Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Planning to grill this evening, so was happy to come across this in The Telegraph this morning. It discusses seven myths about choosing a good steak. Some of the positive advice:
“The best steak doesn’t exist,” says chef Paul Foster, the owner of Stratford-upon-Avon restaurant Salt and author of How to Cook Meat Properly. “[Fillet] is the most tender,” he admits, “so if you’re looking for the most tender steak, then you’ve got to go for fillet. But it doesn’t have very much flavour.” Flavour often comes from meat taken from parts of the cow that have done more “work”, so for Foster, rib-eye (from the forequarter of the animal) is a great choice, delivering plenty of flavour and texture. ....

There are two types of fat to consider, explains Smith. “We’ve got subcutaneous fat – the fat on the outside – and too much of that is not good. Then we’ve got intramuscular fat, known as marbling. .... the distribution of fat plays a far more significant role than the quantity. Foster’s advice is to look for a steak that’s a dark cherry red, with even marbling. “Good, even marbling shows it’s a good animal. You don’t want pockets of fat in one side of the steak and not in the other.” ....

You’ll often see steaks referred to as aged or dry-aged, along with a range of days, most commonly 28, which is considered roughly to be the sweet spot. Ageing beef can help meat develop a more intense flavour, as well as tenderising it by breaking down the muscle fibres. .... More important than the duration is how the meat has been aged, argues Smith. Dry ageing describes when meat is exposed to air, in many cases hung but sometimes on a rack, allowing its moisture to evaporate, whereas a different process – called “wet ageing” by some – sees meat vacuum-packed, sitting in its own moisture, then left to age. .... [T]he key word to look out for is “dry” rather than simply “aged”. “If you see ‘28-day aged’, it sounds lovely,” he says, but if the meat has been vacuum-packed for that time, “the moisture hasn’t escaped and it’s just sitting there ageing in a bag, so the enzymes aren’t breaking it down as much. It’s not getting that flavour from being dry-aged, it’s not losing that moisture content.”
I knew most of that, although I didn't know what "wet-ageing" was, and I will avoid it. A previous post on the subject.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Freedom and friendship

Anthony Esolen's "Word of the Week" is "Friend":
Cicero wrote a charming treatise on friendship, in which he says, among many other things, that a friend is someone in whose presence you can think out loud. ....

Because we are friends, and true friendship can only be founded in virtue, we delight in one another’s company, and friends don’t abandon one another when that delight is overshadowed by danger, or sadness, or misfortune, or even the threat of death. In that world, it meant a lot to call someone your friend. That’s why Jesus, who had befriended his apostles for three years, says at the Last Supper that he no longer calls them his servants, but his friends: not because of any greater love that he feels, but because he has chosen to be entirely open with them. “All that the Father has made known to me,” he says, “I make known to you.” ....

If you love someone, you do not make a bondslave of him; he is free; hence we get Welsh rhyddid, freedom, as they sing in that great fight song “Men of Harlech,” and we get Germanic freo, free. Now, if you’re really free in the company of someone, it means that you needn’t worry that your next word will cause him to leap upon the table and put a knife to your neck. .... (more)

Friday, April 19, 2024

He saw the Light

The Word & Song substack remembers a song each week. Recently it was "I Saw the Light" by Hank Williams:
.... The idea for our song this week came to Hank when his mother was driving him and the band home after one of their performances. The guys were all asleep. When she drew nearer to home, and the lights of the Montgomery airport came in view, Hank’s mother called out, “I saw the lights.” What Hank heard that night inspired him to write a timeless song of gratitude and praise. And if Hank’s heart was really in his music, which it must have been for him to get as far as he did in the short time allotted to him, we surely can hope that he hoped to see the Light of his heavenly home and to receive the ultimate healing of body and soul.

Debra Esolen, "I Saw the Light," Word & Song by Anthony Esolen, March 9, 2024.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

"Above all earthly powers"

I recently revisited a book that I had not read for many years: Robert P. Ericksen’s Theologians Under Hitler. It is a study of how three intellectuals, Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emanuel Hirsch—scholars of the Old Testament, Luther, and Kierkegaard, respectively—came to support Hitler in 1933 and ultimately be identified with an evil ideology that cost millions of lives, both in the death camps and in the war that German expansionism precipitated.

It is a troubling book because, while Hirsch was always a nasty anti-Semite and remained so after the Third Reich collapsed, Kittel and Althaus started as what we might call orthodox, patriotic conservatives. The story of their corruption by Nazi ideology is a sad and disturbing one. ....

It is an interesting thought experiment to wonder how Christians today might have voted in Germany in the early 1930s. Hindsight grants great privileges. It not only gives us all 20/20 vision, but also exempts us from the difficult moral trade-offs and compromises that all voting booths contain in a manner unavailable to those at the time. We should not be so certain that we would have necessarily acted as we might like to imagine. It was a world where it seemed that either the Nazis or the Communists must triumph and where the full evil of both was as yet not fully visible. But even as we can acknowledge these difficulties, it is important to note that there were still theologians who did see the problem in 1933 and who refused to strike a deal with the devils on either side of the political spectrum. ....

The Bethel Confession has recently been reprinted and is well worth study and reflection. It makes clear that the reason Bonhoeffer and Sasse were able to understand their times was that they placed the transcendent God, his Word and sacraments, and his church above all earthly powers. They understood that the church was not to confuse itself with the state nor with worldly forms of power. ....

They did not collapse the transcendence of God into the immanence of political exigency. And it was that very concern for the transcendent that made them wise actors in the world of the immanent.

This points to their value in today’s debates. One of the striking lacunae on both the right and left wings of the Christian political spectrum is the general absence of any reference to the transcendence of God and the supernatural nature of the church. Immanent concerns rule the day. ....

And this leads to an odd, though very Pauline, conclusion: The secret to political integrity and discernment for Christians is a high view of God, his Word and his gospel. Only when this world is set in context of the next can we hope to avoid allowing the perceived demands of our political moment to overwhelm our fidelity to God and, by way of consequence, to those made in his image.

An unhealthy preoccupation with politics

A reference in today's Free Press newsletter led me to "Why Does Being Left-Wing Make You Unhappy?" Following the link will bring you to that substack article. In the excerpts below I have not included his references but they are there.

Note: I’m using the terms “liberal” and “conservative” to denote left-leaning and right-leaning, while acknowledging that they’re imprecise. I’m also using a lot of American data simply because that’s where the bulk of this research has been carried out, although the basic finding does seem to be replicated globally. ....

.... Conservatives tend to be more religious, more patriotic, and more married, and all these things correlate with happiness. Indeed, it has been argued that political conservatism is not the important variable here — that liberals who feel deeply connected to country and religion and family would be equally happy. I’m not sure if this is a real distinction since those liberals would be behaving in ‘conservative’ ways even if they espouse liberal beliefs, but anyway, church-going conservatives tend to have better mental health than church-going liberals, so it seems that conservatism does provide benefits independent of religiosity. ....

Liberals not only tend to be more emotionally unstable, they also value emotionality more than conservatives — they like to dwell on emotions, to talk about them, to expound on trauma and pain. Studies find that they are more upset than others by public tragedies, like school shootings, or catastrophes like Covid-19, and that their distress lasts far longer. ....

Modern liberals, or progressives, take grim satisfaction in asserting the inescapability of politics. One of their favourite turns of phrase is “But X is inherently political” — i.e. that activity or human behaviour that you fondly imagined to be unsullied by the machinations of power is, in fact, governed by them. Friendship is political. Science is political. Journalistic objectivity is political. Fiction is political. Music is political. Food is political. Love is political. ....

There’s an element of status display in pushing politics into everything: the implication is usually that anyone who doesn’t agree is either complicit in oppression or, worse, naive and unsophisticated.

Most pertinently, for our purposes, it’s bleak. For a certain kind of progressive, anything that might seem above or beyond politics — a commitment to objective truth, a love of music or food or sport — is just politics by other means, part of the relentless battle of tribe versus tribe, identity versus identity. That’s pretty depressing, especially if you sincerely believe it. ....

At the same time it is for some reason necessary to insist that it’s the other side who engages in ‘culture war’. ....

You might say that just as conservatives find meaning in family or religion, liberals find meaning through activism and political discourse. But these different kinds of social participation do not have equal payoffs in well-being. The evidence suggests that going to church or spending time with loved ones tends to be good for people, whereas a preoccupation with politics is bad for your mental health. ....

Of course, conservatives aren’t immune to the over-politicisation of everything. In the US in particular they’re increasingly prone to see everyone in public life, including and especially those working for government institutions, as participants in a grand conspiracy against them. That’s deeply unhealthy too. .... (much more)

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Never grow old

Please don't tell anyone you are "tired of life." The progress in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands has been from "voluntary" euthanasia to doctor prescribed euthanasia:
Belgium’s euthanasia laws should cover elderly people who are “tired of life” or who feel they are a burden on the public purse, a health insurance chief has urged. Luc Van Gorp, 57, the president of the CM health fund, a Christian mutual insurance provider, said that the number of Belgians over 80 would double to 1.2 million by 2050.

“Many elderly people are tired of life. Why would you necessarily want to prolong such a life? Those people don’t want that themselves, and when it comes to budgets: it only costs the government money,” he told the Nieuwsblad newspaper. “We must remove the stigma.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2024


I posted about Standard Ebooks on Facebook recently. I am really enjoying the site. It describes itself this way:
Standard Ebooks is a volunteer-driven project that produces new editions of public domain ebooks that are lovingly formatted, open source, free of U.S. copyright restrictions, and free of cost.

Ebook projects like Project Gutenberg transcribe ebooks and make them available for the widest number of reading devices. Standard Ebooks takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style manual, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to create a new edition that takes advantage of state-of-the-art ereader and browser technology.
There are many good books available here for download to Kindle, other e-readers, or to read in a browser. So far I've been reading on my browser. There are very clear, step-by-step, directions about downloading if you choose. 

I started here a few days ago with the Standard EBooks edition of John Buchan's Three Hostages. The reading experience is a pleasure because of the promised typeface and formatting. There have been no annoying glitches or errors.

Today I was particularly interested in browsing what is available in children's books (lots) and (this will surprise no one) mysteries. The mystery section has almost all of the Sherlock Holmes, early Agatha Christies, most of Dorothy L. Sayers Peter Wimseys, S.S. Van Dine, E.C. Bentley, the Father Brown books, and at least one Fu Manchu. There are more, including authors with whom I am less familiar. I was interested to find several of the early Hardy Boys, probably the first mysteries I read as a boy. The books in that series were periodically updated by the Stratemeyer syndicate so that settings, technology, slang, etc., would seem contemporary to each new generation of young readers. These are the original 1920s versions.

Standard Ebooks

Monday, April 8, 2024

A word that means something

The time came, quite a few years ago, when the foreign language department in my high school decided to call themselves the "world" languages department. I stopped by their office to tell my colleagues there that the only "world language" I could think of was Esperanto. They did not seem amused. Today, Kevin Williamson made a similar point:
It is remarkable to me that so many professional writers will go to such lengths to avoid the perfectly respectable word “foreign.” E.g., Jim Newell writing in Slate about the proposal to rename Dulles Airport for Donald Trump, who never flies commercial.
In a way, it could be a perfect passing of the torch. The current namesake, John Foster Dulles, worked to overthrow international governments; his would-be successor, the domestic one.
That’s a good line—clever.

But there are no “international governments” that can be overthrown—there are “foreign governments” that can. International things are things that are between nations, that involve more than one nation: international agreements, international travel, international trade, etc.

The government of Germany isn’t international (not in this century, anyway!)—it’s just German, and foreign. Germans are foreign to Americans, and Americans are foreign to the Germans. ....

Yes, people sometimes spit foreign as invective. But it is a word that means something, and what it means is not international. Like alien and illegal alien, we need a term for the thing we are talking about, and it is better if that term is a word or words that actually say what they are meant to mean.

Sunday, April 7, 2024


One of the first books I can remember reading was Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. From then until now I've been drawn to read about piracy, especially in its so-called "golden age," the 17th and early 18th centuries. I resist Jack Sparrow, preferring history or at least historical fiction. Thus I enjoyed this review of A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724).
It is perhaps the most influential book on pirates ever to have been written, the inspiration for never-ending tales of treasure and terror on the high seas. Yet the identity of its author remains a mystery. Three hundred years ago, in 1724, the pseudonymous author “Captain Charles Johnson” published a pair of volumes under the hefty title A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates.

They gathered together the scandalous biographies of villains such as John “Calico Jack” Rackham and Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, and were an immediate success – running to a fourth, much-expanded edition in only two years. In the centuries since, the book has served as the source text for many more ­dastardly characters, stalking the pages of J M Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island’s Israel Hands is even named after a figure from the General History, Blackbeard’s second-in-command). ....

Use the word “pirate” today, however, and everyone will know what you’re talking about: sailors in striped rags, roving the seven seas in search of plunder. .... Johnson’s General History, even though it only tackles the 30-odd years leading up to 1724, casts a long shadow across them all – firing the imagination and giving us popular tropes such as walking the plank, buried treasure, the faux-heroic “pirate’s code”, and the skull-and-crossbones of the Jolly Roger (“a black Ensign, with a white Death’s Head in the Middle of it”). ....

The romance of such tales is obvious, but it’s not all derring-do. There is plenty of horrendous testimony of torture and rape. The verifiable stories in the General History don’t shy away from this, drawing their readers in with the kind of transfixed horror that true-crime fans will understand. Underlying it all is the same, unsettling issue: what do you do with the fact that lionising pirates means celebrating people who were essentially evil?

Johnson gets around this by serving up their downfalls as cautionary tales. ....

He embellishes his sources, transforming his subjects from flat criminals into figures of legend and, in the process, giving their villainy a kind of theatrical charm. By the time we reach Blackbeard – named for the “large Quantity of Hair, which, like a frightful Meteor, covered his whole Face, and frightened America more than any Comet” – we are hearing cartoonish stories of his “mischievous Frolicks”. Johnson writes that he once shot two of his crew unprompted, claiming, “if he did not now and then kill one of them, they would forget who he was”. ....

While the General History may have been the high-water mark of pirate-mania in Britain, actual piracy was facing a turning point in the Caribbean. In 1718, 11 pirates were marooned on a Caribbean island. When word reached Woodes Rogers, the new governor of the British settlement of Nassau (hitherto a pirate stronghold; today the capital of the Bahamas), he sent a ship to pick them up. Ten were hanged on their return, one crying out from the scaffold: “I do heartily repent; I repent I had not done more Mischief, and that we did not cut the Throats of them that took us, and I am extremely sorry that you an’t all hang, as well as we!”

You can understand that this didn’t win over the crowd in Nassau, who had been dealing for decades with a veritable occupation by buccaneers. The so-called “Golden Age of Piracy” would peter out in the coming years. .... (more)
The book can be found in various formats here.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Inside Jim’s head

A reimagining of Mark Twain's Huck Finn that is likely worth a read:
is based on an ingenious premise: It retells the story of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn from the perspective of the black slave Jim. Readers anticipating a takedown of Mark Twain will be either frustrated or relieved, depending on their hopes. Everett, who in the book’s acknowledgments offers “a nod” to Twain’s “humor and humanity,” does not supply a predictable, politically correct attack on the canon. To the contrary, he adopts and extends the criticism of racism present in Twain’s novel. In his portrayal, for example, young Huck is at least as troubled by Jim’s plight and the injustice of slavery as in Twain’s original. Huck remains a character with whom we are permitted, even invited, to sympathize.

The shift from Huck’s to Jim’s perspective, however, enables Everett to sharpen Twain’s critique, lifting it from the level of satire to that of jeremiad (albeit a secular one). The youthful, uneducated voice of Twain’s white protagonist, with his naïve efforts to understand the adult world, was well suited to exposing the hypocrisy of American ideals in the face of racism. But the older voice of the black slave Jim cuts deeper, revealing the full horror of chattel slavery. As he encounters whippings, rapes, and lynchings, we confront the legalized violence and systemic terror of slavery. These are not fully visible to Huck, but they are Jim’s everyday reality.

As James begins, Everett sticks closely to Twain’s original plot. .... (much more)

Friday, April 5, 2024


The teaching of history in our schools and colleges isn't what it was, but these guys are all old enough to have learned stuff if they were paying attention. Jonah Goldberg:
... [S]tupidity and ignorance are closely related concepts, but they’re not the same thing. Smart people can be ignorant and stupid people can be informed. Indeed, one of the cool things about knowledge is that it can make not very bright people seem very smart. ....  Meanwhile, really smart people can seem stupid if they have no good facts to work with. We tend to look with scorn at thinkers of the past because we know they were wrong. Hah hah, they used leeches! They thought the sun revolved around the earth!

The thing is, the people who came up with these incorrect theories were probably very, very, smart. They just didn’t have access to a lot of information and data. It’s not like you came up with heliocentrism. ....

There’s a lot of wisdom to George Santayana’s aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But I’d like to offer a different observation. We are condemned to hear a lot of stupid nonsense from people who don’t know—or don’t remember—jack squat about the past.

What got me thinking about this was an interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on CNN Monday night. ....
And Goldberg then explains how RFK Jr. displays remarkable ignorance about history. But he's not the only Presidential candidate who does. There are a couple more.
[Donald Trump] knows nothing about American history, so every (allegedly) unfair thing that happens to him has “never happened before.” Indeed, RFK Jr. is essentially cribbing Trump’s material. After Biden’s State of the Union Address, Trump posted on Truth Social: “HE WEAPONIZED GOVERNMENT AGAINST HIS OPPONENT – DIDN’T TALK ABOUT THAT, NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!” In 2016, Trump insisted that “African American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before. Ever, ever, ever.”

“Ever, ever, ever” is pretty definitive. It’s also nonsense.

Trump insists that no president has been treated as unfairly as him, including Lincoln (he also probably didn’t know Lincoln was a Republican—whenever he learns something new, he likes to say “a lot of people don’t know that …”). But even leaving out the whole assassination thing—which is a pretty big thing to leave out—Lincoln was treated pretty shabbily by the press. Trump didn’t know where some of his favorite terms came from, including “America First,” and “Silent Majority.” He claims to have invented “Make America Great Again,” but when it was pointed out to him that Ronald Reagan used it, he plausibly responded that he didn’t know that. Besides, Reagan “didn’t trademark it.” ....

Joe Biden is a little different. It’s not so much that he doesn’t know anything about history, it’s just that the history he invokes is frequently wrong. He wasn’t arrested in South Africa trying to visit Nelson Mandela. He didn’t have a historic conversation with Golda Meir, nor was he a “liaison” with Egyptians. Many of the seemingly historic tales of his personal life never happened.

More to the point, Biden makes up history about stuff he’s not personally involved in. And—also very important—he was doing this long before anyone accused him of being senile (though that’s increased the frequency). In 2008, he told Katie Couric, “When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed.” But FDR didn’t go on TV then —television was introduced to the American public at the World’s Fair in 1939—and FDR wasn’t even president when the stock market crashed in 1929. He makes up stuff about the Second Amendment, Jim Crow, and more—all the time.

What this says about Biden versus Trump and Kennedy is open to debate. I do think having no idea there was a past is different than being wrong about the past, but the differences are obscure and psychological. Where all three old men overlap is that they’re blowhards. Biden’s style seeks the authority of the past in a different way, but it’s still wild exaggeration and bluster. When he touted Barack Obama’s successful effort to kill Osama bin Laden—which he opposed at the time—he said, “You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan.” Okay, Joe.

But there’s another commonality. They all work from the assumption that the rest of us are too ignorant to know better—or care. .... (more)

A moral imperative

On slavery, and the campaign against it:
...[T]he country that led the world in the rebellion against this barbarism – and played a bigger role than perhaps anyone else in its eradication – was the United Kingdom.

Britain did not invent slavery. Slaves were kept in Egypt since at least the Old Kingdom period and in China from at least the 7th century AD, followed by Japan and Korea. It was part of the Islamic world from its beginnings in the 7th century. Native tribes in North America practised slavery, as did the Aztecs and Incas farther south. African traders supplied slaves to the Roman empire and to the Arab world. Scottish clan chiefs sold their men to traders.

Barbary pirates from north Africa practised the trade too, seizing around a million white Europeans – including some from Cornish villages – between the 16th and 18th centuries. It was in fear of such pirates that the song ‘Rule Britannia’ was written: hence the line that ‘Britons never ever ever shall be slaves’. Even slaves who escaped their masters in the Caribbean went on to take their own slaves. The most concerted campaign against all this was started by Christian groups in London in the 1770s who eventually recruited William Wilberforce to their campaign, and parliament went on to outlaw the slave trade in 1807. British sea power was then deployed to stamp it out.

The largely successful British effort to eradicate the transatlantic slave trade did not grow out of any kind of self-interest. It was driven by moral imperative and at considerable cost to Britain and the Empire. At its peak, Britain’s battle against the slave trade involved 36 naval ships and cost some 2,000 British lives. In 1845, the Aberdeen Act expanded the Navy’s mission to intercept Brazilian ships suspected of carrying slaves.

Much is made about how Britain profited from the slave trade, but we tend not to hear about the extraordinary cost of fighting it. In a 1999 paper US historians Chaim Kaufmann and Robert Pape estimated that, taking into account the loss of business and trade, suppression of the slave trade cost Britain 1.8 per cent of GDP between 1808 and 1867. It was, they said, the most expensive piece of moral action in modern history. .... (more)
The portrait is of Wilberforce.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Cultural free-riders

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, and a prominent one. But he is more widely known as one of the New Atheists. Consequently, a recent comment has received a bit of attention, for example:
...Professor Dawkins’ admission that he considers himself a “cultural Christian”, who is, at the very least, ambivalent about Anglicanism’s decline is an undeniably contradictory position for a man who in the past campaigned relentlessly against any role for Christianity in public life, railing against faith schools and charitable status for churches.

Before we start preparing the baptismal font, it’s worth noting that Dawkins says he remains “happy” with the UK’s declining Christian faith, and that those beliefs are “nonsense”. But he also says that he enjoys living in a Christian society. This betrays a certain level of cultural free-riding. The survival of society’s Christian undercurrent depends on others buying into the “nonsense” even if he doesn’t. ....

...[T]his feels like another staging-post on a journey towards the good Professor finally admitting that the New Atheism, of which he was such a shining light, was wrong in crucial respects. First, in its almost touching naivety that a post-Christian world would give way to a values-neutral space, rooted in reason. Second, in its semi-adolescent diagnosis of Christianity as a retardant upon cultural and intellectual progress. A New Atheist would generally cite the Spanish Inquisition or some wacky US creationist as representatives of the world’s largest faith – conveniently ignoring any contradictory examples. ....

One reason for Dawkins’ change of heart might be good old-fashioned scientific observation. It doesn’t take the brains of an evolutionary biologist to work out that New Atheism was mistaken in its diagnosis of what would follow religion’s decline. The rational world we were promised hasn’t materialised and a nastier, less reasonable one is supplanting what was there before. ....

...[I]ncreasingly, the thesis of Tom Holland’s book Dominion seems to be winning out, via a growing recognition that the ethics we hold as natural and universal are, in fact, anything but. Much of what atheists ascribed to vague concepts of “reason” emerged out of the faith which informed the West’s intellectual, moral, and, yes, scientific life – a cultural oxygen we breathe but never see. .... (more)

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Permission to translate

I enjoyed reading Alan Jacobs' "A Letter From Karl Barth." The letter was to Dorothy L. Sayers.
On 7 September 1939, a week after the Wehrmacht invaded Poland and thus began the Second World War, the great theologian Karl Barth wrote, in German, from his home in Switzerland to a woman in England. “You too must be shocked by the events of our day,” he wrote. “But I am happy that this time England did not want to let another ‘Munich’ happen, and I hope also for the poor German people that now the end of its worst time (which I have witnessed intimately) has at least begun.” Tragically, war had returned to Europe — but the hapless policy of of appeasement was over, and now the end of Hitler, and of Nazism, could, however dimly, be foreseen.

But to acknowledge the war was not the purpose of Barth’s letter. Rather, he wanted to ask this woman for permission to translate two of her theological writings, and also to seek answers to a few questions about the texts. ....

The author to whom Barth wrote was Dorothy L. Sayers. Twenty years later he remarked that, in 1939, she had been “familiar to me as the author of a whole series of detective novels — at once thrilling, cultured, and thoughtful. The fascinating thing about these books for me was the visible connection in them between a humanism of the best Oxford tradition and a pronounced mastery in the technique which is essential to literary engagement in this genre.” But at that time he had no idea that she was a Christian, and when a Scottish friend suggested that he read some of her theological essays, he was surprised to learn of their existence — and even more surprised to find them stating most clearly and forcefully certain points about the beauty, power, and sheer drama of Christian doctrine that were dear to his own heart. (However, he did discern, and even in that introductory letter told her that he discerned, a strain of “semi-Pelagianism” in her theology, a comment that she found amusing and inaccurate.) ....

The works he sought to translate had originally appeared in 1938 in the Times of London: “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged” and “The Triumph of Easter,” later published together in a short book. Barth, having had his questions answered by Sayers, duly produced his translation.... (more)
I think Jacobs might intend to write a biography of Sayers (see his final paragraph). If he did, I'd read it.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Seeing rainbows

About a favorite Hitchcock film that has current relevance:
A dictator begins a brutal conquest of Eastern Europe. His agents stage a covert campaign to manipulate the West into staying on the sidelines. Ghastly barbarism dominates the news. And yet many Americans are surprisingly apathetic to the rising crisis.

That may sound like geopolitics in 2024, but it also describes Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 spy thriller Foreign Correspondent. Starring Joel McCrea as journalist John Jones, it was just Hitchcock’s second Hollywood production after moving to the United States. Although it’s now one of the more neglected entries in the Hitchcock canon, the film is also an artful plea for Americans to recognize the calamity they faced in World War II. It was timely in 1940, and it remains full of enduring themes about the never-ending fight against tyranny.

Foreign Correspondent follows Jones on assignment to Europe in the opening days of the war, giving the audience a front-row seat to the breakdown of global order. ....

Jones himself encounters many dangers as the plot races by. Classic Hitchcockian action scenes include a chase through a sea of umbrellas, a tense sequence set in a Dutch windmill, and a nerve-wracking tussle atop Westminster Cathedral. Set pieces such as a plane crash in the Atlantic also give the audience a sense that Jones is racing against time. The director’s characteristic style and panache, even humor, delightfully permeate the movie. The action and glamour lend Jones’ quest for truth a real excitement.

Importantly, Hitchcock also introduces elements of genuine horror to disclose the true nature of the fascist threat. ....

Foreign Correspondent begins with an opening crawl dedicating the film to the reporters who told the truth about the crisis in Europe: “To those forthright ones who early saw the clouds of war while many of us at home were seeing rainbows …” In our own time, we must sadly admit that many are still “seeing rainbows.” While the Ukrainian and Israeli peoples fight bravely against tyranny, and the Taiwanese prepare for a potential invasion, it is altogether too easy for Americans to see these events as distant or perhaps even irrelevant. .... (more, but there are spoilers)

And He shall reign for ever and ever!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

The kingdom of this world is become
the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and of His Christ;
and He shall reign for ever and ever

King of Kings,
for ever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
and Lord of Lords,
for ever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

And He shall reign for ever and ever,
for ever and ever,
King of Kings,
and Lord of Lords,
King of Kings,
and Lord of Lords,
and He shall reign for ever and ever

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Saturday, March 30, 2024

A Saturday kind of faith

.... Martin Luther said himself that Saturday was the day that God himself lay cold in the grave. Friday was death, Sunday was hope, but Saturday was that seemingly ignored middle day between them when God occupied a dirty grave in a little garden outside Jerusalem. Saturday is about waiting, about uncertainty, about not knowing what’ll happen. ....

So much of Christian faith is Saturday faith. ....

A medieval theologian, Anselm, once described the kind of faith that comes with Saturday—fides quaerens intellectum: “faith seeking understanding.” By that, he meant that faith isn’t something that arises after moments of understanding. Rather, faith is something that you cling to when understanding and reason lay dead. We don’t believe once we understand it—we believe in order to understand it. Saturday’s like that: offering a day of waiting, a day of ambiguity, a day when God is sovereign even if our ideas and theologies and expectations about him are not. It is the day that our ignorance is our witness and our proclamation. Truth is, our intellect will always be one step behind in our love of God. We don’t love God once we understand him; we love God in order to understand him. ....

At times, we are all like the two disciples on their way to Emmaus who were really close to Jesus but didn’t always know it. In Luke 24, two disciples walked away from Jerusalem, where they’d just seen their Lord and Master die on the cross. Leaving, dejected, upset, hopeless, and broken, to find the next stage in their lives and careers. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus had been resurrected and was actually walking alongside them on their way to Emmaus. The hope of Sunday hadn’t dawned on them yet. The Gospels tell us that, on their way to Emmaus, the disciples were “downcast.”

That experience is the kind of experience Saturday is all about. .... (more)
This is from A.J. Swoboda's A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience, excerpted in Christianity Today.

Friday, March 29, 2024

"Suffered under Pontius Pilate; Was crucified, dead and buried..."

I've made a practice on Good Friday of publishing an excerpt from this article.

From "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" by William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer. The original article is downloadable as a pdf and is substantially longer and detailed, with many diagrams and ample citation. Our Lord's manner of execution was like that suffered by a great many others in the Roman world:
…. It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb (136 kg), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lb. (34 to 57 kg), was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death. Outside the city walls was permanently located the heavy upright wooden stipes, on which the patibulum would be secured. In the case of the Tau cross, this was accomplished by means of a mortise and tenon joint, with or without reinforcement by ropes. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes. Only very rarely, and probably later than the time of Christ, was an additional block (suppedaneum) employed for transfixion of the feet.

At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans. The archaeological remains of a crucified body, found in an ossuary near Jerusalem and dating from the time of Christ, indicate that the nails were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 in (13 to 18 cm) long with a square shaft 3/8 in (1 cm) across. Furthermore, ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin have documented that the nails commonly were driven through the wrists rather than the palms.

After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.

Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. Ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin suggest that nailing was the preferred Roman practice. Although the feet could be fixed to the sides of the stipes or to a wooden footrest (suppedaneum), they usually were nailed directly to the front of the stipes. To accomplish this, flexion of the knees may have been quite prominent, and the bent legs may have been rotated laterally.

When the nailing was completed, the titulus was attached to the cross, by nails or cords, just above the victim’s head. The soldiers and the civilian crowd often taunted and jeered the condemned man, and the soldiers customarily divided up his clothes among themselves. The length of survival generally ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging. However, even if the scourging had been relatively mild, the Roman soldiers could hasten death by breaking the legs below the knees (crurifragium or skelokopia). …. (the article pdf)

Thursday, March 28, 2024

"Every one that keepeth the sabbath..."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman died yesterday. The news is full of quotations from across the political spectrum, reflecting the respect in which he was held. David Klinghoffer, co-author of The Gift of Rest, writes of him:
Some qualities of a human being can only be captured by resorting to Yiddish. For Senator Joe Lieberman, who died much too young at age 82, the word is “edel.” Leo Rosten’s hilarious dictionary-like classic, The Joys of Yiddish, defines it as “gentle, sensitive, refined,” or “shy, modest, humble.” It rhymes with “cradle.”
Lieberman was an orthodox Jew. The Gift of Rest is about the Sabbath. These quotations are from the first chapter:
This book is for both Jews and non-Jews, whatever their personal religious observances may be, because the fourth commandment and its gift of Sabbath rest were given to all people. In fact, as we go along you’ll see that the Sabbath provides answers to the most difficult questions people of all faiths have asked themselves for generations: How did I get here? Does anyone care how I behave? What will happen to me after I die?

The prophet Isaiah taught beautifully about a future time when everyone will observe the Sabbath:
Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants, every one that keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it. .... Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. (Isaiah 56:6–7)
Then in the concluding verses of his book, Isaiah pictures how it will be in that blessed future:
And it shall come to pass, that every new moon, and every Sabbath, shall all flesh come to bow down to the ground before Me, says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:23) ....
...[T]he Sabbath is not an all or nothing proposition. It offers to enrich your life and give you rest in direct proportion to how much of its spirit and practice you choose to incorporate into your life. But I warn you: a single taste of Sabbath can lead you to want more. ....

Many people have asked, “Why does the Sabbath day begin with the coming of night?” In our familiar weekday world, some view the day beginning at midnight. Others think of it as beginning at sunrise—a new day, a new sun. In Colonial times, many Americans followed the Jewish way of thinking on this. According to the historian Benson Bobrick, the Christian Sabbath was then regarded as beginning at sundown Saturday night. Some early American Christians also concluded their Sabbath as Jews customarily conclude theirs—at the appearance of three stars on Sunday evening. .... (the book at Amazon)

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

O Saviour of the world,
who by Thy cross and precious blood hast redeemed us,
Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord. Amen.
Thomas Tallis, 1575

The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

I have previously found this appropriate for Lent.
Gilbert Meilaender recommended reading Dorothy Sayers's radio plays collected as The Man Born to Be King :
On June 4, 1955, C.S. Lewis wrote to Dorothy Sayers to thank her for a pamphlet and letter she had sent him. He noted, in passing, that “as always in Holy Week,” he had been “re-reading [Sayers's] The Man Born to Be King. It stands up to this v. particular kind of test extremely well.” We might, I think, do far worse than imitate Lewis in our own Lenten reading.

The Man Born to Be King is a series of radio plays, twelve in all, dramatizing the life of Jesus from birth to death and resurrection. First broadcast by the BBC in 1941–1942, they were published in 1943, together with Sayers’s notes for each play and a long Introduction she wrote recounting both her aims and approaches in writing the plays and some of the first (often comical) reactions from the public.

Sayers did not suffer fools gladly, and she takes evident delight in recounting objections, many of which grew out of a kind of piety that resisted the deliberate realism of the plays. Thus, for example, among those who wrote her with objections was one who objected to her having Herod tell his court, “Keep your mouths shut.” The reason for the objection? Such “coarse expressions” struck the correspondent as “jarring on the lips of any one "so closely connected with our Lord." .... (more)
The book can be ordered at Amazon. If you haunt second-hand bookstores and come across it, it is well worth possessing and reading, and Sayers' notes are as valuable as the plays themselves.

Gilbert Meilaender, "The Greatest Drama Ever," Touchstone.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

A pagan observance?

My annual reminder:

In an article at Christian History, Anthony McRoy systematically refuted the idea that "Easter" has any connection to possible pagan antecedents, and concludes:
...The Christian title "Easter"...reflects its general date in the calendar, rather than the Paschal festival having been re-named in honor of a supposed pagan deity.

Of course, the Christian commemoration of the Paschal festival rests not on the title of the celebration but on its content—namely, the remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection. It is Christ's conquest of sin, death, and Satan that gives us the right to wish everyone "Happy Easter!"
He notes that:
The argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.
Even if there were some preceding pagan holiday or practice, that wouldn't prove anything — any more than it does for Christmas, or Halloween for that matter. As McRoy points out:
Of course, even if Christians did engage in contextualization—expressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms. After all, Christians speak of "Good Friday," but they are in no way honoring the worship of the Norse/Germanic queen of the gods Freya by doing so.

But, in fact, in the case of Easter, the evidence suggests otherwise: that neither the commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection nor its name are derived from paganism. .... (more)
Good history and good sense.

Even the bunny and the egg — like Santa Claus and the Christmas tree — are, at worst, relatively harmless distractions.

"Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?" Christianity Today

Sunday, March 24, 2024

An anti-Semite?

In “'Realism coloured by poetry': rereading John Buchan," Roger Kimball considers, among much else, whether John Buchan was an anti-Semite:
At the beginning of The Thirty-Nine Steps, Franklin Scudder is ranting about the international Jewish conspiracy and conjures up the evil figure of the mastermind behind the scenes, a “little white-faced Jew in a bath chair with an eye like a rattlesnake.” Of course, Scudder is potty and winds up a few pages later with a knife in his back. But Buchan’s portrayal of Jews, at least in his early novels, is not glamorous. With some exceptions, they are rag dealers or pawnbrokers or else nefarious anarchists or shady financiers. There are exceptions—Julius Victor, for example, “the richest man in the world,” who is a thoroughly noble chap. But then he is described by the dyspeptic American John S. Blenkiron as “the whitest Jew since the apostle Paul.” It was meant as praise, but still...

Buchan’s biographer Lownie said that “It is difficult to find any evidence of anti-Semitism in Buchan’s own personal views.” Well, maybe. It’s much more likely that—up to the 1930s, anyway—Buchan was anti-Semitic (and anti-foreigner) in the way nearly everyone in his society was. At the time, Gertrude Himmelfarb notes, “Men were normally anti-Semitic, unless by some quirk of temperament or ideology they happened to be philo-Semitic. So long as the world itself was normal, this was of no great consequence. . . . It was Hitler...who put an end to the casual, innocent anti-Semitism of the clubman.” And by the time the Nazis came along, Buchan had abandoned any casual aspersions against Jews in his novels. Moreover, he publicly denounced Hitler’s anti-Semitism in 1934. (Which was one reason, no doubt, that he was on the Nazi’s post-invasion list of people to be imprisoned for “Pro-Jewish activity.”) ...Buchan was ardently pro-Zionist, and his name was later ceremoniously inscribed in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund.

In The Three Hostages, Sandy Arbuthnot gives voice to feelings of exasperation that, I suspect, come close to Buchan’s own feelings:
“The old English way was to regard all foreigners as slightly childish and rather idiotic and ourselves as the only grown-ups in a kindergarten world. That meant that we had a cool detached view and did even-handed unsympathetic justice. But now we have to go into the nursery ourselves and are bear-fighting on the floor. We take violent sides, and make pets, and of course if you are -phil something or other you have got to be -phobe something else.”
It was precisely that unreasoning attachment to ideology—to the grim nursery of human passions—that Buchan resisted. ....
The Gertrude Himmelfarb essay on John Buchan can be found here (pdf).

A thriller

I have expressed my enthusiasm for John Buchan's thrillers before. This is about one of them:
First published in 1924, The Three Hostages features one of Buchan’s regular heroes, Richard Hannay. When the book begins, Hannay is just turned forty years of age, not long married, with a young son. After distinguished service in the First World War, he has retired to the country to fish and shoot. Before long, however, a national crisis arrives, and Hannay is told that His Country Needs Him. Reluctantly, Hannay has to respond to the call of duty.

The plot of The Three Hostages is pure blood and thunder; it is a melodrama. It is, however, an exceptionally intelligent and well told melodrama, and the reader is effortlessly carried along.

The main reason for discussing the book today is that it reveals how remarkably percipient Buchan was about future developments. ....

.... ‘Have you ever realised,’ one character asks Hannay, ‘the amount of craziness that the War has left in the world?’

Later, another character speaks of the dangers of propaganda. ‘Dick, have you ever considered what a diabolical weapon that can be – using all the channels of modern publicity to poison and warp men’s minds?’ This, please note, was written ten years before the appointment of Goebbels as Hitler’s propaganda minister.

The rise of Hitler, or a fanatic like him, is also foreseen. ‘In ordinary times he will not be heard, because, as I say, his world is not our world. But let there come a time of great suffering or discontent, when the mind of the ordinary man is in desperation, and the rational fanatic will come by his own. When he appeals to the sane and the sane respond, revolutions begin.’ ....

Should you be interested in the history and development of the thriller, The Three Hostages is a book you should read.
Read The Three Hostages online.

Friday, March 22, 2024

C.S. Lewis

A.N. Wilson was a biographer of C.S. Lewis (not my favorite). Here Wilson narrates a pretty good biographical documentary about CSL, "Clive Staples Lewis: The Lost Poet Of Narnia":

Thursday, March 21, 2024

"Defining deviancy down"

.... [S]ome of the very people who advance the myth of a "Christian America," in which the American founders are retrofitted as conservative evangelicals, now embrace a view that both the orthodox Christians and the deist Unitarians of the founding era would, in full agreement, denounce. From The Federalist Papers to the debates around the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, virtually every Founding Father—even with all their differences on the specifics of federalism—would argue that constitutional procedures and policies alone were not enough to conserve a republic: Moral norms and expectations of some level of personal character were necessary.

Do these norms keep people of bad character from ascending to high office? Not at all. Hypocrites and demagogues have always been with us. What every generation of Americans have recognized until now, though, is that there is a marked difference between some leaders not living up to the character expected of them and leaders operating in a space where there aren’t expectations of personal character. You might hire an accountant to do your taxes, only later to find that he’s a tax fraud and an embezzler. That’s quite different from hiring an open fraud because you’ve concluded that only chumps obey the tax laws. ....

...[W]hat conservatives in general, and Christians in particular, once knew is that what is normalized in a culture becomes an expected part of that culture. Defending a president using his power to have sex with his intern by saying, "Everybody lies about sex" isn’t just a political argument; it changes the way people think about what, in the fullness of time, they should expect for themselves. This is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called "defining deviancy down." ....

What happens long-term with your policies in a post-character culture is important. What happens to your country is even more important. But consider also what happens to you. "If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilization, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual," C.S. Lewis wrote. "But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilization, compared with his, is only a moment." .... (more)

A faithful Jew

George Weigel, reminding us that we are not Marcionites:
Marcion and his followers claimed that the Creator God of Genesis and the God of the Jewish people’s Exodus was not the “Father” God to whom Jesus prayed; in fact, the Marcionites claimed that Jesus’s mission, as he understood it, was to overthrow and displace this “God of the Law” with the “God of Love.” Marcion rejected three of the four canonical Gospels, accepting only an edited version of the Gospel of Luke. And therein lay this heretic’s one positive contribution to Christianity: He forced the Church to clarify its own canon of Scripture, which of course includes the Gospels Marcion rejected.

Over the past 1,800 years, other deviant Christian thinkers have tried to “take the Jewish out of Jesus,” so to speak. ....

Lent is a good time to reflect on the indisputable fact that Jesus of Nazareth, whom we believe to be the incarnate Son of God, was a son of the Jewish people. He was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and presented to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses in the Temple (Luke 2:22). He was raised within the temporal rhythms and rituals of Judaism and learned its sacred writings (Luke 2:41–52). He lived as a faithful Jew and taught as a faithful Jew (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” [Matt. 5:17]). He was mocked by the Romans who crucified him as “the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37 and parallels). And he died as a faithful Jew, invoking Psalm 22 and its confession of the ultimate reign of the God of Israel (“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord...”). .... (more)

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

“The strong do what they will..."

Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War is the first of "Five Best: Books on Geopolitics" recommended by Adm. James Stavridis in The Wall Street Journal. It was one of the books assigned in a political theory class that I took in graduate school.
Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) is the ultimate tale of a powerful geopolitical conflict. Athens, the dominant sea power, is challenged by Sparta, the upstart land power. The two city-states rely on complex alliance systems, crafty diplomats, military might and shifting objectives to dominate ancient Greece. The war lasts nearly three decades and forces almost all the other city-states to pick a side. The inferno would engulf them all. This is a work of history at once idealistic (“Judging happiness to be the fruit of freedom and freedom of valor, never decline the dangers of war.”) and pragmatic (“The strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.”). In recounting a war that deeply harmed both sides, Thucydides gives us a maxim for our own troubled times: “The course of war cannot be foreseen, and its attacks are generally dictated by the impulse of the moment.”
It's a good selection, but the last recommendation surprised me: The Lord of the Rings. It's an interesting interpretation of the trilogy, but one that I suspect would not have pleased Tolkien.
How does J.R.R. Tolkien’s three-volume fantasy novel land on a list of books about geopolitics? By being a thinly disguised roman à clef of World War II. Put Hitler in the role of evil Sauron, let Mussolini be the wizard Saruman and create a heroic alliance to oppose them. The hobbits—a peaceful people Tolkien introduced in his preceding work—carry much of the story. But the rest of the cast are the geopolitical masters of the tale. And what a tale it is: an immense force of evil seeking control of a devastating technology; a shopworn and fractious alliance formed in resistance; a harrowing series of battles across plains, mountains and rivers; and lessons in complex diplomacy, economic strangulation, courtly betrayal and mind control. The Lord of the Rings is also a cautionary tale about the dangers of the world, as we hear from ancient elven lord Elrond: “Let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.” The hobbits try their best to remain naive and innocent. At one point Frodo, their accidental leader, says: “It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing.” Maybe so. But the geopolitical lesson of The Lord of the Rings is to fight with all your heart and soul against evil—and build what alliances you can along the way.