To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.
You need both, because some of what is good about our world is irreplaceable and has to be guarded, while some of what is bad is unacceptable and has to be changed. We should never forget that the people who oppose our various endeavors and argue for another way are well intentioned too, even when they’re wrong, and that they’re not always wrong.
But we can also never forget what moves us to gratitude, and so what we stand for and defend: the extraordinary cultural inheritance we have; the amazing country built for us by others and defended by our best and bravest; America’s unmatched potential for lifting the poor and the weak; the legacy of freedom—of ordered liberty—built up over centuries of hard work.
We value these things not because they are triumphant and invincible but because they are precious and vulnerable, because they weren’t fated to happen, and they’re not certain to survive. They need us—and our gratitude for them should move us to defend them and to build on them.” —Yuval Levin’s Bradley Prize Remarks | Ethics & Public Policy Center (via ayjay)
Linebarger’s interest in psychological warfare was closely related to his Christian views of ethics and history. Essentially, the purpose of psywar is winning without killing. The goal is to get an opportunity to speak to the mind of the enemy, and convince him that there are other ways to settle differences than killing people.
In Psychological Warfare, Linebarger focuses on the use of propaganda to weaken the resolve of the enemy and persuade him to give up. In his fiction, Linebarger matches the use of words with acts of kindness. This twin approach, “true words and kind actions,” becomes the essence of psychological warfare, both the military kind and the evangelistic kind.
Under the pseudonym Felix Forrest, Linebarger wrote two psychological novels: Ria (1947) and Carola (1949). Ria has been reprinted and is available in hardcover. In this novel we see portrayed something of Linebarger’s understanding of the world between the two great wars. Ria is a young American girl, and she typifies America: young, naive, kind, and rich. She is visiting Europe and encounters several people, who typify (a) the older Christian order in decline, (b) the new European occultism permeating Germany, and (c) the vigorous materialistic atheism of the new orient of Japan. There are many levels in this novel, but the most interesting may be its portrayal of these cultures as they meet and interact with each other.
In 1949, Linebarger’s novel Atomsk was published under the pseudonym Carmichael Smith. Atomsk is a spy thriller, and in it Linebarger openly sets forth his ideal of a Christian warrior. The main character explains early on that in order to defeat an enemy you have to love him. You have to want what is best for him, and if possible get close to him, win his confidence, and persuade him to change his ways. The novel shows the outworking of this Christian principle in international affairs.” —Christianity In the Science Fiction of “Cordwainer Smith” by James B. Jordan (Contra Mundum 1992)
Of all places, the Church should surely be the most realistic. The Church knows how far humanity has fallen, understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer. In the psalms of lament, the Church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but the next. In the great liturgies of the Church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow. Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection.
It is therefore an irony of the most perverse kind that churches have become places where Pascalian distraction and a notion of entertainment that eschews the tragic seem to dominate just as comprehensively as they do in the wider world. I am sure that the separation of church buildings from graveyards was not the intentional start of this process, but it certainly helped to lessen the presence of death. The present generation does not have the inconvenience of passing by the graves of loved ones as it gathers for worship. Nowadays, death has all but vanished from the inside of churches as well.
In my own tradition, the historic Scottish Presbyterian tradition, the somber tempos of the psalter, the haunting calls of lament, and the mortal frailty of the unaccompanied human voice helped to connect Sunday worship to the realities of life. There are indeed psalms of joy and triumph. The parents rejoicing in the birth of a child could find words of gratitude to sing to the Lord, but there are also psalms which allow bereaved parents to express their grief and their sorrow in words of praise to their God.
The psalms as the staple of Christian worship, with their elements of lament, confusion, and the intrusion of death into life, have been too often replaced not by songs that capture the same sensibilities—as the many great hymns of the past did so well—but by those that assert triumph over death while never really giving death its due. The tomb is certainly empty; but we are not sure why it would ever have been occupied in the first place.
Only the dead can be resurrected. As the second thief on the cross saw so clearly, Christ’s kingdom is entered through death, not by escape from it. Traditional Protestantism saw this, connecting baptism not to washing so much as to death and resurrection. Protestant liturgies made sure that the law was read each service in order to remind the people that death was the penalty for their sin. Only then, after the law had pronounced the death sentence, would the gospel be read, calling them from their graves to faith and to resurrection life in Christ. The congregants thereby became vicarious participants in the great drama of salvation.
There was surely catharsis in such worship: The congregants left each week having faced the deepest reality of their own destinies. Perhaps it is ironic, but the church that confronts people with the reality of the shortness of life lived under the shadow of death prepares them for resurrection better than the church that goes straight to resurrection triumphalism without that awkward mortality bit.
Bonhoeffer once asked, “Why did it come about that the cinema really is often more interesting, more exciting, more human and gripping than the church?” Why, indeed. Maybe the situation is even worse than I have described; perhaps the churches are even more trivial than the entertainment industry. After all, in popular entertainment one does occasionally find the tragic clearly articulated, as in the movies of a Coppola or a Scorsese.
A church with a less realistic view of life than one can find in a movie theater? For some, that might be an amusing, even entertaining, thought; for me, it is a tragedy.” —Carl Trueman, “Tragic Worship” (via wesleyhill)
May the mind of Christ, my Savior,
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.
May the Word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.
May the peace of God my Father
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.
May the love of Jesus fill me
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.
May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.
May His beauty rest upon me,
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.
Words: Kate B. Wilkinson, before 1913; appeared in Golden Bells (London: Children’s Special Service Mission, 1925).
As Dallas taught so many, the Sabbath and Sabbath moments like the ones he described are ways of acknowledging who is in charge of the world and who is not. It reminds us that we are dependent on God and not ourselves. Our activity, our work, our intensity are not god. And by resting from those things, we acknowledge who is.
By giving away money we at once blaspheme the god of Mammon and worship the true God. By giving away time we at once blaspheme the god of Activity and worship the true One.” —
RIP, Dallas. I am honored to have known you.
This whole post is gold, really.
Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart, ‘The Shape of Time’ in The Future as God’s Gift: Explorations in Christian Eschatology (ed. David Fergusson and Marcel Sarot; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 86.
icharos asked: “I think you could make a living creating words to describe such deeply intimate sorrows. It would be like going to a doctor but instead of prescribing medication, you give the torment a name, and suddenly tangled emotions fall neatly into place and with that quiet word, you can breathe.”
Beautiful idea, and my dream job. I think the act of naming something implies, very simply, that you’re not alone. We give names to things so we can talk about them. Once there’s a word for an experience, it feels contained somehow—and the container has a handle, which makes it much easier to pick up and pass around. Kinda comforting.
Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
W. H. Auden, A Certain World (via garbandier)
A related thought: Your recognition and understanding of a physical or moral law does not exempt you from it.
I am one of those who believe that a human being is not an autonomous construction with no given structure, order, status, or role. I believe that the affirmation of freedom does not imply the negation of limits and that the affirmation of equality does not imply the leveling of differences. I believe that the powers of technology and of the imagination do not require that we forget that being is a gift, that life is prior to all of us, and that it has its own laws.
I long for a society in which modernity would have its full place but without implying the denial of elementary principles of human and familial ecology; for a society in which the diversity of ways of being, of living, and of desiring is accepted as fortunate, without allowing this diversity to be diluted in the reduction to the lowest common denominator, which effaces all differentiation; for a society in which, despite the technological deployment of virtual realities and the free play of critical intelligence, the simplest words—father, mother, spouse, parents—retain their meaning, at once symbolic and embodied; for a society in which children are welcomed and find their place, their whole place, without becoming objects that must be possessed at all costs, or pawns in a power struggle.” —Gilles Bernheim, Chief Rabbi of France (via freyatlast)
Writers talk a lot about epiphanies—what O’Connor, in her Catholic tradition, called “grace”—in short stories. But I think we’re tyrannized by a misunderstanding of Joyce’s notion of the epiphany. That stories should toodle on their little track toward a moment where the characters understand something they didn’t understand before—and, at that moment, they’re transformed into better people.
You know: Suddenly Billy understood that his grandmother had always gone through a lot of difficult things, and he resolved he would never treat her that way again.
This kind of conversion notion is based on a very comforting idea—that if only we had sufficient information, we wouldn’t act badly. And that’s one of the great things about what The Misfit tells the Grandmother in the line I like so much. He’s not saying that a near-death experience would have turned her into a good woman. He’s saying it would take somebody threatening to shoot her every minute of her life.
In other words, these conversion experiences don’t stick—or they don’t stick for very long. Human beings have to be re-educated over and over and over again as we swim upstream against our own irrationalities.
(There’s a great line in Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane, where one of the protagonist’s enemies says to him: “You’re going to need more than one lesson, Mr. Kane, and you’re going to get more than one lesson.”)
Now, O’Connor really believes that we can flood, momentarily, with the kind of grace that epiphany is supposed to represent. But I think she also believes that we’re essentially sinners. She’s saying: Don’t think for a moment that because you’ve had a brief instant of illumination, and you suddenly see yourself with clarity, that you’re not going to transgress two days down the road.” —Joe Fassler, “What Flannery O’Connor Got Right: Epiphanies Aren’t Permanent” (via Alaina)
I don’t have an answer to the problem of evil. But if Job was answered by the presence of God, then the only thing we can offer is to be the presence of God in someone’s life. The quiet, loving friend, the tender mother, the faithful wife. It doesn’t solve the insoluble, and it won’t make anyone applaud you for being right or winning a war. Nobody becomes president of a seminary or makes the best-seller list by holding the hand of someone in pain.
But it says that God is good. Here, here is goodness: baked and covered in this casserole dish, shining in this stack of clean laundry, ringing in that phone when you’re lonely. God is good, my letter says, even if the words aren’t printed on it. God is good, I hear in that familiar joke from a much-missed friend, who suddenly stopped by. Not watch me win, but God is good.” —Sharon L. Holland: More than being right
I read a good bit of speculative fiction—though less than before the kids were born, for some reason. One subgenre that I didn’t really appreciate until recently was the post-apocalyptic. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun is a case in point, as is the lighter tone of Christopher Stasheff’s Escape Velocity. It wouldn’t be a stretch to include The Lord of the Rings.
At the moment I am reading Jeffrey Overstreet’s Auralia Thread series, which seems to have a similar background feel.
Part of the conceit of such novels is a new civilization building (or surviving) on the ruins of an older and often greater civilization, whether more technologically advanced, more courageous, more entrepreneurial, or more free. The new culture cannot fix what breaks, and it falls into despotism or another more primitive form of society, often accompanied by something like a new monasticism or system of guilds.
I have generally enjoyed, though not usually sought out, books with such themes, but never fully felt the possibility of regressing for myself. This may be because of the modernist atmosphere in which I grew up. Conservative Christianity in the 1980s was anything but doubting (on the surface, at least) of the virtues and eventual triumph of biblically based American representative democracy and the American can-do spirit. There’s much to value in that flavor of Christianity and in American-style democracy. But neither are much help in inculcating a wider or longer-term perspective.
I’m now in middle age, it would appear, and the possibility of watching one’s civilization abandon itself does not feel so remote. One begins to see why the Greeks believed that history is cyclical, since so many elites make the same mistakes over and over again—made worse by increased technological efficiency.
Even after the blatant lessons of the twentieth century, people are unwilling to admit that humanity is fallen, or even tragically flawed. And we are often reluctant to do the hard work of confronting encroaching despotism or the somewhat easier work of naming demagogues. Malaise is hard to resist without a competing hope to live into, a better story to tell.
Our overlord elites are unwilling to admit that they are not omnicompetent. Results and consequences are irrelevant to the pursuits of their dream of technocratic control (I commented to my wife yesterday that we have the circuses, but are missing the bread). They judge themselves on their intentions and their opponents on their adherence to the dogmata of the moment; all those school assignments of 1984 and Animal Farm seem to be backfiring as former students turn professor and use them as instruction manuals for a new generation of banal oppression.
Should the elites finally fail us or drive us to barbarism or despotism, the Internet or the remainders of printed books may help us maintain much of our technology (that’s good, isn’t it?), but I suspect the Internet will be of little use at the level of virtue and maintaining those near-inexpressible patterns of thought, habits of mind, and qualities of character that most truly define a civilization. Much of value will be lost.
The positive side of the equation is that such fiction (and so many cases from history, too) offers a vision for recovered civilization and thus encouragement for the small groups of thoughtful and faithful people who will survive, and perhaps even flourish, in a decayed society, until the conditions are made right for rebuilding.
Such writings are also of value in shaping our expectations; American civilization, Western civilization, though better than most alternatives on offer, is not salvation. We still desire a better country.