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