- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, March 8
A friend of mine, the pastor of this wonderful church, quoted this on Facebook:
"We hope that by believing less we will become less vulnerable to spiritual manipulation. We cannot be duped, we imagine, if critical doubt weakens the force of our commitments. If there is no truth, then we will not quarrel over our visions of the truth. If nothing is worth fighting for, then nobody will fight. However, an iconoclasm of truth will not succeed. Hell can be as easily built of apathy and diffidence as of megalomania and fevered ideological zeal-- perhaps more easily for it is difficult to wake from the narcosis of a velvet barbarism that desires no truth." -- R. R. Reno, Commentary on Genesis
Martin Luther said many things, but as with many famous people, he did not say a handful of things people attribute to him, such as:
The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors.Justin Taylor explains:
The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.
Luther didn’t say this. As with the quote from the first example, [Frederick] Gaiser argues that it doesn’t sit very well with Luther’s actual views on vocation. The idea that God is pleased with our work because he likes quality work “would be the American work-ethic version of vocation, theologically endorsing work as an end in itself. In the hands and mouth of a modern boss, good craftsmanship and clean floors (or a clean desk or a signed contract) to the glory of God could be a potent and tyrannical tool to promote the bottom line. . . . [W]hat marks Luther’s doctrine of vocation is the insistence that the work is done in service of the neighbor and of the world. God likes shoes (and good ones!) not for their own sake, but because the neighbor needs shoes. . . .”
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, vicar of Belmont & Pittington in Durham, England, and author of The Essential History of Christianity writes about how the poetry of George Herbert opened her up to Christ:
"Certainly the poems are unashamedly intelligent. They are an example of the metaphysical school of poetry, which deliberately piled metaphor upon metaphor, and drew those metaphors from the cutting edge of contemporary science and philosophy. They flatter the reader by assuming a breadth and depth of political, theological and scientific knowledge."
The line quoted in the headline is from Herbert's poem "Denial".
I have been thinking much of skeletons lately, specifically my own skeleton (I remember C. S. Lewis mentioning, somewhere, that he found it hard to believe he even had a skeleton. I used to feel the same way). If you missed my previous announcement, I’ve been diagnosed with avascular osteonecrosis (bone death), and I will be going in to have my right hip replaced tomorrow morning.
An unpleasant experience generally, but salutary, I think. I am now the old codger with crutches who blocks supermarket aisles, a character who’s always irritated me. Though no macho guy, I’ve always had strong legs, and it’s a shock to be unable to get around easily on my own power. Thus does God humble us.
If the worst should happen, which is always a possibility, what would I want my readers to remember as my final message?
I think it would be, “Don’t try too hard to be loved.” Love is important; love is central to everything (God is love). But real love comes as a byproduct of virtue. Seeking love for its own sake, out of a fear of being left alone, is not only wrong but generally counterproductive. Do what’s right, and you’ll attract the love of people whose love will enrich you.
This is what is wrong with the church today, I believe. It values being loved (by people) over being faithful. Remember, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” First things first.
But assuming this isn’t my swan song, I’ll probably be posting again sometime next week.
Our friend Gene Edward Veith at Cranach blog links to a post where the blogger wonders why, if many young people are being attracted to liturgical churches, as has been widely reported, they aren't streaming to Lutheran churches.
Our friend Anthony Sacramone, at Strange Herring, provides an answer: Lutherans are boring:
Growing up, all the Lutherans I knew were boring. They minded their ps and qs and paid their taxes on time (begrudgingly—I was LCMS, after all) and kept their heads down and their feet on the ground. They were good citizens and thought things through and were practical, rarely all that imaginative (although every once in a while a teacher would try and shake things up, only to be brought to heel if no great measurable results were forthcoming). There were exceptions, of course. (An elementary school teacher pretty much drank himself to death.) But they were notable for being exceptions.
I would rise to the spirited defense of my Lutheran brethren (and Anthony is a Lutheran, by the way), but I think I need a nap.
Thomas Kidd of Baylor University talks about Christians wanting to sanitize the past and the restrictions on religious worship in the American colonies:
If religious liberty is one of our greatest national legacies, we can thank many early Baptists for being on the front lines of the fight for that liberty. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and later Rhode Island, Roger Williams was one of the first dissenting voices speaking out against a state establishment of religion, and against the state policing people's religious beliefs. (For Williams, religion was too important for the government to meddle in it.) In the era of the Revolution, Baptists emerging from the Great Awakening wanted full freedom to create their own churches and to preach to whomever they wished. In most of the colonies, such freedom was not readily granted.
We forget that at the same time as the fight for independence from Britain, Americans were also fighting for freedom from oppressive religious laws. There were Baptist pastors being fined and even jailed for illegal preaching in Virginia in the early 1770s.
Rev. Andrew Damick spells out the theological dangers revealed in your coffee choices. "Your local coffeehouse may be a hotbed of heresy. Check the following list and see how yours measures up.
- Decaf is Docetic because it only appears to be coffee.
- Instant is Apollinarian because it’s had its soul removed and replaced.
- Frappuccinos are essentially a form of Monophysitism, having their coffee nature swallowed up in milkshake.
- [This one influences my wife] The Cafe Mocha (espresso + steamed milk + chocolate) is syncretic and polytheist, for it presumes to adulterate coffee with another nation’s gods.
A group calling themselves The Lutheran Satire offers this holiday video.
Sissel singing a beautiful Swedish Christmas hymn from her first big breakthrough album in Norway. Gives me goosebumps still.
A blessed Christmas to one and all.
Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image and Slant Books, writes about the idea that strong Catholic writers can't be found today. He is responded to a piece by Dana Gioia, which lists many Catholics in letters from several years ago, but none working today. Wolfe disagrees:
To take just one example, in arguing that few contemporary writers take on the fundamental question of belief versus unbelief, Elie dismisses Alice McDermott’s fiction as being merely about Irish Catholic New Yorkers from the 1950s and ’60s. But this is an oddly literal and obtuse reading of, say, Charming Billy. True, the novel is set in that earlier time period, but the novel is told from the point of view of a younger woman—a disaffected, lapsed Catholic—whose exploration of her Uncle Billy’s life slowly and quietly brings her back to faith. Billy the alcoholic protagonist is a mess, and yet he is a loving soul, a kind of saint—a man of boundless faith in spite of his woundedness.
Then, in an unexpectedly poignant turn of events, the novelist Oscar Hijuelos wrote to the Times in response to Elie, citing his own novel, Mr. Ives' Christmas, just days before his sudden death of a heart attack. Like Charming Billy, Mr. Ives’ Christmas is another whispered tale of a wounded saint, a man of deep Catholic faith whose seminarian son is senselessly murdered. These novels by McDermott and Hijuelos are meditations on sainthood in the same vein as Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, but instead of a protagonist as priest hunted by totalitarian thugs, they show us New Yorkers as unlikely saints: an advertising executive and a worker for Con Edison.
I have been dilatory in my responsibility to provide you with Sissel Christmas videos on this blog. Here is the greatest singer in the world in concert in Iceland, doing what I believe is her favorite song, a Swedish Christmas hymn called "Mitt Hjerte Altid Vanker" (My Heart Always Wanders).
Today is St. Lucie's Day, celebrated every year in Scandinavia (especially in Sweden) with morning processions of young girls, led by one special "Lucia" who wears a crown of candles. The video above is from Sissel's televised Christmas concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir a few years back. Unfortunately for you, this is the Norwegian TV version, so her introduction is dubbed in Norwegian, which you probably can't understand. But trust me, she's talking about St. Lucie's Day. The video's also a little misleading, because the song she does here isn't the traditional song for the ceremony, "Santa Lucia" (yes, the Italian one). But it'll give you some idea of the thing. And it's always nice to hear Sissel sing, whatever she does.
Missionaries supported by my church, Dave and Eowyn Stoddard, serve in Berlin. I urge you to pray for them and read this remarkable post on what Eowyn calls the bullying of demons. She writes:
Satan was not playing fair. Now the shock turned to anger. I scanned the recesses of my brain. What had seminary taught me about demonic activity? I couldn't recall any class where we had discussed anything remotely similar to what we were experiencing. "Demonology 101" wasn't even offered! But seminary did teach me not to panic in the face of theological conundrums. It gave me a lens through which I could see everything from the perspective of God's sovereignty.
First off, I have to apologize and say that you'll be seeing slow posting from me this week, or none at all. I have a major paper to write for my Library Science class, requiring my undivided attention.
Meanwhile, I direct you to our friend Hunter Baker, who posted a very thoughtful piece today on the minimum wage controversy, and Christian compassion in general.
During a recent visit to twitter, I happened across a post from a noted Christian academic. He had composed the kind of pithy remark which is tailor-made to launch a hundred admiring retweets. Paraphrasing slightly, it was something like this: ”Conservatives, don’t talk to me about family values if you doesn’t endorse a minimum wage increase.” I am sure that he thought it was a pretty high-powered zinger.
The problem is that there is no necessary connection between family values and increasing the minimum wage....
The Council of Nicea. I think St. Nicholas is the bald guy with the book on the right. Photo credit: Hispalois.
Our friend Dr. Paul McCain of Cyberbrethren quotes another friend of ours, Dr. Gene Edward Veith today, reprinting his classic account of Saint Nicholas (whose feast day is today) slapping the heretic Arius.
During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.
Dr. Veith goes on to make some constructive suggestions concerning new Christmas slapping customs we might adopt.
"Home to Thanksgiving" by Currier & Ives, 1867
“He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire. Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient.” (W.J. Cameron)
I’ve used that quotation for Thanksgiving before, but it was a long time ago. On the old web site, I think. Anyway, I like it.
It occurred to me today how closely thankfulness is connected to faith. One of the most common hindrances to faith—at least in my experience—is worry about the future. “Things are all right just now,” I say to myself, “but what about tomorrow? Being thankful feels too much like complacency. I have to keep my eye out for what’s coming down the road.”
This is one reason, I suppose, why Jesus tells us to cast no thought upon the morrow. Worry kills thankfulness, and lack of thankfulness destroys our spiritual perspective.
So have a blessed Thanksgiving. I hope you spend it with people you love. Or, alternatively, that you love the people you’re spending it with.
C. S. Lewis' grave in Holy Trinity churchyard, Headington Quarry, Oxford
Photo credit: jschroe
I’m going to alter my long-established custom of always posting about a days’ commemorations in the evening of that day, which means most of you read it the next day. Tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis (also of a couple obscure characters named John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley).
I was, of course, around when it happened, in junior high if you must know. What did I think when I heard Lewis was dead? I’m not sure, because I wasn’t aware of his death date until years later, long after I’d become a Lewis enthusiast. I do remember the day though, because of the Kennedy thing.
But I’ve written about that before. I’d like to just recall what Lewis has meant in my life. It occurred to me today that Lewis was himself my Wardrobe, the portal through which I entered a larger world.
I was educated, like most of my friends, in Lutheran colleges which are now under the umbrella of The Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless. But, unlike a large percentage of my friends from those days, I neither apostatized or became a liberal. It was Lewis who made that possible (with the help at a later stage of Francis Schaeffer). The Lutheran schools I’m speaking of had then, and I assume still have, one single purpose in their religious education curricula, and that is to destroy all Christian faith in their students. But Lewis (though no biblical inerrantist) showed me that embracing orthodox Christianity doesn’t mean giving up reason. I clung to reason, and I clung to the faith of my childhood.
You yourself may approve or disapprove of that course on my part, but as for me, it’s one of the things I’m thankful for as Thanksgiving approaches.
Earlier this year, I was going over Martin Luther's 95 theses, and it occurred to me that many of them apply to the teachings we call the prosperity gospel. The comparison isn't exact, of course. Prosperity teachers may be popular, but they aren't part of the majority church as were the teachers Luther opposed. And if you remember from reading Luther's list, he gives the Pope all due respect, suggesting that he is being misrepresented, not that he is teaching heresy himself. We can't say that for the preachers of the prosperity gospel.
Here's my list, taken from and based on Luther's original--and four theses short. You see today's Wittenberg doors on the right. They're bronze, so we'll have to post new theses with sticky tack. You'll also see that several of the theses here are Luther's own statements, taken from this translation.
No doubt, the spirit of Luther will pull me out of bed tonight, knock me in the head, and rebuke me until daybreak for pulling this stunt. I hope it doesn't offend you and bore only some of you. Hope you continue to have a good and holy All Saint's Day.
91 New Theses for the Modern Church
- When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- The word cannot be properly understood as referring to living your best life now, i.e. positive thinking, as taught by some preachers.
- Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one's heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.
- As long as hatred of sinful self abides (i.e. true inward repentance) the penalty of sin abides, viz., until we enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Preachers of “kingdom prosperity” have neither the will nor the power to remit the penalty of sin.
- They cannot remit guilt, but only ignore or excuse it because original sin and Christ’s atoning work are not in their view.
- God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to Christ.
- The promises of God apply only to followers of Christ Jesus, those who have been raised to life from a spiritual stillbirth.
- Mere fandom for a church or preacher does not qualify anyone to be particularly blessed by the Lord of Hosts.
- It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when mere fans of a church claim statements from the Word of God as particular promises for their personal lives.
- When preachers encourage their followers to claim particular promises, instead of repentance, surely it would seem that tares were sown among their congregations. Read the rest of this entry . . .
I've been playing with the kids today and working on theology piece which I hope to post here soon, so while it's still Reformation Day, let me direct you to this recreation of Luther's Reformation acts in !!eye-poppingly realistic!! LEGO form. You will believe you are actually in Germany with these events went down.
Someone posted this on Facebook this morning, and I re-posted it there, because it epitomizes everything I’ve been saying about the course of liberal Christianity. A new archbishop has been elected for the Church of Sweden – its first woman archbishop, Antje Jackelén. At another time I might have had something to say about women’s ordination, but that issue is least of the problems here. Dispatch-International’s story says:
Like kings, all bishops have their own motto and Jackelén chose ”God is greater”. If that sounds familiar, it may be due to the fact that an Arabic translation renders it as ”Allahu akbar”. There are those who believe that her choice is far from random – but very deliberate.
Many have been taken aback by the theological opinions Jackelén revealed during a questioning in Uppsala on October 1. The candidates for the highest position in the Swedish church were asked if they thought Jesus presented a truer picture of God than Muhammed. With her evasive answer Jackelén suddenly emerged as the bishop who couldn’t choose between Jesus and Muhammed. This provoked strong reactions on some editorial pages.
Kyrkans Tidning thought that the bishop’s answer might indicate that Christ is being relegated to the margins of the Church of Sweden and Dagens Nyheter encouraged the candidates to show some theological backbone. The editorial writer at the newspaper Dagen wrote that it is time to accept the idea of a split within the church – between Christians and those who think all religions are equally good.
Now let me say that this article seems just a little sensationalist to me. Its title, "Swedish Archbishop Prefers Allah," for instance, is an exaggeration of the actual content of the text. Judging by this account, Archbishop Jackelén hasn’t said she prefers Allah to Jesus. She just refuses to make the choice.
I am fairly certain that, in the historical Christian church at all times up till the 20th Century, one thing that would always have disqualified any candidate for a bishopric is a refusal to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That’s just basic, like failing an eye test for an airline pilot.
Which means that, as far as I can see, the Swedish church has apostasized in electing this woman. Anyone who holds to the faith of the creeds ought to leave that church. At a full run.
And don’t think it’s not happening here. I am confident, on the basis of a lifetime working in churches both liberal and conservative, that there are many church leaders and seminary professors in America (Ms. Jackelén in fact taught at the Lutheran seminary at the University of Chicago for a time) who believe – or disbelieve – in pretty much the same way.
At the risk of sounding like somebody from Left Behind, I declare ours the day of the Great Apostasy.
Al Mohler writes:
Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.(via Jared C. Wilson)
Today I got an e-mail from super-author Andrew Klavan, directing me to this column on his blog, in which he gives me a nice plug.
Novelist Lars Walker — a friend of this blog and an insightful reviewer of some of my own novels — makes a trenchant comment in the Elizabeth Smart post below. I know it’s trenchant because I was about to make basically the same comment but Lars beat me to it! In the comment, he makes a delightfully concise reference to “the Osteenian view that suffering is always a sign of God’s displeasure.” This, of course, refers to popular preacher Joel Osteen, who has been promoting his new book at the Blaze and other places. He basically preaches that God wants wonderful things for your life and you only have to open yourself to God’s will in order to receive those blessings.
He was particularly pleased, he said, by my use of the adjective "Osteenian," meaning theological ideas in line with Joel Osteen's preaching. He seems to think I may have coined it, though I find it hard to believe nobody's used it before.
In any case, this counts as a good day.
News item: This story from CBS Dallas-Fort Worth seems to have surprised a lot of people. But I suspect there were a lot of us for whom it was no surprise at all. The story has to do with a study done at the University of Texas, Arlington which indicates that anti-bullying programs in schools don’t seem to do any good, and indeed may do harm.
The student videos used in many campaigns show examples of bullying and how to intervene. But Jeong says they may actually teach students different bullying techniques — and even educate about new ways to bully through social media and texting.
This is what happens in a post-Wisdom world, where experts have replaced sages, grandmothers, and the Scriptures. Experts believe that children are basically good, and desire to learn how to avoid bullying. Those of us who are familiar with actual children know that the true situation is different. You can’t divide kids up into “bullies” and “victims.” The categories are fluid. Every kid has it in him to bully, by the same kind of instinct which causes chickens to single out a member of the flock who’s been wounded, and peck it to death.
I’ve spoken of being bullied here before. I was bullied a lot, both at home and at school. There were few safe places in my world.
But I was also a bully, now and then, when fate chose to make me the alpha dog in some tiny situation. I never even thought about it. It came naturally. Today I’m hotly ashamed of those incidents, but at the time it just seemed like the obvious thing to do.
We won’t make progress until we recognize human nature for what it is. And we won’t do that until we start reading the Bible seriously again.
Bill O'Reilly's new book, Killing Jesus, is surging in sales now. He talked to 60 Minutes last Sunday, saying he felt God inspired him to write a book describing Jesus as “a regular guy, very afraid, scared to die.”
“Jesus of Nazareth was the most famous human being who ever lived on this planet and he had no infrastructure and it’s never been done,” O’Reilly said. “He had no government, no PR guy, no money, no structure. He had nothing, yet he became the most famous human being ever.”
Fox Business has a brief interview with O'Reilly, in which he explains that he trusted other sources of history and his own reasoning more than the gospels on every detail of Jesus' life. For example, he believes it was impossible for Mary and Joseph to flee Herod all the way into Egypt, which is what Matthew's gospel says. I suppose he found no other sources saying it happened, so that was enough to rule it out. And though he has no evidence of Jesus' resurrection, he takes it on faith as a good Catholic.
Apparently, the Bible's historicity is no obstacle or support to his faith, and I wonder if most contemporary church-goers believe as he does. How many of us hold the line because we have been told which line to hold, not because we believe it actually happened? If we do, we fail to understand how much God has given us in His Word which can be verified, details intended to show us that the stories aren't mere imaginary morality tales. They are accurate depictions of what happened.
So did Jesus rise from the dead? Paul tells us if He did not, our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). I guess that makes Paul is pretty poor Catholic.
Today, just a snippet from an article in the current issue of Intercollegiate Review – "The Subhumanities: The Reductive Violence of Race, Class, and Gender Theory," by Anthony Esolen:
So much of human life, says [Marilynne] Robinson in her new book of essays, When I Was a Child I Read Books, is blessed “nonsense,” not overmuch concerned with survival or whatever else preoccupies the reductivists of our time. It is like the folly of God, as Erasmus reminds us, thinking of the mighty words of Saint Paul, who declares that all the wisdom of the world cannot overcome the foolishness of the Cross, which is of course the foolishness of love.
Our friend Anthony Sacramone is Managing Editor of IC.
Barry Waugh describes what the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin thought about God and the historic religion of her region and how she came to believe "the common man must no longer accept the monarchical rule of God; there is neither a king in New England nor one in heaven."
The man who cannot believe his senses, and the man who cannot believe anything else, are both insane, but their insanity is proved not by any error in their argument, but by the manifest mistake of their whole lives…. It is amusing to notice that many of the moderns, whether sceptics or mystics, have taken as their sign a certain eastern symbol, which is the very symbol of this ultimate nullity. When they wish to represent eternity, they represent it by a serpent with his tail in his mouth. There is a startling sarcasm in the image of that very unsatisfactory meal….
Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal; it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has as its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox at its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers.
One thing for which G. K. Chesterton can always be depended on is surprises. Orthodoxy was not the kind of book I expected it to be. I was looking for something along the lines of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, an excellent book in a different way. But Chesterton’s approach to apologetics was quintessentially Chestertonian.
Instead of making a purely logical argument for the Christian religion (and Protestants will be pleased to know that he touches fairly lightly on distinctively Catholic matters), Chesterton outlines the rational and the emotional process by which he came to faith. It’s a little like Lewis’ Surprised by Joy in that way, but less autobiographical in terms of life events.
The narrative, delivered in this way, becomes more than an argument. Chesterton gives a demonstration of his orthodoxy by describing the Word becoming flesh in his own experience. We are not saved in our spirits alone; our bodies and our personalities must also come along. Only a salvation that offers something for all aspects of our natures will meet our needs, and Chesterton describes how he spent his life looking for the things his soul hungered for, only to discover that all of them were waiting already assembled in one place – the church.
I’ve been reading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I’ll review it later, as if its reputation depended on me to any extent. But here’s a quote:
It is one of the hundred answers to the fugitive perversion of modern “force” that the promptest and boldest agencies are also the most fragile and full of sensibility. The swiftest things are the softest things. A bird is active, because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard. The stone must by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force. In perfect force there is a kind of frivolity, an airiness that can maintain itself in the air. Modern investigators of miraculous history have solemnly admitted that a characteristic of the great saints is their power of “levitation.” They might go further; a characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.
I’m just dipping my toe into the boundless sea that is online graduate study, and I got involved in a discussion the other day that I thought I’d post something about. The instructor wanted us to share our feelings about the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment, in case you haven’t brushed up your history in a while, was an intellectual movement that flourished in the 18th Century. Thinkers like Rousseau and Voltaire were leading lights. It was a reaction against the religious passions that had caused so much death and suffering through religious wars like the Thirty Years’ War. We religious types had made ourselves look pretty bad, and decent people began to think we’d all be better off if we jettisoned God entirely. But on what would we base our morality, without a God?
Oddly enough, Isaac Newton (himself a devout, if unorthodox, Christian) gave them their answer. Newton discovered what looked like absolute, immutable laws in the universe. Everything could be explained in terms of mathematics. Ultimate truth, for the fervid Newtonian, was mechanical, impersonal. Obviously morality was also a matter of eternal rules. Identify those rules and that was all the revelation you needed. Human nature was ultimately simple too, and soon we would know how it worked. Then we’d be able to establish a rational government which would permit everyone’s natural goodness to blossom like a flower.
The problem with the Enlightenment was that it was over-simple. Human beings just aren’t that neat (neither is the universe, as we’ve learned since). Human beings, and the universe, are like Doctor Who’s Tardis, bigger inside than outside. As you go deeper in, you discover new levels of complexity.
This, I think, explains the horrors of ideology in the centuries since the Enlightenment. Every tyrant thinks he’s found, at last, the simple key to human nature. It’s economics (Marx). It’s frustrated sex (Freud). It’s race (Hitler). Despot after despot tries to impose his simple solution on the people he rules, and the people stubbornly refuse to respond in a scientific way. So he’s forced to kill them, and to try to find some better people.
The difference between post-Enlightenment horrors and pre-Enlightenment horrors, it seems to me, is the industrialization of evil. The religious fanatic may kill you because he considers you evil, a tool of Satan. But the statist kills you without caring who you are. You’re just in the way, like a tree in a building zone.