Reading & viewing links

current reading and viewingMore than usual, sorry, I usually post when I have three, this time I have five for you. Please don’t miss the last one.

Stephen L. Carter, “How We Got to Capital-B ‘Black’: America’s long conversation about race has often stumbled over which specific words to use,” BloombergOpinion (July 1, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueSo black is now Black. In the wake of the protests following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others, editors everywhere have decreed with sudden and remarkable unanimity that the formerly common adjective referring to African Americans will henceforth be a proper adjective.

I’m all for the change. Yes, as a card-carrying Grammar Curmudgeon I have a few curmudgeonly concerns. But before we get to that part, let’s do a little history.

Over the past half millennium, the U.S. and its predecessor colonies have invented all sorts of ways to refer to the Africans they bought and sold and their many generations of descendants. Many of those terms were derogatory at the time; most are considered derogatory today. The nation’s difficulty in finding the proper word to describe a people dragged unwillingly to its shores itself mirrors the difficulty the nation has had in digesting the original crime.

Carter continues to look at the history and significance of the usage, with his usual insight. Alas he is behind the Bloomberg paywall, and (so far as I am aware) his earlier columns are not released after a period of captivity like some other writers. See, e.g., Peggy Noonan [link]. Choose your one free article for the month wisely (now I will have to wait until August).


Sarah Willard, “Remember This,” Blind Mule Blog (June 29, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueIn January I wrote the word Eucatastrophe down on a scrap of paper and propped it up on my desk. A sudden turn of good events, it means, which ensures the protagonist does not meet some very probable doom. It was with barely a mustard seed of belief that I wrote it down. Really I just liked the way it looked on paper. I didn’t name it and claim it. I didn’t presume to pray for it. I was, in fact, avoiding it personally.

Great word, Sarah, and one we need to remember. She gives us a scrap of story about unexpected grace.


Nadia Nadim, “The Outsiders,” The Players’ Tribune (June 18, 2020):

small quotes blueAlthough I’m encouraged by the Black Lives Matter protests, I still feel that too many people have become numb to what’s going on in certain parts of the world. Take one of them aid campaigns about Africa, where children are suffering from hunger. People see it, in the literal sense, but they don’t really see it. You know? But then let’s say that you live in Denmark, where I arrived when I was 12, or in any other privileged country. If two Danes die or get killed in Africa or Syria or wherever, that’s suddenly big news. You’re like, “Oh my God. They were Danish!!” 

This is a different story than we are used to.


Rebecca Manley Pippert, Stay Salt (2020) [link]:

small quotes blueOur task is learning how to apply all that we have received from God so that we can witness to the truth about him in ways that are effective and that truly connect with people today. We do not need to get angry, shouting at our culture. We do not need to feel defeated, staying silent in our culture. We can be hopeful, as we share the message that the whole word so desperately needs to hear. To put it another way, we can still be disciple-makers. We can—we must—stay salt!


Voddie Baucham, “Racial Reconciliation,” YouTube (2019) [link]:

small quotes blueIf God can reconcile those who have real and God-ordained distinctions between them, He can certainly reconcile people who have arbitrary and artificial differences and distinctions between them.

This is a very powerful sermon—by the way, Dr. Baucham is not (1) saying there is no problem, or (2) reading books is worthless, or that (3) we can experience no peace with non-believers. What he does say is worth multiple hearings.

Dr. Baucham has many online sermons—does anyone have other suggestions? This was the first I had heard.

Reading

This is a good time for respectful, thoughtful, listening. It is probably worth seeking out voices which relate experiences and opinions which are a little foreign to us. (It is probably a good time for holding back on dramatic and absolute political conclusions, but that is another post.)

TPT logoAppropriately for Father’s Day, Aaron Jones, “Two Fathers,” The Player’s Tribune (June 19, 2020) [link] is reflecting on his father and his fatherhood as he holds his two-month-old son:

small quotes blueMy dad told me then (and many times after) that life isn’t fair, and that an African-American man has to work a little bit harder — and be a little bit nicer — in order to be treated like he should be treated all the time, like a normal human being.

small quotes blueIt’s time for a change. You’re living life as a little boy, and you see things, and then you start to grow up, and then you have your own child, and you’re like, Hold on. I see why my dad was having these conversations with me. I see why he had a fear like that could be me one day, and he might get old without a son, or my son could grow up without a father.

Jones is properly and appropriately seeing the the events of the day in the context of what his son will see a dozen years from now.

The Players Tribune has been focusing on statements of black athletes recently, and if you follow sports you may well find that these stories of people you sort of “know” are useful in broadening your experience. Yesterday’s piece by Kevin-Prince Boateng, “To My White Brothers and Sisters” is also worth your time [link].


538 logoMaking the obvious (but important) point that the slogans don’t always communicate the same way to different people, Nathaniel Rakich, “How Americans Feel About ‘Defund the Police,'” FiveThirtyEight (June 19, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blue“Defund the police.” In the last several weeks, this slogan has entered the mainstream amid nationwide protests against police violence.

However, there’s some disagreement about what exactly the slogan means. Some activists actually do want to disband police departments entirely, while others argue that police budgets should be radically decreased, but not brought down to zero. But even among those who want to abolish the police, some say they want to do so over time.

But while the slogan is suddenly everywhere, so far it doesn’t poll well. Four polls conducted in the past two weeks found that Americans opposed the “defund the police” movement or “defunding police departments” 58 percent to 31 percent, on average.

In FiveThirtyEight world, these initial statements are supported and explored with polling data.


OnenessEmbracedAnd from Tony Evans’ 2015 book Oneness Embraced 17-18:

small quotes blueWhile this tension can also be seen in many other ways, either through swastikas painted on synagogues or Hispanics marching against the concern of racial profiling and the passage of immigration legislation, it is the black/white relationship that has set the bar of racial division the highest. Given the length and volatile history of this divide, if we can ever get this right, we will have developed a template for addressing wherever else this evil shows up in the culture. The church will have established a model on how to biblically address issues such as those found in the current tension arising out of the influx of both legal and illegal immigrants to America, among other things. The church will have put forth biblical and theological answers that have pragmatic manifestations above and beyond mere social and political dialogue about the situation.

More June reading

current reading 2Alan Jacobs, again, with a nicely captured piece of worldly wisdom completely at odds with orthodox Christian belief:

small quotes blue“[M]etaphysical capitalism”: I am a commodity owned solely by myself; I may do with this property whatever I want and call it whatever I want; any suggestion that my rights over myself are limited in any way I regard as an intolerable tyranny. I am what I say I am. I am my own. As a Christian I do not and cannot believe this. My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

“last word on critical theory,” Snakes and Ladders (June 17, 2020) [link]. There’s more here, and you can follow Jacob’s interior links, but this is an immediately important concept that is relevant in many political, social and personal contexts. “You are not your own.” 1 Cor. 6:19-20. Let us strive to live as Christ’s δουλοι.


Stephen L. Carter, “Are the George Floyd Protests Different?” Bloomberg News (June 4, 2020) [link]”

small quotes blueIs it different this time? That’s the question on so many lips as furious protesters march through streets all across the U.S. and major cities impose curfews. We ask because we’ve seen this movie before — explosions of activism that seem for an instant to herald a tectonic shift in the nation’s self-understanding, only to turn out to be the distant fading trumpets of a movement in retreat.

But what if this is an actual uprising? A revolution? Not in the silly way the words are sometimes used, as synonyms for “really big demonstrations” — but an actual uprising, the sort of thing that over history has toppled regimes?

That’s the question, but you need to read the entire piece to see what Mr. Carter thinks.


W.H. Auden, A Certain World: A Commonplace Book, 87 (1970), quoted in Ian Sansom, September 1, 1939: Biography of a Poem 224 (2019)*:

small quotes blueBy all means let a poet, if he wants to, write engagé poems, protesting against this or that political evil or social injustice. But let him remember this. The only person who will benefit from them is himself; they will enhance his literary reputation among those who feel as he does. The evil or injustice, however, will remain exactly what it would have been if he had kept his mouth shut.

Matters aren’t solved by words, spoken or written, it is true; but matters are not normally solved by silence, either.

Still reading, gingerly

current reading and viewingRoss Douthat, “It’s Trump’s Revolution,” New York Times (June 13, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueIn this environment, few conservatives outside the MAGA core would declare Trump’s presidency a ringing success. But many will stand by him out of a sense of self-protection, hoping a miracle keeps him in the White House as a firewall against whatever post-2020 liberalism might become.

This is a natural impulse, but they should consider another possibility: That so long as he remains in office, Trump will be an accelerant of the right’s erasure, an agent of its marginalization and defeat, no matter how many of his appointees occupy the federal bench.


Alan Jacobs, “more on the mania for unanimity,” Snakes and Ladders (June 11, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueHow exactly does a narrative coalesce such that “silence is violence” about some forms of suffering but not others, even if the others have greater scope?

This post is not a simple criticism so much as an actual answer to the question raised.


Peggy Noonan, “On Some Things, Americans Can Agree: George Floyd’s killing was brutal. Good cops are needed. And Trump hurt himself badly this week.” The Wall Street Journal (June 4, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueAs to the president, this week he altered his position in the political landscape. Something broke. He is no longer the force he was and no longer lucky. In some new and indelible way his essential nature was revealed.

I am proud of Peggy Noonan and George Will and others for being willing to speak truth to the political powers that were their home fans. George Will famously left the Republican Party before the 2016 [link] election, and has continued to write bluntly (not protectively) about the Administration (his opinions are behind the Washington Post paywall).

Reading and weeping

current reading 2Andrew Peterson gave the (virtual?) commencement address at his daughter’s (virtual?) graduation. “The Certainty of Time in Uncertain Times,” The Rabbit Room (June 8, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueSix months ago things (for me, at least) were kind of chugging along, and no one had ever heard of COVID-19. But in a flash, everything changed. Now our history has a new dividing line: before Coronavirus and after Coronavirus, kind of like 9/11. I used to have a pretty good idea what was coming, but now I haven’t a clue, from one day to the next. I watch the news with a desperate hope that they’ll tell us this pandemic is going to be over in a week, that systemic racism is finally banished from our hearts and our nation, that the world, at last, is at peace. I long for it. Everything feels so crazy that I just want to make some soup and get a blankie and let John Krasinski to tell me some good news.

But to say that these times are uncertain implies that the time before was certain. Graduates, these times aren’t any less certain than a year ago or 100 or 1,000 years ago. The times have always been uncertain.

This is, of course reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ “Learning in War-Time,” from The Weight of Glory (1949) (“The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.”).


Capture
Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 7 years old

Adrian Brandon has done a series of portraits in which the subject is sketched in pencil, but the portrait is only partially finished in color:

 

small quotes blueThis series is dedicated to the many black people that were robbed of their lives at the hands of the police. In addition to using markers and pencil, I use time as a medium to define how long each portrait is colored in. 1 year of life = 1 minute of color. Tamir Rice was 12 when he was murdered, so I colored his portrait for 12 minutes. . . .

“Stolen,” adrianbrandon.com [link]. The artist helps us see these subjects as lives cut short. (The short video of the coloring of Marzues Scott is fascinating as an art lesson as well.)


Gary Sheffield describes two encounters with the police in “Do You Believe Me Now?” The Player’s Tribune (June 12, 2020) [link]. It is important, I think, for us to hear these stories from people we know personally, but many of us we “know” and have “relationships with” athletes and actors whom we have followed for years. Their experiences are worth listening to, and are all too consistent with what we hear from our friends. Sheffield writes:

small quotes blueThe unfortunate reality is that my stories aren’t unique. They’re not special or extraordinary, and neither am I. What happened to George Floyd could have easily — and far too often — happened to me or others.

What has made George Floyd’s death a defining moment in this country — what distinguishes it from countless others who were murdered and remain anonymous — was that this otherwise desensitized country actually saw it happen.

Listen, weep, wait to respond.

Eyes open

current reading and viewingIt has been a while, but these links from the last week are worth your time:

A brief reflection on crowd-sourcing our attention spans—Alan Jacobs, “not so much,” Snakes and Ladders (June 7, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueHuman beings have overwhelmingly powerful cravings for novelty and unanimity. We want new problems to face, because we’re tired of the old ones: they bore us, and remind us of our failures to solve them. And, especially in times of stress, we crave environments in which dissent is silenced and even mere difference is erased. We call that “solidarity,” but it‘s more like an instinctual bullying. You must attend to the thing I am attending to. I despise both of those tendencies.

A sobering comment on how evenhanded uncertainty can be sacrificed on the altar of tribalism—Yuval Levin, “Tribalism comes for Pandemic Science,” American Enterprise Institute (June 5, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueThe virus has demanded a lot from our country, and Americans have been willing to make great sacrifices to address it. But to defeat it, we will also need to be willing to temper our powerful inclination to polarize and tribalize, and we will need to demand more of political leaders, of public health experts, and of ourselves. Success in the coming months depends on our ability to build up habits of humility — and those would serve us well far beyond this crisis too.

A powerful spoken poem about unresolved racial violence—Propaganda, “Again,” The Rabbit Room (June 1, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueLas night another black man was murdered . . . . again . . . .

Q&E

Violence of PeaceQuotations and excerpts from Stephen L. Carter’s The Violence of Peace (2011) (emphasis in red is added):

p. 20:

It is an article of faith among many on the left that there exist on the right some who were chomping at the bit to strike Iraq, and that any evidence, however specious, would do. It is an article of faith among many on the right that there exist on the left some who will never find any war to their liking, and will seize upon any evidence, however specious, to justify their disapproval. Perhaps there is something to these ad hominem fears, but they are uninteresting to the scholar and, in a wiser world, would be equally uninteresting to politicians and pundits. Evidence and argument, not preexisting prejudices, should guide us in our moral lives, particularly when we ponder so momentous a moral decision as whether to move a nation to war.

p. 32:

When we contemplate disaster, our heuristics misfire. Catastrophic harms tend to be treated, in our minds and in our regulations, as far more likely than they are. And, certainly, successful terror attacks are considered catastrophic. The public position is, in effect, zero tolerance. If no attacks are permitted, then no risks can be taken. Thus a risk of 1 percent becomes too high.

pp. 44-45:

Classifying everything unpleasant as “torture” makes a mockery of language. We must not redefine terms to the extent that we become unable to reason about distinctions. Threatening to kill a prisoner is horrific, but not as horrific as actually killing him. Holding him in a position that stresses his knees is outrageous, but not as outrageous as breaking his knees. Forcing him to listen to loud and noxious sounds is terrible, but not as terrible as cutting off his ears. When we say that all that is bad is identical, we are not creating useful moral bright lines; we are, rather, establishing our own moral laziness, our inability to admit that even among those things that shock our consciences, there are degrees of shock.

pp. 100-01:

In war, says Walzer, there is often “a kind of killing frenzy that begins in combat and ends in murder.” There may even be a sort of “temporary insanity”: “a frenzy of fear such that the soldier cannot recognize the moment when he is no longer in danger.” The point is that, in war, decent people fighting for the just side will at times do terrible things. To pretend that their emotions will never get the better of them is childish. To seek somehow to bring them all to justice is again to confuse cause and effect. The war itself is the cause—not some defect in the nature of a few wayward soldiers, but the war itself. That was Sherman’s point: “You cannot help yourself.” You try. You do your best. You train your people, you hammer home the rules, and, if you really care about what happens in the battle, you raise your children to believe the same propositions. If you are serious, you might even build your society around self-discipline and self-denial, even in the face of horror and fear. But, in the end, no matter what, your efforts will be imperfect.89 If you fight a war, terrible things will happen. If you do not want terrible things to happen, do not fight any wars, but bear in mind the risk that the rest of the world might not mind doing terrible things quite as much as you do.

pp. 106-07:

Although there are those on the right who look at our warlike President [Obama] and accuse him of cynicism, and there are those on the left who look at the same President and accuse him of betrayal, I think the truth is different. For it is a painful fact known to all of us, but too often forgotten, that deciding is a more difficult matter than criticizing. It might even be that Obama the insider has realized what Obama the outsider did not: whatever the mistakes of his predecessor, President Bush acted out of a belief in the urgency of the threat facing the nation. The threat was neither invented nor imagined, but is instead out there in the world. The plotting against America continues. If you pay attention, you can hardly miss the fresh headlines every month or so about another conspiracy blocked by federal authorities.

p. 116:

[W]ar rarely accomplishes its objectives except imperfectly. As the church historian Robert Bainton has noted, commenting on the pre-Pearl Harbor support among some Christians for American entry into World War II: “To be sure, the war might not establish democracy, liberty, and a just and enduring peace. The only thing war can ever do is to restrain outrageous villainy and give a chance to build again.”

p. 161 (quoting Niebuhr’s 1948 essay “Why the Christian Church is not Pacifist”):

A decision to intervene in the affairs of another country is no doubt in the end a matter of politics. But the arguments for it are moral. Not every form of government is equal. One thinks here of Reinhold Niebuhr: “Pacifism either tempts us to make no judgments at all, or to give an undue preference to tyranny in comparison with the momentary anarchy which is necessary to overcome tyranny.” Niebuhr points to the tendency of many pacifists to hubris, because of the belief that they have found the one true solution to the brokenness of man, whereas (in Christian terms, and one would hope in the terms of secular morality as well) none of us can ever be sure. Whatever the attraction of pacifism when you alone are under threat, there is less virtue in being pacifist when called upon to defend someone else.

p. 162-64:

But a moral individual who cares about others still has to decide what the people in Darfur ought to do about the slaughter; or whether anybody else should help. “It’s not my fault” is perhaps the worst reason in the world for doing nothing.

Genocide has always been difficult for genuine pacifists. Consider the Holocaust.

*    *    *

Gandhi did not merely call for nonviolent rather than violent resistance to Hitler. He evidently believed there was merit in Germany’s claim to lands lost in the First World War, even though he regretted that Hitler had turned to war to attain justice. And Gandhi praised the Nazi leader, arguing that future generations would honor his bravery and genius. True, he also insisted that Hitler’s actions were “monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity.” Yet the praise can hardly be ignored. Probably it was necessary, and not only as a tactic. Gandhi had to believe there was something human and reachable in the worst of dictators, because absent that conscience, nonviolence could never have its desired effect.

This core conception is essential to any pacifism that is not mere pose. Anybody can claim to be a pacifist but politically or intellectually serious pacifism is mature enough to accept the consequences.

*    *    *

Again, consider the President’s words (about Gandhi’s principles):

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism—it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Gandhi could not possibly endorse any of this.

p. 173:

The office of the Presidency, once assumed, transforms the outlook of its holder. What had seemed frivolous becomes frightening. What had seemed nonsense becomes necessary. The world turns out to be a dangerous place after all. The United States turns out to have actual enemies, people who wish the nation harm, and very few of them are moved by personal loathing for any particular resident of the White House.

p. 196:

I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That’s why NATO continues to be indispensable. That’s why we must strengthen U.N. and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That’s why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali—we honor them not as makers of war, but of wagers—but as wagers of peace.

 

 

Two for early 2020

Christopher Beha, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts (Tin House Books 2020).Index of Self-Destructive Acts

The Index of Self-Destructive Acts is the total number of hits batsmen, wild pitches, balks and errors by a pitcher, per nine innings.

Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (2003).

No spoilersBaseball, math, crime, and faith in New York City! What could go wrong? Beha follows his two earlier novels with a beautifully written narrative about a wealthy family and those who intersect their lives.

Frank Doyle is a baseball writer turned political columnist turned pariah whose career may be jump started by a magazine profile written by Sam Waxworth, wunderkind baseball statistician turned political prognosticator turned writer about all things that succumb to numerical analysis. Frank’s wife, Kit, is on the back end of a lucrative career in investment banking. Their adult children (Eddie and Margot) are largely directionless, but in interesting ways. Eddie has wandered into and out of the military, Margot has wandered into and out of graduate school in poetry. There is a rich collection of secondary characters who alternately stress and soothe the Doyles and Waxworth.

Beha’s characters have to deal with the central question of the novel: “What would you change if you knew it was all going to end?” For some of them the question is prospective—”What choices do I have going forward?” For some of them the question is retrospective—”What can I change about the choices I have made in the past?”

For all, like pitchers, they grapple with their tendency to self-destructive acts.

Highly recommended.


Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020).*

The Glass Hotel

No one ever thinks they’re awful, even people who really actually are. It’s some sort of survival mechanism.

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven 106 (2014).

Emily St. John Mandel made our wait pay off, as she has matched her brilliant 2014 fourth novel with an equally brilliant 2020 followup. Although The Glass Hotel is superficially different than the post-apocalyptic Station Eleven, the two novels clearly come from the same pen.

Mandel again weaves chronology and biography to form a pattern which does not become quite distinct until the last pages. This time the fragile narrative winds through the lives of at least ten major and perhaps another thirty minor characters, but with fewer chronological jump-shifts. (Two characters even reappear from Station Eleven, though the two novels cannot quite share the same timeline.) These characters range from the owner and employees of the Hotel Caiette; to the staff and executives of a Wall Street investment company; to the executives and crew of a shipping concern. There are more than a few musicians, artists and addicts.

No spoilersNo spoilers, here, but the many characters glide into and out of “the kingdom of money,” in which the subjects carry themselves with “with the tedious confidence of all people with money, the breezy assumption that no serious harm could come” to them. P. 44. In the kingdom of money, it becomes all too possible for the servants to become invisible. (“[F]or him coffee appearing out of thin air was so commonplace an occurrence it didn’t merit acknowledgement.” P. 70.)

But for Vincent no one ever becomes invisible, and she enters and exits the kingdom with a high degree of intentionality and clarity, even when her decisions may later prove wrong. At one point she thinks I’m paying a price for this life,  . . . but the price is reasonable. P. 65. She may have miscalculated, but she was not naïve.

Other characters are not so self-aware, and Mandel describes their predicaments with her typical crystalline prose:

A revelation earned only in hindsight: beauty can have a corrosive effect on character. It is possible to coast for some years on no more than a few polished lines and a dazzling smile, and those years are formative. (p. 95)

It’s possible to both know and not know something,” he said later [and] he spoke for several of us, actually, several who’d been thinking a great deal about that doubleness, that knowing and not knowing, being honorable and not being honorable, knowing you’re not a good person but trying to be a good person regardless around the margins of the bad. (p. 168).

“If we are to be honest with ourselves,” [he] said, “who among us has never made a mistake?” But this was an error, [she] saw that immediately. . . . Could [he] see the error, too? Impossible to tell. . . . He’d made a mistake but he pressed on with the story, like a boy following a dwindling trail into the woods at nightfall. . . . (pp. 216-17)

Mandel’s characters don’t always live in reality, or they flinch from reality’s glare, and so delude themselves to survive.

This is not a perfect book, and Mandel, a Canadian, stumbles over some minor technical American legal points (FBI investigators are “agents” not “detectives”; the attorneys in the trial she describes would have been federal, not state prosecutors), but her sense of the relevant psychology is perfectly lucid—the lines crossed are evident to her characters only on reflection:

He left the office in a daze, but by the time he reached the corner, he realized he couldn’t pretend to be shocked, . . . , because he was already complicit, he was already on the inside, and had been for some time. “You already knew this.,” he heard himself murmuring, speaking aloud. “There are no surprises here. You know what you are.” (p. 192)

Mandel, like Vincent, plays with light and shadows, creating a precise recording of necessarily imprecise subjects—victims who are perpetrators, innocents who choose guilty actions, insightful people who are blind. In the end, the ghosts are all real, but the dreams are nothing but delusions.

Highly recommended.

*This review originally appeared online in The Englewood Review of Books [link].

A right to one’s opinion

Surprised_By_Joy_C.S._Lewis_First_Edition

I was reminded today of a wonderful anecdote told by C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy. Unsatisfied by the progress of his son’s education, Lewis’ father transferred him into the care of a private tutor, William T. Kirkpatrick (“Kirk” or “The Great Knock”) to prepare Lewis for university. Kirk walks Lewis from the train station to his house, and Lewis recalls:

small quotesI began to “make conversation” in the deplorable manner which I had acquired at those evening parties and indeed found increasingly necessary to use with my father. I said I was surprised at the “scenery” of Surrey; it was much “wilder” than I had expected.

“Stop!” shouted Kirk with a suddenness that made me jump. “What do you mean by wildness and what grounds had you for not expecting it?”

I replied I don’t know what, still “making conversation.” As answer after answer was torn to shreds it at last dawned upon me that he really wanted to know. He was not making conversation, nor joking, nor snubbing me; he wanted to know. I was stung into attempting a real answer. A few passes sufficed to show that I had no clear and distinct idea corresponding to the word “wildness,” and that, in so far as I had any idea at all, “wildness” was a singularly inept word.

“Do you not see, then,” concluded the Great Knock, “that your remark was meaningless?” I prepared to sulk a little, assuming that the subject would now be dropped. Never was I more mistaken in my life. Having analyzed my terms, Kirk was proceeding to deal with my proposition as a whole. On what had I based . . . my expectations about the Flora and Geology of Surrey? Was it maps, or photographs, or books? I could produce none. It had, heaven help me, never occurred to me that what I called my thoughts need to be [based] on anything. Kirk once more drew a conclusion—without the slightest sign of emotion, but equally without the slightest concession to what I thought good manners: “Do you not see, then, that you had no right to have any opinion whatever on the subject?”

By this time our acquaintance had lasted about three and a half minutes; but the tone set by this first conversation was preserved without a single break during all the years I spent at Bookham.

Perhaps it is all too clear how this anecdote struck me on April 27, 2020. We are now surrounded by a myriad of opinions justified by nearly nothing at all. In the age of too much “information,” we consider it a useful skill to discern which opinions to ignore, but it has been a long time since I remembered that a person might actually be held to account for expressing an irrational opinion.

Jesus said (admittedly in a different context) “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,” and this is worth remembering and taking to hear—may we be intentional in our speech and take great care with our opinions.