Thursday, July 23, 2015

"And the war came."

July seems to be my month for reading history. I just ordered Mark Tooley's The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War based on this description at the book's site:
In February 1861, many of America's great statesmen—including a former president, dozens of current and former senators, Supreme Court justices, governors, and congressmen—came together at the historic Willard Hotel in a desperate attempt to stave off Civil War.

Seven southern states had already seceded, and the conferees battled against time to craft a compromise to protect slavery and thus preserve the union and prevent war. Participants included former President John Tyler, General William Sherman's Catholic stepfather, General Winfield Scott, and Lincoln's future Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase—and from a room upstairs at the hotel, Lincoln himself. Revelatory and definitive, The Peace That Almost Was demonstrates that slavery was the main issue of the conference—and thus of the war itself—and that no matter the shared faith, family, and friendships of the participants, ultimately no compromise could be reached.
From Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

"In every circumstance of life..."

Patrick Kurp, in "The Daily Texture of Our Lives," refers to Anthony Hecht's observation that W.H. Auden had a “remarkable resemblance” to Samuel Johnson. (Hecht, in turn, refers to a book I have in my library, W. Jackson Bate's Samuel Johnson.) Some of the similarities:
W.H. Auden
...Johnson `was able to distinguish between “loving” and “being loved” and to value the first without demanding equal payment through the latter,’ while Auden wrote, `If equal affection cannot be,/Let the more loving one be me.’” Continuing with Bate’s observations, Hecht writes: “Both men were determined, if at all possible, `to be pleased’ with their circumstances and with their fellow human beings, as a reproval of their own `impatience and quickness to irritability or despair. Johnson and Auden maintained, in Bate’s words, that “the `main of life’ consists of `little things’; that happiness or misery is to be found in the accumulation of `petty’ and `domestic’ details, not in `large’ ambitions, which are inevitably self-defeating and turn to ashes in the mouth. `Sands make the mountain,’ [Johnson] would quote from Edward Young.”

Both were courteous and respectful of others – rare qualities among artists of all types. Again quoting Bate, Hecht writes: “Both firmly believed that fortitude `is not to be found primarily in meeting rare and great occasions. And this was true not only of fortitude but of all the other virtues, including “good nature.” The real test is what we do in our daily life, and happiness – such happiness as exists – lies primarily in what we can do with the daily texture of our lives.’” Both men, in short, were thoroughgoing gentlemen of the middle class, religiously observant, who believed in regular habits even as they failed to live up to them. ....

"Oxford Disneyland"

Reviewing Philip and Carol Zaleski's The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, Professor Ordway credits it with avoiding sentimentality:
...[O]ne of the virtues of The Fellowship is that it helps to correct a certain sentimental-nostalgic picture of the Inklings, one that I call the ‘Oxford Disneyland’ vision. We see vividly the difficulties, pains and struggles of the Inklings’ lives—not just in their experiences of two World Wars, but in the day to day challenges of working life, marriage, raising families, ill health, and the loss of loved ones. In this light, their literary accomplishments are even more to be admired, and the Inklings become all the more an example worth following.

The Inklings’ “project of recovery” continues; “what permanent place the Inklings may come to occupy in Christian renewal and, more broadly, in intellectual and artistic history, is for the future to decide.” But their legacy depends not on chance, but on the work of modern-day Christians who share their vision. And, if we have learned from the Inklings’ lives as well as their writings, we will see the necessity of hard work and real community—including friendships sustained over many years, and the difficult and vital work of raising children in the Faith, as Tolkien’s mother Mabel did—for creating the conditions in which scholars, writers, artists, and teachers can sustain and extend the Inklings’ achievement of a “revitalization of Christian intellectual and imaginative life.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A firm foundation

The annual sessions of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference will take place next week at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The President of this year's Conference, Bill Probasco,  has chosen "Steadfast" as his theme and How Firm a Foundation as his theme hymn. As I mentioned to him last year, that hymn was also the theme hymn when I was President of Conference. "Standfast" is the very much related internet moniker I chose for myself. Very early at this blog I published this post about that hymn:

How Firm A Foundation is my favorite hymn, especially when sung to the tune known as "Foundation" or "Protection." It first appeared in John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns in 1787, and was well-known and often sung in 19th century America. As with any good hymn, the words are all-important — and the words of this hymn are an affirmation of confidence in God and His promises. The verses affirm that God has more than sufficiently proven His reliability to us through His Word. What more could He possibly do or say than He has already said and done? Each verse is based on a passage from Scripture, especially from Isaiah. If we trust in His Word, everything that may happen to us will be for our good. The final verse is a paraphrase of Hebrews 13:5-6:
" content with what you have, because God has said 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'"
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
Isaiah 28:16; I Corinthians 3:11

"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed;
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious omnipotent hand."
Isaiah 41:10

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."
Isaiah 43:2a; Romans 8:28

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine."
Isaiah 43:2b; II Corinthians 2:9; Zechariah 13:9

"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"
Deuteronomy 31:6,8; Hebrews 13:5b-6

Two additional verses — seldom sung today — can be found here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"Beatific urges toward peace"

Reading further into Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, I come to the description of the period right after the Civil War when, for several reasons including the cost of the war and Reconstruction, there was no will in Washington to send troops to protect the frontier against Comanche raids.

I am liking this book a lot!
.... There was something else, too, that contributed to this lack of will to stop Indian raiding on the western frontier. This was the particular and very strong belief shared by many people in the civilized East that the Indian wars were principally the fault of white men. The governing idea was that the Comanches and other troublesome tribes would live in peace if only they were treated properly, and the farther its devotees were from the bleeding frontier, the more devoutly they believed it. This was the old fight between the army, who knew better, and the "rosewater dreamers" in the Indian office, who called their uniformed adversaries "butchers, sots determined to exterminate the noble redmen, and foment wars so they had employment." As General John Pope later observed, the army found itself in a no-win position. "If successful, it is a massacre of Indians; if unsuccessful, it is worthlessness or imbecility, and these judgments confront the Army in every newspaper and in public speeches in Congress and elsewhere—judgments by men who are absolutely ignorant of the subject." Reports of Chivington's massacre and white atrocities in Minnesota seemed to prove what the army's. critics were saying.

The notion that the trouble with Plains Indians was entirely due to white men was spectacularly wrongheaded. The people who cherished it, many of whom were in the U.S. Congress, the Office of Indian Affairs, and other positions of power, had no historical understanding of the Comanche tribe, no idea that the tribe's very existence was based on war and had been for a long time. No one who knew anything about the century-long horror of Comanche attacks in northern Mexico or about their systematic demolition of the Apaches or the Utes or the Tonkawas could possibly have believed that the tribe was either peaceable or blameless. ....

Such beatific urges toward peace, combined with relentless and brutal raiding by Comanches in Texas and the Indian Territory led to the last and most comprehensive treaty ever signed by the Indians of the southern plains. The conference that spawned it took place in October 1867 at a campground where the Kiowas held medicine dances, about seventy-five miles southwest of the present site of Wichita, Kansas. The place was known as Medicine Lodge Creek. The participants were members of a U.S. peace commission and representatives of the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache tribes. The conference was the last great gathering of free Indians in the American West. The event was magnificent, surreal, doomed, absurd, and bizarre, and surely one of the greatest displays of pure western pageantry ever seen. Nine newspapers sent correspondents to cover it.
Doomed, of course, because neither side had either the intention or the ability to enforce the subsequent treaty. The account seems to me to have a certain contemporary relevence.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Impossible things

This year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. From "The surprising faith of the author behind ‘Alice in Wonderland’":
...Dodgson’s writing bears subtle witness to the wonders of both creation and its creator in ways that deserve more attention. He was a committed, lifelong member of the Church of England. Although he balked at taking Holy Orders, he was ordained as a deacon in the church in 1861.

While his doctrinal views parted ways with those of his high church ancestors (his great-grandfather had been a bishop and his father a clergyman), Dodgson shied from the religious controversies plaguing the church at the time, remaining essentially what would have been considered orthodox.

“Most assuredly I accept to the full the doctrines you refer to — that Christ died to save us, that we have no other way of salvation open to us but through His death, and that it is by faith in Him, and through no merit of ours, that we are reconciled to God,” Dodgson wrote in a letter to a friend in 1897, “and most assuredly I can cordially say, ‘I owe all to Him who loved me, and died on the Cross of Calvary.'”

As one biographer writes, “The hard core of his belief was too sacred to be tampered with by what he believed to be heretical elements.”

Or, as the Queen tells Alice in the book’s sequel, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!” .... [more]

Sunday, July 19, 2015

History and the Book of Mormon

Philip Jenkins continues his interaction about the comparative historicity of the Bible and the Book of Mormon in "Of Bill Hamblin, History and the Book of Mormon." These exchanges are fascinating to me as a life-long student and teacher of history. To what extent can the methods of historical scholarship establish fact?

Hamblin's position, as Jenkins summarizes it, "...denies the concept of objective evidence, a phrase he usually (and scornfully) puts in quotes. He does not believe we can speak of objective evidence of the past: we cannot seek it, will not find it, and it is futile to attempt to do so."
.... Dr. Hamblin is obviously and undeniably correct in saying that the past does not presently exist. He is also right to say that “our only capacity to interact with the past is inherently indirect. We interact with the Past by studying the evidence left by past people–texts, inscriptions, art, artifacts, monuments, tools, tombs, etc. We can understand the past only by studying those things, which were made or done in the Past, but which still exist in the present.” No less obviously, “data from the Past needs to be interpreted precisely because the Past no longer exists.” Amen and amen. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

It is flagrantly wrong, though, for him to conclude that “Hence, the study of history is not empirical–that is, we cannot directly observe with our senses or experiment on the Past. History is a non-empirical discipline.” This is false, and a non-sequitur. From his subsequent remarks in his earlier post, about “This is not objective,” I understand him to take the same wildly incorrect approach to archaeology. ....

True, the past does not currently exist. As he rightly says, though, it has left traces that do – in the form of archaeological remains, documents, inscriptions, pottery, buildings, metalwork, whatever – and those traces, those data, can be subjected to empirical research. They can be observed, collected and analyzed, commonly through quantitative techniques. Any such research is empirical, and that is what archaeologists do every day. ....

...[H]istory and archaeology are indeed empirical disciplines, and can be used to test claims about the past, such as those implied by the Book of Mormon. Claims can and must be made, and then tested.

If it is scholarship, it is neither subjective nor impressionistic. If it is subjective and impressionistic, it is not scholarship. ....

Oh yes, and he (Hamblin) also asks this:
Do you, to be consistent, reject the historicity of Abraham, since he is first mentioned in surviving texts in the Bible a good thousand years after he lived, and there is no contemporary evidence of his existence? Do you think your colleagues at Baylor are cranky pseudo-scholars if they accept the historicity of Abraham?
The question speaks volumes for your approach. Nothing in the story of Abraham as we have it in Genesis is impossible or implausible, according to what we know of the time and place. Abraham follows a style of life that is very well known from documents and archaeological remains from that period. He comes from a known city, travels to a known kingdom, and mixes with known peoples and tribes in known places and cities. By “known” I mean confirmed from contemporary documentary and archaeological sources. Whether he did exist is another issue, on which scholars will disagree. If they do make that case, they are certainly not cranky pseudo-scholars.

Now compare any of the Book of Mormon characters: Nothing in their story is possible or plausible, according to what we know of the time and place. They follow a style of life that is utterly unknown from New World documents and archaeological remains from that period, and in many crucial respects, contrasts sharply with what we do know. On no occasion do they come from a known city, travel to a known kingdom, or mix with known peoples and tribes in known places and cities. By “known” I mean confirmed from contemporary documentary and archaeological sources. Therefore, people who claim that those peoples did exist are, indeed, to use your phrase, cranky pseudo-scholars.

Let’s be absolutely consistent in applying the same criteria of evidence in both cases, as you rightly insist. And the lesson we learn about the relative historical value of the Bible and the Book of Mormon is that they are, to coin a phrase, apples and oranges. ....

"More effort to read than it took to write..."

A post at Ricochet by a guy who identifies himself as "tabula rasa" notes some advantages of advancing age: "One of the greatest blessings of age is that there comes a time when you can completely ignore things and people who would otherwise irritate you. ...."

He provides three examples of things he has decided to ignore: Jimmy Carter, "All Math Higher Than Calculating a Percentage," and "Lousy Modern and Post-Modern Novels," about which:
I finally read Ulysses last year. I’m glad I did it, but I’m not going there again (so much brilliance expended for so little value). I’ve read some stuff by Virginia Woolf, but I wish I had the brain cells back. I refuse to read any book that requires more effort to read than it took to write and produces even less enjoyment.

Sorry John Updike, Philip Roth, Virginia Woolf, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon, and a host of European writers whose names I never actually knew, I’ve decided I don’t need you – I don’t even need to think about you. Ever. I like books with beginnings, middles, and ends (in that order). That’s why I like the great ones: Homer (yes, I know it’s really poetry), Austen, Dickens, Trollope, Conrad, and Cather.

I no longer feel that I must deny that I really like good fantasy and sci-fi. And children’s books. I love the good ones. I’ve received more pure enjoyment from The Wind in the Willows and The Chronicles of Narnia than from any contemporary novelist (Marilynne Robinson excepted). Not only do I no longer have to read lousy novels, I no longer have to pretend to have read them, or that I even know their names or who wrote them. I realize that this might make me a barbarian. Who cares? I now ignore people who call people like me a barbarian. ....


I had a recent conversation in which a friend objected to the colorization of documentary footage of World War II because, for most of us growing up, that war happened in black & white.

Geoffrey Norman asks "what accounts for the unyielding fascination" in the Civil War and so little interest in the War for Independence. A similar bias may account for the difference:
..."[O]ne wonders, what accounts for the unyielding fascination a century and a half after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox? Several years ago, I put this question to Richard Ketchum, who was a neighbor and the author of many splendid books about the American Revolution. He had begun writing about the revolution when he was a young editor at American Heritage. One of his colleagues was Bruce Catton. As Ketchum told it, he and Catton went out to lunch one day and decided to divide up American history. He would take the revolution and Catton would take the Civil War.
“His books were bestsellers,” Ketchum said, sounding amused, “and mine were well reviewed.”
They were better than that, but the point stands. Assuming their books were of equal literary merit, one would, of course, expect Catton’s to be more widely read. But why?
“Photography has something to do with it,” Ketchum said. “There was no Mathew Brady at Saratoga or Yorktown. We have these very formal, lifeless paintings of Washington, which don’t compare to those haunting photographs of Lincoln, worn down by the war. Or of the dead, lying in the sunken road at Antietam.” Ketchum had much more to say on this matter, but the point about photography struck me and stuck with me. ....
I bought, or Dad bought for me, both Ketchum's American Heritage book on the Revolution and Catton's on the Civil War. I still have them both, one illustrated with paintings and the other largely with photographs.

Friday, July 17, 2015


I became very cynical about "branding" while sitting on the state board of directors of my teachers' union. We would, every now and then, be subjected to presentations by consultants to whom, no doubt, large fees had been paid. I recall that we adopted "The Trust" for the insurance company the union owned. That decision reminded me mainly of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust, or maybe J.P. Morgan's many trusts — not the image with which most unions would wish to be associated. As I say, I am cynical about "branding."

Which brings me to this. My denomination has a new logo. I don't know how it was chosen. It isn't offensive. It isn't striking. The symbolism isn't obvious to me. Was there any reason to discard the old one other than a desire for innovation? (See the previous post.) I will doubtless reconcile myself to the change.
The old Seventh Day Baptist logo dating back I don't know how many  years. I recall getting a brass lapel pin with this logo when young. That was a  long time ago and the logo had been around for a long time before me, although, I think, without the cross. It seems to me intended to symbolize the light of the gospel.
The new Seventh Day Baptist logo now appearing on all the denominational internet sites. (The main site also has a lighthouse.) There is a cross, which is good. The colors are not bold and I'm not sure what the swoosh is for.
The new logo reminds me of this one: the official United Methodist symbol that appears on their local church signs. It is described as "the cross and the flame" explained as relating "The United Methodist church to God through Christ (cross) and the Holy Spirit (flame)."

Heedless reformation

Via Stand to Reason, G.K. Chesterton:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion. (“The Drift from Domesticity,” Chapter 4 in The Thing, 1929)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Desperate to please

Frank Honeycutt, pastor and author of The Truth Shall Make You Odd, writes that we should "Keep Jesus weird":
A pastor once lost a couple of prospective church members when he refused to let them have their wedding exactly the way they wanted. They told him, “Well, we were thinking of joining your church before this happened.”

We often live in fear of those moments, moments when we may lose people or turn them off. Because of that we sometimes bend over backward to please people, desperate to make them feel welcome and eager to postpone or avoid any conversation about what the gospel or a church commitment might require of them.

Whenever I think about this tendency toward discipleship dilution, I think about Nicodemus and his evening encounter with Jesus.

Nicodemus slips out during the night and taps at Jesus’ door. Maybe they end up sitting in the kitchen, sipping hot tea, just the two of them. The first words out of the mouth of Nicodemus are words of flattery. “Gosh, rabbi, you’re one heck of a teacher. Nobody could do what you do without a powerful connection to God. You’re the real thing, man.” Nicodemus is obviously interested in learning more about Jesus.

But watch what Jesus does, or maybe what Jesus doesn’t do. He could’ve invited Nicodemus to the equivalent of a church picnic the next afternoon to meet some nice Christians. He could have acknowledged Nicodemus’s compliments and played up his own heavenly credentials. He could have talked about exactly how many new followers were traveling with him those days. And he could have handed Nicodemus a nice multicolored brochure that would summarize his teachings in five nonthreatening, easily remembered points.

Jesus does none of these things. Jesus ignores the flattery and goes straight for the theological jugular to talk about conversion. .... [more]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"For the Snark was a Boojum, you see."

"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried
.... "I skip forty years," said the Baker, in tears,
"And proceed without further remark
To the day when you took me aboard of your ship
To help you in hunting the Snark.

"A dear uncle of mine (after whom I was named)
Remarked, when I bade him farewell—"
"Oh, skip your dear uncle!" the Bellman exclaimed,
As he angrily tingled his bell.

"He remarked to me then," said that mildest of men,
"'If your Snark be a Snark, that is right:
Fetch it home by all means—you may serve it with greens,
And it's handy for striking a light.

"'You may seek it with thimbles—and seek it with care;
You may hunt it with forks and hope;
You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
You may charm it with smiles and soap—'"

("That's exactly the method," the Bellman bold
In a hasty parenthesis cried,
"That's exactly the way I have always been told
That the capture of Snarks should be tried!")

"'But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
And never be met with again!' ....

"It's a Snark!" was the sound that first came to their ears,
And seemed almost too good to be true.
Then followed a torrent of laughter and cheers:
Then the ominous words "It's a Boo—"

Then, silence. Some fancied they heard in the air
A weary and wandering sigh
That sounded like "-jum!" but the others declare
It was only a breeze that went by.

They hunted till darkness came on, but they found
Not a button, or feather, or mark,
By which they could tell that they stood on the ground
Where the Baker had met with the Snark.

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away—
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.

The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll : The Poetry Foundation

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles..."

Russell Moore reminds those nostalgic for Christian America that it was never thus and that in this world we are exiles:
.... The kind of exiles we are to be is not a bitter, resentful people, harkening back to better days, when we had more power and influence. We are to be instead those who know that the culture around us, whatever culture that is, is temporary. We are to pattern our lives not after nostalgia for the past but hope for the future. This means a discontent. We pray for the kingdom to come (Matt. 6:10). We groan with the creation around us for the end of the wreckage of the curse (Rom. 8:23).

The political and cultural climate of America does not make us exiles. It can, however, remind us that we are exiles and strangers, just as our ancestors were. American Christians can wake up from the hypnosis of an illusory “Christian America,” and learn to seek first the kingdom of God. We can stop counting on the culture to do pre-evangelism and moral catechesis. ....

"Beautiful, stirring, and perhaps socially beneficial"

Richard Grenier's conclusion after reviewing the film Gandhi (1982): "I have consequently given some thought to the proper mantra for spectators of the movie Gandhi. After much reflection, in homage to Ralph Nader, I have decided on Caveat Emptor, 'buyer beware.' Repeated many thousand times in a seat in the cinema it might with luck lead to Om, the Hindu dream of nothingness, the Ultimate Void."

From "The Gandhi Nobody Knows," one of the best, certainly most informative—albeit disillusioning—film reviews I have ever read:
.... When the lights came up I fell into conversation with a young woman who observed, reverently, that Gandhi’s last words were “Oh, God,” causing me to remark regretfully that the real Gandhi had not spoken in English, but had cried, Hai Rama! (“Oh, Rama”). Well, Rama was just Indian for God, she replied, at which I felt compelled to explain that, alas, Rama, collectively with his three half-brothers, represented the seventh reincarnation of Vishnu. The young woman, who seemed to have been under the impression that Hinduism was Christianity under another name, sensed somehow that she had fallen on an uncongenial spirit, and the conversation ended.

At a dinner party shortly afterward, a friend of mine, who had visited India many times and even gone to the trouble of learning Hindi, objected strenuously that the picture of Gandhi that emerges in the movie is grossly inaccurate, omitting, as one of many examples, that when Gandhi’s wife lay dying of pneumonia and British doctors insisted that a shot of penicillin would save her, Gandhi refused to have this alien medicine injected in her body and simply let her die. (It must be noted that when Gandhi contracted malaria shortly afterward he accepted for himself the alien medicine quinine, and that when he had appendicitis he allowed British doctors to perform on him the alien outrage of an appendectomy.) All of this produced a wistful mooing from an editor of a major newspaper and a recalcitrant, “But still....” I would prefer to explicate things more substantial than a wistful mooing, but there is little doubt it meant the editor in question felt that even if the real Mohandas K. Gandhi had been different from the Gandhi of the movie it would have been nice if he had been like the movie-Gandhi, and that presenting him in this admittedly false manner was beautiful, stirring, and perhaps socially beneficial. .... [much more]
Article The Gandhi Nobody Knows

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monkey Trial

Upon arriving this Sabbath at the church where we worship we discovered that our usual location had been taken over as a dressing room by a group performing "Inherit the Wind," a play based on the Scopes trial. That trial took place ninety years ago last week. (The following was previously posted on this site):

In early July, 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee, the trial of John Scopes began. He was charged with violating a Tennessee law against the teaching of evolution in the public schools. He was guilty — he had intentionally violated the law. In this essay, "Revisiting The Scopes Trial," Peter Berger contends that one consequence of the trial "was to fortify a secularist worldview in the American intelligentsia, with a concomitant perception of Evangelicals as backwoods illiterates. The intellectual decline of Evangelicals has stopped. The secularist bias of intellectuals has not. It may be a good time to revisit the event."
The Scopes Trial took place in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. John Scopes, a high school biology teacher, was tried for having violated the state’s Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution. It was a staged event, with Scopes volunteering to test the constitutionality of the law. The American Civil Liberties Union (then as now an ardent defender of free speech and of the separation of church and state) played an important role in the staging. It organized his defense. It recruited the star defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), who stole the show. To counteract Darrow, the prosecution recruited William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925)—a leading Evangelical with an impressive political profile, and a liberal who had three times been a Democratic candidate for the presidency, as well as having served as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson. Darrow was widely known as a brilliant lawyer, an outspoken agnostic, and a strong opponent of capital punishment.

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan
Not surprisingly, the trial attracted wide attention. It became a regular media circus. .... An army of journalists descended on the obscure provincial town, including some from Europe. H.L. Mencken reported on the trial for the Baltimore Sun (which, by the way, paid Scopes’ bail). Mencken’s account has become iconic, although (perhaps because) it was very prejudiced. He described the denizens of the town as “yokels” and “morons” (initiating what has been an elite view of Southern Evangelicals ever since). He called Bryan “a buffoon”, spouting “theologic bilge”. By contrast, he was full of admiration for the eloquence and wit of Darrow. Mencken and Darrow not only shared a contempt for the unwashed masses. They also had similar views of religion. Darrow once remarked that he did not believe in God for the same reason he did not believe in Mother Goose. Mencken wrote that the world was a gigantic ferris wheel, man a flea sitting on the wheel, religion as the flea’s belief that the wheel was constructed for the purpose of transporting it. Mencken’s account of the Scopes Trial formed the basis of a successful Broadway play, “Inherit the Wind” (1955), and of an even more successful film of the same name (1960 – there have been at least two later films).

Darrow was the clear winner in his duel with Bryan. History is written by the victors. Mencken’s narrative, enormously enhanced on stage and screen, has become dominant—a dramatic victory of reason over superstitious ignorance. There is another way of looking at this. ....

A year before, in 1924, Darrow headed the defense of the Leopold-Loeb trial in Chicago. That trial too has become well known. It concerned the murder of a fourteen-year old boy by two affluent young men who fancied themselves “supermen” as (they thought) glorified by Nietzsche. (Curiously, this was also a philosopher greatly admired by Mencken.) They wanted the thrill of committing the perfect crime. In this, they failed—they were promptly caught. Darrow realized that he had a “hanging jury” to contend with. .... Darrow’s main argument for the defense, an eloquent plea for mercy, has been deemed one of the great speeches in American legal history. He succeeded in avoiding a death sentence....

I find it very interesting that Bryan actually referred to Darrow’s role in the Leopold-Loeb case during the Scopes Trial. He quoted a rather revealing sentence from Darrow’s argument in the earlier trial: “This terrible crime was inherent in his [that is, one defendant’s] organism, and it came from some ancestor”. Bryan rightly saw this as a reference to evolution. Bryan then proposed that such crimes are the logical result of teaching children that humans are just one species of mammals, descended (he added sarcastically) “not even from American mammals, but from old world monkeys”. Let me paraphrase Bryan’s understanding of Darrow’s argument: We are all animals. Therefore, we should be merciful, and we should not impose the death penalty. ....

...Bryan was right for a very profound reason. Religious faith is not the necessary foundation for the quality of mercy. Darrow’s agnosticism did not prevent his passionate conviction about the inhumanity of capital punishment. But this conviction cannot be derived from science. It is derived from a distinctive perception of the human condition that can neither be validated nor falsified by science. Faith is not the only source of this perception. But it is an important one (historically a very important one). The Biblical view of the human condition, in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, teaches the dignity of every human being as created in God’s image. Bryan, with all his untenable fundamentalist views, understood this. Darrow (and Mencken) did not. [more]
An excellent history of the trial is Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion.

Re-posted from another anniversary of the trial: 

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

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

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

Problem: Should the feeble-minded be allowed to marry?
The Remedy. — If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country. [more]
Revisiting The Scopes Trial | Religion and Other Curiosities, Instapundit » Blog Archive » WITH PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE SCOPES TRIAL, let me just note that what you think …, The Scopes Trial:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

"I would get in between"

Continuing to read The Golden Age of Murder I come across this description of British politics just before World War II:
.... On 9 February 1933, a few days after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, a student debate was held by the Oxford Union Society. The Gothic grandeur of the debating chamber was familiar to many members of the Detection Club, including Knox and Bentley, two former Presidents of the Union. The motion was that 'this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and country' and the proposer argued: 'It is no mere coincidence that the only country fighting for the cause of peace, Soviet Russia, is the country that has rid itself of the war-mongering clique.'

Douglas Cole spoke in favour of the motion. When an opponent demanded to know what he would do if a German tried to rape his wife, he replied, 'I would get in between.' This answer, according to one witness, 'brought the house down'. What Margaret thought about Douglas' jaunty riposte is unknown, since she chose not to mention the debate in either her own memoirs or her biography of him.

The pacifists won the day, with the motion passed by 275 votes to 153. Even in 1933, the Oxford Union was scarcely a microcosm of British society, but the outcome caused a furore. The Daily Express was incensed: 'There is no question but that the woozy-minded Communists, the practical jokers, and the sexual indeterminates of Oxford have scored a great success.' Someone sent the Union a box containing 275 white feathers, one for each vote for the motion, but this condemnation of cowardice lacked sting, given that the sender did not have the courage to give his or her name. Pacifism was a popular cause, and plenty of voices were raised in support of the students who voted for the motion.
Stanley Baldwin
Among them was A.A. Milne's. Although he had fought during the war, his health had suffered, and over time his long-held pacifist views hardened. In 1934, he published Peace with Honour, a passionately argued attack on the value and inevitability of war. He misread Hitler and Mussolini, but although his idealism was misplaced, he had personal experience of the horrific nature of fighting in battle, and did not want others to go through what he had endured. In the same year, the canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Dick Sheppard, invited men (not women) to send him postcards containing the pledge: 'I renounce war, and I will never support or sanction another.' This initiative resulted in the formation of the Peace Pledge Union, which soon attracted more than one hundred thousand supporters.

At Westminster, Baldwin struggled with the question of rearmament, which was hugely expensive and deeply unpopular. Churchill, a voice crying in the wilderness, said the government was 'decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. So we go on, preparing more months and years - precious, perhaps vital, to the greatness of Britain - for the locusts to eat.'

'Supposing I had gone to the country and said that Germany was rearming and we must rearm,' Baldwin retorted. 'Does anybody think that this pacific democracy would have rallied to that cry at that moment? I cannot think of anything that would have made the loss of the election from my point of view more certain.' Churchill thought this a 'squalid confession', but it was at least frank. When Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, Britain probably could not have stopped him, even had the political will to do so existed. ....


Philip Jenkins has become impatient with a Mormon who argues that there is no more evidence for ancient Israel than for the stories in the Book of Mormon. From "Apples, Oranges and Nephites":
.... Let’s do a thought experiment. Assume for the sake of argument that we did not have the Bible as a resource. Assume that we were reconstructing the history of Palestine in the first millennium BC using entirely non-scriptural sources – from archaeology, from non-scriptural texts and inscriptions, and from the various records (mainly texts and inscriptions) of outside nations. We would see Israel emerging in the thirteenth/twelfth century BC, we would have an excellent idea of its changing social and religious institutions through the centuries, we would know its languages, and we would have plenty of writers, both contemporary and later, to fill in the names of kings, dynasties, etc. We would know a lot about its interactions with neighboring powers, not to mention the presence of Israelites in other nations and regions. We would know a huge amount about domestic architecture and social structures, modes of life, class structures, and so on.

Without using religious scriptures of any kind, then, we would have an excellent view of Israel, its languages, ethnicities, people and history. No sane person would doubt the existence of that Israel, although they might argue over details of its political history.

Now look at Mormonia. Without the Book of Mormon, would any scholar ever have speculated about a Semitic or Middle Eastern presence of any scale or nature whatever in the New World? In nineteenth century racist crank theories, yes, but not in any kind of modern scholarship. If there was no Book of Mormon, we would have not the vaguest, slightest hint of any suggestion of a Middle Eastern/Semitic presence. Without using religious scriptures of any kind, then, we would neither know about nor speculate on any kind of “Nephite” presence in the New World, its languages, ethnicities, people and history. It would not exist, because it doesn’t. ....

Israel was, incontrovertibly, there. The Nephites, just as incontrovertibly were not, and if you think they were, please start showing evidence. I’m getting tired of pleading. .... [more]

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


The other book I'm reading right now is Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. It is fascinating and compulsive reading. I thought I knew a great deal about the Plains Indians. I knew less than I thought, and about the Comanches I knew almost nothing. The war against them lasted far longer than any of the other Indian wars. Although the Spanish and then the Mexicans had been in almost continuous war with the Comanche, Americans were largely ignorant of them until invited to settle in Texas partly, the author suggests, because Mexico wanted a buffer against that tribe. An early encounter involved massacre, kidnapping, and torture of members of the newly settled Parker family. In Chapter 4, "High Lonesome," the author does some anthropology explaining why the conflict between Euro-Americans and American Indians may have been irrepressible. From that chapter:
It is impossible to read Rachel Plummer's memoir without making moral judgments about the Comanches. The torture-killing of a defenseless seven-week-old infant, by committee decision no less, is an act of almost demonic immorality by any modern standard. The systematic gang rape of women captives seems to border on criminal perversion, if not some very advanced form of evil. The vast majority of Anglo-European settlers in the American West would have agreed with those assessments. To them, Comanches were thugs and killers, devoid of ordinary decency, sympathy, or mercy. Not only did they inflict horrific suffering, but from all evidence they enjoyed it. This was perhaps the worst part, and certainly the most frightening part. Making people scream in pain was interesting and rewarding for them, just as it is interesting and rewarding for young boys in modern-day America to torture frogs or pull the legs off grasshoppers. Boys presumably grow out of that; for Indians, it was an important part of their adult culture and one they accepted without challenge. ....

This sort of cruelty is a problem in any narrative about American Indians, because Americans like to think of their native aboriginals as in some ways heroic or noble. Indians were, in fact, heroic and noble in many ways, especially in defense of their families. Yet in the moral universe of the West...a person who tortures or rapes another person or who steals another person's child and then sells him cannot possibly be seen that way. ....

Thus some chroniclers ignore the brutal side of Indian life altogether; others, particularly historians who suggest that before white men arrived Indian-to-Indian warfare was a relatively bloodless affair involving a minimum of bloodshed, deny it altogether. But certain facts are inescapable: American Indians were warlike by nature, and they were warlike for centuries before Columbus stumbled upon them. They fought over hunting grounds, to be sure, but they also made a good deal of brutal and bloody war that was completely unnecessary. The Comanches' relentless and never-ending pursuit of the hapless Tonkawas was a good example of this, as was their harassment of Apaches long after they had been driven from the buffalo grounds.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The traitors within our gates

One of my prized possessions is The Art of the Mystery Story (1946) "edited and with a commentary by Howard Haycraft." The book is a collection of essays by mystery authors and critics of the genre. I have been reading the recently published The Golden Age of Murder about the members of the Detection Club. The first president of that club, and also the author of the first essay in the Haycraft book, was G.K. Chesterton. That essay, "A Defense of Detective Stories," is also available online. From G.K.C.'s essay:
While it is the constant tendency of the Old Adam to rebel against so universal and automatic a thing as civilization, to preach departure and rebellion, the romance of police activity keeps in some sense before the mind the fact that civilization itself is the most sensational of departures and the most romantic of rebellions. By dealing with the unsleeping sentinels who guard the outposts of society, it tends to remind us that we live in an armed camp, making war with a chaotic world, and that the criminals, the children of chaos, are nothing but the traitors within our gates. When the detective in a police romance stands alone, and somewhat fatuously fearless amid the knives and fists of a thieves’ kitchen, it does certainly serve to make us remember that it is the agent of social justice who is the original and poetic figure; while the burglars and footpads are merely placid old cosmic conservatives, happy in the immemorial respectability of apes and wolves. The romance of the police force is thus the whole romance of man. It is based on the fact that morality is the most dark and daring of conspiracies. It reminds us that the whole noiseless and unnoticeable police management by which we are ruled and protected is only a successful knight-errantry.

"After all everybody has his own view..."

From Bill Kristol's interview with David Gelernter:
.... I’m a teacher of college students. I’m lucky to be at one of the best colleges in the world, at Yale. Our students are as smart as any in the world. They work very hard to get here. They are eager, they’re likable. ....

My students today are much [...] more likable than I and my friends used to be, but they are so ignorant that it’s hard to accept how ignorant they are. ...[I]t’s very hard to grasp that the person you’re talking to, who is bright, articulate, advisable, interested, and doesn’t know who Beethoven is. Had no view looking back at the history of the 20th century – just sees a fog. A blank. Has the vaguest idea of who Winston Churchill was or why he mattered. And maybe has no image of Teddy Roosevelt, let’s say, at all. I mean, these are people who – We have failed. ....

They know nothing about art. They know nothing about history. They know nothing about philosophy. And because they have been raised as not even atheists, they don’t rise to the level of atheists, insofar as they’ve never thought about the existence or nonexistence of God. It has never occurred to them. They know nothing about the Bible. They’ve never opened it. They’ve been taught it’s some sort of weird toxic thing, especially the Hebrew Bible, full of all sorts of terrible, murderous, prejudiced, bigoted. They’ve never read it. They have no concept.

It used to be, if I turned back to the 1960s to my childhood, that at least people have heard of Isaiah. People had heard of the Psalms. They had some notion of Hebrew poetry, having created the poetry of the Western world. They had some notion of the great prophets having created our notions of justice and honesty and fairness in society.

But these children not only ignorant of everything in the intellectual realm, they have been raised ignorant in the spiritual world. They don’t go to church. They don’t go to synagogue. ....

But when I see a bright, young Yale student who has been reared not as Jew, not as a Christian, outside of any religious tradition, why should he tell the truth? Why should he not lie? Why should he be fair and straightforward in his dealings with his fellow students? He has sort of an idea that’s the way he should be, but why? If you challenge him, he doesn’t know. And he’ll say, “Well, it’s just my view.” And I mean, after all everybody has his own view. .... [more]
And who is David Gelernter?
David Gelernter is an old-fashioned Renaissance man. He is professor of computer science at Yale University, chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies, contributing editor at the Weekly Standard and member of the National Council of the Arts....

Professor Gelernter is the author of books that suggest a kind of Herodotean interest in everything human. Professor Gelernter has written a history of the 1939 World’s Fair. After he survived an attack by the Unabomber, he wrote a reflective book about that. His is also the author, most recently, of America-Lite.
David Gelernter Transcript - Conversations with Bill Kristol

Sunday, July 5, 2015


From the author of a new biography of Robert E. Lee:
It is easy to fool ourselves into believing that history turned out a certain way because it could have turned out no other way. Biographies teach us that is not so. Biographies show us how the course of human history can pivot on the decision of one individual. That should infuse each of us with a sense of both responsibility and hope: responsibility for choosing our own destinies; hope for where those choices may lead us.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land..."

The Detection Club

Agatha Christie's first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Joseph Bottum argues, "was clearly a breakthrough of small but real genius.":
...[W]hat Agatha Christie found was the formula for it all. Like a miniature blown up on to a larger canvas, she took the Arthur Conan Doyle-approved pattern of a 5,000-word Sherlock Holmes story and opened it up to an 80,000-word Golden Age novel. She developed the pleasant and deliberately unremarkable prose the new turn in the genre needed—“invisible prose,” we might name it: a style that never rises or sinks enough for the reader to be distracted by becoming aware of the act of reading it. And she figured out how to set in the foreground the rule-bound logic of detective fiction, convincing readers that the author is playing fair.

The formula seems obvious now, but once upon a time it was new, and surprisingly few authors in the 1920s actually got it. ....

Even by the late 1920s, the British writers awake to the new formula numbered only in the dozens, and the most successful and professionally admired of them banded together to form a London dinner society called “the Detection Club.” Such luminaries as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, the Baroness Emma Orczy, Ronald Knox, R. Austin Freeman, and E.C. Bentley were among them, and they elected G.K. Chesterton as their first president. .... (more)
(The Mysterious Affair at Styles was the first appearance of Hercule Poirot and is now out of copyright and available for free download.)

Bottum is reviewing The Golden Age of Murder, a history of the Detection Club and its original members. I just downloaded the book. It should be fun.

.... Founding members included legends like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and E.C. Bentley, as well as G.K. Chesterton, who served as the first president. Meetings consisted of dress-up dinner parties, during which the old-school literati would swap writing tips and critique each other’s latest work. Like any legit society, they decided on new members by secret ballot, and each one had to swear an oath, written up by Sayers:
Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?
Once a member was sworn in, he or she had to abide by the group’s Ten Commandments when penning novels – or they were cast out of the clique. ....
  1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
  2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  5. No Chinaman must figure in the story. [Editor’s note: At the time, trashy, mass-media mysteries [often] featured a character of Chinese descent. This rule meant the writer should avoid cliche plot devices....]
  6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.
  8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
  9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

"God mend thine ev’ry flaw"

Hillsdale College Choir: