No inch of earth to stand on

In his church history, William’s devotes several pages to Michel de Montaigne, who, I confess I had never heard of. I had heard plenty of Pascal, who apparently took a lot of cues from him. (Update: Apparently, most Christian’s don’t consider Montaigne one of the good guys. Some of Pascal’s writing is rebuttal of some of Montaigne’s work.) Despite that, I really like his (Montaigne’s) quotes how how reason is not sufficient to comprehend God.

“All the principles of stoics, sceptics, atheists, etc. are true. But their conclusions are false, because the opposite principles are also true.”

“Our soul is cast into a body where it finds number, time, dimension. Thereupon it reasons, and calls this nautre necessity, and can believe nothing else.”

This indeed, as one might say, “is talking.” Reason is driven to call this communicated nature necessity, upon which necessity she erects her instruments. It is the old trouble which the wise Greek had seen so long ago: “Give me an inch of earth to stand on and I will move the world.” But there is no inch of earth; there never has been; there never – though “the heart has its reasons that the head does not know” – can be.

-Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove, p.197

Let my people go…bricks without straw!

Ministers of the gospel (this is all Christians on some level, but specifically pastors) should actually be administering the GOSPEL, right? And we do. But are we also dishing out anything else that may be negating the gospel? Turing us into hypocrites?

Leithart posted on this today. Good stuff:

Surprisingly, Jesus begins His litany of woe (Matthew 23) by commending the teaching of Jewish scribes and Pharisees.  They sit in the seat of Moses, and Jesus’ disciples are to “do and observe” what they say.

They may sit in Moses’ seat, but they are not Mosaic in their conduct.  Moses came to break the yoke of oppression and free slaves, but the scribes and Pharisees “tie up heavy loads and lay them on men’s shoulders” and refuse to lift a finger to help.  Despite their teaching, they are more Pharaoh than Moses.

These are sobering words for pastors.  We too “sit in the seat of Moses,” but we are capable of turning the gospel of freedom into an instrument of oppression.   We must beware the hypocrisy of announcing “Let my people go” with our lips while saying “bricks without straw” with our lives.

-Peter Leithart, 4/23/09

I’m not indicting pastor’s here, but myself for following some of them, sometimes eagerly, in their neglect of the gospel.

“Jesus is the lord of all creation. He has redeemed us and is redeeming the whole earth…AND while you’re at it, don’t you dare drink that beer, don’t you know Jesus is watching you man?”

“There is no condemnation for those in Chris Jesus! He has saved us from the Law of sin and death. Rejoice! Hey, what are you doing staying home from Sunday worship? Relaxing with your family? Dude, you are not gettin’ what being a disciple of Christ is all about.”

“Man and women, God created them both. We are children of God and co-heirs with Christ of redeemed creation. Hey, your daughter is in freakin’ graduate school? Like for a career? She should be married with a couple kids by now. Don’t ya know?”


When we sit in the seat of Moses, as parents, Church leaders, or community leaders, let us break the yokes of oppression. Note, for thos who would say “but…but…but…”, yeah I know. This is NOT the same thing as promoting rebellion and championing sinful permissiveness. I’m serious. This stuff is hard. Living the gospel takes wisdom too. Wisdom, not hypocrisy.

The trapdoor in the floor of orthodoxy

There is a lot packed into William’s passing paragraph on the rise of Deism in Britain in the 17th century.

Deism, with its Pelagian man (soon to be turned into the Noble Savage) its judicious reason, its social morals, spread widely in England, and was with some difficulty argued down in the eighteenth century by the orthodox, who at one time entertained a hope that the Whig Government would suppress it by force.

But the Government had other things to do; it was, unintentionally, creating the British Empire, and was, intentionally, neglecting philosophy.

The quality of disbelief had become a gentlemanly minimum of belief; and the eternal co-inherence of all mankind had been narrowed, at best, into the virtue of benevolence exercised according to the general understanding of the directions of “the absentee landlord” of the universe.

-Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove, p.196

Williams see’s Pelagianism and it’s denial or Original Sin to be the trapdoor through which Christians fall into all sorts of flakiness. Once man isn’t really evil deep down, he doens’t need a savior. He doesn’t really need a God either, though he may keep him around for posterity.

It doesn’t take much of this before someone starts telling parents that their children don’t need a spanking either. A general adherence to social morals is so deep within us that it will stay intact even though it’s foundation is neglected. Only a concentrated destructive effort can take it out. Since philosophy was neglected, this wasn’t actively attacked until later.

It’s too bad the orthodox were hoping the government might do something about this. That sounds more like what their opponents would hope. If there is no close God to pray to and man has plenty of potential to not be corrupt, then the obvious replacement savior from (fill in the blank problem) is the state. They should have appealed to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

Does this sound familiar? How about us Christians in America propping up the Republican party, hoping they will save our people from moral decay? Oops. There’s history again. Time to appeal to the Lord.

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The Pope didn’t work in a factory

William’s, though a protestant, is very generous to the Pope(s) in his church history. He always assumes the best of them unless their actions consistently prove otherwise. Nevertheless, on the occasions when his holiness decided to digress into political socialism, he points it out.

[Pope] Leo XIII in the very noble Encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 demanded that the capitalist should deal justly by his workers. But he also demanded that the capitalist should see that the worker “be not exposed to corrupting influences and dangerous occasions, and that he be not led away to neglect his home and family or to squander his earnings.” Workers do not usually look with gratitude on employers who take care that they do not squander their earnings, or who attempt to shield them from corrupting influences.

The receipt of a fair wage was to take with it the liberty to do as one chose with a fair wage, or it was meaningless. The Pope, no doubt, meant nothing but good. But the Pope was not a factory worker.

-Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove, p.226

Making a higher wage isn’t of much use if someone is telling you what you can and can’t spend it on. It’s funcionally the same as more taxes witheld from your check.

Music with special powers

Everyone likes a mystery. And what is better than a possibly supernatural mystery surrounding a piece of music or artwork?

Like that Pink Floyd album that syncs up with The Wizard of Oz?

What about that Led Zeppelin tune that says Satanic things if you play it backwards?

You know that Shakespeare’s Macbeth is cursed right? Mysterious accidents often happen to actors who dare participate in the production.

The other day, I was listening to an album I hadn’t touched for a couple years: La Luna, by Sarah Brightman. It’s an odd mix of pop covers and classical vocal (and instrumental) pieces re-arranged. One of the tunes is Gloomy Sunday, a cover of an old Billy Holiday jazz song.

It turns out this piece has alleged special powers. When you listen to it, it makes you want to commit suicide! True story.

And we aren’t talking about the “oh my gosh, this music is so awful, it makes me want to kill myself just so I don’t have to listen to it anymore”. No, no. That phenomenon can be frequently observed, for example, when Nickelback comes on the radio.

This song is about a lonely lover whose mate has died. And they want to end it all too and join them. And if you listen to it… you’ll feel an unmistakable urge to slit your own wrists. Just maybe.

It’s kind of like how listening to Rock ‘N’ Roll compels you to be sexually promiscuous, only more specific.

Wikipedia of course provides a nice overview of the mythology surround the piece, including these tidbits

The Japanese movie Densen Uta (2007) was also inspired by this song. In the movie, a high school girl and a magazine editor investigate a series of suicides linked to a mysterious song released 10 years back, including its possible connection to “Gloomy Sunday”.

The song and its surrounding legend play a considerable part in Phil Rickman’s novel The Smile of a Ghost, linked to several apparent suicides.

And you can’t beat this next one:

The song inspired the Spanish movie The Kovak Box (2006). A writer is trapped on the island of Majorca with people who are injected with a microchip that causes them to commit suicide when they hear “Gloomy Sunday”.


Anyway, it’s actually a pretty nice tune. Check it out. Just be careful. If you start to feel depressed, take the antidote: Look on the Bright Side of Life from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.

Coffee Robot

My friend Mark B. drew a robot for me a few years ago. It has a coffee cup sitting on it’s head. He (the robot), is not entirely sure how it (the coffee) got up there. He would like to figure out how to get it down though. He’s thinking about it right now. Incidently, the drawing itself was made using espresso for ink. Seriously. This is my avatar. I AM the coffee robot. I’m standing very still. So I don’t spill.


My wife recently finished a remarkably difficult and beautiful quilt. All by hand. You see how crooked it is? No wait, that’s if I had tried to put it together! Super nice. Now all we need is for our adoptive daughter to arrive so we can wrap her in it.

Sustaining the faith

Why having lots of children and parenting them really well is the best way to put energy into the system:

There is no other institution which suffers from time so much as religion. At the moment when it is remotely possible that a whole generation might have learned something both of theory and practice, the learners and their learning are removed by death, and the Church is conronted with the necessity of beginning all over again. The whole labour of regenerating mankind has to begin again every thirty years or so.

-Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove, p.83

Good thing the Holy Spirit does things too.

The future of higher education

Higher Education is in trouble. Universities don’t offer near as much value per $$$ as they used to. They are a bubble that needs to pop in this recession. They are propped up enough by other things though, that it’s likely they will just deflate some.

This commentary from Fearsome Pirate: (with my own notes)

I see several replacements already brewing:

1. Not going to college. The fact is that if you’re going to work in the service industry for the rest of your life, you’re better off investing that four years in moving up the ladder instead of running up $40,000 in debt getting a BA in Fitness & Health. More people are going to realize that, especially as the generation that wasted money getting useless degrees grows up and has kids.

More people ARE realizing this for sure.

2. Learning a trade. Did you know we have a shortage of plumbers in America? Fixing pipes pays way better than washing cars or serving coffee.

But not better than DRINKING coffee!

3. For-profit community colleges. These schools save the students lots of money by not having athletics programs, fraternities, or classes that exist solely for a professor to shove his politics down your throat. The one I worked at for a year has already added BA’s in Criminal Justice and a couple medical-related fields. The education is decent and costs a fraction of what you’d pay at a land-grant college.

“For-profit” drives innovation and efficency. Tenure promotes innovation on paper, but in reality it feeds mediocrity.

4. Going on welfare. We’re transforming our economy to model it after European socialism, which has chronically high unemployment, low productivity, and a massive welfare state. It’s much cheaper for the government to hook you up with a crappy apartment and food stamps than it is to put you through college for four years.

This is true. Might as well skip the student loans.

5. Playing Xbox and smoking weed. Turns out you don’t have to go to college to do this.

This is remarkably cheap now too!

Dangerous success

OK. So this is one of those “thought provoking” quotes that occasionally shows up on a paper Starbuck’s cup.

Failure’s hard, but success is far more dangerous.

If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and
opportunity can lock you in forever.

– Po Pronson, Author of stories, screenplays, and nonfiction, including What Should I Do with My Life?

This is an interesting quote, but it’s all about perspective.

As a musician, I have failed. As a computer programmer, I have excelled. My career has advanced considerably. It used to be that dropping out of IT work to work harder on music would mean living frugally. Now it would mean a massive pay cut. And I need that money to take care of my family, send my kids to school, pay for the minivan. If I stay where I’m at, I’ll have the opportunity to move up even more. The dream of being a musician, or any kind of artist for that matter, becomes more and more distant every year. It’s now entered the realm of the absurd.

Oh well I guess.

Where did we get the idea that being “locked in” was bad? Being locked in prison is bad. Maybe locked in a dead-end career is bad. But “locked in” to a successful and relatively prosperous career? What a pile of suck! Totally the wrong thing! Really? I’m not convinced. Time to break out the Merton again:

Who is willing to be satisfied with a job that expresses all his limitations? He will accept such work only as a “means of livelihood” while he waits to discover his “true vocation.” The world is full of unsuccessful businessmen who still secretly believe they were meant to be artists or writers or actors in the movies.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.7 Sec.5

Who is selling us this lie? This isn’t part of the American Dream. Is this only since 1900? 1960?