Clive, Mugg, etc


19 Oct 2009

Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. -1 Cor 10:25

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis talked of us peopling the earth with nymphs and elves to express a desire to be united with the beauty we see. Today, we people our animals. My generation watched Bambi and Bugs Bunny as kids, but really, animals were seen as animals.

How things have changed in 20 years.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is unaffiliated with local humane societies. Their agenda is to veganize America. They are supported by many of the usual celebrity suspects. Flush with success in other states like California and Michigan, HSUS began targeting Ohio for farming regulations. Farming groups responded by putting Issue 2 on the Ohio ballot.

Issue 2 is ugly: it seeks to amend the state constitution and it gets the politicians’ noses further under the tent when it comes to regulating farm policy. However, the alternative is very likely an HSUS-supported issue on a future ballot that’ll enshrine activist idiocy in the constitution. Thus you see “Yes on 2” signs galore along rural roads. And it’s why you have groups like the Sierra Club — normally lovers of regulation and government control — opposing issue 2.

The animal rights argument really is theological. Almost everyone believes that animals should be stewarded humanely. However, animal rights activists deny the creation mandate, especially Genesis 1:30. They deny that farm animals are on earth to bless mankind with food. They deny that a man is more important than many sparrows. They seek, in the usual authoritarian fashion, to force others to abide by their bad morality (for now, this will come in the form of higher prices, which is exactly what isn’t needed during a severe recession).

Sadly, animal rights groups have bound the weak consciences of many young people, deceiving them into believing that meat and dairy are evil. There’s no Scriptural basis for this. This is why young Christians who become vegans or announce sympathy with veganism should be challenged.

07 Jan 2009

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. -Proverbs 27:6

My sister informed me that someone said this on Oprah today: “Being gay is a gift from God.”

Says who? Not the Bible.

American culture has imbibed this phony gospel of tolerance, which is really nothing but universalism in new packaging. It’s the belief that God will eventually save everyone and our responsibility to others is to be nice to them. Many evangelicals are influenced by this, telling us that God is love. True, but incomplete. They may go so far as to say sodomy isn’t natural, but we all have our struggles, and really, who are we to judge?

The answer is that we judge no one. God does. He has judged sodomy in His word. We just proclaim that judgment.

Our culture equates love with softness and hugs. Bluntness and solemn warnings are seen as hard and hurtful, and thus expressions of hatred. Love is soft, hate is hard. Even those who admit that sodomy is sin will often say that it just bothers them how “hateful” so many act. Press them and they’ll mutter about the late Jerry Falwell and those nutty folks from that tiny, uninfluential Kansas church who carry the “God hates fags” signs.

Certainly we should humbly acknowledge that we are foul sinners, and vary our methods maturely (Jude 1:24), but you simply can’t square with Scripture this idea that love is nothing but softness. When David says “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” is the shepherd using the rod to scratch the sheep’s back? Are the “faithful wounds” of a friend caresses? Much of the Old Testament involves God warning people of judgment. Jesus warns people over and over again, in quite brutal terms, of what will come of the unrepentant. The common pattern of preaching episodes in the Gospels and the Epistles was a warning of the judgment to come and a call for repentance, and then the hearers responding with shouts, stones, and clubs. The Apostles weren’t doing group hug seminars, but were they loving people by warning them? Of course they were!

Some Christians tell us that the Gospel needs to be our offense. That is, we shouldn’t offend people over “side issues.” Well, a more Biblical stance is to offend the world specifically in those areas (if they are indeed sins). That’s what Christ did. He didn’t talk about homosexuality with the Pharisees, but he did spend a lot of time attacking self-righteousness. Why? Because the Pharisees were guilty of that sin. Peter and Paul warned the Gentiles often against fornication. Why? Because that’s what they were tempted to do.

When we speak against sins the culture doesn’t get too upset about (bestiality and theft for example), but avoid cherished sins like sodomy, abortion, feminism, and unbiblical divorce, aren’t we just being fearful? Don’t we need to act like men and stop pretending like fearfulness is love?

Either we’re going to follow God’s way or we aren’t. As Ryle put it:

Holiness is the habit of agreeing with the mind with God, in accordance as we find His mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing with God’s judgment – hating what He hates, loving what He loves- and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word. The person who most completely agrees with God is the one who is the most holy person.

21 Dec 2008

Pastor Matt Timmons has a good post that informs this one and expands on a past post.

Has anyone else noticed that there are fewer Christmas lights at stores this year? It’s like retailers’ joy is snuffed out. Mine has increased; I wish there were more lights!

My 81-yr old mom told me recently that she sort of welcomes this economic downfall and a “return to what is important.” Despite the criminality of what the government has done, I think I understand that sentiment. I’m tired of conspicuous consumption: $5 lattes, BMWs, $300 toys, etc. These things may be considered blessings, and of course I heartily oppose forcing consumers to act as I see fit, but does anyone else think we’ve gone a little overboard? I’m tired of the Starbucks culture. I’m tired of the shallow, authoritarian movements that hatch from idle prosperity (e.g. the green movement, animal rights, etc).

Americans won’t be making economic decisions to buy paper that has the little recycling thing on them; they’ll be buying it based on what is affordable. It’s laughable that paper is considered “litter” that needs to be recycled anyway. You can cover old newspaper with dirt and it’ll soon break down and feed the soil.

Maybe people will start getting real jobs that build and push the economic wagon rather than the public-sector and non-profit jobs that simply consume what’s on it (not that there aren’t vital jobs in these spheres- e.g. the ministry- but they are in my opinion the minority). Maybe they’ll realize what an expensive joke our education system is and simply stop funding much of it, which will send a lot of people from the public sector into the private sector and lower education costs.

We may learn firsthand why our Depression-era forefathers were such cheapskates. If that doesn’t sound like happy news, well, we’re alive and we have warm homes and families. Most of all, we have a Savior who isn’t phased by any of this. The “things” are being shown for what they are– unreliable vanities. In relief the kingdom of heaven shines ever brighter.

Merry Christmas.

22 Nov 2008

Most remember today as the day JFK was assassinated, but I remember it as the day a far greater man died: C.S. Lewis. I was not alive in 1963, but the events of that day probably made Lewis’s death nothing but a passing notice.

I’m guessing Clive would’ve wanted it that way.

28 Jun 2008

I was quite interested in Adolf Hitler as a youth. I read and reread books about him. With the advent of the History (aka. Hitler) Channel, Hitler is even more fascinating to people. My theory is that much of this interest springs from the occultic and Wagnerian theatrics of his early dictatorship captured by Leni Riefenstahl. It’s the juxtaposition of the gas chambers with the candlelight vigils, the swastika, the salute, and massive demonstrations of spartan order, all done with a painter’s eye. I still remember a high school friend’s funny imitations of a fanatical Rudolf Hess.

Stalin and Hitler shared many attributes. Both had alcoholic fathers. Both were involved in underground subversion. Both were eccentric, fanatical, paranoid, cunning, ruthless criminals. And yet, for all their shared traits, I think Hitler was, at core, a nut. Stalin was not a nut. And that perhaps explains his enduring fascination for me, perhaps more than any other non-Biblical historical figure.

Robert Conquest’s standard The Great Terror is a good starting point to learn about Stalin. There are the biographies of Volgonokov, Radzinsky, Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, Rayfield’s Stalin and His Hangmen, Animal Farm, Darkness at Noon… the worthwhile books go on and on. Solzhenitsyn’s rapier-like Gulag Achipelago, especially volume 1, provides revealing insights into The Friend of the Working People’s character, as does a keen chapter from The First Circle describing an encounter between the old dictator, circa 1950, and his secret police chief Abakumov. Victor Kravchenko’s I Chose Freedom is a harrowing and sadly forgotten journey of a Soviet technocrat through collectivization and terror. Malcolm Muggeridge’s upward journey from leftism began with his own experiences in early 1930s Russia, recollected in his riotous autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time. David King’s sadly out-of-print coffee table book, The Commissar Vanishes, is an Orwelllian look into the dangers of owning even pictures of Enemies of the People. It also shows ongoing falsification of photographs and history itself (for example, this infamous photo of Stalin, Molotov, and “the bloody dwarf” Yezhov). Imagine being part of the team who brushes out a body and replaces it with background! There are some great photographs in the book, including a particularly sinister NKVD group photo entitled “Murderers.”

On a lighter note, there is the singular East Side Story, a slow but truly odd 1997 documentary on the genre of Eastern European musicals. It includes vignettes from several American-inspired Soviet musicals of the 1930s, including Stalin’s favorite movie, the happy-go-lucky Volga Volga (I have the full version– alas, no subtitles!). Released at the height of the Great Terror, it is said that Uncle Joe saw it a hundred times and even gifted a copy to FDR.

If they appear on Turner Movie Classics, don’t miss the dreadful Mission to Moscow and North Star. These wartime films were created by major studios at FDR’s behest as tokens of friendship toward our Soviet allies. Both are among the worst things Hollywood ever released. The first is just a wonder to behold; the falsehoods are astounding. It even pleasantly spins Stalin’s loathsome prosecutor Vyshinsky, he of infamous lines like “I demand that dogs gone mad should be shot – every one of them!” Meanwhile, North Star, written by Lillian Hellmann (who is skewered in Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals), features a happy, well-fed collectivized village. The depredations of Ukrainian villages fresh in his memory, the defector Kravchenko said that the film “drove me to helpless despair.” “Why, why,” he asked, “did these Americans insist on fabricating a paradise and locating it in my tortured country?”

None of these works, though, answered questions I’d long pondered about Stalin. How did a man sign off on thousands of executions of innocents and then attend the cinema that same evening? How does he send millions to dreadful camps, destroying lives and families? How could he lovingly prune his roses and sing along to musicals and yet casually deport entire civilizations? How could he imprison and shoot members of his own family? His charm was considerable (he charmed even enemies like Churchill). That he charmed the dilettante FDR is no surprise. Nor was his appeal to leftists, including Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Paul Robeson. The ongoing fascination of leftists with Utopian thugs from Stalin to Mao to Che is well-chronicled — hilariously by Muggeridge and in more scholarly fashion by writers like Paul Hollander. (It’s hard to imagine now, but pre-WWII Russia was admired by progressives and the avant-garde. Fellow travelers went to faraway Siberian towns to build socialism. The motherland supposedly offered equality to all races. And if a few million were crushed by the Bolshevik bulldozer, well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.) Furthermore, Trotsky and his followers said that Stalin was a clever politician but an intellectual lightweight. But how did that explain the mordant wit of his epigrams? His diabolical cleverness is seen in this exchange with the Spanish war correspondent Mikhail Koltsov:

Stalin: “How do they address you in Spanish? ‘Miguel’ or something?”
Koltsov: “Miguel.”
Stalin: “Don Miguel, we honorable Spaniards thank you for your excellent report.”
Koltsov: “I serve the Soviet Union, Comrade Stalin.”
Stalin: “And do you own a revolver, Comrade Koltsov?”
Koltsov: “Yes, I do, Comrade Stalin.”
Stalin: “And you are not planning to shoot yourself with it?”
Koltsov: “No, Comrade Stalin. I never even thought of it!”
Stalin: “Well, that’s excellent, Don Miguel! All the best, then, Comrade Koltsov.”
(Koltsov was afterward arrested and shot.)

So these were all vexing questions. But then this decade saw the release of two magnificent books by Simon Sebag Montefiore that have finally begun to answer them. The Court of the Red Tsar (2003) is a fascinatingly detailed look at the intricacies of Stalin’s court after his ascension to power. Young Stalin (2008) covers his early period through the 1917 revolution.

Born in Georgia of the southern Caucasus, Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili ended up in religious schools. The teenage boy was a promising poet who abandoned his Orthodox faith at Tiflis seminary (though he fondly sang Orthodox hymns with his cronies once in power). He went underground around 1900, and never truly resurfaced until 1917. It was during this time that he took his revolutionary name Stalin (man of steel). Young Stalin was always on the run, working his network of terrorists, criminals, sympathizers, party members, and lovers. Two illegitimate children resulted. It was one long period of robberies, agitation, and executions, always matching wits against Okhrana (Tsarist secret police) agents. As young Joseph put it: “To choose one’s victim, to prepare one’s plans minutely, to slake implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed.” It was said that Stalin had an uncanny knack for instantly knowing Okhrana spies. Periods of exile interrupted this existence (such relative Tsarist leniency would not characterize the Bolshevik regime). One such exile was a four-year interval in the netherworld of the sub-Arctic Siberian taiga, where he could catch fish in the bitter cold and break off frozen, raw bits of flesh to melt in his mouth. It was perhaps the happiest time of his life.

Montefiore argues persuasively that Stalin never left the paranoid world of the criminal underground after the Revolution. He shared Lenin’s pitilessness. Lenin would send his Georgian disciple to the areas most in need of vicious repressions in the Civil War, whereupon the shootings would soon begin. After Stalin rose to power, war was continued against “rich” peasants and supposed double agents, industrial “wreckers,” and “hostile party elements.”

Aided by the archives, Montefiore explodes the idea that Stalin was an intellectual non-entity. He was a crucial figure in Bolshevik circles long before the revolution, and indeed was Lenin’s right-hand man for a time after it. He was a man of action with a will to power, a man after Lenin’s heart. Stalin was a voracious reader and autodidact. His preparedness and intelligence intimidated even his smartest underlings. Ruthlessness and brilliance is a bad combination.

Soviet Russia of the 1930s was one of the most bizarre and horrific periods in all of history. Peasants were herded into collectivized farms, with millions killed in the displacement (food was still exported during the resulting famine). The political show trials in the Hall of Great Columns featured witnesses and defendants who were beaten to ensure that all went smoothly. The Western press at the time predictably bought the lie. These sham trials featured those the maestro most despised; many were left pathetically groveling for full communion again with their beloved party. (Solzhenitsyn noted that at Yagoda’s trial, when he begged his life, “a match flared in the shadows behind a window on the second floor of the hall… and while it lasted, the outline of a pipe could be seen.”)

The revolution devoured its children during the Great Terror of the late 1930s. Longtime allies were rounded up and shot, including Stalin’s own in-laws. Former paramours were imprisoned along with the wives of his magnates. He executed the wife of his devoted attache. Scores were settled with old Bolsheviks like Kamenev and Bukharin who patronized or offended the young Stalin. Even most of his secret policemen were tortured and killed after serving their usefulness.

The gulags swelled with untold millions throughout the thirties. These chains of inhuman labor camps, the “sewage disposal system” to use Solzhenitsyn’s term, were put in place by Lenin just as Solzhenitsyn said long ago, back when it was still commonly said that Stalin had corrupted “pure” communism. As the archives show, this is completely false. Lenin was worse than his detractors thought. (As a sidenote, the ruthless Molotov knew both Stalin and Lenin well, and thought Lenin the more severe of the two. For example, a letter from Lenin to Molotov shows how Lenin used the famine of the early 1920s… “Now and only now, when people are being eaten in famine-stricken areas, and hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses lie on the roads, we can (and therefore must) pursue the removal of church property with the most frenzied and ruthless energy and not hesitate to put down the least opposition. … [P]ass a secret resolution of the congress that the removal of property of value, especially from the very richest lauras, monasteries, and churches, must be carried out with ruthless resolution, leaving nothing in doubt, and in the very shortest time. The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and the reactionary bourgeoisie that we succeed in shooting on this occasion, the better because this “audience” must precisely now be taught a lesson in such a way that they will not dare to think about any resistance whatsoever for several decades.”)

Montefiore has summed up the dictator up this way: “Stalin is one of those subjects that one never gets bored with. He was incredibly complex and subtle, both diabolical and terrifyingly seductive.”

Mr. Montefiore needs to finish off a trilogy with a biography of the (underserved) 1917-1929 years!

05 Jun 2008

Doesn’t this get you pumped up about the latest Narnia film? (Yes, I know, the movie has been out for weeks and this is late… but fashionably late).

Yawn. The feminist hits keep-a-comin’ with this series; we heard this routine last time. Maybe it’s time for Disney and Walden Media to pack it in with this series so someone serious can come along in a decade and do Lewis right.

At least it avoided this dialogue from Walden’s “family film” The Bridge to Terebithia:

Leslie Burke: I seriously do not think God goes around damning people to hell.
Jesse Aarons: Why not?
Leslie Burke: He’s too busy making all this! [opens her arms, gesturing to creation, music swelling]

14 Feb 2008

A recent Sobran column reminds me of how my Darwinist faith finally died in a college anthropology class. The teacher would tell us that a certain skull was thought to be the missing link, then a few years later it turned out to be human. Then another skull was thought to be a missing link and it turned out to just be an ape. After watching this pattern repeat itself over and over again, I wondered: If the history is one of being wrong, why are we taking tests on this stuff as if our current understanding is right? It was a joke. It sure wasn’t anything to believe in.

The fact that no missing link has ever been found, and the sheer distance between any animals and humans, makes evolution one of the silliest of all belief systems. If millions or billions of years ago the earth was a bowl of soup, what would logic tell you it’d be a million years hence? A bowl of rotten soup? A dried out, rotted bowl? I know one thing: it wouldn’t be anything resembling the complexity of our current ecosystem. The idea that eyeballs and brains and other such wonders would evolve themselves is really the height of absurdity.

It’s a symptom of the blindness of men that they believe such nonsense. Lewis said that the Life-Force God is the world’s great achievment of wishful thinking, and he’s right. But second place belongs to evolution. If you believe in such hocus pocus, who are you to insult a witch doctor?

23 Oct 2007

I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure, were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body – which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, or beauty and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion: and nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. …

There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. …

There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance.

-All quotes from Mere Christianity, “Sexual Morality”

12 Oct 2007

Certain comments are funny because they’re true and obnoxious in the best sense (example: Johnson’s famous quip). Others are funny despite their idiocy, like when Dana Carvey said once that his family was Lutheran, which is “sorta like Catholic lite, you know?” You had to be there.

Then there’s this classic:

The puritan hated bear baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.

Not true, but funny. And it leads by the thinnest thread to this article discussing the pleasures of sin. Before the misery comes the fun, just like the bait precedes the hook. As Proverbs 20:17 says: “Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.”

Sin is settling for second best (Is. 55:1-2). Lewis puts it this way in his preface to The Great Divorce:

I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) was precisely nothing; that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in “the High Countries.”

28 Jun 2007

If one has to choose between reading the new books and reading the old, one must choose the old: not because they are necessarily better but because they contain precisely those truths of which our own age is neglectful. The standard of permanent Christianity must be kept clear in our minds and it is against that standard that we must test all contemporary thought. In fact, we must at all costs not move with the times. -C.S. Lewis, from “Christian Apologetics”

05 Jun 2007

Laborare est orare – To labor is to pray – said the monks. I must confess that job enjoyment is something that has for most of my life escaped me. At work, I am prone to one of two attitudes. Most of the time, I’m wrapped up in intense labor, tapping on my keyboard, furiously IM’ing with co-workers, reading technical requirements, and forgetting about God all the day. Other times, I am slothful and ready for the weekend to start on Tuesday. Busy or not, my fellow workers often seem to me a hassle.

And so I’ve begun putting Bible verses on my bulletin board as ongoing reminders. The first thing I put up was this wonderful application from one of the greatest “sermons” ever given. C.S. Lewis delivered The Weight of Glory in a lovely Oxford church on June 8, 1941 (if you are ever in London, take a train to Oxford and visit St. Mary’s). Lewis wrote so many marvelous things, but with its glorious ruminations on heaven, I think it was his most exalted meditation.

The bolded part of this quote from Weight of Glory, along with associated verses from 2 Corinthians 4, now adorns my bulletin board. It admonishes me to treat my co-workers as image-bearers. Perhaps it will bless you, reader, as it has me, time and again:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neightbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruptions such as you now meet, if at all, only in nightmares. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendshsips, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner — no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.

01 Jun 2007

A Presbyterian pastor once told me that he wanted a church that welcomed Democrats. I’ve often recalled and mused on that comment. I should’ve asked him: what exactly does that mean in practice? Will he avoid using of the church pulpit to electioneer and instead focus on law and Gospel? Excellent! Or would he downplay God’s wrath against sins that many in our current culture are aggressively telling us are not sins? Perhaps he could attract Democrats by housing NARAL in his church basement, like a Columbus PCUSA church used to do. That’d attract the Democratic base.

Somehow there’s a conceit that being bipartisan is a good thing, that only those who are so are “open-minded.” “Moderate” is equated with “moderation,” as if conservatives cannot soberly evaluate things. In the last 20 years as a Christian, my views have changed on many topics, theological and political. My views on topics from environmentalism, the Fed, the Iraq War, social security, and public education aren’t Republican talking points (and Democrats would hate them more). Does such “open-mindedness” count, or only “open-mindedness” where one drifts leftward?

One thing hasn’t changed: my view of the modern Democratic party. It’s as rotten to the core as it was 20 years ago. The hardcore secularists and feminists who hate Christianity, the people at the forefront of excusing those who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor 6:9)… These folks know where their friends are. That is not to say that Tweedledee’s immorality makes Tweedledum a good boy; the Republican party believes good things that it doesn’t practice and it believes bad things that it does practice. The point is that members of a party built on blatantly unscriptural views aren’t folks we should be trying to attract unless we mean to eventually call them to repentance. (By the way, if Calvin were alive today, would he be pumped about the “hope” offered by the Obama campaign?)

Michael Horton once noted that people cry for balance whenever they do not want to take the time to think through their own position. That doesn’t stop them from “claiming moral superiority for having the grace, moderation and sophisticated detachment to stand above and outside the debate.” He’s right.

And what a phony sophistication it is. When I want to read people who’ve thought deeply about politics, I don’t read some dithering, non-partisan “religious leader” (an old congressman once told my dad that the only thing in the middle of the road is dead skunks). Moderates have this obnoxious idea that they think open and subtle thoughts — shades of gray! — while conservatives are ossified. My experience is the exact opposite: political moderates think shallow, dull, politicized thoughts without considering their implications. It’s the conservatives who have the quirky, vibrant minds that inform political thought. I don’t mean the Sean Hannity’s of the world, but the folks who aren’t on the airwaves: Howard Phillips, the reconstructionists, the folks over at mises.org (some of whom appear to be Christian), etc. You’ll gain sharper political insight from Malcolm Muggeridge, Samuel Johnson, Joe Sobran, and Solzhenitsyn than any “moderate” I can think of. And you’ll get big doses of withering wit while you’re at it.

16 May 2007

It’s interesting how many films, from Spiderman to 28 Days Later, have destruction as their context. Watching previews recently at a theater, I noted that every film involved it: Great monuments exploding, cities depopulated, and sandy ruins the only beacons of a once-great civilization. There is an unease in so much of our entertainment, a feeling that calamity awaits despite peace and serenity (of course, the wishful thinking, the lie, in all these films is that civilization will recover via the efforts of heroes).

For the history student, this preoccupation with calamity may be related to what Nock stated so hauntingly:

A dozen empires have already finished the course that ours began three centuries ago. The lion and the lizard keep the vestiges that attest their passage upon earth, vestiges of cities which in their day were as proud and powerful as ours – Tadmor, Persepolis, Luxor, Baalbek – some of them indeed forgotten for thousands of years and brought to memory again only by the excavator, like those of the Mayas, and those buried in the sands of the Gobi. The sites which now bear Narbonne and Marseilles have borne the habitat of four successive civilizations, each of them, as St. James says, even as a vapour which appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away. The course of all these civilizations was the same. Conquest, confiscation, the erection of the State; then the sequences which we have traced in the course of our own civilization; then the shock of some irruption [internal collapse] which the social structure was too far weakened to resist, and from which it was left too disorganized to recover; and then the end. -Our Enemy, the State, ch. 6, p.144

However, I don’t think most people are that interested in history. So why the preoccupation? Ecclesiastes 3 says that we have eternity in our hearts. I think our consciences are also stamped with a sense of pending judgment, the day of the Lord, and this is the real cause of the unease. The viewer may pass it off as harmless entertainment as he exits the theater, but our fairy tales and stories often speak to eternal truths moreso than the news (as Lewis put it in The Weight of Glory: “[T]he ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy”).

Reading the prophecies of Isaiah, it’s hard not to ponder the great glory and sudden ruin of empires.

Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate,and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller;as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the Lord has spoken this word. The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. The wine mourns, the vine languishes,all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins. -Isaiah 24:1-12

06 May 2007

When the waters saw you, O God,when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. -Psalm 77:16

even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. -Psalm 139:12

You never quite know what’s going to come in from the deep when you snorkel in the ocean. I’ve been surprised by sea turtles, grouper, barracuda, and small jellyfish (sadly, no reef sharks!). I remember floating once over a shallow shelf being startled to see an eel lurking out of a hole about a foot under my stomach. There was no room to paddle, so floating was the only option; it seemed to take forever to steer clear as I watched the little fellow ominously grinning the way eels do.

Once I joined a night manta dive in Hawaii. Never having learned to scuba, I snorkeled alone while the divers went to the bottom. They shot floodlights from there. From the dark, silent waters, huge mantas eerily wandered into the lit areas. Some majestically glided a few feet beneath where I floated.

I eventually became more interested in looking away from the rays, the boats, and the shoreline, and out into the murky blackness all around. The water was lapping about me. I thought about what lurks out there. Was a hammerhead sizing me up? I looked down and was startled to not see the lights any longer. The divers had gone back to the ship and I was alone! For a brief moment the terror of the deep hit me. How horrible it’d be to be left floating in the vast ocean alone at night! I can’t describe it, but I’ll never forget it.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, our God is not a tame lion.

15 Mar 2007

I never met a rich man who was happy, but I have only very occasionally met a poor man who did not want to become a rich man. -Malcolm Muggeridge

06 Nov 2006

Ah, election season. Our political parties, like all political parties always and everywhere in our fallen world, are filled with power seekers attracted to power like flies to manure. Most politicians eventually discover found that dispensing the public treasury wins supporters. Both major parties do it. And yet our parties are different. One party has some good principles, and many decent lawmakers who implement them quite inconsistently. The other party espouses bad principles that at every point break the second table of the law. Covetousness- check. Immorality- check. Theft- check. The Democrats have it covered. Even the areas where they may conceivably be right (the war), they are right for the wrong reasons.

So get out and vote. I will be voting for men like this. At the same time, consider also these words from Lewis’s essay “Membership.”

As long as we are thinking only of natural values we must say that the sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a book that interests him; and that all economics, politics, laws, armies, and institutions, save in so far as they prolong and multiply such scenes, are a mere ploughing the sand and sowing the ocean, a meaningless vanity and vexation of spirit. … But do not let us mistake necessary evils for good. The mistake is easily made. Fruit has to be tinned if it is to be transported, and has to lose thereby some of its good qualities. But one meets people who have learned actually to prefer the tinned fruit to the fresh. A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion: to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind – if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else – then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.

31 May 2006

Western civilization began to worship power when it began to doubt significance. The reason Lewis, Chesterton, Williams, Tolkien, and Thomas Howard fascinate us so much is that they still live in the medieval world, a world chocked-full of the built-in, God-designed significance. That’s why they all think analogically, sacramentally, imagistically. For them everything means something beyond itself. Everything is not only a thing, but a sign full of significance. Modernity, confining itself to the scientific method as the model for knowing reality, deliberately induces in itself what Lewis calls a dog-like state of mind, full of facts and empty of significance. Point to your dog’s food, and he will sniff your finger. Show a baby a book, and he will try to eat it rather than read it. Show modern man a lion, and he will try to tame it and make money out of it in a circus, and smile superiorly at the quaint old medieval who saw it as the King of Beasts and the natural symbol in the animal kingdom of the great King of Kings. -Peter Kreeft

22 Apr 2006

In the essay Christ!, Muggeridge has this to say:

In my day, the Evening Standard vans carried a bill: “IS THERE AN AFTER LIFE? SEE TOMORROW’S EVENING STANDARD… Jesus Christ… is a Name Which Makes News. During his lifetime he would not, perhaps, have rated the attention of William Hickey, but his subsequent fame, and the wealth and eminence of many of those associated with it, qualified him for a place in gossip column. From [Publisher] Lord Beaverbrook’s point of view, His was essentially a success story. From humble origins (though, as the Son of God, He might be considered to have exalted connections) He achieved a position of outstanding power and influence. The Crucifixion was a setback, certainly, but the Resurrection more than compensated for it… His astonishing career, from carpenter’s son to an accepted position on God’s right hand, exemplified Lord Beaverbrook’s favorite proposition that dazzling opportunities await whoever has the shrewdness, energy, and pertinacity to see and seize them. Not even the sky was the limit. It was as a successful propagandist that Jesus Christ won Lord Beaverbrook’s particular admiration. Without the advantage of a chain of newspapers, lacking financial resources and powerful earthly connections, he still managed to put across his ideas so effectively that nearly two thousand years later they are still ringing in mankind’s ears.

Now does that not remind you of how the mainstream media covers Christ today? Never mind all that stuff about His deity, His eternal kingdom, or His claims on His own creation. Just marvel that He’s still famous after all these years.

“He made the forest whence there sprung, the tree on which His body hung,” Phil Keaggy wrote. The clay writes about the very potter who created them as if He were yet another celebrity. (And after that they’ll tell you why all the millenia of serious Scriptural study missed out on how Jesus was a feminist, or a Marxist, or some other anachronism that just so happens to match the spirit of this age… but that is for another time).

17 Feb 2006

It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity lays upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the Army that you salute the uniform and not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord of the Church; for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot end matters by trying to reverse the roles. -from the essay Priestesses in the Church?

13 Feb 2006

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if only he knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has therefore been one of my main endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire. -C.S. Lewis from the introduction to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation.

10 Feb 2006

George Orwell is known for his fiction, but Politics and the English Language is my favorite of his writings. This essay should be read by all. In addition to highlighting my own incompetence as a writer, Orwell shows how stale imagery and vagueness are used to deceive others.

Both major political parties do it. Hazy-speak is at least 95% of all political communication; the best way to lose an election is to directly state your intentions. And so listening to politicians is a tedious exercise in deciphering code. A favorite example was Bill Clinton’s 1992 announcement of a “New Covenant,” which he called “a solemn agreement between the people and their government based not simply on what each of us can take but what all of us must give to our Nation.” Translation: fork it over.

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.

Orwell’s observations about “tacked together phrases” and Strunk&White’s famous epigram (“Omit needless words!”) ring in my ears louder than my ability to silence them. It is an ongoing struggle to be clear, to edit away. Clarity is a headache, but muddled thoughts betray a lazy lack of understanding. Generally you understand something when you can explain it so that others understand it. If you can’t, then the roast needs more time in the oven before it is ready to serve.

The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases ”bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder” one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine… This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases… can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

A warning to those who have not read this essay before: It may infect you for life. You may find yourself recalling its words often, perhaps while watching political hacks argue on TV, or listening to a company presentation, or reading a mission statement.

12 Jan 2006

The other night, there was a story on TV about a reporter at a Houston station who posed as an underaged teen in a chat room frequented by pedophiles. Invited to a house for a tryst, men knocked at the front door (often holding beer) and were greeted by TV cameras. Viewers learned that one suspect photographed his penis in a hot dog bun and emailed it to the “girl.” That this seemed like a good idea at the time says something about sexual temptation and human nature.

Such evil absurdity brings a 1960s Malcolm Muggeridge essay to mind. “Down With Sex” appears to be out of print, which is too bad, because it comes from one of the great observers of contemporary emptiness. Just as good satire is corrective, done to “expose the fool and lash the knave,” so is this essay.

Muggeridge opens with this quaint scene:

In Racine, Wisconsin, on a Sunday morning the late autumn sun was shining, and the little lakeside town had a sleepy, tranquil air. A wide variety of religious services was available…Thus far everything was in accordance with the standard notion of a Midwestern Sabbath… It was only when I dropped into a drugstore for a cup of cofee and a sandwich that I noticed a change which would have scandalized Babbitt… Among the paperback books and magazines displayed for sale was enough pornography to have made any under-the-counter Paris dealer in my young days green with envy. Not just the old familiar “classics” in the genre… nor merely Playboy-style near nudes… [but] really vicious stuff… It was like lifting up a stone and uncovering the squalor and filth underlying a sex-ridden society.

A feeling of infinite melancholy affected me. How sad, how infinitely sad, all this was! In the Racine drugstore, it seemed to me, I was at the end of a long road. Havelock Ellis, D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells and many another pointed the way… We were all to be happy as crickets in our freedom from past inhibitions and frustrations. Freedom broadening down from orgasm to orgasm; girls resolved to live their own lives by their own gas fires, and easily persuaded to undress in its dim glow… On sun-drenched beach, in mountain hut, through dewy meadow and by winding stream… And now it had all ended in this sordid display of printed matter– not in Sodom or Gomorrah, but in Racine, Wisconsin; not in Byzantine scenes of debauchery, but in a drugstore… no nymphs and satyrs, but only cheesecake, and the sad dreams of forlorn lovers, solitary playboys, whose mistresses come to them through the camera lens, that most ubiquitous of panders.

What then has happened to sex which, according to the gospel of D.H. Lawrence, was to refertilize a spent civilization… and generally restore to our mid-20th century lives the joyous fulfillment of happier and more innocent times? The simple answer is that sex has been overplayed. It has become an obsession… as it was…for poor Lawrence himself; like most prophets of this cult, a near, if not an actual, impotent.

The highbrow prophets have since given way to profiteers. Given that pornography is now a larger business than all professional sports franchises combined, and “porno chic” is now “cool,” these entrepreneurs have done a sterling job of monetizing lust and gaining converts to the ancient, morbid cult of sexual idolatry.

…Never, it is safe to say, in the history of the world has a country been as sex-ridden as America is today… The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment; the old pagan admonition, Do What Thou Wilt, has superseded the Pauline teaching that, since spirit and flesh lust contrary to one another, Ye Cannot Do What Things That Ye Would Do. In the beginning was the Flesh, and the Flesh became Word. Sex is the mysticism of materialism. We are to die in the spirit to be reborn in the flesh, rather than the other way around. Instead of the cult of the Virgin Mary we have the cult of the sex symbol… displayed in glossy photographs, on cinema and television screens… Eyes which launched not a thousand ships, but a vast sea of seminal fluid; mistresses not of kings and great ones, but of the Common Man, who clasps them to him and enjoys their wanton favors in his secret dreams.

For what is me-so-free eroticism but the escape to the isolated fantasyland of Me writ large?

Nothing is more calculated to induce acceptance of the social and economic status quo than erotic obsessions… Marx said that religion was the opiate of the people. Sex is better… It challenges nothing, questions nothing. Unfolding the month’s playmate in Playboy magazine, any tendency to think and question things is automatically extinguished. Vietnam seems far, far away, and Alabama a song, not a place.

09 Dec 2005

A friend reading the recent article on fundamentalism quipped that it’s a case of only looking at the beam. He was referring to one of Lewis’s loveliest illustrations, from “Meditation in a Toolshed:”

I was standing today in the dark tool shed. The light was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dusts floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly, the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no tool shed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.

But this is only a very simple example of the difference between looking at and looking along. A young man meets a girl. The whole world looks different when he sees her. Her voice reminds him of something he has been trying to remember all his life, and ten minutes casual chat with her is more precious that all the favours that all other women in the world could grant. He is, as they say, “in love”. Now comes a scientist and describes this young man’s experience from the outside. For him it is all an affair of the young man’s genes and a recognized biological stimulus. That is the difference between looking along the sexual impulse and looking at it.

When you have got into the habit of making this distinction you will find examples of it all day long. The mathematician sits thinking, and to him it seems that he is contemplating timeless and spaceless truths about quantity. But the cerebral physiologist, if he could look inside the mathematicians head, would find nothing timeless and spaceless there – only tiny movements of grey matter…The girl cries over her broken doll and feels that she has lost a real friend; the psychologist says that her nascent maternal instinct has been temporarily lavished on a bit of shaped and coloured wax.

…The people who look at things have had it all their own way; the people who look along things have simply been brow-beaten. It has even come to be taken for granted that the external account of a thing somehow refutes or “debunks” the account given from inside. “All these moral ideals which look so transcendental and beautiful from inside,” says the wiseacre, “are really only a mass of biological instincts and inherited taboos.” And no one plays the game the other way round by replying, “If you will only step inside, the things that look to you like instincts and taboos will suddenly reveal their real and transcendental nature”… [O]ne must look along and at everything.

08 Dec 2005

The Narnia film’s director explains how he felt a strong need to alter a line from Lewis’s original:

[W]hen Father Christmas gives the weapons to all the kids, and he says to the girls: “I don’t intend for you to use them because battles are ugly when women fight.” …[T]hat might have been acceptable in the 1940s, but after doing two movies that were, I think, empowering to girls, with the ‘Shrek’ films, I didn’t want to then turn around and say: “Susan, you don’t get to use that bow, you have to rely on your brother.”

Progress strikes again, accompanied as usual by the lilting beauties of political-speak. To quote Joseph Sobran from many years ago:

The ultimate Progressive categories are not heaven and hell, or good and evil, or order and chaos, but Future and Past. Even the cusswords of the Progressive are chronological: archaic, outdated, Neanderthal, medieval.

02 Dec 2005

It’s a mystery why Malcolm Muggeridge is not more popular among Christians. Many of his works are sadly out of print. He was a superb writer and a keen observer, a lifelong journalist and TV personality who held out little hope for either medium. And he’s often beer-through-the-nose funny. His otherworldly perspective, influenced greatly by Augustine, Pascal, Dostoevsky, and Blake, is evidenced here in this excerpt from But Not of Christ (circa 1980). It is something to consider as we see the slow removal of “Merry Christmas” and other vestiges of Christianity from secular life.

Christendom, like other civilizations before it, is subject to decay and must sometime decompose and disappear. The world’s way of responding to intimations of decay is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, detente, world government. On the other, some disaster is as confidently expected to prove our undoing. Capitalism will break down. Fuel will run out… Overpopulation will suffocate us, or alternatively, a declining birth rate will put us more surely at the mercy of our enemies… In Christian terms, such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city, that crowns roll in the dust and every earthly kingdom must sometime flounder, whereas we acknowledge a king men did not crown and cannot dethrone, as we are citizens of a city of God they did not build and cannot destroy. Thus the apostle Paul wrote to the christians in Rome, living in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours. Their games, like our television, specialized in spectacles of violence and eroticism. Paul exhorted them to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in God’s work, to concern themselves with the things that are unseen, for the things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal. It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born. Now in the breakdown of Christendom there are the same requirements and the same possibilities to eschew the fantasy of a disintegrating world and seek the reality of what is not seen and eternal, the reality of Christ.

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