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“Any attempt to speak without speaking any particular language is not more hopeless than the attempt to have a religion that shall be no religion in particular…Thus every living and healthy religion has a marked idiosyncrasy. Its power consists in its special and surprising message and in the bias which that revelation gives to life. The vistas it opens and the mysteries it propounds are another world to live in; and another world to live in–whether we expect ever to pass wholly over into it or no–is what we mean by having a religion.”

–George Santayana, Reason in Religion

Ok, this is truly great. Just as one would suspect, the areas where “coke” is the preferred generic term for soft drinks is pretty much a map of the South (the Confederate states, kind of plus Kentucky and almost minus Virginia).

Readings

A friend passed this quote to me on the death of the author. It’s timeless.

 

…. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts…If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

          –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

I’m on vacation, and here’s what I’m reading…

Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God is awkwardly named. It is also well-organized, pithy in its arguments, and broad in its array of references to literature and scholarship. Many in evangelical circles have been comparing Keller’s book favorably with C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, but the comparison doesn’t work for me, and it’s not because Keller’s book isn’t good.

The book is divided into two parts. In the first, Keller examines seven common objections to the faith, running from a chapter titled “There can’t be just one true religion,” to “You can’t take the Bible literally.” In the second part of the book, Keller makes the argument for Christianity as a worldview that makes sense of the human condition in chapters ranging from “the Clues of God” to “The Reality of the Resurrection.”

Keller’s own writing is workmanlike–sturdy and at times not inelegant. Continue Reading »

An International Herald Tribune article points out that housing prices in the suburbs are falling faster than prices in the urban core, possibly because of rocketing fuel costs. Will fuel prices remake our cities and kill our suburbs?

Readings

‘You are fond of history! — and so are Mr. Allen and my
father; and I have two brothers who do not dislike it. So
many instances within my small circle of friends is remarkable!
At this rate, I shall not pity the writers of history any
longer. If people like to read their books, it is all very
well; but to be at so much trouble in filling great volumes,
which, as I used to think, nobody would willingly ever look
into, to be labouring only for the torment of little boys and
girls, always struck me as a hard fate ; and though I know it
is all very right and necessary, I have often wondered at
the person’s courage that could sit down on purpose to
do it.’
‘That little boys and girls should be tormented,’ said
Henry, ‘ is what no one at all acquainted with human nature
in a civilised state can deny; but in behalf of our most distinguished
historians, I must observe, that they might well
be offended at being supposed to have no higher aim; and
that by their method and style they are perfectly well qualified
to torment readers of the most advanced reason and mature
time of life.’

–Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

The fact that, as a historian, I find this funny, means that it’s more than a little true…

An edited version of this review appeared in the April, 2008, edition of Touchstone

In his two characters, McCarthy presents us with a study of the tension between moral pragmatism and moral purity. In the father, McCarthy has written a character burdened with a responsibility–caring for his son–that complicates his moral choices. He is frequently presented with decisions that demand pragmatism in exchange for their survival, and yet even in transgressing boundaries he seems to acknowledge their fixedness. He justifies this to his son: “You’re not the one who has to worry about everything.” Not surprisingly, the father is a more understandable and empathetic character than the son.

In the son, McCarthy has written a character of elemental innocence that throws the pragmatism of the father into sharp relief. The son is strict with himself and his father, always asking if the owners of the houses they loot for food and supplies are alive (in which case they would be stealing) or dead. He is compassionate towards others even when that compassion runs counter to their need to survive. “He was just hungry,” he says, begging his father not to leave a thief without clothes or food that they desperately need themselves. He is certainly a type of Christ figure, but his innocence is human–rooted in his ignorance. He can offer no solutions to the often intractable problems that he and his father face, he can only offer the simple, innocent, and blind response of conscience, which sees only right and wrong, not the necessary.

It is his son’s innocence, along with his life, that the father struggles to preserve as they make their way south. Continue Reading »

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