Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Children's books"

On the anniversary of C.S. Lewis's birth:

"It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one's adult enjoyment of what are called 'children's books'. I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all. A mature palate will probably not much care for crème de menthe: but it ought still to enjoy bread and butter and honey."
 Both quotations are from CSL's essay "On Stories" re-printed in several collections.

C.S. Lewis, "On Stories," Of Other Worlds, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967, pp. 3-21.

Friday, November 27, 2015

"By ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor"

In "Officer Friendly is Dead" someone experienced in law enforcement writes about what he views as a bad turn that policing has taken in recent decades. His thoughts are occasioned by the murder indictment of a Chicago police officer.
What we should demand—indeed, the minimum we should demand in a free society—are police forces that live and work by the principles of policing laid down by Sir Robert Peel, nearly two hundred years ago, in 1829, when he created the modern police force:
  1. The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect.
  4. The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.
  5. The police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws; by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. The police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to achieve police objectives; and police should use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.
  8. The police should always direct their actions toward their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state, or authoritatively judging guilt or punishing the guilty.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
If the police want to make their jobs less dangerous, then they need to pay particular attention to Principle #2, because if they lose public respect—which I submit they are moving awfully close to losing—their job will become effectively impossible.
The members of the police force created by Sir Robert Peel were colloquially known as "Peelers" or "Bobbies" (the one that stuck) both, of course, deriving from his name. Their uniforms were designed to not look anything like military uniforms — the coat looked much like a frock coat with tails and copper buttons (thus "Cop" or "Copper").

Officer Friendly is Dead | Questions and Observations

Thursday, November 26, 2015

"All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given..."

Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell, 1943
 Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
Mar­tin Rink­art, c. 1636

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"A day of public thanksgiving and prayer"


Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

"Come, ye thankful people come..."

Hymnary.org [a great site for anyone who loves hymns] has scanned and made available every hymn from The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America 1940 that isn't still under copyright. It is a great hymnal: good texts to good music. Since Thanksgiving Day approaches I chose this example from that hymnbook:

"He has not promised us our best life now"

Reposted from 2012:

From a Christianity Today interview with Eric Bargerhuff, the author of The Most Misused Verses in the Bible:
Are there specific categories of verses that evangelicals tend to misinterpret?

Our temptation is to interpret the promises of God materially and temporally instead of spiritually and eternally. We Americans have bought into a materialistic, right-now mindset, and so we're tempted to pull verses out of context to fit that mindset. We need to understand that God's greatest desire is to glorify his name. Too often, we interpret God's promises in a way that is appealing to our sinful side. We often grab things out of Scripture and try to use them for our own benefit, instead of taking the necessary steps to submit to Scripture, to be humbled by it.

You critique prayers that uncritically expect God to grant us, well, anything. Like John 14:13: "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son."

God is not a genie in a bottle. Yes, he has a good, pleasing, and perfect will. But this doesn't mean we should pray for whatever we want. We are sinful people and don't even know what's best for us, as the Book of Romans says. Sometimes we pray with wrong motives. Praying random prayers that are self-centered is not God-honoring. We should seek his will when we pray. ....

Why is Jeremiah 29:11-13 ("'For I know the plans I have for you …'") commonly misinterpreted?

Most people overlook the context of the verse because it speaks to what they want to hear for their life. This was a corporate promise given to the nation of Israel, to a generation that came out of 70 years of captivity in Babylon. We think through an Americanized filter based on our preconceived notions of what blessing is. But God's promises are spiritual promises, not promises of instant gratification. Though God does bless us in many ways, he has not promised us our best life now. This world is not our home, and we should long for a better country. ....
'God Is Not a Genie in a Bottle': Ways We Misuse the Bible | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Gratitude

.... You need not believe in God to pursue the virtues (though it certainly helps). Yet if you do believe, then your first instinct in all things must be gratitude: for creation, for love, for mercy. And even if you don’t believe, you must start again from gratitude: That a world grown from randomness could have turned out so fortuitously, with such liberality. That the Hobbesian state of nature has been conquered. At least for a spell. As my friend Yuval Levin explained not long ago, “We value these things not because they are triumphant and invincible but because they are precious and vulnerable, because they weren’t fated to happen, and they’re not certain to survive. They need us—and our gratitude for them should move us to defend them and to build on them.”

Gratitude magnifies the sweet parts of life and diminishes the painful ones. It is the wellspring of humility and ambition, the magnetic pole for prudence, the platform for courage, the inducement to charity and mercy. And in addition to everything else, gratitude is the engine for progress: We build not because we are dissatisfied with the world as it is, but because we are grateful to all those who have built it to this point, and wish to repay them by making our own contributions to their work.

None of this is to say that the world is perfect—it isn’t. But if it’s to be improved, that improvement will come, one person at a time, through the exercise of virtue—through the conscious decision of all of us to try to be better people, to live better lives, and to make a better world. All of which begins, from first light, with saying “Thank you” for what we have, right now. [more]

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"A day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father"

President Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, given on October 3, 1863, declaring a day of thanksgiving on "the last Thursday of November next":
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A.D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

By the President:
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Giving thanks always and for everything"

Arthur Brooks offers advice, and not just for Thanksgiving, "Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier.":
.... For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult. Even beyond deprivation and depression, there are many ordinary circumstances in which gratitude doesn’t come easily. ....

Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude — and that doing so raises our happiness. ....

Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things. As my teenage kids would say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” In the slightly more elegant language of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.” ....

...[B]e grateful for useless things. It is relatively easy to be thankful for the most important and obvious parts of life — a happy marriage, healthy kids or living in America. But truly happy people find ways to give thanks for the little, insignificant trifles. Ponder the impractical joy in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Pied Beauty”:
Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
Be honest: When was the last time you were grateful for the spots on a trout? More seriously, think of the small, useless things you experience — the smell of fall in the air, the fragment of a song that reminds you of when you were a kid. Give thanks.

This Thanksgiving, don’t express gratitude only when you feel it. Give thanks especially when you don’t feel it. Rebel against the emotional “authenticity” that holds you back from your bliss. .... [more]

"Golden Age" murder

Suzannah Rowntree at Vintage Novels likes The Floating Admiral, a project of the Detection Club:
I thought The Detection Club was the best thing ever when I first heard of it—a club of Golden Age mystery authors that included Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers? with GK Chesterton himself as the president? but I had never heard of The Floating Admiral, which was a simply terrific idea: a detective novel written round-robin style by the entire Club, each member in turn being required to provide the next chapter of the story along with a sealed solution explaining the solution to the whole mystery. As an entertainment for the Club itself, it must have been pretty terrific. As a curiosity of detective fiction for the Golden-Age detective fan, it's also a great read.

The plot is pretty similar to every other detective story, with the exception that the last chapter goes on and on (and on) as the last poor author attempts to tie up all the loose ends. .... [more]
Years ago I acquired a copy of The Floating Admiral. In addition to Christie and Sayers, among the other members who contributed chapters were John Rhode, Ronald Knox, F. Wills Croft and Anthony Berkeley.

Another collaboration of the Detection Club in my library is Six Against Scotland Yard for which Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Croft, Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Russell Thorndike contributed short stories each describing a "perfect murder" after which former Scotland Yard Superintendent Cornish describes how he would solve the crime.

Yesterday a friend referred me to the third episode of a BBC documentary being played on my local PBS station: "A Very British Murder: The Golden Age." I have discovered that this program, along with Parts 1&2, is available on YouTube. "The Golden Age" covers the period when The Floating Admiral was published. Although that book isn't mentioned and Christie and Sayers are the only members who are discussed, there is an interesting segment about the the Detection Club including a reenactment of the ceremony for induction of members. Here it is:


Vintage Novels: The Detection Club by Dorothy Sayers

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fifty-two years ago...

Fifty-two years ago today C.S. Lewis died. That was the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lewis's death was less remarked that day but his life may well have had greater impact over time.

From one of C.S. Lewis's most famous essays, "Meditation in a Toolshed":
I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences. ....

As soon as you have grasped this simple distinction, it raises a question. You get one experience of a thing when you look along it and another when you look at it. Which is the “true” or “valid” experience? Which tells you most about the thing? And you can hardly ask that question without noticing that for the last fifty years or so everyone has been taking the answer for granted. It has been assumed without discussion that if you want the true account of religion you must go, not to religious people, but to anthropologists; that if you want the true account of sexual love you must go, not to lovers, but to psychologists; that if you want to understand some “ideology” (such as medieval chivalry or the nineteenth-century idea of a “gentleman”), you must listen not to those who lived inside it, but to sociologists.

The people who look at things have had it all their own way; the people who look along things have simply been brow-beaten. It has even come to be taken for granted that the external account of a thing somehow refutes or “debunks” the account given from inside. ....

... We must, on pain of idiocy, deny from the very outset the idea that looking at is, by its own nature, intrinsically truer or better than looking along. One must look both along and at everything. In particular cases we shall find reason for regarding the one or the other vision as inferior. Thus the inside vision of rational thinking must be truer than the outside vision which sees only movements of the grey matter; for if the outside vision were the correct one all thought (including this thought itself) would be valueless, and this is self-contradictory. .... [the entire essay (pdf)]
Another favorite quotation of mine:
“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”
C.S. Lewis, 1943

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"If God does not exist...."

Guillaume Bignon, Frenchman, ex-atheist, theologian, argues that "only God can make sense of the evil in Paris":
.... The way I see it, there are only a couple of ways to think through this evil.

The only option for French atheists (among whose ranks I used to count myself), is to maintain that there isn’t really any such thing as evil. When one denies the existence of God as a transcendent creator of the universe who ordains how humans ought to live their lives, one is left only with conflicting opinions about what individuals like and dislike. If there is no God then there is no objective truth about the good and the bad.

In the end, to deny God is to deny objective good and with it, objective evil. In fact, this is the route explicitly taken by popular French atheist philosopher André Comte-Sponville. In his book L’esprit de l’athéisme, he says: ‘good and evil do not exist in nature, and nothing exists outside of it’.

The French atheist contends that the only morality that exists is a human construction, and one must keep in mind that it is ‘illusory’. He concludes: ‘This is what I call relativism, or rather, its positive side: only reality is absolute, every judgment of value is relative.’

In all likelihood, few ordinary French atheists think about where their denial of God leads as thoroughly as Comte-Sponville impressively does. But in reality, to be a consistent atheist one must affirm that the Islamic terrorists in Paris didn’t do anything 'wrong', as such. They only acted out of line with our personal preferences, (and in line with theirs). If there's no ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, that's all we are left with..... [more]

A plea


God be in my head, And in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes, And in my looking;
God be in my mouth, And in my speaking;
God be in my heart, And in my thinking;
God be at mine end, And at my departing.

Words: Sarum Primer, 1558,  Music: Henry Walford Davies, 1910

Friday, November 20, 2015

Evangelical by belief

Christianity Today reports on a new survey attempting to define "evangelical" by doctrine rather than by sociological criteria or political behavior:
The new report identifies four key statements that define evangelical beliefs, creating what may be the first research-driven creed.

Those statements are:
  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God's free gift of eternal salvation.
Only those who strongly agree with each of those statements should be considered “evangelical by belief,” according to the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals). ....

People who strongly agree with one statement tend to strongly agree with others, indicating the statements measure a “theological package” of evangelical belief, Stetzer said. Those who strongly agree with all four statements are more likely to attend church frequently and identify themselves as evangelical. ....

“African American Christians historically have high levels of beliefs that align with evangelical beliefs but tend not to use that term,” Stetzer said.

The report found that 41 percent of self-identified evangelicals fall outside the new definition of evangelical belief, and 21 percent of those who disavow the evangelical label have beliefs that actually fall within the evangelical definition, reports Facts & Trends. It also notes:
  • 23 percent of Catholics and 47 percent of Protestants hold evangelical beliefs.
  • 46 percent of Americans who attend church at least weekly hold evangelical beliefs.
  • 39 percent of those who identify themselves as Christians hold evangelical beliefs.
  • Americans with a high school education or less are most likely to hold evangelical beliefs. Forty percent of those with no more than a high school education strongly agree with all four statements, compared to 26 percent of those with some college, 22 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees, and 18 percent of those with graduate degrees.
[more]

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Men without chests"

For its 60th anniversary issue National Review asked various of its supporters and contributors to indicate a book "that shaped our minds." Steven Hayward chose one that certainly affected me. Hayward:
...I can point to one book that, at an early moment, deepened my philosophical conservatism: C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. Still in high school, I became curious about Lewis’s short preface to his anti-utopian novel That Hideous Strength, in which he said that the background teaching of the novel was explained in Abolition. In that book, published in 1943, Lewis deduced from some faint clues of contemporary literature what would become our descent into what we know today as postmodern nihilism. Lewis warned that the “fatal serialism of the modern imagination,” its relentless moral reductionism that ends in total nihilism, would generate “men without chests.” Our conquest of nature, he warned, would culminate in the conquest of human nature, which meant in practice the conquest of some men by other men. In other words, he foresaw the ideology of despotism, which could never remain soft or benevolent.

The Abolition of Man, barely 100 pages long, culminates in a simple but elegant argument on behalf of natural law — nay, of human nature itself. Human nature is the most controversial and overarching political question of our time. (And perhaps we should start calling leftists “human-nature deniers”?) Lewis reminds us, finally, that “a dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not a tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

On the anniversary

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Moral dependency

From an Interview with Jonathan Haidt, "The Revenge of the Coddled":
.... The great majority of people over 35 seem to dislike this coddling culture, they were not raised with it. Most of them had “free-range” childhoods where they spent time without adult supervision and were expected to fend for themselves. So the biggest divide is age. The only people who support the “coddling culture,” as far as I can tell, are under 35, on the Left, and on a college campus. There also seems to be a sex difference—women are more attracted to this view than men, perhaps because many of these ideas grew out of feminist theory in the 1990s. But the bottom line is that we have an emperor’s new clothes situation, where a small minority of people are bullying the majority, and I am hoping the majority will stand up and say, ‘You don’t get to tell me how to speak.’

I think we are due for a change in our thinking about diversity. It’s going to be very difficult but it’s essential. There was a time when racial diversity and gender diversity were the most pressing issues, when many institutions were all-white and all-male.... [But] with each passing year, racial diversity and gender diversity, I believe, while still important, should become lower priorities, and with each passing year political diversity becomes more and more important: our nation becomes more and more paralyzed.... In higher education, we have a lot of race and gender diversity and we have essentially no political diversity. ....

.... Children are anti-fragile. They have to have many, many experiences of failure, fear, and being challenged. Then they have to figure out ways to get themselves through it. If you deprive children of those experiences for eighteen years and then send them to college, they cannot cope. They don’t know what to do. The first time a romantic relationship fails or they get a low grade, they are not prepared because they have been rendered fragile by their childhoods. ....

If you try to reach students when they get to college it’s already too late.... As we say in the essay, childhood changed in 80s and 90s, there was much more protectiveness, there were new zero tolerance policies on bullying, which was fine when bullying was linked to physical aggression and to repeated actions. But bullying has gotten defined down over the last twenty years. There’s no longer a connection to physical violence, it no longer requires repetition, and it no longer requires intent. If someone feels excluded or marginalized by a single event, they have been bullied, and there’s zero tolerance for that. So that’s the way kids are socialized by the time they arrive in college...

What I would suggest is that if any school has an anti-bullying policy, they should balance it with an anti-coddling policy. They need to realize they can do a lot of harm if they coddle the students. They turn them into “moral dependents,” a term for people who cannot solve problems by themselves; they are morally dependent on adults or other authorities to solve their problems for them. .... [more]
Professor Haidt also explains why he is more inclined to discuss this subject at schools other than his own, and also why he believes there is hope.

"A thrilling cause that promises glory and esteem"

From The Guardian, Scott Atran, an anthropologist who has specialized in the study of terrorism, on the strategy and appeal of ISIS:
.... There is a playbook, a manifesto: The Management of Savagery/Chaos, a tract written more than a decade ago under the name Abu Bakr Naji, for the Mesopotamian wing of al-Qaida that would become Isis. Think of the horror of Paris and then consider these, its principal axioms.

Hit soft targets. “Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.”

Strike when potential victims have their guard down. Sow fear in general populations, damage economies. “If a tourist resort that the crusaders patronise…is hit, all of the tourist resorts in all of the states of the world will have to be secured by the work of additional forces, which are double the ordinary amount, and a huge increase in spending.”

Consider reports suggesting a 15-year-old was involved in Friday’s atrocity. “Capture the rebelliousness of youth, their energy and idealism, and their readiness for self-sacrifice, while fools preach ‘moderation’ (wasatiyyah), security and avoidance of risk.” ....

...[W]hat inspires the most uncompromisingly lethal actors in the world today is not so much the Qur’an or religious teachings. It’s a thrilling cause that promises glory and esteem. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: fraternal, fast-breaking, glorious, cool – and persuasive.

A July 2014 ICM poll suggested that more than one in four French youth between the ages of 18 and 24 have a favourable or very favourable opinion of Isis, although only 7-8% of France is Muslim. It’s communal. More than three of every four who join Isis from abroad do so with friends and family. Most are young, in transitional stages in life: immigrants, students, between jobs and mates, having just left their native family. They join a “band of brothers (and sisters)” ready to sacrifice for significance.

Eager to recruit, the group may spend hundreds of hours trying to enlist a single individual, to learn how their personal problems and grievances fit into a universal theme of persecution against all Muslims. .... [more]

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Coffee

"In our study, we found people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 15 percent lower [risk of premature] mortality compared to people who didn't drink coffee," says one of the study authors, nutrition researcher Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health. Decaf drinkers also saw benefits. ....

"We went beyond total mortality and looked at specific causes of death. And we found that people who drink moderate amounts of coffee have lower risk of [death] from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurologic disease [such as Parkinson's] and suicide." ....

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The good of humanity

Via Patrick Kurp Robert Conquest on a mindset relevant to both religious and secular fanatics:
The revolutionary believed it to be in the nature of things that dictatorship and terror are needed if the good of humanity is to be served, just as the Aztec priests believed themselves to be entirely justified in ripping the hearts out of thousands of victims, since had they not done so, the sun would have gone out, a far worse catastrophe for mankind. In either case, the means are acceptable, being inevitable....

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dowsing in scripture

Alan Jacobs recalls a Sunday School experience from around 1972:
"A fellow wanted to know whether he should marry his girlfriend," Mr. Hutchins told his wretched flock of imprisoned teenagers, "so he decided to see what the Bible had to say. He opened a page and put his finger on a spot"—at this point I emerged from my usual stupor and sat up straight, never having suspected that anyone else did such a thing—"and it said, ‘Judas went and hanged himself.’ Well, he didn’t like that too much, so he tried again. This time it said, ‘Go thou and do likewise.’" A grin flickered. "So he tried one more time, closed his eyes, opened his Bible, put his finger on the page...." Mr. Hutchins paused for effect, with his own Bible open in his lap, his head uplifted and eyes screwed shut, his finger wavering presciently over the surface of the page. Then, suddenly, the finger plunged like a dowsing rod, he popped open his eyes, and concluded: "And this time it said, ‘What thou doest, do quickly!’"

Monday, November 9, 2015

But I still hate the Reds

....I quote Roger Scruton, the British philosopher, who is an exemplary conservative. In a podcast last summer, I said to him (approximately), “If I appointed anyone as commissar of conservatism, it would be you.” He said (exactly),
“I would be very lax in my duties. My view is that the most important thing for conservatives is to be in alliance with each other, not to have witch hunts over small points of doctrine, not to identify heresies and persecute them and so on.

“I think that, in the end, there is something that unites all conservatives, which is that they are pursuing something they love. My view is that the Left is united by hatred, but we are united by love: love of our country, love of institutions, love of the law, love of family, and so on. And what makes us conservatives is the desire to protect those things, and we’re up against people who want to destroy them, and it’s very simple.” ....

Thursday, November 5, 2015

“Credential worship”

Kenneth Woodward, longtime religion editor for Newsweek, considers whether Ross Douthat is qualified to write about Catholicism, his right to do so having been questioned by a growing list of Catholic academicians who have attached their names to an open letter to The New York Times.
Part one reads: “Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject…” What exactly is the subject he is not qualified to write about? He has has already published a very substantive journalistic book on Catholicism that has been generally well received by Catholics of various stripes. If the subject is Catholic sacramental marriage, he is a husband and a father, an experiential credential that some of his academic critics, being priests, do not. If nothing else, it gives him a personal stake in the outcome of the church’s deliberations.

It is hard not to conclude from the way this sentence begins that what the offended scholars mean by “professional qualifications” is a doctorate in theology or in some degree kindred to “the sacred sciences.” But neither did G.K. Chesterton, or C.S. Lewis, or Thomas Merton, I believe. What they did is read widely and write well. A doctorate is the one credential Douthat’s critics own that he does not. This smacks of the academic virus that Frank O’Malley, my old English professor at Notre Dame, identified as “PhDeism”—i.e. credential worship. It is the virus that, in another context, Christopher Lasch lamented as inciting “the tyranny of experts” and is akin to what led Kierkegaard to observe that “a roomful of experts is only a crowd.” ....

"Remember, remember the Fifth of November..."

Today is celebrated in the UK as Guy Fawkes Day, the anniversary of a foiled attempt by Catholic plotters in 1605 to blow up King James and the Houses of Parliament. It was known as the "Gunpowder Plot" and came very close to success. From an online description:
.... It was intended to be the beginning of a great uprising of English Catholics, who were distressed by the increased severity of penal laws against the practice of their religion. The conspirators, who began plotting early in 1604, expanded their number to a point where secrecy was impossible.

[In] a cellar under the House of Lords...36 barrels of gunpowder, overlaid with iron bars and firewood, were secretly stored. The conspiracy was brought to light through a mysterious letter received by Lord Monteagle...on October 26, urging him not to attend Parliament on the opening day.

The 1st Earl of Salisbury and others, to whom the plot was made known, took steps leading to the discovery of the materials and the arrest of Fawkes as he entered the cellar. Other conspirators, overtaken in flight or seized afterward, were killed outright, imprisoned, or executed.

.... While the plot was the work of a small number of men, it provoked hostility against all English Catholics and led to an increase in the harshness of laws against them. Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, is still celebrated in England with fireworks and bonfires, on which effigies of the conspirator are burned. ....

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England's overthrow.
But, by God's providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match! ....
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
English children's rhyme for Guy Fawkes Day
 
Guy Fawkes Day, The Fifth of November - English Folk Verse

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Things fall apart

Several analyses both here and in Europe have been reporting a disturbing trend especially affecting white lower-class males. From The Washington Post:
A large segment of white middle-aged Americans has suffered a startling rise in its death rate since 1999, according to a review of statistics published Monday that shows a sharp reversal in decades of progress toward longer lives.

The mortality rate for white men and women ages 45-54 with less than a college education increased markedly between 1999 and 2013, most likely because of problems with legal and illegal drugs, alcohol and suicide, the researchers concluded. Before then, death rates for that group dropped steadily, and at a faster pace.

An increase in the mortality rate for any large demographic group in an advanced nation has been virtually unheard of in recent decades, with the exception of Russian men after the collapse of the Soviet Union. ....

...[T]hey found that mortality rates for this group had risen an average of a half percent per year since 1999, after falling an average of 2 percent annually for the 20 years before that. If mortality rates group had stayed on their steady downward course, a half-million more people would be alive today, they determined. [more]
And this while "U.S. death rate for all causes declined 43 percent between 1969 and 2013, from about 1,279 per 100,000 people to about 730."

R.R. Reno believes he knows at least part of the reason:
.... For the last few decades, cultural leaders have been waging a war on the weak. Their goal is to dismantle traditional norms and rules for family life. They push to dismantle gender roles and other foundational categories that ordinary people use to orient themselves and make sense out of their lives. They advocate for drug legalization and doctor-assisted suicide as well. The upshot: reliable guides toward a normal life are removed, and potentially destructive behaviors that rich people either avoid or discretely manage are normalized. The most vulnerable pay the cost. ....

Well-educated adepts know how to use today’s multicultural patois to navigate in our brave new world of officially mandated gender blindness. They can affirm the progressive orthodoxies in words, while conveying to their children in their deeds a plastic but nevertheless gender-differentiated approach to life. Meanwhile, kids and young adults from poorly educated households are deprived of a functional language to talk about what it means to be a man or woman. Without such a language, they can’t see themselves as successfully being men or women. And so they are deprived of a baseline adult achievement that come-of-age rituals in traditional cultures have always celebrated.

.... Two generations ago, a working class man was often poor or nearly poor, but he could be respected in his neighborhood as a provider for his family, father to his children, law-abiding citizen, coach of a Little League team, and usher in church. The culture that made such a life possible has disintegrated, partly due to large-scale trends in our post-industrial society, but also because of a sustained and ongoing ideological assault on the basic norms for family and community. Death rates are likely to continue to rise for poor Americans. I see no signs that the war on the weak will abate. [more]

Sunday, November 1, 2015

"For all the saints, who from their labors rest..."

Wikipedia notes "Protestants generally regard all true Christian believers as saints and if they observe All Saints Day at all they use it to remember all Christians both past and present"



For all the saints,
who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith
before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus,
be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
The golden evening
brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors
comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of
paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou wast their Rock,
their Fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain
in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness,
their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a
yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant
rise in bright array;
The King of glory
passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion,
fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle,
they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee,
for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds,
from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl
streams in the countless host,
Singing to God,
the Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!