altC. S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, the Role of Revelation and the Question of Inerrancey by Michael J. Christensen (Abingdon Press, 1979)

When this book was written, there was a lot of fur flying in the Christian world over the nature of Biblical inspiration. Christensen's book is an attempt to ferret out what C. S. Lewis thought about the matter, though it's perfectly clear that if Lewis had still been alive during that time, he would have determinedly steered clear of the controversy. With the imprimatur of a forward by Owen Barfield and an introduction by Clyde S. Kilby, however, I suspect this book hits pretty close to the mark.

In any case, as far as I can tell from the Lewis books I've read, it seems a fair explanation. Moreover, I learned a lot here and respect Lewis's views even more—though I don't pretend to understand all the ins and outs of the philosophy and the literary criticism.

Many colleges, and sometimes even high schools, offer a course called "The Bible as Literature." I've never taken one, the very title sounding to me like a course in "what you can get out of the Bible if you don't actually believe a word of it." C. S. Lewis on Scripture makes me realize that such a course taught by Lewis would be a totally different experience altogether.

I won't attempt to summarize his ideas, nor even to summarize this summary of his ideas. But in a nutshell, Lewis believed that we cannot properly interpret Scripture without approaching it through both rational thought and imagination. Leave one out, and you miss the point. Thus he will not be put into a box when it comes to his views on the inspiration of the Bible. In short, to no surprise, he is very ... Anglican.

C. S. Lewis on Scripture is worth reading, though not as valuable as reading Lewis himself.

Partial Table of Contents

  1. IN WHAT WAY IS THE BIBLE INSPIRED?
    Are there errors in the Bible?
    What does the Bible say about itself?
    Revelation: Personal Encounter or Propositional Truth?
    Where does Lewis stand?
  2. LEWIS: LIBERAL OR CONSERVATIVE?
    Religious tolerance: we are not to judge
    Heaven and hell: the choice is ours
    Purgatory: our souls demand it
    The Eucharist: the very life and grace of God
    Theistic Evolution: animal raised to higher life
    Immortality of animals: a heaven for mosquitoes
    Christ's Atonement: fact and theories
    Is the Bible historically true?
    Biblical criticism: friend or foe?
    Modern theology: Christianity-and-water
    Lewis: Liberal, Conservative, or Fascinating Mixture?
  3. LITERARY CRITICISM OF THE BIBLE
    Good literature compels good reading
    Good poetry is artistic imitation of reality
    A "baptized imagination"—the key to ultimate reality
    Human language falls short of the reality it seeks to describe
    The human predicament
  4. MYTH, REVELATION AND SCRIPTURE
    We see through a glass darkly
    Myth converys the inexpressible
    Wishful thinking or the truly real?
    God's revelation assumes different forms
    Scripture as inspired literature
  5. THE QUESTION OF INERRANCY
    What did the early church believe?
    What did the medieval church believe?
    What did the reformers assert about Scripture?
    What happened after the Reformation?
    With the Age of Reason came the liberal position
    Neoorthodoxy: return to orthodoxy or religious cop-out?
    Evangelicalism: A house divided
  6. A TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS
  7. How should the Bible be read?
    The problem of authority: we are not content
    Conclusion: a treasure chest of truth

APPENDIX A. TWO LETTERS FROM C. S. LEWIS
APPENDIX B. LEWIS: THE RATIONAL ROMANTIC

From the Preface

Most evangelicals believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. C. S. Lewis, who said "most of my books are evangelistic," did not. The Bible for him was human literature, divinely inspired and authoritative, but not verbally inspired or without error.

Should evangelicals simply dismiss Lewis as too "liberal" or "naive" because he failed to affirm a particular notion of inerrancy? Or, should they give him a fair hearing and withhold judgment until they have thoroughly considered his literary understanding of the nature of Scripture? In light of Lewis's firm evangelical commitment and acknowledged orthodoxy, I support the latter.

From Chapter 2: Lewis: Liberal or Conservative?

A self-confessed romantic converted to Christianity halfway through life, he is neither theologically liberal nor conservative; he defies classification.

From Chapter 4: Myth, Revelation and Scripture

The notion of progressive revelation suggests that God discloses himself to man in a way that is best suited to man's particular stage of religious development. For pagan culture, divine revelation took the form of mythology. For the Hebrew culture, God spoke through the Law and the prophets. Christianity is the grand culmination of progressive revelation and religious maturity in both cultures.

How are Christians to understand the obvious similarities between pagan myths and Christianity? Either pagan mythology is essentially demonic and functions as counterfeit revelation for the purpose of confusing mankind, or else it is the dim foreshadowing of God's supreme revelation in Christ. Lewis identifies with the latter view.

It can be concluded at this point that Scripture for Lewis functions as myth, as well as historic fact. It has most of the qualities of imaginative literature and all the characteristics of myth, requiring an imaginative embrace to perceive meaning.

Myth, it must be remembered, does not mean lie, error, illusion or misunderstood history. The term has little to do with fact or history but transcends both. Properly understood, myth is a medium of divine revelation bringing a level of understanding superseding that which can be known through facts and history. To regard a portion of Scripture as myth, far from being less than true, is to acknowledge a higher truth and a deeper reality than could otherwise be expressed.

From Chapter 6: A Treasure in Earthen Vessels

This divine message, Lewis would have us remember, is not confined to the medium of Scripture. God, the Source of all truth, in the process of "reconciling the world unto himself," has used many means to call his sheep back into the fold: He has inspired great myths and literature throughout history, created in us immortal longings, spoken to us through conscience and religious experience, and given us Holy Scripture to convey his message. And finally, he has revealed himself in human form, died, and risen again so that we might die and live with him.

Because of God's initiative in revelation, we possess a treasure chest of truth that is of eternal value. God's Word is the "treasure" revealed through "earthen vessels," as 2 Corinthians 4:7 implies: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." Let us not mistake the vessels for the treasure nor fail to find the treasure in the vessels.

From Appendix A: Two Letters from C. S. Lewis

[Quoting from a page of Lewis's notes] That the over-all operation of Scripture is to convey God's Word to the reader (he also needs his inspiration) who reads it in the right spirit, I fully believe. That it also gives true answers to all the questions (often religiously irrelevant) which he might ask, I don't. The very kind of truth we are often demanding was, in my opinion, not even envisaged by the ancients.

From Appendix B: Lewis: the Rational Romantic

As a rationalist, Lewis approached the message of the Bible as a truth to be believed. As a romantic, he approached the message of the Bible as a reality to be received. Lewis's literary view of inspiration encompassed both his rational faculty for understanding and his romantic intuition to find meaning.

Reason and imagination for Lewis are the complementary human faculties for knowing. In the realm of facts, empirical evidence, sense objects, particulars, and so on, truth is known through reason. But transcendent Reality—knowledge of universals in the eternal realm—if it is to be known at all, must be grasped by imagination.

Such is Lewis's rational-romantic synthesis of truth and meaning, reason and imagination. Reason alone cannot lead us to truth. But neither can truth be understood apart from reason. Both reason and imagination, seemingly at odds with one another, are necessary for truth to be meaningful.

The appendix ends with this poem, from Lewis's novel, Till We Have Faces.

O who will reconcile in me both maid and mother,
Who make in me a concord of the depth and height?
Who make imagination's dim exploring touch
Ever report the same as intellectual sight?
Then could I truly say, and not deceive,
Then wholly say, that I BELIEVE.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at 6:51 am | Edit
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I read it in the Orlando Sentinel, on page 10 of the front section of today's paper, part of an article entitled, "Will census show Latino boom?"

And people wonder why I don't trust the mainstream media. Part of me still retains a small hope that professional news organizations—like our local newspaper—have more of a chance of getting the news right than the average Internet source, but they keep taxing my credulity. Here's the latest.

[E]xperts say the typical hurdles for an accurate census have been aggravated by a controversial question proposed by the Trump administration—"Is this person a citizen of the United States?"—that some fear will dissuade non-citizens from participating.

"The biggest barrier is one that the Trump administration has created," [attorney Tom] Wolf said. "This would mark the first time in American history that the census would try to ascertain the citizenship status of the entire country."

The emphasis is mine. Tom Wolf is "an attorney who specializes in the census and redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York." Specializes in the census? I suppose I could give him the benefit of the doubt and allow that perhaps he was wildly misquoted—but I'm skeptical.

From my genealogical work, I knew he was wrong: citizenship questions had been asked before. What I didn't know until I looked it up again was just how wrong he was. Check out the following census years:

1870

  • Is the person a male citizen of the United States of 21 years or upwards?

 1890

  • Is the person naturalized?
  • Has the person taken naturalization papers out?

 1900

  • What year did the person immigrate to the United States?
  • How many years has the person been in the United States?
  • Is the person naturalized?

1910

  • Year of immigration to the United States
  • Is the person naturalized or an alien?

1920

  • Year of immigration to the United States
  • Is the person naturalized or alien?
  • If naturalized, what was the year of naturalization?

1930

  • Year of immigration into the United States
  • Is the person naturalized or an alien?

1940

  • If foreign born, is the person a citizen?

1950

  • If foreign born, is the person naturalized?

1970

From 1970 on, the census stopped asking all the questions of everyone—only a small percentage of households received the long form with the interesting questions. Speaking as a genealogist, that was a very big mistake.

  • For persons born in a foreign country—Is the person naturalized?
  • When did the person come to the United States to stay?

1980

  • Is this person a naturalized citizen of the United States?
  • When did this person come the United States to stay?

1990

  • Is this person a citizen of the United States?
  • If this person was not born in the United States, when did this person come to the United States to stay?

2000

  • Is this person a citizen of the United States?

2010

In 2010 the short census form had a mere 10 questions, and the long form was replaced by the annual American Community Survey. The ACS asked questions about citizenship.

So, Mr. Wolf is correct if he only considers the censuses taken from 1960 onward. But he ignores eight censuses in which the country did, indeed, "try to ascertain the citizenship status of the entire country." The proposed question is hardly something new.

The U. S. Federal Census has often asked nosy and sometimes peculiar questions, such as

  • Is the person deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic?
  • Can the person read?
  • Was, on the day of the enumerator's visit, the person sick or disabled so as to be unable to attend to ordinary business or duties? If so, what was the sickness or disability?
  • For mothers, how many children has the person had? and How many of those children are living?
  • Is the person's home owned or rented? If it is owned, is the person's home owned free or mortgaged?
  • Is the person a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy?
  • Person's father's mother tongue
  • Is the person an employer, a salary or wage worker, or working on his own account?
  • Does the household own a radio?
  • Number of weeks worked in the year
  • What is the highest grade this person has attended in school?
  • How did this person get to work last week?

There was a time in my life when I was disgusted with the census for asking such personal questions. But now I see them as an invaluable glimpse into the world of my ancestors—and our country's history. I grieve that the names of all household members don't show up until 1850, and that most of the country has been excluded from the interesting questions since 1970.

I don't see how the Sentinel has a leg to stand on with its statement that the census has never before asked the citizenship of all the country's inhabitants. Why I continue to believe so much of what I read boggles my mind.  Maybe for the same reason I agree to all those End User License Agreements.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 15, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Edit
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 Now it begins: Holy Week 2019. Here's what the schedule looks like.

  • Palm Sunday 8:00 and 10:30am with Procession of the Palms at both services (just 10:30 for us)
  • Monday 6:30pm, Holy Eucharist
  • Tuesday 6:30pm, Taize service
  • Wednesday 12:00 noon, Holy Eucharist; 6:30pm, Tenabrae Service (followed at 7:30 by choir practice for us)
  • Thursday 7:00pm, Eucharist and Foot Washing, Stripping of the Altar, and Prayer Vigil until Midnight (the choir sings for this service, but we will be home well before midnight)
  • Good Friday 12:00 noon and 7:00 pm. Good Friday Liturgy (just the evening service for us)
  • Holy Saturday 8:00pm Easter Vigil, Baptism and Solemn Communion (possibly my favorite service of the year)
  • Easter Sunday 7:00am Lakeside Eucharist, Pot Luck Breakfast/Brunch from 8:30 to 10:00am, 10:30am Holy Eucharist in the Church (the choir sings for the 10:30 service, of course, but we'll skip the early service)

(Much as I don't generally care for Daylight Saving Time, I note that this year it works out well for our sunrise service—the sun rises at 6:54 a.m. that day.)

For several reasons, the choir has a lighter schedule this year, singing for only three of these services. Not that it lightens the schedule much—we'll attend most of them and we'd generally rather be singing with the choir than sitting in the congregation. But it means that we may not collapse in total exhaustion on Easter afternoon.

Today began, as usual, with the altar party, the choir, and the congregation waving palm fronds and processing around the parking lot and into the church, singing "All Glory, Laud, and Honor." It was a bit sad not to have tambourines this year, but I have to say the two trumpets did an excellent job of keeping our voices more or less in unison.

I miss the days when this was simply Palm Sunday, and not what it has become: Palm/Passion Sunday. I like having a whole service for celebrating the Triumphal Procession, and room for singing the sublime "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty"—though I'm of mixed feelings about that, because our hymnal's version is not the tune I like best for that hymn (WINCHESTER NEW) anyway. But for quite a while now most churches seem to move fairly quickly from the Triumphal Entry to the Passion (which also has beautiful hymns, I'll admit). That seems a little premature to me, given that we have all Holy Week in which to do that. It also takes something away from the Good Friday service I think. But obviously I'm in the minority here.

Today was also a day of Bach3: "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" for our anthem, a hymn with Bach harmonization, and a Bach postlude. Can't argue with that.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 5:05 pm | Edit
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altUnplanned
The Movie

About once a year or so we actually go out to a theater and watch a movie. I knew I wanted to see Unplanned, and did not have any confidence that it would eventually make it to Netflix. So Porter bought tickets online for our local AMC theater, and we made a date of it.

"Date" is an appropriate word, because despite the seriousness of the subject and a couple of horrifying scenes that probably earned it its "R" rating, Unplanned is basically a love story: The unconditional love of parents for a child who has made lifestyle choices in complete opposition to their own deeply-held values; the steadfast love of a man in support of his wife despite his conviction that her chosen career path is an immoral one; the love that leads us to embrace our common humanity in the face of chasmic differences; and the relentless love of God for his hurting world—"unresting, unhasting, and silent as light."

Abby Johnson's desire to make a difference in the world, to support the rights of women, and to help women in crisis situations led her, beginning as a student volunteer at the local Planned Parenthood clinic, to a promising career with that organization. She became one of the youngest-ever clinic directors, and won an Employee of the Year award in 2008.

And then that same heart-felt desire to help women led her to quit. Unplanned is her story.

The story is well told. The movie is beautiful—except of course where it's ugly. I particularly like the fact that it is not a black-and-white, one-dimensional story of a sudden conversion, despite the "what she saw changed everything" subtitle. As much as can be done in a movie less than two hours in length, we see Abby's growth through time and experience. Her change of heart seems more of a tipping point than a crisis, though there are certainly elements of the latter as well. Abby at the end of the movie is more knowledgeable, more experienced, certainly less naïve, and moving in a different direction in more than one area of her life—but still Abby.

The only fault I find is the portrayal of Abby's boss, who is indeed one-dimensional; we never see her human side. It reminds me of what C. S. Lewis said about George MacDonald, that he was rare among authors in being able to portray good much better than evil: "His saints live; his villains are stagey." It's certainly possible that this woman was as nasty as she seems, and as I said, it's a short movie, but I would like to have seen something redeeming about her character.

Do I recommend seeing Unplanned when you have the chance? Absolutely, 100%, a hundred times over. Do I recommend it for our grandchildren? Eventually. They're all under age for the rating at this point, anyway. Maybe the oldest one or two could handle it well, if their parents watch the film first and agree. Anyone younger than that would be traumatized, maybe scarred for life—if they understood it at all. At first I wondered about the R rating, given the horrible things I've seen in PG-13 movies, but I believe the MPAA got it right in this case. Unplanned is a beautiful movie, and an important one, but there's no denying that it's disturbing in a way no child should be asked to handle. Not that so many kids haven't already seen worse. And it's rather bizarre to require parental consent for a child watch a movie with a few abortion scenes, when that same child could actually have an abortion without it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 11, 2019 at 11:11 am | Edit
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altThe Abolition of Man: or Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1978; originally published 1947)

Don't be put off by the occasional dated and UK-based references: this is very important material, definitely still applicable today. It is a good book to read either before or after That Hideous Strength, the third book in Lewis's space trilogy, in which the same ideas appear in the form of fiction. You must also get over Lewis's use of the term Tao. You can see why he uses it, but the meaning is not exactly the same as in Chinese philosophy. 

As the review is short, so the quotations are few. Lewis is not easily reduced to sound bites. The bolded emphasis is mine, though I'm not sure it's a good idea, because it separates them from their context, which is just as important.

From Chapter 1, "Men Without Chests"

I doubt whether [the authors of a particular English literature textbook] really planned, under cover of teaching English, to propagate their philosophy. I think they have slipped into it for the following reasons. In the first place, literary criticism is difficult, and what they actually do is very much easier. To explain why a bad treatment of some basic human emotion is bad literature is, if we exclude all question-begging attacks on the emotion itself, a very hard thing to do. ... To "debunk" the emotion on the basis of a commonplace rationalism, is within almost anyone's capacity. In the second place, I think [they] may have honestly misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda ... and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of the young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. ... The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt. 

Where the old [education] initiated, the new merely "conditions." The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly: the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds—making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men: the new is merely propaganda.

It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that "a gentleman does not cheat," than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. ... Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the "spirited element." The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat ... of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest—Magnanimity—Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. The operation of [this textbook] and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests.

And all this time...we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

From Chapter 2, "The Way"

[The authors of this textbook] will be found to hold, with complete uncritical dogmatism, the whole system of values which happened to be in vogue among moderately educated young men of the professional classes during the period between the two wars [World War I and World War II]. Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values: about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough. And this phenomenon is very usual. A great many of those tho "debunk" traditional or (as they would say) "sentimental"values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.

This thing which I have for convenience called the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) "ideologies," all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

From Chapter 3, "The Abolition of Man"

In what sense is man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?

Let us consider three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. In a civilized community, in peace-time, anyone who can pay for them may use these things. But it cannot strictly be said that when he does so he is exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature. If I pay you to carry me, I am not therefore myself a strong man. Any or all of the three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men—by those who sell, or those who allow the sale, or those who own the sources of production, or those who make the goods. What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers manifested in the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.

For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. In all ages, no doubt, nurture and instruction have, in some sense, attempted to exercise this power. But the situation to which we must look forward will be novel in two respects. In the first place, the power will be enormously increased. Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant “a bastard nursed in a bureau”, and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women, and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry—we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses. But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 8, 2019 at 7:40 am | Edit
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altMiracles: A Preliminary Study by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan Books, 1978; first published 1947)

This is another book in my C. S. Lewis retrospective. It's hard to imagine that it has probably been 40 years or so since I read Miracles. I can't be sure, since I began keeping track of my reading only in 2010, but the book is covered with clear contact paper, a practice I used in college and for a little while thereafter. The cover is clean and almost new, but protecting it did not help the binding—many of the pages are falling out and I think I'm due for an upgrade.

If you're looking for a book full of examples of purported miracles—faith-healing stories out of Africa, perhaps, or an examination of testimonies from Lourdes—this is not your book. Lewis's approach is much more academic and philosophical, from careful definition of terms, to examination of the presuppositions inherent in different worldviews, to analysis of the type and function of various miracles in Christianity.

For me, the book started slowly, a bit of a slog. Lewis spends a great deal of time laying the philosophical groundwork for his study of miracles. Philosophy makes my head spin more than physics ever did, and I don't pretend to have a clear grasp of all his arguments. But I can testify that the end of the book is well worth the work at the beginning. The last three chapters, the Epilogue, and the two appendices are especially worthwhile. Here's the Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 The Scope of this Book
Chapter 2 The Naturalist and the Supernaturalist
Chapter 3 The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism
Chapter 4 Nature and Supernature
Chapter 5 A Further Difficulty in Naturalism
Chapter 6 Answer to Misgivings
Chapter 7 A Chapter of Red Herrings
Chapter 8 Miracles and the Laws of Nature
Chapter 9 A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary
Chapter 10 “Horrid Red Things”
Chapter 11 Christianity and “Religion”
Chapter 12 The Propriety of Miracles
Chapter 13 On Probability
Chapter 14 The Grand Miracle
Chapter 15 Miracles of the Old Creation
Chapter 16 Miracles of the New Creation
Appendix A: On the Words “Spirit” and “Spiritual”
Appendix B: On “Special Providence”

I didn't mark many quotations this time, and almost none in my favorite chapters—not because there was little worthwhile, but because it all hangs together in a way I find difficult to dissect into independent pieces. But here are a few.

From "Answers to Misgivings"

It is no accident that parents and schoolmasters so often tell us that they can stand any vice rather than lying, the lie being the only defensive weapon of the child.

If we are content to go back and become humble plain men obeying tradition, well. If we are ready to climb and struggle on till we become sages ourselves, better still. But the man who will neither obey wisdom in others nor adventure for her [that is, for wisdom] himself is fatal. A society where the simple many obey the few seers can live: a society where all were seers could live even more fully. But a society where the mass is still simple and the seers are no longer attended to can achieve only superficiality, baseness, ugliness, and in the end extinction. 

From "A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary"

Everything becomes different when we recognize that Nature is a creature, a created thing, with its own particular tang or flavour…. It is not in her, but in Something far beyond her, that all lines meet and all contrasts are explained. It is no more baffling that the creature called Nature should be both fair and cruel than that the first man you meet in the train should be a dishonest grocer and a kind husband. For she is not the Absolute: she is one of the creatures, with her good points and her bad points and her own unmistakable flavour running through them all.

To say that God has created her is not to say that she is unreal, but precisely that she is real. Would you make God less creative than Shakespeare or Dickens? ... The theologians certainly tell us that He created Nature freely. They mean that He was not forced to do so by any external necessity. But we must not interpret freedom negatively, as if Nature were a mere construction of parts arbitrarily stuck together. God's creative freedom is to be conceived as the freedom of a poet: the freedom to create a consistent, positive thing with its own inimitable flavour.

From "Christianity and 'Religion'"

We who defend Christianity find ourselves constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion. Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. People become embarrassed or angry. Such a conception seems to them primitive and crude and even irreverent. The popular "religion" excludes miracles because it excludes the "living God" of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else.

The stillness in which the mystics approach [God] is intent and alert—at the opposite pole from sleep or reverie.

From "The Grand Miracle"

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion of them in isolation from it is futile.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 5, 2019 at 5:45 am | Edit
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Despite our general antipathy to most forms of rock music, there's one rock concert we try to attend whenever we have annual Disney passes: when Air Supply comes to EPCOT. Recently they performed as part of the Garden Rocks concert series for the Flower & Garden Festival, so we headed to the park for an afternoon of food and fun.

Here's what we sampled this year, with brief comments. Overall much better than the offerings at the Food & Wine Festival, though mostly because they are new and different.

  • Fried Green Tomatoes with Blue Crab-fennel Salad, Remoulade and Smoked Paprika Oil — delicious!
  • Tuna Tataki with Spicy Yuzu Glaze, Mango, Avocado and Pappadam Crisp — very good
  • Citrus Shortcake: Orange Chiffon Cake, Lemon Curd, Mandarins, Whipped Cream, Citrus Crumble — absolutely awesome
  • Tropical Freeze (non-alcoholic frozen drink with tropical fruit, including mangos and pineapple) — excellent, good balance of flavors
  • Honey Tandoori Chicken Flatbread with White Cheddar Cheese, Charred Vegetables, Clover Honey Sour Cream and Micro Citrus Greens — good
  • Local Wildflower Honey-mascarpone Cheesecake with Orange Blossom Honey Ice Cream garnished with Fennel Pollen Meringue Kisses and Petite Lavender Shoots — delicious, and the honey was a gorgeous golden color filled with sparkles (pollen?) that shone in the sun
  • Vegetable Spring Rolls — okay, but you can get better at almost any Chinese restaurant
  • Toasted Pretzel Bread topped with Black Forest Ham and Melted Gruyère Cheese — yummy
  • Chilled Soba Noodle Salad with Pan-seared Tuna and Wasabi Dressing — good, but the Tuna Tataki was better
  • Canard Confit à la Provençal: Braised Duck Confit with Tomatoes and Olives on Polenta — good but not memorable
  • Earl Grey Tea Cake with Orange-Honey Filling topped with Honeybell Tangelo Buttercream, Honeycomb, and Bee Pollen — fantastic!

No visit to EPCOT would be complete without relaxing in a cool, darkened theater and enjoying Impressions de France, but that's the only ride we did. That's what happens when you can freely visit more often that you want to, and don't have children or grandchildren with you.

Soon enough it was time to head over to the American Gardens Theater and watch Mirko Tessandori (and Those Other Guys) perform. This video was taken from my seat, but actually is a better view than we had because of the zoom. It's just a snippet, but you get the idea.

Here are some mindblowing statistics: Air Supply has been touring for fourty-four years, and this was their 5060th concert. I wonder if after that long, living from hotel room to hotel room, all over the world, begins to feel normal.

It's always good to see friends and family doing what they love. I even attend basketball games when our grandson is playing. :) And I love to hear Mirko in action, albeit it is more fun in an interactive, smaller setting.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 at 9:43 am | Edit
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Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [newest]

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 12:12 pm | Edit
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Category Inspiration: [first] [previous]

It took a long time for me to dip my toes into the DNA testing waters, being both an avid genealogist and a very private person. But just as giving birth changed my relationship to modesty, starting a blog changed my relationship to privacy. I'm still both modest and private, but not in the same way. The biggest obstacle to DNA testing was knowing I was dragging my family along. As recent events have shown, criminal behavior (and other indiscretions) can be found out by DNA through relatives' information available on genealogy websites.

But I discovered long ago that privacy as we knew it is dead. I remember working with a family researcher who was writing a book on one side of our family. At one time, I would have refused to contribute any information, but had since been helped so much in my research by a book on the Wightman Family that I wanted to help others the same way. The Wightman book, incidentally, has information on me and our family that was contributed without my knowledge or consent. At the time I was not happy, but I got over that and now appreciate it. Except for where the data is wrong....

The point, however, is that while such direct contributions help researchers, they're not all that necessary. When one of my family members declined to contribute his family's information to the project I was helping with, the researcher understood his reluctance—but he added, "Let me show you the information I've already obtained from public sources." He already had just about everything he could use. As Illya Kuryakin Dr. Mallard said on NCIS last night, The Internet will be the death of us. Or at least of privacy.

In light of all this, Porter and I each decided to submit a sample to AncestryDNA.com, and eagerly awaited the results. Later we uploaded the DNA data to MyHeritage.com, and eventually gave another sample to 23andMe.com—the latter for both the ancestry and the health screening.

This post is not for a detailed analysis of the results, but an overall impression of the value of the DNA testing. First, from the point of view of genealogy.

For us, the Ancestry.com screening was the most useful. This is for two reasons.

  • They have the largest database from which to work, and that is what makes the testing useful—comparing your DNA to that of other populations. For this reason it is also most useful for those of European background, because of the large numbers of that population who have participated. The testing services are working to improve the experience for under-represented populations, but for now the data is not so robust.
  • I have uploaded our family tree, with its nearly 15,000 individuals, to Ancestry.com, and that's largely what makes their DNA service helpful for genealogy. This gives context to our DNA matches, and I've already confirmed known relatives while learning of several more. My tree is at the moment private on Ancestry, which means people have to ask me about the information, which is a good way to get to meet them. Someday I will make it, or at least a version of it, public, but the tree itself isn't ready for that exposure yet.

No doubt MyHeritage would be more useful if I put a tree up there as well, but that's on the "Someday/Maybe" list. I only uploaded our data because at the time they gave free access to their resources if you did. So far they've only found us "third-to-fifth cousins"—tons of them—which is not of much use without trees to compare, and most people seem to have no trees or very small ones. Third cousins share a great-great-grandfather, so it requires a significant amount of family history knowledge to make the connection.

23andMe is in the same situation as far as genealogy goes. So far nothing found even as close as second cousin (sharing a great-grandfather).

How has this helped my genealogy research? Well, through Ancestry.com I've connected with a few previously unknown cousins, a couple close enough to be useful in sharing information. Even the ones that are more distant have been useful in providing some confirmation of my research. Overall I'm glad I took the plunge, if only for this reason. It also has a lot of potential for more and better information as time goes on. One important caveat: There is a lot of error in online family trees. Even with DNA support, this information is best taken as inspiration for further research, and for mutual sharing of data sources.

Now for what most people want out of DNA testing: heritage and ethnicity information. This is an estimate only, and each company has its own data and algorithm for making its "best guess." Sometime after we had our samples analyzed, Ancestry.com upgraded their system and re-analyzed our data. The results were not terribly much different from the first attempt, though probably more accurate.

The analysis from MyHeritage was closer to Ancestry's original analysis. That from 23andMe was different from any of the others, though quite similar overall.

My impression? The DNA analysis is very good as an overall picture, not so good on the details. For example, Porter's great-grandparents came to the United States from Sweden, and it is well known where they lived before emigrating. In fact, when his dad visited Sweden, he was told he looks just like people who live in that area. Thus when his father's AncestryDNA analysis came back showing his largest ethnicity to be Norwegian, we were taken aback. However, the area he's from may be called Sweden, but it's right on the border with Norway. One can definitely say from his DNA that he is of Scandinavian origin, but that he is specifically Swedish comes from genealogy. One must also remember that the smaller percentages are suspect: of the three analyses, 23andMe was the only one that gave me "broadly East Asian and Native American" ancestry, and that was at just 0.1%, so highly doubtful.

Finally, there's the analysis of genetic health data. This comes primarily from 23andMe, though we also paid an extra $10 post facto for Ancestry's "Traits" screening. I've written about the latter experience before. 23andMe analyzes many more traits than Ancestry's small sample, from "Leigh Syndrome, French Canadian Type" carrier status, to estimated risk for late-onset Alzheimer's Disease, to Lactose Intolerance, to Asparagus Odor Detection.

My thoughts? Interesting, but not quite ready for prime time. Where I have independent data it sometimes confirms, sometimes contradicts the DNA reports. Ancestry says I likely have a "unibrow" but 23andMe says the opposite. Both of them say I probably hate cilantro, and I love it. And so on. So I'm taking the rest of what they say with a few grains of salt. I'm sure there's something to it, and that the data will get better with time, but for now it is more entertainment than useful information. Actually, I take that back: Just as DNA ancestry data is useful as a starting point for further research, the discovery of certain traits might be useful for suggesting further, medical, genetic testing.

There's a lot more to DNA analysis for the serious genealogy researcher to investigate, such as sites that will take your data and give you tools to learn much more about which particular genes you and a DNA match share. I'm not there yet; I have too much to do with my regular research to explore that path further. But it, and my data, are there when I'm ready.

Am I glad I decided to "spit in the tube"? Absolutely; I'd do it again and may later go further with it. I'm very grateful to family members who have taken the plunge as well, because that provides a look at the puzzle from more angles. But it's always important not to expect too much. It's never as simple as trading your kilt for lederhosen, as the Ancestry.com ad blithely shows. Plus there's a risk of finding out things you don't want to know—about family or about health. It's a very personal decision and I understand those who are reluctant to take the risk.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 at 7:05 pm | Edit
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How can anybody think that they're better than anyone else—that their race is better, their country is better, their religion is better, their people are better....or even that their sport teams are better?

With that, a friend began a heartfelt plea for love and compassion that anyone could shout "amen!" to. But while I add my voice to the chorus, I take exception to his idea that the divisions, wars, hatred, and other evils that beset us are caused by the belief that something special and peculiar to an individual is better than other things of the same sort. I grant that it can appear to be true, but am utterly and completely convinced of this: It is not this belief, this feeling, that is wrong, but rather a twisted, diseased, misuse of it. It's rather like saying, "Money is the root of all evil" when the Biblical text is actually, "The love of money is the root of all evil."

I'm certain my friend thinks his own wife is "the best." And so he should. if he doesn't, he's a lout and a cad and doesn't deserve her. My own grandchildren are the sweetest and smartest grandchildren ever. I love my country more than any other place on earth, closely followed by Switzerland, my country-in-law My husband is the greatest, and there could never be parents and siblings as fantastic as my own. I appreciate many cultures, but like best the immediate culture in which I grew up, and the Western European culture that is my inheritance. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is very good. In the words we say in church every Monday night, "It is meet and right so to do."

Why? Why do I say it's good to think the best of what is near and dear to us, when that seems to cause such divisiveness?

Because it's the only way to learn the love we so desperately need.

In the words of the Bible again, "He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." Or in my own words: Don't pretend you love strangers halfway across the world if you can't even be kind to your spouse.

Love is meant to work outwards, from our families to friends to communities to those more and more "other" to us. We're not meant to start from the outside and work in, because we don't know what love is until we've practiced it small and local. You might as well expect to go from couch potato one day to ultramarathon runner the next. The special feelings that we have about our own particular "small and local" are our coaches, teaching us the skills of love in action and building our endurance.

Where we go wrong is in not taking that training into ever-widening circles. The wise man can hold in his mind without contradiction both the belief that his own wife is the best in the world, and the knowledge that every other man feels (or should feel) the same way about his own wife. That is exactly how it should be, and both are absolutely right.

Our local affections are meant to lead us onward and outward. If instead they become ingrown, they fester and rot. As C. S. Lewis said, the better and higher something is, the farther it falls and the worse it becomes when it goes bad. But the original is good.

It is from a secure feeling of "home" that we can truly value that which is different from our small and local world. I want to learn about French wines from someone who thinks there is no better wine than that which grows from French soil. I want to tour a new country guided by one whose family has known and loved its culture for generations. I'd rather not eat at a restaurant where the chef believes his food to be no better than average. And I certainly would be more comfortable in the company of someone who thinks her husband is the most wonderful man ever, than with someone who entertains the notion that maybe my husband would be a better choice.

Go ahead, love your own family, your own culture, your own country, your own heritage, even your own sports team better than any other.* Then go, have a good laugh with your neighbor, and learn why he feels the same about his family, culture, country, heritage, and sports team. Therein lies joy, and hope.

 


*I leave out race because it is such a slippery construct, and religion—at least for now—because "true" is not the same concept as "best." What I said above is still applicable, but it's more complicated.
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 24, 2019 at 4:32 pm | Edit
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Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [newest]

March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day.

Temple Grandin wrote:

It is likely that genius is an abnormality. If the genes that cause autism and other disorders such as manic-depression were eliminated, the world might be left to boring conformists with few creative ideas.

Down Syndrome is not genius, at least not in the intellectual sense. If I could wave my hand and eliminate that third copy of the 21st chromosome, I imagine I would do so. But would that be a good thing? The more I hear from families of children with Down Syndrome, the more I wonder if these people have something important to offer the world that shouldn't be thrown away.

Even if eliminating the genetic defect that results in Down Syndrome would be best for all concerned, I know for a fact that eugenics is not the right way to effect a cure.

The population of people with Down Syndrome is diminishing rapidly, not because someone has cured the condition, nor found a way to prevent its occurrence, but simply because more and more babies with Down Syndrome are killed before they have a chance to be born. Prenatal testing to determine the presence of that extra chromosome is widespread, and more and more parents are opting for abortion rather than meet this challenge.

It's not my place, here, to judge another person's response to a difficulty I have never faced. But as a society we need to be aware of exactly what we are doing. There have been other times in our history when we have made deliberate efforts to eradicate the "unfit," and those actions have been rightly condemned by subsequent generations.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 12:56 pm | Edit
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C. S. Lewis wrote about peer orientation?  Certainly not by that name.

But recently, as part of my C. S. Lewis retrospective, I came upon a passage in Mere Christianity that immediately brought to mind the epidemic of children taking their culture and direction from peers, rather than from parents or other adults, which has been going on in our society for at least three generations.

What Lewis was actually writing about was the central tenet of Christianity: what it is and what it is not.

The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.  Theories as to how it did that are another matter.  A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.

As part of his explanation of one of those theories, Lewis likens God's work in us—enabling us to repent, reason, and love—to a teacher who helps a child learn to write by holding the child's hand and forming the letters with him.  Later he writes [emphasis mine],

I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, "because it must have been so easy for Him." Others may (very rightly) rebuke the ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is the misunderstanding it betrays. In one sense, of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them? The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it easier for the teacher; and only because it is easier for him can he help the child. If [the child] rejected him because "it’s easy for grown-ups" and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write ... (and so had no "unfair" advantage), [the student] would not get on very quickly. If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) "No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank"? That advantage—call it "unfair" if you like—is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?

Rejecting the help of those who are stronger than ourselves is what we have been doing for decades.  We turn for help and advice—for the very shaping of our lives—to our peers, and we not only tolerate, but encourage, the same in our children.  Unlike all generations before the 20th century, we do not acquire our culture from our parents, but from agemates who have no more experience, knowledge, and wisdom than we ourseves.  We ignore history, throwing out all mankind has learned from the beginning of human life on earth, on the grounds that the benighted, ignorant savages that came before us have nothing to say to our modern world.  The latest TED talk or Huffington Post article gets more respect and attention than the wisest writings of the past.

No wonder we're in a mess.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at 8:34 am | Edit
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Category Education: [first] [previous] Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Sandwiched between 3:14 (Pi Day) and 3:17 (St. Patrick's Day) is

3:16 (Greatest Love Day)

John 3:16, that is.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

In honor of which I present this beautiful anthem, John Stainer's God So Loved the World. No, that's not our choir. But Porter and I have sung this many times and it's one of our favorites.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 16, 2019 at 7:02 am | Edit
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I've never seen the show, The Bachelor, never wanted to see it, still don't want to see it. But even I have to admit they did something right on their recent "live finale," whatever that was. Try to ignore the inanity.

Hear that piano? That's Mirko Tessandori. If you don't blink, you can even catch a few glimpses of him.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 15, 2019 at 6:42 am | Edit
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South African deep-sea diver Rainier Schimpf was diving with a crew that was documenting a sardine run in the waters east of Cape Town. Suddenly the water around him started churning, and he found himself sucked into the mouth of a Bryde whale. All was dark. He held his breath.

The whale later spat him out, unharmed.

“Nothing can actually prepare you for the event when you end up inside the whale," remarked Schimpf. Jonah would agree.

You can read the story and see photos here.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 12, 2019 at 9:28 am | Edit
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