Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The best of CSL

Alister McGrath, author of a recent biography of C.S. Lewis chooses his "Top 5 Books by C.S. Lewis:
  • Mere Christianity
  • The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
  • The Abolition of Man
  • The Last Battle
  • The Pilgrim's Regress
Good choices, all.

"The astounding arrogance of individualism"

Cole Carnesecca concedes that there is much truth in what Rachel Held Evans writes about "why Millennials are leaving the church," but he also perceives a problem:
.... When Evans states, rather emphatically, that,  “We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there,” I start to get nervous.

This statement is at once true and not true. It’s true in that there is obviously much that churches can do to better engage with Christ, with the fullness of who he was and what his message required. But it also reflects the astounding arrogance of individualism. The assumption underlying that statement is that the individual is the arbiter of truth in the world. It implies that millennials would know Jesus when they saw him, and the church needs to change itself until they can see him there.  What it leaves out is the idea that millennials need to conform themselves to the church to find Christ there.... [more]

A God without wrath

The editors of a new hymnbook recently decided to omit a hymn because its authors wouldn't permit them to modify "till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied" to "till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified." Russell Moore on why the wrath of God is important to Christians:
.... When Christians sing about the wrath of God, we are singing about ourselves. Our consciences point us to the truth that, left to ourselves, we are undone. We’re not smarter or more moral than anyone else. And God would be just to turn us over to the path we would want to go—a path that leads to death. It is only because Jesus lived a life for us, and underwent the curse we deserve, that we stand before God. The grace of God we sing about is amazing precisely because God is just, and won’t, like a renegade judge, simply overlook evil.

Persons from other traditions will, of course, disagree with us about whether there is a God, whether he is loving and/or wrathful, and whether or not the Gospel is true. But Americans should recognize that the wrath of God isn’t some innovation by a tiny band of fundamentalists. ....

I’m hardly one to tell Presbyterians what they ought to have in their hymnals. But the Gospel is good news for Christians because it tells us of a God of both love and justice. The wrath of God doesn’t cause us to cower, or to judge our neighbors. It ought to prompt us to see ourselves as recipients of mercy, and as those who will one day give an account. .... [more]
Moore refers to "No Squishy Love" by Timothy George
In his 1934 book, The Kingdom of God in America, H. Richard Niebuhr depicted the creed of liberal Protestant theology, which was called “modernism” in those days, in these famous words: "A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." Niebuhr was no fundamentalist, but he knew what he was talking about. ....

Sin, judgment, cross, even Christ have become problematic terms in much contemporary theological discourse, but nothing so irritates and confounds as the idea of divine wrath. ....

God’s wrath is not like our wrath. Indeed, in his brilliant essay, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” British scholar Tony Lane explains that "the love of God implies his wrath. Without his wrath God simply does not love in the sense that the Bible portrays his love." God's love is not sentimental; it is holy. It is tender, but not squishy. It involves not only compassion, kindness, and mercy beyond measure (what the New Testament calls grace) but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil. .... [more]
The hymn that was at issue: "In Christ Alone"

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Faith cometh by hearing..."

This could be interesting: The Art of Listening in the Early Church, by Carol Harrison. From the Amazon description:
.... The Christian faith came to the illiterate majority in the early Church through their ears. .... By examining early catechesis, preaching and prayer, she demonstrates that what illiterate early Christians heard both formed their minds and souls and, above all, enabled them to become "literate" listeners; able not only to grasp the rule of faith but also tacitly to follow the infinite variations on it which were played out in early Christian teaching, exegesis and worship. It becomes clear that listening to the faith was less a matter of rationally appropriating facts and more an art which needed to be constantly practiced: for what was heard could not be definitively fixed and pinned down, but was ultimately the Word of the unknowable, transcendent God. This word demanded of early Christian listeners a response — to attend to its echoes, recollect and represent it, stretch out towards its source, and in the process, be transformed by it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Jerked out of "the warm comfort of our own understanding"

From the first chapter of Matthew Lee Anderson's The End of Our Exploring:
.... Pain renders the world's goodness questionable. It shocks us out of our complacent attachment to the blessings of comfort and prosperity. It reopens the universe to us, casting a shadow over our lives and the goodness we had wrongly "taken for granted." When we see the reason for our pain, when we are finally given the meaning—the satisfaction will be a joy beyond words, a peace beyond understanding. But until then, the questions that grip us demonstrate the nature of our hearts and our fundamental need for the purification of our desires.

It is a sign of the frailty of contemporary Christianity, rather than its strength, that we often do not begin to question until the megaphone of suffering has awakened us from our sleep. Until suffering comes upon us, the explorations that consume our hearts and our communities reflect the shallowness of our lives. We ask our questions forgetting that we lie under the shadow—under the sentence—of death. Our lack of courage keeps us free to live among distractions and trivialities and stay within the warm comfort of our own understanding. But our "freedom" is only bondage, and these days our chains are only broken when death and pain's rude irruption turns our faces toward the unknown, undiscovered country all around us. ....
The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith

It wasn't really about evolution?

Glenn Reynolds notes the anniversary of the Scopes Trial: "...what you think you know about it is probably wrong — especially if what you think you know about it comes from watching Inherit The Wind. I highly recommend Ed Larson’s excellent treatment, A Summer For The Gods." (I've read that book and agree.) One of the comments asserts that the controversy "wasn't about evolution but eugenics" and in support links to a selection of passages from the textbook that caused the controversy. For example:
The Races of Man. - At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest race type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.

Eugenics. - When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.

Parasitism and its Cost to Society. - Hundreds of families such as those described above exist to-day, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

Problem: Should the feeble-minded be allowed to marry?

The Remedy. - If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country. [more]

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"It was a dark and stormy night."

.... People come to books looking for something. But they don't come for the story, or even for the characters. They certainly don't come for the genre. I think readers come for the voice.

A novel's voice is something like a singer's — think of singers like Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, who have no musical training but are instantly recognizable. When people pick up a Rolling Stones record, it's because they want access to that distinctive quality. They know that voice, they love that voice, and something in them connects profoundly with it. Well, it's the same way with books. Anyone who's read a lot of John Sanford, for example, knows that wry, sarcastic amusing voice that's his and his alone. Or Elmore Leonard — my god, his writing is like a fingerprint. You'd recognize him anywhere. An appealing voice achieves an intimate connection — a bond much stronger than the kind forged, intellectually, through crafted writing.

With really good books, a powerful sense of voice is established in the first line. ....

A book won't stand or fall on the very first line of prose — the story has got to be there, and that's the real work. And yet a really good first line can do so much to establish that crucial sense of voice — it's the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul. So there's incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen. ....
The Atlantic, at King's suggestion then asked over twenty authors what their favorite first lines are, several by writers of crime fiction. For instance:
I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. —Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest

The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of the Dancers. —Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed. —Richard Stark, The Outfit

Nobody ever walked across the bridge, not on a night like this. The rain was misty enough to be almost foglike, a cold gray curtain that separated me from the pale ovals of white that were faces locked behind the steamed-up windows of the cars that hissed by. Even the brilliance that was Manhattan by night was reduced to a few sleepy, yellow lights off in the distance. —Mickey Spillane, One Lonely Night

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. —James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss
I chose these from among the choices because mysteries and thrillers are my favorite recreational reading. I think each of these lines meet King's criteria.

I came to these posts via Judith Levy at Ricochet. Here are some favorite [non-crime writer] first lines from some of the comments on her post:
You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.  That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. — Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

Marley was dead: to begin with. —Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. —Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward named Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band. Here is what happened." —Charles Portis, True Grit
My own favorite beginning:
SQUIRE TRELAWNEY, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof. —Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Not domineering...

Via Justin Taylor who, after quoting from 1 Peter 5:1,3:
"...I exhort the elders among you...to shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight...not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."
...links to a post by Sam Storms about what characterizes "Pastoral Bullies." A few of the points:
  • A man can “domineer” or “lord it over” his flock by intimidating them into doing what he wants done by holding over their heads the prospect of loss of stature and position in the church.
  • A pastor domineers whenever he threatens them with stern warnings of the discipline and judgment of God, even though there is no biblical basis for doing so.
  • A pastor domineers whenever he threatens them with public exposure of their sin should they not conform to his will and knuckle under to his plans.
  • A pastor domineers whenever he uses the sheer force of his personality to overwhelm others and coerce their submission.
  • A pastor domineers whenever he presents himself as super-spiritual (his views came about only as the result of extensive prayer and fasting and seeking God. How could anyone then possibly disagree with him?).
  • He domineers by building into people a greater loyalty to himself than to God. Or he makes it appear that not to support him is to work at cross purposes with God.
  • He domineers by short circuiting due process, by shutting down dialogue and discussion prematurely, by not giving all concerned an opportunity to voice their opinion.
  • He domineers by establishing an inviolable barrier between himself and the sheep. He either surrounds himself with staff who insulate him from contact with the people or withdraws from the daily affairs of the church in such a way that he is unavailable and unreachable.
  • Related to the above is the practice of some in creating a governmental structure in which the senior pastor is accountable to no one, or if he is accountable it is only to a small group of very close friends and fellow elders who stand to profit personally from his tenure as pastor.
  • He domineers by making people feel unsafe and insecure should they desire to voice an objection to his proposals and policies. .... [read it all]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tolkien on the surveillance state

What can literary fiction teach us about recent revelations that the National Security Agency has aggressively been gathering massive amounts of data on American citizens? The novel one usually turns to, of course, is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its terrifying vision of the Thought Police. .... Orwell’s book, however, isn’t the most compelling or accurate literary prediction of modern surveillance. That award goes to a less obvious title: J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien’s most potent and intimidating image of centralized surveillance, the Eye of Sauron atop a tower, taking in the whole world, has resonated with those who are paranoid about government monitoring. But it’s Sauron’s vulnerability that has the most relevance for America today. ....

Tolkien’s vision offers at least three lessons for present-day America. ....

1. All-Seeing Is Not All-Knowing

...[T]he world he created allowed Tolkien to address problems that conventional realism had seemingly abandoned. The most important of them was the distinction between omnipotence and omniscience. In Orwell’s work...those two terms are nearly synonymous: The Thought Police always know what Winston Smith is up to. But for a believer like Tolkien, only God can know everything. And in Sauron, Tolkien is able to imagine a figure of godlike power and seemingly infinite resources, but crippling interpretive fallibility.

Sauron’s main problem, in a nutshell, is a lack of empathy: He is unable to conceive of anyone possessing a set of values fundamentally different from his own. For Sauron, power—embodied by the one ring—is self-evidently a good in itself. Therefore anyone who possesses the ring will attempt to use it and thus fall into his clutches. The thought that someone might choose instead to destroy the ring (and possibly destroy himself in the process) never crosses Sauron’s mind. He suffers from a crippling case of “confirmation bias”—a fundamental problem for every intelligence agency. We see the things we want to see, which is a problem when one’s enemies have worldviews utterly different from one’s own. .... [more]

In a time of war

A "Copperhead" was an antiwar Northerner during the Civil War.  Bill Kauffman wrote the screenplay for Copperhead, a new movie that recounts the effects of that war on the relationships among the inhabitants of a small community in upstate New York. Kauffman was annoyed by a recent review and responds with "How Not to Watch Copperhead, explaining what the film is really about. I could have done without what seemed to me rather overwrought modern political applications, but now very much want to see the film. Kauffman:
.... Typically, in a story of a dissenter, the author flatters himself and the audience. The deck is stacked; the cards are marked. Every right-thinking reader or viewer is confident that of course he or she would be at the side of this poor recusant who is being persecuted by narrow-minded peasants or by clerics who deny that the earth revolves ‘round the sun or that man is a product of evolution or that the earth is older than six thousand years or that witches should not be hanged. But really: is there anything easier than standing—at a very safe distance of years—with Galileo or Scopes or the martyrs of Salem?

.... It’s so easy to say that you’re for free speech; that you honor the First Amendment; that though you may not agree with so and so who says such and such, you’ll defend to the death his right to say it. Well, here’s Abner Beech, an Upstate New York farmer of 1862. He thinks this war between the states—this hallowed war, this bloodletting out of which modern America was born—is an unconstitutional atrocity. He despises the soon-to-be martyred Abraham Lincoln, who by most 21st-century lights is the greatest American hero. Abner stands up and speaks his piece—his peace—during time of war.

Okay, Mr. Free Speech. Are you willing to defy the mob and defend Abner?

It's not so easy. ....

In “Copperhead,” the abolitionist Esther (who with her pacifist brother is the moral center of the movie) suggests to the Irish farmhand and Copperhead Hurley that maybe poetry is more important than politics. I believe that; Jee and Abner, the abolitionist and the antiwar Democrat antagonists, do not.

Jee is of course right about slavery. If that were the only issue it’d be a pretty clear case of right and wrong. But that’s not the only issue. From Abner’s point of view, there’s also the U.S. Constitution, which is being stretched and violated by things like the suspension of habeas corpus, the closing down of antiwar newspapers, and, ultimately, the draft, which many Democrats saw, ironically, as a form of slavery. And there’s also the not-so-small matter—which is, bizarrely, often an afterthought—of 700,000 dead Americans. ....

“Copperhead” does not end with an affirmation of the Union, as convention would dictate. Nor does it end with an affirmation of disunion, as would a pro-Confederate film. Instead, it ends by affirming the Corners, the settlement of the Beech and Hagadorn families, as superior, in the lives of its inhabitants, to those larger countries. It reminds us that a patriot should never boast of the largeness of his country but rather should take pride in its smallness.

Peace, community, dissent, respect for rural Christianity: these are “Copperhead’s” themes. And they are as American as Crazy Horse, baseball, and Jack Kerouac. [more]
I do want to see this film.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Go ye into all the world, and preach..."

Seventh Day Baptists created societies to support missionary efforts as early as 1818. That was pretty common for Baptists then and continues to this day, but there was, in reaction, an anti-missionary movement among some that Thomas Kidd describes here:
.... Baptists and other evangelicals founded a number of missions-sending organizations in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, which precipitated a backlash among certain Baptists who opposed the work of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions and other such agencies.

Why in the world, we may ask, would any Baptist oppose missions? ....

The two major factors driving antimissionism were radical biblicism and anti-elitism. Most of the leading antimission voices are not well known – John Leland...is the best known today, but others like Daniel Parker and Joshua Lawrence were more vocal at the time. The antimission critics were suspicious of the missions agencies because Scripture did not sanction or contemplate them. ...Antimissionists said that the silence of Scripture prohibited the newfangled organizations. The early church didn’t need them, and the gospel had gone forth in power without them. Why should we depart from the simplicity of the New Testament model, they asked? ....

Some historians have made a great deal out of the “hyper-Calvinism” of the antimissionists, and that theology did play a greater role in the antimissionists’ chief institutional legacy, the Primitive Baptist churches. Daniel Parker, for example, taught a peculiar (and many thought heretical) “Two Seed in the Spirit” doctrine of election, but his view was not held widely among early antimissionists. More commonly, the antimissionists were concerned that the missions agencies, as well as novel revivalist tactics such as the “anxious bench”, might undermine Baptists’ understanding that conversion depended totally on God’s power and sovereign will. This was largely an intra-Calvinist Baptist debate, however. By the 1840s, the antimission Baptists had drawn away as many as 68,000 Baptists from the pro-missions churches. Over time, the antimission movement became institutionalized in the Primitive Baptist churches, but they fell far behind missions-oriented Baptists in adherents by the beginning of the twentieth century. .... [more]
A cousin believes that our great-grandfather—the first Seventh Day Baptist on the Skaggs side of the family—came from the Primitive Baptists. I wonder whether a similar controversy about missions affected SDBs.

Monday, July 22, 2013

We must argue

From the G.K. Chesterton Facebook page:
"CREEDS must disagree: it is the whole fun of the thing. If I think the universe is triangular, and you think it is square, there cannot be room for two universes. We may argue politely, we may argue humanely, we may argue with great mutual benefit; but, obviously, we must argue. Modern toleration is really a tyranny. It is a tyranny because it is a silence. To say that I must not deny my opponent's faith is to say I must not discuss it... It is absurd to have a discussion on Comparative Religions if you don't compare them."
G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, 10/10/08.

"Ask for the Bleeding Charity"

A friend recently asked me to help find a C.S. Lewis quotation. It was from The Great Divorce, one of my favorites among many by that author. This is from chapter 4 of that book, describing an encounter between an inhabitant of Heaven and a visitor from the other place:
.... "What I'd like to understand," said the Ghost, "is what you're here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I've been walking the streets down there and living in a place like a pigstye all these years." .... "Personally," said the Big Ghost with an emphasis which contradicted the ordinary meaning of the word, "personally, I'd have thought you and I ought to be the other way round. That's my personal opinion." .... "Look at me, now," said the Ghost, slapping its chest.... "I gone straight all my life. I don't say I was a religious man and I don't say I had no faults, far from it. But I done my best all my life, see? I done my best by everyone, that's the sort of chap I was. I never asked for anything that wasn't mine by rights. If I wanted a drink I paid for it and if I took my wages I done my job, see? That's the sort I was and I don't care who knows it." .... I'm only telling you the sort of chap I am. I only want my rights. I'm not asking for anybody's bleeding charity."

"Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought." .... "You weren't a decent man and you didn't do your best. We none of us were and we none of us did. ....

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"All that is not eternal, is eternally out of date."

From a post at The Christian Pundit: "A friend of mine attended a Christian college where almost all of the students, including her, grew up in non-denominational, evangelical Protestant churches. A few years after graduation, she is the only person in her graduating class who is not Roman Catholic, high Anglican or Lutheran." Why?
.... The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it. .... [more]

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The virtue of temperance

Brett McCracken appears to have grown up in a very similar religious culture to my own (I didn't have my first drink until I was in graduate school). Things have changed a lot among evangelicals since then, for good or ill. McCracken asks "Are You Free to NOT Drink?" and suggests that if the answer is "No" perhaps some re-thinking is in order:
I went to an evangelical Christian college that did not permit the consumption of alcohol. I grew up in a household and a conservative church culture–Midwest to boot–where drinking was out of the question and seen as bereft of goodness. I’m the child of an American evangelicalism that has had a decidedly contentious (to put it mildly) relationship with alcohol....

But as I grew older, left home and left college, I came to see that drinking alcohol is a) not forbidden by Scripture (as opposed to drunkenness, which is) and b) actually quite wonderful. ....

.... What worries me is this question: Are we so embracing our Christian liberty to partake of alcohol that it threatens to become less a “liberty” and more a shackling legalism–something we can’t, or won’t, go without? As my pastor Alan often says, are we as free to abstain from alcohol as we are free to enjoy it?

Other questions I think many of us would do well to ask ourselves:
  • Is alcohol a “nice to have” or a “must-have”? ....
  • Are we mindful of those around us, and if they struggle with alcohol in any way are we willing to abstain for their sake? ....
  • Do we wear our freedom as a badge of honor, as “proof” that we are under grace and thus can drink and party to our heart’s content? If so, we should check ourselves, because reducing grace to a sanctioning of pleasure is tragic....
  • Do we have a serious-enough understanding of how dangerous alcohol can be? ....
Christians have the “right” to consume all sorts of things, though we are told not everything is beneficial or constructive (1 Cor. 10:23). Rather, we are instructed, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31) and “do not cause anyone to stumble” (10:32).

This last part is key, something the Apostle Paul routinely emphasized (especially in Rom. and 1 Cor.). Because it is true that Christians have differing tolerances (“One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables,” Rom. 14:2), we should not pass judgment on or treat with contempt those with different liberties than us.

But we must also be real with ourselves. What’s the point of freedom if it doesn’t free us to enjoy, but also to abstain from, something in culture? And it goes beyond alcohol. There are all sorts of good items and activities in culture that we are free to enjoy in moderation. Food, fitness, movies, music, travel, sports, gaming, and on and on. But the minute any of this becomes something we can’t live without, or something we excessively consume to the point that we need it more than we enjoy it, we should be concerned. .... [more]

Marx

In an interesting essay/review that discusses why so many American Communists were Jews (although very few American Jews were Communists) David Mikics asks "What better way is there to understand the appeal of radical politics for Jews than to go back to the original Jewish leftist, Karl Marx?" and wonders why so many academics still find Marxism attractive. On Marx:
....In an impressive new biography, the historian Jonathan Sperber focuses on Marx as a 19th-century thinker, a man of his time and place; and one of Sperber’s concerns is necessarily Marx’s Jewishness.

Strictly speaking, of course, Marx was not a Jew: His parents were converts to Protestantism, and he declared his atheism from an early age. In the infamous essay he wrote when he was 25, “On the Jewish Question,” Marx declared that society must be freed from Judaism, which he identified with capitalism: a huckstering entrepreneurial worship of the false god, money. At the same time, Marx advocated that Jews be granted civil rights—so that they could then be divested of their Jewishness and become fully assimilated. Marx’s letters are strewn with derogatory references to Jews; though Sperber tries to make the case that Marx “took a certain perverse pride” in his Jewish ancestry, he can’t muster much supporting evidence. What we see instead are a series of slurs that today would certainly be called anti-Semitic.

.... His writing style was a calamity: full of sometimes puerile vehemence, he heaped scorn on his opponents, inaugurating the long Marxist tradition of mercilessly deriding anyone with incorrect opinions. Marx displayed particular contempt for the high-living, dandyish Ferdinand Lassalle, a fellow socialist also of Jewish origin. In a letter to Engels, Marx mocked Lassalle, who supposedly had African ancestry, as a repulsive “combination of Jewry and Germanism with the negroid basic substance”; “the pushiness of this lad is also nigger-like,” he added. In Marx’s pamphlets, mudslinging abounds: His opponents are generally idiots, traitors, and scoundrels, but these heavy-handed insults tend to make us doubt Marx himself, since he relies so much on vituperation instead of reasoned argument.

Marx failed as a theorist too. As Sperber argues, Marx’s effort to derive the market price of goods from their value, the labor that went into them, was a vestige of the 19th-century economic theories of David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill (both of them arch-capitalists). By the time Marx died, economists had already given up trying to relate price to value and were beginning to understand that value was a chimera. ....

Finally, Marx was a failure as a prophet, in spite of the fact that he inspired revolutions that changed the course of history. His essential idea, influenced by Ricardo, was that capitalism would become less and less profitable and that its downward spiral toward the abyss of deflation—lower prices, lower profits—would be followed by worldwide revolution. Instead, capitalism has become vastly more profitable. .... [more]

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Doxology

We frequently incorporate the Doxology as part of our weekly worship. We should probably do it more often, especially if doing so has the effect Zac Hicks says its repetition has on him. From "How the Doxology Shapes Us":
One drop of water on a rock has little effect, but a steady dripping will eventually wear a hole into a seemingly impenetrable stone. Singing the Doxology every week is like getting a steady drip of life-giving Trinitarian water over hardened hearts.

James K. A. Smith, in Desiring the Kingdom, reminds us that the very form and rituals of worship have a shaping effect on us.  We don’t just become more godly by learning the theology of the songs and imbibing the propositional content of the sermon.  Our desires and habits, as we move along the path of the liturgy, are shaped to more subconsciously and instinctively move along the direction of that path.   For instance, I have been in a context where I have experienced the same weekly liturgy of Confession, Assurance, and Repentance for over ten years now.  I now find that I have new instincts and desires when I slip into sin.  With nearly Pavlovian certainty, my heart drops to its knees, I acknowledge it before God, I preach the good news to my heart of God’s assurance of my pardon through Christ, and I find greater strength to turn and re-commit myself to God’s service.  Repeated liturgy makes you love it and live it every day of the week. There are many things that we could point out about the shaping effect of the Doxology. I will mention three.

First, the Doxology shapes us into whole worshipers.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
The first line gives us the “why” of worship (because of what He does).  But next is the “who.”  First, “all creatures” are summoned to God’s praise, and suddenly our minds are blown about the fact that worship is not merely a human activity.  It is an activity of all creation. ....

Second, the Doxology blows open the supernatural nature of worship.

When we begin worship, I will often start by reminding congregants that today’s worship attendance numbers are larger than they appear.  If the folks tallying our worship count were really being honest, every week, they’d write “myriads upon myriads.”  Revelation 4-5 reminds us that when we enter into gathered worship on earth, we step into the already moving stream of the perpetual worship of heaven – the elders, the heavenly beings, the white-robed martyrs, the saints that have gone before.  In the Doxology, we sing:
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host.
The Doxology does not allow us to tally worship attendance based on who is seen physically in the room.  We are forced outward and upward.  The Doxology shapes us into heavenly worshipers. ....

Third, the Doxology makes us a Trinitarian people.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Is the Trinity just an esoteric theological construct, or does it have existential import?  In other words, what good is it to us in our day to day lives that our God is one, yet three? To tease out just one implication, it reminds us that because God exists in interdependent community, so should we. .... [more]

The final authority about faith and conduct

My own understanding of the inspiration of scripture is pretty muddled. I haven't, as a practical matter, had to think about it a great deal. But I agree with Rob Schwarzwalder here much more than Thomas Whitely. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to begin by lazily refusing to work through an apparent contradiction just so you can affirm what you want to believe anyway. Schwarzwalder:
In the Associated Baptist Press, Thomas Whitely argues that all professing Christians “cherry-pick” the Bible to find texts that suit them and rationalize or simply disregard those they find discomfiting.

"Everyone cherry-picks the Bible, (including) those who claim to be ‘staunch believers in the Bible’ claiming its inerrancy and infallibility along with those who view it as a historical and all-too-human text,” he writes. “No one – conservative Christian, liberal Christian, Jew or atheist – reads all of the Bible the same way because the nature of this anthology of texts precludes this possibility.”

Mr. Whitely is candid about his views and, in tone, quite respectful of those he indicts. However, he wrongly conflates hermeneutical difficulties with selective application. In other words, some passages of the Bible are hard to interpret, let alone accept or apply. This makes them no less inspired than other passages whose meaning is more clear and appealing.

.... We do not have the luxury of coming to Scripture as if children lying on our backs looking at the clouds – “I see a horsie,” says one, while the other says, “I see a pirate ship.” There are consistent rules of interpretation for all of us; that we don’t like where they might take us is an indictment of our hearts toward God, not intellectual integrity about the meaning of any given passage.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A new Hobbit



A new illustrated edition of The Hobbit is scheduled to be published this September and I'm tempted primarily because of the publisher's expressed intent: "I wanted to publish an edition of THE HOBBIT that pulled it back from the cinematic fantasy of the films and reintroduced that sense of adventure and magic that Tolkien’s own children must have felt when he first read them the story."

Monday, July 15, 2013

A brave new world

G.K. Chesterton was a vocal opponent of eugenics in a time when many of the most progressive of the intellectual elite favored it [along with "scientific racism"]. Theodore Dalrymple, writing about a time when believers in progress thought crime could be eliminated if only criminals could be prevented from reproducing:
.... Eugenics was introduced into the world by the polymathic genius, Sir Francis Galton; it was quickly taken up (and acted upon) in the United States. I quote from a textbook published by Macmillan in 1918, and republished in 1924, called Applied Eugenics, by Paul Popenoe and Roswell Hill Johnson:
The inmates of prisons, penitentiaries, reformatories, and similar places of detention numbered 111,609 in 1910; this does not include 25,000 juvenile delinquents… it is worth noting that the number of offenders who are feeble-minded is probably not less than one-fourth or one-third. If the number of inebriates be could be added, it would greatly increase the total; and inebriacy or chronic alcoholism is generally recognized now as indicating in a majority of cases either feeble-mindedness or some other defect of the nervous system.

The number of criminals who are in some way neurotically tainted is placed by some psychologists at 50% or more of the total prison population… The estimate has frequently been made that the United States would be much better off eugenically if it were deprived of the future racial contributions of at least 10% of its citizens… When a criminal of this [feeble-minded] type is found, the duty of society is unquestionably to protect itself by cutting off that line of descent…
And the authors go on to list the states that have sterilization laws.

Nor is it true that eugenics as a means of dealing with social problems was particularly attractive to the authoritarian right (if statist nationalism is on the right): it was equally attractive to the authoritarian left. The intellectual progenitors of the British welfare state, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, H G Wells and Bernard Shaw were strongly in favour of eugenics, both positive and negative. And by now it is well-known that Scandinavian welfare democracies continued with their eugenic programmes into the 1970s. ....

Eugenics, I suspect, was in reality a symptom of a growing impatience of intellectuals with the intractability of the human condition, with the fact that Man was irredeemably imperfect. And this impatience grew because of a decline in the religious understanding of life (it was no coincidence that Chesterton, who saw so easily through the pretensions of eugenics, should have been firmly Christian, while none of his opponents was). In the 1920s sterilization of the unfit would do for humanity what psychopharmacology is now supposed to do: render it happy because perfect. No one with an understanding of Original Sin could believe such a thing – even if Original Sin is not based upon an actual historical truth. [more]
Destiny of Crime > Theodore Dalrymple

Lutherans and classical music

A comment on some trends in Missouri Synod Lutheranism brought me to CLASSIC99.com, a site that the commenter describes as "the LCMS 24 hour stream of classical music including an abundance of “real” sacred choral works."

At the moment I'm listening to Mozart's "Haffner Symphony #35 in D." Apparently the station has been on the air (or now the web) since 1948.

Classic99

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Max Carrados

Another great find for mystery lovers at ManyBooks.net: Four Max Carrados Detective Stories by Ernest Bramah:
The adventures of a blind detective in London, featuring four compact mysteries:
  • The Coin of Dionysius
  • The Knight's Cross Signal Problem
  • The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage
  • The Last Exploit of Harry the Actor
Max Carrados is a fictional blind detective in a series of mystery stories and books by Ernest Bramah, beginning in 1914. The Max Carrados stories appeared alongside Sherlock Holmes in the Strand Magazine, in which they often had top billing, and frequently outsold his eminent contemporary at the time, even if they failed to achieve the longevity of Holmes.

George Orwell wrote that, together with those of Conan Doyle and R. Austin Freeman, Max Carrados and The Eyes of Max Carrados, "are the only detective stories since Poe that are worth re-reading."
I have a lower opinion of Poe than Orwell did and a higher opinion than he of some subsequent thriller authors, but I agree with him about the value of these three including Bramah.

Like all of the free e-books from ManyBooks.net, Four Max Carrados Detective Stories is available formatted for a variety of e-readers including Kindle.

"Nothing is more compelling than a good man...in an evil time."

Charles J. Chaput delivered "Wisdom, Christian Witness and the Year of Faith" in Washington on July 8. I found it via a post at Ricochet. I think the whole is well worth reading. I first read addresses by him when he was Catholic bishop of Denver and was invariably impressed. Now he is an archbishop and in Philadelphia.  Some extended excerpts:
A long time ago in Germany, a man kept a diary. And some of his words are worth sharing today, because they're a good place to begin our discussion.

The man wrote: "Speak both to the powerful and to every man—whoever he may be—appropriately and without affectation. Use plain language. Receive wealth or prosperity without arrogance, and be ready to let it go. Order your life well in every single act. Behave justly to those who are around you. Be vigilant over your thoughts, so that nothing should steal into them without being well examined."

He wrote: "Every moment, focus steadily on doing the task at hand with perfect and simple dignity, and with feelings of affection and freedom and justice. Put away hypocrisy. Put away self-love and discontent with your portion in life. We were made for cooperation, and to act against one another is contrary to nature. Accept correction gladly. Teach without anger. Keep yourself simple, good, pure, serious, a friend of justice, kind, affectionate and strenuous in all proper acts."

Finally, he wrote: "Take care never to feel toward those who are inhuman, the way they feel toward other men."

The dictionary in my home defines wisdom as "the understanding and pursuit of what is true, right or lasting." If that's so, and I believe it is, the words from the diary we just heard are wisdom. They offer us a map to living a worthy life—a life of interior peace flowing out of moral character and purpose. They're as valuable today as when they were first written.

But what's interesting is this: They were written more than 1,800 years ago. The author probably didn't intend to see his work published. He wrote mainly for himself—to strengthen his convictions. And many of his thoughts, which we now call the Meditations, were written at war, at night, in winter, from the inside of a Roman military tent, on the German frontier.

In his 19 years as emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus had no long period of peace. He spent much of his life away from Rome with the army. He fought one brutal war after another against invaders, and he did it to defend a society that had already lost the values he held dear. Moreover, in the long run he failed. The barbarians won. Rome rotted out and unraveled. His own son Commodus became one of the worst tyrants in history.

So why do we remember him? We remember him because nothing is more compelling than a good man in an evil time. Marcus Aurelius held absolute power in a corrupt age. Yet despite that, he chose to seek what is true and right and lasting; and he disciplined his own life accordingly. In the context of his time, he was a just man and a moral ruler. He achieved that dignity of character by giving his heart first to the pursuit of wisdom, and only then to Rome. He had a brilliant mind, but he had no love of intellect purely for the sake of intellect. Rather, he had a special disgust for intelligence without moral purpose.

That's why he's important for us today. He pursued wisdom above everything else. And though his beliefs were very different from our own, we can learn from his example. Those three qualities that Marcus Aurelius sought in his own life—the true, the right and the lasting—are the pillars of the world. They're the tripod that supports a meaningful life. Whether rich or poor, emperor or peasant, Christian or pagan, all people in every age have a hunger for meaning in their lives. ....

———

.... The Church, as G.K. Chesterton once said, is the only thing that saves a man from the "degrading slavery of being a child of his age." What he meant is this: People who conform their hearts to the ideas of the age disappear right along with the age. Nothing is older than yesterday's "new thing" and the people who worshiped it. We were created to live in the present, worship God in the present, serve the poor in the present, and support each other in the present—but to ready ourselves for eternity. ....

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The power of story

Rod Dreher on a serious weakness of modern conservatism:
.... Argument has its place, but story is what truly moves the hearts and minds of men. The power of myth—which is to say, of storytelling—is the power to form and enlighten the moral imagination, which is how we learn right from wrong, the proper ordering of our souls, and what it means to be human. Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind...considered tending the moral imagination to be “conservatism at its highest.”

Through the stories we tell, we come to understand who we are and what we are to do. This is true for both individuals and communities.

Stories, as carriers of ideas, have consequences. Lincoln, upon meeting Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, supposedly remarked, “Is this the little woman who made the great war?”

Kirk understood that the world might be won or lost on front porches, in bedrooms at night, around family hearths, in movie theaters and anywhere young people hear, see, or read the stories that fill and illuminate their moral imaginations. If you do not give them good stories, they will seek out bad ones.

“And the consequences will be felt not merely in their failure of taste,” Kirk said, “but in their misapprehension of human nature, lifelong; and eventually, in the whole tone of a nation.”

True story: in 2003, I watched a segment of ABC’s “PrimeTime Live” in which Diane Sawyer profiled the quest of a gay male couple to adopt a baby from an unwed teen mother. The couple was plainly unprepared to raise a child, and though their fatherhood experiment failed, Sawyer concluded her charming piece with unambiguous sympathy for them and for the cause of gay adoption.

I knew that night that we were going to have gay marriage in this country. The news media were only going to tell one kind of story about marriage, family, and homosexuality—and eventually this narrative, repeated often enough, would determine politics and policy. Ten years later, with the false, distorted, and simplistic anti-gay narratives of the past having been wholly replaced by false, distorted, and simplistic pro-gay narratives, a cultural revolution has substantially been achieved. Stories have consequences. ....

.... As a bookish kid struggling to find a place in a world of hunting, fishing, and athletics, I was offered refuge in art, literature, and music [by] my ninth-grade English teacher. She was quite liberal, but she was the only person I knew who shared the passion for creativity awakening inside me. I came to believe that all people who were serious about art were naturally liberal—and I became liberal too, for years. Over the years, I’ve seen that most of my conservative friends who are artistically inclined became so in spite of their conservatism—that is, despite the fact that the right-wingers they knew disdained the arts as effete and impractical. A love for art and literature was not part of the conservative story, as they received it. ....

The point is not that art and narrative are designed to manipulate, but rather that stories are unavoidably bearers of worldview. This fact leads some on the right to conclude, crudely, that the solution is to raise up a generation to create art infused with conservative ideology—as if culture-making, of which storytelling is key, could be reduced to ideological utility. ....

Stories work so powerfully on the moral imagination because they are true to human experience in ways that polemical arguments are not. And because the moral imagination often determines which intellectual arguments—political, economic, theological, and so forth—will be admitted into consideration, storytelling is a vital precursor to social change. .... [more]
Dreher refers to Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, a book that I read one summer between college years. That book was almost as important in its effect on my worldview as any other non-scriptural influence, including C.S. Lewis. Kirk believed in the importance of story and, although better known for his political writing, he also wrote pretty good fiction. The Conservative Mind was originally published almost exactly sixty years ago in the summer of 1953 and in recognition of its importance The University Bookman (which Kirk also founded) has published a series of essays.

Story Lines, Not Party Lines | The American Conservative

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"We'll always have Paris"

Originally "Nostalgia" was considered a mental disorder. That has changed. "What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit":
.... Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.

Nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future. ....

Most people report experiencing nostalgia at least once a week, and nearly half experience it three or four times a week. These reported bouts are often touched off by negative events and feelings of loneliness, but people say the “nostalgizing” — researchers distinguish it from reminiscing — helps them feel better. ....

Nostalgic stories aren’t simple exercises in cheeriness, though. The memories aren’t all happy, and even the joys are mixed with a wistful sense of loss. But on the whole, the positive elements greatly outnumber the negative elements....

".... When Humphrey Bogart says, ‘We’ll always have Paris,’ that’s nostalgia for you. We have it, and nobody can take it away from us....” [more]
What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows - NYTimes.com

"If God be for us..."

In my youth, over the course of a year or so when I should have been reading other things, I read the entire collection of Agatha Christie mysteries — all of Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommie and Tuppence, etc. I don't believe I have ever re-read any of them, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the various film and television versions, especially David Suchet's portrayal of Hercule Poirot. Suchet is a Christian and that may be the reason Poirot's faith comes through in some of the filmed versions (e.g. Murder on the Orient Express). Now The Guardian informs us that David Suchet has recorded the entire Bible between Poirot performances:
David Suchet has spent the past 25 years playing Hercule Poirot in ITV's adaptations of Agatha Christie's Belgian detective stories.... ...[I]n the past year, as he has recorded the final episodes of the 70-part Poirot series...the 67-year-old actor has pursued a passion project. He has spent 200 hours recording the entire Bible from Genesis to the Book of Revelation – 752,702 words, in his deep, melodic, unrushed voice. ....

The extent of Suchet's commitment surfaced when "In the Footsteps of St Paul," a two-part documentary he made for BBC1, won the premier prizes at the Sandford St Martin's Trust religious programme awards in June. To accompany those Christmas programmes....he recorded "The Acts and Letters of St Paul," which were released without fanfare by Hodder. A further instalment of The Gospels followed at Easter. But the executive producer of the St Paul programmes, Ray Bruce, struck fertile ground when he suggested that Suchet record the entire Bible with him. The studio was just south of Tower Bridge, opposite Suchet's home on the Thames. "He always arrived prepared, for three-hour sessions … And then he went on to perform on stage. It was the most remarkable thing I have ever done in 40 years," said Bruce.

He is clear it was about "David Suchet's personal journey". The background is that St Paul is very close to the actor's heart because he was converted to Christianity when reading a Bible in a hotel room in 1986. Suchet's moment of epiphany came with St Paul's epistle to the Romans, chapter eight, in which the evangelist lays out the Christian hope of salvation....

Poirot has been shown in more than 100 countries, and it is estimated that between 600-700 million have watched Suchet's portrayal.

The Bible recording will be an "enhanced" ebook and will offer readers/listeners the choice of picking out a chapter and listening at the same time. In true Christian spirit, he is donating the fee for his 200 hours of work to charity. [more]
David Suchet records entire Bible between Poirot performances | Books | guardian.co.uk

Monday, July 8, 2013

Liberty, equality, and envy

From a review of Tocqueville by Lucien Jaume:
There were many books written about America by Europeans in the 19th century. But one book above all continues to command our attention: Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, published as two volumes in 1835 and 1840. On both sides of the Atlantic it was immediately received as a masterpiece and this has largely remained the case to this day. ....

Alexis de Tocqueville
...[Pascal's] Pensées tell us that, as soon as we try to moor ourselves to a fixed point, it flees in eternal flight, the abyss reappearing beneath our feet. In a democracy, Tocqueville contends, that fixed point is seen as a condition of equality. However, no sooner does equality appear to be within our grasp than it too eludes us, the desire for equality only becoming more insatiable as we see it hovering in the near-distance. The more equal we are, the more the slightest inequality offends us.

Herein lies democracy's greatest peril. Democratic man would give up liberty in favour of equality and the promise of material plenty. Here too, according to Jaume, are found "the two great ideas that animated all of Tocqueville's thought": the resurgence of despotism and the advent of equality. And it is precisely the prominence given to these two themes by Tocqueville that explains why we still read Democracy in America and why we do so with such profit. Tocqueville, with greater clarity than anyone before him, saw that the equality of conditions typical of democratic society could give rise to a new form of despotism.

Tocqueville also saw that America had contrived ways to counter these tendencies: religion and the family as checks upon individualism; administrative decentralisation and the separation of powers: "self-interest properly understood". All served to maintain a flourishing local life and thus to preserve liberty. ....

Why then did Tocqueville write Democracy in America? No clearer answer is to be found than in a letter written by Tocqueville to Silvestre de Sacy in 1840, usefully printed as an appendix to this volume. It reads as follows: "My purpose in writing [my] book was to reveal the frightening prospects in store for our contemporaries . . . To show...that in order to prevent this equality, which we rightly hold dear, from becoming the leprosy of the human race, one must work tirelessly to sustain the flight of ideas, to lift souls toward — and — to show that in the democratic age that is just beginning, political liberty is not only beautiful but also necessary for nations to become great and even to remain civilised." .... [more]
At Manybooks.net, free to download for Kindle or other formats:
Democracy In America, vol 1
Democracy In America, vol 2
Motivation of a Masterpiece | Standpoint

Feet firmly planted

C.R. Wiley considers the Shakers and observes "If you like Fox News, you probably like the Amish; if you prefer the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer, you likely favor the Shakers, at least partly because "They had all the correct views: They practiced sustainable agriculture, they had gender equality, and they even reduced their carbon footprint to almost zero. (At this writing, there are said to be only three Shakers left in North America—that’s what celibacy will do for you if you don’t watch out.)" More from Wiley:
.... Worship tells a theological tale, and the tale Shaker worship tells is a sad and sterile one. There was no preaching in Shaker worship and no sacramental life. So what was there? Well, there was a lot of singing and dancing. The dances were especially revealing: groups of men would draw near the women, a pitiful mess of conflicted yearnings, and then withdraw. The women would do the same. At other times they would march around each other in concentric circles, men in one and women in the other, stomping their feet and clapping their hands, all the while singing at the top of their lungs about shaking out sin and beating out carnal thoughts.

While I find their ontology repellant, think their theology fatal, and even believe the world is better off without them, yet for all that, I feel some resonance with the Shakers. And I wonder, What is it about those nutty gnostics that calls to me? ....

.... It seems to me that the Shakers at least had a vision of heaven that affirmed the earth. But they came at it from the wrong angle. They attempted to plant their feet firmly in the air and reach down to the earth and reshape it. Theirs was a religion in which man attempts to operate on himself. Heaven’s help is not atonement for sin, but insight into the “Spirit Land.” That is why there was no preaching—there was no salvation to announce—and why there was no sacramental life—there was no salvation to receive. For the Shakers, salvation came by “channeling” the Spirit Land into this world.

What we need is an affirmation of the earth that keeps our feet on the ground even as it lifts our eyes to heaven. The Shakers were right to try to hold the poles together. But their feet were attached to the wrong one.

Can we do better? I hope we can, but this hope is not based on what we can do, but on what Christ has already done. Christ is the man from heaven who came to earth and then returned to where he had come from. Like a needle and thread, he ties the two worlds together by a piercing that has passed through his own body. Consequently, he holds all things together. He is the reconciler. It is because he has come to us from above that we can approach him from below. .... [more]

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Robinson Crusoe

Another Manybooks.net treasure: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is available to download free in just about every electronic format. From one of the comments:
.... The other thing that struck me as I read this book for what must have been the fifth time is how profoundly religious it is. ....

What [Robinson Crusoe] gives us is a profoundly Protestant view of salvation: A man—a sinner, and a willful one at that—is left alone with the Bible, discovers within himself the forgotten seeds of Protestant (Defoe is explicit about that) Christianity, reconciles himself with God, and proceeds to convert the unbeliever. Whatever one thinks of this as an ideology, I think Defoe’s incorporation of it into his story was brilliant. The whole thing is a Protestant morality tale ....

Reasonable faith

I recall at least once asking a class whether having lost an argument meant that you were wrong. The answer, of course, is "no." But losing an argument does probably mean that you should re-examine why you believe as you do. I have never changed my position in the midst of heated dispute but I have later after re-thinking the issue. When an argument occurs with an audience, though, the purpose is seldom to persuade the opponent – it is all about those looking on. William Lane Craig's public debates with prominent atheists are about persuading listeners of the credibility of Christianity. In The Chronicle of Higher Education Nathan Schneider describes Craig the Christian apologist:
When, during a conversation in a swank hotel lobby in Manhattan, I mentioned to Richard Dawkins that I was working on a story about William Lane Craig, the muscles in his face clenched.

"Why are you publicizing him?" Dawkins demanded, twice. The best-selling "New Atheist" professor went on to assure me that I shouldn't bother, that he'd met Craig in Mexico—they opposed each other in a prime-time, three-on-three debate staged in a boxing ring—and found him "very unimpressive."

"I mean, whose side are you on?" Dawkins said. "Are you religious?"


Several months later, in April 2011, Craig debated another New Atheist author, Sam Harris, in a large, sold-out auditorium at the University of Notre Dame. In a sequence of carefully timed speeches and rejoinders, the two men clashed over whether we need God for there to be moral laws. Harris delivered most of the better one-liners that night, while Craig, in suit and tie, fired off his volleys of argumentation with the father-knows-best composure of Mitt Romney, plus a dash of Schwarzenegger. Something Harris said during the debate might help explain how Dawkins reacted: He called Craig "the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists."

In the lobby afterward, the remarks of students seemed to confirm this. "The apologist won because his structure was perfect," one said. "Craig had already won by the first rebuttal!" A Harris partisan lamented, "Sam kinda blew it." ....

Craig generally insists on the same format: opening statements, then two rounds of rebuttals, then closing statements, then audience. He prepares extensively beforehand, sometimes for months at a time, with research assistants poring over the writings of the opponent in search of objections that Craig should anticipate. He amasses a well-organized file of notes that he can draw on during the debate for a choice quotation or a statistic.

In the opening statement he pummels the opponent with five or so concise arguments—for instance, the origins of the universe, the basis of morality, the testimony of religious experience, and perhaps an addendum of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Over the course of the rebuttals he makes sure to respond to every point that the opponent has brought up, which usually sends the opponent off on a series of tangents. Then, at the end, he reminds the audience how many of his arguments stated at the outset the opponent couldn't manage to address, much less refute. He declares himself and his message the winner. Onlookers can't help agreeing. ....
Although most of the article is devoted Craig's importance as Christian apologist, it also refers to the growing importance of Christians who are academic philosophers:
.... In the early part of the 20th century, figures like Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer made it their business to ensure that the analytic style of philosophy emerging in the Anglophone world would be a stronghold of unbelief. Questions that had animated the whole history of philosophy in Europe and the Americas about whether God exists, or whether there is an afterlife worth anticipating, were suddenly deemed more or less finished—the answer was no.

Significant cracks in this consensus didn't begin appearing until the 1960s and 1970s, especially thanks to the work of Alvin Plantinga, a young philosopher who leveraged the cutting-edge modal logic and epistemology of the time to argue that Christian belief wasn't so manifestly unreasonable as his predecessors had claimed. Along with his lifelong friend Nicholas Wolterstorff, who has spent much of his career writing and teaching at Yale, Plantinga engineered a stunning revival of philosophy in a Christian key, largely through the vehicle of the Society of Christian Philosophers. Following his lead, many more philosophers became braver about articulating Christian faith in arguments, and together they've amassed an arsenal more formidable than many outsiders, whether professional philosophers or laypeople, realize. ....

Philosophy was never supposed to be a narrow discipline, fortified from the argumentative swells of the agora by specialization and merely professional ambitions. That was for the Sophists whom Socrates regaled against. Philosophy was supposed to serve the polis, to educate and embolden its young, to raise up leaders. Whether one likes their preconceived conclusions or not, today it is evangelical Christians, with William Lane Craig in the lead, who are doing so better than just about anyone else. [more]
William Lane Craig's website is ReasonableFaith.org.

The New Theist - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Baptists

Roger Olson explains why non-Baptists [and many Baptists] have such difficulty understanding who Baptists are:
...[V]ery few people realize how diverse Baptists are. There is no one person or group that speaks for all Baptists—that would go against the very nature of being Baptist. And yet I meet people who think there must be a Baptist headquarters somewhere. .... One can speak rightly of “The United Methodist Church,” but one cannot speak rightly of any Baptist group using the word “The” followed by “Church” except the local Baptist congregation (as in “The Baptist church on the corner”). Baptist denominations are always only voluntary associations, conventions, conferences, of local Baptist congregations and have no authority over them (except to expel them in which case the local congregation keeps everything and can simply join another Baptist group).

Like many other movements and religious-spiritual groups “Baptists” are a centered set, not a bounded set. .... There’s no magisterium to say; there’s no Baptist pope to say; there’s no Baptist headquarters to say. As a religious type Baptists have a history and all we can do is talk about certain historical commitments common to most Baptists and then admit there are always exceptions. Of course, someone might say of the exceptions “Well, they’re not true Baptists.” But they can’t make that stick. All they can really mean, at best, is “In my opinion that group of so-called Baptists have wandered so far away from anything historically recognizable as ‘Baptist’ that I don’t consider them Baptists.” ....

There are at least “57 Varieties” of Baptists in the U.S. alone and hundreds more around the world. What do they all have in common beyond the word “Baptist” (and in some cases even that’s missing!)? Well, that’s hard to say. So far as I know, however, all 1) practice believer baptism and not infant baptism, 2) deny that water baptism is necessary for salvation but make it a condition of full church membership, and 3) emphasize religious liberty. Historically, all trace their roots back in one way or another to the first Baptist congregations in England (that sojourned in Holland for a time) in 1610/1611 if not further back to the radical Reformers, the Anabaptists. ....
Seventh Day Baptists are among the diverse groups calling themselves "Baptist." We differ from other Baptists far less than the three groups Olson describes in parts of his column I didn't quote here. Everything he says about Baptists describes us.

Strange (but Real) Baptists: An Exercise in Diversity