Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 165

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. Our Hope Is Coming (Steven Longoria, Denison Forum): “The world we live in would tell us that hope is closely tied to doubt. To say ‘I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow’ carries with it a fear that it will likely rain…. Biblical hope is something entirely different. It conveys a state of confidence, security, and lack of worry.” Steven is an alumnus of our ministry who is currently studying at Dallas Theological Seminary. Go, Steven!
  2. How the State Serves Both Salvation and Religious Freedom (Jonathan Leeman, 9 Marks): “Two basic kinds of governments, then, show up in the Bible: those that shelter God’s people, and those that destroy them. Abimelech sheltered; Pharoah destroyed. The Assyrians destroyed; the Babylonians and Persians, ultimately, sheltered. Pilate destroyed; Festus sheltered. And depending on how you read Revelation, the history of government will culminate in a beastly slaughter of saintly blood. Romans 13 calls governments servants; Psalm 2 calls them imposters. Most governments contain both. But some are better than others.” Recommended.
  3. #ChurchToo
    • What Would Jesus Do? Clean House In The Catholic Church. (Megan McArdle, Washington Post): “[Congregants] do not expect the church to be perfect; even St. Peter, after all, denied Christ three times. But they do expect to find the reflection of Christ there. According to news reports, the church hierarchy in Pennsylvania and beyond has already denied Christ’s gospel three times: once when it sheltered predators in silence; once when it failed to remove everyone who was involved in covering up any crime; and again when two of the six dioceses involved tried to shut down the grand jury investigation that produced the report. Now they face the same choice Peter did.” Straight fire.
    • Why Men Like Me Should Not Be Priests (Daniel Mattson, First Things): “Most of the horrific abuse detailed in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report involved adolescent boys and young men. This isn’t pedophilia…. If the Church wants to avoid sex scandals, it must stop ordaining the sorts of men who have the hardest time remaining chaste.” This article is full of details I did not know. Fascinating and no doubt a lightning rod for controvery.
    • How the Willow Creek Church Scandal Has Stunned the Evangelical World (Laurie Goodstein, New York Times): “The sudden resignation of Willow Creek Community Church’s top leaders following sexual harassment allegations against Rev. Bill Hybels, their founding pastor, has shaken evangelicals far from the church’s base in the Chicago suburbs. There are few bigger names in the evangelical world than Mr. Hybels, and few churches more influential than Willow Creek. Christians worldwide looked to it as a model of smart leadership.”
    • These two scandals are especially interesting when juxtaposed. The Roman Catholic Church is the most hierarchical of denominations with authority flowing down from the Pope. Willow Creek is a nondenominational congregation and is completely independent of external authority. They represent two extremes of church governance and the revelation of their moral failures demonstrate that the problem of sin is not solved by rules. See Colossians 2:20–23.
    • Related: Evangelical Purity Culture Taught Me to Rationalize My Sexual Assault (Becca Andrews, Mother Jones): “I understood my role: I was a sexual gatekeeper. Men, we were taught, are burdened by God with insatiable lust. Women, of course, are not, so it makes sense that we are expected to create the boundaries. We are responsible for what we wear, but more broadly, we are tasked with defining consent, as thorny as that may seem…. The stakes are high in purity culture. Every slipup is a strike against any hope of a successful marriage.” Although interesting, the article doesn’t quite make the case that the title implies.
    • For the record: never keep a criminal matter private because you fear your report will hurt the public perception of a religious body, political entity, or any other institution. Souls are eternal, organizations are not. Individuals are more important than institutions. This is true even of denominations and individual congregations — Jesus died for the Church and not for a brand. 1 Corinthians 6:1–7 tells us to forbear in civil matters, but when it comes to criminal matters Romans 13:1–7 is the relevant passage.
  4. Social Injustice and the Gospel (John MacArthur, Grace To You): “I am convinced the only long-term solution to every brand of ethnic animus is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ alone are the barriers and dividing walls between people groups broken down, the enmity abolished, and differing cultures and ethnic groups bound together in one new people (Ephesians 2:14–15). The black leaders with whom I ministered during the civil rights movement shared that conviction. The evangelicals who are saying the most and talking the loudest these days about what’s referred to as ‘social justice’ seem to have a very different perspective.” This is apparently the first in a series.
  5. “Let The Whorehouse Burn!” (Christopher Caldwell, The Weekly Standard): “‘As of this evening,’ said Pierre Moscovici in Luxembourg in June, ‘the Greek crisis is over.’ Moscovici, a French Socialist politician who serves as the economics commissioner of the European Union, was making quite a claim…. Today, despite what Pierre Moscovici and his colleagues said in Luxembourg, Greek debt, at 179 percent, is higher still. The latest E.U. deal requires Greece to run large budget surpluses until the year 2060 to repay the debts brought on by the E.U.’s own mismanagement. The country is in some respects worse off than it was when Greek protesters mobbed the parliament in May 2010, howling, ‘Let the whorehouse burn!’”
  6. Norway’s hidden scandal (Tim Whewell, BBC): “His conviction puts the spotlight back on a system which has been heavily criticised by some parents – and by leading Norwegian professionals in the childcare field – for being too quick to put children into care, splitting families unnecessarily. The disgraced psychiatrist has had his professional licence revoked, meaning he cannot work in the same field again. But parents who’ve lost custody of children in cases he was involved in believe all his previous decisions should be reviewed.” This is outrageous.
  7. Colorado Defies the Supreme Court, Renews Persecution of a Christian Baker (David French, National Review): “On the very day that Phillips won his case at the Supreme Court, a person emailed with yet another deliberately offensive design request: “I’m thinking a three-tiered white cake. Cheesecake frosting. And the topper should be a large figure of Satan, licking a 9″ black Dildo. I would like the dildo to be an actual working model, that can be turned on before we unveil the cake. I can provide it for you if you don’t have the means to procure one yourself.” And finally, two days later, a person identifying as ‘Autumn Marie’ visited Phillips’s shop and requested a cake featuring a pentagram. According to ADF, ‘Phillips believes that person was Autumn Scardina.’ Rather than recognizing Scardina’s conduct as nothing more than a bad-faith campaign of harassment, Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, found on June 28 ‘probable cause’ to believe that Phillips violated Scardina’s civil rights….”
    • Related: When opposition to religious liberty becomes silly, petty, and vindictive (Andrew T. Walker. Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission): “When our creative director walked into my office to notify me [that our ministry was being discriminated against by a company], my first response was to smile. Why? Because the ERLC had been the victim of discrimination, and I knew an opportunity like this meant the ERLC could pursue the moral high ground. What progressivism does to dissenters, we would not do to them…. No lawsuit was necessary. No media storm was called for. We have zero desire to force the discriminating company to agree with us or comply with our demands. No one was holding the other hostage to their ideological expectations. The power of choice and the freedom of viewpoint diversity allowed two actors to pursue a pathway of pluralism.”

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 Every Place Has Detractors. Consider Where They’re Coming From.(Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View): “There is grave danger in judging a neighborhood, or a culture, by the accounts of those who chose to leave it. Those people are least likely to appreciate the good things about where they came from, and the most likely to dwell on its less attractive qualities.” Bear this in mind when listening to conversion testimonies (both secular and religious). This serendipitously happened to be next in the sequence of older links. It fits very well with the above article about evangelical purity culture. (first shared in volume 62)

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 Screwtape Letters: Six Through Twelve

The Screwtape Letters 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.

This week’s reading (letters six through twelve) was simultaneously short and full of insightful observations.

A few of Lewis’s comments stood out to me:

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. (Letter Nine, page 210)

Lewis is spot-on here. Pleasure is a gift from God. As James 1:27 reminds us, “every good and perfect gift is from above.” Truly internalizing this is transformative. The pleasures of God are premium, grade A stuff. It is true that Satan is a skillful knockoff artist, and this means that the opportunities he lures us with can seem as good as (or even superior to) God’s pleasures at first, but at the end of the day they are still knockoffs. The pleasures they produce don’t last. Hebrews 11:25 calls them “the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

The upshot: few things disrupt Satan’s schemes for your life like a fierce love of wholesome pleasure. One of the best ways to resist temptation is to be full of godly joy.

Moving on, letter ten seems especially helpful to Stanford students.

[When trying to impress new, sophisticated friends] he will be silent when he ought to speak and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and sceptical attitudes which are not really his. But if you play him well, they may become his. All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be. This is elementary. (Letter Ten, pages 212–213)

Boom! Not much to add to that except pray for all the frosh heading to Stanford in a few weeks.

Also of relevance to the Stanford culture:

But flippancy is the best [source of laughter] of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. (Letter Eleven, page 217)

Again, little commentary is needed. You will find it worthwhile, though, to pay attention to the things that are simply assumed to be false by your community. What Lewis calls flippancy is an indication that there might not be solid arguments against the opinion being mocked. Internet culture is especially prone to this sort of superficial commentary. Social media, in particular, incentivizes it. There may very well be good reasons that your community believes what it does about the good life, the problems facing society, the true religion, and right-thinking politics… but perhaps there are not. Seek out the non-flippant opinions before you allow the juvenile banter to sway you unduly.

Anyway, I hope you derived as much benefit from this week’s reading as I did. Enjoy the book!

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 164

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. Two contrasting perspectives on who is really winning in America, both independently published by smart people in the same high-profile magazine:
    • Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson (Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic): “There are many legitimate reasons to disagree with him on a number of subjects, and many people of good will do. But there is no coherent reason for the left’s obliterating and irrational hatred of Jordan Peterson. What, then, accounts for it? It is because the left, while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable.”
    • Conservatives Are Scared, Even Under Trump (Emma Green, The Atlantic): “While liberal activist groups paint President Donald Trump’s Washington as an unmitigated forward march of conservative victories, conservative activist groups—including Weber’s—don’t necessarily perceive things the same way. Rather, some of these groups see the next few years under Trump as a brief window of opportunity to create defenses against a culture that is moving away from them. In parts of the conservative movement, the long-game strategy is to defend their position by devolving power away from the federal government and the Supreme Court, using the momentum of the Trump years to batten down the hatches against the inevitable cultural storms ahead.”
  2. Final text of Jewish nation-state law, approved by the Knesset early on July 19 (Raoul Wootliff, Times of Israel): “The law for the first time enshrines Israel as ‘the national home of the Jewish people.’ The law becomes one of the so-called Basic Laws, which, like a constitution, guide Israel’s legal system and are usually more difficult to repeal than regular laws.” Unlike most articles, this includes the full (translated) text of the law, and it is worth reading if you’ve only seen it excerpted. It’s not long.
    • I believe this is the Israeli law that infuriated Stanford student Hamzeh Daoud (see last week’s installment for details).
    • Israel’s New Law: A Tale of Two Nation-States (Robert Nicholson, Providence): “The Palestine Basic Law (2003) defines Palestine as part of the Arab world and Arab unity as a singular goal of the Palestinian people. The law also defines Arabic as Palestine’s official language, Jerusalem as its official capital, and Islam as its official religion. This basic law serves as a temporary constitution for the Palestinian Authority until a sovereign State of Palestine is established. In the meantime, the law governs daily life inside the West Bank and to some extent Gaza. On July 19 the Israeli Knesset passed a similar basic law.” This was incredibly helpful context to me.
    • Under the Law: Israeli Christians Worry About Secondary Status in Jewish Nation-State (Jayson Casper, Christianity Today): “‘This law outlines that Israel’s democratic values are secondary for non-Jews,’ said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical living in Nazareth. ‘It sends a clear message that my language is not welcome and consequently, neither is my cultural and ethnic identity.’”
  3. A Better Way to Ban Alex Jones (David French, New York Times): “The good news is that tech companies don’t have to rely on vague, malleable and hotly contested definitions of hate speech to deal with conspiracy theorists like Mr. Jones. The far better option would be to prohibit libel or slander on their platforms…. Private corporations can ban whoever they like. But if companies like Facebook are eager to navigate speech controversies in good faith, they would do well to learn from the centuries of legal developments in American law. When creating a true marketplace of ideas, why not let the First Amendment be your guide?”
    • His follow-up: A First Amendment Peace Plan for the Twitter Wars (David French, National Review): “As I dug down into objections to my proposed First Amendment framework, I often found that the objections were ultimately based on a desire to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, on a desire to use the power of the platform to privilege some voices and suppress others.”
  4. A Kind of Homelessness: Evangelicals of Color in the Trump Era (Melani McAlister, Religion & Politics): “Yet the headlines about ‘evangelical’ support for the president and his agenda mean that evangelicals of color can seem to be an invisible community—rarely acknowledged by journalists even when they go to the same churches or claim a similar theology. White evangelicals are numerically dominant—although declining—but their opinions disproportionately dominate U.S. media reporting on how theologically conservative Protestants think, vote, and believe. At one level, the racial difference is eminently predictable. Surely the whiteness of white evangelicals is crucial to understanding their political beliefs and their voting patterns. As Janelle Wong shows in her new book, Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change, although evangelicals of any given race are more conservative than the general population of that race, evangelicals of color overall are far less conservative than white evangelicals. Indeed, they are less conservative than white people overall.” The author is a professor of American Studies and International Affairs at George Washington University.
  5. How Trump Radicalized ICE (Franklin Foer, The Atlantic): “By the beginning of Barack Obama’s second term, immigration had become one of the highest priorities of federal law enforcement: Half of all federal prosecutions were for immigration-related crimes. In 2012, Congress appropriated $18 billion for immigration enforcement. It spent $14 billion for all the other major criminal law-enforcement agencies combined: the FBI; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Secret Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the U.S. Marshals Service.” ICE is much, much bigger than I realized. This is a really important article.
  6. Oh, The Humanities! (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “…the years since the Great Recession have been ‘brutal for almost every major in the humanities.’ They’ve also been bad for ‘social science fields that most closely resemble humanistic ones — sociology, anthropology, international relations and political science.’ Meanwhile the sciences and engineering have gained at the expense of humanism…”
  7. Bethel Church Survives Redding Carr Fire, But Still Faces Heat (Griffin Paul Jackson, Christianity Today): “For Bethel’s part, staff said the church could not act as an evacuation zone because of its proximity to the blaze and because there is a single entry and exit point to the campus, which is itself surrounded by brush. The Red Cross said Bethel offered to be an evacuation site, but was turned down because of the campus’s nearness to the fire…. The church has, however, flexed its considerable ministry muscle and financial resources, encouraging donations to aid relief efforts. Bethel is also partnering with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army in response to the Carr fire, Farrelly said.”
    • Related: Osteen’s church was similarly criticized after Hurricane Harvey, also with what seem to me to be scant factual grounds. Discussed back in volume 116.
    • Also (tenuously) related: California’s Devastating Fires Are Man-Caused — But Not In The Way They Tell Us (Chuck DeVore, Forbes): “ In the 1850s and 1860s, the typical Sierra landscape was of open fields of grass punctuated by isolated pine stands and a few scattered oak trees. The first branches on the pine trees started about 20 feet up—lower branches having been burned off by low-intensity grassfires. California’s Native American population had for years shaped this landscape with fire to encourage the grasslands and boost the game animal population. As the Gold Rush remade modern California, timber was harvested and replanted. Fires were suppressed because they threatened homes as well as burned up a valuable resource. The landscape filled in with trees, but the trees were harvested every 30 to 50 years. In the 1990s, however, that cycle began to be disrupted with increasingly burdensome regulations. The timber harvest cycle slowed, and, in some areas, stopped completely, especially on the almost 60% of California forest land owned by the federal government.”

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 Making Sense of the Numbers of Genesis [pdf link] (Carol Hill, Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith): “Joseph and Joshua were each recorded as dying at age 110—a number considered ‘perfect’ by the Egyptians. In ancient Egyptian doctrine, the phrase ‘he died aged 110’ was actually an epitaph commemorating a life that had been lived selflessly and had resulted in outstanding social and moral benefit for others. And so for both Joseph and Joshua, who came out of the Egyptian culture, quoting this age was actually a tribute to their character. But, to be described as ‘dying at age 110’ bore no necessary relationship to the actual time of an individual’s life span.” You will not agree with everything in this article, but it is full of fascinating insights. (first shared in volume 51)

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 Screwtape Letters: Preface and the First Five Letters

The Screwtape Letters 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.

This week we begin our final summer bookk, The Screwtape Letters. Before I give some thoughts on this week’s reading, I have some general observations.

On to the main course:

Demonic correspondence in a hellish bureaucracy is a genius idea for a book and I assumed it would have been fun to write, but Lewis said “Of all my books, there was only one I did not take pleasure in writing.” The Screwtape Letters “were dry and gritty going. At the time, I was thinking of objections to the Christian life, and decided to put them into the form, ‘That’s what the devil would say.’ But making goods ‘bad’ and bads ‘good’ gets to be fatiguing.” (source)

I’m glad Lewis put up with the fatigue. The result is tremendous. Let me begin with one of my favorite quotes from the book (from the preface):

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

This paragraph has special meaning to me as a Pentecostal. Some corners of the Pentecostal world seem to believe there is a demon behind every headache and traffic jam. But much of our society has a hard time acknowledging that there is anything demonic about something as overt as Satan worship. There is a more sensible position which Lewis here describes and which the Apostle Paul modeled: Paul was comfortable with the spirit realm and demons recognized that he was a force to be reckoned with (Acts 19:11–16), but he did not obsess over it. He was not an easy man to distract. Once a demon was harassing him, but it took several days before it got on Paul’s nerves enough for him to respond to it (Acts 16:16–18). Strive to be like Paul — deal with the demonic realm without becoming consumed by the demonic realm.

In the first letter, Screwtape writes to Wormwood about how modern trends have made demonic work easier:

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

Reading this paragraph reminded me of the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. He once famously answered a question about his cabinet composition by saying, “Because it’s 2015!” This is the kind of thing Screwtape is talking about. It’s the kind of answer we have been conditioned to respond to, and so it’s the kind of answer a skillful politician gives.

Later in the same letter, Screwtape makes a good point about science:

Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life”. But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modem investigation”.

I’ve ministered at Stanford since 2002, and in my experience mathematicians and students of the hard sciences have an easier time embracing the gospel than do students of the social sciences or the humanities. In part, it seems to me, it is because social scientists tend to look for answers that “explain away” whereas hard scientists tend to look for explanations. 

The final sentence, though, is the real kicker. We assume something is true because a lot of people keep saying it and thereby mistake repetition for reason. When someone tells me “the Bible is full of contradictions” I often discover they don’t have any to offer. They’re not lying — they are merely repeating something they have heard so often that they assume it must have a solid foundation.  Sometimes there’s more cognitive dissonance, such as when someone assumes the sexual revolution has been a net positive for society. In that case my interlocutor is usually ignoring or discounting evidence they have personally observed. But again, they’re not consciously lying. The sexual revolution is nearly always presented as progress, and people assume that there must be something to that since it keeps getting repeated.

I am not saying we should mistrust the consensus of experts who are speaking to us about something we have no knowledge of. Deferring to expert consensus is an excellent heuristic, except when the consensus conflicts with something we know. In that case we humbly return to the evidence and think things through again, with openness to the idea that we might be wrong but so might the experts. Here’s the rub: when it comes to things like morality and religion we will almost always have some direct knowledge which we need to consider. And especially with subjects like morality and religion we need to remember that both the experts as well as ourselves have powerful motives to not think things through all the way. All that to say: trust the experts, but not too much. Furthermore, don’t assume our cultural consensus is the same thing as the expert consensus. If that was always the case, we wouldn’t need experts!

I’ll content myself with sharing one final quote from the reading, this one from Letter Four:

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.

Distraction is one of the chief enemies of spiritual growth, and we live in an age that is full of it. Sustained and slow thought is one of the chief instruments in our transformation. If Lewis is right and one of the infernal legion’s goals is to keep you distracted and prevent you from focusing, let that inform your use of apps and the internet. Just a thought.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 163

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. China and its creepy facial recognition technology targets Uighur Muslims (Julia Duin, GetReligion): “China’s Muslims are akin to Germany’s Jews in the 1930s; a group of hapless people of a different religion that the government gets to experiment on. They’re already shoving roughly 800,000 Muslims into internment camps and other Muslims worldwide aren’t really noticing.” This is horrifying.
  2. There was quite the clamor recently about antisemitism at Stanford.
    • Stanford Student Threatens Violence against Pro-Israel Students (Dov Greenburg, National Review): “In mid July, Hamzeh Daoud, a student at Stanford University, publicly posted on Facebook: ‘I’m gonna physically fight Zionists on campus next year.’ If his meaning wasn’t clear enough, Hamzeh continued, ‘And after I abolish your ass I’ll go ahead and work every day for the rest of my life to abolish your petty ass ethno-supremacist, settler-colonial state.’ While not reflective of Stanford’s values, the sentiment of this hateful post reveals the state of contemporary life on campuses.”
    • Daoud resigns from Norcliffe RA position (Julia Ingram and Holden Foreman, Stanford Daily): “Hamzeh Daoud ’20 has resigned from his Resident Assistant position in Norcliffe House, he announced in a statement to The Daily on Friday afternoon.”
    • Op Ed: Statement from Hamzeh Daoud (Hamzeh Daoud, Stanford Daily): “After spending a few hours away from Facebook, I read over my post again and realized how infused it was with the same hatred that has caused my own family so much suffering. It was the antithesis of why I chose this path in life. A sloppy comment made during an emotion-filled reaction to yet another layer of trauma, the comment did not convey my values, who I am currently, or who I hope to become.”
    • I know some of you know Hamzeh, so this probably feels a good deal more personal than many of the articles I share. Please remember that what you put on social media actually matters. James 1:19 is a useful memory verse for everyone with a Facebook or Twitter account: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
  3. At Prayer Breakfast, Guests Seek Access to a Different Higher Power (Kenneth P. Vogel and Elizabeth Dias, New York Times): “Some describe the gathering as similar to the World Economic Forum, except that Jesus is the organizing principle….With its relative lack of diplomatic protocols and press coverage, the prayer breakfast setting is ideal for foreign figures who might not otherwise be able to easily get face time with top American officials, because of unsavory reputations or a lack of an official government perch, according to lobbyists who help arrange such trips. They also contend that it is easier to secure visas when the breakfast is listed as a destination.”
  4. Jeff Sessions announces a religious liberty task force to combat “dangerous” secularism (Tara Isabella Burton, Vox): “In a bold speech delivered at the Justice Department’s Religious Liberty Summit, Sessions characterized the task force as a necessary step in facing down the prevailing forces of secularism. ‘A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom,’ he said, which ‘must be confronted and defeated.’”
    • Related: Why Jeff Sessions thinks Christians are under siege in America (Christopher Shea interviews Nelson Tebbe, Vox): One part stood out to me: “The Supreme Court has not decided a religious freedom case in a way that’s adverse to the interest of Christians for the past few terms. I can’t think of a single religious freedom case that they’ve lost.”
    • The above point is very muddled. The things that keep going to the Supreme Court are precisely the things we have a problem with. Do you know what we don’t have a problem with? Cannibalism. We’ve got cultural consensus on that. But religious liberty? That keeps going to the courts and getting successfully appealed to the very top because local and state governments keep trying to violate it. It is a simple fact that significant voices in our culture view religious liberty with reactions ranging from suspicion to hostility. Examples abound (including these two Vox articles).
  5. How Catholic Bishops Are Shaping Health Care In Rural America (Anna Maria Barry-Jester and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, FiveThirtyEight): “Best estimates suggest that one in six hospital beds and many of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems are Catholic-owned or -affiliated. From 2001 to 2016, the number of Catholic-affiliated hospitals in the U.S. grew by 22 percent, even as the total number of hospitals in the U.S. shrunk, according to research by MergerWatch and the American Civil Liberties Union.”
    • A response: Standard Procedures (Leah Libresco Sargeant, First Things): “When she lays out my options, there really is just one option: the standard of reproductive care. But I have two reasons to say no: I am a Catholic and I am a statistician. It was faith and reason, the two ways of knowing that St. John Paul II called the ‘two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth,’ that led me to dig in my heels during my third miscarriage.” FYI: the author used to write for FiveThirtyEight.
    • Another response: What FiveThirtyEight gets wrong about Catholic hospitals (Stephanie Slade, America Magazine): “That the A.C.L.U. threw away its commitment to religious freedom in the name of abortion rights is bad enough. A journalistic enterprise as ostensibly sane and data-driven as FiveThirtyEightshould think twice before following the same path.”
  6. “Hypnotic Mass Phenomena” (Florian Schwab interview with Peter Thiel, Die Weltwoche): “The advanced technological civilization of the early 21st century is a complicated world where it is not possible for anybody to think through everything for themselves. You cannot be a polymath in quite the way people were in the 18th century enlightenments. You cannot be like Goethe. So there is some need to listen to experts, to defer to other people. And then, there is always the danger of that going too far and people not thinking critically. This happens in spades in Silicon Valley.”
  7. Spies Are More Common, and Boring, Than You Think (Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg Opinion): “John Negroponte, former director of national intelligence, admitted in 2006 that the U.S. was deploying about 100,000 spies around the world. Given that the U.S. is the world’s technology and military leader, and yet has a relatively small share of global population, is it so crazy to think the number of people spying on us is larger than that?”

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 Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis): It was originally preached as a sermon and then printed in a theology magazine. Related: see the C. S. Lewis Doodle YouTube channel – it’s really good! (first shared in volume 36)

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 Four Loves: Charity

The Four Loves 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’ve been enjoying the readings as much as I have. I send these weekly reminders out both as a little nudge to remind you to pick up the book and also as a quick overview of some of Lewis’s best insights in case you’re hopelessly busy and unable to get to this week’s reading.

This week we finish up The Four Loves with Lewis’s thoughts on agape (ἀγάπη — benevolent love). Older Bible translations sometimes rendered this word as charity, as does the King James in 1 Corinthians 13.

Interestingly to me, Lewis does not use the word agape at all in this chapter. He assumes his audience is well-educated enough to know that agape is the word underlying his commentary on charity.

I’m feeling a little under the weather today, so I’ll content myself with three quotes from the chapter and some very brief commentary on them.

I’ll begin with what may be Lewis’s most famous observation in The Four Loves — the inherent riskiness of love. If you read nothing else, read this and ponder it. It’s straight fire and stands on its own apart from the chapter.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. (pages 823–824)

I also found this observation both helpful and challenging.

It remains certainly true that all natural loves can be inordinate. Inordinate does not mean “insufficiently cautious.” Nor does it mean “too big.” It is not a quantitative term. It is probably impossible to love any human being simply “too much.” We may love him too much in proportion to our love for God; but it is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for the man, that constitutes the inordinacy. (page 824)

Whenever I love someone or something more than God it is very likely the case that I do not love the rival too much but that I love God too little. There are exceptions, of course. There are some broken impulses which I might mistakenly label love and the solution there is not merely to love God more but also to repent of my aberrant attraction.

And I thought his observation on what the rare Biblical commands to hate mean was quite insightful:

Consider again, “I loved Jacob and I hated Esau” (Malachi I, 2–3). How is the thing called God’s “hatred” of Esau displayed in the actual story? Not at all as we might expect. There is of course no ground for assuming that Esau made a bad end and was a lost soul; the Old Testament, here as elsewhere, has nothing to say about such matters. And, from all we are told, Esau’s earthly life was, in every ordinary sense, a good deal more blessed than Jacob’s. It is Jacob who has all the disappointments, humiliations, terrors, and bereavements. But he has something which Esau has not. He is a patriarch. (page 825)

The entire section from which this last excerpt is taken is quite good — I recommend it highly even if you skim the rest of the chapter.

Next week we begin The Screwtape Letters!

 

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 162

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. How to Witness to a Distracted World (O. Alan Noble, Christianity Today): “Let me give you a scenario. I believe it’s entirely possible today to sit down with a non-believing friend and have a passionate, lengthy conversation about the gospel and never plant a seed deeply. Because as soon as you both rise from the table, he pulls out his phone and checks Facebook or responds to a text from his wife…. It was all a kind of rhetorical dance or game that we play. And the primary purpose of the dance is not to win over the other person but to define your identity. The game is called expressive individualism. And most of us play it.”
  2. A Global Guide To State-Sponsored Trolling (Michael Riley, Lauren Etter, and Bibhudatta Pradhan, Bloomberg): “‘People sometimes worry that Azerbaijan will shut down Facebook,’ said Katy Pearce, a communications professor at the University of Washington who has studied the platform’s use in that country. ‘Why would it? Facebook is the most effective tool of control the government has.’”
  3. Housing Costs Reduce The Returns To Education (Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution): “The return to education, for example, has increased in the United States but it’s less well appreciated that in order to earn high wages college educated workers must increasingly live in expensive cities. One consequence is that the net college wage premium is not as large as it appears and inequality has been over-estimated.”
  4. The many deaths of liberalism (Daniel Cole and Aurelian Craiutu, Aeon): “The problem for anyone declaring the death of liberalism is that it has not one but several pillars and dimensions: legal, political, economic and moral (or religious). The weakening or disappearance of one or two liberal pillars or tenets would not be enough to declare liberalism as a whole dead.”
  5. Epistocracy: a political theorist’s case for letting only the informed vote (Sean Illing interviewing Jason Brennan, Vox): “I like to say I’m a fan of democracy, and I’m also a fan of Iron Maiden, but I think Iron Maiden has quite a few albums that are terrible — and I think democracy is kind of like this. It’s great, it’s the best system we have so far, but we shouldn’t accept that it can’t be improved.” The title is inaccurate — Brennan goes so far as to favor extending the right to vote to children.
  6. The Trump Administration Convenes the ‘Super Bowl’ of Religious Freedom (Emma Green, The Atlantic): “This ministerial, which is really just a fancy word for ‘big meeting,’ could be interpreted as the unveiling of an element of the Trump administration’s foreign-policy strategy. For the last three days, delegations from around the world have gathered to hear victims of religious persecution share their stories. American officials have declared in no uncertain terms that they believe the United States should evangelize religious liberty around the world, and that democracy is built on a foundation of freedom in faith.”
    • Related: Pence and Pompeo Make Big Religious Freedom Pledges (Morgan Lee, Christianity Today): “The Vice President called out countries across the globe, starting with Nicaragua where he accused the Ortega administration of ‘virtually waging war on the Catholic Church.’ He condemned China’s persecution of its Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, and Christians, as well as the actions of its authoritarian neighbor: North Korea…. Pence also called out Iran. While acknowledging that its Christians, Jews, and Baha’i are all persecuted by its Shia government, he specifically singled out its Sunni Kurd population…. Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have been subject to intense persecution in recent years, were also recognized by Pence…. The Vice President also called for an end to anti-Semitic attacks in Western Europe.”
    • Related: Turkey Lets Andrew Brunson Leave Prison (Christianity Today)
    • Related: The World’s Next Religious Freedom Success Story: Uzbekistan? (Christianity Today): “‘That [panel was] different than anything you’ve ever heard from almost any place in the former Soviet Union,’ said Chris Seiple, president emeritus of the Institute for Global Engagement, who organized the panel and will lead a delegation to Uzbekistan this fall. ‘… They’re institutionalizing the process of change. That’s the key. The process is the goal.’”
  7. Is There Recourse When Fact Checkers Get It Wrong? (Kalev Leetaru, RealClearPolitics): “In short, through the business decision of a single Silicon Valley corporation, fact checkers have been elevated from helpful reference librarians into a position of ultimate arbitrator of truth in our online world, without the attendant checks and balances to mitigate abuse.”

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 No Food Is Healthy. Not Even Kale. (Michael Ruhlman, Washington Post): People can be healthy. Food can be nutritious. This is a wonderful essay about how we misuse language to our detriment. If you’re surprised I included this, I believe that our culture has a quasi-religious relationship to health and to food, and I also believe that the use of language is profoundly moral and that our culture is a linguistic mess (to which I know of no finer guide than The Underground Grammarian). (first shared in volume 33)

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 Four Loves: Eros

The Four Loves 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’m at a conference right now with a pretty packed schedule, so I’m dashing this email off quicker than normal. Apologies for typos or incoherent thoughts. 🙂

One thing I greatly appreciated in this chapter is Lewis’s discussion of how amusing human romance is. Not everyone gets this.

I remember I was once at a conference hosting a table discussion with students about romance and relationships and sex. I was making the point that sex is an objectively absurd thing. I was, if I may say so, on top of my game that day and they were roaring with laughter.

One of the students at my table suddenly stopped laughing and said, “I have a question. I just overheard the table host at the other table criticize us for laughing at sex. He said that we don’t understand how serious and sacred sex is. That laughing at it like this shows that we’re immature and we’re going to get ourselves into trouble because we don’t approach it with solemnity. What do you think about that?”

Everyone stopped laughing as though they had been slapped, for indeed they had been.

I cannot remember in detail how I went on to defend my thoughts that day (although I recall further and perhaps excessive ridicule of my critic’s perspective was deployed), but I am pleased to report that this chapter reveals that C.S. Lewis shared my perspective.

For I can hardly help regarding it as one of God’s jokes that a passion so soaring, so apparently transcendent, as Eros, should thus be linked in incongruous symbiosis with a bodily appetite which, like any other appetite, tactlessly reveals its connections with such mundane factors as weather, health, diet, circulation, and digestion. In Eros at times we seem to be flying; Venus gives us the sudden twitch that reminds us we are really captive balloons.

And later:

So the body. There’s no living with it till we recognise that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon. Until some theory has sophisticated them, every man, woman and child in the world knows this. The fact that we have bodies is the oldest joke there is.

And again:

Nothing is falser than the idea that mockery is necessarily hostile. Until they have a baby to laugh at, lovers are always laughing at each other.

So here is my encouragement to you in your romantic journey: see the humor in it.

But romance is not just amusing — it is also profound. If it was only amusing it would not be worth so much energy and attention. It would be at most a hobby. Romance is far more than that. Lewis explains one of the spiritual dynamics at work in romantic love:

The event of falling in love is of such a nature that we are right to reject as intolerable the idea that it should be transitory. In one high bound it has overleaped the massive wall of our selfhood; it has made appetite itself altruistic, tossed personal happiness aside as a triviality and planted the interests of another in the centre of our being. Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (towards one person) by loving our neighbour as ourselves. It is an image, a foretaste, of what we must become to all if Love Himself rules in us without a rival. It is even (well used) a preparation for that…. Can we be in this selfless liberation for a lifetime? Hardly for a week. Between the best possible lovers this high condition is intermittent. The old self soon turns out to be not so dead as he pretended—as after a religious conversion. In either he may be momentarily knocked flat; he will soon be up again; if not on his feet, at least on his elbow, if not roaring, at least back to his surly grumbling or his mendicant whine.

That’s it for this week. Next week: agape!

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 161

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. Trevor Responds To Criticism From The French Ambassador (Trevor Noah, YouTube): this is a witty and insightful 8 minute reflection on the interplay between ethnic heritage and national identity and the ways that Americans process things differently than the French.
  2. The New York Yankees Are A Moral Abomination (David Bentley Hart, New York Times): “Really, how does a Yankees fan’s pride in all those purchased championships differ from the self-delusion of a man staggering out of a bawdy house at dawn, complimenting himself on his magnificent powers of seduction?” A funny piece of cultural commentary in the New York Times written by a theologian? Yes, please. This column is about way more than baseball.
  3. Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 and Trump’s Press Conference With Putin (Jack Goldsmith, Lawfare): “It is no response to say that the United States doesn’t meddle in foreign elections, because it has in the past—at least as recently as Bill Clinton’s intervention in the Russian presidential election of 1996 and possibly as recently as the Hillary Clinton State Department’s alleged intervention in Russia’s 2011 legislative elections. And during the Cold War the United States intervened in numerous foreign elections, more than twice as often as the Soviet Union.” The author is a professor at Harvard Law School. The whole thing is fascinating.
  4. Free Speech, Censorship, Hate Speech, Twitter (Steven Brust, personal blog): “Here’s the thing: every defense, every analogy I’ve seen to justify asking twitter to shut down hate speech, has come down, in the last analysis, to a defense of property rights. And yet, the most casual observation ought to tell you that we are now locked in a battle between property rights and human rights. If you must resort to a defense of property rights to bolster your argument, I beg to submit that you should either take another look at what you’re defending, or stop calling yourself a progressive.” A socialist defense of free speech.
    • Related: I Was the Mob Until the Mob Came for Me (Barrett Wilson, Quillette): “In my previous life, I was a self-righteous social justice crusader. I would use my mid-sized Twitter and Facebook platforms to signal my wokeness on topics such as LGBT rights, rape culture, and racial injustice…. Then one day, suddenly, I was accused of some of the very transgressions I’d called out in others. I was guilty, of course: There’s no such thing as due process in this world.”
    • Also related: Planet of Cops (Freddie de Boer, personal blog): “The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7…. I don’t know how people can simultaneously talk about prison abolition and restoring the idea of forgiveness to literal criminal justice and at the same time turn the entire social world into a kangaroo court system.” This is an older piece but I saw it for the first time recently.
  5. For Some Gang Members In El Salvador, The Evangelical Church Offers A Way Out (Emily Green, NPR): “Becoming a devoted member of an evangelical church at a young age is the only way many adolescent boys are able to avoid being roped into a gang, Cruz says. And it’s also the only way for them to get out of a gang if they’re in it, short of leaving the country.”
  6. Sanctuary amid housing crisis (Wendy Lee, San Francisco Chronicle): “With no end in sight to soaring housing costs, several Bay Area faith organizations have become a sanctuary of sorts — not just channeling donations and distributing food, but also offering a safe place for people living in cars or RVs. The arrangement has sometimes grated on neighbors, but for pastors, it’s simply an extension of their mission to serve humanity.”
  7. Balding Out (Christopher Balding, personal blog): “In China, there are very few people who I witness live a testament of their belief. Who knows if the Party member is a member because he believes in Marxism, Communism, Xi-ism, or simply wants a better apartment? Who knows if the person who claims to be a believer in democracy but complies with the Party actually believes that or just tells the foreigner? Foreigners in China in positions of influence who claim to believe in human rights but collaborate with the Party to deny Chinese citizens rights need to answer for their actions. I have little idea what people in China believe but I know that if the Party ever falls, there will be more than a billion more people claiming they were closet democracy advocates.” An American professor reflects on China as he prepares to leave. Very interesting, a bit rambly.

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 This Is What Makes Republicans and Democrats So Different (Vox, Ezra Klein): the title made me skeptical, but there are some good insights in this article (first shared in volume 32 back in 2016).

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 Four Loves: Friendship

The Four Loves 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.

Now we turn to the second human love Lewis considers: philia (φιλία — friendship)

Even if you’ve gotten behind on the readings I encourage you to go through this chapter. While much has changed in the way we think about friendship nowadays (for instance, we value it more than did Lewis’s contemporaries), much has not. And the nature of friendship has changed not at all. Lewis’s insights will help you forge better friendships and be a better friend.

Three comments before we dive in:

On to the content! This is one of my favorite observations by Lewis:

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. (page 783)

In case you were wondering, Charles is Charles Williams (a novelist, poet, and editor at Oxford University Press) and Ronald is J. R. R. Tolkien (yes — that Tolkien). They along with Lewis were the central members of a literary discussion group called the Inklings. They would read their writings aloud to one another and critique each other. If you’re ever in Oxford you can visit the pub they used to meet in — The Eagle and Child.

Back to the main topic. This idea of two friends bringing things out of each other that allow me to appreciate each of them more is beautiful, and Lewis’s theological application of it is one that I have found helpful when thinking about the glory of heaven:

…the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have. (page 783)

More practically, Lewis has some thoughts on how friendships begin:

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” (page 785)

This is one reason why college is so exhilarating. You have so many more peers than you did in high school that you can easily find people who share your interests. Your friendships in Chi Alpha especially have the potential to become so satisfying because you’ve already got your faith in common, and on top of that Stanford itself, and on top of that your experience of Chi Alpha instead of another Christian community, and if you add on top of that just one more thing like a certain sport or a specific fandom or a shared sense of humor then the odds that a significant friendship will form are quite high. 

Not everyone acquires those friendships, of course. Some respond by looking for friends. Lewis points out why looking for friends directly is often counterproductive:

That is why those pathetic people who simply “want friends” can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise— though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers. (page 786)

So if you feel lonely — pursue something you’re interested in. And then chat with those around you who are engaged in the same pursuit. Friendship will often emerge. This will prove to be especially useful advice once you graduate and have to forge friendships without the aggressive help of Stanford Res Ed.

Lewis also addresses a perennial question among college students: can guys and girls can be just friends?

When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass—may pass in the first half-hour—into erotic love. Indeed, unless they are physically repulsive to each other or unless one or both already loves elsewhere, it is almost certain to do so sooner or later. (page 786)

Lewis is correct, and at this juncture I refer you to one of my favorite YouTube videos: Why Men and Women Can’t Be Friends

Near the end of the chapter he gives us a helpful reminder:

…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” (pages 801–802)

Thank God for your friends!

Next week, romantic love…