What was the Civil War About?

My friend Daniel has written an excellent post on the cause of the Civil War and the various myths propagated about it on both sides of the political spectrum.

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The Death and Resurrection of Love

God is love.  We might say this is a universal affirmative statement.  “A” on the square of opposition.  And as any basic student of logic knows, A statements cannot be conversed.  God is love, but love is not God.

C. S. Lewis wrote that whenever we make love into a god it becomes a demon.  This is true.  Our entire culture of love is demonic in this respect, sacrificing at the altar of “true love.”  Reacting against a mythical Puritanism, as well as the ghost of Victorian England and her ideological grandchild, the 1950’s, we now live in the most worldly, fleshly, society ever imagined.

I am not speaking of the deviants we so often read about and see on the news (and if it is FOX News, we see quite a bit of it, often in excessive detail), the easy prey of moral reproach.  Rather, I mean that which is supposed normal.  I mean passionate love.

Our world has been divinized once more, but this time the Christians are as much to blame as any.  Contrary to popular belief, Galileo did not lower mankind when he decentralized our planet.  Instead he elevated us into the heavens.  He says as much himself:

As for the earth, we seek rather to ennoble and perfect it when we strive to make it like the celestial bodies, and, as it were, place it in heaven, from which your philosophers have banished it.[1]

Everything is divine now.  All worldly pleasures are endorsed.  Anyone can grow up to do- or perhaps be- whatever they want.  Age can be defied.  Treasures can be won.  Women can become men, and men can become women.  Children can be had or not, all on a scheduled basis.

And it is at just this time that preachers show up to warn us against the evils of Gnosticism, asceticism, and escapism.  Health and wealth, your best life now, is on the more juvenile slide of the continuum, while “incarnational” and “liberation” theology appears on the more intellectual end.  Even pietism shows back up to join in the fun whenever contrarian personalities decide that overly-optimistic sermons “no longer meet their needs.”  They get a kick out of being beaten down.  It makes them “feel” better.  Perhaps it simply makes them feel.

And so here we are.  Love.  It dominates us.  It tyrannizes us.  We must have it.  Denis De Rougemont has written of this tyranny. Continue reading

Claudius the Critical Thinker

Though fictional, Robert Graves’s I, Claudius does a good job of putting you into the ancient world. In chapter 9 there is a pointed disagreement between Livy and Asinius Pollio on the way history books should be written. The young Claudius says:

“There are two ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth. The first is Livy’s way and the second is yours [Pollio]: and perhaps they are not irreconcilable.”

The response is equally telling:

“Why, boy, you’re an orator,” said Pollio delightedly.

Sulpicius… now summed up: “Yes, Livy will never lack readers. People love being ‘persuaded to ancient virtue’ by a charming writer, particularly when they are told in the same breath that modern civilization has made such virtue impossible of attainment. But mere truthtellers- ‘undertakers who lay out the corpse of history’ (to quote poor Catullus’s epigram on the noble Pollio)- such men can only hold an audience while they ahve a good cook and a cellar of Cyprian wine.”

p 122-123

Pollio’s calling Claudius an “orator” is a pun from an earlier part of the discussion. Pollio had expressed his view that historians ought not to add oration into their history. This was not because oration was bad, but simply because Julius Caesar didn’t give those sorts of speeches on the battlefields. Instead, he told dirty jokes.

At the end of it all, Claudius ends up choosing Pollio’s model.

Heliocentrism as Promotion

In what might be one of the best books I’ve ever read, Remi Brague assembles a number of excellent essays regarding the political and intellectual world of the middle ages.  One chapter takes on the supposed psychological effects of the fall of geocentrism, and in it, Brague proceeds to “beat down a door that stands wide open.”  Far from the “central” position of the earth making man the focal point of all things, it demeaned him.  Every pious soul wanted to be, not in the center (between heaven and hell, mind you), but up!  For the earth to actually have been among the heavenly bodies would have been a great compliment.

Brague marshals an array of quotes from pagan, Jewish, and Christian philosophers making this point, but then he finishes the whole thing off with the big dawg himself, Galileo:

As for the earth, we seek rather to ennoble and perfect it when we strive to make it like the celestial bodies, and, as it were, place it in heaven, from which your philosophers have banished it.

~The Legend of the Middle Ages, 219

So once again we are reminded not to draw historical talking point for contemporary political polemics without taking great care.

On Supposed-Hebrew Culture

The problem with “worldview” is that it is all in the head.  It is an intellectualist assumption that once we tally up all of the ideas that a certain person or group holds to, organizing them according to causal force and foundational significance, the end result will be “system.”  Once this system is identified, we can then explain how certain ideas will invariably lead to one system or another, and from that point on we can make our respective curricula which will effectively teach the worldview we are looking for.

The major weakness here is that such systems rarely ever exist.  Even if they do exist enough to name, they never- ever- *do* anything on their own.  Ideas don’t really have consequences.  People have consequences.  And people typically borrow, bend, compromise, and even work contrary to their ideas and commitments.  Wars, technology, political marriages, dance-trends: these all have as much “impact” on a culture as any particular philosopher.

The same weakness shows up when theologians speak of a Hebrew “culture.”  What they are talking about has never actually existed.  The Hebrews in the Bible were always Continue reading