Thursday, November 28, 2019


Re-posted (except for the date)

Sunday, Dec. 1, is the first in Advent and the beginning of the "Church Year" for those worship traditions guided by it. In a post from 2009 Michael Spencer, a Baptist, advocated greater use of the Christian calendar in traditions like ours:
I’m in favor of a modest use of the Christian calendar. I’d use the major seasons—Advent, Nativity, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost—as dominant themes in worship, but I would make many of the minor feasts and days optional. I’d use the lectionary for scripture readers, but be less encumbered by it as determinant for preaching.

I think there is a danger of being too slavish about lectionary preaching, especially in traditions that expect the Gospel text to always be the sermon text. I would counsel a great deal of freedom for any preacher in what he feels he should do on a particular Sunday within the appropriate theme related to Christ. And that is what we want to do, right? Relate all things to Jesus? ....

The Christian calendar should provide guidance and a framework, but not an oppressive confinement. It should be a help to Christ-centered Gospel worship, and be in the background, not the forefront.

For instance, Ordinary time following Pentecost should not be defined closely by the calendar and the lectionary at all. Instead, preachers and leaders should be able to address topics and emphases they feel are important for the church’s overall health. Series that address particular groups or issues can come in at that point. ....

...[T]he Christian Year can help all of us in preaching and planning worship, no matter what our situation. A good use of the Year can allow a journey through books, exegetical messages on key doctrines and creativity in coordinating word, liturgy, music and other elements of worship. Nothing about the year precludes messages on stewardship or church planting. Just look for ways to integrate with the themes available.

It is not necessary to adopt the worst aspects of the use of the Christian Year in order to use it. A modest use, with plenty of flexibility, can bring together the best of several traditions.
iMonk Classic: Do You Know What Your Church Is Doing Next Sunday? |, the image is from The Anglican Church of the Resurrection

Monday, November 25, 2019

Biblical worship

Every once in a while I get into a potentially contentious disagreement with a Christian friend about how Christians should worship or, actually, what worship is. Often we are talking past one another. My understanding of worship, and how a worship service should be arranged and led, was crystallized by a study series on the subject led by Rev. Paul W. Manuel. This is from his "Erroneous Assumptions and Essential Attitudes about Worship":
.... The first assumption many Christians have is that…

Worship is everything we do.

On Sabbath morning, this includes the songs we sing, the sermon we hear, the prayers we offer, and the SS lesson we study—everything that happens in church.

While we should be conscious of God's presence at all times and should cultivate a reverent demeanor in all activity, such a diffuse understanding obscures the much narrower definition of worship that scripture presents as the model for our worship. Of the many words biblical authors use to describe worship (e.g., praise, bless, laud, extol), there is one Hebrew (and one corresponding Greek) term that occurs with greatest frequency, the same term English translations generally render as "worship." It entails the cessation of all activity, the concentration of all attention, and the communication of all adoration to God alone.

In other words, worship, in the primary biblical sense, is not something we do while doing other things, no matter how worthy they may be in their own right. It is our singular focus on the person of God. Worship is also not about meeting our needs. It is not about making us feel good or loved or appreciated. It is not at all about us; it is all about God.

While we can and should be conscious of Him in everything we do, especially on the Sabbath, neither the sermon, which concerns exhortation (to right behavior), nor the SS lesson, which concerns education (to right thinking), matches the biblical definition of the term. To generalize the connotation of worship—by implying that all manner of activity, when done with reverence, fulfills God's expectation—is to trivialize the commandment to worship. Although believers should always be aware of God's presence, being generally conscious of Him is not the same as concentrating exclusively on Him, which is the essence of biblical worship. .... (more)
Those planning and leading worship should always have in mind how to help worshipers "concentrate exclusively on Him."

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Light reading

Via Justin Taylor, J.I. Packer on reading "detective and cowboy and spy stories":
....[T]hese are stories of a kind that would never have existed without the Christian gospel. Culturally, they are Christian fairy tales, with savior heroes and plots that end in what Tolkien called a eucatastrophe—whereby things come right after seeming to go irrevocably wrong. Villains are foiled, people in jeopardy are freed, justice is done, and the ending is happy. The protagonists—detectives, Secret Service agents, noble cowboys and sheriffs, or whatever—are classic Robin Hood figures, champions of the needy, bringers of merited judgment and merciful salvation. The gospel of Christ is the archetype of all such stories. Paganism unleavened by Christianity, on the other hand, was and always will be pessimistic at heart.

Do I urge everyone to read detective and cowboy and spy stories? No. If they do not relax your mind when overheated, you have no reason to touch them. Light reading is not for killing time (that’s ungodly), but for refitting the mind to tackle life’s heavy tasks (that’s the Protestant work ethic, and it’s true). ....

Saturday, November 23, 2019


A Facebook friend posted this. Exquisite.

Tell me, where is the road
I can call my own
That I left, that I lost
So long ago?
All these years I have wandered       
Oh, when will I know
There's a way, there's a road
That will lead me home
Rise up, follow me
Come away, is the call
With the love in your heart
As the only song
There is no such beauty
As where you belong
Rise up, follow me
I will lead you home
After wind, after rain
When the dark is done
As I wake from a dream
In the gold of day
Through the air there's a calling
From far away
There's a voice I can hear
That will lead me home

Hiraeth: It’s pronounced “here-eyeth” (roll the “r”) and it’s a Welsh word. It has no exact cognate in English. The best we can do is “homesickness,” ....

Friday, November 22, 2019

November 22, 1963

November 22, 1963 was the day of my Grandmother Skaggs's funeral. The family was gathered in my parents' house preparing to go to the church when we heard that the President had been shot in Dallas. We learned upon returning from the graveside that he had died. On that same day C.S. Lewis died. Understandably, news of his death was obscured by the assassination. I didn't learn that he had died for some time afterward but if it had not been for the coincidence of date his death would have received a significant amount of news coverage.

Some time later, visiting good friends then living in England, I had the opportunity to go to Oxford and visit many of the locations associated with Lewis including his grave site. I have a photograph of me with one of my friends standing next to the grave (on the right).  The epitaph, "Men must endure their going hence," chosen by CSL's brother, is from Shakespeare's King Lear. It was the quotation appearing on a calendar in Lewis's childhood home on the day his mother died. She died before he was ten. Lewis wrote:
With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis. (Surprised by Joy, Chapter 1)
The actual enduring is borne by those who survive. Lewis was responsible for some of the most attractive imaginings of the experience of Christians after physical death.
The light and coolness that drenched me were like those of summer morning, early morning a minute or two before the sunrise, only that there was a certain difference, I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got "out" in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair. It gave me a feeling of freedom, but also of exposure, possibly of danger which continued to accompany me through all that followed. .... (The Great Divorce, Chapter III)
This is the anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Group-think and stupidity

Annie Holmquist at Intellectual Takeout on avoiding stupidity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
.... “Stupidity,” he said, “is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice,” for the latter is more recognizable and gives “human beings at least a sense of unease.”
Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical—and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental.
He goes on to say that stupidity is hard to deal with, for the stupid person will not accept reason, but is instead “utterly self-satisfied and…easily irritated.”

Where does this stupidity come from? Bonhoeffer supplies an answer:
If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem.
In other words, stupidity happens when we allow our sensibilities to be worn down and influenced by the group-think around us. ....

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


.... For Edmund Burke, the concept meant “a moral rather than a complexional timidity.” That is to say, Burke urged caution not out of cowardice but out of humility. His conservatism was grounded in modesty, and in recognizing that neither he nor any man had all of the answers. In the face of uncertainty, prudence dictates hesitating before making a drastic change.

Yet, maddeningly for those in search of a precise guide to life, Weiner tells us that prudence also demands bold action at times. Burke, at times, demanded such boldness from his country’s government, especially when it meant confronting the regicides of revolutionary France. Simple caution might call for a negotiated peace with the Jacobins; prudence demanded unyielding resistance to the destructive effects of the French Revolution. Lincoln, too, mixed caution with indefatigability when faced with the challenges of secession and Civil War. Even before his election, Lincoln’s prudence separated him from other abolitionists. He argued against slavery logically and effectively in his debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858, but understood the political necessity of moving gradually toward the ultimate goal.

Lincoln, like Burke, also knew when prudence demanded he act drastically. Gradual abolition was fine in peacetime, but when the dispute over slavery erupted into war, the political and moral calculus changed. .... (more)

Monday, November 18, 2019


In an essay about Susan Sontag Joseph Epstein introduces us to the "savant-idiot" (not idiot savant):
An idiot savant, as is well-known, is a person with serious learning disabilities but gifted in a peculiar and extraordinary way, often mathematically or musically. A savant-idiot, as is not well- known, since I have only just now coined the phrase, is a person who is learned, brainy, even brilliant, but gets everything important wrong. Simone Weil, who starved herself for the good of humankind, was a savant-idiot. So was Jean-Paul Sartre, never giving up on revolutionary Communism even in the face of the mass murders of Stalin and Mao. Hannah Arendt, who wrote a significant book on the crushing oppression of totalitarianism and then turned round to argue that Jews faced with the most systematically murderous totalitarian system of all conspired in their own death, was yet a third savant-idiot.

The classic American savant-idiot was Susan Sontag. This is the Susan Sontag who called white civilization “the cancer of human history.” She it was who, after a trip to Hanoi during the Vietnam War, idealized the North Vietnamese and said, “They genuinely believe life is simple . . . full of joy . . . they genuinely love and admire their leaders.” She claimed that the more than 3,000 innocent people killed on 9/11 in effect had it coming to them, for America, through its imperialist policies, had brought this attack on itself. Sontag waited until 1982 to decide that Communism was little more than “fascism with a human face” (what, one wondered at the time, was the least bit human about it?). Only a savant could be so idiotic.

A savant is a thinker, someone less specialized than a scholar or scientist; he or she is a generalist, an intellectual. ....

Auden on the BCP

W.H. Auden on the abandonment of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer by American Episcopalians (the 1928 Prayer Book was replaced in 1979, but the Auden letter was written in 1968 unwelcome innovations having already appeared):
I think our church has gone stark raving mad. We had the Providential good-fortune, a blessing denied to the Roman Catholics, that our Prayer Book was compiled at the ideal historical moment, that is to say when the English language was already in all essentials the language we use now — nobody has any difficulty understanding Shakespeare’s or Cranmer’s English, as they have difficulty with Beowulf or Chaucer — at the same time, men in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries still possessed what our own has almost totally lost, a sense for the ceremonial and ritual both in life and in language. Why, except in very minor details, any Episcopalian should want to tinker with either the Book of Common Prayer or the King James Bible, and go a-whoring after cacophonous and sometimes heretical new versions passes my comprehension. ....
And then in a 1971 letter:
.... The odd thing about the Liturgical Reform movement is that it is not asked for by the laity — they dislike it. It is a fad of a few crazy priests. If they imagine that their high-jinks will bring youth into the churches, — they are very much mistaken. ....
Stand Firm | W.H. Auden on the Book of Common Prayer, A Word About Auden And The Book of Common Prayer

Sunday, November 17, 2019

"Defenceless under the night / Our world in stupor lies..."

"The Auden Poem Auden Hated" is a review of a book about "September 1, 1939," composed by Auden upon the outbreak of World War II in Europe. The entire essay interested me, sent me back to the poem, and can be found here.
.... Never did Auden employ his gift of accessibility more effectively than in “September 1, 1939,” the poem he wrote immediately after Nazi Germany started World War II by invading Poland. Published in the New Republic that October, “September 1, 1939” contains within its nine 11-line trimetric stanzas more widely quoted phrases than any of Auden’s other poems. It was there that he called the ’30s “a low dishonest decade,” described the stunned members of his generation as “lost in a haunted wood, / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good,” and—most memorably—warned his readers that they “must love one another or die.” ....

It is, one may safely assume, the grandly resonant generalities of “September 1, 1939” that offended their author’s postwar sensibility, in much the same way that Waugh would feel the need to prune away the “rhetorical and ornamental language” of the original version of Brideshead Revisited when he revised the novel in the early ’60s.

But Auden was wrong to think that “the whole poem…was infected with an incurable dishonesty.” Indeed, “September 1, 1939” is powerful above all because of its willingness to tell the unvarnished truth about England and Europe in the ’30s....

.... Yet it is what the author of “September 1, 1939,” chastened by the failure of his own ventures into politics and bolstered by his embrace of Christian faith, very plainly espouses therein—and it is the reason the poem continues to speak to readers who, like Auden before them, “cannot swallow another mouthful” of the totalitarian ideologies with which the repeating cycles of history present them time and again.

“May I,” he cries in its last lines, “Beleaguered by the same / Negation and despair, / Show an affirming flame.” That he succeeded in doing so in “September 1, 1939” is the reason the poem survived all his attempts to mute or suppress it, and why successive generations of readers continue to turn to it in times of trial. It is, and will always be, an affirming flame of hope.

September 1, 1939
 W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?
Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The Auden Poem Auden Hated - Commentary

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

“Résumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues.”

This morning David French quoted from a several years old column by David Brooks:
The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
French today:
.... For quite a few people, when you ask them to take a stand for a particular set of values, like religious liberty or even the ultimate truths of their faith, it turns out that you’re asking them to risk the thing they value the most—the career they see as the summit of their life—for the thing they value less, the core virtues and values that build cultures and character.

Why won’t a politician speak the truth? Why won’t a pastor take responsibility for abuse in his church? Why do corporate executives turn a blind eye to rampant misconduct? Well, it turns out that when we ask for accountability and responsibility, we should understand that we’re asking leaders to potentially sacrifice the very thing that gives them more meaning and purpose than their relationship with their spouse or their own children. ....

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Testing orthodoxy

At GetReligion today the post includes three doctrinal questions the wrong answers to which would clearly place a person outside Christian orthodoxy.:
If you have been reading GetReligion for a decade or so, you have probably seen references to the “tmatt trio,” a set of short questions I have long used to probe the doctrinal fault lines inside Christian hierarchies, institutions and flocks. ....

.... The goal is not to hear sources provide specific answers, but to pay close attention to the content of their answers or non-answers. Here are the three questions, once again:
  1. Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Was this a real – even if mysterious – event in real time? Did it really happen?
  2. Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Is Jesus the Way or a way?
  3. Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin? The key word is sin. ....
It's the unorthodox answers that are significant. Orthodox answers less so since orthodoxy requires much more.

Friday, November 8, 2019

"Awake, my soul"


Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise, 
To pay thy morning sacrifice.
Heav’n is, dear Lord, where’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart;
For to my soul ’tis hell to be
But for one moment void of Thee.
Thy precious time misspent, redeem, 
Each present day thy last esteem,
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.
Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.
By influence of the Light divine
Let thy own light to others shine.
Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.
Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.
In conversation be sincere;
Keep conscience as the noontide clear;
Think how all seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.
I would not wake nor rise again
And Heaven itself I would disdain,
Wert Thou not there to be enjoyed,
And I in hymns to be employed.
Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.
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.
All praise to Thee, who safe has kept
And hast refreshed me while I slept
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake
I may of endless light partake.

This stirring morning hymn was the work of Thomas Ken (1637—1711), one of the most saintly figures in the history of the Church of England.

Left an orphan as a young child, he was brought up by Izaak Walton, the author of The Compleat Angler. He was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, and ordained at the age of twenty-six. Six years later he returned to his old school as a teacher and chaplain, becoming also a Prebendary of Winchester Cathedral.

Ken later achieved considerable fame as chaplain to King Charles II, whose amorous adventures he found impossible to sanction. On one celebrated occasion Charles found himself in Winchester with his mistress Nell Gwyn and asked Ken to put them up in his house. Ken refused, declaring, 'Not for your kingdom would I allow such an insult on the house of a Royal chaplain.' ....

'Awake, my soul' was written while Ken was still at Winchester and before he had become embroiled in the world of politics. In 1674 he published a manual of prayers for the boys at the College, and in the 1695 edition of that work this hymn appeared together with hymns to be sung in the evening and at midnight. ....

Modern hymn-books tend to print a shortened version. The hymn is generally sung to the tune Morning Hymn by François Hippolite Barthelemon (1741-1808). Also known as Hippolytus and Magdalene, it was specially written for 'Awake, my soul' at the request of the chaplain of a female orphan asylum in London and was first published in 1785. ....

At his own request Ken was buried at sunrise in the churchyard at Frome, Somerset, with his beautiful morning hymn being sung.
Ian Bradley, ed., The Penguin Book of Hymns, 1989.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019


I taught about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. And I taught about the genocide committed by the Nazis. But I didn't teach about this because I just didn't know much about it. From "New evidence shows FDR's bigotry derailed many Holocaust rescue plans:
Not only was US president Franklin Roosevelt perfunctory about rescuing Jews from the Nazis, but he obstructed rescue opportunities that would have cost him little or nothing, according to Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff. ....

“Roosevelt used almost identical language in recommending that the Jews and the Japanese be forcibly ‘spread thin’ around the country,” Medoff told The Times of Israel. “I was struck by the similarity between the language FDR used regarding the Japanese, and that which he used in private concerning Jews — that they can’t be trusted, they won’t ever become fully loyal Americans, they’ll try to dominate wherever they go.

During the 1920s, when Roosevelt was already a seasoned politician and a vice presidential candidate, he expressed racist views in editorials and interviews. Regarding new immigrants — and Asians in particular — he bemoaned the creation of ethnic “colonies” in major cities.

“Our main trouble in the past has been that we have permitted the foreign elements to segregate in colonies,” Roosevelt told the Brooklyn Eagle daily newspaper in a 1920 interview. “They have crowded into one district and they have brought congestion and racial prejudices to our large cities.”

During these key years before Roosevelt entered the White House, he also wrote and spoke about “the mingling of white with Oriental blood” and preserving other forms of “racial purity.” According to Medoff, all of this was part of a long-held worldview that later guided Roosevelt during his three terms in office.

“Roosevelt’s unflattering statements about Jews consistently reflected one of several interrelated notions: that is was undesirable to have too many Jews in any single profession, institution, or geographic locale; that America was by nature, and should remain, an overwhelmingly white, Protestant country; and that Jews on the whole possessed certain innate and distasteful characteristics,” wrote Medoff. ....

In 1939, as the world went to war, Hitler broadcast his intentions to annihilate European Jewry. Simultaneously, FDR refused to support a bill that would have let 20,000 Jewish German adolescents into the US. Anne Frank and her sister Margot could have qualified to be included, since they were German citizens and under age 16, said Medoff.

Roosevelt’s determination to keep Jews away from America knew few limits, as probed in several chapters of Medoff’s book. Although it is well-known that Roosevelt turned away the St. Louis ship packed with German Jewish refugees, the president took other steps that have been omitted by most of his biographers.

For example, when the Dominican Republic made a public offer to take in 100,000 Jews on visas, the administration undermined the plan. From Roosevelt’s point of view, explained Medoff, that country was too close to home, and Jews deposited there would inevitably come to America. Officials in the US Virgin Islands, too, were willing to rescue Jews by letting them into the country, but Roosevelt halted the plan, wrote Medoff. ....

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Christian founding?

In "Founding Deists and Other Unicorns" James Bruce reviews Did America Have a Christian Founding? by Mark David Hall. He begins by asking "What determines whether or not America had a Christian founding? .... Did the members of the founding generation identify themselves as Christians? .... But that doesn’t tell us much. People can be bad believers, or they can be good Christians self-consciously founding a secular regime. .... And there’s a theological issue, too. At what point does a historical figure become a non-Christian due to his privately held unorthodox beliefs, even if he publicly identifies himself as a Christian?"

It's a good, informative, review/essay, from which:
.... Let’s consider one concrete case in order to illustrate Hall’s method. In 1784, Patrick Henry proposed a bill to tax individuals for the support of their local churches. James Madison wrote his celebrated Memorial in the summer of 1785 in the hopes of preventing the bill’s passage that autumn. On a standard telling of the American story, an Enlightenment Madison saved the country from religious fanatics. Is that, in fact, what happened?

Not at all. Hall notes that “an earlier evangelical petition” received far more signatures, by a margin of 4,899 to 1,552 (out of 10,929 Virginians who signed any petition on the matter). That petition said Henry’s bill was “contrary to the spirit of the Gospel” and that the church was not helped “when Constantine first established Christianity by human laws.” Lest we think Madison’s Memorial spawned the other petitions, including this evangelical one, Hall notes that the evangelical petition was written at least seventh months before Madison wrote his Memorial. Furthermore, Madison’s Memorial itself includes “a number of overtly religious arguments,” suggesting a broader purview than the unaccompanied Enlightenment. And let’s be clear: almost half the Virginians who signed a petition signed the evangelical one, thereby endorsing its Christian appeals for religious freedom. The Memorial by itself, based on its share of signatories, could not have carried the day. The evangelical petition, all by itself, could have. ....
.... Hall identifies eight great founders regularly claimed for deism: Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Allen, and Paine. Hall gives us plenty of reasons to question the alleged deism of most of these men. But he observes, quite persuasively, that even if these founders were all deists, they still had to persuade (from a secular point of view) the vast unenlightened hordes clinging to God and their guns. Eight men—even eight great and influential men—still represent a minuscule segment of the national population.

More importantly, these eight represent only a tiny sample of the people we call founders. Hall works through the founders by denominational affiliation, noting that “there is little reason to doubt, and much evidence to indicate” their orthodoxy. From Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Roger Sherman, James Wilson, and John Witherspoon, on the Reformed side, to John Jay and Patrick Henry on the Anglican side (just to name a few), Hall offers a laundry list of Christian founders.

By contrast, in the founding period, only Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine offered defenses of deism. Hall argues persuasively that Allen’s Reason: The Only Oracle of Man exercised little influence (selling less than 200 copies) and that Paine’s Age of Reason received almost universal scorn. Hall offers a veritable who’s who of founders that criticized Paine’s book.... (much more)
The argument isn't that because the nation was predominantly Christian then it should be a theocracy now. It wasn't a theocracy then and it won't be ever — or at least until the end of time. This argument matters simply to inform an understanding of the constituting documents and to correct what many non-believers prefer to believe.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


Jonah Goldberg on dogs (he has two):
.... Unlike all other “companion” animals—cats, horses, parrots, monkeys, hawks, Packers fans (I kid), etc.—dogs chose to partner with humans. When I first started making this argument, it was just that—an argument. Now science has pretty much confirmed what was obvious to those who paid attention. Dogs have the ability to read human facial expressions; wolves don’t. Dogs are wired to love humans. They volunteer for duty. All other animals have to be conscripted. Horses, birds, monkeys, and even cats can be bent to serve humans to one extent or another, but it is not natural for them. It is natural for dogs. It’s what they want to do. Some breeds are more eager to please than others, but as a species, they are our compadres.

.... I just want to point out that we have a special obligation to dogs. Our ancestors cut a deal with dogs, and the contract is still binding. This is particularly the case for dogs that are asked to fight alongside us and protect us. They are doing it because they believe we are family. The question of their intelligence is secondary to the fact of their love. ....

Friday, November 1, 2019

A great cloud of witnesses

A hymn most appropriate for All Saints' Day sung to Ralph Vaughan Williams's SINE NOMINE ["without name"], perhaps referring to all those saints whose names are not remembered on earth:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to God, the Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

John Mark Reynolds, after the death of his great aunt, wrote:
.... Many suffered and all died, but none were forgotten by God. All of them passed from the horrible moment of death to His presence. They struggled and gasped and then they were at rest forever...not the cold unfeeling rest of physical death, but the vibrant life of souls awaiting a second life and a new body. They throb with the music of the spheres and the future triumph of King Jesus is obvious to them.

There is no doubt in one dead man that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We struggle in this life and we strive and we hope and we plan...and we exhaust ourselves in politics, business, and religious activity, but an end will come. Our striving is often lonely, but we are never alone. ....

Death is a reminder that for a Christian there is a community formed that is indifferent to time. We are surrounded by an ever growing multitude of those who know, who have set aside all doubt, and who rejoice in an imminent victory that they can see.

I am not alone.

You are not alone.

There is hope, because someone, some hundreds of thousands probably, have faced worse and gone on to victory. God’s grace is sufficient and the ever growing band of victorious Christians is to His glory and honor. We never are alone in our struggle, because millions of brothers and sisters are done with their labor and wait for us to join them.

Glory to God! .... [more]
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