Tuesday, 11/7/17

  1. Christian Philosophy
  2. Choosing against choice
  3. Culture normalizes
  4. Thoughts, prayers, tweets
  5. Asian Junket Haiku


Not that long ago, “certain kinds of evangelical Christians” and most philosophers thought philosophy was no place for a Christian. Alvin Plantinga almost single-handed changed that.

Certain kinds of evangelical Christians thought philosophy was a bad idea. They thought it involved questioning the faith. Lots of people don’t realize that philosophy comes in many varieties. Some kinds are atheistic—but there’s Christian philosophy, too, and has been since the first or second century. Philosophy isn’t a particular set of views; it’s rather an activity in which you can have all kind of different views.

What I’ve always wanted to do as a philosopher is defend Christianity—defend a Christian way of thinking about things and argue that to be a Christian is not to be irrational or senseless or silly. It’s certainly not a unanimous view among philosophers that you can reasonably be a Christian; but that’s now one perfectly sensible view in the neighborhood.

(Alvin Plantinga, 2017 Templeton Prize winner)


The dizzying array of religious options in the 19th century led some Protestants down the path to Roman Catholicism. Dissatisfied with the endless variety of Protestant denominations, they chose a faith tradition that seemed to reject this pluralism. These “yearnings for catholicity,” as Mullen puts it, were satisfied in the Catholic Church. Catholicity appealed primarily to two groups: those closest to Roman Catholicism, such as members of the Episcopal Church, and those farthest away, such as members of liberal Protestant denominations. By embracing Catholicism, these converts were attempting to reject the whole system of religious choice in America, instead finding comfort in the unity, universality, and tradition of the Catholic faith.

(Josh McMullen, reviewing Lincoln A. Mullen, The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America in Christianity Today) That did not end with the arrival of the 20th Century, though Mullen’s book stops there, nor is it limited to converts to Roman Catholicism.

Although I was not dizzied by the array of religious options in the lated 20th Century (maybe I should have been, but that’s another story), by the time I was settling into Christian Orthodoxy (which I believe is antecedent to Roman Catholicism—they call 1054 “The Great Schism” for a reason), I was aware of having chosen against further choices, or at least of having attempted to do so—against plausible and ironic charges that not to choose is impossible in North America in our age.

[H]ere’s the irony: While forced choice may have helped create a more religious United States, it simultaneously made the country more secular. To support this argument, Mullen borrows from Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (2007), which distinguishes between different kinds of secularity. One kind of secularity is when a society moves from having an unchallenged belief in God to regarding this belief as one option among many. The widespread attention given to conversion in the United States made it impossible for people to ignore religious options (thereby making them more religious). But it also made people more aware of the fact that options existed (thereby making them more secular).

(McMullen’s review) So in the U.S.A., you cannot really choose against choice; legally, Church is a “voluntary society” and you can always leave—for unbelief, a different belief, or whatever. But you can fight the mindset that says there may be a greener pasture somewhere, and that you’ll decamp for there if you find it.

Kinda like marriage, which by law is always dissoluble now, on the 60-day whim of either spouse. You can’t choose to be “really married.”


Our difficulty in understanding and properly interacting with culture is in its subtlety. Culture normalizes, and that’s where culture is most powerful – not where it’s the loudest, but in those places it presents ideas, behaviors, relationships and structures as normal. So, it could often be said that culture is whatever is considered normal for a group of people.

Christian parents need to understand the magnitude and pervasiveness of current cultural opposition to the Christian worldview. If we think the solution is to put them in “a safe, positive environment,” we are fooling ourselves. Youth groups, Christian schools, and parents that are swept up by the undercurrents or give in to the pounding pressure of the waves are part of the problem …

The fundamental catechizing institutions are, of course, the home and the church (and schools as an expression of the Christian vocation to educate). Parents top priority shouldn’t be to find a youth group that their kids “like” but to connect their kids to those institutions who are serious and effective in cultivating those deep Christian loyalties and identity. So, first things first, they should choose wisely.

Second, they should be more loyal to these institutions that are catechizing their kids for Christ than those cultural institutions that often cultivate competing loyalties. We have to prioritize our time, energy, and investments because Little League, theatres, stadium events, and on-demand entertainment are always available to fill the empty seconds and brain space. This is why we spend so much time in the book offering ways for parents and teachers to evaluate the habits kids are forming and the rhythms of time they’ve embraced.

(Excerpts from an interview with John Stonestreet about A Practical Guide To Culture: Helping The Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, which he co-wrote with Brett Kunkle)

I grieve for the Christianish parents I know who are too preoccupied with mammon to truly raise their children as Christians. They will never take the time to read Stonestreet and Kunkle or my acquaintance Phillip Mamalakis, let alone rearrange their priorities.


Sister Vassa had an uncharacteristically topical post Monday morning: Sending “Thoughts” & Prayers. She’s too nice to be scornful, but makes a painfully obvious point.

I’d have shared it earlier but didn’t want to violate a new law promulgated discovered by Alan Jacobs:

People vary widely in their proclivities and needs alike, so it’s usually impossible to offer advice that applies equally well to everyone. But I believe the following law is of universal validity: When a tragedy occurs, disappear from all social media for at least 48 hours.

I have deleted some reactions from, or retweeted by, conservative folks I follow on Twitter, because only Conor Friedersdorf said nothing that might prove embarrassing later:

After an initial favorable reaction to Kirsten Powers (Why ‘thoughts and prayers’ is starting to sound so profane), I now think hers is a “damned-if-you do, damned-if-you-don’t” trick box:

  • say nothing and you’re a soul-less S.O.B.;
  • send “thoughts and prayers” and you’re a profane hypocrite;
  • try to say/Tweet something substantive and you’re politicizing tragedy.

“Thoughts and prayers” seems like the best option during the 48 hour substantive silence.

Pre-publication update: William McGurn from the Wall Street Journal links this morning to a Huffington Post compendium of putatively anti-thoughts-and-prayers Tweets (mostly from entertainment industry narcissists), and then proceeds to tell the Democrats that they haven’t got a prayer of winning back Trump voters with that tone of voice about prayer. (This was a common thread in the conservative Tweets I deleted to spare good people added shame.)

I generally like McGurn, but I thought today’s effort was about 75% partisan hatchet-job—though I agree that there’s plenty of that on the gun control side, too.

Sigh! After the next mass shooting, I reckon Republicans will send “thoughts, prayers, and a defiant poke-in-the-eye to stinky commies who hate prayer.” Neither politics nor the entertainment industry are hotbeds of rationality, sensibility or sobriety.


One of the finest living Anglophone poets takes a little holiday:

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.