Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Beauty, Edmund Burke

It is not by the force of long attention and enquiry that we find any object to be beautiful; beauty demands no assistance from our reasoning; even the will is unconcerned; the appearance of beauty as effectually causes some degree of love in us, as the application of ice or fire produces the ideas of heat or cold.

Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful, 129

Monday, March 29, 2010

John Piper, stepping back to battle pride/love his wife

I've never seen anything like this:
I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.

But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.

Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion. In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.

Hey! Mark Devor! (sic)

A story on Mark Dever and Capital Hill Baptist: LINK / Photo Gallery

Too bad the Christian Science Monitor can't spell.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Quotable: Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful

I say then, that whilst we consider the Godhead merely as he is an object of the understanding, which forms a complex idea of power, wisdom, justice, goodness, all stretched to a degree far exceeding the bounds of our comprehension, whilst we consider the divinity in this refined and abstracted light, the imagination and passions are little or nothing affected. But because we are bound by the condition of our nature to ascend to these pure and intellectual ideas, through the medium of sensible images, and to judge of these divine qualities by their evident acts and exertions, it becomes extremely hard to disentangle our idea of the cause from the effect by which we are led to know it. Thus when we contemplate the Deity, by his attributes and their operation coming united on the mind, form a sort of sensible image, and as such are capable of affecting the imagination. Now, though in a just idea of the Deity, perhaps none of his attributes are predominant, yet to our imagination, his power is by far the most striking. Some reflection, some paring is necessary to satisfy us of his wisdom, his justice, and his goodness; to be struck with his power, it is only necessary that we should open our eyes. But whilst we contemplate so vast an object, under the arm, as it were, of almighty power, and invested upon every side with omnipresence, we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated before him. And though a consideration of his other attributes may relieve in some measure our apprehensions; yet no conviction of the justice with which it is exercised, nor the mercy with which it is tempered, can wholly remove the terror that naturally arises from a force which nothing can withstand. If we rejoice, we rejoice with trembling; and even whilst we are receiving benefits we cannot but shudder at a power which can confer benefits of such mighty importance. When the prophet David contemplated the wonders of wisdom and power, which are displayed in the economy of man, he seems to be struck with a sort of divine horror, and cries out, fearfully and wonderfully am I made.

Burke, 110-111

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The End of the Republican Party?

This is a story I find hard to disagree with:
Healthcare reform supporters who tuned in to the Glenn Beck Show the morning after Sunday’s vote for a dose of schadenfreude were sorely disappointed. For months Mr. Beck, a conservative radio talk-show host, had bewailed the fate of the nation should the healthcare bill pass into law. He warned it would be “the nail in the coffin of our country.”

Yet not 12 hours after the bill’s passage in the House, Beck appeared on air in a chipper mood. Chin up, he told his listeners. If we elect conservative Republicans willing to repeal the bill, the country can be saved.

In other words, no need for panic: The apocalypse has been postponed until November 2010.

Entertaining as it is to watch the goalposts move, the right’s end-of-life-as-we-know-it language has real consequences. It has eliminated opportunities for political compromise and threatens to reduce the Republican Party to a hodgepodge of epithet-hurlers and conspiracy theorists.

And later:
Given this, should anyone be surprised at the latest Harris poll that reveals how thoroughly such overblown rhetoric has infused the GOP? Of the Republicans polled, 2 out of 3 believe Obama is a socialist, nearly as many think he is Muslim, and a full quarter suspect the president may be the anti-Christ.

That’s right: The anti-Christ. This is the current state of the Republican Party. So what’s the end result of all these stoked fears and raised temperatures? For one, they ensure that no matter how postpartisan Obama would like to be, he will not be given that chance. While Democrats compromised on the public option and abortion language in the healthcare bill, Republicans refused to even glance across the aisle, much less reach across it.

How could they? They’ve sold their supporters on the idea that Democratic legislation is the first step to totalitarian dictatorship. Over the past week, Sen. Lindsey Graham threatened not to work with Democrats on immigration reform if they pushed through the healthcare bill. Sen. John McCain went one step further and promised “no cooperation for the rest of the year.”

Over-the-top rhetoric also means the Republican Party will move even more right in the coming years. Politicians who betray a hint of moderation will face Tea Party challengers as formerly local races become national battles to purge the party of any but the most conservative.

David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, sees disaster for the GOP in this strategy. Immediately after the vote on Sunday night, he declared it the Republican Waterloo. But even Mr. Frum can’t figure out a solution to the Republicans’ extremism problem. Until someone does, the GOP and its supporters will be reduced to railing against an apocalypse that never comes.

The ironic thing is I actually believe in an apocalypse. But when you jump from belief in an apocalypse, to believe that this is the apocalypse, you abandon all sense of reasonability or of cooperative effort in the very real and practical task of governing our country.

I blame Andrew Wymer for getting my all fired up about this in the first place. For those of you who know him see his facebook post from two days ago (read: it's good).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Surely He hath borne our griefs"

Christ's heart was wrung for me, if mine is sore;
And if my feet are weary, His have bled;
He had no place wherein to lay His Head;
If I am burdened, He was burdened more.
The cup I drink, He drank of long before;
He felt the unuttered anguish which I dread;
He hungered who the thousands fed,
And thirsted who the world's refreshment bore.
If grief be such a looking-glass as shows
Christ's Face and man's in some sort made alike,
Then grief is pleasure with a subtle taste:
Wherefore should any fret or faint or haste?
Grief is not grievous to a soul that knows
Christ comes,--and listens for the hour to strike.

-Christina Rossetti

ht: Remonstrans

Monday, March 22, 2010

Quotable: Hitchens

Peter, that is. The following are excerpted from Douglas Wilson's review of his book, The Rage Against God:

"I want to explain how I became convinced, by reason and experience, of the necessity and rightness of a form of Christianity that is modest, accommodating, and thoughtful -- but ultimately uncompromising about its vital truth" (p. 11).
"As he [Christopher] has become more certain about the non-existence of God, I have become more certain that we cannot know such a thing in the way that we know anything else, and so must choose whether to believe or not. I think it is better by far to believe" (p. 11).
As for Christopher's atheism, "As long as he can convince himself, nobody else will persuade him" (p. 12). This is, in my judgment, quite right, along with another observation that Peter makes about the vulnerability of the atheist. As C.S. Lewis once commented, God is very unscrupulous, and leaves traps everywhere. One of those traps is poetry -- atheism can be "countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time" (p. 12).

Scruton, "Regaining My Religion"

From "Regaining My Religion" in Gentle Regrets, by Roger Scruton
For there are certain truths about the human condition that are hard to formulate and hard to live up to, and which we therefore have a motive to deny. It may require moral discipline if we are to accept these truths and also to live by them.

For instance, there is the truth that we are self-conscious beings, and that this distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom. There is the truth that we are free, accountable and objects of judgement in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. There is the truth that we are motivated not only by desire and appetite, but by a conception of the good. There is the truth that we are not just objects in the world of objects, but also subjects who relate to each other reciprocally. ... To the person with religious belief -- whether Christian or Muslim, whether monotheist or polytheist, whether a believer in the afterlife or not -- those truths are obvious, and their consequences immediately apparent. Religious people may not express the truths as I have done, since I am adopting a secular idiom. Nor will they normally be aware of the philosophical reasoing that would defend those truths against modernist and postmodernist doubt. Nevertheless that is how they see the world. For them the "human form divine," as Blake described it, is set apart from the rest of nature. Our form bears, for them, the marks of its peculiar destiny; it is capable of sanctity and liable to desecration, and in everything it is judged from a perspective that is not of this world. That way of seeing people enshrines the fundamental truth of our condition, as creatures suspended between the empirical and the transcendental, between being and judgement. But it deploys concepts that are given to us through religion, and to be obtained only with the greatest effort without it.

If you see things in that way you will find it difficult to share the view of Enlightenment thinkers that religious decline is no more than the loss of false beliefs; still less will you be able to accept the postmodernist vision of a world now liberated from absolutes, in which each of us constructs guildelines of his won, and that the only agreement that counts is the agreement to differ. The decline of Christianity, I maintain, involves, for many people, not the freedom from religious need, but the loss of concepts that would enable them to assuage it and, by assuaging it, to open their knowledge and their will to the human reality. For them the loss of religion is an epistemological loss -- a loss of knowledge. Losing that knowledge is not a liberation but a fall.

ht: Rod Dreher

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gentium: Best Free Unicode Greek Font


Net Trade

This entry records a country's net trade in goods and services, plus net earnings from rents, interest, profits, and dividends, and net transfer payments (such as pension funds and worker remittances) to and from the rest of the world during the period specified.

1 China $ 296,200,000,000 2009 est.
2 Japan $ 131,200,000,000 2009 est.
3 Germany $ 109,700,000,000 2009 est.
4 Switzerland $ 79,180,000,000 2009 est.
5 Norway $ 58,560,000,000 2009 est.
6 European Union $ 51,400,000,000 2009 est.
7 Russia $ 42,080,000,000 2009 est.
8 Taiwan $ 34,040,000,000 2009 est.
9 Netherlands $ 33,720,000,000 2009 est.
10 Korea, South $ 30,380,000,000 2009 est.
186 Greece $ -40,820,000,000 2009 est.
187 France $ -43,670,000,000 2009 est.
188 Italy $ -55,440,000,000 2009 est.
189 Spain $ -69,460,000,000 2009 est.
190 United States $ -380,100,000,000 2009 est.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tragedy and other bits

I think one of the characteristics that draws me to Russian novels is tragedy-the unfolding of disastrous events as a result of well intentioned choices, stories where there is no concrete villain. Ross Douthat thinks Americans don't get tragedy and it impacts our politics.
Americans believe in evil, but we’re uncomfortable with tragedy. We accept that there are wicked people in the world, with malice in their hearts and a devil whispering in their ears. But the idea that many debacles flow from choices made by decent, well-intentioned human beings is more difficult for us to wrap our minds around.

This is apparent in our politics, where we’re swift to impute the worst of motives to anyone slightly to our left or right. It’s apparent in our popular culture, thick with white hats and black hats, superheroes and supervillains. But it’s most egregious where the two spheres intersect: in our political fictions, which are nearly always Manichaean, simplistic and naïve.

ht: Rod Dreher

See also: Groothuis, Epistemology in Moby Dick
After several careful pages of musing on whether the whale's "spoutings are, after all, really water, or nothing but vapor," Ishmael (the narrator) sets off this epistemological explosion on faith and reason:
And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.--Herman Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 85, "The Fountain."

Two part series by Edward Feser on Scientism, part 1, part 2:
Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science. There is at least a whiff of scientism in the thinking of those who dismiss ethical objections to cloning or embryonic stem cell research as inherently “anti-science.” There is considerably more than a whiff of it in the work of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who allege that because religion has no scientific foundation (or so they claim) it “therefore” has no rational foundation at all. It is evident even in secular conservative writers like John Derbyshire and Heather MacDonald, whose criticisms of their religious fellow right-wingers are only slightly less condescending than those of Dawkins and co. Indeed, the culture at large seems beholden to an inchoate scientism—“faith” is often pitted against “science” (even by those friendly to the former) as if “science” were synonymous with “reason.”

The power of rock

Rod Dreher makes some interesting observations here:
I recall reading Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" when it came out in paperback, in 1988, when I was an undergraduate, and scoffing at his negative judgment on rock 'n roll. As I recall -- and please correct me if I misremember -- Bloom, who was a very deep thinker, connected the reckless, anti-rational, culturally destructive passions released in the 1960s to the instinctual power of rock. I remember at the time thinking this was stupid, but not because I had an intellectual answer to Bloom. To me, it simply sounded like the kvetching of an old fart. I was frustrated at the time to learn that Bloom was not some sort of right-wing Christian, but was in fact a secularist homosexual. I was living in Washington then, doing an internship, and made an idiotic remark to someone at a party that Bloom was a traitor to his class, having written a book that was being used by conservatives as ammo in the culture war. I remember my interlocutor, an older liberal, looking at me with puzzlement and pity at the crudity of my judgment.

Now, I see that I was wrong, but I don't say that in an ideological sense. It's not that I've turned on rock and roll -- most of my music collection is rock -- but that I see that Bloom was onto something, that rock is a far more ambiguous a phenomenon than I could possibly have grasped at 21. To the extent that rock music hastened the demise of the despicable Soviet regime, hooray. But the same energies called forth from the human spirit by rock music, and its descendants, have affected our own institutions, traditions and self-understanding.

I remember another night long ago, when I was in college, and listening to George Michael's "I Want Your Sex." A thoughtful Christian who lived on my hall in the dorm asked me how I could listen to those lyrics and remain so unaffected by the sentiment. He wasn't asking in a prudish way; he was a fan of classic jazz and pop, and as an appreciator of the refined longings expressed in, say, the songs of Cole Porter, he was appalled by the barbarism in the George Michael song. I didn't have an answer for him, but he did make me reflect on how the lyrics of so many songs I dearly loved expressed sentiments I found at the time distasteful, and, as I matured, would come to find gross.

I gave up listening to George Michael and that lot years ago, not out of moral conviction, but because I was bored by it. But I still don't have an adequate answer for that question posed to me in my dorm room decades ago.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Jeremiah 23 in Context

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch (contra Zedekiah, cf. Jer 21:1-10; Jer 34), and he shall reign as king and deal wisely (contra Jehoahaz, cf. 22:11-17), and shall execute justice (contra Jehoiakim, cf. 22:18-23) and righteousness (contra Jehoiachin, cf. 22:24-30) in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness'"
Jer 23:1-8

Monday, March 08, 2010

"Secular Reasons"

A provocative article by Stanley Fish (yes, that Stanley Fish, books):

Whether the argument appears in its softer or harder versions, behind it is a form of intellectual/political apartheid known as the private/public distinction: matters that pertain to the spirit and to salvation are the province of religion and are to be settled by religious reasons; matters that pertain to the good order and prosperity of civil society are the province of democratically elected representatives and are to be settled by secular reasons. As John Locke put it in 1689 (“A Letter Concerning Toleration”), the “care of men’s souls” is the responsibility of the church while to the civil magistrate belongs the care of “outward things such as money, land, houses, furniture and the like”; it is his responsibility to secure for everyone, of whatever denomination or belief, “the just possession of these things belonging to this life.”

A neat division, to be sure, which has the effect (not, I think, intended by Locke) of honoring religion by kicking it upstairs and out of sight. If the business of everyday life — commerce, science, medicine, law, agriculture, education, foreign policy, etc. — can be assigned to secular institutions employing secular reasons to justify actions, what is left to religious institutions and religious reasons is a private area of contemplation and worship, an area that can be safely and properly ignored when there are “real” decisions to be made. Let those who remain captives of ancient superstitions and fairy tales have their churches, chapels, synagogues, mosques, rituals and liturgical mumbo-jumbo; just don’t confuse the (pseudo)knowledge they traffic in with the knowledge needed to solve the world’s problems.

This picture is routinely challenged by those who contend that secular reasons and secular discourse in general don’t tell the whole story; they leave out too much of what we know to be important to human life.

No they don’t, is the reply; everything said to be left out can be accounted for by the vocabularies of science, empiricism and naturalism; secular reasons can do the whole job. And so the debate goes, as polemicists on both sides hurl accusations in an exchange that has become as predictable as it is over-heated.

But the debate takes another turn if one argues, as the professor of law Steven Smith does in his new book, “The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse,” that there are no secular reasons, at least not reasons of the kind that could justify a decision to take one course of action rather than another.

It is not, Smith tells us, that secular reason can’t do the job (of identifying ultimate meanings and values) we need religion to do; it’s worse; secular reason can’t do its own self-assigned job — of describing the world in ways that allow us to move forward in our projects — without importing, but not acknowledging, the very perspectives it pushes away in disdain.

While secular discourse, in the form of statistical analyses, controlled experiments and rational decision-trees, can yield banks of data that can then be subdivided and refined in more ways than we can count, it cannot tell us what that data means or what to do with it. No matter how much information you pile up and how sophisticated are the analytical operations you perform, you will never get one millimeter closer to the moment when you can move from the piled-up information to some lesson or imperative it points to; for it doesn’t point anywhere; it just sits there, inert and empty.

Read the whole thing

And for an example of this. Watch how Paul Kurtz tries to jump from what is to what should be: LINK.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

from the prophet Jeremiah

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jer 2:12-13

Friday, March 05, 2010


where the huge pine at dts once stood

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Nietzsche on Suffering

If you adherents of this religion actually have the same sentiments towards yourselves which you have towards your fellows, if you are unwilling to endure your own suffering even for an hour, and continually forestall all possible misfortune, if you regard suffering and pain generally as evil, as detestable, as deserving of annihilation, and as blots on existence, well, you have then, besides your religion of compassion, yet another religion in your heart (and this perhaps the mother of the former)--the religion of smug ease. Ah, how little you know of the happiness of man, you comfortable and good-natured ones!--for happiness and misfortune are brother and sister, and twins, who grow tall together, or as with you remain small together!

Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 338

Nietzsche's Intellectual Bitterness

This is the side of Nietzsche that always makes me smile, his intellectual bitterness. He is so frustrated by the fact that he can be so brilliant and yet so few people listen to him. What's more, it's almost as if this fact itself runs contrary to his worldview: it's not just that he doesn't like it, but rather that he cannot comprehend why it is so. You see this theme running throughout his writing over and over again as if he were constantly mindful of this problem.
Avarice of Nature--Why has nature been so niggardly towards humanity that she has not let human beings shine, this man more and that man less, according to their inner abundance of light? Why have not great men such a fine visibility in their rising and setting as the sun? How much less equivocal would life among men then be!

The Missional Church: Simple

ht: the Quest

Monday, March 01, 2010

Faithful Zeal Seeks the Gift of Understanding

My mind burns to solve this complicated enigma. O Lord my God, O good Father, for Christ's sake I beseech Thee, do not shut off these obscure familiar problems from my longing, do not shut them off and leave them impenetrable but let them shine clear for me in the light of Thy mercy, O Lord. Yet whom shall I question about them? And to whom more fruitfully than to Thee shall I confess my ignorance: for Thou art not displeased at the zeal with which I am on fire for They Scriptures. Grant me this gift, Father..."

- Augustine