, shall we express our abhorrence of the lie directed against us, and the slander of our faith and its expressions: this slander is far below us. We believe in our faith and our future. Who brought the world the secret of the Lord Everlasting, of the Lord Who is One? Who brought the world understanding for a life of purity, for the purity of the family? Who brought the world respect for Man made in the image of God? Who brought the world the commandment of justice, of social thought? In all these the spirit of the Prophets of Israel, the Revelation of God to the Jewish People had a part.

It sprang from our Judaism, and continues to grow in it. All the slander drops away when it is cast against these facts.

We stand before our God: Our strength is in Him. In Him is the truth and the dignity of our history. In Him is the source of our survival through every change, our firm stand in all our trials. Our history is the history of spiritual greatness, spiritual dignity.

We turn to it when attack and insult are directed against us, when need and suffering press in upon us. The Lord led our fathers from generation to generation. He will continue to lead us and our children through our days.

We stand before our God; we draw strength from His Commandments, which we obey. We bow down before Him, and we stand upright before Men. Him we serve, and remain steadfast in all the changes around us. We put our faith in Him in humility and our way ahead is clear, we see our future….

Monday, October 7, 2019

"Proud-of-itself anger"

.... Throughout most of American cultural history, uncontrolled anger was regarded as a personal weakness, and public expression of anger outside some limited circumstances was regarded as shameful. The high regard in which his countrymen regarded George Washington drew in part from his mastery of his own explosive temper. Washington’s famous ‘dignity’ was achieved by quelling his overtowering anger. What was good for George was good for everyone else. All through the 19th century, the nation’s presses poured out manuals for married couples on how to manage domestic disagreements without descending into anger. Books on childrearing emphasized teaching the young emotional self-discipline. The nation’s literary culture grew up on stories about the destructiveness of uncontrolled anger. Ahab’s quest for vengeance against the great white whale isn’t intended as praise for the captain’s virtuosity in expressing his passion.

The good man in our national mythology was the one who learned to face provocation with cool self-mastery. The good woman too. At one point in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jo’s mother, ‘Marmee’, counsels her about her ‘dreadful temper’. She tells Jo that she too had a terrible temper and is still ‘angry nearly every day of my life’. But she has learned ‘not to show it’. Forty years of trying to cure it have only taught her that it can’t be cured, only controlled. ....

For too many Americans, anger has become the default emotion. We should recognize this, however, as a particular historical moment. It wasn’t always this way, and it won’t last forever.

We are in an age of anger — the Gilded Rage — that embodies the breakdown of older social norms for which we have as yet no compelling substitutes. New anger was distilled by the cultural left over several generations but bottled and sold to the cultural right, first through talk radio and eventually through Trump. The left’s attack on ‘angry white men’ as the source of the nation’s animosities misses the mark. Those white men, in one of the left’s fashionable words, ‘appropriated’ the style of vituperative grievance from the norm-breakers of the left....

Proud-of-itself anger is now, unfortunately, a dominating presence in our national life: a permission slip to treat others rudely and to spew contempt on the innocent if we believe we are acting on some higher principle such as ‘social justice’.

This speaks to a profound confusion in the country about what’s important and what it means to be a citizen of a self-governing republic. When our ability to govern our everyday selves by stilling our worst impulses disintegrates, our capacity to participate in governing others collapses too. ....

Friday, October 4, 2019

“There was silence in heaven..."

From "Make a Joyful Silence Unto the Lord" at Christianity Today:
In the Bible, silence in worship is commanded, modeled, and inferred.

First, it is commanded.

In Psalm 46:10, the psalmist, speaking in God’s name, issues a general directive: “Be still and know that I am” (Psalm 46:10). In the word that comes to the prophet Zephaniah, we find a similar injunction to “be silent before the Lord” (Zeph. 1:7). In Proverbs 30:32, the matter is put more bluntly: “Put your hand on your mouth.” In Isaiah 41:1, we hear a word that the Lord speak[s] to one and all: “Listen to me in silence.” Is there any other way to listen to God? For both the prophet and the psalmist, the answer is decidedly no.

Silence is also modeled for us. In Psalm 62:5, we find the psalmist describing what presumably represents his usual disposition before God: “My soul waits in silence for God.” In Deuteronomy 27:9, we see Moses speaking to Israel this word: “Keep silence and hear.”

First Kings 19 is perhaps the most famous passage on this topic. The angel of the Lord tells Elijah to stand on the mountain, for the Lord is about to pass by. First a great wind appears, but the Lord is not in this tempestuous wind. After that, an earthquake occurs, but the Lord does not reveal himself there, either. After the earthquake, a fire, and after the fire, silence. It is in this “sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12, NRSV) that the Lord appears.

Certain things, the text suggests, can only be known about God in the absence of sound. ....

Monday, September 30, 2019

The mind of God


William Barclay:
We have already seen that in Jesus we have seen the mind of God, and that mind is love. If then we say that the Word was active in creation it means that creation is the product of the mind of God which we see in Jesus Christ. This means that the same love which redeemed us created the world, that love is the principle of creation as love is the principle of redemption. There is a time in life when this may seem simply a theological or philosophical truth; but there is also a time in life when it is the only thing in life left to hold on to. There is a time when life and the world seem quite clearly to be an enemy, when life seems out to break our hearts, to ruin our dreams, and to smash our lives. There comes a time when we seem to be living in a hostile universe. At such a time it is the greatest thing in life, sometimes it is the only thing left, to be able to cling on to the conviction that "life means intensely and it means good." For if we believe that it was this mind of God in Jesus Christ which conceived and created the universe then it does mean that, whatever it feels like, God is working all things together for good, and the world is out not to break us but to make us. If the Christ of creation and the Christ of redemption are one and the same, then there is light even in the darkest hour.

Jesus is the Word. He is God's ultimate and final communication to men; he is the demonstration to men of the mind of God towards them; he is the guarantee that at the heart of creation there is love.
William Barclay, Jesus as They Saw Him, 1962.

The limits of human judgment

John Henry Newman:
Whenever men are able to act at all, there is the chance of extreme and intemperate action; and therefore, when there is exercise of mind, there is the chance of wayward or mistaken exercise. Liberty of thought is in itself a good; but it gives an opening to false liberty. Now by Liberalism I mean false liberty of thought, or the exercise of thought upon matters, in which, from the constitution of the human mind, thought cannot be brought to any successful issue, and therefore is out of place. Among such matters are first principles of whatever kind; and of these the most sacred and momentous are especially to be reckoned the truths of Revelation. Liberalism then is the mistake of subjecting to human judgment those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it, and of claiming to determine on intrinsic grounds the truth and value of propositions which rest for their reception simply on the eternal authority of the Divine Word.
John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 1864.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Old House of Fear

A book I once owned but lost sometime along the way is about to be re-published. Russell Kirk was important to my political formation but his fiction was just fun. From the announcement at The New Criterion, "Nothing to fear":
While Halloween usually presents the unedifying spectacle of adults behaving like children in ridiculous costumes (something wicked this way comes, indeed), this year, a much-beloved tale of the paranormal will be republished. On October 29, Criterion Books, an imprint of Encounter Books, will release a new edition of Old House of Fear, the first novel by the visionary conservative thinker Russell Kirk, originally published in 1961. Drawing on his time at the University of St Andrews, where he was the first American to earn a doctorate of letters, Kirk sets his story in the Outer Hebrides, where foul dealings are afoot. Most of our readers know Kirk as a conservative lodestar, but Old House of Fear shows a different side of his genius. Bolshevik mystics, Irish republicans, and an enchanting ingénue populate the scene.

To say more would be to spoil the pleasure of reading this ghoulish story from a master of the mystery genre. ....
The book can be purchased here.

Saturday, September 28, 2019


John Bunyan:
Mercy is that by which we are pardoned, even all the falls, faults, failings and weaknesses, that attend us, and that we are incident to, in this our day of temptation: and for this mercy we should pray, and say, "Our Father, forgive us our trespasses." For though mercy is free in the exercise of it to usward, yet God will have us ask, that we may have; as he also saith in the text, "Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy." That is what David means when he says, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."

And again, "When I say my foot slippeth; Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up."

This then is the conclusion, that as there is mercy to be obtained by us at the throne of grace, for the pardon of all our weaknesses, so there is also grace there to be found that will yet strengthen us more, to all good walking and living before him.
John Bunyan: The Saint's Privilege and Profit (pdf), Heb. 4:16.
Found in Affirmations of God and Man, edited by Edmund Fuller, 1967.

A myth become fact

C.S. Lewis:
I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. They had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion—those narrow, unattractive Jews, too blind to the mythical wealth of the Pagan world around them—was precisely the matter of the great myths. If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. Myths were like it in one way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato's Socrates or Boswell's Johnson..., yet also numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god—we are no longer polytheists—then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man. This is not "a religion," nor "a philosophy." it is the summing up and actuality of them all.
C.S. Lewis: Surprised by Joy, 1955.

Friday, September 27, 2019

"We meant to be free"

In 1843, a 21-year-old Dartmouth student named Mellen Chamberlain was doing research on the American War for Independence. He had the opportunity to interview a survivor of the initial battles of Lexington and Concord, 91-year-old Captain Levi Preston of Danvers. The young scholar wanted to know the cause behind his involvement with the war.

David Hackett Fischer records their exchange:
“Captain Preston,” he asked, “what made you go to the Concord fight?”

“What did I go for?” the old man replied, subtly rephrasing the historian’s question to drain away its determinism.

The interviewer tried again, “... Were you oppressed by the Stamp Act?”

“I never saw any stamps,” Preston answered, “and I always understood that none were sold.”

“Well, what about the tea tax?”

“Tea tax? I never drank a drop of the stuff. The boys threw it all overboard.”

“I suppose you had been reading Harrington, Sidney, and Locke about the eternal principle of liberty?”

“I never heard of these men. The only books we had were the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’s Psalms, and hymns and the almanacs.”

“Well, then, what was the matter?”

“Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had been free, and we meant to be free always. They didn’t mean we should.”

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater

A few days ago Justin Taylor quoted Robert Alter on "Why Modern Bible Translations Should Stay in the King James Stream." Alter is himself a translator of scripture.
The King James Bible...remains an imposing achievement, has its drawbacks.

But why have English translators in our age fallen so steeply from this grand precedent?

To begin with, I would note a pronounced tendency among them to throw out the beautiful baby with the bathwater. Those companies convened by King James, their modern successors assume, got it altogether wrong.
We must now
start from scratch,
swerve away sharply from all that they did,
treat biblical syntax in an informed way that can speak to modern readers,
represent biblical terms with what we understand to be philological precision according to their shifting contexts,
make things entirely clear for people who want to know what the Bible is really saying.
This impulse is misconceived on two grounds.

First, the Bible itself does not generally exhibit the clarity to which its modern translators aspire: the Hebrew writers reveled in
the proliferation of meanings,
the cultivation of ambiguities,
the playing of one sense of a term against another,
and this richness is erased in the deceptive antiseptic clarity of the modern versions.

The second issue is the historical momentum of the commanding precedent created by the King James Bible. It has been such a powerful presence for four centuries of English readers that a translation of the Bible that proceeds as though it simply didn’t exist becomes hard to read as a version of the Bible that has any literary standing.
The RSV and the ESV are both within the "King James stream." These verses from Psalm 1 illustrate part of what Alter is arguing. Correcting doesn't require having to "throw out the beautiful baby with the bathwater."

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

3 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; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. ....
1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. ....
1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. ....

Robert Alter on Why Modern Bible Translations Should Stay in the King James Stream

Friday, September 20, 2019


Some of us find abundant wisdom in the past and blanket foolishness in the present. Others reverse the emphasis. The latter sort have faith in progress. Not scientific or technological progress so much as moral progress – a very dubious assumption. In a nice irony, some of the worst failed ideas generated in the past – Communism, fascism, Freudian psychology – are periodically revived in the present, like the cancer we thought was in remission. I was surprised to learn that the noun presentism dates from as early as 1916, according to the OED, which defines it as “a bias towards the present or present-day attitudes, esp. in the interpretation of history.” In “Fin de Siècle,” a poem in his 1991 collection Between the Chains, Turner Cassity puts it like this: “The way of presentism is to whore the past / For passions of the moment. That is pestilence / Also.” ....

"The vernacular is the real test"

...Aeschliman’s target is the regrettable tendency of scientism — the ideology that exaggerates the role of empirical science in forming our view of the world — to “destroy the vision of man as imago Dei by picturing and perceiving him instead as a creature driven and primarily determined by laws of matter and force.”

And while he is criticizing that scientism, Aeschliman gives us a reading of C.S. Lewis — anchored in Lewis’s minor classic The Abolition of Man (1943) — that shows Lewis to be at once philosophically astute and rhetorically potent. On the point in question — the primacy of ordinary language — Lewis expressed himself with matter-of-fact eloquence: “Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test.”

.... From whom are we to learn how to speak again? From the “great central tradition” of classical and Christian civilization which is Aeschliman’s second great concern in The Restoration of Man. While he chronicles the spread of scientism since the Enlightenment, he also tells the tale of those who have opposed it every step of the way, from Pascal and Swift in the early years, to Newman and Dostoevsky in the 19th century, to Chesterton, Lewis, and Solzhenitsyn in more recent decades. These were the writers and witnesses who strove to “revive, nourish, and protect the common human reason against specialists and fanatics who would reduce it to sense perception only.” They were the prophets who insisted that science “depends upon philosophy for the validity of its terms and procedures and to guide the uses to which scientific knowledge will be put.” And they were the true philanthropists, who sought to nourish the souls of men and women with something more substantial than what engineers can produce. They wrote satires, poetry, novels, biographies, essays, and even plays, because they knew that “some more popular form than rational argument” would be “necessary to counteract scientific materialism’s more immediately tangible and visible appeals.”

By placing C.S. Lewis within this great tradition, Michael Aeschliman has reminded us that if we would regain our purchase on the true meaning of words, we must have recourse to the very fonts of wisdom, in the works of Augustine and Aristotle, Jane Austen and the Psalms, St. Paul and soon-to-be-saint John Henry Newman. The Restoration of Man is a book marked by tremendous learning worn lightly, deployed vigorously, and offered generously to a generation that has forgotten how to think because it has lost its grip on the meaning of words.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

"A pearl of great price"


Dorothy L. Sayers:
"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.
The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement, Victor Gollanz, London, 1963.