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.

Monday, March 18, 2024

A lucky life

Joseph Epstein writes about "Writing My Autobiography" in the current First Things. I will happily read just about anything he writes:
My own life has not provided the richest fodder for autobiography. For one thing, it has not featured much in the way of drama. For another, good fortune has allowed me the freedom to do with my life much as I have wished. I have given my autobiography the title Never Say You’ve Had a Lucky Life, with the subtitle Especially If You’ve Had a Lucky Life. Now well along in its closing chapter, mine, I contend, has been thus far—here I pause to touch wood—a most lucky life. ....

I have known serious sadness in my life. I have undergone a divorce. I have become a member of that most dolorous of clubs, parents who have buried one of their children. Yet I have had much to be grateful for. In the final paragraph of a book I wrote some years ago on the subject of ambition, I noted that “We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing.” In all these realms, I lucked out. I was born to intelligent, kindly parents; at a time that, though I was drafted into the army, allowed me to miss being called up to fight in any wars; and in the largely unmitigated prosperity enjoyed by the world’s most interesting country, the United States of America. ....

The older one gets, unless one’s life is lived in pain or deepest regret, the more fortunate one feels. Not always, not everyone, I suppose. “The longer I live, the more I am inclined to the belief that this earth is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum,” said George Bernard Shaw, who lived to age ninety-four. Though the world seems to be in a hell of a shape just now, I nonetheless prefer to delay my exit for as long as I can. I like it here, continue to find much that is interesting and amusing, and have no wish to depart the planet.

Still, with advancing years I have found my interests narrowing. Not least among my waning interests is that in travel. I like my domestic routine too much to abandon it for foreign countries where the natives figure to be wearing Air Jordan shoes, Ralph Lauren shirts, and cargo pants. Magazines that I once looked forward to, many of which I have written for in the past, no longer contain much that I find worth reading. A former moviegoer, I haven’t been to a movie theater in at least a decade. The high price of concert and opera tickets has driven me away. The supposedly great American playwrights—Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Edward Albee—have never seemed all that good to me, and I miss them not at all. If all this sounds like a complaint that the culture has deserted me, I don’t feel that it has. I can still listen to my beloved Mozart on discs, read Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Dickens, George Eliot, Willa Cather, and the other great novelists, watch the splendid movies of earlier days on Turner Classics and HBO—live, in other words, on the culture of the past. .... (more)

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Politics in perspective

I've been a political addict ever since I campaigned for candidates in the 1960s—and politics is what I taught for thirty years—but in this year's political environment I sympathize with John Wilson's intended behavior:
I am myself dismayed, to put it mildly, at the prospect of a choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, neither of whom I can vote for in good conscience. But I was more appalled and at the same time shamefully entertained by the excessive reaction, especially on the part of those for whom Trump’s candidacy—with a strong possibility of victory—is an occasion for apocalyptic pronouncements. ....

If Donald Trump is elected, it will not mean “the end of democracy.” If Joe Biden is elected, the world will keep turning. That’s not to say that no disasters may lie in store. The unthinkable can become reality overnight, as a look at the day’s news will remind us. But there is something shameful, something sickeningly bogus, in the huffing and puffing of those who claim, for instance, that “what happened in Germany in the 1930s is happening again in the US today.” ....

I am not looking forward to the prospect of the next few months in this election cycle. I won’t be following the “news” religiously (but Wendy and I will be going to church each Sunday). I won’t be watching and listening to the candidates. I am myself a caregiver, and I have to take care of myself in order to do my job; I have to preserve my sanity. Neither will I be living in a bunker or a cabin in the woods. My wife Wendy and our daughter Katy and our dear, aging cat Nina will muddle along. Wendy and I will listen to Anonymous 4 and Anouar Brahem and the blues while we work on jigsaws. I’ll putter away on a review or a column. Via DVD (we’re primitives), Wendy and I, sometimes joined by Katy, will watch old episodes featuring Brother Cadfael and Miss Marple and Perry Mason, black and white noirs and slapstick comedies lovingly restored....

And each day, weather permitting, Wendy and I will walk in the neighborhoods nearby. Wendy will groan when, on a nearby street, we pass the house of a man who has a flagpole with two flags: the American flag and a Trump flag. And on another nearby street, we will laugh as we pass the house with a little white dog who likes to sit on the back of a sofa, and who literally flings himself against the window, barking furiously, as we pass. It’s a wonderful life.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Christians in an anti-Christian culture

From Kevin DeYoung's review of Life in the Negative World: Confronting Challenges in an Anti-Christian Culture:
...Renn’s “three worlds” thesis isn’t a way to grade the overall Christianity of the country. It’s a framework for understanding how society views the reasonableness of Christian truths, the validity of Christian arguments, and the obligation we all have to live up to a basic standard of Christian virtue. Renn claims that we are living in a negative world, one that is deeply suspicious of Christianity (especially when it comes to issues of sexuality). He makes a persuasive case. ....

Renn argues that none of the familiar models of Christian engagement works in the negative world. The “culture war” strategy, as he calls it, specialized in decrying the erosion of our moral character. This strategy is truly effective only if our views are in the majority. In the positive world, it might be possible to raise the standard of Christian virtue and hope that a winning coalition will rally to our side. By contrast, the “seeker sensitivity” strategy argued for maximum personal and ecclesial flexibility so as not to turn off the suburban would-be churchgoer. This strategy often functioned as if aesthetic style and personal relationships were all that stood in the way of non-Christians’ embracing Christianity. Meanwhile, the “cultural engagement” approach sought to alleviate the concerns of educated city-dwellers: a kind of seeker sensitivity for skeptical cosmopolitan elites. Today’s cultural engagers, Renn believes, have morphed into another form of culture warrior, except that their war is not against the world but against other evangelicals. Renn acknowledges that all three approaches have something to teach us (insofar as courage, kindness, and understanding the people we mean to reach are Christian values); but as all-encompassing strategies, they are outdated.

I was also helped by Renn’s observation that Trump and wokeness are two key polarizers at work in re-sorting evangelicals. At least, if you take “Trump” to be less about voting for Trump (which some evangelicals may do while holding their noses) and more about an aggressive, populist, the-old-rules-don’t-work-anymore approach to cultural transformation, then Renn has hit upon an important point. Evangelicalism is being scrambled along those two axes: Are you opposed to wokeness, and are you opposed to Trumpism? It’s relatively straightforward to be opposed to one and for the other (or at least not terribly bothered by the other); the difficult space for Christians and churches is when you are opposed to both. ....

...[C]onservatives need a new way to talk to men and a new way to relate to the Republican Party. With both critiques, Renn doesn’t provide many answers, but he is right to highlight (concerning the former) how traditional complementarian discourse was tailored to second-wave feminism. Regarding the Republicans, he argues that evangelicals have gotten little for their political loyalty except pro-life judges. As he points out, the base of the Republican Party is increasingly made up of non-Christians and post-Christians, and gathers its energy from the dissident right—and from the growing ranks of “barstool conservatives,” who embrace coarse language and a locker room bro culture as much as they oppose left-wing hectoring and nanny-state conformity. This presents a challenge for conservative evangelicals who will never vote for Democrats, but who may find themselves in a party that pays lip service to the Religious Right while becoming more irreligious. ....

Thursday, March 14, 2024


I own a lot of movies. I have always loved movies and once it became affordable, I started buying them, first as videotapes, and then DVDs. Even though I can now stream films online I prefer the physical media because it can't be messed with by corporations "updating" them and because they are always available to me. I have most of the films I really want and consequently, when I do buy, it is usually an upgrade of one I particularly like and am certain to watch again.

Today I received a "Limited Edition" Blu-ray of The Shootist. It is one of my favorite John Wayne movies. It was his last. His character is dying of cancer as was Wayne. It had a great cast in addition to Wayne: Lauren Bacall, a teenage Ron Howard, James Stewart, Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brien, Harry Morgan, John Carradine, and more. The director was Don Siegel.

From the description on the case:
John Bernard Books is the stuff of legend, a renowned 'shootist' whose reputation looms large. But it's 1901, and like the old west, John is dying and a reputation like his draws trouble like an outhouse draws flies. As word spreads that the famous gunfighter is on his last legs, the vultures begin to gather; old enemies, the marshal, newspaper men, an undertaker, all eager to see him dead. Other men might die quietly in bed or take their own lives, but J.B. Books will choose his executioner and face down death with a pistol in each hand.
My program for the evening is set.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

A peculiar people

Reading through a collection of quotations from Eric Hoffer, I came across one that seems especially relevant today:
The Jews are a peculiar people: Things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.

Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people, and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it. Poland and Czechoslovakia did it. Turkey threw out a million Greeks and Algeria a million Frenchmen. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese--and no one says a word about refugees.

But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis. Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace.

Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.
Among the many countries excused for driving out people are Arab countries after 1948, driving out Jews in numbers approximating the number of Palestinians who fled Israel.

A refutation

Today Patrick Kurp refers to one of my favorite Samuel Johnson stories:
The best-known and still unchallenged refutation of the Irish Anglican Bishop George Berkeley’s theory of subjective idealism — he called it “immaterialism” — is recounted by James Boswell on August 6, 1763:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.’
Dr. Johnson’s demonstration of common sense is at once amusing, convincing, and somehow quintessentially English, the sort of act Jonathan Swift would have applauded... Johnson’s critics have dismissed his logic as fallacious and dubbed his approach argumentum ad lapidem — “argument to the stone” — so freshmen in Philosophy 101 and other sophisticates can feel vindicated. For the rest of us it’s QED. ....

Sunday, March 10, 2024

"Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice"

Douglas Murray's choice this week in his series, "Things Worth Remembering," is a sermon delivered by C.S. Lewis soon after the outbreak of World War II:
When I was at Oxford, I met the actor Robert Hardy, who told me that, as an undergraduate, he was fortunate enough to have had Tolkien as his tutor in Anglo-Saxon literature and C.S. Lewis as his tutor in Medieval English.

Both men became most famous for creating their own fantasy worlds—Tolkien with the Middle Earth of The Lord of the Rings, and Lewis with his Chronicles of Narnia series, which are often thought of as children’s books, but which are much more than that. ....

Lewis was not only a writer of scholarly books and popular fiction. He was also, perhaps, the foremost Christian apologist of the mid-twentieth century. His books and lectures—Fern-Seed and Elephants is a very good place to start—did something that very few people can do today.

Most professors, not least of literature, have no interest in communicating with a wide audience. They play games for other people in their field. They also seem to take exceptionally obvious or untrue ideas and try to spin them out in a way that makes really rather banal observations seem infinitely more complex than they are.

Lewis had the opposite skill—a real skill—which was to distill a lifetime’s learning and make complex and deep ideas not just understandable but relatable. ....
The selection that Murray has chosen is from a sermon Lewis delivered in 1939, “Learning in Wartime.”   Murray:
It is a profoundly important message. Essentially, it is this: do not put off what you have to do in your life until the times are optimal. Because they never were optimal, and they never will be.

Human life, he notes, was always filled with distractions, alarms, panics, and tragedy. That is not what makes it remarkable. What makes life remarkable is that we get on with what we have to do in spite of these things. Alone among the creatures, we have the capability to understand the world around us and to have some sense of where it might be going. That could push us into despair and despondency. But the history of mankind is not that. It is that we did and do remarkable things, in spite of such knowledge. .... (more)

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Growing old

A blog I read every day sends me looking for an essay by Samuel Johnson in The Rambler (1750):
.... Yet, however age may discourage us by its appearance from considering it in prospect, we shall all by degrees certainly be old; and therefore we ought to inquire what provision can be made against that time of distress? what happiness can be stored up against the winter of life? and how we may pass our latter years with serenity and cheerfulness?

If it has been found by the experience of mankind, that not even the best seasons of life are able to supply sufficient gratifications, without anticipating uncertain felicities, it cannot surely be supposed that old age, worn with labours, harassed with anxieties, and tortured with diseases, should have any gladness of its own, or feel any satisfaction from the contemplation of the present. All the comfort that can now be expected must be recalled from the past, or borrowed from the future; the past is very soon exhausted, all the events or actions which the memory can afford pleasure are quickly recollected; and the future lies beyond the grave, where it can be reached only by virtue and devotion.

Piety is the only proper and adequate relief of decaying man. He that grows old without religious hopes, as he declines into imbecility, and feels pains and sorrows incessantly crowding upon him, falls into a gulph of bottomless misery, in which every reflection must plunge him deeper, and where he finds only new gradations of anguish, and precipices of horrour.

Thursday, March 7, 2024


I watched The World at War as it was being broadcast on PBS in the 1970s and later purchased the DVDs. I used several episodes in my US History classes when teaching the Second World War. The toughest one for students to watch—and for me to watch again and again—was titled "Genocide." It first screened fifty years ago and was one of the first films to document the Holocaust. From History Today:
First broadcast on 27 March 1974, "Genocide" is credited with introducing the Holocaust (a term still not yet in common use) to the British public. It helped to inculcate an awareness of the Nazi "Final Solution" as a crime directed against a specific group. The episode was screened over four years before the US-produced television miniseries Holocaust, often cited as the televisual milestone promoting Holocaust awareness on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Genocide" provides an account of the Nazi persecution of Jews and the Holocaust that is succinct and accessible, yet not oversimplified. This is even more remarkable given that it preceded much of the foundational scholarship on the subject. It included themes such as the influence of racial science and eugenics on Nazi ideology, the rise of the SS, the role of the Einsatzgruppen ("special task forces" – mobile killing squads) in perpetrating what became known as the "Holocaust by bullets" in the eastern occupied territories, and the "Aktion Reinhard" death camps – Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. ....

"Genocide" was directed by British filmmaker Michael Darlow. The World at War’s producer, Jeremy Isaacs, had initially wanted to direct "Genocide" but, given that members of his family had been murdered in the Holocaust, decided against it, fearing that he would be too "emotionally involved". ....

"Genocide" succeeded in its aim to educate a British public still largely ignorant about the nature of the Holocaust. It would also be unfair to judge "Genocide" by the standards of present-day Holocaust scholarship and memorial culture. In some respects, it was a product of its time, but in many, it was far ahead. The episode’s most significant achievement was to clearly explain who the Nazis targeted and why, and how this persecution developed from exclusion, to expulsion, to extermination. However, "Genocide" also inadvertently encouraged a degree of understanding, perhaps even sympathy, for those who perpetrated the Holocaust. These men were allowed to position themselves as mere "cogs" who had been placed in an impossible situation by a brutal, totalitarian regime; a regime in which the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" was conceived, masterminded, ordered, and approved of by a tiny coterie of the most senior Nazis.
This episode of The World at War can be seen on YouTube but, as you can see, only on YouTube as it is age-restricted:

Joseph Cronin, "Holocaust at 50," History Today, March 3, 2024.

You can run, but you can’t hide

ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
In its present form, it goes back to the brilliant English scholar Alcuin, who worked with Charlemagne in the late eighth century to create a Christian civilization in Western Europe. Let’s say around 790. There is some doubt as to whether the prayer has older origins, perhaps back to Gregory the Great, around 600. ....

In the 1540s, Anglican reformer Thomas Cranmer took this Collect – as he did so much else from the medieval service books – and incorporated it into the regular liturgy of Common Prayer....

Several things come to mind about this collect, but above all the sense of rigorous and absolutely honest self-examination. It comes close to creating the mood of final judgment: whatever fronts or false faces you put up, God sees behind them. Or if you like melodrama, you can run, but you can’t hide. ....

It is a near-perfect prayer for any and all Christian denominations. That is partly because it is so rooted in the Biblical tradition, and specifically the Psalms. See Psalm 139:
You have searched me, Lord,
   and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
   you perceive my thoughts from afar…
Psalm 51 has also left its echoes. ....
Jenkins on how the prayer illustrates the usefulness of liturgy: 
  • Like the best parts of any liturgy, the Collect takes essential points about the Christian approach to life, and puts them in simple and memorable form.
  • It says these things better, more comprehensively, and more concisely than we could ever do ourselves.
  • By saying the words repeatedly, week by week, we learn and internalize them, and learn how to approach our own mental processes. ....
  • And as we say the words, we are aware of a tradition that takes us back well over a millennium, and perhaps far longer. We say them together with Thomas Cranmer and Alcuin.
  • We see and understand the chain of continuity, and place ourselves within that continuity.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024


If Ryan T. Anderson is right, everyone has gone bonkers over the significance of the Alabama Supreme Court's decision regarding IVF:
The media didn’t just overreact to a judge’s mentioning God as the source of the sanctity of life. They falsely claimed IVF was about to be banned—and Republicans fell for the claim. In reality, the Alabama civil (not criminal) case was brought by the parents of IVF children, not opponents of IVF. The clinic keeping their embryonic children in cryopreservation had not provided adequate protection, so a patient managed to wander in and remove several embryos, causing their deaths. The parents sued to hold the clinic accountable for the wrongful death of their children. And the Alabama Supreme Court held that a statute protecting minors (including, as precedent held, embryos in the womb) contained no exception for embryos outside the womb. Far from attempting to ban IVF, the parents who brought this lawsuit were trying to protect frozen embryonic children, and rightly so.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Hypochondria of the mind

A few days ago, in "Worry less. Ruminate less..." I quoted someone to the effect that an obsession with emotions is debilitating. Theodore Dalrymple makes a related case here:
What is mental health? The only definition I can think of is the absence of outright lunacy. Unfortunately, it has come to mean any deviance from a state of perfect equanimity and satisfaction. A long time ago, I noticed that the word ‘unhappy’ had disappeared from the everyday lexicon, in favour of the word ‘depressed’. For every person now who claims to be unhappy there are a thousand who say that they are depressed, and this is irrespective of the conditions that are making them so. ....

But the semantic change from unhappiness to depression, in so many cases absurd and even laughable, is not without its deleterious effects. If you are unhappy, you seek the causes and, if you have what used to be called inner resources, confront them. (Unfortunately, there are circumstances, truly tragic, in which this is not possible.) But if you claim to be depressed, you pass the responsibility over to professionals who are expected to do something to or for you that will remove the depression as a diseased appendix is removed. ....

Of course, there are fashions in diagnosis. A generation ago it was multiple personality – The Three Faces of Eve kind of thing – and the DSM 5 suggested that the prevalence might be as high as 1.5 per cent of the adult population, that is to say one in every 66 people. Multiple personality has since become very rare.

These days it is gender dysphoria that is fashionable, with child gender-identity referrals increasing from 210 per year in 2011 to 5,000 per year in 2021. Either there must be something new in the water supply, or we are dealing with a socio-psychological epidemic. ....

The ever-expanding gamut of psychiatric diagnosis encourages the belief that all departure from a desired state of mind is a medical condition susceptible to medical or some other technical solution. This results in a propensity to hypochondria of the mind, with people taking their mental temperatures, as it were, as hypochondriacs take their blood pressure. But it precludes honesty or genuine reflection and leads to the search for bogus cures of bogus diseases. A corollary is the neglect of those who genuinely require care, who drown in a sea of inflated need. ....