Category : Books

Gary Saul Morson–Fyodor Dostoevsky: philosopher of freedom

On December 22, 1849, a group of political radicals were taken from their prison cells in Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress, where they had been interrogated for eight months. Led to the Semenovsky Square, they heard a sentence of death by firing squad. They were given long white peasant blouses and nightcaps—their funeral shrouds—and offered last rites. The first three prisoners were seized by the arms and tied to the stake. One prisoner refused a blindfold and stared defiantly into the guns trained on them. At the last possible moment, the guns were lowered as a courier galloped up with an imperial decree reducing death sentences to imprisonment in a Siberian prison camp followed by service as a private in the army. The last-minute rescue was in fact planned in advance as part of the punishment, an aspect of social life that Russians understand especially well.

Accounts affirm: of the young men who endured this terrible ordeal, one had his hair turn white; a second went mad and never recovered his sanity; a third, whose two-hundredth birthday we celebrate in 2021, went on to write Crime and Punishment.

The mock-execution and the years in Siberian prison—thinly fictionalized in his novel Notes from the House of the Dead (1860)—changed Dostoevsky forever. His naive, hopeful romanticism disappeared. His religious faith deepened. The sadism of both prisoners and guards taught him that the sunny view of human nature presumed by utilitarianism, liberalism, and socialism were preposterous. Real human beings differed fundamentally from what these philosophies presumed.

People do not live by bread—or, what philosophers called the maximalization of “advantage”—alone. All utopian ideologies presuppose that human nature is fundamentally good and simple: evil and apparent complexity result from a corrupt social order. Eliminate want and you eliminate crime. For many intellectuals, science itself had proven these contentions and indicated the way to the best of all possible worlds. Dostoevsky rejected all these ideas as pernicious nonsense. “It is clear and intelligible to the point of obviousness,” he wrote in a review of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “that evil lies deeper in human beings than our social-physicians suppose; that no social structure will eliminate evil; that the human soul will remain as it always has been . . . and, finally, that the laws of the human soul are still so little known, so obscure to science, so undefined, and so mysterious, that there are not and cannot be either physicians or final judges” except God Himself.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Russia

(NC Register) Re-Reading Father Richard Neuhaus’ ‘American Babylon’ in Light of U.S. Capitol Attack

Father Richard’s engagement in political activism never led him to messianic politics. He died after Barack Obama’s election but before his inauguration, and long before the current president came down the escalator at Trump Tower. He was suspicious of the messianic dimension of Obama’s candidacy and would have been troubled by those who regarded Donald Trump as having some kind of messianic anointing.

Father Richard would have been dismayed at the apocalyptic tone of politics today. The future of the republic does not hang on a presidential election, let alone a senate election in Georgia. Elections have consequences, sometimes, grave consequences, but electoral politics does not heal a corrupt culture.

“Moral progress is far from being self-evident,” Father Richard wrote. “We should at least be open to the possibility that we are today witnessing not moral progress but a dramatic moral regression.”

That possibility was the risk of freedom, and Father Richard knew well that the great American experiment in ordered liberty was just that, an experiment, which would be tested. His commitment to the pro-life cause made him all too aware that that test could be failed….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General

Flannery O’Connor on the idea of the Need for Redemption being Squashed

My own feeling is that writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable. In some cases, these writers may be unconsciously infected with the Manichaean spirit of the times and suffer the much-discussed disjunction between sensibility and belief, but I think that more often the reason for this attention to the perverse is the difference between their beliefs and the beliefs of their audience. Redemption is meaningless unless there is case for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969) pp. 33-34 [my emphasis]

Posted in Books, Christology, Church History, Soteriology, Theology

(Guardian) Guarding the apocalypse: inside the fortress of the new Lambeth Palace Library

A dangerous-looking porcupine scuttles across the bottom of a page of a medieval manuscript, amid scenes of fire-breathing dragons, bodies bubbling in cauldrons, and boats deluged by biblical floods. Known as the Lambeth Apocalypse , this 13th-century illuminated text is one of the lurid highlights of the magnificent collection of Lambeth Palace Library , the most important religious archive in the UK and the largest in Europe, after the Vatican in Rome. For centuries, this precious hoard has been kept in a series of leaky, draughty rooms in the palace, gradually filling up every cramped corner. Now, after 400 years, it finally has a purpose-built home – and it’s safe to say that, if the apocalypse ever comes to south London, this fortified building will probably survive it.

“Noah could float past in his ark and the collection would be all right,” says Clare Wright, the Scottish architect behind the £24m new library. “We’ve created a concrete bunker with more bunkers inside, all lifted up above the one-in-1,000-year flood risk level.”

As bunkers go, it is pretty refined. Clad in a sober costume of red bricks, the building stands as a proud bastion at a bend in the busy Lambeth Palace Road, its nine-storey tower poking up above St Thomas’s hospital to peer over at the Palace of Westminster across the Thames. It meets the street with a sheer redbrick cliff-face, its monolithic mass punctured only by a few tiny square windows and the steel gates of a dark grey entrance. Crowning it all is a covered terrace with the air of a rooftop lookout station. This is a public facility, but its primary purpose is clearly the security of the collection. All that’s missing are the cannons.

“Protecting the archive was our main priority,” says library director Declan Kelly. “One of our new trustees asked where the cafe and shop are going to be, but we don’t have either. There’s a little room for readers to make themselves a cup of tea and a small exhibition space, but the emphasis is on safeguarding the collection.”

Read it all.

Posted in Archbishop of Canterbury, Books, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, History

(CC) Jessica Hooten Wilson reviews Esau McCauley’s new book ‘Reading While Black–African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope’

What does it mean to exercise hope while reading the Bible? Esau McCaulley approaches this question through the perspectives and questions Black readers bring to the interpretation of scripture. Reading While Black is a much-needed addition to the shelves of hermeneutic resources available to preachers, students, and teachers. Its insights, although designed for Black readers, should be read by others as well.

As a military spouse who attended many events meant for the wives of soldiers, McCaulley learned that there are advantages to being the one man listening to the conversations in a room full of women. In this book, he offers a similar advantage to White readers: the chance to visit a majority Black space and see how Black people talk differently than they would if they were the minority in the room. For both insiders and outsiders to its conversations, Reading While Black opens up fresh ways of seeing ancient truth.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Evangelicals, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture

The BBC Obituary for John le Carré

John le Carré was the pseudonym of the author David Cornwell, judged by many to be the master of the spy novel.

Meticulously researched, and elegantly written, many of his books reached a wider audience through TV and film adaptations.

Le Carré stripped away the glamour and romance that were a feature of the James Bond novels and instead examined the real dark and seedy life of the professional spy.

In the twilight world of le Carré’s characters the distinction between good and bad, right and wrong was never that clear cut.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, History

(Vox) How a New Hampshire libertarian utopia was foiled by bears

Sean Illing
Then what happened over the next few years or so?

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
By pretty much any measure you can look at to gauge a town’s success, Grafton got worse. Recycling rates went down. Neighbor complaints went up. The town’s legal costs went up because they were constantly defending themselves from lawsuits from Free Towners. The number of sex offenders living in the town went up. The number of recorded crimes went up. The town had never had a murder in living memory, and it had its first two, a double homicide, over a roommate dispute.

So there were all sorts of negative consequences that started to crop up. And meanwhile, the town that would ordinarily want to address these things, say with a robust police force, instead found that it was hamstrung. So the town only had one full-time police officer, a single police chief, and he had to stand up at town meeting and tell people that he couldn’t put his cruiser on the road for a period of weeks because he didn’t have money to repair it and make it a safe vehicle.

Basically, Grafton became a Wild West, frontier-type town.

Read it all; quoted by yours truly in the morning sermon.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, City Government, Ethics / Moral Theology

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews ‘J.I.Packer – His Life in Thought’ by Alister McGrath

McGrath outlines Packer’s views on a number of issues. He was an enthusiastic champion of the Puritans, believing that they have much to teach us today. As McGrath puts it, Packer believed ‘the wisdom of the past can be re-appropriated by today’s Christians allowing it to enrich and challenge our own ideas and lives’. Although McGrath does not draw the parallel, there is much in common with Packer’s approach and the way of ‘ressourcement’ advocated by Catholic theologians who sought to learn from the early church and whose work was a major influence at Vatican II.

To the wider Christian community Packer was known as the author of ‘Knowing God’. This book really expressed the heart of Packer’s theology. Knowing God does not just mean knowing about him; to know God is to enter into a transforming relationship. His account of what it means to know God is cognitive, experiential and relational. There is an emotional element as in all close personal relationships and also deep change within us just as those we love change us.

As years went by, Packer gained a reputation as a conservative in the church. Many were surprised that he cooperated with two Anglo-Catholics, Eric Mascall and Bishop Graham Leonard, in opposing Anglican-Methodist reunion but Packer saw both Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics as allies in defending orthodoxy and the importance of doctrine in Christianity. He would have no truck with the WCC slogan ‘doctrine divides, ministry divides’. This led him to play an important role in the dialogue between evangelicals and Roman Catholics in the US.

It could be said that conservatism led Packer to a progressive attitude to ecumenical relations with Catholics. He showed the same progressive attitude in his readiness to engage with the charismatic movement although early life he opposed the holiness teaching of the Keswick Convention.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Books, Evangelicals, Theology

(CT) Thomas Jefferson Tried to ‘Fix’ the Bible. He Only Succeeded in Making It Sad.

His first effort at revising the text came while he was president—in a 46-page booklet he called The Philosophy of Jesus. The volume has been lost to history, but at one point he explained the project in detail to his frenemy John Adams. He said he had extracted, reduced, and cut down the gospel until the only thing left was “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals that has ever been offered to man.”

It was an easy process, Jefferson said. He cut the text up verse by verse, and the good parts stuck out “as diamonds in a dung hill.”

It wasn’t until 1820, more than a decade out of office, when he finished the fuller second version of his edited gospel. He called it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. He read from it devoutly, Manseau says, until he died in 1826.

But the Jefferson Bible may have proved the opposite of what Jefferson intended. It doesn’t show Jesus to be a great moral teacher once his story is stripped of the miracles, exorcisms, and other acts that the former president found hard to believe. It presents Jesus rather as someone who didn’t do anything. As Manseau writes, “Jefferson’s is a hard gospel. The blind do not see; the lame do not walk; the multitudes will remain hungry if loaves and fishes must be multiplied to feed them. Even those who look to Jesus for forgiveness of sins are left wanting.”

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Office of the President, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture

(RNS) Robert Putnam thinks religion could play a role in healing divisions

Given the huge decline in churchgoing beginning in the 1960s, can religion play a role in turning things around like it did at the beginning of the 20th century?

Garrett: I definitely think there’s a role for religion to play. But religion will have to be innovative in meeting the moment. We have seen some religious innovation aimed at combating the decline in churchgoing — in such things as megachurches, for example. But some of those megachurches are characterized by a theology that is highly individualistic — the prosperity gospel — the idea that God blesses the righteous with riches for themselves. That’s been used to draw people back into religion, but it’s reflective of the destructive, highly individualistic drift over the past half-century, which we chronicle in the book.

For religion to play a role in another upswing, it’s going to have to find a way to speak to a changed social landscape and to remind us our religious traditions speak directly to the situation we find ourselves in today — a situation where we need to take better care of our most vulnerable. We need to think about how we organize a society more fairly. There are great templates in every great religion for how to do this but we have to choose that religious narrative. There’s a moment here where our religious leaders have the ability to shape a religious narrative in order to inform our social problems. We’re seeing some early signs of that happening. For example, the Rev. William Barber, who is organizing “moral marches on Washington” and taking up the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.

Putnam: King moved America from the bottom up as well as the top down. He did it above all by using the Exodus narrative. He knew it appealed well beyond the Black church he was in himself. The point is religious narratives and religious symbols have a huge power to move lots of people.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews Gareth Atkins’ new book ‘Converting Britainnia – Evangelicals and British Public Life, 1770-1840’

‘God Almighty has set before me two great objectives’, William Wilberforce wrote in his diary in October 1787, shortly after his conversion, ‘the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners’. As Gareth Atkins comments in this wide-ranging account of evangelical influence on public life in England from 1770 to 1840, it is important not to let the spotlight fall only on Wilberforce or his allies in Parliament. Historians have often failed to give enough attention to extensive networks that supported Wilberforce and to the care he took to form alliances with other groups that were not completely of his way of thinking.

Not that Atkins seeks to play down Wilberforce’s importance. The picture he paints of a politician seeking lobbying William Pitt and others to influence legislation as well as trying to secure promotion for evangelicals in the church is extraordinary. His energy was enormous. Atkins describes the money and support he raised to secure re-election to his Yorkshire constituency and in an amusing touch adds that the evangelical author, Hannah More, was so anxious about the outcome that she had to be prescribed opium.

Wilberforce’s evangelical faith did not mean that he could not be forceful and cold-blooded if he situation demanded it, even thinking about wrecking an opponent’s career. ‘It is the fashion to speak of Wilberforce as a gentle, yielding character’, remarked one official at the Colonial office, ‘but I can only say that he is the most obstinate, impractical fellow with whom I ever had to do’.

But supporting Wilberforce and the other ‘saints’ in Parliament were large networks of evangelicals which Atkins describes in the church, in the City, in the empire, in the Royal Navy and in the East India Company.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture

(CT) Rebecca Toscano reviews Rich Villodas’s new book–The Antidote to Spiritual Shallowness Isn’t ‘Believing Harder’ but Going Deeper

When I was a kid, I had a recurring nightmare that a loved one in my life was possessed by a demon. Immersed in this dream world, I often thought of Jesus’ words from Matthew 17: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed,” then “nothing will be impossible for you” (v. 20). This spurred me on to fresh efforts at casting out the demon, but nothing ever worked. In response, I tried conjuring up even more faith from somewhere within myself.

A similar impulse remained throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. Whenever I came to a spiritual or religious difficulty—whether it was trying to break a sinful habit, discerning God’s will, or growing in intimacy in my relationships—my impulse was the same: If I could just believe harder (whatever that meant, I was never sure), then I’d be able to move whatever mountain lay before me.

I’ve learned over time that deepening faith is not just a mental exercise. It requires action. This lesson was recently reinforced by Rich Villodas’s The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus, which invites Christians to penetrate further into the mysteries of our faith, the history and traditions of our global church, our relationships with others, and the reality of our own inner lives.

In the midst of a national pandemic that forces us to cover our faces and mediate our social engagements (including worshiping God) through computer screens, Villodas’s book could not come at a more opportune moment.

As the lead pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens for seven years, Villodas guides the reader from experience. He leads a flock that is one of the most multiracial Protestant churches in the United States.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Spirituality/Prayer, Theology

(WSJ) A Former Catholic Dances With the Torah

Given the social distancing mandated by the current pandemic, this will be a Simchat Torah unlike any other. In Israel, currently mired in an intense lockdown, many synagogues will be closed. Around this side of the world, whatever dancing takes place will be muted. Nevertheless, the fragility of life we’ve experienced in the past months allows us to appreciate better what the Torah means to us. The pandemic has made us understand what we often took for granted: how the ability to gather weekly in synagogue and study the Torah together is one of our greatest gifts. And we better appreciate how, in the face of life’s trials, it is the Book of Books that sustains us.

Strikingly, this point about Jewish learning was made by one of America’s most insightful Catholic thinkers, who experienced a moment that mirrors Mr. Dubner’s revelation in a synagogue. A decade ago, Charles Chaput, then archbishop of Philadelphia, visited the study hall of New York’s Yeshiva University, where hundreds of students spend much of their day learning Torah. Archbishop Chaput returned to church to deliver a homily about what he saw. He said he realized how “the Jewish people continue to exist because their covenant . . . is the foundation and glue of their relationship with one another, with their past, and with their future. And the more faithful they are to God’s Word, the more certain they can be of their survival.”

Mr. Dubner and Archbishop Chaput, former and current Catholic alike, discovered the heart of our faith. When all else fails, it is the Torah that sustains us. We know that now more than ever. This year, what is usually a jubilant song on our lips will become a clarion call in our hearts.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology: Scripture

(1st Things) Stephen Barr–On The Origins Of Specious Myths

Conventional wisdom has it that science and religion have perennially been at war. This “conflict thesis,” as historians call it, can be traced to the late nineteenth century and to two influential books in particular: John ­William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, published in 1874, and Andrew Dickson White’s two-volume History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, published in 1896.

Draper stated the thesis this way:

The history of Science . . . is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.

What Draper meant by “traditionary faith” was Catholicism, a religion he detested. The eminent historian of ­science Lawrence Principe has characterized Draper’s book as “little more than a thinly disguised anti-Catholic rant.” For Andrew Dickson White, by contrast, the problem lay not with any particular religion, or with religion in general, but with “dogmatic theology.” “The theological method,” as he saw it, “consists largely in accepting tradition and in spinning arguments to fit it.” The history of science is “full of ­interferences” by theologians fearful of new ideas:

Religious men started, centuries ago, with the idea that purely scientific investigation is unsafe; that theology must intervene. So began this great modern war.

Of course, Draper and White did not invent the notion that scientific ideas and theological ideas can sometimes be in tension, even to the point of conflict. This had been ­obvious since at least the time of Galileo. What they did invent was the notion that there had existed two distinct and warring camps, Science and Religion (or Science and Theology), and that history was replete with clashes between them. This notion is belied, of course, by the fact that the great majority of scientists well into the nineteenth century were themselves religious. Draper and White, in addition to inventing the conflict thesis, amassed much of the evidence that has since been cited to support it. This they did by variously misconstruing, taking out of context, garbling, embellishing, distorting, and in some cases simply fabricating historical facts and events.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, History, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(SA) Jesus made “a sinner and a killer” in Chinese textbook

Disturbing reports from China say Communist Party officials have rewritten the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8, claiming Jesus stoned the woman to death.

The incident in John 8:3–11 is a powerful testament to Jesus’ forgiveness and his divinity. The account says a mob had surrounded a woman accused of adultery. After facing down the crowd seeking to stone her, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v7).

After the crowd leaves, Jesus stands up and says: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (v10-11).

Reports from Roman Catholic sources and carried by the religious liberty group Bitter Winter say this event in the gospel has been drastically changed in a textbook published by the University of Electronic Science and Technology Press. The book is reportedly used in ethics and law courses in Chinese secondary vocational schools.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, China, Christology, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture

(MIT News) Why social media has changed the world — and how to fix it

The numbers make this clear. In 2005, about 7 percent of American adults used social media. But by 2017, 80 percent of American adults used Facebook alone. About 3.5 billion people on the planet, out of 7.7 billion, are active social media participants. Globally, during a typical day, people post 500 million tweets, share over 10 billion pieces of Facebook content, and watch over a billion hours of YouTube video.

As social media platforms have grown, though, the once-prevalent, gauzy utopian vision of online community has disappeared. Along with the benefits of easy connectivity and increased information, social media has also become a vehicle for disinformation and political attacks from beyond sovereign borders.

“Social media disrupts our elections, our economy, and our health,” says Aral, who is the David Austin Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Now Aral has written a book about it. In “The Hype Machine,” published this month by Currency, a Random House imprint, Aral details why social media platforms have become so successful yet so problematic, and suggests ways to improve them.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Books, Science & Technology

(CT) Rediscovering the Pedagogical Power of Narnia

The Narnia stories endure primarily because they are delightful stories, but in hindsight I see that part of the delight—part of what made the characters so engaging and the adventures so riveting—flows from Lewis’ understanding of human character. The adventures rivet because they are so consequential for the adventurers: not only their physical lives but their moral character and indeed their eternal destinies hang in the balance. The characters engage most profoundly not when good characters battle evil ones, but when good and evil war within the persons themselves.

In Narnia we find embodied the baffling mystery of the human condition—the gospel truth of our genuine freedom and desperate need. In Narnia we learn that we cannot save ourselves, but we can accept a savior. Above all, in Lewis’s stories we find an image of a king—not safe but good, not tame but beautiful. As our children come to love Aslan, may they thereby learn better to love the true King.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Children, Theology

A new Book from Tim Keller to be on the Lookout For

Posted in Books, Evangelicals, Theology

Saturday Food for Thought from Harry Blamires

“There is no longer a Christian mind. It is a commonplace that the mind of modern man has been secularized. For…

Posted by Kendall Harmon on Saturday, August 29, 2020

Posted in Books, Secularism, Theology

Friday Food for Thought from Christopher Lasch

“Diversity”—a slogan that looks attractive on the face of it—has come to mean the opposite of what it appears to mean….

Posted by Kendall Harmon on Friday, August 28, 2020

Posted in Books, History

Harriet Beecher Stowe on her Feast Day

Have not many of us, in the weary way of life, felt, in some hours, how far easier it were to die than to live?

The martyr, when faced even by a death of bodily anguish and horror, finds in the very terror of his doom a strong stimulant and tonic. There is a vivid excitement, a thrill and fervor, which may carry through any crisis of suffering that is the birth-hour of eternal glory and rest.

But to live,–to wear on, day after day, of mean, bitter, low, harassing servitude, every nerve dampened and depressed, every power of feeling gradually smothered,–this long and wasting heart-martyrdom, this slow, daily bleeding away of the inward life, drop by drop, hour after hour,–this is the true searching test of what there may be in man or woman.

When Tom stood face to face with his persecutor, and heard his threats, and thought in his very soul that his hour was come, his heart swelled bravely in him, and he thought he could bear torture and fire, bear anything, with the vision of Jesus and heaven but just a step beyond; but, when he was gone, and the present excitement passed off, came back the pain of his bruised and weary limbs,–came back the sense of his utterly degraded, hopeless, forlorn estate; and the day passed wearily enough.

Long before his wounds were healed, Legree insisted that he should be put to the regular field-work; and then came day after day of pain and weariness, aggravated by every kind of injustice and indignity that the ill-will of a mean and malicious mind could devise. Whoever, in our circumstances, has made trial of pain, even with all the alleviations which, for us, usually attend it, must know the irritation that comes with it. Tom no longer wondered at the habitual surliness of his associates; nay, he found the placid, sunny temper, which had been the habitude of his life, broken in on, and sorely strained, by the inroads of the same thing. He had flattered himself on leisure to read his Bible; but there was no such thing as leisure there. In the height of the season, Legree did not hesitate to press all his hands through, Sundays and week-days alike. Why shouldn’t he?””he made more cotton by it, and gained his wager; and if it wore out a few more hands, he could buy better ones. At first, Tom used to read a verse or two of his Bible, by the flicker of the fire, after he had returned from his daily toil; but, after the cruel treatment he received, he used to come home so exhausted, that his head swam and his eyes failed when he tried to read; and he was fain to stretch himself down, with the others, in utter exhaustion.

Is it strange that the religious peace and trust, which had upborne him hitherto, should give way to tossings of soul and despondent darkness? The gloomiest problem of this mysterious life was constantly before his eyes, souls crushed and ruined, evil triumphant, and God silent. It was weeks and months that Tom wrestled, in his own soul, in darkness and sorrow. He thought of Miss Ophelia’s letter to his Kentucky friends, and would pray earnestly that God would send him deliverance. And then he would watch, day after day, in the vague hope of seeing somebody sent to redeem him; and, when nobody came, he would crush back to his soul bitter thoughts,that it was vain to serve God, that God had forgotten him. He sometimes saw Cassy; and sometimes, when summoned to the house, caught a glimpse of the dejected form of Emmeline, but held very little communion with either; in fact, there was no time for him to commune with anybody.

–Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Posted in Books, History, Race/Race Relations

(Church Times) John Saxbee reviews ‘C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview’ by Michael L. Peterson

IN 1947, Time magazine called him “one of the most influential spokespersons for Christianity in the English speaking world”. More than 50 years later, in 2000, he was recognised by Christianity Today as the most influential Christian author of the 20th century — and he continues to feature as one of Amazon’s bestselling authors.

So Michael Peterson introduces the subject of this exemplary intellectual biography. C. S. Lewis is likely to feature on the bookshelves of most Church Times readers — Narnia, Screwtape, and Malcolm may well be familiar names. But his fantasy fiction and popular theology was inspired and informed by a philosophical journey that led from atheism to his embrace of orthodox Christianity. As he himself put it, “imagination is the organ of meaning,” but “reason is the natural organ of truth.”

Lewis, however, was not systematic in his articulation of the philosophy informing his progression towards Christianity’s world-view. So here Peterson seeks to provide just such a systematic treatment and does so with what might be described as typical Lewisian accessibility.

This is literary/philosophical “biography” because Lewis’s varied and voluminous publications can be understood only in the light of his personal story. Peterson deftly negotiates the balance between biography illuminating Lewis’s intellectual odyssey, and explaining it away.

Read it all (registration).

Posted in Apologetics, Books, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Theology

(HDS) Brett Malcolm Grainger reviews Bruce Hindmarsh new book ‘The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism: True Religion in a Modern World’

The evangelical reversal on spirituality has happened alongside scholarly reappraisals. In recent decades, historians such as W. R. Ward (Early Evangelicalism: A Global Intellectual History, 1670–1789, 2006), Isabel Rivers (Vanity Fair and the Celestial City: Dissenting, Methodist, and Evangelical Literary Culture in England, 1720–1800, 2018), Tom Schwanda (Soul Recreation: The Contemplative-Mystical Piety of Puritanism, 2012), John Coffey (ed., Heart Religion: Evangelical Piety in England and Ireland, 1690–1850, 2016), and Phyllis Mack (Heart Religion in the British Enlightenment: Gender and Emotions in Early Methodism, 2012) have issued a torrent of insightful studies on the lived religion of early evangelicalism, looking into topics as diverse as dreaming, hymnody, emotions, attitudes toward nature, and the influence of Catholic spiritual traditions.1 Bruce D. Hindmarsh’s recent book, The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism, builds on these accomplishments, offering what is perhaps the most complete and far-ranging assessment of early evangelical spiritual life as it relates to contemporary developments in science, law, art, and literature. In some ways, the book functions as a companion to Hindmarsh’s The Evangelical Conversion Narrative, which explored traditions of spiritual autobiography in evangelical narratives of conversion. In this earlier volume Hindmarsh revealed how conversion often worked as a kind of viral outbreak within religious ecosystems. These sudden spiritual awakenings promoted novel forms of religious community built around the central ritual of narrating a personal experience of the new birth. The Bible played a crucial role in these spiritual practices. For early evangelicals, the Bible never constituted a divine download of impersonal dogma: scripture communicated a direct and personal message in God’s own voice to men and women willing to listen to it.

Another distinguishing mark of evangelicalism, Hindmarsh argued, was its historical liminality. The movement emerged, he wrote, “at the trailing edge of Christendom and the leading edge of modernity,”2 helping people move from collective identities rooted in church membership to stronger notions of the self, individual, and personal faith. If his previous work stressed the internal diversity of early evangelicalism—demonstrating the disparate constructions of selfhood that emerged among Methodists, Moravians, Anglicans, and Baptists—the new book sees more forest than trees. Evangelicals, regardless of their sectarian affiliation, Hindmarsh writes, perceived “one thing needful” in the Christian life: “the democratized pursuit of the new birth.” In other words, while conversion remains the focus of The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism, this new work offers a more expansive cultural account of the practical implications that flowed from making “true religion” (3) a matter of transformative personal religious experience.

As Hindmarsh describes the spiritual ambitions of early evangelicals, what emerges is something more intellectually substantive and expansive than “I saw the light.” (Sorry, Hank.) Evangelical spirituality encompassed the preparation for, experience of, and the practical repercussions that flowed from the relentless pursuit of what Henry Scougal called “the life of God in the soul of man.”

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Posted in Books, Church History, Evangelicals

(New Atlantis) Stefan Beck–Do We Want Dystopia? On nightmare tech as the fulfillment of warped desire

Inasmuch as there are canonical texts of American education, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is one of them. But students may wonder why their teacher presents as “dystopian” a text that reads, in 2020, like an operating manual for the technocratic American Dream. The taming of reproduction and heredity by science; the banishment of boredom, discomfort, and sorrow by entertainment and pharmacology; the omnipresent availability of attachment-free sex; the defeat of death, sort of, by blissed-out euthanasia: Huxley foresaw not our fears but some of our deepest aspirations.

To read and teach Brave New World as dystopia is at best an oblivious atavism, at worst a piece of deluded self-flattery. As a character (not even an especially bright one) observes in Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles (1998), “Everyone says Brave New World is supposed to be a totalitarian nightmare, a vicious indictment of society, but that’s hypocritical bullshit.” The only thing Huxley got wrong, the character adds, is society’s acceptance of genetic caste stratification. In reality, we expect “advances in automation and robotics” to render such attine division of labor as obsolete as the sundial, the cotton gin, and the dot matrix printer.

It’s easy to look back at Huxley’s novel and attribute the radiant, meaningless future toward which it so fearfully looked as the realization of the dreams of scientists — including Huxley’s own brother, the eugenicist Julian Huxley — with their Promethean curiosity and procrustean “solutions.” But Huxley fretted about the machinations of industry as much as he did about scientists: Brave New World is peppered with the surnames of Henry Ford, Sir Alfred Mond, and Maurice Bokanowski. Huxley seemed convinced that when the last irregularity was removed from the human condition, and the last inconvenience stripped from the human experience, it would be scientists’ and industrialists’ hands wielding the plane. But where the scientists pursue knowledge for its own sake, or in service of the good as they see it, the tech titans pursue it the better to sell us what we want. How well the would-be Aldous Huxleys of our day understand that — and how much blame they place on us and our appetites — is the subject of this essay.

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Posted in Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Books, Corporations/Corporate Life, Eschatology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Science & Technology

Today in History

Posted in Books, History

(CSM) With new urgency, parents learn how to talk to kids about race

As an African American parent, Cassandre Dunbar in Charlotte, North Carolina, always knew she and her husband would have “the talk” with their son, the one preparing him for interactions with law enforcement.

But she never dreamed it would be necessary at 5 years old.

“I thought the cops were supposed to help us? Are they only helpful to white people?” he asked after taking in TV coverage of protests and overhearing his parents discuss the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.

Ms. Dunbar explained to her eldest child: “Some people have a hard time understanding that skin color doesn’t have anything to do with what kind of person you are. I said that, yes, cops are meant to help us all, but some cops aren’t good cops and the bad ones really aren’t helpful to people who look like us.”

Many parents of all races are struggling with similar conversations after a week of outrage and sadness that spilled into streets worldwide after video of Mr. Floyd’s death emerged. It came after months of family togetherness in coronavirus lockdown, a time when kids have been cut off from schools and peers.

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Posted in Anthropology, Books, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Police/Fire, Race/Race Relations, Theology, Violence

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary for Peter Moore

Age 83, peacefully entered into eternal life May 30 in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Born in Scarsdale, NY, Peter was an innovative leader, mentor, preacher and author for more than 50 years. He currently served as the director of the Anglican Leadership Institute since 2016, training leaders in the world-wide Anglican Church in servant leadership, all the while serving as a scholar in residence at St. Michael’s Church, in Charleston, SC. Peter served as director of the Council for Religion in Independent Schools in New York City and at that time, started FOCUS (Fellowship of Christians in Universities and Schools) in 1962. FOCUS seeks to bring Christ to students attending independent Secondary Schools along America’s East Coast. He then served as the fourth dean/president of Trinity School for Ministry and as its first president of the board of trustees, before moving to Charleston, SC.

Decade after decade, Peter was an unswerving, tireless agent of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Church of Canada, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Parish Ministry, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology

(Church Times) Dean Cally Hammond reviews ‘Austin Farrer: Oxford warden, scholar, preacher’, edited by Markus Bockmuehl and Stephen Platten

{This book]…is the fruit of a conference that took place in early 2019, and was published to mark the 150th anniversary of that icon of High Church Anglicanism, Keble College, Oxford. The book is a proper tribute to Farrer in that anniversary year, providing a series of essays on him as Warden, theologian, philosopher, exegete, and preacher.

It is not often that a book compiled from many sources is of such a uniformly high quality; and this makes it seem unfair to highlight what are really no more than personal enthusiasms. But I especially enjoyed the chapter by Ian Archer on Farrer’s time as Warden of Keble, not least because it is written with benign historical detachment — a useful balance to the hagiographic tendency in many Christian biographies.

The other highlight of Part One for me was the chapter by John Barton on Farrer as a preacher. Again, this combined a personal warmth for the man with honest acuity about his excellence, and sometimes shortcomings, as a preacher. Praise from the praiseworthy is praise indeed.

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Posted in Books, Church History, Church of England (CoE), Education, England / UK, Theology

(LRB) Colin Burrow on Melville’s Moby Dick–The Last Whale

Moby-Dick is such an extraordinary and impossible success not because it’s a fable about man’s environmental overreach but because it is several distinct things at once, things that at a radical level don’t add up. It displays the fascination of the hunter with the anatomy and habits of the hunted and it does so with such intensity that the fascination turns into something like love. It takes you inside the process of learning things about other species and the process of making money from killing them. Then, stuck right into the middle of that intoxicating brew are huge shards of Hamlet and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ in the form of the madly vengeful Ahab. If you were at a creative writing class and said you wanted to write a novel embodying the obsessive imagination of the romantic hero in the captain of a whale ship as a modern Hamlet plonked in the middle of a factory floating on the sea, your instructors would no doubt be encouraging, because that’s their role, but would gently tell you that it wasn’t quite time to give up the day job. But that completely non-viable combination is what gives this infinitely frustrating and ambling novel the propulsive energy of a time bomb, lifting it out of the fishery into the realms of cultural critique. The impersonal violence of energy-seeking capitalism, which boils down distinct entities into a fungible oil, is hijacked by the obsessive energy of a post-romantic individual. This particular man, Ahab, wants this particular whale, Moby-Dick, and will seek it through every possible sea, regardless of all physical or financial risk.

This means that the Satanic obsessive Ahab is not in league with the shipowners and whale-oil burners, nor is he the friend of Victorian ladies with their baleen stays. He’s the arch-enemy of all these. When the whale oil starts to leak into the Pequod’s hold Starbuck says they must ‘up Burtons and break out’ – raise the winches and unpack the hold – because of the lost profit that will result. ‘What will the owners say, sir?’ the deferential Starbuck asks. ‘Let the owners stand on Nantucket beach and outyell the Typhoons,’ Ahab replies. ‘What cares Ahab? Owners, owners? Thou art always prating to me, Starbuck, about those miserly owners, as if the owners were my conscience.’ If Ahab had, say, proudly worn the badge of WhaleCorpTM embroidered on his bosom and personally sucked the spermacetti from the heads of all the sperm whales in the multitudinous seas, barrelling it up to make his shipowners massively wealthy and provide his crew with their pitiful share of the spoils (in Chapter 16 Ishmael is tricked into signing up for a three hundredth ‘lay’ or share of the profits by two of the owners of the Pequod) there would be no Moby-Dick. It would just be Barrett’s touristic whaling voyage or Scoresby’s Arctic, whaling as industry with a sideline in marine biology. Moby-Dick doesn’t give the last laugh to the ocean or to man or to the environment. It asks how we can marry the obsessions of individuals together with the intrinsically deindividuating industrial-scale processes that melt life down into money. The conclusion – we can’t, or at least not without wrecking the entire ship and killing the crew – is indeed not great news for shareholders in whale boats or for whale-oil futures, but Moby-Dick is probably more on their side than on that of Ahab. The wrecking of the Pequod is the result of human obsession rather than unsustainable fishing practices or ecological collapse. Certainly one can see in Melville’s heirs – notably in the John Steinbeck of Cannery Row – a premonitory recognition of the damage done by human beings to marine ecology, but Melville’s gaze is always that squinting vision of the mid-19th-century adventurer-cum-naturalist-cum-money-maker, for whom a whale is a fascinating creature partly because of what you can get for its blubber, and partly for the beauty you can see inside when you chop off its head.

The mess​ that is Moby-Dick didn’t go down well with its early audiences….

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Posted in Books, History

Saturday Food for Thought From Ann Patchett

“There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”

–Ann Patchett, The Dutch House (New York: Harper, 2019), page 121

Posted in Books