Monday, May 31, 2010

"Between the crosses, row on row..."

The only member of my close family to have been killed in war in the service of the United States was my Uncle Robert, my mother's youngest brother, the only one of my uncles I never met. He was killed in France in September, 1944, and is buried there in an American military cemetery.

An article in The Wall Street Journal describes "How We Bury the War Dead" from our earliest wars up to today, including the eventual decision to bring all the bodies home:
.... The modern system for cataloguing and burying military dead effectively began during the Civil War, when the enormity of the carnage triggered a wholesale revolution in how the U.S. treated fallen troops. Congress decided that the defenders of the Union were worthy of special burial sites for their sacrifices, and set up a program of national cemeteries.

During the war, more than 300,000 dead Union soldiers were buried in small cemeteries scattered across broad swaths of the U.S. When the fighting stopped, military authorities launched an ambitious effort to collect the remains and rebury them in the handful of national cemeteries. ....

The first time the U.S. made a serious effort to repatriate the remains of soldiers killed overseas came during the Spanish American War of 1898, when the military brought back the remains of thousands of troops who were killed in places like the Philippines and Cuba.

The relatives of fallen troops in both world wars were given the choice of having their loved ones permanently interred in large overseas cemeteries or brought back to the U.S. for reburial. ....

Today, the remains of 124,909 fallen American troops from conflicts dating back to the Mexican-American war are buried at a network of 24 permanent cemeteries in Europe, Panama, Tunisia, the Philippines and Mexico.

The military reshaped its procedures for handling war dead during the Korean War, when territory changed hands so many times that temporary U.S. battlefield cemeteries were at constant risk of falling into enemy hands. In the winter of 1950, the U.S. launched a policy of "concurrent return," which called for flying the bodies of fallen troops back to the U.S. as quickly as possible. .... [more]
How We Bury the War Dead -

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day, 2010

"The Mansions of the Lord"
Words by Randall Wallace

To fallen soldiers let us sing
where no rockets fly nor bullets wing
Our broken brothers let us bring
to the mansions of the Lord

No more bleeding no more fight
No prayers pleading through the night
just divine embrace, eternal light
in the mansions of the Lord

Where no mothers cry and no children weep
We will stand and guard tho the angels sleep
All through the ages safely keep
the mansions of the Lord

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Eat his cake, and have it, too"

VIRGIL SPENT SOME TIME with God that night, thinking about the way things were—about how somebody like Jud Windrow might now be lying dead somewhere, for no discernible reason—and why they were like that, and why a believer like himself would be going around cursing as he did: goddamnit.

Virgil held intricate unconventional beliefs, not necessarily Christian, but not necessarily un-Christian, either, derived from his years of studying nature, and his earlier years, his childhood years, with the Bible. God, he suspected, might not be a steady-state consciousness, omnipotent, omnipresent, timeless. God might be like a wave front, moving into an unknowable future; human souls might be like neurons, cells of God's own intelligence...

Far out, dude; pass the joint.

Whatever God was, Virgil seriously doubted that he worried too much about profanity, sex, or even death. He left the world alone, people alone, each to work out a separate destiny. And he stranded people like Virgil, who wonder about the unseen world, but were trapped in their own animal passions, and operated out of moralities that almost certainly weren't God's own, if, indeed, he had one.

Virgil further worried that he was a guy who simply wanted to eat his cake, and have it, too—his philosophy, as a born-again once pointed out to him, pretty much allowed him to carry on as he wished, like your average godless commie.

He got to "godless commie" and went to sleep.

And worried in his sleep. [John Sandford, Rough Country, pp. 301-3002]
When I read for pleasure, especially in the summer, I read mysteries. John Sandford is a favorite author. His detectives are Minnesota state cops, although their cases take them into Wisconsin every now and then, and part of the pleasure I find in them is that they sometimes take place in locations that are familiar. Virgil Flowers is one of his investigators and Virgil thinks about God just about every night before he goes to sleep. The passage above is from the book I am reading right now, Rough Country, and Virgil's reflections seemed to me to reflect a kind of "spirituality" not unlike that described in my last post. Virgil, though, does seem to believe in a God of sorts and to at least suspect that his beliefs are self-indulgent.

"Spirituality" but no Spirit

Not long ago I quoted Alan Jacobs:
"There is no such thing as 'spirituality.' Doesn’t exist, has no meaning. It’s just a name for 'doing what I want to do and feeling that the universe somehow smiles on me for doing it.'"
David Mills on "Spirituality Without Spirits":
...[W]e find Lady Gaga, the pornographic songstress, telling a reporter for The Times that she has a new spirituality just before taking her out for a night at a Berlin sex club. Asked by the reporter, “You were raised a Catholic — so when you say ‘God,’ do you mean the Catholic God, or a different, perhaps more spiritual sense of God?”, she responded, “More spiritual.... There’s really no religion that doesn’t hate or condemn a certain kind of people, and I totally believe in all love and forgiveness, and excluding no one.” ....

I don’t think Ms. Gaga or anyone else who talks like this has really thought it through. That God who forgives everyone and excludes no one doesn’t object to debauches in Berlin sex clubs. A point in his favor, from one point of view. But then he doesn’t object to murderers and torturers and corrupt bankers either. A point in his favor from no one’s point of view.

Even academics don’t see the problem. A few years ago a much-reported study of college students’ religious practice found that they become more “spiritual” as their observance of their childhood faith declined. The researchers defined “spiritual” as “growth in self-understanding, caring about others, becoming more of a global citizen and accepting others of different faiths.” They simply dressed up their favored attitudes by calling them “spiritual.” That kind of spirituality, detached from anything specifically religious, is just materialism in a tuxedo. ....

The word “spiritual” has no useful meaning if it does not refer to a relation to a real spirit, something from a world not our own, something supernatural, something that or someone who tells us things we do not know, judges us for our failures, and gives us ideals to strive for and maybe help in reaching them. It’s not a useful word if it means a general inclination or shape of mind or emotional pattern or set of attitudes or collection of values. There is no reason to call any of these spiritual. ....

Being “spiritual” does not do us any good. As I recently wrote elsewhere, it works fairly well when you are healthy and have enough money to enjoy life, and just want from your spirituality the feeling that all is well with the universe, particularly your corner of it. But it doesn’t help you much when things go from good to bad.

The man wasting away from pancreatic cancer will get no help nor comfort from the “spiritual,” which will seem a lot less friendly and comforting when he feels pain morphine won’t suppress. He has no one to beg for help, no one to ask for comfort, no one to be with him, no one to meet when he crosses from this world to the next. He wants what religion promises.

And he is right to do so. The dying man is the true man, in the sense of being the one who reveals to us what we essentially are. We are on our death bed from the day we are born. To paraphrase Pascal, dying men want not the God of spirituality, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. [more]
Spirituality Without Spirits | First Things

"Guinness is good for you"

Good news for moderate consumers of Guinness [and perhaps other stouts] from the BBC and the University of Wisconsin. Of course the same benefit could probably be achieved with a diet high in "certain fruits and vegetables" — but this is far more efficient:
A pint of the black stuff a day may work as well as a low dose aspirin to prevent heart clots that raise the risk of heart attacks.

Drinking lager does not yield the same benefits, experts from University of Wisconsin told a conference in the US.

Guinness was told to stop using the slogan decades ago - and the firm still makes no health claims for the drink. ....

The researchers told a meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Florida, that the most benefit they saw was from 24 fluid ounces of Guinness - just over a pint - taken at mealtimes.

They believe that "antioxidant compounds" in the Guinness, similar to those found in certain fruits and vegetables, are responsible for the health benefits because they slow down the deposit of harmful cholesterol on the artery walls.

However, Diageo, the company that now manufactures Guinness, said: "We never make any medical claims for our drinks." ....

The original campaign in the 1920s stemmed from market research - when people told the company that they felt good after their pint, the slogan was born.

In England, post-operative patients used to be given Guinness, as were blood donors, based on the belief that it was high in iron.

Pregnant women and nursing mothers were at one stage advised to drink Guinness - the present advice is against this. .... [more]
It would appear that the health benefits have a different justification today than in the 1920s. One suspects that however beneficial it may have been to pregnant and nursing mothers it was much less so for the infants.

Related: The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World, by Stephen Mansfield

Thanks to Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk for the reference.

BBC News - Guinness could really be good for you

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sistine Chapel

Via Joseph Bottum "What the Internet Is For," offered by the Vatican Museum:
Unbelievably beautiful and informative scrollable display of all of the Sistine Chapel—the perfect web display.
Click on the link above or here.

What the Internet Is For » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

"Do unto others...."

It has been observed that "ideas have consequences." It is certainly true that beliefs do. Some time ago I noted the findings of Arthur Brooks:
In 2000, religious people gave about three and a half times as much as secular people - $2,210 versus $642. And even when religious giving is excluded from the numbers, Mr. Brooks found, religious people still give $88 more per year to nonreligious charities.

He writes that religious people are more likely than the nonreligious to volunteer for secular charitable activities, give blood, and return money when they are accidentally given too much change. "There is not one measurably significant way I have ever found in which religious people are not more charitable than nonreligious people," Mr. Brooks says. "The fact is, if it weren't for religious people in your community, the PTA would shut down."
Adding to that research, a more recent study from Canada, described in a column asking "Do atheists care less?":
Last summer, Statistics Canada released a survey on Canadians and their charitable habits. While less than one in five attend church regularly, those who do are far more likely to give to charities, and are substantially more liberal in the size of their gifts to both religious and non-religious organizations. The average annual donation from a churchgoer is $1,038. For the rest of the population, $295.

With respect to volunteer effort, two-thirds of churchgoers give their time to non-profit causes while only 43 per cent of non-attendees do likewise. And churchgoers put in twice as many hours volunteering. ....

Interestingly, this past January saw the launch of a new charity specifically designed to disprove the alleged parsimony of non-believers. The Foundation Beyond Belief aims to “encourage and demonstrate the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists.” So far, its 447 members have raised $18,760. Or about as much as 18 churchgoers give in one year. [more]
Obviously averages of this sort tell nothing about the charitable impulse of any individual: there are parsimonious churchgoers and irreligious philanthropists, but they do demonstrate one of the social goods that will likely be lost as religious belief declines.

Thanks to Norman for giving me the MacLean's article.

Do atheists care less? - Opinion -

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"A sin against God"

Greenmanville SDB Church, Mystic CT
Seventh Day Baptist Historian, Nick Kersten, reports that he will be participating in a scholarly panel at Mystic Seaport in Mystic Connecticut. The Seventh Day Baptist connection:
.... The current Mystic Seaport grounds are built on what was once the SDB community of Greenmanville, a shipbuilding community founded by three Greenman brothers. On the grounds of the 'living' museum, all three brothers houses are preserved, as well as the Greenmanville Seventh Day Baptist church. Though the museum has included brief notes about the Greenman's SDB faith, they are looking to expand the Greenmanville portion of the museum to include more information about their faith and how it influenced their participation in the social issues of their day—especially the abolition movement.

The Greenmanville church, founded in 1850, was a headquarters of sorts for the abolitionist movement in that area, and included in it's statement of faith an article condemning slavery. (It reads, "11th—that Slavery is a violation of the principles of Christianity and therefore a sin against God.") .... [more]
More about Seventh Day Baptists and abolitionism can be found here and here.

SDB Exec: Librarian-Historian to Participate in Panel Discussion at Mystic Seaport

Not conformed to this world, but transformed

Chaplain Mike at The Internet Monk [like the founder of that site] defines himself as "post-evangelical." Most of his background was in evangelical and fundamentalist churches but he has increasingly had "issues" with American evangelical church culture. He has been explaining his reasons in the context of preparing for the publication of Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. In Chaplain Mike's post today, "My Issues with Evangelicalism," two of his points particularly resonated with me:
Worship in the evangelical church has consistently followed patterns established by the American revivalist tradition, which in turn drew from the theater. The “service” is essentially a stage show.
  • Music and other elements prepare for and build up to the main event: the sermon.
  • After the sermon, the preacher calls for response through an invitation.
  • The “actors” are those who hold forth on the stage.
  • The congregation is the “audience.”
  • The preacher is the “star.”
  • The sermon is like a sales pitch and the invitation gives the listeners the opportunity to buy in.
This inevitably leads to a performance mentality on the part of those on the stage and a spectator mindset for those in the audience. Even those who do their parts with best intentions can’t overcome the unspoken messages they are sending and receiving.

Let me say unequivocally—this is not worship. I’m not saying that these services don’t serve a purpose, particularly in mission settings, and it’s true that some may find a way to worship while they sit in these shows, but on the corporate level these types of services are not designed so that God’s people may offer worship to him.

This is not an issue of style, but of definition. ....

THE PASTORAL ISSUE: Hey Look! I’m an Entrepreneur!
It seems it is no longer admirable to desire the lowly vocation of “shepherd” (pastor). Evangelical ministry has become professionalized. “Leadership” is defined by cultural models and “success” is likewise cast in those terms. Ministry is about creating a thriving enterprise (entrepreneurship) and expanding its market share (growth).

The successful pastor’s study has been transformed into his office, complete with a staff to insulate him from people who might waste his time. He imposes his will (er, “vision”) upon the congregation. His main tool is not the Bible but his Blackberry. He dresses cool, refuses to stand humbly behind a pulpit when he preaches, and majors in “practical” messages filled, of course, with pop culture references.

Pastoral ministry in the evangelical world grows out of one of three secular models:
  • The CEO—the visionary leader who knows how to build a business
  • The General—the brilliant strategist who knows how to expand territory
  • The Motivational Speaker—the charismatic preacher who knows how to draw crowds
Pre-industrial, agricultural, and personal models have been replaced by the ethos and practices of the corporation. Eugene Peterson once said he was horrified to hear himself answer an inquirer’s question about his work with the sentence, “I run a church.” But this is the evangelical model, and, in my view, it has run amuck. .... [more]
My Issues with Evangelicalism |

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Little better than flies of a summer"

Burke or Paine? Of which Enlightenment are we heirs? The quotation in the heading accurately describes what Burke would think of men who agree with Paine. David Brooks on a dissertation by Yuval Levin in which he distinguishes between two Enlightenments, exemplified by Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke:
.... As Levin shows, Paine believed that societies exist in an “eternal now.” That something has existed for ages tells us nothing about its value. The past is dead and the living should use their powers of analysis to sweep away existing arrangements when necessary, and begin the world anew. He even suggested that laws should expire after 30 years so each new generation could begin again. ....

Burke, a participant in the British Enlightenment, had a different vision of change. He believed that each generation is a small part of a long chain of history. We serve as trustees for the wisdom of the ages and are obliged to pass it down, a little improved, to our descendents. That wisdom fills the gaps in our own reason, as age-old institutions implicitly contain more wisdom than any individual could have.

Burke was horrified at the thought that individuals would use abstract reason to sweep away arrangements that had stood the test of time. He believed in continual reform, but reform is not novelty. You don’t try to change the fundamental substance of an institution. You try to modify from within, keeping the good parts and adjusting the parts that aren’t working.

If you try to re-engineer society on the basis of abstract plans, Burke argued, you’ll end up causing all sorts of fresh difficulties, because the social organism is more complicated than you can possibly know. We could never get things right from scratch. .... [more]
Looking around online for sites about Edmund Burke, I came across this quotation, unrelated to the above, but I liked it: "Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair."

Op-Ed Columnist - Two Theories of Change -

Monday, May 24, 2010

Martin Gardner, 1914-2010, R.I.P.

Martin Gardner died yesterday. He was 95. Roger Kimball's tribute indicates that he first discovered this remarkable man the same way I did:
I first encountered Gardner’s work in high school when I stumbled on The Annotated Alice, his splendid edition of Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I later discovered that he also published annotated editions of other works he admired, including The Wizard of Oz, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and several books by G. K. Chesterton, one of his favorite authors.

The many tributes that are beginning to pour in about this extraordinary man bear witness to his irrepressible energy and curiosity about the natural world. He wrote a veritable library of books — more than seventy — on mathematics, science, literature, and philosophy and related topics. .... Gardner also wrote hundreds — maybe thousands — of columns for Scientific American (for twenty-five years he wrote the magazine’s Mathematical Games column), The Skeptical Inquirer (where he indulged, delightfully, a passion for exposing the chicanery of pseudo-science), and other magazines, including, I am proud to say, The New Criterion, for which he wrote some dozen pieces over the last six or seven years.
I'm afraid I didn't follow his work much beyond the annotated editions he prepared [Math is not my thing], but those books are delightful. I did encounter a few of his eviscerations, an example of which Kimball provides:
In April, he published an article on Oprah Winfrey, the “gullible billionaire,” whose fondness for quack medicine threatens to tempt her many fans into useless, even dangerous, medical fads.

“Winfrey’s enthusiasm for New Age books reached its apex,” Gardner reports,
when she promoted the monumental idiocy of The Secret. It can be described as a hilarious parody of books by Norman Vincent Peale. Instead of God working miracles, the universe itself does it. The Secret teaches that the universe consists of a vibrating energy that can be tapped into with positive thoughts, allowing you to obtain anything you desire—happiness, love, and of course fabulous wealth. Want to lose weight? Then stop having fat thoughts and think thin! Want to become wealthy? Stop thinking poor thoughts. Think rich!
Roger's Rules » Martin Gardner, 1914-2010 R.I.P.

Worship junkies

Why do we worship and how? That topic has often been addressed by posts here. Worship style is an issue that has divided Christian friends and entire congregations. But "style" shouldn't be the issue. As Skye Jethani, in "And why that question completely misses the point," points out "The very idea that a style can be wrong is funny to begin with. That’s like saying the Spanish language is better at communicating a mother’s love than Italian." His essay is directed at correcting the impression some received from his recent book, The Divine Commodity, that he opposes certain styles of worship.

The real questions isn't about style but about whether what is happening is worship. One of my [only partially realized] goals for General Conference worship the year I was responsible for planning the program was to demonstrate that worship can be served by a variety of styles. It is the object of the exercise that matters. God is the object: the worship service isn't worship if it doesn't direct adoration toward Him. If the service is about me — and how I feel and whether I am entertained — then it fails. So, those planning worship must always have in mind whether what they are planning — regardless of style — will help direct the attention of worshipers toward God.

Another result of focusing on the experience of worship is the fact that emotional experience fades. Chaplain Mike at the Internet Monk invites his readers to respond to this portion of Jethani's essay:
.... Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through external experiences. And, as we’ve already seen, many churches have engineered their ministries to manufacture these experiences for crowds of religious consumers. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multi-media theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. One pastor, explaining why his church opened another location across town, said “We decided, if you can’t get the people to the mountain, bring the mountain to the people.”

Ascending the mountain every Sunday morning, millions of Christians want to have an experience with God and this is precisely what churches promise. And not disappointed, many leave these experiences with a sense of transformation or inspiration. They feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.” No doubt many people, like Moses, have authentic experiences of God through these events. Others may simply be carried along by the music, crowd, and energy of the room. Whether a result of God or group, what is beyond question is that many people depart feeling spiritually rejuvenated and capable of taking on life for another six days.

The problem with these external experiences, as Moses discovered, is that the transformation doesn’t last. In a few days time, or maybe as early as lunch on Sunday, the glory begins to fade. The mountaintop experience with God, the event you were certain would change your life forever, turns out to be another fleeting spiritual high. And to hide the lack of genuine transformation we mask the inglorious truth of our lives behind a veil, a façade of Christian piety, until we can ascend the mountain again and be recharged.

This philosophy of spiritual formation through the consumption of external experiences creates worship junkies—Christians who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that does not fade. In response, churches and Christian conferences are driven to create ever-grander experiences and more elaborate productions to satisfy expectations….
And why that question completely misses the point

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Too many books

Having accumulated many, many books [he quotes Ecclesiastes: “And further, by these, my son, be admonished; of making many books there is no end, and much studying is a weariness of the flesh”], Walter Russell Mead is culling his collections at home and at his office. Here he describes the criteria he has found himself using for the office collection:
...[A]s I dump dozens of books from my shelves into the ‘don’t want’ boxes, I’m struck by the sheer uselessness of the overwhelming majority of them. Volumes of political science essays written at a point in the debate that is already forgotten; grave studies of the state of the world economy in 1993 or 1997; labored studies of the policy-making process (mostly) by people who have never seen policy made and think that collated memos tell the real story of American foreign policy; ambitious attempts to catch the spirit of a moment in international affairs: all worse than useless now, most not even having second-hand sale value. ....

The books that I end up keeping seem to fall mostly into three categories. First and foremost, at least for me, are the good history books. ....

Good history lasts in a way that even good policy analysis doesn’t. That’s one lesson of my book cull, and it confirms my belief that young people should not waste their time trying to stay up to the minute on the latest policy or ’state of the world’ chat. These books come and mostly go like mayflies; people in their teens and twenties should be spending their time building up their general historical knowledge rather than following the twists and turns of the contemporary debate. As they take on more senior professional responsibilities in their thirties and forties they will have plenty of time to immerse themselves in the minutiae of policy reviews and the attempts to capture the spirit of the moment in print. (And, if they’ve spent the earlier years wisely, they will be able to bring badly needed perspective to the discussion of contemporary issues as their careers hit their stride.)

The second category of books that last (and I’m excluding fiction, poetry and literature from consideration here; it’s the office, working collection that I’m culling most intensively) are the books that say something concrete and important about a subject of lasting importance. ....

The third category of ‘keepers’ are books that, whatever they are about, manage to say something real and important. Adam Smith, Max Weber, Karl Marx, Reinhold Niebuhr, Walter Bagehot, Thomas Aquinas, Ibn Khaldun: these are thinkers you want to keep with you. You may not consult them every day, but you want them at hand when you need them. .... [more]
There is little point in keeping books that you will never read again, either for pleasure or as reference. Just before and right after I retired I culled my library. Now, five years later, I need to do it again. Fiction I will not re-read needs to go, as do most of the reference books because Google makes it ridiculously easy to look things up. My library doesn't come close in size to those of several of my friends, but, nevertheless, it contains a lot of useless possession. [The picture shows a few of my books.]

Literary Saturday: Culling Books - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest

Thanks be to God

Samuel Johnson is credited with saying “Nothing so wonderfully concentrates the mind as the prospect of a hanging.” That is undoubtedly true of any prospective event that drives home one's mortality.

A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I may still have cancer — but not prostate cancer because I no longer have a prostate, it was removed last Tuesday [and that explains my absence from One Eternal Day for the remainder of last week]. I should know by the end of this coming week whether a serious problem remains.

Anything that is a reminder of mortality can be a good thing because it should "concentrate the mind" on ultimate things — the most important things.

Paul wrote, concerning the hope that we have:
...[T]his perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:53-58, ESV)


Stephen Altrogge on "How to Write An Awful Worship Song":
[....] Recycle A Love Song.

Write a song for your girlfriend. When she breaks up with you, convert it into a worship song. Be sure to change all uses of “girl” or “baby”. [....]

Be Vague About Your Theology

Make sure to avoid any theology at all costs. Don’t talk about atonement, wrath, or any other biblical concepts. You want your song to be all about feeling. Don’t let the mind get in the way. Repeat after me: “Worship is a warm feeling, sort of like heartburn, only better.”

Make the Song All About You

The main point of your song should be your experiences and how God makes you feel. Don’t bother with objective truth about God. I would suggest that you use the words “I” or “me” at least 12-15 times. For example, “I feel like singing, yes I feel like spinning, because You make me feel so good inside. Like it’s my birthday, but more awesome.” .... [more]
The Blazing Center » How to Write An Awful Worship Song

Plodding visionaries

Another good essay from Kevin DeYoung, "The Glory of Plodding."
It’s sexy among young people — my generation — to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being unbiblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency. .... [the essay]
The Glory of Plodding by Kevin DeYoung | Reformed Theology Articles at

Keeping faith

The first Seventh Day Baptist churches in North America congregated in Rhode Island in the 17th century. Today I came across this site describing a monument at the location of the second such church, the First Hopkinton Seventh Day Baptist Church in Ashaway, Rhode Island. The monument stands in that church's cemetery, although the church building itself is long gone.

From the inscription on the monument:
This Monument is a Memorial to the early Pastors of the Second Seventh-day Baptist Church in America, whose remains lie buried within the enclosing circle. They were stalwart men and sound preachers. They "fought the good fight" and "kept the faith." Upon this spot stood the house of worship from 1680 to 1852. [more]
The family names of those buried here include Burdick, Maxson, Coon, and Stillman, names that still appear on the membership rolls of Seventh Day Baptist churches today.

Seventh Day Baptist Minister's Monument Marker

Monday, May 17, 2010

Who is my neighbor?

...I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbour.

G.K. Chesterton

"I was not born to be free..."

"I was not born to be free: 
I was born to adore and to obey."

Rummaging through things in my desk, I came across this card. On the back the source of the quotation is given as "Lewis in conversation as recounted by A.C. Harwood," one of C.S. Lewis's good friends—an Inkling. The card was sent to members in November, 1983, by The New York C.S. Lewis Society. I was then—and am now—a member, although I have never attended a meeting in person.

It seems to me that Lewis' conviction about the purpose of life complements the first question and response in the Westminster Catechism:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Evangelicals and Seventh-day Adventists

My denomination, the Seventh Day Baptist, is often confused with the more recent, much larger and thus better known, Seventh-day Adventist. When someone asks my affiliation, if I say "Seventh Day Baptist" they often hear "Seventh-day Adventist," so I have fallen into the habit of saying that "I belong to one of the smaller Baptist denominations, the Seventh Day Baptists." That isn't always enough, either. Seventh Day Baptists differ with other Baptists only with respect to the Sabbath. Adventists are sufficiently heterodox that whether they fall within the boundaries of Evangelicalism has been — and may remain — an open question.

This morning I came across a 1988 article, originally published in the Christian Research Journal, "From Controversy to Crisis: An Updated Assessment of Seventh-day Adventism," by Kenneth R. Samples. It is an account of the relationship of Seventh-day Adventists with Evangelicalism, and the controversies within Adventism related to it, from the 1950s to the 1980s. I found it informative about Adventism and am curious about whether Adventists and ex-Adventists think it accurate.

The only reference to Seventh Day Baptists occurs in a summary of a '50s era description of the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the significance of the Sabbath:
.... Sabbatarianism. SDA teaches that the keeping of the Seventh-day Sabbath, as a perpetual memorial to creation, is obligatory for all Christians as a mark of "true obedience" to the Lord. Unlike some extreme Adventists, however, the Adventist scholars at the conference asserted that the keeping of the Sabbath did not procure salvation, and that non-Adventist Christians who observed Sunday in good conscience were not excluded from the body of Christ.

Though Sabbath-keeping has never been the official position of historic Christianity, the evangelicals concluded that to keep, or not keep, a Sabbath was permissible within the context of Romans 14:5-6. Other Christian denominations, such as the Seventh Day Baptists, had taken this position as well. The evangelicals vigorously disagreed with the Adventists' conclusion regarding the Sabbath, but they did not see this as an issue which should divide them. .... (more)
Bible Life to the World: "From Controversy to Crisis: An Updated Assessment of Seventh-day Adventism"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tested and refined

D.A. Carson observes that one subject contemporary choruses seldom praise God for was more commonly addressed in hymns and should not be neglected. Reflecting on Psalm 66:
.... There the psalmist begins by inviting the peoples of the world to listen in on the people of God as they praise him because “he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” Then the psalmist directly addresses God, and mentions the context in which the Lord God preserved them: “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance” (Psalm 66:10 -12).

This is stunning. The psalmist thanks God for testing his covenant people, for refining them under the pressure of some extraordinarily difficult circumstances and for sustaining them through that experience. This is the response of perceptive, godly faith. It is not heard on the lips of those who thank God only when they escape trial or are feeling happy. .... [more]
Numbers 24; Psalms 66-67; Isaiah 14; 1 Peter 2 – For the Love of God

Saturday, May 15, 2010

He restoreth my soul

Some of the spring flowers I saw walking home from church today.

"If we confess..."

From Kevin DeYoung's post on "Why We Need Confession of Sin":
.... If your church does not regularly confess sin and receive God’s assurance of pardon you are missing an essential element of corporate worship. It’s in the weekly prayer of confession that we experience the gospel. It’s here that we find punk kids and Ph.D.’s humbled together, admitting the same human nature. It’s here we, like Pilgrim, can unload our burden at the foot of the cross.

Some of us become Christians and just go on our merry way, never thinking of sin, while others fixate on our failings and suffer from despair. One person feels no conviction of sin; the other person feels no relief from sin. Neither of these habits should mark the Christian. The Christian should often feel conviction, confess, and be cleansed.

The cleansing, mind you, is not like the expunging of a guilty record before the judge. That’s already been accomplished. This cleansing is more like the scraping of barnacles off the hull of a ship so it can move freely again. We need confession of sin before God like a child needs to own up to her mistakes before Mom and Dad, not to earn God’s love, but to rest in it and know it more fully.

1 John 1:9, then, is not just about getting saved. It’s also about living as a saved person and enjoying it.
Why We Need Confession of Sin – Kevin DeYoung

Friday, May 14, 2010

Feared by the bad, loved by the good...

Steven D. Greydanus did not enjoy Ridley Scott's new version of Robin Hood with Russell Crowe in the title role:
.... I’m sick of movies that seem obsessed with rubbing our noses in the supposed harsh reality behind our romantic illusions of nobility and courtesy — especially in our age, when the harsh reality is taken for granted, and the romance and nobility and courtesy are all but forgotten.

Here is a small example. On the eve of the siege in which he will fall prey to an archer’s arrow, King Richard, noting Robin’s courage and honesty, asks him candidly whether God will be pleased with Richard’s sacrifice. Somberly, Robin answers that by massacring innocent Muslims they have become godless men. Specifically, he recalls a Muslim woman whose last look was not one of fear or hatred, but pity. (Bad Crusades! Bad!)

Richard’s capricious response to Robin’s candor is to have him clapped in stocks. You see, Robin is brave, honest — and naïve. Betcha didn’t see that coming, huh?

Now here is another story about an archer and Richard’s death, from Wikipedia. Spotting a defender on the castle walls with a crossbow shooting at him, Richard was amused and applauded the archer — until a shaft went home. Later, the archer was captured and brought before the dying king, whose wound had become gangrenous. The archer (who said he was avenging family members killed by Richard) expected to be executed — but Richard, in a last act of mercy, pardoned him, gave him 100 shillings and sent him on his way. Isn’t that a better story than Richard clapping Robin in stocks?

Where Kingdom of Heaven made a flawed but credible effort to treat the Church with some measure of even-handedness, Robin Hood can’t be bothered. “Between the sheriff and the bishop,” Marion snaps, “it’s hard to say who is the greater curse on common English folk.” She says she’s praying for a “miracle,” namely, that the bishop (never seen) might show “Christian charity” and not rob the people of the seed corn they need for planting. At least there’s a suggestion that Christianity itself is better than its leaders. ....

In other productions, Friar Tuck often serves as a positive if not especially pious clerical type. Here Mark Addy’s Tuck is at pains to make clear that he is “not a churchy friar,” and certainly he’s given nothing “churchy” to do or say. .... [more]
Others seem worried that the film may be interpreted as having contemporary political relevance.

My primary concern is that Hollywood has once again wasted a great deal of money ruining a perfectly good story when they had the resources to do it really well. Perhaps Ridley Scott should return to science fiction where his propensity to make stuff up does less harm to either history or legend. I think I'll wait for this one on cable and, in the meantime, watch my Blu-ray of 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood in Technicolor with Errol Flynn as Robin and Claud Rains and Basil Rathbone playing the villainous parts.

Robin Hood (2010)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The History of the English Baptists

Last November I called attention to Google making available online its scan of The History of the English Baptists [1739], by Thomas Crosby. Now I am informed that Logos is doing the same for those that use their software. The Logos description:
Thomas Crosby, known for being the first English Baptist historian, took on the task of canvassing the history of the English Baptists from the sixteenth century until the mid-eighteenth century. In this 4-volume set, beginning with the Reformation, Crosby expounds on the persecution and growth of the Church. He also details aspects of the Baptist faith and eloquently responds to criticisms of the Baptist doctrine during the two hundred year span which The History of the English Baptists covers.

The timeframe spanning from Wycliffe to the reign of Queen Anne is broken up into four parts in this collection, published first in 1739, then again in 1739 and 1740. Thomas Crosby’s brother-in-law, a lesser known and unpublished Baptist historian named Mr. Stinton, assisted him in gathering materials for The History of the English Baptists.

Rich in historical detail, this set will add dimension to your Logos library. Crosby's insight and influence are a valuable addition to any church history collection.

Key Features Included
  • Over 2,000 total pages of detailed Church history
  • First collection ever written regarding English Baptist history
  • Easily searchable in your Logos library
Upon publication the price will be $159. Pre-publication is a bargain $59. It can be ordered here.

The History of the English Baptists, by Thomas Crosby (4 vols.)

That terrible red-headed Annie

The decline of newspapers and changing technology for the delivery of information and entertainment leads to the demise of one of the longest-running comic strips in the US. From the AP, as published at World Magazine:
Tribune Media Services announced Thursday that it will cease syndication of the "Annie" strip on June 13. ....

The comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" made its newspaper debut on August 5, 1924, first written and illustrated by creator Harold Gray. The strip later was renamed simply "Annie." The spunky orphan was adopted by Daddy Warbucks and later joined by her lovable dog Sandy. ....
The classic era for the strip may have been the thirties and forties, especially the war years. Harold Gray reflected the editorial views of his paper, the Chicago Tribune: Republican, anti-union, anti-FDR and New Deal, isolationist before the war, and strongly supportive of the war effort after Pearl Harbor.

From the biography of Harold Gray at the beginning of Arf! The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie, 1935-1945:
In many ways Annie epitomized Mr. Gray's personal convictions that all Americans should act with honor, independence of thought, and industry, mind their own business and remain true to the traditional pioneering virtues.

Describing his brainchild, Gray said: "Annie is tougher than hell with a heart of gold and a fast left, who can take care of herself because she has to. She's controversial, there's no question about that. But I keep her on the side of motherhood, honesty, and decency."
Annie led a perilous life, hunting spies, sabotaging U-boats, and supporting the war effort at home. The strips below are from 1942.

WORLD Magazine | Today's News, Christian Views

Violating contempoary taboos

Of all the magazines I read either  online or the old-fashioned way, Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity is the one I come closest to reading from cover to cover. The magazine exemplifies what I have elsewhere called honest ecumenism. It draws writers from across the spectrum of Christian orthodoxy, emphasizing areas of fundamental agreement without blurring doctrinal difference. It is also just a very interesting, readable magazine. In this issue I turned immediately to articles about two subjects of particular interest to me: C.S. Lewis and Sacred Harp singing.

Sacred Harp or "shape note" singing is described in an article by Philip E. Devine in which he not only recounts the origins and nature of the music but the social environment of the "sings." The participants are diverse:
People who believe not a word of them sing ancestral texts with every sign of commitment. This may not differ much from the spirit in which many people attend church, but is remarkable nonetheless. It seems that there is a stratum of our souls that is never secular, that resonates with a world-picture that in our sophisticated moods we find hopelessly "primitive." ....

In doing this, it violates two contemporary taboos. The first is the one against dogma, in a world where relativism is all but mandatory. Though the songs admit doubt on the singers' part, the truth of the doctrines expressed is never in question. There is no place in the world of Sacred Harp for such ideas as a "life style."

The second taboo is the mention of death. At no point can someone who takes part in a shape note sing forget that he is born to die. Sometimes the recognition of this fact is plaintive, as in "Idumea." Sometime it is joyous, as in "I'm Going Home." Both of these songs were used in the movie Cold Mountain, to convey the culture of the defeated white South. As one young man put it at a singing, "Death is happy!" Yet the songs also remind us,
Death, 'tis a melancholy day
To those who have no God
When the poor soul is forced away
To seek her last abode.

In vain to heav'n she lifts her eyes
For guilt, a heavy chain
Still drags her downward from the skies
To darkness, fire, and pain.
And sometimes both death and dogma come together in a triumphant acceptance of death and a breathtaking confidence in the possibility of a happy immortality:
Why do we mourn departing friends,
Or shake at death's alarms
'Tis but the voice that Jesus sends
To call them to his arms....

Thence he arose, ascended high,
And showed our feet the way;
Up to Lord our souls shall fly,
At the great rising day.
The other article, by Donald T. Williams, defends the validity of C.S. Lewis's "trilemma." Lewis argued that what we know about Jesus doesn't permit the interpretation that he was simply a great moral teacher and exemplar, but that we must choose between "Lord, Liar or Lunatic." Williams responds to those who argue that Lewis creates a false dilemma by too severely limiting the options.

I haven't read much else in this issue of the magazine yet, but I will.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Secularism and the looming threat of theocracy

Hunter Baker, author of The End of Secularism, has made available online all of an interview he gave for an article about the rise of secularism. He first responded to "What exactly is secularism about?"
Secularism is about removing religion/consideration of God from public life. The desire to do so does not have to be invidious. Those who embrace secularism, including many Christians, often do so because they believe it is a good answer to the problem of religious difference among people in a political community. They think that if they can remove differences among people, especially religious differences, our community will grow stronger. At the same time, secularists tend to see religion as something human beings once needed, but no longer do. They think religion is irrational and extraneous to the things that really matter in life.
Baker's answer to those worried about the threat of an American theocracy:
It is not a valid concern in the United States. Our national identity, formed and shaped by both devout Christians and Enlightenment philosophers, fully embraces religious liberty and the separation of church and state. In fact, there is a powerful religious argument (well delivered by Martin Luther, by John Locke in his Letter Concerning Toleration, by the Baptists, and by others) that coerced religion is actually offensive to God and merely causes people to sin by lying about their convictions.

You hear conservative Christians complaining about the separation of church and state, but they are actually failing to voice their real concern. In fact, they object to secularization of the public square which they feel goes too far. .... Separation of church and state, properly understood, means that the two entities are institutionally separate. It doesn’t mean religious faith can’t be part of our identity as a public community or that the church has nothing to say to the state about politics.

With regard to concerns about theocracy, I think this is an area where men and women of the left have been inconsistent. They loved having liberal clergy “speak truth to power” or “speak prophetically” in the 1960’s. But when conservative pastors and priests entered the fray on the part of unborn children in the 1970’s and 1980’s, they were never given credit for “speaking truth to power”. Instead, they were accused of being theocrats, despite the fact that you can argue in good faith that they were challenging structures of power on behalf of a vulnerable population. .... (more)
Harvard Political Review, Secularism, and Me » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

Choose this day...

Do you serve the rightful king or a usurper? Alan Jacobs, quoting from his contribution to an upcoming book about the works of C.S. Lewis:
...[W]hen the four Pevensies first enter Narnia as a group, their first action is to visit the house of Mr Tumnus. There they discover the house ransacked and a notice of Tumnus’s arrest that concludes with the words ‘LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!’ — to which Lucy replies, ‘She isn’t a real queen at all.’ ...

Among the first facts established about Narnia are these: it is a realm in which authority is contested, in which the present and visible Queen of This World ‘isn’t a real queen at all’ but rather a usurper, while the rightful King is frequently absent and invisible — but liable to return and assert his sovereignty. ...

In short: there is a King of Kings and Lord of Lords whose Son is the rightful ruler of this world. Indeed, through that Son all things were made, and the world will end when he ‘comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead’, though ‘his kingdom will have no end’, in the words of the Nicene Creed. Meanwhile, in these in-between times, the rulership of Earth is claimed by an Adversary, the Prince of this world. And what is asked of all Lewis’s characters is simply, as the biblical Joshua put it, to ‘choose this day’ whom they will serve.
Text Patterns: disputed sovereignty

Monday, May 10, 2010


Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
(Psalm 32:1-2, ESV)

The Christian Sabbath?

“Saturday or Sunday: What is the Christian Sabbath?”, a debate between Pastor Rod Henry of the Seventh Day Baptist church in Thornton, Colorado [Next Step Christian Church] and Dr. Sam Waldron of the Midwest Center for Theological Studies will take place May 11-14, tomorrow through Friday, 6:00-7:00 pm EDT, on station WNYG, 1440, in New York. For those of us outside the area, Kevin Butler provides the following information:
Go to After reading about the program’s participants, click on the box near the top of the page that invites you to “Click Here to Listen Live.” When you get to the radio network’s site (, you’ll see four options of radio stations. Make sure you click on the circle that says “Long Island, 1440AM.” Your computer should load the player program and you can start listening.

You will hear some Spanish if you tune in early, but Lord willing, "Iron Sharpens Iron" will be on at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Rod Henry will be featured on Tuesday, Sam Waldron on Wednesday, and both men engaging in an informational debate on Thursday and Friday. All of the programs will take calls from listeners.

If you can’t listen to the program live on the internet, you can go to and download an MP3 recording of the programs.
Saturday or Sunday: What is the Christian Sabbath?

Freedom requires self restraint

John Adams, sounding positively Burkean, on the relationship between liberty, the American Constitution, and the necessary condition for both:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge...would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.
Via Alan Snyder at Big Government

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Living out our last days

"Death comes to us all," Thomas More reminds the court that is about to condemn him, and — barring the end of time — so it does. William Doino Jr., reviewing a book by a man dying of cancer, Jeffry Hendrix's A Little Guide For Your Last Days, reminds us that "we are all, inescapably, living out our last days—even if we don’t yet know the number of them." From the review:
.... Death used to be at the forefront of man’s consciousness. Memento mori, the Latin phrase meaning “remember you must die,” was woven into our cultural fabric, as was the supernatural awareness of our dependency: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  ....

.... Anyone who has ever lost a close relative or friend knows what the immediate days and weeks afterward are like, with feelings of intense pain, isolation, disbelief, and an acute awareness of the fragility of life. Hendrix underwent a similar experience after his diagnosis, except that in his case it was because he was losing himself and his attachments to this world. He has emerged with a renewed appreciation for the gifts he once took for granted—family, friends, faith, and (shortened) life—for even as his “outer nature is wasting away” his soul is “being renewed every day.” .... [more]
Exit Strategy | The Weekly Standard

Friday, May 7, 2010

"No one could have imagined it before he tasted it"

C.S. Lewis has been an important influence on my own thoughts about the faith. Among the many relevant subjects he addressed his ideas and imaginings of Heaven and Hell have significantly affected mine. Peter J. Schakel gives us a fine review of what Lewis had to say on the subject in an exhaustive survey: "Heaven and Hell as Idea and Image in C. S. Lewis." Early on he notes that Lewis was grateful that the beginning of his Christian life did not include belief in either:
...[E]ven when he returned to belief in a divine being, he did so without initially believing in life after death. In his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he says of his conversion to theism that it “involved as yet no belief in a future life. I now number it among my greatest mercies that I was permitted for several months, perhaps for a year, to know God and to attempt obedience without even raising that question” (chap. 15, par. 2). In Reflections on the Psalms, he expands that idea to the early Hebrews, who had no belief in a future state of any sort; only later, after the people had learned “to desire and adore God” selflessly, could the hope of Heaven and fear of Hell be revealed to them, “as corollaries of a faith already centred upon God” (chap. 4, par. 17). Lewis regards it as a mercy that he became a Christian without believing in heaven because it reassures him about his motive: he did not return to God to obtain a reward, to gain a blissful afterlife in heaven; he did it solely out a desire for God as the source of goodness and truth. Lewis had little sympathy with those who urge people to become Christians in order to avoid hell and instead attain a blissful existence after death (“too often, I am afraid, [heaven is] desired chiefly as an escape from Hell” – Reflections on the Psalms, chap. 4, par. 18).
Schakel [and Lewis] on the importance of keeping in mind a distinction:
I have borrowed the words idea and image in my title from Perelandra, chapter 10, paragraph 1, where the narrator says “What emerged from the [Un-man’s] stories [about tragic heroines] was rather an image than an idea.” I am using idea as a synonym for doctrine (the Truth about heaven and hell) and image as a synonym for picture or metaphor, the use of words to create visual images that help us at least partially to grasp that Truth. Focusing on those two terms is important because it is difficult to talk about the doctrines of heaven and hell without slipping into pictures of heaven and hell. Ask people what hell is, for example, and you may get answers like, a pit of fires that will burn forever, perhaps surrounded with devils jabbing the damned with pitchforks. These are images, not ideas, and Lewis warns us “not to confuse the doctrine itself with the imagery by which it may be conveyed” (The Problem of Pain, chap. 8, par. 9).
Lewis imagined Heaven in both The Great Divorce and The Last Battle, but Schakel quotes him as cautioning his readers:
“I beg readers to remember that this [story] is a fantasy,” not even a guess at what heaven actually will be like. When someone wrote to Lewis asking if he wanted heaven to be similar to what he described in that story, he replied, “No, I don’t wish I knew Heaven was like the picture in my Great Divorce, because, if we knew that, we should know it was no better. The good things even of this world are far too good ever to be reached by imagination. Even the common orange, you know: no one could have imagined it before he tasted it. How much less Heaven” (Collected Letters, vol. 3, 7 August 1956). .... (much, much more)
C. S. Lewis Blog: Heaven and Hell as Idea and Image in C. S. Lewis

"As unto the Lord"

Gene Fant calls attention to a list of "The 20 Most Brilliant Christian Professors" and encourages his readers to nominate additional academics. Dr. Fant remembered from his student days that:
.... One of my professors took me to the side after class and asked, “Is it true you are a Christian?” “Yes,” I replied, uncertain of where the question was leading. “I’m surprised,” the professor continued, “since your work is very strong. That’s really interesting.”

The question bothered me, not as a point of offense (“anti-Christian bias in the academy”), but rather that the reputation many Christian students have is that they are intellectually lazy or perform shoddy work. ....

Part of the great Christian Intellectual Tradition is the playing out of the intellectually apt principles that derive from biblical revelation: the existence and knowability of truth, the ultimate meaningfulness and purpose of the universe, and so on. Another part, though, is the belief that how we apply ourselves to tasks matters as well. We are to do things with all of our might (Eccl. 9:10) as unto the Lord. The luminaries cited in the list have certainly fulfilled this principle.
An impressive list.

I liked this quotation from one of the scientists, Martin Nowak:
Science and religion are two essential components in the search for truth. Denying either is a barren approach.
There are links to sites related to each of the individuals.

The Most Brilliant Christian Professors » Evangel | A First Things Blog, The 20 Most Brilliant Christian Professors

False courage

Breakpoint notes a programming decision at a citadel of sophomoric humor:
Having come under fire for being too scared to air South Park's depiction of Mohammed, Comedy Central executives have decided to man up and develop an irreverent animated series about . . . Jesus Christ.
And, at The American Culture:
.... But no, we Christians are such pushovers. We actually believe in free speech, and liberty, and letting God take care of the blasphemers himself in his own good time.

But I’m sure the show will be as respectful of the sensibilities of Christians who believe that Jesus Christ actually was God and was raised from the dead, as they are of Muslims who believe Muhammad was a “prophet.”
Joe Queenan defined the behavior thus:
The difference between real courage and false courage is that real courage necessitates taking positions in which one actually risks one's livelihood or one's health....
Gutsy move, guys, Comedy Central Does Jesus, Not Muhammed | The American Culture

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nietzsche did it better

David B. Hart, author of Atheist Delusions, has read the New Atheists so you don't have to. He laments the inadequacy of their arguments compared to those of Atheists past. From his review of 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists:
.... A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

If that seems a harsh judgment, I can only say that I have arrived at it honestly. In the course of writing a book published just this last year, I dutifully acquainted myself not only with all the recent New Atheist bestsellers, but also with a whole constellation of other texts in the same line, and I did so, I believe, without prejudice. No matter how patiently I read, though, and no matter how Herculean the efforts I made at sympathy, I simply could not find many intellectually serious arguments in their pages, and I came finally to believe that their authors were not much concerned to make any.

What I did take away from the experience was a fairly good sense of the real scope and ambition of the New Atheist project. I came to realize that the whole enterprise, when purged of its hugely preponderant alloy of sanctimonious bombast, is reducible to only a handful of arguments, most of which consist in simple category mistakes or the kind of historical oversimplifications that are either demonstrably false or irrelevantly true. And arguments of that sort are easily dismissed, if one is hardy enough to go on pointing out the obvious with sufficient indefatigability.

The only points at which the New Atheists seem to invite any serious intellectual engagement are those at which they try to demonstrate that all the traditional metaphysical arguments for the reality of God fail. At least, this should be their most powerful line of critique, and no doubt would be if any of them could demonstrate a respectable understanding of those traditional metaphysical arguments, as well as an ability to refute them. Curiously enough, however, not even the trained philosophers among them seem able to do this. And this is, as far as I can tell, as much a result of indolence as of philosophical ineptitude. The insouciance with which, for instance, Daniel Dennett tends to approach such matters is so torpid as to verge on the reptilian. He scarcely bothers even to get the traditional “theistic” arguments right, and the few ripostes he ventures are often the ones most easily discredited. ....

.... The only really effective antidote to the dreariness of reading the New Atheists, it seems to me, is rereading Nietzsche. How much more immediate and troubling the force of his protest against Christianity seems when compared to theirs, even more than a century after his death. Perhaps his intellectual courage—his willingness to confront the implications of his renunciation of the Christian story of truth and the transcendent good without evasions or retreats—is rather a lot to ask of any other thinker, but it does rather make the atheist chic of today look fairly craven by comparison.

Above all, Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right. .... [the review at First Things]
This review seriously annoyed atheist commenters. There are over three hundred comments, many of them tending to confirm Hart's characterizations.

Article | First Things: Believe It or Not