It’s not all clickbait . . .

current reading 2small quotes blueThe less you know about a person, the easier it is to venerate them, which is why you generally don’t want your children writing your biography. My favorite parts of biographies are not the quotes from the person being written about, but rather from those who knew them well — or — too well.

Josh Retterer, “Stories Told Behind Auden’s Back,” Mockingbird (Oct. 24, 2018) [link].

It is also true that the less you know about a person the easier it is to demonize them, which probably goes for everyone we read about in the “news.”


Sarah Willard, “The Pilgrim Soul,” Blind Mule Blog (Oct. 17, 2018) [link] writes about dementia and memory:

small quotes blueIt can be very hard when someone you love is losing their memory, not to lose yours too. It’s easy to only see who they are in the moment, and not who they are really, which includes who they have been and who they will be.

One anodyne for dementia is the shared memory of the ones who give care.


Gavriel Rosenfeld, “How Americans Described Evil before Hitler,” The Atlantic (Oct. 9, 2018) [link], raises the interesting question “Who was evil incarnate before Hitler?” and suggests some history lessons germane to our current discourse:

small quotes blueOur present moment is a tricky one: Some commentators feel more justified than ever in invoking Hitler, yet many feel a bit numb to the comparison. The solution, it seems to me, is not to ban comparisons to the Nazis—as if such a thing were possible—but to grant that analogies have always been a tendentious business, and that only the future can tell which ones were valid. Commentators should proceed with a little more humility, a little more circumspection, and, perhaps, a little more creativity.


From Søren Kierkegaard, via Alan Jacobs:

small quotes blueThe Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly.

Alan Jacobs, Snakes and Ladders (May 6, 2013) [link].

This is a hyperbole, of course, but I often wonder how much we will eventually be shown that our careful exegesis was really carefully hidden eisegesis.

Empathy

current reading 2It was not that they were looking for meaning, this man and woman on the hilltop in the early morning. They were too tired for that. But it rose like the sun among us, shadowed and slow, revealing a day we did not wish to see. In waiting, in sleepless nights, in labor, in fears, in blood, in tears, in a grave, in the gospel of the brokenhearted, in the life of the world to come, in a moment, our labor is not in vain . . . .” Sarah Willard, “Talitha Cumi,” Blind Mule Blog (Sept. 11, 2018) [link].

Elissa Ely, “From Bipolar Darkness, the Empathy to be a Doctor,” New York Times (Mar. 16, 2009) [link]; see also Alan Jacobs, “Rene Giraud, please call your office,” Snakes & Ladders (August 29, 2018) [link].

New book

Jacobs 1943Today I received The Year of Our Lord 1943 by Alan Jacobs (one of my favorite thinkers). Jacobs, a prolific writer on the Web (see, e.g., Snakes & Ladders, microblog, Text Patterns, etc.) seems to manage to produce a physical book every year or two (sometimes on fairly esoteric topics) as well as fulfilling his University teaching duties.

This one looks at five Christian thinkers who, separately and in deeply personal ways, considered what the war meant and would mean for Christianity and the West:

The war raised for each of the thinkers . . . a pressing set of questions about the relationship between Christianity and the Western democratic social order, and especially about whether Christianity was uniquely suited to the moral underpinning of that order. These questions led in turn to others: How might an increasingly secularized and religiously indifferent populace be educated and formed in Christian beliefs and practices? And what role might people like them—poets, novelists, philosophers, thinkers, but not professional theologians or pastors—play in the education of their fellow citizens of the West?

p. xvii.

The five are Jacques Maritain, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, W.H. Auden, and Simone Weil. I am in the throes of anticipation and will report back when I have finished it.

For reading and reflection

current reading 2From Alan Jacobs at Snakes & Ladders:

1. “Reconsidering ‘Evangelical'” [link] and

2. “Accountable” [link]

And, continuing the conversation started by LeCrae and John Piper, from Raymond Chang, The Exchange:

3. “Open Letter to John Piper on White Evangelicalism and Multiethnic Relations” [link]

(for earlier parts of this conversation — called to my attention by my older daughter — see LeCrae’s conversation at Truth’s Table [link]; and Piper, “My Hopeful Response” [link].  If someone has the link to LeCrae’s written piece, please send it to me).

Judges and partisans

ScreenShot164This is certainly on point:

It has long been frustrating to me that the only criterion by which Americans — almost without exception — evaluate judges is: Did he or she make decisions that produce results I’d like to see? Virtually no one asks whether the judge has rightly interpreted existing law, which is of course what the judge is formally required to do. Americans — again, almost without exception — want judges to be politicians and advocates. The idea that a judge should strive to interpret existing law regardless of whether it does or doesn’t promote politically desirable ends never crosses anyone’s mind, and if by some strange chance it did, the person whose mind was so crossed would reject the proposal indignantly. Americans in this respect resemble toddlers and their own President: they evaluate everything in terms of whether it helps or hinders them in getting what they want.

This devaluation of interpretation amounts to a dismissal of the task of understanding: everything that matters is already understood, so the person who would strive to understand is not only useless, but an impediment to the realization of my political vision. To the partisan, the absence of partisanship is always a sin, and perhaps the gravest of sins.

Alan Jacobs, “Judging Judges,” Snakes and Ladders (Jan 31, 2017) [link].

RIP GOP?

ScreenShot164Alan Jacobs writes this recent post:

“My friend Ross Douthat disagrees, mostly, with Avik Roy’s contention that the Republican Party is dead, but by contrast I suspect that Roy is too optimistic. He thinks that some kind of renewed GOP will eventually rise from the ashes, but I doubt that. I don’t think that the rise of Trump marked the end of the Republican Party as we know it, but rather that the party’s incoherent and brainlessly reflexive responses to Trump, whether positive or negative, were the equivalent of the last few electrochemical twitches of a corpse. The current donor base will pay for one or two more decades of artificial respiration, but no more, and I suspect that as early as 2024 the GOP will be completely irrelevant to American politics, at least at the national level.

At that point we’ll still have a two-party system, but the two parties will be the Neoliberal and the Socialist — basically, the two main wings of the current Democratic Party. And I’m not sure that, when that happens, we’ll be any worse off than we are now.

Alan Jacobs, “Two parties,” Snakes and Ladders (July 25, 2016) [link].  (That last line may be fairly discouraging to many, but I think AJ means it to be encouraging — it is not going to be much worse.)

Jacobs is referring to an article in Vox about Republican strategist Avik Roy’s dismal predictions regarding the GOP:

“The work of conservative intellectuals today, [Roy] argues, is to devise a new conservatism — a political vision that adheres to limited government principles but genuinely appeals to a more diverse America.

“I think it’s incredibly important to take stock,” he says, “and build a new conservative movement that is genuinely about individual liberty.”

Zack Beauchamp, “A Republican intellectual explains why the Republican Party is going to die,” Vox (July 25, 2016) [link].

I think believers can pray that an American political party will rise from the ashes that is committed to social justice as well as limited government.  I wonder what it will be called?  Compassionate Realism?

The conscience of the Court

Critics of Justice Scalia often accused him of inconsistency. And insofar as he was a methodological originalist he sometimes was inconsistent. But I think the heart of his jurisprudence was disciplinary originalism, and with his death the most powerful embodiment of that vital principle was lost. I do not think we shall look upon his like again. And that means that our Supreme Court will continue to make the kinds of decisions it has been making for decades, but will have no one on its bench to remind it of what it’s really doing. Antonin Scalia was the conscience of SCOTUS, and I don’t see how it’s going to get another one.

Alan Jacobs, “Scalia and Disciplnary Originalism,” The American Conservative (Mar. 7, 2016) [link].

Jacobs makes the point that if we want the Constitution to mean anything at all in our conversation, we have to allow it “to speak” to us.  There is a followup at [link].

More on Dr. Hawkins

larycia-hawkinsMore careful irenic writing on the Wheaton College/Larycia Hawkins matter:

  1.  Tracy McKenzie, “Academic Freedom in a Christian Context” Faith & History (Jan. 18, 2016) [link], and (of course)
  2. Alan Jacobs, “Once more on the Academic Freedom Merry-Go-Round” Snakes & Ladders (Jan. 19, 2016) [link].

Jacobs is more or less critiquing a response which McKenzie got to the original piece.  Each writer is calmly thinking through the issues, which seems very appropriate, under the circumstances, and unusual, compared with the rest of the blogosphere.

Joy to the world

Christian teachers and students alike can never forget that their views are not widely shared in the culture as a whole. We read a great many books written by people who don’t believe what we believe; we are always aware of being different. This is a tremendous boon to true learning, because it discourages people from deploying rote pieties as a substitute for genuine thought. No Christian student or professor can ever forget the possibility of alternative beliefs or unbeliefs. Most students who graduate from Christian colleges have a sharp, clear awareness of alternative ways of being in the world; yet students at secular universities can go from their first undergraduate year all the way to a PhD without ever having a serious encounter with religious thought and experience — with any view of the world other than that of their own social class.

Alan Jacobs,”Christian Education and ‘Intellectual Compromise’” The American Conservative (online post 12/18/2015) (link).

At this time of the year, it is well for Christian students and professors (and shouldn’t we all be both?) to recall that we are called to be “different.”  “Different” does not (of course) mean angry, or rude, or insecure.  It does not mean ignorant or lacking in humility.  It means loving the world in truth, and that invariably means going out into the places where the world lives.