Saturday, February 28, 2009

A libel corrected

The libel was that Pope Pius XII was "Hitler's Pope," complicit in the Holocaust and indifferent to Fascist and Nazi crimes. The Jewish Chronicle reports on new research demonstrating the "Wartime pope’s secret heroism."
Documents that show the wartime pope saved tens of thousands of European Jews from the Nazis have been discovered in the Vatican’s archives.

The 300 pages reveal that Pope Pius XII directly ordered convents, monasteries and Catholic churches to hide Jews from the Gestapo.

He also helped Jews to escape to safe countries, requesting the Brazilian government to receive 3,000 “non-Aryans” and persuading the Dominican Republic to grant visas for a further 11,000 people.

The documentation from the recently-opened archives has now been posted online by the Pave the Way Foundation, a largely Jewish group invited by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance authority, to investigate the role of the wartime pope. ....

Gary Krupp, president of the Pave the Way Foundation, said that correcting the record was a matter of justice.

“Personally, as a Jew, I must state that correcting this perversion of history has really nothing to do with the Catholic Church,” he said.

“It is in the interest of Jewish justice that we must acknowledge the efforts of one man, during a period when as a people we were abandoned by the rest of the world.

“It is time to recognise Pope Pius XII for what he really did rather than what he did not say.”

Mr Krupp added: “From what I have seen, this is the greatest hero of World War II, without question.

“This man had German guns just 200 yards from his windows and still managed to save thousands of Jews. It is astonishing what this man actually accomplished — and did secretly.

“This wasn’t Hitler’s pope, this wasn’t a collaborator, this was a man Hitler was planning to kill. There is not one shred of evidence that supports the ‘Hitler’s pope’ theory”. ....

The papers include a 1939 US foreign service document in which the US consul-general to Cologne reported how the “new Pope” had surprised him by his extreme hatred of the Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler, and how he had supported the German bishops’ opposition to Nazism. ....

...[S]ome Jewish historians, such as the late Pinchas Lapide, have estimated that the Catholic Church under Pius saved between 700,000 and 850,000 Jews from the Nazis.

This was mostly managed by providing sanctuary or passage to safe countries but also by intervening, when practicable, to stop their round-up in occupied countries. [more]
Wartime pope’s secret heroism | The Jewish Chronicle

"We believe in nothing, Lebowski. Nothing."

This could be interesting. From Christianity Today's Movies Blog: "The Dude Abides."
...Cathleen Falsani, religion writer for the Chicago Sun Times...just happens to be a big fan of the Coen Brothers too. And that just happens to be the topic of her next book, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, due from Zondervan this fall — right about the same time the next movie from the Coens, A Serious Man, hits theaters (due Oct. 2).
The Zondervan description of the book:
Fans of the eccentric and edgy films of the Coen brothers know there’s more going on in their films than meets the eye. Award-winning author and columnist Cathleen Falsani is the perfect guide for Coen fans, inviting them to take a deeper look at the popular films, from their debut Blood Simple to the recent Burn After Reading and all the strange and wonderful films in between. Falsani looks at the deeper meanings that can be mined from each quirky and enduring Coen film, including such cult favorites as Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and No Country for Old Men. With a journalist’s keen analysis, she unpacks the theological, mythological, ethical, and philosophical content. Readers will discover that the critically acclaimed Coen brothers speak to eternal questions with darkly intelligent humor. Coen fans, churched and unchurched of all faiths or none, will find in this book a spirited, thoughtful conversation with a good friend (who happens to be a film buff.) Readers will appreciate this examination of the intersection of popular culture and spirituality.
I like Coen Brothers films. Miller's Crossing may have been the first one I noticed. The films have been something of a guilty pleasure. One of the difficulties which I ignore is illustrated in this example from The Big Lebowski:
The Stranger: There's just one thing, Dude.
The Dude: And what's that?
The Stranger: Do you have to use so many cuss words?
The Dude: What the **** you talking about?
The Stranger: Okay, Dude. Have it your way.
It would be comfortable to be able to rationalize my enjoyment into a virtue. Maybe Falsani can help.

More: As I thought about the use of language in movies, and my greater tolerance there for what I would ordinarily find objectionable elsewhere, I was reminded of this by Andrew Klavan:
I write crime novels for a living. They are full of men—and other disreputable types—who talk like men talk and think in the words men think in. As a result of this, I frequently get letters from my fellow conservatives and fellow Christians that begin, “You call yourself a conservative,” or “You call yourself a Christian,” and then ask: “How can you write such filth?”

Now, not long ago, I was playing tennis—badly, as I sometimes do to counteract the rumors that I’m perfect in every way—and also because I suck—and with each new unforced error I would send up a furious shout of “Doggone it!” or “Rats!” My partner finally interrupted his serve and came to the net. “What is this?” he said, disgruntled. “I’ve read your novels. There’s no ‘Doggone it,’ in your novels. There’s no ‘Rats.’”

Sheepishly, I was forced to explain to him that I rarely use foul language in real life, and almost never in front of ladies, such as the ladies playing on the next court over. He seemed very disappointed. ....
Christianity Today Movies Blog: The Dude Abides . . . and Other News, Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » Curses!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Citizens of heaven first

Denver Catholic Archbishop Chaput reiterates some truths about a Christian's political duty. Those of us who are not Catholic will recognize that substituting "Christian" works just fine. Some excerpts:
.... We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty — these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it's never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square — peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.

Here's the fourth point. When Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians in the Gospel of Matthew (22:21) to "render unto the Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's," he sets the framework for how we should think about religion and the state even today. Caesar does have rights. We owe civil authority our respect and appropriate obedience. But that obedience is limited by what belongs to God. Caesar is not God. Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God. Our job as believers is to figure out what things belong to Caesar, and what things belong to God — and then put those things in right order in our own lives, and in our relations with others. ....

The "separation of Church and state" does not mean — and it can never mean — separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be "leaven in the world" and to "make disciples of all nations." That kind of radical separation steals the moral content of a society. It's the equivalent of telling a married man that he can't act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won't stay married for long. ....

We serve Caesar best by serving God first. We honor our nation best by living our Catholic faith honestly and vigorously, and bringing it without apology into the public square and its debates. We're citizens of heaven first. But just as God so loved the world that he sent his only son, so the glory and irony of the Christian life is this: The more faithfully we love God, the more truly we serve the world. [more]

Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Political Vocation

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Forget not all His benefits

At the beginning of Lent John Nolte suggests five films "about lost souls who one way or another found their way home." His first recommendation is one that I enthusiastically endorse. It is a nearly perfect film:
Tender Mercies (1983) - Robert Duvall plays Mac Sledge, an alcoholic has-been country and western star who wakes up hung-over in a rundown motel run by a widow and her young son. The great Horton Foote’s exquisite, Oscar-winning script understands faith like few others. Sledge doesn’t come back to life through rediscovering music; he rediscovers music after coming back to life. And what brings him to life is the love of a kind and simple woman, her young son, a difficult reconciliation with the past, and in the film’s most touching scene, a gentle dunk in baptismal waters.
Tender Mercies seems to be about a very troubled and messed-up life. It is really about God's grace. I saw the film in a theater on its first run and I've watched it on videotape and DVD many times since. It isn't a "message" film. It isn't propaganda for the faith. It simply shows how, even when we focus on the drama in our lives—on the terrible and stressful things—we are still surrounded by blessing.

Tolerance for country music is necessary if the film is to be enjoyed and, in my opinion, the film was more powerful without the sappy song over the end credits. If you haven't seen it, it is worth at least renting [there doesn't appear to be a current DVD for sale so a purchase might come at a premium]. If you haven't seen it for a while, this may be the appropriate time of year to give it another look.

Duvall was given "Best Actor" and Horton Foote "Best Original Screenplay" for the film—back when that still meant something. Foote was also responsible for the screen adaptation of Duvall's first film, To Kill a Mockingbird [for which Foote also received an an Academy Award]. Duvall famously objects to delivering lines which no real person would utter. Foote doesn't write any dialogue like that.

From Psalm 103:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities;
Who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction;
Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things;
So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.
(Psalm 103:2-5, KJV)

Update 3/4: Horton Foote is dead. From Entertainment Weekly:
.... Foote, who died March 4 in Hartford, Conn., at age 92, was a remarkable storyteller whose work, like William Faulkner's, was rooted in the ordinary struggles of ordinary people in the American South. After abandoning acting, he got his start as a writer during the golden age of television and adapted many of his stories for different media. The Trip to Bountiful — about an old woman yearning to visit her hometown of Bountiful, Tex., one last time before her death — began as an NBC teleplay in 1953 starring Lillian Gish, then became a stage play in 1962, and was later adapted into a 1985 movie that earned Geraldine Page an Academy Award for Best Actress (and another nomination for Foote himself).

There was something charmingly old-fashioned about Foote's prodigious body of work. He wasn't overtly political or experimental in form. He wasn't a flashy stylist. His works typically have a beginning, middle, and an end — though often many diversions along the way to that end. And he took a Chekhovian approach to his characters, hardscrabble souls with deep family histories and endless depths of backstory. ....
Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » Top 5: Ash Wednesday, Remembering Horton Foote | PopWatch Blog |

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Government speech

The Supreme Court ruled on a case involving religious monuments in public parks yesterday. The religious group Summum brought a suit against the city of Pleasant Grove in Utah for refusing to put a monument they donated in a public park, which contained (among other things) a monument of the Ten Commandments. The donated monument contained the religious group's own "Seven Aphorisms." Summum claimed that the city's refusal to display the monument was a violation of free speech.

From the decision:
Held: The placement of a permanent monument in a public park is a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.
Because the basis for the suit was the Free Speech Clause, the question of the Establishment Clause could still be open. The important impact of the decision is that city governments will not be forced to make parks open to all monuments, or open to none. However, one part of the decision seems to indicate that government acceptance of a private monument does not necessarily constitute an endorsement:
[Summum's] legitimate concern that the government speech doctrine not be used as a subterfuge for favoring certain viewpoints does not mean that a government entity should be required to embrace publicly a privately donated monument's "message" in order to escape Free Speech Clause restrictions. A city engages in expressive conduct by accepting and displaying a privately donated monument, but it does not necessarily endorse the specific meaning that any particular donor sees in the monument. A government's message may be altered by the subsequent addition of other monuments in the same vicinity. It may also change over time.
FindLaw Article, FindLaw Case Decision

Whatever this day may bring...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray,
and to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.

In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely,
but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart,
but with you there is help;
I am restless,
but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness,
but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
but you know the way for me ...

Restore me to liberty,
And enable me so to live now
that I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.
Found in Prayers of the Martyrs, compiled and translated by Duane W.H. Arnold, and with a foreword by Madeleine L'Engle.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Now I know in part; then I shall know fully"

A prayer by Samuel Johnson:
O LORD, my Maker and Protector, who hast graciously sent me into this world, to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which Thou hast required.

When I behold the works of Thy hands and consider the course of Thy providence, give me Grace always to remember that Thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor Thy ways my ways.

And while it shall please Thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by Thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious, and doubts impossible to be solved.

Let me rejoice in the light which Thou hast imparted, let me serve Thee with active zeal, and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which Thou receivest, shall be satisfied with knowledge.

Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
Most heresy and much of the uncertainty and doubt in a Christian's life result from attempting to know more than we can know — from an inability to accept ambiguity and a consequent need to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable rather than a willingness to wait until that time when we can know fully.

This good prayer is found in the collection Daily Readings in the Prayers of Samuel Johnson, edited and with a good introduction by Elton Trueblood.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taking Chance

Taking Chance is showing tonight on HBO.

The early reviews are very good. For instance this from Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal:
It was impossible to imagine, beforehand, all the ways a film like Taking Chance (Saturday, 8-9:30 p.m. EST, on HBO) could work its power. There are no conflicts, no warring sides, no mysteries of character — the usual stuff of drama. The story's outcome is clear from the beginning. Yet it's no less clear that Taking Chance is not only high drama, but a kind that is, in the most literal way, breathtaking — watching parts of it can make breathing an effort, and those parts come at every turn. It's no less obvious that this film, about a Marine killed in combat, could have gone wrong in all sorts of ways and did so in none of them. There is in this work, at once so crushing and exhilarating, not a false note.

The credit for that belongs to Lt. Col. Michael Stroble, U.S. Marine Corps, on whose journal the film is based; to producer, writer and director Ross Katz; and, not least, to Kevin Bacon, whose portrayal of the devoted Col. Stroble is a masterwork — flawless in its fierce economy, eloquent in its testimony, most of it wordless, to everything that is going on.

And that is a great deal. The process by which the remains of a fallen Marine are prepared and shipped is exquisitely detailed — details the film spills out at its own quietly riveting pace. All servicemen who have died are provided a uniformed escort home to their final resting places. The colonel — a Desert Storm veteran who is impelled, for reasons made known later in the film, to escort the remains of 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps, killed in Iraq in 2004 — must accompany the body from the Dover Air Force Base mortuary to the lance corporal's burial place in Dubois, Wyo.

It's a long trip. Everywhere along the way, he encounters Americans of every age, class and occupation who are transfixed once they understand they are in the presence of a military escort officer taking a serviceman home. That presence is enough. They don't need the sight of the flag-draped casket. All that they feel they show this uniformed officer, the stand-in for their dead fellow American, for his family, for the funeral service they can't get to — and the recipient of their grief and regard.

He receives a seat upgrade to first class, bestowed by an airline ticket agent — she doesn't have to explain why — and a small silver crucifix somebody else hands him. He's the object of countless searching looks from travelers who do catch sight of the flag-covered coffin, at some transfer point, as the colonel salutes. They want to know what to do, the looks say. The cargo handlers know — they have seen these caskets and escorts before — and they do it. Throughout these scenes, tremendous in their affect, stands the colonel, registering these responses in silence — and, as Mr. Bacon so successfully makes us feel, in the depths of his soul. [more]
It almost makes me wish I still had HBO. I'll have to wait.

HBO Films: Taking Chance, Television Review: 'Taking Chance'; 'Hard Time' -

God's will and my decisions

Kevin DeYoung's new book is about to be published. The title alone would seem to sum up its thesis: Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. The intended audience is apparently young adults, but as DeYoung describes its purpose, it is just as relevant to any Christian.
The gist of the book is that too many of us spend too much time trying to divine God's will and too little time striving to obey the plain commands of Scripture. God's will is not a corn maze or magic eight ball. His will is our sanctification. God promises to direct our steps all throughout life, but he never promises to show us what each step is ahead of time. Too many of us are prone to passivity and indecision, because doing nothing feels more spiritual (and less risky) than doing something. So we stumble around in chains of subjective impressions and wander here and there and in and out of our parent's basement.

God's will is not a bullseye to hit, but a life to live.
DeYoung has made the first chapter available here as a pdf.

I've pre-ordered the book and very much look forward to reading it. As I read the description, I was reminded of an older book [1980] that greatly influenced how I think about discerning God's will for my life, Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View by Friesen and Maxson. The emphases may be different. Friesen and Maxson are concerned with those who are burdened by the need for specific direction out of fear that they might be "out of God's will" for their lives. DeYoung, on the other hand, seems to focus on those who lack decisiveness and find safety in inaction—for whom not knowing God's specific will grants permission to do nothing.

Friesen and Maxson argue that quite enough of God's moral will for our lives is clear in the Scriptures, and that we should occupy ourselves doing what we know. From that book:
...[T]he emphasis of Scripture is on God's moral will. In fact, the Bible reveals nothing of an "individual will" governing each decision. Rather, the teaching of Scripture may be summarized by these basic principles:
  1. In those areas specifically addressed by the Bible, the revealed commands of God (His moral will) are to be obeyed.
  2. In those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (nonmoral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the moral will of God is acceptable to God.
  3. In nonmoral decisions, the objective of the Christian is to make wise decisions on the basis of spiritual expediency.
  4. In all decisions, the believer should humbly submit, in advance, to the outworking of God's sovereign will as it touches each decision.
By "spiritual expediency" in point three, they mean wisdom, and say "The ultimate Source of the wisdom that is needed in decision making is God. Accordingly, we are to ask Him to provide what we lack. God mediates His wisdom to us through His Word, our personal research, wise counselors, and the applied lessons of life."

Both Decision Making and Do Something seem to be saying that we should be about doing what we know is God's will—not agonizing over, or complacently waiting for, what we do not know.

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Just Do Something

Friday, February 20, 2009


A conservative, like a conservationist, is interested in saving—conserving—what is useful and good, not in simply resisting all change. Edward Feser explains:
...[N]o serious conservative, nor indeed any unserious conservative that I can think of, has ever said that traditional practices and beliefs are always good, or ought always to be preserved. The conservative attitude to tradition is far more nuanced than that.

What is true is that conservatives tend to hold that the fact that a practice or belief is traditional should lead us to regard it as innocent until proven guilty, and to put the burden of proof on the innovator rather than on the upholder of tradition. To be sure, in some cases that burden can be easily met, and the guilt established quickly. Still, the fact that a practice or belief has survived for some time at least says something for it, and should make us at least cautious of discarding it glibly. This is not dogmatism but simply common sense. ....

.... [W]hat makes them conservatives is that, like the medievals, and like Edmund Burke, they insist that a traditional belief or practice is owed at least some serious consideration before it is abandoned. It should be conserved until we know that it is better to abandon it, rather than abandoned until it is proved to be beneficial. .... And we need to keep in mind that, human affairs being as complex as they are, it is not always going to be easy to determine what function a traditional practice serves even when it does indeed serve one – and that, accordingly, the bad consequences of abandoning it might be discovered only when it is too late.

Conservatives and tradition (What's Wrong with the World)

To live is Christ

This morning Jared Wilson reminds us that there are, not two, but three approaches to living:
Do not preach as if there are two ways: living God's way or living man's way. Because there are three ways to live: moralistically, irreligiously, and the gospel.
Wilson embeds this short comment by Tim Keller in which he defines the choices as approaches to living.
  1. The gospel approach
  2. The moralistic religious approach
  3. The irreligious secular approach

Keller says he was influenced by C.S. Lewis's wartime essay, "Three Kinds of Men," from which, this:
There are three kinds of people in the world. The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure.... In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them — the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society — and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. .... But the third class is of those who can say like St Paul that for them "to live is Christ".' These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. .... The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His.

And because there are three classes, any merely twofold division of the world into good and bad is disastrous. It overlooks the fact that the members of the second class (to which most of us belong) are always and necessarily unhappy. .... The Christian doctrine that there is no "salvation" by works done according to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. .... If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically.

The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort — it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us. (1943) (C.S. Lewis, "Three Kinds of Men," Present Concerns, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1986, pp. 21-22)
The Gospel-Driven Church: Three Kinds of Men

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thanks to Cyrus

In a recent exchange of comments about a critical discussion of God’s Word in Human Words, the author, Kenton Sparks, wrote:
Central to my epistemology is that human beings only need—and can only have—adequate understandings of the real world and never God-like, error-free perceptions. In all that we see and all that we talk about, there is both true understanding and falsehood, the latter a product of our fallen and finite interpretive horizons. That adequate level of knowledge and discourse is what the Bible offers and is in fact all that we can bear. ....
I have no competence to intelligently respond to a debate about inerrancy, and so I won't. But the quotation itself seemed to me, as an erstwhile student and teacher of history, to accord with how I approach the events recorded in Scripture. Likelihood and probability, depending on the available historical evidence, are the bases on which judgments about the past are inevitably made. It has seemed to me for a long time that Scripture provided me with an "adequate level of knowledge" to accept the central events of the Christian faith. Several writers helped me come to that conclusion and one of the best was Dorothy L. Sayers.

In 1946 a collection of Dorothy L. Sayers' essays was published called Unpopular Opinions. The volume included "A Vote of Thanks to Cyrus" in which it is argued that if we apply the same standards to Biblical criticism that we might apply elsewhere, then Scripture provides adequate historical knowledge. Sayers:
I OWE A CERTAIN DEBT TO Cyrus the Persian. I made his acquaintance fairly early, for he lived between the pages of a children's magazine, in a series entitled Tales from Herodotus, or something of that kind. There was a picture of him being brought up by the herdsman of King Astyages, dressed in a short tunic very like the garment worn by the young Theseus or Perseus in the illustrations to Kingsley's Heroes. He belonged quite definitely to "classical times"; did he not overcome Croesus, that rich king of whom Solon had said, "Call no man happy until he is dead"? The story was half fairy tale—"his mother dreamed," "the oracle spoke"—but half history too: he commanded his soldiers to divert the course of the Euphrates, so that they might march into Babylon along the river-bed; that sounded like practical warfare. Cyrus was pigeon-holed in my mind with the Greeks and Romans.

So for a long time he remained. And then, one day, I realised with a shock as of sacrilege, that on that famous expedition he had marched clean out of Herodotus and slap into the Bible. Mene, mene, tekel upharsin—the palace wall had blazed with the exploits of Cyrus, and Belshazzar's feast had broken up in disorder under the stern and warning eye of the prophet Daniel.

But Daniel and Belshazzar did not live in "the classics" at all. They lived in Church, with Adam and Abraham and Elijah, and were dressed like Bible characters, especially Daniel. And here was God—not Zeus or Apollo or any of the Olympian crowd, but the fierce and dishevelled old gentleman from Mount Sinai—bursting into Greek history in a most uncharacteristic way, and taking an interest in events and people that seemed altogether outside His province. It was disconcerting.

And there was Esther. She lived in a book called Stories from the Old Testament, and had done very well for God's Chosen People by her diplomatic approach to King Ahasuerus. A good Old Testament-sounding name, Ahasuerus, reminding one of Ahab and Ahaz and Ahaziah. I cannot remember in what out-of-the-way primer of general knowledge I came across the astonishing equation, thrown out casually in a passing phrase, "Ahasuerus (or Xerxes)." Xerxes!—but one knew all about Xerxes. He was not just "classics," but real history; it was against Xerxes that the Greeks had made their desperate and heroic stand at Thermopylae. There was none of the fairy-tale atmosphere of Cyrus about him—no dreams, no oracles, no faithful herdsman—only the noise and dust of armies tramping through the hard outlines and clear colours of a Grecian landscape, where the sun always shone so much more vividly than it did in the Bible.

I think it was chiefly Cyrus and Ahasuerus who prodded me into the belated conviction that history was all of a piece, and that the Bible was part of it. One might have expected Jesus to provide the link between two worlds—the Caesars were classical history all right. But Jesus was a special case. One used a particular tone of voice in speaking of Him, and He dressed neither like Bible nor like classics—He dressed like Jesus, in a fashion closely imitated (down to the halo) by His disciples. If He belonged anywhere, it was to Rome, in spite of strenuous prophetic efforts to identify Him with the story of the Bible Jews. Indeed, the Jews themselves had undergone a mysterious change in the blank pages between the Testaments: in the Old, they were "good" people; in the New, they were "bad" people—it seemed doubtful whether they really were the same people. Nevertheless, Old or New, all these people lived in Church and were "Bible characters"—they were not real in the sense that King Alfred was a real person; still less could their conduct be judged by standards that applied to one's own contemporaries.

Most children, I suppose, begin by keeping different bits of history in watertight compartments, of which "Bible" is the tightest and most impenetrable. But some people seem never to grow out of this habit—possibly because of never having really met Cyrus and Ahasuerus (or Xerxes). Bible critics in particular appear to be persons of very leisurely mental growth. Take, for example, the notorious dispute about the Gospel according to St. John.

Into the details of that dispute I do not propose to go. I only want to point out that the arguments used are such as no critic would ever dream of applying to a modern book of memoirs written by one real person about another. The defects imputed to St. John would be virtues in Mr. Jones, and the value and authenticity of Mr. Jones's contribution to literature would be proved by the same arguments that are used to undermine the authenticity of St. John.

Suppose, for example, Mr. Bernard Shaw were now to publish a volume of reminiscences about Mr. William Archer: would anybody object that the account must be received with suspicion because most of Archer's other contemporaries were dead, or because the style of G.B.S. was very unlike that of a Times obituary notice, or because the book contained a great many intimate conversations not recorded in previous memoirs, and left out a number of facts that could easily be ascertained by reference to the Dictionary of National Biography? Or if Mr. Shaw (being a less vigorous octogenarian than he happily is) had dictated part of his material to a respectable clergyman, who had himself added a special note to say that Shaw was the real author and that readers might rely on the accuracy of the memoirs since, after all, Shaw was a close friend of Archer's and ought to know—should we feel that these two worthy men were thereby revealed as self-confessed liars, and dismiss their joint work as a valueless fabrication? Probably not; but then Mr. Shaw is a real person, and lives, not in the Bible, but in Westminster. The time has not come to doubt him. He is already a legend, but not yet a myth; two thousand years hence, perhaps—

Let us pretend for a moment that Jesus is a "real" person who died within living memory, and that John is a "real" author, producing a "real" book; what sort of announcement shall we look for in the literary page of an ordinary newspaper? Let us put together a brief review, altering some of the names a little, to prevent that "Bible" feeling.
Memoirs of Jesus Christ.
edited by the Rev. John Elder, Vicar of St. Faith's, Ephesus. (Kirk. 7s. 6d.)

The general public has had to wait a long time for these intimate personal impressions of a great preacher, though the substance of them has for many years been familiarly known in Church circles. The friends of Mr. Bar-Zebedee have frequently urged the octogenarian divine to commit his early memories to paper; this he has now done, with the assistance and under the careful editorship of the Vicar of St. Faith's. The book fulfils a long-felt want.

Very little has actually been put in print about the striking personality who exercised so great an influence upon the last generation. The little anonymous collections of "Sayings" by "Q" is now, of course, out of print and unobtainable. This is the less regrettable in that the greater part of it has been embodied in Mr. J. Marks's brief obituary study and in the subsequent biographies of Mr. Matthews and Mr. Lucas (who, unhappily, was unable to complete his companion volume of the Acts of the Apostles). But hitherto, all these reports have been compiled at second hand. Now for the first time comes the testimony of a close friend of Jesus, and, as we should expect, it offers a wealth of fresh material.

With great good judgment, Mr. Bar-Zebedee has refrained from going over old ground, except for the purpose of tidying up the chronology which, in previous accounts, was conspicuously lacking. Thus, he makes it plain that Jesus paid at least two visits to Jerusalem during the three years of His ministry—a circumstance which clears up a number of confusing points in the narrative of His arrest; and the two examinations in the ecclesiastical courts are at last clearly distinguished. Many new episodes are related; in particular, it has now become possible to reveal the facts about the mysterious affair at Bethany, hitherto discreetly veiled out of consideration for the surviving members of the Lazarus family, whom rumour had subjected to much vulgar curiosity and political embarrassment. But the most interesting and important portions of the book are those devoted to Christ's lectures in the Temple and the theological and philosophical instructions given privately to His followers. These, naturally, differ considerably in matter and manner from the open-air "talks" delivered before a mixed audience, and shed a flood of new light, both on the massive intellectual equipment of the preacher and on the truly astonishing nature of His claim to authority. Mr. Bar-Zebedee interprets and comments upon these remarkable discourses with considerable learning, and with the intimate understanding of one familiar with his Master's habits of thought.

Finally, the author of these memoirs reveals himself as that delightful rara avis, a "born writer." He commands a fine economy and precision in the use of dialogue; his character-sketches (as in the delicate comedy of the blind beggar at the Pool of Siloam) are little masterpieces of quiet humour, while his descriptions of the Meal in the Upper Room, the visit of Simon Bar Jonah and himself to the Sepulchre, and the last uncanny encounter by the Lake of Tiberias are distinguished by an atmospheric quality which places this account of the Nazarene in a category apart.
How reasonable it all sounds, in the journalese jargon to which we have grown accustomed! And how much more readily we may accept discrepancies and additions when once we have rid ourselves of that notion "the earlier, the purer," which, however plausible in the case of folk-lore, is entirely irrelevant when it comes to "real" biography. Indeed, the first "Life" of any celebrity is nowadays accepted as an interim document. For considered appreciation we must wait until many contemporaries have gone to where rumour cannot distress them, until grief and passion have died down, until emotion can be remembered in tranquillity.

It is rather unfortunate that the "Higher Criticism" was first undertaken at a time when all textual criticism tended to be destructive—when the body of Homer was being torn into fragments, the Arthurian romance reduced to its Celtic elements, and the "authority" of manuscripts established by a mechanical system of verbal agreements. The great secular scholars have already recanted and adopted the slogan of the great archaeologist Didron: "Preserve all you can; restore seldom; never reconstruct." When it came to the Bible, the spirit of destruction was the more gleefully iconoclastic because of the conservative extravagances of the "verbal inspiration" theory. But the root of the trouble is to be found, I suspect (as usual), in the collapse of dogma. Christ, even for Christians, is not quite "really" real—not altogether human—and the taint of unreality has spread to His disciples and friends and to His biographers: they are not "real" writers, but just "Bible" writers. John and Matthew and Luke and Mark, some or all of them, disagree about the occasion on which a parable was told or an epigram uttered. One or all must be a liar or untrustworthy, because Christ (not being quite real) must have made every remark once and once only. He could not, of course, like a real teacher, have used the same illustration twice, or found it necessary to hammer the same point home twenty times over, as one does when addressing audiences of real people and not of "Bible characters."

Nor (one is led to imagine) did Christ ever use any ordinary behaviour that is not expressly recorded of Him. "We are twice told that He wept, but never that He smiled"—the inference being that He never did smile. Similarly, no doubt, we may infer that He never said "Please" or "Thank you." But perhaps these common courtesies were left unrecorded precisely because they were common, whereas the tears were (so to speak) "news." True, we have lately got into the habit of headlining common courtesies: the newspaper that published the review of St. John's memoirs would probably have announced on a previous occasion:
The Prophet of Nazareth smiled graciously yesterday morning on inviting Himself to lunch with little Mr. Zacchaeus, a tax-collector, who had climbed into a sycamore to watch Him pass.
St. Luke, with a better sense of style, merely records that He looked up and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for to-day I must abide in thy house. And he made haste and came down and received Him joyfully.

Politeness would suggest that one does not commandeer other people's hospitality with a morose scowl, and that if one is "received joyfully" it is usually because one has behaved pleasantly. But these considerations would, of course, apply only to "real" people.

"Altogether man, with a rational mind and human body—" It is just as well that from time to time Cyrus should march out of Herodotus into the Bible, for the synthesis of history and the confutation of heresy.
God’s Word in Human Words

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Joy is the serious business of Heaven"

Douglas Gilbert was co-author, with Clyde Kilby, of C.S. Lewis: Images of His World, published in 1973 [the picture is of my copy, bought at about that time]. At C.S. Lewis Blog he writes about "How Landscapes Influenced Lewis." One of the most significant concepts in Lewis's life and thought he called "Joy." Gilbert:
Understanding what Lewis meant by “joy” is very important to understanding Lewis himself. In Surprised by Joy he describes what it was for him by describing the experience: “…it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. …I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.”
This "unsatisfied desire" cannot be satisfied on earth. As Colin Duriez explained:
The longing or unsatisfied desire was a sure sign that no part of the created world, and thus no aspect of human experience, is capable of fulfilling fallen humankind. We are dominated by a homelessness, and yet by a keen sense of what home means. "The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers," he writes, "the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret." Joy, in fact, is a foretaste of ultimate reality, heaven itself, or, the same thing, our world as it was meant to be, unspoilt by the fall of humankind, and one day to be remade and restored to us. "Joy is the serious business of Heaven."
Gilbert explains the role of the British landscape on Lewis's imagination:
The raw material on which Lewis’s imagination often worked was the land, mostly the British Isles, where he spent his entire life except for a tour of duty in France during World War I and a visit to Greece with his wife Joy late in his life. The way to acquaint oneself with the land is on foot: “I number it among my blessings,” he said, “that my father had no car…. The deadly power of rushing about wherever I pleased had not been given me…. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance.” ....

The photographs in the land section of our book are of places that Lewis visited, and most of the accompanying text is Lewis’s own. The relationship between text and photograph is one of suggestion and interpretation, not of correlation or representation.

One photograph made in Scotland brings to mind the passage in The Magician’s Nephew where Digory finds himself standing in the Wood Between the Worlds. “He was standing by the edge of a small pool—not more than ten feet from side to side—in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves; but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals and no wind… You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots.”

Walking the land, without hurrying, and being keenly aware of his surroundings, allowed Lewis is experience with all his senses the land, the light, and the weather. ....

No doubt those who are acquainted with Lewis’s fiction works are recalling many scenes from those works as we listen to his observations and experiences. “Of landscapes,” he wrote to Arthur in another letter,
as of people, one becomes more tolerant after one’s twentieth year…. We learn to look at them not in the flat but in depth, as things to be burrowed into. It is not merely a question of lines and colours, but of smells, sounds, and tastes as well; I often wonder if professional artists don’t lose something of the real love of earth by seeing it in eye-sensations only?
Recall the account of the founding of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew. Digory and Polly and Uncle Andrew find themselves suddenly in another world and hear an almost unbearably beautiful singing. The singer is the great lion Aslan and as they listen and watch, the world of Narnia is brought into being. The description of birds and animals emerging to life out of the earth is an example of Lewis bringing his experience and honed powers of observation and imagination to us in print. Children, and many of us adults, are there. We see it, feel it, experience it. We don’t want to return to our own world. .... (more)
The Gilbert/Kilby, C.S. Lewis: Images of His World was re-published—according to Gilbert—"with greatly improved reproductions." I've ordered it.

C. S. Lewis Blog: How Landscapes Influenced Lewis, Colin Duriez: The Far Country

Sabbath Recorder, March 2009

The March, 2009, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

This issue of The Sabbath Recorder continues the report on the sessions of the Seventh Day Baptist World Federation from last summer, including greetings from Jan Lek, the new General Secretary and Rev. Dale Thorngate, the new President of the SDBWF.

There is an interesting report about a recent visit by Pastor Dave Taylor and spouse to last month's sessions of the Brazil SDB Conference.

Don Sanford, Denominational Historian emeritus, provides the first of what is intended to be a series of biographical sketches - this one of Rev. Thomas B. Brown, a 19th Century pastor, writer and leader. He quotes Rev. Brown's explanation of why he preached from a manuscript:
The older I get, the more important it is to say just what I want to say; no more, no less.
And there is more. Read this Recorder here.

The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

Speaker Pelosi meets the Pope

Apparently Pope Benedict doesn't think House Speaker Pelosi understands either Catholic doctrine or her responsibilities as a faithful public official. Catholics are supposed to believe that he is something of an authority on those subjects. VATICAN CITY, February 18, 2009 (
The Vatican Press Office released a note this morning detailing part of the conversation which Pope Benedict XVI had with Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. ....

The text of the note reads: "His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development."
Pope Rebukes Pelosi, Tells Her Catholic Legislators Obligated to Protect Life

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Go and make disciples of all nations

This is controversial?
The General Synod of the Church of England is to discuss a motion calling on it to recognise explicitly its aim of converting people to Christianity.

Critics of the plan say raising the issue will simply serve to damage the Church's relations with members of other religions, including Muslims.

However, there is strong backing for the controversial proposal.

The motion calls for bishops to give extra training and encouragement to clergy to evangelise non-Christians.

But the motives of Paul Eddy, the traditionalist synod member who tabled the motion, are not limited simply to winning potential converts among the Muslim, Hindu or other communities who might be susceptible to the Christian message. ....

With his motion, Mr Eddy intends to tackle what he sees as a liberal drift in the Church by challenging the synod to confirm a traditional, if sometimes uncomfortable, duty. ....
It would seem that it is an issue primarily among Christians—those who believe the faith is true and those who aren't sure [see the post below].
Steven Longden travelled in the opposite direction. He is a former Anglican who converted to Islam, and now prays regularly at the mosque in Cheadle in Manchester.

Mr Longden sees nothing wrong in the Church trying to convert his fellow Muslims. He says Islam can expect to more than hold its own in the battle for converts.

"There's an emphasis on prayer, so there's a spiritual side of it. And of course there's strong family values and all the kind of support that comes through that".

The imam at Cheadle Mosque, Abu Eesa, says it is natural for all religions to seek converts among other groups. He does so himself.

Abu Eesa acknowledges that "there would be a level of disappointment from someone like myself... if I thought I have not explained my religion well enough to a Muslim that would make them go elsewhere"....

"Any religion that believes it's going to bring tangible benefits - peace, satisfaction and understanding in this life and the next - would like to share that." [more]

Those who believe they have found the truth want to share it.

BBC NEWS | UK | Church to debate conversion rules

What happened to Susan?

One of the four Pevensie siblings, Susan, is absent as the others run "further up and further in" after The Last Battle. In "Whatever Happened to Susan Pevensie?", Matthew Alderman tells us why she isn't there:
It’s one of childhood’s great narrative shocks. Susan Pevensie is no longer a friend of Narnia. ....

Surely you remember her. She is the second-eldest of the Pevensie children, the pretty one in the family, dark-haired, tender-hearted, and occasionally cautious to the point of being a bit of a wet blanket. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she is given the representative gifts of a bow, arrows, and a magic horn that summons help wherever you might be. These gifts signify her strength, femininity, and prudence.

Yet she is conspicuously absent from the roll call of Narnian heroes we encounter in Aslan’s heavenly country. She is, Aslan says, “no longer a friend of Narnia.” ....

Susan’s fate helped spur friendly neighborhood atheist Philip Pullman to write his own anti-Narnia, the ramshackle Dark Materials trilogy with its sin-as-freedom metaphysics and straw-man take on Christian morality. In his reading, Independent Modern Woman gets a raw deal from a British weirdo with major lady issues. From the way he goes on about Lewis, you’d think the author of The Four Loves was an underdeveloped asexual freak bent on keeping his readers in a kiddie time-warp sealed away from the great god Sex.

But all we are told in The Last Battle is this: Susan has turned her back on Narnia in favor of nylons, lipstick, and party invitations. Boys, much less the joy of sex, don’t even merit a mention. More disconcerting is her quietly alarming capacity for self-deception: We are told that she also dismisses her fifteen-odd years of memories as Queen in Narnia as the product of childish fantasy. ....

Even then, Lewis indicates, it’s hardly hellfire for Susan. He wrote to a young reader in 1957: “The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end ... in her own way.” ....

Spiritual childhood—which is never childish—may take years to appear. God’s grace is bestowed on us as we struggle and fumble our way through life, descending upon us in the strangest places and coming to fruition when we least expect it. And, in that circuitous, delayed redemption, Susan is most like us as we rise and stumble over our own versions of lipstick and nylons and rise again through God’s providence. .... (more)
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Whatever Happened to Susan Pevensie?

"More things in heaven and earth..."

Fifteen years ago InterVarsity Press published the Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. It quickly became one of my favorite references for the common arguments against Christianity and the responses. The book is useful for any Christian who engages in discussion with those who raise philosophical objections to the faith—perhaps especially for students. The book reminds us that there are good and persuasive answers to questions like "Does God exist?," or "How can God allow evil to exist?," or "Is Christianity the only true religion?" Recently one of the authors, Peter Kreeft, commented on that last question at the beginning of a lecture, "A Philosophical Refutation of Reductionism.":
Ronald Knox once quipped that "the study of comparative religions is the best way to become comparatively religious." The reason, as G. K. Chesterton says, is that, according to most "scholars" of comparative religion, "Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism."

But any Christian who does apologetics must think about comparative religions because the most popular of all objections against the claims of Christianity today comes from this field. The objection is not that Christianity is not true but that it is not the truth; not that it is a false religion but that it is only a religion. .... How insufferably narrow-minded to claim that Christianity is the one true religion! God just has to be more open-minded than that.

This is the single most common objection to the Faith today, for "today" worships not God but equality. It fears being right where others are wrong more than it fears being wrong. ....
Is it possible to have reasonable certainty that your religious convictions are right, that is, that Christianity is true, and that, insofar as their claims contradict those of the Faith, other religions are wrong? Kreeft contends that a fundamental problem in even discussing the issue is that most philosophers think such religious questions are unanswerable. The problem is "reductionism":
The most usual position among philosophers in the Western world today, in fact the most usual position among academics generally, is some kind of reductionism. By "reductionism" I mean simply the belief that the world-view, or implicit metaphysics, of most people, or ordinary people, especially people of previous eras and cultures, errs by believing too much; that Hamlet's Shakespeare was exactly wrong when he said to Horatio that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy." The prevailing view among modern Western intellectuals is that there are in fact fewer things, or fewer kinds of things, or fewer dimensions of things, in heaven and earth, that is, in objective reality, than in most people's philosophies or beliefs. Thus most modern philosophers see the role of philosophical education primarily as a disillusioning, a debunking of myth, superstition, and naivete.
Kreeft goes on to refute first "reductionism," and then "materialism":
The commonest form of metaphysical reductionism, and the most philosophically interesting and controversial one, is materialism, which is the claim that everything that is real is material; that there is not a second dimension or kind of reality that is immaterial, or spiritual, or mental, but that what we call mind and mental phenomena can be reduced to and explained as merely material phenomena. According to materialism, all that happens when we calculate that 21+31=52, or when we judge that murder is evil, or when we believe that God exists, or that we perceive the sky as blue, or when we predict that we will die, is that certain bundles of physical energy are doing certain physical things, like moving across synapses or producing chemical reactions, in our brains. The claim is that there are no immaterial phenomena that cannot be explained as material phenomena.

Now there is one very easy refutation of this argument for materialism. It is simply that the premise does not entail the conclusion. For even if we grant the premise that we find no immaterial phenomena that cannot be fully explained as material phenomena, this does not logically entail the conclusion that there are no immaterial phenomena.... (more)
Read it. Even if you don't contemplate engaging in apologetic argument with your acquaintances, it will reinforce in your own mind the fact that faith and reason are allies.

Thanks to Insight Scoop for the reference!

A Philosophical Refutation of Reductionism

Monday, February 16, 2009

What's old is new

At his really interesting new blog, Kevin DeYoung argues that what seems exciting and new in the Church is sometimes very, very old, and very wrong:
There is a New Mood in evangelicalism. The New Mood can be found in emergent writers like Brian McLaren who speak mockingly about the wrath of God and dismissively about the reality of eternal punishment. The New Mood can be found in Christian academics who marginalize, or even deny, the concept of penal substitution. The New Mood can be found in megachurch pastors who argue that the essence of Christianity is that Jesus "shows us the best way to live." The New Mood can be found in bestsellers like The Shack with its claims that "The Bible doesn't teach you to follow rules" (197), God doesn't need to punish sin (120), and the biblical portrayal of God's justice is caricatured as an blood-thirsty God who runs around killing people all the time (119).

The New Mood is squeamish about hell and uncomfortable with God's wrath. The New Mood envisions a Christianity where the attribute of God's love eclipses all other attributes, especially God's justice and power. The New Mood tells the Christian story not first of all (or at all) as good news about a Substitute who saves us from the wrath of God, but as a message which means to inspire us to live a life of sacrifice and shalom.
DeYoung goes on to describe the teaching of the 2nd century heretic, Marcion, including this summary of Marcion's theological errors:
Marcion's theological errors (and there were many) came from one main root. He refused to believe that the God of the Old Testament was the same as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Marcion could simply not believe in a God full of wrath and justice. So he threw away the Old Testament and took for his Bible a truncated version of Luke's Gospel and selectively edited versions of Paul's epistles. When all the cutting and pasting was finished, Marcion had the Christianity he wanted: a God of goodness and nothing else; a message of inspiring moral uplift; a Bible that does away with the uncomfortable bits about God's wrath and hell. Marcionism was anitnomian, idealistic about human potential, and skittish about dogma and rules.
DeYoung concludes:
The idea of recasting Christianity for a new day—in softer, gentler hues, more focused on the life of Jesus instead of the death of Jesus—sounds familiar, does it not? Listen to some of the country's most popular preachers, or to some of the loudest voices in the emergent conversation, or to some of the bestselling Christian books and you will find that Marcionism is alive and well. [more]
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed

Religion, right and wrong

Maggie Gallagher at NRO passes along some data from the Pew Religious Landscape Survey responding to this question:
When it comes to questions of right and wrong, which of the following do you look to most for guidance?

Click here or the image for a readable version
Does Religion Influence Morality? - Maggie Gallagher - The Corner on National Review Online, Gene Expression: Right & wrong is not about religion

Friday, February 13, 2009

Good films

NRO, after consulting its readers, has compiled a list of twenty five of "The Best Conservative Movies.": The Lives of Others, The Incredibles, Metropolitan, Forrest Gump, 300, Groundhog Day, The Pursuit of Happiness, Juno, Blast from the Past, Ghostbusters, The Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight, Braveheart, A Simple Plan, Red Dawn, Master and Commander, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, The Edge, We Were Soldiers, Gattaca, Heartbreak Ridge, Brazil, United 93, Team America: World Police, Gran Torino.

I agree with many of the choices, don't care for others, and haven't a clue why some of them are there [and a few of them I haven't yet seen]. But that is the joy of such lists. It leads to profitable debate, directing us to good films we may have missed.

Here are the comments about some of those I particularly liked:
1.The Lives of Others (2007) “I think that this is the best movie I ever saw,” said William F. Buckley Jr. upon leaving the theater (according to his column on the film). The tale, set in East Germany in 1984, is one part romantic drama, one part political thriller. It chronicles life under a totalitarian regime as the Stasi secretly monitors the activities of a playwright who is suspected of harboring doubts about Communism. Critics showered the movie with praise and it won an Oscar for best foreign-language film (it’s in German). More Buckley: “The tension mounts to heart-stopping pitch and I felt the impulse to rush out into the street and drag passersby in to watch the story unfold.” — John J. Miller

2. The Incredibles (2004): This animated film skips pop-culture references and gross jokes in favor of a story that celebrates marriage, courage, responsibility, and high achievement. A family of superheroes — Mr. Incredible, his wife Elastigirl, and their children — are living an anonymous life in the suburbs, thanks to a society that doesn’t appreciate their unique talents. Then it comes to need them. In one scene, son Dash, a super-speedy runner, wants to try out for track. Mom claims it wouldn’t be fair. “Dad says our powers make us special!” Dash objects. “Everyone is special,” Mom demurs, to which Dash mutters, “Which means nobody is.” — Frederica Mathewes-Greene writes for

11. The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003): Author J. R. R. Tolkien was deeply conservative, so it’s no surprise that the trilogy of movies based on his masterwork is as well. Largely filmed before 9/11, they seemed perfectly pitched for the post-9/11 world. The debates over what to do about Sauron and Saruman echoed our own disputes over the Iraq War. (Think of Wormtongue as Keith Olbermann.) When Frodo sighs, “I wish none of this had happened,” Gandalf’s response speaks to us, too: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” — Andrew Leigh is a screenwriter and producer in Los Angeles.

16. Master and Commander (2003): This naval-adventure film starring Russell Crowe is based on the books of Patrick O’Brian, and here’s what A.O. Scott of the New York Times said in his review: “The Napoleonic wars that followed the French Revolution gave birth, among other things, to British conservatism, and Master and Commander, making no concessions to modern, egalitarian sensibilities, is among the most thoroughly and proudly conservative movies ever made. It imagines the [H.M.S.] Surprise as a coherent society in which stability is underwritten by custom and every man knows his duty and his place. I would not have been surprised to see Edmund Burke’s name in the credits." — John J. Miller

17. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005): The White Witch runs a godless, oppressive, paranoid regime that hates Santa Claus. She’s a cross between Burgermeister Meisterburger and Kim Jong Il. The good guys, meanwhile, recognize that some throats will need cutting: no appeasement, no land-for-peace swaps, no offering the witch a snowmobile if she’ll only put away the wand. Underlying the narrative is the story of Christ’s rescuing man from sin — which is antithetical to the leftist dream of perfected man’s becoming an instrument for earthly utopia. The results of such utopian visions, of course, are frequently like the Witch’s reign: always winter, and never Christmas. — Tony Woodlief writes for World magazine and blogs at

19. We Were Soldiers (2002): Most movies about the Vietnam War reflect the derangements of the antiwar Left. This film, based on the memoir by Lt. Col. Hal Moore (played by Mel Gibson), offers a lifelike alternative. It focuses on a fight between an outnumbered U.S. Army battalion and three North Vietnamese regiments in the battle of Ia Drang in 1965. Significantly, it treats soldiers not as wretched losers or pathological killers, but as regular citizens. They are men willing to sacrifice everything to do their duty — to their country, to their unit, and to their fellow soldiers. As the movie makes clear, they also had families. Indeed, their last thoughts were usually about their loved ones back home. — Mackubin Thomas Owens, a Vietnam veteran, is a professor at the Naval War College.
They add a list of "also-rans":
Air Force One, Amazing Grace, An American Carol, Barcelona, Bella, Cinderella Man, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Hamburger Hill, The Hanoi Hilton, The Hunt for Red October, The Island, Knocked Up, The Last Days of Disco, The Lost City, Miracle, The Patriot, Rocky Balboa, Serenity, Stand and Deliver, Tears of the Sun, Thank You for Smoking, Three Kings, Tin Men, The Truman Show, Witness
Of course "conservative" films are not necessarily compatible with Christian values, although quite a few of these might end up on my list of those films too. There are a number, even of those, that I wouldn't want to show in the church recreation room.

Update 2/16: I have removed a sentence complaining about the absence of some films - they were made before the last twenty-five years, which is the time frame the NRO list was intended to cover.

The Best Conservative Movies on National Review / Digital