Category Archives: Non-fiction

Cling to Jesus As If Your Life Depends on It

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option is being released tomorrow. Collin Hansen reviews it here.

My main fear with Dreher’s book is that the people who need it most won’t read it. How do you convince Americans that replacing fast food and cable news with fasting and hard labor will be good for their souls?

Overwhelming evangelical support for Trump suggests not many conservative Christians would agree with Dreher that “losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.” Rather, they seem to believe the American Empire needs our partisan politics in service of God’s kingdom.

Dreher will have many interviews this week. This one with Russell Moore is bound to be one of the better ones.

When God Passes By

And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but… (Mark 6:47-49)

Here’s a somewhat academic analysis of the last clause from the quotation above from Derek Rishmawy. Jesus walked out to this disciples while they floated in the sea, and “he meant to pass by them.” Does this aside refer to something in the Old Testament as so many Gospel references do? How about Job 9:4-13 and Exodus 33:17-23?

It’s subtle but beautiful.

 

Silence: A Difficult, Important Film

John Murdock talks about beautiful, but problematic the movie Silence is. It isn’t a success story. The power of believing doesn’t end the war. It ends on a note that will need explanation for many viewers.

In an age of ISIS brutality, its themes are sadly relevant today, and it opens a window on a period in church history of which too few are aware. It is not a perfect picture, but those who proclaim it a masterpiece have reason to do so.

Recovered Essay on Extraterrestrial Life

Who comes to mind as a public figure who has written an essay on the possibilities of life on other planets?  Not a high school paper, but a fairly scientific essay that concludes, “With hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible.”

Would you believe Winston Churchill wrote these words?

The essay written in 1939 reportedly has a strong understanding of contemporary astronomy and how scientists would approach the question of extraterrestrial life. It was found by Timothy Riley, director of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He recommended the essay to astrophysicist Mario Livio, who was thrilled to examine it.

Churchill did his homework, Livio reports. Though he probably didn’t pore over peer-reviewed scientific literature, the statesman seems to have read enough, and spoke with enough top scientists—including the physicist Frederick Lindemann, his friend and later his official scientific adviser—to have had a strong grasp of the major theories and ideas of his time.

Roots of Black History Month

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of what has become Black History Month, wanted to spotlight the many social and academic achievements of African Americans.

“For serious, solution-oriented black conservatives today,” Chidike Okeem writes, “Woodson provided a model of how one can be enthusiastically pro-market, doggedly anti-Marxist economics, and do so while being unapologetically African. He demonstrated that endorsement of free market economics does not have to coincide with self-hatred and anti-blackness.”

“Black Americans have African ancestors who were marvelously accomplished, built civilizations, and were intrepid innovators. African Americans, despite a history of oppression, have demonstrated that same entrepreneurial spirit throughout American history.”

Reading Wiesel as Protesters March Outside

I’m glad we’re talking about refugees, immigration, and what loving our neighbors means in practical terms. I hope all of this becomes perpetual opportunities for the gospel, the life-transforming gospel, not just some shell of good wishes.

On Sunday in New York, a large group met at the Jewish Heritage Museum to read from Elie Wiesel’s Night to remember the Holocaust at the same time other New Yorkers were protesting the US administration’s policies on immigrants from terror-watch countries.

“By the end of the [Rwandan] genocide I lost my entire immediate family, my parents, my siblings, most of my family members,” Jacqueline Murekatete told the audience. “As any child of that time, I witnessed a lot of horrors, people being killed around me and losing my family…but I was fortunate that I had an uncle that lived here [America].

She said Wiesel inspired her as a teenager. Night “became a catalyst for the genocide prevention work that I do now.”

There cannot be a 1:1 comparison between Holocaust or Rwandan genocide and what is happening in Syria and other countries. We live in a different world now. I could understand if President Trump were to say, “We are working very hard to provide safe passage to select Syrian communities who are being targeted and have nowhere to run, because frankly, people, we went over there and made a huge mess, a gigantic, stupid mess.” But that’s not his stance today for reasons that should be completely understandable to everyone. There are enemies among us.

But perhaps Wiesel would not agree. In his Nobel acceptance speech, he said,

Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.

How Victorian Literature Inspired African-American Writers

Despite many arguments to the contrary, many writers and literary advocates have yearned for unique voices within single cultural traditions. In the early days of this country, we wanted to forge distinct American literature that was not dependent on our British roots or British authors. We continue that yearning in all artforms today. You’ll remember that one of the strength’s of the Netflix original Luke Cage is how culturally black it is.

In his fascinating and original new book, Reaping Something New: African American Transformations of Victorian Literature, Daniel Hack provocatively joins the contrarian chorus by examining the relationship between one of the most marginalized literary traditions and one of the most dominant. He has found that a wide range of the most important 19th-century African-American writers drew from and engaged with writers of equal importance to the Victorian literary tradition.

While it may be natural to want one’s own voice in art, many of us may unrealistically define that uniqueness. We may chafe at anything at smacks of dependency while ignoring the relationships and influences we cannot avoid. Nothing, after all, is truly original. (via Prufrock)

Roots in the Mali Empire

One of the things I appreciate about the history books we’ve used with our children is their scope. They are world history books and cover more than Western civilization. As a result, we’ve learned about African kingdoms, the ebb and flow of Japanese and Chinese empires, and a bit about missionary efforts along the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if my children knew something about Sundiata Keita and the Mali Empire, one of the greatest kingdoms of ancient Africa.

Philip Perry has a piece on how a Magna Carta-like document may predate the Magna Carta in the oral history of  the Mali Empire of 1200-1600 AD, thus making the concept of human rights initially an African idea. Not that the “Manden Charter” was the inspiration for the Magna Carta, but it’s interesting that a similar idea emerged in this other context, showing perhaps the innate longing of the human heart.

I bring this up today because Alex Haley’s Roots points back to the people who lived in this part of the world, as Perry notes. The original mini-series based on that book aired today in 1977. Haley called his book a mixture of facts and fiction, but he may have claimed more facts than he should have.

‘The New Philistines,’ by Sohrab Ahmari

The New Philistines

The marginal is the norm. We are in the final chapters of liberal democracy’s story of ever-greater inclusion. What are the hardline identitarians to do? Posing as permanent outsiders, they are deeply uncomfortable now that they own the culture.

This book moves me a little out of my comfort zone. The New Philistines is written by Sohrab Ahmari, who proudly lets us know that he fully supports many progressive social initiatives, such as homosexual marriage (though I was surprised to learn, when he happened to appear on Dennis Prager’s talk show just today, that he has recently converted to Roman Catholicism). In spite of his social views, however, author Ahmari is appalled by the fruit contemporary political movements have produced in the world of the arts. Truth, beauty, all the traditional pursuits of art have been swept from the stage. Only political identity (what he calls “identitarianism”) matters in the art world today.

He starts with a visit to the new Globe Theatre in London. Built some years ago to reproduce the kind of structure in which Shakespeare’s plays would have been originally produced, the theater attempted, in its initial phase, to do Shakespeare “straight,” to give the audience an idea of what a performance would have been like in the 17th Century. It sounds like a project both entertaining and enlightening.

But recently a new director has taken over. She is a doctrinaire feminist, whose goal is not to make Shakespeare accessible, but to deconstruct him, and with him all our “imperialist, oppressive” western civilization. The author describes a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which all roles are distributed equally between males and females (hasn’t she heard there are more than 50 genders?), the love-inducing magic flower becomes a date rape drug, and one of the two chief romantic pairs is male/male.

The author doesn’t argue with the social goals of the kinds of “artist” who produce this kind of ugliness. He merely complains that what they are creating is crude polemic, not art. Instead of truth and beauty (which he is old-fashioned enough to still seek in art), modern art has become a frenzied exercise of ever-decreasing effectiveness, desperate to find new ways to shock an increasingly unshockable – and disinterested – public.

The New Philistines is a well-written, very short book. I found it stimulating and convincing. Cautions for disturbing subject matter, and some foul language.

‘The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga, by Margaret Clunies Ross

The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga

I’m scheduled to give a lecture on the Icelandic sagas for a Sons of Norway lodge next month. Consequently, in an unaccustomed spasm of integrity, I thought I ought to check out the latest scholarship, since the information I’ve been operating on is a decade old or more. I chose The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga, by Margaret Clunies Ross. I think I chose well.

I had learned from my efforts translating Torgrim Titlestad’s work (still awaiting publication in English, dash it all) that there has been some upheaval in saga studies of late. This Cambridge Introduction concentrates mostly on different aspects of saga studies from those Titlestad does (he’s mostly interested in the use of sagas in historiography), but it reinforced the impressions I got from him.

During the 20th Century, scholarly interest concentrated mostly on what are often called “the Icelanders’ sagas” (designations of categories seem to be a continuing problem in the field), the famous “wild west” stories of individuals and families involved in feuds and lawsuits, sometimes over generations. But Ross reminds us that there are in fact many different kinds of sagas – the sagas of ancient times, the chivalric sagas, the saints’ lives, the historical sagas, etc. Scholars are beginning to appreciate the other genres, and to admit that a) the earlier sagas aren’t necessarily better, and b) they’re not sure which ones are earlier anyway. As in biblical studies, textual critics in the 20th Century got a bit grandiose in their certainties about the evolutions of textual variants and which variants have priority. Scholars today are becoming a little less snobbish, and are broadening their range of tastes.

I enjoyed The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga. Recommended for anyone looking for a fairly accessible, up-to-date guidebook.

Suicide by Praise Song

Many Khmers resisted, to the degree they were able, by shutting down. Do your job; don’t complain; keep your head down; and most important, trust no one. Over time, people’s souls shriveled. In one sense, even the Khmer Rouge themselves were dying on their feet. They were soldiers of socialism for whom murder was not a crime but the prelude to a new society.

Surrounding Radha as he lay on the termite hill were endless stretches of shallow water broken up by dikes and stands of trees. He saw no way out. Lord, he prayed, I really want my rest. Take me home. He waited, and the rain kept falling. If you aren’t going to take me home, I’m going to help you.

So he began to sing in English. With water dripping off the bushes around him, he lifted up his voice and sang, perhaps not as loudly as he could but quite clearly, about how this world was not his home. “I’m just a-passing through / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” It’s a bouncy, country gospel tune called “This World Is Not My Home” that he had learned at Maranatha Church in Phnom Penh. He learned it soon after he became a Christian in 1973. He hummed it to himself in the fields while plodding behind the water buffalo, along with “Call for the Reapers” and “Bringing in the Sheaves.” “Power in the Blood” was one of his favorites.

World Magazine shares the opening of the remarkable story of how a Cambodian Christian survived an evil communist regime.

‘The Fellowship,’ by Philip and Carol Zaleski

The Fellowship

Though surpassed in poetry and prose style by the very modernists they failed to appreciate, though surpassed in technical sophistication by any number of distinguished academic philosophers and theologians, the Inklings fulfilled what many find to be a more urgent need: not simply to restore the discarded image, but to refresh it and bring it to life for the present and future.

Last night I was complaining about the length of this book, but it turned out as I speculated – about 35% of its body is end notes. Still, it’s a big book. But it’s well worth reading, if you’re interested in the social and intellectual matrix that produced some of the 20th Century’s most influential Christian writing.

The Inklings began as an Oxford student literary group in 1932, but when the students had graduated and moved on, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other friends who had been invited to join carried it on as a sort of cross between a writers’ criticism group and a social club. They met once a week in Lewis’ rooms at Magdelen College for the writing phase, and again at the Eagle and Child pub for the more social part. They carried on, with some changes in membership, until the 1960s.

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip and Carol Zaleski, concentrates on the lives of the four best-known Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Much of the material covered will already be familiar to fans, but Williams’ and Barfield’s lives are far less known, and there’s plenty of material that will be new to most readers (there certainly was for me). I did not know, for instance, the Tolkien had suffered an injury to his tongue in his youth, which caused him to mumble when speaking (this impediment disappeared when he was “performing,” as in his famous LOTR readings recorded by George Sayer). I didn’t know that Owen Barfield was baptized as an adult into the Anglican Church (though he continued to believe in reincarnation and other Anthroposophist doctrines). Remarkably, there’s even some movie trivia – one discovers connections between the Inklings and David Lean, Julie Christie, and Ava Gardner. Continue reading ‘The Fellowship,’ by Philip and Carol Zaleski

A Basketful of Thyme

AP: “A new study published Friday by the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam says despite decades of research there is no conclusive evidence the Jewish diarist and her family were betrayed to the Netherlands’ German occupiers during the second world war, leading to their arrest and deportation.” While it’s still possible they were betrayed, it’s also possible the Nazis were investigating “illegal labor or falsified ration coupons” when the Franks were discovered.

University of Stavanger: “The works of J.R.R. Tolkien are an excellent introduction to Old English and other historic languages, according to researcher.”

TGC:  Robert Barron has produced a documentary on G. K. Chesterton. Treven Wax says, “It dives headlong into two of Chesterton’s greatest works: Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, the latter of which C. S. Lewis called the greatest apologetic for Christianity in English.”

Uncurious Scientists Making Up Stuff

John C. Wright has a long essay on the suicide of thought, starting with the reason a group of natural scientists would believe geometry is empirical. Just to put the cookies on the bottom shelf, geometry is a logical science, which uses analytic reasoning. You don’t observe natural shapes and conclude the ratio of circles or hypotenuse of three-pointed things, and yet here was a group of scientists saying that’s where geometry is found.

Apparently they did this out of a commitment to materialism in opposition to rationalism or some combination of the two.

One of the many flaws in radical materialism is this: if radical materialism were true, radical empiricism must also be true, on the grounds that if nothing is real but matter, no knowledge is real except for knowledge about matter, and facts about matter can only be known by empiricism. But radical materialism is a universal metaphysical theory, and therefore cannot be known empirically, which means it cannot be known at all. Hence, if radical materialism were true, it is false.

It is a doctrine that refutes itself, something which the mere unambiguous statement of the terms proves false. No further argument is need, no other witnesses need be called.

Hence the final clue also fits the pattern, but also leads to a bigger mystery: the reasons why the teachers do not teach and the students do not learn about the basics of science is because of dogmatic yet illogical beliefs that cannot withstand such scrutiny that swirl about science.

These beliefs and beliefs like them are beliefs that make outrageous claims about the prestige of science, which is inflated to serve as a substitute religion. Such beliefs are called science worship. These beliefs flourish only in a dark age, when the lamp of reason is guttering or extinguished.

Science worshippers are not necessarily partisans of radical materialism and radical empiricism, but these and beliefs like them are friendly to science worship. Such beliefs dull the curiosity, encourage dismissive arrogance, or inspire bellicose narrowmindedness, which, in turn, forms a favorable environment to allow science worship to grow like mold.

Science worshippers do not do science, do not understand science, and are easily duped by junk science.

So, the lesser mystery of who killed Euclid now has to have a reasonable theory that fits the facts. Since teaching the truth about geometry and science would necessarily cast doubt on a cult belief about science worship that is prevalent in society, it can only be passed along from one uncurious mind to the next by indoctrination.

… Science worship is a symptom, but only one, of a deeper sickness that afflicts more than just one field of study, more than just one school of thought or more than just one topic.

True Crime Podcasts That Catch Your Ear

I don’t listen to podcasts much, mostly because of technical limitations. My commutes haven’t been long. My iPod probably qualifies as a vintage edition, and I’m not a regular iTunes user. When I listen to podcasts, it’s through a computer, sometimes while washing dishes, usually while doing things that don’t require my full attention. I’ve heard a few episodes of Crime Writers On, which has put me onto two other true crime podcasts.

via GIPHY

Both series talk through a current criminal case, but that’s where their similarity ends. The first series is out of Hawaii. “Offshore,” produced by Honolulu Civil Beat, focuses on 2011 incident in which an off-duty federal officer shot and killed a young Hawaiian man. Here’s the preview.

Many on the island see the case as a tangible symbol of powerful Americans running over native Hawaiians, which some have said it how the island kingdom became a US state in the first place. This abuse of privilege dramatically unfolded in an 80-year-old case remarkably similar to the current one. Reporter Jessica Terrell draws the parallels between the two cases and gives an ear to the hearts of Hawaiians who want justice and respect. Continue reading True Crime Podcasts That Catch Your Ear