Friday, June 30, 2023

"Where did you go?" "Out" "What did you do?" "Nothing"

I just got back from an excursion with my brother. We've been doing them for decades, usually for only three or four days, and usually over along Lake Michigan or west to the Mississippi. When asked what did you do and see, we don't have much to say: we sat, talked some, watched the water, ate well, and enjoyed doing nothing. This time we went to a hotel on Sheboygan's waterfront for a day, and then to Port Washington for two, again staying near the water. We have pretty much the same tastes and opinions. We also have a lot of shared history and shared memories — many of them memories shared with no one else. Good times.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Boundary lines

From "Christian Apologetics," delivered by C.S. Lewis “to an assembly of Anglican priests and youth leaders ... at Carmarthen [Wales] during Easter, 1945”:
...I insist: that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease either to be Anglican or to be Christian: and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession.

This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defence of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of another.

Even when we have thus ruled out teaching which is in direct contradiction to our profession, we must define our task still further. We are to defend Christianity itself — the faith preached by the Apostles, attested by the Martyrs, embodied in the Creeds, expounded by the Fathers. This must be clearly distinguished from the whole of what any one of us may think about God and Man. Each of us has his individual emphasis: each holds, in addition to the Faith, many opinions which seem to him to be consistent with it and true and important. And so perhaps they are. But as apologists it is not our business to defend them. We are defending Christianity; not 'my religion'. When we mention our personal opinions we must always make quite clear the difference between them and the Faith itself. St Paul has given us the model in I Corinthians 7:25: on a certain point he has 'no commandment of the Lord' but gives 'his judgement'. No one is left in doubt as to the difference in status implied. ....

Our business is to present that which is timeless (the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow) in the particular language of our own age. The bad preacher does exactly the opposite: he takes the ideas of our own age and tricks them out in the traditional language of Christianity. ....

To conclude—you must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one's own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every Ordination examination. .... (the essay)
C.S. Lewis, "Christian Apologetics," God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Two murders, seven suspects

Michael Dirda in "Classic mysteries are having a moment" suggests a reason: "Why? In part because wise readers, weary of constant social media chatter and discord, know they can always find quiet and refreshment in improbably complicated stories about murder." One of the books he enjoys was made into a very good movie. I've not read the book. I have a DVD of the film and it seems pretty faithful to to the book's plot as he describes it. Dirda on the book:
Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger was made into a notable 1946 film with Inspector Cockrill played by Alastair Sim (best known as Scrooge in a beloved screen version of “A Christmas Carol”). The book itself is a tour de force of misdirection.

Picture a World War II hospital out in the country, under constant stress as it cares for people wounded in the never-ending German bombing raids. Three principal doctors are doing their best to keep up: a sexually charismatic Harley Street surgeon, an elderly general practitioner whose life was blighted by the hit-and-run death of his only child, and a young anesthesiologist, now under a cloud following an operation that went wrong through no fault of his own. Assisting them are various nurses and young women who have volunteered. In between surgeries and changing bandages, love affairs have blossomed and wilted, promises have been made and hearts left broken.

One night an old gent is brought in after a bomb has destroyed the local pub. The next day, just as he’s being wheeled into the operating theater, he suddenly, half deliriously shouts, “Where have I heard that voice?” During the relatively simple procedure something goes inexplicably wrong with his breathing, and he dies on the table. Naturally, a pro forma investigation is required and, in due course Inspector Cockrill — imagine a British Columbo — realizes that the patient has actually been murdered. But how? By whom? And why? In a tragic sense, the war itself is the ultimate cause.

Only seven flawed but essentially likable people ever saw the old man, yet one of them must be the killer. As Cockrill’s investigation continues, the murderer strikes again, this time carefully leaving the victim’s body laid out in a soiled and torn hospital gown. .... (more)
Michael Dirda, "Classic mysteries are having a moment. Here are a few of my favorites," The Washington Post, June 16, 2023.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Wheat and tares

Alan Jacobs is reading Augustine's The City of God, blogging as he reads. He has reached the end of Book XVIII, from which:
...[W]e have brought our discussion to this point, and we have shown sufficiently, as it seemed to me, what is the development in this mortal condition of the two cities, the earthly and the Heavenly, which are mingled together from the beginning to the end of their history. One of them, the earthly city, has created for herself such false gods as she wanted, from any source she chose — even creating them out of men — in order to worship them with sacrifices. The other city, the Heavenly City on pilgrimage in this world, does not create false gods. She herself is the creation of the true God, and she herself is to be his true sacrifice. Nevertheless, both cities alike enjoy the good things, or are afflicted with the adversities of this temporal state, but with a different faith, a different expectation, a different love, until they are separated by the final judgement, and each receives her own end, of which there is no end. ....
.... There must be a great divorce between the two cities, then, because they are driven by “a different faith, a different expectation, a different love.” Thus they must be “separated by the final judgement, and each receives her own end, of which there is no end.” Each receives, that is, the end which it has chosen.

But that final judgment of the two cities, that great divorce, is yet to come, and in the meantime — for the time being — “both cities alike enjoy the good things, or are afflicted with the adversities of this temporal state.”.... We are eschatologically two opposing cities, but topologically linked and paired. If we must be separated one day, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have common cause to make today. Temporary alliances are not as meaningful as eternal fellowship, but they are not meaningless either. We live in the midst of this paradox and cannot except through illusion escape it. (more)
Alan Jacobs, "Cities 8: parallels," Homebound Symphony, June 19, 2023.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Not Christianity at all

My denomination experienced the conflict between "modernism" and "fundamentalism" in the early 20th century. My grandfather, I think, was among the "modernists." Unlike many Protestant denominations the conflict didn't result in a split, but it did result in many prospective pastors choosing to attend a seminary other than ours.

I identify with Machen's argument. From the Introduction to J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism:
...[T]he great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called "modernism" or "liberalism." Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter, in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as "liberalism" is regarded as "liberal" only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so various in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism—that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity. The word "naturalism" is here used in a sense somewhat different from its philosophical meaning. In this non-philosophical sense it describes with fair accuracy the real root of what is called, by what may turn out to be a degradation of an originally noble word, "liberal" religion. ....

What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age?

It is this problem which modern liberalism attempts to solve. Admitting that scientific objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion—against the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, and of redemption through His death and resurrection—the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting "the essence of Christianity." ....

...[I]t may appear that what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category. It may appear further that the fears of the modern man as to Christianity were entirely ungrounded, and that in abandoning the embattled walls of the city of God he has fled in needless panic into the open plains of a vague natural religion only to fall an easy victim to the enemy who ever lies in ambush there. ....

...[O]ur principal concern just now is to show that the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity, so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came upon the scene. In trying to remove from Christianity everything that could possibly be objected to in the name of science, in trying to bribe off the enemy by those concessions which the enemy most desires, the apologist has really abandoned what he started out to defend. Here as in many other departments of life it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending. ....

In setting forth the current liberalism, now almost dominant in the Church, over against Christianity, we are animated, therefore, by no merely negative or polemic purpose; on the contrary, by showing what Christianity is not we hope to be able to show what Christianity is, in order that men may be led to turn from the weak and beggarly elements and have recourse again to the grace of God.
Christianity and Liberalism is now in the public domain, and can be downloaded as a pdf here. There is also a new edition with a foreward by Carl Trueman that can be ordered at Amazon.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Two religions

J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism was published one-hundred years ago, in 1923. The "liberalism" referred to in the title is theological, not political, liberalism. I haven't read the book, but probably should. Many of its admirers think it even more relevant today. Some quotations from the book selected by some of those admirers:
  • "Christ died" — that is history; "Christ died for our sins"— that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.
  • The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried"—​ that is history. "He loved me and gave Himself for me"—​ that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church.
  • Involuntary organizations ought to be tolerant, but voluntary organizations, so far as the fundamental purpose of their existence is concerned, must be intolerant or else cease to exist.
  • For us Jesus does not merely place His fingers in the ears and say, “Be opened”; for us He does not merely say “Arise and walk.” For us He has done a greater thing–for us He died.
  • The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from "controversial" matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.
  • In no branch of science would there be any real advance if every generation started fresh with no dependence upon what past generations have achieved. Yet in theology, vituperation of the past seems to be thought essential to progress. And upon what base slanders the vituperation is based! After listening to modern tirades against the great creeds of the Church, one receives rather a shock when one turns to the Westminster Confession, for example, or to that tenderest and most theological of books, the Pilgrim's Progress of John Bunyan, and discovers that in doing so one has turned from shallow modern phrases to a "dead orthodoxy" that is pulsating with life in every word. In such orthodoxy there is life enough to set the whole world aglow with Christian love.
  • It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another; the blight of pragmatism had never fallen upon his soul. Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life. Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.
  • According to Christian belief, Jesus is our Saviour, not by virtue of what He said, not even by virtue of what He was, but by what He did. He is our Saviour, not because He has inspired us to live the same kind of life that He lived, but because He took upon Himself the dreadful guilt of our sins and bore it instead of us on the cross. Such is the Christian conception of the Cross of Christ.
Christianity and Liberalism is now in the public domain, and can be downloaded as a pdf here. There is also a new edition with a foreward by Carl Trueman that can be ordered at Amazon.

Friday, June 16, 2023


trust: Firm belief in the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing; confidence or reliance.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

I used to tell students that the reason stores didn't need to lock everything away requiring customers to ask for access was because most people were honest — could be trusted not to steal — meaning law enforcement only had to deal with the few. That was true then. From "The Trust Crisis":
.... American society is losing its capacity to trust.

According to poll after poll, we’re losing our trust in government, the economy, media, a slew of institutions, and one another. Pew estimates that in 1973, 47 percent of Americans believed that most Americans could be trusted. Today, it’s down to 32 percent. That 15-point drop explains a lot: Our political division and extremism, our rejection of faith and tradition, and our social isolation are connected to waning trust. ....

We’re not Colombia or Peru, where fewer than 10 percent of the population believes that “most people can be trusted.” But we’re sliding in the wrong direction. And the varied expressions of our low-trust crisis are loud and painful.

Americans now use politics to tell friend from foe. And we’re not just politically polarized. We’re becoming ideologically segregated. Data collected by Trafalgar last year show conservatives moving out of Democrat-dominant areas at record numbers. In 2020, Pew found that nearly half the country had stopped talking to someone because of a political disagreement (45 percent for conservative Republicans and a full 60 percent for liberal Democrats). ....

Trust had been eroding for decades in America by the time the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center found that the percentage of respondents in its General Social Survey who said “you can’t be too careful in dealing with people” went from 50.3 percent in 1972 to 63.9 percent in 2018. ....

As faith is a near synonym of trust, it’s obvious that as Americans are becoming less religious, they are also becoming less trusting. In 2021, Gallup found that American “membership in houses of worship” fell “below 50 percent for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend.” Involvement in a church, mosque, or synagogue is not only a vital form of voluntary association. It can be, like the family, a source of moral instruction that inspires man to be kind and trusting to his fellow man. .... (more, but likely requiring a subscription)
Abe Greenwald, "The Trust Crisis," Commentary, June, 2023.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

An enemy of irrationality and lazy thinking

If you don't know her books and essays, you should. From "The Remarkable Dorothy L. Sayers":
.... Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957), author of sixteen novels, ten plays, six translations, and twenty-four works of nonfiction, was an accomplished writer in multiple genres. Many admirers of C.S. Lewis have heard of her; she usually merits a handful of page references in the index of his biographies. Another class of reader — the fan of paperback mystery novels — knows Sayers as the creator of the memorable, near-perfect Lord Peter Wimsey. Yet again, dramatists might have performed her play The Zeal of Thy House. It is a testament to the breadth of her career that so many different readers know her name, if not all her works. ....

Sayers had a hard-hitting, humorous, competent style, and reading her would benefit many Christians today, particularly those inclined to use their faith as a cover for sloppy thinking. She had little patience for masking inability with piety, and her writing bears out her commitment to quality craftsmanship. ....

Her first novel, Whose Body?, was a murder mystery introducing Lord Peter Wimsey, an elegant gentleman-detective. Peter is brought in to solve the case of a dead body, lying in a bathtub and wearing nothing to help with identification but a pince-nez. He does so with suavity and humor. After some initial hurdles, Whose Body? came to the attention of an American publisher, who brought Sayers to the attention of the British market from the long way around. A second novel, Clouds of Witness, followed shortly thereafter.

Sayers would go on to write twelve novels, numerous short stories, and even a few faux histories about her whimsical hero. Wimsey, in turn, transported her from surviving month to month to a stable-enough income to support herself and others. ....

...Sayers had hit upon a thesis that was to drive both her fiction and nonfiction Christian works. Christianity was interesting and not only interesting; it was the best story ever told. This was not a new idea to Christendom, as anyone familiar with G.K. Chesterton knows, but Sayers gave it a twist. If the story of Christianity really was the most remarkable of tales, and if Jesus was a dangerous firebrand, then it was the responsibility of Christians to keep the romance alive. Yet the opposite had happened. Overuse of ecclesiastical language, stale curates, and excessive talk of Christ being meek and mild had made the Lion of Judah boring. She was blunt on this point. “Nobody cares…nowadays that Christ was ‘scourged, railed upon, buffeted, mocked and crucified’ because all those words have grown hypnotic with ecclesiastical use.” But if one wrote that Christ was “spiked upon the gallows like an owl on a barn-door,” this would not only get people’s attention, it would recall what actually happened to Him. ....

...I have avoided focusing on Sayers’s personal relationships. They are surprising at times and certainly worth noting, but she would have wanted her works to come first as the best expression of herself. Every one of her writing stages — the novelist, the Christian, and the scholar — exhibit something of her humorous personality, boldness in controversy, and her willingness to put her intellect at the service of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. .... [S]he knew irrationality and lazy thinking when she saw it; I suspect that she would have been as intimidating an interviewer as ever [C.S.] Lewis was in his Oxford rooms. .... (more)
Lindsey Scholl, "The Remarkable Dorothy L. Sayers," C.S. Lewis Institute, June 7, 2018.

The times we are in

Alan Jacobs responding to criticism by someone who thinks he doesn't know "what time it is":
.... But I think I do know. It’s time to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. It’s time to seek the good of the city in which we live as pilgrims. It’s time to preach the Gospel in season and out of season. All these metaphors of disaster are just distractions from our undramatic daily calling. “The rest is not our business.”
Alan Jacobs, "absolutizing (slight return)," The Homebound Symphony, June 14, 2023.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Somewhere outside

"Apologetics in an Age of Despair" begins with a reference to C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength:
...[T]he character Mark describes his life as “the dust and broken bottles, the heap of old tin cans, the dry and choking places.” Along with his wife, Mark functions as a personification of modernity, and his beliefs represent many secular people today. Yet through the events of the plot, Mark becomes awakened to transcendence. While imprisoned and subjected to psychological torture, he has a profound moral experience:
There rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight. Something else—something he vaguely called the “Normal”—apparently existed. He had never thought about it before. But there it was—solid, massive, with a shape of its own, almost like something you could touch, or eat, or fall in love with. It was all mixed up with Jane and fried eggs and soap and sunlight and the rooks cawing at Cure Hardy and the thought that, somewhere outside, daylight was going on at that moment.
Gavin Ortlund, "Apologetics in an Age of Despair," TGC, June 12, 2023.

Monday, June 12, 2023

"Our Father"

Chad Bird tweeted:
If I call God “God” I speak truthfully.
If I call God “Lord” I speak submissively.
If I call God “King” I speak servilely.

But if I dare to call God “my Father,” I speak with a brassy audacity, chutzpah, that is shockingly familiar and intimate. So it seems anyway.

You dare to call the Master of the Universe “Father”?
You dare to call the One who controls heaven and hell “Father”?
You call the Omnipotent one “Father”?
Who do you think you are?

It is difficult to imagine a more audacious act than to stand before the Creator of the world and to name him “Father.” And mean it. And not only to mean it, but to act and speak as a child acts and speaks before a loving and doting Dad.

It’s shocking. It’s exhilarating.

And it’s beautiful beyond words.

But here’s a secret: it’s not really chutzpah. It’s not some brassy boldness that we work ourselves into, nor it is gained by swallowing a bottle of liquid spiritual courage, as it were.

To call God “Father” is simply to live in the space which Jesus created. To move from residing far from God as his enemy; or on the other side of town from him as a stranger; or down the street as an acquaintance; or in an adjoining house as a servant; and to move into our own bedroom as a child in his family. To wake up in the morning and see our Father sipping a cup of coffee and saying, “Good morning, my child,” as we respond, “Good morning, Father.”

You see, when we live in this house, when we move into the room built by Jesus, we inhabit the home not merely of a Master or Lord or King, but the one who’s given us his name and made us his own, now and forever.

“Our Father”: two of the most amazing words ever uttered.
Chad Bird, "The Audacity of Calling God “Father”," Twitter.

"There is only the trying"

Responding to critics who find conservatism futile, Alan Jacobs:
.... And can we really “no longer conserve”? To conserve is surely to inherit or discover something of value and then attempt (a) keep it in good condition when you can, (b) repair it when it needs repair, and (c) pass it along to the next generation. I’ve been doing that my entire adult life, in a thousand ways. I’ve tried to teach my son the manners, morals, and convictions that I learned from the family I married into. I hope he’ll teach them to his children. I have taught and written in defense and celebration of the great books that previous generations preserved for me; of certain strenuous but also illuminating and life-giving ways of reading; of the rich inheritance of liturgy and hymnody that the churches in my life have introduced me to; of the world-centering and world-transforming story of Jesus Christ. I hope that those I have taught will receive all this as their inheritance and in their turn preserve and transmit it. Many, many others I know have done the same work. Is this not conserving? ....

Are our circumstances difficult? In some ways, sure. I’m sympathetic with T.S. Eliot’s view:
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
But at many points in the history of the traditions I have gratefully received, the conditions seemed (indeed were) even less propitious. And yet the faithfulness of those who loved those traditions was not exercised in vain.
Alan Jacobs, "absolutizing and abstraction, conservation," The Homebound Symphony, June 12, 2023

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Pride leadeth to the fall

Dorothy L. Sayers:
...[T]he head and origin of all sin is the basic sin of Superbia or Pride. .... It is the sin of trying to be as God. It is the sin which proclaims that Man can produce out of his own wits, and his own impulses and his own imagination the standards by which he lives: that Man is fitted to be his own judge. ....
C.S. Lewis:
...[T]he essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison. It was through pride that the Devil became the Devil: Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.

From "God is Opposed to the Proud":

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  James 4:6
Think for a moment about how God’s enemies are defined in this verse. The proud. He does not say God opposes the murderers, the adulterers, the liars, or the pedophiles. He says God opposes the proud. Of course, he is opposed to murderers, adulterers, liars, and pedophiles. But there is something deeper to all of those sins and it is something that is present even in people who aren’t in the class of murderers, adulterers, liars and pedophiles. It’s pride.

I can think good thoughts of myself sometimes because I have not done anything terrible in the world’s eyes. And yet to read that God opposes the proud reminds me of my sin and the seriousness with which God takes it. It is the proud that He is opposed to. It is my pride that He is opposed to. It is me in my pride that He is opposed to.

I need to know that. I need that reminder everyday, that God opposes the proud and that I have pride in my heart. I need it so that I can be driven to remember the Gospel of the cross everyday, and so that by His grace I can be humbled.
Ryley Heppner, "God is Opposed to the Proud," TGC (Canada), June 6, 2023.

Saturday, June 10, 2023


Timothy Carney:
Humans are tribal creatures. We are made to belong to things — families, churches, communities, clubs, subcultures, teams, et cetera. Individuals deprived of these natural sources of belonging and connection will seek a tribe in some other way.

In Alienated America in 2019, I argued that America’s deficit of belonging explained so many of our current social maladies. It explained our retreat from marriage, our falling birthrates, our deaths of despair, and our contentious politics....

Young men join street gangs, white supremacist groups, and ISIS because they need belonging, and society doesn’t give it to them in healthier ways. In a far less acute manner, I argued, Americans join MAGA, Occupy Wall Street, and the #Resistance out of a deep need for a tribe. ....

Sociologist Miloš Broćić finds that “alienation in the forms of meaninglessness and social isolation predicts participating in both radical and reactionary movements.”

Broćić relies on the National Survey of Youth and Religion, which includes surveys and interviews of more than 3,000 teenagers and their parents from 2003 through 2013.

The kids were asked if they generally “feel alone and misunderstood” and if life felt “meaningless” to them. Children who felt alone or meaningless were far more likely to participate in protests. Specifically, “meaninglessness and social isolation were the strongest predictors for Occupy Wall Street.” ....

If you want to keep your children out of antifa or insurrections, bring them to church or put them on a good baseball team. If you think that our problem is tribalism, you’re missing the fact that we all need something to belong to.
Timothy P. Carney, "Social isolation causes extremism," Washington Examiner, June 9, 2023.

We Believe....

Thomas Kidd has posted "Confessions of Faith and the Baptist Tradition" responding to Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, a Southern Baptist church that is in trouble with its denomination. Warren argues that Baptist “unity has always been based on a common mission, not a common confession.” Kidd pretty thoroughly refutes that contention: "The idea that Baptists have found unity in “mission” and not in confessions crumbles under an avalanche of historic evidence to the contrary."

Kidd notes what should be obvious:
Historically, Baptists have intuitively understood that confessions foster unity by setting up ecclesiological and doctrinal fences. The truth is, all churches use doctrinal tests to maintain denominational boundaries, whether they are written ones or not. For example, what would be the point of keeping a church in fellowship with a Baptist denomination if it rejected believer’s baptism? Or if its pastor was an agnostic? Would critics of confessions really say that we are obliged to maintain fellowship with churches regardless of what they believe?

All social, political, and religious groups have to set some limits, or they’d become incoherent and pointless. No one wants to join a group that is for nothing.
I belong to one of the older (albeit smaller) Baptist denominations. This is an early Seventh Day Baptist confession of belief:
Expose of Sentiments
1833, revised in 1852

Resolved: that this expose is not adopted as having any binding force in itself, but simply as an exhibition of the views generally held by the denomination.

We believe that there is one God. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, and of Jesus Christ his Son. We believe that there is a union existing between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that they are equally divine and equally entitled to our adoration.

We believe that "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life" That he took on Him our nature, and was born of the Virgin Mary; that He offered Himself a sacrifice for sin; that He suffered death upon the cross, was buried, and at the expiration of three days and three nights He rose from the dead; that He ascended to the right hand of God, and is the Mediator between God and Man—from whence He will come to judge and reward every man according to the deeds done in the body.

We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are given by inspiration, and contain the whole of God's revealed will, and that they are the only infallible guide to our faith and duty.

We believe man was made upright and good, and had ability to remain so; but that through temptation, he was induced to violate the law of God, and thus fell from his uprightness, and came under the curse of the law, and became a subject of death; and that all his posterity have inherited from him depravity and death. We believe that the depravity of man is in his will and affections, and that it is such as unfits him for the Kingdom of God, or the society of holy beings, and disinclines him to come to Christ, or receive his truth.

We believe that by the humiliations and sufferings of Christ, he made an atonement, and became the justification for the sins of the whole world; but that the nature or character of this atonement is such as not to admit of justification without faith, or salvation without holiness. We believe that regeneration is essential to salvation; that it consists in a renovation of the heart, —hatred to sin and love to God; and that it produces a reformation of life, in whatever is known to be sinful, and a willing conformity to the authority and precepts of Christ.

As to good works, we believe that they are not the ground of a believer's hope; but that they are fruit essential to a justified state, and necessary as evidence of the new birth.

We believe that there will be a general resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.

We believe that a gospel church is composed of such persons, and such only, as have given satisfactory evidence of regeneration and have submitted to gospel baptism.

We believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion in water, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, of a believer in Christ, upon the profession of the gospel faith, and that no other water baptism is valid.

We believe that there will be a day of judgment for both the righteous and the wicked, and that Jesus Christ shall judge every man according to his works.

We believe that the righteous will be admitted into life eternal, and that the wicked shall receive eternal damnation.

We believe that the law of God, contained in the Decalogue, and recorded in the 20th chapter of Exodus, to be morally and religiously binding upon all mankind.

We believe it is the duty of all men, and especially the Church of God, to observe religiously the seventh day of the week as commanded in the fourth precept of the Decalogue, [which in common with other days of the week, scripturally commences and ends with sunset].

We believe it is the duty of all the members of the church to commemorate the sufferings of Christ, in partaking of the Lord's Supper, as often as the church shall deem it expedient, and their circumstances admit. As we deem it unscriptural to admit, to the membership of the church, any person who does not yield obedience to the commandments of God, and the institutions of the gospel, or who would be a subject of church discipline, were he a member of the church, so we deem it equally improper to receive such at the Lord's table, or to partake with them of the Lord's Supper.
The current Seventh Day Baptist "Statement of Belief" can be found here.

Friday, June 9, 2023

"Where the weary shall toil no more"

A friend recently linked to a song about West Virginia (where I was born) that reminded me of a chorus sung at my mother's funeral by a male quartet. Mom was born and grew up in West Virginia. "Beautiful Hills" isn't about West Virginia, it is about Heaven (not "almost Heaven"), but it was appropriate. The pages below are from The Milton College Carmina (1928) and the music was harmonized by J.M. Stillman, a professor at that college, my alma mater. (the images can be enlarged)

Mocking the "man-god"

Carl Trueman uses the newest controversy about Monty Python's The Life of Bryan, to illustrate "Blasphemy Then and Now":
The original movie was controversial because it mocked the God-man, the central truth of the Christian faith. Now it is controversial because it mocks the man-god, the central truth of our contemporary world. That it is “Loretta,” not Brian, who is now the most offensive character in the story is indicative of a sea-change in our cultural understanding of what is holy and what laws must therefore not be transgressed.

Opponents of blasphemy then and of blasphemy now share something in common: a concern to protect that which is sacred. But that is where the similarity begins and ends. Old-style blasphemy involved desecrating God because it was God who was sacred. Today’s blasphemy involves suggesting that man is not all-powerful, that he cannot create himself in any way he chooses, that he is subject to limits beyond his choice and beyond his control. That such blasphemy is obviously and undeniably true does not make it less offensive to the modern secular priests and priestesses whose power depends upon guarding our culture from reality. Ironically, John Cleese has now been indicted for blasphemy under both regimes. Regardless of where one stands on the merits of Life of Brian, his constant state of disfavor would perhaps suggest that he is actually an exceptionally competent comedian. (more)
Carl R. Trueman, "Blasphemy Then and Now," First Things, June 8, 2023.

Untidy thinking

John Wilson refers to two of my favorite films:
One of the most memorable lines in Murder, My Sweet, the 1944 film based on Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell, My Lovely, is delivered by the insidious psychic healer and blackmailer Jules Amthor, speaking contemptuously to the protagonist, private detective Philip Marlowe: “Your thinking is untidy, like most so-called thinking today.” Amthor is played by the actor Otto Kruger, whose role here recalls his performance in Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942). In both films, he expresses a sophisticated, sneering disdain for the untidy quality of what we can without sentimentality describe as “ordinary life.” Reality is messy rather than tidy. ....

Though it hasn’t been that long since Wendy and I re-watched Murder, My Sweet (with its terrific cast), we just might revisit it again soon. And a reread of Chandler’s canonical novels (not including the sadly diminished work from his last years) will also be due fairly soon....
John Wilson, "Messy Reality," Prufork, June 9, 2023.

Thursday, June 8, 2023


I'm not a cynic about politics, but skepticism is always justified. Theodore Dalrymple is here commenting on British politics, but his generalizations are applicable to any democratic polity:
The permanent possibility of demagoguery is the price that must be paid for universal suffrage. Politicians, if they desire office (and few do not desire it), must pander to electorates who may not be very logical, consistent, or well-informed. People want medicines without side effects and laws without unintended consequences, or even foreseeable ones. Demagoguery creates problems, then worsens them with the solutions it proposes to what it has caused in the first place.

Demagoguery thrives in crisis....

The quest for office easily trumps the national interest in any case—and demagoguery is the natural consequence of a political class that, taken as a whole, is without intellect, scruple, or character.
Theodore Dalrymple, "Demagoguery in the U.K.," City Journal, June 6, 2023.

Where the Church grows

From "A Church Grows in Brooklyn":
.... In China, my father’s family was converted by Anglican missionaries from England, while my mother’s family was converted by Methodist missionaries from the U.S. So before they ever came to America, they figured it must be a very religious nation. But when they arrived, they were surprised to see that a country built on freedom of religion was slowly becoming free of it. ....

If I had never strayed from Sunset Park and had no access to the internet, I wouldn’t have guessed that Christianity is supposedly in decline in America. Preachers both on the coasts and in our heartland express worries over a sea of gray hair in pews and lament that among younger generations, Christianity has a negative connotation.

But Christianity is thriving if you know where to look. People say immigrants do the jobs that native-born Americans don’t want to do. Going to church is one of them. Over two-thirds of today’s immigrants to the United States are Christians....

Christianity is booming in China, against all odds. While getting precise statistics on religion out of China is almost impossible, the number of Chinese Christians has grown from an estimated 6 million in the 1980s to anywhere from 38 million to 120 million today, even while the CCP tries to crack down on the spread of what it considers a Western influence.

Earlier this year, my father became a naturalized American citizen. When I asked him how his experience in the U.S. differs from China, he said, “In China, the people are not free to hear the Word, but they still hunger for it. In America, they are free to hear, yet they choose not to accept it.” (more)
Sheluyang Peng, "A Church Grows in Brooklyn," The Free Press, June 8, 2023.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023


From Anecdotal Evidence, Those Both Dead and Alive Who Did It for You:
Now that it is over it seems to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all. For some of our units it was easy, but in this special sector where I am now our troops faced such odds that our getting ashore was like my whipping Joe Louis down to a pulp. . .
Note Ernie Pyle’s use of the first-person plural – “we” took the beach, “our units,” “our troops.” Pyle could assume his readers – tens of thousands of them back home -- shared a unanimity of purpose with the troops on June 6, 1944 -- D-Day. At a symbolic though not trivial level, Pyle and his readers were invading France, retaking Europe, defeating Hitler. Such a consensus – call it reflexive patriotism – seems impossible today. On June 6, an estimated 4,414 Allied soldiers were killed, of whom 2,501 were Americans. The rest were from the United Kingdom and Canada. Pyle continues his thought:
In this column I want to tell you what the opening of the second front in this one sector entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.
.... Pyle covered the war from December 1940 until April 1945. He filed dispatches from Great Britain, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and the Pacific. On April 18, 1945, he was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on the island of Ie Shima near Okinawa. .... (more)
The quotations are from Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches

Patrick Kurp, "Those Both Dead and Alive Who Did It for You," Anecdotal Evidence, June 6, 2023.

Monday, June 5, 2023


From a review of a new translation of Epictetus:
The first-century Stoic philosopher and teacher Epictetus was an enslaved person who succeeded in getting an education and, eventually, his freedom. Images of freedom, slavery and self-belonging (oikoiesis) recur in his teaching. ‘A slave is always praying to be set free,’ he writes. .... Slavery powered the Roman Empire; in the first century CE, between 10 and 20 per cent of the population were enslaved at any one time. But Epictetus was not an abolitionist in a political sense. Like other ancient philosophers, he assumed that slavery was normal and would always exist. He never suggests that those who claimed to own their fellow human beings were committing a moral evil. His aim was to free others from the ‘tyrannic sway’ not of literal enslavers, but of the emotional disturbance caused by false belief. ....

.... For the Stoics...the true good is individual human excellence or virtue – aretē in Greek, or virtus in Latin. Such excellence, for the Stoics, could be attained only by aligning your own will with the universe, nature or God (the Stoics often spoke of a singular deity). The central theme in the teaching of Epictetus is that we can and must choose to stop paying attention to things we have no control over. ‘Some things are up to us and some are not,’ the Handbook begins – foreshadowing the teachings of modern recovery programmes and the Serenity Prayer, with its distinction between the things we can change and the things we cannot. ....

How useful is Epictetus’ version of Stoicism as a tool for getting through life? .... It may be helpful for coping with the annoyance, frustration and boredom of daily life. .... This is a useful principle to bear in mind if your train or plane is delayed by several hours and then cancelled. It can be soothing to remember that there is nothing unusual about such occurrences, which are beyond your control, allowing you to stay calm and align your will with that of the universe. ....

The teachings of Epictetus are rather less useful when it comes to interactions with other people. ‘If you kiss a child of yours,’ he says, ‘or your wife, tell yourself that you’re kissing a human being, because then you won’t be upset if they die.’ .... (more)
This is an interesting insight into a pagan philosophy that influenced some early Christian thinkers, useful to an extent, but far from sufficient.

Emily Wilson, "I have gorgeous hair," London Review of Books, June 1, 2023.

Good intentions

In "They Meant Well, Mostly" Kevin Williamson on really destructive, influential, books and beliefs:
...The Population Bomb
[was a] “controversial, hastily written, sloppy, error-filled, ridiculous, racist, eugenicist, and forthrightly authoritarian 1968 polemic” that remains a powerful force on the thinking of political movements ranging from abortion rights to anti-war activism.... The Population Bomb was an exercise in vulgar Malthusian economics, rooted in the erroneous assumption that how we produce a given product or commodity today is how we will always do it, ignoring the ways in which scarcity encourages innovation and investment. Paul Ehrlich, the book’s author, predicted with unassailable confidence and utter contempt for disagreement that the United Kingdom would see widespread famine by the end of the 20th century, and that “in the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

Asked why he got it so wrong, Ehrlich—who remains invincibly unembarrassed by his risible prophesying—said that nobody could have predicted the increase in food production worldwide....

The Population Bomb was a very bad book—somewhere between incompetently written and wicked—but it had, and continues to have, enormous influence on certain quarters of intellectual life. It is not the only book of its kind.

Millions of people around the world believe that there exists a thing called “multiple-personality disorder,” which doesn’t actually exist, at least in the version stuck in the popular imagination. The idea much of the world has about “multiple-personality disorder” is largely based on a very famous 50-year-old book, Sybil. The book’s influence was amplified by the 1976 made-for-TV movie based on it and starring Sally Field. Sybil fell somewhere between very bad journalism and outright hoax—a wildly profitable hoax, with the first run of the book numbering 400,000 copies. The problems with its claims have been known and understood for many years. But that hasn’t done very much, if anything, to reduce the power of the Sybil-style “multiple-personality disorder” myth. ....

The environmental movement had its Silent Spring, which, like Sybil, was somewhere between incompetent and fraudulent. The indigenous-peoples’ movement had I, Rigoberta Menchu, a work of fiction masquerading as memoir. A generation of Middle Eastern scholars and activists was deeply moved by Edward Said’s account of his hardscrabble Palestinian childhood, which he invented. Every story you’ve ever heard based on the recovery of repressed memories is a lie. ....

.... People went to prison as a result of some of these inventions. And there are millions of people who died of malaria who didn’t have to, thanks, at least in part, to Silent Spring. We have made energy policy, environmental policy, population-control policy, medical policy, economic policy, criminal-justice policy—based on lies. We have done so for decades and will do so for decades more.

Remind me: Which road is it that is paved with good intentions? .... (more)
Kevin Williamson, "They Meant Well, Mostly," The Dispatch, June 5, 2023.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

“Two nations divided by a common language”

From Tomiwa Owolade in an article subtitled "the richness of our language is under threat like never before – and an imported culture is to blame":
.... American English has, since the American Revolutionary period of the 18th century, been different from British English in terms of vocabulary, accent and spelling. They say “garbage”, we say “rubbish”. They go on “vacation”, we go on “holiday”. They emphasize, and we emphasise. The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (probably apocryphally) described us as “two nations divided by a common language”. ....

.... English is the world’s lingua franca (as it were). It’s an official language of 67 of the world’s 195 countries, as well as the UN, the World Trade Organisation, the International Criminal Court, Nato and Eurovision. It’s the international language of business, finance, technology and sport – in fact, anyone who needs to be widely understood. Volodymyr Zelensky tweets two versions of every statement he makes: the first in Ukrainian, the second in English. The latter are always shared far more widely. There are more non-native English speakers in the world than native: 20 per cent speak English, but only five per cent as a first language. Above all, an estimated 60 per cent of all internet content is in English. If you are born as a native English speaker, you have won a raffle ticket. ....

I consume so much American culture. I love American films, music and novels – this is true of countless other British people. The fact that some American words and phrases have been internalised by us makes perfect sense. But we should be wary of too close a connection. As the British writer Matthew Engel put it in his 2017 book That’s the Way it Crumbles: The American Conquest of English: “The child will have eaten its mother, but only because the mother insisted” – by which he means that by 2120, if we acquiesce to its influence, American English will have consumed the British form. The distinctive richness of British English – which is not a homogenous thing, but a wonderful mosaic of dialects and accents – will flatten under the influence of a globalised language experienced through mass culture and politics.

Language is how we make sense of ourselves. Lose it, and we risk being utterly estranged from ourselves. ....
Tomiwa Owolade, "How American jargon infiltrated British English – and our politics," The Telegraph, June 4, 2023.

"Attercop! Attercop! Down you drop..."

I just finished my annual application of Miss Muffet's Revenge, a very effective spider killer/repellent that lasts for three or four months. I use it outside on my balcony spraying every surface a spider might cross.

I readily admit that spiders are generally beneficial, consuming insects and themselves providing food for birds. But I prefer they don't occupy the same living space I do.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Memorial Day on Washington Island, Wisconsin

Marjorie Bass sent me this from the bulletin of the Memorial Day service on Washington Island this year.

Friday, June 2, 2023

In just one hundred years

From a Tweet:
One of the most remarkable facts about Christianity is the speed by which it spread over the Roman world. Think about it: in about AD 25, all we see is an oddball preacher in the Judean desert and his slightly younger relative in a backwater Jewish village named Nazareth. That's it.

Fast-forward a hundred years, to AD 125, and we find this:
  1. There are churches scattered through Judea, Syria, Asia Minor, Rome, and most likely elsewhere in the empire, such as Egypt.
  2. A Roman governor in Bithynia (northern Asia Minor) named Pliny has written to Emperor Trajan to complain about Christians. He has arrested, interrogated, and tortured some of them. And he says they comprise every age and class, men and women. Moreover, whole villages and rural districts are being (in his words) "infected through contact with this wretched cult."
  3. Ignatius, the bishop of the church in Antioch (the most important city in the Roman province of Syria), writes letters to seven different churches, across the Roman empire, while he is on his way to be martyred in Rome.
  4. Emperor Domitian, who reigned over Rome from AD 81-96, has interrogated blood relatives of Jesus on the suspicion that they are members of another, rival royal house that might subvert his power.
  5. In AD 64, there are enough Christians in Rome that Emperor Nero rounded them up as scapegoats and had them torn to pieces by dogs, crucified, and burned alive. Writing about this, Tacitus says of Christianity, "This deadly superstition," which began in Judea, worked its way "even to Rome."
  6. Finally, the Christian apologist Aristides has written to the Emperor Hadrian to defend the faith, and to proclaim that there are now four races in the world: Greeks, Barbarians, Jews, and Christians.
All of this, and much more, happened in the first 100 years.
Chad Bird @birdchadlouis

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Cancelling Peter Rabbit?

Another classic cancelled?
.... Welcome, please, a new Potter for the 21st century: exploitative, colonialist, dishonest. Potter’s concealment, claims Dr Emily Zobel Marshall, ‘[feeds] into a damaging and recurring appropriation of Black cultural forms that continues today’.

Blimey. Zobel Marshall’s hypothesis rests on a comparative reading of several of Potter’s children’s books and the Brer Rabbit stories published by American folklorist Joel Chandler Harris, beginning in the 1880s, which celebrate the cunning of a trickster rabbit whose misdemeanours, like those of Peter Rabbit, include stealing food. ....

For Zobel Marshall, it’s too good a coincidence to ignore. Correctly she points out that Chandler Harris’s stories had not been published when Potter, born in 1866, was a child. She concludes that Potter’s knowledge of the Brer Rabbit tales ‘was a result of her family roots in the cotton industry’. So easily in 2023 is a reputation scuppered. ....

Writers’ work is, and must be, susceptible to scrutiny, evaluation, interpretation. The quality and enduring popularity of Potter’s work keeps her in modern sight lines. Does she deserve castigation for cultural appropriation? The answer is the same as it must be for any artist or storyteller: not when that criticism has any foundation in supposition.
Matthew Dennison, "Don’t cancel Beatrix Potter," The Spectator, June 3, 2023.

The "prosperity gospel"

Although this was originally published several years ago, I only came across it today and thought it worth sharing. From "5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel" at 9Marks:

Over a century ago, speaking to the then-largest congregation in all Christendom, Charles Spurgeon said,
I believe that it is anti-Christian and unholy for any Christian to live with the object of accumulating wealth. You will say, “Are we not to strive all we can to get all the money we can?” You may do so. I cannot doubt but what, in so doing, you may do service to the cause of God. But what I said was that to live with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian.
Over the years, however, the message being preached in some of the largest churches in the world has changed—indeed, a new gospel is being taught to many congregations today. ....
The five errors:
  1. The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement.
  2. Jesus’ atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty.
  3. Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God.
  4. Faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity.
  5. Prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity.
Certainly prayers for personal blessing are not inherently wrong, but the prosperity gospel’s overemphasis upon man turns prayer into a tool believers can use to force God to grant their desires.

Within prosperity theology, man—not God—becomes the focal point of prayer. Curiously, prosperity preachers often ignore the second half of James’ teaching on prayer which reads, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas. 4:3). God does not answer selfish requests that do not honor his name. ....

In light of Scripture, the prosperity gospel is fundamentally flawed. At bottom, the prosperity gospel is actually a false gospel because of its faulty view of the relationship between God and man. Simply put, if the prosperity gospel is true, grace is obsolete, God is irrelevant, and man is the measure of all things. Whether they are talking about the Abrahamic covenant, the atonement, giving, faith, or prayer, prosperity teachers turn the relationship between God and man into a quid pro quo transaction. As James R. Goff noted, God is “reduced to a kind of ‘cosmic bellhop’ attending to the needs and desires of his creation.” This is a wholly inadequate and unbiblical view of the relationship between God and man. (more, expanding on all of the "five errors")
David W. Jones, "5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel," 9Marks, 1/15/2014.