Monday, October 25, 2021

A platform for moralizing

From an interesting review of a new biography of Robert E. Lee, Robert E. Lee: A Life, by Allen C. Guelzo. The reviewer is Andrew Ferguson, someone I would read whatever his subject.
.... The dwindling number of die-hards who cling to the myth of the Lost Cause see slavery as contingent to the war, while the much larger number (far and away a majority) see slavery as the only reason the war was fought. Both sides avoid complication because they use history as a platform for moralizing. Robert E. Lee himself appears either as a marble saint or an ogre of staggering villainy. ....

...[F]or Guelzo, Lee’s great offense was not his invidious and (among his peers) universally held ideas about race but an actual, definable, objective crime, and the crime was treason.

Guelzo’s Lee is a man in full: genteel, cruel, loving, intolerant, generous, neither the hero of 19th and 20th century hagiographers nor the figure of unalloyed evil preferred by our contemporaries. But at the heart of the portrait here is the unforgivable crime. ....
Thus did Robert E. Lee," writes Guelzo, "irrevocably, finally, publicly [turn] his back on his service, his flag, and ultimately, his country. All of this was done for the sake of the preservation of a political regime whose acknowledged purpose was the preservation of a system of chattel slavery that he knew to be an evil and for which he felt little affection and whose constitutional basis he dismissed as a fiction…. It would, in the end, cost him nearly everything ….
Guelzo’s judgment of Lee, balanced as it is, should discomfit conservatives no less than liberals, especially anyone on the right willing to gloss over Lee’s crime against our country in favor of his undoubted martial virtues or some magnolia-fragranced image of agrarian heroism. Most impressive of all, Robert E. Lee: A Life injects learning, subtlety, and even compassion into a debate that has more often been characterized by ignorance, simple-mindedness, and sanctimony. .... (more)
Andrew Ferguson, "A Matter of Treason," REVIEW: ‘Robert E. Lee: A Life’ by Allen C. Guelzo

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Living in the past

G.K. Chesterton:
We talk of people living in the past; and it is commonly applied to old people or old-fashioned people. But, in fact, we all live in the past, because there is nothing else to live in. To live in the present is like proposing to sit on a pin. It is too minute, it is too slight a support, it is too uncomfortable a posture, and it is of necessity followed immediately by totally different experiences, analogous to those of jumping up with a yell. To live in the future is a contradiction in terms. The future is dead; in the perfectly definite sense that it is not alive. It has no nature, no form, no feature.... The past can move and excite us, the past can be loved and hated, the past consists largely of lives that can be considered in their completion; that is, literally in the fullness of life.
G.K. Chesterton, Avowals and Denials, 1935.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Advice

Colin Powell's “13 Rules To Live By.”

  1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
  2. Get mad, then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls your ego goes with it.
  4.  It can be done. 
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
  6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision. 
  7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
  8. Check small things. 
  9. Share credit. 
  10. Remain calm. Be kind. 
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
  12. Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers. 
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Free speech

G.K. Chesterton:
It is not natural or obvious to let a man utter follies and abominations which you believe to be bad for mankind anymore than it is natural or obvious to let a man dig up a part of the public road, or infect half a town with typhoid fever. The theory of free speech, that truth is so much larger and stranger and more many-sided than we know of, that it is very much better at all costs to hear every one's account of it, is a theory which has been justified upon the whole by experiment, but which remains a very daring and even a very surprising theory. It is really one of the great discoveries of the modern time, but once admitted it is a principle that does not merely affect politics, but philosophy, ethics, and finally poetry.
G.K. Chesterton, Robert Browning, 1914.

Books

In "How Churchill Used Shakespeare to Change the World" Churchill himself is quoted:

If you cannot read all your books at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on your shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Progress

Going back:
We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be and if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when we do arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start over again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

"...That we may hereafter..."

Continuing to reflect on Russell Moore's comments about confession. Two things occur to me. First, that Protestants sometimes think about confession as a Catholic thing. It isn't, of course, confession needn't involve a priest. In fact it should be a part of most prayers. Secondly, personally, as I get older, I am less aware of sins of commission (and that is probably blindness on my part) but increasingly suspicious that I miss noticing my sins of omission. I do pray this every now and then,  from the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare Thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore Thou them that are penitent; According to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of Thy holy Name. Amen.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

"If you can believe In something bigger than yourself"


You can stand alone or with somebody else
Or stand with all of us, together
If you can believe in something bigger than yourself
You can follow the flag forever


They say it's just a dream some dreamers dreamed
That it's an empty thing 
that really has no meaning
They say it's all a lie but it's not a lie
I'm going to follow the flag 'til I die


Into every life a little rain must fall but it's not gonna rain forever
You can rise above—you can rise above it all
We will follow the flag together
We will follow the flag forever

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Non-negotiable

Re-posted:

From "A Thicker Kind of Mere" by Timothy George:
The term “mere Christianity,” of course, was made famous by C.S. Lewis, whose book of that title is among the most influential religious volumes of the past one hundred years. Since 2001, more than 3.5 million copies of Mere Christianity have been sold in English alone, with many more translated into most of the world’s languages....

"Mere Christianity” is actually a phrase Lewis borrowed from the seventeenth-century Puritan divine Richard Baxter. ....

But Baxter’s “mere Christianity” was not “mere” Christianity in the weak, attenuated sense of the word mere. Both Lewis and Baxter used the word mere in what is today—regrettably—an obsolete sense, meaning “nothing less than,” “absolute,” “sure,” “unqualified,” as opposed to today’s weakened sense of “only this,” “nothing more than,” or “such and no more.” Our contemporary meaning of the word mere corresponds to the Latin vix, “barely,” “hardly,” “scarcely,” while the classical, Baxterian usage corresponds to the Latin vere, “truly,” “really,” “indeed.”

Baxter had no use for a substance-less, colorless homogeneity bought at the expense of the true catholic faith. Indeed, he had his own list of non-negotiable fundamentals, including belief in one triune God; in one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, God incarnate; in the Holy Spirit; in the gifts of God present to his covenanted people in baptism and Holy Communion; and in a life of obedience, holiness, and growth in Christ. ....

...[W]hat Baxter and Lewis called for...is a thicker kind of mere—not mere as minimal but mere as central, essential; mere as vere, not vix. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Measured against the ages, ‘mere Christianity’ turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible.” ....

“It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to each other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is a something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.” .... (more)

Thursday, October 7, 2021

"We win by confessing our sins"

From Russell Moore's newsletter "Moore to the Point," today:
...[T]hese followers of Christ think they’re failing. Why? Because they assume “success” means a sort of tranquility, a rest from the awareness of oneself as a sinner, a rest from the need to repent of sin.

As I said to one of them, “What you are expecting is achievable, but you have to be dead first. What you’re expecting is to be something other than a sinner. That will happen, but when it does, you will be in the New Jerusalem in the presence of Christ. If you think you experience it before then, you are actually just finding a way to call your sin something other than sin. And that’s, well, sin.”

What they think is failing is actually just the ordinary Christian life involving the kind of spiritual warfare Jesus taught us to wage—which starts with “our Father” and continues through “forgive us our debts,” all the way through “deliver us from the evil one.” We never get too spiritually “successful” to move to some other way of praying. ....

We win by confessing our sins, claiming the gospel that tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, and then fighting for holiness—not so we can prove to Jesus that we are worthy of his love but because Jesus is with us and knows that it takes more repentance, not less, as well as a growing understanding of just how much we need to repent of, for us to be holy. ....

When I hear people wave away their sin and say, “That’s just how I am” or “I’m just human,” I don’t believe they are hearing this from Jesus. And when I hear people despairing of hope because they have to keep fighting and repenting, I don’t believe they are hearing that from Jesus either. Some of us need to take our sin more seriously. And some of us need to receive the gospel more joyfully.

Those who think repentance is failure will eventually give up. But those who recognize the path of repentance and confession and faith as ongoing are those who will see both where the path leads and the One who has been here all along to help us get there. ....
Russell Moore, "Moore to the Point," Oct. 7, 2021.

Worshiping or watching?

C.S. Lewis on worship:
EVERY SERVICE IS a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like it, it "works" best—when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be the one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping. ....

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even Teach my performing dogs new tricks."

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. ....
C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964).

Monday, October 4, 2021

Hope

More from Jeremy Taylor (1613–1667) on "Means of hope and remedies against despair":
Gather together into your spirit, and its treasure-house the memory, not only all the promises of God, but also the remembrances of experience, and the former senses of the divine favours, that from thence you may argue from times past to the present, and enlarge to the future and to greater blessings. For although the conjectures and expectations of hope are not like the conclusions of faith, yet they are a helmet against the scorchings of despair in temporal things, and an anchor of the soul sure and steadfast, against the fluctuations of the spirit in matters of the soul. St. Bernard reduces to these three the instruments of all our hopes : First, the charity of God adopting us; secondly, the truth of His promises; thirdly, the power of His performance. This was St. Paul's instrument: 'Experience begets hope, and hope maketh not ashamed'.
He offers "A Prayer for a contented spirit":
O Almighty God, Father and Lord of all the creatures, by secret and undiscernible ways bringing good out of evil; give me wisdom from above; teach me to be content in all changes of person and condition, to be temperate in prosperity, and in adversity to be meek, patient, and resigned; and to look through the cloud, in the meantime doing my duty with an unwearied diligence, and an undisturbed resolution, laying up my hopes in heaven and the rewards of holy living, and being strengthened with the spirit of the inner man, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jeremy Taylor, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, 1650.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

"Sufficient to the day..."

Jeremy Taylor (1613–1667):
Enjoy the present, whatsoever it be, and be not solicitous for the future; for if you take your foot from the present standing, and thrust it forward towards to-morrow's event, you are in a restless condition: it is like refusing to quench your present thirst by fearing you shall want drink the next day. If it be well today, it is madness to make the present miserable by fearing it may be ill tomorrow. Let your trouble tarry till its own day comes. Enjoy the blessings of this day, if God sends them, and the evils of it bear patiently and sweetly; for this day is only ours; we are dead to yesterday, and we are not yet born to the morrow. He therefore that enjoys the present if it be good, enjoys as much as is possible. 'Sufficient to the day' (said Christ) 'is the evil thereof': sufficient, but not intolerable. Miserable is he who thrusts his passions forwards, towards future events, and suffers all that he may enjoy to be lost, thinking nothing fit to be enjoyed but that which is not or cannot be had.
Jeremy Taylor, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, 1650.

Friday, September 24, 2021

"Spoiled with praise and...spoiled with abuse"

Today the Wall Street Journal has a review of a new edition of The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge. I've ordered it. From Barton Swaim's review:
.... Coolidge takes two of the book’s seven chapters to recall his 512 years as president. “It is a great advantage to a President, and a major source of safety to the country,” he writes, “for him to know that he is not a great man. When a man begins to feel that he is the only one who can lead in this republic, he is guilty of treason to the spirit of our institutions.” ....

“I was convinced in my own mind that I was not qualified to fill the exalted office of President,” he recalls. Harding died in 1923, making Coolidge president. He won the presidency in his own right in 1924, taking a majority of the popular vote against two opponents—Democrat John W. Davis and Progressive Robert LaFollette—while hardly mentioning either by name.

Republicans expected him to run again in 1928, but he declined. Vacationing in South Dakota the year before, he issued a terse statement: “I do not choose to run for President in 1928.” Why? Because, as he puts it in the Autobiography, “the people would not have confidence in a man that appeared to be grasping for office”—if only!—and in any case “the chances of having wise and faithful public service are increased by a change in the Presidential office after a moderate length of time.” ....

The myth of Silent Cal is loosely connected to truth. The most famous story of his taciturnity—at a dinner, a woman told him she’d bet a friend that she could get more than two words out of the president, to which he replied, “You lose”—is likely an invention. But he was parsimonious with words. In the Autobiography he writes of “the value of a silence which avoids creating a situation where one would otherwise not exist.”

Coolidge’s reticence was not a sign of dullness. He had a gift for perceiving the heart of a political question and expressing what he saw in clear, direct prose. ....

The book’s finest passage appears in its penultimate chapter, mundanely titled “Some of the Duties of the President.” The president must remember at all times, he writes, that he is “dealing with two different minds.” The first is the “mind of the country,” desiring the nation’s welfare but remaining “unorganized, formless, and inarticulate.” The other is the “political mind”: “a strange mixture of vanity and timidity, of an obsequious attitude at one time and a delusion of grandeur at another time, of the most selfish preferment combined with the most sacrificing patriotism. The political mind is the product of men in public life who have been twice spoiled. They have been spoiled with praise and they have been spoiled with abuse. With them nothing is natural, everything is artificial.” .... (more, probably behind a subscription wall)
"‘The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge’ Review: Quiet, Modest, Memorable"

Thursday, September 23, 2021

"There is light even in the darkest hour"

Worth re-posting:
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.
"Life means intensely and it means good" is a quotation from Robert Browning

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Dune

I haven't read Frank Herbert’s Dune. I was never much of a consumer of science fiction, or fantasy either, apart from LOTR. A new film adaptation of Dune will come out next month and in anticipation the current National Review has an essay in appreciation of the book hoping that the film will be as good. From the essay:
In a 1980 essay describing the origin of Dune, Herbert wrote that the story emerged out of his belief that “superheroes are disastrous for humankind” and that “even if we find a real hero (whatever — or whoever — that may be), eventually fallible mortals take over the power structure that always comes into being around such a leader.” And in a 1981 interview, he claimed that “there is definitely an implicit warning” in much of his work “against big government and especially against charismatic leaders,” because “such people — well-intentioned or not — are human beings who will make human mistakes.” Paul Atreides is not a model but a warning about the dangers of false messiahs, of trusting overly in charismatic leaders, and of mixing politics and religion. As it is put in Dune:
When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong — faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.
Jack Butler, "Will Denis Villeneuve Capture the Greatness of Dune?," National Review, Oct. 4, 2021.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Esperanto for measurement

I love this:
The British government has announced that U.K. businesses will once again be allowed to sell their products in traditional, British units of measurement, like pounds and ounces, instead of the metric system.

This move is a win for freedom-loving people everywhere, and the restoration of customary units should be a cause for jubilation in the streets.

The metric system has its origins in the French Revolution....

The French Revolution was a time when men were, in the words of Edmund Burke, “pull[ing] down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in an hundred years.” The top-down imposition of the metric system did just that by erasing customary units.

By “customary units,” I don’t just mean the U.S. customary system, but any unit of measure derived through custom. If you read about the origins of customary units, you’ll find that many of them are based on specific occupations, like brewing, farming, and surveying. They were invented by people doing their jobs who needed a way to measure things. They developed units of measure that were useful to them and persuaded others to adopt them for ease of commerce. Customary units eventually became standardized through a bottom-up process. They represent the wisdom of our ancestors, the accumulated experiences over the centuries. ....

As Burke said, “it calls for little ability” to point out “the errors and defects of old establishments.” Indeed, it calls for little ability to say, “Base-ten would be easier.” Never mind that we tell time on a non-base-ten system and it works just fine. It’s not for lack of trying other systems, either: The French tried a ten-day week and ten-hour days for a while, but it didn’t stick.

Or consider that the computer or smartphone on which you’re reading this post measures information in bits, a base-two customary unit derived from the days of punch cards and vacuum tubes. And there’s eight bits in a byte, oh no! ....

The metric system is Esperanto for measurement, except many more people have been seduced by its scientistic allure. The metric system is based on the utopian idea that everything old is bad, and that humans have the power to create a better world by severing all ties with custom and tradition and imposing contrived, rationalistic systems on people, whether they like it or not.

By allowing customary units again, the British are striking a blow against that nonsensical and destructive worldview. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a cold drink — from a twelve-ounce can. (more)
"Britain Delivers a Welcome Blow to the Metric System"

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

A guilty pleasure

I enjoy Robert Mitchum in just about every thing he did. His villainous roles in Cape Fear (1962) and The Night of the Hunter (1955) may have been his best, but I particularly enjoy some of the films noir he did earlier, films like Macao (1952) and The Big Steal (1949) in both of which his antagonist was William Bendix. Tonight I watched one of my favorites, His Kind of Woman (1951). It was produced while Howard Hughes controlled RKO. Raymond Burr was a villain. Jane Russell was the woman. And Vincent Price in a great role.

The Rotten Tomatoes description:
In a desperate attempt to get out of debt, career gambler Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) agrees to rendezvous with a mysterious contact at a distant Mexican resort in exchange for $50,000. Upon arriving, Milner meets his fellow guests, including a plastic surgeon, a philandering movie star (Vincent Price) and his beautiful girlfriend (Jane Russell). Soon Milner discovers that the man who hired him may be the ruthless Nick Ferraro — a deported Italian gangster who looks just like him.
The film is about two hours and is available on Amazon Prime.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

September 11

After 9/11 in 2001, at the Queen's request, breaking centuries of tradition, the American national anthem was performed at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. This morning at Windsor Castle where the Queen is in residence:

Friday, September 10, 2021

Questions that really matter

I enjoyed reading Daniel Idfresne's "I'm 17. And I'm Immunized from Woke Politics." His closing paragraphs:
Here is the main thing I have learned:

When acceptance is the highest value, when avoiding condemnation online is worth more than the truth, the truth will be swiftly discarded. Online likes, followers and reputation — weak, empty values — dominate the teenage world because teenagers are not being taught alternative ones by the culture or, often, by the adults in their lives. They — we — are not being given the tools to answer the questions that really matter: What is truth? What is justice? And what is the purpose of life?

My generation’s been told that truth or justice are merely assertions of power. Except here’s the thing: The square root of 64 is 8, the Moon is nearly 239,000 miles from the Earth, and you do not need to believe in God to see that goodwill is a force for positive change. Believing in that is the ultimate immunization against nihilism.
Common Sense with Bari Weiss, "I'm 17. And I'm Immunized from Woke Politics"