Category : Books

(PD) Matthew Franck–Pressing Pause on the “Transgender Moment”: Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally

The most affecting chapter in When Harry Became Sally is devoted to the personal stories of individuals who “detransitioned,” returning to identification with their biological sex after having previously identified with the opposite sex. The transgender movement’s response to such cases is either to pretend they don’t exist or to insist that these men and women were never really transgender in the first place. Of course, since doctors believed them when they said they were, and acted accordingly, these “not really” patients would have a pretty good case for accusing their former physicians of malpractice. And since declared feelings of being “born into the wrong body” are the only basis of a diagnosis that can lead from a change of wardrobe to the surgical excision of healthy sexual organs, no doctor can ever be sure that his patient will not one day wish to detransition. And what could he possibly do then to put things right?

These are truly awful tales of intense suffering. They are the personal stories of men and women, boys and girls, who went to medical professionals with terrible confusion and distress and received only harm where they sought relief. Now, in telling the truth about what happened to them, they attract the abuse and invective of the transgender movement’s ideologues. Some of them, understandably, prefer to tell their stories anonymously. All of them should be applauded for their courage and candor and thanked for their contribution to public understanding.

Anderson writes in his conclusion that these stories, more than anything else, led him to write When Harry Became Sally. “I couldn’t shake from my mind the stories of people who had detransitioned. They are heartbreaking. I had to do what I could to prevent more people from suffering the same way.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology

(CT) The Radical Christian Faith of Frederick Douglass

Douglass rejoiced in 1865 when the Union triumphed in the Civil War and the nation ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery forever. But he did not believe his prophetic work had ended. At the end of his life, equality under the law remained an aspiration, not a reality. African Americans and women were denied the right to vote. The ghost of slavery lived on in oppressive economic arrangements like sharecropping. Jim Crow carved rigid lines of racial segregation in the public square. White mobs lynched at least 200 black men each year in the 1890s.

He had good reason, then, in 1889, to mourn how the “malignant prejudice of race” still “poisoned the fountains of justice, and defiled the altars of religion” in America. Yet Douglass also rejoiced in the continued possibility of redemption. A new way of seeing the world, and living in it, still remained—one that rested, Douglass said, on a “broad foundation laid by the Bible itself, that God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture

(TLC Covenant) Simon Oliver–Episcopacy, Priesthood, and the Priesthood of the Church, the 2017 Michael Ramsey Lecture

The Gospel and the Catholic Church is a complex exploration of the nature of the Catholic Church as the living embodiment of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rowan Williams has summed up the core claim of that book very clearly: the Church is the “form” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.[3] Ramsey writes:

The Catholicism, therefore, which sprang from the Gospel of God is a faith wherein the visible and ordered Church fills an important place. But this Church is understood less as an institution founded upon the rules laid down by Christ and the Apostles than as an organism which grew inevitably through Christ’s death and resurrection. The Church, therefore, is defined not in terms of itself, but in terms of Christ, whose Gospel created it and whose life is its indwelling life.[4]

Ramsey is arguing against the view that Church order is secondary to the Gospel. In other words, the Church is not a group of people who come together to share their faith in Jesus Christ and then decide on a structure for the Church that offers the most promising way of spreading the message. Church order in not a matter of expedient strategy, a means of managing resources, the vehicle for the expression of a more original personal experience or — as it had become in the late Middle Ages as its catholicity was compromised — a mechanism for the salvation of souls, the means of establishing good relations with God, or a juridical body that supresses human freedom.[5] The Church is the form of the Gospel, the living mystical body of Christ into which we are incorporated by dying with Christ in our baptism and being reformed as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, to paraphrase the first letter of St. Peter. In other words, our relations as Christians do not rest on a common set of ideas about God and Jesus or an ideology, but something much more essential that is akin to racial solidarity. In St. Paul’s terms, we become a new creation, from top to bottom.[6]

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Ecclesiology, Seminary / Theological Education

(Church Times) Archbishop of Canterbury reexamines the state of the nation in new book

THE UK is at a political and moral tipping-point, the Archbishop of Canterbury argues in a new book, to be published next month.

His book, Reimagining Britain: Foundations of hope will be published by Bloomsbury on 8 March. Archbishop Welby said last week that he had written to contribute to the debate on the future of the country, particularly after Brexit.

In an interview with the Church Times, the Archbishop said: “I think we’re at one of those moments which happens probably every three or four generations, when we have the opportunity and the necessity to reimagine what our society should look like in this country.”

In his book, Archbishop Welby proposes that Christianity has a vital part to play in the reimagining of society, and could be the driving force behind change. It remains, he says, foundational to ethics and values in the UK.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Books, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) David Bentley Hart–The Precious Stephen Pinker

In the end, what Pinker calls a “decline of violence” in modernity actually has been, in real body counts, a continual and extravagant increase in violence that has been outstripped by an even more exorbitant demographic explosion. Well, not to put too fine a point on it: So what? What on earth can he truly imagine that tells us about “progress” or “Enlightenment”—or about the past, the present, or the future? By all means, praise the modern world for what is good about it, but spare us the mythology.

And yet, oddly enough, I like Pinker’s book. On one level, perhaps, it is all terrific nonsense: historically superficial, philosophically platitudinous, occasionally threatening to degenerate into the dulcet bleating of a contented bourgeois. But there is also something exhilarating about this fideist who thinks he is a rationalist. Over the past few decades, so much of secularist discourse has been drearily clouded by irony, realist disenchantment, spiritual fatigue, self-lacerating sophistication: a postmodern sense of failure, an appetite for caustic cultural genealogies, a meek surrender of all “metanarrative” ambitions.

Pinker’s is an older, more buoyant, more hopeful commitment to the “Enlightenment”—and I would not wake him from his dogmatic slumber for all the tea in China. In his book, one encounters the ecstatic innocence of a faith unsullied by prudent doubt. For me, it reaffirms the human spirit’s lunatic and heroic capacity to believe a beautiful falsehood, not only in excess of the facts, but in resolute defiance of them.

Read it all (from 2012).

Posted in Anthropology, Apologetics, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Other Faiths, Secularism, Theology, Violence

(Quilette) The Real Gender Trouble–Spencer Case reviews ‘When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment’ by Ryan T. Anderson

Although they don’t usually acknowledge it, transgender activists make philosophical claims, which are susceptible to philosophical critique. Anderson dwells on these commitments most heavily in chapter 2, “What Transgender Activists Say.” He writes: “People say that we live in a postmodern age that has rejected metaphysics. That’s not quite true. We live in a postmodern age that promotes an alternative metaphysics.” The assertion that “A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy” is a metaphysical claim, though transgender activists “dress it up as a scientific or a medical claim” to avoid philosophical debate and the suggestion of controversy.

And the metaphysical claims are subject to change without warning or fanfare. In 2005, the pro-trans Human Rights Campaign referred to “birth sex” and “biological sex” as things that were distinct from, and capable of being in conflict with, gender identity. More recent rhetoric avoids mention of biological sex, substituting “sex assigned at birth.” This leaves mysterious what people observe with ultrasounds and announce at “gender reveal” parties if the sex of the unborn child has yet to be assigned. Previously transgender activists acknowledged that at least one aspect of a person’s sexual identity is the product of nature; the new language suggests it is all socially constructed. Present trends are toward ever more radical forms of subjectivism. Some now regard the “assignment” of sex at birth as a human rights violation.

The differences between two graphics used by transgender activists illustrates the trend. The Genderbread Person v3.3 (2015), includes biological sex as an identity category. By contrast the Gender Unicorn (2017), puts “sex assigned at birth” in the place of “biological sex” and adds a third category to the male/female dichotomy: other/intersex. I wonder how many people are “assigned” anything other than male, female or intersex at birth. …

Read it all.

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

(IVP) James W. Sire, “A Keystone in the Intellectual Renewal of Evangelicalism,” Dies

James W. Sire, longtime editorial director at InterVarsity Press (IVP), prolific author, and groundbreaking apologist, passed away on Tuesday evening, February 6, 2018, at the age of eighty-four.

Sire was a renaissance man of publishing. Not only did he author over twenty books, but his thirty-year career at IVP also included contracting and developing works by Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, Calvin Miller, Rebecca Manley Pippert, J. I. Packer, John White, J. P. Moreland, and others.

“Jim Sire was a keystone in the intellectual renewal of evangelicalism in the 1960s and 70s, championing the work of Francis Schaeffer and contributing his own landmark books on world views,” said Andy Le Peau, former associate publisher, editorial, for IVP. “He was also first to publish other influential figures such as Os Guinness and philosopher C. Stephen Evans. But his finely tuned radar for quality was not limited to the academy. He had a major influence on the church when he saw the potential in the poetry of Calvin Miller’s The Singer, the power for church renewal in the work of Howard Snyder, as well as the evangelistic insight of Rebecca Manley Pippert. Personally, he taught me more about editing and publishing than probably anyone. I will miss his wit, his insight, his integrity, and his love for Jesus.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Apologetics, Books, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Theology

(CT) Matthew Arbo reviews Matthew Kaemingk’s new book–A Wall of Security or a Table of Fellowship?

[Abraham] Kuyper’s brand of pluralism, however, is refreshingly Christocentric. Jesus Christ alone is the true and ultimate sovereign. His jurisdiction is all-encompassing. As Kuyper affirms, “Sin alone has necessitated the institution of government.” As such, governance is a delicate affair and should in principle remain limited, especially where religious communities are involved. (There are two exceptions: first, when one community intrudes upon another, and second, when a “weak one” within a community is vulnerable to exploitation.) In a truly pluralistic culture, government exists not to define and enforce a particular vision of ultimate truth but to protect and nurture vital social institutions that pursue their own, doubtless very different, moral and religious commitments. If they are rightly structured, according to Kaemingk, “institutions can equip Christians to go out into public life to embody a different way of living between Mecca and Amsterdam.” Or, as he puts it later, “to pursue moments of commonness, connection, and cooperation.” Kuyper’s theological vision offers a Christian politics of solidarity that prevails over a politics of suspicion.

The third and fourth parts of Kaemingk’s book are perhaps the strongest and most illuminating. If, as he argues, Christians embrace the Kuyperian vision of pluralism, then they should feel a corresponding obligation to show hospitality toward Muslim immigrants, perhaps even becoming vocal advocates and activists on their behalf. Kaemingk also emphasizes the importance of treating hospitality as “a way of life.” Hospitality involves ordinary people willing to do ordinary things faithfully. It describes how we live with others in the world as it is given.

Kaemingk gives several splendid examples of ordinary hospitality that, as they develop into consistent practice, make an extraordinary impact: Christian and Muslim women gathering weekly to sew together, universities welcoming instructors and students of diverse religious backgrounds, civil institutions fostering (rather than forcing) inter-religious dialogue, eating ethnic foods in minority neighborhoods, and extending free or subsidized medical care to underprivileged migrant communities. Hospitality involves more than speaking up for the oppressed or disenfranchised—it also requires humble, hopeful, persevering action for another’s flourishing. Through hospitality, Christians demonstrate that Muslims have a place to belong.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

The Economist reviews Patrick Deneen’s new Book ‘Why Liberalism Failed’

Over the past four centuries liberalism has been so successful that it has driven all its opponents off the battlefield. Now it is disintegrating, destroyed by a mix of hubris and internal contradictions, according to Patrick Deneen, a professor of politics at the University of Notre Dame.

The gathering wreckage of liberalism’s twilight years can be seen all around, especially in America, Mr Deneen’s main focus. The founding tenets of the faith have been shattered. Equality of opportunity has produced a new meritocratic aristocracy that has all the aloofness of the old aristocracy with none of its sense of noblesse oblige. Democracy has degenerated into a theatre of the absurd. And technological advances are reducing ever more areas of work into meaningless drudgery. “The gap between liberalism’s claims about itself and the lived reality of the citizenry” is now so wide that “the lie can no longer be accepted,” Mr Deneen writes. What better proof of this than the vision of 1,000 private planes whisking their occupants to Davos to discuss the question of “creating a shared future in a fragmented world”?

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy

(Democracy Journal) Elizabeth Bruenig reviews Rod Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’

Suffice to say, some find the moral landscape of modernity rather impoverished, and the options for pursuing it in a liberal world frustratingly limited. One can chase what one believes to be the good life, but one cannot place moral claims on others. This is the “catch,” as it were, of liberalism: “Liberalism,” political theorist Judith Shklar wrote, “has only one overriding aim: to secure the political conditions that are necessary for the exercise of personal freedom.” Or, as Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain had it: “Obey none but yourself.”

Thus ardent Christians who believe that a life modeled after Christ’s is not best for them but simply best have little room to advance their case in public life. To do so would be to infringe upon the liberties of others, and liberalism cannot abide such a violation. (It’s no accident that the earliest liberals had a special contempt for Catholics, who are especially inclined to protest the reduction of the faith to a private sentiment.) The absence of robust religious instruction in public life, Dreher contends, has led us to a world wherein sin and vice run rampant among abundance and pleasure. “The long journey from a medieval world wracked with suffering but pregnant with meaning has delivered us to a place of once unimaginable comfort but emptied of significance and connection,” he writes, “The West has lost the golden thread that binds us to God, Creation, and each other. Unless we find it again, there is no hope of halting our dissolution.”

Option is Dreher’s attempt to grasp that golden thread. But, from there, things go awry.

Dreher doesn’t put it in these terms, but it seems to me that his real complaint with liberalism is that it produces liberal subjects. It would be one thing if there were masses of orthodox Christians yearning for that simpler fourteenth-century existence yet miserably enduring life under the yoke of a liberal order enforced by those outside their ranks, but as Dreher notes, many of today’s Christians are perfectly at home in a liberal world: Liberalism has changed them, and they, in turn, have changed Christianity.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), a foggy set of feel-good notions about the divine and the good life coined by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in 2005, has, in Dreher’s estimation, mostly supplanted Christianity in America….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Religion & Culture

(LARB) Multiculturalism and Mental Illness: An Interview With Mira T. Lee

ELEANOR J. BADER: Lucia, the younger sister in Everything Here Is Beautiful, suffers from schizoaffective disorder, and the novel tracks her many psychotic breaks with compassion, terrifying realism, and multilayered complexity. Did you know about this disorder from personal experience?

MIRA T. LEE: There is a lot of mental illness in my family, with multiple family members with schizophrenia. I’ve seen breaks from reality, psychotic behavior where people believe the TV is talking to them or that the FBI is bugging their computers. I’ve seen people stop making sense and become unable to string words together to form a sentence.

I’ve dealt with doctors, hospitals, and social workers, and I am very familiar with the frustrations involved in trying to help someone with this kind of illness, so a lot of the emotions I include in the book are emotions I’ve felt. I know what it’s like to walk on eggshells because someone is disoriented and you don’t want to make the situation worse. Manuel, the undocumented Ecuadoran immigrant Lucia lives with after she leaves her first husband, consistently tries to appease Lucia. Through him, I was able to show how scary it is to see the person you love all but disappear.

But I didn’t just rely on my own experiences. I read many memoirs and blogs about mental illness. There are so many! Just Google first-person accounts of schizophrenia and you’ll see tons of stuff written by people who’ve been there. For a while I also researched post-partum psychosis because after Lucia gives birth to daughter Esperanza she is unable to care for either herself or her newborn.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Children, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Mental Illness, Psychology

Andrew Wilson–Inequality, Privilege, and the Upper Middle Class

Inequality is one of the most entrenched, persistent and socially divisive problems in the modern West. Yet most of us misdiagnose the problem. We imagine that the issue lies with those much better off than us—the 1%, the super-rich, or whatever we call them—rather than with people like us. (More than a third of the Occupy demonstrators in 2011 had annual earnings of over $100k.) Richard Reeves sees things differently. In his Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What To Do About It, he argues that the top 20%, rather than the top 1%, is the real problem, and he admits that this puts both him and the vast majority of his readers in the firing line. “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Books, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Personal Finance, Theology

(TLS) In the Name of the Godfather–Misha Glenny on the survival of Global Mafias

Things changed dramatically in the 1990s. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was accompanied by a drastic weakening of the state, unable and unfit to cope with the dramatic shift from a planned to a market economy. Those people engaged in Soviet and East European studies had no choice but to write about the emergent mafias of the late 1980s and 90s because they comprised one of three constituent parts of a new polity, along with the new class of oligarchs and what remained of state institutions. Ignoring the Russian mafia would have been akin to writing a history of the United States in the 1970s without mentioning the CIA, big business, the FBI or the Supreme Court.

As coherent policies started to melt in Russia, another equally important one was already coming into being elsewhere. The Big Bang of 1986, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s most important joint initiative, lifted restrictions on corporate capital movement. This persuaded the political elites of countries such as India, Brazil, China, Indonesia and South Africa to adjust and accept more open markets. To varying degrees, the commercial law systems of these countries found accommodating these changes a difficult challenge.

The conjuncture of these two historical moments with a specifically criminal development injected immense vigour into the business of organized crime. This was supercharged by Reagan’s affirmation of the disastrous War on Drugs at a time of rapid growth in cocaine consumption in certain markets during the 1980s, and later by an upsurge in heroin production and distribution in the first half of the 1990s as Afghanistan’s security situation deteriorated.

Federico Varese was among a number of young students in the 1990s whose doctoral research coincided with these events. He went to Perm, located halfway between Moscow and Novosibirsk, where he recorded in minute detail the emergence of the local mafia organization, eventually leading to his seminal work, The Russian Mafia (2001). Others were undertaking similar work in various countries including South Africa, China, Brazil and India. Most framed their research with some reference to The Sicilian Mafia: The business of private protection (1993) by the Italian social scientist Diego Gambetta. More than anyone else’s, Gambetta’s work has changed our fundamental understanding of mafias and organized crime groups. Mafias usually emerge, he argues, at times of social or economic upheaval when the state finds itself unable or unwilling to regulate markets. In order to ensure the smooth running of commercial activities, mafias, or “privatized law enforcement agencies” as another researcher named them, assume the role of arbiter….

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, History, Law & Legal Issues

(FT) Bibles, cookery books and the birth of the knowledge economy–An ambitious project aims to trace the early years of Europe’s printed revolution

A knot of academics is huddled over a large bound volume in the soft light of the Bodleian Library at Oxford university, attempting to unlock the secrets buried within its 500-year-old pages.

The beautifully tooled leather binding protecting this late-15th-century Hebrew Bible — a rare survival once held in the library at Holkham Hall in Norfolk — has helped keep its printed pages in a fine state of preservation. But it is not the words of the text that hold the attention of these experts. Instead, they are interpreting and recording the fleeting evidence it retains of previous owners, whether revealed in hand-painted heraldry, scholarly annotations, scribbled thoughts or simple underlining.

It is a process they and their colleagues have gone through many times in the service of a five-year project of sweeping academic ambition: an attempt to trace the flowering of knowledge, ideas and trade in the first 50 years of Europe’s printed revolution.

Read it all (may require subscription).

Posted in Books, Europe, History, Science & Technology

(TAC) Rod Dreher’s interview w/ Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen about his new book, ‘Why Liberalism Failed’

We can say, then, that liberalism is the political operating system of America. Our different parties are like “apps” that operate on that liberal operating system, reflecting its deepest commitments in what are most often its main political agendas: on the Right, the picture of the emancipated individual chooser that animates libertarian economics; and on the Left, the vision of the emancipated individual chooser that animates their libertarian “lifestyle” aspirations, particularly relating to sexuality and abortion.

You write that liberalism “has failed because it has succeeded.” Explain the paradox.

The aspiration of the liberated individual was always moderated by many other historical and cultural influences, especially – in the West – by orthodox forms of Christianity. For a long time, many people of good will understandably could be strong supporters and proponents of the official liberal political philosophy of the American order because of those moderating influences. However, I argue that those moderating influences have been eviscerated by the “success” of liberalism, by its coming fully into being. In this sense, it is an ideology that remakes society in its image – not in the violent manner of those competing and defeated ideologies of fascism and communism, but, rather, in most cases, through the invitation to regard individual liberty as the highest aspiration of the successful life. However, understanding its basic commitments, we can see ways that the liberal regime has certainly been extended through the powers of the state, including through such avenues as the HHS mandate as well as less obvious ways, such as transportation and housing policy, that moved most Americans out of communities and into suburbs.

I argue, then, that we see liberalism failing because it has succeeded. As liberalism has “become more fully itself,” it becomes more immoderate and reveals the falseness of its anthropological assumptions. The breakdown of our political order as well as the loss of any kind of common culture and even civil comportment is, in a sense, the reflection of the successful artificial creation of a state of nature. We are now seeing the results of a 500-year experiment that aims at liberating the individual from social, religious and familial ties, now held together only by the belief that what we have in common is the fact that we are all rights-bearing individuals.

Read it all (2nd emphasis mine).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Books, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, History, Philosophy