An unexpected take on Afghanistan
As for the Afghans, they assuredly suffered in the war, but they suffered more under Taliban rule. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution figures that the war may have cost 400,000 Afghan lives over the past 20 years, but he guesstimates that U.S. activities there saved a million or more lives, a significant net positive.
Consider: Infant mortality dropped by half during the U.S. operation. Life expectancy improved by six years. Electricity consumption, a key quality of life indicator, increased by a factor of 10. Years in school increased by at least three years for men and four for women. University graduates rose from under 31,000 to almost 200,000. (Those and other indicators are available at the Brookings Afghanistan index.)
Those are a lot of lives saved and improved. Even at their most monstrous, the Taliban cannot roll back all the gains of the past 20 years. In fact, back in power, they would find a different country than the one they left: one with a substantial Western-educated elite and a population that has known peace and progress. “That’s what’s going to challenge the Taliban or anyone who comes in to take over leadership,” Shuja Rabbani, an Afghan expatriate and son of a former president, told me. “They’re going to have a very different kind of fight to put up.”
All of that is before reckoning the Big Payoff, which is not what you see but what you don’t see: For 20 years, there has been no major attack on the U.S. homeland.
For all of those reasons, I am resolutely agnostic on Biden’s withdrawal decision. Anyone who thinks the answer is obvious hasn’t thought seriously about it ….
Jonathan Rauch, The Afghanistan War Was a (Partial) Success
Okay, I guess.
Machen’s convincing case
This paragraph provided a possible key to a perennial frustration:
Christianity and Liberalism was widely read, and not just by religious conservatives. Indeed, several influential secular commentators wrote that Machen had made a convincing case. Walter Lippmann called the book “the best popular argument produced by either side in the current controversy.” The Nation and The New Republic published essays arguing that the fundamentalists had logic on their side when they invited the modernists to leave their denominations, for if the modernists contradicted the traditional creeds, then it would be only gentlemanly for them to withdraw and found churches of their own. “Fundamentalism,” the editor of The Nation wrote, “is undoubtedly in the main stream of Christian tradition while modernism represents a religious revolution as far-reaching as the Protestant Reformation.” These secular intellectuals had, it seemed, become so detached from religion that they imagined seventeenth-century reasoning normative for the church. Yet such was their prestige that many liberal Protestants feared that the logic of the fundamentalist position had prevailed.
Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Kindle location 2183)
I complain that secular people and mainstream media read the Bible through a fundamentalist lens before rejecting it contemptuously as absurd, or wicked, or something. That problem — the eclipse of historic Christian hermeneutics by novel Anglo-American hermeneutics — may be a century old, and may have arisen because J. Gresham Machen wrote such a very persuasive defense of fundamentalism as then understood.
I note that Christianity and Liberalism is still in print, including free PDF downloads. I’d read it but I’m expecting an emergency phone call, if you know what I mean.
Respectability, however, did not suit him. True to his country roots (which he shared with Lyndon Johnson) he had what an acolyte called “a barnyard vernacular,” a coruscating wit, and a need to dominate every other man in the room. He called making converts “hanging hides on a barn door.”
Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Kindle location 2711)
Sounds like narcissist Mark Driscoll, late of the late Mars Hill Church in Seattle, but it’s actually narcissist J. Frank Norris, pastor of First Baptist Church Fort Worth a century or so ago.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (Had to throw in some French since, sigh, I just cancelled a September-October trip to Paris due to the continuing Covid saga.)
Orthodox laity vs. Catholic theology students
I decided to ask people at the picnic whether it made any difference that Jesus rose from the dead. I began with my eighteen-year-old niece and my seventy-year-old mother. Neither had any theological education. I questioned each independently: “Does the Resurrection of Jesus make any difference?”
“Yes,” they both answered immediately.
“Why?” I asked. I remained silent as each of them struggled to articulate a response. But eventually they both arrived at the same correct answer. My niece said that the Resurrection of Christ restored the relationship between us and God, and my mother said that it opened up heaven to us. I was impressed. Every Orthodox Christian of whom I have asked this question has also given me a similar response.
This only fueled my curiosity: Why did these ordinary Orthodox Christians know the theological significance of the Resurrection of Christ—and believe it mattered—when my graduate school theology classmates seemingly did not?
Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox
“Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who CAN be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of window and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything,” – C.S. Lewis, in his 1945 novel That Hideous Strength.
The Savage was silent for a little. “All the same,” he insisted obstinately, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.” “Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.” “But they don’t mean anything.” “They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience.” “But they’re . . . they’re told by an idiot.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World