Hour-long Podcasts Seem So Short

You have to think we are climbing our way out of the TV attention span with the lengths which the better podcasts are taking on. I don’t know what their actual impact is, but podcasting now seems a huge, substantial phenomenon. Is there a revolution going on in which the glitz and interruption of the old broadcast and commercials TV becomes to people more and more bizarre? If you don’t regularly watch TV, it is bizarre to see what they do on it from time to time. In the realm of podcasting and online video, UnHerd’s Freddy Sayers is doing something excellent very deliberately. Can’t imagine that being on TV. John Stossel and though I don’t listen to her, I expect Megyn Kelly are examples of people bringing their skills to a new format and thriving. And then there is the whole Joe Rogan apparatus.

I think you have to consider these things in terms of networks and figure out the network. They appear online because they’re networked already, and that is important. The better podcasts are elites networking with elites. I don’t know that much about Joe Rogan (he seems to be the next iteration of what Rush Limbaugh was doing), but he encourages other people to podcast. Jocko Willink is one, Michael Malice is another, and then there is Lex Friedman. All excel at at least one thing, and usually more. And then they all appear on each other’s podcast and you see the nodes of the network corresponding. Jordan Peterson of course bulks large, and he opens up networks for me. The podcasters on the whole seem to be spinning networks and further networks.

I just started on Lex Friedman. 5 or 6 hours of three of his podcasts so far. I took a day off to clean up my room and listened to him along with the self-described anarchist Michael Malice say a lot of interesting things. He did Elon Musk, which is where I started with him. Musk is central to a very interesting network in all this, and that is of course all part of the Joe Rogan network. There is something about discipline, about hyperproductivity, about independent thinking that defines that network. Pushing back on all the rot cheerfully. I am interested in Lex Friedman’s long interviews of elites. You learn about how these people eat, which is extremely peculiar, a kind of repudiation of traditional cuisine, and geared toward hyperproductivity. People have always had diet fads. Lex Friedman tells you in a video about his, which appears to be somewhat based on a robotic approach to shopping, trial and error, and the ideas of this all-conquering keto diet (Atkins 2.0?). Exercise is very central to it all. All these people prepared for action. Is it like the proliferation of Jeeps? A kind of prepper mania? And then you hear about their goals, aspirations, beliefs. What is also interesting is how they are fighting the moment. Mental and emotional toughness is important to them. The cold showers, the punishing routine, reading Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky and the concentration camp literature, thinking about it.

What I have most misgivings about is how therapeutic they sometimes sound. That is one of the things I wonder about with Jordan Peterson. We live in a therapeutic age; we want it perhaps like others in the past have not. But should we? We are focused on wellbeing so much. Should you care so much about your own productivity, your own contribution, your own wellbeing? Is this why they talk so much about depression and fighting their own demons and keeping happy? They visualize and have goals. It is not because they think they will have to give an account. But it is because they have something inside that tells them they ought to live as if they will.

I don’t want news as much as I want to understand what is happening. News is a part of it, a small part. There are facts, there is the bare statement of something going on. But without understanding why it is often trivial. In the case of an invasion, just knowing it is happening to your country is enough to go on. It becomes pressing to know why, and highly useful to know why, but just the bare knowledge that it is happening is something one would be grateful for, as opposed to not knowing.

And that is what I find interesting about these long-form podcasts. They are trying to understand a whole lot of things, and they are in a position to know. Now that they’re networking this way, they are also in a position to ask and to have conversations, and they’re just doing it. What an interesting development it is turning out to be.

Natural Theology

Part of the spillover of the Trinity debate is into the area of natural theology. The tension between presuppositionalism and classic apologetics that R. C. Sproul insisted on maintaining and is now being maintained by J. V. Fesko has to do with that. Classical Theism requires natural theology, and attempts to deny it are going to continue from presuppositionalists because that is predicated on the hard rejection of natural theology. I haven’t gotten into the debate and am the last person anybody should consult on apologetics, but I understand the difference to be thus.

The approach of classical apologetics is to address the atheist and the agnostic in terms of natural revelation and natural theology. The atheist has to be refuted, the agnostic persuaded of theism. But not on the grounds of special revelation. They can be reasoned with using general revelation. One can use the five ways to demonstrate that there can’t not be a God. The second step of classical apologetics is to use the evidence of special revelation for Christian theism as the only true alternative. It is where the evidentialist begins, so that the difference is that the evidentialist always begins here, and the classical apologist finds the toolkit the evidentialist uses unnecessarily limited. (I wonder if the evidentialists don’t confuse clarity with authority, and on those grounds dismiss the theology of natural revelation. But I don’t know, apologetics only being an interest of mine in the effort to get away from the presuppositionalism which annoys me.)

Presuppositionalism rejects both natural theology and evidentialism. It is about affirming a perspective, the perspective that presupposes God, and then shows that no other perspective is adequate. I don’t think this is an approach so much calculated to persuade as to assume its triumph merely. I find presuppositionalism disagreeable to me for two reasons: one is that it has always struck me as condescending to any position that doesn’t share its perspective, especially pagans and, alas, C. S. Lewis; the second is that it works too much like an ideology.

An academic discipline, Roger Scruton has somewhere said, is a set of questions. In order to master that discipline you master a set of questions, and the conversation that has resulted in search of answers. Because the questions are fundamental in nature, and because the answers they seek are not simple, there is an openness to an academic discipline, a development and also something constantly unfinished about it. It is an exploration that could continue indefinitely. Of course, it develops a substantial body in the ensuing conversation, but there is room for the conversation to continue down through the ages. An ideology, on the other hand, is a set of answers. It masquerades as an academic discipline but is not really inquiring and not fundamentally honest.

An academic discipline can be hijacked to a lesser or greater degree by something like an ideology or on the way to ideology. For example, you can ask a historical question and then limit the answers to those which contain women. You can still get accurate history, but you are limiting the discipline. That has a very limited usefulness, and is more of a way of sorting results, assuming you have achieved a meaningful result. An ideology is when you pretend that the only valid questions are the ones whose answers only contain, for example, women, or mostly women. To the degree that you control by means of the answers, you are being ideological.

Presuppositionalism is perspectival. It is one of these worldview things. A pox on worldviews! Perspectives tend to limit the answers. They are used under a guise of humility, like sheep’s clothing, but they are about controlling more by answers than by proper questions and the diligent integrity of the conversation. The open-endedness of something controlled by the search for honest answers is unwelcome to the ideological mind. And what presuppositionalism does must be that way if you foreground the noetic effects of sin so that natural theology is altogether impossible.

I think the problem there is that the noetic effects of sin, while distinguishable from the moral effects of sin, are not separable and not quite as preponderant as presuppositionalism makes them out to be. What hinders a person’s mind from grasping natural revelation? A lack of truth is caused by a lack of honesty, which is a lack of integrity, which is a matter of the heart. A lack of truth may be cause by a lack of boldness, by a refusal to persist in some adversity because it is right to persist. Persistence is courage, and clarity of mind requires courage. Courage has the word heart in it! Courage is moral. So moral that God says that all cowards will burn in hell, and hence so noetic that the Rabbis said that the timid student will never learn. But there are degrees of integrity and certainly of courage in the unconverted. So, they achieve partial degrees of knowledge of God by natural theology. Of course, they need the second step that the evidentialists are so good at, because natural revelation is only adequate for establishing theism.

What I find that the present debate has established clearly for me is that without natural theology you will struggle to have a proper grasp on Classic Theism. Natural revelation is not as clear as special revelation in terms of redemption, but it is authoritative. Authority, after all, depends on the source. Treat it otherwise and you will have a problem with God.

Contemplating God with the Great Tradition: Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism, by Craig A. Carter

I think Carter’s second step in hermeneutics, after exegesis contemplation, is the one that we are not trained for. That’s when most read commentaries, isn’t it? We have been told to avoid things like allegory and sensus plenior, and Carter’s argument is that by doing so we forfeit the inheritance of theological interpretation. The problem with that is that we erode the inherited theology that rests on the hermeneutics of theological interpretation. I can tell you his argument is right having lived it.

The argument Craig Carter makes is that interpretation must be wiser than simply to function on the basis of modern prejudices, that you need to learn to meditate. And this is a skill that Carter is urging on us, in one way, by consulting the more ancient commentaries.

Because that is what they did.

The problem is that in order to meditate, you need a grasp of metaphysics, because that is the realm of meditation, and you need the guidelines of theological formulation because there is a cumulative reserve of correct interpretation. It is a problem because metaphysics are nowadays considered irrelevant, and we are trained to approach the text without that cumulative reserve of correct interpretation.

He further believes the problem is a problem with our whole civilization and traces it back to nominalism and voluntarism, and he believes these bring on the anti-metaphysical posture of the Enlightenment, which leads to an inadvertent recovery of the mythological pagan cosmology, which, as theologians adapt to that attitude, leads to theistic personalism and theistic mutualism, which is being taught in Evangelical seminaries such as the ones I have attended. (In the first seminary I attended, we were required to read both Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences and told that God might actually be in time. Fortunately, though I resisted him early, Richard Weaver won out. I must say that in that unexpectedly compendious place I was encouraged, with the aid of A. W. Tozer, into the reading many works of mystical devotion, which opened for me a more contemplative approach. In the second seminary I attended, in some ways less compendious, they used God with Us as a textbook till, I understand, they more recently were buying up the remaining copies to pulp it due to the ecclesiastical controversies it caused.)

Modern exegesis is about letting the meaning arise naturally from the text, rather than using the text as an entrance to a higher reality, as it was for Origen of old. The problem that Carter sees is that meaning does not arise. It is more accurate to say that we need to ascend through the text to a meaning to be found above. Or we supply it from dubious sources, smuggled in.

Modern exegesis foregrounds the mind of man, and Craig Carter argues that hermeneutics should be about understanding the mind of God, contemplating God. Not just the mind of God as a man of the 6th century BC understood it (although that may be better than the mind of God as a man of the 21st century AD understands it) but the mind of God as God reveals it beyond the temporal and cultural limitations of each writer’s circumstances, beyond any devising that from man arises.

I think he is strongest on his sections on Isaiah, and I think, while I don’t too much disagree with him, that he is weakest in his broad descriptions of the history of Western Civilization. He quotes the great Christopher Dawson, a man who was a great historian because he read and thoroughly digested exhaustively the primary sources for the history he was doing. Craig Carter has not done quite the same. But he has done a great deal, and there is a great deal of good in this book. I wonder if he isn’t doing something similar to but deeper than what David Wells was doing way back in his trilogy from the 90s. I look forward to the final volume.

Supernatural but Not Miraculous

I am enjoying Craig Carter’s latest book. I think his argument that our contemporaries are reverting to pagan metaphysics makes sense, and his suggestion that evolution is their mythology really explains a few things. Now I’m reading where he is arguing that the pagan gods were real spiritual beings and that there were real supernatural powers associated with pagan religions.

The other thing I was reading recently was the Doctor Angelicus on angels ( in De Potentia). And he was answering the question whether angels do miracles. It would seem that they do: they are greater beings than we are. But Aquinas answers the question in the negative: angels do not, in fact, do miracles. How does he get there?

He gets there by how he defines a miracle. A miracle is an effect the cause of which can only be from beyond the created order. By defining a miracle as an effect in creation that only its transcendent Creator can cause, he ingeniously covers a lot of theological ground. And he answers the question about angels, because however we define natural and supernatural, they are part of the created order. Nothing created does miracles of its own unaided agency: created things only do the things for which God made them and gave them the power to do.

And so the pagan gods which could do things, can be called supernatural. They are part of the invisible realm, if Craig Carter is right then they are angelic beings, higher than man who is lower than the angels, with powers exceeding what we can do. But not with anything that exceeds the power with which God made them and ordered to the purposes for which they were created. That power is God’s alone, and it is the power of the only Agent capable of signs which are wonders: miracles.

And if you want a text that is working on that distinction, try the account of the shepherds in Luke chapter 2.

Calvin’s Prayer, concluding his lectures on Malachi

Grant, Almighty God, that as nothing is omitted by thee to help us onward in the course of our faith, and as our sloth is such that we hardly advance one step though stimulated by thee, — O grant, that we may strive to profit more by the various helps which thou hast provided for us, so that the Law, the Prophets, the voice of John the Baptist, and especially the doctrine of thine only-begotten Son, may more fully awaken us, that we may not only hasten to him, but also proceed constantly in our course, and persevere in it until we shall at length obtain the victory and the crown of our calling, as thou hast promised an eternal inherence in heaven to all who faint not but wait for the coming of the great Redeemer. — Amen.

Craig Carter and the NatCons

I was glad to see Craig Carter criticizing the NatCon panel. Not because I agree with him, but because I think criticism will make any undertaking robust. I like a lot of what I see the NatCons doing. Personally, I’d rather have Trump back, but you can’t have it all. I thought it was a bit silly of Carter to complain that the panel included no evangelical Protestants. There could be several reasons for doing so. Perhaps they only wanted minorities like Jews, Integralist Catholics, and gays represented. Or it could be that they could not think of any evangelical Protestants who would have actually contributed. I can’t think of any evangelical Protestant who commands my attention more that Murray, Hazony, and Ahmari regularly do.

I do think the point about homosexuals that Carter made is an interesting one. It is no wonder they didn’t invite him to the panel! Apparently there are those who believe a homosexual cannot be a conservative. I am on the fence. Doesn’t it depend on what it is you want to conserve? Obviously thy are not conservative of marriage or the family, but they might conserve art, literature, the constitution, great buildings, other such ephemera. It seems obvious to me that if such an alliance prevailed, then it could fall apart afterward, the circumstances being entirely different.

It is interesting because Yoram Hazony was taking shots at the new U of Austin. I think he was basically accusing it of what Carter is accusing him, of lacking a core. I’m glad he does, even though I don’t agree with him. They of the U of A are being entreprenurial, Hazony was being entreprenurial on the panel. Entrepreneurs try all kinds of things to see if they’ll stick. There is something to be said for being empirical rather than endeavoring to noodle it all out, isn’t there? In an age of ideology, isn’t the resistance going to be otherwise?

Which is why I’m glad for the back and forth. I think it bodes well. There are times when the noodles win and times when the entrepreneurs score. Douglas Murray was very skeptical of the whole thing too. I was glad he was on the panel and enjoyed his expression.

Paul Kingsnorth and Premonitions of Doom

I was very glad last year to discover Paul Kingsnorth’s remarkable novel, The Wake. I was actually disappointed that he didn’t write all his novels in the same adapted old English. That was a triumph, and the book was a triumph in many ways, though as a story it is somewhat lacking in a sense of completeness. Nevertheless, the literary powers are clearly there. All honor to him for that achievement as well as the rest of the trilogy.

Paul Kingsnorth was clearly thinking his way toward something in it all, and last year it emerged that he was making his way toward Christianity, having started as an environmental activist. And it is with the environmental activism that I get my first pause when it comes to Kingsnorth. He is still pretty alarmist about the environment though he has given up on the activism. And it is his alarm which sucitates misgivings in me because I think Michael Shellenberger and Bjorn Longberg are more factual environmentalists who believe the alarm is not only misinformed, but damaging. So I wonder if Kingsnorth has correct information, and why he seems to persist.

Kingsnorth has just come out with a substack which is full of a different kind of alarm. I subscribe. I read it. I enjoy Kingsnorth and what he does–with my annoying misgiving. He has some very interesting observations about vaccination and Africa and Australia. I can understand that part of the alarm has to do with where you live. In the more rural portions of the USA most of us are and have been back to normal for a long time. If we don’t fly, if we don’t go to cities, if we are not in the nursing profession, if we stay where we are, then we read about all the crazy stuff they’re doing in the unfortunate parts of the world that are not America, and we think, that’s life in the rest of the world. But if you live in the considerable portions of the habitable parts of this planet not considered the USA then you may have more cause for alarm. It is like the environmental question: not a big one in spacious green places such as many in the rurs rather than in the urbs inhabit. I think what Kingsnorth is seeing is alarming, and the symbols he puts together make sense. But is he drawn to doom because it stimulates the creative process? One hopes there is more, but would not blame him if that is all. Just . . . misgivings.

I also think that Kingsnorth is an artist and expresses himself in stories, and I wonder if it is not so much discursive thought as it is another story that he is wrestling with in his present writing. Just as a musician expresses things in music, or a painter who doesn’t write about things because he expresses himself through the visual medium and can’t explain the painting because the painting is what he is saying, so a writer like William Golding or, perhaps, Paul Kingsnorth. I am skeptical of Kingsnorth when it comes to logical analysis and argumentation and marshalling facts correctly. He tells stories, he knows he tells stories, he has a good reason to be confident in that ability (though I think the story of his trilogy isn’t finished, but then, it took J.K.Rowling 7 books; I certainly hope Kingsnorth continues with the fiction).

So I wonder if perhaps Kingnorth’s alarm is something caused by the place in which he his and by his gravitation toward alarm. I don’t say he’s not on to something. Perhaps he is more of a prophet than I judge him. I have misgivings. I also remember that George Orwell did not live 1984, what he did was to get a good book out of his misgivings that has been more valuable than much of his other writing.

Theological Interpretation

I find the translation of Luke 17:19’s last words in most translations simply astonishing. The point  of the story of the ten lepers is that all of them believed in Jesus as a miracle worker, but only one had the gratitude to return, praising God and falling on his face before Jesus. That he falls on his face argues worship. That Jesus told him that his faith had healed/saved him rather than his gratitude demonstrates the cause for which gratitude is an effect. Any encounter between Jesus and another human being in Scripture is at least a historical moment in which two human beings meet. But it is always more than that: it is always the encounter of the Creator veiled in flesh with one of his creatures. And those who see through the veil of flesh and know the Lord are believers. They have faith. They see who he is. It is theologically a saving encounter.

What am I missing? Why is it only a minority of translations that get it right? They all make it sound like Jesus is saying something minor (almost defeatist), when in fact the point is that the man has had more than a meeting with Jesus resulting in temporal benefits, he has had a real, spiritual encounter with eternal benefits.

καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀναστὰς πορεύου· ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε.

And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. King James Version

And he said unto him, Arise, and go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. American Standard Version

And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” The Revised Standard Version

And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” English Standard Version

And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” New American Standard Bible

And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” New Living Translation

Then he said to the man, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has made you well.” NET Bible

Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” New Revised Standard Version

Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” New International Version

It’s as if only two out of twenty versions I could have listed have returned to praise God!

And he said to him, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has saved you.” The Lexham English Bible

and he said to him, ‘Having risen, be going on, thy faith hath saved thee.’ Young’s Literal Translation

In the News

The challenge is always finding someone who knows that he is talking about. Who does?

You have to know about what is being discussed in order to evaluate the people discussing it. And you have to know what it is to know. Do you think you know because you agree with the opinions floating around, or do you actually know something? That’s where the salutary confrontation of Socrates helps. Before you can know, you have to realize that it is difficult and you have to see that if you aren’t asking the right questions, you don’t know. That can lead you on to the right questions. From there you can do two things. You can evaluate the people asking questions on the basis of the questions they ask. The second thing is that when you learn to ask good questions, you start getting good answers. That opens the possibility of evaluating things and people on the basis of knowledge.

The shock of real learning is one Plato constantly dramatized. When it is demonstrated that you do not know, what do you do? Do you turn against Socrates or do you follow him and learn from his questions? Those who turn on Socrates will never be free because they refuse to admit they are slaves. They claim to see, but are blind, and won’t find a solution for their blindness because they refuse to admit there is a problem. They have degrees, they publish, but they are just surfing blindly on a sea of opinions. It is not a matter of succeeding in reality, but of succeeding in the denial of reality. That success is the strange success at which so many are successful in our times.

And there are those who really do succeed. There is a growing fellowship of them that podcasting and substacking and other such things has banded together. At this moment, there is actually a growing abundance of it, strangely. I find this one of the best things about this present moment.

Hallowe’en

I still have a story to finish that I started when I first started attending a Reformed Baptist Church. In a way it was about poking fun at how some people turn their theological commitments into virtue signaling. It occurred to me to set it in Hallowe’en, since there is a kind of backlash about that: instead of celebrating Hallowe’en, we celebrate Reformation Day. What is also amusing in that context is that there are those who don’t want to celebrate Christmas. You would think exchanging Hallowe’en for Reformation Day would go along with exchanging Christmas for the pagan holiday those who don’t want to celebrate Christmas are looking to avoid.

I have noticed that Hallowe’en is starting to eclipse other holidays. It isn’t even an official holiday, but you should see the preparations, the parades, the things they do at schools. You probably do: it is unavoidable. A lot goes into it.

I’m not against Hallowe’en myself. I think things that are strange are interesting. To what would our sense of proportion diminish if we didn’t have the grotesque? And the whole thing makes sense: people can dress up, people can chose all kinds of things, the mood isn’t an illogical enforced happiness. So there are many things that appeal about Hallowe’en, besides the free-marketness of it. It is not, after all, decreed by the government or expected out of some kind of social morality. In fact, it has the appeal of having those who frown on it—which appeal is certainly something I can understand. But even I wonder at the lengths the whole thing has taken on.

It is kind of like jeeps. Have you noticed how many people are driving Wranglers and Rubicons? Not SUVs, but tough jeeps, with huge, sawtooth, predatory tires and the boxy, machine-like, omnicompetent look—the amount seems disproportionate. It is as if these drivers are expecting to go off road. And it makes you wonder if they are expecting to do so on the way to the grocery store or what.

I recently listened to a very interesting interview that Bari Weiss did. It was Jaron Lanier, who is a figure in the internet industry. A most curious bird. His assessment is that people are living on the edge, that there is a prevailing sense of doom, of looming catastrophe that defines our times. Hard to argue with that one (even if you don’t, like Jaron Lanier, live in California). It seems obvious once it is pointed out. It certainly accounts for all the jeeps.

And I wonder if the rise of Hallowe’en that I perceive is not some part of that thing. Perhaps Hallowe’en gives people a way of dealing with this sense of constantly living life these days on the edge.

The Hawk, by W.B. Yeats

“CALL down the hawk from the air;
Let him be hooded or caged
Till the yellow eye has grown mild,
For larder and spit are bare,
The old cook enraged,
The scullion gone wild.”

“I will not be clapped in a hood,
Nor a cage, nor alight upon wrist,
Now I have learnt to be proud
Hovering over the wood
In the broken mist
Or tumbling cloud.”

“What tumbling cloud did you cleave,
Yellow-eyed hawk of the mind,
Last evening? that I, who had sat
Dumbfounded before a knave,
Should give to my friend
A pretence of wit.”

You have to notice that the quotation marks indicate a change of speakers in every stanza. In the first, there is an unspecified speaker expressing a wish: call down. Order, trap, domesticate the hawk. Why? Because game that would otherwise be available is being depleted.

What part of the description ‘old cook’ is more important? Usually the substantive is more important than the modifier. In this case, however, the substantive is bound by the circumstances of the poem, and the modifier seems to me to be more free. Because of that, it seems more indicative of the poet’s choice, what he wants to say. Why is the old cook enraged? He is accustomed to having game. Why old? Tradition? Custom? Or is it feebleness as opposed to the strength of the hawk? The hawk is messing with the kitchen, and it is becoming intolerable.

But then we get the hawk’s story. He will not go back, he says. He has learned to be proud. This is not talking about a wild hawk that has to be domesticated, but a domesticated hawk that has reverted. I think that helps us with the adjective ‘old’ above.

Notice how the hawk describes the circumstances of his freedom, again, the adjectives in the concluding lines of the stanza. What kind of mist? What sort of cloud? He rises in circumstances of ruin.

It seems to me that the speaker in the last stanza is the same as the first, but now he is more specified. It is someone who has made a mistake. What kind of a mistake is it? What kind of regret? Why a hawk? Why game?

No Abiding City

Nothing says to me that it is a deeply and universally acknowledged truth that the human race is a race of exiles like this mad and glorious desire to colonize the universe. We want to go to Mars, we want to live on Mars, and yet we know that Mars can only be a step on the way. So what are we searching for?

There is nothing more purposeless than the desire to go to space. We make up purposes, but we do not recognize the real purpose.

It is good for learning things, for example, because the truth is that if you pursue practical learning, your learning will be limited. Learning needs to be speculative, you need to get knowledge for the sake of knowledge because all true knowledge exists to tell us something. Our problem is we do not always know what the question is to which we are obtaining an answer. Practical pursuits only seek answers to questions we have, but what about questions that will arise?

You can see this in church history. Origen of Alexandria, that glorious and speculative theologian lay the foundations for the hermeneutics and metaphysics of the fourth century, when very, very pressing and unanticipated questions arose. The import of those questions was remote and recondite, but needed to be discerned from afar. Origen was like Plato’s stargazer. We often talk about how we advance in our theology thanks to the questions that heretics raise. And that is true because we are too little involved in speculative theology; instead of being responsible, we end up scrambling. In the providence of God, there was Origen in the third century.

The same goes for the desire to be a space-faring race. It yields, and continues to yield. We have superior breathing apparatuses for firefighters, enhanced surgery techniques, and many such other kinds of safety and medical improvements. What killed the Apollo missions? When they were viewed merely as a geological survey of the moon and information about its formation. Billions of dollars were spent, and they could not continue to justify them on that practical objective. But that was not its original impulse; that is how the nebulous desire to go was badly clarified and as a result dissolved.

We search for life elsewhere because we want to find kindred. It is part of our search for a home. What is a home, after all? We talk loosely of home ownership, as if there really could be such a thing. It is the devaluation of the currency of our words to do so. You can’t own a home, you can at best own a building. Buildings are such things as can be owned, but a home . . . a home! That’s something that we will cover light years searching to obtain! We desperately want one, and there is a deep and largely unacknowledged sense that this planet is not it. A home is something you obtain by grace. It is something to strive to enter and yet that which you cannot earn. There is something given in a home, it is a blessing, it is received because it is greater than anything we can give ourselves. We are searching for life in other places to try to find out if that is where something belongs, and what belonging would be like, and if perhaps it is the place to which we can ourselves at last belong. We know ourselves to be exiles so fundamentally.

Nothing says to me that we are pilgrims and that we deeply know ourselves to be pilgrims like these daily videos of the massive effort in south eastern Texas to achieve a lasting presence for the human race, a home, a dwelling-place that is certain and enduring. “We need to be an inter-planetary species if we are going to survive.” Survival! If it were about survival we would not be trying to exit a survivable planet.

We want a home, that’s what we want. And we do not realize that what a home is, is a place where we are accepted. Isn’t that why we search for “life”? A home is a place were we live in relationship, conscious relationship, accepted and accepting in a deep and lasting way. It is glory as C. S. Lewis explains in his Biblical theology of the term in “The Weight of Glory.” And we long for the deep things that we in the wisdom of the awe of our religion of technology know; we long for the deep of distant space to accept us. And we toil, and watch, and pray to the gods of that religion, fervent about the designs of our priestly engineers and that highest priest of all, the driven and homeless Elon Musk, eager for them to bring us to the glorious temple that surely the right vehicle will find.

I would love to be a chaplain on that mission and colony on Mars. Don’t you think it will be poignant once there, to stand up and tell them about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob?

Living in the Ocean

What accounts for the thinking of people? The strange thing about trying to account for the thinking of people is that it is not something going on just in their heads. It seems to me sometimes that the mind is like a fish in water, swimming in the medium of Mind, and the thing about the medium of Mind is that it is like an ocean, subject to tides and inner currents. The deeper you can go, one would think, the more stable you can be. But there are currents in the deep, invisible and unexpected. And in the end Mind is greater than any swimming mind. People learn to swim in it, to go with it, to be carried by the tides and currents. The thing is to be aware of these invisible motions, to chart something of where they go and what they reach. I do believe people not only swim but are also are carried, and it is often this which baffles us about the confluence of ideas we see in others.

When I go to a nursing home . . .

. . . then I remember that we are creatures and incapable of great strength. We have strength, but only for a little while. We think we possess it, but it is not something we keep for very long. One day we will possess lasting physical strength, that which Christ has gained for us and gives us. But that is not yet. I do my exercises, I do my pushups, I have more physical strength today perhaps than ever in my 145lb life. But only for a little while, only to enjoy in passing.

. . . why does it seem that something like this won’t happen to me? Would we even go with the full knowledge that this will be our place, that that will be our seat, that others who are young, who have no idea will see us as living in a kind of unreality? Would it take more resolve in that case? When things actually happen to us they are not as we expected such things to be. And so when I go I try to think about how it will be, how life will narrow down, and be limited, and without privacy, and completely dependent on strangers.

Deeper Implications

I’m enjoying Dominic Legge’s book on the Trinitarian Christology of Aquinas. It was promoted a while back by Craig Carter. He was trying to think of a better book on the subject of Christology by a protestant, but couldn’t come up with one. I don’t know why we need one though, unless we don’t think of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) as our common heritage. I would rather we did, and would make the argument from history that we should. Not that I think Carter disagrees. He’s fighting the fight for abandoning the rash abandonment of the perennial theology of all the former ages of the church. He wants to recover the metaphysical certainties of natural theology that structure our careful and advanced theological formulation. He calls this philosophical theology the great tradition of Christian Platonism.

One of the funniest things (of many) that Roger Scruton said was when he observed that he considered the Enlightenment a kind of light pollution. We all live with physical light pollution if we live around other people, because we all agree that it is better to be able to see the ground nearby than to be able to look above and to the stars beyond. It is a practical thing, and shows one way in which our concern for safety and well-being is not focused on distant and cosmic determinations. Which practical considerations are probably fine for the kinds of considerations that go into having people live close to each other. The philosophical problem of the Englightenment, however, is another thing. The philsophical assumptions of modernity light up immediate rather than transcendent considerations, and it turns out that theology is improperly illuminated when that happens. This change in lighting is not always so apparent, but has been increasingly dawning on theologians. And the insights of gazing at the stars–the time invested, the skill to draw proper conclusions from so doing, the opprobrium of not being practical in this age–turn out to be pretty important for navigating the ship of theology. The Engligtenment, we could say, lit up the seas around the ship, but it turns out that being able to see the waves and billows is not as important as being able to recognize the guiding stars.

The reason Aquinas gets singled out–besides the fact that he is simply one of the greatest theologians God ever gave to the church–is that in continuity with Aquinas we are in continuity with the stargazers of all the ages of the church prior to him. He labored in times when not even the clouds of nominalism had arisen, and there’s much to be said for the philosophical clarity of that moment. We should also remember that the difficult doctrines of the Trinity and Christology were contributed to by Aquinas. Positive contributions to orthodox theology are nothing less than effects caused by the Holy Spirit, and should be remembered and valued as such.

We need the wisdom of those who gazed on the stars because, as we can tell by the present lighting, the nearer waters roll and the tempest still is high. We need their charts in the high seas we navigate. Read Legge’s book on the Christology of Aquinas. Read, for that matter, Aquinas.

The Way to Frame Things

I started reading One Click America. It does what many books seem to be doing these days, starts with a story that draws you in before it starts preaching at you. The introduction won me, and I want to keep going. But when it started preaching at me I noticed something. It uses inadequate categories.

Here is the thing. If the ways of understanding things in the past have been rejected, then you are going to understand things in new ways. The point of doing this would be the assumption that new ways of looking at things are more accurate. My problem is, I am increasingly sure they are not. Take the instance in this book. It is a book that bangs on about inequality. Inequality is how it classifies the problem, and so that will frame the conclusions and solutions. But when I read what is being described, I am not persuaded the problem is inequality. It is disorder. You can see where the categories align: when things have been ordered, then everybody will have the same. It is such a robotic approach to the problem, though. There is no depth to society when you view the fundamental problem not in terms of order but in terms of equality. As if society were spread out on a table, rather than occuplying the dimensions of the world.

Would greater familiarity with ancient and perennial wisdom not take more dimensions into consideration?

Seedtime in August

I went to the planting of a seed–a confessional Baptist regional association. It is germinating, and I hope it grows. The general observation I have about being at a synod of Reformed Baptists is that the main thing is to understand, isn’t it? To understand what you want to achieve. Once you understand you can act, but not before. It reminds me, however, of All of God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes. Kenneth Myers was good on gathering facts and making a case, but not as good on then prescribing action. So should I say that the first thing is to understand the ends and the second thing is to know all possible means toward those ends. That would make the third thing the choice, the evaluation of the means; after that is when action can ensue.

I am thinking about it because I just read Michael Anton on David French. Nobody who has followed evangelical luminaries for a decade (any decade, they tend to be consistent) can be surprised that David French is French Davidian. There are many good things to be said for evangelicals and evangelicalism, but you don’t get a reliable wisdom in its salient leadership or major projects. Evangelicals want influence, which is a means, but they have no consensus regarding the end in view. They rally around the flag of achieving influence as if it were an end in itself.

The first thing is to understand, and then the second things is to evaluate, and it is in the realm of evaluation that evangelicalism shows its failure. That’s when the mistake flows backward, like a receeding tide, and their initial understanding gets reevaluated. Even adecuate understanding is degraded as a result. And the only question for the observer is, how do we avoid that? It makes you realize how wisdom is indispensiable, and how the categories of classical philosophy are too deep to be readjusted. It makes you listen to the marginal critics because that is where evangelical critics start and finish, whatever their moment of apogee.

Remember David Wells, No Place for Truth? This was part of starting the Alliance, and that has been a cause (among other causes) of an effect. Confessionalism is growing, full subscription with confessional boundaries is growing in new places even if only by trial and error. Confessional subscription is battered about, disputed, distorted, shearing off among disillusioned early adopters, misunderstood. But a strong thing is a strong thing, and full confessional subscription is a strong thing. There are those who are incapable of accepting things associated with the roots of what they are, since they would rather think of themselves as severed from such roots. But, as a general observation about church history, the only thing to grow in is the inherited soil, and you have to do it by the roots.

I was at a synod of pastors who have memories of ARBCA, speaking of soil. There are memories they do not want to repeat, and there is a wealth of experience harvested. Reformed Baptists (Confessional seems to be the ascendant adjective now) have a confession drawing them nevertheless together and forcing them to try to understand the degrees of regard in which it is and should be held. I observe that the process of living brings different strengths in different periods. It is the process of growth. It is the process of maturity and death, and planting new seeds that grow again, things with energy and excess that have no reproductive capacity, but which give way to something that does, which then grows feeble but stores a wealth of experience.

I am forced to drive through fields of corn regularly, having been planted in a new place. This is my third summer doing so. I would never chose it, but it has been chosen for me. The thing about watching something God does is that you can draw authoritative conclusions from it, can’t you? I say that about the land through which I drive, and I hope to say that about this germinating association.

McGilchrist

Iain McGilchrist these days is popping up on my personal notification network (Twitter). It is happening because he is releasing a two-volume magnum opus. Many people would want to know what he says just because of the interesting title of the book, let alone the subject, let alone the author. McGuilchrist has earned his reputation; he has already written a work widely considered at least very important if not crucial. (Magna opera?) If that earlier work turn out not to be a classic, it will take a while for the world to be disabused.

His name either is one of those that always sounds familiar or had come up in some connection previously. Do you know what I mean? It is either the kind of name that makes you feel you always knew it, or you have heard it so much in ways you no longer remember that it feels that way. When Jordan Peterson interviewed him, I was glad for some information on the person. They talked about the then-forthcoming book, and that was interesting enough that I got The Master and His Emissary.

This book reminds me of two smaller books. Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances and D. E. Harding’s The Hierarchy of Heaven & Earth. Both of these are extraordinary. The first prepared me for the Copernican revolution that Platonism is against the Nominalist assumptions of modern perceptions. The second is another such Copernican revolution on the perspective of our sense of scale. Now what McGilchrist is doing in his book is bringing observations about the mind back around to neuroscience and trying to explain a Copernican revolution with regard to the brain. (I had no idea the brain is such a complicated organ. It is difficult to wade through the neuroscience, but now that I’m in the second half of the book, worth it.)

In his celebrated earlier tome, McGilchrist offers explanations, which are not intended to be exhaustive, but add another significant detail to the history of ideas. I offer you a tantalizing example:

“Our feelings are not ours, any more than, as Scheler said, our thoughts are ours. We locate them in our heads, in our selves, but they cross interpersonal boundaries as though such limits had no meaning for them: passing back and forth from one mind to another, across space and time, growing and breeding, but where we do not know [my emphasis]. What we feel arises out of what I feel for what you feel for what I feel about your feelings about me – and about many other things besides: it arises from the betweenness, and in this way feeling binds us together, and, more than that, actually unites us, since the feelings are shared.”

I’m at least looking forward to all the podcasts his new book will elicit.  

Farrowing

The intriguing Douglas Farrow is the author of the stupendous takedown published in First Things of David Hart’s treatise on universalism. What an interesting public venue for that engagement. I have not read Hart’s treatise, but I have enjoyed the annoyance it occasioned online. I also think Hart is intriguing; it is hard to think of a more interesting book than The Experience of God. He and Farrow seem to me to be real heavyweights of theological disputation. Of course they hit a lot harder than the featherweights! Don’t you think there is a grand magnificence to watching the heaviest blows being calculated and landed, regardless of the side you are on? Besides his ability to go to war, you will also notice in Farrow’s bio the puzzling statement that he is “sometime holder of the Kennedy Smith chair in Catholic Studies.” What speech act is going on with that?

I do not know at what point Farrow swum the Tiber, or indeed why. He also has a lament of the Pope’s latest legislation on First Things. First Things has been walking a tightrope all through the pontificate of a Pope named after a barbarian tribe, struggling to remain within the bounds of loyalty and deferent disagreement. That Farrow is accorded the response to the latest encroachment on that particular space tells you something. I gather he was at that point on the other side of the Thames. I just read his Ascension and Ecclesia, which takes Calvin’s view of the supper as the point of departure. I am not sure that it would have caused perplexity to be known for such a book and then swimming the Tiber, but that also is a bit intriguing.

Farrow is a penetrating thinker and a dense and acerbic writer. One of the benefits of reading Ascension and Ecclesia (which is cheap because it is now outdated) is that any subsequent book you read will be so much easier. The argument is difficult indeed, depends on making much of Irenaeus, disparaging Origen, and eventually . . . a takedown, yes, of the whole tendency of modern theology, including of course all of its major proponents. (That’s actually where I get bored; 20th century theology consistently fails to intrigue me at all.) It may be that Irenaeus is to be rated over Origen as a theologian, though I am somewhat dubious. Still, even if you don’t agree with Farrow, following his arguments—let alone going up against them—is a salutary and invigorating activity. He is definitely not among the Christian Platonists, but then, it is good to have intelligent opposition. Christian Platonists can be grateful for any intelligent opposition since at least the adjectival part if not the substantive is notably rare.

I obviously enjoy Douglas Farrow. I wrote to my sometime advisor asking him how he rated Farrow, and the reply was that Farrow was top notch, worth reading even when you disagree. It is good advice.

The argument of Ascension and Ecclesia is to highlight the importance of a right understanding of the doctrine of the ascension. This doctrine shapes ecclesiology. His argument is that getting the ascension wrong has warped the identity of the church and diluted its mission. A substandard interpretation of the ascension of Christ as been used to “dissolve Jesus’ humanity” and one of the knock-on effects of this is to render the Church irrelevant.

What did the ascension accomplish? Where is Jesus? How do his physical absence and mystical presence define the church? And once you answer the question of space, what about time? It is worth winding through all of Farrow’s argument in order to find out. He has published a more recent book for those whose research is more efficient than mine: Ascension Theology. I understand it is more accessible and no doubt more complete.

Upon Having Returned from Mexico

One of the great things about going to Monterrey, Mexico is that it is not a tourist destination. It is a growing city in the desert, with what looked to me like good infrastructure and sprouting towers and housing developments all over. One of the most exclusive neighborhoods in all of Latin America is named after the Apostle Peter and is found in Monterrey. The city has quite a few universities and is an industrial center, besides having a medical reputation. The airport, for all that, is not a rambling, bewildering beast. Business travel, private, and chartered flights is probably all. I noticed American businessmen, laborers in the back of the plane, and well-to-do Mexican families mostly, all compliant in masks.

It was a surprise to me how many people comply with the masks in the USA. It is irrational, and yet it is insisted upon. You have to be tested and demonstrate a negative result to get onto a plane coming back. So they test you, they verify, they know you are negative and in the announcement that tells you they still want you to wear the mask they tell you they still don’t care. You can hear them say they don’t care about your test and your vaccine. And they still require you wear the mask because they are required to require it. It is the most irrational thing of the whole irrational business: even if you test negative, even if you have the vaccine, wear a mask.

I realized on the flight out that enforcement still depends on a few certain types specifically, and generally on the public conventions of behavior. And so, the flight back was much more enjoyable and mask free. Most decent people don’t want to be singled out, but most decent people don’t want to enforce it. Which leads me to this conclusion, if you are mentally prepared for the few (in my case, one) who enforce it rudely (there will always be such people in the coming together of crowds), you are prepared to buck the propaganda.

Zooming out from just the face-barrier, it all makes sense. This is the society that can be oppressed by slogans, that is farcically reduced to negotiating with perverts about pronouns and designations, that reminds me of the early days of blogging when tone was all and argument not as highly disputed or valued. It is Hanlon’s razor (so much wiser that Ockham’s): there is no conspiracy, rather there is incompetence behind it: posers and opportunists are being empowered. Decency exists to make it difficult for such to get ahead. It exists to put more barriers and blocks in their way. But at the moment decency is not serving that purpose. It is a means without an end, and it has been coopted to other ends, it seems to me.

Could it be that it is airline travel that has reduced us? In Atlanta, Delta’s hub I understand, we had a close connection. We scrambled to our gate and were in the line to board upon arrival. Everybody was seated, everything was stowed, the security video played, and then the co-pilot told us it would be another while before we left because we were still waiting for our captain who was taking half an hour to traverse an airport we had gotten through in fifteen minutes. It ended up being an hour and a half before a pilot was located on a flight coming from Cancun, landed, got through customs, and boarded the plane where we were all still waiting for him. It is a complex thing to run an airline: so many people, so much luggage, so many airplanes, so much crew, not to mention the regulations under which they groan. No doubt from time to time it happens that a flight is scheduled without the one most crucial person for it all. Nobody complained; we sat meekly in our facemasks waiting, getting all the entertainment out of Delta’s limited, corporate options.

Thus occupied, we were given our customs form to fill out. The thing about the Mexican form we filled is that upon arrival many of us had to be sent to the side to finish filling them in. The Mexican customs form has a top part, and then it tells you the middle is for official use. What is not as obvious is that there is still another section you fill out at the bottom of the form. The layout is that way because the bottom part detaches, and you need to keep it to get back out of the country: it is your visa. (I wish that the officials managing the lines at customs would check on that instead of being there mostly to enforce the ban of cellphone usage; which made me wonder what eventuality has cell-phone usage in the past occasioned). While we were waiting for our designated pilot to straggle over to our fueled-up and packed-up plane, we were also given a health declaration. (When my neighbor asked the flight-attendant for a pen, it appeared that this also was not a service Delta provided.) This piece of paper was later seen waved at officials in Mexico by various passengers at several of the progressive stages of customs, immigration, and baggage claim. It appears the only planned destination this important formulary had was that which mine reached later in the day: the garbage. I think the affinities between the Mexican bureaucracy and the people running Delta are quite striking.

Life can be difficult in the desert, but it can also be pleasant if you can coordinate the necessary power and the water supply. Malls are thriving in Monterrey. They are enormous and growing, every locale filled, every escalator clogged as people are carried to the level of consumption to which they have attained. Because in Monterrey the full range of consumption is available—you can buy a handful of chilies on the street for a dollar or get that expensive pre-digested coffee you hear about all the time at an upscale grocery store. You can ride in a bus with no air-conditioning or in the comfort of a Tesla; from rattletrap to latest tech; Monterrey has gamut, we might say. It is a technological hub.

In the biggest mall a security guard did a double take when we walked by. Perhaps he was checking to see if I had a legitimate reason not to wear the mask: eating, drinking, the below-the-nose alternative, or just being an intimidating person. None of the above fit my description; I just had freedom. He didn’t say anything till we had passed him, so I didn’t have an exchange with him about science or freedom or coherence. But he called out afterward, faintly, so that for a while I complied. Perhaps he was just surprised. They take your temperature when you enter most places (the more informal, the fewer the protocols), they wrap the waiters up in facemasks and shields, and they make you sanitize the soles of your shoes as you go in. At one point in the past year’s coronavirus contortions, they stopped my parents from going to their usual grocery store because of their age. Too old and vulnerable. How are they supposed to get their groceries? They had to switch tactics. They have a place, no kidding, actually called S-Mart there (you would think that alone would be enough to make it a tourist destination but does anybody know that they have such a location?). And so S-Mart for a little while got their business, but not (alas!) their loyalty.

The good news is that however broadly you can enforce irrational conformity, and whatever its damaging results in the long run, you can only enforce it so much. There are natural limits to it all. Delta used to love to fly, it no longer shows. And if you want to see what it will look like if we continue on as we meekly do, you can probably get an idea by going to Monterrey. What I can’t guarantee is that we will have an S-Mart.