Monday, February 19, 2018


I have argued against the validity of a person claiming to be tolerant when they are clearly intolerant of POV's they consider intolerant.  "I can tolerate anything but intolerance," and all that.

Yet I think I understand it, thinking about it on my walk today.  I am judgemental of people who are judgemental.  I don't much judge sins, as I am deeply aware of human frailty and root self-centeredness. People do lots of terrible things.  I don't pretend to be able to keep my temper and gently encourage repentance on all of them, but I think I tend that way.  Yet I lose my temper quickly at those who are quick to accuse and quick to assume bad motives. Those who are quick to adopt the prophetic voice and call the church or the nation or the world back into righteousness.  Some Christians have been the conscience of the larger group, and done great good. Just be sure you are right in that prophecy, and not just stating the preferences of your family, your group, your tribe.  Because the penalty for false prophecy is supposed to be death. Remember?

I very much don't like it when folks too readily set themselves up as a judge over others - when they claim to be simply stating facts but are being insulting; when they claim they know what Jesus would have others do.

I'd rather err on that side.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Young woman at church is suddenly fascinated by the boy-band BTS.  Some of the band's songs show more of a hip-hop influence, especially in the dance moves, but the tune with the most hits - 230 million and counting - sounds like Europop to me.

In fact, it reminds me of this, from Romania 13 years ago.

Androgynous-looking boys practicing masculine displays are age-appropriate viewing targets for girls. Safe pretending to be dangerous. It's been true for some time.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Owen Barfield on C S Lewis

On C S Lewis, by Owen Barfield

Barfield was one of Lewis's longest and closest friends, an Inkling and one of the companions on the walking tours of the 20's & 30's. Lewis praised his intellect and declared he was much indebted to him for opening out ideas of imagination to him early in his career. I have much wanted to like Barfield, and he seems a decent individual, but I have never much warmed to him.  I have never found anthroposophy in the least persuasive, too reliant on mysticism and even a bit occultic. He seemed to my naive mind a bad influence on Lewis, though I suspect Jack was up to the task of resisting anything heterodox.

I did learn some things from this collection of nine essays.  I was surprised to learn that Lewis's expression and tone of voice changed little while conversing.  He was not dramatic. Barfield denies he was much influence on Lewis after the initial years, and despite Jack's characterisation in Surprised By Joy of "The Great War" as an ongoing intellectual battle, Barfield claims they never discussed the items of contention after the 1930's at all.  He concluded that Lewis kept up the discussion himself, in his own thought, not needing much assistance. This would be consistent with the view of the other Inklings, especially Tolkien, that Lewis liked many books which were not all that good, because he supplied a good deal of the imagination and logical argument himself.

That's about it. I gained something from the 1st and 2nd essays ("C. S. Lewis" 1964; "C. S. Lewis in Conversation" 1971) and the 8th ("The Five C. S. Lewises."), but the rest were of little interest.  Unless you are already much taken by philosophy, and its discussions of precise definitions of unusual terms, or the influence of Coleridge's thought - or if you are well-enough versed in anthroposophy that its topics come naturally to you, I don't recommend the book.

Collusion and Obstruction

Andrew McCarthy continues to provide clarity. I appreciate him giving some credit to his opposition, that their acts might not have been simply partisan and evil, even if they are wrong.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

New Testament Gods

I covered the Old Testament understanding of not having other gods and not making any graven images, in Molten Gods last week. After the Captivity in Babylon those were no longer an issue, though they were still used for divination.  Divination continued to be a problem up until Jesus's time, and continuing on into our days as well.

From the Catholic Catechism: All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. (Emphasis mine.  Oh well, there goes my preferred superpower of time travel. Though I suppose any superpower might have the same effect.)

There are a few things that get described as other gods in the NT.  I could make the argument that the Book of Jude is largely a warning that worshiping other gods leads to disobeying all the other Declarations.*

Jesus identifies money, or Mammon, as a rival god.  Matthew 6:24-34
v. 24 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Also Luke 16:13)
We might regard wealth as something of a cross between a physical and an abstract God, but Jesus names him and makes it sound personal, as if he were talking about Zeus or Apollo. Perhaps he was only using it as a common metaphor, but I wouldn't want to count on that. It might be someone He knew personally.

Paul is talking about the more familiar types of gods that we see in books for students about "Myths of Many Lands" or the like when he speaks in the agora.  Acts: 17:24-31. Key verse is 29, Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. But that does hearken back to the household gods of the OT as well.

The Epistles in general go on to describe gods more in the way we are used to: sets of behaviors, especially greedy or sexual, that take over our lives and become "gods" to us, even if they aren't named Venus or Freya. (Though Revelation makes a strong tie-in with sacrificing to other named gods and sexual immorality Revelation 2:14  Revelation 2:20)

Colossians 3:5 
 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Galatians 5:19-21  In part
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft

Philippians 3:19 
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

Ephesians 5:3-6  v.5
 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

As I mentioned before, the commandment against adultery may not refer only to family harmony, keeping promises, and being loyal, but to refraining from worshiping other gods.  The whole town may be going out to do that for festival, and they may think their fertility cause for their flocks and fields is jeopardised by your abstaining, but you are not to join them.

*Eventually the whole list comes in.
James 4:3-5  Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God

Romans 1:18-32

I think that covers the territory.  In contrast, God has chosen to speak, not through idols, or temples, or even magical ceremonies, but in words, actions in history, and actions of his people.

So here's the exercise.  What gods are behind the other commandments? Stealing is connected to wealth, certainly - though security, laziness, or revenge could also be motives.

What god is worshiped when we bear false witness, or don't keep the Sabbath?  Scratch them down.  It's a fun, and I hope revealing exercise.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Revolt Against The Masses

Good interview with the author, Fred Siegel. I had not known he was previously liberal.
Collins: Do you think the liberal elite today see themselves self-consciously as the ruling class of one nation, as Americans primarily, or do you think they see themselves as distinct from other Americans, maybe feeling they have more in common with the global elite? Are they almost embarrassed by their own society?

Siegel: Very much so. Something happens in the 1990s. The elites of Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles meld together. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington and Wall Street all come together, and for the first time you have something like the British establishment. The British establishment could organise itself more easily because it was centred on London. For decades the American elite was divided among different coastal cities, plus the ‘third coast’ of Chicago, and it wasn’t until space collapses due to technology that you have the creation of this unified American elite. That unified elite is overwhelmingly liberal. Three hundred people who work for Google were part of the Obama administration at one time or another.

So this elite comes together, it looks across the Atlantic, it looks across the Pacific, but it doesn’t look at the heartland. The rest of the country recognises that.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Criticism and Oppression in Young People

Treating people badly can take many forms. They are not the same emotionally, and I don't know how we measure which is worse.  It is hard to be ignored.  It is hard to have insults to your group not noticed because they are fewer, or more vulnerable. It is hard to see other groups have privilege when yours does not. (It is hard when you have that impression, true or not.)

It is hard when some people at your school or in your town target you because of the group you belong to. It does still happen that jerks will make racist comments or sexist comments, or make effort to exclude or insult.  However, in those situations one usually has others who are emphatically not like that - friends who deplore such things and talk back to it, who make a renewed effort to check in with you to make sure you're okay.  You don't get to choose who is in your highschool or your town, but you can create a peer group that insulates you from bad treatment. It's one of the lessons you learn as a teenager, actually, to seek allies when you are isolated, even if you are shy, or be stuck enduring it.

Going to college or into a young adult social network is different.  That is now your peer group. When people there target you for your race, your sex, or your sexual choices the situation is more dire. There is less room for escape and adjustment.  I thought of this when I saw the Campus Reform report about the Dartmouth student who claimed a program was biased in favor of females. Thirty organisations condemned him,* plus many individuals.  They attacked not only his statements - which is perhaps fair and good debate, but his white, male, cis-ness.  "White tears" and all that.

Let me guess that there are none among the critics at Dartmouth who were ever attacked in this manner by their peer group. They may have had people in their home towns make any number of terrible statements (though I wonder how many, really).  But not the college-bound cohort they hung around with for eighteen years. Shunning by that group is meaner, more brutal, and - I mean this seriously, not just for effect - less civilised. It has more of the mob in it.

*This seems a new development.  I'm not sure there were thirty organisations total at William and Mary when I was there, and certainly not thirty which would think it was their place to make any sort of political statement.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Military Parade

My first reaction was against it.  It sounds like May Day in the USSR. Yet my second, third, and fourth thoughts were more positive. We attended the Edinburgh Tatoo, and there didn't seem to be anything troubling about the display.  A parade might not be that different.  The parades of my childhood included military groups, including bands - sometimes current, sometimes veterans.

I think bands and uniforms would be more important than tanks, other than a few to to be cool so that boys can go wide-eyed.  Drill maneuvers with rifles, specialty units, long massed lines marching in unison - it doesn't sound so bad.  It might end up falling flat and looking a bit ridiculous.  But this is exactly the sort of thing that Donald Trump intuits better than the rest of us reason. It might be inspiring.

I also remember the predictions of how terrible the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall would be greeted when it was first proposed and then built.  It was dark and grim, and its sinking into the ground looked like a celebration of failure, we were told.  Well, it didn't work out that way, did it? We don't really know what will inspire us sometimes.  It will b e a great inconvenience for the active military.  I get that.  But it might work magic on the rest of us.


Kyle texted me from drill that his reserve unit will be deployed to South Korea this year. No details yet.

My first thought when Chris said nine years ago"I'm going to join the Marine Corps," was My son is going to die. He didn't, and didn't even go to a place he got shot at. But I just had the thought again. My son is going to die. The odds are well against that for a couple of reasons, yet you still think it.

Recently Heard

...though I imagine it goes back over a year ago. "Donald Trump is arrogant enough, and unprincipled enough, to think he can do business with Don Corleone. Hey, you can work with that man. He's always been a great guy to me, always follows through on what he says. That would ordinarily disqualify him from the presidency, except...

Hillary Clinton is Don Corleone."

Molten Gods

In the Jewish description of the Ten Commandments, they are called Declarations, and the first one is I Am The Lord Your God, which I told you last September. (There is a table of how various groups refer to the commandments at the link.) I like that emphasis, that the first thought is the covenant relationship, not a direction of what God's people should do. The Second Declaration, then is
“You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

That's quite a bit of commentary, isn't it? No one worships Odin or Aphrodite these days, though some play at it. There are still Hindu gods of the River Ganges, or of death, or of the sky, who are still worshiped with a capital W, and there are animists in may places who worship something like local gods.  These are the first thing we think of these days. The second thing the modern mind goes to is a quick jump to abstract gods, such as money, or power, or beauty. But those would not be the first things the Hebrew children in the desert would have thought of.  "Gods," at that juncture, usually meant household statues, carved or crafted, and painted or decorated as well as one could afford. These statues were chained to pedestals so they couldn't get away.  They had food placed before them and ceremonies performed in their honor, so that they became the embodiment of those gods, which would hear the entreaties of their owners, or speak through them.

These would be what the household gods that Rachel hid from her father in Genesis 31 were. The Jews were still prone to hedging their bets, apparently. If Laban could not find those gods, he would have to have new ones made, and that could be expensive. YHWH in Genesis seems focused on convincing his chosen ones that he is their personal god, and the best god.  He repeatedly suggests that there is more to that story about who He Is, but being their god, who cares for them specially, is the high note. This seems to be the only part that Lot, for example, ever understands. He behaves with little righteousness, but he does get that there is only one god he should be worshiping. There is some of this in Exodus as well, though signs of the Great Reveal are all over the early story in that book. The idea that YHWH might be not only the most powerful god, as demonstrated by the plagues overruling the Egyptian gods, but the only one that has any actual power has become clearer.

Even then He does not seem to insist on the Israelites getting that concept.  It is enough that He is theirs exclusively. Farther on in the Hebrew scriptures he hammers the point home, in Jeremiah, in IIChronicles, in IKings, in Psalm 115: 3-8; and a great many places in Isaiah 17:8; 37:19; 40:19; 41:29; 44:9-20 (more detailed);  These are created things.  They don't hear you.  They don't speak. They have no power. God uses the phrase that they were made by human hands, even your own hands, as a repeated illustration of their powerlessness.

That choice is significant, because the "other gods" that we worship in our day are often things we have in some sense made by our own hands: an education, a business, a family, a fortune, a house.

Further notes, before I move on to the gods of the NT in another post:

It has always seemed frankly incredible to me that the recently-rescued Israelites could so quickly revert to worshiping another god, a golden calf.  Bull-gods were worshiped all the way from Spain to India. One feature was that the god that worked through them sometimes used the bull as a steed or a throne. They may have imagined they were doing something that honored YHWH, even though they weren't quite following directions. Something similar is seen in I Kings 12:25-33 with King Jeroboam. The golden calves were not so much gods themselves, but an announcement that the real God was to be worshiped in the northern kingdom, not in Jerusalem.

Temples to other gods functioned as larger, and more important versions of the household gods. If the ceremonies were done properly and the right food was given, the god was believed to come and inhabit the place. The Jews were instructed to not even look like they might be worshiping in the manner of other peoples. As many of the ceremonies were fertility rites, the command against adultery may be about more than supporting family life.  It may also be intended to keep Jews from any semblance of fertility rites to other gods.

We seem to have finally learned not to rely on household idols by the end of the captivity in Babylon.  However, they were still used for divination, even though this was expressly forbidden.