All This Was Proclaimed Progress

Dmytro Kuleba on Twitter: "We will never forget & never forgive the # Holodomor, Stalin's 1932-1933 genocide killing millions of Ukrainians. For  their entire lives, our elders couldn't leave a crumb on the


The advocates of so-called ‘social progress’ believe they are introducing humanity to some kind of a new and better consciousness. Godspeed, hoist the flags, as we say, go right ahead. The only thing that I want to say now is that their prescriptions are not new at all. It may come as a surprise to some people, but Russia has been there already. After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks, relying on the dogmas of Marx and Engels, also said that they would change existing ways and customs, and not just political and economic ones, but the very notion of human morality and the foundations of a healthy society. The destruction of age-old values, religion, and relations between people, up to and including the total rejection of family (we had that, too), encouragement to inform on loved ones—all this was proclaimed progress and, by the way, was widely supported around the world back then and was quite fashionable, same as today. By the way, the Bolsheviks were absolutely intolerant of opinions other than theirs.

This, I believe, should call to mind some of what we are witnessing now. … The fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past—such as Shakespeare—are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood, memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what color or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.


[A]ll of you going along with the DIE activists, whatever your reasons: this is on you. Professors. Cowering cravenly in pretence and silence. Teaching your students to dissimulate and lie. To get along. As the walls crumble. For shame. CEOs: signalling a virtue you don’t possess and shouldn’t want to please a minority who literally live their lives by displeasure. … At the moment, I can’t tell if you’re more reprehensibly timid even than the professors. … Musicians, artists, writers: stop bending your sacred and meritorious art to the demands of the propagandists before you fatally betray the spirit of your own intuition. Stop censoring your thought. Stop saying you will hire for your orchestral and theatrical productions for any reason other than talent and excellence. That’s all you have. That’s all any of us have.

White Flight’s Success

Jews displaced by street crime in New York City were many Holocaust survivors and refugees. One Canarsie grandmother made a comparison that rattled the sociologist who heard it: “I am locked up like in the ghettos of Europe. I am afraid of people knocking down my door. I still am not free.”

How could this calamity be memory holed so thoroughly that, to the extent anyone remembers it today, we talk as if the Holocaust survivors were the villains of the story? It is because the boomers themselves were too young to remember it. Most people born in the decade after 1945 would have been in their twenties when Judge Garrity’s busing decision came down, too old to be in school and too young to have children of their own.

Preserving the boomers’ liberalism on race was, in many cases, precisely why their parents had fled to the suburbs. Bernie and Roz Ebstein of Chicago had marched with Martin Luther King and were committed to staying in Merrionette Manor even as the neighborhood flipped, until their school-age sons started expressing racial resentments. “You believe this stuff about integration,” their eldest told them, “but we’re living it.” The Ebsteins quickly moved to Hyde Park, where little David and Steven would no longer have their liberal opinions beaten out of them. Having high-status views on race was part of the middle-class life they wanted to pass on to their children, no less than material comforts and a college education.

It is therefore a mark of white flight’s success that so many boomers are willing to believe Ta-Nehisi Coates’s lies about it. 

Helen Andrews, Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster

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

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?

What Christianity Offered


To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis of solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.

Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries

Wish Me Luck

Cecco del Caravaggio, Cacciata dei mercanti dal tempio (Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple)

[S]uppose I, a hobbit-like American writer sitting in my armchair, became suddenly curious about the geography around and under 1980-something Piccadilly Circus, which in the intervening decades has been completely remapped. It’s not as easy as you might think to recover even this recent piece of history, even in 2021. Now imagine instead that I am a Greek writer in the late first or early second century, hoping to fabricate a convincing memoir of the pre-70 A.D. life and times of an itinerant Jewish peasant. Wish me luck in this hypothetical, because I’ll need it.

Esther O’Reilly, “What’s the truth about John’s Gospel?”

Do the Work

Yes, You Can Trust the Four Gospels. Even When They Conflict.

There is nothing more “humble” about saying that the evidence is insufficient to determine historicity than about saying that the evidence is sufficient. There is an epistemically objective fact of the matter. If you assert that the evidence is insufficient to tell, you should be prepared to defend that just as much as if you said that we can be confident that the event happened or that it didn’t. Downgrading the probability of the proposition that Jesus historically said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” to .5 is just as much a mistake if the evidence is strong for its historicity than upgrading its probability to something high if the evidence is weak. … Agnosticism needs to be proportionate to the evidence just as much as affirmation or denial. Do the work to decide what the evidence itself really says.

Lydia McGrew

Full quote here.

When it comes to religion, saying “I don’t know” sounds wise and refined, because agnosticism about matters of faith is fashionable. And after all: There are so many different religions, so many arguments for and against each of them, so many (legitimate!) reasons to be skeptical of religious authorities—who are we to say one path is right and the others all wrong?

But notice: Agnosticism about many other matters is decidedly unfashionable. Expressing skepticism about climate change, the 2020 presidential election, “systemic racism,” etc. doesn’t make you sound refined; it makes you sound ignorant—or even hateful. And yet there are so many different views on political and scientific matters, so many arguments for and against each one, so many (legitimate!) reasons to be skeptical of political and scientific authorities…

So: The air of sophistication which surrounds (religious) agnosticism is no more than a mirage—a contingent cultural artifice. It is not, in the main, the product of honest reflection. It is much oftener the product of a deeply solipsistic fear.

Of course, sometimes agnosticism is called for. And sometimes it is not. How can we tell when it is and when it isn’t?

McGrew has the answer: “Do the work to decide what the evidence itself really says.”

Targeting Young Girls

The custom of the diamond ring took root in the early twentieth century when diamond giant DeBeers experienced languishing sales. The company contracted with an American advertising firm, N. W. Ayer, which unleashed one of the most effective media campaigns the world has ever seen. They gave diamonds to movie icons and had magazines run glamorous stories and photographs linking diamonds to romance and high society. In a 1948 strategy paper, N. W. Ayer wrote, “We spread the word of diamonds worn by stars of screen and stage, by wives and daughters of political leaders, by any woman who can make the grocer’s wife and the mechanic’s sweetheart say ‘I wish I had what she has.'” In a memo to DeBeers, the agency described targeting young girls through lectures at high schools: “All of these lectures revolve around the diamond engagement ring, and are reaching thousands of girls in their assemblies, classes and informal meetings in our leading educational institutions.” After twenty years of effort, N. W. Ayer declared victory in the late 1950s. They reported to DeBeers, “Since 1939 an entirely new generation of young people has grown to marriageable age…To this new generation a diamond ring is considered a necessity to engagements by virtually everyone.” The firm would next take aim at Japan and introduce the diamond engagement ring as a posh Western custom. The firm succeeded: from 1967 to 1981 the percentage of Japanese brides wearing diamond rings went from less than 5% to about 60%.

Finny Kuruvilla, King Jesus Claims His Church

It’s Mammon’s world—we just live in it.

Profoundly Countercultural

Corinth Museum V – Augustus “Velato Capite” | Augustus is re… | Flickr
Augustus, capite velato

Evidence from archeology demonstrates “the widespread use of male liturgical head coverings in the city of Rome, in Italy, and in numerous cities in the Roman East … on coins, statues, and architectural monuments from around the Mediterranean Basin.” In addition, “The practice of men covering their heads in a context of prayer and prophecy was a common pattern of Roman piety and widespread during the late Republic and early Empire.” A statue of Augustus found at Corinth itself revealed that even Caesar covered his head when sacrificing to the gods. The apostolic practice therefore clashed with society’s expectations for men: “In view of the argument about both men and women and head-coverings, it is likely that both, not just women, were creating the disorder in Christian worship. In light of Roman practice, it is very believable that some Christian Roman males were covering their heads when they were about to pray or prophesy. Paul is not interested in baptizing the status quo or normal Roman practice. He is setting up new customs for a new community, and these customs are deeply grounded in his theological understanding.” … Paul’s instruction to the men in this passage is profoundly countercultural—interestingly, for the women, it is less so! Women normally covered their heads as a sign of modesty and respectability.

Finny Kuruvilla, King Jesus Claims His Church

The Long Defeat

[T]he Lord of the Galadhrim is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth…. He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.

Galadriel, in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect “history” to be anything but a “long defeat”—though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

JRR Tolkien

Let us fight bravely and nobly (and shrewdly) for victory.

But if there be no victory in this age, if every light to be kindled must first be snuffed out, let us joyfully fight the long defeat until the night is rolled back and we reach the farther shore. Let us thank God that we have a cause worth fighting for, and a cause worth losing, and a good song to sing. For all that is broken shall be mended, all that is lost shall be found, all that dies shall be reborn—”al shal be wel, and al shal be wel, and al manner of thyng shal be wele.”

Until then, together through the ages of this world let us fight the long defeat.