All posts by Phil W

Does ‘Loving Your Neighbor’ Mean ‘Just Preach the Gospel’?

Jesus told a story about a successful man and social outcast who rescued the victim of highwaymen on a Jericho road in response to a lawyer’s self-justifying question. “Yes, yes,” the lawyer said, “I know loving God with all of my heart, mind, and strength means I must love my neighbor, but surely some people are not my neighbors. Some people are actually beneath me, aren’t they?”

And we continue to seek self-justification today.

Jared Wilson offers five reasons for applying the gospel to societal ills as a rebuke to those who suggest orthodoxy means orthopraxy and to spend much time on the latter will undermine the former. (Of course, those who teach this don’t believe that because they only bring it up in select context.)

Jesus did not come simply preaching the gospel as idea but the gospel as kingdom. One need only consider Paul’s words in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 to see how expansive the finished work of Christ really is, just how much it is supposed to impact. For several years now, we’ve had certain corners of the church warning us about neglect of holiness and the law, scolding what they see as “cheap grace” and bloodless belief. Now many in these same corners are insisting that just the gospel message will do the trick against ethnic divisions or other sins. You rarely hear this imperative in response to the challenges of illegal immigration or the systemic injustice of abortion. Perhaps it’s because those issues do not effect us — or indict us — as directly.

The Ones We Remember

Mary Turner’s story died when she died. Mary Turner’s protest died when she died. Mary Turner’s pre-born baby died when she died. Mary Turner’s name died when she died.

You don’t recognize her name. You don’t recognize her story. And if you were there on May 19th, 1918, you wouldn’t recognize her body either.

Mary Turner was a mother of three. She was a wife to Hayes Turner. She was a woman of colour—and that’s why she was killed in Lowndes County, Georgia.

Samuel Sey tells the horrific story of Mary’s lynching, which took place 100 years ago last May. “Mary Turner is just one of 4,743 Black Americans who were lynched between 1882 and 1968—and you don’t know their names. You don’t know their stories. You don’t know their faces—except one: Emmett Till.”

He offers a simple reason to explain and apply this reality to today.

Reading Encourages Virtue

World News Group’s Listening In podcast interviews Professor Karen Swallow Prior today on how reading broadly and deeply enriches our lives and encourages moral virtue. The talk anticipates the release of Prior’s book, coming out in a few days, called On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books.

The talk begins by describing the classic understanding of the “good life” and spends some time on courage as a measure of how much good would be preserved over the risk of the action.

The Pure Fun of LitRPG

Professor Joseph Bottum explored a new genre a couple years ago, one he found fairly enjoyable despite its weaknesses.

LitRPG, this new fiction is called, its stories set inside computerized role-playing games. The result is a little hard to describe. It’s sort of a cross between science fiction and fantasy—with a good dose of layered realities, à la The Matrix, as the characters transition in and out of computer simulations. And as of this summer, Amazon lists well over a thousand of the things, with around 90 percent of them existing only as e-books, and 90 percent of those self-published.

If a single one of the novels is well-written I have yet to find it, as I crashed my way through thirty or so of them in the past few months.

I looked up one of the novels he mentioned and found this note on an updated edition, “The new edition features heavy grammar and word choice updates.” So the previous edition must have been a draft. But while the ambitions of these writers are low, their stories are generally pretty fun. “As a result,” Bottum says, “they’re producing what is sometimes more fun, but always more pure, as a species of light genre fiction.”

Delete Your Social Accounts

Richard Clark reviews a curious book that argues social media is the shadow that stalks and soon will strangle you. It is Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. 

If the claims of this book sound like cynical fear-mongering, then it’s time to wake up. The downsides of social media are no longer up for debate, and this is coming from someone who has esteemed its virtues for years. The structure upon which social media has been built, in the big picture, brings our meanest, dumbest, most impulsive tendencies to the forefront of public life.

This has bled into other areas of life and media as well. We are being actively encouraged to overshare our personal lives and spit out hot takes on all the major social platforms. Taking time to think, meditate, and rest is becoming weird and maybe the best way to become out of touch. This joke about only doing devotions so others will think well of you is where some people actually live.

I wonder about the shelf life of our current social platforms. Will my children take to any of them or will they consider them a bit stupid? I won’t be surprised if five to ten years from now the major platforms will be gone or greatly changed because the money or the people or something else just isn’t there to sustain it.

Two New Animated Godzilla Movies

I never watched the original Godzilla from 1954 in Japanese or 1956 in American English, but I think I did see one of those early films, one with Mothra or Rodan maybe. What I remember is a Godzilla that acted more like the savior of Tokyo and all Japanese children, not the embodiment of retribution against human hubris as he is today. He was more like the giant robots I played with as a kid. (Does anyone remember the robotic Shogun warriors? I had Raideen. Hey, there’s Godzilla with the warriors in a commercial.)

In this decade, the Godzilla franchise has turned back to the themes of the original movie. The King of Monsters was originally a symbol for the atomic bomb. Though they kill him at the end of the first movie, we are told another beast just like him could emerge if nuclear weapons testing continues. We were the horror we unleashed on the world, something as destructive as a giant radioactive dinosaur! There’s an argument in the 1954 movie about releasing the research done to create the weapon that kills the monster. “Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles, and now a new superweapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist – no, as a human being – I can’t allow [the release of the research] to happen!”

In the new stories, the nuclear threat has been blended with pollution and all threats to the environment in summing up the reason Godzilla exists, and the anime movies I mean to review here (two parts of a trilogy) don’t try to offer a cogent reason for the monster’s existence, only hints and statements quickly abandoned to the action.

The Earth after Godzilla
The Earth after Godzilla in Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters begins with the human race on an interstellar ark searching for a new place to live. We quickly learn Captain Haruo Sakaki is the angry radical of the group who believes the leaders are cold-hearted and aimless. He’s also the one who hateses Godzilla the mostest, my precious! After a tragedy with a landing party, leadership concludes it’s been roughly 10,000 years since they left Earth (time having shifted due to their spacecraft’s warp drive). Surely Godzilla is dead and Earth can receive them again.

With little development in the story, we learn humanity has been joined by two alien peoples, both of whom lost their planets to monsters like Godzilla. One group, the Exif, is primarily represented by the priest Metphies. He calls on the others to seek a vague god figure and harmony while also encouraging Haruo to pursue his passion to destroy Godzilla (If you believe in yourself, kid, you too can kill a really big monster). The other group appear to be all logical warriors, the Bilusaludo. This group was on earth trying to build the Mechagodzilla counter-weapon before the King of Monsters smote them with his unyielding wrath.

Continue reading Two New Animated Godzilla Movies

‘The Media Cannot See Beyond Politics’

In 1978, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave a commencement speech at Harvard. He wrote in his memoir that his secretary urged him to soften his words and the press expected him to give an anti-Communist message with plenty of praise for America. He said he was surprised at the applause from Harvard and shocked by news critics in the months afterward.

At the end of my speech I had pointed to the fact that the moral poverty of the 20th century comes from too much having been invested in sociopolitical changes, with the loss of the Whole and the High. We, all of us, have no other salvation but to look once more at the scale of moral values and rise to a new height of vision. “No one on earth has any other way left but — upward,” were the concluding words of my speech.

. . .

What surprised me was not that the newspapers attacked me from every angle (after all, I had taken a sharp cut at the press), but the fact that they had completely missed everything important (a remarkable skill of the media). They had invented things that simply did not exist in my speech, and had kept striking out at me on positions they expected me to hold, but which I had not taken. The newspapers went into a frenzy, as if my speech had focused on détente or war. (Had they prepared their responses in advance, anticipating that my speech would be like the ones I had given in Washington and New York three years earlier?) “Sets aside all other values in the crusade against Communism . . . Autocrat . . . A throwback to the czarist times . . . His ill-considered political analysis.” (The media is so blinkered it cannot even see beyond politics.)

(from “My Harvard Speech in Retrospect” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, reprinted in National Review)

Novels via Instagram

The New York Public Library has begun to distribute full novels on Instagram Stories, you know, meeting the kids where they’re at and stuff.  They announced it this way: “Introducing Insta Novels. A reimagining of Instagram Stories to provide access to some of the most iconic stories ever written. And to bring over 300,000 more titles straight to your phone.”

Perhaps someone will read something sometime.  (via Prufrock News)

 

Printed Books Still King of the Hill

People still buy printed books in 2018 and appear to prefer them to all other media. The growth of e-books sales appears to have plateaued, but audiobook sales have been climbing rapidly. All other media sales have been disrupted by comprehensive subscriptions offering large libraries of movies, shows, or music for a monthly fee. E-books have these plans too, but they haven’t taken off with readers possibly because the selection isn’t good enough yet.

“There’s another factor that continues to support the sale of physical books: the stubborn survival of booksellers, especially the independents that have endured a series of onslaughts.”

Those booksellers–standing behind Hadrian’s wall against the rest of the world–you have to love ’em.

Oversharing on the Socials

This year, singer-songerwriter Andrew Peterson removed the Facebook and Instagram apps from his phone, because the socials, not just these but all of them, ask more from us than we can give.

We all know about the tendency on social media to make our lives look like it’s better than they really are. I’ve considered seeing what would happen if I posted a picture of myself with bloodshot eyes after a tearful argument, or a quick video clip of me grumbling about something that didn’t go right, or (the horror!) me with my shirt off to show why I’m trying to get more exercise. That’s not to mention the hellish tendency to put too much stake in how many likes or follows we got today. Comparison is the thief of joy, said Teddy Roosevelt, and social media is foundationally comparative. It’s comparison on steroids.

Who Would Read a Twitter Feed in Book Form?

New Hampshire professor Seth Abramson has put in many hours following the news on President Trump, updating his readers with tweets like these:

  1. [Aug 15, 2018, 2:55 PM] (NOTE) As to Bruce Ohr, who is currently employed by the federal government, Trump’s THREAT to revoke his security clearance—which would make him doing his job impossible, and might lead to his termination—is, given the “grounds” Trump has spoken of on Twitter, WITNESS TAMPERING. [93 replies 2,191 retweets 4,133 likes]
  2. (NOTE2) Trump is AWARE that Bruce Ohr is about to testify before House Republicans (see below) and he is seeking to INFLUENCE his testimony, as his statements on Twitter make clear, with this THREAT against him. Mueller will undoubtedly investigate this. [Link to The Hill, “House GOP prepares to grill DOJ official linked to Steele dossier”] [25 replies 777 retweets 1,728 likes]
  3. (NOTE3) A key national security expert for MSNBC just said on-air, “This is quite clearly designed to send a chilling effect to all of those who would criticize Donald Trump or his administration that this will not be tolerated.” Do people realize that, as to Ohr, that’s a CRIME? [28 replies 677 Retweets 1,801 Likes ]
  4. Seth Abramson Retweeted Donald J. Trump
    (NOTE4) This tweet is now evidence of a federal felony: @realDonaldTrump [link to this tweet]
    <<Bruce Ohr of the “Justice” Department (can you believe he is still there) is accused of helping disgraced Christopher Steele “find dirt on Trump.” Ohr’s wife, Nelly, was in on the act big time – worked for Fusion GPS on Fake Dossier. @foxandfriends>>
    [35 replies 1,028 retweets 2,240 likes]
  5. (NOTE5) People do not yet realize—but soon will—that Trump has just made as big a mistake as he made in firing Comey. You *cannot* threaten the job of a witness against you in a federal investigation and SAY ON TWITTER that your reason is that he will offer testimony against you.

Now, Abramson is shopping around a proposal “to ‘bookify’ my feed.”

According to the proposal, the book will be based off of edited and rewritten versions of his Twitter threads—a conceit, Abramson declares, “whose time has come.” The book will create a “comprehensive, chronological review of the Trump-Russia case by transforming my Twitter ‘threads’ into prose.”

“A book of this sort is daring,” he writes. “Few if any have leveraged the advantage that books offer in collating, organizing, and amplifying in narrative form an intensely followed Twitter feed.”

This looks like an incredible waste of every resource devoted to it, but I think I’ve seen similar wasted efforts in printed books. Not that there’s anything daring about it, except that writing any book believing people will buy or read or both feels daring. Of course, there’s the daring of the carefully planned tightrope walk over Niagara and the daring of the spur-of-the-moment motorcycle jump into the Grand Canyon. [via Prufrock News]

The End of Vikings and Mayans

Vikings settled in Greenland and grew up to 6,000 over the centuries, but they came to an unclear end in the 16th century, leaving the island country vacant for 100 years. New research suggests one reason for this decline was the bottoming out of their economy, meaning the world stopped asking for walrus ivory.

Matthew Gabriele writes, “Specifically, the Greenland settlements built their economy around the trade in walrus tusks (ivory) and supplied maybe up to 80% of the ivory items for most of Europe between the 12th-15th centuries.”

Some thought the ivory used in medieval luxury items was from elephants, but this research argues that elephant ivory was rare and expensive. The more affordable ivory came from walruses. But this market dried up when the Black Death killed 60% of Europe.

Gabriele also writes about research into the collapse of the Mayan civilization. A paper published in Science this month says a 200-year drought crushed the Mayan empire, to which Gabriele says it’s more complicated than that and we already that part.

“Most likely, it was a number of factors that caused the decline, with the environment being only 1 of them. And this is what can happen when STEM fields ignore the humanities and social sciences. They too often ‘rediscover’ something that other scholars have known for some time.”

We all have our blind spots, don’t we?

‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury

“I’m antisocial, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it? Social to me means talking to you about things like this.” She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard. . . . “But I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people  together and then not let them talk, do you? An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running . . . but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing.”

The world of Fahrenheit 451 is one in which everyone has taken the easy route to learning, living, and contributing to society. We, the people, started it, neglecting books and thinking, choosing big screens and reality shows. After some years of that, state representatives began to outlaw these channels of deeper thought. They burned libraries,  and schools taught that books were filled with nonsense. You could call this censorship, but it’s the censorship the people want. They want a comfortable life spent in front of a wall-to-wall interactive screen (or three or four wall-to-wall screens, if they could afford them), their “families” yakking at them through broadcasts.

Books put crazy, false, and conflicting ideas in people’s heads. What’s on screen is real, current, and unified. There’s no mention of any churches, but why would there be? Only those that had morphed into social clubs would be left standing.

The houses in Fahrenheit 451 are complete fire-proof, so when a homeowner is found in possession of books and he won’t be taken into custody or removed to an asylum, he is torched within his offending home. They do it at dusk or after, so the neighborhood bonfire will make the most spectacle, a warning to anyone still harboring the printed word.

As you can tell from the quotation above, someone people won’t follow the crowd–probably homeschoolers. They have more curiosity than society wants them to have. They will suffer for it for a while, but after society has eaten itself they will rebuild, like they always do, taking life’s hard road because that’s the only one left.