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by Marc Hays
Thanks to a blue-light special at the Kindle store, I recently acquired an e-copy of N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. The first section addresses humanity’s struggle with justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty. His questions are honest and piercing. His logic is so seamless, that I find it hard to decide on a pull quote without doing a great injustice to the surrounding material as well as the quote itself, but, having said all that, here’s a portion that is exceptionally tasty. It is from chapter 4, For the Beauty of the Earth,
What we must notice at this stage is that both in the Old Testament and the New, the present suffering of the world–about which the biblical writers knew every bit as much as we do–never makes them falter in their claim that the created world really is the good creation of a good God. They live with the tension. And they don’t do it by imagining that the present created order is a shabby, second-rate kind of thing, perhaps (as in some kinds of Platonism) made by a shabby second-rate sort of god. They do it by telling a story of what the one creator God has been doing to rescue his beautiful world and put it to rights. And the story they tell, which we shall explore further in due course, indicates that the present world really is a signpost to a larger beauty, a deeper truth. It really is the authentic manuscript of one part of a masterpiece. The question is, What is the whole masterpiece like, and how can we begin to hear the music in that way it was intended? Read more…
It begins at the Wonder, La Merveille, Mont-Saint-Michel in France to be exact, with Neil and Marina at an early edge of love, leap or let go is the question. She cavorts along the coast as the tide swells and he, as implacable as the sea, follows; whether entranced or temporarily entrapped in her orbit we hardly know. They leave the Wonder, and Marina, with her daughter from a former husband, travels to America, to the heartland to see if their love grows.
The culture has failed Terrence Malick. All of his films, but particularly Tree of Life and To the Wonder, are cut from the cloth of Christendom, both its scripture and traditions. There’s a liturgy to his films; cinematography as psalm, narration as prayer, and critics can sense the richness, but rarely can they taste it unless those same rhythms are their own. The trouble is that where Tree of Life strained the secular imagination, To the Wonder tramples and twirls upon its grave.
Apart from the vocabulary and iconography of Christianity, To the Wonder can only be pretentious, vapid and a portentous self-parody. To an outsider the connection between a husband and wife and a priest and his parish might seem tenuous and arbitrary, but to the believer it is Christ and his body, the second Adam and his Eve. Read more…
by Marc Hays
Christian, do you feel as though the enemy has won a victory? Is your pessimillenialism lingering just under the surface ready to burst through with eschatological doom and cliches about polishing the brass on a sinking ship?
If so, C. H. Spurgeon offers sage advice in his devotional, Mornings and Evenings. Read more…
by Mark Horne
As the story of the National Security Agency secret surveillance program exploded, sales of George Orwell’s “1984” – about a totalitarian state and government monitoring – have shot up on online book seller Amazon. As of Wednesday morning, four different editions of the book are in the top 40 of Amazon’s “Movers and Shakers” list with the highest ranking at 17. At one point, the Centennial Edition’s popularity was up nearly 10,000 percent and clocked in at third most popular on the list.
This is probably one of the best results one could hope to see from the warrantless monitoring scandal. Take this quotation, for insttance:
There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.–George Orwell,1984
The main reason 1984 is still an acknowledge masterpiece is because it can be used to immunize the reader against worrying about real totalitarianism. The novel describes one way Big Government could warp society. This makes it easy to manipulate the reader into misidentifying the warning contained in the novel.
But Orwell wasn’t describing what might happen in the future so much as describing what was happening in the open in the world in 1948. The fact that he merely turned around the last two digits of the year he was writing the novel to produce the title shows he was thinking of something nearer at hand. The other title he considered, The Last Man on Earth, reminds me of an earlier non-fiction work, Herbert Spencer’s The Man v. The State.
This other title choice would have also had the advantage of preparing the reader for a story without a happy ending.
The main features of Orwell’s dystopian society are:
1984 is often twinned with the earlier work, Aldous Huxley’s Brave, New World. It two had all the same elements. Brave New World emphasized manipulation in a less scary way (didn’t use torture to “fix” individuals but conditioned everyone as children). It also focused on a much more complete version of ant-family policy, since it had technology that allowed babies to be made by machines. While the two books are commonly used to point to two alternative bad futures, this is not helpful. One could easily see a world developed that was more like both novels.
The biggest difference is found in the different perspective of the authors.
For Orwell, the despairing lesson was that either there was no true heroism, or that such nobility or heroism could not possibly conquer totalitarian government. Government not only had power over society, it also had the capacity, through torture and psychological manipulation, to destroy the mind of the individual. Orwell seems to have believed this while hating that fact.
Huxley, however, was advocating his future. He put himself into the book as an authority figure saying:
civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism
This is the voice of the new “modern” world.
When you read Brave New World you are entering a civilization that is based on compliance and consumption as the only path to prosperity. Other than a minimal workday nothing is demanded and everything is offered. No one must wait for sexual gratification nor associate with any exclusive relationship. There are no exclusive relationships (“Everyone belongs to everybody else” as all are conditioned to recite). There is no one to fight for. No one to protect. No one to care for. There are only virtual reality porn experiences and drugs. There is even a kind of religious ecstasy event in which sex and drugs are made into a ritual. Games are forbidden unless they involve expensive equipment to boost spending.
Huxley was not warning against dystopia. He was spelling out his utopia and telling the reader, to borrow from later science fiction, that “resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.” Or else you can go commit suicide.
That is precisely the structure of the narrative of Brave New World. We are presented with a world in which there are a couple of discontents. These are entirely explained by problems with either the biological manufacturing or the fact that society still has a few, very few, needs that allow for the possibility of unhappiness among the “alphas.”
If you have been living in a literary hole: In Brave New World, no one is born and the word “mother” is the most disgusting term imaginable. Babies are mass produced and only Alphas and Betas are allowed to develop normally. Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons are all deliberately brain damaged in their artificial wombs to do menial work.
[I consider it a Freudian slip that there is only one female alpha portrayed in the novel, and she is considered unattractive. But the alpha males (literally!) seem to have a lot of fun with Beta females. It even reaches the point where the “arch-songster” (later explicitly compared to an Arch-Bishop) basically orders a Beta female to service him against her desire or interest. She seems not to notice, but requires the help of the drug soma in order to “happily” participate. So without seeming to notice it, Huxley gives us an allegedly egalitarian society (in some ways, aside from the social caste) which actually is ruled by men for their own immediate needs.]
Eventually a real discontent is introduced–a “savage” from a native American reservation. He ends up so repulsed by “civilization” that he starts a riot trying to offer “freedom.” No one wants it. The riot police take the Savage and his two now contaminated friends to the office of the chief Alpha over that region of the global government. They talk. He is perfectly friendly. He is also pretty much free much of the conditioning that has kept down others. In fact, due to his love of “truth” (i.e. science) he was almost exiled to an island. But instead he took the offered alternative–world power over the civilization and the freedom in his own office to learn real history, read books from his safe, and in general be the intellectual that Aldous Huxley pretended to be. He tells the three that civilization is better off without personal autonomy and that he is a martyr for willingly dealing with his own unhappiness as a frustrated truth-seeking scientist in order to lovingly engineer the society. The two discontents must therefore be exiled and the savage must continue to live elsewhere (the actual decision didn’t make much sense to me).
The Savage runs away to live by himself, but he is eventually hounded by the news media and crowds show up. He is driven to commit suicide out of shame for his sins.
Thus fall all who oppose Huxley’s new world order.
In many ways, Huxley was the last of the great Victorian novelists. He was born in 1894, a grandson of the biologist T H Huxley, “Darwin’s bulldog”. Matthew Arnold was his great-uncle, and his aunt was the novelist Mrs Humphry Ward. Secure in this intellectual aristocracy, he might have rebelled and become a great mid-century English eccentric, a liberally minded chairman of the board of film censors, or the first openly agnostic Archbishop of Canterbury.
However, at the age of 16, while an Eton schoolboy, he caught a serious eye infection that left him blind for a year and may have forced him into a more interior vision of himself. With his one good eye, he read English at Oxford, perhaps the best perspective to take on this dubious subject. He was immensely tall, six feet four-and-a-half inches. Christopher Isherwood said that he was “too tall. I felt an enormous zoological separation from him.” Huxley, curiously, disliked male homosexuality but had many homosexual friends, Isherwood among them.
The young Huxley must have had immense charm. He soon found himself at Garsington Manor, near Oxford, the legendary home of the literary hostess, Lady Ottoline Morrell, where he met Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell and D H Lawrence. Years later, in the south of France, Lawrence died in the arms of Huxley’s wife. In the final minutes before his death, Lawrence suddenly panicked and cried out to Maria Huxley, begging her to keep him alive. She embraced him, and he died peacefully as her husband watched.
Maria was a wartime Belgian refugee whom Huxley met at Garsington and married in 1919. Murray describes their marriage as intensely close and happy, although Maria was an active bisexual. Huxley seems to have taken quickly to their special version of open marriage. They pursued the same lovers together, like a pair of sexual confidence tricksters: Maria encouraging Aldous, introducing him to the beautiful women he admired, preparing the amatory ground and saving him the fatigue of prolonged courtship. Jealousy and possessiveness, which so handicap the rest of us, seemed never to have touched Huxley, an emotional deficit that some readers have noticed in his novels. In the late 1930s, when they moved to Los Angeles, Maria became a member of the “sewing circle”, a club of prominent Hollywood lesbians reputed to include Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Lets ignore the light whitewash and point out what is evident. Huxley had absolutely no sexual morality. Nothing going on in Brave New World bothered him. In fact, he portrays the life of a nuclear family as an inherently dangerous and neurotic affair. In his world, Ford and Freud are remembered as the same person and treated with great seriousness. In fact, if you don’t believe in Freud (with a dose of Pavlov) you would never imagine the kind of need for the non-family biological reproduction that monopolizes “Civilization.” Just as, if you didn’t believe in Keynsianism, you would recognize that a “civilization” that deliberately caused unnecessary spending would inevitably fall rather than be the most stable in history. And, of course, Keynes was well placed in Huxley’s intellectual social circle.
Huxley’s portrayal of religion is unrecognizable to most Evangelical Christians. It consists of a mixture of paganism and monkish medievalism. All religious believers practice self-torment and vision quests, self-flegellations and induced vomitings. This is the only form of religion that Huxley can recognize because it keeps at bay the truth. His novel is a lie in every way, unless you read it as an accurate guide to his personal utopia (where he rules the world as a free intellectual among the slaves) and an act of psychological warfare against everyone else.
His book, Brave New World Revisited continues to hide in plain sight. We must avoid the future portrayed in Brave New World! How? Well, mostly by imposing radical population control. Like war leaders claiming that the terrorists “hate us for our freedoms” and then demand we give them all up to fight the terrorists, Huxley wants to save us from Brave New World by implementing its agenda. If we do so, we are to believe that it won’t be quite as “bad” as BNW but will end in a compromise. Huxley claims that in 1932, when he wrote it,
Ours was a nightmare of too little order; theirs.. of too much. In the passing from one extreme to the other, there would be a long interval, so I imagined, during which the more fortunate third of the human race would make the best of both worlds–the disorderly world of liberalism and the much too orderly Brave New World where perfect efficiency left no room ofr freedom or personal initiative.
Yet, that “world of liberalism” is not dying soon enough, decided Huxley in 1958. There are now “impersonal forces” that are “making the world extremely unsafe for democracy” and “so very inhospitable to individual freedoms.” What are these dire armies of Hell, you ask?
Mainly, browner people having babies.
Here are the causes of our curse:
Penicillin, DDT [! – MH], and clean water are cheap commodities whose effect on public health are out of all proportion to their cost. Even the poorest government is rich enough to provide its subjects with a substantial measure of death control. Birth control is a very different matter…
Huxley goes on cursing the lowering of death rates for pages. It is almost poetic. Jumping in again:
…This is especially true of those underdeveloped regions where a sudden lowering of the death rate by means of DDT [again! –MH], penicillin and clean water has not been accompanied by a corresponding fall in teh birth rate. In parts of Asian and in most of Central and South America populations are increasing so fast that they will double themselves in little more than twenty years…. the population of some of these underdeveloped countries is increasing at the rate of 3 per cent per annum.
All of this is accompanied by a great deal of Malthusian nonsense that these countries will never support themselves. This was all wrong in the 1930s as it was in the 1950s and then in the 1970s during the “populatino bomb” propaganda. It is still false today. Everyone’s living standards have risen with the population–the local exceptions are due to political problems, usually the attempt to impose order.
I could spend all day typing this in, but lets cut to the chase. As he discusses the alleged impossibility of supporting the populations we liberate from death (again, “with the aid of DDT”!), he writes against the problem that we might actually save lives:
And what about the congenitally insufficient organisms, whom our medicine and our social services now preserve so that they may propagate their kind? To help the unfortunate is obviously good. But the wholesale transmission to our descendants of the results of unfavorable mutations, and the progressive contamination of the genetic pool from which the members of our species will have to draw, are no less obviously bad. We are on the horns of an ethical dilemma, and to find the middle way will require all our intelligence and all our good will.
Yeah, keep your “good will” to yourself you Nazi pervert!
Darwin’s bulldog is still on the attack against all the insufficients saved from malaria by “our” DDT (which, we conveniently took away, didn’t we?). Why is this piece of human trash (not genetically, but his own ethical character) given so much glory in our day? How could he get away with writing such eugenicist propaganda as late as 1958? And yet he is still upheld as the great friend of freedom against totalitarianism. This has got to be one of the most amazing bait and switches in the history of propaganda
Written by Special Guest Contributor R C Sproul Jr
It is just about the time that we begin to mock our fathers that we find ourselves slipping on the banana peels they have left behind. Consider our fathers’ failure to contextualize in missions. Generations ago great heroes went forth carrying the good news of Jesus Christ to unreached people. That’s good. They also, at least we are told, carried with them deep into untamed interiors, musical organs. Because, you know, these new converts had to, in order to be Christian, sing western music with western instruments. Like Christians do.
I’m afraid we haven’t quite gotten past this. We may not send out organs, but we do send out our own traditions, our own way of doing things, and perhaps too often, our own people. I’m not, of course, opposed to going. That’s a good thing. But when we go we go to grow and encourage the church of Jesus Christ. Which means we go to grow and encourage the local believers. Which means we encourage them to follow Jesus, not us.
We know how churches operate. A man is gifted and called to serve as its pastor. He sets up his shop, and works to persuade consumers to shop at his store. As he succeeds the church grows and the pastor then begins to think in terms of franchising himself. More church plants. Fancy letterhead and a whiz-bang website. When we go overseas, however, we find something different. We find pockets of believers, oftentimes in hiding. We find them struggling to put food on their tables. And we find them well served by pastors with whom they share a common life.
Now I believe it is a good and fitting thing to pay a pastor (I Timothy 5:17). But I think we just might be guilty of cultural imperialism if we determine this is necessary, or even helpful in all circumstances. Worse we do the same thing with any number of western traditions that have even less biblical support. We send off missionaries to train locals on how to host a youth group. We raise money to build church buildings. Or we establish seminaries to make the local pastors as petty and confused as we are. All because this is how we do it here. Read more…
For Memorial Day yesterday, we watched ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Here are a few thoughts:
1. It is an amazing piece of 21st Century propaganda. I can scarcely believe that the USSR or any other despotic state would ever have made a movie justifying, and perhaps even glorifying, torture, much less even publicly admitting that did it. But that is just what Zero Dark Thirty does. And even I, never one to acquiesce to utilitarianism, almost came away thinking, “Wow. That’s disgustingly awful, not to mention illegal, but I guess that’s how they got bin Laden.”
2. The fact that our government will torture people, but moralisticly set limits on it (as if theirs is “good” torture and anything beyond this arbitrary line is “bad” torture), is tragically comical. We won’t break bones and fingers, use sharp objects to inflict pain, put bamboo underneath a man’s fingernails and glass in his urethra. No, that’s all bad. We’ll just deprive him of sleep, food, and water, hang him from ropes, walk him like a dog, confine him a small box, and pour water down his throat, and do it all for the rest of his life. This is like a pirate ship with a strict code of “honor,” that justifies its piracy because they only pillage, whereas the “evil” pirates pillage, rape, and murder.
3. Another movie that also graphically portrayed a Western State torturing Muslims was ‘The Battle of Algiers.’ Except this was an anti-war movie that was banned for five years in France because it made the French Government look bad. Contrast that with ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Here we have torture graphically portrayed, but rather than revolting the viewer and forcing him to rethink his nation’s foreign policy objectives, it is portrayed as a necessary evil serving the interests of the foreverwar. Every time the portrayals of torture bring you to the point of being sickened, another terrorist attack will be re-enacted on screen to show you just how “worth it” torture is. How we can go from a society that is sickened by torture to one that cheers (or at the very least is ambivalent toward it) in little more than a generation is amazing.
4. As a has friend pointed out to me, one of the major themes running throughout the film is that we are made to feel empathy for the CIA agents who are doing the torturing. This is true. Both Maya and Dan, the CIA Agents in the film who participated in torture, are visibly fatigued by years of that work. Dan eventually leaves for another assignment, due to the gruesomeness of the work (and, oh yeah, fear of being held accountable for his crimes). Maya, though, consumed with zeal after the death of her friend at the hands of a suicide bomber, presses on. However, in the final scene, we are supposed to come away with the thought that years of her barbarous work have taken their toll on her. It seems what director Kathryn Bigelow wants us to believe is that the ends justify the means and that if there is a cost for having tortured people, it is only the torturers who pay it. Never are we in any way made to put ourselves in the place of the men who are being tortured. They, of course, are subhuman. Empathy toward the tortured and empathy toward those abducted from their homes and interned in camps for the rest of their lives is not something this film makes us feel. And lest anyone mistake me for an Al Qaeda sympathizer, most of these men are murderers or men who have aided and abetted murderers, at least allegedly (of course, few have actually ever stood trial). The reason we should feel empathy for these men is not that we should sympathize with radical Islamic Jihadists, but that if the American State can break its own laws and torture truly evil men and hold them without trial, how long is it before the IRS, for instance, can do that to any one of us? And you think audits are bad.
A guest post by Thomas S Kidd
My family and I just returned from two weeks in the U.K., and while we were there, several major British religion news events transpired. First, on a day we happened to be in Edinburgh, Church of Scotland delegates voted to allow gay ministers. Then, when we returned to London, came the appalling murder of a British solider by two Muslims, one of whom was arrested in Kenya in 2010 for seeking al-Qaeda training. Finally, a new study of U.K. census data indicated that within a decade, perhaps less than half of all people in Britain will identify even nominally as Christians.
These disparate developments suggest several religious patterns: first, prominent churches in the U.K. seem generally inclined to follow the lead of mainline denominations in the U.S. and Canada on issues related to gender and homosexuality. The Church of England has recently decided to ordain celibate homosexuals as bishops, and has issued a new plan to ordain women bishops within two years. These developments make inevitable more difficulties between the shrinking mainline churches in the west, and the burgeoning ones in the global south, which are generally more traditional on issues of sexuality.
Second, the U.K. (like much of Europe) has a pressing problem of how to handle its growing Muslim population, some fraction of which are jihadist sympathizers. (Anecdotally, I was struck by how ubiquitous the signs of Islam are in the U.K., from mosques to burqa-clad women.) While America’s Muslim population remains proportionately low, especially outside of large cities, in the U.K. a tenth of the under-25 population is now Muslim, and the self-identifying Christian population is stagnant and aging. If it were not for Christian immigrants to the U.K. from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, Christianity would be in utter free-fall as a percentage of the British population.
Third, the legal establishment of the Church of England looks increasingly strange and antiquated, when you consider how Christianity (Anglican or otherwise) is losing even a nominal hold over much of the population. It is hard to imagine how the church will survive calls for its disestablishment (meaning withdrawal of state financial support and other trends toward stronger separation of church and state) unless a very different pattern emerges in the next generation. In a democratic country, it seems impossible to justify an established Christian church when so few actively practice Christianity, and when even nominal Christianity seems destined to command no more than a plurality of the population’s adherence. Yet the British government – particularly the monarchy – is still closely identified with Christianity. They still pray “God save the queen” in Anglican liturgies.
Given all this, is there hope for Christian revival in Britain? Christians, of course, always believe there is hope for redemption and renewal, because of God’s power. The observable facts are not promising, but there are certainly pockets of flourishing Christianity in Britain. The Kingsway International Christian Centre, an African Pentecostal congregation which is London’s largest church, attracts as many as 12,000 attendees every Sunday, and there are many other growing immigrant-dominated congregations across the U.K. Evangelical renewal efforts within the Anglican Church include the Alpha Course, pioneered by Nicky Gumbel (see more on the Alpha Course in this Anxious Bench post by Philip Jenkins).
While my family was blessed to attend Evensong services at both St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, the most vital church we visited was an evangelical Baptist congregation in Stirling, Scotland, which sits prominently in the city center. While nowhere near the scale of Kingsway, it is filled with young Scottish families. The worship is heartfelt, the preaching biblical and accessible, and community life and prayer support are vibrant. Those factors, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, would seem to be essential ingredients for revival in the U.K. and beyond.
@ThomasSKidd on Twitter
[This article first appeared at The Anxious Bench. Read more from Dr. Kidd there.]
by Marc Hays
Usually sanctification comes as a steady rain. Drop after drop after drop until the ground of your conscience has been saturated and you’re different than you were before. As the Spirit is prone to move like the wind, we don’t see where He comes from or where He goes. Sometimes sanctification comes like a flash flood. Life was dry and sunny and then “boom”! You’re not even sure what hit you, but you’re soaking wet and you’re no longer the same person you were before. I had one of these flash flood, sanctifying moments as G.K. Chesterton unfolded the “Ethics of Elfland” in his book Orthodoxy. Here’s a paragraph that changed me forever:
The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE. Heaven may ENCORE the bird who laid an egg. Read more…