Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Going back can be progress

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

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tolkien's politics

Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy—disagreeing with some comments by Game of Thrones author George RR Martin—summarizes aspects of "The Politics of Tolkien":
...[E]vidence of Tolkien’s localism can be found in the Scouring of the Shire, which was regrettably excluded from the recent films. In the Scouring, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return to find the Shire has been taken over by a boss who has holed up at Bag End and is passing all sorts of obnoxious, pointless Rules about food consumption, land use, architecture, and the like. The “scouring” referred to in the title refers to the eradication of that boss and all his rules and ruffians who enforce the rules. The just rules that govern life in the Shire are largely unwritten and are defined by the people themselves. They largely consist of not meddling where one shouldn’t, of respecting your neighbor’s rights to privacy and property, and dedicating yourself to sustaining the life and land of the Shire. ....

.... For Tolkien, political justice is less about using certain policies to produce certain social outcomes and is more about approximation to boundaries and definitions defined from outside creation. Tolkien believed that the very act of staying loyal to those boundaries will, more often than not, guarantee a reasonably just, equitable, healthy society. It won’t be perfect, of course, but it will be healthy enough that one can live a good life in the community. (Note that it’s not the king per se who guarantees a society’s health, contra Martin, but is rather the entire society’s relationship to given norms.) ....

...[G]oodness in Tolkien revolves around ideals of honor, fidelity, and humility. For honor, consider the hierarchical nature of many of the communities in Middle Earth, as well as the harsh judgment of Saruman, who is (rightly) seen as failing to fulfill his calling as a Maia sent into Middle Earth to oppose Sauron. A good example of fidelity, of course, is the beloved character Samwise Gamgee. The necessity of humility is seen in Tolkien’s suspicions about ambition and the importance of understanding that one cannot rightly, justly wield the One Ring. The characters who go bad, generally, are ones who desire power beyond what has been given to them. The ones who stay good accept the limitations of their unique role in society. .... (more)

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Today is the anniversary of the birth of Hiram Ulysses Grant in 1822. Known more familiarly as US Grant, he was one America's greatest military commanders. 20th century historians typically rated him one of our worst Presidents. A deserved re-evaluation has been taking place. While looking for material about Grant Google led me to this from The Washington Post:
...[I]n March 1864, Lincoln elevated him to lieutenant general, the first officer to be promoted to that rank since George Washington. Grant would now be general in chief.

He was no majestic figure like Washington. Grant was 5 feet 8 inches tall, not quite 140 pounds, slouchy, rough-looking, and handsome only in the renderings of artists. People noticed his steely gaze and headlong way of walking.

One Union officer famously wrote that Grant “habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it.”

In the Army of Northern Virginia, the rebel general James Longstreet, who knew Grant well from their military adventures long before the great rupture, knew what was coming: “That man will fight us every day and every hour ’til the end of the war.” ....

...[I]n the darkest days for Lincoln and the Union cause, Grant’s strategy finally paid off. On Sept. 2, (1864) Sherman marched into Atlanta, bearing his chilling message, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.” The news of Atlanta’s capture reversed public opinion in the North about the war.

Now came the endgame — Sherman’s march to the sea, Gen. Philip Sheridan’s campaign in the Shenandoah Valley and the tightening noose on Lee in Virginia. Lincoln would win reelection; the war’s duration would be measured in months.

It is not reckless to guess that without Grant’s bullheaded determination, the story of the Civil War would have played out differently, perhaps ending with the inauguration of President George B. McClellan and the perpetuation of slavery. ....

Grant got a fourth star, and as the embodiment of the Union he almost inexorably followed the path to the White House. He was not eager to be president nor particularly adept at the job. His presidency was troubled by scandals among his aides and appointees and sectional strife over Reconstruction. He won a second term, handily, and in his second inaugural address said, “I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history, which today I feel that I can afford to disregard in view of your verdict.” ....

Grant’s admirers note many accomplishments: He pushed for passage of the 15th Amendment giving male African Americans the vote, sent federal troops to fight the Ku Klux Klan and reformed the government’s Indian policy. In his farewell address, Grant said, “It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without previous political training. ...Mistakes have been made, as all can see, and I admit.”

He told a reporter, “I was never as happy in my life as the day I left the White House.”

Still just 55, he spent two years on a world tour amid adoring throngs. He visited Europe, the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, China and Japan.

...Otto von Bismarck said to Grant that it was a shame that the United States had to endure so terrible a war. Grant answered, “But it had to be done.”

Bismarck: “Yes, you had to save the Union.”

Grant: “Not only save the Union, but destroy slavery.” ....

Frederick Douglass eulogized Grant as “a man too broad for prejudice, too humane to despise the humblest, too great to be small at any point. In him the Negro found a protector, the Indian a friend, a vanquished foe a brother, an imperiled nation a savior.” .... [more]

Saturday, April 26, 2014

For His glory and our joy

In "Tune Our Hearts: The Call to Worship" Matt Boswell at TGC Worship reminds us how we should approach worship:
When Robert Robinson penned the words, “Come Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace,” he wasn’t speculating. He knew the reality of the human condition. We come from a long line of people who are restlessly prone to wander. The heart is a fickle thing and needs to be tuned regularly. The call to worship serves as a tuning of our hearts.
Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117:1-2)
There is a quiet reminder in the call to worship that worship is not our idea. We worship because it is God’s idea. Psalm 117 is God’s word, which means it is God who is speaking to his people, commanding, inviting, and exhorting us to praise him (Psalm 117:1). This call is rooted in a firm commitment to both his glory and our joy. When God’s people are gathered in his name, he serves as the host. He has initiated and invited us into fellowship with him.

The response in Psalm 117:2 implies a recognition of who God is — of his worth. In the call to worship we recognize and remember that it is God alone who is worthy to have our hearts, lips, and lives. As truth rings through our bones, we are reminded of the object of our worship. Worship, in the rhythm of revelation and praise, begins with God making himself known, and is followed by our response of remembrance and praise. .... [more]

Friday, April 25, 2014

A deeper country

'The Eagle is right,' said the Lord Digory. 'Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.'

It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different—deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can't describe it any better than that: if ever you get there you will know what I mean.
(C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Via First Thoughts at First Things:

This is the day that the Lord made:
Let us be glad and rejoice in it.

Monday, April 21, 2014


The most recent season of my favorite series ended the week before last. Justified benefits from fine dialog writing, great casting and, as R.J. Moeller recognizes here, more moral complexity than typical television fare:
The best television show you’re not currently watching is FX’s modern homage to the American wild west, Justified. Set in the hills of eastern Kentucky, and starring the coolest lawman since Gary Cooper – Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens – Justified is just the right mix of interesting writing, compelling performances and layered morality tale that keeps a loyal audience coming back for more after five seasons.

Based on characters created by the late author Elmore Leonard, Justified goes deeper with, and thinks smarter about, both its protagonists and villains. .... Deputy Marshal Givens, for example, grew up playing baseball and digging coal in the mines with his arch nemesis, the smooth-talking crime boss Boyd Crowder (played masterfully by Walton Goggins). ....

But it isn’t Raylan’s relationship with the enemy alone that plays out in captivating, dramatic ways. His gruff, lovable boss, Art Mullen (portrayed by the inimitable Nick Searcy), cares deeply for Raylan but has limits to what he will let the cowboy do in the name of “justice.” ....

It is this – the willingness and skill to tell a long-form story where moral choices have real-to-life consequences – that, in my mind, distinguishes Justified....

We all know that there are things we do in life that change us – for better or worse. Movies and television shows typically only show the immediate or most drastic effect of the character’s decision. But Justified takes us two or three steps down the moral path. We can find forgiveness and comfort for the things we’ve done, but something like shooting a man to death – whether legal or not – will stick with you. It has to. And it can’t always be solved in a story by showing the shooter chugging Jim Beam in a dimly lit room. .... [more]
Nick Searcy's Art Mullen also happens to be one of the more believably written and acted Christian characters on television.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands
   For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands
   And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
   Loud songs of alleluia!

Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
   Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree—
   So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
   And Satan cannot harm us.

No son of man could conquer death,
   Such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth,
   And therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
   And held us as its captive.

So let us keep the festival
   To which the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
   The sun that warms and lights us.
Now His grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
   The night of sin is ended.

Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down,
   His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, He took the crown
   From Death’s pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow’r, no more he reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
   His sting is lost forever.

Then let us feast this Easter Day
   On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
   The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our meat and drink indeed;
   Faith lives upon no other!
       Alleluia! (Martin Luther, 1524)

It was a strange and dreadful strife
   When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
   The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
   Its sting is lost forever.

Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands

"He is risen indeed!"

Via Justin Taylor
The curtain is torn in two.
The cross and the tomb are empty.
The cup of wrath has been drained.
The victory has been won.
The serpent has been crushed.
The throne is occupied.
It is finished.
He is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

He has done it!

Amy Becker provides an explanation of Jesus' words on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It is an explanation I find very satisfying:
...[W]hen Jesus cries out using the initial line of Psalm 22, he is referring his listeners to the entirety of the Psalm. The Psalm begins with a description of a man on display for his physical suffering, mocked by those around him, and this section concludes with the words:
Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me;

They pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
.... But the Psalm does not end with this desolate portrait.

From here, it becomes a plea to God for rescue, and then a declaration of what God will do:
The poor will eat and be satisfied...
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;

all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
 declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
.... It is a cry that many of us have offered in the midst of our own moments of desolation, a reminder that God himself experienced suffering and sorrow. And in these desolate times, may we remember that Jesus' cry of desolation points us back to the God who does not forget us, the God who rescues and redeems and always, always, points us toward hope. The crucified God who always anticipates resurrection. .... [more]

"And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death..."

"Come, let us worship Christ, who for our sake suffered death and was buried."

Thus says the Lord:
In their affliction, they shall look for me:
"Come, let us return to the LORD,
For it is he who has rent, but he will heal us;
he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds.
He will revive us after two days;
on the third day he will raise us up,
to live in his presence. (Hosea 6:1-2)

"For our sake Christ was obedient, accepting even death, death on a cross. Therefore God raised Him on high and gave Him the name above all other names."

All-powerful and ever-living God,
your only Son went down among the dead
and rose again in glory.
In your goodness
raise up your faithful people,
buried with Him in baptism,
to be one with Him
in the eternal life of heaven,
where He lives and reigns with You
and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Surely He hath borne our griefs..."

Via juicyecumenism.com:

Good Friday

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” [Mark 15:22-26, ESV]
Justin Taylor:
Written over 20 years ago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this article goes into graphic detail about the physical pain that Jesus would have endured in his beatings and crucifixion....
Here is an excerpt from that article, "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" by William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer. The original article is substantially longer and detailed, with diagrams and ample citation. Our Lord's manner of execution was like that suffered by a great many others in the Roman world:
…. It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb (136 kg), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lb. (34 to 57 kg), was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death. Outside the city walls was permanently located the heavy upright wooden stipes, on which the patibulum would be secured. In the case of the Tau cross, this was accomplished by means of a mortise and tenon joint, with or without reinforcement by ropes. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes. Only very rarely, and probably later than the time of Christ, was an additional block (suppedaneum) employed for transfixion of the feet.

At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans. The archaeological remains of a crucified body, found in an ossuary near Jerusalem and dating from the time of Christ, indicate that the nails were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 in (13 to 18 cm) long with a square shaft 3/8 in (1 cm) across. Furthermore, ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin have documented that the nails commonly were driven through the wrists rather than the palms.

After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.

Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. Ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin suggest that nailing was the preferred Roman practice. Although the feet could be fixed to the sides of the stipes or to a wooden footrest (suppedaneum), they usually were nailed directly to the front of the stipes. To accomplish this, flexion of the knees may have been quite prominent, and the bent legs may have been rotated laterally.

When the nailing was completed, the titulus was attached to the cross, by nails or cords, just above the victim’s head. The soldiers and the civilian crowd often taunted and jeered the condemned man, and the soldiers customarily divided up his clothes among themselves. The length of survival generally ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging. However, even if the scourging had been relatively mild, the Roman soldiers could hasten death by breaking the legs below the knees (crurifragium or skelokopia). …. [the article pdf]
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. [Luke 23:44-46, ESV]
Dorothy L. Sayers on at least part of the meaning:
For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — he had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile. (The Man Born to be King, Dorothy L. Sayers)
And suffered far, far move than we do or ever will.

The Inklings: Good Friday, Between Two Worlds: On the Physical Death of Jesus

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday

Various Christian denominations place greater or lesser emphasis on what is known as the Christian Year. I grew up in one that emphasized only Christmas and Easter, and observed Lent only because the local ministers' council cooperated in a Lenten series of services. Kevin DeYoung helpfully defines Maundy Thursday for people like me:
.... If you've never heard the term, it's not Monday-Thursday (which always confused me as a kid), but Maundy Thursday, as in Mandatum Thursday. Mandatum is the Latin word for "command" or "mandate", and the day is called Maundy Thursday because on the night before his death Jesus gave his disciples a new command. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34).

At first it seems strange that Christ would call this a new command. After all, the Old Testament instructed God's people to love their neighbors and Christ himself summarized the law as love for God and love for others. So what's new about love? What makes the command new is that because of Jesus' passion there is a new standard, a new examplar of love.

There was never any love like the dying love of Jesus. It is tender and sweet (John 13:33). It serves (John 13:2-17). It loves even unto death (John 13:1). Jesus had nothing to gain from us by loving us. There was nothing in us to draw us to him. But he loved us still, while we were yet sinners. .... (more)
DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Maundy Thursday

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Little Friend of all the World"

I discover the works of Rudyard Kipling at ManyBooks.net including Kim (a free download for Kindle, etc.), the author's last, and perhaps best, book. I didn't read it until I was an adult but when I finally did I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

A reader at the Guardian's book blog had this to say about Kim:
.... Published at the threshold of the 20th century, Kim is the story of the eponymous orphan boy – of Irish descent but Indian-born, "a poor white of the very poorest" and a street urchin in the great Mughal city of Lahore. He falls in with an itinerant Tibetan lama on a quest for a sacred river, and ends up conscripted into "the Great Game", the imperial cold war of espionage and derring-do fought on the fringes of the British Raj. ....

...[W]hat makes Kim such a glorious wellspring of comfort is its humanity. The hero is known in the alleyways of Lahore as "Little Friend of all the World", and the book revels in the joy of human company. ....

Kipling has, of course, been roundly condemned by many a post-colonial critic, his very name made a byword for objectionable empire nostalgia. It's certainly true that the India of Kim is an unchanging place, with British rule an incontestable part of the scene. But the warm soul of the book is in its people, not its politics. It brims with Indian noise and heat and colour – a great comfort in itself when the world outside your window is slate-grey and sodden. And yet these roaring bazaars and clamorous caravanserais are peopled not with some massed and inscrutable Other; they are brim-full of friends, men and women with voices and stories of their own.

The other great solace is in the writing itself. There is style without pretentiousness, and simplicity that is neither bleak nor chiselled. It is comfort food that is somehow rich and refined at the same time, and I can read it again and again. ....

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Even when He is silent"

Brandywine Books indicates that these words were found in a concentration camp after the Second World War:
"I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent."

But, Lord, do not be silent or allow us to be deaf.

Via Brandywine Books.

"In sure and certain hope..."

Nancy Guthrie knows what she doesn't want at her funeral: "Please Don’t Make My Funeral All About Me":
I just got home from another funeral. Seems we've gone to more than our share lately. And once again, as I left the church, I pled with those closest to me, "Please don't make my funeral all about me."

We were an hour and fifteen minutes into today's funeral before anyone read from the scriptures, and further in until there was a prayer. Resurrection wasn't mentioned until the benediction. There were too many funny stories to tell about the deceased, too many recollections, too many good things to say about the things she accomplished to speak of what Christ has accomplished on her behalf.

But then this wasn't a funeral. It was a "Celebration of Life." ....

...I have decided to write it down. When I die, you won't have to wonder what I would have wanted. You'll know. You'll know that nothing would make me happier than for my funeral to be all about Christ instead of all about me. Please make it all about his righteous life and not my feeble efforts at good works. Make it about his coming to defeat death and not my courage (or lack thereof) in the face of death. Make it about his emergence from the grave with the keys to death and the grave, which changes everything about putting my body into a grave. ....

What you must not do at my funeral is make it all about me. What I want most is that "Christ will be honored in [my] body, whether in life or in death" (Phil.1:20). Those gathered that day have no need for a sanitized, idealized rendition of who I was or what I accomplished. On that day, in fact on every day until that day, "he must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). .... [more]
One of the best ways to avoid making it "all about me" would be to stick closely to scripture and the Book of Common Prayer gets it right in its service for the "Burial of the Dead."

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Endless Thy grace..."

Via Brandywine Books:

Even before we call on Thy name To ask Thee, O God,
When we seek for the words to glorify Thee,
Thou hearest our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love, Surpassing all we know.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, And to the Holy Spirit.
Even with darkness sealing us in, We breathe Thy name,
And through all the days that follow so fast, We trust in Thee;
Endless Thy grace, O endless Thy grace,
Beyond all mortal dream. Both now and forever,
And unto ages and ages,

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic."

Ross Douthat today, in "Diversity and Dishonesty," on the recent controversies involving Mozilla and Brandeis's withdrawal of the invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
.... I am (or try to be) a partisan of pluralism, which requires respecting Mozilla’s right to have a C.E.O. whose politics fit the climate of Silicon Valley, and Brandeis’s right to rescind degrees as it sees fit, and Harvard’s freedom to be essentially a two-worldview community, with a campus shared uneasily by progressives and corporate neoliberals, and a small corner reserved for token reactionary cranks.

But this respect is difficult to maintain when these institutions will not admit that this is what is going on. Instead, we have the pretense of universality — the insistence that the post-Eich Mozilla is open to all ideas, the invocations of the “spirit of free expression” from a school that’s kicking a controversial speaker off the stage.

And with the pretense, increasingly, comes a dismissive attitude toward those institutions — mostly religious — that do acknowledge their own dogmas and commitments, and ask for the freedom to embody them and live them out.

It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B.Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.

I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic. [more]
Patterico comments: "What’s particularly interesting about this column are the comments generated. A great number of them example, without the slightest hint of self-awareness, the point Douthat closes with: I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic."

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Christian society

A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat ‘Do as you would be done by’ till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward—driven on from social matters to religious matters. For the longest way round is the shortest way home. (“Social Morality” – part 4 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Atheism makes us moral idiots

Tom Gilson blogs at Thinking Christian where he makes a case for the faith and then responds to those who choose to comment. Many of those who do are non-believers: agnostics and self-identified atheists whose arguments he willingly engages. Recently he has been arguing that if there are moral laws there must be a law-giver. A prior argument, of course, has to do with whether there are in fact moral laws that transcend individual or cultural preference. If it is just a matter of preference — no real enduring universal moral standards — then morality loses all meaning. Gilson responds to an unusually frank atheist:
.... Shane, like many atheists before him, makes himself the arbiter of right and wrong:
I can understand that the Nazis thought they were doing the right thing. I can also think that their actions were wrong because they are not things I would do. I do this from the comfort of the future, in a different country of course, and who knows what things would have been like if I was a German soldier during World War II.
Had he been a Nazi soldier during World War II, he would have perhaps thought he was doing nothing wrong. If so, then I can’t help but wonder who could have told him otherwise? I can only wonder what it means to be wrong, if the standard is one man’s opinion? By making himself his own standard, he undercuts the whole idea of a standard. Or maybe (it’s unclear to me) he’s making future human opinion the standard.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this kind of thing expressed here. An earlier commenter named Paul agreed, when I pressed him on something he had previously written, that as an atheist, “I give up the right to say that in their times and places, slavery, suttee, and child sacrifice were wrong.” ....

If there is no transcendent moral standard, there is no moral knowledge, because there is nothing to be known. There is no right or wrong, except for each person’s opinion; and each person’s opinion in that case is indistinguishable from “I favor that kind of action” or “I don’t think highly of that other kind of action.” This is not morality, it’s aesthetics. If it is a culture-wide view rather than an individual’s view, then it is “we” rather than “I,” but the same still holds: it’s still aesthetics.

Or, possibly, right and wrong become shorthand for, “Do more of that,” vs. “Stop doing that.” That, too is not morality. It’s the exercise of power, or at least the attempt to do so.

Aesthetics is not morality. The practice of power is not morality. The language of morality may be there but the reality is stripped away. And if there is no morality, how could there be moral knowledge? ....

Yet every child knows there’s such a thing as right and wrong. You and I knew it as early as six months old. It takes “growing up” into atheism to discover that we can’t know right from wrong after all. .... [more]
Note: Today Gilson somewhat revised what he posted yesterday. The portions quoted above are now from today's version and the links now go there too.

Monday, April 7, 2014

"Even in the midnight of afflictions"

Timothy George on "John Donne in Lent":
.... Donne would be a lot more popular today if he had been a “name it and claim it” kind of Christian. But however ecstatic his experience of God might have been, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral continued to struggle with such disagreeable realities as sin, suffering, repentance, sickness, decay, and death. We prefer a Lent with all lilies and no ashes. But Donne knew that the difficult disciplines of prayer, fasting, self-denial, and cross-bearing, together with the holy discontent of waiting for an answer that does not come—such rigors are necessary medicines for what he called the “insatiable whirlpool of the covetous mind.” ....

At the beginning of Lent, 1630, Donne delivered his most famous sermon at Whitehall in the presence of King Charles I. Published as “Death’s Duell,” it was a meditation on death: the death of Christ and the death that comes to every person, both to paupers lying in a nameless grave and to the high and mighty in their “half-acre tombs” with elegant epitaphs chiseled in stone.

The entire life of Christ was a continual passion, Donne said, and “all our Lent may well be a continual Good Friday.” The consequences of sin, both ours and Adam’s, are momentous. Yet John Donne also knew that this world does not terminate upon itself.
Even in the depth of any spiritual night, in the shadow of death, in the midnight of afflictions and tribulations, God brings light out of darkness and gives his saints occasion of glorifying him, not only in the dark (though it be dark) but from the dark (because it is dark).... This is a way unconceivable by any, inexpressible to any, but those that have felt that manner of God’s proceeding in themselves, that be the night what night it will... they see God better in the dark.
John Donne confessed to his friend George Garrard that it was his desire to die in the pulpit. Although he did not leave this world mid-sermon, his last deliverance at St. Paul’s left a distinct impression. From his emaciated body and dying face, he peered out on his congregation. Many of them, his biographer said, “did secretly ask that question in Ezekiel: Do these bones live?” Draped in his funeral shroud, Donne still looks out on those who come to St. Paul’s to see his effigy. The last line on his epitaph is his own: “He lies here in the dust but beholds Him whose name is Rising.” [more]

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"...[N]o law...prohibiting the free exercise..."

In an article that is probably behind a subscription wall (I subscribe) David French explains why the Religious Freedom Restoration Act shouldn't have been necessary in the first place, why it was then passed unanimously by the House and 97-2 by the Senate, signed by President Clinton, and is under attack today. From the article:
.... Rather than finding a compelling government interest in enforcing drug laws, the Supreme Court (with Justice Scalia writing the majority opinion) articulated a new religious test, one that essentially relegated the free-exercise clause to the scrap heap.

Under this new test, if a law was “neutral” and “generally applicable” (in other words, not aimed at religious practice), the free-exercise claim would fail. This meant no more balancing tests, and thus no more compelling-government-interest requirements for state actions. In short, this meant dramatically diminished constitutional protections for religious minorities. ....

RFRA was the result. The goal was hardly revolutionary: It was simply to restore the status quo prior to the peyote case, with the same balancing test and the same compelling-interest requirement. ....

YET now, 21 years later, RFRA and its various state incarnations are the Great Satan and Little Satans of American statutory law, the diabolical gremlins that the Left claims will bring back Jim Crow, spur “secessionist” impulses, and potentially cause the engine of American progress to stutter and stall.

What happened? Why do the principles that the Left applied to protect peyote now threaten the republic when they protect a chain of hobby stores from having to pay for products that are widely (and cheaply) available on the open market?

To borrow an excellent phrase from Greg Lukianoff, a liberal civil libertarian and the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, America began “unlearning liberty”—including religious liberty. It’s a story that’s been told a thousand times. Free speech and diversity of thought—useful concepts to dissenters charging the barricades—became annoyances (and worse) when the dissenters gained tenure, or became GS-14 deeply embedded in the alphabet soup of federal agencies, or ran television studios and wrote our songs and sitcoms. ....

And so, in cases across the land, sexual liberty has directly confronted religious liberty, and religious liberty has often lost. Whether Christian photographers are compelled to photograph gay weddings, Christian students of counseling are compelled to mouth pro-gay platitudes, or pro-life activists are compelled to shut their mouths when close to abortion clinics, the argument has been the same: Religious liberty is hateful and hurtful, and it must recede so that sexual self-actualization may proceed not merely unimpeded but increasingly uncriticized. .... (David French, "Restore the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," National Review, April 21, 2014, pp. 25-27)

The limits of human possibility

I have never read Conrad apart from a few things assigned in literature classes. Films, like Hitchcock's Sabotage (based on Conrad's The Secret Agent), or Lord Jim, may have acquainted me with some of the plots, although no doubt unreliably. Theodore Dalrymple, in a good essay (the only kind he writes), "The Noble Conrad," reminds me that I probably should add him to the large collection of authors I ought to read (but probably won't). Dalrymple:
...Conrad’s attitude toward prose was only a special case of his overarching philosophy, which was that of Ecclesiastes:
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
Getting the words right was not, in Conrad’s estimation, the whole task of the writer. He was no artist for art’s own sake; his art was both to engage the reader’s attention and to make him see in more than the mere perceptual sense—to make him see “that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.” Art, entertainment, and moral purpose were indivisible for Conrad.

In finding something for his hand to do, and doing it with all his might, Conrad always kept morality in view. For Conrad, probity was perhaps the highest good, the moral quality he admired most; for him, very distant goals diluted probity and finally dissolved it utterly. The good that resulted from doing something with all one’s might had therefore to be tangible or immediate, and not so far removed that it entailed or permitted the doing of evil in the name of the eventual good that it would supposedly produce. The risks of distance are shown by the colonialists in “Heart of Darkness” and the revolutionaries in The Secret Agent (and other antirevolutionary books and stories). Kurtz has grand plans for a mission civilisatrice in the depths of the primeval forest that end with decapitated heads impaled on poles; while the principal achievement of the revolutionaries surrounding Verloc in The Secret Agent is the death in an explosion of a half-witted boy, much loved by his sister, revolutionary rhetoric having driven him to a willingness to commit a bomb outrage.

The principal truths for which both the revolutionaries and the colonialists have forgotten to ask are about themselves and about the limits of human possibility. On this matter, Conrad is both clear and, many would say, bleak. ....

Conrad allowed no transcendent meaning, purpose, or design to the universe; there were therefore no ultimate consolations for our earthly travails, except such as we can find for ourselves, and that are inevitably modest. .... [more]
Conrad seems to have been right about so much and yet denied himself the consolations that do, in fact, exist.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


  1. Every law has a lawgiver. (Premise)
  2. There is an objective moral law. (Premise)
  3. Therefore, there is an objective moral lawgiver. (From 1 and 2)
Geisler concludes that this objective moral lawgiver is part of what we mean by "God." ....

.... In fact, few of us even doubt the objectivity of moral facts. Are rape, murder, or torturing children for fun things we simply don't like, or are they really (objectively) moral atrocities? For those persuaded that these are objective moral atrocities, then this may provide a person-relative-proof of God's existence.

The reason objective laws, if they exist, are non-natural is because they are true immutably and cannot be reduced to any of the physical sciences, e.g. physics, chemistry, biology, etc. A scientist is able to show that torturing children for fun is painful, but its being painful doesn't make it morally wrong.

Thus, we are left with a supernatural explanation for objective moral facts. Theism fits this description; so at the very least, the reality of objective and non-natural moral facts makes theism more plausible than in their absence. .... [more]
The argument works for me.

Friday, April 4, 2014

"The calamity from which all other calamities sprang”

August marks the centennial of the beginning of the First World War — the Great War — perhaps, as the paragraph quoted below argues, the most consequential event in the history of the 20th Century. The quotation is from a very good Economist review article about some of the many books that have been and will be published on the subject of the war.
.... The war destroyed empires (some quickly, some more slowly), created fractious new nation-states, gave a sense of identity to the British dominions, forced America to become a world power and led directly to Soviet communism, the rise of Hitler, the second world war and the Holocaust. The turmoil in the Middle East has its roots in the world it spawned. As Fritz Stern, a German-American historian, put it, the conflict was “the first calamity of the 20th century, the calamity from which all other calamities sprang”. .... [more]

Thursday, April 3, 2014

April 3, AD 33

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor, authors of The Final Days of Jesus argue that today, April 3, is the anniversary of the most important event within history:
...Virtually all scholars believe, for various reasons, that Jesus was crucified in the spring of either a.d. 30 or a.d. 33, with the majority opting for the former. (The evidence from astronomy narrows the possibilities to a.d. 27, 30, 33, or 34). However, we want to set forth our case for the date of Friday, April 3, a.d. 33 as the exact day that Christ died for our sins.

To be clear, the Bible does not explicitly specify the precise date of Jesus’s crucifixion and it is not an essential salvation truth. But that does not make it unknowable or unimportant. Because Christianity is a historical religion and the events of Christ’s life did take place in human history alongside other known events, it is helpful to locate Jesus’s death—as precisely as the available evidence allows—within the larger context of human history.

Among the Gospel writers, no one makes this point more strongly than Luke, the Gentile physician turned historian and inspired chronicler of early Christianity. .... [more]

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love" (ESV)

On what would have been the hundredth anniversary of his birth, a remembrance of Alec Guinness:
...[H]is film career, spanning 60 years, formally [began] in 1946 when he played Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations.

He was off to the races, making film after film—Oliver Twist (1948), in which he played Fagin; Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), playing multiple D’Ascoyne Family roles (The Duke, The Banker, The Parson, The General, The Admiral); The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), in which he played Holland; The Man in the White Suit (1951), Jim Wormold; and The Ladykillers, Professor Marcus (1955), among other British films and roles.

Hollywood finally snagged him for the role of Prince Albert in The Swan (1955). This laid the groundwork for his selection as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), directed by David Lean, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar. It was one of many Oscar nominations he would receive. ....

.... There was, of course, more to the man than his acting—a taste of which is conveyed in his poignant faith journey, the dramatic turning point occurring during the filming of Father Brown (1954) when a small French child mistook Guinness for a priest.

That little encounter inspired him to return to his Anglican faith. Soon thereafter, his son Matthew, then just 11, tragically contracted polio and was paralyzed from the waist down. A grief-stricken Guinness began stopping by a little Catholic Church every day, praying to God that if He would let his son recover, he would not stand in the way should he wish to convert to Catholicism, which was his son’s desire. ....

Every morning, Guinness recited a verse from Psalm 143, “Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning.”

He died on August 5, 2000, this time winning a greater much greater prize—Heaven. [more]
Guinness is one of my favorite actors and I own DVDs of almost all of the films referred to above [and more] — the exception is The Swan. It was very pleasant to learn that he was a Christian.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Wesley Hill imagines how the Apostle Paul would have read the story of Noah and how the film gets it backwards:
...Paul has a habit of locating the explanation for divine mercy and grace in God’s own determination to have mercy rather than in the worth or character or achievement of its recipients. ....

Paul didn’t talk about the Noah story in his extant epistles, but here’s how I imagine he would have read it.

Noah found favor with God, says the text of Genesis (charis, or “grace,” in the Greek translation of Genesis 6:8). And, for Paul (in contrast to many of his fellow Torah-reading contemporaries), “grace” is defined as a gift given to the unfitting (Romans 4:4-5). Genesis subsequently notes that Noah was a righteous man (Genesis 6:9), and according Paul, that’s the proper order: first grace, then the status of righteousness. It’s not that God found someone who had already attained a certain level of goodness and then crowned it with the verdict of justification. For Paul, the reverse is true.

And this is what Aronofsky’s film complicates. ....

...[N]ear the end of the film, Emma Watson’s character, Ila, gives up the game. She says to Noah that perhaps God preserved him because God knew that he had a merciful heart. Perhaps, she speculates, that’s exactly the sort of person God could count on to renew the world non-violently, peaceably, and responsibly after the flood. And in this way, the film ends up locating the rationale for God’s mercy in some native spark of goodness in Noah that will, viewers hope, make the new, post-flood world more livable than the antediluvian one. ....

The point of the Noah story...is not that Noah possesses in himself the seed of a better humanity. The point is that God promises to show mercy, even when Noah’s offspring prove just as violent and evil as the descendants of Cain. (more)