Thursday, June 30, 2022

Do procrastinate

...when putting first things first.
.... Oxford Dictionary defines “procrastinate” this way: “delay or postpone action; put off doing something.” ....

Importantly, Oxford Dictionary goes further in providing some basic etymology explaining that the word is a combined form—taking “pro” which means forward and “crastinus” which means belonging to tomorrow—creating a word that conveys the idea of forwarding that which belongs to tomorrow.

…that which belongs to tomorrow.

After Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6 that we should seek first His Kingdom and that in doing so all the things we need will be supplied, He says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Let’s not pretend that Jesus was talking about procrastination here, but let’s also not pretend that He’s talking about productivity. Instead, what he’s talking about is the importance of trusting him with both the present and the future as we go about dealing with what is in front of us in the moment; that we would deal with today what belongs to today and leave for tomorrow what belongs to tomorrow.

Work? Yes.

Plan? Sure.

But, how much time do we as a culture steal from today by taking on responsibilities that belong to tomorrow?

Holy procrastination, then, is discovered by asking a slightly different question of yourself: why do today that which SHOULD be done tomorrow? ....

I want to commend to you holy procrastination.

It isn’t about laziness; rather, it’s about recognizing the unrelenting trap of productivity and coming to grips with the fact that no matter how much you accomplish tonight, there will be just as much waiting for you in the morning.

It isn’t about a lack of ambition and drive; rather, it’s about measuring your ambition against your blessings and asking yourself if the potential gain is worth the actual cost. .... (more, as a pdf)
Johnmark Camenga, "Holy Procrastination," The Sabbath Recorder, July/August, 2022.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

“It’s a shame he is no longer king,” Goebbels wrote...

Britain got a very good king in 1936, especially compared to his older brother. I always find interesting books about the period leading up to World War II. This one is about the former King Edward VIII after his abdication:
Andrew Lownie’s Traitor King begins on Dec. 11, 1936, with the last act of Edward’s 326-day reign. As he read his abdication speech into a BBC microphone at Windsor Castle, Wallis listened in the South of France, muttering “the fool, the stupid fool.” Throwing over a kingship was only the beginning of his folly. Edward and Wallis soon had a new shared goal: To undo his error and her humiliation by returning to Britain, ideally as king and queen (and definitely without paying income tax). ....

Edward was not quite a man without qualities—he had a dim, paternalist care for “the workers,” and he looked great in plus-fours—but he was profoundly shallow. “Did that Mozart chap write anything else?” he was overheard asking after a concert. Wallis was harder and smarter, a Lady Macbeth on Benzedrine. Both were early admirers of Hitler.

Abdication freed them to mix more freely with the wrong sort of people. In June 1937, they married at the French castle of their wealthy friend Charles Bedaux, who held “extensive business interests in Nazi Germany” and had long been suspected as a German spy. It was Bedaux who arranged their German tour that October. The Windsors visited a Nazi youth camp, an SS training school, the Krupp arms factory and a concentration camp. No one knows what was discussed at their private Berchtesgaden tea, but, the New York Times reported, Hitler gave them both a fulsome goodbye before firing off a Nazi salute, which Edward reciprocated. “It’s a shame he is no longer king,” Goebbels wrote in his diary. “With him we would have entered into an alliance.” ....

In neutral Madrid, the Windsors set up at the Ritz, where, the British ambassador said, “every word” was recorded by Nazi spies. The Spanish foreign minister reported that Edward blamed “the Jews and the Reds” for the war, wanted to put anti-Nazi British politicians “up against a wall,” and “seemed very much to hope” that Germany would bomb England “effectively,” to precipitate peace talks. ....

In the Bahamas, Edward and Wallis continued to socialize with pro-Nazi figures, including the Swedish businessman Axel Wenner-Gren, who...was involved in moving German money into South America. But their last chance had passed. The rest of their story, and the rest of Mr. Lownie’s narrative, descends into freeloading, snobbery and irrelevance. They never paid for anything, treachery included. (the review)
Dominic Green, "‘Traitor King’ Review: A Royal Without Honor'," The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2022.

Monday, June 27, 2022

"Mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression"

The Supreme Court released its opinion in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (pdf) this morning. Kennedy was a high school football coach who, after a game, would pray briefly at mid-field. The school district disciplined, and then fired him, arguing that his practice amounted to an "establishment of religion" forbidden by the First Amendment. The decision was written by Justice Gorsuch. From that decision, as joined by five other Justices:
JUSTICE GORSUCH delivered the opinion of the Court. Joseph Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach because he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet prayer of thanks. Mr. Kennedy prayed during a period when school employees were free to speak with a friend, call for a reservation at a restaurant, check email, or attend to other personal matters. He offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied. Still, the Bremerton School District disciplined him anyway. It did so because it thought anything less could lead a reasonable observer to conclude (mistakenly) that it endorsed Mr. Kennedy's religious beliefs. That reasoning was misguided. Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy's. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment's Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike. ....

Naturally, Mr. Kennedy's proposal to pray quietly by himself on the field would have meant some people would have seen his religious exercise. Those close at hand might have heard him too. But learning how to tolerate speech or prayer of all kinds is "part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society," a trait of character essential to "a tolerant citizenry." This Court has long recognized as well that "secondary school students are mature understand that a school does not endorse," let alone coerce them to participate in, "speech that it merely permits on a nondiscriminatory basis." ....

Such a rule would be a sure sign that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence had gone off the rails. In the name of protecting religious liberty, the District would have us suppress it. Rather than respect the First Amendment's double protection for religious expression, it would have us preference secular activity. Not only could schools fire teachers for praying quietly over their lunch, for wearing a yarmulke to school, or for offering a midday prayer during a break before practice. Under the District's rule, a school would be required to do so. ....

Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination. Mr. Kennedy is entitled to summary judgment on his First Amendment claims. ....
Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (pdf)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

"In this state of universal uncertainty..."

Samuel Johnson:
In this state of universal uncertainty, where a thousand dangers hover about us, and none can tell whether the good that he pursues is not evil in disguise, or whether the next step will lead him to safety or destruction, nothing can afford any rational tranquility, but the conviction that, however we amuse ourselves with unideal* sounds, nothing in reality is governed by chance, but that the universe is under the perpetual superintendence of Him who created it; that our being is in the hands of omnipotent goodness, by whom what appears casual to us, is directed for ends ultimately kind and merciful; and that nothing can finally hurt him who debars not himself from the Divine favour.
*not being sure of the meaning of "unideal" I looked it up. It meant not ideal, un-ideal.

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler (1750-1752), No. 184, 1751.

Lincoln on over-ruling a bad Supreme Court decision

Patrick Kurp on Lincoln and Dred Scott:
On June 26, 1857, in Springfield, Ill., his final resting place eight years later, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech in reply to Stephen Douglas, who two weeks earlier had defended the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision. Lincoln spoke plainly, as usual, not indulging in safe generalities:
That decision declares two propositions – first, that a negro cannot sue in the U.S. Courts; and secondly, that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the Territories. It was made by a divided court – dividing differently on the different points. Judge Douglas does not discuss the merits of the decision; and, in that respect, I shall follow his example...
Lincoln defers to the Constitution itself, as he often would as president, and even feigns compromise, for rhetorical effect, with Douglas:
We believe, as much as Judge Douglas, (perhaps more) in obedience to, and respect for the judicial department of government. We think its decisions on Constitutional questions, when fully settled, should control, not only the particular cases decided, but the general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only by amendment of the Constitution as provided in that instrument itself. More than this would be revolution.
As always, Lincoln defends the Union. Secession, four years away, is still unthinkable – “revolution.” Preliminaries out of the way, Lincoln gets down to business:
But we think the Dred Scott decision is erroneous. We know the court that made it, has often over-ruled its own decisions, and we shall do what we can to have it to over-rule this. We offer no resistance to it. (emphasis added)
Patrick Kurp, "Read Through a Gold Eagle," Anecdotal Evidence, June 26, 2022.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The same you

I became an opponent of abortion while in high school, some years before Roe, not because of my religious convictions, but because of what I had learned about biology. Since then my faith has certainly reinforced my belief that the lives of unborn human beings ought to be protected, but I think I would hold the same moral and political position if I were an unbeliever. Ryan T. Anderson and Andrew Walker:
.... Regardless of the unborn child’s stage of development, whether he is four weeks old or thirty-three weeks old, abortion kills the same person. Abortion ends a life—a human life, the life of a distinct and unique human being. The science couldn’t be clearer, nor could the ultrasound photos shared when couples happily announce a new baby is on the way. ....

The pro-life point of view is based on the undeniable biological fact that a human being exists from conception. The human embryo and fetus, no less than the human infant or adolescent, is a living member of the species Homo sapiens—a human being. “Embryo,” “fetus,” “infant,” “child,” “adolescent,” and “adult” are not names for different kinds of beings, they are names for the same kind of being at different stages of their natural development. The adult you is the same you who at an earlier stage of his or her development was the adolescent you, the infant you, the fetal you, the embryonic you.

This is not a religious belief but a scientific fact. Pro-life laws are built on that biological reality and on a moral judgment about the intrinsic equal value of human life—regardless of size, developmental stage, or cognitive abilities. ....

Moral claims are either good or bad, true or false, regarding the dignity of the human person. There’s no escaping it. To be pro-life entails insisting that the law protect the unborn. To extend legal protection to persons according to some other criteria, such as self-awareness or the immediately exercisable capacity to reason, is to place human dignity on a spectrum, an arbitrary spectrum at that. Those who would deny human dignity to unborn human beings—and thus deny them the law’s protection—are the ones who rely on an indefensible ideology (it doesn’t deserve to be called “religious”) that views some human beings as non-persons. How it is that that ideological belief can serve as the basis of our laws, but the moral truth of human equality cannot, is never explained. ....

People are free to have sex or not, but individuals should not be free to kill the children they conceive—at any stage. The child’s right to life entails the adults’ (the parents’) duty to care and thus places limits on our liberties. As a result, there can be no real right to abortion. Rather, there is the right of every child not to be the object of a choice whose specific goal is to end his or her life..... (more)
Ryan T. Anderson and Andrew Walker, "No, Overturning Roe Would Not Establish Theocracy," First Things, May 23, 2022.

The mark of all charlatans

At Anecdotal Evidence Patrick Kurp quotes an author I don't know, Hugh Kingsmill:
Most of the avoidable suffering in life springs from our attempts to escape the unavoidable suffering inherent in the fragmentary nature of our present existence. We expect immortal satisfactions from mortal conditions, and lasting and perfect happiness in the midst of universal change. To encourage this expectation, to persuade mankind that the ideal is realizable in this world, after a few preliminary changes in external conditions, is the distinguishing mark of all charlatans, whether in thought or action.
Patrick Kurp, "He Judged Literature by Its Truthfulness," Anecdotal Evidence, June 25, 2022.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

"...Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

The meaning of "this morning’s 6–3 Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin":
The First Amendment never uses the term “separation of church and state.” It instead contains two religion clauses: one that prevents Congress (or, since the 14th Amendment, the states) from passing any law establishing a state church or “respecting” such an establishment; and the other protecting the free exercise of religion from government prohibitions. A myth has grown up around Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 phrase “wall of separation” that treats religion, not as a thing the government cannot mandate or regulate, but as a kind of kryptonite the government must avoid any contact with even if it means separation of religious people and institutions from equal participation in what the state provides. That is not what the establishment clause was understood to mean in 1791, and today, the Supreme Court went further: It concluded that discrimination of that sort violates the free-exercise clause. ....

Both “separation of church and state” and “wall of separation” are, in fact, slogans rather than constitutional commitments. Allowing students to take state aid to a religious school on the same terms as a secular school does not establish a church, any more than allowing them to use Pell Grants at a religious college or, for that matter, allowing people to buy Bibles with their Social Security checks, establishes a state church. As Roberts summarized: “The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools—so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion.”

Of course, the Founders expected church and state to be more separate, but then, they expected a lot of things to be more separate from the state; we have a much bigger government today. Then again, most public schools in the early republic were sectarian. Roberts emphasized that today’s decision does not require states to fund religious school choice — but if it funds secular school choice, it may not exclude students who choose religious schools. Religious believers may not be required to choose between the exercise of their faith and being treated the same as people who exercise no faith. .... (more)
Dan McLaughlin, "Supreme Court: The First Amendment Bans States from Excluding Religious Schools from School-Choice Programs," National Review, June 21, 2022.

Monday, June 20, 2022

"We need to read Dickens, now more than ever"

At Snakes and Ladders Alan Jacobs quotes from and links to his essay at The Hedgehog Review, "You Are Not a Server, Nor are you finalizable.":
.... The more authoritarian a social regime is, the more insistently it will simplify the possible responses—always converging on thumbs up or thumbs down—and demand the correct one. I don’t think we live in a totalitarian, or even an authoritarian regime—not even close—but in any given culture there are always authoritarian subcultures, and we have more of those than we used to, because our social media empower such attitudes and practices and demands. And to accept those attitudes and practices and demands is to undergo a diminution of personhood. ....

.... No one can say the last and complete word about any of us. It is the ambition of all authoritarian regimes, social or political, to utter that final and definitive word about whoever comes within its orbit; it is, for Bakhtin, an ethical imperative to refuse that final word, whether uttered about myself or my neighbor. ....

But quite often inequities of power make it impossible to refuse directly and explicitly—and this is where, for Bakhtin, laughter comes in, and especially the laughter that arises in parody and satire. .... And that’s why I think that in our current moment there’s no writer more important than Charles Dickens. ....

To begin to cite examples is a dangerous thing. Once embarked on that journey, how would one end it? How could one mention the circumlocutions of Mr. Tite Barnacle without also mentioning the unctuousness of Uriah Heep, the commitment to Fact of Mr. Gradgrind, the endless compassion of Little Dorrit? Lo, I have already commenced. They are all infinitely memorable because they are all infinitely excessive; they are, as it were, nothing but surplus. They always remind us of the possibility of living at an outsize scale, of being simply more than anyone could expect, more than any reasonable person would ask for. If they seem mere caricatures, that may say something more about our crimped and confined moment than about them. They are a constant encouragement to expand rather than contract one’s options.

And that is why we need to read Dickens, now more than ever.

I will leave off my citations—but only after one final one. I think of Bleak House and I think of Sir Leicester Dedlock. .... (read on)
Alan Jacobs, "You Are Not a Server Nor are you finalizable," The Hedghog Review, April 26, 2022.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

"The job of a conservative is to remember"

I just finished reading Matthew Continetti's The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism. I suspect that anyone involved in politics, especially conservative politics, over the last sixty years would find this book interesting and an education. 1960 was the first election in which I took real interest. I started reading National Review and Human Events while in high school, was devastated by Goldwater's defeat in 1964, and an enthusiastic supporter of Reagan from 1968. So the book covers my early political experience, and since, and does so well. Continetti is a conservative, but in this book, a historian rather than a cheerleader.

His final chapter "An American Conservatism" is a summing up and considers what a post-Trump conservatism should look like. From the final paragraphs:
.... However the future unfolds, conservatives must return to the wisdom of their best minds and advocates. "The proper question for conservatives: What do you seek to conserve?" George Will wrote in The Conservative Sensibility (2019). "The proper answer is concise but deceptively simple: We seek to conserve the American Founding." ....

...[T]here would be no American conservatism without the American founding. The Constitution and its twenty-seven amendments anchor conservatives eager to preserve and extend the blessings of liberty that are the birthright of every American. The Constitution grounds conservatives in a uniquely American tradition of political thought that balances individual rights and popular sovereignty through the separation of powers and federalism. The Constitution not only protects human freedom but also creates the space for the deeper satisfactions of family, religion, community, and voluntary association. "A free society certainly needs permanent means of restricting the powers of government, no matter what the particular objective of the moment may be," wrote Friedrich Hayek. "And the Constitution which the new American nation was to give itself was definitely meant not merely as a regulation of the derivation of power but as a constitution of liberty, a constitution that would protect the individual against all arbitrary coercion."

One cannot be an American patriot without reverence for the nation's enabling documents. One cannot be an American conservative without regard for the American tradition of liberty those charters inaugurated. "Conservatives may of course draw from foreign sources—I yield to no one in the admiration due to Edmund Burke, a great friend of America—but they should be read with a view to possibilities in America," Harvey Mansfield said. "America cannot abandon the great principles of liberalism, above all the principle of self-government and, with it, the constitutional means for achieving and preserving it."

Nor can conservatives abandon America. The preservation of the American idea of liberty and the familial, communal, religious, and political institutions that incarnate and sustain it—that is what makes American conservatism distinctly American. The Right betrays itself when it forgets this truth.

Why? Because the job of a conservative is to remember.
Matthew Continetti, The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism, Basic Books, 2022.

"The embrace of incomprehensibility"

I had the good fortune to grow up among a group of friends who knew a lot about and enjoyed classical music. One, an organist, one a countertenor, another a classical guitarist, others regularly bought recordings of Bach, Mahler, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, early music, etc. We were expected to be quiet while listening. We engaged in silly arguments about who was greatest: Bach, Handel, or Beethoven? The college nearby had a great music department and I attended recitals and concerts. And so on... In retrospect, I realize how fortunate I was. From "The War on Music," reviewing a book on the decline in interest in that music over the last fifty years:
.... What happened? The answers are many and tangled, but nearly all critics and historians who take up the “crisis of classical music,” as it’s inevitably described, sidestep or ignore the scarcity of new music that engages the public today and instead dwell on the decline in cultural pre-eminence of classical music in general. Their complaints are familiar: Concert halls are full of silver-hairs, Mozart can’t compete with rock ’n’ roll, governments have cut funding to orchestras, and so on.

But these problems, if they are problems at all, are tertiary concerns next to the near-total inability of post-World War II America and Europe to produce more than a small number of classical works that any normal person would want to hear. ....

...[S]omething went badly wrong in music in the 20th century, and especially after 1945. The time has come, Mr. Mauceri writes, “to ask why so much contemporary music played by our greatest musical institutions—and supported overwhelmingly by music critics—is music that the vast majority of people do not want to hear—and have never wanted to hear.”

Mr. Mauceri, an accomplished conductor and music scholar, blames the two world wars and the Cold War. ....

The War on Music is fluently written and often cogent. Mr. Mauceri shows no patience with critics who sneer at the film music of midcentury composers such as Waxman, Korngold, Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa and Elmer Bernstein. Particularly delightful is the scorn he heaps on the idea of a perpetual, institutionalized avant-garde.

But I am not persuaded by the book’s central argument. The world wars were horrible, but they don’t explain the embrace of incomprehensibility, obscurity and repugnance by the composers and musical institutions of Western nations. The 18th and 19th centuries were full of wars, too, but no one concluded from them that music should consist largely of dissonant harmonies, inhuman rhythms and charmless sound patterns. The rise of the 12-tone compositional method, invented by Schoenberg and elaborated by his many imitators, produced nothing of greatness and signified a sickness at the heart of Western music. That the book’s survey of 20th-century music begins with Igor Stravinsky’s revolting ballet “Rite of Spring,” which glorified pagan savagery and premiered a year before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, suggests that Mr. Mauceri, too, suspects the war on music began well before the guns started firing in 1914.

About one thing, though, he is absolutely right. He writes with derision about the “trinity” of postwar music: the donor (usually the government), the critic (not infrequently an idiot) and the institution (the university that employs the composer, the orchestra that commissions his music). It’s a nice arrangement, Mr. Mauceri remarks, but it “leaves out something quite significant: the audience.” (more)
Barton Swaim, "‘The War on Music’ Review: Songs Without Listeners," The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2022.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The 18th of June, 1815

Two books in my library by the same author: one historical fiction (Sharpe series), the other history, both good:

Friday, June 17, 2022

“And the Elves deemed that evil was ended forever, and it was not so.”

From The Wall Street Journal this morning, Joseph Lonconte on "J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lesson About Evil for Our Time":
.... Tolkien was teaching at Oxford in 1933 when students at the Oxford Union Society approved the motion: “This House will under no circumstances fight for its King and country.” It was a shock to the political establishment. And it was a bad omen: Adolf Hitler had just become chancellor of Germany and was drawing up secret plans for remilitarization.

Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings in 1936, the same year Germany occupied the Rhineland and intervened on behalf of the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. In his introduction to the Shire and its inhabitants, Tolkien might well have been describing isolationist England under Neville Chamberlain: “And there in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living, and they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved, until they came to think that peace and plenty were the rule in Middle-earth and the right of sensible folk.”

A combat veteran of World War I, Tolkien watched with dread the rise of ideologies unleashed in the war’s aftermath: communism, fascism, Nazism and eugenics. Almost as soon as he began writing The Lord of the Rings, it took on adult themes not found in The Hobbit. Although Tolkien denied that his work was allegorical, he acknowledged in a 1938 letter to his publisher that his new story “was becoming more terrifying than The Hobbit.... The darkness of the present days has had some effect on it.”

Less than a year later, Britain was at war with Nazi Germany, its policy of appeasement in tatters. As Gandalf the Wizard explains to Frodo Baggins: “Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.” Or, as Elrond, the Lord of Rivendell, intones, “And the Elves deemed that evil was ended forever, and it was not so.”

Tolkien’s epic story embodies a moral tradition known as Christian realism: a belief in the existence of evil and in the obligation to resist it. We can hope that Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine will prod leaders in Europe and the U.S. to recover this outlook.

In Tolkien’s world, indifference to the evil of Mordor is portrayed as an evasion that can only result in catastrophe. ....
Joseph Loconte, "J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lesson About Evil for Our Time," The Wall Street Journal," June 17, 2022.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

In "times of unrest, anxiety and uncertainty..."

From Ralph Wood on "P.D. James’s Detection of the Deepest Mysteries":
...Lady James, having been made a life peer and created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991, is unyielding in her suspicion of the human capacity “to be good without God,” as our humanist friends claim. Her twenty novels give fictional life to St. Augustine’s estimation of evil as the ruin of God’s good creation by disordered desire: by a perverted love of the wrong persons, or the wrong things, or to the wrong extent. James quotes Adam Dalgliesh, her own master sleuth, on the unwitting Augustinian wisdom that an older detective sergeant once taught him: “All motives can be explained under the letter L: lust, lucre, loathing and love. They’ll tell you that the most dangerous is loathing but don’t you believe it, boy: the most dangerous is love.”

A complex admixture of good and evil lies at the moral and religious heart of James’s fiction. She depicts villains who are not entirely criminal and victims who are not wholly innocent. Most of her murderers kill for honorable reasons—usually to avenge some previous injustice. Like the rest of us, they commit evil in the name of good. They thus leave us with a troubling sense of our complicity in the hidden crimes of our own lives. Murder, James contends, is the unique crime. It “carries an atavistic weight of repugnance, fascination and fear.” We are at once repelled and attracted to depictions of this supreme offense because the line dividing good and evil does not separate the noble from the savage, the blameless from the guilty. It bisects every human heart. “Few people opening their door to two grave-faced detectives with a request that they should accompany them to the police station,” she remarked, “would do so without a qualm of unease, however certain they may be of their complete innocence.”

The appeal of detective fiction, James argues, is especially strong in an age of almost total disorder—in “times of unrest, anxiety and uncertainty, when society can be faced with problems which no money, political theories or good intentions seem able to solve or alleviate.” Nihilistic terrorism, pandemic disease, and unceasing war all make their appearance in James’s novels. Yet they are not the prime focus. In the face of such insuperable evils, she argues, we are drawn to detective fiction because it ensures a sense of personal justice. Even when social evils cannot be conquered, individual crimes can be both detected and requited. .... (more)
Ralph Wood, "P.D. James’s Detection of the Deepest Mysteries," Public Discourse, June 14, 2022.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

"Pick up and read"

A Classicist considers Bible translation:
Every year, it seems, at least one new English Bible translation appears. .... ...[T]heir sheer number still raises this question from church-goers and Bible readers: what is the best translation to use? And a related question: do we even need more English translations of the Bible? ....

In a 2014 blog post, “Your Bible and Its Tribe,” Scot McNight rightly bemoaned the divisive nature of Bible translations. In a tongue-in-cheek list, he matched the tribes and their translations as follows:
  • NRSV for liberals and Shane Claiborne lovers;
  • ESV for Reformed complementarian Baptists;
  • HCSB for LifeWay store buying Southern Baptists;
  • NIV for complementarian evangelicals;
  • TNIV for egalitarians;
  • NIV 2011 for peacemakers;
  • NASB for those who want straight Bible, forget the English;
  • NLT for generic brand evangelicals;
  • Amplified for folks who have no idea what translation is but know that if you try enough words one of them will hit pay dirt;
  • NKJV and KJV for Byzantine manuscript-tree huggers;
  • The Message for evangelicals looking for a breath of fresh air and seeker sensitive, never-read-a-commentary evangelists who find Peterson’s prose so catchy.
  • CEB for mainliners who read their Bibles.

In another post, McNight himself noted that “The reality is that the major Bible translations in use today are all good, and beyond good, translations.” ....

The translation wars are clearly not over, and may forever continue on this side of Heaven. Sometimes comments pop up on social media that show a remarkable degree of ignorance about the ancient linguistic and historical context of the Bible and the work of translators of any document written in an ancient language and in the context of the ancient world. ....

...[R]eading the Bible in translation is just as reliable, generally speaking, as reading it in its original languages. In fact, even readers who read the Bible today in the original languages have to remember our fallibility as people and, especially, as people who are not living in the cultural world of the original audiences, many of whom, by the way, couldn’t read, but engaged with the text through hearing it. ....

God is unchanging, and so is His Word. But human language, like human society, is complex and nuanced, its words shifting in meaning over time. The many different translations rightly aim to reflect this reality while staying true to God’s Word. So, to conclude with an answer to that common question that Christians worry about: which translation of the Bible is the best? The answer: the one that draws your soul closer to God and helps you love others better. As the voice of God once said to Augustine, tolle lege. Pick up and read.
Nadya Williams, "Bible Translations: A Classicist Weighs In," Anxious Bench, June 15, 2022.

Who is to be Master?

Theodore Dalrymple on Lewis Carroll's lasting relevance:
It is Humpty Dumpty who gets to the heart of the matter, in one of the most famous dialogues in English, perhaps in world, literature. Having proved that un-birthday presents are superior to birthday presents because they can be given on 364 days of the year instead of only one, 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.”
.... By changing what can be said, you eventually change what is and can be thought; by changing what is and can be thought, you change the composition of the elite, that is to say the elite that must form in a society above the hunter-gatherer stage of development, any ideological commitment to egalitarianism notwithstanding. An amusing passage in Through the Looking-Glass, then, is pregnant with meaning and significance; it anticipates the development of Orwell’s Newspeak, but lightheartedly, without foreboding.
Theodore Dalrymple,"Down the Rabbit Hole," National Review, March 4, 2010.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

My earliest mysteries

The real author behind the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon describes the genesis of the first Hardy Boys book (1927):
.... What Stratemeyer had in mind was a series of detective stories on the juvenile level, involving two brothers of high school age who would solve such mysteries as came their way. To lend credibility to their talents, they would be the sons of a professional private investigator, so big in his field that he had become a sleuth of international fame. His name—Fenton Hardy. His sons, Frank and Joe, would therefore be known as…

The Hardy Boys! ....

He had attached an information sheet for guidance and the plot outline of the initial volume, which would be called The Tower Treasure. In closing, he promised that if the manuscript came up to expectations—which were high—I would be asked to do the next two volumes of the series.

The background information was terse. The setting would be a small city called Bayport on Barmet Bay “somewhere on the Atlantic Coast.” The boys would attend Bayport High. Their mother’s name would be Laura. They would have three chums: Chet, a chubby farm boy, humorist of the group; Biff Hooper, an athletic two-fisted type who could be relied on to balance the scales in the event of a fight; and Tony Prito, who would presumably tag along to represent all ethnic minorities.

Two girls would also make occasional appearances. One of them, Iola Morton, sister of Chet, would be favorably regarded by Joe. The other, Callie Shaw, would be tolerated by Frank. It was intimated that relations between the Hardy boys and their girl friends would not go beyond the borders of wholesome friendship and discreet mutual esteem. ....

From my boyhood reading I recalled enjoying any scenes that involved eating. Boys are always hungry. Whether the outline called for it or not, I decided that the Hardy boys and their chums would eat frequently. When Laura Hardy packed a picnic lunch the provender would be described in detail, not only when she stowed it away but when the boys did. And when the boys solved the mystery of the theft, Hurd Applegate wouldn’t stop at a mere cash reward. He would come up with a lavish dinner, good for at least two pages of lip smacking. Maybe even belches. .... (more)

The book itself as a pdf.
Leslie McFarlane, "The Birth of the Hardy Boys," CrimeReads, June 14, 2022.

Monday, June 13, 2022

A modern Cyrus?

Marvin Olasky​, former editor of World, considers Evangelicals, politics, and Trump in a long and very interesting article in National Review. In particular, he considers whether politics has been more affected by Evangelicals or Evangelicals by politics. I excerpt what he has to say about Trump as a Cyrus for today's America:
...[H]e doesn’t stand for Christian moral and spiritual principles, but it’s precisely because Trump does not that some Evangelicals have had a third reason to support him. Some have become used to a type of Bible interpretation that hangs a political decision on a particular verse or the doings of a particular character rather than overall biblical teaching. Some World readers mentioned Samson, Jehu, or Queen Esther, but the leader many equated to Trump is Cyrus, the Persian king who made it possible for exiled Israelites to return to Jerusalem almost 26 centuries ago. ....

...Googling “Cyrus and Trump” brings 24 million results. The equation of Trump and Cyrus in dozens of books and thousands of articles is particularly popular in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, but it’s spread beyond them. ....

Remembering that Machiavelli around five centuries ago wrote about Cyrus, I went back to The Prince and its praise of him. Medo-Babylonians had become soft, and many Persians had a virtue ethic that would not allow them to slaughter peaceful people.

Cyrus toughened up his Persians and taught them to practice virtue only when it paid off for them. ....

Some Jews and Christians have now prostrated themselves at Trump’s feet. The political beauty of the “Trump = Cyrus” equation is that Trump’s character flaws are not a strike against him but a signal that he’s the real thing: This new Cyrus is a non-Jew, a non-Christian, and a non–nice guy.

Fifty years ago I briefly saw the far Left up close. Becoming a Christian in 1976 and then having a pen-pal relationship with World readers let me interact for 40 years with great people, compassionate and self-sacrificing. Since 2016, I’ve seen the slow growth of callous conservatism among some politicized Evangelicals — and since 2020 it’s metastasized. Will Evangelicals who said character didn’t count now also say craziness doesn’t count? (more)
Marvin Olasky, "The Sixty Years’ War: Evangelical Christianity in the Age of Trump," National Review, June 9, 2022.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

"Let us face the facts"

Dorothy L. Sayers:
...[T]here seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent references to "the cruel and abominable mediaeval doctrine of hell", or "the childish and grotesque mediaeval imagery of physical fire and worms"....

But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of Hell is not "mediaeval": it is Christ's. It is not a device of "mediaeval priestcraft" for frightening people into giving money to the Church: It is Christ's deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from "mediaeval superstition", but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it. If we are Christians, very well; we dare not not take the doctrine of Hell seriously, for we have it from Him whom we acknowledge as God and Truth incarnate. If we say that Christ was a great and good man, and that, ignoring His divine claims, we should yet stick to His teaching, very well; that is what Christ taught. It confronts us in the oldest and least "edited" of the Gospels: it is explicit in many of the most familiar parables and implicit in many more: it bulks far larger in the teaching than one realises, until one reads the Evangelists through instead of merely picking out the most comfortable texts: one cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Introductory Papers on Dante, (1954), quoted in Rosamond Kent Sprague, A Matter of Eternity, Eerdmans, 1973.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

In a hostile world

"Seven Principles for Cultivating a Christian Posture toward the World" by Kevin DeYoung is timely. I've posted a few of the "principles" below:
Tim Keller recently tweeted about abortion and politics, then James Wood wrote a piece for First Things respectfully critiquing Keller’s approach to politics and cultural engagement, which prompted David French to defend Keller and critique Wood. By now, someone has probably offered an article criticizing them all.

Rather than responding to the specific arguments in particular, I’d like to zoom out and ask a broader question: What should the Christian’s posture be to a hostile world? ....

1. Set an example of godliness for the unbeliever.

We should live demonstrably different lives, keeping our conduct honorable so that outsiders might give Christianity a hearing (1 Peter 2:12) or at least be put to shame for slandering us (1 Peter 3:16). This means we refuse to repay evil for evil. It also means we bless those who do not deserve it (1 Peter 3:9).

2. Be prepared to suffer.

Even those who do good may suffer for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 3:14). We should not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon us (1 Peter 4:12). Winsomeness is often a desirable aim, but it is not by itself a sufficient cultural strategy. If the world hates the church, perhaps it’s not the church’s fault but the fulfillment of what Jesus promised (John 15:18). We can care for the poor, love one another, and get our tone right, but still, the world will hate those who are not of the world (John 15:19). ....

4. Build sturdy walls to keep false teachers and false teaching out.

The same Peter who counseled gentleness when making a defense of the faith also called the sexual libertines of his day “irrational animals” (2 Peter 2:12), “blots and blemishes” (2 Peter 2:13), and “accursed children” (2 Peter 2:14). The difference in Peter’s tone has everything to do with what or whom is trying to get into the church. The faithful minister builds both bridges and walls. Jesus didn’t rebuke the seven churches because they weren’t nice enough to the Nicolaitans. He rebuked them for tolerating that woman Jezebel who thought herself a big shot but was leading Christians into sexual immorality and idolatry (Revelation 2:20). .... (the rest)
Kevin DeYoung, "Seven Principles for Cultivating a Christian Posture toward the World," June 9, 2022.

Friday, June 10, 2022


From an article about a favorite type of suspense thriller: "Missed Targets: Seven Attempted Assassination Thrillers." For instance, ones I have read:
Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsythe (1971)

The first classic among modern assassination thrillers. Disgruntled French military hire an anonymous English assassin, code-named the Jackal, to kill de Gaulle. Soon the police begin to suspect that something is up. And the chase is on. Frederick Forsythe, a former journalist, writes in a semi-documentary style and does it so convincingly it reads like non-fiction. The prose is crisp and efficient, as cold as the killer at the heart of the novel. The structure is clean and unadorned. Forsythe puts his characters on the plot train, puts the train on a track that runs straight to the climax, and turns up the steam. And while it’s not a novel with a lot of twists or surprises, it’s rivetingly suspenseful. We know that de Gaulle survived several assassination attempts. But somehow Forsythe keeps us thinking that he may not survive this one.

The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins (1975)

Yes, I know, that crack team of German Fallschirmjagers who parachute into the fictional English village of Studley Constable are not going to kill Churchill at his secret country retreat. Their plan is to kidnap him and spirit him back to Germany. Of course, complications ensue, and in the end assassination seems the only course. This was a huge bestseller and spawned a movie version starring Michael Caine as Steiner, the “good German” who leads the raid and must make the critical decision at the climax. All fictional, but Jack Higgins claimed he based Steiner on SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny’s spectacular raid to rescue Mussolini from imprisonment. There was a long string of World War II “men on a mission” adventures during this period, beginning with Alistair MacLeans’s The Guns of Navarone. Eagle is one of the best.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon (1959)

We began this eclectic list with a classic. Let’s finish with one. The plot is well known. American POWs, captured in Korea, brainwashed in China, sent home with psychological triggers cocked. One of them, “war hero” Raymond Shaw, has a domineering mother who’s actually a KGB agent and an ambitious father who wants to be president. Another POW, named Marco, pieces together what’s been happening to himself and others. Can he stop Shaw from an assassination that will change the course of American history? Even today, there are plot elements that feel ‘ripped from the headlines.’ And Condon’s prose, so different from Forsythe’s, has a velocity that matches the momentum of the story.

...[T]he movie version of Day of the Jackal and the 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate are classics, too. The ticking time-bomb thriller, especially when the bomb is a human being, is the kind of movie you simply can’t turn away from. .... (more)
William Martin, "Missed Targets: Seven Attempted Assassination Thrillers," CrimeReads, June 10, 2022.

"Only ahead of time"

In "Secret Tentative Intimation",  Jennifer Bryson on the formation of conscience:
If there is anything I learned during my time as an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, it is the importance of a well-formed conscience. Too seldom do we use periods of ease to ready our souls for the great challenges each of us must face. I certainly didn’t, and I wish I had. ....

.... What I learned from my time at Guantanamo is that the time to deliberate, seek advice, and reflect for long periods of time in prayer so that we have a conscience that can stand on solid footing “just when it matters” exists only ahead of time, when one can’t foresee the curveballs. Conscience is, after all, not a rabbit one can suddenly pull out of a magic hat. It is something that must be cultivated and developed over time so that it is available and ready to go when one of those “just when it matters” moments comes our way. .... (more)
Jennifer Bryson, "Secret Tentative Intimation," The Lamp, 2022.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

The loud and troublesome insects of the hour

I've posted this Edmund Burke quotation before. It's a good reminder, not only about politics, but for anyone, including pastors.

From his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).
.... Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number, or that, after all, they are other than the little, shriveled, meager, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour. ....

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Apocryphal gospels

If you have access to the Wall Street Journal  Michael J. Kruger's review of The Apocryphal Gospels by Simon Gathercole may be of interest. Kruger writes "For those outside the scholarly guild, what is commonly known about these “lost” accounts of Jesus typically comes through blog entries, internet lore, fictional books (think of The Da Vinci Code) and a host of conspiratorial documentaries. .... What’s almost invariably missing in debates over such claims is a careful reading of the original apocryphal texts—which are both similar to and different from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." More from the review:
.... The apocryphal Gospels in this collection, all of them, date from the second century or later. Even the “Gospel of Thomas,” which modern scholars have often claimed was excluded from the canon for arbitrary reasons, is a product of the second century. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, by contrast, date from the first century—the century in which Jesus lived.

Another difference concerns theology. While the canonical Gospels are grounded in the history of Israel and the framework provided by the Hebrew Bible, most of the apocryphal texts are disconnected from Christianity’s Jewish roots. They contain novel, often esoteric, systems of thought involving multiple gods, the idea that the material world is the creation of an evil deity, and the belief that Jesus was not a real human being. One of these theological oddities appears in the “Gospel of Thomas” where the last line reads: “Every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Mr. Gathercole argues that this saying “goes back to an ancient conception of gender, according to which the female spiritual nature is defective.”

Still another difference between the apocryphal and canonical Gospels relates to style. While the canonical four employ an understated, matter-of-fact manner of reporting on historical events, the apocryphal Gospels are often embellished and written in a near-legendary tone. ....

The effect of Mr. Gathercole’s excellent collection of the apocryphal Gospels is, in the end, to drive us back to the originals. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had imitators for a reason. (more)
Michael J. Kruger, "‘The Apocryphal Gospels’ Review: Good News and Fake News," The Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2022.

Monday, June 6, 2022

"They fight not for the lust of conquest"

On this date, seventy-eight years ago, June 6, 1944, American, Canadian, and British forces under the command of Dwight D. Eisenhower landed in Normandy to begin the final campaign to defeat the Nazis. Everyone knows the story of that day. The cost was very high. About 2,500 Americans were killed. The landing was successful and by the end of the day the Allies had moved beyond the beaches — but the war was far from over.

In an era less concerned about a "wall of separation" between church and state, President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the nation in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice. ....

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


Historical Documents - Franklin D. Roosevelt's D-Day Prayer - June 6th 1944

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Growing old

David Mamet, who is almost 75:
Robert Browning wrote, “Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to be, / The last of life, for which the first was made.”

All youth, reading the poem (“Rabbi Ben Ezra,” 1864), scoffed. But those of the old fortunate enough to nod in agreement are fortunate, indeed. ....

I name the great Bob Hoover, combat ace pilot, test pilot, airshow hero, recently deceased, among whose precepts we find: Fly it as far as you can into the crash.

We, the aged, in this bizarre, unfamiliar new world (of the young), may throw up our hands in incredulity at what are, after all, natural processes: age, human nature, the inevitable transformations of all society. But the pilot who throws up his hands in an emergency is, at that moment, dead (the airplane will not fly itself); he has another option, as Mr. Hoover taught. Will the end be the same? He can fly on and see.

As can the aged, and, so, in action or contemplation, accept the position of Elder. Even if it does not seem to be on offer. ....

Having reached maturity — our apogee, per choice, the magnificence of the moon landing or the horror of the Vietnam War — we may squander our energies in complaint about a vanished (and, indeed, misremembered) past, a pitfall of the conservatives; or insistence on an impossible future (our esteemed colleagues across the aisle). Or, like the wiser individual who’s been graced with a long life, thank God for the continued gift of life, and study to use our remaining energies honorably, leaving the young with the certainty that they will find age-appropriate uses and misuses for their time; and the hope that, as Mr. Hoover said, their knowledge will increase quicker than their reservoir of luck diminishes.

Is it possible that a country, our beloved country, can emerge intact from our various national hysterias? The embittered old would say, Of course not. Things have progressed beyond hope of reversal. But they are beyond hope only if we surrender hope; and the insidious beginning of surrender is incredulity.
David Mamet, "Bellhop Jokes: A Tour de l’Horizon (Look Around)," National Review, June 13, 2022.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

“A great conversation of readers and writers across space and time”

On a new book, In Praise of Good Bookstores:
I am the kind of person who is all but unable to walk into a bookstore and leave again empty-handed. ....

...Jeff Deutsch describes the features that make good bookstores so irresistible. He observes, for example—a point that seems obviously correct in retrospect, but that I had never thought of in quite these terms before—that the most important product sold by a bookstore is not the books themselves but rather the browsing experience. The good bookstore is designed to lure the customer deeper and deeper inside, in search of that serendipitous discovery: the book one had been looking for without even knowing it. ....

A good bookstore, whatever its distinctive focus, is designed to promote the experience of browsing, of getting “lost in the stacks.” It helps readers navigate the incredible abundance of books available, playing a filtering role that, when well performed, wins its customers’ trust. A good bookstore’s value is not chiefly economic; rather, bookstores are cultural institutions, sharing with readers the gift of participation in a great conversation of readers and writers across space and time, the true value of which may appear in slow and unpredictable ways not readily captured by standard measures of utility. Bookstores become sites of community where readers enjoy the “companionship of books” and experience a democratic chorus of different perspectives. And they invite us into a more leisurely, dilated experience of time, “the slow time of the browse,” in contrast to the focus on speed and efficiency that necessarily drives much of life. ....
Peter C. Meilaender, "One of the Greatest Instruments of Civilization," The Dispatch, June 4, 2022.

Friday, June 3, 2022

"A very dangerous inversion"

This morning, discussing today's religious right, Kevin Williamson quotes from T.S. Eliot's 1939 The Idea of a Christian Society:
...[W]hat is worst of all is to advocate Christianity, not because it is true, but because it might be beneficial.... [We] experienced a wave of revivalism which should teach us that folly is not the prerogative of any one political party or any one religious communion, and that hysteria is not the privilege of the uneducated. The Christianity expressed has been vague, the religious fervor has been a fervor for democracy. It may engender nothing better than a disguised and peculiarly sanctimonious nationalism, accelerating our progress towards the paganism which we say we abhor.

To justify Christianity because it provides a foundation of morality, instead of showing the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity, is a very dangerous inversion; and we may reflect, that a good deal of the attention of totalitarian states has been devoted, with a steadiness of purpose not always found in democracies, to providing their national life with a foundation of morality — the wrong kind perhaps, but a good deal more of it. It is not enthusiasm, but dogma, that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society. ....
T.S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society, 1939.

Thursday, June 2, 2022


Russell Moore​ on "Why We Want to 'Move On' from Horror":
.... Sustained attention is so difficult with trauma and tragedy because we don’t want to think about such darkness. There’s a reason why most people turn their heads away when they see a mangled body in a car accident along the highway. We would rather pretend that such horrors don’t, or can’t, happen. And we do this not just with the terrors in the world but with our own personal apocalypse—our impending death.

Blaise Pascal argued that we all know we are going to die, so we try everything we can to distract ourselves from that reality. This conclusion, of course, was anticipated by the writer of Ecclesiastes—who admitted his own search for fulfillment through work, wealth, pleasure, and wisdom, only to find these to be nothing more than vain pursuits.

The writer of Hebrews further revealed that this submerged fear of death is precisely the power that the devil has over us (Heb. 2:14–15). To keep from acknowledging that we are perishable flesh, we pursue fleshly desires with abandon—in a way that just leads to more death (Rom. 8:5–13).

The root of our focus on triviality, pleasure, and diversion is not so much hedonism as it is fear (Rom. 8:15). We are afraid of death, so we look for idols to protect us from that—or at least to numb us to its reality (Gal. 4:8–9).

Our tendency to become overwhelmed in the aftermath of so many horrors is heightened by our sense of powerlessness. Even when we identify actions that could curb the problem, we know that almost nothing is accomplished in a civic and political system as broken as ours. And so, many of us simply “move on.” ....
Russell Moore, "Why We Want to “Move On” from Horror," Christianity Today, June 2, 2022.