The Abolition of Man, Chapter 3 & Appendix

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2018. The schedule is online.

I hope you’re enjoying the readings as much as I am. I had forgotten how prophetic Lewis is in this little volume.

If you’ve gotten a little behind, there is an excellent short summary of all three chapters by Arend Smilde at Lewisiana and a 13 page study guide by Dr. David Naugle at Dallas Baptist University.

I’ll content myself with three quotes that stood out to me:

When all that says ‘It is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains…. those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse. (pages 723–724)

This insight alone explains SO MUCH about contemporary society. Strength of feeling overwhelms everything else in today’s moral discourse. In fact, emotion has become the new determiner of moral values for many people. Pick virtually any news story and you will see this playing out, especially when it comes to the debates surrounding the sexual revolution and its consequences.

It is not surprising that the sexual norms prevalent in our society are in direct contradiction to the old ones, because one of the functions of the Tao is to be a trellis upon which our emotions may grow. To revisit Lewis’s phrasing from the first chapter “Men Without Chests”, it used to be that the head (reason) shaped the chest (emotions trained by habit) and thereby governed the belly (desire). But in our time it often happens that the belly shapes the chest and thereby governs the head. Our wants have become self-authenticating and domineering.

My other favorite quote from this chapter addresses the limits of skepticism:

But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see. (page 730)

This reminds me of something Lewis said in the previous chapter:

The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in. (page 714)

Radical skepticism is self-defeating. If it succeeds it fails.

Something I often tell people is that they need to learn to doubt their doubts. Our academic culture conditions us to place doubt in a privileged position over trust, but doubt is not a neutral thing. Doubt needs a justification just as belief does, and when you are inclined to doubt (whether the word of a friend, a truth of a moral principle, or the accuracy of a claim) it is worth asking whether the reasons for and costs of doubting outweigh the reasons for and costs of trusting. Sometimes they will, and sometimes they will not.

Skepticism, incidentally, is different from asking questions. Skepticism is an entirely different thing than curiosity.

John 12:37 illustrates the difference: “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” Unbelief, in this sense, is a choice. It is not that they did not have reason to believe in Jesus — it is that they did not want to believe in Jesus. Hebrews 3:12 warns us not to have “an evil, unbelieving heart.” But we must weigh that against Jude 1:22 which tells us to “be merciful to those who doubt”, against the praise given the Bereans for their “noble character” in Acts 17:11 for investigating the claims of the apostle Paul, and against the fact that Thomas is not condemned for his hesitation to believe in John 20:24–29. Putting them together, we see that God is not bothered by honest questions but He is opposed to motivated skepticism.

The latter is famously illustrated by Aldous Huxley in his book Ends and Means, “For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”

I think there are many people in our culture like Huxley. I pray they learn to doubt their doubts before it is too late.

Side note: Huxley was a contemporary of Lewis — they actually died within hours of each other. There’s a fun little book premised upon this fact called Between Heaven and Hell by philosophy professor Peter Kreeft. It’s a clever dialog between Lewis, Huxley, and John F. Kennedy (who also died within hours of these two) as they await the afterlife and debate what is going to happen next.

That’s all for this week. Next week we begin reading The Four Loves!

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 158

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Before I share this week’s links: yes, I am aware that Anthony Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court and think it is likely to be one of the most significant political developments of my lifetime. I don’t have any links about it because not much interesting has been written about it yet simply because Trump has not nominated a successor yet. Once he does, please let me know if you find anything fascinating about either his nominee or the process.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Suspect in Stanford church murder kills self (Palo Alto Daily News): this is a tragic and freaky story. A less horrific detail which amused me: “Crawford stayed on at Stanford until 1976, but he found ways to exact revenge against the university, Herhold said. ‘He began stealing stuff from offices,’ said Herhold, who added examples, including a human skull, a walking cane given to university founder Leland Stanford and rare books. ‘The kicker was he went down to a print shop and got a degree from Stanford,’ he said, using a blank Stanford diploma.”
  2. Ebola Deaths Rise As Patients Turn to Miracles Over Medicine (Griffin Paul Jackson, Christianity Today): “Two Ebola patients died last month after fleeing a hospital isolation ward so they could be taken to a prayer meeting, where they exposed up to 50 others.” Wow. Bad theology leads to tragedy. Somebody never taught them Leviticus 13:46. If you’re infectious, pay attention to the phrase “call for” in James 5:14–16 and ask the elders to come to you. Quarantine Laws and the Bible (Larry Ball, The Aquila Report) is worth reading in this regard.
  3. The Spanish Inquisition Was a Moderate Court by the Standard of Its Time (Ed Condon, National Review): “Because it was a serious court, meticulous case files and court records were kept. Libraries in Toledo, Salamanca, and other cities are home to thousands of such case files. In the second half of the 20th century, Henry Kamen and other historians were given access to them. What they discovered changed the scholarly understanding of the Inquisition. So, what of those dank dungeons and hot pokers? Well, for a start, the jails of the Inquisition were universally known to be hygienic and well maintained. They were neither built nor run as places of punishment. The standard of care that inmates received was high enough that prisoners held by the Crown would often petition to be moved to Inquisition jails. There are recorded cases of criminals committing public heresy with the express purpose of being held and tried by the Inquisition, rather than the secular courts.” This is not a fringe view among scholars, but is definitely contrary to the popular understanding of the Spanish Inquisition.
  4. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her Catholic faith and the urgency of a criminal justice reform (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, America): “By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.” This, of course, is the socialist candidate who unseated powerful incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary. She is almost certain to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
    • Related: Democratic Socialists of America Membership Surges After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Stunning Victory (Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast): “According to Lawrence Dreyfuss, a program associate for DSA, the organization saw a surge of 1,152 new memberships on Wednesday—about 35 times more sign-ups than on an average day. The last major membership bump DSA experienced was in the month following President Trump’s election, during which time they had about six times more sign-ups than in the previous month.” Note that the organization itself is still relatively small (40,000 members).
    • Possibly related: Democrats are losing the millennial vote and need to change message (Cas Mudde, The Guardian): “a recent Reuters/Ipsos mega poll of 16,000 respondents, found that the Democrats are losing ground with millennials. While millennials still prefer the Democratic party over the Republicans, that support is tanking. In just two years, it dropped sharply from 55% to 46%. Meanwhile, their support for Republicans has remained roughly stable in the past two years, falling from 28% to 27%.… their dislike of the Republicans should not be interpreted as a like of Democrats.” Caveats apply: this is based on the results of one poll.
    • Definitely related: Dear Democratic Socialists Who Think You’re Having a Moment: It’s Me, a Libertarian, Who’s Been Through This. (Robby Soave, Reason): “Democratic socialism, the ideology with which Ocasio-Cortez identifies, appears to be having a political moment. To which I say, as a libertarian who has been through the whole an-idea-whose-time-has-finally-come experience: good luck with that, comrades. The signs are easy to misread.”
  5. Right-to-work laws make unions work harder for their members (Christos Makridis, The Hill): “RTW [Right To Work] laws force unions to become more competitive. When unions are guaranteed a permanent income stream, they don’t need to work as hard to win the hearts and minds of their employees; that is, they face weaker incentives to provide valuable services. The adoption of RTW laws changes that by making union dues a voluntary contribution.” Yes, this is our very own recently-graduated Christos.
  6. Are Satanists of the MS-13 gang an under-covered story on the religion beat? (Julia Duin, GetReligion): this is a fascinating bit of news commentary. My favorite bit: “How does one get out of MS-13? An opinion piece in the New York Times this past April gives a surprising response: Go to a Pentecostal church.” Highly recommended.
  7. How The Democrats Lost Their Way On Immigration (Peter Beinert, The Atlantic): “Liberals must take seriously Americans’ yearning for social cohesion. To promote both mass immigration and greater economic redistribution, they must convince more native-born white Americans that immigrants will not weaken the bonds of national identity. This means dusting off a concept many on the left currently hate: assimilation.” Recommended by a student.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Christian Missions and the Spread of Democracy (Greg Scandlen, The Federalist): This is a summary of some rather wonderful research Robert Woodberry published in The American Political Science Review back in 2012: The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy. If it looks familiar it’s because I allude to it from time to time in my sermons and conversations. (first shared in volume 14)

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 157

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. These Harvard Kids Got the Lesson of Their Lives in the Heartland (Salena Zito, NY Post): “I have been a national political journalist for nearly 15 years. Whenever and wherever I travel in this country, I abide by a few simple rules: No planes, no interstates and no hotels. And definitely no chain restaurants…. Those simple rules are what intrigued students at the Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) after hearing me speak at a Pizza and Politics event on the school’s campus last fall.”
  2. Don’t Quit the Republican Party. Stay and Fight (Michael Wear, Time Magazine): “The problem is that politics is not an individualistic endeavor. Independents tend to spurn institutions generally, and then feel vindicated when our institutions do not reflect their views. But while Independents think they are sending political parties a message, political parties do not hear them…. In essence, Independents actively minimize their impact on elections and party positions. When people leave (or fail to join) parties in protest, they starve those parties of ideological diversity, driving them to their extremes.”
    • On Twitter the author (a former Obama White House staffer) says “The headline is misleading. My argument is a caution against becoming an indy. If you read the article, I explicitly argue that if you believe the Democratic Party more closely aligns with your vision of what is best for our nation’s politics, you should become a Democrat.” In case you didn’t know, authors rarely choose their headlines (or even the titles of their books).
  3. When Children Say They’re Trans (Jesse Singal, The Atlantic): “ …to deny the possibility of a connection between social influences and gender-identity exploration among adolescents would require ignoring a lot of what we know about the developing teenage brain—which is more susceptible to peer influence, more impulsive, and less adept at weighing long-term outcomes and consequences than fully developed adult brains—as well as individual stories like Delta’s.” This is a long and balanced piece which has garnered outrage in some online circles.
  4. The Sin Of Silence (Joshua Pease, Washington Post): “Without a centralized theological body, evangelical policies and cultures vary radically, and while some church leaders have worked to prevent abuse and harassment, many have not. The causes are manifold: authoritarian leadership, twisted theology, institutional protection, obliviousness about the problem and, perhaps most shocking, a diminishment of the trauma sexual abuse creates — especially surprising in a church culture that believes strongly in the sanctity of sex…. Roger Canaff, a former New York state prosecutor who specialized in child sexual abuse, tells me that many worshipers he encountered felt persecuted by the secular culture around them — and disinclined to reach out to their persecutors for help in solving problems.”
  5. Contra Caplan On Arbitrary Deploring (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex): “This is my long-winded answer to a question several people asked on the last links post – why should we prioritize responding to China’s mass incarceration of the Uighurs? Aren’t there other equally bad things going on elsewhere in the world, like malaria? Yes. But I had optimistically thought we had mostly established a strong norm around ‘don’t put minorities in concentration camps’. Resources devoted to enforcing that norm won’t just solve the immediate problem in China, they’ll also help maintain a credible taboo against this kind of thing so it’s less likely to happen the next time.”
  6. The Handmaids of Capitalism (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “Feminists were divided over surrogacy and commercialized fertility, but the opposition to both practices gradually dissolved, and now only eccentric conservatives notice the weird resemblances between California-style surrogacy practices and the handmaids and econowives of Gilead. They were divided over pornography, often bitterly — but over time the sex-positive side increasingly won out over the Andrea Dworkinish dissenters, even as the online realm was overrun with images and videos that more than justified her arguments. They were, and are, divided over prostitution, but it’s pretty clear that the version of feminism that supports the rights of sex workers to sell their bodies in the marketplace has the intellectual momentum.”
  7. More on border family separations, a policy that has been stopped by executive order after massive public outcry.
    • The Lesser Cruelty On Immigration (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “it would be useful for everyone if the Trump White House just admitted that this policy was conceived as a deterrent — traumatizing a certain number of families in the hopes of bringing greater order to the border in the long run. That admission would get us closer to the hard problem in migration policy. Some harshness, some deterrence, really is unavoidable in any immigration system that doesn’t simply dissolve borders. So policymakers are therefore obliged to choose tolerable cruelties over the intolerable one that we’re witnessing in action right now.”
    • Immigration: Was A.G. Sessions Right to Quote the Bible in Defense of Family Separation? (Bruce Ashford, personal blog): “Paul is saying, in effect, ‘Look, it’s true that Jesus is the ultimate Ruler of a cosmic Kingdom while Caesar is only the temporary ruler of a limited earthly kingdom. But that doesn’t mean you’re above the law. You should be a good citizen and obey the law except, of course, when God’s law conflicts with Caesar’s law.’”
    • A case study in the proper role of Christians in politics (Michael J. Gerson, Washington Post): “In the case of child separation, some of the most effective resistance has come from religious leaders — Catholic, Protestant mainline and even some evangelical Christian (see Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Franklin Graham). It was a case study in the proper and positive role that religion can play in our common life.”
    • Enforce the Border — Humanely (David Frum, The Atlantic): “Illegal immigrants are committing no moral wrong. They are doing what we might do in their place—as we, by defending borders, are doing what they would do if they were in ours. Like so many human institutions, borders are both arbitrary and indispensable. Without them, there are no nations. Without nations, there can be no democracy and no liberalism. John Lennon may imagine that without nations there will be only humanity. More likely, without nations there will only be tribes.”
    • Our Debate On Illegal Immigration Is A National Disaster (David Harsanyi, The Federalist): “The majority of kids in care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most often teenagers, are apprehended because they’re here without any parents. It’s a growing problem. In 2013, a little fewer than 40,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended by the Border Patrol. That was a historic high. In 2016 there were nearly 60,000. This year there are likely to be more than 80,000.”
    • American Families Shouldn’t Be Separated, Either (Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg View): “Obviously, a case can be made for enforcing the border, but deliberate cruelty is never a good idea. Those children — innocent victims all of them — will likely be traumatized for life…. If you agree with me on this, I’d like to push you one step further. It’s horrible to forcibly separate lawbreaking parents from their young children, but we do that to American citizens, too. According to one 2010 study, more than 1.1 million men and 120,000 women in U.S. jails and prisons have children under the age of 17.” This is one of the most intriguing things I read this week.
    • The Rise of the Amnesty Thugs (David Brooks, New York Times): “For centuries, conservatives have repeated a specific critique against state power. Statism, conservatives have argued, has a tendency to become brutalist and inhumane because a bureaucracy can’t see or account for the complexity of reality. It tries to impose uniform rules on the organic intricacy of human relationships. Statist social engineering projects cause horrific suffering because in the mind of statists, the abstract rule is more important than the human being in front of them. The person must be crushed for the sake of the abstraction.” Astute insights in this op-ed. Recommended. Also, the title is slightly misleading.
    • A Twitter thread from an immigration attorney explaining how longstanding this problem has been

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Alcohol, Blackouts, and Campus Sexual Assault (Texas Monthly, Sarah Hepola): I think this is the most thoughtful secular piece I’ve read on the issue. “Consent and alcohol make tricky bedfellows. The reason I liked getting drunk was because it altered my consent: it changed what I would say yes to. Not just in the bedroom but in every room and corridor that led into the squinting light. Say yes to adventure, say yes to risk, say yes to karaoke and pool parties and arguments with men, say yes to a life without fear, even though such a life is never possible… We drink because it feels good. We drink because it makes us feel happy, safe, powerful. That it often makes us the opposite is one of alcohol’s dastardly tricks.” (first shared in volume 25)

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

The Abolition of Man: Chapters One and Two

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2018. The schedule is online.

Welcome to week one of the Chi Alpha summer reading project!

Some resources that may prove useful to you:

On to Lewis’s argument. He noticed a feature in an English textbook which greatly bothered him: the authors teach that value judgments about the world are statements of feeling rather than statements of fact. Lewis points out that this is a very powerful form of indoctrination and adds that this is an enormous difference from the past.

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it — believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt. (page 699 in our anthology)

He gives several examples and lumps them together under the common name of the Tao:

This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as ‘the Tao’.… what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect. It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself — just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind. And because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it). (pages 701–702)

It is worth thinking about his illustration. I suspect some of you will strongly disagree with it without quite knowing why. Here it is in bare form: not liking children is a moral defect. It is not “just the way you are.” It is the way you have become, and you have an obligation to try to become someone better. And even if your dislike of children was a matter of your genetics of something else beyond your control it would not stop being a moral defect.

But our culture rejects these moral obligations along with many others; more than that, we refuse to seriously consider that they might actually be moral obligations instead of personal choices. We teach that values are matters of opinion. And this leads to the stunning peroration of the first lecture:

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. (page 704)

In light of Lewis’ argument, reflect on this recent essay about an article in the prestigious publication Foreign Policy: Should Amazon tribes be allowed to kill their young? Foreign Policy editors aren’t sure (Julia Duin, GetReligion):

“In recent years, certain tribes in the Amazon region have been in the news because of their unpleasant habit of killing deformed or handicapped children as well as twins, and even offspring of single moms, soon after birth. They also may kill transgendered individuals. I thought the consensus was pretty clear that such practices were evil. But along came an article (it was a month ago, but I’m only getting around to it now) in Foreign Policy magazine that argued how saving the lives of these children was a western value that didn’t fit with the customs and lifestyle of these tribes.”

If he read that article, Lewis would not be surprised. Rejecting the Tao opens the door to madness.

In the second chapter, “The Way”, Lewis points out that many people attempt to hold on to objective ethics without admitting that they are doing so.

A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process. They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that ‘real’ or ‘basic’ values may emerge. I will now try to find out what happens if this is seriously attempted. (page 706)

The most common attempt to find a source of values apart from the Tao is to appeal to human nature. When I talk with skeptics on campus they most commonly try to ground morality in evolutionary psychology. But it doesn’t work. Lewis explains:

From propositions about fact alone no practical conclusion can ever be drawn. This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by the mediation of society ought to be preserved. This will cost you your life cannot lead directly to do not do this: it can lead to it only through a felt desire or an acknowledged duty of self-preservation. The Innovator is trying to get a conclusion in the imperative mood out of premisses in the indicative mood: and though he continues trying to all eternity he cannot succeed, for the thing is impossible. (page 707)

In other words, the only way to derive morality is to presuppose morality. Just as the sum of two numbers will itself be a number, facts can only produce moral obligations if moral obligations are themselves facts.

Lewis says a lot more in these chapters, but this email is already too lengthy.

Those are the things that stood out to me. What stood out to you?

Kicking off the C. S. Lewis Summer Reading Project

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2018.

This is the first week of our summer reading project. I’ll be sending out reminders to read along with some commentary on the readings throughout the summer. Remember that the schedule is online (you can print it out and use it as a bookmark if you find that helpful).

This week we’re reading the first two chapters of The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis: “Men Without Chests” and “The Way” (pages 693–717 in the anthology).  If you don’t have a copy of the book yet, you can hear it entertainingly presented on the C.S. Lewis Doodle YouTube channel (not all of our readings are on this channel, but some will be).

I believe this is one of Lewis’s most important books, and I am not alone in my opinion. In The Narnian, Alan Jacobs (himself an excellent essayist) calls The Abolition of Man the “most profound of Lewis’s cultural critiques” (page 174).

At first you may wonder why you are reading about a British high school textbook from 1939, but as you progress into the chapter you’ll discover that Lewis is pointing out a profound error in thinking which has become even more widespread today. I encourage you to persevere; the payoff is worth it. The last four sentences of the first chapter are among the most powerful I have read, and you will find that the second chapter seems to be addressed to your contemporaries at Stanford.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 156

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Also, 156 is three sets of 52, which means I’ve been doing this for a little over three years now (I sometimes take a week or two off). Yay!

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children (Maxwell King, The Atlantic): “1. ‘State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.’ Example: It is dangerous to play in the street. 2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe. 3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, Ask your parents where it is safe to play.” There are several more rules, most equally good for talking to adults.
  2. The Lifespan of a Lie (Ben Blum, Medium): “The appeal of the Stanford prison experiment seems to go deeper than its scientific validity, perhaps because it tells us a story about ourselves that we desperately want to believe: that we, as individuals, cannot really be held accountable for the sometimes reprehensible things we do.” The article claims, convincingly, that the Stanford Prison Experiment did not happen at all the way we have been taught. Wow.
  3. When Diversity Means Uniformity (Lionel Shriver, The Spectator): “Will Norman, London’s ‘walking and cycling commissioner’, bemoaned the fact that too many cyclists in the city are white, male and middle-class. ‘The real challenge for London cycling,’ he declared, ‘is diversity.’ As opposed to building more cycle lanes for everybody, or fixing potholes lethal to everybody’s wheel rims, Norman regards his principal function as increasing black and minority ethnic ridership.” This anecdote is not the focus of the article.
  4. Of Boys and Toys (Leonard Sax, Institute For Family Studies): “…they found that little children—boys especially—had barely a clue which gender they belonged to, even when the psychologists used the simplest nonverbal prompts. Kids under two years of age score only slightly above chance in assigning themselves or other kids to the correct gender. Nevertheless, Serbin’s group found that children’s toy preferences are firmly in place by this age, especially among boys. When the experimenters offered boys a truck or a doll, most boys chose the truck. In fact, boys preferred trucks over dolls more strongly than girls preferred dolls over trucks. That ought to be surprising if you buy into gender schema theory because 18-month-old girls were more likely than boys to be able to classify themselves and other children by gender. If gender schema theory is correct, the girls should show a stronger preference for gender-typical toys because girls this age are more likely to know that they are, in fact, girls. But the reality is just the opposite.”
  5. Harvard Rated Asian-American Applicants Lower on Personality Traits, Lawsuit Says (Hadley Green, New York Times): “They compare Harvard’s treatment of Asian-Americans with its well-documented campaign to reduce the growing number of Jews being admitted to Harvard in the 1920s. Until then, applicants had been admitted on academic merit. To avoid adopting a blatant quota system, Harvard introduced subjective criteria like character, personality and promise. The plaintiffs call this the ‘original sin of holistic admissions.’” What are the odds they are the only highly-selective university to do this?
  6. Conservative Religious Leaders Are Denouncing Trump Immigration Policies (Laurie Goodstein, New York Times): “A coalition of evangelical groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, sent a letter to President Trump on June 1 pleading with him to protect the unity of families and not to close off all avenues to asylum for immigrants and refugees fleeing danger.”
    • Related: World Refugee Day 2018: ‘Welcoming the Stranger’ Meets ‘Zero Tolerance’ (Kate Shellnut, Christianity Today): “For Christians, the issue of family unity for immigrants shows signs of transcending partisan lines. Franklin Graham, an evangelical adviser to President Trump, recently spoke against family separation on CBN News, encouraging legislative reform to remedy the new guidelines for migrants at the border.”
    • Related: She says federal officials took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center (Ed Lavandera, Jason Morris and Darran Simon, CNN): “The undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she told an attorney Tuesday how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally. When the woman resisted, she was handcuffed…” Bear in the mind that this is an allegation, not a substantiated event. I find it plausible.
  7. A compelling series of articles on China by a history professor at Johns Hopkins (who also happens to be a Stanford grad): China’s Master Plan: A Global Military Threat, China’s Master Plan: Exporting an Ideology, China’s Master Plan: A Worldwide Web of Institutions and China’s Master Plan: How The West Can Fight Back (Hal Brand, Bloomberg). The money quote from the second article: “If the U.S. has long sought to make the world safe for democracy, China’s leaders crave a world that is safe for authoritarianism.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have On Obstinacy In Belief (C.S. Lewis, The Sewanee Review): this is a rewarding essay from way back in 1955. (first shared in volume 6)

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 155

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Problem with Dull Knives: What’s the Defense Department got to do with Code for America? (Jennifer Pahlka, Medium): “I have a distinct memory of being a kid in the kitchen with my mom, awkwardly and probably dangerously wielding a knife, trying to cut some tough vegetable, and defending my actions by saying the knife was dull anyway. My mom stopped me and said firmly, ‘Jenny, a dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp knife. You’re struggling and using much more force than you should, and that knife is going to end up God Knows Where.’ She was right, of course…. But having poor tools [for the military] doesn’t make us fight less; it makes us fight badly.” (some emphasis in the original removed). Highly recommended.
  2. Number One in Poverty, California Isn’t Our Most Progressive State — It’s Our Most Racist One (Michael Shellenberger, Forbes): “If racism is more than just saying nasty things — if it is, as scholars like James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander and countless others have described, embedded into socioeconomic structures — then California isn’t just the least progressive state. It’s also the most racist.” Annoyingly split into seven sections, but worthwhile. The author was a gubernatorial candidate, but he did not make the general election.
  3. This week the Supreme Court, in a 7–2 decision, vindicated the Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding. A lot of ink was spilled in response:
    • Colorado Made the Masterpiece Case Easy for the Court (Robert P. George, New York Times): “This much, however, is clear: Business owners and others have no obligation under the Constitution, nor can one be imposed by statute, to confine their religion to the private domain. On the contrary, they have the constitutional right to proclaim and act on their religious beliefs in the public domain, including in the domain of commerce.” The author is a law professor at Princeton.
    • Symposium: Masterpiece Cakeshop — not as narrow as may first appear (Douglas Laycock and Thomas Berg, SCOTUSblog): “The Supreme Court has announced a powerful ideal. Even when a law has no explicit exceptions, hostile enforcement is unconstitutional. Single-issue agencies that enforce state civil-rights laws must approach claims to religious exemptions with tolerance and respect. And this is apparently an absolute rule; the court does not consider whether hostility might be justified by some state interest, compelling or otherwise.”
    • Social Conservatism After Masterpiece Cakeshop (Sohrab Ahmari, Commentary Magazine): “Reducing traditional beliefs to a matter of religious freedom carries other risks. It allows progressives to frame traditional positions, which are rooted in reason and natural law, as a kind of idiosyncrasy or superstition…. Defending traditional morality on the basis of religious liberty alone, in other words, risks cornering religious conservatives in the long-term. The alternative, of course, isn’t to give up on religious freedom. That defensive battle must continue to be fought. But religious conservatives should also go on the offensive and once more formulate a substantive politics of the common good.”
    • In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Justice Kennedy Strikes a Blow for the Dignity of the Faithful (David French, National Review): “the Court did not issue the sweeping free-speech ruling that many advocates hoped for and others feared. Instead it issued a ruling that reminded state authorities that people of faith have the exact same rights — and are entitled to the exact same treatment — as people of different faith or no faith at all. And it did so in an opinion that decisively rejected the exact talking points so favored by the anti-religious left.”
    • No Victory For Religious Liberty (Darel E. Paul, First Things): “Only profound naïveté can spin the majority decision as a victory for religious liberty.”
    • Against The Masterpiece Cakeshop Killjoys (David French, National Review): a strong response to the above piece and a few others.
    • Why The Masterpiece Ruling Is Truly A Major Win For Religious Liberty (John Eastman, The Federalist): “In short, Masterpiece Cakeshop is the first post-Smith Free Exercise decision where the Supreme Court applied strict scrutiny to a neutral, generally applicable law that was not designed to target religion. Rather, strict scrutiny was triggered because of how the law was applied against religious objectors.” The author is a law professor at Chapman College and a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute.
    • This has not settled the issue, though. Religious Liberty: Not A Piece of Cake (Rod Dreher, The American Conservative): “we have our first court ruling on religious liberty since Masterpiece Cakeshop. An Arizona appeals court even cited the ruling in its own ruling against two Phoenix calligraphers who said that doing same-sex wedding invitations was a violation of their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.” This will no doubt be appealed, but is interesting nonetheless. There is massive hostility in some circles against religious freedom in general and specifically against the freedom of evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics to publicly live as though their faith is true.
  4. In related news: CrossFit Just Fired Its Spokesperson Who Said LGBT Pride Is A “Sin” (Stephanie M. Lee, Buzzfeed): “Berger had also said, ‘The tactics of some in the LGBTQ movement toward dissent is an existential threat to freedom of expression.’ In response to a Twitter user who pushed back, he wrote, ‘Thankfully I work for a company that tolerates disagreement. I have homosexual coworkers who I love and respect, and as far as I am aware, they aren’t demanding I be punished for my views.’”
    • In response, The Greengrocers Of CrossFit Gyms (Rod Dreher, The American Conservative): “Gay activists and their supporters among the gym’s employees destroyed this Christian’s business, not because he wouldn’t allow gays to work out at the gym, but because he would not permit them to celebrate gay Pride there. They shattered his business overnight without filing a charge or a lawsuit, but solely by using the power of stigma and collective action.”
  5. Reading Dangerously (Ian Marcus Corbin, Weekly Standard): “I currently split my professional life between academia and the Boston art world, the most liberal corners of the most liberal state of the union. I can’t speak strongly enough about the beauty and kindness of the black, Jewish, Hispanic, gay, transgender, feminist, socialist people whom I count as colleagues and friends here. They are deep, sensitive, searching souls. As a straight, white, able-bodied male, though—one who has even occasionally voted for Republicans—I am, on paper, a perfect storm of privilege and prejudice. Perhaps shockingly, my colleagues and I have managed to treat each other with respect and at times even deep friendship and care.”
  6. Identity Questions (Ron Belgau, Spiritual Friendship): “ ‘Identity’ is borrowed from the surrounding secular culture. It has displaced terms, like ‘nature’ and ‘calling,’ which have deep roots in the Bible and in the history of Christian thought. This displacement has made it more difficult for Christians to think clearly about what it means to be transformed in Christ.” This is from several years ago and was brought to my attention via a Twitter thread. Belgau is a fascinating guy — a former software engineer turned philosopher who is attracted to other men and is convinced those temptations are sinful.
  7. When The Punishment Feels Like A Crime (Julia Ioffe, Huffington Post): “Dauber may be a hero to many Stanford students, but when I visited the campus in April, I discovered that much of the faculty does not feel the same way. Twenty-nine Stanford Law professors have signed a letter against the recall.” This is a long and amazing article about the Persky recall campaign written before the vote.
    • Related: The recall of the judge who sentenced Brock Turner will end up hurting poor, minority defendants (Rachel Marshall, Vox): “…in this country, we have an epidemic of wrongful convictions, yet never have I heard of a public outcry to recall or vote against a judge who presided over a case in which an innocent client was convicted or sentenced. In contrast, as we have just seen, a sentence perceived as too light not only will make headlines but could cost a judge his job.” The author is a Stanford Law School grad.
    • In case you missed it, Persky was recalled in the elections this week.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

  • This guy is a chef in the White House (twitter). This is real. Google for “jacked White House chef.” Wow. Every outlandish action-adventure movie premise just became more plausible.
  • Great Chuck Norris Facts (imgur): I know these jokes have been around for years… but some here are new to me. My favorite: “Chuck Norris and Superman once fought each other on a bet. The loser had to start wearing their underwear on the outside of their pants.”
  • Moron or Genius? (Pearls Before Swine)

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have The Land of We All (Richard Mitchell, The Gift of Fire), an essay  built on this insight: “Thinking can not be done corporately. Nations and committees can’t think. That is not only because they have no brains, but because they have no selves, no centers, no souls, if you like. Millions and millions of persons may hold the same thought, or conviction or suspicion, but each and every person of those millions must hold it all alone.” (first shared in volume 2) This is one of the more important things I’ve shared. 

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 154

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Baptist Apocalypse (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “We’re a long way from any final judgment on God’s purposes in the Trump era. But so far the Trump presidency has clearly been a kind of apocalypse — not (yet) in the ‘world-historical calamity’ sense of the word, but in the original Greek meaning: an unveiling, an uncovering, an exposure of truths that had heretofore been hidden.”
    • Related: On Gender, Power, and Sin: The Evangelical #MeToo Moment (Richard Beck, personal blog): “A theological and biblical way to say all this is that men’s dominance over women is a part of the Fall’s curse upon humanity. The wound of sin upon gender relations is clear in Genesis 3: ‘He will rule over you.’ So if that’s a part of the curse, why do evangelicals think that building the curse into the system–gender subordination–is going to produce anything other than cursed outcomes?” I wish the author spent more time building the Biblical case for his perspective.
  2. A One Parameter Equation That Can Exactly Fit Any Scatter Plot (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution): “Overfitting is possible with just one parameter and so models with fewer parameters are not necessarily preferable even if they fit the data as well or better than models with more parameters.” Researchers take note.
    • The underlying mathematics paper is well-written and interesting: One Parameter Is Always Enough (Steven T. Piantadosi) — among other things, it points out that you can smuggle in arbitrarily large amounts of data into an equation through a single parameter because a number can have infinite digits.
  3. What I’ve Learned in Twenty Years of Marriage (Russell Moore, personal blog): “My grandmother wisely asked one night when I was finally going to ask ‘that girl from Ocean Springs’ to marry me. I answered, ‘When I can afford it.’ She laughed. ‘Honey, I married your grandpa in the middle of a Great Depression,’ she said. ‘We made it work. Nobody can afford to get married. You just marry, and make it work.’ Apart from the gospel, those were, and remain, the most liberating words I ever heard. I bought a ring that wouldn’t impress anyone, then or now, but we were headed for the altar. My only regret is that we aren’t today celebrating our twenty-first anniversary instead of our twentieth.” This is from a few years back and is full of wisdom.
  4. Title IX Is Too Easy To Abuse (Caitlyn Flanagan, The Atlantic): “Is it possible for two people to simultaneously sexually assault each other? This is the question—rife with legal, anatomical, and emotional improbabilities—to which the University of Cincinnati now addresses itself, and with some urgency, as the institution and three of its employees are currently being sued over an encounter that was sexual for a brief moment, but that just as quickly entered the realm of eternal return. ”
  5. Whatever Happened to Gifts of Language, Prophecy, and Healing? (Andrew Wilson, Christianity Today): “taking a longer view by tracing our roots back to the early church fathers leads to some surprises. We discover that some things, though relatively unusual in recent times, are actually very normal across the broader sweep of human history. Angels and demons would be an obvious example. Or, more surprisingly, miraculous gifts.”
  6. I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous (Bernard Schiff, The Star): “When he was renovating his house I invited his family to live with mine. For five months, they occupied the third floor of our large house. We had meals together in the evening and long, colourful conversations. There, away from campus, I saw a man who was devoted to his wife and his children, who were lovely and gentle and for whom I still feel affection. He was attentive and thoughtful, stern and kind, playful and warm. His wife, Tammy, appeared to be the keel, the ballast and the rudder, and Jordan ran the ship.” This is a long profile, by turns informative and puzzling.
  7. The Evangelical Fight to Win Back California (Elizabeth Dias, New York Times): “Though the state has one of the highest percentages of religiously unaffiliated adults, the fast growing religious group in the country, that largely blue sea is dotted with evangelical islands that are largely red. One in five adults in the state are evangelical Christians, according to the Pew Research Center, and there are more megachurches in California than in any other state.” This article is mostly about politics, but is interesting nonetheless.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas (Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard): many modern political ideas are derived from Christian theological concepts. (first shared in volume 1)

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.