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Wednesday, June 28th, 2006
Lutheran Coffee is uniformly bad. I'm going to argue that this is related to the tendency of Lutherans to misapply the Fourth Commandment.
I was raised Presbyterian. If I had stayed Presbyterian, I would be drinking Starbucks on Sundays. But no. Now if I want to get coffee at church, I have to drink some dirty dishwater out of a styrofoam cup.
One local Lutheran Church has taken to serving Diedrich's Coffee on Sundays. This is a promsing thing. Some former evangelicals from the Vineyard came up with the idea. Yes! Former evangelicals can be counted on to make coffee. Please! Stand aside! Let them choose what to brew!
But no. From the way it was reported to me, the coffee has somehow slipped back to its former greyness. I picture some old Lutheran woman waiting till everyone has left the kitchen and fetching some Yuban she has hidden in the back cupboard somewhere and brewing it in a percolator before the slop gets dumped into the Diedrich's container.
What does this have to do with the Fourth Commandment you may ask? Everything. This stems from an unthinking deference to past generations. Someone somewhere thinks that drinking bad coffee is part of suffering under the cross. There have been theologians who have written some very amazing things about Luther's theology of the cross. But I have also seen some asinine stuff go under this category. It is especially rotten when it is taken apart from what Jesus accomplished when he died and made some ontological truth about the nature of the world. Something that has less to do with the New Testament and more to do with a black-and-white photograph of a broken amusement park ride with a smear of dark something-or-other on it. Something you suspect the theologian finds very deep even though he's probably an atheist.
Yes, that's it. Our coffee is the result of theology written by atheistic theologians. True orthodoxy would have delivered us from this. Perhaps it would not have stopped the crazy woman from trying to smuggle in the Yuban. But she would have had a tougher fight on her hands. No. We wouldn't have trusted her with the coffee in the first place. True orthodoxy would have resulted in espresso machines on the patio where they woudn't serve a cup that didn't have crema.
12:47 am Pacific Standard Time
Tuesday, June 27th, 2006
The elephant in the room when it comes to politics is missed because it is so big. In fact, large scale IS the elephant in the room. People cite the Founding Fathers or the Reformers or St. Paul, and make immediate applications of what they spoke of to our current situations. Now in one sense, this is virtuous. There are all kinds of people I disagree with who like to say things like, "But Thomas Jefferson was speaking in a time when there were no Atomic Bombs. So how can what he had to say be relevant?" It could be relevant because Thomas Jefferson knew how to be self-critical and shield his writings from mere timeliness by asking what was universal to human situations. I think good old documents remain relevant to us over time. Figuring out just how they apply to our situation is another story. This requires effort.
Some of the discussions go wrong because we are so used to abstract vocabulary that we label a passage and then imagine we know how it applies to all types of situations. Romans 13 gets labelled variously "Christian conduct in relation to the state" (The RSV Harper Study Bible I was given for confirmation), "Submission to the Authorities" (Concordia Self-study Bible), "Be Subject to Government" (Zondervan NASB Study Bible), "Obedience to Rulers" (Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament), "[Blank]" Companion Bible (Nice!). For my money, the Companion Bible does the best job here. No title. Allow the reader to figure out what the passage is about. In the Ancient Hebrew, even the books of the Bible were not "given" names, but took their titles from the first few words of the book. This allowed God a place in the naming of his own books. The Concordia Self-study Bible has the virtue of taking the terms from the passage itself. If we must have titles, this is how to derive them. I can find both the words "submission" and "authorities" in the text itself. This may involve some interpretation as to what words are important in the passage (By the same method, they could have titled it "Free from fear". Or broken the chapter differently and titled the section "Overcoming evil with good."). But it at least does not take the further step of prejudging the application of the words of the passage.
What do I mean by prejudging? I mean offering a translation into practical terms of what the terms of the text apply to. "Authorities" is a word used in Romans 13. But "Government"? "Government" is an abstraction. My Random House Dictionary offers six different entries for it. And the first one can only be made to apply with quite a bit of interpretation. "The political direction and control exercised over the actions of members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states; direction of the affaris of a state, community, etc." So if government is control, how does a person obey control? Is this what Romans 13 has in mind? Romans 13 speaks in the concrete. The governing authority is usually a he and sometimes a them. So the title in the Zondervan NASB Study Bible has taken the discussion from one speaking of a he or a them to one speaking of an it. That's a big change. Especially if I am right in thinking that Romans 13 is speaking of a particular kind of neighbor rather than an abstract principle. How about the Harper Study Bible's "state"? Of the seventeen definitions of the word, a handful are possible contenders. "7. a politically unified population occupying a specific area of land; nation." and more likely "11 the state, civil government as distinguished from individuals, ecclesiastical authority, etc." This probably means the same as government above. Again, an "it", only perhaps more clearly NOT an individual, making it only that much more clear that we have translated the word outside of its original frame of reference.
Why do people read like this? The reason seems to be something like this. Ethical thought, in order to be clear, must be abstract. But much of the Bible was written in concrete language due to conceptual limitations of its writers. Modern readers, not sharing these limitations, are in a position to translate the original Biblical terms into those which are more clearly applicable to questions in which we are interested. If I read St. Paul, I may imagine that I am being instructed in how to deal with an actual person I may stand face-to-face with. But how am I to conduct myself when I get a computer generated memo from the DMV that was printed by mistake? Well, if this passage is about "government", there is no question.
But there is another problem. Even where we look at documents closer to us in time, where the references are clear, systemic changes might cloud our vision as to the original intent. We are now a country of nearly 300 million people. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, there were a little under 4 million people. That means that the document was written to balance power in a nation 1/75 as populous as the one we are in today. To be sure, I think many of the solutions it proposes are good ones. But are we not to consider scale in applying the solutions? Right now, over half the individual states in the Union are larger in population than the original thirteen colonies put together. South Carolina, which ranks 26th in population, has over 4 million people. (This is funny if you consider it. It was the first state to secede during the Civil War, and now it is more populous than the 13 colonies when they seceded from Britain.) Why do I bring up these facts? Because when the Constitution was written, it was thought by most that combining 4 million people into one completely unified political body was a bad idea. Such a scale was detrimental to liberty. Yet now we have 26 such bodies. And we imagine that when we apply the Constitution as written, we have the same liberty that the Founding Fathers tried to secure for us. Perhaps. But we might pause to ponder this one before we accept it blindly.
One of the effects of increases in size is depersonalization. We all know this from any number of examples. Where did you get the most individual attention? In a class with, say eight students, or in a lecture hall with 500? When was the last time you heard of church discipline happening at a megachurch? How often do the corporate elements (e.g. the sermon) swamp the individual ones (communion)? If the individual elements survive at all, they usually do by being made more "efficient" so that the group does not have to wait on the individual. While there is an understandable rationale behind this, few ask the question of whether or not the entity has overgrown its optimal size. No, bigger is better. The smaller ends are just relegated to lesser importance. The very ends of the community change to those which are more optimally achieved by a larger entity.
Depersonalization affects the character of justice. One book I recently looked at at the bookstore (I wish I could remember the title) described how American justice has gotten better and better at providing procedural justice to parties. But much of what people crave when they've been wronged is left out. People want a hearing. But in a courtroom, lawyers know what can or cannot be said. What people would like to say may not help them to win their case. As a libertarian, I am a big fan of procedural justice. I don't want to live in a medieval town instead of modern America. But I think that this just goes to show the limits of what we can expect out of a government that covers so vast a scale as ours covers. The "other elements" of justice, which are very real, must come from smaller institutions.
One story I heard concerned how a certain tribe took care of its social problems. When someone did an offense, the tribe made them stand at a tree. The "sentence" was that each member of the tribe would come by and tell of all the nice things they could remember that person doing. From the account I read, people rarely offended so again after this.
A story like this is a good counterbalance to our "big stick" conceptions of justice. By all means, I want a big stick out there somewhere to deal with those who cannot be made to amend by other means. But when this is our only means of achieving our social goals, I have little hope for the society. Fiddling with the rules of how we do this is, to my mind, wrongheaded, at least as a means of achieving much progress.
Appeals people make to human fallenness don't impress me much, either. Total depravity does not mean that people can be expected to be as bad as possible. If people want to cite how bad things are today, I'll lend them an ear. But I don't think human nature has changed from when we had it better. I think what has changed is the human environment and what we expect out of people. Depersonalization would be the factor that I would blame for the worst problems. And I think the scale of society is the cause of that. The problem will continue to get worse as we fail to address it. And it is the kind of problem that exacerbates itself. Because we expect somebody else to address it. Which means nobody. Our Lutheran documents have so often been read in quietistic directions that I hate hearing them cited, as I think they will only make matters worse. We imagine we're supposed to be ground down by the impersonal nature of our institutions, and that such is the "cross" we have to bear. For the sake of your neighbor, go find another cross.
To shrink the problem of the elephant, we must decide first that it is not the solution to our problems. Until we can think of the government with a Biblical "hatred", we will not see a solution. Many Lutherans look to the Fourth Commandment as the foundation of the authority of the civil government. They try to root the civil authority in the authority of parents. But I won't believe that Lutherans hold that the Scriptures about duties to parents also pertain to the state until I hear a sermon on the theme, "He that does not hate the government cannot be my disciple" preached from Luke 14:26.
2:59 pm Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, June 21st, 2006
When I was in seminary, I had an experience that confirmed me in an opinion that had only been hazily forming up to that point. Before I tell you the opinion, though, I'll tell you the story.
One of my friends was in a New Testament class where the professor was presenting views that today would probably be called the New Perspective on Paul. But this was 1989 or 1990, so this did not have a label yet. At least not in our seminary community. My friend considered himself a Barthian, as he had some troubles with the Old Testament that Barth seemed to solve for him. Anyway, one afternoon he came into the lounge of Pilgrim Hall, our residence hall (where men could live in more frat-house-like surroundings than dorm-like surroundings), and announced some new views he had developed by merging some approaches from class with his own problems with Genesis.
"You know, I don't think that Adam and Eve were historical people. They're a way of talking about us. And I think Original Sin is imputed to us."
I stared at him. Had I missed something? Surely this bright Ivy League student had just expected me to follow the sophisticated approach that he had only given me in outline, but I had missed a key point. Should I say something? Would I look dumb? Oh, to hell with it! This just can't be right!"
"Imputed from where?" I asked.
Then the unthinkable happened. Instead of offering some rationale that I would not agree with, but could at least argue with him over, his face went blank.
"Uhhhh. Well... That would be a problem, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, it would!"
That was the end of that phase of my friend's theology.
"He's been batting that one around for three days!" his conservative Baptist friend from college whooped. His friend found my other friend's stance as "rational man of the late twentieth century" to be more amusing than anythingespecially when it fell apart.
Now for the opinion this confirmed. What this incident convinced me of was that it was a mistake for conservative institutions to assume that bright students would just be able to sail into sophisticated material and do well with it. To me this had little to do with smarts. And it wasn't even exactly the result of a spiritual problem with maturity, though it often resulted in a grave spiritual problem. No, the problem was that even though these students were bright enough to follow a doctrinal discussion, they didn't have the familiarity yet with the terms to know when something was awry. The terms had not become permanent mental furniture for them. Not to the point where you could move the pieces around and they would know what the results would be.
I have an analogy for this. It is like you had an academic from another star, say Alpha Centauri. This expert skipped the early courses on what human life was about and went straight for the upper division work. His specialty was chairs. And he was good at what he did. He could tell an Empire chair from a Queen Anne. He knew fabrics better than almost any man from earth, let alone most interior decorators. Yet, for all this, if someone showed him a picture of a room with the chair on the ceiling, he wouldn't notice that there was anything wrong with the picture. His knowledge of chairs was all academic, and key knowledge about chairs that any earthling knew before her first birthday was missing.
For my friend, imputation was such a subject. He knew that it was how someone ended up sinful. He was familiar with problems posed by the historicity of the Old Testament. He was familiar with sophisticated literary solutions exegetes sometimes brought to the text (i.e. "So-and-so is not speaking as himself, but as Israel." Nice!). He was creative and could try to bring these elements together for a solution. But he didn't understand imputation well enough to immediately see that sin has to be imputed FROM somewhere. He could follow the idea once it was pointed out. Quickly for that matter. But it hadn't occurred to him. And I think the nature of his education was at fault.
Now I had had the advantage of a couple of undergraduate years at a synodical college where we read our way through the system of doctrines. Our books were not quite as hard in most cases as a dogmatics book. But it was a systematic exposure, and under conditions where we could do some academic socializing. Spend time in the cafeteria talking about what we were learning. Drink a coke and attempt every point on the spectrum between Orthodoxy and Pelagianism to see why it would or would not work. Get shot down a lot. I fear that this kind of interaction may be becoming a thing of the past. The students will have heavy courseloads, with titles that look very impressive. But few will have a grounding in basic doctrine. Many will become skeptics and have little interest in theology after they graduate, as all they came out with was confusion and a sense that their studies had taken away their sense that the faith was true. The shame of it all is that this is so unnecessary.
4:52 pm Pacific Standard Time
Tuesday, June 20th, 2006
I saw a Father's Day post at The Terrible Swede, and belatedly decided to post one, myself.
My dad has been a good one. I won't tell lots of stories here. Just a couple. Good memories from childhood, whether or not they appear profound from the outside.
First, the sock. We used to take family trips in the summer, and about every other summer we went to Minnesota to visit grandparents and aunts, uncles, and cousins. My mom's side of the family. We drove probably a little more often than we flew, though we did each many times. We would stop to throw around a frisbee or a football or baseball. We took almost every route possible, going as far south as Texas and as far north as Alberta. I think one of my favorite memories was the year my dad inaugurated a new ritual. One night before we set out on our long drive, he tossed me and my older sister a sock where he had been saving quarters for the year. We split the loot. I'm not sure how much money I got the first year. Perhaps twenty-five dollars. Maybe much more. (In Junior High the amounts got much larger, especially when I was the only kid on the trip.) But it came out of the blue, and it was great to be able to buy a comic book (or later news magazine) or candy bar or drink or even souvenir anytime I wanted. The best part of this was that it was completely unexpected. Much like a later trip to Sea World where we were going to ride a hydrofoil boat and it was cold, so he bought me a Sea World sweatshirt unplanned. In any case, the memory stands for others like it. (Despite inflation, this ritual would still hold its power even today, young dads.)
Second, my twelfth birthday. My dad took a bunch of us miniature golfing and then out for ice cream. My friends really enjoyed this. It just plain went well, and had probably little to do with the details. In fact, a month later, another friend decided to go to the same places on his birthday. The funny part about it was that my friend's parents were divorced, and when his mom tried to create the same thing, the whole thing fell apart, albeit somewhat brilliantly. She had to one-up the thing, so she stopped at the library to check out an Edgar Allan Poe book so she could read the Tell-Tale Heart. Things were okay until later when a "Truth or Dare" game got going. One friend excused himself from the game to go to the bathroom and walked in on my friend's mom who was taking a bath. The famous line from that fiasco was, "What did you think was splashing around in there? A DUCK!?!?" (When you're twelve, such lines bear repeating at the oddest times in a Mrs. Kravitz voice, of course.) Of course, this walk-in was interpreted by my friend's mom as a dare from the game. (My friend was just the kind of guy who would have done this on purpose. But he was innocent this one time. We all knew it. And besides, what mother leaves the door unlocked when there are four ten to twelve year old boys in her house?) It only got worse. Later, police helicopters were hovering over the house shining spotlights into the bushes because the birthday boy was dared to go outside and yell, "Rape! Rape!" Being mildly paranoid, I thought we would all be arrested. Well, this was supposed to be a dad memory, and to me it is. My dad provided the background in which we had a good time we all wanted to repeat. Which was on the whole much better than the edgy stuff that was all awry and had us all convinced we were going to jail. (My friend's mom almost sent us home, and that would have been an improvement.)
Dads are often in the background making good things possible. What they do appears deceptively simple. But nobody can do the same, let alone outdo them.
3:07 pm Pacific Standard Time
Thursday, June 15th, 2006
When I was about twelve years old, my family went on a trip to Arizona for a cousin's wedding. I took along some reading. I think it was one of my brother's old books about some kid from another planet who fell through a cosmic door (This was before every book called such a thing a wormhole) and landed on earth. Somewhere in the book I came across the exclamation "Pshaw." I asked out loud in the car, "What's Pshaw?" and made the mistake of pronouncing it phonetically. Well, it was the joke for the rest of the trip, as family members used the phonetic pronunciation as an exclamation for the next week or so.
I've always liked exclamations, especially when they seemed almost hard-wired, and went past the ones noted in the old Grammar Rock piece on "Interjections!" (Hooray, I'm part of the generation that learned much of its grammar from these pieces. If I were truly excited, I would have used an exclamation point, but this was one of those "or by comma when the feeling's not as strong" ways of setting the interjection apart from the sentence. I would have preferred an education that had gotten me into Greek grammar earlier. Though not into the trenches of WWI.) It was only recently that my pastor told me the difference between the vocative "O" and the interjection "Oh". (I had thought "Oh" was archaic and "O" modern. Wrong. Check the index of your hymnal.) "Hallelujah!" seemed so inspired that I was almost disappointed when I learned in Hebrew class that it literally meant "Praise ye the Lord!" I would have preferred to find out that it was an ecstatic utterance of an angelic language. (I hold out hope that it may yet be, and the Hebrew overlap is in intervention of Divine Providence.)
Exclamations are good at setting tone. And I've just been thinking about how they may help to distinguish between the Greek and Contemporary English uses of the word 'hate' or 'despise.' When we think of hatred, I would call that hatred a 'Grrr!' kind of hatred. It involves active anger. It often involves thinking the object of your anger to be innately vile. When we read this into our Bibles, we get some pretty stark pictures. To hear that the word may have another meaning doesn't exactly paint a cheery picture, but it is a different one, nevertheless. This is what I will call a "Pshaw," kind of hatred. It doesn't involve much active anything. Your activity is directed elsewhere, to something you have an active interest in. The object this hatred isn't thought much of at all. It is ignored. From the book The Fountainhead, it is Howard Roark answering Ellesworth Twohey's question, "I want to know what you think of me Mr. Roark" with a flat "I don't think of you." Perhaps this explains the real tone on the last day. It isn't, "I have prepared a special place just to deal with you, you vile sinner!", but "Who are you? I never knew you. I don't even have a place for you, so you'd better go to where the other rejects went. There's nowhere else and I don't have time to make one." The books were opened. And the only thing that mattered was having your name in the Lamb's Book of Life. "But what about my sins? Weren't they all written down?" Who wants to bother? If you're not in the Book of Life, you aren't important enough to write about. You'll be in a cosmic accounting slip-up with no rescue.
I once spoke with a new Calvinist whose Arminian friend had finally looked the word up in some Lexicon and become convinced that the word meant active hatred. I thought of the parallel passages where, at the very least, you would have to decide that the word was used metaphorically. "Whoever does not hate father and mother cannot be my disciple." Active hatred? Thinking them vile? That sounds like behavior strongly condemned in the Old Testament. No. It means we must esteem them as not worthy of consideration in questions regarding following Jesus. They don't get to figure into the equation. (In other places, our following of him means we may not set aside Scriptural obligations towards them. We had better get used to some tensions and paradoxes if we want to make sense of the language. It may not be logically contradictory. But there are verbal contradictions.) Likewise, in a discussion with Kobra, I consulted Lenski's Commentary on Hebrews and found out that where Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, "despising" did not mean that he actively hated the shame, but that the shame was not worth considering. I find this translation quite plausible not only on linguistic grounds, but because with this understanding, there is a parallel passage from Paul. When Paul tells us that the sufferings of the present are not worth being compared to the eternal weight of glory ahead of us, the not comparing the suffering to what is ahead of us is exactly what Hebrews is talking about.
Take Jacob and Esau. I don't think the point is that God was thinking of just how vile Esau was even before he was born. I picture it more as if someone levelled the challenge, "But God, to elect Jacob, you end up having this guy named Esau, and it isn't fair for him to be lost, is it?" And the response is, "Jacob, oh Jacob! Whatever it takes!" And he hasn't so much as pictured what happens to Esau. I say this knowing full well that God knows all, sees all, has considered all. But the language he offers us is picture language. Language of hatred is analogical. So somehow we ARE to picture this "not bringing the hated one into consideration" somehow. It captures the tone, whatever the actual mechanics are. And the tone seems more important for us to get right. We weren't told all the mechanics. We've spun most of them out of philosophy. They may well be right. But "Pshaw, Esau" is something you should picture if you want to "get" this one.
The optimism of Hebrews above is not something we could ever find in Gethsemane. I think it means an attitude we have as we set our course. When we come under the burden of suffering, it is true, we suffer it. It forces itself upon our awareness. We cannot just choose to turn ourselves off and ignore it. (If we had this ability, who would ever need anaesthesia?) Even our Lord who was perfect was not full of joy at that point. No. But the text suggests that his eye was on that joy as he earlier considered his course. It would be worth pondering whether this is something he revealed, perhaps in the Parables, and/or whether it comes from the Psalms. (My expectation is that later authors of Scripture did not have to rely on direct revelation to discover this about Jesus, but upon some prior source, whether it was yet written or not.)
There are, no doubt, many Hatred "Grrr!" passages in Scripture. I think those are usually anger at the wicked for their sin. I want to keep the language of each picture clear. Don't I want to harmonize them systematically? (e.g. "Well isn't Esau one of the wicked?" Yes. Sometimes. But I see the key attitude of God as "Esau said "Pshaw" to his birthright, so I'm saying "Pshaw" back to him.) Well, let me first say that when others say that they don't think we should ever try to harmonize things, I get anxious. I want to see how far I can go with harmonizing all kinds of things in the Bible. Quotations of the Old Testament in the New. Gospel accounts of the same events. Many things. It's the more metaphorical pictures I want to be careful with. There are certain kinds of harmonizing that work with them, and certain ones that do not. Is he a lion or a lamb? Yes. And I don't want that harmonized by speaking of every other piece of fur. Or him having eight legs, four lion ones and four lamb ones, coming out of a hybrid trunk. This hatred language is somewhere on the continuum between metaphorical and literal. And Pshaw and Grrr hatred are on a continuum, too. Saying that a number of these passages are not what we thought doesn't cancel all the others, and it certainly does not contradict them. What kind of picture does it offer us? We have to read all the passages and see.
What am I doing offering a dark meditation like this after my Aslanological argument? I don't know yet. But according to the Aslanological argument, the deal we have with the hatred Pshaw in it must be as good or better than what we have in Aslan. "But Aslan! To put those four children on thrones at Cair Paravel, Jadis becomes a White Witch." "Jadis? Pshaw! Did I create a Jadis once? You say she was a queen? Like Lucy the Valiant? Lucy who accompanied me to the Stone Table? Lucy who...Did you mention someone else a few minutes ago? No bother. I must remind Father Christmas of the next gift I wanted to give to Lucy."
9:26 pm Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, June 14th, 2006
I was a fan of Narnia from the age of nine. That was when a few days before my birthday I had made a tentative decision to put religious questions on the back burner for the rest of my life. I figured I would never be sure enough of my faith to know I was going to heaven, and not knowing would drive me nuts. I was given four of the Chronicles for my birthday. I knew the author was a Christian, and that was almost enough to make me decide not to read. But the blurbs on the back were too inviting to ignore.
My doubts were dealt with in an oblique fashion. (I have since developed almost a preference for such answers. The ones that reframe the entire question such that the question no longer makes sense the old way of asking it.) I decided that if God was like Aslan, everything would turn out okay, even if I had doubts.
At another point, a couple years later, I wished I was in the Narnian world instead of our world. And then I had a flash of insight. If Aslan was really based on Jesus, then does it not make sense that Aslan is a pale reflection? I won't claim that I saw how this was true. And I'm kind of glad I didn't try to work this out in detail. The way some rasty fundamentalists would. (I know. I know. Some other rasty fundamentalists still love Aslan.) Where you decide which traits are different and then fault Aslan for the differences. But usually this involves a flat reading of both the Bible and Narnia. No. My insight was based upon another way of reasoning.
I'll call it the Aslanological argument. And while I'm on a roll with inventing terms, I'll go ahead and break some more rules. Here is the argument, as I would formulate it now.
1. There is a being than which none gooder can be conceived.
I heard that! "Gooder!" someone gasped. That isn't a word! True. But it expresses what I want to say better than the comparative "better." For to say that none "better" can be conceived paints a mostly moral picture. God is a "better" god than others. Yes, true enough. But perhaps this means "better at" something. The good-better-best words can be used as adverbs or adjectives. And I want to be clear I'm using the word adjectivally. (Uh-oh. The word "adjectivally" is itself an adverb! Well, "verb" is itself a noun, so that doesn't really matter.) In any case, I want it clear I'm talking about goodness. So taking all this time might help you to remember that "goodness" is worth making a fuss over.
So even giving that I'm talking about goodness, what does this have to do with Aslan and Christ?
To answer that I have to break from Anselm's argument and follow my own course.
2. God is the being than which none gooder can be conceived.
3. If you think of a being "gooder" than God, then either you are wrong about what is good, or you are right about what is good, but God surpasses it.
4. In fact, Aslan is "gooder" than most people conceive of God as being. Lewis was right about what is good. So Jesus must be "gooder" than Aslan.
I'm being a bit whimsical in setting the argument forth in this fashion. I was just on Three Hierarchies pointing out some pitfalls of syllogisms. (And CPA's syllogism was both valid and had good premises. The problem, if there was one, was that the premises were not all syllogistically derived. Though you could attempt to derive them. Only the forced attempt, though logically successful, tended to change the meaning of the premises.)
But I still think I need to add some so that #4 is not misread. I need to dip into Anselm.
5. "Goodness" has to do with perfections. If I can conceive of a perfection in Aslan, then God must exceed Aslan not only in number of perfections, but he must also have all of Aslan's perfections. For otherwise I could conceive of a being that had all of God's perfections plus the perfection that Aslan had that God did not. And that being would be "gooder" than God. So not only must I hold that God is "gooder" than Aslan. I must hold that God has all of Aslan's perfections. (And he has them "gooder.")
This is whimsical, I know. But some of you who are giggling over it are going to find that you cannot escape it. The Lion has you in his claws.
Though I could not have articulated it this well, this argument first hit me when I was ten or eleven years old.
2:34 pm Pacific Standard Time
I have appreciated Vince Suprynowicz's columns for several years. I especially like some of his holiday columns, his Thanksgiving column where he tells of starvation among early colonists when they practiced communism, and his Fourth of July column where he compares levels of liberty now versus when the Revolution started.
In this column, he explains why he eschews the label conservative, and opts instead for "classical liberal."
I may prefer a more green world than Suprynowicz does, but I think all his policies would lead towards one. After all, under the Articles of Confederation, one of the complaints was that in some states it was impossible to get a decent road built. No roads, no cars. No cars, less pollution. Just when people imagine that Libertarianism obviously fails, you notice that something that has been logged into the minus column is actually in the "pipe dream" column of the Green Party.
9:45 am Pacific Standard Time
Sunday, June 11th, 2006
I've been teaching an online apologetics course at Colorado Christian University. Part of the class involves joining my students in a chatroom and moderating a discussion. My key goal when we discuss the books is to make sure they are being read WELL. (I much prefer this even to THOROUGHLY.) And I have found that Mortimer Adler's counsel in How to Read a Book about paying attention to titles is a very simple piece of advice with far-ranging effects.
We have been reading G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man, so I ask the obvious question, "Who is he?" Or when we read the first chapter, "The Man in the Cave," I ask again, "Who is he?" When we discuss the first chapter of Part II, and I ask of "The God in the Cave" "Who is he?", I suspect that all the students can see that these titles are a key to the structure of the book as a whole. If you ignore them, you may miss much of the point. The students, once they get this, attempt to find parallels. Some are there, and some are not. And some are not thereyet. But this has brought about some good discussion, and even some surprises. The students come up with ideas I had not considered, and I very much wish I had.
When you point someone in a direction like this, you find that you have probably learned as much as they have. I have been paying greater attention to titles myself in the last week.
Ironically, on title I have run into is the title of a track from "Chariots of Fire" called "Titles." For those who have not yet discovered this, the title Chariots of Fire itself comes from a poem by William Blake. Most viewers will catch that the phrase "chariots of fire" is sung at the end of the movie. It comes from the patriotic hymn Jerusalem based upon part of Blake's poem. But the audio quality of that piece is poor enough that some pehaps will have missed it. (King George V was so impressed with Jerusalem when he first heard Elgar's version of it that he said he wished it would take the place of "God Save the King" as the national anthem.) On the most basic level, I think that the "Titles" track was played while titles rolled. But I wonder if there was more to it.
Last night I ran into another title that I thought was used in an intriguing fashion. I rented The New World. Ordinarily a Saturday night would entail friends and grilling, but last night we had all come down with the plague. (Probably the flu, but "plague" is more fun to say.) As far as I could tell, the movie hadn't done as well as projected, and none of my friends was particularly interested in seeing it. This was a good chance to see it. I was stunned. It was good in ways movies are rarely good. Let me make something clear at the outset, however. Political conservatives, of which I am one, are often a bit thin-skinned towards movies that portray European colonists in a bad light. And I think the movie was perhaps somewhat flawed in this regard. Perhaps. The books Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America shows just how distinct the different immigrant groups were from each other, and I am not certain that what was portrayed in The New World was inaccurate to the society of Jamestown. (I know little of the history of the place beyond the bare bones, but my interest is sparked.) What I do appreciate, however, is seeing a movie which dares to explore in depth how different another culture might be. This movie invested a lot of energy (This is clear from the film itself, but confirmed by the extra material.) in developing an ability to convey the Native culture non-verbally. I as a viewer experienced a pang of regret that I could not be a part of such a culture. The title of the movie was intriguing. Everyone probably thinks he or she knows what it means before walking into the movie.
This morning, I ran into yet another title that I had misread the first time. I had been on Jeremy Abel's blog (Formerly Living Among Mysteries, now Eating Words. Why did he change his title?) and decided to click on his Wendell Berry link. I ran into another link on that site which took me to a place where I could hear Berry read one of his own poems. I had seen the title A Timbered Choir and had wrongly imagined a rustic choir loft in a country church. Why that was my first image I will be trying to tease out for some time. That was not what Berry meant.
What titles have you run into lately that have changed on you when you started chewing on them?
1:49 pm Pacific Standard Time
Monday, June 5th, 2006
I've been a CD guy for a long time. I can still remember some of my earliest ones. My first one was a baroque CD. Others in the first four included U2's The Joshua Tree and Handel's Messiah.
I gave nieces and nephews albums for Christmas that could help round out their collections. One niece was thankful for the Bach and Beatles CD's I gave her, but chuckled that she hadn't gotten music that way for a long time. Well, I like liner notes and an actual physical object for certain albums. And I even like some of the prepackaged collections.
But music downloads ARE a nice complement to CD's.
I've been downloading a lot lately. (And paying, though not dearly.) I wanted to share some finds.
One was the Choir of Westminster Abbey singing Psalm 8 (after Henry Lawes). I had the CD, and the CD got damaged, and I found out it was out of print. Well, it's available for download. (If you like this, you will also like Stanford's Te Deum in B-flat.)
I had signed up for RealPlayer's music store to get some Greek music. Cat Stevens's song Rubylove has one verse of simple Modern Greek.
I'm a soundtrack afficianado, so I got some that I used to have in other formats but no longer do. Key portions of Chariots of Fire by Vangelis, and Dances with Wolves by John Barry. I also picked up Eternal Alexander by Vangelis. That's tied with The Conquest of Paradise as my favorite Vangelis theme outside of Chariots of Fire. (Okay, there's a small section in Heaven and Hell that would count, but so much of Heaven and Hell is gay that it doesn't count. Addendum: Eternal Alexander is even a bit better than Conquest of Paradise. Vangelis got across the "newness" of what that ancient man Alexander accomplished. "Conquest of Paradise" captures audacious striving, but Eternal Alexander conveys statesmanlike glory, and you can picture Alexander riding in on Bucephalus.) John Williams was not ignored. I think his Dry Your Tears, Africa from Amistad, was played during that wonderful scene where the British Navy comes in and blows the slavery fort to smithereens.
Vaughn-Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (used in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) is also nice to have.
2:41 pm Pacific Standard Time
Sunday, June 4th, 2006
I went up to the Reagan Library with a large group of friends yesterday. It was a very worthwhile visit. I especially liked the replica of the Oval Office, the large chunk of the Berlin Wall, and the collection of movie costumes from actors who had played cavalrymen (Ronald Reagan, Kevin Costner, and Tom Cruise among others).
A discussion arose regarding the epitaph on Reagan's Tomb. It reads:
"I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life."
As all my friends are theologically astute, the first line was greeted like fingernails on chalkboard.
I wondered whether it was best to give this such a theological interpretation. Is this really a denial of Original Sin? What did Reagan mean by "good"?
This is a ditch that educated people can fall into. The assumption that there is one and only one meaning to each word we use. It was interesting how in seminary, the Theology Department tended toward this view, while the Biblical Studies Department tried to break us of it.
The first time I can remember the question of "goodness" coming up was in a "That's Hollywood" documentary on the life of Shirley Temple. She said she thought man was basically good. At the time I thought I agreed with her. Mostly what I thought I agreed with was an optimism about how people would treat each other. More likely good than bad.
I won't say I held good theology at this point. I was probably pretty Arminian. My view of Original Sin was weak. But my agreement with Shirley Temple did not stem from bad theology. I don't think my optimism was really theological.
Later when I adopted a more rigorous stance on Original Sin, I was helped by a professor who had some things to say about what the doctrine did not mean. He said, "I don't think we've really gotten this across well if we have said this means we are bad. Badness is not really the right category." I was a bit stumped by this, so I was glad he kept explaining. "There are people out there who come from abusive homes who will hear the word 'bad' and identify with it. 'Oh! I was always afraid that was true. You just confirmed for me what I suspected already.'" Those who were not properly valued by their parents had a feeling of worthlessness that would resonate with the language of badness. It was probably the wrong language.
I have pondered this one a lot over the years. How do we keep the right categories in view? How do we listen to others so that we do not hear them say what they are not saying?
Well, my professor was with us at Reagan's grave. He said something similar to another pastor friend upon reading the epitaph. I questioned whether a theological reading was intended and suggested maybe it was just an expression of neighborly optimism. The good professor said, "You know, I'll bet you that's just how he meant it?" I was a little surprised that my explanation was so easily accepted as at least possible. Then earlier today I remembered that it was this man who had started me on this train of thought to begin with. Both taking Original Sin more seriously, but also taking care of how everyday language was to be distinguished from theological statements.
Anyway, it is Lutheran to try to put the best construction on things. And I rather like being able to read the epitaph over Reagan's grave and come away with his sense of optimism, a sense that I am convinced made the world a better place.
4:08 pm Pacific Standard Time