Saturday, July 30, 2022

"Fight the good fight ..."

Reviewing the posts on this site referencing Winston Churchill I came across one about the hymns he chose for his funeral. This was one of them:

Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy Strength, and Christ thy Right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.
Cast care aside, lean on thy guide,
His boundless mercy will provide;
Trust and thy trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its Life, and Christ its Love.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,    
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the Path, and Christ the Prize.

Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear.
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

John Samuel Bewley Monsell, 1863

"Let us not wander away from the broad, fertile fields of freedom"

I just downloaded the Kindle edition of  Churchill by Himself: In His Own Words ($2.99). It seems a bargain—the Amazon price for the hardcover is $93.84. I've been browsing in a section titled "Political Theory and Practice." A sampling:
...civilisation implies, in any society, the freedom to criticise the government of the day; free speech; free press; free thought; free religious observance; no racial persecution; fair treatment of minorities; and courts of law and justice which have an authority independent of the executive and untainted by Party bias. (1939)

The strength and character of a national civilisation is not built up like a scaffolding or fitted together like a machine. Its growth is more like that of a plant or a one should ever cut one down without planting another. It is very much easier and quicker to cut down trees than to grow them. (1952)

[Communism and Fascism remind me] of the North Pole and the South Pole. They are at opposite ends of the earth, but if you woke up at either Pole tomorrow morning you could not tell which one it was. Perhaps there might he more penguins at one, or more Polar bears at the other; but all around would be ice and snow and the blast of a biting wind. I have made up my mind, however far I may travel, whatever countries I may see, I will not go to the Arctic or to the Antarctic Regions. Give me London, give me Paris, give me New York, give me some of the beautiful capitals of the British Dominions. Let us go somewhere where our breath is not frozen on our lips because of the Secret Police. Let us go somewhere where there are green pastures and the shade of venerable trees. Let us not wander away from the broad, fertile fields of freedom into these gaunt, grim, dim, gloomy abstractions of morbid and sterile thought. (1937)

Democracy as a guide or motive to progress has long been known to be incompetent. None of the legislative assemblies of the great modern states represents in universal suffrage even a fraction of the strength or wisdom of the community. Great nations are no longer led by their ablest men, or by those who know most about their immediate affairs, or even by those who have a coherent doctrine. Democratic governments drift along the line of least resistance, taking short views, paying their way with sops and doles, and smoothing their path with pleasant-sounding platitudes. Never was there less continuity or design in their affairs, and yet toward them are coming swiftly changes which will revolutionize for good or ill not only the whole economic structure of the world but the social habits and moral outlook of every family. (1931)

...the only safe rule for doing justice electorally between man and man was to assume, a large assumption in some cases, that all men are equal and that all discriminations between them are unhealthy and undemocratic. (1906)
Richard M. Langworth (Editor), Churchill by Himself: In His Own Words, Rosetta Books, 2013)

Friday, July 29, 2022

Religion in America

From the Wall Street Journal yesterday, "Religion Is Dying? Don’t Believe It":
Reports of religion’s decline in America have been exaggerated. You’ve heard the story: Churchgoers are dwindling in number while “Nones”—those who tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation—are multiplying as people abandon their faith and join the ranks of atheists and agnostics. ....

These conclusions are based on analyses that are so flawed as to be close to worthless. ....

Data from five recent U.S. population surveys point to the vibrancy, ubiquity and growth of religion in the U.S. Americans are becoming more religious, and religious institutions are thriving. ....

...[L]arge databases on American religion often lump Others in with the Nones. Respondents who don’t see their faith or denomination listed check off the only remaining option, “none of the above.” ....

All of this helps explain why the proportion of Nones has increased sharply—from 15% in 2007 to 30% in 2021—even though the proportion of atheists in the U.S. has held steady at 3% to 4% for more than 80 years. And there are reasons to question the assumption that even truly unaffiliated Nones aren’t religious. Our study looked closely at their actual practices and beliefs.

According to the 2018 General Social Survey, 6.4% of self-described atheists and 27.2% of agnostics attended religious services monthly or more; 12.8% and 58.1%, respectively, prayed at least weekly; 19.2% and 75% believed in life after death; and 7.3% and 23.3% reported having had a religious experience.

Religion is constantly evolving, but it isn’t in decline in the U.S. More Americans attend and support more religious congregations than ever before. Social scientists can’t count them unless they know where to look.
Byron R. Johnson and Jeff Levin, "Religion Is Dying? Don’t Believe It," Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2022.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

"A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve"

The current print edition of National Review includes an article by Daniel B. Klein and Dominic Pino, editors of a recent book about Edmund Burke's politics. From the article, "Edmund Burke’s Conservative Liberalism":
“Conservative liberalism” is a suitable name for Burke’s outlook. In that expression, “liberalism” is the noun. It is primary. It communicates something about the house people are to make their homes in. The adjective, “conservative,” curbs the enthusiasm of liberalism but enhances its wisdom. Conservatism makes liberal principles more practical, pertinent, and robust. It grounds the arc of liberal civilization; it spans continents; it can endure. ....

When thinking of liberty in policy, it’s helpful to consider what we’ll call the “liberty principle”: In a choice between two reforms (one of which may be no reform at all), the one that rates higher in liberty should be adopted. But, like Adam Smith, Burke did not maintain the liberty principle as an axiom, as doctrinaire libertarians might. Burke gives liberty a presumption, which like any presumption can be overcome. ....

There are general arguments for polity conservatism: (1) Established ways and customs have been through a process of selection and survival and adaptation, reflecting goodness, however imperfectly. “Our patience will achieve more than our force.” (2) To some extent, goodness lies in familiarity. To some extent, customs are good because people are accustomed to them. (3) Knowledge is slight and highly conditioned by experience and practice. The consequences, even the true nature, of a proposed polity innovation are scarcely known. Rampant delusions bring hazards of collective foolishness and opportunistic abuse. (4) Happiness depends on tranquility, which depends on confidence. Confidence in living depends on rules, certainty, and stability. Every reformation arouses and inspires a next reformation, reducing certainty, stability, confidence, and the quality of life. (5) Bad reformations are not easily corrected: Their badness enjoys plausible deniability, and they breed interest groups that stoutly defend them.

Burke lamented of his age “that every thing is to be discussed; as if the constitution of our country were to be always a subject rather of altercation than enjoyment.” ....

Burke understood that tradition and just reform depend on each other and form an essential tension. “A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman.”

Polity conservatism has a stark contrast in polity radicalism. “He that sets his house on fire because his fingers are frostbitten, can never be a fit instructor in the method of providing our habitations with a cheerful and salutary warmth.” ....

Factions working toward greater governmentalization of social affairs are a permanent feature of our world. The battle against them is perennial. Burke’s conservative liberalism is as relevant today as it was in the 1790s: “It is an obvious truth, that no constitution can defend itself. It must be defended by the wisdom and fortitude of men. These are what no constitution can give. They are the gifts of God; and he alone knows, whether we shall possess such gifts at the time we stand in need of them.”
I've ordered the book.

Daniel B. Klein and Dominic Pino, "Edmund Burke’s Conservative Liberalism," National Review, Aug. 15, 2022.

Hearses at daybreak

A party at the Tolkien's.


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

"Free to profess..."

Mark Tooley argues that "Politics Can’t Revive Christianity":
.... The United States historically does not offer “toleration,” which assumes a religious establishment, but religious freedom to all. In the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights authored by George Mason, James Madison successfully changed the language from “toleration” to “free exercise of religion.” That declaration’s language is instructive:
That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.
The 1786 Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson, was a natural follow-on to the Virginia Declaration of Rights by disestablishing the church. It declared that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” (emphasis added)

This concept of religious liberty and freedom of conscience was of course rooted in a Christian anthropology. The Virginia Statute’s first article explained:
Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was his Almighty power to do....
The “Holy author” is obviously Christ. The Virginia legislators operated in a largely Christian milieu but did not wish to enforce it through government dictate. ....

.... Tocqueville warned against any establishment of religion, which would politicize and discredit it. He thought “the only efficacious means governments can use to put the dogma of the immortality of the soul in honor is to act every day as if they themselves believed it” and that “it is only in conforming scrupulously to religious morality in great affairs that they can flatter themselves they are teaching citizens to know it, love it, and respect it in small ones.”

For Tocqueville, religion (and specifically Christianity) best endures in society not through state policy but by public persons, no less than private persons, living up to its broad moral precepts, including decency, honor, compassion, self-denial, and humanity. Perhaps here is a theme for the well-wishers of Christianity in American public life: higher moral standards in public life. ....

Public life in America will become more “rooted in Christianity” and transcendence only if American Christianity itself experiences a revival. As Thomas Jefferson warned: “civil incapacitations” beget “hypocrisy and meanness and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion.” The Gospel simply admonishes: repent and believe. (more)
Mark Tooley, "A National Conservative Faith?," Lawe & Liberty, July 26, 2022.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

"Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child"

Robert Louis Stevenson on the lure of romantic fiction:
In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought. The words, if the book be eloquent, should run thence-forward in our ears like the noise of breakers, and the story, if it be a story, repeat itself in a thousand coloured pictures to the eye. It was for this last pleasure that we read so closely, and loved our books so dearly, in the bright, troubled period of boyhood. Eloquence and thought, character and conversation, were but obstacles to brush aside as we dug blithely after a certain sort of incident, like a pig for truffles. ....

I saw the other day, with envy, an old and a very clever lady setting forth on a second or third voyage into Monte Cristo. Here are stories which powerfully affect the reader, which can be re-perused at any age, and where the characters are no more than puppets. The bony fist of the showman visibly propels them; their springs are an open secret; their faces are of wood, their bellies filled with bran; and yet we thrillingly partake of their adventures. ....

Something happens as we desire to have it happen to ourselves; some situation, that we have long dallied with in fancy, is realised in the story with enticing and appropriate details. Then we forget the characters; then we push the hero aside; then we plunge into the tale in our own person and bathe in fresh experience; and then, and then only, do we say we have been reading a romance. It is not only pleasurable things that we imagine in our day-dreams; there are lights in which we are willing to contemplate even the idea of our own death; ways in which it seems as if it would amuse us to be cheated, wounded or calumniated. It is thus possible to construct a story, even of tragic import, in which every incident, detail and trick of circumstance shall be welcome to the reader's thoughts. Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life; and when the game so chimes with his fancy that he can join in it with all his heart, when it pleases him with every turn, when he loves to recall it and dwells upon its recollection with entire delight, fiction is called romance. ....
Robert Louis Stevenson, "A Gossip on Romance," Longman's Magazine, November 1882.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Black coffee

I started drinking coffee early on when I started teaching. Former students probably remember me with a coffee cup constantly in hand. I still drink a lot of coffee: three or four cups almost every morning and extending into the early afternoon. I enjoy it hot, black, and unadulterated. Kuerig is my most frequently used appliance. I don't think I am an addict — I can go days without any — but it is certainly a habit. And there is evidence that it is good for me, for instance "The Health Benefits of Coffee."

For some time I've been a fan of Black Rifle Coffee. I order their dark roasts and like the fact that they employ military veterans. The latter would matter less if the coffee wasn't good. Recently I experienced some difficulty in getting what I wanted from them in a timely way and went looking for a tolerable alternative to tide me over. I found that Maude's "French Roast from the Coast" will do, and it's not expensive.

Did a search for coffee poetry online and found this:
I drink my coffee, hot and black,
My drug of choice, from ages back.
No cream no sugar, no fancy mug,
Just give me some java, I'll give you a hug.

It doesn't matter what brand it is,
Strong and black, heavenly bliss.
Wakes me up in the morning, opens my eyes,
And after two cups I'm ready to fly.

No fancy coffee shop coffee for me,
Won't pay that much, but don't want it free.   
I just want a plain ole cup of joe,
A white styrofoam cup, ready to go.
I have coffee at noon, coffee at night,
And if you mean-mouth coffee, I'm ready to fight.
The coffee I've drunk could fill the sea,
That energized bunny has nothing on me.
(Juan Olivarez, May 24, 2010)

Friday, July 22, 2022

Permanent and irrevocable

The Spectator asks: Can an American citizen renounce his citizenship?:
American idiot and Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong said he is going to renounce his US citizenship and move to England because he is so upset over the Supreme Court overturning the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade....

[Y]ou can’t just renounce your citizenship, onstage or elsewhere. It’s done by appointment only. The American government must approve your renunciation and can say no, no matter how loudly you say yes. ....

To begin, Billie Joe would need to make an appointment at the nearest American embassy or consulate. You can’t begin the renunciation process in America.... At the embassy, Armstrong will fill out some forms. He can Google and complete but not sign them. Most of the requested information is pretty vanilla stuff, and is largely to make sure the singer understands what he is doing and the consequences of doing it.

...[B]arring certain highly specific situations, renouncing citizenship is a one-way street. The US government considers it a permanent, irrevocable decision. Billie Joe can’t come home should some future iteration of the Supremes restore Roe.

No one at the embassy can approve or deny your application to renounce. That is done by someone you will never meet, located in Washington, DC. Without that approval, you remain an American citizen. ....

If Billie Joe is denied his renunciation and forced to remain an American, it would typically be for his own good, to avoid him becoming stateless and thus deportable (to where?) from the UK. Renunciation only means that, as of a certain moment, Armstrong stops being an American citizen. .... With his American passport gone, Armstrong will have no passport. He is thus at that moment illegally in Britain and subject to deportation. Since he is not an American (or a Greek or a Lithuanian or a…) he has nowhere to go, a literal man without a country. ....
From Edward Everett Hale, The Man Without a Country (1863):
.... Nolan was proved guilty enough, as I say; yet you and I would never have heard of him, reader, but that, when the president of the court asked him at the close whether he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States, he cried out, in a fit of frenzy,—

"Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!"

I suppose he did not know how the words shocked old Colonel Morgan, who was holding the court. Half the officers who sat in it had served through the Revolution, and their lives, not to say their necks, had been risked for the very idea which he so cavalierly cursed in his madness. .... He had sworn on his faith as a Christian to be true to "United States." It was "United States" which gave him the uniform he wore, and the sword by his side. ....

He never did hear her name but once again. From that moment, Sept. 23, 1807, till the day he died, May 11, 1863, he never heard her name again. For that half-century and more he was a man without a country. .... (download the e-book)
"...Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung"

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Role-play v witness

From another interesting Russell Moore column, "God, Steve Bannon, and Thor," about fantasy role-playing, often harmless, but not always:
As a kid in the 1980s, I heard dire warnings from my evangelical elders about the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. It was, we were told, a foothold of the occult.

Although I never played D&D, I didn’t take these admonitions all that seriously, because I reasoned that the same logic could be applied to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

Now, in the 2020s, I am wondering if my evangelical elders weren’t partly right about the way fantasy role-playing can paganize a culture—just not in the way they expected. ....

A Christian vision of heaven is not Valhalla with wine (or grape juice) instead of mead. Valhalla—and almost every other pagan vision of an afterlife—looks backward. It’s the echo and celebration of the warrior’s success in the life that was.

The kingdom of God doesn’t find meaning there. It brings meaning by joining our stories with an altogether different narrative—the story of Jesus. His life is our life. His glory is our glory. And Jesus redefines what wisdom and power really are—by embracing an object found most baffling by the Romans and other pagans of his day: the cross. ....

Maybe more people will see that there is indeed a cloud of witnesses all around but that we don’t need them to cheer for us. We just need to bear witness, alongside them, to the One who “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2).

And because of this, we find meaning even in the stories of the unnamed faithful who ended their lives in what looked like humiliating defeat (Heb. 11:36–39). We find significance, not like Odysseus seeking a name in the annals of history, but like the thief on the cross—whose name is unknown—who asked of the One crucified next to him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

Our culture of fantasy role-playing is leading us to some perilous places. Sadly, we often replicate it even within the church. There are dragons indeed, both within and without. Yet sometimes the dragon is not the one we’re slaying in our fantasies but the one offering us the illusion of belonging, glory, and meaning—the very one that will just chain us up in one more dungeon.

The world needs a different story—and Christians have one. Let’s remember it. Let’s sing it. Let’s tell it. And, by God’s grace, let’s live it. .... (more)
Russell Moore, "God, Steve Bannon, and Thor," Moore to the Point, July 21, 2022.

Monday, July 18, 2022

"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord"

On the occasion of the sudden death of a Christian believer, a good man, a friend, a cousin of mine, my mind turns to scriptures chosen to remind us at times like these from the Book of Common Prayer:
I AM the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.

I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require; even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his temple.

Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Jesus said, Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

To everything there is a season

Lance Morrow, thinking about President Biden's age. Morrow is 82. The President will be 80 this year.
For your eyes only, I have prepared a scouting report on conditions you will find when you cross over the mystic border of 80, into serious old age. ....

Think of old age in terms of The Pilgrim’s Progress. When John Bunyan wrote his tremendous allegory in the late 17th century, his full title was “The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World to That Which Is to Come, Delivered Under the Similitude of a Dream.” That’s not a bad description of life in one’s ninth decade, which at times seems to transpire “under the similitude of a dream” and most certainly looks like one’s gateway to the world which is to come. The doddering Pilgrim will wallow in the Slough of Despond, louse up his blood sugar while lunching in Vanity Fair, gasp up the Hills of Difficulty, suffer through the Valley of Humiliation, dream of the Delectable Mountains. Old age is like life, but more intense—and made weird by debilities. ....

It is well to remember that TR died at 60, thoroughly worn out. His cousin Franklin died at 63—wasted, spent. Lyndon B. Johnson, FDR’s onetime protégé, expired, exhausted, at 64. I remember that when Dwight Eisenhower, age 70, left the White House in 1961—riding down snowy Pennsylvania Avenue beside his successor, 43-year-old John F. Kennedy —he seemed the oldest man in the world. But of course we were all young that winter.

That moment, when power passed from Eisenhower to Kennedy and the 1950s yielded to the 1960s, marked the empowerment of a fallacy that is still at work in American culture—an existential error Bob Dylan, now 81, summed up in his 1973 anthem, “Forever Young.”

That was the germ of the fatal national neoteny—a word defined as the retention of juvenile features in an adult animal. Old age became yucky—an attitude that, decades later, seemed hilarious as it was discovered, the hard way, that no one can be (or should be) forever young. In fact, life has about it a seemly, inevitable flow, a progression from birth to childhood to youth to adulthood to middle age to old age, and finally to death, with rules and roles appropriate to each stage. It is good to be old. It is good to be young. It is right to be a child and right, when the time comes, to be a mother or father, and right, further down the road, to be a grandfather and, by and by, a corpse. To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Let’s leave it at that.
Lance Morrow, "The 80s Called. They’re on Their Way for You, Mr. President," Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2022.

Nothing new under the sun

Joseph Loconte on Chesterton, CS Lewis, and ‘Following the Science’:
In the 1920s, when he was still an agnostic, C.S. Lewis noted in his diary his latest reading: “Began G.K. Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils.”

A controversial English Catholic writer, Chesterton published his book in 1922, when the popularity of eugenics was at flood tide. Respectable opinion on both sides of the Atlantic embraced the concept: a scientific approach to selective breeding to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the category of people considered mentally and morally deficient. ....

It is hard to overstate the degree to which eugenics captured the imagination of the medical and scientific communities in the early 20th century. Anthropologist Francis Galton, who coined the term — from the Greek for “good birth” — argued that scientific techniques for breeding healthier animals should be applied to human beings. Those considered to be “degenerates,” “imbeciles,” or “feebleminded” would be targeted. Anticipating public opposition, Galton told scientific gatherings that eugenics “must be introduced into the national conscience like a new religion.” Premier scientific organizations, such as the American Museum of Natural History, and institutions such as Harvard and Princeton, preached the eugenics gospel: They held conferences, published papers, provided research funding, and advocated for sterilization laws. ....

...Chesterton acknowledged the historic problem of churches’ enlisting the secular state to enforce religious doctrine. But he turned the issue around by accusing scientific elites of repeating the errors of the Inquisition:
The thing that really is trying to tyrannize through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that is really proclaimed not in sermons but in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen — that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics.
Under the eugenics vision, society’s most vulnerable would not find compassion and aid; they would find the surgeon’s knife. As Chesterton quipped, there would be no sympathy for the character of Tiny Tim, the crippled boy of the Cratchit family in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. “The Eugenicist, for all I know, would regard the mere existence of Tiny Tim as a sufficient reason for massacring the whole family of Cratchit.” ....

The ultimate political triumph of this idea, of course, arrived with the Nazis and their assault on the handicapped, homosexuals, gypsies, Jews, and anyone considered an enemy of the state. Indeed, Nazi doctors corresponded with American eugenicists as they designed their own sterilization programs.

The eugenics movement, as Chesterton predicted, became a wretched story of the negation of democratic ideals to serve a utopian vision. ....

C.S. Lewis, the Oxford don whose conversion to Christianity was aided by Chesterton’s theological writings, also watched these developments with horror. Like Chesterton, he warned of the scientist untethered from the restraints of traditional morality or religion.

“The man-molders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique,” Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man. In such an age, he predicted, man’s supposed conquest over nature would not lead to his liberation — quite the opposite. “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.” (more)
Joseph Loconte, "One Hundred Years Ago, ‘Following the Science’ Meant Supporting Eugenics," National Review, July 17, 2022.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness

Psalm 51 as used here is from the Coverdale Bible (1535). The Psalter continues to be used by many Anglicans and can be found in the Book of Common Prayer.

Psalm 51
1 Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
     according to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.
2 Wash me throughly from my wickedness
     and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my faults
     and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight
     that Thou mightest be justified in Thy saying, and clear when Thou art judged.
5 Behold, I was shapen in wickedness
     and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
6 But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts
     and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
7 Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean
     Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness
     that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Turn Thy face from my sins
     and put out all my misdeeds.
10 Make me a clean heart, O God
      and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from Thy presence
      and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
12 O give me the comfort of Thy help again
      and stablish me with Thy free Spirit.
13 Then shall I teach Thy ways unto the wicked
      and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
14 Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou that art the God of my   health
      and my tongue shall sing of Thy righteousness.
15 Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord
      and my mouth shall shew Thy praise.
16 For Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee
      but Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
17 The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit
      a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise.
18 O be favourable and gracious unto Sion
      build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations
      then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar.

Culling a library

When books must go:
A reader in Philadelphia, a retired attorney, tells me he and his wife are moving into a retirement home....

“But our apartment,” he writes, “is far smaller than our six-bedroom home so I am situationally compelled to perform a massive bibliotomy. ...."

I don’t envy him the task of culling his library. One gauge of worth is re-readability. I would be unlikely to dump a title I might want to read again, or at least consult. Books frequently reread maintain continuity with the past – always a source of consolation. They live in us like pleasingly pleasant memories, the bittersweet sort we revisit and savor. ....
Patrick Kurp, "My Reluctance to Let Certain Books Go," Anecdotal Evidence, July 16, 2022.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Rule of law

Kyle Smith is leaving National Review to become film critic for The Wall Street Journal. He has been at NR for five years and in his farewell post links to some of his work during that time. From an essay about one of my favorite John Ford films: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, starring James Stewart, John Wayne, and Lee Marvin:
.... When idealistic young lawyer Ransom Stoddard, played by James Stewart, arrives in town, he is determined to remove the menace posed by the brutal, murderous bandit Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) by putting him in jail. The ace gunfighter Tom Doniphon, played by John Wayne, scoffs at him for being a city slicker who doesn’t understand how things work out here on the frontier, and advises him to get a gun. But the film actually takes Stoddard’s side and makes the case that accepting the rule of law rather than bowing to raw displays of power is how a town becomes modern. ....

The lawlessness of the Old West is, like the institution of slavery, a betrayal of the Founding ideals, and Stoddard stands for a new, laws-based America that lives up to the Declaration and the Constitution. A scene in the middle of the movie that does nothing to advance the plot serves this subtext. We have learned earlier that Stoddard wishes to teach the illiterate residents to read, but that isn’t what he’s doing here. Instead, he’s teaching the Founding. One of his students, Doniphon’s farmhand Pompey (Woody Strode), is a black man. Stoddard asks Pompey in class to tell what he has learned about “the basic law of the land.” Pompey confuses the Founding documents, but that’s understandable because of the consonance of the two: “It was writ by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia,” Pompey says. “He called it the Constitution.” With some prompting from Stoddard, who clarifies that Pompey is talking about the Declaration, Pompey recalls that it begins with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” ....

Pompey, the black farmhand, is a minor figure in the film and yet he is the fulcrum upon which it turns (he even supplies the rifle used to kill Liberty Valance). By helping to kill Liberty, he makes possible genuine liberty. Tom Doniphon fires what amounts to the last gunshot of the might-makes-right era in the Old West; that he is consumed by guilt and psychologically destroyed by his act marks a radical departure from previous Westerns, in which dispatching bad men was framed as a noble, manly duty. His way of settling disputes is no longer acceptable. ....
Kyle Smith, "The Founding vs. The Old West in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," National Review, Nov. 29, 2019.


I largely agree with "Neither an Ahmarist nor a Frenchman be." I have valued David French's work, agreeing much more with his views than those of Sohrab Ahmari who seems to me to represent a political fringe that leads nowhere. But...
David French and Sohrab Ahmari were right about each other. A few years after their dust-up launched a thousand think pieces debating the nature and future of conservatism, we should at least have learned this: neither an Ahmarist nor a Frenchman be.

American conservatism has been the home of opponents of abortion, the sexual revolution, and transgender ideology. And both French, an evangelical Protestant, and Ahmari, a Catholic convert, claim to be conservative champions of Christian politics. Yet neither man is offering a viable way forward for the conservative movement—and it is not even clear that either of them wants to. ....

Whatever the personal motives informing their positions, the fundamental failure of each writer is in abandoning the essential conservative virtue of prudence. Both of them are retreating from the messy, compromising business of actual politics, and the requisite prudential weighing of means and ends undertaken by our fallible judgment acting on imperfect information. The Christian Right, and the Republican Party it tries to work through, are certainly full of flaws, and there is a time and place to criticize them. But there is no politics on this earth that does not require compromise and its attendant risks. As Whittaker Chambers once wrote to Bill Buckley:
Those who remain in the world, if they will not surrender on its terms, must maneuver within its terms. That is what conservatives must decide: how much to give in order to survive at all; how much to give in order not to give up the basic principles. And of course that results in a dance along a precipice. Many will drop over, and, always, the cliff dancers will hear the screaming curses of those who fall, or be numbed by the sullen silence of those, nobler souls perhaps, who will not join the dance.
Among the perils of this dance along a cliff is that politics often require working with and through people we disagree with, dislike, and are even repulsed by, in order to achieve good ends. ....

Politics is complicated. And one of conservatism’s central insights is that the problems of politics are with us always. We are inclined to ask: what went wrong? The conservative, drawing on the Christian heritage of the West, knows that things have always been going wrong. To go wrong is the human condition. It is hard work just to preserve and pass on human knowledge, insight, and achievement, and there are a multitude of temptations to decline. This understanding of human weakness is what leads conservatives to be, well, conservative. We therefore mistrust those eager to burn it all down and build something new on the ashes, whether the target of their arson is society in general, the American constitution, or just the conservative movement. ....
Nathanael Blake, "Opinion: Neither an Ahmarist nor a Frenchman be," The Catholic World Report, July 14, 2022.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Faith envy

From Joseph Epstein's essay "Good Grief: Reflections on a dreaded emotion":
.... In our secular age, the dead are thought generally to go into the ground, up in flames, or into the heads of others. But what about grieving those who believe in an afterlife, which usually entails their going to a better place? Ought we to grieve their deaths, or rather to celebrate them? Cholbi writes that “the fact that believers in the afterlife genuinely grieve is difficult to reconcile with the notion that they grieve for what the deceased have lost by dying.” I had a neighbor named Dee Crosby, an earnest, daily Mass–attending Catholic, unmarried, a former schoolteacher, 10 or so years older than I. I recall her once telling me that she had no fear of death. She hoped to avoid a painful or a sloppy passing, but she was confident about where she was headed after death. When she told me this, I felt a stab of what I can only call faith envy. ....
We may very well grieve for what we have lost when a believing loved one dies but we should not grieve for what they have lost.

Joseph Epstein, "Good Grief:Reflections on a dreaded emotion," Commentary, July/August, 2022.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Summer mysteries

Five Books asks for recommendations of "The Best Summer Holiday Mystery Books." Two classics:

Dorothy L. Sayers’ Have His Carcase:
In Strong Poison, Harriet is a detective novelist on trial for murder. She has been researching methods of murder for a book she’s writing, and ends up accused of the murder of her ex-lover. Wimsey investigates and eventually extricates her from that situation. In this book, she’s trying to get away from it all after having been at the centre of that terrible media maelstrom and the court case. She’s taken herself off on a solo walking tour of the south coast of England. She wants to get away from murder, death, the press, everything. She stops to have her lunch on a beach one day when she’s walking, and she sees a rock out in the low tide zone, and is a bit confused by what she sees. She goes to investigate, and finds a man lying dead on the rock with his throat cut.

It is a locked room or impossible crime mystery in as much as she was sitting there the whole time, she could see the whole beach, and no one approached either by sea or by land. Yet here is this man lying there, still warm, blood still flowing. It’s impossible. How can it happen?

It all unfolds from there, really. She walks to the nearest town to tell the police. And because she is eminently practical, she realises this is going to be a huge story: detective novelist just cleared of murder discovers newly-murdered man. She calls the papers herself and sells the story—she can at least profit from it. Then Lord Peter Wimsey turns up to help investigate what has happened.

The title, in true Dorothy L. Sayers fashion, is an obscure reference to the writ of habeas corpus, which says that you can only hold an inquest for a body if the body is present. If there’s no body there, you can’t proceed with the prosecution of a crime. The tide has come in and gone out again, taking the body with it. If Harriet hadn’t been there to take notes and photographs—because she had her little camera with her for her holiday—the police probably wouldn’t even have believed anything had happened. ....
Agatha Christie's Appointment with Death:
Agatha Christie has a couple of really famous overseas mysteries featuring Hercule Poirot—Death on the Nile being one, and the other being Murder on the Orient Express, which isn’t set in summer but it’s still a holiday mystery. I’ve never been able to understand why Appointment with Death isn’t up there with those two, because it also features Hercule Poirot, and he’s on holiday—this time in Petra in Jordan, where he has gone on a sightseeing tour to the famous monuments with a party of other tourists. He doesn’t know them.

It’s a perfect closed circle, because the archaeological site is sort of inaccessible, unless you come with guides. Once you’re there, it’s hard to leave—I think it’s just in the desert, so you couldn’t just walk off on your own.

A very unpleasant woman, a matriarch of a family, is there with several of her children and her spouses. They all have to kowtow to her. She’s very cantankerous. Later, she’s found dead, and there are only a handful of people in the valley who could have done it. Hercule Poirot happens to be there, he investigates, and so on.

It’s a great set-up for a mystery that draws directly from Christie’s own experience of travelling in the Middle East. She was very familiar with that area, so the setting is very precise and well described, you really feel like you are there. ....

Caroline Crampton, "The Best Summer Holiday Mystery Books," Five Books, July 11, 2022.

A conservative candidate

I taught both American Government and International Relations electives to high school students for several decades. If you are as interested in British politics as I am you will have noticed that consequential things are happening right now. Boris Johnson has resigned as Prime Minister and as leader of the Conservative Party and so there is a contest for a new leader who will become the new Prime Minister. There are a lot of contenders. Their system moves pretty quickly: the Parliamentary MPs will narrow the number to two and then from those two party members will make the final decision. A contender is Kemi Badenoch, an MP who has served in several ministerial positions, and who seems to be getting attention. I like what I've read about her. From her statement printed in the The Times  yesterday:
.... Too often people feel that whoever is elected, the answer is more government. By promising too much and trying to solve every problem, politicians don't reassure and inspire, they disappoint and drive disillusion. More taxes. More rules and regulations. And ever cheaper borrowing to keep government afloat no matter the cost to savers or the wider economy.

Instead. we need strong but limited government focused on the essentials. Lower taxes yes, but to boost growth and productivity, and accompanied by tight spending discipline. ....

We cannot maintain a cohesive nation state with the zero-sum identity politics we see today. Exemplified by coercive control, the imposition of views, the shutting down of debate, the end of due process, identity politics is not about tolerance or individual rights but the very opposite of our crucial and enduring British values. ....

We need the discipline to transform government into an effective and streamlined machine for delivery, not a piggy bank for pressure groups. Rather than legislate for hurt feelings...we must strengthen our democratic culture at a time when democratic values are under assault from without and within. We need to reinvigorate the case for free speech, free markets and the institutions that defend a free people because our values and our ideas are too precious not to fight for with all our heart.

One of my heroes is the American thinker Thomas Sowell, who said that "if you want to help people, tell them the truth; if you want to help yourself, tell them what they want to hear". I'm putting myself forward in this leadership election because I want to tell the truth. It's the truth that will set us free.

The greatest possible good

Nathan Schlueter asks "Is Compromise Evil?" Using positions on abolitionism before the Civil War, he argues we should avoid some approaches to compromise but that there is a correct, but difficult, kind of compromise (below I've bolded or italicised sometimes where the author did not):
...[A]lthough compromise is not likely to inspire our most heroic impulses, it is integral to political life. Like other basic human needs, it is low but necessary, and it will have its revenge on those who abuse it or treat it with contempt and refuse its humble office. That office is to achieve the greatest possible good in circumstances that are less than ideal, without sacrificing truth or integrity. The lowness of this office makes compromise an easy target for demagogues who seek to leverage their own status by sacrificing achievable goods with the intoxicating promise of impossible perfections. ....

We might distinguish three attitudes toward compromise. Call them Purism, Pragmatism, and Prudence. .... The Purist regards all compromise as immoral. He therefore makes the perfect the enemy of the good. In practice this often has the worst results, but for the Purist good intentions are more important than good results. ....

If Purists overestimate evil, Pragmatists underestimate it. Pragmatists are completely transactional about the good. They are willing to compromise everything in order to diffuse conflict. ....

Prudence shares Purism’s commitment to objective principles, but it always seeks ways to promote and protect those principles in imperfect circumstances. It seeks to be as shrewd as a serpent while remaining as innocent as a dove (Matt. 10:16). Prudence depends on a crucial distinction acknowledged by both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas between permitting evil and committing evil. The Pauline Principle (Rom. 3:8) states that we may never do evil to achieve good. God sometimes permits evil for the sake of greater goods, but He never commits evil. Human beings should do the same. The effort to achieve the greatest possible good without committing evil does not make one a consequentialist. It makes one prudent. .... (more)
Nathan Schlueter, "Is Compromise Evil?," National Review, July 10, 2022.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

"Sequelitis and mediocrity"

I haven't purchased a Pixar film since Ratatouille and seldom re-watch that. In "To Mediocrity and Beyond" Ross Douthat on Pixar movies:
The decline of Pixar can be charted with relative precision from its acquisition by Disney in 2006. After a few artistic high points that had been in the works before the acquisition — most notably 2008’s Wall-E — the studio responsible for a remarkable decade of originality began to descend into sequelitis and mediocrity. There were occasional bright spots, from Toy Story 3 to Inside Out, but the brand gradually passed from a certificate of excellence to a firm promise of “just okay.” ....

Until this summer, that is, which has brought us an intensification of Pixarian decline, via the movie known as “Lightyear.” ....

One of the best superhero movies, Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, was a Pixar offering that improved on most of Marvel and DC, and after so many lousy Star Wars sequels and prequels one could imagine an animated space opera that likewise recaptured some of the old Skywalker magic, but with a different galaxy and cast.

The reason The Incredibles worked so well, however, is that it wasn’t afraid to be a straightforward superhero movie — cheeky and comical and self-deprecating rather than brooding and self-serious, but with the genre structure still intact, the supervillain and his lair, the world-destroying weapons, the works. ....

If the creative model where you sell action to kids and heartstring-tugging to their parents ends in this kind of mediocrity [i.e. Lightyear], was it really ever quite as brilliant as we imagined? Is there a reason that my own kids re-watched The Incredibles obsessively but were one-and-done with critically garlanded fare like Up and Ratatouille, or even the later Toy Story movies? When we look back on the Pixar age, will we see artistic glory — or just the clever manipulation of parental vulnerabilities, which became stale and obvious with repetition?

It’s too soon to say: Ask me again after a lightspeed jump to a future where the misbegotten Lightyear is forgotten.
I do re-watch The Incredibles.

Ross Douthat, "To Mediocrity and Beyond," National Review, June 23, 2022.

John Adams on liberty

From our second President, John Adams:
  • There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.
  • Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
  • Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.
  • Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
  • There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
  • Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
  • Always stand on principle even if you stand alone.
  • Power always thinks...that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws.
  • Be not intimidated...nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice.
  • Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or other. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.
  • The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know.... Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough.
  • Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.
  • Property is surely a right of mankind as real as liberty.
  • I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.
  • Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell.

Friday, July 8, 2022

They still use the Fascist salute

From "The Nazi Roots of Islamist Hate":
In early June 1946, Haj Amin el-Husseini, also known as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, escaped from a year of pleasant house arrest in France and flew to Cairo. Husseini, by then often referred to in Egypt simply as “the Mufti,” was internationally renowned as a collaborator with Nazi Germany as a result of his meeting with Adolf Hitler in Berlin in November 1941, and his Arabic language tirades to “kill the Jews” broadcast to the Middle East on the Third Reich’s short wave radio transmitters. Husseini was a key figure in an ideological and political fusion between Nazism and Islamism that achieved critical mass between 1941 and 1945 in Nazi Germany, and whose adherents sought to block the United Nations Partition Plan to establish an Arab and a Jewish state in former British Mandate Palestine, helping to define the boundaries of Arab politics for decades thereafter.

On June 11, 1946, Hassan al-Banna, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, penned the following welcome home to Husseini:
Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimin and all Arabs request the Arab League on which Arab hopes are pinned, to declare that the Mufti is welcome to stay in any Arab country he may choose, and that great welcome should be extended to him wherever he goes, as a sign of appreciation for his great services for the glory of Islam and the Arabs. The hearts of the Arabs palpitated with joy at hearing that the Mufti has succeeded in reaching an Arab country. The news sounded like thunder to the ears of some American, British, and Jewish tyrants. The lion is at last free, and he will roam the Arabian jungle to clear it of wolves. ....

Hitler’s and Mussolini’s defeat did not frighten you. Your hair did not turn grey of fright, and you are still full of life and fight. What a hero, what a miracle of a man. We wish to know what the Arab youth, Cabinet Ministers, rich men, and princes of Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Tunis, Morocco, and Tripoli are going to do to be worthy of this hero. Yes, this hero who challenged an empire and fought Zionism, with the help of Hitler and Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin Al-Husseini will continue the struggle.
Al-Banna, himself an ardent admirer of Hitler since he first read Mein Kampf, then compared Husseini to Mohammed and Christ. ....

After four decades of Soviet and PLO propaganda during the Cold War, then another four decades of Islamist propaganda from the government of Iran and organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, the reactionary and antisemitic core of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ideas of al-Banna and Haj Amin el-Husseini have, for many, been lost from view, were never known in the first place, or are dismissed as musty historical details. Yet al-Banna’s statement that Husseini would “continue the struggle” that Hitler had waged against the Jews and Zionism proved correct. As leader of the Arab Higher Committee in Palestine, Husseini did “continue the struggle” against the Jews by insisting on war in 1947 and 1948 in order to prevent Israel’s establishment, and by fueling the fusion of Islamism and Palestinian nationalism that would make rejecting the fact of Israel’s existence a core principle of Arab politics for the next half-century. .... (read on)
Jeffrey Herf, "The Nazi Roots of Islamist Hate," Tablet, July 5, 2022.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Detectives on vacation

At CrimeReads, "The Detective at Leisure," in which the writer comments on a favorite fictional detective, Lord Peter:
.... My introduction was through the novels of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Christie loved to use the set-up of a group of holiday-makers at a bucolic resort and Sayers seemed particularly committed to ensuring that her professional detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, and his eventual wife, detective novelist Harriet Vane, never got to put their feet up and enjoy the feeling of being off duty. In 1931’s Five Red Herrings, Lord Peter is on a fishing holiday when he’s called to the scene of a murder. 1932’s Have His Carcase revisits the same dynamic. Harriet is on a hiking holiday when she discovers the body of the murder victim and has to team up with Lord Peter to solve the case. Rereading Have His Carcase recently, I encountered this favorite line of mine, as Harriet is at the shore and about to discover the body: “There is something about virgin sand which arouses all the worst instincts of the detective-story writer.”

And then, in 1937’s Busman’s Honeymoon, Sayers offered perhaps the ultimate interruption of a vacation for fans of the Wimsey/Vane partnership. At long last, Harriet and Peter are married. The first section of the novel details the arrangements and the event itself through letters and journal entries written by their family and friends. Peter, we learn, has purchased a house near Harriet’s childhood home in Hertfordshire. The house, called Talboys, is supposed to have been readied for their honeymoon.

They arrive, however, to find that the man who sold them the house and who had promised to arrange everything and be there to meet them with the key, is not there. Confusion ensues and Harriet feels immediately responsible. As they work to get Talboys ready for the night, Harriet wonders “Whether, all things considered, Peter would not have been happier in the Hotel Gigantic somewhere-or-other on the continent.” ....

They try to start fires, but the chimneys won’t draw. (I’d forgotten how many pages Sayers devotes to the Talboys chimneys...) Bunter, Peter’s long-suffering manservant, manages to make them comfortable. And finally, the wedding night proceeds apace. The next morning, we get a line sure to delight any Sayers devotee: “Lady Peter Wimsey propped herself cautiously on one elbow and contemplated her sleeping lord.”

But the honeymoon doesn’t last long, as the absent former owner of the house is found murdered and Peter must get back to work, playing detective to solve the mystery of his new house. ....
Sarah Stewart Taylor, "The Detective at Leisure: 8 Books In Which Characters Solve Crimes While On Vacation," CrimeReads, July 7, 2022.

Social respectability or religious fidelity?

Carl Trueman on the Christian reaction to Dobbs:
The Dobbs decision has revealed fault lines in American Christianity. These fault lines lay just below the surface for a long while, but are now clearly exposed. As long as abortion was legal by Supreme Court decree, it was possible to identify as pro-life but keep that commitment at the level of theory; one could hold pro-life views but not be perceived as a threat. All that has now changed. To identify as pro-life post-Dobbs is not simply to hold an opinion many regard as wrong; it is to be part of an act of political and social “oppression.” And predictably, many Christians are feeling the need to “nuance” their relationship to the overturning of Roe. ....

When it comes to abortion, especially after Dobbs, Christians face a choice of social respectability or religious fidelity. And the Christian commentariat already seems divided on which way to go. (more)
Carl Trueman, "Christians Should Rejoice Over Dobbs," First Things, July 7, 2022.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Rules liberate

In his column today, Jonah Goldberg on the ubiquity of certain themes in fiction, science fiction for instance:
...[W]hile everything physical changes—Spaceships! Dragons! A Kryptonian bottle-city ruled by super-intelligent basset hounds!—the one constant is human nature. Even if the characters aren’t humans, the access point for the reader is their own humanity. Moreover, just because the characters aren’t humans doesn’t mean we don’t relate to them based on their internal humanity. The rabbits in Watership Down are only understandable because they’re people underneath their leporine facades. Pixar or Disney would never make a cartoon about bears or lions that is truthful about the nature of bears and lions, because nobody wants to take their kids to see vicious animals tear apart terrified cute animals or people. Simba and Winnie are compelling because they’re humans underneath the fur.

.... I think the eternal recurrence of themes is a much more prominent part of the job description for conservative writers. Take the above point about human nature being a constant. It’s a central tenet of conservatism and appears in the work of virtually every conservative writer I can think of. ....

One theme I’ve come back to time and time again is that rules—norms, laws, manners, morals, customs, ethics, best practices, etc.—exist as a way to outsource decision-making. .... Rules liberate us from having to reinvent the wheel in every situation. Twenty-three years ago, I argued that A Simple Plan, a largely ignored movie, was one of the most profoundly conservative films in recent memory. Why? Because the whole movie rests on the premise that the basic rules of right and wrong protect us from the unpredictable chaos we invite when we invent morality on the fly. As I’ve written, that’s the moral of Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and countless other tales of “stay on the path” morality. ....

Perhaps second only to the permanence of human nature, one of the most fundamentally conservative insights—small-c and big-C—is that reality bites back. You can’t simply use reason or will to impose your vision on the world without inviting the world pushing back in unexpected ways. While the forms of unintended consequences are by nature unpredictable, that there will be unintended consequences to any major reform or policy initiative is one of the most enduring conservative cautions going back, at least, to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Everywhere I look today, I see people on the left and right ignoring this basic principle. ....

...[A]cross the political spectrum, combatants are arguing as much from anger as from reason. The ubiquitous cultivation of rage in our politics is a siren song to venture off the path; to disregard the norms; to shout, “Screw the rules!” It’s a calling to take a shortcut on the mistaken belief that the rules are for suckers and that the enemies’ rule-breaking is a justification for your own.

.... Wisdom, if it tells us anything, tells us that the rules matter more for the hard cases, when passions are high and the shortcut to victory seems obvious. Indeed, we have rules for the hard cases precisely because it takes no courage to follow the rules when it’s easy. “Courage is not simply one of the virtues,” C.S. Lewis observed, “but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” .... (more)
Jonah Goldberg, "Do the Right Thing," The Dispatch, July 1, 2022.

American nationalism

From Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus this morning:
.... At the end of his book, Brookhiser tells a story about U.S. Grant and Otto von Bismarck. They met in Berlin, when Grant was on a world tour, in his post-presidential years.

The German commiserated with the American about civil wars — the worst of wars, brother against brother. Yes, said Grant, but it had to be done: our civil war. Of course, said Bismarck: You had to save your union. Grant replied: Not only that — we had to destroy slavery.

Bismarck had to think about this for a bit. Well and good, he said, but surely saving the union was the main thing. At first it was, said Grant. But, in due course, we saw that slavery had to be blotted out, forever. “We felt that it was a stain to the Union that men should be bought and sold like cattle.”

Writes Brookhiser,
A union in which denial of liberty was a permanent feature, not a stain to be deplored, contained, or eradicated, was not a Union worth saving. It would not be America.
He continues,
Bismarck was half right. Nationalism, including national unity, is the organizing principle of the modern world.

But Grant was entirely right. American nationalism embodies the principle of liberty. Without that, it is nothing. Without that, we are a bigger Canada or an efficient Mexico.
Jay Nordlinger, Impromptus, NRO, July 1, 2022.