Archive for June 2013

A fundamentalist mistake

June 27th, 2013 — 9:54am

Fundamentalism . . . reacts to modern normative secularism on its own terms, and in doing so, it turns the religion it defends into an anti-ideology to a modern secularist ideology. However, it is a mistake to believe that denying secularism is a way of returning to what has been denied by secularism. Fundamentalism is not a return to religion as it was before it had been marginalized by modern secularism, but rather a protest of the marginalized against modernity on modernity’s own terms. (Ingolf U. Dalferth, “Post-secular Society: Christianity and the Dialectics of the Secular,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 78, no. 2, June 2010, p. 331)

Comment » | Biblical Authority

The civil law a wilderness

June 11th, 2013 — 4:21pm

The civil law, too, good God! what a wilderness it is become! It is, indeed, much better, more skilful, and more honest than the canon law, of which nothing is good but the name. Still there is far too much of it. Surely good governors, in addition to the Holy Scriptures, would be law enough; as St. Paul says, “Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” (I Cor. vi. 5). I think also that the common law and the usage of the country should be preferred to the law of the empire and that the law of the empire should only be used in cases of necessity. And would to God, that, as each land has its own peculiar character and nature, they could all be governed by their own simple laws, just as they were governed before the law of the empire was devised, and as many are governed even now! Elaborate and far-fetched laws are only burdensome to the people, and a hindrance rather than a help to business. But I hope that others have thought of this, and considered it to more purpose than I could. (Martin Luther, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate)

Comment » | Of Cabbages and Kings

More American nihilism

June 11th, 2013 — 2:32pm

Nihilism as a state of soul is revealed not so much in the lack of firm beliefs but in a chaos of the instincts or passions. People no longer believe in a natural hierarchy of the soul’s varied and conflicting inclinations, and the traditions that provided a substitute for nature have crumbled. The soul becomes a stage for a repertory company that changes plays regularly – sometimes a tragedy, sometimes a comedy; one day love, another day politics, and finally religion; now cosmopolitanism, and again rooted loyalty; the city or the country; individualism or community; sentimentality or brutality. And there is neither principle nor will to impose a rank order on all of these. All ages and places, all races and all cultures can play on this stage. Nietzsche believed that the wild costume ball of the passions was both the disadvantage and the advantage of late modernity. The evident disadvantage is the decomposition of unity or “personality,” which in the long run will lead to psychic entropy. The advantage hoped for is that the richness and tension present in the modern soul might be the basis for comprehensive new worldviews that would take seriously what had previously been consigned to a spiritual ashcan. This richness, according to Nietzsche, consisted largely in thousands of years of inherited and now unsatisfied religious longing. But this possible advantage does not exist for young Americans, because their poor education has impoverished their longings, and they are hardly aware of the great pasts that Nietzsche was thinking of and had within himself. What they do have now is an unordered tangle of rather ordinary passions, running through their consciousnesses like a monochrome kaleidoscope. They are egotists, not in a vicious way, not in the way of those who know the good, just or noble, and selfishly reject them, but because the ego is all there is in present theory, in what they are taught. (Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, pp. 155–56)

Comment » | From the Dead Thinkers

American nihilism

June 11th, 2013 — 2:24pm

A few years ago I chatted with a taxi driver in Atlanta who told me he had just gotten out of prison, where he served time for peddling dope. Happily he had undergone “therapy.” I asked him what kind. He responded, “All kinds – depth-psychology, transactional analysis, but what I liked best was Gestalt.” Some of the German ideas did not even require English words to become the language of the people. What an extraordinary thing it is that high-class talk from what was the peak of Western intellectual life, in Germany, has become as natural as chewing gum on American streets. It indeed had its effect on this taxi driver. He said that he had found his identity and learned to like himself. A generation earlier he would have found God and learned to despise himself as a sinner. The problem lay with his sense of self, not with any original sin or devils in him. We have here the peculiarly American way digesting Continental despair. It is nihilism with a happy ending. (Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, p. 147)

Comment » | From the Dead Thinkers

Allan on Allen

June 11th, 2013 — 2:18pm

Woody Allen’s comedy is nothing but a set of variations on the theme of the man who does not have a real “self” or “identity,” and feels superior to the inauthentically self-satisfied people because he is conscious of his situation and at the same time inferior to them because they are “adjusted.” . . .

Woody Allen helps to make us feel comfortable with nihilism, to Americanize it. I‘m O.K., thou art O.K. too, if we agree to be a bit haunted together.

(Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, pp. 144, 146)

Comment » | Poets, Painters, and Playwrights

Marriage letter

June 11th, 2013 — 1:29pm

Dear married friend,

I’m writing this, as you know, after years of counseling you and your spouse. I’m very tired as I write. You’re not the only couple I’m counseling, and sometimes after yet another hour-long talk with someone drowning in a horrific marriage, I sit dazed in my chair, wishing my pastoral days could be full of prayer, silence, and study rather than the noise and churning emotions of conflict resolution. I wish I could come to the end of the day and see my wife and children without lines of care scarring my face. I wish being a peacemaker didn’t require me to see so much of the evil of the world.

But that’s not why I’m writing. My hope isn’t that the conflict in your marriage will stop so I can enjoy more quiet. I want the conflict in your marriage to stop for you. I want peace for you and your spouse. I lie awake for long hours in the night, yearning for this for you before the Lord.

What breaks my heart is that it’s not difficult. You think your marriage is such a mess, and all I can see is how easy it would be for the conflict to stop and for you to live together in peace. All it would require is for you to stop playing God. I know you’re not willing to stop. But I haven’t given up on you, so let me tell you (again) what it would look like for you to stop playing God.

First, it would require you to admit that the war between you and your spouse is still going on because you’re in it. If you weren’t in it, it would stop, because it takes two to fight. What this means is: you’re sinning a lot, God hates your sin, and you need to stop. I’m not talking to your spouse, I’m talking to you – this needs to be said, because all you’re thinking about right now is how much your spouse needs to hear what I’m saying. Which brings me to a second point.

You need to put down your weapons. You need to drop your sense of entitlement, your feeling of being victimized, your checklist of demands, and your filing cabinet full of resentments. You need to shut your mouth and stop sniping; you need to admit to yourself that you enjoy spitting out those zingers that make you feel so powerful and right. You need to look at the walls you’ve built around your heart, your dramatic withdrawals from your spouse, your various schemes of emotional blackmail, and your ever-present jabbing finger of blame – you need to know that this stuff is antichrist, and any attempt to put it in a better light is sheer pride. How dare you hold this garbage up as somehow defensible in the light of the cross of God’s Son?

Third, you need to listen. You don’t listen. You may think you do, but you don’t. You’ve already sized up your spouse and rendered judgment. You don’t really care what’s going on in his heart; you don’t really care about all the hurt and need that lies beneath her sin. You don’t want to touch those needs or heal those hurts. All you see – all you want to see – is the sin; and your way of fighting sin is to sin. That’s insane. You’ve tried a thousand times to fight your spouse’s evil with evil, you’ve seen the devastation it brings to everyone involved, and you still go right back to it like a dog to vomit. I wonder sometimes if you’ll ever shut your mouth and really, really listen with your whole heart. But no, you already know everything you need to know: you’re an expert on your spouse’s motives, intentions, thoughts, and feelings. The gavel has banged, sentence has been rendered, and you’re kind of looking forward to carrying it out.

Fourth, if you would ever really listen, you would see a way to serve. Of course, you’ll have to get over the notion that when you serve, your spouse will suddenly morph into an angel. You don’t want to hear it, but being a servant means you often get treated like one; and it may take a long time, great sacrifice, and great pain to overcome evil with good. You’re afraid of pain; in fact, you’re controlled by your fear of pain more than you’re controlled by the love of God; and so you walk right past opportunities to serve your spouse, opportunities that are cryingly obvious to anyone who’s not as self-protective as you are. Actually – which is far worse – you often do see the opportunities but choose to ignore them. You might stop to ponder what Jesus thinks of this.

The reason for all of this is that you don’t trust God – and that, fifth and fundamentally, is your single biggest need if you’re going to stop playing God. You keep waiting for your spouse to change so you can love without having to leave your comfort zones. Your comfort zones may be the single biggest rivals to God in your life. You need to repent of your comfort zones. They are the enemy of love in your heart. It’s not safe to love. It got Jesus killed. It will get you killed. Then you’ll experience the resurrection life of Christ. God promises it. The question is whether you believe it. Don’t be too quick to think you do. If you did, you would start loving your spouse (the perfect love of God would cast out fear), and the fighting in your marriage would stop.

You know I’ll never stop praying for you, and I’ll never stop making myself available to you when you’re really in need. But I’ll tell you this straight up: Counseling doesn’t heal marriages. Repentance heals marriages. When you repent, things will heal. Dig in, and the war will drag on interminably. How I pray your war will not last much longer, for your sake, and for the sake of Jesus’ name.

I remain your affectionate pastor, etc.

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

More on liberalism

June 5th, 2013 — 10:19am

Back in January, I posted a synopsis of responses to Patrick Deneen’s 2012 article, “Unsustainable Liberalism.” The discussion has continued apace, but the recent contribution by J. L. Liedl is one of the best. Thanks to the fellows over at The Calvinist International for bringing it to my attention.

Comment » | Of Cabbages and Kings

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