Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

If you like historical fiction…

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2008 at 5:34 pm

I’ve just read a pretty good specimen of the genre.

If you have any recommendations, I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction and nonfiction.

Editing history beyond recognition: Mayflower Compact

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2008 at 1:40 pm

If you have a child of school age, and they have a textbook that takes note of “The Mayflower Compact,” will you please compare the text presented there, to the original text? Leaving off the signatures, the original (courtesy The Avalon Project at Yale) reads:

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

The subject comes up because yesterday, at a The Truth Project seminar, I was informed that some current textbooks omit references to God or the promotion of the Christian faith, leaving the colonists to be only people out to “plant the first colony” in that part of the world.

If your child has a textbook more or less making Pilgrims out to be secularists out for their own ends, please fill in the gaps yourself. It is a sad thing when a child is given a false heritage. Besides, whether or not you can understand the motivation of early American settlers, can we agree that to baldly misrepresent them by sneaky omissions from their writings is both silly and unfair?

If you do have a textbook with a Dowdified text (i.e. one that uses ellipsis to change the meaning to better suit the editor’s purposes), please do me the favor of dropping into the comments here the name of the book, and what it puts forth as The Mayflower Compact. I have no reason to doubt my source, but I also haven’t got verification yet. Thanks.

Cross-posted at Suitable For Mixed Company (under a different title).

Another ‘Free Choice’ proposition to watch out for

In Uncategorized on December 12, 2008 at 4:47 pm

The so-called Freedom of Choice Act (also known as FOCA), would provide legal bulldozers to the abortion industry in the United States, for use in flattening opposition. Not that a billion dollar industry that kills people on a per-hire basis needs more sledgehammers than it already has, in my opinion, but what do I know? (At least I have company. More than 330,000 people have already signed a Fight FOCA petition, as just the tip of the iceberg in the fight against this horrific bit of proposed policy, which would strip away the few feeble laws that protect the most vulnerable women and girls amongst us.)

In another arguably dishonest use of language, the so-called Employee Free Choice Act would provide brand new legal bulldozers to unions, not least by turning thugs loose on workers who currently enjoy the protection of voting by secret ballot. (Uhm, folks, there are reasons secret ballots are considered part and parcel of advanced civilizations…) Joust the Facts has a look.

More on Christianity, history, and culture

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Robert at Expat Yank takes on some of those who would like to “free” us from Christianity without stopping to think what it has meant even to unbelievers.

History in context

In Uncategorized on December 6, 2008 at 2:26 pm

These two posts add a bit of perspective to the rise (and fall) of current cultures and governments. They address decidedly different factors, but I think they both add to the discussion of how we got where we are, and what we have to fight to keep from losing what we’ve gained.

“Created Equal: How Christianity Shaped the West”, by Dinesh D’Souza (Imprimis, November 2008)

And Mark Steyn says that Europe and America tend to be novelty crazed in different ways.

“Research shows…”

In Uncategorized on December 6, 2008 at 1:57 pm

One of my pet peeves is how readily some people swallow information that is preceded by “research shows.” And never mind if the ‘research’ was a poorly conducted study of a small group of people, perhaps hand-picked to give the results the agenda-driven ‘researcher’ was aiming to get. It happens. (via Bookworm Room)

In a Christian study group I’m in, one of the theories that was recently put forth is that one of civilization’s problems these days is that too many people think ethics and morals are the same thing – that morals used to be the study of ‘what is’ and ethics used to be the study of ‘what should be’, but today too many people look around to see what other people are doing as a guide to determining what’s right, at least in their own mind.

I’m not sure it matters whether people think “morals” and “ethics” are synonymous. But that’s probably because I tend to think of them both being a way of addressing ‘what should be’. But, in my case, that rarely translates into a mindset of relying on ‘studies’ or polls or popular culture, etc., to determine what’s right. But, when I was younger and not Christian, I did place more weight on polls and studies and what the popular kids said.

I am inclined to think that I did that because I was younger, more secular, and carefully mistaught that there was no God, instead of having my language muddled. Longtime readers know I dislike muddled language, because I agree with people like Charles Chaput, who writes “We need to be very forceful in defending what the words in our political vocabulary really mean. Words are important because they shape our thinking, and our thinking drives our actions.” But in this case, I don’t think that’s the main issue. I was taught that man was basically good, and things kind of went downhill from there. If man is good, and wisdom grows by consulting other people, then…

Without a belief in a caring, righteous and just God, you only have what other people think of you, and there is a whole lotta benefit in such a world to fit in with whoever seems to be calling the shots, down here amongst the puny but often-merciless humans. But if you believe in, and fear, and trust, God, you don’t dare let the world tell you what’s right, because God is sure enough bigger and stronger than the puny humans, and he’ll be there long after your human adversaries have been taken out of the picture, and he’s reckoned to be pretty sharp-eyed when it comes to searching human hearts. And if you try to run from Him, he has a track record of catching up to people. (For instance, the story of Jonah and the Whale is not about a kindly God rescuing a good man from drowning when he falls into the sea. It is about God tracking down a deserter and hauling him back to where he’s supposed to be. I’d almost bet you didn’t know that, if you’re secular.)

At any rate, my working hypothesis is that the reason we don’t know morals from ethics anymore isn’t because the words got muddled and it fuzzed our thinking, but because our thinking got fuzzed, and there didn’t seem to be much point in maintaining a difference between the words. If too much of society jettisoned the idea that there’s such a thing as truth, or right and wrong, and started trying to cobble together ‘moral codes’ based upon what people thought sounded or seemed good, it seems to me that it wouldn’t take much to slide from there to a society driven by peer pressure and popular culture and lobbyists and propaganda, amongst other often-ruthless externals.

The Tempest and Advent, plus a book review

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2008 at 2:54 pm

From Ironies of Faith: The Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature by Anthony Esolen (ISI Books, 2007):

Critics are fond of citing, as the inspiration for The Tempest, accounts of an English shipwreck off Bermuda, and what was hailed as the providential survival of the crew. No doubt Shakespeare had that shipwreck in mind. But far more important to the play are the allusions to scripture throughout. These allusions form a consistent and ironic pattern. In short, this farewell play is also a play of expectation – a play of Advent…

The Book of Common Prayer shows that among the readings Shakespeare would have heard at the obligatory services during Advent and the octave of Christmas were the entire book of Isaiah, the Letter of Jude, the letters of Peter, the gospel passages from Matthew that refer to the Second Coming, and the account in Acts of the travels and the shipwreck of Saint Paul.  Every single important motif of The Tempest is to be found in these readings (particularly in Isaiah 29); there are no exceptions. All point to ends that are beginnings, and many comment ironically upon sinners who live amidst events and, as if they were sleepwalkers, cannot understand them.

The above is from page 123, in a roughly 400 page book. So far, that’s as far as I’ve read. So far, I am having mixed feelings about the book. Much of it is excellent, and mind-stretching, and eloquent, and makes me yearn to read (or reread) books the author is referencing. But Esolen, whose articles and blogging I have long learned from and enjoyed, occasionally detours in this book into the very sorts of mind games, and academic-speak, and what I see as over-analysis, that make me avoid, like the plague, most academic books about literature – seeing strange (and usually ‘earthy’) symbolism here, and deep significance there, in passages that don’t seem to me to need twisting around like that.

On the other hand, the ‘for crying out loud!’ moments (as I call them), have been few and far between, which puts this book way ahead of the pack in that regard.

And, significantly (oh, oh, now I’m claiming to point to significance – it must be catching, do you suppose?… 🙂 ), Esolen brings an understanding of Christianity to a study of books that are built on Christian foundations. He also notes (page 12):

…In the case of Christianity, it is as Chesterton puts it. You had better be in the faith completely or out of it completely. The worst position, if you want to understand it, is to be partly in and partly out, or to have a passing, culturally based familiarity with its surface. You are neither so familiar with it as to probe its depths, nor is it so strange that you are moved to approach it with care. You take the attitude of Petronius, or of “Tertium Quid.” You’ve seen it all before.

Apply a two-dimensional Christianity to the mature allegories of Spenser and Milton, and at once you will discover discrepancies and incoherence… Many such false dilemmas arise because the critic has failed to understand the subtleties of the Christian faith.

And Christianity is the subtlest of faiths, yet of a wondrous simplicity…

Luckily for those of us who aren’t as well-read, or perhaps don’t have the right sort of memory for it, when Esolen dishes up lines like the above-quoted  ‘You take the attitude of Petronius, or of “Tertium Quid”,’ he provides enough context to let us know what he’s talking about. He might expect us to swim in deep waters, but he’s not out there to watch us poor readers drown in the wake of his brilliance. (I’ve read books like that. Or, to be more clear, I’ve tossed aside books like that. Haven’t you?)

The book, as you may guess from the pull quotes, serves up an education on Christianity as well as on literature. And it is nice to read a prolonged meditation on literature written by a man who likes literature, and isn’t just using it to tear apart into little pieces to impress his colleagues. It is also nice to read a scholarly study by someone who hasn’t sold out to the materialist view. Still, there are passages devoted to strange symbolism, to which the well-mannered lady in me objects…

It’s not a book for everyone, and I can’t say it clearly passes a “suitable for mixed company” test, but C.S. Lewis fans in particular might like to give it a go.

Cross-posted at Suitable For Mixed Company.