Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 458

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.

This is volume 458, a number with very few factors. 458 = 229 · 2.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. America’s Top Export May Be Anxiety (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic): “We’re seeing the international transmission of a novel Western theory of mental health. It’s the globalization of Western—and, just maybe, American—despair.… According to the podcast search engine Listen Notes, more than 5,500 podcasts have the word trauma in their title. In celebrity media, mental-health testimonials are so common that they’ve spawned a subgenre of summaries of celebrity mental-health testimonials, including ’39 Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About Mental Health,’ ‘What 22 Celebrities Have Said About Having Depression,’ and ’12 Times Famous Men Got Real About Mental Health.’ ”
    • Polymath Tyler Cowen called this “one of the best and most important pieces of the year.” Unlocked.
  2. How to get 7th graders to smoke (Adam Mastroianni, Substack): “Nobody thinks they can whip up an iPhone in their garage over the weekend, but most people think they know how to save the children, fix the schools, reform the prisons, overhaul healthcare, repair politics, restore civility, and bring about world peace. Perhaps that’s why we have iPhones and we don’t have any of those other things.”
    • This is a humbling essay.
  3. ChatGPT is bullshit (Michael Townsen Hicks, James Humphries & Joe Slater, Ethics and Information Technology): “The machines are not trying to communicate something they believe or perceive. Their inaccuracy is not due to misperception or hallucination. As we have pointed out, they are not trying to convey information at all. They are bullshitting.”
    • The authors are at the University of Glasgow. Apologies for the language, but the language is at the heart of the point the authors are making.
  4. No Longer Pitiable (Jared Hayden, Mere Orthodoxy): “For Paul, what makes singleness ‘better’ is not the absence of sex as such, for neither sex nor marriage is a sin, as he is at pains to show. Rather, singleness is the ‘happier’ state because it provides believers the opportunity to be ‘anxious about the things of the Lord’ rather than ‘worldly things’ because the ‘appointed time has grown very short.’ For Paul, all singles should live devoted to the Lord… one either leverages singleness for the Lord, like Paul; or one leverages it for worldly or sinful purposes, like idle widows (1 Tim 5:13).”
    • A theologically rich essay about singleness.
  5. Evolution May Be Purposeful And It’s Freaking Scientists Out (Andrea Morris, Forbes): “Noble is neutral on religious matters. Yet he sees compelling evidence that purpose may be fundamental to life. He’s determined to debunk the current scientific paradigm and replace the elevated importance of genes with something much more controversial. His efforts have enraged many of his peers but gained support from the next generation of origins-of-life researchers working to topple the reign of gene-centrism.”
  6. Some articles about the war in Gaza:
    • Israelis Are Not Watching the Same War You Are (Ezra Klein, New York Times): “We got used to Israel’s calmest decade, in terms of security and casualties. And all of a sudden, people understand that this was not feasible for the long run. That is to say that we will probably have to see more soldiers fighting in the north and in the south for the coming years, maybe decades. And there will be a death toll. It’s not going to be a permanent war but maybe a permanent state of ongoing operations.”
      • A fascinating (albeit a tad long) interview with an Israeli intellectual.
    • Getting Aid Into Gaza (German Lopez, New York Times): “Israel has enforced opaque rules that turn back trucks meant for Gaza, citing security concerns. Egypt has blocked aid to protest Israel’s military operations. Hamas has stolen, or tried to steal, aid shipments for its own use.”
      • A reasonably fair-minded article. Examines multiple perspectives.
  7. Abused by the badge (Jessica Contrera, Jenn Abelson, John D. Harden, Hayden Godfrey & Nate Jones, Washington Post): “A Washington Post investigation has found that over the past two decades, hundreds of law enforcement officers in the United States have sexually abused children while officials at every level of the criminal justice system have failed to protect kids, punish abusers and prevent additional crimes… The Post identified at least 1,800 state and local law enforcement officers who were charged with crimes involving child sexual abuse from 2005 through 2022.”
    • I have long said that the people throwing stones at the Roman Catholic Church for their sexual abuse crisis would be stunned with the far worse numbers on child sexual abuse in the public school system (and I stand by that). But I did not foresee this one and I should have. There is authority, therefore there is abuse of authority.
    • Unlocked.

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.


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.

The Screwtape Letters: Thirteen Through Nineteen

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

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

Lewis is on such a roll! This week we’re looking at letters thirteen through nineteen, and insights abound. I fear that if I don’t constrain myself I’ll just cut and paste all of the text.

I’ll limit myself to two excerpts from Lewis along with some brief commentary on them.

The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilizing the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel. (Letter 13, page 223)

Wow. I had forgotten Lewis said this. This is so good! The author to which Screwtape is alluding is Joseph Butler and you can see the source of the quote at Lewisiana.

Lewis is driving at this: the longer you mean to do something the less likely you are to do it. So get off your good intentions and do something you know you are supposed to do. Obedience unlocks insight. The more you do the more you will understand and then the more opportunities for obedience you will have. It’s a virtuous cycle.

You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue.…  The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. (Letter 14, page 225)

This reminds me of Romans 12:3, where Paul teaches us: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

That verse alone would change Stanford if it was taken seriously. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Instead, Paul says, think of yourself with sober judgment. In other words, self-awareness and honesty lay the foundation for humility. Don’t overestimate your competence but also don’t downplay it. And when you evaluate yourself soberly, do it “in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” I take that to mean that instead of subjectively comparing ourselves to others, we should measure ourselves against the objective standards of God’s Word and ultimately against the person of Jesus. That’s a whole sermon, though, and that’s not the point of these updates. I just want to remind you that Lewis has some amazing insights and encourage you to finish the summer readings strong!