Till the Man Is Perfect

George MacDonald: The Fantasy Writer Who Shaped C.S. Lewis, J. R.R. Tolkien  and Madeleine L'Engle | Guideposts

To call the faith of a man his righteousness is simply to speak the truth. Was it not righteous in Abraham to obey God? The Jews placed righteousness in keeping all the particulars of the law of Moses: Paul says faith in God was counted righteousness before Moses was born. You may answer, Abraham was unjust in many things, and by no means a righteous man. True; he was not a righteous man in any complete sense; his righteousness would never have satisfied Paul; neither, you may be sure, did it satisfy Abraham; but his faith was nevertheless righteousness, and if it had not been counted to him for righteousness, there would have been falsehood somewhere, for such faith as Abraham’s is righteousness. It was no mere intellectual recognition of the existence of a God, which is consistent with the deepest atheism; it was that faith which is one with action: ‘He went out, not knowing whither he went.’ The very act of believing in God after such fashion that, when the time of action comes, the man will obey God, is the highest act, the deepest, loftiest righteousness of which man is capable, is at the root of all other righteousness, and the spirit of it will work till the man is perfect.

George MacDonald, “Righteousness”

They Called It Progress

Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Revives Debate Over the Atomic Bomb -  The New York Times

In absolute terms—and probably per capita as well—the twentieth century visited more collective violence on the world than any century of the previous ten thousand years. … [E]arlier wars deployed nothing like the death-dealing armaments, much less the state-backed extermination of civilians, that twentieth-century conflicts brought with them…. [T]he world death rate for large-scale war ran around 90 per million population per year during the eighteenth century, 150 per million during the nineteenth century, and over 400 per million during the twentieth…. Altogether, about 100 million people died as a direct result of action by organized military units backed by one government or another over the course of the twentieth century. Most likely a comparable number of civilians died of war-induced disease and other indirect effects…. Large postwar waves of genocide and politicide occurred before 1980 in the Soviet Union (1943–1947), China (1950–1951), Indonesia (1965–1966), again China (1966–1975), Pakistan (1971), Uganda (1971–1979), and Cambodia (1975– 1979). During the 1980s they continued on substantial scales in Afghanistan, Uganda, El Salvador, Iran, Syria, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and probably Iraq…. Since 1945, then, the world as a whole has taken decisive, frightening steps away from its painfully achieved segregations between armies and civilian populations, between war and peace, between international and civil war, between lethal and nonlethal applications of force. It has moved toward armed struggle within existing states and toward state-sponsored killing, deprivation, or expulsion of whole population categories. These trends greatly exceed population growth and the multiplication of independent states; they constitute an enormous increase per capita and per state. … Except occasionally to wring their hands at other people’s barbarity, residents of rich Western countries have not much noticed.

Charles Tilly, The Politics of Collective Violence

Day Bidet #57

Lord, we know not how to go till a blessing Thou bestow:

  1. An invaluable resource.
  2. Clown World. Clown World. Clown World. (Related. Related. Related. Related.) Clown World (notice Precinct 2000’s turnout). Clown World. Clown World. But there’s always good news out there!
  3. “Without God, we lack a metaphysical structure that can posit and sustain hope in any sturdy or durable way.”
  4. “At fourteen I married My Lord you.” (More poesy.)
  5. Wesley Hill makes the case for reading the Bibles non-electronically. (If he is right, then I am the chief of sinners!)
  6. “We are sliding backward.” Indeed.
  7. William Law: “[I]t is impossible to live one way and pray another.”

P.S. RIP, Norm MacDonald. A legend in our time. Truly.

They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.

For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses.

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

Then are they glad because they be quiet; so He bringeth them unto their desired haven.

Psalm 107.23-30

And I Learned to Love These People

The Life of Leo Tolstoy

I was repelled by the fact that these people’s lives were like my own, with only this difference—that such a life did not correspond to the principles they expounded in their teachings. I clearly felt that they deceived themselves and that they, like myself, found no other meaning in life than to live while life lasts, taking all one’s hands can seize. I saw this because if they had had a meaning which destroyed the fear of loss, suffering, and death, they would not have feared these things. But they, these believers of our circle, just like myself, living in sufficiency and superfluity, tried to increase or preserve them, feared privations, suffering, and death, and just like myself and all of us unbelievers, lived to satisfy their desires, and lived just as badly, if not worse, than the unbelievers.

No arguments could convince me of the truth of their faith. Only deeds which showed that they saw a meaning in life making what was so dreadful to me—poverty, sickness, and death—not dreadful to them, could convince me. And such deeds I did not see among the various believers in our circle. On the contrary, I saw such deeds done by people of our circle who were the most unbelieving, but never by our so-called believers.

Leo Tolstoy, A Confession

What then?

And I began to draw near to the believers among the poor, simple, unlettered folk: pilgrims, monks, sectarians, and peasants. The faith of these common people was the same Christian faith as was professed by the pseudo-believers of our circle. Among them, too, I found a great deal of superstition mixed with the Christian truths; but the difference was that … the whole life of the working-folk believers was a confirmation of the meaning of life which their faith gave them. And I began to look well into the life and faith of these people, and the more I considered it the more I became convinced that they have a real faith which is a necessity to them and alone gives their life a meaning and makes it possible for them to live. In contrast with what I had seen in our circle—where life without faith is possible and where hardly one in a thousand acknowledges himself to be a believer—among them there is hardly one unbeliever in a thousand. In contrast with what I had seen in our circle, where the whole of life is passed in idleness, amusement, and dissatisfaction, I saw that the whole life of these people was passed in heavy labor, and that they were content with life. In contradistinction to the way in which people of our circle oppose fate and complain of it on account of deprivations and sufferings, these people accepted illness and sorrow without any perplexity or opposition, and with a quiet and firm conviction that all is good. In contradistinction to us, who the wiser we are the less we understand the meaning of life, and see some evil irony in the fact that we suffer and die, these folk live and suffer, and they approach death and suffering with tranquility and in most cases gladly. In contrast to the fact that a tranquil death, a death without horror and despair, is a very rare exception in our circle, a troubled, rebellious, and unhappy death is the rarest exception among the people. And such people, lacking all that for us and for Solomon is the only good of life and yet experiencing the greatest happiness, are a great multitude. I looked more widely around me. I considered the life of the enormous mass of the people in the past and the present. And of such people, understanding the meaning of life and able to live and to die, I saw not two or three, or tens, but hundreds, thousands, and millions. And they all—endlessly different in their manners, minds, education, and position, as they were—all alike, in complete contrast to my ignorance, knew the meaning of life and death, labored quietly, endured deprivations and sufferings, and lived and died seeing therein not vanity but good.

And I learned to love these people. The more I came to know their life, the life of those who are living and of others who are dead of whom I read and heard, the more I loved them and the easier it became for me to live. So I went on for about two years, and a change took place in me which had long been preparing and the promise of which had always been in me. It came about that the life of our circle, the rich and learned, not merely became distasteful to me, but lost all meaning in my eyes. All our actions, discussions, science and art, presented itself to me in a new light. I understood that it is all merely self-indulgence, and that to find a meaning in it is impossible; while the life of the whole laboring people, the whole of mankind who produce life, appeared to me in its true significance. I understood that that is life itself, and that the meaning given to that life is true: and I accepted it.

Day Bidet #56

May be an image of child, outdoors and text

Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart:

  1. “[T]he regular sharing of food was fundamental to the common life of the first Christian communities.”
  2. “We have to live with Corona, it will always be with us. Biannual boosters for the entire population will not solve anything. … The vaccines are, at best, a solution for the elderly and the vulnerable only. Everyone will get Corona, even the vaccinated, and children need to get it while they are still young and while it poses no risk to them. In this way, SARS-2 will become an unimportant virus in the coming years.” (Related. Related.)
  3. Christian environmentalism. (Related! Related—perhaps not for the faint of heart. Related: Why does no one ever talk about this?)
  4. “[T]each them to respect and understand the modern world—frankly patronize it—and they will sympathize with its suffering…. This sympathy will prevent it from seducing them.” (Somewhat related.)
  5. A good overview. (Related.)
  6. Clown World. Clown World. Clown World (language warning). Clown World. Clown World. Clown World. And of course Clown World has real-world consequences—both near and far. (Life and beauty are fragile! And evil is opposed to both.) But still—lest we forget!—a remarkable (and remarkably diverse) world.
  7. “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice.”

More:

“[S]unlight exposure to the skin (and eyes) of mice or humans increases mating behavior, & the perception of others’ smell as more attractive, and to aggression.”

“Like the pirates with the Jolly Roger, Christians also live under a sign of death. The sign of the cross.” (Related: “Some people ask nowadays what kind of a religion it is that chooses an instrument of torture for its symbol, as if the cross on churches must represent some kind of endorsement. The answer is: one that takes the existence of suffering seriously.”)

R E T V R N T O T R A D I T I O N. (Related.)

Miroslav Volf: “Our call is to align how we engage in our many callings with our one, most basic calling: to be ‘Christs’ in the world.”

Bethsaida and Saybrook

A Visit to the “real” Bethsaida — el-Araj | HolyLandPhotos' Blog

Sometime between from the first century B.C.E. to the early first century, a fishing village [Bethsaida] arose where the Jordan River enters the shore of the Sea of Galilee. … In the year 30 or 31 C.E., tetrarch Herod Philip upgraded the village to a polis named Julias, according to the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius. Then, in the third century, the historical record goes silent on Bethsaida-Julias until the fifth century.

Ruth Schuster, “Has the ‘Lost City’ of the Gospels Finally Been Found?”

Bethsaida—a small fishing village renamed around the time of Jesus’ death—is mentioned in all four Gospels.

Many biblical scholars think that the Gospels were written not by their traditionally attributed authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) but by other anonymous Christians in the late first or even early second century—several decades or more after Jesus’ death, and several decades or more after Bethsaida was renamed. Furthermore, many biblical scholars think that some or all of the Gospels were written not in Israel but in other faraway places like Ephesus or Antioch.

But now imagine that you are living in California and writing a book set long ago and far away in 1940s New England in which you mention the small town of Saybrook, Connecticut. As it so happens, there was a Saybrook in Connecticut in the 1940s. But Saybrook was renamed Deep River in 1947. How then can you—writing seventy-plus years later in California in 2021—have found out about the small town formerly known as Saybrook?

I found out about it because I Googled a list of renamed towns in the United States for this post. But suppose I could not Google such a list. Suppose we lived in a society in which there were no Google, no Internet, no computers, and few written records of any kind—and few people who could even read them to begin with. In such a society, it would be all but impossible for us to find out about Saybrook—unless, of course, we knew someone from Saybrook (or were ourselves from there).

In a world without computers, the Internet, and other modern sources of information, finding out about Saybrook in California in 2021 would be all but impossible unless one had some personal connection to the town. With such a personal connection, however, finding out about Saybrook would be trivially easy even in a pre-modern world with no computers, no Internet, and so on.

In a world without computers, the Internet, and other modern sources of information, finding out about Bethsaida in Ephesus or Antioch in the late first or early second century would be all but impossible unless one had some personal connection to the town. With such a personal connection, however, finding out about Bethsaida would be trivially easy even in a pre-modern world with no computers or Internet.

In other words: The (spatiotemporally and personally) closer the authors of the Gospels were to Jesus and the apostles, the easier it becomes to explain their knowledge of Bethsaida.

But Bethsaida is just one of countless examples of the Gospel authors’ intimate geographical, political, and other knowledge of early first-century Jerusalem, Judea, and Galilee.

Which raises the question: How did they get that right?

The Power to Tear Things Down

Tom Wolfe Has Died at 88 | Vanity Fair

If you ask me, newspaper reporters are created at age six when they first go to school. In the schoolyard boys immediately divide into two types. Immediately! There are those who have the will to be daring and dominate, and those who don’t have it. Those who don’t … grow up with the same dreams as the stronger…. They, too, dream of power, money, fame, and beautiful lovers. Boys like this kid grow up instinctively realizing that language is like…a sword or a gun. Used skillfully, it has the power to…well, not so much achieve things as to tear things down—including people…including the boys who came out on the strong side of the sheerly dividing line. Hey, that’s what liberals are! Ideology? Economics? Social justice? Those are nothing but their prom outfits. Their politics were set for life in the schoolyard at age six. They were the weak, and forever after they resented the strong. That’s why so many journalists are liberals!

Tom Wolfe, Back to Blood

Cordevilla: “Grievance is the handle by which you push these pawns into your cultural wars.”

Handle: “The political formula of ‘use propaganda to agitate maximum resentment, and then weaponize it’ has evolved and been refined to an art-form. … [M]aintaining a perpetually heightened sense of resentful grievance and bitter acrimony is extremely effective, albeit incompatible with a nice future.”

Thomas Sowell: “I am so old that I can remember when other people’s achievements were considered to be an inspiration, rather than a grievance.” (In related news, notice all the statues coming down?)

Robin Morgan: “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”

But of course loving less will not get us anywhere. The politics of hatred—violent or merely casual, left or right—is the politics of death. “We must love one another or die.”

Day Bidet #55

Image

Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, go to the country, build you a home:

  1. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
  2. Abolish the FDA. Along with the public school system (pardon the language) and the media. (Related: “The US Federal Government demanded that in exchange for legal protection … with regard to Covid-19 treatment only what they approved for said use could be used. Related. Related. Related—pardon the language again.)
  3. “[T]here has not been a specifically negative world strategy that has emerged in Evangelical Protestantism.”
  4. “At least 300 people have been murdered in Philadelphia so far this year, including nearly 30 children under the age of 18.” (Related. And yes, as a reminder, this does have everything to do with BLM.)
  5. “The story of Jesus is our story.” (Related: “The framework of Paul’s thought is constituted neither by a system of doctrines nor by his personal religious experience but by a ‘sacred story,’ a narrative structure.” Related: John Whale: “The Gospels cannot explain the Resurrection; it is the Resurrection which alone explains the Gospels.”)
  6. “It has never been easier to distinguish art from propaganda, as the latter is becoming constantly more and more predictable. Which art by definition never is.”
  7. “The last book of the Bible ends, not with the company of the saved being taken up into heaven, but with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, resulting in God’s new creation.”

More:

“I finally understood they were lying to me” (language warning).

What do we know about the Philistines?

“[I]t is only when you know the when and the where, as well as the who and the what, that you can really know the why, which is perhaps the most important question that the artist, or for that matter any of us, is ever called on to answer.” (Related. Related.)

Kenneth Porter: “They haled him trembling to the Judgment Seat. / ‘O Lord, the man who made the nails that pierced Thy hands and feet!’ / The Master laid a thin, scarred hand upon the shame-bowed head. / ‘They were good nails,’ he said.”

P.S. If anyone lives near Louisiana…

An Inconspicuous Army

The Last Prayer

Hundreds of people, many of whom I have never met (and never will meet), who knew nothing about me except my name, from all over the world, since long before I was born. Some much poorer than I, some dealing with much graver loss or illness—in much greater need of my prayers than I of theirs. Some who never found out that their prayers for me were answered. Some who died long before their prayers for me were answered.

Everywhere—in dining rooms, living rooms, basements, churches, high school auditoriums, offices, shopping malls, parks, cars, planes—walking, standing, sitting, kneeling, prostrate, in bed half-asleep—in groups, in pairs, all alone. For a second or two—for a minute or two—for hours—for years on end.

It’s the old women’s prayers that get to me most: the tiny prayers of tiny women in tiny apartments with tiny jobs—and terrible perfumes—and endless hearts. Hundreds of them over the years, women with uncomplicated souls, better souls than mine.

And of course I cannot prove that any of their prayers made any difference. (How could anyone ever prove—or disprove—such a thing?) But to pray is to stand in solidarity with those who pray, and with those who are prayed for. And so I still often weep at the thought of the inconspicuous army of known and unknown saints who have prayed for me.