Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 162

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

Things Glen Found Interesting

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

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

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

Why Do You Send This Email?

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

Disclaimer

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

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

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

The Four Loves: Eros

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And later:

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

And again:

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

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

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

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

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

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 161

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

Things Glen Found Interesting

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

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have This Is What Makes Republicans and Democrats So Different (Vox, Ezra Klein): the title made me skeptical, but there are some good insights in this article (first shared in volume 32 back in 2016).

Why Do You Send This Email?

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

Disclaimer

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

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

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

The Four Loves: Friendship

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

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

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

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

Three comments before we dive in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God for your friends!

Next week, romantic love…

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 160

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. Democrats Are Wrong About Republicans. Republicans Are Wrong About Democrats. (Perry Bacon Jr., FiveThirtyEight): “Blacks made up about a quarter of the Democratic Party, but Republicans estimated the share at 46 percent. Republicans thought 38 percent of Democrats were gay, lesbian or bisexual, while the actual number was about 6 percent. Democrats estimated that 44 percent of Republicans make more than $250,000 a year. The actual share was 2 percent. People also overstated the numbers of these stereotypical groups within their own party — Democrats thought 29 percent of their fellow Democrats were gay, lesbian or bisexual — but they weren’t off by as much as members of the other party.”
  2. The Socialist Network (Gilad Edelman, Washington Monthly): “At the heart of the split between liberals and socialists, at least in theory, is the question of what to do about capitalism. Liberals tend to see it as something that needs to be fixed. Socialists see it as something to be defeated. They say they do, anyway. As we’ve seen, the Millennial socialist intellectuals aren’t really calling for government takeover of industry.”
  3. Affirming Disadvantage (John McWhorter, The American Interest): “Do I oppose affirmative action? Not at all. But I suggest that what we now ‘affirm’ is disadvantage suffered by all kinds of people.” The author is a linguistics professor at Columbia. He earned his Ph.D. at Stanford, btw.
  4. Culture War As Class War: How Gay Rights Reinforce Elite Power (Darel E. Paul, First Things): “Privileging the normalization of homosexuality rather than, say, racial integration allows elites to have their diversity cake and eat it, too.” The author is a professor of political science at Williams College.
  5. If You Care About NATO You Should Care About German Military Readiness (David French, National Review): “…Germany’s military made headlines when it used broomsticks instead of machine guns during a NATO exercise because of a shortage of equipment. The lack of real weapons in the European Union’s most populous nation was seen as symptomatic of how underfunded its military has long been.” This is scary.
  6. Learning From ‘The Final Pagan Generation’ (Rod Dreher, The American Conservative): this is a long and illuminating post. “Understand that we, like the final pagan generation [in ancient Rome], might think we are fighting for tolerance, but our opponents are fighting for victory. We have to change our tactics.” (emphasis removed)
  7. President Trump has nominated Brett Kavanaugh to be a Supreme Court Justice. I’ve got a lot of links here — just pick one or two.
    • It Took a Village to Raise Kavanaugh (David Brooks, New York Times): “Kavanaugh is the product of a community. He is the product of a conservative legal infrastructure that develops ideas, recruits talent, links rising stars, nurtures genius, molds and launches judicial nominees…. If you emphasize professional excellence first, if you gain a foothold in society’s mainstream institutions, if you build a cohesive band of brothers and sisters, you can transform the landscape of your field.”
    • As Trump picks Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, evangelicals rejoice: ‘I will vote for him again’ (Julie Zauzmer, Washington Post): “Many evangelical pastors and activists said they would have been pleased with any of the names reported to be on Trump’s shortlist for the nomination. After all, that was the gambit that won Trump so many evangelical votes in 2016: He made the unusual move of releasing, before he was even president, a list of judges he would consider for the Supreme Court if elected. And evangelicals liked what they saw.”
    • Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, explained (Dylan Matthews, Vox): “Kavanaugh continued to compile a legal record that would lead to Durbin’s description of him as ‘the Zelig or Forrest Gump of Republican politics. You show up at every scene of the crime … whether it is Elián González or the Starr Report, you are there.’”
    • Will Brett Kavanaugh Pass the Religious Right’s New Litmus Test? (Sarah Posner, The Nation): “Even without the Trump‐appointed Kennedy successor, the Court had already expanded ‘religious freedom’ to include previously unimagined religious rights.” This is an extremely misleading article, but interesting in the misunderstandings it reveals.
    • You’ll Hate This Post On Brett Kavanaugh And Free Speech (Ken White, Popehat): “Kavanaugh has been an appellate judge for 12 years and has written many opinions on free speech issues. They trend very protective of free speech, both in substance and in rhetoric.”
    • Judge Kavanaugh and the Second Amendment (David Kopel, Volokh Conspiracy): “Judge Kavanaugh’s text, history, and tradition methodology for Second Amendment cases will not please people who believe that all gun control is impermissible, nor will it please advocates who want to make the Second Amendment a second‐class right.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

I thought the Babylon Bee was exceptionally funny this week. Maybe I was just feeling giggly.

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Inside Graduate Admissions (Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschick): if you plan to apply to grad school, read this. There is one revealing anecdote about how an admissions committee treated an application from a Christian college student. My takeaway: the professors tried to be fair but found it hard to do, and their stated concerns were mostly about the quality of the institution rather than the faith of the applicant. Troubling nonetheless. (first shared in volume 32)

Why Do You Send This Email?

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

Disclaimer

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

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

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

The Four Loves: Affection

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

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

YouTube has something amazing in relation to this week’s reading: the man himself delivering the radio address upon which the chapter is based. Check out The Four Loves (‘Storge’ or ‘Affection’) (or you can read the transcript). You should at least listen to a few minutes if you’ve never heard the voice of Lewis before.

In this chapter, Lewis discusses the type of love described by the Greek word storge (στοργή). In English we would talk about affection or fondness. Interestingly (at least to me), this Greek word appears only in the negative in the New Testament. In both Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3 the word astorgos (ἄστοργος) is rendered by various translations as “heartless” or “unloving” or “without natural affection.” When your English translation of the New Testament contains the word affection it is probably representing splangxnon (σπλαγχηνον) instead. This doesn’t affect what Lewis says in the slightest. I just find it interesting.

On to what Lewis actually said.

The first thing that stood out to me was a pithy phrase: “They seal up the very fountain for which they are thirsty.” (page 769)

Lewis is speaking about people whose craving for affection is so intense that they push away the people around them. It’s something I’ve seen before, but the imagery Lewis uses is so evocative that it made me realize afresh how tragic it is. More than that, it made me pause and reflect on whether there are any areas of my life in which I am pursuing something so ineptly that I make success less likely with every attempt I make.

The next bit that stood out to me came near the end of the chapter. Lewis makes a point about our tendency to treat affection gone bad as a psychological problem.

I do not think we shall see things more clearly by classifying all these malefical states of Affection as pathological. No doubt there are really pathological conditions which make the temptation to these states abnormally hard or even impossible to resist for particular people. Send those people to the doctors by all means. But I believe that everyone who is honest with himself will admit that he has felt these temptations. Their occurrence is not a disease; or if it is, the name of that disease is Being a Fallen Man. In ordinary people the yielding to them—and who does not sometimes yield?—is not disease, but sin. Spiritual direction will here help us more than medical treatment. Medicine labours to restore “natural” structure or “normal” function. But greed, egoism, self‐deception and self‐pity are not unnatural or abnormal in the same sense as astigmatism or a floating kidney. For who, in Heaven’s name, would describe as natural or normal the man from whom these failings were wholly absent? “Natural,” if you like, in a quite different sense; archnatural, unfallen. We have seen only one such Man. And He was not at all like the psychologist’s picture of the integrated, balanced, adjusted, happily married, employed, popular citizen. You can’t really be very well “adjusted” to your world if it says you “have a devil” and ends by nailing you up naked to a stake of wood. (page 778)

As others have said, we live in a therapeutic age. We are conditioned to assume negative thoughts and emotions are psychological problems, but that’s not always true. I remember a quote from Carl Elliott that hit me like a thunderbolt when I was in grad school.

On Prozac, Sisyphus might well push the boulder back up the mountain with more enthusiasm and more creativity. I do not want to deny the benefits of psychoactive medication. I just want to point out that Sisyphus is not a patient with a mental health problem. To see him as a patient with a mental health problem is to ignore certain larger aspects of his predicament connected to boulders, mountains, and eternity. (UPDATE: I forget where I first saw this quote — I thought it was from The Atlantic in an article called  “The Pursuit of Happiness”, but it was published too late for that to be the case)

Sometimes negative thoughts and feelings are natural (one might even say healthy) responses to our situation, sometimes they are mistaken but not especially harmful, sometimes they are sinful, and sometimes they are the result of psychological problems. Be open to the full range of possibilities.  

Before winding this down, I’d like to highlight one more of Lewis’s insights. Early in the chapter as bit of an aside, Lewis says

The rivalry between all natural loves and the love of God is something a Christian dare not forget. God is the great Rival, the ultimate object of human jealousy; that beauty, terrible as the Gorgon’s, which may at any moment steal from me—or it seems like stealing to me—my wife’s or husband’s or daughter’s heart. The bitterness of some unbelief, though disguised even from those who feel it as anti‐clericalism or hatred of superstition, is really due to this. (page 767–768, emphasis added)

Some of your friends who are angry about religion are angry because they are jealous. Your friend is bent — perhaps without even realizing it — because someone’s love for God has created distance between them and your friend.  If you’re ever talking about God with someone and you can hear anger in their voice, bear this insight in mind. It might help explain what’s going on.

I’m loving the Lewis readings so far. Next week: the love between friends. 

P.S. If, perchance, you are behind on your readings then just skip ahead. Start keeping up now — you can always go back and read the parts you missed later.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 159

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. Police attacked me for stealing a car. It was my own. (Lawrence Crosby, Washington Post): “Every time I see the video from that October 2015 encounter, I experience fear, anger and terror. Fear that the color of my skin will make me out to be a criminal when I have broken no laws. Anger at the blatant disregard for human life and rights that the Constitution is supposed to guarantee to all citizens. Terror to have come — perhaps — within seconds of being shot by people sworn to serve and protect.” Lawrence is an alumnus of our Chi Alpha ministry. He just earned his Ph.D. at Northwestern in Materials Science and Engineering.
  2. Spiders Can Fly Hundreds of Miles Using Electricity (Ed Yong, The Atlantic): “They put the arachnids on vertical strips of cardboard in the center of a plastic box, and then generated electric fields between the floor and ceiling of similar strengths to what the spiders would experience outdoors.… Many of the spiders actually managed to take off, despite being in closed boxes with no airflow within them. And when Morley turned off the electric fields inside the boxes, the ballooning spiders dropped.”
  3. 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.”
  4. Why Sexism and Racism Never Diminish–Even When Everyone Becomes Less Sexist and Racist (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution): “When strong sexism declines, for example, the Overton window shrinks on one end and expands on the other so that what was once not considered sexism at all (e.g. ‘men and women have different preferences which might explain job choice’) now becomes violently sexist.”
  5. Forget About It (Corey Robin, Harper’s Magazine): “Ever since the 2016 presidential election, we’ve been warned against normalizing Trump. That fear of normalization misstates the problem, though. It’s never the immediate present, no matter how bad, that gets normalized — it’s the not‐so‐distant past.”
  6. A Time of Reckoning (Mary Eberstadt, The Weekly Standard): “Over the years, a great many people have claimed that sex is merely a private act between individuals. They’ve been wrong. We know now that private acts have cumulative public effects. Individual choices, such as having children out of wedlock, have ended up expanding the modern welfare state, for example, as the government has stepped in to support children who lack fathers. The explosion of sexual activity thanks to contraception has been accompanied by levels of divorce, cohabitation, and abortion never before seen in history.”

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 Reading The Whole Bible in 2016: A FAQ (Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor): How much time each day would it take you to read the entire Bible in a year? “There are about 775,000 words in the Bible. Divided by 365, that’s 2,123 words a day. The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute. So 2,123 words/day divided by 225 words/minute equals 9.4 minutes a day.” This article is full of good advice for what could be the best commitment you make all year. Do it! (first shared in volume 31 — useful for any year)

Why Do You Send This Email?

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

Disclaimer

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

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

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The Four Loves: Introduction and Chapter One

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

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

We live in an area that often overvalues the love of nature and undervalues the love of country. At the end of “Likings and Loves for the Sub‐human” (the first chapter of The Four Loves) Lewis makes some astute observations about each.

Concerning nature, he makes the claim that nature doesn’t teach us anything on its own.

If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach.… Overwhelming gaiety, insupportable grandeur, sombre desolation are flung at you. Make what you can of them, if you must make at all. The only imperative that nature utters is, “Look. Listen. Attend.” (page 755 in The C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)

While I think his main point is sound, he words things too strongly here. If I adopted this perspective as he phrased it, I wouldn’t be able to make sense of such passages as Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19.

  • Romans 1:20, “For 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.”
  • Psalm 19:1–2, “The heavens declare the glory of God;    the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech;    night after night they reveal knowledge.”

These and other Scriptures clearly teach that there are things God expects us to learn from nature. But there are not many of these things. Lewis is right that nature gives confusing messages — we can construct clever natural arguments for cruelty as well as for mercy.

Rather than looking to nature to provide our entire system of morality and meaning, Lewis says it is enough to allow nature to give us a framework for thinking:

Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one. I do not see how the “fear” of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags. And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed. (pages 755–756)

Good stuff and well worth pondering.

Lewis goes on to make some great observations about patriotism. Patriotism is a virtue for Christians as Douglas Wilson points out in his 2016 essay American Jesus:

Patriotism, rightly developed, is a duty that falls under the fifth commandment. I am to honor my father and mother, and this extends beyond them in such a way as to include my people, my tribe. Ordinary and ordered patriotism is not just okay; it is a duty, one that needs to be cultivated.

I highly commend that essay to you. Wilson is on point and adds all the caveats you might be worried about.

One of Lewis’s insights about patriotic love is that it allows us to love and respect people from other nations:

Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves. In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination it produces a good attitude towards foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realise that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realised that the Frenchmen like cafe complet just as we like bacon and eggs—why, good luck to them and let them have it. The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would not be home unless it were different.

And he has particularly strong words to say about those who try to replace the love of country with a commitment to higher ideals:

If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up.… If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world. (page 761)

Much of what Lewis says in this section reminds me of the way G.K. Chesterton talked about patriotism in Orthodoxy chapter 5, “The Flag of This World.” Chesterton’s point is that patriots see the flaws of their nation and grieve them. Because they love their nation they want to fix it.

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing—say Pimlico [Glen’s note: Pimlico is part of London]. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is THEIRS, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

So to summarize:

  • Nature is worthy of love but not worthy of worship. Our cultural celebration of environmentalism far to often runs beyond the concerns of ecology and veers into religious territory.
  • Nations are worthy of love but not worthy of worship, and we ought to cultivate a healthy and measured patriotism in ourselves whatever our homeland may be.

See you next week!