Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 268

This installment can be titled “America In Decline, but the Bible Looking Pretty Solid. Also Australia.”

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.

After largely finishing this email I learned that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. I expect a TON of ink to be spilled on this and on whatever develops politically next week. Keep an eye out for thoughtful commentary and send it my way. Please do pray for her family and for our nation — an already tense election season just became even more fraught.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Does the Bible Pass the Bechdel Test? A Data-Driven Look at Women in the Story of Scripture (John Dyer, personal blog): “So does the Bible pass the Bechdel test? This short answer is: yes, there are scenes where two named women have a conversation not about a man. The longer answer is more complex, but also, I think, richer.” This is REALLY well done.
  2. Seven Deadly Sins, One Presidential Election (Bonnie Kristian, Christianity Today): “The seven deadly sins—wrath, sloth, pride, envy, greed, gluttony, and lust—as we now list them came to us in the Western church through Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, Pope Gregory the Great seven centuries prior, and a mystic named Evagrius two centuries before that…. The 2020 election gives occasion to deal with them all.”
  3. Ecological insights ignored:
    • They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen? (Elizabeth Weil, ProPublica): “Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California…. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.”
    • Is Plastic Recycling A Lie? Oil Companies Touted Recycling To Sell More Plastic (Laura Sullivan, NPR): “All of these problems [with recycling] have existed for decades, no matter what new recycling technology or expensive machinery has been developed. In all that time, less than 10 percent of plastic has ever been recycled. But the public has known little about these difficulties.”
    • Neither article is giving us much new information — I have heard knowledgeable people say similar things for quite some time now. The fact that we have not changed is disappointing but not surprising: politicians (like most people) “listen to science” when the findings of scientists align with their self-interest. The continued existence of these and other glaring problems in American life make me sad.
  4. EXCLUSIVE: Education Department opens investigation into Princeton University after president deems racism ’embedded’ in the school (Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner): “The Department of Education has informed Princeton University that it is under investigation following the school president’s declaration that racism was ‘embedded’ in the institution.”
  5. Statistics, lies and the virus: five lessons from a pandemic (Tim Harford, personal blog): “You can appreciate, I hope, my obsession with these two contrasting accounts of statistics: one as a trick, one as a tool.… Scepticism has its place, but easily curdles into cynicism and can be weaponised into something even more poisonous than that. “ Very good insights from a British economist.
  6. Racism Is Real. But Is “Systemic Racism”? That Time I Was Published by Newsweek—For Two Hours (Matthew Franck, Public Discourse): “If everyone in general but no one in particular is to blame, the few remaining actual racists among us are let off the hook. They’re no worse than the rest of us. Of course, unlike all of us who are invited to affirm our collective guilt for the ‘system,’ the truly guilty won’t feel guilty.”
    • The author is the Associate Director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University. This one is included mostly for the drama of it being published and then unpublished by Newsweek. There is an unhealthy intellectual climate at many of our major publications.
  7. When you browse Instagram and find former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s passport number (Alex Hope, personal website): “The point of this story isn’t to say ‘wow Tony Abbott got hacked, what a dummy’. The point is that if someone famous can unknowingly post their boarding pass, anyone can.” Surprisingly entertaining and informative.

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 A (Not So) Secular Saint (James K.A. Smith, Los Angeles Review of Books): “Mill’s legacy was effectively ‘edited’ by his philosophical and political disciples, excising any hint of religious life. One would never know from the canon in our philosophy departments, for example, that Mill wrote an appreciative essay on ‘Theism.’” First shared in volume 190.

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 266

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. Do You ‘Believe in Science’…or Not? (Jacob Hess, Public Square): “…what if we’re witnessing the true nature of science in its full glory? Not as an oracle that speaks in some monolithic voice. But as an argument—between otherwise thoughtful and good-hearted people all seeking truth, but reading the data differently, defining terms differently, emphasizing different indicators in determining what is true and trustworthy, etc. If so, rather than waiting for Science to declare the truth of a matter—maybe we need to start doing something else: Thinking for ourselves.” This was a much better article than I expected.
  2. Academics Are Really, Really Worried About Their Freedom (John McWhorter, The Atlantic): “One professor notes, ‘Even with tenure and authority, I worry that students could file spurious Title IX complaints … or that students could boycott me or remove me as Chair.’ I have no reason to suppose that he is being dramatic, because exactly this, he says, happened to his predecessor.” The author is a linguistics professor at Columbia.
    • Related: The Denial of Cancel Culture (Eric Kaufmann, Quillette): “Academics don’t discriminate more than other educated professionals, and the Right discriminates as much as the Left, but the fact the Left outnumbers the Right 6:1 (9:1 among current [social sciences and humanities] staff) means that conservatives and Leavers experience a far higher discriminatory effect than the left-liberal majority. On a four-person hiring panel, a Leaver faces an 80 percent chance of discrimination.” The author is a professor of politics at Birkbeck College in the UK.
  3. Articles Related To Race, Racism and Related Topics
    • American Christianity’s White-Supremacy Problem (David Luo, New Yorker): “…Christian nationalism is not the same as personal religiosity. In fact, religious commitment—as measured by church attendance, prayer, and Scripture reading—tends to improve attitudes on race, serving as a progressive influence. This suggests the root of the white church’s problem may not be ‘Christianity proper,’ as Douglass put it, so much as the culture around white Christianity, which narrows and diminishes the American project.” This article covers a lot of ground and not all of it with equal insight (or perhaps fairness is the word I’m looking for), but as a whole well-done.
    • Black Christians Play a Crucial Role in Athlete Activism (Paul Putz , Christianity Today): “While some black Christian athletes have abstained from the recent wave of activism in stadiums and arenas—Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, for example, cited his understanding of the gospel when declining to fully participate in a pre-game racial justice ceremony—far more have played a leading role.”
    • I was the woman surrounded by BLM protesters at a D.C. restaurant. Here’s why I didn’t raise my fist. (Lauren Victor, Washington Post): “Last week, I went out to dinner in D.C. with a friend. As we sat outside at a neighborhood restaurant, a group of protesters surrounded our table and demanded that I raise my fist in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. I had marched repeatedly in the past several months in support of their cause, but I refused their demands. That interaction wound up in a viral video that within 48 hours had been viewed more than 12 million times.” This is fascinating.
    • ‘You’re Not Allowed To Film’: The Fight for Control Over Who Reports From Portland (Nancy Rommelmann, Reason): “I cannot say who came up with these anti-camera battle cries. But it’s easy to understand why protesters use them: to shape the narrative the country sees about the protests. And that narrative, in my estimation after many weeks covering street clashes in a city where I lived for 15 years, is 90 percent [mendacious nonsense].”
    • Don’t take your guns to town, son (Tim Carney, Washington Examiner): “In life, there are horrible situations in which there are no good decisions or where it is extremely easy to make the wrong decision. So when we can avoid these horrible situations, we ought to.”
      • This is an insight with wide-ranging application. It’s why you shouldn’t bring guns to a protest and also why there are some parties on campus you shouldn’t go to.
    • Police reforms inspired by George Floyd face defeat in CA (Editorial Board, Sacramento Bee): “The legislators who authored these crucial reforms deserve support and recognition for walking the walk. But Californians must also remember the names of any legislators who took a knee to honor Black Lives Matter in front of the cameras and then, behind the scenes, bowed down to police groups to kill much-needed reforms.”
  4. The Social Fabric of the US Is Fraying Severely, if Not Unravelling (Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept): “Why is virtually every metric of mental and spiritual disease — suicide, depression, anxiety disorders, addiction, and alcoholism — increasing significantly, rapidly, in the richest country on earth, one filled with advanced technologies and at least the pretense of liberal democracy?”
  5. Boycotts Can’t Be a Test of Moral Purity (Zephyr Teachout, The Atlantic): “We don’t ask people to boycott libraries in order to change library rules; we don’t ask people to boycott highways to ask for them to be safer; we don’t demand that you buy only bottled water while protesting water-utility governance.” The delightfully-named author is a law prof at Fordham. Recommended by a student.
  6. On presidential politics:
    • What You Should Know About the 2020 Democratic Party Platform (Joe Carter, Gospel Coalition): “Why should Christians care about a document that few non-politicians will ever read? Because of the influence the two major party platforms have on public policy. While the platform is not binding on the presidential nominee or any other politicians, political scientists have found that over the past 30 years lawmakers in Congress tend to vote in line with their party’s platform: 89 percent of the time for Republicans, and 79 percent of the time for Democrats.“
    • What You Should Know About the 2020 Republican Party Platform (Joe Carter, Gospel Coalition): “This article will provide, without commentary, an outline of the Republican platform as it relates to several social issues. Every statement is either a direct quote or a summary of the platform’s position.”

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. America in one tweet:“We are living in an era of woke capitalism in which companies pretend to care about social justice to sell products to people who pretend to hate capitalism.” (Clay Routledge, Twitter) First shared in volume 186.

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.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 260

From naked protestors in Portland to slavery in China to theological reflections on conspiracy theories.

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’s Xinjiang Province a Moral Quandary for the West (Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review): “The attempt to place modern slaves in the supply chain of Western luxury goods is an attempt to implicate and morally geld Western nations who would criticize or punish the Chinese Communist Party for its crimes.”
  2. USS University (Scott Galloway, personal blog): “There is a dangerous conflation of the discussion about K‑12 and university reopenings. The two are starkly different. There are strong reasons to reopen K‑12, and there are stronger reasons to keep universities shuttered.“ The author is a business prof at NYU. Recommended by an alumnus.
    • Related: Colleges Are Getting Ready to Blame Their Students (Julia Marcus and Jessica Gold, The Atlantic): “Students will get infected, and universities will rebuke them for it; campuses will close, and students will be blamed for it. Relying on the self-control of young adults, rather than deploying the public-health infrastructure needed to control a disease that spreads easily among people who live, eat, study, and socialize together, is not a safe reopening strategy—and yelling at students for their dangerous behavior won’t help either.” The authors are professors at Harvard and Washington University, respectively. 
    • Vaguely related: Your State’s COVID Numbers In Context (PoliMath, Substack): “Headlines are allergic to context and the high-population states get all the attention because they show big numbers (because they are big states). When a smaller state gets any reporting, it is entirely outside any context. In Washington, it was reported that we had 754 new cases and 7 new deaths. Is that a lot? How does that compare to other states?” Very detailed and insightful. 
  3. Coronavirus, Conspiracy Theories, and the Ninth Commandment (David French, The Dispatch): “Christian teaching about our lives in our workplaces is not primarily about how to obtain a promotion, how to invest our money, or how to start a business. In other words, it’s not about the objectives of economic engagement, though those objectives are important. Instead, the focus is on ministering to colleagues, cultivating faith in adversity, and generally learning how to be salt and light even in sometimes hostile or intimidating environments. [But we don’t do this with politics.]” Recommended by an alumnus, this one was really good.
  4. 8 facts about religion and government in the United States (Dalia Fahmy, Pew Research Center): “While the U.S. Constitution does not mention God, every state constitution references either God or the divine. God also appears in the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance and on U.S. currency.” Recommended by a student.
  5. Where is the national news coverage of current surge of vandalism at Catholic churches? (Clemente Lisi, GetReligion): “Who’s responsible for this anti-Catholic violence? Is it Muslim terrorists? Neo-Nazis? Left-wing radicals? Are these isolated incidents or part of a coordinated attack? We don’t know because the elite newsrooms with the talent and resources to handle this kind of investigation are missing in action, in this case.… One has to wonder how these incidents would have been covered had they been mosques? What about public schools? Or say Planned Parenthood facilities?”
    • Related: Roman Catholics: The Original Abolitionists (Paul Kengor, Crisis Magazine): “Last weekend, one of Serra’s mission churches in California went up in flames, with the cause of the fire not yet known. In the last few days, a statue of Mary was set on fire in Boston and another was vandalized in Brooklyn (among others). As to what Mary has to do with the modern anti-statue-racism movement is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, if the issue is (rightly so) a just condemnation of slavery and racism, and if one is genuinely seeking accurate history, then today’s activists ought to look back in admiration at the impressive track record of the Roman Catholic Church.” The author is a professor of political science at Grove City College. The history of the Catholic Church on the issue of slavery is better than the Protestant church.
  6. What You Need To Know About The Battle of Portland (Robert Evans, Bellingcat): “I reported on the fighting in Mosul back in 2017, and what happened that night in the streets of Portland was, of course, not nearly as brutal or dangerous as actual combat. Yet it was about as close as you can get without using live ammunition.“ A significant qualifier at the end of that sentence, interesting nonetheless.
    • Portland’s protests were supposed to be about black lives. Now, they’re white spectacle. (E.D. Mondainé, Washington Post): “We welcome our white brothers and sisters in this struggle. In fact, we need them. But I must ask them to remain humbly attuned to the opportunity of this moment — and to reflect on whether any actions they take will truly help establish justice, or whether they are simply for show.” The author is president of the Portland branch of the NAACP.
    • Out of Portland tear gas, an apparition emerges, capturing the imagination of protesters (Los Angeles Times): “She emerged as an apparition from clouds of tear gas as federal agents fired pepper balls at angry protesters in the early Saturday darkness. A woman wearing nothing but a black face mask and a stocking cap strode toward a dozen heavily armed agents attired in camouflage fatigues, lined up across a downtown Portland street.” Portland gonna port.
    • Tangentially Related: American Crime and the Baltimore Model (Bret Stephens, New York Times): “Idealists may hope these changes will eliminate police brutality as communities find better ways to prevent crime than deterrence and force. But on the hunch that human nature hasn’t changed, that isn’t going to happen. Criminals, fearing less, will continue to prey on others. Police, fearing more, will hold back from doing their jobs. Those with means to leave their neighborhoods, will. Those without the means will suffer.”
  7. A new intelligentsia is pushing back against wokeness (Batya Ungar-Sargon, Forward): “The anti-woke Black intelligentsia is leading a counter-culture to a woke hegemony and the online culture that popularized it. But their views hew more closely to those of most Black Americans than the new antiracism. Polling has long indicated that white liberals express radically more liberal views on racial and social issues than their Black and Latino neighbors.” Very interesting interviews.
    • Related: The Left is Now the Right (Matt Taibbi, Substack): “Things we once despised about the right have been amplified a thousand-fold on the flip. Conservatives once tried to legislate what went on in your bedroom; now it’s the left that obsesses over sexual codicils, not just for the bedroom but everywhere. Right-wingers from time to time made headlines campaigning against everything from The Last Temptation of Christ to ‘Fuck the Police,’ though we laughed at the idea that Ice Cube made cops literally unsafe… today Matt Yglesias signing a group letter with Noam Chomsky is considered threatening.”
    • Related: When Wokes and Racists Actually Agree on Everything (Ryan Long Comedy, YouTube) : two minutes of brilliance

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 Dissolving the Fermi Paradox (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex): “Imagine we knew God flipped a coin. If it came up heads, He made 10 billion alien civilization. If it came up tails, He made none besides Earth. Using our one parameter Drake Equation, we determine that on average there should be 5 billion alien civilizations. Since we see zero, that’s quite the paradox, isn’t it? No. In this case the mean is meaningless. It’s not at all surprising that we see zero alien civilizations, it just means the coin must have landed tails. SDO say that relying on the Drake Equation is the same kind of error.”  First shared in volume 159.

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 237

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. “My Gang Is Jesus” (Alex Cuadros, Harpers Magazine): “A year ago, I flew to Rio and followed Martins around for a few weeks as he preached. I hoped to reconcile two competing narratives of the evangelical church’s role in the favelas. For the country’s poor, all but neglected by the state, churches serve not only as a source of spiritual salvation but as a haven of last resort—a place to find community, job tips, and counseling, or simply to gather and sing without fear of violence. Yet stories of crooked pastors abound in the new Brazil; in recent years, several have been caught transporting weapons for the drug trade. While many gang members find in Jesus the courage to quit this life, others seem to have internalized a skewed set of biblical lessons, even committing acts of violence in Jesus’ name.”
  2. Religious Liberty: Not Just for Social Conservatives (David French, The Dispatch): “The beauty of civil liberties case law is that each lawful exercise of liberty reinforces another. So it is with this case. Progressives will likely cheer that these four activists will escape punishment for saving immigrant lives. And which cases helped them win? One of them was Hobby Lobby—an assertion of religious freedom by Christian conservatives against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, a cause that many progressives despised.”
  3. Loving to Know (N.T. Wright, First Things): “The scientist may be fascinated by the way a cancer cell grows, but that fascination will increase his determination to stop it in its tracks. The historian may be intrigued by the causes of the First World War, but she may well hope that her investigation of the complex tangle of motivations will help us spot future warning signs. And the parent who enjoys watching the child climbing a tree will, as a matter of love, simultaneously affirm the child’s freedom and seek to mitigate any clear danger. Love is always on the lookout.” This article is a little uneven but very insightful at places.
  4. Educated Fools (Thomas Geoghegan, The New Republic): “Meritocracy has its own deep state—with secrets unknown even to those of us who are part of it. And the worst thing is the way it can taunt the working class with the ideals of the Enlightenment, when it is we meritocratic liberals who have the greatest interest in limiting its spread. We think we’re acting in such good faith in pushing for college and even community college education. But real salvation can be offered only to a few, on a retail, not a wholesale, basis: Instead of raising people up collectively, we’re being careful to do it one diploma at a time.
”
    • The author’s blindness to the continued existence of churches stood out to me. “There is no foothold left in big cities, or anyplace else where the global winners live, for high school graduates to exercise even a tiny bit of power. There’s no church to slot into as a deacon…” (emphasis added) Fact check: churches are flourishing in big cities.
  5. Nigeria is a killing field of defenseless Christians (Religion Unplugged): “The list of Nigerian Christians slaughtered, shot dead, hacked to death, strangled and tortured to death, grows by the day. From villages in the arid Northern Nigeria to hamlets in the lush Savannah South, wailing, mourning, and curses pierce the air, while tears fall from tired eyes.”
    • Related: All Across Nigeria, Christians Marched Sunday to Protest Persecution (Jayson Casper, Christianity Today): “Adeboye and his congregation, one of the largest in the world, answered the call issued by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for a three-day fast this past weekend, concluding in a prayer walk. Based on reports from its state chapters and local media, CAN estimates 5 million people marched in 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states on Sunday.”
  6. The Enemies of Writing (George Packer, The Atlantic): “Fear breeds self-censorship, and self-censorship is more insidious than the state-imposed kind, because it’s a surer way of killing the impulse to think, which requires an unfettered mind. A writer can still write while hiding from the thought police. But a writer who carries the thought police around in his head, who always feels compelled to ask: Can I say this? Do I have a right? Is my terminology correct? Will my allies get angry? Will it help my enemies? Could it get me ratioed on Twitter?—that writer’s words will soon become lifeless.”
  7. 11 Reasons Not to Become Famous (or “A Few Lessons Learned Since 2007”) (Tim Ferriss, personal blog): “In that short span of time, my monthly blog audience had exploded from a small group of friends (20–30?) to the current size of Providence, Rhode Island (180,–200,000 people). Well, let’s dig into that. What do we know of Providence? Here’s one snippet from Wikipedia, and bolding is mine: ‘Compared to the national average, Providence has an average rate of violent crime and a higher rate of property crime per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2010, there were 15 murders, down from 24 in 2009. In 2010, Providence fared better regarding violent crime than most of its peer cities. Springfield, Massachusetts, has approximately 20,000 fewer residents than Providence but reported 15 murders in 2009, the same number of homicides as Providence but a slightly higher rate per capita.’ The point is this: you don’t need to do anything wrong to get death threats, rape threats, etc. You just need a big enough audience. Think of yourself as the leader of a tribe or the mayor of a city. The averages will dictate that you get a certain number of crazies, con artists, extortionists, possible (or actual) murderers, and so on.”

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 How Can I Learn To Receive – And Give – Criticism In Light Of The Cross? (Justin Taylor, Gospel Coalition): “A believer is one who identifies with all that God affirms and condemns in Christ’s crucifixion. In other words, in Christ’s cross I agree with God’s judgment of me; and in Christ’s cross I agree with God’s justification of me. Both have a radical impact on how we take and give criticism.” This is based on a longer article (4 page PDF). (first shared in volume 63)

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 233

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.

I had hoped to include some stuff on Iran but that didn’t happen. Too much other interesting stuff came up.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Historian as Moralist (Yuval Levin, National Review): “Properly understood, the moralist calls society to its highest self, perhaps especially by helping a society understand the ways in which what it thinks are its strengths are actually its weaknesses. And an effective moralist would do this in an engaging and compelling way. The ablest moralist is thus almost inevitably a kind of intellectual.” This was much better than I expected.
  2. Scam Lures Speakers to Fake UK Church Conferences (Kate Shellnut, Christianity Today): “This email scheme has become the “Nigerian prince” offer of the Christian speaking circuit, with hundreds of US Christian leaders invited to events at UK churches by scammers who hope to collect hundreds of dollars in visa fees ahead of the purported conferences.” What a niche scam! I wonder if this exists for other professions.
  3. China: Statement from Early Rain Covenant Church regarding Pastor Wang Yi’s severe sentence (Adam Ford, Disrn): “In Christ, we issue the following exhortation and protest against Pastor Wang Yi’s severe sentence. Do you government officials not know that this is a sin against God? Do you not know that this is an abuse of your authority (Rom. 13:3)? Even so, we do not hate you. On the contrary, our merciful and righteous God wants us to love you and to pray for you.”
  4. Having Kids (Paul Graham, personal blog): “I remember perfectly well what life was like before. Well enough to miss some things a lot, like the ability to take off for some other country at a moment’s notice. That was so great. Why did I never do that? See what I did there? The fact is, most of the freedom I had before kids, I never used. I paid for it in loneliness, but I never used it.” 
  5. The Big Farmer Bailout Was Never Debated (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution): “This is a telling example of how politics works–the process rather than the fundamental question determines much of the outcome.” Fascinating. 
  6. Too much transparency makes the world more opaque. (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution): “The demand for transparency seems so innocuous. Who could be against greater transparency? But transparency is inimical to privacy. And we care about privacy in part, because we can be more honest and truthful in private than in public.”
  7. 1776 Honors America’s Diversity in a Way 1619 Does Not (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic): “My own judgment diverges somewhat from the main rival factions in this debate. Like many critics, I hope the Times Magazine’s work succeeds in causing more Americans to recognize the remarkable faith that African Americans showed in our country’s promise even in eras when America least deserved it. Yet the core reframing that the 1619 Project advocates would unwittingly set back, rather than advance, the causes of equity and racial inclusion.”

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). 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 232

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’ve missed sending this email due to holiday travels for a while, and I’ve got nothing on Iran yet. Too much is happening and I’m in a remote place with limited internet access. Anything you find great please send my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Problem Isn’t the ‘Merit,’ It’s the ‘Ocracy’ (Tanner Greer, personal blog): “The American system of government was built on the assumption that the most salient political divides would reflect geography, not ideology or class. The senator from Massachusetts would share bonds in common with the lay citizenry of Boston that he did not share with a senator from South Carolina. On the national sphere this would allow him to represent the interests of his constituents as if they were his own. This has proven more true at some times in American history than others; yet because of the way American politicians are elected, this sense of representing the interests of a geographically bounded group of people is more true in the political arena than in most others.” Highly recommended.
  2. Decade in review: Marital norms erode (Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George, USA Today): “Law shapes culture; culture shapes beliefs; beliefs shape action. The law now effectively teaches that mothers and fathers are replaceable, that marriage is simply about consenting adult relationships, of whatever formation the parties happen to prefer. This undermines the truth that children deserve a mother and a father — one of each.”
    • Follow-up by Rod Dreher: Family, Memory, Power (Rod Dreher, The American Conservative): “If you’re one of those people with a habit of saying, nobody has ever explained how all this is going to hurt heterosexual me, this is a good basic place to start. Morality is an ecology. This is the equivalent of injecting something into the groundwater. It may be a good thing, or it may be a bad thing, but it does affect everybody. People who say it doesn’t are lying — perhaps to themselves.”
    • That follow-up inspired Professor George to reply: The Shame Of The Conformists (this is on Dreher’s blog): “Someone might say, ‘this is no time for recriminations.’ Well, I don’t agree. This is precisely the time for recriminations. Indeed, there was never a better time. Standing boldly for what is true and good and right and just is everybody’s job. It’s not just ‘other people’s’ job. Especially to my fellow Christians I say, it is OUR job. It comes with the Gospel territory. You say ‘it’s hard’? Of course, it’s hard. But who ever told you that Christian discipleship was not going to be hard? Or risky? Or costly? Not Jesus, that’s for sure. He told us–in the most explicit terms–that it was going to be hard–very hard–and risky, and costly. “
  3. Yes, Jesus Was a Refugee. He Still Is. (Tyler Huckabee, Relevant): “When most people talk about Jesus being a refugee, they’re not talking about Bethlehem but the family’s flight to Egypt. Some time after his birth, Herod got panicky about rumors of a new king and sent soldiers to kill all the newborns in Bethlehem. An angel warned Joseph and Mary to hightail it to Egypt where they could safely lay low. Egypt made for an ideal hiding place, connected to Judea via a well-traveled and relatively safe trade route known as the Via Maris. The argument for Mary and Joseph’s refugee status here is about as strong as it could be under the circumstances.”
  4. Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2019 (Gordon Govier, Christianity Today): “…many of the mainstream media stories announcing these discoveries acknowledged that the Bible was right all along or right after all in these instances. Archaeologist Nelson Glueck’s declaration that ‘no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference’ still stands.”
  5. Some follow-ups to the Christianity Today article I shared last time calling for Trump’s removal from office:
    • The Flag in the Whirlwind: An Update from CT’s President (Tim Dalrymple, Christianity Today): “In a political landscape dominated by polarization, hostility, and misunderstanding, we believe it’s critical for Christians to model how to have a firm opinion and host free discussion at the same time. Evangelicals of different stripes cannot continue to shout one another down, bully those who disagree, or exclude one another and refuse to listen. We hold fast to our view that the wholehearted evangelical embrace of Trump has been enormously costly—but we are committed to irenic conversation with men and women of good faith who believe otherwise.”
      • Side note: the author was a gymnast at Stanford who was actively involved in campus ministry while here (his time preceded my tenure at Chi Alpha, to my knowledge we have never met or even been in the same ZIP code). There’s an article about his story back in volume 191
    • What It Would Take for Evangelicals to Turn on President Trump (Michael Luo, New Yorker): “…though greater religiosity is correlated with Christian-nationalist beliefs, once those beliefs are accounted for, Americans who engaged in more frequent religious practice—church attendance, prayer, and bible reading—were less likely than their less observant peers to subscribe to political views normally associated with Christian nationalism, such as believing that refugees from the Middle East pose a terrorist threat to the United States, or that illegal immigrants from Mexico are mostly dangerous criminals. In other words, Whitehead and Perry find that the threat to democratic pluralism is not evangelicalism itself but the culture around evangelicalism.”
    • Evangelicalism’s Silent Majority (Emma Green, The Atlantic): “One of my big takeaways from reporting on evangelical communities is that, contrary to some stereotypes, evangelicals are some of the most globally minded people in America. They donate to charities that do extensive aid work overseas. They’re exposed to other countries through mission work or humanitarian trips.”
    • Trump Should Not Be Removed from Office: A Response to Mark Galli and Christianity Today (Wayne Grudem, Townhall): “If evangelicals fail to support Donald Trump after he has delivered on so many issues important to Christian values, many people will conclude that we really do not care about conservative judges, the protection of the unborn, the protection of gender distinctions, religious freedom, conscience protections for Christians in the workplace, a strong enough military to protect us against threats from China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran, jobs,wages, economic opportunities for minorities, a secure border, Israel, affordable energy (especially for the poor), energy independence, the protection of property rights, expanding parental choice for schools, revitalizing NATO, protecting freedom of speech on campuses, and many other things. Galli dismisses these concerns with the label ‘political expediency,’ but all of these issues affect people’s ordinary lives. These issues really do matter. On issue after issue, President Trump is changing the direction of the country for the better. When I weigh these results against his sometimes imprecise and coarse speech, there is no comparison.”
    • Where Cain Got His Wife, and Other Issues Related to the 2020 Election (Douglas Wilson, personal blog): “As mentioned above, I did not vote for the president in 2016. I did not vote for him because character matters, and because I did not trust him to do what he was promising to do…. And with that said, I have to acknowledge I was wrong… If anything, the great mass of evangelical voters have demonstrated that they actually have a better set of political instincts than their leaders, me included.”
  6. My Semester With the Snowflakes (James Hatch, Medium): “In May of 2019, I was accepted to the Eli Whitney student program at Yale University. At 52, I am the oldest freshman in the class of 2023. Before I was accepted, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the infamous YouTube video of students screaming at a faculty member. I had seen the news stories regarding the admissions scandal and that Yale was included in that unfortunate business. I had also heard the students at Yale referred to as ‘snowflakes’ in various social media dumpsters and occasionally I’d seen references to Ivy League students as snowflakes in a few news sources.” (there’s an interesting follow-up interview with him on NPR)
  7. Two academic things I found interesting:
    • Comparing meta-analyses and preregistered multiple-laboratory replication projects (Amanda Kvarven, Eirik Strømland & Magnus Johannesson, Nature Human Behavior): “We compare the results of meta-analyses to large-scale preregistered replications in psychology carried out at multiple laboratories. The multiple-laboratory replications provide precisely estimated effect sizes that do not suffer from publication bias or selective reporting. We searched the literature and identified 15 meta-analyses on the same topics as multiple-laboratory replications. We find that meta-analytic effect sizes are significantly different from replication effect sizes for 12 out of the 15 meta-replication pairs. These differences are systematic and, on average, meta-analytic effect sizes are almost three times as large as replication effect sizes.” uh-oh. 
    • The Many Faces of Scientific Fraud (Nicolas Chevassus-au-Louis, Quillette): “Is every scientific article a fraud? This question may seem puzzling to those outside the scientific community. After all, anyone who took a philosophy course in college is likely to think of laboratory work as eminently rational. The assumption is that a researcher faced with an enigma posed by nature formulates a hypothesis, then conceives an experiment to test its validity…. However, as every researcher knows, it is pure falsehood. In reality, nothing takes place the way it is described in a scientific article. The experiments were carried out in a far more disordered manner, in stages far less logical than those related in the article. If you look at it that way, a scientific article is a kind of trick.” The author has a Ph.D. in biology and this is an excerpt from a book he is publishing with Harvard University Press.

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). 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.

Celebration of Discipline: Study & Foreword

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer‐reading‐project‐2019. The schedule is online.

book cover - Celebration Of Discipline

“Jesus made it unmistakably clear that the knowledge of the truth will set us free. ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (John 8:32). Good feelings will not free us. Ecstatic experiences will not free us. Getting ‘high on Jesus’ will not free us. Without a knowledge of the truth, we will not be free.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 63

This week we come to the discipline of study. Foster’s definition of study is a little wordy and hand-wavy for me. I think what he’s getting at is this: study is thinking deeply about something until we understand it and its significance. When done well, it changes the way we think in the future.

Here are some suggestions:

  • While you are young, read a few “how to think” books. If you are fortunate, these will be assigned in some of your classes. If they are not, they are worth seeking out on your own. Don’t assume that just because you got into Stanford and are getting decent grades that you’re all set in this area. How To Read A Book by Adler is solid gold, as is anything by Richard Mitchell (aka The Underground Grammarian). Start with Less Than Words Can Say (legally available online). I think my favorite thing of his is “The Land of We All” from The Gift of Fire. I remember finding Stanovich’s How To Think Straight About Psychology helpful when I was in college, as I did Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies.
  • Resolve to read books by dead people. C. S. Lewis’s introduction to Athanasius’ On The Incarnation explains why well: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. 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…. 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.” His introduction is available many places online and I highly recommend it- https://www.bhmc.org.uk/uploads/9/1/7/7/91773502/lewis-incarnation-intro.pdf
  • Really do make it your goal to pass an ideological Turing test on every major issue: be able to articulate any position you reject so clearly that a well-informed observer would think you really believe it. You cannot meaningfully say “I agree” or “I disagree” until you can say “I understand.”
  • If you follow current events, an excellent practice is to write down what you think the outcomes of a certain policy or decision are likely to be. Then go back a few months later and compare your predictions with reality. You’ll learn a lot about your blind spots and assumptions. Also write down what you would do if you were in charge and what you think would likely happen. This is more uncertain, but you will start to notice ways that reality surprises you and would have affected your plans. The key in either case is writing it down — don’t trust your memory. Written words have an outrageous stubbornness that does not permit you to believe you thought something different than you actually did.

Some tips for studying the Bible in particular:

  • Foster recommends picking a book of the Bible and reading it every day for a month. This isn’t as daunting as it may seem. The average person reads about 250 words per minute and the book of Ephesians has a little under 2,500 words. Depending on your reading speed, you can go from beginning to end in 10 minutes.
  • No time to sit down and read? Consider an audio Bible. The first audiences of the Bible heard it orally, and so you’re just following in their footsteps.
  • Get a simple one-volume Bible commentary to help you with the challenging parts. You can find an excellent set of suggestions at Best Bible Commentaries.
  • If you wind up going into ministry, invest in a more substantive set of commentaries. Commentaries can be quite expensive, so first get a one-volume overview and then build on it over time.
    • Here’s what I do: whenever I start a new sermon series, I get two or three new commentaries to help me prepare. I go to bestcommentaries.com and choose from among the highest-rated ones labeled P or D. So if I needed a commentary on 1 Corinthians, I would go to https://www.bestcommentaries.com/1‑corinthians/ and buy either Fee or Garland or both. It’s easier to do this when you’re preaching through books of the Bible (a series on James, for example). If you’re doing topical stuff then think about what one of your main passages will be and buy a commentary for that book of the Bible. Over time you’ll build a very solid library that way.
    • Avoid buying entire commentary sets; even the best series are uneven. It’s wiser to buy the best few commentaries for each book of the Bible.
  • Supplement your purchased commentaries with the amazing (and free) set of notes compiled by Dallas Seminary professor Thomas Constable. Download the PDF versions to your hard drive and you’ll even have access to them when you’re on a retreat or a mission trip somewhere.

I suspect Stanford students have a harder time with the discipline of study than with almost any of the others, because studying for grades becomes so consuming. I frequently talk with students who lament their inability to read the books they want to read. It’s important to remember that Foster believes all study can be spiritually beneficial — even studying for grades. If nothing else, you’re developing skills in this season that will serve you well for the rest of your life.

Also, bear in mind that you can often choose to focus your studies in a class in a way that will be spiritually beneficial. Taking a class on democracy? Use it as an opportunity to engage with Woodberry’s work on the religious roots of democratic governance. Taking a class on African-American history in the 1900’s? Read about the black church. Studying the philosophy of science? Read what Christians have said about it. Skim our resource The Gospel and Green Library to find suggested books on a wide range of topics.

And if you know you’re going to struggle during the school year, take advantage of the summer to do some serious spiritual reading beyond the summer reading project!

A few notes on the foreword:

Skipping back many pages to the foreword… I really like what Foster says here. I had us save it until now because his thoughts seem linked to the idea of study to me — the foreword is an extended reflection on the nature of the spiritual disciplines. I will close with a few comments on this excerpt:

It is critical for us to understand that the Spiritual Disciplines possess no moral rectitude or righteousness in and of themselves. They are, most definitely, not “works righteousness,” as is sometimes said. They place us–body, mind, and spirit–before God. That is all. The results of this process are all of God, all of grace. Now, the opposite of grace is “works.” Works has to do with earning, and there simply is nothing we can ever do to earn God’s approval. Or God’s love.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pages xiv-xv

As Dallas Willard once said, grace is opposed to earning not effort. 2 Peter 1:3–8 charts out the relationship between grace and effort nicely: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life… for this very reason make every effort to add to your faith goodness…”

His grace provides all that we need, therefore we should strive with all of our might. He gives us the platform upon which to stand, therefore we must stand to our full height.

Next week we move from the inner to the outer disciplines as we discuss living with simplicity. Get ready!

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 206

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. 30 Years After Tiananmen, a Chinese Military Insider Warns: Never Forget (Chris Buckley, New York Times): “…Ms. Jiang’s decision to challenge the silence carries an extra political charge because she is not only an army veteran but also the daughter of the military elite. Her father was a general, and she was born and raised in military compounds. She proudly enlisted in the People’s Liberation Army about 50 years ago, and in photos from her time as a military journalist, she stands beaming in her green army uniform, a notebook in hand and camera hanging from her neck.”
  2. Clarence Thomas’s Dangerous Idea (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “And in any other area of policy Thomas’s point about how legal abortion appears, in the aggregate, to act in racist and eugenic ways would be taken as an indicator that something more than just emancipation is at work. ”
  3. If you have not been following it, a remarkable argument has developed in the world of religious conservative intelligentsia. The quickness with which others have jumped into shows that there’s a real division here.
    • Against David French-ism (Sohrab Ahmari, First Things): “Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.”
    • What Sohrab Ahmari Gets Wrong (David French, National Review): “I firmly believe that the defense of these political and cultural values must be conducted in accordance with scriptural admonitions to love your enemies, to bless those who persecute you, with full knowledge that the ‘Lord’s servant’ must be ‘kind to everyone, able to teach, and patiently endure evil.’”
    • What A Clash Between Conservatives Reveals (Alan Jacobs, The Atlantic): “It’s important to note that Ahmari sees the differences between him and French as rooted, ultimately, in their different Christian traditions: Catholicism for Ahmari—who recently published a memoir of his conversion—and evangelical Protestantism. But whether this is indeed the heart of the matter, the dispute so far hasn’t fallen out that way. Some Catholics are with French, some Protestants with Ahmari.”
      • A follow-up piece Jacobs published on his own blog, well worth reading on its own. Fair Play To You (Alan Jacobs, personal blog): “Conscience exemptions ain’t what they used to be — about that there is surely no disagreement. The dispute is simply whether that’s good or bad.” This post contains a beautiful imaginary dialog which I highly commend to you — read that if you read nothing else.
    • The Ahmari/French debate: A reading list (Joe Carter, Acton Institute): the level of debate this has kicked off is amazing. Click here to see all the ins and outs.
  4. These Men Say the Boy Scouts’ Sex Abuse Problem Is Worse Than Anyone Knew (Eliana Dockterman, Time): “‘They were reporting…that they were a wholesome organization,’ says Tim Kosnoff, one of the attorneys, ‘when they were kicking out child molesters at the rate of one every two days for 100 years.’”
  5. Deepfake Propaganda Is Not A Real Problem (Russell Brandom, The Verge): “In any of these cases, attackers had the motive and the resources to produce a deepfake video. The technology is cheap, easily available, and technically straightforward. But given the option of fabricating video evidence, each group seems to have decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Instead we saw news articles made up from whole cloth, or videos edited to take on a sinister meaning.”
  6. There was a controversy recently when Trump showed up at a church and the pastor prayed for him.
    • On Praying for the President (Emma Green, The Atlantic): “What’s remarkable about this prayer is not that it happened, but that it shows how thoroughly the Trump era has opened the way for cynicism and outrage over even mundane, predictable Christian behavior.”
    • David Platt Asks God to Grant Trump ‘All the Grace He Needs to Govern’ (Kate Shellnut, Christianity Today): “Platt is in an interesting position. For years, he’s preached against the American focus on “self-advancement, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency” and “individualism, materialism, and universalism.” And now he’s the pastor of a suburban Washington congregation full of Christians who work on the Hill, a place once deemed ‘a holy destination for GOP senators and Bush aides.’”
    • Prayer For The President (David Platt): this is Platt’s letter to the congregation explaining his actions. “At the end of my sermon at the 1:00 worship gathering, I stepped to the side for what I thought would be a couple of moments in quiet reflection as we prepared to take the Lord’s Supper. But I was immediately called backstage and told that the President of the United States was on his way to the church, would be there in a matter of minutes, and would like for us to pray for him.”
    • In case you’re wondering, I would 100% have done what Platt did. And I would have done it for Obama, Clinton, Bush, or whoever. I would have done it for Nero. I cannot understand how this is controversial or is being perceived as partisan.
  7. Asymmetric Weapons Gone Bad (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex): “Every day we do things that we can’t easily justify. If someone were to argue that we shouldn’t do the thing, they would win easily. We would respond by cutting that person out of our life, and continuing to do the thing.” This entire series of articles (this is the fourth, the others are linked at the top of it) is 100% worth reading. It’s a very interesting way to think about the limits of reason and the wisdom hidden in tradition.

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 Ian McEwan ‘dubious’ about schools studying his books, after he helped son with essay and got a C+ (Hannah Furness, The Telegraph): this is a real article. First shared in volume 151.

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.