Monday, July 31, 2023

A streak of terrible remakes

Madeleine Kearns on "How to Ruin a Fairy Tale":
.... Like all fairy tales, the story of Snow White communicates certain timeless moral messages: the destructiveness of vanity; the evil of envy; the virtues of kindness, gentleness, and hard work; the triumph of good over evil, love over hate. What it doesn’t communicate is our more modern priorities and sensibilities, such as defeating the patriarchy and being sensitive to minority groups.

These omissions appear to be what filmmakers seek to rectify in the new live-action remake of Snow White, coming to theaters next year. Rachel Zegler, who plays Snow White, said in a resurfaced interview from 2022 that Snow White is “not going to be saved by the prince and she’s not going to be dreaming about true love.” Rather, she’ll be “dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be and the leader that her late father told her that she could be if she was fearless, fair, brave, and true.”

The attempt to mix things up is also evident in the casting. Snow White is named thus on account of her “skin as white as snow.” Zegler, meanwhile, is tanned. This is sort of like having Little Red Riding Hood appear in a blue baseball cap or having a brunette play Goldilocks. And in service of what point, exactly?

The seven dwarves, meanwhile, have been reimagined as “magical creatures.” Disney explained that it consulted with members of the dwarfism community and wanted to “avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film.” This is one of those situations where you can’t win. Cast people with dwarfism as the seven dwarves and you’re stereotyping. Cast people of a normal height (then make them look shorter through CGI, as was done in Snow White and the Huntsmen in 2012), and you’re insulting those with the condition through appropriation. Alternatively, remove the focus from dwarfism entirely — as in this case — and you’re erasing the disability altogether. Better, then, to just stick with the seven dwarves, and cast the best actors for the roles. .... (more)
Madeleine Kearns, "How to Ruin a Fairy Tale," National Review, July 30, 2023.


 I've noticed that several visitors here have noticed my 2010 post, "Leaving Facebook." I was soon back.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

"It all starts from such a kindly place"

Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel, It Can't Happen Here was about Fascism coming to America. He was supposing that the unimaginable might come true. Not so long ago the thought of state-sponsored suicide was unimaginable. Douglas Murray on Canada's MAiD ("Medical Assistance in Dying"):
.... Lovely, liberal Canada actually legalised ‘assisted death’ in 2016, but only for people with terminal illness. As long-term readers will know, this is a slope that I have worried about for some time, for there is a slipperiness to it. Sure enough, two years ago Canada expanded the law to encompass people who had non-terminal conditions. As of next year the criteria will expand again, this time to take in people whose sole underlying condition is mental illness.

You could see this coming. ....

You can expect Canada to find a lot of other ailments to cure in the years ahead. Just last year a Canadian armed forces veteran who has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sought support from Veterans Affairs Canada. An employee of the agency asked him if he had considered taking advantage of the new euthanasia options available in Canada. The veteran in question said that this was suggested unprompted. ....

It is a Canadian twist on a Belgian horror I pointed out here last year. That was the case of Shanti De Corte, a young woman who, at the age of 17, had been caught up in the 2016 Brussels airport attack and had seen a number of her classmates die. Last year she opted to be ‘euthanised’. Alleged members of the cell who carried out the 2016 attack are still on trial in Belgium, but whether or not they are found guilty none of course can be given the death penalty. Because Europe, like lovely, liberal Canada, does not believe in the death penalty for criminals. Only for victims.

And so it does seem likely that at some point after March Canada will be able to go down a similar hell-path. As well as being able to kill the victims of crime and terror, they will be able to kill (or award ‘medically assisted suicide’) to people of any age who suffer from anorexia, depression, PTSD or a growing smorgasbord of other debilitating ailments. ....

Naturally I must stress, as does the Canadian government, that this ‘complex and deeply personal issue’ will ‘reflect Canadians’ needs’ and ‘protect those who may be vulnerable, and support autonomy and freedom of choice’. It all starts from such a kindly place. It’s all about bodily autonomy, you see, and freedom – including freedom of choice. That’s why the Canadian government is giving out information for all those who will become eligible for euthanasia in March. ....
Douglas Murray, "Canada’s assisted dying horror story," The Spectator (UK), July 22, 2023.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

"Beijing" or "Peking"?

In 4th grade Geography I learned "Peiping" was the capitol city of China. Later I learned that was a more recent transliteration for what had long been known in English as "Peking." Today the Chinese dictatorship insists on "Beijing" and most American publications use that.

I must say, even from the point of view of the ordinary uses of English, that it is not customary to quote a term in a foreign language, a capital town, a geographic place, when there exists a perfectly well-known English equivalent. It is usual to say ‘Paris,’ not ‘Paree.’
Peter Hichens:
.... We call many foreign capitals by English names which bear scant resemblance to what their inhabitants call them. Warsaw for Warszawa, Vienna for Wien, Prague for Praha, Dublin for Baile Atha Cliath, not to mention other major cities which are not capitals, such as Florence for Firenze and Munich for Muenchen. As for countries, who even tries? You may have been on holiday in Hrvatska, but did you even know it while you were there? Where is Bharat?

But the point remains that foreign cities and countries have no business telling people in other countries how to refer to them. They can do what they like in their own sovereign territory, but not beyond it. ....

There simply is no consistency in the great fashion for using ‘authentic’ names for various countries and cities. The only thing these affectations have in common is a desire for self-abasement.

For a start, they very seldom apply to the countries involved as well as the cities. Why not? How many people who pretentiously call Bombay ‘Mumbai’ (more on this later) or Calcutta ‘Kolkata’ call India ‘Bharat’? But that is in fact its name, if you believe that we should call foreign places what their inhabitants call them. Likewise, how many of those who insist on calling Peking ‘Beijing’, and Nanking ‘Nanjing’, refer to China by its actual name of ‘Zhongguo’? In my experience, none of them even know that this is what this country calls itself. My favourite is of course ‘Baile Atha Cliath’, the ‘official’ name for Dublin, which appears on the number plates of cars registered there. ....

So it still is when most other countries are concerned. I know of nobody in Britain who speaks or writes of ‘Sevilla’, ‘Wien’, ‘Roma’ , ‘Den Haag’, ‘Kobenhaven’, or come to that ‘Sverige’ or ‘Suomi’, let alone ‘Hrvatska’, ‘Polska’, ‘Magyargorszag’ or ‘Ellas’. ....

On and on the examples go. A little learning is a dangerous thing. Do they think foreigners call England ‘England’ or London ‘London’? Not often. They have their own names for our country and its famous cities, and this is a compliment to our country and those cities, for being important enough to deserve a Russian or French or Italian renaming. I might add that the last time I checked, major French, German and Italian newspapers referred to the capital of Zhongguo as ‘Pekin’, not as ‘Beijing’ . Perhaps, not having had to kowtow to China over Hongkong or Taiwan or the Dalai Lama, as we do, they just don’t take part in our cultural cringe.

And so back we come to Bombay. A good friend of mine who comes from there is livid at the way people in the West, thinking they are being enlightened, call it ‘Mumbai’. He associates this name with a rather nasty local demagogue, a crude Hindu nationalist who insisted on the name change. So my friend (along with many of his friends and family from Bombay) flatly refuses to use it whether he is there or here. In his view, every time a Westerner uses ‘Mumbai’, that Westerner helps strengthen a nasty political tendency, of the kind he would almost certainly disapprove of, if it operated in Britain. He is never sure whether to laugh or cry.
Peter Hitchens, "The 'Beijing' Kowtow and the Mumbai Jumbai Cringe," Daily Mail, September 28, 2020.

“Touch not mine anointed!”

Russell Moore, in his column today, on "How to Tell If You’re in a Cult":
.... There are many signs of this, but one I’ve found to be dead-on is this: If somebody says, “Touch not mine anointed!” in a controversy and they’re talking about the leader instead of Jesus, you’re probably in an authoritarian cult.

The passage—from 1 Chronicles 16:22—is a song of David about God’s protection of Israel when they were small in number and “wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another” (v. 20). David sang that when the kings of those nations tried to come against God’s prophets, God said, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”

That language of anointing applied formally to kings and priests and informally to prophets. Oil was poured over their heads, as it was with David when he was marked out to be king. The oil itself was the less significant aspect of anointing; the greater aspect was the presence of the Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament, Jesus came as the Messiah or the Christ—literally “the Anointed One.” He is the ultimate Prophet, the ultimate Priest, the ultimate King.

We are to respect and support in every good thing the pastors and leaders God has given us. But I’ve never heard a good shepherd say about himself or herself “Touch not mine anointed!” to shut down accountability.

Usually, those who misuse the passage this way are actually saying, “I’m in charge here; obey or to hell with you.” That’s not anointing—at least not the kind that has anything to do with God.
Russell Moore, "What Happens When Both Sides Secularize," Moore to the Point, July 20, 2023.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Thoughts which mislead

O Lord, my maker and protector, who hast graciously sent me into this world to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which Thou hast required. When I behold the works of Thy hands and consider the course of Thy providence, give me grace always to remember that Thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor Thy ways my ways. And while it shall please Thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by Thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous enquiries, from difficulties vainly curious and doubts impossible to be solved. Let me rejoice in the light which Thou hast imparted, let me serve Thee with active zeal and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which Thou receivest shall be satisfied with knowledge. Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ's sake, Amen.

Samuel Johnson, 1709-84

Sunday, July 16, 2023

To entertain and delight

A quotation from Robert Burton offered by Patrick Kurp responding to a reader unhappy with one of Kurp's recommendations:
I resolve, if you like not my writing, go read something else. I do not much esteem thy censure.
And another, from a "British literary critic":
I often read [Robert Louis] Stevenson. One reason why I turn to him is that he writes to give me pleasure. How few modern authors do! They write to do us good, to expose us, to scold us, to teach us, to express their contempt for us, to exhibit their own indomitable minds; few write to entertain and delight us.
Patrick Kurp, "He Writes to Give Me Pleasure," Anecdotal Evidence, July 16, 2023.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

The sins of the fathers

Lionel Shriver quotes a passage in Ezekiel:
The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
Ezekiel 18:20 (KJV)
 From "Heritable guilt is in vogue":
.... The handing down of grudges generation after generation inculcates a dismaying moral helplessness in so-called culprits who were supposedly born into sin but never themselves did anything wrong, while stoking an unappeasable resentment in the descendants of long-dead ancestors whose injuries can never be healed. Sound like a world you recognise? The left increasingly embraces the highly un-Christian principle of heritable guilt. ....

The news agency [Reuters] also commissioned a poll asking Americans whether learning that candidates had slave-holding ancestors would influence their vote. An appalling 23 per cent – nearly a quarter – asserted they would indeed be less likely to vote for a candidate with such a stained genetic background, a figure that rose to an astonishing 31 per cent among Democrats and 35 per cent among black people. This is what I’m talking about. Heritable guilt is in fashion. ....

...[F]or a fifth of Congress to have at least one distant slave-holding relative is statistically unsurprising. For white Americans with southern roots, that proportion would likely be even higher. .... After all, slavery was endemic in the region; that’s why they call it an ‘institution’. It wouldn’t be surprising, either, if these same politicians have adulterers, murderers, thieves, rapists, wife-beaters and fraudsters dangling from the dead branches of their family trees. ....
Lionel Shriver, "Heritable guilt is in vogue," The Spectator (UK), July 15, 2023.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

"Train up a child in the way he should go..."

Ryan Burge at GetReligion asks "How many believers exit their childhood faith? And where are they headed these days?"
Some of the findings:
Retention is down for all Christians, but at different rates. For Catholics, it dropped below 80% somewhere in the early 1990s and it fell below 70% in the early 2010s. For Protestants, it’s still fairly high but is clearly down from the 90% reported in the 1970s. Today, about 80% of folks raised Protestant are still Protestant as adults.

The nones are a different story entirely, though. It used to be that 2/3 of those raised nones identified with a religion as adults. Now, about 2/3 of those raised with no faith group are still nones into adulthood. ....

Evangelicals have very good retention rates, even in the last decade nearly three quarters were still part of the same faith tradition as adults. The overall retention decline for evangelicals is just five percentage points. For mainline it’s much worse. They started right around the same level as evangelicals (76%), but now it’s just 58%. That means that if you found five people who were raised in the mainline, two of them would no longer be mainline today. ....

For evangelicals, 73% stick around. But the next most popular destination? Nones. Thirteen percent of those raised evangelical end up as nones as adults. That rate is actually low compared to mainline Protestants. Among those raised mainline, 14% end up becoming evangelicals and 20% switch to no religion, while a small handful convert to Catholicism.

For Catholics, the most popular destination is also no religion — 17% in this data. The only other popular destination for ex-Catholics is evangelicalism. Nearly one in 10 cradle Catholics are now evangelicals.

What’s interesting are the non-religious however. Recall that their retention rate is now about two-thirds. What about the one third who become religious? About half of them start identifying as evangelical Christians as adults. The remainder are scattered across a lot of faith groups — a few becoming Catholics, a few switch to a non-Christian faith. .... (more)
Ryan Burge, "How many believers exit their childhood faith? And where are they headed these days?," GetReligion, July 12, 2023.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Stuffed to the gills but lacking gratitude

Abe Greenwald in The Free Press:
.... Massive protests have been rising in the West for years. In the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, Israel—you name it—activist armies have been taking to the streets in greater numbers and frequency. And the nominal causes are all over the place: anti-coal protests, cost-of-living protests, farmer protests, trucker protests, anti-immigration protests, anti-capitalist protests, and, of course, Covid-lockdown and police-brutality protests. ....

So what’s going on? Why are Western populations now so primed to explode? If you’re exercised over a given political or social cause, you’ll see that cause as the explanation. But are all these causes coincidentally coming to a head at the same time? Are Western countries staring at once into the multiple abysses of racism, state-sanctioned brutality, and economic adversity?

I’d argue just the opposite. The West has made such extraordinary—indeed, historically unique—progress in reducing suffering on a large scale that we’re now left grasping for new ideals and new aspirations to fulfill. This is not to say that everything is perfect. But the current penchant for protests and riots is profoundly out of proportion with the relatively small-scale challenges we still face.

Our accomplishments on human rights, freedoms, and the alleviation of hardship are so gargantuan that statistical comparisons with previous ages are made absurd. ....

The widespread poverty known to previous ages now seems science-fictional compared to life in today’s West. Between 1960 and 2023, the French GDP per capita went from $1,334 to $43,659, with other Western European nations showing similar growth trends in income and consumption. In the U.S. over the same time period, per capita GDP rose from $3,007 to $70,249. It’s not noted nearly enough that the life of an average citizen of a modern Western country makes the existence of an old-world aristocrat look pauperized by comparison. And the reduction in global poverty driven by Western trade, industry, aid, and debt forgiveness over the past decades has been even more astounding. Between 1990 to 2017 alone, the global poverty rate fell from 36 percent to 9 percent.

We’ve stuffed ourselves to the gills with the good things that we’ve created. But we are still human beings—the one species on the planet that yearns for meaning. And we don’t know where to turn next. In a different age, many would turn to their faith. ....

How do we see ourselves out of this? The way out surely begins with gratitude. Some appreciation for how far we’ve come would go a long way toward getting our progress back on track. But gratitude is antithetical to the false promise of mass protest. And so, we may have to wait for the new ideals and new tactics to fail before reclaiming the aspirations on which our civilization was built. (more)
Abe Greenwald, "The Fury in France—and Across the West," The Free Press, July 10, 2023.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Feet of clay

Andrew Roberts, a Churchill biographer, reviews a recent collection of essays about Winston Churchill. Although, he writes, it "assembles [an] impressive expression of current academic thinking on Churchill," there is "no sense of actually celebrating [his] life and achievements."
“Viewed by some as the saviour of his nation, and by others as a racist imperialist,” states Cambridge University Press of one of its latest in the Cambridge Companions to History series, “who was Winston Churchill really, and how has he become such a controversial figure?”

A more honest wording might be: “Viewed by over 90% of Britons and Americans as the saviour of his nation and Civilisation, and by a small but growing band of ignorant idealogues as a racist imperialist, who was Winston Churchill really, and how did we manage to let a band of left-wing academics and Twitterati turn him into such a controversial figure?” ....

The Cambridge Companion will therefore give you plenty of insights into “how [Churchill] has become such a controversial figure,” but few into what made him the genius, hero and giant that he was and remains. Academics revel in pointing out their subjects’ feet of clay, but all too often pay too little attention to the marble in the rest of the statue. This is a relatively new phenomenon.

It is unclear quite when it became de rigueur for academics to avoid praising Winston Churchill. Amongst past academics who wrote in high praise of him are such genuine intellectual luminaries as Isaiah Berlin, Leo Strauss, A.L. Rowse, Hugh Trevor Roper, Martin Gilbert, Henry Pelling, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Asa Briggs, Alan Bullock, Paul Addison, A.J.P. Taylor and Roy Jenkins. These people—any one of whom was the equal or superior to anyone writing in this volume—did not feel that being mealy-mouthed about Churchill’s self-evident greatness was politically or professionally necessary, in the way all too many academics seem to nowadays. .... (more, in which Roberts comments on each of the the essays)
Andrew Roberts, "The Cambridge Companion to Winston Churchill: a Review," The Churchill Project, July 6, 2023.

Saturday, July 8, 2023


One of the email newsletters I subscribe to and always read is Micah Mattix's Prufrock. A monthly contributor is John Wilson. Recently he posted "On Rereading Eric Ambler," from which:
.... I often use the word “reread” as a noun, self-defined thus: “reread: a chronological revisiting of a fiction-writer’s work, typically but not always comprehensive.” (I may skip a book or two or three that I simply didn’t like.) .... Quite recently, a bit from Ambler’s novel A Coffin for Dimitrios at the Literature Clock made me realize that more than a decade had passed since I made my way through his novels. I resolved immediately to begin a reread.

Some rereads are leisurely, spread out over many months; this is especially the case when the writer in question has produced an enormous body of work. .... Others are concentrated; the day after I finish one book, I start the next in line (so it has been for Ambler). ....

If you haven’t read Ambler, Passage of Arms wouldn’t be a bad choice to start with, to see if he’s your cup of tea. .... I have no business telling you what to read, but supposing that you do read and enjoy A Passage of Arms, consider going back to Ambler’s second novel, Background to Danger (1937), and reading through the rest of his novels in order of publication (as far as you’re inclined to go—at least through The Levanter, I hope).

Ambler’s view of our common world is in many respects different from mine, but I have learned a lot from his books as well as enjoying them immensely. Maybe you will as well. (more, but you may have to subscribe, which I recommend)
John Wilson, "On Rereading Eric Ambler," Prufrock, July 7, 2023.

Friday, July 7, 2023


Johnmark Camenga:
.... Nothing of lasting value has ever been intentionally accomplished because someone placed a higher priority on self than on others. Self-esteem cannot be improved by becoming loving and accepting of self; indeed, self-esteem is fallacious to the point of non-existence in that it is entirely circular. .... Your value, then, is not contingent on your perspective but on your Heavenly Father’s. In that lies the only real measure for how you should esteem yourself: your value and your due-esteem are not dependent on your mental, emotional, and spiritual assessment—all of which are mercurial—but on the rock-solid, unchanging, and utterly inscrutable determination of God. ....

As with most matters of morality and questions of whether I am in the right or in the wrong, I start with Jesus. So, with Jesus, a few phrases pop immediately to mind: first, “If anyone would be my disciple, let him first deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” and second, “Greater love has no man than this: that he lays down his life for a friend,” and lastly, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” ....

Jesus calls you to take your eyes off yourself, to focus on him, and to follow in the way he leads. Jesus calls you to take your eyes off yourself, to focus on those around you, and to sacrifice your preferences out of love for others. Jesus calls you to take your eyes off yourself, to focus on your enemies, and to pray, hope, and work for their good. God—by his nature—is self-giving in creation and in relationship. You, having been made in God’s likeness, are designed by God to be self-giving in the same way. Turning your focus inward, then, runs contrary to your design and will lead to an inversion of the love, joy, hope, and peace of God. .... (more)
Johnmark Camenga, "Self-esteem vs God’s esteem," Unearth the Church, July 7, 2023.

"Please don't cancel us"

At least they aren't modifying the author's work, but be warned, just in case:
Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway get trigger warnings: New printings of The Sun Also Rises and To the Lighthouse come with trigger warnings. The Woolf one reads as such (and Hemingway’s is apparently almost identical):
This book was published in 1927 and reflects the attitudes of its time. The publisher’s decision to present it as it was originally published is not intended as an endorsement of cultural representations or language contained herein.
It’s a small, sad plea from some defeated editors: Don’t cancel us, please. We’re not sure what in these books will be offensive, but no doubt something is. It was so long ago, you see. They didn’t know the light of truth would find us here, now; they were just modernists, yes, yes, just like your furniture. You love your furniture, right? It’s not too sexist, right? Calling it now: trigger warnings for furniture in the next six months.
Nellie Bowles, "TGIF: Hocus SCOTUS," The Free Press, July 7, 2023.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023


Upon visiting the Victims of Communism Museum:
As you enter the building, a placard declares the startling human cost of world communism: Over 100 million people have been killed since Lenin took power. Josef Stalin supposedly said that whereas one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. He would certainly know. The mind cannot comprehend such mass misery; it glazes over. The VOC Museum’s curators overcome this problem by highlighting individual human tragedies. ....

The museum’s first gallery focuses on the Bolshevik takeover of Russia. Lenin was the first to pioneer the model of one-party totalitarian dictatorship. ....

The museum’s second gallery centers on the victims of Stalin’s rule and informs visitors about the gulags, forced labor camps, purges, and show trials that characterized his dictatorship. We see and hear gripping evidence of the deportations, the mass executions, the ethnic cleansings, and the deliberately engineered famines that killed millions, most notably in Ukraine. ....

The museum’s third gallery describes the postwar expansion of the Leninist model into Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa. ....

During the 1990s, it was commonplace to write triumphalist obituaries of communism. Now we know better. For while the USSR was deservedly placed on the ash heap of history, the Marxist-Leninist template never entirely disappeared. Instead, it discovered new ways to tyrannize and survive. ....

Visiting the Victims of Communism Museum is a remarkable experience; not only does the museum educate visitors on twentieth-century communist tyranny, but it reminds us that Marxist-Leninist dictatorships continue to survive, impacting the lives of over 1.5 billion people. In the case of Xi Jinping’s China, that threat is greater than ever. For American conservatives, the only sane answer in the coming years must be: resist. .... (more)

If I were to visit Washington, D.C. again this place would be on my agenda.

Some years ago I posted this:

Colin Dueck, "The Cost of Communism," First Things, July 4, 2023R.J. Rummel, Death by Government

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Political heresy

Eric Voegelin on those who would "immanentize the eschaton":
.... Let us list, therefore, the six characteristics that, taken together, reveal the nature of the gnostic attitude.
  1. It must first be pointed out that the gnostic is dissatisfied with his situation. This, in itself, is not especially surprising. We all have cause to be not completely satisfied with one aspect or another of the situation in which we find ourselves.
  2. Not quite so understandable is the second aspect of the gnostic attitude: the belief that the drawbacks of the situation can be attributed to the fact that the world is intrinsically poorly organized. For it is likewise possible to assume that the order of being as it is given to us men (wherever its origin is to be sought) is good and that it is we human beings who are inadequate. But gnostics are not inclined to discover that human beings in general and they themselves in particular are inadequate. If in a given situation something is not as it should be, then the fault is to be found in the wickedness of the world.
  3. The third characteristic is the belief that salvation from the evil of the world is possible.
  4. From this follows the belief that the order of being will have to be changed in an historical process. From a wretched world a good one must evolve historically. This assumption is not altogether self-evident, because the Christian solution might also be considered—namely, that the world throughout history will remain as it is and that man's salvational fulfillment is brought about through grace in death.
  5. With this fifth point we come to the gnostic trait in the narrower sense—the belief that a change in the order of being lies in the realm of human action, that this salvational act is possible through man's own effort.
  6. If it is possible, however, so to work a structural change in the given order of being that we can be satisfied with it as a perfect one, then it becomes the task of the gnostic to seek out the prescription for such a change. Knowledge—gnosis—of the method of altering being is the central concern of the gnostic.
As the sixth feature of the gnostic attitude, therefore, we recognize the construction of a formula for self and world salvation, as well as the gnostic's readiness to come forward as a prophet who will proclaim his knowledge about the salvation of mankind. These six characteristics, then, describe the essence of the gnostic attitude. ....

All gnostic movements are involved in the project of abolishing the constitution of being, with its origin in divine, transcendent being, and replacing it with a world-immanent order of being, the perfection of which lies in the realm of human action. This is a matter of so altering the structure of the world, which is perceived as inadequate, that a new, satisfying world arises. .... This endeavor can be meaningfully undertaken only if the constitution of being can in fact be altered by man. The world, however, remains as it is given to us, and it is not within man's power to change its structure. In order—not, to be sure, to make the undertaking possible—but to make it appear possible, every gnostic intellectual who drafts a program to change the world must first construct a world picture from which those essential features of the constitution of being that would make the program appear hopeless and foolish have been eliminated. ....

The gnostic mass movements of our time betray in their symbolism a certain derivation from Christianity and its experience of faith. The temptation to fall from a spiritual height that brings the element of uncertainty into final clarity down into the more solid certainty of world-immanent, sensible fulfillment, nevertheless, seems to be a general human problem. ....
Eric Voegelin, "Ersatz Religion," Science, Politics and Gnosticism, 1968.

Hoist the flag higher

Chris Stirewalt:
.... My boss at the American Enterprise Institute, Yuval Levin, sagely holds that the fundamental conservative emotion is one of gratitude, while the progressive worldview rests on righteous outrage. One says, “We can’t tolerate how bad things are,” the other says, “It could be so much worse.”

One is born of imagination and the hope of things to come, the other springs from an understanding of the fallen nature of humanity as observed through history and philosophy. One is likely to see devils everywhere and tear down the whole house to get at them, the other is insufficient when there are evils to confront. It falls to each of us to know our nature and in which camp we most naturally reside, but then to test ourselves to see when our natural ways of being are reckless or insufficient. Society needs both views in competition, and we need the same within ourselves.

This is why Americans venerate George Washington and Abraham Lincoln above all our other leaders. They were men native to that conservative way of looking at the world who became powerful agents of change. They were gardeners inclined to tending who, for that very reason, excelled at the work of uprooting. ....

The American left responds to overt patriotism with the same kind of eye-rolling skepticism that I do when I see a drummer in a church. This, they think, will not end well. Trained their whole lives in the ways of outrage at injustice, Americans on the left cringe at the idea of unqualified celebration of their deeply flawed nation. How can they wave the flag, given the injustices perpetrated under its colors?

But that is the banner to which Americans of good conscience will have to rally. Our Declaration of self-evident truths is the only thing ever established with the capacity to accommodate both of those visions, to allow the freedom and flexibility to apply both the necessary gratitude for the gifts we have received and the righteous outrage at the injustices in our midst. It is imperfect, but is beautiful. .... (more)
Chris Stirewalt, "Patriotic Visionaries," The Dispatch, July 23, 2023.

Suffer not our trust in Thee to fail...

From The Book of Common Prayer (1928), a good prayer for Independence Day:
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favour and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Gram Parsons

I discovered Emmylou Harris in the '70s and at some point became aware that she was influenced by Gram Parsons. I had—of course—known the groups he performed with and influenced, but not him. I learned a lot from this:
The joke goes that if you play a country song backward, the singer’s wife returns to him, his dog comes back to life, his employer rehires him, and he gets out of prison. Traditional country music was made by those who ached and suffered. For Parsons, they were kindred spirits. ....

Every musician has influences, but Parsons was deliberate about synthesizing his. He wanted to combine the country music he loved with the modern, poetic lyrics he wrote, and the rock-star persona he embodied. .... The goal was to create a geographically, racially, and generationally desegregated sound. ....

In 1968...his life changed in a Los Angeles bank. There, he ran into Chris Hillman, cofounder of the Byrds—a band that had pioneered its own hybrid genre, folk rock, with their hit “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man.” As luck would have it, they needed someone to fill in on keyboard. Parsons wasn’t much of a pianist, but he floored the group with his original songs. ....

With Parsons in the mix, the Byrds brought the undercurrent of country music in their earlier work to the surface. The Sweetheart of the Rodeo album featured two Parsons originals, including “Hickory Wind,” in which the protagonist yearns for his Southern childhood. On lead vocals, Parsons sang sadness: “It’s hard to find a way out / the trouble is real / in a faraway city / with a faraway feel / But it makes me feel better / each time it begins / callin’ me home / hickory wind.” ....

A testament to Parsons’s talent, and perhaps his charm, Chris Hillman agreed to start a band with him just a few months after his dramatic Byrds exit. “Since Gram and I shared a common vision to bring real country music to a rock audience with a hip sensibility, we agreed it would make sense for us to join forces and carry on from where Sweetheart left off,” he remembered. Together, they formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, a band whose name was outdone in peculiarity only by its music. ....

As his drug addiction worsened, Hillman felt he had no choice but to fire Parsons from the Flying Burrito Brothers. Gram made his next album in 1973, featuring harmonies by the then-unknown singer Emmylou Harris. With Parsons as her guide, “My ears and my heart opened up to country music,” she told Dan Rather. “I really heard the genius of George Jones, the beauty of Louvin Brothers harmonies, the poetry of country music, the stuff that’s deep in the weeds, the washed-in-the-blood stuff.” ....

He was mercurial, conceited, and reckless, and sometimes he broke his friends’ hearts. He was also extremely bright, funny, a perceptive songwriter, and a devoted brother. Perhaps there’s only so much one can extrapolate about who Parsons really was. There’s only so much room for a redemptive arc when a person dies at 26. .... (more)

Nancy Kathryn Walecki, "Sound as Ever," Harvard Magazine, July-August 2023.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Why Christians should celebrate on the 4th

From "Christians Err if They Give Up on America":
.... The settlement hammered out in the 1780s somehow made room for all religious groups—including, eventually, skeptics and atheists. The full measure of religious freedom took a while to include Catholics, Mormons and Jews. But in time religious disestablishment freed all religious groups from governmental restrictions. The downside, for churches that had been established, was the loss of the government’s financial support. But the benefits more than compensated for the loss. Religious groups were free, and remain so, to practice their convictions without seeking the state’s approval.

In the Founders’ version of American greatness, if Christians wanted to complain about the nation’s religious decline, they had only themselves to blame. The American founding assigned government a limited role and turned over many social functions—including religion—to institutions outside the state. The U.S. was conceived as a nation that relied on civic associations, private organizations and virtuous citizens who learned morality at church, in the home and in school.

Christian believers have good reason to celebrate the Fourth—not because the country is carrying out a divine mission but rather because it makes room for people like them to practice their faith as they like. Instead of American “greatness” stemming from conformity to Christian norms, America is “great” because churches can thrive in it. American patriotism distinguishes the functions of government from the substance of faith, which is why it can unite believers of all kinds in celebrations of the founding. ....
D.G. Hart, "Christians Err if They Give Up on America," The Wasll Street Journal, June 29, 2023.