Thursday, May 30, 2019


Michael Dirda on a three hundred year old classic:
.... Robinson Crusoe, though, remains something truly special: It belongs in that small category of classics — others are The Odyssey and Don Quixote — that we feel we’ve read even if we haven’t. Retellings for children and illustrations, like those by N.C. Wyeth, have made its key scenes universally recognizable. Stranded on a desert island, Crusoe strips his wrecked ship of everything useful, builds a fortified cave-retreat, acquires goats and a pet parrot, plants barley and corn, learns to fashion clothes out of animal skins. The most dramatic moment of all occurs without preamble or fanfare:
It happened one Day about Noon going towards my Boat, I was exceedingly surpriz’d with the Print of a Man’s naked Foot on the Shore, which was very plain to be seen in the Sand; I stood like one Thunder-struck, or as I had seen an Apparition; I listen’d, I look’d round me, I could hear nothing, nor see any Thing; I went up to a rising Ground to look farther; I went up the Shore and down the Shore, but it was all one, I could see no other Impression but that one.
Much later, Crusoe discovers an orgiastic cannibal feast and helps rescue a captive to whom he gives the name Friday. Later still, mutineers land on the island, but Crusoe and Friday, through force of arms and subterfuge, restore command to the ship’s rightful captain. Many editions of the novel then close with these abrupt words:
In this vessel, after a long voyage, I arrived in England this 11th of June, in the year 1687, having been thirty and five years absent.
.... As many scholars have noted, Defoe’s castaway isn’t a back-to-nature primitivist, but rather an enterprising capitalist, eager to transform raw nature into useful goods while keeping careful inventories of what he owns, makes and reaps. He regularly likens himself to a king, has Friday call him “Master,” and later assumes the title of governor.

Where capitalism flourishes, can the Protestant ethic be far behind? Crusoe’s near-death from fever leads to spiritual awakening and repentance. He recognizes disobedience to his father as his Original Sin, learns to trust in Providence and totes up his blessings on a balance sheet. .... (more, probably behind a pay wall)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Abortion and eugenics

Justice Clarence Thomas today (pdf), responding to the Court's decision not to consider an appeals court ruling overturning an Indiana abortion law (I have removed references):
I write separately to address the other aspect of Indiana law at issue here—the "Sex Selective and Disability Abortion Ban." This statute makes it illegal for an abortion provider to perform an abortion in Indiana when the provider knows that the mother is seeking the abortion solely because of the child's race, sex, diagnosis of Down syndrome, disability, or related characteristics. (excluding "lethal fetal anomal[ies]" from the definition of disability). The law requires that the mother be advised of this restriction and given information about financial assistance and adoption alternatives, but it imposes liability only on the provider. Each of the immutable characteristics protected by this law can be known relatively early in a pregnancy, and the law prevents them from becoming the sole criterion for deciding whether the child will live or die. Put differently, this law and other laws like it promote a State's compelling interest in preventing abortion from becoming a tool of modern-day eugenics.

The use of abortion to achieve eugenic goals is not merely hypothetical. The foundations for legalizing abortion in America were laid during the early 20th-century birth-control movement. That movement developed alongside the American eugenics movement. And significantly, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger recognized the eugenic potential of her cause. She emphasized and embraced the notion that birth control "opens the way to the eugenist." Sanger, "Birth Control and Racial Betterment." As a means of reducing the "ever increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all," Sanger argued that "Birth really the greatest and most truly eugenic method" of "human generation." In her view, birth control had been "accepted by the most clear thinking and far seeing of the Eugenists themselves as the most constructive and necessary of the means to racial health."

It is true that Sanger was not referring to abortion when she made these statements, at least not directly. She recognized a moral difference between "contraceptives" and other, more "extreme" ways for "women to limit their families," such as "the horrors of abortion and infanticide." But Sanger's arguments about the eugenic value of birth control in securing "the elimination of the unfit," apply with even greater force to abortion, making it significantly more effective as a tool of eugenics. Whereas Sanger believed that birth control could prevent "unfit" people from reproducing, abortion can prevent them from being born in the first place. Many eugenicists therefore supported legalizing abortion, and abortion advocates—including future Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher endorsed the use of abortion for eugenic reasons. Technological advances have only heightened the eugenic potential for abortion, as abortion can now be used to eliminate children with unwanted characteristics, such as a particular sex or disability.

Given the potential for abortion to become a tool of eugenic manipulation, the Court will soon need to confront the constitutionality of laws like Indiana's. But because further percolation may assist our review of this issue of first impression, I join the Court in declining to take up the issue now. (more, pdf)

Monday, May 27, 2019


Why do we have a Memorial Day? Re-posted:

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

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

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

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

A Memorial Day Poem

 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1882:

Decoration Day
Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,       
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry's shot alarms!
All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!
Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon's sudden roar,
Or the drum's redoubling beat.
Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.
But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.

A Memorial Day Poem by Longfellow, From The Atlantic, June 1882 - The Atlantic

Memorial Day


Walter Russel Mead on Memorial Day, 2013:
The famous poem by the Canadian John McCrae commemorates the dead from the terrible trench warfare battles of World War One, but it is worth remembering today, as Americans...are putting their lives on the line in another country where poppies bloom.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
What makes this poem so memorable, I think, is that it doesn’t just see the soldiers as victims. Their lives are more than a tragic waste; we have not done our duty by them if we simply bewail their deaths and move on.

These soldiers were there for a reason; like the Americans who fought for the Union in our Civil War, they were fighting for a cause that was bigger than they were, that was worthy of the sacrifice they made. Those who die for freedom, or to protect their homes and families from invaders and aggression cannot be pitied and dismissed as victims. They must be honored and respected as warriors, as men whose service ennobled them and calls forth an answering sense of dedication among the living. ....

Pity and compassion can be noble emotions, but wallowing in these feelings is not what Memorial Day should be about. Our duty to the fallen is not just one of remembrance, or of caring for the wounded or those the warriors left behind. We also owe a debt of emulation: to continue to fight and if necessary to die for the great causes of our time. To fight an ideology of hatred that masks itself as religion is a noble and a generous thing to do; those who give their lives in the fight against this great evil are not victims. They are heroes, and they deserve to be remembered as such. ....

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Re-posted from 2007.

Do you remember a story like this? A young man, raised in a godly household, decides to leave home and father and seek adventure. He goes to sea where he is shipwrecked and then rescued. He falls among thieves and is imprisoned. He escapes; is enslaved; freed, he goes to a far land where he finds success as a planter. At sea, he is once again shipwrecked near an island, and, the ship’s crew having deserted during the storm, he is alone… This is the story of Robinson Crusoe written by Daniel Defoe and published in 1719. It was one of the first novels, presented as a travel book because many Christians then thought reading fiction was a waste of time.

Once on the island with only the supplies he had been able to salvage from the wrecked ship, Crusoe begins to make a new life. He is alone and entirely dependent on himself. When he falls ill there is no one to nurse him. He does however have a Bible, which he reads. He begins to see in his calamities the work of Providence. He repents and cries out “Lord, be my help!”

Increasingly, he seeks to bow before the will of God. “I acquiesced in the Dispositions of Providence, which I began now to own, and to believe, ord’d everything for the best.” Then, later: “I began sensibly to feel how much more happy this life was, with all its miserable Circumstances, than the wicked, cursed, abominable Life I led all the past Part of my days.”

Many things ensue: He finds Friday, whom he educates; they rescue Friday’s father and a Spaniard from cannibals; they fight off pirates; and eventually he finds his way back to tell his story.

It’s a great adventure but if you decide to read the book today you may find that the references to faith have been removed – some editors seem to think they are a distraction.

One of the prints hanging on my walls is “Marooned” by the American painter and illustrator Howard Pyle. The marooned sailor in the painting is alone like Crusoe, but with much less hope of physical survival. He has been left on a sandbar waiting for the tide to rise. I chose it because I like Howard Pyle, but also because it is a good representation of those times in life when we feel abandoned, alone, and despairing….

Many theologians have thought Despair the worst of sins. It is the opposite of Hope. When we lose hope we refuse to believe that God will keep His promises. We have lost our confidence in Him.

In fact we are never “marooned.” We are never alone and without hope. When we begin to feel like that, it is important to remember what we know to be true.
[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance... If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. ... And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ... For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:3; 8:11, 28, 38-39 (ESV)
Note: I have the uncomfortable feeling that some of the material above may have come from another source. If so, I would like to give credit and would be grateful to anyone who could provide a reference.

Another great illustrator

Howard Chandler Christy. These are all WWI era propaganda posters.

Friday, May 24, 2019

"Not dark yet, but it's getting there"

On Bob Dylan's 78th birthday Power Line posts "Not dark yet" so I went looking for the song.

Shadows are falling and I been here all day
It's too hot to sleep and time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal
Well I been to London and I been to gay Paree
I followed the river and I got to the sea
I've been down to the bottom of a whirlpool of lies
I ain't lookin' for nothin' in anyone's eyes
There's not even room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there
Well my sense of humanity is going down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing, there's been some kind of pain
Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there
I was born here and I'll die here, against my will
I know it looks like I'm movin' but I'm standin' still
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writin' what was in her mind
I just don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don't even hear the murmur of a prayer
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there

More at Power Line: "Not dark yet, cont’d", with various well-known performers doing covers of Dylan songs.


In his essay "On Fairy Stories" (pdf) Tolkien writes "Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?” Escaping can be a good thing. Bradley J. Birzer attributes his return to faith to Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons:
...I discovered a role-playing game that allowed me to spend as many hours as I so desired in Tolkienian-inspired worlds, Dungeons and Dragons. Surviving a very violent domestic situation during the late 1970s and early 1980s, I can state with no hyperbole that my ability to enter in and out of Tolkienian realms at will quite definitely saved my life. I remember the bizarre motherly whisperings at the time that Dungeon and Dragons might open a child to Satanism and the dark occult. I can only laugh at such comments, especially in hindsight. For me, Dungeons and Dragons (as based on Tolkien’s mythology) not only sheltered my then pre-teenage collapsing faith from collapsing entirely, but it also allowed me sanity by giving me an escape from household terrors that so dominated those years. During my daily walks to and from Liberty Junior High, I often contemplated suicide, trying to decide not if, but when. Honestly, it sometimes seemed the only way to escape my stepfather. Tolkien’s characters and stories, as played in Dungeons and Dragons, strangely (or Providentially?) intruded, pushing aside the darkest thoughts and depressions. Fantastic worlds provided the healthier and healthiest escape in those sombre days. When my friends and I played Dungeons and Dragons, we challenged and conquered evil in all its manifestations, domestic and foreign. We had only one God, and that God was good, true, and beautiful. If some kids fell in the occult because of Dungeons and Dragons, I am truly sorry. In my case, though, it prevented the greatest darkness of all and helped me realize the precious value of life. While I might not be able to stave off the evil in my home, I could rescue others from abuse, even if only in my imagined kingdoms and fantastic republics. ....
He mentions two books I have but had not looked at recently.
Of those books about Tolkien, but not written or edited by members of the Tolkien Estate, I loved the works by David Day, especially his Tolkien Bestiary, featuring some of the best painted renderings of Middle-earth I have yet to overcome. My current students have the distorted images of Tolkien’s world by Peter Jackson stuck in their heads. For me, my images come from the paintings commissioned by Mr. Day. Just as important to me was cartographic treasure, Barbara Strachey’s The Journeys of Frodo.
A Tolkien Bestiary is beautifully illustrated but is also an encyclopedia of Middle Earth. A typical entry:
FIRE-DRAKES Of all the creatures bred by Morgoth the Dark Enemy in all the Ages of his power the evil reptiles that were called Dragons were feared most. There were many breeds of these beings; the most deadly were those that vomited leaping flames from their foul bellies. These were called Fire-drakes, and among them were numbered the mightiest of Dragons. Glaurung, Father of Dragons, was first of the Uruloki Fire-drakes, and he had many offspring. The evil work of these Dragons on the kingdoms of Elves, Men and Dwarves in the First Age of Sun was terrible.

In the last days of that Age, when most of the Earth-bound brood of Glaurung had been put to death in the War of Wrath, the winged Fire-drakes appeared out of Angband. They are said to have been among the greatest terrors of the World, and Ancalagon the Black, who was of this breed, was said to have been the mighest Dragon of all times.

In later Ages, the histories of Middle-earth all tell of one last winged Fire-drake that was almost as fearsome as Ancalagon. This was the Dragon of Erebor, which drove the Dwarves of Durins Line from the kingdom under the Mountain. He was called Smaug the Golden, and in the year 2941 of the Third Age he was killed by Bard the Bowman of Dale.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"What passes for little more than naïveté in deep disguise"

From Wilfred McClay's introduction to his new United States history volume, Land of Hope:
.... A nation that professes high ideals makes itself vulnerable to searing criticism when it falls short of them — sometimes far short indeed, as America often has. We should not be surprised by that, however; nor should we be surprised to discover that many of our heroes turn out to be deeply flawed human beings. All human beings are flawed, as are all human enterprises. To believe otherwise is to be naive, and much of what passes for cynicism in our time is little more than naïveté in deep disguise.

What we should remember, though, is that the history of the United States, and of the West more generally, includes the activity of searching self-criticism as part of its foundational makeup. There is immense hope implicit in that process, if we go about it in the right way. That means approaching the work of criticism with constructive intentions and a certain generosity that flows from the mature awareness that none of us is perfect and that we should therefore judge others as we would ourselves wish to be judged, blending justice and mercy. One of the worst sins of the present — not just ours but any present — is its tendency to condescend toward the past, which is much easier to do when one doesn't trouble to know the full context of that past or try to grasp the nature of its challenges as they presented themselves at the time. ....

The "idiot delusion of the exceptional Now"

Quoted at the beginning of Land of Hope:
Every generation rewrites the past. In easy times history is more or less of an ornamental art, but in times of danger we are driven to the written record by a pressing need to find answers to the riddles of today. We need to know what kind of firm ground other men, belonging to generations before us, have found to stand on. In spite of changing conditions of life they were not very different from ourselves, their thoughts were the grandfathers of our thoughts, they managed to meet situations as difficult as those we have to face, to meet them sometimes lightheartedly, and in some measure to make their hopes prevail. We need to know how they did it.

In times of change and danger when there is a quicksand of fear under men's reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present and get us past that idiot delusion of the exceptional Now that blocks good thinking. That is why, in times like ours, when old institutions are caving in and being replaced by new institutions not necessarily in accord with most men's preconceived hopes, political thought has to look backwards as well as forwards.

John Dos Passos, "The Use of the Past," from The Ground We Stand On: Some Examples from the History of a Political Creed (1941)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"Poisonous cynicism has supplanted naïve bluster..."

I received Wilfred McClay’s Land of Hope today and will soon dive in. Reviews like this one are very encouraging:
.... When I was asked to review it, I put myself on guard. I was skeptical that I would find a new and “fair” American history text. Instead, I expected to find yet another work with a political angle, whether sharp or hidden.

Experience has taught me that bias more often enters history textbooks through what their authors omit from the standard account, rather than through any new topics they might add. So, I immediately turned to the chapters that would be most vulnerable to revision.

What I encountered was a rich account of American history that had me rethinking historical events from new perspectives. My skepticism soon gave way to curiosity. As I began to race through the pages, I felt that I was learning much of the material for the first time.

Land of Hope showcases a nuanced approach that presents the American story as a series of difficult choices. It promotes critical thinking as well as anything I have read. McClay invites the reader to assess carefully what leaders and average Americans thought at the most important junctures of change and continuity in American history. Material is deftly woven into a chronological narrative that helps one understand events in context and keeps the reader yearning to learn more.

In a chapter entitled “Becoming a World Power,” for instance, Land of Hope provides an insightful look into America’s drift away from traditional isolationism and toward imperialism in the late nineteenth century. The narrative context highlights the complexities of the topic. McClay effectively places American motives and actions in a global setting while showing their continuity with the ideas and values of the Founding.

Multiple works that I have encountered present this shift as either a haphazard, racially insensitive venture or a calculated power grab aimed at economic exploitation. McClay does not hide the controversy that surrounded the change and diligently examines the arguments that ensued. But more importantly, the chapter casts new light on the situations in Cuba and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War―a critical point on which most texts remain silent. McClay uses primary sources to show how a commitment to principles guided much of the nation’s thinking, and the reader comes away without an overwhelming sense of national shame. .... (more)
Amazon offers the book (a hefty volume) for about $20.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

It never should have happened

.... No legal case has done more than Roe to define how the left sees the Supreme Court: not as a somewhat boring final arbiter of words recorded in law books, but as the oracle that tells us what rights the Constitution ought to guarantee. Consequential cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and Miranda v. Arizona (1966), concerning racial segregation and the rights of police suspects, respectively, dealt with matters that clearly involved the Constitution. There was no question that resolving just such ambiguity is the Supreme Court’s job.

But by the 1970s, the court was, one suspects, a little drunk on the moral and legal triumph of those earlier cases. The justices were now going well beyond the words in the law books and into the unwritten law of what used to be called “enlightened opinion.” In 1972, they abolished the death penalty in all 50 states, even though the Constitution clearly contemplates government-administered capital punishment.

The following year, the justices gave the country a new right to abortion. The right is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, but had apparently been lurking there undetected for the better part of two centuries before the justices finally coaxed it into the open. From this era dates the solemn invocations of “settled law” issued by “the highest court in the land.” ....

If the Supreme Court hadn’t intervened on abortion, political debate might have sorted voters along a spectrum, rather than forcing them into the unforgiving yes-no binary. And if you fear you’re about to end up on the wrong side of that binary, you might wish your side had settled for something less grandiose, but more enduring.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hitchcock's favorite...

...of his own films:
Young Charlie (played by Teresa Wright) lives with her "average American family" in the small town of Santa Rosa. The type of place where people leave their front doors unlocked and everyone knows everyone. Life is pretty quiet but excitement arrives when successful, enigmatic relative Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) comes to stay.

Young Charlie's idolisation of her uncle slowly turns to suspicion as she gets the feeling that there might be a secret behind his smile. Hitchcock keeps proceedings deliberately ambiguous, spoon-feeding us clues: a missing newspaper clipping here, a recurring hummed tune there …

The film's best scene takes place around the dinner table where Uncle Charlie tells the family what he thinks about women, specifically rich widows. Seen from young Charlie's point of view, the camera slowly creeps in on his face as he describes them as "horrible, fat, fading women". "But they're alive, they're human beings," she replies. Uncle Charlie turns and looks directly down the camera lens: "Are they?" ....

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The cuckoo clock

CrimeReads selects "The 20 Best Speeches in The History of Crime Cinema" and it's a good selection if you have the time. I know most of them. For example, from The Third Man:
“Holly, I’d like to cut you in, old man. There’s nobody left in Vienna I can really trust, and we’ve always done everything together. When you make up your mind, send me a message—I’ll meet you any place, any time, and when we do meet old man, it’s you I want to see, not the police. Remember that, won’t ya? Don’t be so gloomy.

After all it’s not that awful. You know what the fellow said—in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”—Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles
The extended scene as found on YouTube:

The 20 Best Speeches in The History of Crime Cinema | CrimeReads

Monday, May 13, 2019

A new earth...

I have finished C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction. In the final chapter Como quotes from the last pages of Lewis's last book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer:
I don't say the resurrection of this body will happen at once. It may well be that this part of us sleeps in death, and the intellectual soul is sent to Lenten lands where she fasts in naked spirituality a ghost-like and imperfectly human condition. .... Yet from that fast my hope is that we shall return and re-assume the wealth we have laid down.

Then the new earth and sky, the same yet not the same as these, will rise in us as we have risen in Christ. And once again, after who knows what aeons of the silence and the dark, the birds will sing and the waters flow, and lights and shadows move across the hills, and the faces of our friends laugh upon us with amazed recognition.

Guesses, of course, only guesses. If they are not true, something better will be. For "we know that we shall be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."

Key ideas in C.S. Lewis

Continuing to read James Como's C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction I come to "Ten key ideas from Lewis's works," from which:
These are central to Lewis's thinking: many of his arguments are based upon them and they were central to his life. Omitted are orthodox Christian ideas (e.g. the Incarnation), as well as political ones (e.g. the danger of fetishizing equality: 'I'm as good as you').

Joy (Sehnsucht) is a longing conveyed by some image or memory or event that does not originate in any of those but comes through them. It is from a place beyond the senses and kindles a hope that there is Heaven, that Heaven is our home, and that we will return there. It is painful because nothing in this world can satisfy it, no matter how hard we may try to do so; it is sweetly painful because we can intuit its origin and our destiny.

Contemplation and Enjoyment (or At/Along), or knowing from the outside and from the inside, where a phenomenon (such as religious belief or being in love) may seem very different. We need both.

Chronological snobbery is the uncritical acceptance of our own intellectual climate, as though past beliefs or practices are useless simply because they came before us. A corollary is that our belief in Progress is misplaced: we must ask what it is we are 'progressing' towards. ....

Morality is objective, outside of any personal preference or perception and accessible to Reason. To be subjective respecting this Natural Law (the Tao) is to submit to those who have the power, especially the technological power, to enforce their preferences, leading to 'the abolition of man'. It merits obedience. ....
Others are "Subjectivism is poisonous," "Reason is objectively valid," "Imagination," "Quiddity," "Personhood," "Ultimate Reality."

James Como, James Como's C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, pp.63-64.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

CSL, again

I've returned to James Como's C.S. Lewis: A very Short Introduction. It is short (116 pages) but very good combining biography and brief accounts of CSL's books, articles, and sermons. For example, from the first part of his summary of the first book of the Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet:
Elwin Ransom, a philologist, is walking an unusually quiet countryside. It is late, and when he is refused hospitality at a nearly empty inn (a bad sign) he knocks at a cottage, meets a mother worried over her missing son Harry, and agrees to seek him at the cottage of 'the Professor and the gentleman from London'. They will turn out to be Weston and Devine, who would send the boy off in a rocket to Malacandra (Mars) as a sacrificial offering to ravenous creatures. When Ransom attempts to intervene, the two overcome him and put him into the rocket instead, and off goes Ransom into the void of Outer Space.

We see here two aspects of Lewis's method. The first is his working out of a 'supposal', as he calls it. Suppose there is intelligent life in the solar system beyond Earth. What would they be like? What might they think of us? What would they think of Earth, which will turn out to be, for very sinister reasons, the 'silent planet'? The second is Lewis's use of reversal, in this case of his hero's and our expectations. Outer Space is not a void but alive with light and life; the red planet is populated by three different species living in peace; the creatures to whom he was sent as a sacrifice, certainly frightening at first glance, are innocent, and our planet (known as Thulcandra) is quarantined because of its own Fall.

Lewis takes his vision farther still. His hero spends much time on Malacandra, comes to know its three species—sorns, hrossa, and pfifltriggi: all hnau, or possessed of reason—and their language (Old Solar), has adventures as well as misadventures as he experiences landscapes, customs, and virtues, and learns that the planet has a presiding spirit, an eldil, the Oyarsa, in the service of the greatest eldil, Maleldil, the creator. ....
I believe that anyone who appreciates Lewis would profit from this book. It might well also lead to some re-reading and/or the discovery of things not yet read.

James Como, C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, p. 57.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

To see ourselves as others do

.... When the Sunday–school hour was finished, the next morning, the bell began to toll, instead of ringing in the usual way. It was a very still Sabbath, and the mournful sound seemed in keeping with the musing hush that lay upon nature. The villagers began to gather, loitering a moment in the vestibule to converse in whispers about the sad event. But there was no whispering in the house; only the funereal rustling of dresses as the women gathered to their seats disturbed the silence there. None could remember when the little church had been so full before. There was finally a waiting pause, an expectant dumbness, and then Aunt Polly entered, followed by Sid and Mary, and they by the Harper family, all in deep black, and the whole congregation, the old minister as well, rose reverently and stood until the mourners were seated in the front pew. There was another communing silence, broken at intervals by muffled sobs, and then the minister spread his hands abroad and prayed. A moving hymn was sung, and the text followed: "I am the Resurrection and the Life."

As the service proceeded, the clergyman drew such pictures of the graces, the winning ways, and the rare promise of the lost lads that every soul there, thinking he recognized these pictures, felt a pang in remembering that he had persistently blinded himself to them always before, and had as persistently seen only faults and flaws in the poor boys. The minister related many a touching incident in the lives of the departed, too, which illustrated their sweet, generous natures, and the people could easily see, now, how noble and beautiful those episodes were, and remembered with grief that at the time they occurred they had seemed rank rascalities, well deserving of the cowhide. The congregation became more and more moved, as the pathetic tale went on, till at last the whole company broke down and joined the weeping mourners in a chorus of anguished sobs, the preacher himself giving way to his feelings, and crying in the pulpit.

There was a rustle in the gallery, which nobody noticed; a moment later the church door creaked; the minister raised his streaming eyes above his handkerchief, and stood transfixed! First one and then another pair of eyes followed the minister's, and then almost with one impulse the congregation rose and stared while the three dead boys came marching up the aisle, Tom in the lead, Joe next, and Huck, a ruin of drooping rags, sneaking sheepishly in the rear! They had been hid in the unused gallery listening to their own funeral sermon!

Aunt Polly, Mary, and the Harpers threw themselves upon their restored ones, smothered them with kisses and poured out thanksgivings, while poor Huck stood abashed and uncomfortable, not knowing exactly what to do or where to hide from so many unwelcoming eyes. He wavered, and started to slink away, but Tom seized him and said:

"Aunt Polly, it ain't fair. Somebody's got to be glad to see Huck."

"And so they shall. I'm glad to see him, poor motherless thing!" And the loving attentions Aunt Polly lavished upon him were the one thing capable of making him more uncomfortable than he was before.

Suddenly the minister shouted at the top of his voice: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow—SING!—and put your hearts in it!"

And they did. Old Hundred swelled up with a triumphant burst, and while it shook the rafters Tom Sawyer the Pirate looked around upon the envying juveniles about him and confessed in his heart that this was the proudest moment of his life.

As the "sold" congregation trooped out they said they would almost be willing to be made ridiculous again to hear Old Hundred sung like that once more.

Tom got more cuffs and kisses that day—according to Aunt Polly's varying moods—than he had earned before in a year; and he hardly knew which expressed the most gratefulness to God and affection for himself.
An account that has made many wonder what it would be like to hear your own eulogy.

Reading the right way

When the electricity failed and there was no internet and nothing to binge-watch this author re-discovered what it was like to properly read a book. I need to once again read like I used to. From "Why You Should Start Binge-Reading Right Now":
.... Before my storm-induced Rendell marathon, I’d been reading the wrong way. John Gardner, the literary critic, wrote that the job of the novelist is to create a “vivid and continuous dream” for the reader, but I’d somehow developed a case of readerly sleep apnea. I’d gotten into the habit of consuming novels so fitfully that I was all but sealed off from their pleasures. ....

This style of reading had, I realized, shunted me into a vicious circle. I was reading less because I was enjoying it less, which made reading even less enjoyable, which inclined me to read even less. In this way, a bookmark lodged at page 128 of Wolf Hall began to seem as immovable as a Stonehenge tablet. ....

...[I]n book after book, if you do push on through one chapter break, and then on through the chapter break after that, something amazing happens. Subplots that would once have been murky to the point of incomprehensibility (what was the deal with that dead sea captain again?) step into the light. Little jokes and echoes, separated by dozens or even hundreds of pages, come rustling out of the text forest. ....

You will, in other words, find yourself propelled through a book that would once have been a multiseason dead weight in your tote bag. And this will not be the creepy propulsion of the countdown that draws you guiltily into a “White Collar” marathon, but the intimate, happy propulsion that keeps you talking well into the night with a visiting friend. ....

When I’ve found the right book, and I’m reading it the right way, reading is fun — head-tingling, goosebump-raising fun. It’s a vivid and continuous dream that is somehow both directed from without and cast from within, and I get to be awake for it. Netflix can wait. (more)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Crying out...

How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? ....
Psalm 13 (KJV)

Thinking about grief because of some reflections on Facebook. I went searching and found "The Way of Lament," from which:
Dictionaries define the word lament as “feeling or expressing sorrow or grief.” It’s not a word we use much these days. In fact, lamenting is an art that we don’t often practice in Western culture. Rather than express our emotions, we tend to hide them, distract ourselves from feeling them, or even pretend they don’t exist. When difficult circumstances cut into our lives, we are likely to seek out false saviors to rescue us. We bury ourselves in work, entertainment, or a pint of ice cream. We might even take things into our own hands and attempt to control our circumstances. We’ll do anything but face the pain and heartache we feel.

Yet, Scripture is filled with lament. Habakkuk lamented the coming judgment on Israel. The book of Lamentations is one long lament. Our Savior cried out a lament in the garden of Gethsemane. The psalms of lament are poetic songs that give voice to the sorrows and pains of God’s people.

The laments in Scripture do more than just voice painful emotions. The psalms of lament, in particular, go further than just releasing pent-up emotions. They are more than mere catharsis. Within themselves, these psalms are a theology, a doxology, a form of worship. They are reminders of truth. They are exercises in faith. They are transformative for the believer. And there is much we can learn from them.

While the psalms of lament were written by a variety of psalmists, in various circumstances, and for varying reasons, they nevertheless share a common structure and pattern. Nearly all the laments move from the negative to positive, from sorrow to joy, and from fear to trust. The laments represent the journey of the soul. In following the way of the psalmist, we can learn the art of lament so that we, too, can cry out to God in the midst of our pain. ....
Lord, we beseech Thee, give ear to our prayers,
and by Thy gracious visitation
lighten the darkness of our heart,
by our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen (BCP)
The Way of Lament

Monday, May 6, 2019

Fit for eternity?

Kevin Brown asks "Would Alt-Right Christians Like Heaven?" and notes "To paraphrase John Wesley, all have an open invitation to God’s great banquet table—but we don’t get to choose the guest list. If I cannot appreciate and embrace Christian brothers and sisters who are different than me in race, culture, and ethnicity—then I may not be suited for God’s dinner table." Brown:
....  Justification is our right to eternity with God, but sanctification is what makes us fit for eternity. Christ’s atoning death may open the gate to Heaven, but our fitness for God’s eternal Kingdom relates to the heavenly sensibilities we are cultivating in the here and now.

This is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ famous work The Great Divorce. The book describes a bus that traverses the expanse between hell and heaven, where inhabitants of the former visit loved ones in the latter. But while Heaven’s doors are wide open for the visitors, most opt to return to the isolated, cold reality of the “grey town.” Why?

Because they prefer hell. They desired autonomy and self-righteousness. Their scorn for others, lust, and other disordered affections were not suited for a Heavenly reality. Though the invitation for Heaven is available to them, God ultimately obliges their preference to return to the dreary solitude they came from.

We often think of Heaven or Hell as a blessing we receive or a punishment we deserve. Seldom do we think of either as a destination we might prefer. For Lewis, hell encompasses our mis-guided and mis-applied inclinations, affections, and loves. That is, we will desire our way into eternity—but the nature of our eternity will be proportionate to the nature of our desires. In this way, for God to give us what we want may be his greatest gift—or his harshest judgment.

In his book Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl—N.D. Wilson describes a casual dinner gathering where an atheist student, speaking to her Protestant professor dinner companion, bluntly raises the question of her eternal destiny.

“Do you think I’m going to hell?”

Equally blunt, the professor responds. “Don’t you want to? … God is who he is. Do you want to be with him?”

The question is equally relevant to us today. Eternity is not simply a matter of what we believe, it is also a matter of what we want. .... (more)

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Standing outside

Reinhold Niebuhr:
"He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh:
the Lord shall have them in derision."
Ps. 2:4.
This word of the Second Psalm is one of three instances in the Bible in which laughter is attributed to God. God is not frequently thought of as possessing a sense of humour, though that quality would have to be attributed to perfect personality. There are critics of religion who regard it as deficient in the sense of humour, and they can point to the fact that there is little laughter in the Bible. Why is it that Scriptural literature, though filled with rejoicings and songs of praise, is not particularly distinguished for the expression of laughter? There are many sayings of Jesus which betray a touch of ironic humour; but on the whole one must agree with the critics who do not find much humour or laughter in the Bible.

This supposed defect will, however, appear less remarkable if the relation of humour to faith is understood. Humour is, in fact, a prelude to faith; and laughter is the beginning of prayer. Laughter must be heard in the outer courts of religion, and the echoes of it should resound in the sanctuary; but there is no laughter in the holy of holies, laughter is swallowed up in prayer and humour fulfilled by faith.

The intimate relation between humour and faith is derived from the fact that both deal with the incongruities of our existence. Humour is concerned with the immediate incongruities of life and faith with the ultimate ones. Both humour and faith are expressions of the freedom of the human spirit, of its capacity to stand outside of life, and itself, and view the whole scene. But any view of the whole immediately creates the problem of how the incongruities of life are to dealt with; for the effort to understand the life, our place in it, confronts us with inconsistencies and incongruities which do not fit into any neat picture the whole. Laughter is our reaction to immediate incongruities and those which do not affect us essentially. Faith is the only possible response to the ultimate incongruities of existence which threaten very meaning of our life. .... (more)

Friday, May 3, 2019

"A sworn enemy of ideology"

I have noted here before that my conservatism owes a great deal to having read books by Russell Kirk. This blog, in fact, has lots of entries about him. This review by Matthew Continetti is of one of his books that I don't recall ever reading:
In 1957, four years after his Conservative Mind had been published to great acclaim, Russell Kirk wrote a letter to former president Herbert Hoover. Kirk mentioned that he had a new book coming out in the spring. It would be, he said, “a species of retort against Bernard Shaw,” the author of The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism some decades before. Kirk’s title: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Conservatism.

That slim book has now been republished as Russell Kirk’s Concise Guide to Conservatism, with a new introduction by historian Wilfred M. McClay. It comes at an opportune moment. As McClay observes, “no one seems able to say with confidence just what ‘conservatism’ means today,” or what an American conservative ought to stand for. Perhaps Kirk can help.

Kirk was born 100 years ago and died in 1994. He would not be pleased with the current scene. Many conservatives, McClay says, have become ideologues dogmatically wedded to abstract principles. They ignore or oppose the particularities of history, tradition, faith, and community that constitute American society. Kirk, by contrast, was a sworn enemy of ideology. “It may well be, then,” McClay says, “that the transformation of a feckless, life-denying, and inhumane culture into something more consonant with our human endowment is the principal task facing conservatives and conservatism.” Easier said than done. ....

What Kirk offers conservatives is a point of view. He lends us a perspective by which to identify and defend the “permanent things” against those who seek to tear them asunder. He gifts us with a patrimony that begins with Edmund Burke and continues through to the “new humanist” critics of the 1920s and to the poetry and criticism of T.S. Eliot. Humane, literate, spiritual, elegiac, poetic, somewhat nostalgic, and constantly attuned to human weakness, Kirk’s prose evokes feelings of reverence, awe, and mutual loyalty. ....

Kirk says in the Concise Guide that conservatives believe: in a moral law “ordained of God”; in “variety and diversity” of economic stations and social types and roles; in equality of rights but not conditions; in private property; in decentralization and diffusion of power; in the wisdom of tradition; in civil society and voluntary associations; in skepticism toward foreign entanglement; in something like original sin or unchanging human nature; and in gradual reform of an otherwise stable order. ....

“I have said little enough about political economy,” Kirk explains, “principally because I think that economics has been overemphasized in our generation. I do not believe that the great contest in the modern world is simply between two theories of economics, ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism,’ as Bernard Shaw tried to convince women a generation ago. No, I happen to think that the real struggle is between traditional society, with its religious and moral and political inheritance, and collectivism (under whatever name) with its passion for reducing humanity to a mere tapioca-pudding of identical producers and consumers.” .... (more)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

May Day

Kind of bleak and rainy here this May Day but tomorrow looks pretty good. Anyway:
We've been a-rambling all this night,
And sometime of this day;
And now returning back again
We bring a branch of May.

A branch of May we bring you here,
And at your door it stands;
It is a sprout well budded out,
The work of the Lord's hands.

The hedges and trees they are so green,
As green as any leek;
Our Heavenly Father, He watered them
With His heavenly dew so sweet.

The heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain;
And if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again.

So dear, so dear as Christ loved us,
And for our sins was slain,
Christ bids us turn from wickedness
Back to the Lord again.

The moon shines bright, the stars give a light,
A little before it is day,
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a joyful May.

The Mayers' Song
Once upon a time May Day had nothing to do with any political cause, much less Communism, but with things like May Poles and May Baskets and the celebration of the coming of Spring.

Happy May Day!

The verse and the illustration are from The Children's Book of Rhymes, by Cicely Mary Barker


Theodore Dalrymple in "Every Pronoun Must Go":
.... The Scottish Maritime Museum, dedicated to the history of the country’s shipbuilding industry, has decided that it will no longer use the words she and her to refer to ships, but rather it and its. This is in response to feminists, who have defaced plaques referring to ships as she or her. This change would negate centuries of tradition, during which the words traditionally used on launching a ship, “May God bless all who sail in her,” carried no connotation of insult or deprecation—rather the reverse.

The Maritime Museum’s surrender is yet another instance of the craven surrender of British officialdom to the demands of a small but vociferous group of monomaniacs who make the imposition of their views the purpose of their lives. Museum authorities have argued that they must move with the times, and the prevention of vandalism is important, for economic reasons among others. Yet this rationale is something like awarding burglars a pension in an effort to prevent burglary. .... (more)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

History as good story

My parents — mostly, I suspect, Dad — were very interested in making their sons readers. I was early taken to the children's section of the library. And, just about as soon as I could take advantage they purchased several subscriptions. I remember receiving monthly an abridged version of a classic like Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Dickens' Oliver Twist. My early interest in history was encouraged by the regular reception, again, every month, of a Landmark book, published by Random House. I just came across this account of that series:
Lawson was one of the Doolittle raiders
Once there was a history book series that was so successful, it lured an entire generation of young readers to the discipline, including many of today's professional historians. The publisher hired the absolute best authors of the day, which might account for a small but dedicated audience in the present. Yet Random House's Landmark Books Series, which ran from 1950 to 1970 and ultimately generated 180 volumes, is so little studied, there isn't even a Wikipedia article on it. This is unfortunate, for the books captured the spirit of the postwar consensus, with all its strengths and weaknesses. ....

Bennett Cerf, the magisterial publisher who helped found Random House, invented the Landmark series in 1948. While vacationing with his family on Cape Cod, he went to buy a book about the Pilgrims for his young son. The proprietor of the local bookstore told Cerf that there were no juvenile books in print on that topic. Cerf thereupon decided to fill the gap. ....

Not a single author was an academic. Cerf clearly preferred skilled wordsmiths, the more famous the better, who could engage a general audience. The early years of the series relied on such literati as war correspondent Quentin Reynolds, Pulitzer Prize winner MacKinlay Kantor, double Pulitzer Prize recipient Robert Penn Warren, and Nobel Prize winner Pearl Buck. C.S. Forester, author of The African Queen and inventor of the Horatio Hornblower novels of adventure on the high seas, penned The Barbary Pirates for the series. Shirley Jackson, already famous for her short story "The Lottery," contributed The Witchcraft of Salem Village.

The books first sold for $1.50 (about $13.25 today)—not bad for a hardcover. Random House wisely packaged them with inviting dust jackets for the general reader, and in reinforced bindings for libraries (often with the dust jacket image embossed on the front cover). The paper was of the highest quality: even today the pages haven't yellowed. All the books came in just under 200 pages, with a legible Caslon font, reasonably wide margins, and even comprehensive indexes. They were illustrated, then the norm for children's books. ....

If the titles from the 1950s focused mostly on colonial history, the American West, pirates, and inventors, the 1960s highlighted the events of World War II. Most of these were written by actual war correspondents, such as Bruce Bliven, Richard Tregaskis, and John Toland. In some instances, these were adult best sellers simplified for younger readers. William Shirer published his mammoth The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in 1960. The next year, his Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler appeared in the Landmark series. ....

Cerf's hunch was correct: for young readers it was more important to tell a good story and to tell it in a simple but urbane way. In that regard, it would be hard to find prose more challenging and engaging to a juvenile than Shirer's closing words: "The remembrance of the grisly world nightmare [Hitler] provoked, of the millions of innocent beings he slaughtered, of the hurt he did to the human spirit, lingers on. The memory fades but slowly as the years pass and mankind resumes its ages-old effort to make the world a more decent place in which to live." ....
Thank you Bennett Cerf!