Friday, September 17, 2021

Esperanto for measurement

I love this:
The British government has announced that U.K. businesses will once again be allowed to sell their products in traditional, British units of measurement, like pounds and ounces, instead of the metric system.

This move is a win for freedom-loving people everywhere, and the restoration of customary units should be a cause for jubilation in the streets.

The metric system has its origins in the French Revolution....

The French Revolution was a time when men were, in the words of Edmund Burke, “pull[ing] down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in an hundred years.” The top-down imposition of the metric system did just that by erasing customary units.

By “customary units,” I don’t just mean the U.S. customary system, but any unit of measure derived through custom. If you read about the origins of customary units, you’ll find that many of them are based on specific occupations, like brewing, farming, and surveying. They were invented by people doing their jobs who needed a way to measure things. They developed units of measure that were useful to them and persuaded others to adopt them for ease of commerce. Customary units eventually became standardized through a bottom-up process. They represent the wisdom of our ancestors, the accumulated experiences over the centuries. ....

As Burke said, “it calls for little ability” to point out “the errors and defects of old establishments.” Indeed, it calls for little ability to say, “Base-ten would be easier.” Never mind that we tell time on a non-base-ten system and it works just fine. It’s not for lack of trying other systems, either: The French tried a ten-day week and ten-hour days for a while, but it didn’t stick.

Or consider that the computer or smartphone on which you’re reading this post measures information in bits, a base-two customary unit derived from the days of punch cards and vacuum tubes. And there’s eight bits in a byte, oh no! ....

The metric system is Esperanto for measurement, except many more people have been seduced by its scientistic allure. The metric system is based on the utopian idea that everything old is bad, and that humans have the power to create a better world by severing all ties with custom and tradition and imposing contrived, rationalistic systems on people, whether they like it or not.

By allowing customary units again, the British are striking a blow against that nonsensical and destructive worldview. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a cold drink — from a twelve-ounce can. (more)
"Britain Delivers a Welcome Blow to the Metric System"

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

A guilty pleasure

I enjoy Robert Mitchum in just about every thing he did. His villainous roles in Cape Fear (1962) and The Night of the Hunter (1955) may have been his best, but I particularly enjoy some of the films noir he did earlier, films like Macao (1952) and The Big Steal (1949) in both of which his antagonist was William Bendix. Tonight I watched one of my favorites, His Kind of Woman (1951). It was produced while Howard Hughes controlled RKO. Raymond Burr was a villain. Jane Russell was the woman. And Vincent Price in a great role.

The Rotten Tomatoes description:
In a desperate attempt to get out of debt, career gambler Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) agrees to rendezvous with a mysterious contact at a distant Mexican resort in exchange for $50,000. Upon arriving, Milner meets his fellow guests, including a plastic surgeon, a philandering movie star (Vincent Price) and his beautiful girlfriend (Jane Russell). Soon Milner discovers that the man who hired him may be the ruthless Nick Ferraro — a deported Italian gangster who looks just like him.
The film is about two hours and is available on Amazon Prime.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

September 11

After 9/11 in 2001, at the Queen's request, breaking centuries of tradition, the American national anthem was performed at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. This morning at Windsor Castle where the Queen is in residence:

Friday, September 10, 2021

Questions that really matter

I enjoyed reading Daniel Idfresne's "I'm 17. And I'm Immunized from Woke Politics." His closing paragraphs:
Here is the main thing I have learned:

When acceptance is the highest value, when avoiding condemnation online is worth more than the truth, the truth will be swiftly discarded. Online likes, followers and reputation — weak, empty values — dominate the teenage world because teenagers are not being taught alternative ones by the culture or, often, by the adults in their lives. They — we — are not being given the tools to answer the questions that really matter: What is truth? What is justice? And what is the purpose of life?

My generation’s been told that truth or justice are merely assertions of power. Except here’s the thing: The square root of 64 is 8, the Moon is nearly 239,000 miles from the Earth, and you do not need to believe in God to see that goodwill is a force for positive change. Believing in that is the ultimate immunization against nihilism.
Common Sense with Bari Weiss, "I'm 17. And I'm Immunized from Woke Politics"

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Uncle Abner

In a post about early American detective fiction, "The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes," comes one I've posted about before:
Arguably the most original of all the American detectives of this period, Uncle Abner was the creation of the lawyer and author Melville Davisson Post. Post’s God-fearing hero appeared in 22 stories, written between 1911 and 1928. Riding through the backwoods of West Virginia in the years before the American Civil War, he dispenses justice and wisdom under the admiring gaze of the narrator, his young nephew Martin. Although largely forgotten today, the Uncle Abner stories have had many admirers over the years since their first publication. In 1941, Howard Haycraft, one of the first literary critics to take crime fiction seriously, called Post’s character ‘the greatest American contribution’ to the cast list of detective fiction since Poe’s C Auguste Dupin.
Post's dedication in Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries:

Monday, September 6, 2021

On Labor Day


On this Labor Day, I re-post part of a 1942 address by Dorothy L. Sayers: "Why Work?" (pdf):
I HAVE already, on a previous occasion, spoken at some length on the subject of Work and Vocation. What I urged then was a thorough-going revolution in our whole attitude to work. I asked that it should be looked upon—not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God's image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing. ....

It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred. Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work. .... It is not right for her to acquiesce in the notion that a man's life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation. ....

Where we have become confused is in mixing up the ends to which our work is put with the way in which the work is done. The end of the work will be decided by our religious outlook: as we are so we make. It is the business of religion to make us Christian people, and then our work will naturally be turned to Christian ends, because our work is the expression of ourselves. But the way in which the work is done is governed by no sanction except the good of the work itself; and religion has no direct connexion with that, except to insist that the workman should be free to do his work well according to its own integrity. ....
Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos?" Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949, pp. 46-62.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

"Though we walk through the valley of the shadow..."

I first posted this prayer in the Spring of last year.

From Jeremy Taylor: a prayer "for all that lie under the rod of war, famine, pestilence." 
O Lord God Almighty, Thou art our Father, we are Thy children. Let health and peace be within our dwellings; let righteousness and holiness dwell for ever in our hearts, and be expressed in all our actions. O merciful God, say unto the destroying angel, 'It is enough'; let Thy hand cover Thy servants and hide us from the present anger; that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we may fear no evil, and suffer none. Those smitten, support with Thy staff, and visit them with Thy mercies and salvation, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jeremy Taylor, The Role and Exercises of Holy Living, 1650-51.

Never unprepared

Thou, who with thine own mouth hast told us that at midnight the bridegroom shall come: Grant that the cry, "The bridegroom cometh!" may sound evermore in our ears, that so we be never unprepared to meet Him, or forgetful of the souls for whom he died, for whom we watch and pray. And save us, O Lord. Amen.
Lancelot Andrewes (1555 – 1626)

Saturday, September 4, 2021

"Putting away all earthly anxieties..."


Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, 2019, ACNA.

Friday, September 3, 2021


I haven't posted here for over a week. I try every day to find something interesting to post — at least interesting to me. I apologize to everyone who follows the blog. I simply haven't discovered material I particularly wanted to share. Back soon with good findings I hope.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

"When I use a word..."

After watching Jen Psaki's news conference yesterday several commentators were reminded of this from Through the Looking Glass. Having proved to his own satisfaction that un-birthday presents are superior to birthday presents because they can be given far more times in a year, Humpty Dumpty says:
“There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously.
“Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Monday, August 23, 2021


Today Alan Jacobs posts a quotation from George MacDonald's “The Voice of Job”:
....To deny the existence of God may, paradoxical as the statement will at first seem to some, involve less unbelief than the smallest yielding to doubt of his goodness. I say yielding; for a man may be haunted with doubts, and only grow thereby in faith. Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to rouse the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood; and theirs in general is the inhospitable reception of angels that do not come in their own likeness. Doubt must precede every deeper assurance; for uncertainties are what we first see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed. In all Job’s begging and longing to see God, then, may well be supposed to mingle the mighty desire to be assured of God’s being. To acknowledge is not to be sure of God. (more)
George MacDonald's “The Voice of Job”

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

J. Edgar

I have been interested in the history of the FBI for as long as I've known about the institution. When I was growing up Hoover was legendary. This looks fascinating. Ordered.
.... The fearsome director, he writes, was “kind, courteous, thoughtful, fearless, sometimes funny, a perfect gentleman, and a devout patriot” but also “vindictive, close-minded, hypercritical, a man of intense hatreds and eternal grudges, a man who in his sincere belief that he was protecting his country had repeatedly violated the principles of the Constitution on which that country was founded.” In short, a “strange and remarkable,” “fascinating and perplexing” creature. ....
Put in charge of the tiny, corrupt Bureau of Investigation in 1924, when he was not yet 30, Hoover invented the new Federal Bureau of Investigation and ruled it from its birth to his own death. He created the FBI crime lab with its forensic wizardry, the FBI academy to train agents and local and state police, the fingerprint records that ultimately held more than 200 million cards, and those “secret files” supposedly full of dirt on presidents, lesser pols, business titans and celebrities.  ....
The Director: My Years Assisting J. Edgar Hoover

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Be a teacher

Reviewing some other things of mine that appeared in The Sabbath Recorder:
In the film of Robert Bolt’s play, "A Man for All Seasons," a young friend asks Thomas More for a place at Court. More tells Richard Rich that he won’t give him what he wants but that he may have another position for him:
Rich: What post?
More: At the new school.
Rich: A teacher! [….]
More: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps a great one.
Rich: lf I was, who would know it?
More: You! Your pupils. Your friends. God. Not a bad public, that.
One of the great affirmations of the Protestant Reformation was the “priesthood of all believers” and along with that the realization that the idea of vocation applied to all believers, not just those ordained to holy orders. Our lives can’t be compartmentalized. Our work — how we earn our living — is in service to God, just as every other aspect of life. Whether we gain wide acclaim is irrelevant. What matters is whether we are faithful. Who will know? “God. Not a bad public, that.”

I didn’t come to that realization right away. For as long as I can remember I had planned to be a teacher, but because it was something I thought I could do well that would provide me with a living, not as a calling. In fact I became a public school teacher rather by default because I feared the kind of debt I would incur by continuing in graduate school. In 1970 I put out my credentials (teachers were in short supply then) and was contacted by a principal in Madison. I taught in that school district — secondary history and political science — for thirty-five years.

I was a mediocre teacher when I started, making serious mistakes — especially in disciplining students — but I learned from my mistakes and eventually achieved a certain competence. I learned very little of value in the education courses I was required to take. Teaching is as much an art as a skill and perfecting the art is largely a matter of trial and error. Each teacher needs to discover the style that works for him or her. I always told my student teachers to commit to at least four or five years before deciding they couldn’t do it.

What makes a good public school teacher? You need to like kids and love your subject matter. Most students will do just about anything a teacher asks if they believe the teacher cares about them, knows what he is talking about and teaches it well. That means knowing your subject thoroughly, and that means reading a lot. The easiest way to earn the contempt of adolescents is to pretend to know more than you do. The best teachers are those who can convey what is most important clearly and interestingly — and that is almost impossible if you are always operating at or close to the limit of your knowledge. Otherwise what makes a good teacher is what makes any good person: integrity, the willingness to admit error, intolerance of cruelty, a sense of proportion and good humor, meeting your commitments and obligations punctually, “doing unto others…,” etc.

These days, in the public schools, there is much less opportunity for Christian teachers to talk freely about our faith than was true even a few decades ago. Nevertheless, I found, at least in high school, that if the subject came up naturally as part of the curriculum or in student initiated discussion, it was possible if the subject was approached descriptively, if disagreement could be freely expressed, and nobody felt pressured. The most important witness a Christian teacher can make in a classroom, though, is behavior consistent with belief. For high school students there is no greater sin an adult can commit than seeming to be hypocritical.

“Be a teacher.” It is an honorable profession. And your Sabbaths will almost always be free.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

There is a happy ending

Re-posted. I've updated the introduction slightly.
A sermon I delivered on "Layman's Sabbath," October 17, 1970, during morning worship at the Milton, Wisconsin, Seventh Day Baptist Church. It was later printed in the December 14, 1970, Sabbath Recorder. The Recorder editor titled it "History's Most Important Event." It was submitted to the Recorder by the proud mother of the soldier whose letter I quoted at length, Pvt. Norman R. Burdick, who is now a retired English professor. I don't believe there is anything that he or I wrote more than half a century ago about which I have changed my mind since.
When the astronauts returned from the first moon landing, President Nixon, in the excitement of the moment of their return to the rescue ship, hailed that which they had accomplished as the most important event in the history of the world. Later, in a less exuberant mood, he might have reconsidered that statement, perhaps recalling other historical moments which were of great importance. Nevertheless, it seems to me significant that the President could have made such an unqualified statement and that it could have been heard and apparently accepted by so many without a second thought.

I doubt that any such evaluation concerning the preeminence of any such historical event could have been made with so little protest in any other century of the Christian era. For, of course, that act of reaching the moon as well as any other of the great accomplishments of man pales beside the actual preeminent event of history—what Tolkien has called the eucatastrophe of human history—the event which gives promise of joy, of happy ending (or at least the denial of inevitable, universal defeat in the universe for man); the event which we call the Incarnation—the moment when eternity invaded time, when God became a man and lived among men, a life, a death, and a rising after death—occurrences so great in their import that no conceivable event in history either before or since is even comparable, much less greater.

I'd like to read a letter that I received about two weeks ago from a friend of mine which impressed me a great deal. This friend is in the Army right now and for the last several weeks his reading has been largely restricted to the Bible as other books are not readily available. This is the letter:
I've been reading the gospels—and perhaps more forcibly than ever before, I've been struck with the pure drama, the unique tragedy with the happy ending, the sheer literary achievement in this play directed by the hand of God.

It is drama and tragedy in a higher form than any play ever written, life outdoing art, or perhaps the art of God outdoing that of man.

In ways, in its high drama and boisterous brutality, the story resembles Shakespeare, and nowhere more so than in the crucifixion.

The complexity of Shakespeare's characters is dwarfed by the sheer awe Christ's words and deeds create. And the others do symbolic actions with an exact rightness even Shakespeare might envy.

The Last Supper, with the presence of the traitor, his existence announced, but identity strangely not revealed, as if he were an Iago or Edmund; the strange scene of Christ praying in the garden, God asking God to let this pass from Him, while not far from Him His disciples cannot even "wake with him one hour" for His sufferings, then the line and transition, the most dramatic I know, "the hour is at hand for the betrayal of the Son of Man." The symbol of the Judas kiss, the washing of Pilate's hands, and the fleeing of all away from Him, brought to its height in Peter's threefold denial. All of this the complete rejection of Christ by man. Then there is the cruel treatment of Christ, the brutal and boisterous humor of the common man, from casting lots for the cloak to the crown of thorns and the vinegar.

Then, after the formal "Tragedy" ends, the only perfect happy ending to a real tragedy that I know—the hero triumphs in death and is resurrected. And it's a tragedy with an ending that means life not only for one, but for all.

And for me, one of the proofs of it all is that it is this perfect a tragedy. I do not believe in some unknown Jewish writer or writers that much greater than Shakespeare: I do not even believe in a mortal man able to write some of the lines of Christ. And most of all, I do not believe in anyone either convinced of Christ or trying to create a new religion, who could write those lines I still don't wholly understand, that render His isolation complete, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

That line in dramatic effect is greater than anything Shakespeare ever wrote. Its mystery is stupefying. And no spreader of any gospel would have invented it; only a man who was there and who heard it, and who felt compelled to tell all other truths would have put it in his account of the one he believed was his savior.
It is this real life drama, this perfect tragedy with a perfect happy ending, which really happened, which when accepted as fact, as Christian do, leads to a view of life and death altogether different than if those events had never occurred.

C.S. Lewis once wrote about an experience of his while patrolling as a member of the Home Guard in England during the Second World War. With him on patrol were two men, one of them like himself a man of educated background and the other a man of a rather more humble educational background. The third man was shocked upon learning that Lewis and his friend did not believe that the war was likely to end wars or even greatly contribute to the abolition of human misery. His reaction was that if this were true, if what they were doing was not going to effect great change in the world, then what was the use of the world's going on? And Lewis himself was astonished that any man could have assumed that there was good in the world going on. Lewis felt that the world is a place of futility. The world is falling apart all the time. Things are disintegrating, not unifying—the tendency is toward disorder, not order—and he was surprised anyone could have assumed that things were always getting better. Later he wrote a great deal about this fact. He said that the only way you can conclude that life is worthwhile is if you accept an importance in the actions of men which goes beyond the world; that they may not find their fulfillment in this life, but find their meaning on some greater stage than simply this world.

In the modern age it seems to me that we are confronted with two major attitudes on the part of a great many people. Either there is the assumption that things are always getting better, that the world is perfectible, that either through self-discipline, the discipline of societies, the elimination or reordering of social structures, we can accomplish an earthly paradise—and this is, I think, very unlikely given the sort of fallible people we all know we are. Or, secondly, there is the position that there is no direction in creation, that life is meaningless and therefore that we must act without rational goal, drop out, or find meaning simply in doing things, in acting without hope of achievement.

Christianity, I think, contains the answer to both of these positions. Christianity says, it seems to me, that, yes, it may very well be that meaning is not to be found in this life and in that which is accomplished on this earth, but that there is meaning, and that the actions which we take do have ultimate meaning, ultimate importance. It answers the utopians, the believers in progress, by pointing out the futility, the frustration which will necessarily come with the pursuit of their dreams and by directing them toward an achievable reality. All will be fulfilled. That is the message of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. There is a happy ending. All will be made right, but at the end of history, that is to say, not in history. Even so it is necessary that we act.

Christian action is necessary, because, although it may not save the world it will make the world a more tolerable place with less suffering. It will do this in two ways—by telling men that they can have a relationship with that God who died for them, a relationship which is real and which will give unity and fullness to their lives. That is one way and the way I think most important. But that way leads to another—to action which Christians may take in society to make life more tolerable. The early Church acted to eliminate such practices as infanticide, abortion, the practice of total war and to organize charity to improve the quality of life. The church today must also act, must continue to increase respect for life, both for life as such and for its quality by introducing people to Christ.

"But God so loved the world...", so familiar that we may never stop to consider how peculiar this statement really is. How could God love us? We are not really lovable, even when we do the right thing it is usually for the wrong reason—not because it is right but because by so doing we gain approval, or because someone will like us, or even in order that we may congratulate ourselves on our righteousness. Yet we are assured that He loves us, and, I fear, many of us accept His assurance with the assumption that this love is somehow merited. It is not. But we are still loved and we must respond to that love by showing it to others.

Sabbath Recorder, December 14, 1970, pp.5-6, 13. [pdf]

"The power of Man to make himself what he pleases..."

"The Best C.S. Lewis Book You’ve Never Read" is the title of a post reviewing a new guide to C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man (1943). I have read that book, although not recently. It is short—my copy has only 62 pages. It is definitely worth the time. The review inspired me to go looking for quotations from the book and found this one, perhaps even more relevant today than when written:
.... The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have ‘taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it? For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.

…the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.”

In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao [Logos, Absolute, etc.] – a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart. They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen. They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike. It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly. This will be changed. Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgments of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education.
Review: After Humanity: A Guide to C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man

Friday, July 30, 2021

"Mere" Christianity

From George Marsden's "Mere Christianity: A Reader’s Guide to a Christian Classic":
One of the strongest habits of thought both in Lewis’s day and in our own is to think that newer understandings of the most basic aspects of life and reality are better than older understandings. Lewis, as a student of history, recognized that many of the “latest ideas” of one’s own day will look quaint to future generations. When Lewis himself was on his journey to becoming a Christian, he came to realize that there was good reason to put one’s trust in ideas that had lasted a long time, rather than in the latest fads that would come and go.

He accordingly defined “mere Christianity” as “the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times”. Rather than presenting the latest modern ideas about Christianity, he was presenting an essential Christianity that had been around “long before I was born and whether I like it or not”.

Grounding his presentation in history also meant that he carefully avoided presenting Christianity as a support for some currently fashionable social or political cause — as he put it, like “Christianity and Vegetarianism” or “Christianity and the New Order.” In The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil Screwtape advises the junior devil Wormwood to suggest to his “patient” (the young man who is in “danger” of becoming a true Christian) that Christianity is valuable chiefly for the excellent arguments it provides for the positions of his political party. Such partisanship, Screwtape suggests, would lead the young man away from considering the more essential issues.

Likewise, Lewis was careful to avoid efforts to improve Christianity with modern theological fads. .... (more)
George Marsden's "Mere Christianity: A Reader’s Guide to a Christian Classic"

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Reader, attend!

From A History of the English Baptists, Volume 2 by Joseph Ivimey (1811), the epitaph Joseph Stennett composed for his parents' tomb:
[Edward Stennett] died at Wallingford. His wife was Mrs. Mary Quelch, whose parents were of good repute in the city of Oxford. They were (it is said) both pious and worthy persons, and justly deserved the character given them in the epitaph inscribed on the tomb erected for them. This was written by their son Joseph, and is as follows;
"Here lies an holy and an happy pair;
As once in grace, they now in glory share;
They dared to suffer, but they feared to sin;
And meekly bore the cross, the crown to win:
So lived, as not to be afraid to die;
So died, as heirs of immortality.
Reader, attend: though dead, they speak to thee;
Tread the same path, the same thine end shall be."
Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, Volume 2, pp.70-74 (1811).

Monday, July 26, 2021

Grace is deeper still

In this sermon a pastor pities those who only know The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the movie:
The Dawn Treader carries us through the troubled waters of our hearts, navigating the often turbulent seas of our destructive desires, and leads us under full sail toward the yearning of our souls for a better home. The Dawn Treader brings us to sweet reunions and bitter partings, all the while offering hope beyond the tears. ....

Beyond the well-trod tropes of Eustace’s Dragon and the Darkness that awakens our deepest fears, it is to a far off wind swept mountainside that I find myself sitting most often. Far away from the sound of crashing surf, sailors at their work, and gulls swinging through a cloud-strewn sky, I find myself wandering through the swaying grass of a hidden valley, where nestled in its creased folds sits a glistening jewel—a quiet lake.

It’s deeper than it seems. ....

But grace is deeper still.

Even as the madness that lay hold of Caspian and Edmund was broken by a simple glimpse of Aslan standing in authority on the ridge above them, so just a glimpse of the risen Jesus is enough to cure the madness of our longing. It is as we behold his glory that we, by one degree of glory to another, are transformed. You see, as deep as the pool of your depravity may be, the ocean of his grace is deeper still. Yes, it’s deeper than it seems. You will not exhaust it. You will not reach its depths. .... (more)
Chris Thomas, "It’s Deeper Than It Looks"

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Sunday, July 18, 2021

"Righteous indignation abounds..."

From a review of Minds Wide Shut in which the term "fundamentalist" refers to a category that is not necessarly theological:
...[N]ow more than ever, we need the kind of mindset that a true liberal-arts education fosters. At a time of worsening polarization, a style of thinking the authors term “fundamentalist” is eating away at productive discourse, making the kind of back-and-forth necessary for a democratic society to function all but impossible. Surveying the cultural landscape, the authors offer a grim diagnosis: “Dialogue is dying, and righteous indignation abounds.” ....

Morson and Schapiro write, “the essence of fundamentalism is to deny the existence of a principled middle ground.”

Viewing one’s opponents as irredeemable means one will view any compromise with them as inherently illegitimate. So it isn’t difficult to see the threat that fundamentalist thinking poses to democracy. The authors warn that the logical endpoint of this mindset is the kind of totalitarianism that marred so much of the 20th century. The appetite for denouncing one’s opponents as evil, immoral, absurd, etc. does not dissipate with time or with victory over any particular enemy. Instead, the authors point out, “as soon as one side has won, the logic of hatred is applied to divergences among the victors, and when one faction of the victors wins out, it divides in the same way.” The result is a societal “slide” in which positions once thought so extreme as to be inconceivable can quickly become not just acceptable but compulsory. ....
Nat Brown, "The Cure for Fundamentalist Thinking," National Review, July 15, 2021.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Gordon in Sudan

Conan Doyle tells us in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" that a picture of General Charles George Gordon ("Chinese" Gordon) hung on the wall at 221b Baker Street. Gordon was an actual historical personage of some importance. Today I came across a review of an early book by Winston S. Churchill, The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, written when Churchill was only twenty-five.
Churchill also recognizes the considerable merits of General Charles George Gordon (also known as Gordon Pasha) whom the British sent to oversee Egypt’s withdrawal from the Sudan. In 1885, Gordon lost his life in the city of Khartoum: Mahdist forces overwhelmed his palace as Prime Minister William Gladstone’s government dithered about coming to his rescue. Gordon was an accomplished general, as well as a man of deep principle and Christian faith. He had warred on slavery in the Sudanese territories out of a deep respect for the dignity of all persons. But his moral rectitude and prideful self-assurance led to imprudence and an excessive confidence in his own judgment. Churchill’s final assessment of Gordon is respectful with an undercurrent of doubt and criticism. He was, in Churchill’s estimation, “a man of stainless honour and enduring courage” and “the severity of his religion did not impair the amiability of his character.” His opinions were not always sound but “the justice of his actions” was generally beyond dispute.
Daniel J. Mahoney, "To Conquer with Chivalry and Mercy: Churchill's River War is the work of a great statesman and thinker."

Keep going

Dick Francis is one of my favorite crime novelists. In an interesting essay at CrimeReads the author explains how "Rediscovering the Novels of Dick Francis Was the Answer to a Personal Crisis and a Mysterious Illness."
.... But now that the dust is settling and my life is resuming, it’s easy to connect a few dots. Why did I keep reading Francis’ novels? It’s simple. They were never about inventing fictional explanations for Devon Loch’s mysterious collapse. They’re about solving the harder problem: how does a person keep going after everything falls apart? In Proof, our protagonist Tony Beach begins the novel almost paralyzed with grief by the death of his young wife. Sid Halley, hero of Odds Against, Whip Hand, Come to Grief and Under Orders, still dreams of the races he used to win before a horse’s hoof destroyed his left hand. In Straight, Derek doubts he’ll ever have half of his bother’s decency and intelligence.

But in every novel, these men find the courage to keep going. They do the right thing. They survive. ....
John Fram, "Rediscovering the Novels of Dick Francis Was the Answer to a Personal Crisis and a Mysterious Illness"

Monday, July 12, 2021

"The will of a merciful God must be good"

To Mrs. Hamilton, Tuesday evening, ten o'clock
This is my second letter. The scruples of a Christian have determined me to expose my own life to any extent, rather than subject myself to the guilt of taking the life of another. This much increases my hazards, and redoubles my pangs for you. But you had rather I should die innocent than live guilty. Heaven can preserve me, and I humbly hope will; but, in the contrary event, I charge you to remember that you are a Christian. God's will be done! The will of a merciful God must be good. Once more, Adieu, my darling, darling wife.
Hamilton died on this day in 1804, the day after the duel. He apparently fired intentionally to miss Burr. He was buried in the churchyard of Trinity Church in Manhattan.

Sunday, July 11, 2021


David French has, as usual, an interesting essay today. It is about the importance — especially for men — of friendship. From "Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations":
.... Damon [Linker} argues (and I think he’s exactly right) that the prevalence of online relationships rooted in affinity or faction help explain our toxic politics. “A nation of increasingly lonely, friendless citizens given outlets to find collective, communal fulfillment online,” Damon writes, “will be a nation spawning a range of radical political factions, groups, or movements defined by and drawing the bulk of their cohesion from their loathing of other factions, groups, or movements.”

Faction friendships are especially dangerous, I’d add, because they not only provide community, they also provide a sense of purpose, as destructive or as false as it may be. But faction friendships are also fragile. They depend on an extraordinary degree of agreement and conformity. I’ve experienced this myself. Many of us have. Friendships built up through years of engagement in politics and activism vanished in the blink of a tweet.

“You’re not with us? Then we’re not with you.”

And unless you have robust family relationships and deep friendships that aren’t so fragile and aren’t so contingent...then the sense of loss can be emotionally and spiritually catastrophic. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a thousand times more. This is a prime reason why you can’t fact-check, plead, or argue a person out of a conspiracy, because you’re trying to fact-check, plead, and argue them out of their community. ....

Not long ago, I was at a gathering of Christian leaders that was discussing a national strategy for engaging the culture. We went through five-point plans. We discussed ten-point plans. The discussion was fascinating and valuable. My mind was racing with ideas. Then one pastor spoke up with an idea at once more simple and more difficult. “What if our strategy,” he said, “was the fruits of the spirit?”

That’s it. That’s the focus. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” That’s how we engage. And it made my mind jump tracks entirely, from the political to the personal. How do we repair our politics? The answer is almost impossibly complex, but here’s a powerful start. Friendship. Cultivate and sustain genuine friendship. Why? Because friendships don’t just enrich and restore our lives, they also enrich and restore our land.
David French, "Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations", The Dispatch, July 11, 2021.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Fighting for liberalism (with a small "l")

Andrew Sullivan in "What Happened To You?" on what may or may not be properly called Critical Race Theory (CRT) but is nevertheless a real thing:
.... The best moniker I’ve read to describe this mishmash of postmodern thought and therapy culture ascendant among liberal white elites is Wesley Yang’s coinage: “the successor ideology.” The “structural oppression” is white supremacy, but that can also be expressed more broadly, along Crenshaw lines: to describe a hegemony that is saturated with “anti-Blackness,” misogyny, and transphobia, in a miasma of social “cis-heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy.” And the term “successor ideology” works because it centers the fact that this ideology wishes, first and foremost, to repeal and succeed a liberal society and democracy.

In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence — and you are either fighting this and “on the right side of history,” or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent. (Silence, remember, is violence — perhaps the most profoundly anti-liberal slogan ever invented.)

And that tells you about the will to power behind it. Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment. ....

Due process? If you’re a male on campus, gone. Privacy? Stripped away — by anonymous rape accusations, exposure of private emails, violence against people’s private homes, screaming at folks in restaurants, sordid exposés of sexual encounters, eagerly published by woke mags. Non-violence? Exceptions are available if you want to “punch a fascist.” Free speech? Only if you don’t mind being fired and ostracized as a righteous consequence. Free association? You’ve got to be kidding. Religious freedom? Illegitimate bigotry. Equality? Only group equity counts now, and individuals of the wrong identity can and must be discriminated against. Color-blindness? Another word for racism. Mercy? Not for oppressors. Intent? Irrelevant. Objectivity? A racist lie. Science? A manifestation of white supremacy. Biological sex? Replaced by socially constructed gender so that women have penises and men have periods. The rule of law? Not for migrants or looters. Borders? Racist. Viewpoint diversity? A form of violence against the oppressed. ....

We can and must still fight and argue for what we believe in: a liberal democracy in a liberal society. This fight will not end if we just ignore it or allow ourselves to be intimidated by it, or join the tribal pile-ons. And I will not apologize for confronting this, however unpopular it might make me, just as I won’t apologize for confronting the poison and nihilism on the right. And if you really want to be on “the right side of liberalism,” you will join me. (more, but behind a subscription wall.)
Andrew Sullivan, "What Happened To You?"


There were several reasons I became a reader. Dad read to me and took me to the library. And phonics were still, in the 1950s, used to teach reading in the elementary schools I attended. From "American schools teach reading all wrong":
PHONICS, WHICH involves sounding-out words syllable by syllable, is the best way to teach children to read. But in many classrooms, ff-on-ics is a dirty sound. Kymyona Burk, who implemented Mississippi’s statewide literacy programme, says that some teachers have had to sneak phonics teaching materials into the classroom, like some kind of samizdat. Teaching reading any other way is “malpractice”, says Ms Burk. And yet for reasons that include politics, partisanship and personal experience, most American children are taught to read in a way that study after study has found to be wrong.

The consequences of this are striking. Less than half (48%) of all American adults were proficient readers in 2017. American fourth graders (nine-to ten-year olds) rank 15th on the Progress in International Literacy Study, an international exam. ....
"American schools teach reading all wrong," The Economist, Jun 12th 2021.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Pro choice

Originally posted in 2012:

In March of 1860 Abraham Lincoln spoke at Union Hall in New Haven, Connecticut. He was campaigning for the Republican Presidential nomination and the legal status of slavery was the issue. It has been suggested that Lincoln's argument respecting slavery then might well be applicable to the abortion issue today — especially with respect to those who say they are "personally opposed" but are "not willing to deal with as a wrong." From Lincoln's "Speech at New Haven":
.... You say that you think slavery is wrong, but you denounce all attempts to restrain it. Is there anything else that you think wrong, that you are not willing to deal with as a wrong?

Why are you so careful, so tender of this one wrong and no other? You will not let us do a single thing as if it was wrong; there is no place where you will allow it to be even called wrong!

We must not call it wrong in the Free States, because it is not there, and we must not call it wrong in the Slave States because it is there; we must not call it wrong in politics because that is bringing morality into politics, and we must not call it wrong in the pulpit because that is bringing politics into religion....and there is no single place, according to you, where this wrong thing can properly be called wrong! .... (more)
If you are "personally opposed" to, say, murder, or theft, or rape, or abortion, shouldn't that mean that you will do what you can both as an individual and a citizen to fight those evils?

Are You Really Personally Opposed if You Won’t Call it Wrong? – Kevin DeYoung, The History Place - Abraham Lincoln: Speech at New Haven


I re-watch this one every now and then. It's undemanding fun. I enjoyed reading about it in "Hollywood’s forgotten superhero: why didn’t The Rocketeer take off?."
The Joe Johnston-directed Rocketeer is now recognisable as a classic origin story: an average joe discovers his powers, saves a dame, and beats the baddies. In this case, it’s cocky stunt pilot Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell), who finds a top secret rocket pack and battles Hollywood star/Nazi spy Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) in Los Angeles in 1938. ....

They wove more Thirties references into the screenplay. It was now entrepreneur-magnate Howard Hughes – played in the film by Terry O’Quinn – who invented the rocket pack. Villain Neville Sinclair was created as an Errol Flynn-like matinee star who hunts down the rocket pack for himself (well, for the Fuhrer, who – like his plan to nab the Ark of Covenant for evil-doing – wants to create an army of rocket men). “It was Basil Rathbone meets Errol Flynn,” says Bilson about Sinclair. The character was based on the unsubstantiated story that Errol Flynn was a secret Nazi. “It was just a rumour,” says Bilson. “We went with that.” Seven-foot basketball player Tiny Ron Taylor was cast as his Hatton-esque henchman, Lothar. ....

Watched now, The Rocketeer still glimmers with old timey movie magic. It’s all heart and derring-do – a film about Hollywood, playing on Hollywood tropes, but a rip-roaring Hollywood adventure in its own right. Its spirit is best captured in Cliff’s first heroic moment as the Rocketeer – saving a passed-out pilot from an air stunt gone wrong. .... (more)
"Hollywood’s forgotten superhero: why didn’t The Rocketeer take off?" The Telegraph, July 4, 2021.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

"A tree will wither if its roots be destroyed"

On the occasion of the one-hundred-fiftieth birthday of the United States President Calvin Coolidge, who was himself born on the 4th of July, delivered a speech in Philadelphia:
.... It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed. ….

.... A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause. ….

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers. ....

.... If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

Samuel Ward

Previously posted on Independence Day: It is particularly appropriate, especially for Seventh Day Baptists, to remember Governor Samuel Ward of Rhode Island.

Samuel Ward

Samuel Ward
Samuel Ward was Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, son of a governor of Rhode Island, three times governor himself, and presiding officer over the Continental Congress when it was meeting in Committee of the Whole.

He was the only colonial governor who refused to enforce the Stamp Act, and was actively involved in resistance to British authority – organizing committees of intelligence in every Rhode Island community.

Ward was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774. There he was a close ally of Samuel Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts. Perhaps his closest friend and political ally was Benjamin Franklin. He is remembered as the man who nominated George Washington as commander of the Continental Army. He was a close friend of and correspondent with Nathanael Greene — perhaps Washington’s best general. He advocated an American navy and introduced the resolution authorizing the construction of its first ships.

He died of smallpox in Philadelphia on March 25, 1776, having delayed inoculation out of fear that it would incapacitate him when important work needed to be done. The entire Congress attended his funeral.

He was a Seventh Day Baptist, a member of the Sabbatarian Church of Christ in Westerly & Hopkinton. His profession of faith and request for membership is in the possession of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society.
To the Sabbatarian Church of Christ in Westerly & Hopkinton:

Being fully satisfied that Baptism is a Christian Duty I desire to be admitted to that Ordinance this Day: my Life & Conversation are well known; my religious Sentiments are That there is one God the Father of whom are all Things and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all Things, That the Universe thus created has been preserved and governed by infinite Wisdom, Power and Goodness from the Beginning, That mankind having fallen into the most gross & unnatural Idolatry, Superstition and Wickedness it pleased God for their Recovery to make a Revelation of his mind & will in the holy Scriptures which (excepting the ceremonial Law and some part of the Judicial Law peculiar to the Jews) It is the Duty of all mankind to whom they are made known sincerely to believe and obey: my Sins I sincerely & heartily repent of and firmly rely upon the unbounded Goodness and Mercy of God in his only begotten Son Christ Jesus for Pardon & eternal Life: and I sincerely desire and Resolve by his Grace for the future to walk in all the Commandments and Ordinances of the Lord

Sam: Ward
August 5, 1769
information from Kenneth E. Smith, Sam: Ward: Founding Father, Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, 1967.

A site devoted to the Ward family provides this about Samuel Ward:
...[I]n 1763, he won election as Governor of Rhode Island. He was reelected in 1765 and held office until 1767. When the British parliament passed the infamous Stamp Act which imposed taxes on imports into the American Colonies — without any representation of these colonists in that legislative body — the Americans became infuriated. Samuel was the only one of the governors of the 13 colonies who refused to sign a required oath to sustain and enforce it.

He was appointed a delegate from Rhode Island to the Continental Congress to be held at Philadelphia as tensions heightened in the period leading up to the American Revolution.

The drama of revolution and war opened with all its horrors of bloodshed and devastation, and all its glorious scenes of devotion to the rights of man, and determination to obtain liberty, at any and every cost. Samuel played a prominent part in these scenes and performed it well. Samuel wrote a letter in 1775 to his brother, speaking of his own position and his feelings; he said:
"I have traced the progress of this unnatural war, through burning towns, devastation of the country, and every subsequent evil. I have realized, with regard to myself, the bullet, the bayonet and the halter; and, compared with the immense object I have in view, they are all less than nothing. No man living, perhaps, is more fond of his children than I am, and I am not so old as to be tired of life; and yet, as far as I can now judge, the tenderest connections and the most important private concerns are very minute objects. Heaven save our country, I was going to say, is my first, my last, and almost my only prayer"
Samuel took an active part in helping organize the Rhode Island Militia for the war. His son Samuel Jr., recently out of college, entered the Colonial Army with the commission of captain.

When the Continental Congress met, Samuel was chosen Chairman of the "Committee of the Whole". The committee recommended "...that a general be appointed to command all the Continental forces raised, or to be raised, for the defence of American liberty." This was passed and George Washington was chosen by ballot to take command of American forces.

Samuel was a devoted admirer of Gen. Washington, and a sincere advocate of his election. A few weeks after the appointment, he wrote to Gen. Washington:
"I most cheerfully entered upon a solemn engagement, upon your appointment, to support you with my life and my fortune; and I shall most religiously, and with the highest pleasure, endeavor to discharge that duty."
We find Governor Ward a most active member of Congress, and untiring in his efforts to organize and advance the preparations for defence on the part of the colonists. He was warmly in favor of pronouncing a declaration of independence; and, although he did not live to sign the Declaration, yet he was one of the most active and determined among those who consummated it.

During the Congress, Samuel contracted smallpox and fell ill in March 1776. He last attended sessions on Mar 15. He died 26 Mar and was buried at the First Baptist Church Cemetery in Philadelphia. All the members of the Congress and a large crowd of friends and supporters attended his funeral.

The remains of Governor Ward were exhumed and removed to the Old Cemetery at Newport, Rhode Island in 1860. The slab over his grave, contains the following inscription, written by John Jay (Supreme Court Justice):
"In memory of the Honorable Samuel Ward, formerly Governor of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; afterwards delegated from that colony to the General Congress; in which station, he died, at Philadelphia, of the small pox, March 26th, 1776, in the fifty-first year of his age. His great abilities, his unshaken integrity, his ardor in the cause of freedom, his fidelity in the offices he filled, induced the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations to erect this grateful testimony of their respect."
Wards in the United States Congress, Part 2

Saturday, July 3, 2021


I was reminded of this by David French's essay in Time: "Loving Your Country Means Teaching Its History Honestly." C.S. Lewis on love of country:
First, there is love of home, of the place we grew up in or the places, perhaps many, which have been our homes; and of all places fairly near these and fairly like them; love of old acquaintances, of familiar sights, sounds and smells. ... As Chesterton says, a man's reasons for not wanting his country to be ruled by foreigners are very like his reasons for not wanting his house to be burned down; because he "could not even begin" to enumerate all the things he would miss.

It would be hard to find any legitimate point of view in which this feeling could be condemned. .... ...[I]t involves love of our neighbours in the local, not of our Neighbour, in the dominical, sense. But those who do not love the fellow villagers or fellow-townsmen whom they have seen aren't likely to have got very far towards loving "Man". .... Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves. In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination it produces a good attitude towards foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realise that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? .... The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would not be home unless it were different.

The second ingredient is a particular attitude to our country's past. I mean to that past as it lives in popular imagination; the great deeds of our ancestors. .... This past is felt both to impose an obligation and to hold out an assurance; we must not fall below the standard our fathers set us, and because we are their sons there is good hope we shall not.

This feeling has not quite such good credentials as the sheer love of home. The actual history of every country is full of shabby and even shameful doings. The heroic stories, if taken to be typical, give a false impression of it and are often themselves open to serious historical criticism. Hence a patriotism based on our glorious past is fair game for the debunker. As knowledge increases it may snap and be converted into disillusioned cynicism, or may be maintained by a voluntary shutting of the eyes. But who can condemn what clearly makes many people, at many important moments, behave so much better than they could have done without its help?

I think it is possible to be strengthened by the image of the past without being either deceived or puffed up. The image becomes dangerous in the precise degree to which it is mistaken, or substituted, for serious and systematic historical study. The stories are best when they are handed on and accepted as stories. I do not mean by this that they should be handed on as mere fictions (some of them are after all true). But the emphasis should be on the tale as such, on the picture which fires the imagination, the example that strengthens the will. The schoolboy who hears them should dimly feel—though of course he cannot put it into words—that he is hearing saga. .... What does seem to me poisonous, what breeds a type of patriotism that is pernicious if it lasts but not likely to last long in an educated adult, is the perfectly serious indoctrination of the young in knowably false or biased history—the heroic legend drably disguised as text-book fact. .... (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, Chapter One: "Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human," 1960.)

The ever-living now

Some time ago an article I read sent me to find Frederick Douglass's 1852 Fourth of July address, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” I had never read it. Not the most important passage but one that struck me:
.... My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.
Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.*
We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. .... (more)
*From "The Psalm Of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Woolly-headed illiterates

After attending school in America she returned to Britain to discover she had been ill-prepared to write well. In The Telegraph today:
.... Students today can no longer take for granted the apparent luxury of being evaluated harshly and fairly, and with it, the potential for learning, improvement and excellence. This is because, with its genius for turning good things bad and true things false, woke ideology has decided that even basic standards of coherence and accuracy themselves are evidence of a white, male Euro-centric (and therefore bad) worldview. At a number of universities in Britain, good spelling, proper grammar and robust essay structure – not to mention concepts like facts, truth and argument – all now fall under suspicion. Continuing on in thrall to these devious non-ideas now risks turning us into a nation of woolly-headed illiterates. ....

We must make sure these ideas never gain the same supremacy in Britain [as in America]. For by rejecting standards and objective criticism, their proponents want the politics of identity to triumph over the challenge of learning. But in rejecting the whole concept of merit as still more evidence of racism, they seem to want to put as high a barrier as possible in the way of minorities and those from less privileged backgrounds. We must ensure that, unlike America, we don’t fall into a morass of intellectual dishonesty where woke nonsense, rather than actual quality and potential, is king.
Zoe Strimpel, "Why we must all resist the woke war on written English," The Telegraph, 27 June, 2021.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Room for the punctilious and the peculiar alike

On the 10th anniversary of his arrival in the United States Charles C.W. Cooke explains his love for this country:
.... When I first moved here, my favorite national holiday was July 4th, with its fireworks, its renaissance vibes, and its unabashed Americana. A decade later, my favorite holiday has become Thanksgiving. Zoom out into space and look back at the Earth. Where, and when, would you live if you had an unfettered choice? In my estimation, there is only one sensible answer to that question: In America, now. There is nothing at all wrong with our bitching and moaning all day about the government or the culture or this or that; indeed, as citizens, that is our right and our responsibility. But it is a great sin to do so absent context, and the reality is that Americans who are alive in 2021 have won the grand prize in the cosmic lottery. Every Thanksgiving, I think about this: Of all the people in all the world in all of human history, I got to live in America. To be ungrateful for this would be absurd.

And yes, I mean in America. Not “red” America or “blue” America or whatever other color America. Not the North or the South or the Pacific Northwest. America. Like everyone else, I have my personal political preferences, and yet I am convinced that an America without all 50 of the states would be a sadly diminished place. What a privilege it is to be able to move freely between New York, Miami, and New Orleans; between the Rocky Mountains, the lakes of Minnesota, and the Carolinian coasts; between Missouri barbecue, Texas steak, and Californian wine. This is a country that offers skiing and surfing, museums and rollercoasters, the Masters and the Daytona 500. It is a sprawling, diverse, rambunctious, wild sort of place, with room for the punctilious and the peculiar alike. Taken together, this country we call home is the greatest framework for freedom and flourishing that the world has ever known. .... (more)
"Ten Years in America," National Review, June 25, 2021.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

On racism

I don't usually pay much attention to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual sessions. My Baptist tradition has a rather different history, particularly with reference to slavery. But this year I found their sessions very interesting, and found myself in entire agreement with "On The Sufficiency Of Scripture For Race And Racial Reconciliation," adopted overwhelmingly by the messengers voting:
WHEREAS, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17); and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, “All Scripture is totally true and trustworthy” (Article I); and

WHEREAS, “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27); and

WHEREAS, “From one man [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth” (Acts 17:26); and

WHEREAS, In his prophetic vision John saw “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10); and

WHEREAS, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12); and

WHEREAS, “Through faith [we] are all sons of God in Christ Jesus… There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28); and

WHEREAS, “God…has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18); and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, “Christians should oppose racism” (Article XV); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, June 15–16, 2021, affirm the sufficiency of Scripture on race and racial reconciliation; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we reaffirm our agreement with historic, biblically-faithful Southern Baptist condemnations of racism in all forms; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we reject any theory or worldview that finds the ultimate identity of human beings in ethnicity or in any other group dynamic; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we reject any theory or worldview that sees the primary problem of humanity as anything other than sin against God and the ultimate solution as anything other than redemption found only in Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, We, therefore, reject any theory or worldview that denies that racism, oppression, or discrimination is rooted, ultimately, in anything other than sin; and be it further

RESOLVED, That, understanding we live in a fallen world, we reaffirm the 1995 Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention, which includes, “That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27),” applying this disposition to every instance of racism; and be it finally

RESOLVED, We affirm that our reconciliation in Christ gives us the opportunity and responsibility to pursue reconciliation with others so that we can display and share the hope of the gospel with the world.
On The Sufficiency Of Scripture For Race And Racial Reconciliation

Monday, June 21, 2021

"A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness"

From G.K. Chesterton's Heretics:
.... The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique. The men of the clan live together because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their souls, by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colours than in any tartan. But the men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell. A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises. ....
G.K. Chesterton, Heritics, "XIV. On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family."

Sunday, June 20, 2021

A turtle on a fence post

From a very good article about the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention:
Have you ever wanted to be a turtle on a fence post?

If you answered “No,” that’s because you didn’t hear Pastor Ed Litton’s sermon at Redemption Church in Saraland, Ala., on June 6.

Pastor Litton was elaborating the third point in his three-point sermon entitled “After God’s Own Heart.” He said that author Alex Haley had a picture of a turtle on a fence post in his office. He said there was an inscription at the bottom of that picture that said, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he didn’t get up there by himself.”

Litton delivered that line in a soft voice and followed it with a pregnant pause. Then, with his finger pointed heavenward, he said, “Oh that God would put you [his finger now pointed at the congregation] on a fence post in this community! That people would look at your life and say, ‘How’s that possible?’” In typical Southern Baptist preaching style, he was winding up to exhort his flock with the Good News in parallel structure:
How’s joy possible in such grief? How’s love possible in a world of hate? How’s satisfaction possible when there’s so many needs? Man, I’m gonna tell you what I’ve learned: When I don’t have enough, He [pointing heavenward again] is enough. When I couldn’t go on, He goes on.
And in that moment, as his voice reaches your ears, and his impassioned hand gestures reach your eyes, even if you aren’t poetically inclined, you want to be a turtle on a fence post. You want what Pastor Litton has — and he wants you to have it. .... (more, very interesting and very much worth reading)
Dominic Pino, "Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton Is a Turtle on a Fence Post," National Review.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Auden liked it

A tweet brought me once again to this 1956 NYT review of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King. The reviewer was W.H. Auden and the third and final volume of LOTR had just been published. I have quoted from the review before, including a portion of this particular passage.
...[T]he situation in the War of the Ring is as follows: Chance, or Providence, has put the Ring in the hands of the representatives of Good, Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn. By using it they could destroy Sauron, the incarnation of evil, but at the cost of becoming his successor. If Sauron recovers the Ring, his victory will be immediate and complete, but even without it his power is greater than any his enemies can bring against him, so that, unless Frodo succeeds in destroying the Ring, Sauron must win.

Evil, that is, has every advantage but one—it is inferior in imagination. Good can imagine the possibility of becoming evil—hence the refusal of Gandalf and Aragorn to use the Ring—but Evil, defiantly chosen, can no longer imagine anything but itself. Sauron cannot imagine any motives except lust for domination and fear so that, when he has learned that his enemies have the Ring, the thought that they might try to destroy it never enters his head, and his eye is kept toward Gondor and away from Mordor and the Mount of Doom.

Further, his worship of power is accompanied, as it must be, by anger and a lust for cruelty: learning of Saruman's attempt to steal the Ring for himself, Sauron is so preoccupied with wrath that for two crucial days he pays no attention to a report of spies on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, and when Pippin is foolish enough to look in the palantir of Orthanc, Sauron could have learned all about the Quest. His wish to capture Pippin and torture the truth from him makes him miss his precious opportunity.

The demands made on the writer's powers in an epic as long as The Lord of the Rings are enormous and increase as the tale proceeds—the battles have to get more spectacular, the situations more critical, the adventures more thrilling—but I can only say that Mr. Tolkien has proved equal to them. ....
I recently re-watched the movies. I think Jackson made a mistake when he made Saruman an ally rather than a rival of Sauron.

W.H. Auden, "At the End of the Quest, Victory," New York Times, January 22, 1956.