Friday, May 29, 2015

"...I will spue thee out of my mouth"

Matthew Parris — although agreeing with the result of the Irish referendum — finds the response of Catholic prelates rather frustrating:
.... Even as a (gay) atheist, I wince to see the philosophical mess that religious conservatives are making of their case. Is there nobody of any intellectual stature left in our English church, or the Roman church, to frame the argument against Christianity’s slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change? ....

So, wearily and with a reluctance born of not even supporting the argument’s conclusion, let me restate the conservative Catholic’s only proper response to news such as that from Dublin last weekend. It is that 62 per cent in a referendum does not cause a sin in the eyes of God to cease to be a sin.

Can’t these Christians see that the moral basis of their faith cannot be sought in the pollsters’ arithmetic? What has the Irish referendum shown us? It is that a majority of people in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 do not agree with their church’s centuries-old doctrine that sexual relationships between two people of the same gender are a sin. Fine: we cannot doubt that finding. But can a preponderance of public opinion reverse the polarity between virtue and vice? Would it have occurred for a moment to Moses (let alone God) that he’d better defer to Moloch-worship because that’s what most of the Israelites wanted to do?

It must surely be implicit in the claim of any of the world’s great religions that on questions of morality, a majority may be wrong; but this should be vividly evident to Christians in particular: they need only consider the fate of their Messiah, and the persecution of adherents to the Early Church. ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you,’ says Paul. ....

Have some of us, in short, made the mistake of taking the church at its word? Was it always, anyway, about going with the flow? Was it always secretly about imposing the morals of the majority on the minority — so all that is necessary is to discover which way the preponderance falls? ....

Abortion next, I suppose. Here, too, shall I live to hear the divine ahem? Silly me. And there I was thinking they meant it. As so often in my life, I have missed the big celestial wink. [more]

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"We should not want the Bible to sound modern"

Stephen M. Flatow asks why, in my column “The Paradox of the Transmission of Sacred Texts” that appeared two weeks ago, I used the King James translation when citing verses from the Bible. ....

The reason I...prefer the King James Version (KJV) is that, despite its age, its archaic English, and its often outdated interpretations of passages that subsequent knowledge has thrown new light on, it continues to be the best English Bible translation in existence.

This is, of course, a matter of taste and opinion, but the taste and opinion are not just mine. Millions of English-speaking Bible readers share them.... These millions of readers would agree with Adam Nicolson, who states in his God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible that, more than any other English translation of Scripture, the KJV is driven by an “idea of majesty” whose “qualities are those of grace, stateliness, scale, [and] power.” What its admirers sense in it above all, writes Nicolson, is what they sense in the Hebrew Bible itself: “a belief in the enormous and overwhelming divine authority” of the text. ....

...[It is] the product of a historical period in which the Bible’s divinely revealed character and literal truth, every word of which was assumed to matter supremely because it was God’s, were still taken for granted by most people, including the King James’s highly cultivated and sophisticated translators.

Indeed, the KJV’s archaic language, often cited as a point against it, strikes me as one more argument in its behalf. The language of the Hebrew Bible, after all, is archaic, too; it is precisely this that makes us feel when reading it that we are in contact with an age more wondrous and fervent than our own. The same holds true of the KJV. We should not want the Bible to sound modern. Of modernity we have more than enough; the Bible needs to be read against modernity’s grain. I’ll stick with the King James. [more]
My own preference is usually a compromise between the KJV and the modern translations and paraphrases — I read the RSV or, more usually, the ESV  — but the KJV works very well for worship if read by someone who can read well aloud and, of course, almost everyone uses the KJV versions of things like the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's Prayer.

"The most interesting man in the (Bible) world"

The Bible Exchange interviews Mark Bertrand. "If you have rediscovered reading Bibles and prefer a single-column edition with as few reading distractions as possible, chances are you have imbibed the literary philosophy of Mark Bertrand either wittingly or unwittingly." Bertrand's site is the Bible Design Blog. He converted me to the idea of "reader-friendly" bibles. From Bertrand's answers in the interview:
...I think we don’t know the Bible as well as we think. All that comfort and familiarity is misplaced, and sometimes even a little condescending. The real quest isn’t about dressing the Bible up; it’s about seeing the Bible for what it is, with new eyes.

.... I’m not reviewing Bibles for the sake of reviewing them. I have an agenda: to make them better. Specifically, to make them more readable. And I have particular ideas on what does and does not do that. You may agree or disagree, but either way, it keeps things interesting. ....

Bible apps have pretty much rendered all print editions but those designed for reading obsolete for me personally. I don’t need all the extra apparatus on the page, because I have all that on my phone or laptop. What I ask of the printed Bible is that it offer me a satisfyingly immersive deep reading experience. ....
That’s why, to me, the quest is not just about the binding, it’s about the design. And what matters about the design is that it honors the notion that the Bible is a text to experience—that as a reader you submit to it, you immerse yourself in it. You don’t stand above it looking down through a lattice of numbers and divisions and references, taking and leaving it based on your interest at the moment.

Now I realize it’s possible to have this experience regardless of the barriers put up by the design. I just wonder what would happen if we designed with this kind of deep reading in mind. .... [more]
The interview is at, which Bertrand describes as "an eBay for Bibles."

The Bible Exchange – Buy Sell and Trade High Quality Bibles |

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Their name liveth for evermore"

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. .... All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times. There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise.
[The Apocrypha: Sirach 44:1-15 KJV]

Decoration Day

Amy A. Kass and Leon R. Kass, "Take Time to Remember" in The Weekly Standard:
.... Memorial Day, once called Decoration Day, is a post-Civil War holiday. It was first instituted by the Grand Army of the Republic on May 30, 1868, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.” If the Fourth of July renews the memory of the birth of the nation, Decoration Day renewed the memory of those who gave their lives “that that nation might live,” or again in Lincoln’s words, that this nation would have a new birth of freedom.

On Decoration Day, May 30, 1871, at Arlington National Cemetery, it was an ex-slave named Frederick Douglass who delivered the memorial address near the monument to the “Unknown Loyal Dead,” before a gathering that included President Grant, his cabinet, and many other distinguished people. “Dark and sad,” Douglass began, “will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors.” Giving eloquent expression to that homage, he concluded: “If today we have a country not boiling in the agony of blood, like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage...if the star-spangled banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization, we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.”

On this occasion and for the rest of his life, Douglass was at pains to keep alive through speech the memory and meaning of the deeds of that noble army of men who gave their lives to preserve the Union. ....

After World War I, Decoration Day was expanded to commemorate the lives of all those who have died in service to our country. Later, the name of the holiday was changed to Memorial Day; later still, it lost its fixed date in the calendar, celebrated instead on the last Monday in May. ....

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Underneath are the everlasting arms"

From C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady:
Magdalene College,
17 June 63

Dear Mary

This is terrible news. The doctor who refused to come would, I think, be liable to criminal prosecution in this country.

Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well? Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hairshirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.

Remember, tho' we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way round — we get afraid because we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don't you think Our Lord says to you "Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the everlasting arms. Let go, I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?"

Of course this may not be the end. Then make it a good rehearsal.

Yours (and like you a tired traveller, near the journey's end)

C.S. Lewis died on November 22, 1963

C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady at Amazon

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Never trust anyone over..."

A Chesterton quotation that could arguably be applied to my generation:
A generation is now growing old, which never had anything to say for itself except that it was young. It was the first progressive generation – the first generation that believed in progress and nothing else…. [They believed] simply that the new thing is always better than the old thing; that the young man is always right and the old wrong. And now that they are old men themselves, they have naturally nothing whatever to say or do. Their only business in life was to be the rising generation knocking at the door. Now that they have got into the house, and have been accorded the seat of honour by the hearth, they have completely forgotten why they wanted to come in. The aged younger generation never knew why it knocked at the door; and the truth is that it only knocked at the door because it was shut. It had nothing to say; it had no message; it had no convictions to impart to anybody…. The old generation of rebels was purely negative in its rebellion, and cannot give the new generation of rebels anything positive against which it should not rebel. It is not that the old man cannot convince young people that he is right; it is that he cannot even convince them that he is convinced. And he is not convinced; for he never had any conviction except that he was young, and that is not a conviction that strengthens with years. — G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News of July 9, 1921

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Just so absurd

.... "People have completely forgotten that in 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States," notes a retired FBI agent, Max Noel. "People don't want to listen to that. They can't believe it. One bombing now and everyone gets excited. In 1972? It was every day. Buildings getting bombed, policemen getting killed. It was commonplace." ....

Imagine if this happened today: Hundreds of young Americans—white, black, and Hispanic—disappear from their everyday lives and secretly form urban guerrilla groups. Dedicated to confronting the government and righting society's wrongs, they smuggle bombs into skyscrapers and federal buildings and detonate them from coast to coast. They strike inside the Pentagon, inside the U.S. Capitol, at a courthouse in Boston, at dozens of multinational corporations, at a Wall Street restaurant packed with lunchtime diners. People die. They rob banks, dozens of them, launch raids on National Guard arsenals, and assassinate policemen, in New York, in San Francisco, in Atlanta. There are deadly shoot-outs and daring jailbreaks, illegal government break-ins and a scandal in Washington.

This was a slice of America during the tumultuous 1970s, a decade when self-styled radical "revolutionaries" formed something unique in post-colonial U.S. history: an underground resistance movement. Given little credibility by the press, all but ignored by historians, their bombings and robberies and shoot-outs stretched from Seattle to Miami, from Los Angeles to Maine. And even if the movement's goals were patently unachievable and its members little more than onetime student leftists who clung to utopian dreams of the 1960s, this in no way diminished the intensity of the shadowy conflict that few in America understood at the time and even fewer remember clearly today. ....

The story she [Kathy Wilkerson - a member of the Weather Underground] tells is like many I heard from those who joined Weather and other radical underground groups of the 1970s, who mistakenly believed the country was on the brink of a genuine political revolution, who thought that violence would speed the change....

"It's all so fantastic to me now," [Cathy Wilkerson] says as we rise to leave.. "It's just so absurd I participated in all this."

"The challenge for me," I say on the sidewalk outside, "is to explain to people today why this all didn't seem as insane then as it does now."

"Yes," she says, stepping into a morning rain. "That's it exactly." ....

A safe stronghold our God is still...

Thomas Carlyle's 1831 translation of Luther's Ein' feste Burg. I think I like these words better than the Mighty Fortress words we usually sing:
A safe stronghold our God is still,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He'll help us clear from all the ill
That hath us now o'ertaken.
The ancient prince of hell
Hath risen with purpose fell;
Strong mail of craft and power
He weareth in this hour;
On earth is not his fellow.

And were this world all devils o'er,
And watching to devour us,
We lay it not to heart so sore;
Not they can overpower us.
And let the prince of ill
Look grim as e'er he will,
He harms us not a whit;
For why his doom is writ;
A word shall quickly slay him.

With force of arms we nothing can,    
Full soon were we down-ridden;
But for us fights the proper Man
Whom God Himself hath bidden.
Ask ye who is this same?
Christ Jesus is His Name,
The Lord Sabaoth's Son;
He, and no other one,
Shall conquer in the battle.
God's word, for all their craft and force,
One moment will not linger,
But, spite of hell, shall have its course;
'Tis written by His finger.
And, though they take our life,
Goods, honour, children, wife,
Yet is their profit small;
These things shall vanish all:
The city of God remaineth.

“Would you want your sister to marry him?”

Concluding an essay about the devolution of fraternities on the American college campus, Emily Esfahani Smith writes: "The problem with Greek life today is not Greek life itself; it is that the masculine ideal the fraternities currently celebrate is depraved." In its beginning the Greek system affirmed values not usually associated with it today:
.... The first fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded in 1776 at William and Mary. That society, which still awards membership based on academic performance, strove to promote fellowship, intellect, and moral conduct. By the 1820s, Phi Beta Kappa had transformed into a purely academic society as fraternities started to spread across American colleges. These organizations, which were literary and social societies, were founded very much in the same spirit as Phi Beta Kappa. They fashioned themselves with the model of ancient Greece in mind. They were named after Greek letters during a period in American history when “Greece eclipsed Rome as the model for virtuous citizenship in the American imagination and at colleges particularly,” ....

Like the band of friends in Plato’s Symposium, fraternity members came together around two common interests: fellowship and intellectual cultivation. To discipline one’s mind, as Syrett notes, was part of living a virtuous life, which is what the fraternity brothers aspired to do. Meeting minutes from the mid-1800s show brothers at schools like Amherst, Yale, and the University of Michigan gathering to discuss Shakespeare, the benefits and drawbacks of the United States admitting New Mexico into the Union, and “the character of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham.” Manliness was defined in terms of being intelligent, socially graceful, handsome, and morally upright—that is, being a gentleman. In 1836, a fraternity at Williams College determined whether to admit men into their brotherhood by asking: “Would you want your sister to marry him?”

By the 1920s, the ideal of masculinity changed from the more genteel manliness of the antebellum period to one grounded in physical prowess, athleticism, sexual virility, and aggression. Drinking had occurred previously in fraternities, but the fraternity brothers tried to drink “gentlemanly” quantities—that is, in moderation. But by the post-World War I period, excessive drinking—not self-control—became a mark of masculinity. .... [more]

Monday, May 18, 2015

"At the centre"

From "A Thicker Kind of Mere" by Timothy George:
The term “mere Christianity,” of course, was made famous by C.S. Lewis, whose book of that title is among the most influential religious volumes of the past one hundred years. Since 2001, more than 3.5 million copies of Mere Christianity have been sold in English alone, with many more translated into most of the world’s languages....

Richard Baxter
"Mere Christianity” is actually a phrase Lewis borrowed from the seventeenth-century Puritan divine Richard Baxter. ....

But Baxter’s “mere Christianity” was not “mere” Christianity in the weak, attenuated sense of the word mere. Both Lewis and Baxter used the word mere in what is today—regrettably—an obsolete sense, meaning “nothing less than,” “absolute,” “sure,” “unqualified,” as opposed to today’s weakened sense of “only this,” “nothing more than,” or “such and no more.” Our contemporary meaning of the word mere corresponds to the Latin vix, “barely,” “hardly,” “scarcely,” while the classical, Baxterian usage corresponds to the Latin vere, “truly,” “really,” “indeed.”

Baxter had no use for a substance-less, colorless homogeneity bought at the expense of the true catholic faith. Indeed, he had his own list of non-negotiable fundamentals, including belief in one triune God; in one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, God incarnate; in the Holy Spirit; in the gifts of God present to his covenanted people in baptism and Holy Communion; and in a life of obedience, holiness, and growth in Christ. ....

...[W]hat Baxter and Lewis called a thicker kind of mere—not mere as minimal but mere as central, essential; mere as vere, not vix. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Measured against the ages, ‘mere Christianity’ turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible.” ....

“It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to each other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is a something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.” .... [more]

Do what you know for certain

Several years ago I posted about a new book, not yet published, in which Kevin DeYoung approached the question of how to discern God's will for your life.  This is a slightly modified version of that post:

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

God's will is not a bullseye to hit, but a life to live.
I've since read that book and it reminded me of an older book that greatly influenced how I thought about discerning God's will for my life, Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View [1980] by Friesen and Maxson. The emphases are different. Friesen and Maxson are concerned with those who are burdened by the need for specific direction out of fear that they might be "out of God's will" for their lives. DeYoung, on the other hand, focuses on those who lack decisiveness and find safety in inaction—for whom not knowing God's specific will grants permission to do nothing.

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

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

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Just Do Something

Sunday, May 17, 2015

In spirit and in truth

Rev Paul Manuel is the reason I first thought seriously about the meaning and manner of worship. While a member of our church he taught our adult Bible class. One of our studies investigated what Scripture shows about worship, especially in the Old Testament. The result was not a commitment to a particular style of worship but a recognition of its importance and purpose and a consciousness by both worship leaders and congregation of we are doing when worshipping. After that study we thought intentionally about how to do it.

Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has recently listed ten of the books published in 2014 "that every preacher should read." The first title on that list is For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, by Daniel I. Block, an Old Testament professor at Wheaton College. I believe Pastor Paul might approve.

From the first review at Amazon:
...[H]e states the two foundational principles of the book; First, true worship is about the glory of God, rather than human pleasure; and second, the Scriptures guide us in how to worship God. Block then brings out the legitimacy of looking at the Old Testament – what he calls the “First Testament” – with regard to this subject, "Although most assume that unless the New Testament reiterates notions found in the First Testament the latter are obsolete, we should probably assume the opposite: unless the New Testament expressly declares First Testament notions obsolete, they continue.." Finally, the author crafts a working definition of God-honoring, Biblical worship: "True worship involves reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign in response to his gracious revelation of himself in accord with his will." ....

Block then goes on to tackle a host of matters in “For the Glory of God”. Each chapter follows a basic pattern of looking first at the Old Testament, moving to the New Testament, and then coming around to how it all helps the reader to think about the facet of worship he has just covered....includ[ing] the object and subject of worship; daily life, family life and work as worship; the many ordinances and rudiments of worship to include hearing and reading Scripture, prayer, music, sacrifice, the liturgical calendar, design of sacred space, and role of leadership in worship. ....
.... Block wants to “recover” a biblical theology of worship. Why does a biblical theology of worship need to be recovered? First, he doesn’t like the pragmatism of much of today’s evangelical worship and believes the pragmatic approach can be remedied with deep biblical reflection on the subject. Second, he observes that many Christians tend to skip over the Old Testament when thinking about worship. Block, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College outside Chicago, believes a true biblical theology of worship must incorporate all of Scripture, including extensive interaction with Old Testament worship forms and principles. In other words, he wants to give people a biblical theology of worship, not just a New Testament theology of worship. ....

Since each chapter tackles a specific element of worship, the book is almost a collection of biblical theologies of worship that helps us think biblically-theologically about each worship theme. This makes it a great reference resource for those needing to think carefully about a certain aspect of worship, such as the ordinances and music. ....
That reviewer, Grant Gaines, also identifies what he considers a weakness in Block's approach, but concludes "The book on the whole is a superb resource for helping the church think biblically about worship in light of the entire canon of Scripture, and I highly recommend it."

The book's contents:

1. Toward a Holistic, Biblical Understanding of Worship
2. The Object of Worship
3. The Subject of Worship
4. Daily Life as Worship
5. Family Life and Work as Worship
6. The Ordinances as Worship
7. Hearing and Proclaiming the Scriptures in Worship
8. Prayer as Worship
9. Music as Worship
10. Sacrifice and Offerings as Worship
11. The Drama of Worship
12. The Design and Theology of Sacred Space
13. Leaders in Worship
Appendix A: Doxologies of the New Testament
Appendix B: Hymnic Fragments in the Pauline Epistles
Appendix C: Sunday Worship in Early Christianity

To order the Kindle version (I just did): For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Man for All Seasons

A Man for All Seasons won the 1966 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Paul Scofield), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, etc. I saw it in a theater in Janesville, Wisconsin, and then enthusiastically recommended it to anyone who would listen. A member of the college-age youth group at church went to see it and was disappointed – nothing but people talking, he said. But that was one of the best things about the film, the talking, the dialogue. Robert Bolt adapted the screenplay from his very successful play, also starring Paul Scofield. The cast was perfect: Robert Shaw as Henry VIII, Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey, Leo McKern as Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich played by John Hurt, etc. I bought records that included all of the dialogue and listened over and over. Eventually I could recite all the best bits without having consciously engaged in memorization.. 

Posted here once before about the film, and re-posted to illustrate:
A young poor student, Richard Rich, has asked Sir Thomas More for a position. More is willing, but not to provide the kind of position Rich really wants:
Rich: What post?
More: At the new school.
Rich: A teacher! [….]
More: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps a great one.
Rich: lf I was, who would know it?
More: You! Your pupils. Your friends. God. Not a bad public, that.
Here More is talking to his son-in-law about Rich who has just left:
More: Go he should, if he were the Devil, until he broke the law.
Roper: Now you give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes, what would you do? Cut a road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes. I'd cut down every law in England to do that.
More: And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted with laws from coast to coast... Man's laws, not God's, and if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the wind that would blow then? Yes. I give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake.
Toward the end of the film More is on trial and that same Richard Rich — who has advanced considerably in the world — provides false but damning testimony against More. More now knows he will be executed. Before Rich is excused from the court:
More: There is one question I would like to ask the witness. .... That's a chain of office you're wearing. May I see it? .... The Red Dragon. What's this?
Cromwell: Sir Richard is appointed Attorney General for Wales.
More: For Wales. .... Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. .... But for Wales...
The film and the play on which it is based is about very good dialogue delivered by very good actors about very important principles.
As soon as there was home video I purchased a copy, first for Betamax, then for VHS, then a DVD, and now, finally, Blu-ray. It has taken this long for it to be released on Blu-ray. My copy arrived today.

The Blu-ray version has been released by Twilight Time. Twilight Time does limited releases of only 5,000 copies, and does them beautifully, but charges $29.95, considerably more than one would ordinarily expect to pay for a DVD these days (but far less than I paid for that original Betamax version). It is worth it to me.

I recommend the film today just as much as I did in 1966 – enthusiastically, even if it is just a lot of talk. Amazon sells the DVDs and the film can also be purchased on Amazon Instant Video. The Twilight Time Blu-ray version can only be purchased at

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

‘When Pigs Fly’

Sometimes the slope really is slippery. Rod Dreher:
… Asked whether the hypothetical religious college at the top of this article could lose its tax-exempt status for refusing to recognize John and James as married students, constitutional law scholar Cass Sunstein said: “Sure–and if pigs had wings they could fly.”

“The answer is no,” said Sunstein, a professor of law and political science at the University of Chicago. “That’s an argument that would be generated by advocacy groups trying to scare people. The likelihood religious organizations would lose their tax exemption is as close to zero as anything in law is.”
That comes from a Chicago Tribune article in … 2006. Meanwhile, last month at the Supreme Court:
Here is an exchange between Alito and Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., arguing for the same-sex couples on behalf of the Obama administration.

Justice Alito: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax-­exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?

General Verrilli: You know, ­­I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is­­ going to be an issue.
If pigs had wings they could fly … as close to zero as anything in law is. So it’s not true after all. Oh well, when it happens, the bigots will deserve it anyway.
Perhaps needless to say, I have every confidence that the BJC will complacently assure us that there is no real danger and, anyway, "when it happens, the bigots will deserve it."

U.S. Grant

Horace Porter was "for five years, during and after the war...Grant’s aide" writes Patrick Kurp and also "Porter was a tough-minded man of the world and a first-class writer, an observer of world-historical events who fashioned an articulate account of what he witnessed." Porter's account was Campaigning with Grant (1897). From Kurp's post, quoting Porter on Grant:
“He was civil to all who came in contact with him, and never attempted to snub any one, or treat anybody with less consideration on account of his inferiority in rank. With him there was none of the puppyism so often bred by power, and none of the dogmatism which Samuel Johnson characterized as puppyism grown to maturity.”

“In writing his style was vigorous and terse, with little of ornament; its most conspicuous characteristic was perspicuity.”

“His adjectives were few and well chosen. No document which ever came from his hands was in the least degree pretentious. He never laid claim to any knowledge he did not possess, and seemed to feel, with Addison, that `pedantry in learning is like hypocrisy in religion—a form of knowledge without the power of it.’”

“He rarely indulged in metaphor, but when he did employ a figure of speech it was always expressive and graphic, as when he spoke of the commander at Bermuda Hundred being `in a bottle strongly corked,’ or referred to our armies at one time moving `like horses in a balky team, no two ever pulling together.’”

“His style inclined to the epigrammatic without his being aware of it. There was scarcely a document written by him from which brief sentences could not be selected fit to be set in mottos or placed upon transparencies.”

Porter cites as examples of Grant’s verbal pithiness “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer,” and “The best means of securing the repeal of an obnoxious law is its vigorous enforcement.” .... [more]
Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant is downloadable at Gutenberg and at

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A dangerous thing

Last month, in The Wall Street Journal appeared "A New ‘Wrinkle in Time’" describing an excerpt from the first draft of Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time not included in the published book:
Madeleine L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, resisted labels. Her books weren’t for children, she said. They were for people. Devoted to religious study, she bristled when called a Christian writer. And though some of her books had political themes, she wasn’t known to write overtly about politics. That is, until her granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, came across an unknown three-page passage that was cut before publication.

The passage, which Ms. Voiklis shared with The Wall Street Journal so it could be published for the first time, sheds new light on one of the most beloved and best-selling young-adult books in American literature. .... [more]
From the three page excerpt (with corrected typos):
Meg said, "But Father, how did the black Thing capture Camazotz?"

If Mr. Murry, still firmly massaging Meg's limbs, knew that Meg was thinking not nearly as much of surrendered Camazotz as their own shadowed earth, he gave no indication. He said, "Well, Megatron, if you're thinking that perhaps the brain simply marched in and took over all the minds on Camazotz, that IT and the Black Thing are one and the same, it isn't nearly as simple as that."

"Well, how, then?" ....

"Well, it was the logical outcome of two things. Of complete totalitarianism in certain countries."

"What's totalitarianism?"

Calvin had come back and was standing with a load of wood in his arms. Mr. Murry looked at hime, and Calvin said, "It's like Russia under Khrushchev. Or Germany and Hitler. Countries under dictatorships. Franco. Mussolini. Castro. Mao."

"Well, then, what about countries like like ours?" she asked. "Ones that aren't under dictatorships?" ....

...[H]e answered her question, "It's an equally logical outcome of too much prosperity. Or you could put it that it's the result of too strong a desire for security." ....

...[S]he said, "But Father, What's wrong with security? Everybody likes to be all cozy and safe."

"Yes," Mr. Murry said, grimly. "Security is a most seductive thing."

"Well but I want to be secure, Father."

"But you don't love security enough that you guide your life by it." ....

"I've come to the conclusion," Mr. Murry said slowly, "that it's the greatest evil there is. Suppose your great great grandmother, and all those like her, had worried about security? They'd never have gone across the land in flimsy covered wagons. Our country has been greatest when it has been most insecure. This sick longing for security is a dangerous thing, Meg...."
.... In a gloss on the famous passage from Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, Mr. Murry concludes that the love of security is “the greatest evil there is.” Placing security as the highest social good leads people to stop taking risks, to cease being entrepreneurial, to give up liberty, and even love itself. Mr. Murry goes on to talk about the insidious nature of such “lust for security.” It is often hard to detect, and therefore all the more difficult to combat. It is a form of, to borrow a phrase from Tocqueville, the “soft despotism” intrinsic to democratic forms of tyranny. ....

Even if this didactic section was rightly omitted for literary and aesthetic concerns, hints remain of this deeper connection between atomistic individualism and totalitarian collectivism in the published text. IT’s emphasis on economic “efficiency,” for instance, shows how economic and political collectives often cohere. .... A Wrinkle in Time thus remains a powerful articulation of the dangers of worldly ideologies, such that even its unpublished sections have things to teach us today. [more]

Monday, May 11, 2015


The Chronicle Review has posted a fine essay about "Oxford's Influential Imklings" by the authors of a soon to be published book:
During the hectic middle decades of the 20th century, from the end of the Great Depression through the Second World War and into the 1950s, a small circle of intellectuals gathered weekly in and around the University of Oxford to drink, smoke, quip, cavil, read aloud their works in progress, and endure or enjoy with as much grace as they could muster the sometimes blistering critiques that followed. This erudite club included writers and painters, philologists and physicians, historians and theologians, soldiers and actors. They called themselves, with typical self-effacing humor, the Inklings.

The novelist John Wain, a member of the group who achieved notoriety in midcentury as one of England’s "angry young men," remembers the Inklings as "a circle of instigators, almost of incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life." Yet the name Inklings, as J.R.R. Tolkien recalled it, was little more than "a pleasantly ingenious pun … suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink." ....

By the time the last Inkling passed away, on the eve of the 21st century, the group had altered, in large or small measure, the course of imaginative literature (fantasy, allegory, mythopoeic tales), Christian theology and philosophy, comparative mythology, and the scholarly study of the Beowulf author, of Dante, Spenser, Milton, courtly love, fairy tale, and epic. Drawing as much from their scholarship as from their experience of a catastrophic century, they had fashioned a new narrative of hope amid the ruins of war, industrialization, cultural disintegration, skepticism, and anomie. They listened to the last enchantments of the Middle Ages, heard the horns of Elfland, and made designs on the culture that our own age is only beginning fully to appreciate. They were philologists and philomyths: lovers of logos (the ordering power of words) and mythos (the regenerative power of story), with a nostalgia for things medieval and archaic and a distrust of technological innovation that never decayed into the merely antiquarian. Out of the texts they studied and the tales they read, they forged new ways to convey old themes — sin and salvation, despair and hope, friendship and loss, fate and free will — in a time of war, environmental degradation, and social change. ....

.... The Inklings were, to a man — and they were all men — comrades who had been touched by war, who viewed life through the lens of war, yet who looked for hope and found it, in fellowship, where so many other modern writers and intellectuals saw only broken narratives, disfigurement, and despair. ....

.... Far from breaking with tradition, they understood the Great War and its aftermath in the light of tradition, believing, as did their literary and spiritual ancestors, that ours is a fallen world yet not a forsaken one. It was a belief that set them at odds with many of their contemporaries but kept them in the broad currents of the English literary heritage. ....

.... The Inklings were, one and all, guilty of the heresy of the Happy Ending. A story that ends happily is, some believe, necessarily a sop to wishful thinking, a refusal to grow up. In "On Fairy-Stories" — the closest we come to a manifesto for the Inklings’ aesthetic — Tolkien turns this charge on its head, arguing that our deepest wishes, revealed by fairy stories and reawakened whenever we permit ourselves to enter with "literary belief" into a secondary world, are not compensatory fantasies but glimpses of an absolute reality. When Sam Gamgee cries out, "O great glory and splendour! And all my wishes have come true!" we are not in the realm of escapism, but of the Gospel, in all its strangeness and beauty.

Yet although the Inklings were guilty of the heresy of the Happy Ending, they were not optimists; they were war writers who understood that sacrifices must be made and that not all wounds will be healed in this life. Their belief in the Happy Ending was compatible with considerable anguish and uncertainty here below. One may be as gloomy as Puddleglum or as convinced as Frodo that "All my choices have proved ill" without losing hope in a final redemption. .... (more)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Robinson Crusoe

From Joseph Bottum's "The Novel as Protestant Art"
.... Robinson Crusoe is...a tale of salvation and awareness of being born again. The isolated hero learns to see as "the Work of Providence" all that has happened to him—and thereby becomes master of the island on which he is stranded. Nearly dying of fever in the summer of 1660, he offers "the first Prayer, if I may call it so, that I had made for many Years." And as he recovers, we reach the central moment of the novel. Robinson Crusoe finally reads the Bible he has brought from the wrecked ship, and—without a church community or a teacher to aid him, sheerly from the power of the divine text itself on an individual conscience—he writes, "I threw down the Book, and with my Heart as well as my Hands lifted up to Heaven, in a kind of Extasy of Joy, I cry'd out aloud, Jesus, thou Son of David, Jesus, thou exalted Prince and Saviour, give me Repentance!" ....

Perhaps Defoe's religious sense suggested writing a story of isolation, or perhaps the author merely began a story of isolation (inspired by the nonfiction 1712 accounts of Alexander Selkirk's adventures) and found thereby a way to express his religious sense. Regardless, he created with Crusoe's island something like the ideal novelistic setting for a tale of a Protestant worldview: The journey of the self is the deepest, truest thing in the universe, and the individual soul's salvation is the great metaphysical drama played out on the world's stage. ....

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The idea of children

We have forgotten just how deep a cultural revolution Christianity wrought. In fact, we forget about it precisely because of how deep it was: There are many ideas that we simply take for granted as natural and obvious, when in fact they didn't exist until the arrival of Christianity changed things completely. Take, for instance, the idea of children.

Today, it is simply taken for granted that the innocence and vulnerability of children makes them beings of particular value, and entitled to particular care. We also romanticize children — their beauty, their joy, their liveliness. Our culture encourages us to let ourselves fall prey to our gooey feelings whenever we look at baby pictures. What could be more natural?

In fact, this view of children is a historical oddity. If you disagree, just go back to the view of children that prevailed in Europe's ancient pagan world. ....

This is the world into which Christianity came, condemning abortion and infanticide as loudly and as early as it could.

This is the world into which Christianity came, calling attention to children and ascribing special worth to them. Church leaders meditated on Jesus' instruction to imitate children and proposed ways that Christians should look up to and become more like them. ....

...Christianity's invention of children — that is, its invention of the cultural idea of children as treasured human beings — was really an outgrowth of its most stupendous and revolutionary idea: the radical equality, and the infinite value, of every single human being as a beloved child of God. If the God who made heaven and Earth chose to reveal himself, not as an emperor, but as a slave punished on the cross, then no one could claim higher dignity than anyone else on the basis of earthly status. .... [more]
The writer goes into some detail about the attitudes and behaviors toward children in the pre-Christian pagan world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Anonymous 4

UPS just delivered 1865 - Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War described as "songs that were in the air in the year 1865," the final year of the Civil War. I'm listening to it now and am not disappointed. I already owned Anonymous 4's American Angels - Songs of Hope, Redemption, & Glory, a wonderful collection of early American hymns and gospel music, and On Yoolis Night: Medieval Carols & Motets.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Downstream and unmoored

The national offices of the Freedom from Religion organization are located in "Freethought Hall" only a few blocks from where I live. Their purpose is pretty well summarized by their name and they work hard to achieve their desired result.  In "Is The West's Loss Of Faith Terminal?" Douglas Murray contends that secularists who take such positions might well reconsider who their allies are in the world in which we live:
.... “What am I doing here? What is my life for? Does it have any purpose beyond itself?” These are questions which human beings have always asked and are still there even though today to even ask such questions is something like bad manners. What is even more, the spaces where such questions might be asked — let alone answered — have shrunk not only in number but in their ambition for answers. ....

Perhaps we are wary of this discussion simply because we no longer believe in the answers and have decided on some variant of the old adage that if we have nothing nice to say then it is better to say nothing at all. But perhaps there should be a new urgency about asking these questions. After all, all this could very easily change. Having been for some years, as Roger Scruton has put it, downstream from Christianity, there is every possibility that our societies will either become unmoored entirely or be hauled onto a very different shore. Very unsettling questions lie dormant beneath our current culture. ....

.... “Does the free, secularised state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee?” It is rare to hear this question even raised in our societies. Perhaps we sense the answer is “yes” but we do not know what to do if this is the case.

But in fact the wind of opinion in recent years appears to have begun to blow against those who insist that Western liberal societies owe nothing to the religion from which they arose. Partly because the more we become acquainted with other traditions, the harder it becomes to sustain. Indeed, although some people still hold out, it should be evident by now that the culture of human rights has more to do with the creed preached by Moses and Jesus of Nazareth than that of, say, Muhammad. Nevertheless, the question of whether this societal position is sustainable without reference to the beliefs that gave it birth remains deeply pregnant and troubling in the West. ....

...[T]he non-religious in our culture are deeply fearful of any debate or discussion which they think will make some concession to the religious and so allow faith-based discussion to flood back in to the public space.

This seems to me to be an error, not least because it encourages people to go to war with those who are supported by the same tree. There is no reason why a child of Judaeo-Christian civilisation and Enlightenment Europe should spend much, if any, of their time warring with those who still hold the faith from which many of their beliefs and rights spring. In the same way there is little sense in the products of Judaeo-Christian civilisation and Enlightenment Europe who have managed to come to a different settlement deciding that those who do not literally and actually believe in God are now their enemies. Between us we may yet face far clearer opponents not only of our culture but of our whole way of living. ....

We are not going to find another culture or a better culture. But we are currently doing a very poor job of saying what it is in this culture which has nurtured believers and doubters of previous generations and may nurture believers and doubters in this generation too. There will be big upheavals in the years ahead and it is not enough to face them stripped entirely bare. If the culture which shaped the West has no part in the future then we know that there are others that will step into its place. To reinject our culture with some sense of a deeper purpose need not be a proselytising mission, but an aspiration of which we should be aware. But that aspiration will be impossible to fulfil if the religious think that those who have split off from the same tree are their greatest problem, while those on the secular branch try to saw themselves off from the tree as a whole. People can sense that and the resulting want of meaning which arises from such shallows. A split has occurred in our culture. It should be the work of this generation to mend it. [more]

"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."

So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox,
decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift,
solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.
Sir Winston Churchill, November 12, 1936

Last evening I decided to re-watch Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years 1929-1939. In contrast to many other television docu-dramas this one sticks very close to historical truth benefited, no doubt, by the participation of Sir Martin Gilbert, author of the definitive biography of Churchill. The eight-part series covers the decade before the outbreak of World War II in Europe. When the series begins Churchill holds an important position in government — a position he loses largely because of his battle against greater independence for India. Thus begin his "wilderness years" when, although despairing of political success, he nevertheless continues to fight for what he believes right. His position on India was, in retrospect, undoubtedly fated to lose, but he was a pretty good prophet about what would happen after independence was achieved. The first four episodes of the series — the ones I watched last night — are largely taken up with the controversies surrounding that fight, although attention is also paid to his family, his effort to earn a living made parlous by the stock market crash and Depression, and foreshadowings of the war to come. Tonight I plan to see those episodes recounting his struggle to make Britain see how dangerous Europe was becoming. The series ends as war begins and Churchill returns to government.

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years 1929-1939 isn't a particularly good presentation visually — the series deserves to be cleaned up and re-released at an affordable price. It is available on DVD through Amazon (from other sellers) at a ridiculously high $90.00. If I didn't already own the set I might be tempted even so. The settings are authentic — the House of Commons, Chartwell, Blenheim Palace, Cliveden, Monument Valley, etc. — and the cast is superb. Robert Hardy is Churchill in both mannerism and speech. Siân Phillips portrays his wife Clementine. Edward Woodward plays Sir Samuel Hoare and Eric Porter Neville Chamberlain, and on and on. The cast is perfect. 

The period leading up to the outbreak of that war retains relevance today and this is a wonderful way to learn and relearn it.

A very good book covering almost the same period is the second volume of William Manchester's Churchill biography: The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940, a more time consuming but much less expensive way to learn about the man in this period of his life.

IMDB on Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Be nice...

In "Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been, a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist?" Alan Wisdom argues that ignorance of the gospel among those who grew up in the Church is a pretty severe indictment of Christian education:
.... Smith, Dean, and their colleagues did surveys and in-depth interviews in which they queried thousands of young people about their religious beliefs and practices. Very few, they found, were atheists or hostile toward religion. On the other hand, relatively few were able to articulate and consistently practice a faith that resembled classic Christianity. ....

What the respondents did seem to believe, as Smith summarized it, was: God functions as an authority who gives us rules to guide our behavior (this is the “moralistic” part). The main point of these rules is to be a nice person who gets along with other people. If we obey the rules, God makes us feel good about ourselves (this is the “therapeutic” part). But God isn’t involved in a personal or direct way in our daily lives (this is the “deism” part). He may show up in a crisis, to make us feel better about ourselves.

This set of half-conscious assumptions is what Smith, Dean, and associates call “moralistic therapeutic deism.” It’s not necessarily false. We should seek good relations with the people around us. If we obey God’s commands, we will usually end up happier. God is a refuge in times of trouble.

Yet the Good News of Jesus Christ is so much greater than any of this. ....

Dean suggests a disturbing explanation: Perhaps these teenagers and young adults adopted [moralistic therapeutic deism] because that’s what they were taught. .... Be nice to other people and you’ll have a happy life, and God will be there when you need him. All that stuff about Jesus dying for our sins never really made an impression. ....

How would your congregation fare under this kind of self-examination? .... [more]

Sunday, May 3, 2015

What I'm reading

I read a lot every day but much of my reading these days is material found on the internet: news stories, political or religious posts, essays from magazine sites, things from Facebook links, etc. I read far fewer books than I did earlier in my life even though Amazon provides an embarrassment of riches available within days or instantly on Kindle. And ManyBooks (and similar sites) makes available, free, just about everything out of copyright. My Kindle is full of such books. When I do read books I often have several going at once. Right now all of them are historical accounts:
  • I have been, for some time, working my way rather slowly through Coolidge by Amity Shlaes. She has convinced me that Coolidge was certainly one of the better human beings to have ever held the Presidency.
  • The book absorbing most of my attention at the moment is Dark Invasion: 1915: Germany's Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America by Howard Blum. The war in Europe went on for about three years before the United States entered and during our time as a neutral we were a major supplier, mostly on credit, of munitions to the Allies. Consequently Germany engaged in a major sabotage effort here. Much of the responsibility of countering the German spy ring fell upon the NYC police bomb squad. This was an aspect of the war I knew little about and the book is both entertaining and informative.
  • Another that I am about halfway through is The Men Who Lost America by Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy (great name). About the other side in the War for Independence, it has chapters about the British political leaders and military commanders, including George III (who was a rather nice guy), Lord North, Clinton, Burgoyne, the Howe brothers, etc. It makes clear that Britain never had sufficient military force on this side of the Atlantic to accomplish their goals, and probably lacked the political will, as well.
  • Next on my list — not yet begun — is Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Eric Larson. Larson authored In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin which I very much liked. He is also the author of The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and H.H. Holmes who may have been America's first serial killer. Holmes ran a rooming house in Chicago during that fair and many of his female roomers were never heard of again.
There are so many interesting and/or worthwhile things to read that I sometimes feel guilty about the amount of time I spend online. Warmer weather and the call of the patio may result in more book reading.