Friday, October 31, 2008

The Power of False Assumptions

"No serious thought can be constructed without assumptions, but recognizing them - in our own thinking as well as in others is vital if we are to avoid falling into serious error. Assumptions are beliefs; if they were proven they would not be assumptions. And they are beliefs so taken for granted that it is not deemed necessary to prove them. That makes them doubly seductive: first, because the careless or untrained are misled into accepting conclusions without recognizing their shaky foundation of unstated beliefs; and second, the very fact that the most dubious beliefs are so taken for granted by experts lends an aura of verisimilitude that beguiles the overly respectful into accepting them without question."
"Assumptions, in fact, are more powerful than assertions, because they bypass the critical faculty and thereby create prejudice.... The simple act of listening to an argument is almost enough to engage it.... That bypassed assumption is the pocket of enemy soldiers that was ignored in an effort to engage the main body of the adversary, and it lies in wait to strike from the rear. The false assumption is additionally beguiling because it often appeals to one of the worst instincts - the desire to be fashionable or at least to avoid being associated with the unfashionable or unpopular." (Herbert Schlossberg, Idols For Destructions. )


Anonymous - that infinite font of both wisdom and folly - once said that "A library is a hospital for the mind."

How true. Books, at least the right sort, have the potential to keep us sane by giving our lives a larger context than our puny problems and preoccupations. They open for us other worlds which then enrich our own.

Good books also have the potential to keep us humble. It is the kind of humility which recognizes that I am not at the centre of things. As we commune with the great minds and heroes of the past, we are continually reminded of our own finiteness and frailty by contrast. But we are also given hope because we see that the great heroes and minds of the past struggled with the very types of things that we face.

Arthur Quiller Cooch (picture on right), the editor of that excellent tome The Oxford Book of English Verse, taught that the more educated we are the more humble we should be because we know how much we don’t know. He argued that truly educated people do not take themselves too seriously yet they know when serious things ought to be taken seriously. As Cooch put it, "The more deeply a man explores his subject, the further he will be led to consider the views of those who have studied and thought about it before him. The more conscious he will feel of his own fallibility and the fog of ignorance encompassing us all. He will read on and on and a growing modesty will deter him from seeking such positive assertions as are made by hastier less informed men.”

Books also help us transcend the petty preoccupations of our own age, as C.S. Lewis explains in his essay “On the Reading of Old Books.” When we explore our subjects and read the great authors of Western civilization, we begin to imbibe a worldview that is neither liberal nor conservative. Being liberal or being conservative are simply the effects of not having all of history to draw upon. Conservatives who dogmatically lock into imitating how things were done in the last two hundred years, or liberals who dogmatically lock into imitating how things were done in the last two hundred minutes, are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of both these wrong approaches is a confessional approach which relies on the whole of time, using the lens of what is good, right, true and beautiful throughout all of history (including recent history) as the standard of what things should be aspired to. By reading widely, or by reading the works of people who are widely read (which is often the best I can do), we gain a sense of perspective, releasing one from the bondage of present fades. Chesterton had something like this in mind when he wrote that,

"The first use of good literature, is that it prevents a man from being merely modern. To be merely modern is to condemn oneself to an ultimate narrowness; just as to spend one's earthly money on the newest hat is to condemn oneself to be old-fashioned. The road of the ancient centuries is strewn with dead moderns. Literature, classic and enduring literature, does its best work in reminding us perpetually of the whole round of truth and balancing other and older ideas against the ideas to which we might for a moment be prone."

I have not always availed myself of my library as I should. One of my current goals is to read more and write less. God-willing, this blog should reflect that by having more reviews and less ramblings.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What I'm Reading Right Now

Obama's Not ‘New’

Jonah Goldberg had a good article in the National Review today on Barack Obama, showing that electing him would be essentially to turn back the clock and return to the failed policies of yesteryear. The article can be read HERE.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Winter Issue of Christianity & Society Now Available

The Winter 2008 issue of the Kuyper Foundation's journal Christianity and Society is now available. It can be downloaded for free HERE. There are some good articles there, and I have an article in it titled, 'From Sexual Revolution to Gender Reduction.'

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Economic Background to the Civil War

In 2000, Charles Adams wrote a book titled When In the Course of Human Events: The Case for Southern Secession.

In that book he argued that the issue of economics was a pre-eminent cause of the war. In particular he pointed to the controversy surrounding the protective tariff.

In order to explain the significance of the tariff we need a bit of background.

Soon after the War of 1812, Northern industry boomed, catching up with the industrial revolution in Europe. The North was able make use of the cheap immigrant labor that was pouring out of Europe as more and more people moved to the United States.

The South, on the other hand, possessed very little industry and relied almost exclusively on slave-worked plantations.


In the summer of 2007, I researched the War Between the States in preparation for teaching it to a class of 11th graders. Because I had no previous background in history, let alone this period, and also because the school didn’t give me any textbooks to use, I really had to build my curriculum from scratch. Although this approach was difficult and time-consuming, compared to just taking everything out of a textbook, it ended up being a great benefit because it meant that I avoiding a lot of the biases and myths that so often characterize civil war historiography.

One of the things that immediately began to strike me as I began reading the writings, speeches and letters of the time, is that there was an entire context to the War Between the States that is often overlooked.

Friday, October 24, 2008

D. A. Carson

I have been greatly blessed to have been referred to THIS site where numerous recordings of D. A. Carson's lectures may be downloaded for free (thank you Bob Sarlo for putting me onto this site). Even though Carson is against the New Perspective on Paul (we can't expect him to get everything right), I still heartily recommend him as a teacher. So far I have listened to the following lectures which are simply excellent and can be accessed HERE:

The Intolerance of Tolerance,” part one
“The Intolerance of Tolerance,” part two

On the Emergent Church: A Description of the movement, drawing attention to its strengths
The movement evaluated more critically

Postmodernism, pt. 1
Postmodernism, pt. 2T

Is Richard Dawkins Still Evolving?

Ever since I wrote my review of The God Delusion, I have been following Dawkins with interest. Imagine my surprise when I read this report, which suggests that Dawkins may be evolving from an atheist into a deist.

Barack Obama and Race

It sometimes takes a Brit to see the truth about what is going on in America. See Melanie Phillips comments about Obama and race. Her insights about Obama's foreign policy are also worth reading in THIS article.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hollywood Worldviews

I have just finished reading a very valuable book, titled Hollywood Worldviews, by Brian Godawa. As an award-winning Hollywood screenwriter, Godawa is an insightful film-critic; as an evangelical Christian, he is a shrewd discerner of the worldviews implicit in films.

Because we typically watch films to be entertained, it is easy to switch our minds off in front of the set. If a movie is explicitly anti-Biblical, we sit up and take note that a wrong message is being portrayed. Or if there is excessive amounts of sex and violence, we may classify the film as ‘worldly’ and turn off the television. All the while, too little attention is given to the more subtle and subliminal worldviews being portrayed by Hollywood.

Building on insights on the role that mythology and story-telling have historically played in human societies, Brian Godawa shows that every film has a worldview, or a mixture of different values, that it is conveying. This can be something as basic as the movie answering the question, ‘What is wrong with the world and what is needed to fix it?’ (Many modern movies answer this question by teaching that redemption comes about through getting in touch with one’s heart, or being true to oneself.) Or a worldview could be something as simple as conveying some of the following values:

· human autonomy leads to freedom
· crime doesn’t pay
· crime does pay
· there are no absolutes
· everyone is corrupt
· love is the only absolute
· true knowledge comes through experience rather than reason
· salvation occurs through self-actuation
· all external rules are oppressive
· humanity exists in an ultimately irrational universe
· true love is sacrificial.

And so on.

In analyzing cinemagraphic worldviews, Godawa roots his discussion on the crucial hermeneutical principle of authorial intent. Rather than reading our own interpretations back into movies, we must ask, ‘What is the film-writer intending to convey?’, or even ‘what are the unintended implications of what the author intended to convey?’

Godawa goes through dozens of movies, giving brief summaries of their basic themes and unpacking their worldviews. Even for someone not interested in movies, the book is valuable simply as a primer on the dominant philosophies of our age. He has a particularly helpful discussion of Existentialism and Postmodernism, putting these ideologies in terms that are easily accessible for a lay person.

Hollywood Worldviews presents a good balance between what Godawa calls cultural gluttony and cultural anorexia. A cultural anorexic is a Christian who falls into the trap of categorizing as bad all movies with anti-Christian themes, while a cultural glutton is someone who embraces all the products of Hollywood unthinkingly and uncritically.

The book is not without its faults. In an appendix, titled ‘Sex, Violence and Profanity in the Bible’, Godawa tries to lay down a criteria for assessing what the appropriate levels of sex and violence are in movies based on how these things are handled in the Bible. Unfortunately, his argument fails to take into account the difference between print-based mediums and visual mediums. Every other reviewer of the book I have seen has agreed that Hollywood Worldviews would be better off without this appendix. Also, the appendix has some sexually graphic material which parents might want to screen before giving the book to their children to read.

I have no hesitation in recommending Hollywood Worldviews. I have found it personally very useful. Prior to reading it, I tended to only enjoy movies that conveyed a correct worldview. Brian Godawa has helped to enhance my enjoyment of movies which communicate unbiblical values, because I now see such movies as valuable conduits for contextualizing and fleshing out the implications of our culture’s central commitments.
Click HERE to order your own copy.

[i] ‘Assumptions,’ writes Herbert Schlossberg, ‘in fact, are more powerful than assertions, because they bypass the critical faculty and thereby create prejudice.... The simple act of listening to an argument is almost enough to engage it.... That bypassed assumption is the pocket of enemy soldiers that was ignored in an effort to engage the main body of the adversary, and it lies in wait to strike from the rear.’
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Persecution of Christians in China (update)

When China hosted the 2008 Olympic games, they adopted the posture ‘we have nothing to hide' and attempted to portray themselves as tolerant. However, behind this friendly exterior is a society that remains incredibly antagonistic towards Christianity.

China remains one of the top twelve religious liberty offenders in the world. Christians are frequently singled out and denied jobs and education. Many Christians are brutally tortured for their faith.

A Brief History of China's Hostility to the Gospel

The history of China’s hostility to the gospel is complex and bound up with the ghost of Western imperialism.

The first missionaries arrived in China in the 19th Century. Since this coincided with the forces of Western colonialism also arriving in the country, Christianity became inextricably associated with oppressive foreigners.

The link between Christianity and colonialism was strengthened when China lost the Second Opium War to Britain in 1858. China's defeat in this war forced their government to tolerate the opium trade, to accept unequal trade conditions and to yield Hong Kong to Britain. China was also forced to allow foreign missionaries to share their faith.

The relentless connection between Christianity and Western Imperialism culminated in violent persecution of all foreign religions in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. The anti-Christian zeal was only increase in 1949 when Mao Zedong’s communist party took over control of the new Peoples' Republic of China after over two decades of fighting. Since then China has been officially atheist, continuing their hostile posture towards Christianity. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, thousands of Christians were shipped to labour camps, while hundreds of others were executed.

Since that time, although persecution has steadily continued, the number of Christians in China continues to rise dramatically. Estimates put the current number of Christians at eighty-two hundred million.

State of the Church In China

In China Christians are allowed to go to church provided they attend the state-approved denomination known as the ‘The Three-Self Church.’ Although leaders of local Three-Self Churches need not worry about getting arrested, membership to this church comes with a price. Three-Church Christians are not allowed to offer overt Biblical teaching to children under 18. They are also not allowed to criticize government policies.

Because of these restrictions, the majority of Chinese Christians belong to illegal house churches. This too comes with a price, since government policy allows police to arrest house church leaders and to break up their meetings.

Because China is such a large nation, the level of persecution varies grateful from region to region. In some places, house churches are tacitly allowed and even permitted to own buildings. In other regions, pastors must live in constant fear of being arrested and sentenced to forced labour. In some places they are even tortured. The picture (left) is of an electric prod used for torture.

The Zhang Family

On July 6, 2008, Bike Zhang (pictured left), pastor of a house church near Beijing, was asked to leave his home, along with his wife Xie. After finding shelter in the home of friends, they were again driven out, forcing them to move into a hotel. Soon they were driven out of the hotel and questioned for an extensive period without food, water or rest. Eventually Xie collapsed and was taken to hospital. The Zhangs continued to be forced out of the homes of family and friends and were forced to live on the streets. On 6 August, Bike and Xie were arrested again, along with a co-worker.

As a result of pressure and an international campaign organized by Voice of the Martyrs and China Aid Association, the Zhangs were temporarily released from custody on Friday, August 29. However, on 16 October, Zhang Jian, the elder son of Pastor Bike, was severely beaten with iron bars for 25 minutes by public officials. In a press release on 16 October, A China Aid Association spokesperson said:

‘As Zhang Jian lay bleeding profusely, his mother called an ambulance, but the receptionist told her that a higher government authority gave a directive not to dispatch any ambulance to rescue her son because he is related to Pastor Bike Zhang.’

‘Zhang Jian’s mother then called her younger son, Zhang Chuang, who rushed to the house where he was also beaten by the same authorities. After some time, a personal friend of the Zhang family was able to take Zhang Jian to the Beijing Min Hang (Aviation) Hospital emergency room where Zhang Jian remains now.

‘His doctor said Zhang Jian’s right eye may lose sight forever because of the severe damage resulting from the repeated beating. Pastor Bike Zhang, who was traveling in Yunnan province at the time, is currently unable to be contacted. It is assumed that he has been detained by authorities.’

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bill of Rights

It is normally taken for granted that the Bill of Rights should apply at both the national and the state level. President Obama has said as much with reference to the abortion issue, the right of privacy and a number of other key issues. Maybe that is correct. Our courts have certainly decided to apply the Bill of Rights in this way. But surely everyone can agree that in its original context the Bill of Rights only applied on the federal/national level and not the state level.

Well, not quite everyone.

Once I was asked to teach the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to some 12th grade students. In the curriculum I was writing I intended to make it clear that originally the Bill of Rights applied only on the federal level. (This was a very important point for a strong
anti-federalist like myself.) I was preparing to tell the students that the Bill of Rights was originally not a guarantee of individual freedoms at all but a limitation of federal authority.

Two of my supervisors took exception to this and asked me to expunge it from my curriculum. While they granted that I may be correct in the case of the 1st and 10th amendment, they suggested that with regard to the others, it is far from certain that they were originally only intended as a limitation of national authority. They therefore asked me to take a neutral position and teach both sides.

I was happy to do that. However, I soon encountered a problem. I couldn’t find any sources which argued that the Bill of Rights was originally intended to apply at the state level. How could I teach both sides if all the sources were unanimous that the Bill of Rights originally did NOT apply on the state level? I picked up a public school civics textbook, titled Government By the People, hoping that it would give me another perspective. “Note” it said, “that the Bill of Rights literally applies only to the national government, not state governments. Why not the states? The framers were confident that states could control their own state officials, and most state constitutions already had bills of rights. It was the new and distant central government the people feared.”

Hmm, I thought, I’m not finding anything on the “other side.” I soon struck on an idea: I would try to internet. Almost any opinion – never mind how erroneous – can be supported somewhere on the internet. I started with Wikipedia, which is usually pretty good at giving two sides to every question. I read the following in their
entry on the Bill of Rights:

“Originally, the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government and not to the several state governments. Parts of the amendments initially proposed by Madison that would have limited state governments (‘No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.’) were not approved by Congress, and therefore the Bill of Rights did not appear to apply to the powers of state governments. Thus, states had established state churches up until the 1820s, and Southern states, beginning in the 1830s, could ban abolitionist literature. In the 1833 case Barron v. Baltimore, the Supreme Court specifically ruled that the Bill of Rights provided 'security against the apprehended encroachments of the general government—not against those of local governments.'"

Next I turned to a number of other websites, and they were all unanimous. At a website that my supervisor had referred me to ( I read that, “The Bill of Rights was understood, at its ratification, to be a bar on the actions of the federal government. Many people today find this to be an incredible fact. The fact is, prior to incorporation, discussed below, the Bill of Rights did not apply to the states.”

Oh dear, I thought, I’m not getting anywhere at finding sources for “the other side.”

So I wrote to a lawyer friend who had been trained under liberal law professors. He wrote back and said it was “silly to try” to find any sources maintaining that the Bill of Rights originally applied to the states. “I learned this stuff from confirmed liberal law professors who certainly would have included such sources had they been available” he said.

So I emailed one of my supervisors to see if he had any sources to offer. Unfortunately he did not because his argument was philosophical rather than historical. He told me that from a philosophical standpoint, if the specific rights given in the Bill of Rights are based on the more general rights to life, liberty, and happiness which in turn are considered to be God-given and inalienable, then what gives the state government the authority to infringe on that when the Federal government cannot?

Okay, I thought, but if that proves anything it is that the Bill of Rights ought to apply at the state level, not that it originally did. I then struck on a new course. I would find out exactly when the Bill of Rights changed to become something that was applicable on the state level. That would remove the issue beyond any controversy by making it a factual judicial rather than a hermeneutical question about authorial intent. The results of this research was very interesting, and my supervisors accepted it, even though I still had to write into my curriculum that “there has also been debate about whether the Bill of Rights originally applied to state governments or just federal government.” Following is a chart of what I discovered. What is interesting is that in every case, the incorporation of the Bill of Rights into state law came comparably late in the history of our republic.
Public use and just compensation for the taking of private property by the government
Bill of Rights Amendment 5
Incorporated into state law in 1897
Freedom of speech
Bill of Rights Amendment 1
Incorporated into state law in 1925
Freedom of the press
Bill of Rights Amendment 1
Incorporated into state law in 1931
Fair trial
Bill of Rights Amendment 6
Incorporated into state law in 1932
Freedom of religion
Bill of Rights Amendment 1
Incorporated into state law in 1934
Freedom of assembly
Bill of Rights Amendment 1
Incorporated into state law in 1937
Free exercise of religion
Bill of Rights Amendment 1
Incorporated into state law in 1940
Separation of religion and government
Bill of Rights Amendment 1
Incorporated into state law in 1947
Right to a public trial
Bill of Rights Amendment 6
Incorporated into state law in 1948
Right against unreasonable searches and seizures
Bill of Rights Amendment 4
Incorporated into state law in 1949
Freedom of association
Bill of Rights Amendment 1
Incorporated into state law in 1958
Exclusionary rule
Bill of Rights Amendment 4
Incorporated into state law in 1961
Ban against cruel and unusual punishment
Bill of Rights Amendment 8
Incorporated into state law in 1962
Right to counsel in felony cases
Bill of Rights Amendment 6
Incorporated into state law in 1963
Right against self-incrimination
Bill of Rights Amendment 5
Incorporated into state law in 1964
Right to confront witness
Bill of Rights Amendment 6
Incorporated into state law in 1965
Right to privacy
Bill of Rights Amendments 1,3,4,5,9
Incorporated into state law in 1965
Right to impartial jury
Bill of Rights Amendment 6
Incorporated into state law in 1966
Right to a speedy trial and to compulsory process for obtaining witnesses
Bill of Rights Amendment 6
Incorporated into state law in 1967
Right to jury trial in nonpetty cases
Bill of Rights Amendment 6
Incorporated into state law in 1968
Right against double jeopardy
Bill of Rights Amendment 5
Incorporated into state law in 1969
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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Thomas Howard at his best

"Christian imagination differs over details, but all Christian imagination attaches importance to symbols. Whether it is a matter of lowering one's voice in the building where the church meets, or of refusing to use make-up, or of wearing or not wearing a crucifix, or of kneeling, or bowing one's head to say grace or bowing at the holy name, or folding one's hands or crossing oneself, all Christian piety and worship is shot through with the symbolism of either gesture or objects or both. We see the unseen in the seen. The surface of things bespeaks what lies beneath. Our postures, our dress, our gestures, and the artefacts with which we surround ourselves - the very way we bind and gild our Bibles - all cry out that we are creatures whose approach to the Most High, since it cannot be direct like the seraphim’s, must be set about and assisted with symbols.

"None of us is a bare intellect. Our eyes see colors; our noses smell fragrances; our fingers feel textures....

"Some religions beckon us away from all of this. Some even abominate it all.... These religions drive a wedge between us mortals and all that we know of life. They tell us to be spiritual, by which they mean that we must strive to become disembodied; ghosts; souls.

"Historic Christianity, on the other hand, cries "Benedicite!" It calls out "Glory be to God for dappled things!" It lauds and extols the One who is the fountainhead of all shapes, colors, textures, sounds, and smells. The Most High did not create a charade or a trap when He made all of this. The Creation rushes from His superabundant freedom and love and cries out in exultation to Him. No least thing is silent. The timid and beady eye of a field mouse, the fife of the winter wren, the bubbling of water falling over rocks or boiling in a kettle, roars of laughter from a room full of friends, the murmur of a loved one's voice: what does it all say but "Hosanna!"...

"Using Saint Paul's language about flesh and spirit...piety has often spoken as though to be holy ('spiritual') is to be more or less disembodied. Since that is obviously not possible, we will do our best to keep spiritual things distinct from physical things. There will be 'the spiritual life' and 'the ordinary life.' There will be sacred activities and secular activities. When we are praying, we are closer to the center of things than when we are washing dishes, changing diapers, driving in a traffic jam, or sitting in a committee meeting: thus would run this piety....

"Our flesh, having been worn by the Most High Himself, is the most noble mantle of all. The Manichaeans and Buddhists and Platonists on the other hand, who belittle this flesh, and the gluttons and lechers and egoists on the other, who are slaves to it, are still living in division. Only in the Incarnation may we find the knitting back together of the fabric into its true integrity.

"If our religion draws us away from the plain fabric of life, and if it encourages in us the notion that Monday through Saturday are mostly secular, and if it crimps our freedom to join hilariously in all that is good in life, then, be we Bible-believing to the core, something is askew. If piety suggests to a musician that to play his violin or his trumpet in a church service is somehow more Christian than to play it in Carnegie Hall, then it is heresy. If it makes him timorous about being a creature of flesh and blood and pinches him into hesitancy about everything, then it has done him a disservice....

"It is in the physical world that the intangible meets us. A kiss seals a courtship. The sexual act seals a marriage. A ring betokens the marriage. A diploma crowns years of schooling. A doctoral robe bespeaks intellectual achievement. A uniform and stripes announce a recruit's training. A crown girds the brow that rules England. This symbolism bespeaks the sort of creature we are. To excise all of this from piety and worship is to suggest that the gospel beckons us away from our humanity into a disembodied realm. It is to turn the Incarnation into a mere doctrine.

"The Incarnation took all the properly belongs to our humanity and delivered it back to us, redeemed. All of our inculcations and appetites and capacities and yearnings and proclivities are purified and gathered up and glorified by Christ. He did not come to thin out human life He came to set it free. All the dancing and feasting and processing and singing and building and sculpting and baking and merrymaking that belong to us, and that were stolen away into the service of false gods, are turned to us in the gospel.

"The worship of God, surely, should be the place where men, angels, and devils may see human flesh once more set free into all that it was created to be. To restrict that worship to sitting in pews and listening to words spoken is to narrow things down in a manner strange to the gospel. We are creatures who are made to bow, not just spiritually (angels can do that) but with knee bones and neck muscles. We are creatures who cry out to surge in great procession, "ad altare Dei," not just in our hearts (disembodied spirits can do that) but with our feet, singing great hymns with our tongues, our nostrils full of the smoke of incense.

"Is it objected that this is too physical, too low down on the scale for the gospel? Noses indeed! If the objection carries the day, then we must jettison the stable and the manger, and the winepots at Cana, and the tired feet anointed with nard, and the splinters of the cross, not to say the womb of the mother who bore God when He came to us. Too physical? What do we celebrate in our worship? It is Buddhism and Platonism and Manichaeanism that tell us to disavow our flesh and expunge everything but thoughts. The gospel brings back all of our faculties with a rush....

"The religion that attempts to drive a wedge between the whole realm of Faith and the actual textures of physical life is a religion that has perhaps not granted to the Incarnation the full extent of the mysteries that attach to it and flow from it, and that make our mortal life fruitful once more." Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament (Ignatius Press), chapter 2.

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Technology, Boredom, God's Glory and King Kong

Learning from Kong

Ever since seeing Peter Jackson’s movie King Kong, I have been reflecting on the ways some human beings seem to be turning into beasts. For those who have seen King Kong (and I highly recommend it), think of the director depicted in the movie. Here was a man who, when faced with scenes of exquisite beauty, was numb to the beauty and wonder all around him since all he could think of was capturing scenes on film for his own utilitarian ends. In not being able to feel any sense of wonder, the movie director had actually turned into a savage, a beast, like the natives on the island. But then, on the other hand, contrast that with Kong - an actual beast - who becomes humanized through the sense of wonder that Ann awakens in him. One of the most moving scenes is where Kong watches the sunset, awakened to sensations that many human beings have become inured to. In a very real sense, Kong was more human than many of people. It brings to mind George MacDonald’s tale The Princess and Curdie, where everyone is depicted as being on a journey of either ceasing to be, or gradually become, a beast.
The sense of wonder is a more important aspect of our humanity than many may at first realize. A sense of wonder can contribute to the fear of God. The Lord has saturated our world with emblems of His majesty, to orient us towards that sense of wonder that leads to a fear of Him. The sense of wonder that we feel in the presence of anything truly awe-inspiring, orients the cadences of our minds towards our Creator, even without our realizing it. This is why parents can cultivate the fear of God in their children by putting before the children art, music, literature that is awe-inspiring and wonder-filled. By cultivating a sense of awe and wonder towards the things a child can see and hear, the child can learn to reverence God whom they cannot see and hear.
One of the main factors in removing this sense of wonder has been the growth of technology over the past hundred years. Throughout the ages, writers and thinkers have unsuccessfully tried to remove the fear of God – ‘religious superstition’ as they called it - from the mind of the common man. In the end, their agenda was achieved not because the common man was persuaded to give up the fear of God, but because the mind is unable to feel fear of anything – except perhaps electrical failure - when it is submerged us in a sea of tantalizing triviality and terminal trendiness. And this is exactly what inventions such as the telegraph, radio, television and internet and computer games have gradually achieved. These inventions, which had so much potential for good, have largely been used to flood the masses with the waters of endless irrelevancies. The chief casualty in this process has been that the sense of wonder that is vital in distinguishing man from the beasts.
In a culture that revolves around the rhythms of nature, there are constant reminders of our own finiteness, just as there are continual echoes of transcendence. In a world saturated with technology, however, it is sometimes difficult to see anything other than the glory of man. In a culture that revolves around technology, there are constant opportunities for that sense of transcendence to be neutralised.

This does not mean that technology is bad. On the contrary, technology is a blessing and part of what it means to fulfil the dominion mandate. Technology can certainly be used to point us heaven-ward. However, when most of our technology is designed to be functional rather than beautiful, we have to be aware that the overall effect can be to mute God’s glory. If we are not careful, our machines can draw us into their own world, where everything is mechanical and where we lose the sense of wonder at God’s ways and His world.

Controlled by Pleasure

As with technology, entertainment is a good thing which can be twisted into something bad. I don’t think anyone would dispute that our society has made an idol out of entertainment, but my interest is in the way entertainment-saturation can de-sensitize a culture to God’s glory.

The difference between being entertained and playing is that with the former the person is passive whereas with the latter the person is involved. And as we know from the example of the ancient Romans, entire populations can be rendered passive if the entertainment is sufficiently stimulating. Masses of people can be lulled into passivity by the endless potential for amusement. One of the reasons for this is because an entertainment-centred society breeds an unconscious worldview which says that everything is benign.

In Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union people were controlled by those who could inflict pain; in our culture people would are controlled by those who inflict pleasure. The implicit subtext to 95% of advertisements (perhaps more) is that you should buy whichever products give the most enjoyment.

The advertising industry also plays on our sense of boredom, inviting us to feel bored unless we have the product. Real life becomes dull by comparison. Goodness and beauty also become boring in a culture that is preoccupied with excitement, because they are not stimulating enough. People want pleasures that come easily, and which do not require effort to attain.

The internet, like entertainment, can also breed boredom and disengagement with real life – creating an addiction to external stimulation that can be enjoyed without any inner resources. Good literature, good music and good poetry, which require the cultivation of inner resources in order to enjoy, become boring by comparison.

Young people these days often complain about being bored. In Patricia Meyer Spacks’ book Boredom: a literary history of a state of mind, she shows that the word ‘boredom’ really only started to be used in the 18th century. Prior to that the equivalent words were all ones which also conveyed idea of sin, such as sloth or aecidia. Medieval writers saw sloth as the most deadly of the seven deadly sins, the closest to hell because it indicated a spiritual and intellectual lethargy – an indifference to the beauty of the world and the glory of God. If you were bored it meant you were bored with God and goodness. William May, in his catalogue of sins referred to sloth as the shadow of death.

According to the medieval writers, it was very serious to have insufficient engagement with life’s obligations and possibilities. They also used the word “Aecidia” to refer to the same state of mind. Aecidia” literally means “absence of care.” Dorothy Sayers defines Aecidia this way: “It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”

One can have a deep sense of boredom and purposelessness of life beneath a bustle of activity. “To be guilty of aecidia it is not necessary to be physically sluggish at all. You can be as busy as a bee. You can fill your days with activity bustling from meeting to meeting, sitting on committees, running from one party to another in a perfect whirlwind of movement. But if, meanwhile, your feelings and sensibilities are withering, if your relationships with people near you are becoming more and more superficial, if you are losing touch even with yourself, it is aecidia which has claimed you for its own.” (Robertson Davis, “On the Deadliest of Sins”)
Pascal said “The soul course of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” People sense the danger of being alone with their own thoughts, lest they become deeply dissatisfied with themselves and with life, because they have no bigger picture to make sense of their inner world and experience.

The World is Wonderful

It is revealing that the term ‘wonder’ has been largely reduced to an approximation for curiosity, while it’s adjective ‘wonderful’ has been reduced to meaning simply ‘great.’ But if we want to get back to the original meaning of these terms, we need to observe little children. All children are born with this sense of wonder embedded in them. You just have to look into a baby’s eyes to see that sense of wonder. As the baby grows older, that sense of wonder is transferred to every object in his or her environment. But this ‘wonder’ is not mere curiosity; everything the baby sees, and especially everything it manages to get its hands on, is wonderful in the sense of being literally filled with wonder. Things that we would normally think of as being mundane, whether it be wooden spoons to saucepan lids, a baby will find simply magical.

But just as the sense of wonder transforms the mundane into something magical, conversely, without it, even the magical becomes mundane. And that is exactly what happens when the child’s original sense of wonder is stamped out rather than nurtured. Just as the sense of wonder is nurtured by saturating the mind in anything that is truly noble, beautiful and awe-inspiring (beginning with Nursery rhymes and ending with Oratorios), so it is stamped out by letting our children feed the infinite appetite for distractions bequeathed to us by our technological devices. It is stamped out by letting our children go to schools where they learn to despise what is noble and good. It is stamped out by letting television cultivate an enjoyment for what is trivial and irrelevant. Children grow up to be like machines, inured to being deeply moved by anything wholly other.
Wonderful Monotony

All the towergin materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But
if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstasy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daises alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore." [G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, chapter 4]

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God's Glory

In Isaiah 6:1-8 there seems to be a four-fold progression. First Isaiah is shown the glory of God (verses 1-4). This makes him aware of his own finiteness and sinfulness and he experiences a fear of the Lord (verse 5). But then he is given cleansing from sin (verse 7). Finally he is sent out to witness for God.

The Lord didn’t begin by sending Isaiah out, but by first showing him His glory. I am going to suggest that there is a principle here, and that one of the ways we can be effective witnesses for the Lord is by first having an experience of God’s glory.

Now that probably sounds rather daunting. I used to think that you had to be really ‘spiritual’ to experience God’s glory, and that most normal people would have to wait until they got to heaven to taste it.

However, when we look and see what the Bible says about God’s glory – and this is also consistent with
Hopkins’ poem – we find that it is accessible to us all because it exists all around us. Psalm 19 tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork…” Even in the passage that we just looked, although Isaiah is given a special vision of God’s throne room, the Seraphim who are worshiping the Lord talk about God’s glory on the earth. They cry out that “The whole earth is full of His glory!”

Paul takes up a similar theme in Romans 1, arguing that God’s invisible attributes – which no doubt includes His glory – “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…” (Rom. 1:20).

Paul goes on to condemn those who ‘changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man.’ (1:23) Idol worship is simply taking the glory that is properly due to God and transfering it to a created object. This is the mistake that paganism made. Pagans had an instictive sense that the sun not only radiated heat but also radiated glory, yet because they had no knowledge of the true God, they worshiped the sun rather than its Maker. Pagans had an instinctive sense that there was something glorious about the harvest cycle, yet because they had no knowledge of God, they worshiped the harvest as being the source of that glory.

As bad as that was, our culture has managed to go one step further. We have got rid of glory altogether. And with it has gone the fear of the Lord.

People in the Western world are not generally tempted to worship the sun because they do not see the sun as glorious. The sun is merely a ball of gas.

People in our culture are not tempted to worship the harvest, because there is no sense of wonder at its continual reoccurance.

We live in a world in which God’s glory has been flattened out. The result is that we are not tempted to such obvious forms of idolatry as our pagan anscestors. Yet we – and I’m using the pronoun ‘we’ generically to refer to our culture at large - have also become de-sensetised to the glory of God that fills the earth.

God’s glory is all around us, but we have to have eyes to see it. We should learn to feel about the golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has a dollar in his pocket. Living in a world of so much glory is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege (See Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, ch. 4).

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God’s Grandeur

God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
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I am against Halloween, but not for the reasons that most Christians who are against it give.

Pagan origins don’t bother me (although Halloween has as much Christians origins as pagan).

Nor do I think Satan somehow gains extra power when children dress up as ghosts or witches.

The real reason I object to Halloween – and this is a point I have never heard any other parent make – is because the holiday (at least in its contemporary manifestation) gravitates towards the celebration of ugliness. In so far as this observation is correct (and a cursory glance at Halloween decorations suggests that it is), Halloween is antithetic to the values we should be trying to instil in our children, namely a love and enjoyment for goodness, truth and beauty.

As an antidote to the seasonal celebration of ugliness, I am going to be publishing a series of posts meditating on God’s beauty and glory.

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