Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Correcting the history books

Perhaps the period from 500 to 1500 AD was more civilized — in at least a few respects — than the Renaissance that followed. Jill Harness corrects "Five Common Misconceptions About the Middle Ages":
  • Medieval Doctors Weren’t Completely In the Dark
  • Bad Hygiene Wasn’t Actually Common
  • Spices Weren’t Used to Hide the Flavor of Rotten Meat
  • Most “Medieval” Torture Devices Were Anything But
  • Chastity Belts Weren’t Even Invented Yet
From "Bad Hygiene Wasn’t Actually Common":
For years, stories have been circulating that the average person of the Dark Ages would only bathe once a year and that the reason brides carried bouquets was to help them ward off the gross smell of the guests at their wedding, but really, people of the time had pretty decent hygiene. ....

.... In fact, bathing didn’t fall out of fashion until the Renaissance, when it was believed that water could carry disease. So there’s a good chance that a peasant from the thirteenth century actually smelled a lot better than Leonardo da Vinci.

Their clothes didn’t smell horribly either, laundry soap was introduced from the Orient in the early Middle Ages and while clothing did go unwashed in the freezing winters, as soon as spring hit, laundresses went out in droves washing clothes on the local river banks. .... [more]
Five Common Misconceptions About the Middle Ages

After-birth abortion

"[O]nce we discard the Christian principle of inherent dignity of humans, anything we decide to do to an infant becomes 'ethically permissible'" writes Joe Carter in this summary of an article I noted the other day. "After-birth abortion" is what has, up till now, been called infanticide, i.e. murder. Carter:
The Article: After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?

The Source: Journal of Medical Ethics

The Authors: Australian philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesa Minerva

The Gist: Since it is currently permissible to kill prenatal children because they are only potential persons and do not have full moral status, then we should be able to kill postnatal children for the same reason. ....

The Bottom Line: As the authors note, an examination of 18 European registries found that between 2005 and 2009 only 64% of Down's syndrome cases were diagnosed through prenatal testing, leaving about 1,700 infants to be born with the condition. Since the mothers would have likely killed the child in utero, why should we not permit them to kill the child after the birth?

Sadly, this is not a reductio ad absurdum intended to show the illogic of abortion but a serious philosophical argument made in defense of infanticide: ". . . we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be." ....
More, from The Telegraph
.... They argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.

“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”. ....
"...a person in the morally relevant sense."!
60 Second Summary: After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? – The Gospel Coalition Blog, Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say - Telegraph

To keep it holy

Jonathan Tobin calls our attention to a story of particular interest to Sabbatarians:
.... The Robert M. Beren Academy had won a chance to play in the state’s parochial school basketball championships semi-finals this weekend. But since their game is scheduled for Friday night during the observance of the Sabbath, the team will not compete. ....

...Beren’s win in the state quarterfinals was made possible because their opponent, Our Lady of the Hills, which is a Catholic school, were willing to move the starting time up last Friday to the afternoon before the Sabbath started. But because the private and parochial school group is a voluntary rather than a state-run outfit, the Jewish school cannot legally demand a reasonable accommodation. The association’s decision seems hard-hearted. But if they choose not to budge, it must be acknowledged that sometimes there is a price to be paid for loyalty to faith and principle. That’s disappointing for the kids at Beren, but it’s also something for them to be proud of. ....[more]
Tobin spoils the ending of his otherwise admirable post with an entirely unnecessary swipe at Tebow.

A few years ago I posted a link to a similar story about a Scottish school that stood on principle about the Sabbath [although they had a different day of the week in mind].

Sabbath Observing Texas High School Does More for Faith Than Tebow « Commentary Magazine

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thought crimes

Christopher Caldwell, reviewing God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy, observes that modern inquisitors use different methods but their goals are similar — confession and recantation:
The Spanish Inquisition was not run by a bunch of blockheads. It sought to root out heresy, which was a 'crime of the intellect'. Inquisitors were not interested in the blurtings of drunks or in what we would call Freudian slips. Testimony gathered under duress was admissible only if it was repeated freely on a later occasion. Nonetheless holy interrogators did feel the need, once in a while, to haul out the Pear of Anguish, Saint Elmo's Belt, the Heretic's Fork and the Spanish Tickler. These were all instruments of torture, although, as Cullen Murphy notes, 'they could just as easily be the names of pubs, or brands of condoms, or points of ascent on a climber's map'. ....

If we look not at methods but at dogmas, a more apt contemporary comparison to the medieval Inquisition is political correctness. The way Galileo was bullied by the Inquisition into a 'pragmatic accommodation' with the Church's teaching on the solar system does not have much in common with, say, the interrogation of alleged terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The interrogators who waterboarded Mohammed presumably wanted information about contacts and plans. They would have been wholly indifferent to his beliefs. Galileo has more in common with the hapless executive who, denounced for saying 'darkie' or 'broad' around the office water cooler, is offered the choice of attending sensitivity training or seeing his career destroyed. That man's persecutors really do want to extirpate his sinful thoughts, and really do require a public recantation from him. .... [more]
Literary Review - Christopher Caldwell on 'God's Jury' by Cullen Murphy

Monday, February 27, 2012


This would have been my father's 100th birthday. From the day after his funeral:
Dad’s funeral was yesterday, Monday, December 29, at the Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church, and he was buried in the Milton Cemetery, near the highway in the oldest part of the cemetery in a plot the folks purchased from members of the Goodrich family. Pastor George Calhoun of the Milton Church had the service and did a beautiful job describing Dad’s faith and life of integrity and service. Justin Camenga spoke for the family – apart from Mom he was the only one present who, as a child of six, had attended the folks’ wedding in 1942. He had also consulted with Dad’s older sister, Justin’s mother Evalyn, and conveyed information about Dad’s childhood none of us had heard before. A men’s chorus from the Milton church sang the old Milton College song “Song of the Bell” and “It is Well with My Soul.” Mom chose the hymn “When We All Get to Heaven” and we also sang the Brother James setting of “The Lord’s My Shepherd” and the hymn that was always sung at Milton College events, the great Isaac Watts hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” There was a reception after the service with the sharing of good memories. ....
This is from the obituary [with a couple of minor corrections] which appeared in the Janesville Gazette that Sabbath and Sunday.
Skaggs, Prof. J. Leland
February 27, 1912 - December 25, 2003

MILTON—Prof. J. Leland Skaggs died peacefully early Christmas morning at his home in the Milton Senior Living retirement home. Leland Skaggs was born in Shiloh, NJ on February 27, 1912, the son of Rev. James L. and Hettie Skaggs. Rev. Skaggs was a Seventh Day Baptist pastor, and the family moved several times before moving to Milton, WI, while Leland was in grade school. He attended and graduated from Milton Union High School and then went on to study at Milton College. J. Leland Skaggs graduated from Milton College in 1933. He also attended Columbia University. During the Depression he taught in New York City at CCNY and for the WPA. He served in the Army during World War II, teaching radio for the Signal Corps on the boardwalk at Asbury Park, NJ. After the war he became a mathematics professor at Milton College, Milton, WI. Apart from the Korean War period, when he was recalled to duty with the Army, serving as a Lieutenant and commanding a basic training company at Camp Gordon, GA, he continued to work at Milton College until retirement. He taught math, served as registrar for many years, and was appointed interim acting president. Leland was an active member and deacon of the Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church. He married Mary Elizabeth Bond in Salem, WV in 1942.

True faith transforms

What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent. (C.S. Lewis)

Jeffrey Overstreet is "Against the deliberate 'integration' of faith and art," and he's right.
.... Reading a recent blog entry about how to develop a “Christian imagination,” and another about “the Christian consumer,” I started choking. I don’t want to be a “Christian consumer.” I don’t want “Christian culture.”

Don’t our behaviors follow from our convictions? If we strengthen our faith, then our faith is carried out in what we do. It’s not as if we can stock up on faith, put it in a measuring cup, and sprinkle it into our stew.

The nature of the fruit that tree branches bear is determined by the seed from which that tree developed, the sunlight and rain which it receives, and the soil in which its roots are planted. An apple tree planted in good soil doesn’t say to itself, “Now… how can I make sure I bear a fruit that’s really, you know, apple-y?”

The more we add the adjective “Christian” to things – “Christian writing,” “Christian business,” “Christian consumption,” the more we are needlessly complicating matters. If we have faith in Christ, everything changes. If our roots are in the soil of the Gospel, we don’t have to stop and think about how to make something “Christian.” If you are a Christian, and your art does not reflect that, the problem is not primarily with your art but with your faith — because true faith transforms what we are and do. .... (more)
Via Brandywine Books

Looking Closer » Blog Archive » Against the deliberate “integration” of faith and art, Looking Closer » Blog Archive » C.S. Lewis explains.

Learning virtue from Jane Austen

An anonymous philosopher — he assures us he is one [a philosopher] — believes Jane Austen is worth reading as a moral philosopher quite apart from any literary quality the books possess:
...Austen was a brilliant moral philosopher from whom we still have much to learn today. Austen's books are deeply serious morality plays underneath the veneer of romantic comedy that helped them sell. They are a moral education masquerading as entertainment. ....

Virtue ethics understands the good life in terms of personal moral character, of becoming the kind of person who does the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. It is therefore about the fundamental ethical question, How should I live my life? Answering that question involves identifying goals – what are the virtues you should develop – and the path to achieving them. ....

Success for Austen's women depends on developing a moral character whose central virtues are bourgeois: prudence (planning one's actions with respect to protecting and furthering one's interests), amiability (civility to family, friends, and strangers, according to their due), propriety (understanding and acting on a sense of what virtue requires), and dignity (considering oneself as an independent autonomous person deserving of respect). .... Austen presents these virtues as not merely a necessary accommodation to difficult circumstances, but as superior to the invidious vanity and pride of the rich and titled, which she often mocks. So Elizabeth Bennet rejects Darcy's haughty condescension out of hand; the happy ending must wait until Darcy comes to see beyond her lowly connections and unaristocratic manners and fully recognise her true (bourgeois) virtue.... That is a moral happy ending even more than it is a romantic one. ....

Like any good virtue ethicist, Austen proceeds by giving illustrative examples. ....

We should read Austen today because she is wise as well as clever, and because she teaches us how to live well not just how to love well. We should read beyond the delicious rituals of her romantic comedy plots to her deeper interests and purposes in creating her morally complex characters and setting them on display for us. We should read beyond her undisputed literary genius, and her place in the history of literary innovations and influences, to her unrecognised philosophical genius in elaborating and advancing a moral philosophy for our bourgeois times. [more]
Link found at The Browser

The Philosopher's Beard: Reading Jane Austen as a moral philosopher

Ben Hur

The "50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition" of Ben-Hur is available today only from Amazon at 55% off, $28.99. Not a bad film to watch during the Easter season. This is the restored Blu-ray version of the film and probably a better viewing experience than I had at the theater in Janesville in 1959 [I'm sure the sound is better]. If you ever considered owning the film, this is a bargain. A link is here [and if you buy through this link I profit, too].

Amazon's description:
High-definition Blu-ray hits greater heights with the arrival of the visual splendor, thundering action and towering drama of this record-setting winner of 11 Academy Awards® including Best Picture. Charlton Heston brings a muscular physical and moral presence to his Best Actor Oscar®-winning role of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish nobleman in Palestine whose heroic odyssey includes enslavement by the Romans, vengeance against his tormentors during a furious arena chariot race and fateful encounters with Jesus Christ. Best Director Oscar® winner William Wyler masterfully grips the reins of an enduring and spellbinding spectacular.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why should the baby live?

Wesley J. Smith calls attention to this confusion about what is an "actual person" at the Journal of Medical Ethics:
Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

Friday, February 24, 2012

But with tolerance and understanding

Wolfhart Pannenberg, a rather prominent Lutheran theologian, explains why the church takes the position it does with respect to homosexuality and why it can't depart from that position:
Can love ever be sinful? The entire tradition of Christian doctrine teaches that there is such a thing as inverted, perverted love. Human beings are created for love, as creatures of the God who is Love. And yet that divine appointment is corrupted whenever people turn away from God or love other things more than God.

Jesus said, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me..." (Matt. 10:37). Love for God must take precedence over love for our parents, even though love for parents is commanded by the fourth commandment.

The will of God [is to] be the guiding star of our identity and self-determination. What this means for sexual behavior can be seen in Jesus' teaching about divorce. In order to answer the Pharisees' question about the admissibility of divorce, Jesus refers to the creation of human beings. Here he sees God expressing his purpose for his creatures: Creation confirms that God has created human beings as male and female. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.

Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship between husband and wife is the Creator's will for human beings. The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9). Since on this principle the Bible is not time bound, Jesus' word is the foundation and criterion for all Christian pronouncement on sexuality, not just marriage in particular, but our entire creaturely identities as sexual beings. According to Jesus' teaching, human sexuality as male and as female is intended for the indissoluble fellowship of marriage. This standard informs Christian teaching about the entire domain of sexual behavior. ....

.... The reality of homophile inclinations...need not be denied and must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior. This is the real problem; and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual, but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife, [in] particular, adultery.

The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
Who is Wolfhart Pannenberg? From Michael Root, in "The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg," a new article at First Things:
Some theologians are mirrors of their time. .... Other theologians have a more conflicted relation with their age: engaged, but cutting against the grain; in their time, but not quite of it. Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the most gifted Protestant theologians of his generation, has never seemed quite to fit his surroundings, which may say more about his surroundings than about him. The German theological world has been far less shaken than the English-speaking world by the changes in academic culture of the last decades: feminism, the hermeneutics of suspicion, the dismissal of truth-claims as disguised assertions of power. Even by German standards, however, Pannenberg’s theology has an oddly old-fashioned air.

Pannenberg is not a man who follows fads. .... (much more)
Should We Support Gay Marriage? by Wolfhart Pannenberg, First Things: The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Yet I will rejoice

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
  the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
  the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
    yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
Habakkuk 3:17-18

What is truth?

From an article at Smithsonian Magazine about Errol Morris:
.... If there is one subtext to all of Morris’ subsequent films and writings, it is the private eye’s creed, the anti-postmodernist belief that “the truth is out there.” Truth may be elusive, it may even be unknowable, but that doesn’t mean, as postmodernists aver, that reality is just a matter of subjective perspectives, that one way of seeing things is just as good as another.

“I’m amazed,” Morris said when we spoke recently, “that you still see this nonsense all over the place, that truth is relative, that truth is subjective. People still cling to it.” He calls these ideas “repulsive, repugnant. And what’s the other word? False.” ....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It isn't about contraception

It is about freedom of conscience. Peter Berger:
....[L]et me offer a disclosure: I find the Catholic position on contraception thunderously unpersuasive. As to the two major religious communities involved, I am neither Catholic nor Evangelical—thus, as we say in Texas, I have no dog in this fight. (As I have avowed on this blog before, I am incurably Lutheran.) But I do agree very much with the protesters’ view that the Obama administration was about to violate constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom in a serious way. That is the issue here, and not women’s health—contraceptive devices are easily and inexpensively available in places other than Catholic hospitals. I also agree (though I am not a lawyer) that the administration’s action goes against a long tradition in American law of solicitude for the demands of conscience (religious or non-religious). The courts have protected the right of Quakers not to go to war, of Jehovah’s Witnesses not to take the oath of allegiance, of anyone who has reasons of conscience for affirming rather than swearing as a witness—or, for that matter, even burning the American flag. It seems to me that the same protection should cover a hospital run by Franciscans who don’t want to hand out condoms (never mind whether one agrees with their rather tortured reasoning on this matter).

What is to be learned from this episode? A number of things: The large expansion of federal power hidden in the innumerable pages of the legislation which established “Obamacare”. Obama’s captivity to his much-vaunted “base”, with its strongly secularist contingent (I have called it an American version of the Turkish ideology of Kemalism—religion is a virus to be kept out of public space, quarantined in religious reservations). The continuing political clout of religion in the United States (Kemalists are always surprised when they come across this—perhaps because they mostly talk to each other). And, contrary to a widespread opinion, the fact that the “culture war” between conservatives and progressives is by no means over—and continues to be politically significant. .... [more]
Contraception and the Culture War | Religion and Other Curiosities

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

If the leaders are the center of attention, it isn't worship

James K.A. Smith, a philosophy prof at Calvin College, writes "An Open Letter to Praise Bands." Read him carefully. He isn't arguing for a traditional style of worship, nor for a return to hymns. He is arguing that worship teams need to reflect on why we do what we do. He elaborates in the full article.
.... [M]y concern is that we, the church, have unwittingly encouraged you to simply import musical practices into Christian worship that—while they might be appropriate elsewhere—are detrimental to congregational worship. .... Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these "secular liturgies" is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.

So let me offer just a few brief axioms with the hope of encouraging new reflection on the practice of "leading worship":
  1. If we, the congregation, can't hear ourselves, it's not worship. Christian worship is not a concert. .... And there's nothing wrong with concerts! It's just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice—and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. .... When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can't hear ourselves sing—so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become "private," passive worshipers.
  2. If we, the congregation, can't sing along, it's not worship. In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and "be creative,".... And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. ....
  3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it's not worship. I know it's generally not your fault that we've put you at the front of the church. And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate. But because we've encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we've also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention. ....
Please consider these points carefully and recognize what I am not saying. This isn't just some plea for "traditional" worship and a critique of "contemporary" worship. Don't mistake this as a defense of pipe organs and a critique of guitars and drums (or banjos and mandolins). My concern isn't with style, but with form: What are we trying to do when we "lead worship?" If we are intentional about worship as a communal, congregational practice that brings us into a dialogical encounter with the living God—that worship is not merely expressive but also formative—then we can do that with cellos or steel guitars, pipe organs or African drums. .... [more]
Fors Clavigera: An Open Letter to Praise Bands

Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie music

Disappointed by some of the choices on Pandora's "Film Score" channel, Ben Shapiro was motivated to create a list of "The Top 10 Best Film Composers of All Time," with YouTube evidence for the quality of each of them.

When I started buying records (LPs) almost half of those I purchased must have been soundtrack albums, including many of those Shapiro lists. Miklos Rosza's score for Ben Hur, Bernard Herrmann's for Vertigo, Max Steiner's Gone With the Wind, Elmer Bernstein's for To Kill a Mockingbird, and many more. Shapiro's choice for number one is Jerry Goldsmith, who wrote the score for Patton and this:


Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » The Top 10 Best Film Composers of All Time

Swing Low

Sean Curnyn on "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot":
.... [The] image of chariots of fire coming for Elijah inspired the widely-beloved spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which is credited to Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman who is believed to have composed it sometime circa 1860. ....

...[W]hen ordinary folk sing the song, there’s no question but that it is in the name of evoking a joyful, hope-filled embrace of death itself. It is death characterized as going home, of-course, and there are countless songs in the Christian tradition that take this angle. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is noteworthy for its vigor and visceral power. You can really put your back into singing it, and swinging it. It’s easy enough to look back with a modern sensibility and understand how someone like Wallis Willis, as a former slave, would know how a person might yearn for the release of death and the promise of a life much better beyond. Yet, we all have our burdens, after all, and we all most certainly die, and the song continues to stir hearts and plumb souls. .... [more]
Curnyn has more to say and provides YouTubes of several performances including this one:

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot | The Cinch Review

Under God

Presidents' Day 2012:

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Via Cookie's days, a link to the site for Indelible Ink: 22 Prominent Christian Leaders Discuss the Books That Shape Their Faith (2003). That book apparently has an appendix in which well over one hundred Christian notables indicate their top three books. The Indelible Ink site online has distilled their choices into some top ten lists, among which:

Indelible Ink

Literary Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is always first in those surveys of Presidential historians ranking the holders of the office. I've just found a couple of essays about Lincoln as literary figure. They are both by Douglas L. Wilson from the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. The first, "Lincoln the Persuader," is about Lincoln as a writer. Wilson tells us that "[H]is private secretaries Nicolay and John Hay declared emphatically in their joint biography of Lincoln, 'Nothing would have more amazed him while he lived than to hear himself called a man of letters.'" and that "The truth is that Lincoln’s writing, while frequently noted for its clarity, did not rate high by the prevailing standards of eloquence, which, like the architecture of the day, valued artifice and ornament." Standards soon changed.

Wilson, on how Lincoln wrote:
Writing is admittedly a solitary activity. While artists have made it possible for us to see Lincoln reading by firelight, swinging an ax, or speaking from a platform, depictions of him working at his writing desk are rare. An exception is provided by the president’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, who late in life sent a correspondent this word picture of his father at work:
He was a very deliberate writer, anything but rapid. I cannot remember any peculiarity about his posture; he wrote sitting at a table and, as I remember, in an ordinary posture. As to dictation, I never saw him dictate to anyone, and it certainly was not his practice to do so. He seemed to think nothing of the labor of writing personally and was accustomed to make many scraps of notes and memoranda. In writing a careful letter, he first wrote it himself, then corrected it, and then rewrote the corrected version himself.
Although an unfamiliar pose, this is an especially revealing picture. Perhaps most striking is Robert’s identification of a distinctive characteristic that is very little recognized: Lincoln was not in the least put off by what most people consider the onerous labor of writing, even though he was a slow and “very deliberate” writer. For anyone interested in Abraham Lincoln’s presidential writing, this is an important point to keep in mind. .... [much more]
Lincoln had very little formal education but he read whatever he could get. He appears to have been very familiar with the King James Version of the Bible. He also read and memorized Shakespeare. The second of Wilson's essays, His Hour Upon the Stage," describes his love of several of the plays [he loved to recite and read aloud from them] and shows why he preferred reading them to the manner they were then performed on stage.

After attending a performance of Henry IV, Part 1 in a Washington theater, Lincoln wrote to the actor who portrayed Falstaff:
On August 17, 1863...Lincoln wrote an often-quoted letter to Hackett that remains the centerpiece of our knowledge of Lincoln’s devotion to Shakespeare. Arguably the most forthcoming of his personal letters, it may also be the least appreciated.
For one of my age, I have seen very little of the drama. The first presentation of Falstaff I ever saw was yours here, last winter or spring. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay is to say, as I truly can, I am very anxious to see it again. Some of Shakspeare’s plays I have never read; while others I have gone over perhaps as frequently as any unprofessional reader. Among the latter are Lear, Richard Third, Henry Eighth, Hamlet, and especially Macbeth. I think nothing equals Macbeth. It is wonderful. Unlike you gentlemen of the profession, I think the soliloquy in Hamlet commencing “O, my offence is rank” surpasses that commencing “To be, or not to be.” But pardon this small attempt at criticism. I should like to hear you pronounce the opening speech of Richard the Third. Will you not soon visit Washington again? If you do, please call and let me make your personal acquaintance.

Yours truly A. Lincoln.
For Lincoln, this is a remarkable letter. As his closest friends all testify, he was a deeply private man, and a cagey one as well. Although warm and affable in conversation, and sociable and apparently open-handed with strangers, he was nonetheless guarded and circumspect about revealing his feelings or intentions. That his “compliment” to Hackett on the actor’s performance is curiously hedged—and might not be a compliment at all—is thus not surprising.  .... [much more]

Friday, February 17, 2012

N.T. Wright on Jesus

N.T. Wright interviewed about his book Simply Jesus by Milt Rosenberg on WGN in Chicago.

And N.T. Wright on what it means to take Genesis "literally":

Legislating morality

Via Justin Taylor, Martin Luther King on December 18, 1963:
Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion.

Well, there’s half-truth involved here.

Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart.

But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated.

It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.
Speech Transcription - Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 WMU Speech Found - Archives - WMU Libraries

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Majoritarian tyranny

Ross Douthat doesn't think religious freedom should give way simply because a lot of people disagree with how it is exercised. "Catholics, Conscience and Contraception.":
.... The idea that the state should only “tread carefully” on issues of liberty, conscience and freedom of religion in areas where polling data shows significant support for the position or community in question is a recipe for majoritarian tyranny and government overreach. The logic that he’s applying to orthodox Catholics could be applied just as easily to the Amish, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Jews, and a host of other groups that don’t have the kind of institutional resources that Roman Catholicism can muster in its own defense. Yes, sometimes state interests are compelling enough to trump religious liberties, and defenders of this mandate have every right to make that case. But the argument that the state’s interests can trump religious liberties so long as the group of people being asked to violate their consciences is small enough is not an argument at all. It’s just a raw appeal to power.
Catholics, Conscience and Contraception -

"Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

A Rasmussen poll released today says that "59% of Catholics Disapprove of Obama’s Job Performance." Since the President received a majority of the Catholic vote in the last Presidential election, and since his approval dropped dramatically after the health-care mandate was ordered, Catholic perceptions of what the mandate means is probably his problem here. The report also indicates:
Sixty-one percent (61%) of Evangelical Christians and 52% of other Protestants also at least somewhat disapprove of the job Obama is doing in the White House. The view is much more positive among non-Christians. Among those who profess some other religious affiliation or none at all, 68% at least somewhat approve of the president’s performance.

Regardless of religious affiliation, disapproval is higher among those who regularly attend religious services. Among those who attend services every week or nearly every week, 41% offer their approval of the president while 59% disapprove. Among those who rarely or never attend services, 63% approve and 36% disapprove. ....
Part of the reason has to be a conviction that this is not just about public policy, but about a lack of respect for conscientious religious belief — and today's news may reinforce that impression. Mollie Hemingway on some of the testimony at today's House committee hearing about the mandate and religious liberty:
.... Witnesses include the head of my church body, the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod).

Also there: Dr. Ben Mitchell of Union University, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University, Dr. Craig Mitchell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Roman Catholic Bishop William Lori of Connecticut [link added]. ....

.... At one point, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., suggested that the religious leaders were lying when they said they were concerned about religious liberty and called the hearing "a sham." ....

I believe that the church has much more important work to do than weighing in on politics every day. I can't emphasize how rare it is for our church to get involved. I don't know if the head of our church body has ever testified before Congress before.

And we do think this is a worthy fight. Earlier today Rep. Nancy Pelosi told reporters she believes the federal government should require the Catholic Church itself to pay for free birth control. And Rep. DeLauro claimed, in the hearing, that religious liberty doesn't extend beyond the right to worship. She basically said that so long as religious people keep their beliefs secret and private, she won't bring the boot heel of the state down on us. Why thank you! It's really amazing we're complaining at all, isn't it!

We don't want to engage in these politics, but we will if forced to. And it looks like we're being forced to.
As government grows and affects increasingly more, it becomes impossible not to engage in politics. When government provides everything it will regulate everything and there will be no space for the non-political. See "Freedoms in the Future."

A Lutheran, a Jew, a Baptist and a Catholic Walk Into A Hearing -

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Quoted by Justin Taylor, from an interview with D.A. Carson, explaining how the definition of "tolerance" has changed — and not for the better:
The old tolerance presupposed another system of thought already in place—Christianity, communism, Naziism, Buddhism, secularism—whatever. The issue then became how much deviation from that system could be tolerated before coercive force is applied. To the extent that one allowed deviation, one was tolerant; correspondingly, where one judges that deviation has gone too far (e.g., almost everyone agrees, even today, that pedophilia goes beyond the pale), then coercive force—in short, intolerance—is a virtue. It was quite possible to disagree strongly with what a person was saying, but still tolerate the opinion that was perceived to be aberrant, on the ground that it was better for society to allow such opinions than to coerce silence from those articulating them.

But invariably, tolerance has its limits. The new tolerance (1) tends to insist that those who merely disagree with others, at least in several spheres, are intolerant, even if no coercive force is applied; (2) tends to make such tolerance the supreme good, independently of surrounding systems of thought; and (3) tends to be remarkably blind in regard to its own intolerant condemnation of everyone who disagrees with its own definition of tolerance. The result is that in many domains, in many discussions, the question is rarely “Is this true?” but “Is anyone offended?” Rigorous discussion of content soon shuts down; truth is demoted; various forms of class warfare are encouraged; in some domains it becomes wrong (supreme irony) to say that anyone is wrong.
The Intolerance of Tolerance – Justin Taylor

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

As He wants to be worshiped

The term "regulative principle" of worship is unfamiliar to me, although the concept it describes isn't. I find myself in pretty strong agreement with it as explained by Kevin DeYoung:
.... Simply put, the regulative principle states that “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself and so limited by his own revealed will” (WCF 21.1). In other words, corporate worship should be comprised of those elements we can show to be appropriate from the Bible. The regulative principles says, “Let’s worship God as he wants to be worshiped.”
....According to DeYoung the "regulative principle" offers these advantages [he expands on each — I've only selected a few sentences]:
...[T]he heart of the regulative principle is not about restriction. It is about freedom.

1. Freedom from cultural captivity. When corporate worship is largely left to our own designs we quickly find ourselves scrambling to keep up with the latest trends. The most important qualities become creativity, relevance, and newness. But of course, over time (not much time these days), what was fresh grows stale. We have to retool in order to capture the next demographic. Or learn to be content with settling in as a Boomer church or Gen X church.

2. Freedom from constant battles over preferences.  ....

3. Freedom of conscience. ....

4. Freedom to be cross cultural. ...[A]t its best, the regulative principle means we have simple services with singing, praying, reading, preaching, and sacraments–the kinds of services whose basic outline can “work” anywhere in the world.

5. Freedom to focus on the center. .... “What do we know they did in their Christian worship services in the Bible? We know they sang the Bible. We know that preached the Bible. We know they prayed the Bible. We know they read the Bible. We know they saw the Bible in the sacraments. We don’t see dramas or pet blessings or liturgical dance numbers. So why wouldn’t we want to focus on everything we know they did in their services? Why try to improve on the elements we know were pleasing to God and practiced in the early church?” ....
Another, and to my mind perfectly consistent reflection on worship, is this by Bob Kauflin affirming David Peterson on what Revelation has to say about what we ought to sing in worship:
In summarizing his chapter on Revelation, Peterson makes application to the songs we sing today:
The hymnic material in the book of the Revelation…should alert us to the importance of singing God’s praise in a way that is truly honoring to him and helpful to his people. Do our hymns and songs concentrate on praising God for his character and his mighty acts in history on our behalf? Do they focus sufficiently on the great truths of the gospel? There is always a temptation to focus too much on the expression of our own immediate needs.
This is gold. Our songs should both honor God and help people. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. We don’t come together merely to sing about how passionate we are for God (although that’s a very good thing!) or to be emotionally affected. Our songs should help us concentrate and focus on God’s character and his mighty acts in history on our behalf, especially the gospel. ....
The Freedom of the Regulative Principle – Kevin DeYoung, David Peterson on Revelation and the Songs We Sing | Worship Matters

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"As long as the love of freedom exists..."

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Scott Johnson at Powerline posts a couple of appreciations of Lincoln as a man and as skilled advocate. In one of them he quotes a portion of the speech Lincoln delivered on July 10, 1858 while campaigning for the US Senate against Senator Stephen A. Douglas. The speech was delivered extemporaneously.
.... Now, it happens that we meet together once every year, sometime about the 4th of July, for some reason or other. These 4th of July gatherings I suppose have their uses. If you will indulge me, I will state what I suppose to be some of them.

We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,'' and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. (Applause) ....
Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.

Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

Whitney Houston, dead at 48. Marvelous voice, great performer, sad and messed up life. Here she is in 1991 at the Super Bowl:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shelter from the blast

Via Internet Monk, Frederick Buechner on "The Church as Noah’s Ark":
The nave is the central part of the church from the main front to the chancel. It’s the part where the laity sit and in great Gothic churches is sometimes separated from the choir and clergy by a screen. It takes its name from the Latin navis, meaning ship, one reason being that the vaulted roof looks rather like an inverted keel. A more interesting reason is that the Church itself is thought of as a ship or Noah’s Ark. It’s a resemblance worth thinking about.

In one as in the other, just about everything imaginable is aboard, the clean and the unclean both. They are all piled in together helter-skelter, the predators and the prey, the wild and the tame, the sleek and beautiful ones and the ones that are ugly as sin. There are sly young foxes and impossible old cows. There are the catty and the piggish and the peacock-proud. There are hawks and there are doves. Some are wise as owls, some silly as geese; some meek as lambs and others fire-breathing dragons. There are times when they all cackle and grunt and roar and sing together, and there are times when you could hear a pin drop. Most of them have no clear idea just where they’re supposed to be heading or how they’re supposed to get there or what they’ll find if and when they finally do, but they figure the people in charge must know and in the meanwhile sit back on their haunches and try to enjoy the ride.

It’s not all enjoyable. There’s backbiting just like everywhere else. There’s a pecking order. There’s jostling at the trough. There’s growling and grousing, bitching and whining. There are dogs in the manger and old goats and black widows. It’s a regular menagerie in there, and sometimes it smells to high Heaven like one.

But even at its worst, there’s at least one thing that makes it bearable within, and that is the storm without—the wild winds and terrible waves and in all the watery waste no help in sight.

And at its best there is, if never clear sailing, shelter from the blast, a sense of somehow heading in the right direction in spite of everything, a ship to keep afloat, and, like a beacon in the dark, the hope of finding safe harbor at last.

from Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary, HarperCollins, 1988.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rules and accountability

A few weeks ago I came across Downton Abbey on Netflix, watched an episode, and was hooked. I watched all of the first season in a few days. The series does much well but something that particularly appealed to me was its refusal to use class as an easy way to assign virtue or vice. There are earnestly ethical, deeply flawed, kind, self-centered, characters at every level of the social hierarchy. And, very realistically, all of those traits can inhabit the very same person. This review offers another reason the series works so well:
On the last episode of the wildly popular PBS drama Downton Abbey, one character tells another: "You've broken the rules, my girl, and it's no use pretending they're easily mended."

The popular British import, set in World War I, portrays the aristocratic Crawley family and the cadre of cooks, maids, and butlers who tend to them, in all their relational and class-based drama. The show is all about rules, whether bowing to class structure or honoring commitments from the past. The rules present the extraordinary obstacles in this show . . . except that they’re not so extraordinary, really, and that’s one of the many reasons this show works. ....

...[M]y favorite aspect of Downton is its emphasis on humans’ agency and accountability despite social and economic barriers. The characters are never excused for their choices by circumstance, class, gender, time period, or even the unfairness of the rules to which they so tightly cling. .... [more]
Her.meneutics: The Power of Choice in 'Downton Abbey'

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"The smelly little orthodoxies...."

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. From "Hard Times Again" by Theodore Dalrymple:
.... Dickens is often reproached for his absence of firm and unequivocal moral, political, and philosophical outlook. He veers crazily between the ferociously reactionary and the mushily liberal. He lampoons the disinterested philanthropy of Mrs. Jellyby (in Bleak House) with the same gusto or ferocity as he excoriates the egotism of Mr. Veneering (in Our Mutual Friend). He suggests that businessmen are heartless swine (Bounderby in Hard Times) or disinterestedly charitable (the Cheeryble brothers in Nicholas Nickleby). He satirizes temperance (in The Pickwick Papers) as much as he derides drunkenness (in Martin Chuzzlewit). The evil Jew (in Oliver Twist) is matched by the saintly Jew (in Our Mutual Friend). As Stephen Blackpool, the working-class hero of Hard Times says, “it’s aw a muddle.”

George Orwell, in his famous essay on Dickens, saw in this philosophical and moral muddle not a weakness but a strength, a generosity of spirit, an openness to the irreducible complexity of mankind’s moral situation, an immunity to what he called “the smelly little orthodoxies that are now contending for our souls.” And indeed, the principal target of Hard Times is such an orthodoxy, namely a hard-nosed utilitarianism combined with an unbending liberalism. (Liberal in the economic, not cultural, sense.)

The principal bearers of the doctrine are Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby. Gradgrind is a teacher whose statement of pedagogical philosophy is surely one of the greatest opening passages of any novel ever written:
Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!
By the end of the novel, Gradgrind has learned the insufficiency of facts for the conduct of human life, as he might have done merely by a little self-examination or reflection on the nature of moral and aesthetic judgment. It cannot be said that Gradgrind is a caricature, a character so exaggerated that he never did or could exist: passage after passage in Hard Times parallels almost exactly the account of John Stuart Mill’s education in his Autobiography, published 19 years after the novel. Furthermore, “the minds of reasoning animals” exactly captures the flavor of much recent scientistic writing about the human condition. Like hope in the human breast, scientism springs eternal in the human mind. .... [more]
The American Conservative » Hard Times Again

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More than a great crime writer?

Whether Elmore Leonard is, as Philip Hensher argues, "The Great American Novelist," I leave to others more qualified to judge — but Hensher does identify an important reason I enjoy Elmore's novels so much:
.... Leonard's work is a very long way from the average crime novel, with its sequence of atrocity, mystery, maverick investigator and solution. He is fascinated, for instance, with the mechanics of writing, and wants his readers to share that interest. Characters investigate the textures of dialogue – "'How come,' Raylan said, 'you can't answer a question without asking one?'" (Riding the Rap). They discuss diction in intricate detail – Foley and Buddy reading a newspaper report in Out of Sight: "'They think you may "flee the country."' 'I've had to run like hell a few times,' Foley said, 'but I don't think I've done any fleeing. You ever flee?' 'Yeah. I read one time I fled the scene of a robbery.'" ....

In the absence of detailed description of sex and violence, what fills the novels – joyously, incomparably – is talk. Leonard is rightly celebrated for his mastery of dialogue, but it isn't exactly a realist rendering. Rather, like PG Wodehouse, or Dickens, or Waugh, he has half-heard and half-invented a totally convincing idiolect. No one ever talked so well in reality as Robert Taylor in Tishomingo Blues, telling the story of his life like a Scheherazade in a silk shirt, chain and pleated slacks: "I never got sent down. I went to Oakland University three years and did some dealing to pay for my tuition and books and shit, but only weed. I wouldn't sell heroin to students, fuck up their young minds. Lot of 'em were fucked up to begin with, worrying about what they gonna do when they got out. I took eighteen semester hours of history – ask me a question about it, anything, like the names of famous assassins in history. Who shot Lincoln, Grover Cleveland. I took history cause I loved it man, not to get a job from it."

One source of Leonard's eminence is a semi-jocular "10 Rules of Writing". They constitute good, solid advice on the side of simplicity – "Don't go into great detail describing places and things. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." The magic of his own dialogue, however, is that he never underestimates the potential pleasure of the elaborate, high formality and the abstruse in speech. His characters are allowed to explain what they do in dizzying arcana: "A guy calls, he says 'I like the Vikings and six for five dimes.' Another guy calls. 'Harry, the Saints minus seven thirty times.' He loses, what's the juice, straight ten percent? If they forget the juice they won't even get close to the gross." (Pronto) He allows even the most brutal of his gangsters the right to bicker over terminology – "'We didn't kidnap him,' Louis said, 'we took him hostage.'" (Riding the Rap). And, most of all, he recognises the relish his characters have for single words, such as the splendid moment when the hangdog houseboy Lloyd comes into his heritage at the end of Mr Paradise and takes the guns to massacre the villains with the words: "I told you this ain't your bidness."

Leonard has long been seen as the greatest of crime writers, walking all over even Raymond Chandler, but perhaps the time has come to drop the qualification of genre. In his analysis through laughter of money, crime, spectacle and the play-acting of the powerful, he has created something entirely his own. In his 40-odd novels, his examinations of the way people manipulate language and stories have both recorded and created an aspect of human behaviour. He is just the great American novelist of the great American comedy. [more]
And then their is Justified [FX]

Elmore Leonard: the great American novelist | Books | The Guardian

Saturday, February 4, 2012

What is the point?

Today it is reported that SUNY Buffalo, like Vanderbilt, is demanding that student Christian organizations must not only allow any student to join, regardless of their convictions, but also permit them to run for leadership, and in these groups leaders teach. One wonders if similar requirements apply to groups organized around ideology, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. In any event the report of the Vanderbilt controversy includes something that may particularly interest Packer fans:
...[O]n January 31, the university called a town hall meeting to discuss the issue. Administrators clarified that the policy for student organizations is “all comers”—that is, any student may join and also may run for office. There’s no obligation, they say, for religious organizations to elect nonbelievers to leadership positions, but in the interest of nondiscrimination, no one may be barred from running for office for religious reasons.

It was Jordan Rodgers, the Commodores’ quarterback and an active member of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes (and the younger brother of Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers), who articulated the obvious. “If someone that doesn’t share the faith is teaching [in a leadership role], then what’s the point of even having these organizations?” Rodgers asked at the meeting. “The fact that we are not going to change the fact that you have to affirm your faith in Jesus Christ to be a teacher, to be a leader, to teach new people of any faith that come through our doors...we don’t feel that’s a problem.” ....
The Weekly Standard, February 13, 2012, pp. 2-3.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A purely private freedom?

Joseph Knippenberg, in "The Obama Admininstration’s Crabbed Vision of Religious Liberty," explains why the administration's arguments in the Hosanna-Tabor case [which the Supreme Court unanimously rejected], and the more recent contraception mandate, reflect a serious misunderstanding of what "free exercise" has meant, and ought to mean:
.... Whenever a church or house of worship ceases to be simply inward-looking, when it in any way engages or serves the wider public, it becomes subject to much the same sort of government regulation as any secular entity. Religious freedom is a purely private freedom. The moment you enter the public sphere, you’re subject to regulation. The public sphere is by definition secular, not pluralistic, with its tone, terms, and limits set by governmental authority.

Now, I don’t mean to argue that religious freedom is or should be absolute, that religious organizations should never be subject to any sort of regulation. I’m at least somewhat comfortable with a compelling state interest test to justify regulation.

But here the Obama Administration seems to go further than that. The logic of its argument in these two cases is that any religious institution that is public-serving has to behave in many instances (those determined by the state) like every other public-serving organization. The religious presence in the public square can’t be distinctive except in ways the government permits.

Pursued consistently across the board (and the Obama Administration hasn’t yet done this), this approach would gravely threaten religious freedom. It’s one thing to say (as some have, though I disagree with them), that if you take public dollars, you have to be thoroughly secular in your operation. Anyone can escape the secularizing effect of public money by refusing to accept it. It’s quite another to say that if you serve the public, your religiosity can’t permeate your efforts and your organization. This would require almost every religious organization I know of to choose between reaching out as a bearer of good news and a helper of widows and orphans and remaining faithful to the very understanding that inspired its outreach. Under these circumstances, a church can’t remain a church. .... [more]

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Via John Hinderaker at Power Line, Eric Falkenstein responds to Charles Murray's new book. Upper middle class unwillingness to affirm the value of their own practices condemns those who would profit the most from adopting them.
.... Murray argues the well-off should set a better example by not apologizing for their squareness, but rather, by advocating their lifestyle and scorning those who fail to live up to it—we need more of what is usually called "blaming the victim." Murray singles out the modern welfare state as the key instigator for our moral squalor, but I rather think our lack of faith in bourgeois values in general was the first mover here. Surely enlarging the dole increases the size of its patronage pool, but I still think policy is more symptomatic than causal. ....

Currently there exists a dominant coalition of the lumpen-proletariat and their patronizing, indulgent, but highly status-oriented advocates who aspire to lead the new reverse dominance hierarchy. ....

.... Currently, they simply hear about how great it is to be a victim, how noble it is to be poor, powerless, or discriminated; to be wronged is the ultimate in righteousness. This simply isn't true and the poor know it. Suffering does have meaning when it cannot be controlled, and in such times a stoic attitude is truly heroic, often taken out of a higher duty to one's neighbors and family. But simply suffering low status because one does not have a job, stopped paying their mortgage, is in jail, or did not learn a trade, is usually the result of simple sloth and shortsightedness, and all their friends and family know it.

Alas, successful people are ashamed to assert they have better genetics, values, and habits—even though they quietly believe it to be true—and so are content to let the media and intellectuals push the delusional idea that success is like when Paris Hilton had sex on a digital camera and built a career out of it: luck, connections, and chutzpah, but no discipline, ingenuity, and perseverance. With such examples it becomes defensible to suggest most of the rich are like that—mere lucky hacks in the game of life. The flip side is that those who are unsuccessful are suffering for no fault of their own. ....

The kind of change Murray is talking about will not happen until productive, successful people again feel pride in their distinguishing learned characteristics, including the willingness to shame people who do not have them. Consider that at the height of America's growth, the most popular form of fiction lionized were Horatio Alger stories, which lionized initiative and material prosperity. ....
The image was used in the Power Line post.

The New Class: Profiting From Decline | Power Line

Groundhog Day

Mark Krikorian at NRO explains Groundhog Day:
So, why do we watch a giant squirrel predict the weather on February 2? Because it’s 40 days after Christmas, and thus the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple (or Candlemas). Simeon said Jesus was “a light to lighten the Gentiles,” so candles are blessed (in Armenia they light bonfires). Farmers would look to see if it was light or cloudy, figuring the rest of winter would be the opposite; Germans used rodents for that purpose, bringing the idea with them when they moved to Pennsylvania — hence, Punxsutawney Phil. ....
Happy Candlemas! - By Mark Krikorian - The Corner - National Review Online

Terrible to contemplate

From Steven Hayward at Power Line:
...[F]rom a 1921 [G.K. Chesterton] interview with the Cleveland Press:
The men whom the people ought to choose to represent them are too busy to take the jobs. But the politician is waiting for it. He’s the pestilence of modern times. What we should try to do is make politics as local as possible. Keep the politicians near enough to kick them. The villagers who met under the village tree could also hang their politicians to the tree. It’s terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hung [sic] today.
The image is also from the post at Power Line. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The whole world turned over

Via The Anchoress

The Convert, by G.K.Chesterton
After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

G. K. Chesterton

No turning

The Apostle Paul:
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [Galatians 1:3-12 RSV]