Testing 1, 2, 3
“We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty. We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness.” -Pascal
A friend of mine recommended the book Christianity for Modern Pagans, a book on Pascal’s Pensées, out lined and explained by Peter Kreeft. This friend, a pastor, has said he has read it over twenty times and could not stop saying how good it was. I bought the book, but was thinking it couldn’t be that good. Forty-five pages in, I think it is that good. Pascal, a contemporary of Descartes, is considered the first apologist to the modern world, sitting on top of the Christian Middle Ages as the Enlightenment took root in Europe. The wisdom of this book is striking and compelling. Today, I am going to just share some excerpts from the book.
“[Concerning the above quote], these are the four fundamental truths, the data, about the human condition always and everywhere. No philosophy that ignores them is worth a first glance; no philosophy that has no explanation for them is worth a second. Ultimately, no philosophy except Christianity is worth a third glance and our belief, because only Christianity has a satisfactory explanation for these four facts. This is another way of summarizing Pascal’s fundamental overall argument in the Pensées.
Truth (our head’s food) and happiness (our heart’s food) are the two things everyone wants, and not in crumbs but in great loaves; not in raindrops but in waves. Yet these are the two things no one gets except in little crumbs and droplets.
…Since no one can change human nature, no one can make us stop desiring truth and happiness; and no mere human being can give us truth or happiness. We may mediate these two things, but we cannot create them; we are aqueducts, not fountains.
…Science and technology shield modern man from a clear knowledge of these four fundamental truths of Pascal, for science (or rather scientism) offers us the illusion that we now know the Truth when in fact we only know some truths, and technology has given us comforts but not contentment. “
This is just a note prior to my review of Ameritopia by Mark Levin, which I would like to share. The more I think of this book and the Utopian philosophy that is growing and blooming in Liberalism (I think especially the atheism blatantly exposed at the Democratic National Convention when Jerusalem and God language was reinstated into their platform), I cannot help but think that Utopian idealism serves as one source of “salvation” for humanity and will be at least one root of the coming persecution of Christians. As Peter Kreeft writes,
“Every orthodox Christian apologetic, from Paul…to Augustine…to Aquinas…to Pascal…to Kierkegaard to Chesterton to C.S. Lewis, has always circled around these two foci, rotated around these two poles: sin and salvation… In the past, the difficulty in accepting Christianity was in its second point, salvation. Everyone in premodern societies knew sin was real, but many doubted salvation. Today it is the exact opposite: everybody is saved, but there is no sin to be saved from. Thus what originally came into the world as “good news” strikes the modern mind as bad news, as guilt-ridden, moralistic and “judgmental”. For the modern mind is no longer “convinced of sin, of righteousness and of judgment” (Jn 16:8).”
Sin is personal to each of us, something that we must deal with personally. While there are environmental factors that can influence our lives, that can never negate our own free will to choose good or evil. I think the more the government becomes the solution to social problems and crime, for to the modern mind crime is only acting out against social injustice (and implies moral innocence), the more Christianity will be a stench, this bad news. Instead of Christ, there is faith in Utopian government.
Ameritopia, by Mark Levin
In Ameritopia, Levin presents his argument that the U.S. is in a post-constitutional period and heading toward the soft tyranny of the Utopian vision. For me, it has put a name and philosophy behind progressive Liberalism. As Kierkegaard wrote in The Point of View, “an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed… A direct attack only strengthens a person in his illusion and, at the same time, embitters him.” This book is excellent in that it comes up from behind the illusion that government can perfect humanity, exposing this philosophy and its advance into our modern government.
In the first section, the Utopian visions of Plato, More, Hobbes and Marx are discussed and shown to clearly advocate despotic governing bodies to achieve their ends of human perfection. I really did not understand the nature of utopianism, and was shocked by the control and uniformity proposed by these philosophers. The utopian dream relies heavily on the benevolence of one man, or a small group of men, to rule selflessly for the benefit of all people….and pure dream that is. As Lord Acton wrote in 1887, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” And as Montesquieu observed, “in a popular state there must be an additional spring, which is Virtue.” That only comes from within the citizen.
Locke’s and Montesquieu’s influence on the centralized government is explored, in regard to liberty, form of government and the separation of powers. The observations of Alexis de Tocqueville in the U.S. are explored as well, as to the virtues of the people and the almost hidden and unobtrusive quality of the government. He also addressed the form of despotism that most endangers a free society, one that creeps into “soft tyranny”. “It is the gradual imposition of and acquiescence to radical egalitarianism, which is disguised as democratic and administrative utilitarianism. It is the belief in the infinite ability and capacity of elected officials to perfect life and in a vast, neutral administrative state to ensure its proper regulation.”
Levin explores the writings of Woodrow Wilson, unveiling his vision of the governments as “living things and operate as organic wholes” and “have their natural evolution and are one thing in one age, another in another.” In his writings, Wilson exchanged our inalienable rights for privilege granted by government. He argued that federal courts are not bound to the Constitution. Levin reveals in Roosevelt’s writings contempt of the constitution’s limits on federal power, and his proposed “Second Bill of Rights” as mere disguised tyranny.
The last chapter is a tour de force revelation of the extent of the tentacles of the government, which totaled 81,405 pages of federal rules in 2010, amounting to $1.752 trillion (in 2008) in private sector regulatory costs. With regard to entitlements and “social insurance”, Levin traces this concept to Henry Seager, who believed “individualism” was the greatest obstacle to social reform and the entrusting of all our needs to the common government. Yet, Social Security and Medicare are proving unsustainable, as will be centralized control of healthcare, which “must, must redistribute wealth from richer” and “establishes more than 150 new bureaucracies, agencies, boards, commissions and programs”. Of the soft tyranny of utopianism, De Tocqueville writes, “such a power…compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people who are reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
It has been a while for me since I have written anything here, due primarily to a busy family life and secondarily to a mind not entirely prepared to write. I met my goal in 2012 of reading over 50 books (52), with over 17,000 pages. The subjects have been varied, from The Hunger Games to Peter the Great to Signature in the Cell. I feel so much more enriched and my mind more active, but my writing experience was more a cerebral “stew” than an organized essay. I found it stressful to write, and so I decided to just read, think, connect, reflect, repeat. In fact, I just finished a book on the history of philosophy, and I am reminded that philosophers do no jump to conclusions. This is what I felt with writing…I didn’t feel I had proper time to reflect and draw a reasoned, objective conclusion. So, I have been reading as my interest led, for personal enjoyment and to layer my home “education”.
But today, after reading a few posts from some blogs I follow, I felt like sharing something I learned last fall. It was from the very fantastic book “The Weight of Glory” by the equally fantastic C.S. Lewis, and it has helped me to put in proper perspective (I think) the place for Christian works. In the first essay in the book, titled “The Weight of Glory”, Lewis talks of the different kinds of rewards in life and how it applies to the Christian life. He says some would call Christians mercenaries because we live for the promise of rewards in heaven, to which Lewis writes:
“There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not a mercenary for desiring it.”
There are rewards that are not naturally connected to the thing earned (money for love), while there is the reward that is connected (marriage for love). But Lewis says there is also a third case of reward that is more complex. The example he gives is that of reading Greek poetry in Greek. To get to the place that one can read the poetry and enjoy it in the original language cannot be reached immediately. It requires work and study, and the reward for this work is at first “disconnected” from the pleasure of understanding the Greek mind inside the Greek poetry. The motivation doesn’t come from the actual reward, which cannot really be known to the student. One studies the language either just to learn it, or because it is required, to get good grades, etc.
“His position, therefore, bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper reward, but he will not know that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and other began. But it is just insofar as he approaches the reward that he becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward.” [emphasis mine]
Here I was struck profoundly that this is the proper role of discipleship and obedience to God. Christianity can appear to be a list of do’s and don’ts. Or, why worry about works when we are saved through faith alone. Works, though, are the proper path for connecting to the God of creation and realizing the benefits of His law. For instance, there is no practical or immediate benefit to me to be patient with people who do not (in heat of the moment) deserve it, other than to sort of “get myself under control”. But consistently practiced, I have seen patience yield great benefits in my home that I could not have foreseen beforehand. These “works” we do as Christians don’t save us. Faith does, but if we do not obey, or “learn the Greek”, as grueling as it can be at times, will we ever get to really know the mind and heart of God? And I do not believe our hearts necessarily have to be “in it”, either, as I have heard and read. I don’t have to have a pure heart to practice patience. In fact, when patience is needed most, I am least likely to practice it all! Yet, if I practice patience anyway, there is the nested reward of knowing God is within it.
“Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward… But probably this will not, for most of us, happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as a tide lifts a grounded ship.”
As I try to be consistent blogging, I am noticing that there are (at least) two types of posts I am motivated to write. One is the more in-depth post that ends up requiring more research. I am not sure if I am doing that well, but I am trying. The other kind of post is on quick connections I make between different places, posts, or readings. Because I want to say something “meaningful” and “in-depth”, and I have work and a family of six, the “Aha!” moments, the connections, stay only as quick notes in my journal. My busy life progresses, and nothing is written.
Well, today is a “quick connect” day.
I started to follow a blog called Faith and History by Robert McKenzie, professor and chair of the Dept of History at Wheaton College. I read this post about (basically) data mining history with the explicit purpose of gathering ammunition for one’s own viewpoint. McKenzie writes:
“The history-as-ammunition approach views the past as an arsenal, a storehouse of weapons to wield in the culture wars. If you stop to think about it, many of the most controversial public issues of the past generation have had an important historical component.”
This approach made me really consider how I look at history, and my purpose for research. Lately, I read and listen to audiobooks on history for curiosity sake. I do know, though, that I have mined history for ammunition. My oldest daughter is learning formal debate this semester, and see how essential it is to build both an AC and NC, researching all the information in order to build an argument for or against whatever the debate topic is. But those notes can be used in the wrong way. I found the writer’s warning profound: “whenever we know in advance what we hope to find in the past, we will almost certainly find what we are looking for.”
I was also struck by this statement about the irresponsibility of historical ignorance.
“As citizens of a free society charged with choosing our governmental representatives, we undoubtedly need to be historically savvy. You could even say that historical ignorance is downright irresponsible when so many vital public issues involve claims about the past.”
I followed a tweet to this video of Ann Coulter on The View. I thought it entertaining, but I don’t want to discuss the politics here. What I noticed during this heated exchange was the following, and connects directly to the post from McKensie:
- Coulter is using historical fact to back up her argument. Just listening to her speak (or anyone, really), there is no quick way to “fact check” her, unless you know the history. Did Coulter mine history as ammunition? I am not saying she is did or didn’t, but the discussion/argument should revolve around the validity of her facts, not “how much do you know about being black”.
- Goldberg: “I listen to my grandmother…” Wow, warm fuzzy, but not a great historical source there.
- Shepard: “You keep standing in the past, you got to come back to the present.” And again: “When you talk about, you stay in the past.” Coulter: “Well, that’s because that was brought up. It’s just a fact.” What struck me was Shepard’s dismissal of the past, that it has no meaning on the present. But in order to have a meaningful discussion, all parties should come to understand the past. McKensie’s charge of irresponsibility of historical ignorance. Shepard doesn’t even want to know the history.
Friday Quote from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis:
If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons—either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it—money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way.
You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind of action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong—only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted…
And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not the original thing. (emphasis mine)
Can scientists bioengineer people with better ethics? Are there genes that switch us from wretches to saints? Professor Julian Savulescu, Oxford professor and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, says yes and advises that parents have a “moral obligation” to select for the best personalities for their children so they can be “ethically better”.
“Professor Julian Savulescu said that creating so-called designer babies could be
considered a “moral obligation” as it makes them grow up into “ethically better
He said that science is increasingly discovering that genes have a significant influence on personality – with certain genetic markers in embryo suggesting future characteristics. By screening in and screening out certain genes in the embryos, it should be possible to influence how a child turns out. In the end, he said that “rational design” would help lead to a better, more intelligent and less violent society in the future.
“Surely trying to ensure that your children have the best, or a good enough, opportunity for a great life is responsible parenting?” wrote Prof Savulescu, the Uehiro Professor in practical ethics.”
But is it really our genes that are the problem? If we design the next generation to be better ethically and morally, so that the next generation is then better, and so on, isn’t that the same as bioengineering a human robot? If you minimize, and then eliminate, the biological influences (supposedly personality flaws) on decision-making, essentially removing our desire for wrong-doing (defined as “bad for self and society”), you have removed free will. How does one genetically select for “good” free will? This is the logical conclusion of a naturalist explanation of human existence. The bad that humans do is simply a result of bad genes and bad environments, and it removes completely the any act of free will.
That begs the question: couldn’t God have made us with perfect genes? Why did he create such flawed personalities in the first place? C.S. Lewis writing in “Mere Christianity”, sheds some light:
“‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of–the cleverer and stronger and freer it is–then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best–or worst–of all.”
Savulescu doesn’t understand that no matter the genetic make-up, humans still have free will and can exercise it to good or evil. He obviously does not believe that there is any Moral Law, is a complete naturalist, believing that perfect genes would produce a perfect being. But in essence, in the attempt to bioengineer superheroes, we will still end up with supervillians.
In the book Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Samuel Johnson speaks to us through the reflections of the character of Imlac, when he and Rasselas finally arrive at the pyramids.
“For the pyramids, no reason has ever been given adequate to the cost and labour of the work. The narrowness of the chambers proves that it could afford no retreat from enemies, and treasures might have been reposited at far less expense with equal security. It seems to have been erected only in compliance with that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must be always appeased by some employment. Those who have already all that they can enjoy must enlarge their desires. He that has built for use till use is supplied must begin to build for vanity….I consider this mighty structure as a monument of the insufficiency of human enjoyments.”
This is the lesson of history. People in perfect health and wealth will still choose self-glorification, and will make miserable others to achieve their selfish ends.
I had (sadly) never heard of Samuel Johnson before I started reading Not with a Bang but a Whimper by Theodore Dalrymple. The book is a collection of essays about the decline of Western culture, and its emphasis (so far) is directed at the decline in moral character. It is not the genes that make us better men, it is our moral decisions that do. And that comes from living a life of flaws.
Of Johnson, Dalrymple writes that “at every moment [he] reflects on the moral meaning and consequences of human life.” In his biography of Richard Savage, Johnson reflects on the faults of the poet. Dalrymple asks, “Who could fail to recognize a common human pattern in his delineation of Savage’s greatest failing?”
“By imputing none of his miseries to himself he continued to act upon the same principles and to follow the same path; was never made wiser by his sufferings, nor preserved by one misfortune from falling into another. He proceeded throughout his life to tread the same steps on the same circle; always applauding his past conduct, or at least forgetting it, to amuse himself with phantoms of happiness which were dancing before him, and willingly turned his eye from the light of reason, when it would have discovered the illusion and shown him, what he never wanted to see, his real state.”
There is only one path to wisdom. It is spiritual, and it is open to everyone of all genetic make-ups.
Note: I have since downloaded the free Kindle version of Rasselas and plan to read it soon.
Last week I was challenged to think about the ideas I have on forgiveness. There were a few things in this post by Kevin DeYoung (which I was directed to from this post) that made me pause and consider my ideas, ask a few questions, and then spend some time studying the Bible.
Therapeutic & Conditional Forgiveness?
“Many Christians, influences by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. But if we start with a biblical notion of God’s forgiveness, we see that such a view falls short.”
First, I thought “therapeutic” was a very interesting way to view forgiveness. I had never even considered it, and I truly wondered what I do. I know that I am to forgive others, and that I want to be forgiven. I know that God expects me to forgive, and that my own forgiveness depends on it (Mt 6:12-15). I wondered, since I don’t really pay attention to how or why I forgive, what is my motive for forgiving others? Is it with a motive of self-preservation, with a grumpy ‘Fine, I’ll forgive’ but only because I myself want forgiveness? Is that my deepest motive? I had to consider whether I forgive “therapeutically”, with my motive being just to get my emotions under control, jettisoning my offended feelings so I can move on with a very happy day. Or, is it that, when I look at all those ugly emotions swirling in my mind and heart, I get rid of them because they make me ‘look bad’ to God? Do I just take a “breather”, compose myself, looking at all those toxic feelings of anger and bitterness scattered throughout my mind, the elevated fight reflex coursing through my blood, and ffoorrggiivveeee…. Ah, I feel much better.
DeYoung was commenting on a selection from “Unpacking Forgiveness” by Chris Brauns. Brauns writes:
“In the therapeutic line of thinking, forgiveness is a private matter that means shutting down anger, bitterness, and resentment. In other words, Christians should always forgive automatically. Because therapeutic forgiveness is based on feelings, it posits that people may even find it necessary to forgive God.”
The other part of this article that made me pause was this:
“The offer of forgiveness is unconditional (for God, and it should be for us), but forgiveness itself is conditioned upon repentance. We must always be open–and even, in God’s grace, become eager–to extend forgiveness, but we (like God) can only forgive the truly penitent. No bitterness either way. No revenge. But forgiveness, and the reconciliation that should follow, is a commitment to those who repent. (emphasis mine)
Chris Brauns explains:
This book has argued that forgiveness should be defined as a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.”
Conditioned upon repentance? Those words really took me off guard. Is that true? At this point, I was becoming very aware of how fuzzy my knowledge is on forgiveness. Is this true? Or, since I try to distance myself from church divisions, is this controversial and debatable? I scrolled down to the comments section to see what other people were thinking and saying. Some were saying things like “finally Biblical teaching”, while others were asking for scripture and clarification. At this point, I decided that was where I should turn: to scripture.
I spent some time studying the Bible to get at what God has said about forgiveness, and I discovered that is very clear that God does place conditions on Christians.
(1) Mt 6: 14-15 tells us that we must forgive in order to be forgiven. If we don’t, God will not forgive us. It seems that this condition is placed on us so that we recognize the seriousness of our own sin. The note in my Bible (Apologetics Study Bible, HCSB) states:
“Forgiveness is an attitude that follows from recognition of the seriousness of our sin. A person with an unforgiving heart toward others shows that he does not take his own sin seriously and has not appropriated God’s forgiveness.”
(2) Within the church, the offended person must confront the offender. Mt 18:15-17 and Lk 17:3-4 are clear about this, and this has got to be one of the most difficult things to do. It depends a great deal on relationships. If you know the people well, it is much easier to bring something like this up. Then there is the gray area of church acquaintance, where you know people, but you really don’t know them well enough to confront them with sin. Or that they would confront me with sin, either. Honestly, I don’t really obey this, and it is just because I am a social coward. It is much easier to do the “therapeutic” part, scrub the ugliness off my consciousness until I ‘feel’ right, and then move on. But I if I am honest, I know that there is a barrier of varying thickness between me and that other person.
(3) Within the church, the offender must repent before receiving forgiveness. Mt 18:15-17 and Lk 17:3-4 are clear on this as well. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” I have to ask myself, do I do this? If I (or we) don’t act on the first command to confront the offender, will we ever hear the words ‘I repent’? It is almost as if, by being non-confrontational, we short circuit God’s plan for refining his people in the church.
And we don’t even need to see any action (repentance) at all to forgive. Just so we are all on the same page, “feeling sorry” is only part of repentance. I grew up thinking this was all there was to repentance. The other part is “to be disposed to change one’s life for the better.” God expects penitence and a desire to change and make things right. Zaccheus repented when, to those he extorted money from, he paid back four times.
If someone came to me seven times in one day ‘repenting’ of sin, I would have to question his definition of repentance! God knows this, of course! That is why he tells Peter in Mt 18:22 to forgive seventy times seven, and then tells the parable of the unforgiving slave. It sounds ludicrous to accept ‘I repent’ that many times (490) and to forgive, but it must be exactly what God sees. He is the master and we owe him 10,000 talents1. The “actions” of repentance seems to be what God is looking for—not the work, not at first, but the humility to acknowledge our sin and speak about it to who we have sinned against. If I imagine myself sinning that many times in a day and having to progressively return to confess my sin, I see myself getting more and more embarrassed and alarmed at myself. This reminds me of Paul’s description of godly sorrow in 2 Cor 7 and how it leads to repentance. This alarm at myself, at my ineptitude and stupidity, though, mixed with pride can lead worldly sorrow, to giving up and, ultimately, to death.
(4) I also read the emotions and virtues associated with forgiveness. Eph 4:30 and Col 3:13 tell us to remove bitterness, anger, insult, slander, and to put on compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience—then forgive others as the Lord forgave you. Here I can see where a therapy mentality could develop. We are to scrub out the ugliness, we are to be kind, but it is from the viewpoint of our relationship to God. Utterly destitute, God forgives us based on an immaterial ‘I repent’, a promise only. This is the comparison, the condition: as the Lord forgave us.
(5) There is one point that Jesus forgave the mass of people that were executing him. He asks God to forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing. There is no rebuke, no conversation with them, no reconciliation sought, just a plea to God based on the offender’s ignorance and slavery to sin. If people are just mean to us, in whatever way, I don’t think we necessarily have a responsibility to ‘make it right’. I don’t think we can expect or demand repentance prior to forgiveness.
So, I think what I have discovered is that God does command us to get control of the ugly emotions we feel when offended, but it is not for us so that we can feel better. It is so that reconciliation can occur between Christians. Forgiveness is conditional and challenging and, once again, proves that man did not write the Bible. Our nature is to satisfy ourselves, and I think that is what DeYoung is getting at: “forgiving” others is not about an emotional shower. Instead, except in the case of those crucifying Jesus, forgiveness seems to be absolutely relational. The questions raised by DeYoung’s article and my subsequent study have given me much to think about, and much to practice.
1I just finished a history of the Peloponnesian War, and one talent was enough to pay for the supplies and rowers for one Athenian ship for one month. Athens had ~6000 talents in their treasury, and they estimated it was enough to pay for 3 years war.
“On the one hand, God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in you present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal. That is what you are in for. And it is very important to realize that. If we do not, then we are very likely to start pulling back and resisting Him after a certain point. I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.
But that is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what he intended us to be when H made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like? …We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.”
Friday Quote from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (Chapter 9, Book 4)
“Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.”
Friday Quote from Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
Throughout the week, I try to think of what I have read that has surprised, inspired, convicted and/or stuck with me for some reason, and then share that passage. Hopefully it will bring some meaning to you.
Given the heated politics of the day, I found this Friday Quote from Mere Christianity very interesting and thought-provoking. Hopefully it is some food for thought for you. Comments are very welcome.
“All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take. It tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one’s work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no ‘swank’ or ‘side’, no putting on airs. To that extent a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist. On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience—obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls ‘busybodies’.
If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced’, but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned—perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from the total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.
Now another point. There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest; and lending money at interest—what we call investment—is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong. Some people say that when Moses and Aristotle and the Christians agreed in forbidding interest (or ‘usury’ as they called it), they could not foresee the joint stock company, and were only thinking of the private money-lender, and that, therefore, we need not bother about what they said. That is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do not know whether the investment system is responsible for the state we are in or not. This is where we want the Christian economist. But I should not have been honest if I had not told you that three great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life.”
Spartans. I think of high school and college mascots, or (mostly) of the fighting elite portrayed in the latest movie 300. This modern movie was a very stylized portrayal of the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held off the Persian Army for days (100,000-300,000 soldiers). They are portrayed as the fighting elite, the best trained soldiers in the world at that time. And that they were.
I just started my new audiobook today, The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan. This war was after the second failed Persian invasion of Greece. Athens and Sparta were at their height then, and since my knowledge of this time period is spotty, I decided on this book. From the introduction, I learned that this war was brutal, and similarities have been drawn between this war and World War I. These Spartan men enjoyed the privilege of being free, but there was also a part of Spartan culture that is probably not widely known. Sparta kept state slaves called Helots, and they outnumbered the freemen 7:1. As Kagan describes in his book, Sparta kept a highly trained and disciplined army. But they were reluctant (in general) to deploy their soldiers too far from their cities, namely in fear of a Helot revolt. As one Athenian who knew Sparta well said, the Helots “would rather eat the [Spartans] raw.”
It is ironic that behind the courage and glory of those 300 Spartan warriors lay 2100 Helot slaves. To draw a parallel between another modern book and movie, rooting for these Spartans may be similar to rooting for the Panem Capital in The Hunger Games. The Capital lived similarly, importing everything from the districts while pursuing a life of…well, not military excellence, but surely absolute freedom. The Hunger Games showed District 12 and it’s poverty, and also it’s hero Katniss.
Hmm…Katniss was a Helot…and would fight the Spartans!
Ok, on a whim I googled “Katniss was a helot.” What I found was someone’s Honors Thesis from the University of Rhode Island. In it, the writer explores the classical themes and allusions found in The Hunger Games. It is a very good paper! Here is something about the Spartans and Helots:
“According to the Greek historian Thucydides, Spartaan policy was “at all times…governed by the necessity of taking precautions against” the Helots. The Spartans constantly feared a Helot uprising, and Thucydides reports that the Spartans devised ways of eliminating strong Helot youths they viewed as threats.”
“Paul Cartledge, in his study of Agesilaos and the Crisis of Sparta, claims it would not be an overstatement to characterize the history of Sparta as “fundamentally the history of the class struggle between the Spartans and the Helots.”
Well, those buff men with chiseled abs are not looking so glorious to me now. I don’t think I will look at them the same again, shown in the context of history.
I have wondered for a while now why zombies are so appealing. They began as horror movies, then moved to comedy(i.e. Shaun of the Dean, etc) , literature (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – ok, it is not real literature…), and even live action running races where some people dress up as zombies and try to steal the “life” flags of the runners. Now there is a show on AMC called The Walking Dead that is drama set during a zombie apocalypse. A friend had told me about the show, but I was reluctant because it was just zombies. Dead people wandering around trying to kill and eat you—so what? This past weekend, I don’t know what motivated me, but I popped it on Netflix. Coming from a pay channel, it is as expected solidly rated-R for gratuitous violence and some language, but it struck a chord with me—it applied to what I have been learning and wondering about history.
Roving Wars Meant Death for the Common People
Last month I finished the book Peter the Great by Robert Massie. I really knew nothing about his monarch and thoroughly enjoyed the book. I was especially interested in Peter’s Great Northern War with Charles XII of Sweden, which was fought between 1700-1721. While the Swedes had the best trained military and was feared across Europe, Russia’s army was weak and backward. One of Peter’s greatest achievements was his modernization of the military (including the creation of a navy), and he was able to defeat Charles XII at Poltava. Prior to Poltava, a tactic Peter used to slow Charles’s advance on Moscow was to slash and burn ~100 miles of land to deprive the Swedish army of supplies. Charles then had to extort food and provisions from the peasants. One method was to bring out the family’s youngest child and put a noose around their neck, and then demand the family’s food stocks. The choice for the family became death by successive hangings as the soldiers went child to child, or death by slow starvation. The brutality of this particular example has stuck in my mind.
Wars throughout history have usually meant terror, destruction, death and desolation for the common homestead. Another book I put on my list is on the Thirty Years War, which left Germany desolate. Think of France, Germany and Russia during World War II. On and on, back through history, the violence of man on man has yielded widespread misery for the common man.
Watching the drama and violence of The Walking Dead, I unexpectedly realized the parallels. I think it is difficult for people living in first world countries to understand what it would have been like to live back then during war. War raged through their villages and neighborhoods. Watching and identifying with these characters allows people to feel that extreme terror and vulnerability that people must have felt back then. Also, I think one can draw a solid moral correlation between these soldiers and the undead. The person who can put a noose around an innocent child’s head to hang them may as well have the same moral code of a zombie.
Stone The Rebel
The pilot episode creates some quick background, mystery and action that serve as a great “hook” for the series. [**spoilers ahead**] My wife and I wanted to keep watching. In the next episode, Rick (a sheriff’s deputy) meets a band of survivors in Atlanta. Right away we are shown a character named Merle, a stereotypical amoral racist redneck. He is shooting zombies for fun off the rooftop (wasting their limited ammo and drawing more zombies to the group). When challenged, he calls a black guy a nig***, and then starts beating him. He puts a gun to the man’s head and proclaims himself leader of the group. In a moment, however, the butt end of Rick’s rifle ends his short reign. “Things are different now,” Rick says, “we survive by pulling together, not apart.” Merle is handcuffed to some piping, raging and cursing, and is eventually left behind to die.
Here is the first of many moral dilemmas shown in the show. Was it right to leave Merle to die? He was a total liability to the group, and I found it easy to justify leaving him. The situation fully reminded me of the early Israelites, when God’s law said to take the rebel outside of the camp and stone them to death. It made it very clear to me how dangerous rebels like this are to the group. Encased in our modern culture, it sounds really harsh to do that to someone. But in the context of real immediate danger (i.e. Zombies!!) it is easier to see that the rebellious nature of Merle will get good people killed.
Whose Morals Do You Follow?
Here is the bottom-line: if the zombie apocalypse hits, and you have a bunch of people thrown together, who is in charge and who decides what is right and what is wrong? This is where The Walking Dead does the drama right. From just what I have seen in the first season, this seems to be a central recurring theme and an important one to consider.
We are shown a lazy redneck just bosses his wife around, makes her do all the work and beats her. Some women want to intervene, but one comments that it is their marriage, “let them work it out”. One woman won’t let it go, though, and confronts the man and he starts to slap her. Shane (Rick’s partner, another deputy) intervenes and beats him terribly. I was left thinking that this guy deserved it, but the brutality of it made me wonder how far Shane would go. Even the women looked at him tentatively.
When there are twenty or so survivors, threatened with death at any moment, do we still let an abusive marriage continue? Does the leader get to step in and exercise justice? How much justice? What type of punishment? Continually there was conflict in the group over what to do-yelling, cursing, men holding each other back. Again I thought of the tribes of Israel and how needed the law that God gave them was. With the real threat of danger imminent (i.e. Zombies!!), I could not help thinking how absolutely necessary it would be to have a higher moral law to follow.
Overall, I liked the show and it was, for me, an unexpected place to plug-in some historical perspective. Oh,and there were Zombies!!
“Your natural life is derived from your parent; that does not mean it will stay there if you do nothing about it. You can lose it by neglect, or you can drive it away by committing suicide. You have to feed it and look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else.” -Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
These words from C.S. Lewis resonated with me this morning. He has such a way with words, and communicates so much depth about the world and Christianity. As father of four, from 15 years to 10 months, I am very aware of the work of a parent. Probably not as much as my wife, who stays home and home schools them. It is amazing that God has enabled men and women to bring new life into being, and to mold and teach children everything from love and morality to abuse and neglect. It is very interesting that most animals are born and can run or fly within hours to days, but for humans it is years.
When children finally assert themselves and take control of their life, what are they really taking control of? They have a physical body and beliefs and experiences gifted them from their parents and so many others. What they mean is they want to take control of their free will. But they are controlling a life received from someone else. Everyone is in the same boat.
“As long as the natural life is in your body, it will do a lot towards repairing that body. Cut it, and up to a point it will heal, as a dead body would not. A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.
That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; of—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”
I think God allows (forces?) us to be parents for years so that we understand these concepts. Men and women commit one act of pleasure and a baby can be conceived, a being so beyond our ability to design. The child is forced to rely on us for so long for food and teaching. We understand how very much they owe us for life. As children of God, do I (we) have this attitude? Or is ours more of us exercising our free will, living “our life”?
I have to say I was very convicted this morning by these thoughts.
I really enjoyed this book, and was pleased at how much I learned about current research in this area. What is meant by “junk” DNA refers to the part of the human genome that doesn’t code directly for a protein. Proteins are the machines that do all the work in the cell. With only 1.5% of the human genome coding for protein, that leaves a lot of junk around, apparently serving no purpose, looking like old viruses, and has been a source of proof for Neo-Darwinists and ridicule for Intelligent Design.
The book’s premise is simple and straight forward: it spends a chapter referring to statements made by prominent Neo-Darwinists using “junk” DNA to support evolution (going so far as to make theological comments on a God or Creator that would make such junk, even). The book then advances in a tour de force of example after example from mainstream journals showing the functionality of “junk” DNA. It has been shown that the other non-coding “junk” DNA is both conserved between species and widely transcribed. According to evolutionary theory alone, these two facts alone show probable function. Pseudogenes, Introns, repetitious DNA, elements that appear derived from virus (ERV), those parts that were thought to be functionless is being found to have important roles within the cell.
I think the information in the book is presented well and is at an understandable level, but I do have a degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, so some of it may come off as too technical. The Neo-Darwinist argument goes something like this: “if most of human DNA is junk, then Darwinism is true and ID false; most of human DNA is junk; therefore Darwinism is true and ID false.” In my opinion, this book thoroughly discredits the myth that “junk” DNA is “flotsam and jetsam”. Drawing an inference to Intelligent Design is advanced in the last chapter, and the answer is left up to the reader. My own opinion is that, as the human genome explored and more data is generated, the evolutionary argument will transition to a “Darwin of the gaps” position.