Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 269

I share a few personal thoughts about criminal justice reform in this one. Just a few.

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. Some thoughts following the Breonna Taylor verdict:
    • Correcting the misinformation about Breonna Taylor (Radley Balko, Washington Post): “We could prevent the next Breonna Taylor. We could ban forced entry raids to serve drug warrants. We could hold judges accountable for signing warrants that don’t pass constitutional muster. We could demand that police officers wear body cameras during these raids to hold them accountable, and that they be adequately punished when they fail to activate them. We could do a lot to make sure there are no more Breonna Taylors. The question is whether we want to.”
    • From a month ago, but timely now: Supreme Court Precedent Killed Breonna Taylor (David French, The Dispatch): “Something (or some things) have to give, and those ‘things’ are no-knock raids and qualified immunity. Individual liberties should not be sacrificed on the altar of police drug raids, and victims of civil rights abuses should be entitled to receive compensation for their losses, including their injuries and wounds.”
    • My 2 cents: America’s justice system would be greatly improved if no-knock raids and qualified immunity were either eliminated or greatly constrained. And if we get rid of civil asset forfeiture at the same time — wow.
  2. Review: ‘Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World’ by Tom Holland (Tim Keller, Gospel Coalition): “…the shame-and-honor cultures of old, pagan Europe—of the Anglo-Saxons, the Franks, and the Germans—thought that the Christian ethic of forgiving one’s enemies and of honoring the poor and weak to be completely unworkable as a basis for society. These ideas would’ve never occurred to anyone unless they held to a universe with a single, personal God who created all beings in his image, and with a Savior who came and died in sacrificial love. The ideas only could’ve grown from such a worldview—they don’t make sense in a different one. If, instead, we believe we’re here by accident through a process of survival of the fittest, then there can be no moral absolutes, and life must be, if anything, about power and the mastery of others, not about love. That, declared Nietzsche, is the only way to live once you are truly willing to admit that the Christian God does not exist.”
  3. We Are All Algorithms Now (Andrew Sullivan, SubStack): “In the past, we might have turned to more reliable media for context and perspective. But the journalists and reporters and editors who are supposed to perform this function are human as well. And they are perhaps the ones most trapped in the social media hellscape…. The press could have been the antidote to the social media trap. Instead they chose to become the profitable pusher of the poison.“ This was written before news of RBG’s death and is even more timely now.
  4. Concerning the Supreme Court:
    • Leading Republican politicians have flip-flopped What Senate Republicans have said about filling a Supreme Court vacancy (one minute video, YouTube)
    • Leading Democratic politicians have flip-flopped What leading Democrats have said about filling a Supreme Court vacancy (two minute video, Twitter) 
    • A thought from the left: Down With Judicial Supremacy! (Jamelle Bouie, New York Times): “The Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution and establish its meaning for federal, state and local government alike. But this power wasn’t enumerated in the Constitution and isn’t inherent in the court as an institution. Instead, the court’s power to interpret and bind others to that interpretation was constructed over time by political and legal actors throughout the system, from presidents and lawmakers to the judges and justices themselves.”
    • A thought from the right: How the G.O.P. Might Get to Yes on Replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “Since I became opposed to abortion, sometime in my later teens, I have never regarded the Supreme Court with warmth, admiration or patriotic trust. What my liberal friends felt after Bush v. Gore or after Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation or in imagining some future ruling by Amy Coney Barrett, I have felt for my entire adult life.”
  5. On faith and politics:
    • How Faith Shapes My Politics (David Brooks, New York Times): “In a society that is growing radically more secular every day, I’d say we have more to fear from political dogmatism than religious dogmatism.” 
    • Related: This just in! Evangelicals are actually America’s least politicized group of churches (Richard Ostling, GetReligion): “…the emerging scenario appears to indicate a relatively small and unrepresentative band of evangelical partisans at the national level has — aided by massive amounts of news coverage — distorted the public image of grass-roots white evangelicalism.”
    • What are your Expectations of Jesus’ Local Church? (Adam Sinnett, church website): “Over the last six months the elders of DCC have received numerous questions, recommendations, and criticisms in relation to what we should be doing as a church in regards to: our pandemic response, the relationship between church and state, timing and content of communication, growing unemployment, the homelessness crisis, political partisanship, systemic injustice, police brutality, social protests, and more.”
    • Follow-up: Who Does What in the Life of the Church? (Adam Sinnet, church website): “If we think of the church primarily as ‘the leaders’ we’ll place the burden of responsibility for the life of the church on the pastors. If we think of the church primarily as ‘the people’, we’ll place the burden of responsibility on the individuals. If we think of the church primarily as an ‘institution’, we’ll place the burden of responsibility on the organization, its structures, and processes. Who then is responsible for fulfilling God’s purpose for his church? Is it the leaders, or the people, or the institution? Put simply, everyone is responsible, though in different ways.”
    • Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Sues to Not Forsake the Assembly (Kate Shellnut, Christianity Today): “…the DC congregation’s legal fight is uniquely tied to its theological beliefs around how a church should gather. Dever has long resisted multi-site, multi-service models of church, though they are very popular among fellow Southern Baptists. The DC Baptist church does not stream services online, and hasn’t made an exception to that rule during the pandemic.”
    • Capitol Hill Baptist, a large evangelical church, sues DC Mayor Muriel Bowser over coronavirus restrictions (Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post): “The vote Sunday at a members meeting to pursue litigation was 402 in favor, 35 against, members said, though church leaders would not confirm specific numbers.”
  6. Two random articles touching on race:
    • This Is How Biden Should Approach the Latino Vote (Ian Haney López and Tory Gavito, New York Times): “Progressives commonly categorize Latinos as people of color, no doubt partly because progressive Latinos see the group that way and encourage others to do so as well. Certainly, we both once took that perspective for granted. Yet in our survey, only one in four Hispanics saw the group as people of color.”
      • I am uninterested in the partisan angle of this op-ed, but the statistic I excerpted stood out to me. I wonder what percentage of Stanford students would have predicted it? I suspect the overwhelming majority of Stanford students would have bet on the opposite.
    • The Pretense That Princeton Is Racist (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic): “I object to the entire witch hunt of an investigation, which Republicans would recognize as a flagrant abuse of federal power were it aimed at Liberty University. No reasonable person could conclude that an onerous probe of Princeton for anti-Black racism is the best use, or even a good use, of scarce resources to safeguard civil rights. The decision to grapple with racism should not trigger a federal investigation, whether or not that grappling is totally honest.”
  7. Tea Time: The Christian Mission to Preserve Culture (Lyman Stone, The Plough): “As strange as it may seem for a white American missionary to be teaching an eight-year-old Chinese girl from the tea capital of the world how to pour tea, such I understood to be my Christian duty.”

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 Jesus, Mary, and Joe Jonas (Jonathan Parks‐Ramage, Medium): “How, in famously liberal Hollywood and among statistically progressive millennials, had good old‐fashioned evangelism [sic] gained popularity? In this context, a church like Reality L.A. seemed like something that could never work. But that evening, as I reflected on the troubled actress and the psychic brutalities inflicted by the entertainment industry, it occurred to me that I had underestimated Hollywood’s biggest product: lost souls.” First shared in volume 192

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). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. 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 267

some apologetically-interesting links near the top — recommended!

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues.

We have some new members on our mailing list — welcome! I’d like to direct you to the disclaimers at the end of this email — they really do matter and I really do mean them.

I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way!

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Unconscious Learning Underlies Belief in God – Stronger Beliefs in People Who Can Unconsciously Predict Complex Patterns (Sci Tech Daily): “Individuals who can unconsciously predict complex patterns, an ability called implicit pattern learning, are likely to hold stronger beliefs that there is a god who creates patterns of events in the universe, according to neuroscientists at Georgetown University.” Shocker: people who see reality clearly are more likely to perceive God’s hand at work in reality. 
  2. Redeeming Condos, Presbyterians Buy NYC Building for $30 Million (Kathryn Watson, Christianity Today): “In a study of 22 US cites—including Grand Rapids, Detroit, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Seattle—Hartson and Williams looked at mailing list data to identify addresses that were labeled as churches in 2003 but not in 2018. They identified approximately 200 church buildings that had been flipped for commercial or residential use. In the same cities, in the same 15 years, they found about 2,000 commercial spaces that had been turned into houses of worship. While there are many sacred spaces becoming secular, it seems more are converting the other way.” 👀 — I did not know this and am very encouraged by it. 
  3. On politics:
    • No Longer Human (George Yancey, Patheos): “In one way it really does not matter if Trump or Biden wins the presidency. Either way you will have a substantial percentage of individuals who will feel displaced. They will be tempted to create an us versus them mentality in which they can envision the election victors as enemies of the state who must be defeated at all costs. ” The author is a sociologist at Baylor. 
    • Related — two articles highlighting how the right is afraid of the left in America:
      1. Ideology Binds And Blinds (Rod Dreher, The American Conservative): “As I see it, the ‘major threat of the far left’ to us on the right — the major threat, not the only threat — is that in power, they will go pedal to the medal on a soft totalitarian ‘social justice’ regime that would punish dissenters by costing them their livelihoods, and ruining their churches and other institutions.”
      2. On Not Accepting Stolen Elections (Douglas Wilson, personal blog): “Don’t take your eye off the ball. Who is going to be rioting in late November after the election? Well, who’s rioting now? This is not a trick question.”
    • And it’s not just one-sided. Here are two articles highlighting how the left is afraid of the right in America:
      1. The Left Secretly Preps for MAGA Violence After Election Day (Sam Stein, The Daily Beast): “‘I don’t know what the strategy is when armed right-wing militia dudes show up in polling places,’ the same source said. ‘This [Kyle] Rittenhouse guy is being lionized on the right, right now. If it is being unleashed that you can shoot people and be a hero, I don’t know what preparation we can possibly do for that.’”
      2. We Don’t Know How to Warn You Any Harder. America is Dying. (umair haque, Medium): “There is a crucial lesson there. America already has an ISIS, a Taliban, an SS waiting to be born.A group of young men willing to do violence at the drop of a hat, because they’ve been brainwashed into hating. The demagogue has blamed hated minorities and advocates of democracy and peace for those young men’s stunted life chances, and they believe him. That’s exactly what an ISIS is, what a Taliban is, what an SS is. The only thing left to do by an authoritarian is to formalize it.”
  4. Democratic Change Still Works (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic): “…look at the mountain of evidence that change through the civic process is not only possible, but a recurring reality, and that it began long before Floyd’s death.” I believe much of our current cultural conflict can be understood in terms of the Tocqueville Paradox, which I have also heard referred to as “The Paradox of Rising Expectations.”
  5. On racism:
    • Princeton’s President Is Wrong. The University Is Not Systemically Racist (Sergiu Klainerman, Newsweek): “Unable to identify specific cases of racism, these warriors for social injustice are advancing their agenda by claiming instead that all American institutions, including Princeton, are structurally and systemically racist (‘SSR’). That is to say, that they are racist even as they manifestly do everything imaginable to promote under-represented groups. Princeton, for example, has had for years an extraordinarily large number of administrators (by some counts, over 65) dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion.” The author is a professor of mathematics at Princeton.
    • Scholastics contra racism (Ed Feser, personal blog): “The falsity and evil of racism, and thus of those institutions, clearly follows from standard Scholastic [theological] thinking about human nature and natural law.”
    • Book Review: How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi(Bill Melone, Mere Orthodoxy): “But recent criticism of social justice advocacy and the Black Lives Matter movement has failed to criticize the best of antiracist thinking, and is much the lesser for it. This is particularly true when that criticism does not engage seriously with the work of Ibram X. Kendi.”
    • No, racism isn’t a ‘creation of white people’ (David Abulafia, The Spectator): “It is therefore a sad and horrible truth that every continent has experienced racist persecutions before as well as after the age of the European empires. Quite possibly the first Homo Sapiens played a big role in the disappearance of the Neanderthals.” The author is a history professor at Cambridge.
  6. Christian musician Sean Feucht held defiant Seattle worship protest after concert was banned (Julia Duin, Religion News Service): “Sean Feucht, 37, the rally organizer, laughed about the conflict with city officials while welcoming the crowd of 800 to 900 people. ‘Welcome to Seattle’s largest worship protest,’ he said at the beginning of a two-hour set. ‘Turn to each other and say, “Welcome to the protest.” In this city, that makes it a legal gathering.’”
  7. Christians, Gun Rights, and the American Social Compact (David French, The Dispatch): “The distinctive Christian presence has to include modeling the responsible, virtuous exercise of the rights its political movements seek to secure. It has to include using its voice and power to advocate for that responsibility and to oppose recklessness. Simply put, the republic was not designed to thrive if those who are religious are not also moral.” 

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 Philosopher Redefining Equality (Nathan Heller, New Yorker): “When she was three, her mother asked, ‘Why do you allow your brother to talk for you?’—why didn’t she speak for herself? ‘Until now, it simply was not necessary,’ Elizabeth said. It was the first full sentence that she had ever uttered.” I think that’s the best first sentence I’ve ever heard of. The article is a tad long, but recommended. First shared in volume 189.

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). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. 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 264

substantive pieces this week, plus religious arguments for and against both Biden and Trump

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.

As always, just skim and open the links that seem interesting to you in new tabs.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Challenge of Marxism (Yoram Hazony, Quillette): “Not very long ago, most of us living in free societies knew that Marxism was not compatible with democracy…. Indeed, the entire purpose of democratic government, with its plurality of legitimate parties, is to avoid the violent reconstitution of society that Marxist political theory regards as the only reasonable aim of politics.”
  2. The particle collection that fancied itself a physicist (Ed Feser, personal blog): “Democritus’s point is that if the atomist says both that atoms are all that exist and that color, sweetness, etc. and the other qualities of conscious experience are not to be found in the atoms, then we have a paradox.” Feser, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my favorite philosophers.
  3. Anti-racist Arguments Are Tearing People Apart (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic): “I made a series of rapid assumptions about what I was watching. I surmised that Broshi was a college-educated, upper-middle-class progressive who sits on some sort of education council in the public-school system and owns copies of White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist. I surmised that she was calling someone out. And I surmised that her white, male target was offscreen rolling his eyes. All of which turned out to be correct.” This is amazing.
    • Related: Why we cannot ignore Institutional Racism (George Yancey, Patheos): “Pretend that we are going to have a mile race a year from now. I tell a third of the class about the race and hire a trainer for them. For another third of the class I tell them about the race six months later but do not hire them a trainer. But I do advise them that they may want to work on their own to get ready for the race. The last third of the class I call them the morning of the race and tell them that it is time to run. Assuming that the class is randomly divided into thirds, we know what will happen in the race do we not?”
    • Related: Black and White evangelicals once talked about ‘racial reconciliation.’ Then Trump came along. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington Post): “…despite shared Christian beliefs and commitment to religious observance, White evangelicals are among the most strongly Republican constituencies, while Black Protestants tend to vote Democratic. And that divide appears to have grown harder to bridge since Trump took office.”
    • Colleges aren’t reporting anti-Semitism as a crime (Aiden Pink, Forward): “A Forward analysis comparing news reports of campus antisemitism between 2016 and 2018 to the filings for those years found that fewer than half of the incidents that could have been reported as hate crimes actually were. Out of a total of 158 incidents at 64 schools, 93 — including antisemitic vandalism at brand-name schools known for vibrant Jewish communities like Harvard, Princeton, MIT, UCLA and the University of Maryland — were left out of the federal filings.” Stanford comes off looking pretty good in this article. 
  4. The American Misunderstanding of Natural Rights (Cameron Hilditch, National Review): “Our inheritance of human rights was built to reflect the fact that we are all living images of a particular crucified criminal from Galilee, who proclaimed that we are each and all more than what Caesar would make of us. If we care to enjoy the rights bequeathed to us by this tradition throughout the coming years, decades, and centuries, then we can no longer avoid publicly discussing the inextricable nature of religious and political ideas.” 
    • Related: Is American Christian Jurisprudence a Thing? (Steven D. Smith, Law & Liberty): “Taken together, these assumptions generate an overall attitude toward the project of law that resists opposing extremes: on the one hand, an excessive or deconstructive cynicism—one that would reduce the law to simply a manifestation of power based on class, race, or gender—and on the other hand a dangerous utopianism that would use law to achieve perfect justice but end up destroying human freedom.” The author is a law professor at the University of San Diego. 
    • Related. Ish. The end of secularism is nigh (Tom Holland, UnHerd): “That there existed things called ‘religions’ — ‘Hinduism’, ‘Islam’, ‘Judaism’ ­— and that these functioned in a dimension distinct from entire spheres of human activity — spheres called ‘secular’ in English — was not a conviction native to anywhere except for Western Europe.”
  5. China’s Artificial Intelligence Surveillance State Goes Global (Ross Andersen, The Atlantic): “In the early aughts, the Chinese telecom titan ZTE sold Ethiopia a wireless network with built-in backdoor access for the government. In a later crackdown, dissidents were rounded up for brutal interrogations, during which they were played audio from recent phone calls they’d made. Today, Kenya, Uganda, and Mauritius are outfitting major cities with Chinese-made surveillance networks.” I think horrifying might be the best word for this article. 
  6. On presidential politics and Christianity:
    • From the right: Letter to an Anti-Trump Christian Friend (Wayne Grudem, TownHall): “In every column that I’ve published in support of Trump, I have explicitly registered my disapproval of his character flaws and previous immoral behavior. I support him because of the policies he has enacted and will enact, and in spite of his character flaws (which I don’t think rise to a level that would disqualify him from being president; more on this below).” The author is a professor at Phoenix Seminary.
    •  From the left: The Joe Biden that I know is a man of faith (Chris Coons, Fox News): “For Democrats like Joe and me, taking care of the planet isn’t just about rising sea levels and extreme weather, it’s also about protecting and honoring God’s creation. For Democrats like Joe and me, fighting for civil rights and equality isn’t just about political correctness, it’s about loving our neighbor and recognizing that all of us are created equal in the eyes of God.” The author is a US Senator.
    • A criticism of the right: Why Evangelicals Support Trump—and Why They Shouldn’t (George Yancey, The Bulwark): “Many evangelical Christians see Trump as someone who will save them from Christianophobia. And while I understand and respect the nature of these Christians’ fears—in fact, I share them—I believe that Trump is not only not a solution to these issues but in the long run he will make things worse.” The author is a professor at Baylor.
    • A criticism of the left: Devout Catholics and Secular Progressives (Robert George, First Things): this one is difficult to excerpt. Very well done. The author is a professor at Princeton. 

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 Godspeed: The Pace Of Being Known (Vimeo): a student brought this 30 minute video to my attention and said it made her think about how she should be living in her dorm (sadly irrelevant for that purpose at the moment). First shared in volume 181.

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). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. 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.

Christianity For Modern Pagans: Vanity of Human Reason, of Dogmatism, and of the Philosophers

why Christianity has such a countercultural perspective on sex

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.

This week we’re talking about chapters 7–9, the vanity of human reason, of dogmatism, and of the philosophers.

The thing that stood out most to me is the skepticism that Pascal applies to reason. Recall that he is one of the greatest scientists in history and that his pioneering work laid the foundation for many fields of study. He knows well what reason can achieve, and as a result he also realizes its limitations.

…demonstration is not the only instrument for convincing us. How few things can be demonstrated! Proofs only convince the mind; habit provides the strongest proofs and those that are most believed…. We must resort to habit once the mind has seen where the truth lies, in order to steep and stain ourselves in that belief…, for it is too much trouble to have the proofs always present before us…. When we believe only by the strength of our conviction and the automaton is inclined to believe the opposite, that is not enough. We must therefore make both parts of us believe: the mind by reasons, which need to be seen only once in a lifetime, and the automaton by habit.

Pascal, Pensee 821 (pages 99–100)

This is brilliant, although the translation feels clumsy to me. Kreeft’s commentary on this is helpful:

…once reason has convinced us to believe, we require the aid of good habits to overcome bad habitual tendencies in the opposite direction. Therefore we must act as if we believed, go to church and so forth, thus habituating the automaton to obey what reason has discovered to be true. Habit is not an honest substitute for reason, but it is an honest and needed servant to reason. If we try to fight against irrationality with reason alone, we will lose. We need cruder weapons too.

Kreeft’s commentary on Pensee 821, page 100

This is one reason that Christian community is often so instrumental in someone’s conversion. Reason, like a map, can guide people to Christ but only if they actually follow the directions. Other parts of their self must be engaged for the journey to take place, and these parts are most commonly called forth through relationships.

It also occurs to me that this may be a good way to explain why Christianity has such a countercultural perspective on sex. Sex engages the whole person and can either do so in a way that reinforces the gospel message or in a way that undermines it (see Ephesians 5:31–32 and 1 Cor 6:12–20). Paul lays this out in Romans 1:18–27

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Romans 1:18–27 (NIV)

When people reject the knowledge of God, they must build lives to reinforce that rejection of God. Paul says they do it using idols and sex, and he adds that they suffer for it. Of course they do. They are living based on a false conception of human nature, which makes it inevitable that there will be needless pain. Paula recently had a plate shatter in the microwave. We had both assumed it was microwave-safe, but because we were wrong the shattering was inevitable. The cause of the damage was the interaction of invisible things (the microwaves and the molecular structure of the plate), but the resulting damage was easily observed. Sadly, our culture (and many lives within it) are shattering and the reasons are invisible to many people.

Other thoughts from these chapters that stood out to me:

To reason is to rely on reason, and to rely on reason is an act of faith, not of reason. Therefore reason presupposes faith… Indeed, how could reason itself be validated? There are only three possibilities: (1) by something subrational, like animal instinct (which is obviously absurd: How can the inferior validate the superior?); or (2) by something rational, by a piece of reasoning (which is also absurd: How can the part justify the whole? All reason is on trial; how dare the one piece of reasoning you use to justify all reasoning be exempt from trial?); or (3) by something superrational, by faith in God (which is the only possibility left).

Kreeft’s commentary on Pensee 131, pages 110–111

FWIW, I think Kreeft’s inclusion of God in the third point is valid but it’s really something he should argue for. I think many skeptics would counter that something like the platonic laws of logic could stand in for God in option 3, which is true but doesn’t get them as far away from God as they think. Having read other things by Kreeft, I believe he has had this argument before and is merely announcing checkmate when it is still not obvious to his opponent that the game is over.

You can think skepticism, but you can’t live it.

Kreeft’s commentary on Pensee 131, page 111

Philosophers and theologians do not practice what they preach any better than the rest of us–less, if they preach better than the rest of us.

Kreeft’s commentary on Pensee 142, page 117

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 258

Is 650 a lot? it depends. Pennies? No. Murders? Yes. Coronavirus cases? Depends on where they spread.

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. Churches Emerge as Major Source of Coronavirus Cases (Kate Conger, Jack Healy and Lucy Tompkins, New York Times): “More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities, according to a New York Times database.” 
    • Are Churches “A Major Source of Coronavirus Cases?” (Tim Challies, personal blog): “If I have $3,000,000 in the bank and you give me another $650, you’d hardly be in the position to claim that you had made a major contribution to my wealth. Similarly, adding 650 cases to America’s total caseload of 3 million is no more than a blip that leaves 99.98% attributable to other causes.”
    • Churches, Coronavirus, and the New York Times (Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today): “It is strange (at best) to use words like ‘major’ and ‘erupted’ when describing 650 cases. On that point, the headline is misleading. Having 650 cases in my county might be news, but 650 nationally out of three million cases is a headline looking for a story. The real story is this: churches are gathering and remarkably few infections are taking place.”
  2. America’s Racial Progress (David French, National Review): “There are two things that I believe to be true. First, that America has a long history of brutal and shameful mistreatment of racial minorities — with black Americans its chief victims. And second, that America is a great nation, and that American citizens (and citizens of the world) should be grateful for its founding. Perhaps no nation has done more good for more people than the United States. It was and is a beacon of liberty and prosperity in a world long awash in tyranny and poverty.”
  3. A Letter on Justice and Open Debate (many signatories, Harpers): “The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.”
    • Prominent Artists and Writers Warn of an ‘Intolerant Climate’ (Jennifer Schuessler and Elizabeth A. Harris, New York Times): “‘We’re not just a bunch of old white guys sitting around writing this letter,’ Mr. Williams, who is African-American, said. ‘It includes plenty of Black thinkers, Muslim thinkers, Jewish thinkers, people who are trans and gay, old and young, right wing and left wing.’”
    • ending the charade (Freddie deBoer, personal blog): “Please, think for a minute and consider: what does it say when a completely generic endorsement of free speech and open debate is in and of itself immediately diagnosed as anti-progressive, as anti-left?”(emphasis in original)
  4. Lazarus Chakwera: Malawi’s president who ‘argued with God’ (BBC): “In the unmistakable cadence of a preacher, Malawi’s new President, Lazarus Chakwera, appealed for unity in his country shortly after he was sworn in on Sunday. The day of the week seemed fitting as the former head of the Malawi Assemblies of God, one of the largest Christian denominations in the country, treated the stage like a pulpit to inspire fervour with his words.”
  5. Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley’s War Against the Media (Gideon Lewis-Kraus, New Yorker): “The division between the Grey and Blue tribes is often rendered in the simplistic terms of a demographic encounter between white, nerdily entitled men in hoodies on one side and diverse, effete, artistic snobs on the other.” Interesting throughout. 
  6. Christianity’s Covert Success (Mark Tooley, Providence) “I quote an Indian professor who says that Christianity proceeds in two ways, through conversion—which is obvious, that’s how people tend to think Christianity precedes—but he then says, through secularization. And I think he’s absolutely right. And I think that the assumption of people in the West that the secular is somehow neutral, that if you’re secular, you’ve somehow escaped the bounds of cultural contingency, couldn’t be more wrong.”
  7. On Religion, the Supreme Court Protects the Right to Be Different (Michael McConnell, New York Times): “The court may be political, but its politics is of the middle, and of a particular kind of middle, one that is committed to pluralism and difference rather than to the advancement of particular moral stances.” The author is a Stanford law prof.

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 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.” First shared in volume 161.

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). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. 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.

Christianity For Modern Pagans: Vanity and the Vanity of Human Justice

Pascal diagnosed our modern dysfunctions 350 years ago.

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.

One reason I appreciate reading writers from the distant past is that when they make an observation relevant to modern times it is usually more powerful than if it was uttered by one of our contemporaries.

It reminds me of an excerpt from C. S. Lewis’ introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ On The Incarnation of the Word of God:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

C. S. Lewis

With that in mind, two of Pascal’s observations struck me as especially prescient:

The mind naturally believes and the will naturally loves, so that when there are no true objects for them they necessarily become attached to false ones.  

Pascal, Pensée 661 (page 77)

Hundreds of years ago, Pascal accurately diagnosed the modern American. Our deceptively secular age is full of religion, and for many people politics is their preferred form of worship. Look back over my Friday “Issachar” emails and you will see many examples of the religious dynamics in our cultural debates; in fact, the very first article I ever shared was Joseph Bottum’s The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas and this week I’m likely to share David French’s America Is in the Grips of a Fundamentalist Revival.

As your pastor I urge you: don’t participate in the crazy of whatever group you tend to vote with. You already have a religion, so you are free to treat politics as significant but not ultimate. Back in the 90’s, political scientist J. Budziszewski wrote two articles back-to-back for First Things, The Problem With Liberalism and The Problem With Conservativism. Read them both, especially read the one that describes your team. You won’t resonate with every critique in either article, but you will find much to think about.

Moving on, I also appreciated one of Pascal’s comments which is relevant to social media:

We are not satisfied with the life we have in ourselves and our own being. We want to lead an imaginary life in the eyes of others, and so we try to make an impression. We strive constantly to embellish and preserve our imaginary being, and neglect the real one.

Pascal, Pensée 806 (page 79)

Reading this Pensée brought to mind Madison Fischer’s assertion that ditching social media was key to her winning a medal as a competitive climber.

“I cared so much about what everyone thought of me that it became outsourced confidence…. I couldn’t step out of the reputation I forged online so I lived in a world of entitlement. Pride in my accomplishments made me content, and contentedness is poison to a young athlete who has to stay hungry if she wants to stay competitive.”

Madison Fischer

She realized that she faced a choice: actually become a more competitive climber or spend her time trying to look like what people thought a competitive climber should be.

In a similar manner, we can actually strive to be like Jesus or we can instead try to become what other people think a follower of Jesus should be. In other words, we can either follow Jesus or we can follow other people. We can follow Christ or a crowd.

This is about more than social media, but it’s definitely about social media as well. You probably know that I am on Facebook and Twitter, so clearly I’m not about to tell you to delete your accounts. But I do urge you to be aware of the temptations they create. Meditate on Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Other tidbits I appreciated:

The atheist argues: “If there were a God, how could there be injustice?” To which Pascal replies: “If there is injustice, there must be true justice for it to be relative to and a defect of; and this true justice is not found on Earth or in man, therefore it must exist in Heaven and God.” Either there or nowhere; and if nowhere, then “everything is permissible”. But not everything is permissible. Therefore there must be a God.

Kreeft commenting on Pensée 697, page 94

And I particularly like this one. It’s true of babies, and it’s true of adults. Different trifles, same psychology.

A trifle consoles us because a trifle upsets us.

Pascal, Pensée 43 (page 75)

Christianity For Modern Pagans: Wretchedness and The Paradox of Greatness and Wretchedness

My favorite of Pascal’s thoughts.

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.

This reading includes the line from Pascal that has shaped my thought more than any other of his, “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition” (Pascal, Pensee 149, page 69). It’s simple observation that explains something we observe every day at Stanford: the coexistence of smart people who think God’s existence is blindingly obvious alongside smart people who think that God’s nonexistence is blindingly obvious.

I think about this observation frequently, and I have come to believe that such exquisite balance is itself evidence of a master planner at work behind the scenes. If a flipped coin landed on its edge once, we would be astounded. If it landed on its edge repeatedly, we would be sure that the coin was rigged. Pascal’s point is that reality is rigged in such a way that strong cases can be made for faith and for doubt. Pay attention the next time there is a significant scientific discovery in an area you might expect to clarify the existence of God, you will see that theists and atheists alike rejoice in the discovery and write about it with great glee. The coin will have landed on its edge once again.

Why would God arrange reality this way? To reveal our heart. As Pascal said earlier in the same Pensee:

‘If he had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightning and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness, because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency, that he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him.

Pascal, Pensee 149, page 68

As I heard a pastor say once, “You get what you want in eternity. Do you want God? You go to Heaven where He dwells. Do you not want God? You will be free of Him forever and will go to Hell where He is not.”

Other sections that stuck with me:

It is instructive to compare Job and Ecclesiastes. For this is the comparison between ancient and modern man. Ecclesiastes, like modern man, has everything and yet has nothing because it is only “vanity”. Job, like ancient man, has nothing but has everything because he has God.

Kreeft’s commentary on Pensee 403, page 49

The two most life-changing revolutions in modern times were the scientific-industrial revolution, which taught man to live and think abstractly, like an angel; and the sexual revolution, which taught man to live and think like an animal. The first knows only the head, the second knows only the hormones. Neither knows the heart.

Kreeft’s commentary on Pensees 678 & 121, page 53

Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own…. Who would think himself unhappy if he had only one mouth and who would not if he had only one eye? It has probably never occurred to anyone to be distressed at not having three eyes, but those who have none are inconsolable.

Pascal, Pensee 117, page 59

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 256

FYI, I offer some of my own thoughts on police towards the end.

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 Rebel Physicist Trying to Fix Quantum Mechanics (Bob Henderson, New York Times): “Bassi is a practicing Catholic and a believer in God, something he says is ‘unusual’ but ‘not rare” among his colleagues at the university. Einstein called his own belief that reality could be understood ‘religion,’ and I wondered if there’s a connection between Bassi’s religious faith and that in what has become essentially a far-right position in physics.” I have no opinion on the underlying scientific controversy, but Bassi sounds like a fascinating person.
  2. What the Tentmaking Business Was Really Like for the Apostle Paul (Justin Taylor, Gospel Coalition): “[It] cost the Apostle Paul to write his letters, including the securing of materials and the hiring of a secretary to make a copy for himself. After extensive research and calculation, he determined that on the low side it would have cost him at least $2,000 in today’s currency to write 1 Corinthians. (And that doesn’t include the cost of sending someone like Titus on a long journey to deliver it.)” Short and fascinating.
  3. The Tempting of Neil Gorsuch (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “We may officially have three branches of government, but Americans seem to accept that it’s more like 2.25: A presidency that acts unilaterally whenever possible, a high court that checks the White House and settles culture wars, and a Congress that occasionally bestirs itself to pass a budget.”
  4. Religious Americans Have Less Positive Attitudes Toward Science, But This Does Not Extend to Other Cultures (Jonathon McPhetres, Jonathan Jong & Miron Zuckerman, Social Psychological and Personality Science): “It is commonly claimed that science and religion are logically and psychologically at odds with one another. However, previous studies have mainly examined American samples…” Raw data at https://osf.io/t7w6x/ DOI 10.1177/1948550620923239. The authors are professors at MIT, Oxford, and the University of Rochester.
  5. “He’s the Chosen One to Run America”: Inside the Cult of Trump, His Rallies Are Church and He Is the Gospel (Jeff Sharlet, Vanity Fair): “Nonbelievers roll their eyes over what they see as the gobsmacking hypocrisy of Trump as a tribune of family values, the dopiness of the rubes who consider him a moral man. Nonbelievers, in other words, miss the point. They lack gnosis. Very few believers deny Trump’s sordid past. Some turn to the old Christian ready-made of redemption: Their man was lost, but now he’s found. Others love him precisely because he is a sinner—if a man of such vast, crass, and open appetites can embody the nation (and really, who is more American—vast, crass, and open—than Trump), then you too, student of porn, monster truck lover, ultimate fighter in your dreams and games, can claim an anointing.” The title filled me with low expectations, but the article has some interesting reflections on Gnosticism in modern America. 
  6. On religious liberty:
    • The True Extent of Religious Liberty in America, Explained (David French, The Dispatch): “Yes, it is true that in some respects religious liberty is ‘under siege.’ There are activists and lawmakers who want to push back at multiple doctrines and some radicals even dream of revoking tax exemptions from religious organizations that maintain traditional teachings on sex and gender. But if the siege is real, then so is the citadel. People of faith in the United States of America enjoy more liberty and more real political power than any faith community in the developed world.” This is really good.
    • No Longer a Luxury – Religious Liberty is a National Security Priority (Christos Makridis, Providence): “…increases in religious liberty are associated with robust increases in human flourishing even after controlling for differences in gross domestic product, the labor force, and measures of economic freedom. For example, moving a country that ranks in religious liberty along the lines of Russia to one that ranks closer to the United States amounts to an 11 percent increase in the share of individuals who say that they are thriving.” Christos is an alumnus of our ministry. 
    • Torah Is the Air We Breathe (Gil Student, First Things): “But our spiritually impoverished society views religious practices as merely cultural expressions. It views religious services as equivalent to yoga classes and book club meetings. It does not see religion as essential, and therefore cannot understand that Jews don’t serve God as part of our lives; rather, we live to serve God.”
  7. On race, police, and protests
    • Above the Law: The Data Are In on Police, Killing, and Race (Lyman Stone, The Public Discourse): “…police killings have made up about one out of every twelve violent deaths of Americans between 2010 and 2018. That’s including American military deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere during that window. Indeed, more Americans died at the hands of police officers during that period (about 14,400) than died while on active military duty (about 9,400). Police violence in America is extraordinary in its intensity. It is disproportionate to the actual threats facing police officers, and it has risen significantly in recent years without apparent justification.”
    • Jewish businesses in Los Angeles ransacked in riots, but only Israeli and Jewish media care (Julia Duin, GetReligion): “The Oregonian called riot-plagued Portland ‘a city of plywood.’ Since then, images have emerged of a darker narrative, with rioters targeting Jewish businesses. Israeli newspapers ran with this angle this past Saturday, but by the end of the day, there was nothing about the Jewish vandalism to be found on the New York Times website. Usually the Times is pretty up on anti-Semitism, but it was easier to find a piece about Anna Wintour than any mentions of vandalized Jews.”
    • How Jesus became white — and why it’s time to cancel that (Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion News Service): “Anderson said that it has been common for people to depict Jesus as a member of their culture or their ethnic group. ‘If a person thinks that’s the only possible representation of Jesus, then that’s where the problem starts,’ he said.” It’s almost like portraying God visually leads to trouble. I wish God had thought to warn against that.
    • Reflections from a Christian scholar on Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics (Kelly Hamren, Facebook): “I have two English degrees (B.A. and M.A.) from a Christian university and a Ph.D. in literature and criticism from a state university. In my field, Marxism is one of the most commonly studied and most influential perspectives, and Critical Race Theory is also a significant force and gaining momentum.… my studies have convinced me that the sufferings and deaths of millions are not only correlated with but largely caused by the Marxist-Leninist agenda, and I am therefore deeply opposed to Marxism as a framework. I hope that, knowing this, those patient enough to read these notes will acquit me of being a closet Marxist covering a secular agenda with a veneer of Bible verses.” The author is an English professor at Liberty University.
    • Law professor’s response to student offended by their shirt (Patricia Leary, Imgur): “Premise: You are not paying for my opinion. Critique: You are not paying me to pretend I don’t have one.” Two comments: first, this is a few years old. Second, initially looks made-up but checks out. The author is a professor at Whittier Law School: Law professor responds to students who complained about her Black Lives Matter shirt (Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed) 
    • The New Truth (Jacob Siegel, Tablet Magazine): “What we are witnessing, in the rapidly transforming norms around race, sex, and gender, is not an argument at all but a revolution in moral sentiment. In all revolutions, the new thing struggling to be born makes use of the old system in order to overthrow it. At present, institutions like the university, the press, and the medical profession preserve the appearance of reason, empiricism, and argument while altering, through edict and coercion, the meaning of essential terms in the moral lexicon, like fairness, equality, friendship, and love.”
    • History Shows Free Speech Is The Loser In Mob Action (Jonathan Turley, personal blog): “What will be left when objectionable public art and academics are scrubbed from view? The silence that follows may be comforting to those who want to remove images or ideas that cause unease. History has shown, however, that orthodoxy is never satisfied with silence. It demands speech. Once all the offending statues are down, and all the offending professors are culled, the appetite for collective suppression will become a demand for collective expression.” The author is a law professor at George Washington University.
    • Of Statues and Symbolic Murder (Wilfred M. McClay, First Things): “…a great many of the foot soldiers in this movement are young, white, suburban, middle-class and college-educated; and that they are working out their salvation with fear and trembling and a deadly earnestness. The ‘white privilege’ of which these young people complain is a projection onto others of the very condition that they suspect and fear in themselves. Hence the convulsive rage, complete with copious gutter profanity, which we have all seen in videos of them. People in the grip of such powerful psychological forces will go a long way to expiate for their existential sins and rid themselves of their demons. They are easily mobilized by others. According to Pew estimates, only one out of six Black Lives Matter activists is actually black.”
      1. Related to the last sentence: George Floyd Protester Demographics: Insights Across 4 Major US Cities (MobileWalla report) has bar charts based on surveilling the cell phones of people at the protests and inferring their demographics the way marketers do. 
    • A Minneapolis Neighborhood Vowed to Check Its Privilege. It’s Already Being Tested. (Caitlin Dickerson, New York Times): “The impulse many white Powderhorn Park residents have to seek help from community groups rather than from the police is being felt in neighborhoods across the country. But some are finding the commitment hard to stand by when faced with the complex realities of life. While friends, neighbors and even family members in Powderhorn Park agree to avoid calling the police at all costs, it has been harder to establish where to draw the line.” Read through to the insane final story. 
    • I don’t often insert my own commentary in these emails, but in this case I’d like to highlight a Biblical perspective.
      1. The Bible teaches that one of the reasons that God gives governments authority is for them to use violence in the pursuit of justice. Romans 13:4 is key: “the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
      2. We have freedom in how we choose to do that as a society — the Bible does not require that we use police or that we build prisons. Having said that, if we abolish domestic law enforcement then the only alternatives I see are the military, private businesses that offer protection for a fee, sanctioned vigilantism, or mob justice. These are not appealing options. Some combination of unbundling police work, reducing criminal laws while rethinking the sanctions for violating them, and increasing police pay while imposing higher standards for police conduct seems like a better path forward.

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 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. First shared in volume 157.

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). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. 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.

Christianity For Modern Pagans: Order & Method

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.

The theme that seems most important to me from this first week’s readings (the preface and the chapters Order & Method) is the need to understand the heart behind someone’s skepticism. We must genuinely love our skeptical friends if we are to persuade them.

Their intellectual questions are real and have to be answered honestly, but the cries of the heart (Christianity is intolerant, faith is for ignorant people, becoming a Christian would make me into someone I wouldn’t like, following Jesus would mean abandoning fun) are far more important.

I find when I speak with unbelievers on campus their first questions to me are often tests: they want to see how I respond to purely intellectual inquiries before they begin raising the issues that really keep them from faith. And sometimes they don’t even know the real reasons they won’t consider Christianity. A reply I’ve found helpful is, “I’ll answer your question as best I can, but I’m curious: if I answer it to your satisfaction will you seriously consider becoming a Christian? If not, what would still hold you back?”

What do you think Stanford students’ biggest heart objections are to Christianity? I’m curious what you notice as you speak with your friends.

And now a few excerpts from the reading I particularly enjoyed:

In the past, the difficulty in accepting Christianity was its second point, salvation. Everyone in premodern societies knew sin was real, but many doubted salvation. Today it is the exact opposite: everybody is saved, but there is no sin to be saved from. Thus what originally came into the world as “good news” strikes the modern mind as bad news, as guilt-ridden, moralistic and “judgmental”. (page 26, Kreeft’s commentary on pensee 6)

Page 26 (from Kreeft’s commentary on pensee 6)

If he exalts himself, I humble him.
If he humbles himself, I exalt him.
And I go on contradicting him
Until he understands
That he is a monster that passes all understanding.

Page 37 (Pascal speaking, pensee 130)

When we want to correct someone usefully and show him he is wrong, we must see from what point of view he is approaching the matter, for it is usually right from that point of view, and we must admit this, but show him the point of view from which it is wrong. This will please him, because he will see that he was not wrong but merely failed to see every aspect of the question.

Page 39 (Pascal speaking, pensee 701)

Our religion is wise and foolish: wise, because it is the most learned and most strongly based on miracles, prophecies, etc., foolish, because it is not all this which makes people belong to it. . . . What makes them believe is the Cross. . . . And so St. Paul, who came with wisdom and signs, said that he came with neither wisdom nor signs, for he came to convert, but those who come only to convince may say they come with wisdom and signs.

Page 42 (Pascal speaking, pensee 842)

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 254

The less timely stuff is up top this time and there are a lot of magic videos at the bottom.

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. What Unites Most Graduates of Selective Colleges? An Intact Family (Nicholas Zill & Brad Wilcox, Institute for Family Studies): “… even after controlling for parent education, family income, and student race and ethnicity, being raised by one’s married birth parents provides an additional boost to one’s chances of getting through Princeton.”
  2. What Christians Must Remember about Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control (Peter Feaver & William Inboden & Michael Singh, Providence): “Before embracing calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons, thoughtful Christians must confront two uncomfortable facts. First, we live in a fallen world in which the threats we face are changing, and arguably growing. Second, the envelope of peace and security in which free societies have thrived for the past eight decades is not self-sustaining—one need only view the recent decline of democracies and rise of authoritarian threats from Russia and China. One can detest nuclear weapons and still see their strategic value.” The authors are, respectively, a professor of political science at Duke, a professor of public policy at UT Austin, and a senior fellow at a thinktank.
  3. Peer Review (Rodney Brooks, personal blog): “I came to realize that the editor’s job was real, and it required me to deeply understand the topic of the paper, and the biases of the reviewers, and not to treat the referees as having the right to determine the fate of the paper themselves. As an editor I had to add judgement to the process at many steps along the way, and to strive for the process to improve the papers, but also to let in ideas that were new.” The author is a professor emeritus of robotics at MIT.
  4. JK Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues (JK Rowling, personal blog): “…I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it.”
  5. More on the NY Times tangle last week and what it reveals about our society
    • America is changing, and so is the media (Ezra Klein, Vox): “The news media likes to pretend that it simply holds up a mirror to America as it is. We don’t want to be seen as actors crafting the political debate, agents who make decisions that shape the boundaries of the national discourse. We are, of course. We always have been.”
    • The Still-Vital Case for Liberalism in a Radical Age (Jonathan Chait, NY Magazine): “…it is an error to jump from the fact that right-wing authoritarian racism is far more important to the conclusion that left-wing illiberalism is completely unimportant. One can oppose different evils, even those evils aligned against each other, without assigning them equal weight.”
    • Why everyone hates the mainstream media (Andrew Potter, Policy for Pandemics): “It’s not a coincidence that lawyers, journalists, and politicians are routinely ranked as the most disliked professions in the world. It’s because the law is not about justice, politics is not about democracy, and the news is not about information. But in each case, that is what emerges, by harnessing the status-conscious competitive natures of the participants.” The author is a former journalist and editor.
  6. Thoughts on race and racism:
    • George Floyd and Me (Shai Linn, Gospel Coalition): “Though I’m deeply grieved, I am not without hope. Personally, I have little confidence in our government or policymakers to change the systemic factors that contributed to the George Floyd situation. But my hope isn’t in the government. My hope is in the Lord.”
    • American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go (David French, The Dispatch): “If politically correct progressives are often guilty of over-racializing American public discourse, and they are, politically correct conservatives commit the opposite sin—and they filter out or angrily reject all the information that contradicts their thesis.”
    • This moment cries out for us to confront race in America (Condoleezza Rice, Washington Post): “Still, we simply must acknowledge that society is not color-blind and probably never will be. Progress comes when people treat one another with respect, as if we were color-blind. Unless and until we are honest that race is still an anchor around our country’s neck, that shadow will never be lifted. Our country has a birth defect: Africans and Europeans came to this country together — but one group was in chains.” She is, of course, a fellow believer and also a Stanford professor who will soon be the director of the Hoover Institution. 
    • Our Present Moment: Why Is It So Hard? (Kevin DeYoung, Gospel Coalition): “I’m thinking more broadly about why race in this country is so difficult, and in particular difficult even between people of good will, between people in your church of a different color. I’m thinking about people who agree on so many other things. And you sing the same songs and you really love Jesus together. And you read the same Bible, and you really are together for the gospel. So why is it so divisive?” Some really good thoughts in here.
  7. On the protests
    • The protests started out looking like 1968. They turned into 1964. (Omar Wasow, Washington Post): “For a growing international movement trying to draw attention to the long history of racist and brutal policing, nonviolence in the face of police repression is an exceedingly difficult strategy to sustain. Evidence from the 1960s, however — and perhaps this month, too — suggests using such tactics to generate media coverage of a pressing social problem can be a powerful tool for building a coalition for social change.”
    • We often accuse the right of distorting science. But the left changed the coronavirus narrative overnight (Thomas Chatterton Williams, The Guardian): “Two weeks ago we shamed people for being in the street; today we shame them for not being in the street.”
    • Tribalism Comes for Pandemic Science (Yuval Levin, The New Atlantis): “These public health professionals are simply admitting that their views on the health risks of large gatherings depend on the political valence of those gatherings. Rather than compartmentalize their professional judgment from their political priorities — explaining the risks of large protests regardless of their political content and then separately and in a different context expressing whatever views they might have about that content — they openly deny not only the possibility but even the desirability of detached professional advice. This kind of attitude inevitably makes it much harder for the public to assess scientific claims about the pandemic through anything other than a political lens.”
    • The Growing CHAZm in Seattle (Jonah Goldberg, The Dispatch): “It took activists less than 24 hours to discover that even their make-believe Duchy of Grand Fenwoke relies on the basic building blocks of any polity. If Seattle’s supine and sausage-spined political leadership allows this experiment to continue, pretty soon you can expect the emergence of currency, taxes, even some kind of charter or constitution. It wouldn’t shock me if they ended up creating rudimentary courts or even a jail.” Goldberg is an expert at the meandering rant. 
    • Anarchy In Seattle (Christopher Rufo, City Journal): “The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone has set a dangerous precedent: armed left-wing activists have asserted their dominance of the streets and established an alternative political authority over a large section of a neighborhood. They have claimed de facto police power over thousands of residents and dozens of businesses—completely outside of the democratic process. In a matter of days, Antifa-affiliated paramilitaries have created a hardened border, established a rudimentary form of government based on principles of intersectional representation, and forcibly removed unfriendly media from the territory.”
    • A Dark Cloud For Democracy (Carl Trueman, First Things): “…this does not entirely explain why Minneapolis and not Hong Kong has grabbed the imagination of British youth. After all, Hong Kong is a much more recent part of the British narrative; one can watch the dismantling of Hong Kong’s constitution online and on the television; and an extremely good case can be made that the British government is more responsible for that mess and its potential amelioration than for the chaos in the Minneapolis police department. After all, the British can actually do something about it—as Boris Johnson’s pledge on immigration to the U.K. from Hong Kong indicates. So why Minneapolis, not Hong Kong?”
    • If we want better policing, we’re going to have to spend more, not less (Megan McArdle, Washington Post): “Reform is thus more likely to stick if we co-opt the unions rather than trying to break them. Instead of ‘defund the police,’ what if we offloaded the nonjudicial parts of their work, like dealing with the homeless and the mentally ill, to social workers, and then ‘stuffed their mouths with gold’ to reform the policing part? We could offer a significant salary boost in exchange for accepting stricter standards and oversight, which wouldn’t just ease the political obstacles, but possibly attract higher-quality candidates to the police force.”
    • Most Americans Want Police Reform But Don’t Back ‘Defund The Police’ (Ariel Edwards-Levy and Kevin Robillard, Huffington Post): “A near-universal majority of Americans support at least some changes to policing in the United States following the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. There is majority support for proposals circulating in Congress to ban chokeholds and make it easier to track and charge officers accused of misconduct. But the idea of ‘defunding the police’ has little support from the public.”
    • Police Brutality: The Ferguson Effect (Robert Verbruggen, National Review): “There’s a temptation in some quarters to think this issue is like gay marriage or marijuana legalization, where there’s a turning point in public opinion and a rapid shift in policy and then everyone wonders what the big deal ever was. See, for example, Tim Alberta’s piece in Politico today, which bizarrely claims we may be seeing the ‘last stand’ of law-and-order Republicans and draws those two parallels explicitly. But crime isn’t like that. When the streets become unsafe, public opinion shifts back in favor of the folks who stand between the innocents and the bad guys.”

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 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. First shared in volume 155.

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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). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. 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.