The sign at the corner of the property at the foot of the driveway—”No eighteen wheelers allowed in the church parking lot”—may be exactly the confirmation I needed that I am currently passing by a Baptist church a little to the south of Chattanooga. Was it a recurring problem that led to…
“Do your students also love to say “reading too much into this”?
I remember this remark as a buzz-kill that frequently deflated discussions in high school English. Just when we had begun to dig into the precious details of a novel or poem and unearth some larger idea, someone would inevitably scoff, “we’re reading too much into this.” Today, my students, indignant, ask “isn’t that reading too much into it?” about almost every attempt to find meaning in the art, literature, and cultural artifacts of the past.? I cringe every time I hear it. The sentiment strikes me as exquisitely anti-intellectual, creating an image of the useless scholar wasting time on meaningless trivialities, like Socrates measuring how far a flea can jump in Aristophanes’s anti-intellectual comedy, The Clouds. “Reading too much into this” seems equivalent to saying “there’s too much thought going on here,” a complaint that has no place in a history class!”—
Yes, students do often say this, but there’s a reason for it. They’re failing, from mere lack of experience, to realize the difference in time and intellectual investment between reading a book, or, in the case cited here, reading about someone’s career (which they have just done) and writing a book, or making a career (which they have not done).
I’ve often gotten this from students who are reading Joyce’s Ulysses. I try to remind them that he was an immensely brilliant man who spent seven years writing the book. A great many things might occur to you when you spend seven years working on a book, especially if you’re immensely brilliant. And if that doesn’t convince them I show them the Linati schema.
The protagonists of post-Enlightenment relativism and perspectivism claim that if the Enlightenment conceptions of truth and rationality cannot be sustained, theirs is the only possible alternative.
Post-Enlightenment relativism and perspectivism are thus the negative counterpart of the Enlightenment, its inverted mirror-image. Where the Enlightenment invoked the arguments of Kant or Bentham, such post-Enlightenment theorists invoke Nietzsche’s attacks upon Kant and Bentham. It is therefore not surprising that what was invisible to the thinkers of the Enlightenment should be equally invisible to those post-modernist relativists and perspectivists who take themselves to be the enemies of the Enlightenment, while in fact being to a large and unacknowledged degree its heirs.
”—Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?
“In 2001, about to graduate from college, I turned down a programming position at a hedge fund. Instead, I chose to do bioinformatics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for a much lower salary. I was excited about the possibilities of doing biological research using computational tools. Two years later, I enthusiastically entered graduate school in molecular biology, with my salary dropping by half for the next six years. As a postdoctoral researcher at MIT, I am not even back to earning what I did ten years ago as a junior programmer with no skills or domain-specific knowledge. In a commercial setting, my compensation would have kept pace with my knowledge and skills, but in academia, there seems to be a complete decoupling of the two.”—Yes, Another Science Blog: Goodbye Academia
“I remember at another election a sturdy old woman of Somerset, with a somewhat menacing and almost malevolent stare, who informed me on her own doorstep that she was a Liberal and I could not see her husband, because he was still a Tory. She then informed me that she had been twice married before, and both her husbands had been Tories when they married her, but had become Liberals afterwards. She jerked her thumb over her shoulder towards the invisible Conservative within and said, “I’ll have him ready by the ‘lection.” I was not permitted to penetrate further into this cavern of witchcraft, where she manufactured Liberals out of the most unpromising materials; and (it would appear) destroyed them afterwards.”—The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton
“Here another great subject opens upon us, when I ought to be bringing these remarks to an end; I mean the endemic perennial fidget which possesses us about giving scandal; facts are omitted in great histories, or glosses are put upon memorable acts, because they are thought not edifying, whereas of all scandals such omissions, such glosses, are the greatest.”—John Henry Newman - Ancient Saints - Chrysostom - Chapter 1
One of the people I interviewed for the story was Rev. Robert Seymour, who had been Smith’s pastor at the Binkley Baptist Church since 1958, when he first arrived in Chapel Hill. Seymour told me a story about how upset Smith was to learn that Chapel Hill’s restaurants were still segregated. He and Seymour came up with an idea: Smith would walk into a restaurant with a black member of the church.
“You have to remember,” Reverend Seymour said. “Back then, he wasn’t Dean Smith. He was an assistant coach. Nothing more.”
Smith agreed and went to a restaurant where management knew him. He and his companion sat down and were served. That was the beginning of desegregation in Chapel Hill.
When I circled back to Smith and asked him to tell me more about that night, he shot me an angry look. “Who told you about that?” he asked.
“Reverend Seymour,” I said.
“I wish he hadn’t done that.”
“Why? You should be proud of doing something like that.”
He leaned forward in his chair and in a very quiet voice said something I’ve never forgotten: “You should never be proud of doing what’s right. You should just do what’s right.”
“The subway sounds quite brutal,” Murphy tells the Journal. “There’s a missing opportunity at the turnstile.” Rather than having the subway’s turnstiles release a shrill beep every time they receive payment, Murphy would like them to each release one of many pleasant tones that, during busy moments, would coalesce into a grand harmony. Murphy’s vision would have every station in the city set to a different key, and he thinks now could be the time to turn it into a reality.
“‘This is not a big deal!’ you cry. ‘There are way bigger problems in New York!’ you yell. You’re pretty much totally right,” Murphy writes on a website for the project, which he’s calling Subway Symphony. “But this one is so infuriating because, quite simply, it would be really cheap and easy to change. And I think it would be really lovely, honestly.”
But he has won largely because conservatives have lost heart. With some notable exceptions, most people who call themselves conservative in the present day have little sense of what it might mean to adopt gratitude and appreciation as a mode of orientation toward our experience. Instead, like everyone else, we are concerned with efficiency, problem-solving, and changing the world. We may have qualms about technology, but we no longer resist it. We might wish in the abstract that government policies could be less purposive and more nomocratic, but usually we give up on the rule of law as an ideal and promote policies that encourage our own favored outcomes.
In short, much of modern conservatism provides a vision of a good life that differs little from that advocated by the most energetic progressives. The ends might be different, but the means are the same.
A substantive alternative would require a much more radical reorientation of the modern soul.
I told her that I was stunned by her grace after the verdict. I told her the verdict greatly angered me. I told her that the idea that someone on that jury thought it plausible there was a gun in the car baffled me. I told her it was appalling to consider the upshot of the verdict—had Michael Dunn simply stopped shooting and only fired the shots that killed Jordan Davis, he might be free today.
She said, “It baffles our mind too. Don’t think that we aren’t angry. Don’t think that I am not angry. Forgiving Michael Dunn doesn’t negate what I’m feeling and my anger. And I am allowed to feel that way. But more than that I have a responsibility to God to walk the path He’s laid. In spite of my anger, and my fear that we won’t get the verdict that we want, I am still called by the God I serve to walk this out.”
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.
Despite the good intentions behind intergovernmental projects like the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and numerous development charities, international aid programmes have so far had a negligible influence on reducing destitution and cannot be relied upon to fill the gap. It seems that destitution will go on indefinitely destroying lives on a massive scale in forgotten corners of the world.
Yet there is something we haven’t tried yet, despite its stunning obviousness: giving destitute people money. $1.25 is a very small amount of money. That is why it is the World Bank’s threshold for utter destitution. But the other side of that is that $1.25 is also a trivial piffling amount of money, and the average shortfall per destitute person from that threshold is even smaller. Imagine if the richest 1.2 billion people in the world were twinned with the poorest, and each rich person gave 50 cents per day to their poor twin: destitution would be pretty much eliminated and the rich would hardly even notice the cost.
We’re at our worst when it comes to politics. This helps explain why recent attacks on rationality have captured the imagination of the scientific community and the public at large. Politics forces us to confront those who disagree with us, and we’re not naturally inclined to see those on the other side of an issue as rational beings. Why, for instance, do so many Republicans think Obama’s health-care plan violates the Constitution? Writing in The New Yorker in June 2012, Ezra Klein used the research of Haidt and others to argue that Republicans despise the plan on political, not rational, grounds. Initially, he notes, they objected to what the Democrats had to offer out of a kind of tribal sense of loyalty. Only once they had established that position did they turn to reason to try to justify their views.
But notice that Klein doesn’t reach for a social-psychology journal when articulating why he and his Democratic allies are so confident that Obamacare is constitutional. He’s not inclined to understand his own perspective as the product of reflexive loyalty to the ideology of his own group. This lack of interest in the source of one’s views is typical. Because most academics are politically left of center, they generally use their theories of irrationality to explain the beliefs of the politically right of center. They like to explore how psychological biases shape the decisions people make to support Republicans, reject affirmative-action policies, and disapprove of homosexuality. But they don’t spend much time investigating how such biases might shape their own decisions to support Democrats, endorse affirmative action, and approve of gay marriage.
A significant portion of what Whole Foods sells is based on simple pseudoscience. And sometimes that can spill over into outright anti-science (think What Doctors Don’t Tell You, or Whole Foods’ overblown GMO campaign, which could merit its own article). If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?
Well, no—there isn’t really much difference, if the promulgation of pseudoscience in the public sphere is, strictly speaking, the only issue at play. By the total lack of outrage over Whole Foods’ existence, and by the total saturation of outrage over the Creation Museum, it’s clear that strict scientific accuracy in the public sphere isn’t quite as important to many of us as we might believe. Just ask all those scientists in the aisles of my local Whole Foods.
“I don’t buy this argument, in part because I agree with Furedi that something profound changes at birth: The woman’s bodily autonomy is no longer at stake. But I also think that the value of the unborn human increases throughout its development. Furedi rejects that view, and her rejection doesn’t stop at birth. As she explained in our debate last fall, “There is nothing magical about passing through the birth canal that transforms it from a fetus into a person.” The challenge posed to Furedi and other pro-choice absolutists by “after-birth abortion” is this: How do they answer the argument, advanced by Giubilini and Minerva, that any maternal interest, such as the burden of raising a gravely defective newborn, trumps the value of that freshly delivered nonperson? What value does the newborn have? At what point did it acquire that value? And why should the law step in to protect that value against the judgment of a woman and her doctor?”—
It’s also worth noting that the arguments for infanticide cited here apply equally to anyone who is under the care of others: the seriously ill, the gravely injured, the feebly elderly. The logic of the authors’ position is quite straightforward: if you are so severely limited in your physical or mental abilities that caring for you imposes burdens upon me that I do not wish to take on, then I am free to declare that you are no longer a person and end your life.
“If what Paul intends to say here is that Christianity and libertarianism are amenable to one another because Christianity provides the moral compass libertarianism doesn’t have – that is, that one can protect marriage and defend against oft-objected to practices like abortion through the selective reference to Christian values by otherwise libertarian political agents – the question is: Why would someone with such a commitment to Christianity ever commit themselves to a political philosophy without a similar commitment?”—Rand Paul’s audacious new sham: A phony religious epiphany. I’m not interested in Rand Paul, but as to the question, I can think of some answers. Maybe you don’t see politics —in the narrow, governmental sense of the term — as the prime carrier of human values and commitments. Maybe your primary politics is that of the Church, and you think the best you can accomplish in the City of Man is to render it less capable of infringing upon the City of God. Maybe you think that it’s not good for Christians (or Christianity) when they try too vigorously to impose their convictions through law. There are any number of reasons why seriously committed Christians might prefer a relatively minimalist model of politics.
Some time ago, I was invited to begin some reflections on beauty and conservatism in this forum, in hopes that years in the political wilderness might motivate conservatives to consider cultural matters more seriously. But because of the prominence of the prejudice I myself indulged, this is a harder task than I had imagined. Conservatives frequently tend to trust only tested formulae. This is praiseworthy, to an extent. Traditional patterns should be valued, and they are frequently revelatory, especially now, after their long eclipse. Still, tradition offers us no guarantee. Beauty does not always obey rules any more than it always breaks them.
Currently, the little energy conservatives tend to devote to contemporary cultural matters seems to be entirely expended in attack. Will conservatives eventually begin to accept and appreciate the new patterns of contemporary architecture? The enduring values in which conservatives believe—beauty among them—are more fecund than we think. We ought to be open to their new and unexpected manifestations. After all, what future is there for a movement without capacity for surprise?
Faced with the cultural splendor of pre-Revolutionary France, a different President—John Adams—prophesied American art history majors to come:
"I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine."
To major in art history is therefore the destiny of a mature nation—a rare and precious possibility literally dependent upon generations of costly sacrifice. To observe how the diffused light of historical events and intellectual forces is refracted by the magnifying glass of art history into the intensified beams of distinct works of art, is of itself useless, and its impracticality is its very splendor. But such liberal pursuits are also, according to Cicero, a condition of our happiness, and a refusal to cultivate such skills invites the revenge of hideous places. Obama and Santorum, consequently, are right to tell machine operators that they need not pursue an art history degree. They can pursue a perfectly honorable career in machinery, so that their children can major in the history of art.To major in art history is therefore the destiny of a mature nation—a rare and precious possibility literally dependent upon generations of costly sacrifice. To observe how the diffused light of historical events and intellectual forces is refracted by the magnifying glass of art history into the intensified beams of distinct works of art, is of itself useless, and its impracticality is its very splendor. But such liberal pursuits are also, according to Cicero, a condition of our happiness, and a refusal to cultivate such skills invites the revenge of hideous places. Obama and Santorum, consequently, are right to tell machine operators that they need not pursue an art history degree. They can pursue a perfectly honorable career in machinery, so that their children can major in the history of art.
After I broke my neck in a 1967 diving accident and learned I would be paralyzed for the rest of my life, I was convinced my life was not worth living. Had it been legal, most people would have thought that euthanasia was a rational choice for me, a depressed 17-year-old quadriplegic waning away in a hospital for almost two years. However, time – that prized commodity which is forever lost after you die – taught me how precious life really is, even with hands that don’t work and feet that don’t walk. Now, decades later, millions of people have been encouraged because of our ministry for special-needs families at Joni and Friends International Disability Center. If I had chosen death, none of that could have happened.
And the “slippery slope?” Once it is determined that the life-value of a person with a serious medical condition is less than that without such conditions, society has taken one more step away from its charge to defend the child and family. Choice then moves to an obligation to die. None of us knows what the future holds and what can be accomplished in our lifetimes, and it grieves me to think of decades of fruitful lives snuffed out because of the fear of pain or disability. I hope it grieves you, too.
Rights are normative social relationships; sociality is built into the essence of rights. A right is a right with regard to someone. In the limiting case, that “someone” is oneself; one is other to oneself. Usually, the other is somebody else than oneself. Rights are toward the other, with regard to the other. Rights are normative bonds between oneself and the other….
I will argue that it is on account of her worth that the other comes into my presence bearing legitimate claims against me as to how I treat her. The rights of the other against me are actions and restraints from action that due respect for her worth requires of me. To fail to treat her as she has a right to my treating her is to demean her, to treat her as if she had less worth than she does….
The critics point to the abuses of rights-talk. I concede the abuses. But rather than concluding that we should abolish rights-talk so as to eliminate the abuses, I hold that we should heal rights-talk of the abuses. Something of enormous worth would be lost if we could no longer bring rights, and the violation of rights, to speech. The critics focus entirely on the abuses of rights-talk; they do not ask what would be lost if we threw it all out. What would be lost is our ability to bring to speech one of the two fundamental dimensions of the moral order: the recipient-dimension, the patient-dimension. To the moral status of each of us there are two dimensions, that of moral agent and that of moral patient or recipient. When we speak of duty, obligation, guilt, benevolence, virtue, rational agency, and the like, we focus on the agent-dimension; when we speak of rights and of being wronged, we focus on the recipient-dimension. To eliminate rights-talk would be to make impossible the coming to speech of the recipient-dimension of the moral order.
”—Nicholas Wolterstorff, from Justice: Rights and Wrongs. Like Ron Belgau, I was largely convinced by Alasdair MacIntyre’s critique of “rights-talk” — until I read Wolterstorff’s book. Now I think that MacIntyre’s argument is largely, though not wholly, wrong.
“YouTube has made little musicological quests like this one dangerously easy. Both in the sense that you can easily make mistakes, on the basis of sloppy recording-date info, and in the sense that you can easily lose weeks of your life exploring blind caves. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but every socially isolated lifelong record collector on the planet has uploaded or is in the process of uploading his or her record collection to the Web. They’re just putting the records on the turntable one at a time and filming them as they play, so the audio isn’t ideal, though it’s often pretty good (it’s vinyl). You sit there at home and watch them spin, like a Norwegian television channel. You get to read the labels. You can’t have the objects—it’s perfect for the collectors; you still get the special feeling of exclusivity and possession; you get to sit there and make the whole world listen to your records—but the benefit for the scholar or passionate listener can’t be overstated, because of course, everything is out there, all of the basements and attics are being streamed, and it’s possible now, when you’re chasing some footnote across the filaments, to find yourself on a routine basis outdoing even the most reliable discographies, the same way you can sit there on the Web and predate OED first usages, if you want to, not through any ability of yours, much less any wisdom, but because the robots have gathered such vast harvests, made them accessible, searchable, unavoidable. What has been gathered at a nonhuman speed we are digesting at a human one.”—John Jeremiah Sullivan
“If a poet meets an illiterate peasant, they may not be able to say much to each other, but if they both meet a public official, they share the same feeling of suspicion; neither will trust one further than he can throw a grand piano. If they enter a government building, both share the same feeling of apprehension; perhaps they will never get out again. Whatever the cultural differences between them, they both sniff in any official world the smell of an unreality in which persons are treated as statistics. The peasant may play cards in the evening while the poet writes verses, but there is one political principle to which they both subscribe, namely, that among the half dozen or so things for which a man of honor should be prepared, if necessary, to die, the right to play, the right to frivolity, is not the least.”—W. H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand
“Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night. This is why we throng Match.com and OkCupid in such numbers—but not just for this, surely. Rowing in Eden (in Emily Dickinson’s words: “Rowing in Eden— / Ah—the sea”) isn’t reserved for the lithe and young, the dating or the hooked-up or the just lavishly married, or even for couples in the middle-aged mixed-doubles semifinals, thank God. No personal confession or revelation impends here, but these feelings in old folks are widely treated like a raunchy secret. The invisibility factor—you’ve had your turn—is back at it again. But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again.”—Roger Angell: Life in the Nineties
It is one of humanity’s enduring mysteries why some individuals, such as ourselves, rise from unpromising origins to such dizzy heights when so many others, like you, are failures. This book aims to answer that question for the first time – by drawing on bits of research that happen to fit our thesis, emails sent to our daughter and Google searches.
So why do some groups outperform each other in America? What has made us both brilliant lawyers, bestselling authors (and one of us a devastatingly attractive Tiger Mother), while you struggle along on welfare benefits? One simple answer is that we are both shameless, publicity-hungry individuals who pretend to court controversy, while you are gullible, reactive losers. But that is not an area we intend to explore too deeply.
Experiments of light, Bacon insisted, were more important than experiments of fruit. He sought to restore to man something of his fallen dignity, to erase from his mind the false idols of the market place and to regain, by patient labor and research, some remnants of the innocent wisdom of Adam in man’s first Paradise. The mind, he contended, had in it imaginative gifts superior to the realities of sixteenth-century life; in fact, to the realities of the world we know today.
Our ethics are diluted by superstition, our lives by self-created anxieties. Our visions have yet to equal some of his nobler glimpses of a future beyond our material world of easy transport, refrigeration, and rocketry. The new-found land Bacon sighted was not something to be won in a generation or by machines alone. It would have to be drawn slowly, by infinite and continuing effort, out of minds whose dreams must rise superior to the existing world and shape that world by understanding of its laws into something more consistent with man’s better nature. “Our persons,” he observes, “live in the view of heaven, yet our spirits are included in the caves of our own complexions and customs which minister unto us infinite errors and vain opinions if they be not recalled to examination.”
“Evangelical theology cannot be ‘pro-gay’ – but neither can it be ‘pro-straight’. As I understand it evangelical theology is, or should be, opposed to all idolatries indifferently. This is precisely because it is, or should be, ‘pro-human’. I’ve argued before that classical evangelical practices of holiness in the nineteenth century involved profound subversions of then-standard ideas of masculinity and femininity. There is plenty of good scholarship on the reconstructions of femininity away from the domestic sphere into political and social activism. The reconstructions of masculinity away from celebrations of machismo, violence, and alcohol consumption and towards a more submissive, gentle, family-oriented life have not been quite so well studied. But they too are clear. Evangelicalism in its classical forms undermined and reconstructed the culturally normal gender roles of the day; it will do the same in our day, if it has an adequate grasp of the gospel.”—Steve Holmes
We lost our oldest child, our daughter Anna, suddenly in April 2008 at the age of 27; our other three daughters and three sons lost their beloved sister. Two months later, a longtime, long-distance friend of my husband was visiting us. As we sat together on our screened porch after dinner, he confided that he had been so shocked when he first received the news of Anna’s death in an accident halfway around the world that he almost didn’t respond at all. What immobilized him initially was the unimaginable thought of such harm coming to his own oldest daughter.
But he had gathered himself up and sent an eloquent letter to us, accompanied by one of the most beautifully specific gifts we have ever received – a gift rich with profound meaning. We were so moved at the time; even now, this powerful symbol and the thin stuff of words never fails to bring comfort and provide a window into that greater life. “What if,” I mused with him that evening, “you had kept silent? What part of us might not have mended, or been carried even for that day?” I know that my husband and I have survived the pressing weight of this profound grief in large part because of the grace of God conveyed through those who have gracefully moved toward us and chosen to sit alongside us.
How much grace do we withhold when we hold back? How much more might this suffering soul, this wounded Body, this broken world be healed if we who belong to Christ would simply move toward instead of holding back, or even retreating, in the face of anguish? How often do we respond not in any sort of “fullness of time,” but only at our convenience, restrained by our measured degree of comfort, if at all? Sometimes I wish He didn’t trust us so much. Sometimes I wish He didn’t entrust us with so much.
“Ariane Sherine, who launched the Atheist Bus campaign in the UK a few years back, has written a piece for New Humanist magazine suggesting that the time has come for atheist polemic to become kinder. This is a development devoutly (and not-so-devoutly) to be welcomed. And for what it’s worth it fits very much with my sense that the particular cultural moment associated with the Four Horsemen (etc) is ending. The perceptual tide has turned, and the tone of caustic contempt that marked the atheist bestsellers of the last decade has started to look awkward and dated and dismissive of human complexity, rather than fresh and bold. From the atheist side as well as on the centre ground of unimpassioned unbelief, there’s a tentative sense that more interesting conversations between belief and unbelief might be available, if belief were not labelled in advance as being utterly unworthy of human respect.”—Francis Spufford