Thursday, October 31, 2019

"Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold..."

I am really enjoying The Dispatch and, for the time being, it is free. From David French today:
I urge everyone to read Ross Douthat’s insightful piece in Tuesday’s New York Times. He makes a key point about the continuing decline in American Christianity—it’s mainly occurring in the more lukewarm quarters of the faith. Here’s Ross:
The relative stability of the Gallup [church-attendance] data fits with analysis offered by the sociologists Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock in a 2017 paper, “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion.” Drawing on the General Social Survey, they argued that the recent decline of institutional religion is entirely a function of the formerly weakly affiliated ceasing to identify with religious bodies entirely; for the strongly affiliated (just over a third of the American population), the trend between 1990 and the present is a flat line, their numbers neither growing nor collapsing but holding steady across an era of supposedly dramatic religious change.
Put another way, Americans who used to categorize themselves as Christians by default or heritage—those nominal Christians who rarely darkened the doors of a church—are more likely to simply say they don’t belong to any faith.

A verse in the book of Revelation comes to mind: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” ....

...[W]hile Protestant attendance numbers are relatively steady (because the Evangelical church grows as the Mainline shrinks) the Catholic condition is more grim: “after a long period of immigrant-supported stabilization, in the current ‘aftershock’ it’s mostly Catholic mass attendance that’s been falling, even as Protestant church attendance bobs up.”

Thus, it’s not exactly right to say that America is becoming a “post-Christian nation” in the way that Europe is thoroughly secularized. In reality America is becoming a religiously divided nation—divided not between Christian sects, but rather between the faithful and the secular, with the faith community comprised of a critical mass of devout believers with a much smaller number of nominal or traditional hangers-on.

Finally, Ross accurately identifies a fascinating cultural reality. It’s simply wrong to say that the faithful are clustering in one American political party. White Evangelicals have moved decisively to the GOP, yes, but black Democrats are one of the most devout American demographics.

In fact, the Democratic Party contains an interesting alliance of both the most faithful (African-American) and secular (white progressive) communities in the United States. ....


Today is Reformation Day and tomorrow is All Saints' Day:

This Reformation Day is the 502nd anniversary of the day Martin Luther issued his challenge to debate his 95 theses – not the beginning of the Reformation but an important point in it. Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. Days were thought of as evening to evening so the eve was the beginning of the next day – think New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve. Although today most approach it as a secular holiday that wasn’t its origin and for us Protestants all believers are “saints” – and All Saints’ Day is when we acknowledge “the great cloud of witnesses” who have passed on. So today we can celebrate both the Protestant Reformation and all those believers who have gone before.

Therefore being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand,
and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2 [KJV]

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"Sinning saints, righteous wretches, and...justified jerks"


Tomorrow, October 31st, is Reformation Day. Kevin DeYoung reminds us of some of the most important reasons we are Protestants:
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered the launching point for the Protestant Reformation.

The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. ....

There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.

First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).

Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. .... I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. .... We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).

Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.

Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. ...[E]vangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.

Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. .... It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved. [more]
From Nathan Finn: "Baptists and the Reformation":
...[O]n this Reformation Day, I’m thankful for the Protestant heritage we Baptists enjoy. We stand with Luther and Calvin on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We stand with the Anabaptists on a believer’s church committed to radical discipleship and confessor’s baptism. We stand with all three of these groups in their commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture. And as good Protestants, we ultimately stand where we stand, not because others stand there as well, but because we believe the Spirit still speaks through His Word to guide Christ’s people on the narrow way.
Five Key Concepts in the Reformation Understanding of Justification – Kevin DeYoung, Baptists and the Reformation

Tuesday, October 29, 2019


Via The Imaginative Conservative, a painting I don't recall seeing before, “Northeaster” (1895) by Winslow Homer (1836-1910):

A new believer

David French listened to Jesus Is King last weekend and reflects on "Kanye West and the Power of the New Believer":
First, new believers demonstrate the power of God over the human heart. When I first listened to Kanye’s new album, the thought popped in my head that this is why we pray so earnestly for a person’s salvation. This is why you never give up on a person. ....

Second, new believers remind us that the Gospel is totalizing; it should make us rethink everything. The revolution isn’t just spiritual. It should touch every aspect of our lives. ....

Third, new believers expose the church’s flaws. There’s nothing like watching a man rejoice in the Lord and rethink every aspect of his life to convict a person of their own joylessness and spiritual compartmentalization. From the moment of conversion, worldly forces attempt to claw the person back into the darkness, and even if your soul is ultimately beyond the enemy’s reach, he’ll still attack your faith, your hope, and your joy. While the sheer exuberance of new belief is difficult to sustain in a fallen world, we should remain fundamentally hopeful and faithful even in the face of immense adversity. The presence of a new believer can remind us of the joy that we too-easily lose.

But the flaws in the church go even deeper. In Jesus Is King, Kanye notes the opposition he’s gotten from fellow believers. This is sadly no surprise. On one side, Christian scolds never fail to point out all the things new Christians get wrong about theology, politics, culture, or the church. They seem to work overtime to drain the joy out of a new life, neglecting the fact that the process of sanctification occurs over a lifetime. ....
So, pray for every new believer.

Monday, October 28, 2019

No fear!

My annual reminder:

As Halloween approaches it is useful for the more excitable among us to be reminded that the Evil One has already been defeated. From "Concerning Halloween" by James B. Jordan:
.... "Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.) ....

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. ....

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even — Hallow-E’en — Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ — we have NO FEAR! .... (more)
Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"He prayeth best..."

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

"Teach me to live, that I may dread / The grave as little as my bed"

Glory to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light:
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings.
O may my soul on Thee repose,
And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close;
Sleep that shall me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.
Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done;
That with the world, myself, and Thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.
When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply;
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.
Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed;
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the awful day.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Thomas Ken, 1692

The performances I've found on YouTube leave out the fifth verse, "When in the night I sleepless lie..." I like that verse.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


Edmund Burke, First Letter on a Regicide Peace (1796)
Manners are more important than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or sooth, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and colour to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.

Friday, October 25, 2019


Today, October 25, is St. Crispin's Day:

Shakespear's Henry at Agincourt:
He which hath no stomach for this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispin:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see his old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,
And say "Tomorrow is Saint Crispin":
Then he will strip his sleeve and show his scars
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names
Familiar in his mouth as household words:
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us on Saint Crispin's day.

~ William Shakespeare (1564-1616) (King Henry V, Act 4, Sc. 3)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Decadence, totalitarianism, or something else

Ross Douthat is reading Watership Down to his daughters. He writes "One of the virtues of reading a narrative aloud, to children or indeed to anyone, is the way that vocalizing a story clarifies its power, especially in the quavering passion that you try to keep from your voice (because you don’t want your kids to think their dear dad is too emotional) but that bleeds through in spite of everything. And with a hundred pages to go I can already tell that when I get to the climax of Watership Down, I’m going to be a wreck."  A conclusion he has come to from this re-reading of the book is that it has political relevance. From the essay:
...[E]ssentially Adams’s novel offers a portrait of a political founding, the establishment of a new homeland by a band of rabbit adventurers who escape from a doomed warren when one of their number, a mystic named Fiver, has a vision of its destruction at the hands of developers. But that founding doesn’t happen in a vacuum; instead the band of rabbits engage with two very different warrens, two alternative models of political order, on their path to making a new order of their own.

The first warren, where they briefly try to settle, appears at first to be idyllic. The rabbits are sleek and well-fed, they have plenty of space (the burrows are oddly underpopulated), the lands around are completely clear of predators (“elil” in Adams’s rabbit tongue, Lapine), and best of all the local farmer just tosses leftover produce in the fields.

But soon it becomes clear that this warren has shed all the rabbit-y virtues, cunning and daring and courage and mischief, in favor of odd imitations of human culture — attempted sculptures, existentialist poetry. Its denizens are bored or irritated by tales of adventure and heroism; they cultivate a condescending skepticism about El-ahrairah, the rabbit trickster-prince of legend; they seem comfortable and smug and yet subtly depressed. And then comes the revelation: Both the absence of predators and the presence of food is the work of the local farmer, who protects the rabbits from normal harms while trapping and killing a consistent percentage for their pelts and meat — a dark bargain the warren has learned to live with by building a sophisticated system of denial, a culture of pleasure and of death.

This warren is an appealing-seeming snare from which the book’s questing heroes ultimately slip free. The next alternative, Efrafa, is a totalitarian prison house: Instead of surrendering an essential rabbitness for the sake of ease and safety, Efrafa’s dictator, the terrifying and omnicompetent General Woundwort, deals with the enmity of men and predators by running a police state, one that keeps its rabbits underground and regimented, trains the strongest bucks to fight and rule and dominate, denies any agency to the warren’s females, and refuses diplomacy and cooperation with fellow rabbits as much as with any other creature. ....

.... No reader of Watership Down, and few readers of the literary and political traditions on which its narrative depends, would accept that totalitarianism and decadence exhaust the available political alternatives. Indeed the novel is compelling precisely because its new-founded warren, its good regime, is remarkable yet also homely, its founders heroic and also ordinary, with nothing utopian or superhuman or impossible about them. .... (more)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Moral instruction

.... Since private and publick Vices, are in Reality, though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost Pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of Children, and the moral Sense kept alive, and that the wise Institutions of our Ancestors for these great Purposes be encouragd by the Government. For no People will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when Knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own Weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.

The People of the Book

The significance of Simchat Torah, which is today, explained:
...Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the noted British theologian and member of the House of Lords [writes] "We stand in its presence as if it were a king. We dance with it as if it were a bride. We kiss it as if it were a friend. If, God forbid, one is damaged beyond repair, we mourn it as if it were a member of the family." If a Torah scroll is accidentally dropped, everyone who witnesses it is expected to fast in penance. When a synagogue is burned, whether by accident or by arson, there is an immediate, palpable anxiety to know whether the Torah scrolls were saved or lost.

Simchat Torah occurs on the last day of a three-week sequence of fall holidays. It follows Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (the feast of Tabernacles). Unlike those holidays, however, Simchat Torah is not biblically ordained. It was not imposed by religious authorities from the top down, but grew organically from the bottom up. Its roots reach back 15 centuries to the ancient Jewish community of Babylonia, which formalized the practice of publicly reading the entire Torah — from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy — over the course of a year. The completion of the annual cycle became an occasion of joy, marked by singing and dancing around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls. Adults and children alike take part in the festivities. And as soon as the final verses of Deuteronomy are chanted from the end of one scroll, another is opened and the first chapter of Genesis is chanted: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The Jewish engagement with the Torah never ends; as soon as we finish, we start again.

The "people of the book," Jews are called. The phrase comes from the Koran, where it appears 31 times — an apt emphasis, for no nation has ever been as closely identified with a book as have Jews with the Torah. Sacks notes that by the time Simchat Torah had spread throughout the Jewish world, Jews had lost everything that would seem indispensable to national survival: land, sovereignty, political freedom, a military. Yet they still had their book to study and teach and rejoice with. Somehow, through the centuries of wandering and exile, that was enough to keep Jewish peoplehood alive. ....

Monday, October 21, 2019


From Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence this morning:
.... Panic is pandemic. Everything is a crisis. Looked at historically, in context, everything is proceeding as usual, but ordinary people, newly armed with social media, have grown extraordinarily fond of melodrama and cheap, unearned emotion. Eighty years ago, Smith had already diagnosed our problem:
“There is a sort of hubris in this world-worrying. For if you have achieved peace in your own mind, when the worst happens (if it does) you will have reserves of strength to meet it. And if you have not achieved peace in your own mind, how can you expect the world to do any better.”
This is realism, not quietism. A man’s got to know his limitations, as a movie star one said.... (more)
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
 the courage to change the things I can, 
 and the wisdom to know the difference. 
Reinhold Niebuhr

Anecdotal Evidence: 'A Sort of Hubris in This World-Worrying'

Sunday, October 20, 2019

There is a country...

by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)
My Soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars;
There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles, 
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend
And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

Peace by Henry Vaughan | Poetry Foundation

Friday, October 18, 2019

When does life begin?

It isn't a religious question. It is a question of scientific fact. The religious or philosophical issue would be "when is it right to take a life?" This is fascinating: "I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn't Popular":
.... I found that most Americans believe that the question of “when life begins” is an important aspect of the U.S. abortion debate (82%); that most believe Americans deserve to know when a human’s life begins in order to give informed consent to abortion procedures (76%); and that most Americans believe a human’s life is worthy of legal protection once it begins (93%). Respondents also were asked: “Which group is most qualified to answer the question, ‘When does a human’s life begin?’” They were presented with several options—biologists, philosophers, religious leaders, Supreme Court Justices and voters. Eighty percent selected biologists, and the majority explained that they chose biologists because they view them as objective experts in the study of life. ....

.... I emailed surveys to professors in the biology departments of over 1,000 institutions around the world.

As the usable responses began to come in, I found that 5,337 biologists (96%) affirmed that a human’s life begins at fertilization, with 240 (4%) rejecting that view. The majority of the sample identified as liberal (89%), pro-choice (85%) and non-religious (63%). In the case of Americans who expressed party preference, the majority identified as Democrats (92%). .... (more)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

A culture of discipleship

From a Wall Street Journal story today: "Religion Is on the Decline as More Adults Check ‘None’" — "Religiosity in the U.S. is in sharp decline, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center on Thursday, with the ranks of people who don’t adhere to any faith growing fast while church attendance has fallen steeply. ...." How Christians should respond may be found in the early history of the Church. Christianity Today has published an article by the author, Gerald L. Sittser, of Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian "Third Way" Changed the World, from which:
.... The success of the early church was certainly not inevitable. Christians could have accommodated to the culture to win recognition and approval, which would have undermined the uniqueness of their belief system and way of life. Or Christians could have isolated themselves from the culture to hide and survive, which would have kept them on the margins—safe, to be sure, but also irrelevant.

Instead, Christians engaged the culture without excessive compromise and remained separate from the culture without excessive isolation. Christians figured out how to be both faithful and winsome. They followed what was then known as the “Third Way,” a phrase that first appeared in a second-century letter to a Roman official named Diognetus. ....

The Third Way spawned a new movement—new in theology, in story, in authority, in community, in worship, and in behavior. Christian belief was so new, in fact, that it required Christians to develop a process of formation in the Third Way to move new believers from conversion to discipleship, from outsider to insider, from observer to full-fledged member, which produced generation after generation of believers who, established firmly in the faith, were able to grow the movement over a long period of time. ....

They viewed worship as a bridge between divine and human worlds, as if in worship Christians stepped into a liminal space between heaven and earth. They did not see themselves primarily as consumers who attended worship to hear a good sermon and sing a few familiar songs but as beholders of the unspeakable glory of God. Worship not only ushered them into the very presence of God but also prepared them to return to the ordinary life of market, home, and neighborhood as disciples of Jesus. ....

Christians became a nation within a nation, a new oikoumene or universal commonwealth that spanned the known world, crossing traditional cultural barriers. Their primary loyalty was to fellow believers, not nation or race or tribe or party or class. Christians created a new oikos (house church), too, which established a different kind of family. God was true Father; they were all brothers and sisters. The Christian movement was therefore both radically global and local at the same time. Both oikoumene and oikos had the effect of undermining and transforming the traditional social order. ....

As long as Christians assume we are still living in Christendom, the church will continue to decline in the West, no matter how ferociously Christians fight to maintain power and privilege. If anything, the harder Christians fight, the more precipitous the decline will be, for cultural power and privilege will come at an increasingly high price. Christians will either accommodate until the faith becomes almost unrecognizable, or they will isolate until their faith becomes virtually invisible.

Nothing short of a change of church culture will suffice—from a culture of entertainment, politics, personality, and program to a culture of discipleship. Such a radical change will require patience, steadiness, and purposefulness. .... (more)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"What do we love more than life?"

Charles J. Chaput, Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, will soon retire having reached the age of seventy-five. I've appreciated various things I've read of his ever since he was in Colorado. Here he speaks about "Things Worth Dying For: The Nature of a Life Worth Living":
.... The good news about turning 75—the very good news—is that I’ll finally be able to retire. The not so good news is what sooner or later comes after it. When you get to be my age, a topic like “things worth dying for” has some special urgency. As one of my Domer friends likes to point out, dying is a downer.

Or that’s one way of looking at it. My own feelings are rather different. My dad was a mortician in a small Kansas town. So in my family, death and all of the complex emotions that surround it were a natural part of living. To put it another way: The meaning of a sentence becomes clear when we put a period at the end of it. The same applies to life. When we talk about things worth dying for, we’re really talking about the things worth living for; the things that give life meaning. Thinking a little about our mortality puts the world in perspective. It helps us see what matters, and also the foolishness of grasping at things that finally don’t matter. Your hearse, as my father might say, won’t have a luggage rack. ....

We’re living in a moment of vigilant, even vindictive, political correctness on matters ranging from sex to the meaning of our national history. It can be very hard for a young scholar to get a job at many American universities if he thinks marriage is only possible between a man and a woman—and he makes the mistake of talking about it. People working in corporate settings tend to learn very quickly that “diversity training” is not an invitation to free and open discussion. It’s often the opposite. And our politics often seems gripped with amnesia about the price in human suffering extracted by the bitter social experiments of the last century—always in the name of progress and equality.

Obviously the courage of our convictions needs to be guided by prudence. In the early years of Christianity the faithful suffered waves of persecution. The Fathers of the Church criticized those who were too eager for martyrdom. ....

Life—all life, no matter how poor, infirm, unborn, or limited—is a great gift. We should never be in a hurry to foolishly risk it. The same can be said for professional success, or even just the good of earning a decent living and providing for a family. Silence and avoiding situations that force us to state our convictions can sometimes be the prudent course of action.

The key word in that sentence is “sometimes.” Cowardice is very good at hiding behind a number of virtues. Too often we censor or contort ourselves to fit into what we perceive as approved behavior or thought. We muffle our Christian beliefs to avoid being the targets of contempt. Over time, a legitimate exercise of prudence can very easily become a degrading habit; a habit that soils the soul. ....

It’s a good thing, a vital thing, to consider what we’re willing to die for. What do we love more than life? To even ask that question is an act of rebellion against a loveless age. And to answer it with conviction is to become a revolutionary; the kind of loving revolutionary who will survive and resist—and someday redeem a late modern West that can no longer imagine anything worth dying for, and thus, in the long run, anything worth living for. ....

Monday, October 14, 2019


While in college I acquired a Jerusalem Bible, largely because I knew J.R.R. Tolkien had been involved in its translation into English. It is a Catholic Bible and so contained what we Protestants usually think of as the Old Testament Apocrypha. That was my introduction to them. Philip Jenkins' post today, "The Second Canon," includes an account of how these "Deuterocanonical books" came to be absent from modern Protestant Bibles:
The Apocrypha in the KJV (1611)
.... Just how Protestants came to lose these books is a curious story. Up to the Reformation, there was no real question about the acceptance of those extra books. Reformation-era debates over the Bible naturally focused on issues of canon. The Reformers naturally held to the most stringent standards of inclusion, which usually meant accepting the familiar Jewish definition of the Hebrew Bible. In fairness, let me add that some sixteenth century Catholics also placed the Deuterocanonicals in an inferior or apocryphal position. But after some disagreement at the Council of Trent, Catholics fully accepted the Deuterocanon, a term coined in the 1560s by Sixtus of Siena. Although historical interpretations decided the two positions, Catholics also favored books favorable to their theology, and Protestants accordingly disliked these same works. One text in Maccabees, for instance, supports the idea of prayers for the dead.

But excluding books from the Protestant canon certainly did not mean abandoning them overnight. Most early Protestant Bibles did indeed include the “Deuteros,” but segregated in a special section of apocrypha, sandwiched between the Old and New Testaments. This was the solution of Luther (1534) and it was followed by the Geneva Bible, the standard English text for most mainstream Anglicans and Puritans alike for a century after its publication in 1560. (It was many years before the King James overtook it in popularity).

Church authorities were careful to stress that these books should not be taken as fully authoritative. In 1563, for instance, the 39 Articles of the Church of England listed these “other Books (as [Jerome] saith) [that] the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The Westminster Confession of Faith in 1647 was tougher still, declaring that “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”

Even so, these texts were included in Bibles and were presented in exactly the same manner as the canonical books, in similar typeface and appearance. The books continued to have authority and religious significance, and the stories they told remained widely known. I could give countless examples, but let me take one English moment. In 1746, the Duke of Cumberland returned to London after bloodily defeating the Jacobite rebellion. Handel composed an oratorio for the occasion, and naturally turned to the Bible for an appropriate story of a heroic general fighting for his nation and faith against a pagan foe. Also, the story had to be a famous piece well known to a Protestant audience. Where else would he turn, then, but to the story of Judas Maccabeus? Patriots of the American Revolution loved the story of Maccabees.

English-speaking Protestants lost the Deuterocanon not through any calculated theological decision, but through publishing accident, and at quite a recent date. Prior to the early nineteenth century, Anglo-American Bibles included the apocryphal section, but this dropped out as printers sought to produce more and cheaper editions. Increasingly too, during the nineteenth century, anti-Catholic sentiment encouraged Protestants to draw a sharp line between the two variant Bibles. If Catholics esteemed books like Maccabees and Wisdom, there must be something terribly wrong with them. In the nineteenth century US, the right to use particular Bibles – Catholic or Protestant – was one of the major forces driving Catholics to create their own parochial school system, independent of the public schools. That supposed “rejection” of the Bible in turn further fueled popular anti-Catholicism. .... (more)
Interesting. The Anglican 39 Articles (1563), as quoted above, said this and then listed the books:
And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
The Third Book of Esdras
The Fourth Book of Esdras
The Book of Tobias
The Book of Judith
The Song of the Three Children     
The Story of Susanna
Of Bel and the Dragon
The rest of the Book of Esther
The Book of Wisdom
Jesus the Son of Sirach
Baruch the Prophet
The Prayer of Manasses
The First Book of Maccabees
The Second Book of Maccabees

Friday, October 11, 2019

Sayers and crime

Today CrimeReads gives us "Dorothy L. Sayers: A Crime Reader's Guide to the Classics," an excellent introduction to the novels (and more), from which:
In the Golden Age of British detective fiction in the 1920s and 1930s, four women were universally considered the four Queens—Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy L. Sayers (don’t forget the middle initial, please, she was most adamant about that). She earned that title largely on the strength of eleven extraordinary novels published between 1923 and 1937, featuring the iconic character of Lord Peter Wimsey and, in four of them, the inestimable Harriet Vane, as well as dozens of short stories and one stand-alone novel. ....

Entertaining, erudite, lucid, filled with ingenious puzzles and even more ingenious solutions, written with grace, elegance, flair, wit, and an acute attention to character and psychological development, these novels combined the best qualities of the detective story with a novelist’s attention to the mores and manners of the day.

She was obsessed with Fair Play—all the clues should be laid in front of the reader, all the deductions should be ones the readers could make, if only they were able. No writer should lie: “Any fool can tell a lie, and any fool can believe it; but the right method is to tell the truth in such a way that the intelligent reader is seduced into telling the lie for himself.” ....

Sayers believed the characters had to be real, the settings had to be real, and the crimes had to be real. George Orwell once chided her for “an extremely morbid interest in corpses,” but for Sayers, the violence of murder was not something that should be papered over, and she could be graphic in her depiction of corpses, autopsies, and exhumations. Murder had real-life consequences, not only for the victims, but for all who knew the victims, and those who investigated the victims’ deaths. As Sayers wrote, “Violence really hurts.” It wasn’t all a jolly game. ....

This can be seen in the shadings and evolution of her main character, Lord Peter Wimsey. Wimsey, 32 years old when we first meet him, is rich, well-educated, athletic, expert in many things, and as the second son of a Duke, has no family estate to look after—that’s the responsibility of his “beef-witted” older brother, Gerald—so he doesn’t actually have much in his life that he has to do. When first met, he seems somewhat fatuous and silly—the very caricature of a foolish dilettante aristocrat—and indeed there have been some readers who have never tried the Sayers books out of just such an impression.

They would be mistaken. ....

She cared about the characters and the prose and every one of her readers just having a good time. .... (much more)
Dorothy L. Sayers: A Crime Reader's Guide to the Classics | CrimeReads

"Leave out the parts readers tend to skip"

This is Elmore Leonard's birthday. I've posted a number of times about his books. They have given me hours and hours of pleasure.  In 2001 he listed ten "rules for writing."
  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control!
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Same for places and things.
  10. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

"A kind of daylight in the mind"

I have always preferred Chearfulness to Mirth. The latter, I consider as an Act, the former as an Habit of the Mind. Mirth is short and transient. Chearfulness fixed and permanent. Those are often raised into the greatest Transports of Mirth, who are subject to the greatest Depressions of Melancholy: On the contrary, Chearfulness, tho’ it does not give the Mind such an exquisite Gladness, prevents us from falling into any Depths of Sorrow. Mirth is like a Flash of Lightning, that breaks thro a Gloom of Clouds, and glitters for a Moment; Chearfulness keeps up a kind of Day-light in the Mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual Serenity. ....

If we consider Chearfulness in three Lights, with regard to our selves, to those we converse with, and to the great Author of our Being, it will not a little recommend it self on each of these Accounts. The Man who is possessed of this excellent Frame of Mind, is not only easy in his Thoughts, but a perfect Master of all the Powers and Faculties of his Soul: His Imagination is always clear, and his Judgment undisturbed: His Temper is even and unruffled, whether in Action or in Solitude. He comes with a Relish to all those Goods which Nature has provided for him, tastes all the Pleasures of the Creation which are poured about him, and does not feel the full Weight of those accidental Evils which may befal him.

If we consider him in relation to the Persons whom he converses with, it naturally produces Love and Good-will towards him. A chearful Mind is not only disposed to be affable and obliging, but raises the same good Humour in those who come within its Influence. A Man finds himself pleased, he does not know why, with the Chearfulness of his Companion: It is like a sudden Sun-shine that awakens a secret Delight in the Mind, without her attending to it. The Heart rejoices of its own accord, and naturally flows out into Friendship and Benevolence towards the Person who has so kindly an Effect upon it.

When I consider this chearful State of Mind in its third Relation, I cannot but look upon it as a constant habitual Gratitude to the great Author of Nature. An inward Chearfulness is an implicit Praise and Thanksgiving to Providence under all its Dispensations. It is a kind of Acquiescence in the State wherein we are placed, and a secret Approbation of the Divine Will in his Conduct towards Man. .... (more)

"We stand before our God"

Via Power Line, the prayer German Rabbi Leo Baeck composed for Yom Kippur, October 10, 1935. "The Gestapo discovered the text of the prayer and arrested Baeck."
Rabbi Leo Baeck (1873–1956)
At this hour the whole House of Israel stands before its God, the God of Justice and the God of Mercy. We shall examine our ways before Him. We shall examine what we have done and what we have failed to do; we shall examine where we have gone and where we have failed to go. Wherever we have sinned we will confess it: We will say “we have sinned” and we will pray with the will to repentance before the Lord and we will pray: “Lord forgive us!”

We stand before our God and with the same courage with which we have acknowledged our sins, the sins of the individual and the sins of the community, shall we express our abhorrence of the lie directed against us, and the slander of our faith and its expressions: this slander is far below us. We believe in our faith and our future. Who brought the world the secret of the Lord Everlasting, of the Lord Who is One? Who brought the world understanding for a life of purity, for the purity of the family? Who brought the world respect for Man made in the image of God? Who brought the world the commandment of justice, of social thought? In all these the spirit of the Prophets of Israel, the Revelation of God to the Jewish People had a part.

It sprang from our Judaism, and continues to grow in it. All the slander drops away when it is cast against these facts.

We stand before our God: Our strength is in Him. In Him is the truth and the dignity of our history. In Him is the source of our survival through every change, our firm stand in all our trials. Our history is the history of spiritual greatness, spiritual dignity.

We turn to it when attack and insult are directed against us, when need and suffering press in upon us. The Lord led our fathers from generation to generation. He will continue to lead us and our children through our days.

We stand before our God; we draw strength from His Commandments, which we obey. We bow down before Him, and we stand upright before Men. Him we serve, and remain steadfast in all the changes around us. We put our faith in Him in humility and our way ahead is clear, we see our future….

Monday, October 7, 2019

"Proud-of-itself anger"

.... Throughout most of American cultural history, uncontrolled anger was regarded as a personal weakness, and public expression of anger outside some limited circumstances was regarded as shameful. The high regard in which his countrymen regarded George Washington drew in part from his mastery of his own explosive temper. Washington’s famous ‘dignity’ was achieved by quelling his overtowering anger. What was good for George was good for everyone else. All through the 19th century, the nation’s presses poured out manuals for married couples on how to manage domestic disagreements without descending into anger. Books on childrearing emphasized teaching the young emotional self-discipline. The nation’s literary culture grew up on stories about the destructiveness of uncontrolled anger. Ahab’s quest for vengeance against the great white whale isn’t intended as praise for the captain’s virtuosity in expressing his passion.

The good man in our national mythology was the one who learned to face provocation with cool self-mastery. The good woman too. At one point in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jo’s mother, ‘Marmee’, counsels her about her ‘dreadful temper’. She tells Jo that she too had a terrible temper and is still ‘angry nearly every day of my life’. But she has learned ‘not to show it’. Forty years of trying to cure it have only taught her that it can’t be cured, only controlled. ....

For too many Americans, anger has become the default emotion. We should recognize this, however, as a particular historical moment. It wasn’t always this way, and it won’t last forever.

We are in an age of anger — the Gilded Rage — that embodies the breakdown of older social norms for which we have as yet no compelling substitutes. New anger was distilled by the cultural left over several generations but bottled and sold to the cultural right, first through talk radio and eventually through Trump. The left’s attack on ‘angry white men’ as the source of the nation’s animosities misses the mark. Those white men, in one of the left’s fashionable words, ‘appropriated’ the style of vituperative grievance from the norm-breakers of the left....

Proud-of-itself anger is now, unfortunately, a dominating presence in our national life: a permission slip to treat others rudely and to spew contempt on the innocent if we believe we are acting on some higher principle such as ‘social justice’.

This speaks to a profound confusion in the country about what’s important and what it means to be a citizen of a self-governing republic. When our ability to govern our everyday selves by stilling our worst impulses disintegrates, our capacity to participate in governing others collapses too. ....

Friday, October 4, 2019

“There was silence in heaven..."

From "Make a Joyful Silence Unto the Lord" at Christianity Today:
In the Bible, silence in worship is commanded, modeled, and inferred.

First, it is commanded.

In Psalm 46:10, the psalmist, speaking in God’s name, issues a general directive: “Be still and know that I am” (Psalm 46:10). In the word that comes to the prophet Zephaniah, we find a similar injunction to “be silent before the Lord” (Zeph. 1:7). In Proverbs 30:32, the matter is put more bluntly: “Put your hand on your mouth.” In Isaiah 41:1, we hear a word that the Lord speak[s] to one and all: “Listen to me in silence.” Is there any other way to listen to God? For both the prophet and the psalmist, the answer is decidedly no.

Silence is also modeled for us. In Psalm 62:5, we find the psalmist describing what presumably represents his usual disposition before God: “My soul waits in silence for God.” In Deuteronomy 27:9, we see Moses speaking to Israel this word: “Keep silence and hear.”

First Kings 19 is perhaps the most famous passage on this topic. The angel of the Lord tells Elijah to stand on the mountain, for the Lord is about to pass by. First a great wind appears, but the Lord is not in this tempestuous wind. After that, an earthquake occurs, but the Lord does not reveal himself there, either. After the earthquake, a fire, and after the fire, silence. It is in this “sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12, NRSV) that the Lord appears.

Certain things, the text suggests, can only be known about God in the absence of sound. ....