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.

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The Path Forward

Where wooden churches are 800-900 years old and survived the plague -  Deseret News

As a physician, I interacted with insurance companies on behalf of patients and learned a great deal about how the system worked. But my views completely changed when my wife and I attended a church where the members declined traditional insurance and assumed this function as a group. With a few thousand members across dozens of churches, this brotherhood had been successfully filling this role for decades. When a need arose, a minister would discreetly describe that there had been a car accident or serious illness. He would name the deficit involved, and the members would contribute. I was skeptical at first; but after watching the brotherhood sacrificially meet need after need over four years, I was deeply impressed—melted would be a better word.

Finny Kuruvilla, King Jesus Claims His Church

The path forward is not, fundamentally, more government provision (or regulation) of health care. (In fact, the path forward is not more health care at all.) The path forward is communities strong enough to meet their members’ needs.

Two thousand years ago, Christian communities were strong enough to meet their members’ needs: “Members of the early church held goods in common, selling possessions as there were needs. The church organized its own system for caring for widows and providing for its poor.” In fact, early Christian communities did more to help the non-Christian poor in their midst than any other community ever had.

That path forward is clear. How many churches will take it?

Q&A. The Jewishness of the Early Church

Temple of Jerusalem | Description, History, & Significance | Britannica

A friend asks (lightly edited):

In Acts 2.46, it says (ESV): “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” Placing this in its historical context, the temple here refers to the Jewish temple, correct? So they’re going to temple with the other Jews, and then baptizing and receiving the Lord’s Supper in their homes?

Yes! Going to temple (until it was destroyed in AD 70), being baptized in ritual baths which were “everywhere in Jerusalem,” and receiving the Lord’s supper (an actual meal!) in their homes. No Gentile Christians as of yet, just Jewish Christians doing both paradigmatically Christian things and paradigmatically Jewish things.

My understanding is that a number of the early Christians in the Jewish community were proselytes, that is, ethnic Greeks and the like but religiously Jewish? Is there any evidence that proselytes constituted a disproportionate percentage (high or low) of the first century church?

Yes! Many so-called “God-fearers.” Luke records the baptism of many (in Acts 13, 17, etc.). Indeed, Acts is partly an account of the ethnic expansion of the Church. The first Samaritans (sometimes considered “half-Jews”) are baptized in Acts 8. The first Gentile (an Ethiopian) is also baptized in Acts 8. Acts 10 and 11 record the baptism of Cornelius (a Gentile proselyte) and the first proclamation of the good news to Greeks (11.20).

As far as percentages, my guess is that the Church became majority-Gentile by the end of the first century, partly because Christian-Jewish relations seem to have deteriorated rather quickly (as is evidenced in parts of the New Testament) and partly because there many more Gentiles to reach than Jews as the good news spread across the Roman world. Early on, however, the Church was firmly rooted in her Jewish roots. (Jewish) Christians only began leaving Jerusalem en masse after a persecution (Acts 8.1). The Epistle of James refers to a Christian meeting as a “synagogue” (2.1) and to Christian teaching as “the Law” (2.12, 4.11). And so on.

False Devils

New York restaurant with a sign in the shop window 'No Booze Sold Here  Booze Hounds Please Stay Out'

Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice. The Moslems say, “There is no God but God.” The English Moslems, the abstainers, have to learn to remember also that there is no Satan but Satan.

GK Chesterton

The Puritanical agitators of Chesterton’s day—who, though they too were toxic cultists, stood head and shoulders above contemporary “social justice warriors”—decried capitalism and alcohol. But the Puritanical agitators of our day have a somewhat different list of bogeymen, headed up by the various now-all-too-familiar -ism’s: “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” and so on.

And so our agitators call many things that are good satanic (or “problematic”), and many things that are satanic good. They forget—if they ever knew—that there is no Satan but Satan. (As do most of their “conservative” opponents, who are much more worried about “socialism” than about spiritual corruption.)

There is something fundamentally wrong, but if we do not begin at the beginning, with God as God and Satan as Satan, with good as good and evil as evil, we will never solve even our secular problems. Our problems remain unsolved because we worship false gods—”Diversity,” “Equity,” “Inclusion” —and fear false devils—”capitalism”; “socialism”; straight white men.

The Golden Age of Childhood

A Texas playground in the early 1900s

Dean Acheson, Truman’s Secretary of State, on his childhood:

The golden age of childhood can be quite accurately fixed in time and place. It reached its apex in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first few years of the twentieth, before the plunge into a motor age and city life swept away the freedom of children and dogs, put them both on leashes and made them the organized prisoners of an adult world. … No one was run over. No one was kidnapped. No one had teeth straightened. No one worried about children, except occasionally my mother, when she saw us riding on the back step of the ice wagon and believed, fleetingly, that one of the great blocks of Pamecha Pond ice would fall on us. But none ever did.

Walter Isaacson, on Dean Acheson’s childhood:

Dean had a pony … a dog named Bob (purchased for five dollars), and a ready supply of playmates. … On the three-acre field between the church and the rectory, he and his friends would recreate battles of the Boer War and Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill … Each evening Dean would walk to the firehouse to watch the men drill and then run to the wharf in time for the arrival of the boat from Hartford. “To me, it seemed that the ladies and gentlemen promenading the deck of that ship were the most fortunate people on earth,” he later recalled.

Arnold Kling, on Arnold Kling’s childhood:

Those of us who grew up many decades ago probably would not want to trade our childhood for today’s childhood.

These Old Hands Can’t Dig up That Rose-bush

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I was born in the South, a slave, and I love the South. … We are not foreigners nor aliens. You understand us and we understand you…. We went into slavery pagans; we came out of slavery with the Bible and Sunday-school literature in our hands. … Some days ago I was in the city of Richmond, and I heard a story concerning an old black man there. He was living in the same home where his mistress lived during slavery, and she had planted with her own hands a rose-bush in the yard. A new tenant took possession, and the new mistress said to this old colored man, “Dig up that rose-bush.” The old man hesitated, and with a tear in his eye, shook his head and went behind the house. Again the lady came out and said, “Dig up that rose-bush,” and he came up to her, touched his hat and made a polite bow and said, “Miss, I likes you, I want to obey you, but, Missus, you don’t understand; these old hands can’t dig up that rose-bush; that rose-bush was planted fifty years ago by my old Missus, and these hands can’t dig it up; you must excuse me, Missus.” The feeling of sympathy, the feeling of friendship between the black people and the white people in the Southland was planted here years ago by our forefathers. We who are following in their footsteps, black men and white men, must not dig up that old rose-bush. We must nurture it with our tears and with our love and with our sympathy, and as we do it we will have the blessing of Almighty God.

Booker T. Washington, “The Religious Development of the Negro”

A Toxic Religious Cult

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Eric Voegelin

[L]iberalism, socialism, communism, scientism, progressivism, identity politics, globalism, and all the rest—this Hydra’s head of modernist projects, however ostensibly secular, is united by … features that are irreducibly theological… [M]odernity is also an Oedipal phenomenon…. [T]he Gnostic lives in what Voegelin calls a “dream world.” … Nothing that happens is taken to falsify his beliefs, because any bad effects are interpreted as merely further manifestations of the evil forces, rather than reflecting any defect in the Gnostic’s belief system. … [T]he Gnostic posits a final victory of the “pure” over the evil forces that govern everyday reality.… As Voegelin famously put it, modern forms of Gnosticism “immanentize the eschaton”—that is to say, they relocate the final victory of the righteous in this world rather than the next, and look forward to a heaven on earth. … [C]onsider Marxism from the point of view of Voegelin’s analysis. Here the all-pervasive and near omnipotent evil that the Gnostic sees in the world becomes capitalism and the bourgeois power that it sustains. This power is taken to permeate every aspect of life…. Everyday moral assumptions are mere ideologies that mask the interests of bourgeois power, religion is a mere opiate to reconcile the oppressed to that power, and so on. … Critical Race Theory (CRT) is in exactly the same mold. … For CRT, the all-pervasive and near omnipotent source of evil in the world is the “racist power” of “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” and indeed “whiteness” itself. This racism is “systemic” in a Foucauldian sense—it percolates down, in capillary fashion, into every nook and cranny of society and the unconscious assumptions of every citizen. It is especially manifest in all “inequities,” which result from the “implicit biases” lurking even in people who think of themselves as free of racism. And it is to be found even in the most seemingly innocuous of offenses, which are in reality “micro-aggressions.” Even self-consciously “anti-racist” CRT adepts themselves are not free of racism, but must constantly engage in a Maoist-style self-critical struggle to root out and confess ever deeper and unexamined racist assumptions. … Other forms of woke Gnosticism have their own bogeymen—”patriarchy,” “heteronormativity,” etc.—which, like “whiteness,” are abstractions spoken of as if they were concrete demonic powers. … The gnosis that purportedly reveals all of this suffocating oppression is to be found in the writings of gurus like Kendi and DiAngelo, whose main difference from the likes of Marcion and Mani is the size of their royalty checks. … It is no accident that CRT adepts think of themselves as “woke.” For it is not rational argumentation that compels them but a kind of conversion experience, and Kendi, DiAngelo, et al. are essentially Gnostic preachers rather than philosophers or social scientists. … With wokeness suddenly flooding universities, high schools, the medical profession, the military, business, and seemingly everywhere else, we are seeing something comparable to the Arian crisis of the 4th century or the Albigensian crisis of the 13th century—the alarmingly rapid spread of a toxic religious cult that threatens the general sociopolitical order no less than it does the Church. As in these earlier crises, there are many Christians, already heterodox anyway, who are happy to cave in to the madness.

Edward Feser, “The Gnostic heresy’s political successors”

A Gadarene Descent

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It has long seemed abundantly clear to me that I was born into a dying, if not already dead, civilisation, whose literature was part of the general decomposition; a heap of rubble scavenged by scrawny Eng.Lit. vultures, and echoing with the hyena cries of Freudians looking for their Marx and Marxists looking for their Freud. This, despite Adam’s apples quivering over winged collars to extol it, and money, money, money, printed off and stuffed into briefcases to finance it. At the beginning of a civilisation, the role of the artist is priestly; at the end, harlequinade. From St Augustine to St Ezra Pound, from Plainsong to the Rolling Stones, from El Greco to Picasso, from Chartres to the Empire State Building, from Benvenuto Cellini to Henry Miller, from Pascal’s Pensées to Robinson’s Honest to God. A Gadarene descent down which we all must slide, finishing up in the same slough.

Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time

Undermined Religion

“[S]kepticism in religion,” as William Phelps observed, “is, in nine cases out of ten, followed by skepticism in morals.” The progressives were generally less interested in the churches than the traditionalists … partly because it was precisely the progressive-liberal reform of the churches which had apparently undermined religion.”

Paula Fass, The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s

Nothing new under the sun.

How Did They Get That Right?

Capernaum

What we find is an exact corollary between the top 9 most common male names in both the New Testament documents and other non-scriptural sources of that same time frame.

When researchers looked at the top 9 Jewish names of first century men living in Egypt they got a much different list of names that did not correspond at all to the list of names in Israel.

This means that it’s very unlikely that someone living in Egypt, for example, would have been able to guess at the right proportion and types of names to include in a story about Jewish men living in Jerusalem, even if they lived during the same time period. Much less likely that someone living outside of Jerusalem would have been able to accurately guess the types and proportions of Jewish names a half century later.

“It’s not just that they have the right proportion of names,” says Dr. Williams. “They also have the right features of names [e.g., especially common names like Simon and Mary are often qualified so that they can be disambiguated].” … We see a Gospel record that retains very specific details about seemingly minor characters and accurately communicates their names, decades after the facts and thousands of miles away. … The Gospel authors are also aware of the names of several cities and villages in the area, and they speak of them with amazing expertise. … “The Gospel authors … know that Capernaum is next to the sea. They know whether the land in those areas goes up or down, they know traveling times, etc. How did they get that right?” … [T]he Gospels of Philip and Peter and Thomas only mention Jerusalem and Nazareth whereas the Gospels mention a total of 23 towns and villages.… “… [T]hey’re getting it right on botany, on the shape of houses, on the description of the Temple, they’re getting the coinage right, they’re getting the social stratification right, they’re getting the religious setting right. After a while you think, there are so many opportunities for them to go wrong if they’re making it up. But they don’t seem to get it wrong.”