Thursday, March 31, 2022

Is Easter pagan?

My annual reminder:

In an article at Christian History, Anthony McRoy systematically refutes the idea that "Easter" has any connection to possible pagan antecedents, and concludes:
...The Christian title "Easter" ... reflects its general date in the calendar, rather than the Paschal festival having been re-named in honor of a supposed pagan deity.

Of course, the Christian commemoration of the Paschal festival rests not on the title of the celebration but on its content—namely, the remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection. It is Christ's conquest of sin, death, and Satan that gives us the right to wish everyone "Happy Easter!"
He notes that:
The argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.
Even if there were some preceding pagan holiday or practice, that wouldn't prove anything — any more than it does for Christmas, or Halloween for that matter. As McRoy points out:
Of course, even if Christians did engage in contextualization—expressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms. After all, Christians speak of "Good Friday," but they are in no way honoring the worship of the Norse/Germanic queen of the gods Freya by doing so.

But, in fact, in the case of Easter the evidence suggests otherwise: that neither the commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection nor its name are derived from paganism. .... (more)
Good history and good sense.

Even the bunny and the egg — like Santa Claus and the Christmas tree — are , at worst, relatively harmless distractions.

"Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?" Christianity Today

"Human nature is immutable"

Chris Stirewalt responds to a correspondent who wonders how concerned he is about the level of political violence in recent years:
.... Human nature is immutable, therefore the history of humanity repeats the same themes and trends over and over again. I wrote about how the political violence of the 1960s and 1970s far exceeded that of our time, but pick any era and you will find plenty of awful stuff: labor unrest, race riots, assassinations and more. We have ended up in our current predicament because it is human nature to be forgetful and ungrateful. We assume good times will go on forever and are always somehow surprised when the forces that have always shaped history return to kick us squarely in our hindquarters. The American system and our culture have proved remarkably successful at protecting us from the worst depredations of this cycle, but human nature will never be abolished. ....
Chris Stirewalt, The Dispatch, March 31, 2022.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

"There is no such beauty/As where you belong"

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

A life of Christ

After my last post I scrolled through previous ones I had labeled "Dorothy L. Sayers" and came to this, one that I have previously found appropriate for Lent.
Gilbert Meilaender recommends reading Dorothy Sayers's radio plays collected as The Man Born to Be King :
On June 4, 1955, C.S. Lewis wrote to Dorothy Sayers to thank her for a pamphlet and letter she had sent him. He noted, in passing, that “as always in Holy Week,” he had been “re-reading [Sayers's] The Man Born to Be King. It stands up to this v. particular kind of test extremely well.” We might, I think, do far worse than imitate Lewis in our own Lenten reading.

The Man Born to Be King is a series of radio plays, twelve in all, dramatizing the life of Jesus from birth to death and resurrection. First broadcast by the BBC in 1941–1942, they were published in 1943, together with Sayers’s notes for each play and a long Introduction she wrote recounting both her aims and approaches in writing the plays and some of the first (often comical) reactions from the public.

Sayers did not suffer fools gladly, and she takes evident delight in recounting objections, many of which grew out of a kind of piety that resisted the deliberate realism of the plays. Thus, for example, among those who wrote her with objections was one who objected to her having Herod tell his court, “Keep your mouths shut.” The reason for the objection? Such “coarse expressions” struck the correspondent as “jarring on the lips of any one ‘so closely connected with our Lord." .... (more)
The book can be ordered at Amazon. If you haunt second-hand bookstores and come across it, it is well worth possessing and reading, and Sayers' notes are as valuable as the plays themselves.

Gilbert Meilaender on Reading Dorothy Sayers's Play Cycle for Lent - Mere Comments


An interesting essay asks whether Dorothy L. Sayers can properly be considered a feminist. Sayers is one of my favorite authors and also a Christian and friend of C.S. Lewis. I've excerpted some of her writing on this blog. From "The Feminist-Not-Quite-Feminist":
.... Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957)—detective novelist, playwright, academic, and lay theologian—is just such a voice. And the fact that Sayers does not neatly fit within our contemporary categories makes her an even more poignant voice for a conversation that has become tragically polarized.

In Are Women Human?—her 1938 address to a women’s society—Sayers’s argument is simple: we need to treat women like ordinary human begins. Women aren’t particularly virtuous, or particularly evil; they aren’t particularly qualified or not. They are human beings—both unique and ordinary—each with distinctive desires and work to do, and they should be free to pursue that work.

While Sayers’s advocacy for women is clear, the answer to the question of whether or not Sayers was a feminist depends entirely on whom you ask. ....

We might take Sayers at her word and wash our hands of the sticky debate:
… I replied—a little irritably, I am afraid—that I was not sure I wanted to ‘identify myself,’ as the phrase goes, with feminism, and that the time for ‘feminism,’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word, had gone past.
Case closed, right? Except that Sayers’s biography, work, and writing push back against this statement and make the question of her feminism more complicated and, I’d argue, more fruitful than we’d imagine for understanding her life and influence. ....

Sayers does not neatly fit within many of our categories, but she does make one thing clear: Christian scripture provides a picture of human flourishing that is unflinchingly at odds with a culture that abuses and dismisses women. Whether or not a Christian is comfortable putting the word “feminist” in their Twitter bio does not and should not determine their commitment to rooting out abuse within their church, workplace, and community. ....

I imagine Sayers would have all manner of thoughtful, biting criticism for all sides of our contemporary debates, which is precisely why she is a good voice for our time. She cannot be “used” for a cause; she must be treated, first and foremost, like a human being. And this practice alone—of treating men and women like the human beings they are—might help us transform our conversations, our conflicts, and our churches. (read more)
The book cover above is from my copy published by Victor Gollancz in 1946. It includes the Sayers essays quoted by Lambert.

Christina J. Lambert, "The Feminist-Not-Quite-Feminist," March 30, 2022.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

"We have within ourselves..."

From a review of a new collection of essays by Sir Roger Scruton: Against the Tide, "a concise but rich selection of some of Scruton’s writings for various journals, magazines, and newspapers." Scruton in 1994:
It is good to have been born in this time of decay. Our generation was granted a privilege that future generations may never know—a view of Western civilization in its totality, and a knowledge of its inner meaning. We were given the pure truths of the Christian religion, and the morality of sacrifice which turns renunciation into triumph and suffering into a secret joy. We also had the chance to see what will happen should we lose these gifts. ... Of course it is hard to feel the full confidence that those teachings require. But they are addressed to each of us individually, and their validity is not affected by what others think or do. We have within ourselves the source of our salvation: all that is needed is to summon it, and to go out into the world.
Douglas Murray, "Scrutonian selections," The New Criterion, April, 2022.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Set free

William Cowper, who often suffered depression, wrote Sometimes a Light Surprises in 1779:
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And He Who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines;
the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat;
the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (KJV)

Saturday, March 26, 2022

The deepest and richest worship

Kevin DeYoung on "Worship as Covenant Renewal":
.... The historic liturgy of the Christian church did not originate in evangelicalism, or in the Reformation, or in Europe. It grew out of Old Testament (and then New Testament) assumptions about what it meant for God’s people to gather and renew the covenant. The corporate gathering of God’s people is not mainly for community or for fellowship or for moral instruction, though all of these are present. “We gather each Lord’s Day,” Mike Horton reminds us, “not merely out of habit, social custom, or felt needs but because God has chosen this weekly festival as a foretaste of the everlasting Sabbath day that will be enjoyed fully at the marriage supper of the Lamb. God has called us out of the world and into his marvelous light: That is why we gather” (A Better Way, 24). Every Sunday, we come to worship our covenant-making God, be reminded of his covenant promises, and once again renew our covenant commitment. The deepest and richest and most biblical worship will have a liturgy that reflects these ancient, and continuing, realities. (more)
Kevin DeYoung, Worship as Covenant Renewal

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Committee to Abolish Original Sin

James Nuechterlein in "Sin, Theodicy & Politics" (1998) described Reinhold Niebuhr on human nature and the limits of politics:
.... Christian realism rested, in brief, on certain assumptions: that the imperfections of the world stem from fallen human nature; that the realities of self-interest, aggression, and the human will to power have to be reckoned with; that to improve the world it is necessary to work with those forces and not dream of obliterating them. Though the perversities of fallen humanity can, with considerable effort and ingenuity, be manipulated in the direction of the common good, they cannot entirely be overcome. Thus the anti-utopian imperative at the heart of Niebuhr's politics.

As the meeting place of power and morality, politics was inescapably for Niebuhr an arena of tension, ambiguity, and uncertainty. The central problem of politics is power, the inevitable temptation of people—most especially when acting collectively—to use whatever advantages are theirs to further their own interests over those of others.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Niebuhr's argument for democracy differed so radically from that of most on the religious left in his day. For them, democracy rested on the possibility of human perfectibility. Niebuhr, by contrast, famously insisted that while it is humanity's capacity for justice that makes democracy possible, it is humanity's inclination to injustice that makes democracy necessary.

Niebuhr's version of liberal democracy—whether directed to domestic or international concerns—rested on the concept of the balance of power. A serious politics requires at all times elements of deterrence, of checking power with counterpower. Realism, Niebuhr said, means that you achieve the common good not just by unselfishness but by the restraint of selfishness. Since power is never in stable equilibrium, so neither is politics: it is an ongoing process, not an achieved end. There can be no dream of perfect justice. Politics has to do with the relatively better, or even the lesser evil. .... (more)
First Things - Sin, Theodicy & Politics

Thursday, March 24, 2022

"Troubles and trials..."

Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs:

Troubles and trials often betray those
On in the weary body to stray
But we shall walk beside the still waters
With the Good Shepherd leading The Way  
We will not heed the voice of the stranger
For he would lead us all to despair
Following on with Jesus our savior
We shall all reach that country so fair
Those who have strayed were sought by The Master      
He who once gave His life for the sheep
Out on the mountain still He is searching
Bringing them in forever to keep
Going up home to live in green pastures
Where we shall live and die never more
Even The Lord will be in that number
When we shall reach that Heavenly Shore
Going up home to live in green pastures
Where we shall live and die never more
Even The Lord will be in that number
When we shall reach that Heavenly Shore

"Not because I grew up this way..."

From Christianity Today in 2020: "If Easter Is Only a Symbol, Then to Hell With It"
.... If the claims of Christianity are in fact true, they are true with or without me. On any given day, my ardent belief or deep skepticism doesn’t alter reality one hair’s breadth.

Believers and skeptics alike often approach the Christian story as if its chief value is personal, subjective, and self-expressive. We come to faith primarily for how it comforts us or helps us cope or lends a sense of belonging. However subtly, we reduce the Resurrection to a symbol or a metaphor. Easter is merely an inspirational tradition, a celebration of rebirth and new life that calls us to the best version of ourselves and helps give meaning to our lives. ....

“Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping, transcendence; making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages,” writes John Updike in his poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter.” If Jesus’ “cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fall.”

I am a Christian today not because it answers all my questions about the world or about our current suffering. It does not. And not because I think it is a nice, coherent moral order by which to live my life. And not because I grew up this way or have fond feelings about felt boards and hymn sings. And not because it motivates justice or helps me to know how to vote. I am a Christian because I believe in the Resurrection. If it isn’t true, to hell with it.

On the other hand, if Jesus did in fact come back from the dead on a quiet Sunday morning some 2,000 years ago, then everything is changed.... (more)

Monday, March 21, 2022


Today is the first day of Spring. I have heard it said that Spring is a hazardous time for those inclined to depression, perhaps because optimism and hope can be so often dashed. Today the high here is in the upper 60s, tomorrow the predicted high is 49. But there is hope.
The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in his Heaven—
All’s right with the world!

Robert Browning, Pippa Passes, 1841

Sunday, March 20, 2022

"A longing for he knows not what"

From C.S. Lewis, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1952):
.... Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development: When I was ten I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. ....

.... Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table. ....

.... Do fairy tales teach children to retreat into a world of wish-fulfillment 'fantasy' in the technical psychological sense of the word—instead of facing the problems of the real world? Now it is here that the problem becomes subtle. Let us...lay the fairy tale side by side with the school story or any other story which is labelled a 'Boy's Book' or a 'Girl's Book', as distinct from a `Children's Book'. There is no doubt that both arouse, and imaginatively satisfy, wishes. We long to go through the looking glass, to reach fairy land. We also long to be the immensely popular and successful schoolboy or schoolgirl, or the lucky boy or girl who discovers the spy's plot or rides the horse that none of the cowboys can manage. But the two longings are very different. The second, especially when directed on something so close as school life, is ravenous and deadly serious. Its fulfillment on the level of imagination is in very truth compensatory: we run to it from the disappointments and humiliations of the real world: it sends us back to the real world undivinely discontented. For it is all flattery to the ego. The pleasure consists in picturing oneself the object of admiration. The other longing, that for fairy land, is very different. In a sense a child does not long for fairy land as a boy longs to be the hero of the first eleven. Does anyone suppose that he really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale?—really wants dragons in contemporary England? It is not so. It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted. This is a special kind of longing. The boy reading the school story of the type I have in mind desires success and is unhappy (once the book is over) because he can't get it: the boy reading the fairy tale desires and is happy in the very fact of desiring. For his mind has not been concentrated on himself, as it often is in the more realistic story. .... (more)
C.S. Lewis, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," Of Other Worlds, 1966.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

"He that breaks a thing..."

Reviewing a new book about C.S. Lewis, but quoting from the work of another Inkling:
.... When Gandalf questions Saruman the White as to why he is now Saruman of Many Colors, he is gravely disturbed by Saruman’s reply.

“‘White!’” he sneered. ‘It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.’” Gandalf responds in turn, rebuking Saruman’s Enlightenment understanding of wisdom: “In which case it is no longer white … and he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
Louis Markos, "C.S. Lewis Was a Modern Man Who Breathed Medieval Air," Christianity Today, March 10, 2022.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

"Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me..."

The Celtic poem known as St. Patrick's Breastplate:

I bind unto myself today 
The strong Name of the Trinity, 
By invocation of the same, 
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;

I bind unto myself today.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

St. Patrick's "Breastplate" Prayer (The Prayer Foundation).

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Illiberal and un-American

In a post titled "Things Worth Fighting For," Bari Weiss considers American willingness to fight for our country and our fundamental convictions contrasted with what we are witnessing in Ukraine. It's a very good post, read it all. Eventually she asks, in our case, "What are the things worth fighting for?"
  • The first is individual liberty. Individual liberty is worth fighting for.
  • The second thing worth fighting for is America. America is worth the fight.
  • Civilization. Civilization is worth fighting for.
Elaborating on her first point, she notes the illiberal censorship of, and discrimination against, Russians and Russian culture, here, in reaction to Russia's crimes.
But this mob mentality—presenting itself now as anti-Russian bigotry, but as something entirely different a week or two from now—can never, ever be made normal. It cuts against the most foundational principle of liberal democracy: individual liberty.

As my friend Jacob Siegel put it in Tablet: “The notion that individuals should have their employment conditioned on the actions of a foreign government, or their willingness to denounce those actions, is frankly gross and authoritarian—the kind of thing I was raised to believe happened in Russia, not the United States.”

In free and just societies, we judge people as individuals, not as members of a group. We judge them based on their deeds, not based on the deeds of their parents. Or people of the same gender. Or ZIP code. Or skin color.

The fetishization of group identity, whether by religion or race or gender or whatever, is poison. It leads to a zero-sum war within groups, and the subjugation and, ultimately, the dehumanization of the individual.

The great achievement of America was to move beyond bloodline. It was to say—for the first time in human history—that we are not constrained by the circumstances of our birth or the sins or merits of our mothers and fathers. We are bound together not by clan or tribe but by a commitment to rights and principles. This distinction is core to what makes America exceptional—the prioritizing of the value of individual life over that of the kinship group.

That is why any ideology—by whatever name it goes by, no matter how seductive—that grants some people a demerit and others extra credit because of the circumstances of their birth, that denies our individual value and our common humanity, is illiberal and un-American. It needs to be totally rejected.

To build a strong home front in this new era requires us to recover the radical, world-transforming proposition that we are all created equal because we are all created in the image of God. .... (more)
Bari Weiss, "Things Worth Fighting For," Common Sense, March 16, 2022.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Under authority

In "An Ecclesiological Take on 'The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill',” I was particularly impressed with what Jonathan Leeman argued about the nature of authority and accountability in the church.

.... Who holds the power of discipline in an independent, elder-ruled church like Mars Hill? The elders. They are the highest authority. Indeed, they are the only authority.

Not so in congregational, presbyterian, or episcopalian-structured churches (lower-case to refer to systems of government, not denominations). Congregationalists push the authority to excommunicate down from the elders to the whole congregation. Presbyterians and episcopalians push it up to the presbytery, general assembly, or bishop.

For my part, not only do I think the downward push to the congregation is more biblical, but if the history of governments has anything to teach us, pushing power downward always does more to keep it in check. See the Federalist Papers. ....

...[A]sk yourself: which form of church polity do pragmatists love most? You guessed it—independent pastor or elder rule. This structure is easy and efficient. You can make decisions quickly. And you don’t have to bother with outside bodies or even your own congregation. If your church asks, you can point them to Hebrews 13:17’s call to submit to pastors. ....

Not surprisingly, the independent pastor or elder-ruled church structure has come to characterize the evangelical landscape for the last 70 years—from the Crystal Cathedral, to Willow Creek, to Saddleback, to the independent Bible churches I grew up in, to Mars Hill, to most hip church plants, to so many fundamentalist churches who work desperately to be biblical. Even those SBC megachurches which claim to be congregational are so in a rubber-stamping sort of way.

...[T]he sad tale of Mars Hill Church, which crushed the faith of so many, demonstrates why a middle lane is important. Polity is not essential for salvation, but it’s essential for helping the saved walk lovingly and peaceably together. It’s essential for passing the gospel to the next generation. It’s essential, finally, for biblical obedience. Driscoll’s self-manufactured structures failed his congregation and the city of Seattle in all three ways. ....

...[T]he fact that husbands and elders possess no enforcement mechanism changes the nature of how their authority must be exercised. .... It requires him to woo and be winsome. He must work for growth over the long run, not forced outcomes and decisions in the short run, which is why Paul tells Timothy to teach “with all patience.” What good is a forced decision or forced love from a wife or a member of the new covenant? A husband and an elder want the flowers of loving decisions growing naturally from loving hearts. ....

When an elder or pastor treats all authority as one thing, and fails to realize that God has established different kinds of authority, he begins to exercise his authority coercively. It becomes characterized by demands, not invitations. Combine that with underlying character issues, and you have a recipe for disaster. .... (more)
Jonathan Leeman, "An Ecclesiological Take on 'The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill',” 9Marks, March 14, 2022.

Monday, March 14, 2022

“Racism, fundamentally, is believing in it..."

Zaid Jilani at FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism):
.... Growing up outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Jilani’s childhood was marked by the juxtaposition of a diverse community and the nearby ominous presence of the Ku Klux Klan. Overall, however, he says attitudes towards race in his community appear to be improving.

“The environment we grew up in, I don’t think it was perfect, but it was an optimistic environment,” said Jilani. “More and more, we were seeing people break out of their bubbles, marry across cultural [and] racial lines. We were seeing much more diversity in basically every arena of life. And I think people generally felt more at ease with each other. They felt like they were getting along better. That spirit of optimism really motivated a lot of the 1990s diversity culture that I really enjoyed and appreciated.”

Then, seven or eight years ago, Jilani began to see a drastic shift in the goals and tenor of many progressive organizations—even some for which he had previously worked. Eliminating the social significance of racial categories had once seemed to be the unifying aspiration, but now individuals are identifying more strongly than ever with them, and are actively being encouraged to do so.

“Racism, fundamentally, is believing in it. It’s believing that you can make generalizations about large groups of people as if they’re The Borg from Star Trek,” joked Jilani.

“A lot of what I see identified as anti-racism today, I just look at it and [think], Well, actually that’s kind of racist," Jilani said. ....
Zaid Jilani, "Straddling the Line," FAIR, March 14, 2022.

Political freedom

I've ordered M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom, published next week. The purchase is partly nostalgic. Evans was important to my political formation. In high school and college I was reading, studying, and thinking a lot about political philosophy and particularly modern conservatism. In those days National Review was hosting an active debate between the various strands of conservative thought. M. Stanton Evans was an important participant and ultimately an advocate of what became known as "fusionism" attempting to reconcile the more libertarian and the more traditionalist tendencies of conservatism. It is difficult for me to imagine a political magazine today publishing a comparable debate. One of the more important contributions to the fusionist position by Evans was the Sharon Statement, the summary of conservatism adopted by the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) in 1960. A book that has been in my library since soon after its publication in 1964 is What is Conservatism, edited by Frank S. Meyer, and containing essays by Russell Kirk, F.A. Hayek, Garry Wills, William F. Buckley Jr., and others. This is from Evans' contribution, "A Conservative Case for Freedom."
.... The conservative, as I conceive him...does not share the authoritarian's readiness to coerce his fellow men into virtue, but neither does he share the libertarian's commitment to freedom at virtue's expense. The conservative believes man should be free; he does not believe being free is the end of human existence. He maintains that man exists to form his life in consonance with the objective order, to choose the Good. But "choice" of the Good can take place only in circumstances favoring volition. Freedom is thus the political context of moral decision; it is the modality within which the human mind can search out moral absolutes. In the conservative view, then, right choice is the terminal value; freedom, an instrumental and therefore subsidiary value.

To the conservative, economic and political freedom per se is not "moral"; only willed human actions have moral content, and freedom dictates no particular actions. A freely acting man may or may not be moral, depending on what he does. But while freedom is morally neutral, the possible alternatives, i.e., varying forms of coercion, are not. By their nature, all coercive systems require certain actions which we hold immoral: the arbitrary exercise of power over men by other men. .... The free economy permits morality but does not guarantee it; the coerced economy guarantees immorality. ....

The conservative, again, believes the two schools have reached their positions through a shared mistake in analysis; they fail to relate the question of man's nature to the problem of government. Concretely, they fail to see that government cannot be treated as something apart from "men" in the one case as the source of evil, in the other as the source of moral guidance. For what is government, after all, but men in the exercise of power? In the case of the libertarian, if men are naturally good, whence comes the evil of government? In the case of the authoritarian, if men are fundamentally evil, how does government become a force for virtue?

The conservative agrees with the authoritarian that men are not to be trusted, and his constant concern is to restrain the destructive tendencies he discerns in a fallen humanity. But he does not agree that such a judgment means man should be ruled by an aristocracy. For if men are evil, then potential aristocrats are evil, too, and no man, logically, can be said to have a commission to coerce another. "Absolute monarchs," in Locke's phrase, "are but men" and, as such, heirs to the same weaknesses of the human kind as are their subjects. Moreover, their ability to inflict evil on others obviously increases with the amount of power they wield. Among kings, aristocrats, and commoners, John Adams said, "there is no reason to believe the one much wiser or much more honest than the other; they are all of the same clay; their minds and bodies are alike.... As to usurping others' rights, they are all three equally guilty when unlimited in power." The conservative wants political freedom precisely because he fears the fundamental nature of man. James Madison, in Federalist No. 51, gives us the classic statement of the matter: "It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither internal nor external controls on government would be necessary." ....
M. Stanton Evans, "A Conservative Case for Freedom," in What is Conservatism, 1964.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Unquiet thoughts

Reviewing the posts here tagged "Samuel Johnson" I came to this prayer:
O LORD, my Maker and Protector, who hast graciously sent me into this world, to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which Thou hast required.

When I behold the works of Thy hands and consider the course of Thy providence, give me Grace always to remember that Thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor Thy ways my ways.

And while it shall please Thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by Thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious, and doubts impossible to be solved.

Let me rejoice in the light which Thou hast imparted, let me serve Thee with active zeal, and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which Thou receivest, shall be satisfied with knowledge.

Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
Most heresy and much of the uncertainty and doubt in a Christian's life result from attempting to know more than we can know — from an inability to accept ambiguity and a consequent need to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable rather than a willingness to wait until that time when we can know fully.

This good prayer is found in the collection Daily Readings in the Prayers of Samuel Johnson, edited and with a good introduction by Elton Trueblood.

Have mercy upon us

This was my introduction to Ralph Vaughan Williams. I heard it first in the living room of the Rood family in Milton, Wisconsin in the early 1960s. Dale Rood (later Pastor Dale) played the LP. I have been and continue to be grateful for that introduction to Vaughan Williams' music, especially his sacred music. Here is the Mass in G Minor (about 25 minutes).

An English translation:
Lord have mercy
Christ, have mercy.
Glory be to God on high and in earth peace, good will towards men.
We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we glorify Thee,
We give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory
O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty
O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ;
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
That takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us, receive Thou our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father
Have mercy upon us. Receive Thou our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father
Have mercy upon us.
For Thou only art holy;
Thou only art the Lord;
Thou only, O Christ,
With the Holy Ghost, art most high
In the glory of God the Father. Amen.
I believe in one God, The Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God, of God; Light of light; Very God, of very God;
Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father,
Through whom all things were made:
Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven.
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
And was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried,
And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures,
And ascended into heaven, and sittethat the right hand of the Father
And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose Kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord,
The Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
Who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe One, Holy, Church.
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the world to come. Amen.
Sanctus—Osanna I—Benedictus—Osanna II
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts,
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Agnus Dei
Lamb of God,
Who takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us, grant us peace.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

When ‘you can think as you please and speak as you think’

I didn't get an education in the classics but I sometimes wish I had. From "What Tacitus knew about tyrants":
.... His judgment of Domitian’s reign was worthy of Orwell: ‘Rome of old [i.e. the republic, 508-27 BC] explored the limits of freedom, but we plumbed the depths of slavery, robbed by informers even of the interchange of speech. We would have lost our memories as well as our tongues had it been as easy to forget as it was to remain silent.’

His writing was of epigrammatic brilliance: ‘the reward of virtue was certain destruction’; ‘capable of ruling, had he never ruled’; ‘the accounts of an autocracy come right only if the autocrat is their sole auditor’; ‘when the state was most corrupt, laws were most abundant’; ‘all conversations with tyrants end with the words “Thank you”.’ He understood other points of view, making the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus say of Romans: ‘Looting, butchery and violation they falsely call “government”, and where they make a desert, they call it “peace”.’ He wondered whether Britons were sensible in starting to ape Roman manners: ‘They call it “civilisation”, when it is an ingredient of slavery.’

Tacitus was fortunate in this respect: as he tells us, he could write as freely as he did only because he survived to live in enlightened times under Trajan (ad 98-117), when ‘you can think as you please and speak as you think’. ....
Peter Jones, "What Tacitus knew about tyrants," The Spectator, March 12, 2022.

Monday, March 7, 2022


Whittaker Chambers’ Witness has turned 70. I read it in college and have a copy in my library. From a post about that book:
A spy for Soviet military intelligence during the 1930s, Chambers would build a communist espionage ring in Washington, D.C., with numerous journalists and officials ensconced in the federal government during the New Deal.

Members of this cell transferred to Chambers copies of government documents, reports, and plans. He then relayed this material to the Soviet Union’s intelligence handlers.

Chambers would exit communism in 1938 after a profound Christian conversion heightened his awareness of how the communist ideology persecuted and destroyed the human spirit. ....

Chambers’ turn against communism also was sparked by his acute awareness of the Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union. Those murders spoke to a new reality Chambers accepted—the existence of the soul.

The scientific rationalism he believed in as a communist “fell from me like dirty rags,” Chambers wrote, along with “the whole web of the materialist modern mind.” This materialism had stifled human spirit, “paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God.” ....

Chambers described his process of leaving communism as a root-and-branch spiritual conversion, embracing the love and grace of a providential God. Chambers believed God called him to “fight for freedom.” If he did this, God had told him, “all will be well.”

The first stirring inside Chambers, he wrote, began the day he noticed the shape of his daughter’s ear. She was so amazingly made, he observed, that he saw the finger of God in his daughter’s creation.

Communism’s materialist vision of man had lost its hold on him. ....

To believe in man’s essential dignity was to have an answer to Vladimir Lenin’s or Joseph Stalin’s argument that ideological murders were justified. No, says Chambers, the soul is created by God and marks man as an immortal who cannot be destroyed for communist ideology.

Chambers told his wife that in leaving communism, “we are leaving the winning world for the losing world.” We made “the decision to die, if necessary, rather than to live under communism.” .... (more)
Richard M. Reinsch, "Confronting Communism’s Ideological Lie: Whittaker Chambers’ ‘Witness’ Turns 70," March 6, 2022.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

"Washed in the Blood"

From 2010, slightly modified:

I have an early memory of sitting in our car on a very hot day with the door open while my father and our pastor stood nearby talking. The only thing I remember of the conversation was the pastor saying that he didn't want any of those gory hymns in our church. One of the most famous "bloody" hymns was written by the great English poet, William Cowper, "There is a Fountain Filled With Blood." Russell Moore asked "Is Your Church Losing Blood?:
American Christianity is far less bloody than it used to be.

Songs like “Power in the Blood” or “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” or “Are You Washed in the Blood?” are still sung in some places, but fewer and fewer, and there aren’t many newer songs or praise choruses so focused on blood. The Cross, yes; redemption, yes; but blood, rarely. We’re eager to speak of life, but hesitant to speak of blood.

And this is not only a Protestant phenomenon. Roman Catholics—centered as they are on the Eucharist—often seem to go out of their way to speak of the “real presence” of Jesus in the elements, without going so far as to mention that this presence is believed to be that of his body and blood, as well as soul and divinity. Even Catholic communion hymns, I’m told, prefer terms like “the Cup” to “the Blood.”

The eclipse of blood in American Christianity has quite a bit to do, I suspect, with American prosperity. .... (more)
Moore explained "Why Blood Shocks.

Russell D. Moore, "Is Your Church Losing Blood?" Moore to the Point

"Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?"

This morning Matt Labash posts about "That Old Time Religion," primarily about its music, and re-prints his review of Goodbye, Babylon (2004) (my post about that collection from 2008). Labash grew up primarily in Southern Baptist churches and experienced the time when "a fire-breathing band of aspiring church splitters (splitting churches between quarrelling factions also being a favorite Baptist pastime) decided rock'n'roll was Satan's theme music." His parents went along.
.... This wasn't good news for me. In addition to suffering through the pop offerings of the day–from rock gods like Toto and Michael "She's a Maniac" Sembello–I also regularly dipped into my dad's old soul records, enjoying an introductory course in everything from the Motown sound to Ray Charles, to funkier stuff like War and the Jimmy Castor Bunch. When my parents decided it would be best to lock this vinyl gold away, I was forced, like thousands of Christian kids before me, to cop my music fix in the artistic wasteland known as "Contemporary Christian Music." The moratorium lasted about three years, and it was a dark time for all. ....

With some exceptions, the music tended to be too on-the-nose: saccharine and over-melodic, all light and no shadows, all gaiety and no grit. And when Christian artists tried to dirty themselves up, it was often painful to watch, such as when the hair-metal band Stryper came around in the mid-1980s.... Stryper released albums like To Hell with the Devil. They wore matching yellow-and-black spandex suits, making them look like bumblebees with Farrah-hair. They didn't scare anybody. ....

...Goodbye, Babylon
, shows God may have been slyer than originally thought–having held in reserve long-forgotten and recently discovered gems that have been dusted off by Lance Ledbetter, a twenty-seven-year-old Atlanta software installer and former deejay. Having become obsessed with sacred music from the early part of the last century, Ledbetter scoured the bins and collections of knowledgeable musicologists over a five-year period, enlisting help from everyone he could lay hands on, including his father, who pulled appropriate Scripture passages as companion notes for songs. He financed this labor of love on his credit cards.

What he came up with is 135 songs and 25 sermons–the largest collection of American sacred music ever assembled. Instead of relinquishing control to some major label, Ledbetter put the whole thing out on his own start-up label, Dust-to-Digital. ....

What these salvagers have preserved is a gospel hodgepodge, everything from Sacred Harp singing to hillbilly romps to field-holler prison chants to front-porch blues to jubilee quartets to old-timey country to Sanctified-congregational singing to Pentecostal rave-ups. They all come down in a rain of clamoring tambourines and bottleneck slide guitars, clawhammer banjo-picking, booming jug band-blowing and barrelhouse piano rolls. ....

[Dick Spottswood] ...perfectly nailed the difference between the old and new sacred music: "It's not like contemporary Christian songs, which are all praising Jesus, with nothing about sin or guilt. They've turned Jesus into a very cheap, off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all Jesus. There's nothing of substance left, and the music reflects this sort of mindless cheerfulness. With the old-time gospel songs, like [the Monroe Brothers'] 'Sinner You Better Get Ready,' there are dark clouds and tragedy and death and all the unpleasantries you have to go through before you can stand in line at the redemption counter."

As a kid, I would get chills when we used to sing the old 1899 Lewis E. Jones hymn, "There is Power in the Blood." The women, trying to out-falsetto each other, would sing "There is power, power, wonder working power in the blood of the Lamb." The men would double-time, walking a steady bass-line underneath, with "There is power, power, power, power, wonder-working power." And there is, in fact, power....

There is something ennobling about watching fallible man–tired and weak and old, in Thomas Dorsey's words--stumbling around to find God in the dark. Vicariously, we take their ride, as men and women who knew difficulty hope that the best parts of themselves cross the goal line–that they, in the words of cataract-addled Blind Joe Taggart, get to the "great camp meeting on the other side of the shore." Meanwhile, we are left with the documentation of their struggle, the bottleneck slides and jug blows and handclaps of those who left the next best part of themselves behind on scratchy vinyl, pointing the way for the rest of us, still stumbling around in the dark. (more)

Matt Labash, "That Old Time Religion," March 6, 2022

Friday, March 4, 2022


Watch Mr. Jones to understand another reason Ukrainians are loath to subject themselves to one more Russian dictator. The film is very much worth watching although it portrays a terrible atrocity. Walter Duranty of the New York Times was awarded a Pulitzer for his dispatches covering up these atrocities in Ukraine.
Mr. Jones is the story of a British journalist who first exposed the West to the horrors of the Holodomor, the Stalin regime’s forced famine of the Ukraine. ....

The plot follows the true story of Gareth Jones’s (James Norton) horrific trip to the Soviet Union in 1933. A rising star in journalism who recently conducted an exclusive interview with Adolf Hitler for Western Mail, Jones set his sights on Stalin, whom he calls a miracle maker. While Jones sets out for Moscow with the hopes of an interview with the man of steel, the murder of a friend sends him in another direction, the Ukraine.

When Jones arrives in Moscow, all appears to be well for the Western journalists he is cordoned off with. The journalists aren’t allowed to leave Moscow, but why would they want to? It would interrupt the sex-and-drug-fueled parties hosted by Walter Duranty (Peter Saarsgard), the New York Times Moscow Bureau Chief. Jones smooth-talks his way into a carefully monitored trip to the Ukraine and manages to escape his handlers to discover what is going on.

Jones quickly discovers that what was once considered the “breadbasket of Europe” is no more. Pursued by Soviet authorities across a monochrome wasteland, Jones discovers Ukrainian peasants willing to give up their coats for a loaf of bread, empty villages, and children resorting to cannibalism. What Jones discovered would later be known as the Holodomor, the forced starvation of somewhere between three to 12 million Ukrainians. .... (more
Mr Jones on DVD, also streaming at Amazon Prime.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

O Saviour of the world,
who by Thy cross and precious blood hast redeemed us,
Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord. Amen.
Thomas Tallis, 1575