Friday, September 30, 2022

"Two to three cups of coffee a day"

I really like studies that affirm the health value of one of my habits. CNN:
“The results suggest that mild to moderate intake of ground, instant and decaffeinated coffee should be considered part of a healthy lifestyle,” said study author Peter Kistler, head of clinical electrophysiology research at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and head of electrophysiology at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

Researchers found “significant reductions” in the risk for coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and stroke for all three types of coffee. However, only ground and instant coffee with caffeine reduced the risk for an irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia. Decaffeinated coffee did not lower that risk, according to the study published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. ....

Drinking two to three cups of coffee a day was linked to the largest reduction in early death, compared to people who drank no coffee, according to the statement. Ground coffee consumption lowered the risk of death by 27%, followed by 14% for decaffeinated, and 11% for instant caffeinated coffee. ....
"Coffee lowers risk of heart problems and early death, study says, especially ground and caffeinated," CNN, Sept. 29, 2022.

"Count your blessings"

I have thus far had a comfortable life. An important reminder:
“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt 6:27).
What is accomplished by worrying? Gray hair and ulcers! Oh, and telling God you don’t trust him.

What should we do instead of worry? “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). How do we do that? By doing everything he’s taught before this — shine your light so that God is glorified, practice real righteousness, love your enemy, and do your acts of piety for God’s approval rather than man’s. Do these things and trust God to take care of the more mundane things.

That’s what Jesus wants us to do, but will that necessarily keep us from worrying? No, worry will still be a temptation. So what do we do when we’re tempted to worry? Paul gives us an excellent action plan:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6).
Take your requests to God "with thanksgiving." That last part is the key. Don’t just pray for what you need but take the time to thank God for all the ways he’s already provided, for all he’s already done. ....
"Don't Worry, Be Thankful," Homeward Bound, Sept 28, 2022.

Thursday, September 29, 2022


From Thomas Howard:
Any criticism of ritual arrives not from a non-ritualist (there are none) but only from another sort of ritual. That is, I may say that such and such a ritual looks childish to me (I find it hard, for example, to see the costumes and liturgies of secret societies as serious). But two things need to be said here. In the first place, it is not the idea of ritual itself that I am criticizing, in that I myself can't walk ten steps without doing something ritually (again, standing aside for a lady, waving to a friend, lowering my voice in a museum). And in the second place, I would have to admit that the ritual that I see as silly probably proceeds very logically from the special set of ideas held by the people in that circle (in the secret society, say), so that their bibs and tassels and most reverend titles make perfect sense given their set of categories. If, then, I want to expose them as silly, I will have to show not that their ritual is silly but that their prior ideas are silly.
Thomas Howard, An Antique Drum, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1969.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Hymns that teach

Jonathan Aigner is a parent and considers "What Do I Want My Kids to Sing":
...I find that I cannot escape considering what I would want my own children singing. Which hymns do I want entrenched in their earliest memories of singing in church? Which hymns do I want them to encounter with enough repetition that they become part of their spiritual formation? Which hymns do I want them to take with them in the coming seasons of their life? Time is short. ....

Here’s what I came up with. [at the post, he elaborates and gives examples]

Hymns of Praise That Speak to God’s Character
It should be obvious, but good hymns testify to the transcendent character of Almighty God as revealed in Scripture, and call the church to join in his praise. An overarching theme of worship is that God is God, and we are not. Great hymns remind us of this, and set our minds on God’s greatness. ....
Hymns That Proclaim the Gospel
I want them to sing hymns that talk about the love of Christ as shown through his redemptive work. Christ crucified for sinners is the greatest theme the human voice could possibly sing. ....
Hymns That Draw from Holy Scripture
Great hymns don’t apologize or cloud the truth of Holy Scripture, nor do they seek to make it more palatable to modern ears. Some of the greatest hymns are simply Scripture in poetic form. Take the wonderful hymns of Isaac Watts, for instance. ....

Hymns That Teach Good Theology
The hymnal is many things. One of those things is a theological textbook. (I think I said this in a post a long time ago…) Choose hymns that teach the truths of the Christian faith strongly and beautifully.
Hymns With a Low Anthropology
Again, God is God, and we are not. There is a tendency in modern hymn-writing to make too much out of human ability, insight, and will.... This is, in part, a high anthropology; it is the notion that, if all external factors are removed, humans can choose to be good and well-behaved, and can turn the world into a nice place. I want to sing hymns that, instead, follow the biblical and orthodox understanding of humanity as fallen, helpless to save themselves, and fully in need of God’s grace. ....
Hymns That Faithfully Portray the Church’s Mission ....

Hymns That Are Beautiful
There are a number of hymns that have some good things to say, but the poetry is so awful it gets in the way. ....
There are many examples of these kinds of hymns. Some are rich theological treasures. Others more simple and stark. Again, the main concern should be whether the hymn is really worth singing, knowing, and committing to memory. Is it true? Does it edify? Does it have enough meat on it to sustain us? Does it give us a realistic view of God, his kingdom, Christ’s work on our behalf, and humanity? If the answer to these is “no,” then perhaps it won’t do us any good at all, and maybe we should choose something else.  (more)
Jonathan Aigner, "What Do I Want My Kids to Sing: How I Choose Hymns," Ponder Anew, Sept. 28, 2022.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022


I have always assumed that the eulogy is an important part of a funeral service. Eulogies were in both my parents' services. But Jonathan Aigner doesn't like them and I think he makes a good argument:
Eulogies are a recent phenomenon, particularly in liturgical churches. The fact that they’ve come to be expected is due to our individualistic and increasingly de-churched, de-Christianized society. When people don’t have hope in Christ, or don’t understand that the funeral is about his victory over death, the occasions often become “celebrations of life.” You can’t have a celebration of life without a eulogy. ....

Any decent funeral liturgy is not about a celebration of life. At least, not a celebration of the deceased’s life. The point of the whole thing is to witness to the resurrection of Christ, and the victory that Christ has won for us, and the fact that, for those in Christ, death doesn’t get the final word.

I hope and pray that, for my family and loved ones, the promise of resurrection is the most comforting thing for them to hear. If it isn’t, I still want them to hear it, so that they might believe it for themselves. I want them to hear about Christ’s victory over death, not about how much I loved baseball or told dumb jokes or earned a weird combination of degrees.

If they want to sit around and tell stories and reminisce, so be it, but do it at lunch. Remembering the good times will not defeat death. Only Jesus can do that. His life ended in a death which ended with a resurrection. That is the life worth celebrating. His is the life worth eulogizing.
Jonathan Aigner, "Let’s Make Eulogies a Thing of the Past," Ponder Anew, Sept. 27, 2022.

Monday, September 26, 2022

"Rings of Power" so far

I've been enjoying Rings of Power so far. It isn't compelling enough for me to consider re-watching—at least not yet—but compared to much that is available, it's not bad and could get better. I agreed with much of this review at The Spectator:
Why is Amazon’s new Lord of the Rings show taking so much flak? The way I see it, there are two (mostly separate) factors at play: Tolkien fandom and race. ....

This, in my mind, is a travesty, because it’s causing people to miss out on what’s actually a pretty good show so far. Plenty of Tolkien fans have avoided the series altogether, while others have chosen to hatewatch it. And when you watch something with the sole intention of finding things to hate, you’re usually successful. ....

The show is also just nice to watch. There’s beauty and joy to it. After so many years immersed in Game of Thrones (and now House of the Dragon), it’s nice to be reminded that there’s more to life than killing, screwing, and scheming. In one Rings of Power episode, the Harfoot maid leads some younguns out to a clearing full of berry bushes, and they all have a good frolic. I’d forgotten how much I love watching a good frolic. The closest Game of Thrones can get to a frolic is an orgy. .... (more)
Grayson Quay, "The Rings of Power is more than just blue-haired trans elves," The Spectator, Sept. 23, 2022.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

A stiff upper lip

From Theodore Dalrymple, "In defence of repression":
.... People can undoubtedly go to pieces under the effect of suffering: and what each person can bear depends upon many factors, both personal and impersonal. For example, if someone is capable of investing suffering with meaning – religious, political or philosophical – whatever has caused it is easier to bear. Meaningless trauma is much harder to overcome. ....

The very claim that there are means to ‘deal with’ or obtain ‘closure on’ the inevitable tragedies of human existence leads, if it becomes widely believed, to the fragilization of the human psyche, especially where there are rewards for fragility. ....

A psychologically fragile population is the delight of bureaucrats, lawyers and professional carers, and resilience and fortitude are their worst enemies. Repression in the psychological sense is deemed by them not only as damaging but almost as treason to the self. A person who does not dwell on his trauma must expect, and almost deserves, later trouble, as does someone who willfully ignores the formation of an abscess. ....

[But] repression can also mean the deliberate putting memories of trauma to the back of the mind so that life can be got on with. It is not that such memories cannot be called to the conscious mind when necessary, or even that they never do harm: but the person who represses in this fashion has an instinctive understanding that dwelling on them is an obstacle to future life, rather than a precondition of it. They do not forget, either consciously or unconsciously; they choose to think of something else. ....

Psychology seems often to forget or disregard the fact that humans live in a world of meaning, and that they are actors rather than mere objects acted upon. In the process, it destroys resilience, fortitude and self-respect.
Theodore Dalrymple, "In defence of repression," The Spectatorr, Sept. 25, 2022.

Blessed are those who mourn

From an essay by Roger Scruton, "The Work of Mourning":
.... We lose many things in our lives. But some losses are existential losses. They take away some part of what we are. After such a loss we are in a new and unfamiliar world, wherein the support on which we had—perhaps unknowingly—depended is no longer available. The loss of a parent, especially during one’s early years, is a world-changing experience, and orphans are marked for life by this. The loss of a spouse is equally traumatic, as is the loss of children, who take with them into the void all the most tender feelings of their parents.

Nevertheless, however grievous the blow, mourning is a therapy that points toward survival. Through mourning we bury the dead. But we also raise them from the dead, not as living beings, but as purified images, washed clean of their faults and transfigured by our mutual forgiveness. ....

.... We are far more likely to be interested in what the deceased person ­owes to us by way of a legacy than what we owe to him or her in the way of mourning. Of course, we still offer funerals to our dead, though we expect them to budget for this while still alive. And we grieve for them as we must. But it is increasingly rare to raise a monument, or even to lay our dead to rest in a grave that we might subsequently visit. The habit of cremating the dead and then scattering their ashes reflects our post-religious conception of what they become by dying, namely nothing. We briefly snatch at their nothingness and then watch them fade from our empty hands. .... Since the obligation is unreal, its fulfillment becomes a kind of ritualized pretense, an opportunity for displays of kitsch emotion. ....

The Western response to loss is not to remove yourself from the world. It is to bear it as a loss, to mourn it, and to strive to overcome it by seeing it as a form of consecrated suffering. Religion lies at the root of that attitude. Religion enables us to bear our losses not, primarily, because it promises to offset them with some compensating gain, but because it sees them from a transcendental perspective. Judged from that perspective they appear not as meaningless afflictions but as sacrifices. Loss, conceived as sacrifice, becomes consecrated to something higher than itself....

.... The loss of religion makes real loss difficult to bear; hence people begin to flee from loss, to make light of it with Disneyfying ornaments, or to expel from themselves the feelings that make it inevitable. .... This is why, in a society without religion, we see emerging a kind of contagious hardness of heart, an assumption on every side that there is no tragedy, no grief, no mourning, for there is nothing to mourn. There is neither love nor happiness—only fun. The loss of religion, one might suggest, is the loss of loss. .... (more)
Roger Scruton, "The Work of Mourning," First Things, Oct., 1022.

Friday, September 23, 2022

"Thy throne shall never, like earth's proud empires, pass away"

The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended, the darkness falls at Thy behest;
to Thee our morning hymns ascended, Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

We thank Thee that Thy Church unsleeping, while earth rolls onward into light,
through all the world her watch is keeping, and rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island the dawn leads on another day,
the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away.

The sun that bids us rest is waking our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
and hour by hour fresh lips are making Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never, like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
Thy kingdom stands, and grows for ever, till all Thy creatures own thy sway.

One of the hymns sung at Queen Elizabeth's funeral.

After the "Thin Man"

The author of "Scenes from a Marriage: Watching the 'Thin Man' Movies as a Set" likes all the "Thin Man" movies but one. I think even that one can be enjoyed. On Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) after The Thin Man (1934):
The resulting movies–After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), and Song of the Thin Man (1947)–don’t get the same overwhelming praise as the film that started the series. ....

The series as a whole is surprisingly consistent, having been made over a thirteen-year span, and enjoyable elements from that first classic continue in the rest of the movies. .... Only one of the films leaves the formula so far behind that it’s not worth the time....

.... Nick and Nora had some of the greatest ongoing banter in Hollywood history, combining clever wordplay, romantic innuendoes, good-humored sarcasm, and extremely dry observations on the world and people around them. While every film had a mystery to solve, what made the films so engrossing was the depiction of a wildly enjoyable marriage between two people so affectionate for each other that occasional spats never had a chance to get serious. What all the sequels get right is that this is a marriage that doesn’t evolve. Locations change, a person is added, and sobriety makes unwelcome advances, but Nick and Nora maintain their amorous regard for each other, without demanding that it strengthen, or deepen, or develop in any way. Because it’s perfect as it is. ....

Loy may have been the most important actor of the series, as wonderful as Powell was. There had been smart-aleck playboy detectives before, but none of them were married to Nora Charles, a combination of breeding, caustic wit, glamour, occasional daffiness, and heart. .... Loy’s Nora is the difference in the world, the thing that can’t be reduced to a cliché, the person who can never become boring. Audiences don’t need it spelled out—we know exactly what Nick sees in his wife. .... (more)
Hector DeJean, "Scenes from a Marriage: Watching the "Thin Man" Movies as a Set," CrimeReads, Sept. 23, 2022.

Thursday, September 22, 2022


A former Harvard president, now a history professor, makes a disturbing discovery:
It was a good book, the student told the 14 others in the undergraduate seminar I was teaching, and it included a number of excellent illustrations, such as photographs of relevant Civil War manuscripts. But, he continued, those weren’t very helpful to him, because of course he couldn’t read cursive.

Had I heard him correctly? Who else can’t read cursive? I asked the class. The answer: about two-thirds. And who can’t write it? Even more. ....

In 2010, cursive was omitted from the new national Common Core standards for K–12 education. The students in my class, and their peers, were then somewhere in elementary school. Handwriting instruction had already been declining as laptops and tablets and lessons in “keyboarding” assumed an ever more prominent place in the classroom. Most of my students remembered getting no more than a year or so of somewhat desultory cursive training, which was often pushed aside....

All of us, not just students and scholars, will be affected by cursive’s loss. The inability to read handwriting deprives society of direct access to its own past. We will become reliant on a small group of trained translators and experts to report what history—including the documents and papers of our own families—was about. The spread of literacy in the early modern West was driven by people’s desire to read God’s word for themselves, to be empowered by an experience of unmediated connection. The abandonment of cursive represents a curious reverse parallel: We are losing a connection, and thereby disempowering ourselves.

On the last day of class, a student came up to me with a copy of one of my books and asked me to sign it. I wrote an inscription that included not just his name and mine, but thanks for his many contributions to the seminar. Then I asked, a little wistfully, if he’d like me to read it to him. (more)
Drew Gilpin Faust, "Gen Z Never Learned to Read Cursive," The Atlantic, Oct. 2022.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

"Rage drives clicks. Quality drives subscriptions"

An acquaintance once accused me of being a political partisan. I explained that although I usually voted for candidates of one political party it was because my principles were conservative, not because of the party label. Political partisanship is dumb. Choosing to vote for the candidate who is most likely to support (or least likely to oppose) the right policies makes sense. In the Trump era choices have become harder for people like me. I've always been a Reagan/National Review/Wall Street Journal editorial page kind of conservative. I've subscribed to National Review since high school and still appreciate the magazine. More recently I've become rather enthusiastic about The Dispatch, an online publication that is edited by Steve Hayes and publishes a whole lot of writers I respect including David French, Chris Stirewalt, and Jonah Goldberg. I go to their site just about every day and get several of their emailed newsletters. Yesterday another writer I like, Kevin Williamson, became a "national correspondent" there. Williamson explained what attracted him to The Dispatch:
I’ve sat in on a few long Dispatch meetings, and what was not talked about was this or that former or future presidential candidate, how to position ourselves for the midterms or 2024, how to influence this or that aspect or this or that party’s internal factional politics, or anything like that. The Dispatch is here to do journalism—not politics. I have nothing but the most narrowly limited and partial respect for people who do political speechwriting or run campaigns, but that isn’t what we are here to do.

We did talk in those meetings about the tensions inherent in building a reporting-based publication in an opinion-forward environment in a business currently anchored by a few famous opinion writers. The Dispatch is operating on the theory that our readers aren’t stupid. What that means as a practical matter is that we can do good reporting and good opinion journalism at the same time, as long as we do them both intelligently and with a high degree of integrity. Readers know that publications have points of view: There is a reason so many old U.S. newspapers have Republican or Democrat in the name. Having a point of view isn’t the same thing as distorting the facts—or ignoring them or making stuff up!—to support a political agenda.

Rage drives clicks. Quality drives subscriptions. And our business model is based on subscriptions, not clicks.

And that is why I am here. ....
The Dispatch can be found online here. There are always many free articles, but to read everything a subscription is required ($10 a month, or $100 for a year). I subscribe.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Blest is the man...

Last night I pulled an all-nighter in order to watch Queen Elizabeth's funeral. I am now badly in need of a nap but staying up was worth it. Two of many very good things:

 An unfamiliar (to me) John Donne prayer read in the funeral service and then sung at the interment:
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
   into the house and gate of heaven,
To enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
   where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling,
   but one equal light;
No noise nor silence, but one equal music;
No fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
No ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
   in the habitation of Thy glory and dominion,
   world without end.
And Vaughn Williams' setting of Psalm 34:8, originally composed for the Queen's coronation:
O Taste and see how gracious the Lord is:
Blest is the man that trusteth in him.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

A royal funeral: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord"

From the program for the funeral of Elizabeth II tomorrow morning:
All stand as the Procession of the Coffin enters the Abbey.

The Choir of Westminster Abbey sings

(During which the Procession of the Coffin moves through the Abbey.)
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.
John 11:25–26

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.
Job 19:25–27

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.
1 Timothy 6:7; Job 1:21
The Choir of Westminster Abbey and the Choir of the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, sing:
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears unto our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer 1549

I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours. Amen.
Revelation 14:13
All remain standing. .... (the service)
The Telegraph, "Full order of service for the funeral and committal of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ," Sept. 18, 2022.

"A world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four"

From essays that G.K. Chesterton wrote early in the last century:
We must first of all establish the principle that we do not want a newspaper to give us a vision of the world made perfect; we want a church for that. We do not want a newspaper to give us good news; we want a gospel for that. We want a newspaper to give us the true news, not elevating news or improving news. (The Illustrated London News, 3-06-1909)

There may have been a time when people found it easy to believe anything. But we are finding it vastly easier to disbelieve anything. (The Illustrated London News, 3-14-1914)

If free thought means that we are not free to rebuke free-thinkers, it is surely a very one-sided sort of free thought. It means that they may say anything they choose about all that we hold most dear, and we must not say anything we think in protest against all that we hold most damnable. (The Illustrated London News, 6-10-1922)

We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green. (The Illustrated London News, 8-14-1926)

When somebody wishes to wage a social war against what all normal people have regarded as a social decency, the very first thing he does is to find some artificial term that shall sound relatively decent. He has no more of the real courage that would pit vice against virtue than the ordinary advertiser has the courage to advertise ale as arsenic.” (The Illustrated London News, 6-30-1928)
The quotations are from "G.K. Chesterton Quotes from The Illustrated London News, 1908-1936."

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Power abhors a vacuum

I taught a high school international relations class for several decades and have long had an interest in the subject. I found this long article, "A Christian Defense of American Empire," by British historian Nigel Biggar, very interesting. Read it all if you have time. This is only some of what he has to say about American international responsibility:
.... Since the American imperial system offers a far better future for the peoples of the world than do its Russian or Chinese alternatives, Americans need to be clear-minded about its moral legitimacy and their duty to defend it. ....

.... American Christians need to reckon with the reality that the United States in fact ­possesses imperial power—and they should argue in the public square that America has a duty to retain that power and to wield it well rather than badly.

The truth is that international affairs have always been characterized by the dominance of some states over others. Asymmetry of power is a fact of international life. .... And some nation-states are more powerful than others, dominating regions of the globe either formally through direct territorial control, treaty, or alliance or informally through economic clout or cultural power. Whether formal or informal, this international dominance is imperial. From 1815 to 1914 the dominant global power was Britain and its empire. Arguably from 1919, more so from 1945, and most clearly so from 1989, the dominant global power has been the United States.

To many people of Christian or liberal conviction, “domination” and “dominance” connote oppression and tyranny. Certainly, dominating power is prone to abuse, but an inclination is not a necessity. To dominate need not be to domineer, and in a world of inevitably unequal power, it is clearly better that the just (all things considered) should be more powerful than the unjust. Surely, we want the police to dominate the mafia, liberal democracy to dominate autocratic tyranny, self-defensive ­Ukrainians to dominate unjustly invading Russians.

It is true, of course, that empires, like ­nation-states, municipalities, and churches, are run by sinners. Consequently, they can do bad things, sometimes very bad indeed. ....

So, yes, those who possess dominant power are tempted by hubris. Some would argue that the U.S. succumbed to that temptation in the years following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the result being its overambitious plan to transform Afghanistan after 2001 and its overoptimistic invasion of Iraq in 2003. Certainly, America’s staunchest allies felt slighted when she started to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2021 without informing them of her plans. Arrogance is a natural temptation for those on top.

Nevertheless, the fact that power can be used badly does not mean that it should be abandoned. Rather, it should be used well. .... The quest for clean hands, if pursued without due regard for our responsibilities, can be a culpable form of moral vanity. This vice is a clear danger, given present realities. Moreover, what the U.S. jettisons, its rival—China—will pick up. International politics abhors a vacuum. And there is no reason to suppose that Beijing would be a better steward of dominant imperial power than Washington. Indeed, if the plights of Hong Kong and the Uighurs are anything to go by, there is good reason to suppose that it would be a lot worse.

Being an imperial power is burdensome. .... But the burden must be borne. It must be borne in part to ensure that one’s own national people and their way of life are kept secure. For those who do not dominate will themselves be dominated. And it should be borne so that other peoples who lack the privileges of superordinate power will not be dominated by a less just, less benevolent hegemon.

Ultimately, the justification for wielding dominant, imperial power depends on the value of the goals it seeks to serve. Of course, the first duty of a national government is to defend and promote the security and prosperity of its own people—and to do that for 332 million Americans is hardly a selfish act. But the defense and promotion of the domestic security and well-being of one people depends upon making and keeping the international environment friendly rather than hostile. So, what is defended and promoted at home must be defended and promoted abroad. And if what is defended and ­promoted includes values and institutions generally important for human welfare—such as the rule of law, an incorrupt civil service, and legal rights—then foreign peoples will benefit as well, as indeed many have since 1945.

The United States is not the only trustee of such values and institutions, but, thanks to the gifts of providence and its own achievements, it happens to be the most powerful global actor at this time. Its primary duty to its own people obliges it to sustain its power. But that duty implies a secondary one to promote the weal of other nations. For if it should surrender its dominant international power, other states, less humane and liberal, will pick it up. .... (more)
Nigel Biggar, "A Christian Defense of American Empire," First Things, Oct. issue, 2022.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Miss Marple

John Wilson reviews Marple: Twelve New Mysteries:
.... I suspect that the vast majority of fans will enjoy this high-spirited volume, loaded as it is with allusions to the canonical novels and stories.

Like many readers of our generation, Wendy and I see the actress Joan Hickson in our mind’s eye whenever we are reading about Miss Marple. Indeed, Hickson channeled Christie’s creation to an uncanny degree: the spinster Jane Marple living in the village of St Mary Mead, gardening, knitting, faithfully going to church, observing all that goes on with her compassionate but steely intelligence. ....

One of my favorite stories in the book is “The Second Murder at the Vicarage,” by Val McDermid (who happens to be the only one of the twelve authors I’d read before picking up this book). Here McDermid gives us a delightful mini sequel to Christie’s first Marple novel, The Murder at the Vicarage (1930). There’s a fine line to walk with such homages, avoiding self-indulgent cutesiness, but McDermid brings it off without a false step. And a crucial clue comes when Miss Marple glimpses the title of a book on a shelf where its presence is incongruous: Native Fungi of the Home Counties. Delicious.

Another story I particularly enjoyed was “Miss Marple’s Christmas,” by Ruth Ware. In this tale, a book that a sullen young man at the Christmas gathering is reading, Dorothy Sayers’s Hangman’s Holiday, gives Miss Marple a vital clue. ....

I have complained now and then that Christie’s convictions as an unambiguously Christian writer have often been given short shrift or overlooked entirely. (A sterling exception is Jeremy Black’s recent book The Importance of Being Poirot, which emphasizes Christie’s identity as a “practicing Anglican” with a “strong religious sensibility.”) Alas, that is true of the stories commissioned for this volume. I very much wish that at least a writer or two with a strong sense of Christie’s faith and the way it informed her work had been enlisted for this project. ....

Part of what made Joan Hickson’s portrayal of Miss Marple for British TV so memorably compelling was her voice. It will probably sound very silly or odd to you, but now and then, out of the blue, I hear in my head Miss Marple’s voice as rendered by Hickson. Don’t worry, I’m not saying that I am hearing her voice as if addressed to me. But there is something about her voice (embodying a cluster of winsome qualities) that I find immensely cheering and grounded in the real. Strange but delightful. ....
John Wilson, "Miss Marple Returns," First Things, Sept. 16, 2022.

Friday, September 9, 2022


Bo Winegard at Quillette argues "Against Authenticity." "[T]he most authentic thing we can do is strive to transcend ourselves and become what we are not."
.... Humans are complicated and multifaceted; they are capable of suppressing impulses and of outright lying. And society often encourages such suppressions and deceptions, rewarding those who politely respond to “How are you today?” with, “Great, how about you?” while punishing those who honestly respond, “Metaphysical despair is eating a hole in my heart, my dog is dying, I am lonely, and I get no joy from life.” ....

Because we are both cooperative and highly competitive, our thoughts and impulses can be prosocial or antisocial. Some of those antisocial thoughts and impulses are relatively benign, though potentially offensive. Most of us have unflattering opinions about those with whom we interact, which we wisely suppress. This is one of the reasons children are both exasperating and effortlessly funny: They do not restrain their thoughts. If they think your eyes are too bulgy, your nose is too big, or your hair is too thin, they will say so. ....

The celebration of authenticity is premised, often only half-knowingly, on a quasi-Rousseauist belief that humans are naturally good and only corrupted by society. But this belief is patently wrong. Humans are not naturally good or evil. Rather, they are flawed, limited, and contradictory creatures, capable of envisioning a peaceful, cooperative society of abundance, but unable to achieve it because their efforts are undermined by selfishness and rivalry. Although they cannot fully achieve their moral goals, they can, with the guidance of wise norms and institutions, create a lively and flourishing civilization. And the function of these wise norms and institutions is to suppress, discipline, and reshape our natural inclinations. It is, in other words, to produce a cultured and civilized—that is, an artificial—human.

But to be human is to be artificial. And to contend that it is inauthentic to conform to one’s culture and to strive to suppress and overcome one’s natural tendencies is like contending that it is inauthentic for a mockingbird to imitate the song of another species. Paradoxically, the most authentic thing we can do is strive to transcend ourselves and become what we are not. (more)
Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote that original sin is "the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith."

Bo Winegard, "Against Authenticity," Quillette, Sept 8, 2022.

"A mystical thread through time and space"

Andrew Sullivan today:
.... Part of the hard-to-explain grief I feel today is related to how staggeringly rare that level of self-restraint is today. Narcissism is everywhere. Every feeling we have is bound to be expressed. Self-revelation, transparency, authenticity — these are our values. The idea that we are firstly humans with duties to others that will require and demand the suppression of our own needs and feelings seems archaic. Elizabeth kept it alive simply by example.

With her death, it’s hard not to fear that so much she exemplified — restraint, duty, grace, reticence, persistence — are disappearing from the world. As long as she was there, they were at the center of an idea of Britishness that helped define the culture at its best. .... She was not particularly beautiful or dashing or inspiring. She said nothing surprising. She was simply the Queen. She showed up. She got on with it. She was there. She was always there.

Whatever else happened to the other royals, she stayed the same. ....

You can make all sorts of solid arguments against a constitutional monarchy — but the point of monarchy is precisely that it is not the fruit of an argument. It is emphatically not an Enlightenment institution. It’s a primordial institution smuggled into a democratic system. It has nothing to do with merit and logic and everything to do with authority and mystery — two deeply human needs our modern world has trouble satisfying without danger.

The Crown satisfies those needs, which keeps other more malign alternatives at bay. No one has expressed this better than C.S. Lewis:
Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead; even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.
The Crown represents something from the ancient past, a logically indefensible but emotionally salient symbol of something called a nation, something that gives its members meaning and happiness. However shitty the economy, or awful the prime minister, or ugly the discourse, the monarch is able to represent the nation all the time. In a living, breathing, mortal person.

The importance of this in a deeply polarized and ideological world, where fellow citizens have come to despise their opponents as enemies, is hard to measure. ....

.... When I grew up studying the Normans and the Plantagenets and the Tudors, they were not just artifacts of the distant past, but deeply linked to the present by the monarchy’s persistence and the nation’s thousand-year survival as a sovereign state — something no other European country can claim.

The Queen was crowned in the cathedral where kings and queens have been crowned for centuries, in the same ceremony, with the same liturgy. To have that kind of symbolic, sacred, mystical thread through time and space is something that is simply a gift from the past that the British people, in their collective wisdom, have refused to return. ....
Andrew Sullivan, "An Icon, Not An Idol," The Weekly Dish, Sept. 9, 2022.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

"From mirrored truth the likeness of the True"

A post at First Things sent me trying to find a Tolkien poem I don't remember ever having read. Several references say that Tolkien's poem Mythopoeia was written in response to C.S. Lewis's statement that myths were "lies breathed through silver." Tolkien argues that myths are "sub-creation," not lies. The poem is collected in an edition of Tolkien's Tree and Leaf. From Mythopoeia:
The heart of man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship one he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact.
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with elves and goblins, though we dared to build
gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sow the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which were made. ....

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced). ....

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends —
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and chat,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down. ....

In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day-illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True
Then looking on the Blessed Land 'twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God's picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice. ....

"We shall not look upon her like again"

Elizabeth II is dead at age 96. Alan Jacobs in "God Save the Queen":
The late Queen Elizabeth II played the hand she was dealt about as well as it could possibly have been played, and this required her to exercise virtues that few of our public figures today even know exist: dutifulness; reliability; silence; dignity; fidelity; devotion to God, family, and nation. We shall not look upon her like again; her death marks the end of a certain world. Its excellences, as well as its shortcomings, are worthy of our remembrance.

This may perhaps be a good time to listen to the small but sumptuous motet that Ralph Vaughan Williams composed for the Queen’s coronation:

Alan Jacobs, "God Save the Queen," Snakes and Ladders, Sept. 8, 2022.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022


Reviewing a book about a Tolkien character Jackson chose to leave out of his film version of LOTR:
....Wiley does, however, attempt to make sense of Tom’s place in Tolkien’s story. As he sees it, Bombadil is set directly against some of the vices of the fantasy epic’s villains, especially the corrupted wizard Saruman. Bombadil is completely immune to the Ring of Power’s temptations, has a more holistic approach to knowledge, and prefers “dominion” over the natural world, living in harmony with it. He thus stands in direct contrast to Saruman’s lust to “become a Power,” his willingness to “break a thing to find out what it is,” and his preference to subjugate and despoil the natural world. ....

...[T]hough Tolkien was famously averse to allegory, the last words Wiley includes in the book — a “postscript to the postscript” ... — might be of even greater significance: “The first time that Tom saved the hobbits it was at a tree, and the second time that he saved them it was at a tomb. For those pondering what Tom represents, that’s an even more encouraging thought.” (more)
Jack Butler, "Tom Bombadil: Mystery Solved?," NRO, Sept. 7, 2022.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Reading to a child

My father read to me. The landlady upstairs, Miss Kidder, read to me. My 5th grade teacher, Miss Burdick, read to us. I once told my father that I could hear better when he read. From Mark Bauerlein at First Things several years ago:
Everybody knows how important it is to read to toddlers. Apart from the emotional element, reading out loud every day during the pre-K years sends a child to kindergarten with a significantly larger vocabulary than a child without that experience possesses. ...
But many parents make the mistake of discontinuing reading when their children learn to read on their own, around ages 6–8. This is a mistake, for two reasons.

One, the emotional reason. As the latest reading poll from Scholastic points out, reported last week, kids want their parents to extend the practice. Fully 83 percent of 6–11-year-olds say they “loved” or “liked a lot” those reading sessions, but only 24 percent of 6–8-year-olds and 17 percent of 9–11-year-olds stated that their parents still conduct them.

And two, the intellectual reason. A child can understand words read aloud more easily than words in a book. A parent’s voice adds tone, cadence, volume, and other non-verbal markers of meaning, elements a child has to create on his own when he reads. This means that a child can understand a more advanced book with more sophisticated words and ideas if he hears it. Reading it by himself would be too stiff a challenge. .... (more)

Saturday, September 3, 2022

"Deep indeed run the roots of Evil"

About another book Tolkien didn't complete, this one a sequel to The Lord of the Rings taking place in the Fourth Age. Tolkien only wrote about thirteen pages.
“Deep indeed run the roots of Evil, and the black sap is strong in them. That tree will never be slain. Let men hew it as often as they may, it will thrust up shoots again as soon as they turn aside.”
It is with this depressing thought that Borlas begins his dialogue about the nature of evil with his interlocutor Saelon in The New Shadow, J.R.R. Tolkien’s scrapped sequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The text is brief, just the beginning of a novel that was meant to show “the inevitable boredom of Men with the good.” ....

...Tolkien believed we live in a sinful, fallen world that will never be perfected by human hands. It’s a concept reflected in his works; the whole of the Middle Earth writings is a saga about the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall of evil. Over and over again, Middle Earth is faced with a dark force, which Middle Eartheans band together to defeat, only to see another malevolent threat rise after. The lesson ought to be clear: At best, evil can be guarded against and squashed out when it first starts to rear its head. But the inhabitants of Middle Earth, like those of our world, tend not to go for that strategy, falling, instead, into complacency. As Tolkien noted in one of his letters, mankind has a “quick satiety with good.”

This satiety is bad enough when it leads to blindness to the rise of a new evil, but in The New Shadow, Tolkien sought to explore a more frightening outcome of it: What happens when people don’t just ignore the threat of evil, but forget why it is a threat to begin with. Set in one of the kingdoms of men, Gondor, 105 years after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sauron and his Orcs have been relegated to the stuff of legend while all the humans who fought them have died off. Only a few survive who have even the slightest memory of the War of the Ring from their childhood, and having known nothing but peace and prosperity for their entire lives, a restless sect of young Gondorians become fascinated by the evil figures of old. Boys run around committing acts of vandalism pretending to be Orcs, and there are whispers that a cult devoted to the old evil has begun. ....

Tolkien gave up on The New Shadow, saying in a letter that the story “proved both sinister and depressing.” (Writing on human nature often is.) What little he was able to complete serves as a reminder of the importance of engendering gratitude in every generation and of avoiding moral complacency. Never underestimate the ability of small wrongs to grow into something bigger. Hew the tree of evil at its first sign of growth. (more)
Alec Dent, "Socialism, Nationalism, and Tolkien," The Dispatch, Sept. 3, 2022.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Doubting ourselves

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” Considering the experience of Job:
.... Job’s friends thought they knew enough about God to predict how He would always behave. Job thought he was important enough to demand that God answer his protests. Neither doubted themselves. People who ask “Why do bad things happen to good people?” don’t doubt that they are one of those good people. That lack of doubt needs to be subverted. ....

Job doubted God’s goodness but, worse than that, the friends didn’t doubt God’s goodness because they didn’t doubt themselves. They had too much faith in themselves and too little real knowledge of God. What all these people have in common, including Job’s wife, is that they don’t doubt themselves. What they need, what God’s four chapters of unrelenting questions are meant to create, are doubts. G.K. Chesterton said that the best approach to doubters is be like God in the book of Job; keep asking them questions to destroy their faith in themselves:
In dealing with the arrogant assertor of doubt, it is not the right method to tell him to stop doubting. It is rather the right method to tell him to go on doubting, to doubt a little more, to doubt every day newer and wilder things in the universe, until at last, by some strange enlightenment, he may begin to doubt himself.
The problem with the modern doubter of God is not that he has doubt, but that he doubts the wrong thing. If he would doubt himself rather than God, he would be much better off. That’s what God’s questions are meant to create: doubts about ourselves. ....

In the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes of three children seeing “Aslan,” the enormous lion who symbolizes Christ. One of them asks if Aslan is a tame lion. They are told, “No, Aslan is not tame, but He is good.” That’s the God of Job. .... Our morality or religion doesn’t train Him to do the tricks we want from Him. ....

The problem for us is not the problem of evil. Only smug people so self-centered that they are out of touch with their depravity would assume that they are good, that the Almighty owes us protection if we’ve paid him off with the right morality or religion. The question is the problem of good. .... The conundrum: why do so many good things happen to us bad people?

Correction: there was one good person. Something bad happened to him. Why did bad things happen to Jesus, the good Person? So that God could bring good things to the rest of us bad people.

Once we’ve seen how big and good God is and how small and depraved we are, we can live content with unanswered questions. Then, we are ready for a better glimpse — a clearer look — of Him through that dark glass. And we know that whatever we find when we see Him face to face will not be tame, but He will be good. (more)
John Carpenter, "Objects of Doubt," Mere Fidelity, Sept. 2, 2022.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Saviour and Lord

A prayer from Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), among other things one of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible. He used this prayer in private devotions on Thursdays.

Satisfy us early with Thy mercy, O Lord.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who, as on this day, didst bring forth out of the waters the moving creature that hath life; The whale, and the winged fowl; And didst bless them, that they should be fruitful and multiply.—

…Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Thy glory above all the earth.

As Thou wast lifted up, so draw us unto Thee, O Lord; That we may set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

By the mighty mystery of Thy Holy Body and Thy Precious Blood, have mercy on us, O Lord.—

…I come unto God, believing that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

I know that my Redeemer liveth;
That he is the Christ, the Son of the living God — merciful, pure in heart, a peace-maker,…
That he is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world;
That he came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

I believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ I shall be saved, even as my fathers also.

I know that my skin, which suffereth corruption, shall rise again upon the earth.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
My heart shall rejoice in the Lord, because we have trusted in his holy name.

“Father; Saviour, Mediator; Intercessor, Redeemer; Two-fold Comforter; …
Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in Thee.
The Private Devotions and Manual for the Sick of Lancelot Andrews

“For the avoiding of controversies"

D.J. Marotta, an Anglican priest, writes at TGC about "Elegant Orthodoxy: The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion." He writes "Confessions like the Thirty-nine Articles are to be neither dismissed nor deified. We shouldn’t view our own doctrinal confessions as infallible.... They’ve stood the test of time, and we shouldn’t arrogantly think of ourselves as wiser than our forebears."

I first read the Thirty-nine articles in my late teens. The first and second sections should be found generally agreeable by any orthodox Christian. The third section is more particularly for Anglicans but also worth attention. Marotta:
The Anglican Church’s Thirty-nine Articles of Religion aren’t comprehensive. They don’t answer every theological or ecclesiastical question a follower of Jesus might have. But there’s an elegance in the Articles’ brevity and simplicity that both roots us in the historic church and is timely today.

The Thirty-nine Articles were originally composed as 42 articles by the English reformer Thomas Cranmer in 1553 to unify the Church of England doctrinally. In Cranmer’s own words, the Articles were composed “for the avoiding of controversies in opinions.” After multiple revisions, they reached their final form in 1571....

The first eight articles are the Catholic Articles. They generally represent what most Christians have believed throughout church history. These articles speak to Trinitarian theology, Christology, the holy Scriptures, and the historic creeds. The Reformed Articles (9–33) form the largest section. They reflect the great theological controversies of the 16th century, covering soteriology (9–18), ecclesiology (19–22), missiology (23–24), and sacramentology (25–33). The remaining Local Articles (34–39) deal with local traditions and provisions of the Church of England and how Christians should relate to their local neighbors and governments. ....

Each of the articles bears within itself timeless truth for following Christ, but I want to highlight two ways in which the historic doctrines found here are particularly timely today.

First, the Articles of Religion provide an essential anchor for the church by embodying what Lesslie Newbigin described as “the scandal of particularity.” Modern people are often outraged at the idea that Jesus is not one of many paths to God but is the singular, exclusive way of salvation. We live and minister in a therapeutic age that not only rejects the singular claim of sola fide, solus Christus but also rejects the need for any kind of salvation at all. But articles 6 (“Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scripture for Salvation”) and 18 (“Of Obtaining Eternal Salvation Only by the Name of Jesus”) affirm this scandalous doctrine clearly. At first blush, this may seem awkwardly out of touch with our cultural moment, but the truth of Christ’s exclusivity is what roots the church and allows our ministry to go deeper than felt needs.

Second, the Articles of Religion provide comfort for those who have been hurt by the church. Article 26 is titled “Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, Which Hinders Not the Effect of the Sacraments.” It’s worth reading in its entirety:
Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men. Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offenses; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.
.... In these ways, the Thirty-nine Articles don’t only provide us with a historically rooted, elegant orthodoxy. They also preach to us—sinful pastors and priests as well as their parishioners—the beautifully good news of the gospel. (more)
D.J. Marotta, "Elegant Orthodoxy: The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion," TGC, August 31, 2022.

September 1, 1939

When I was growing up everyone knew that references to "the war" meant World War II. The conflicts of the 1930s became a world war with Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. After "the war" I remember gradually becoming aware that I was surrounded by veterans, although often only by reading their obituaries.  When I started teaching in 1970 I had colleagues who had served, including one who, captured during the Bulge, had been liberated from a POW camp in Poland by the Soviets. Patrick Kurp:
Every year I privately observe certain public anniversaries, .... Chief among them, thanks mostly to my parents and others of their generation, is September 1:
“On average, twenty-seven thousand people perished on each day between the invasion of Poland (September 1, 1939) and the formal surrender of Japan (September 2, 1945)—bombed, shot, stabbed, blown apart, incinerated, gassed, starved, or infected. The Axis losers killed or starved to death about 80 percent of all those who died during the war. The Allied victors largely killed Axis soldiers; the defeated Axis, mostly civilians.”
Victor Davis Hanson adds that some 60 million people died in World War II, most of them now nameless and forgotten. .... (more)
Patrick Kurp, "Twenty-Seven Thousand People Perished Each Day," Anecdotal Evidence, Sept. 1, 2022.