Reassessing C. S. Lewis

The ghost of C. S. Lewis has haunted me much of my life, so much so that only relatively recently — to paraphrase Sartre, but by the grace of God –, have I been able to go down into the cellar, grab the ghost by the scruff of its neck, and throw it out. A. N. Wilson’s biography has been the final stage of the exorcism. I wish to use that book — here, dealing only with chapter one — as a broad outline for reviewing Lewis’ life and works, to try to put them into a better frame, a better context than the one that dominated my thinking for so long.

Partly, this is because I have seen many others submit to the same siren song. Indeed, it is almost impossible for a Christian with both philosophical and literary propensities not to do so. In Lewis he finds a defender of orthodox Christianity — or so it seems at first blush — presenting Orthodoxy with an intimate, confiding tone, a certain cheer, and above all, an endlessly fecund ability to illustrate with apt quotations from world literature. This contrasts markedly with the typical Christian’s own experience of orthodoxy presented by preachers with a supercilious tone, a stridency, and nought but Bible proof-texts. 

The tonal issues aside, Lewis’ wielding of apt citations from world literature is indeed astonishing. It spans all nations having a literature. In respect to our own Western literature, his at-hand, effortless knowledge seems to be unplumbable over a period spanning well over two millennia. “I wish I could do that,” I caught myself thinking. How many abortive careers of English or Comparative Lit. have been launched from this velleity cannot be guessed. Worse yet, however, are the dozen rabbit trails that others have pursued, boning up on this or that epoch of literature, even in despite of their main career.  We start dropping authoritative pronouncements, based on nothing but having read it in Lewis. “The Medievals didn’t believe in a flat earth, you know.” There is, in short, something about Lewis’ approach that almost everyone finds attractive at first, and many to their own disadvantage.

Distinguo. A real awakening of a love for poetry or epic would be helping a man to become more human. Doubtless, this is a part of the effect of the Lewis narcotic. A narcotic that deadens a bit of modern decayed flesh, helping one regain his deeper manhood. But there is a second kind of narcotic ecstasy which we might dub second order — a love, not of the poetry, but of the love of poetry. Being in love with being in love (e.g., rather than with a woman) is a pathology that can be applied to literature just as much. 

Combining this distinction with the general view of calling, we can say that I am not wanting to disparage any reawakened humanity here, but only wish to exorcise the dilettantism that distracts a man from his true calling, and the second-order appropriation of literature which is at bottom nought but priggish pride.

All of that by way of basic motivation. The parallel stream of criticism must deal with the content of Lewis’ opus. And it turns out, this content leaves a great deal to be desired from the Christian point of view. To anticipate a later theme, it should have raised red flags everywhere when, in the introduction to his Mere Christianity, Lewis admits that it was a Methodist that faulted him for weakness on Justification by Faith, and a Romanist on vicarious atonement. Chuckle chuckle. What should have induced him to put his manuscript to the flames, instead is taken up in Lewis’ boundless merriment as proof (somehow) of his catholicity! In addition, both the suppression of these key themes, and Lewis’ profession of ignorance point to serious character issues, I submit. Indeed, there is a problem with honesty that runs like a dark vein through Lewis’ whole life, and one we must come to terms with. The invariable accompaniment to most of his books of a large picture of Lewis grinning impishly at us, either from his writing desk or through a cloud of smoke, doubtless aids the illusion. But it is long since time to blow some of the smoke away.

It is necessary to survey Lewis’ life from a very young age in order to understand how certain deeply troubling aspects of his soul came about. This raises a methodological question: what are the real facts important to our narrative? Indeed, there are three “narratives” that need to be kept distinct in respect to any man’s childhood: (1) the actual state of affairs; (2) the child’s subjective appropriation of those states of affairs; and (3) the adult’s retrospective reinterpretation of the same states of affairs. The wonderful thing is that there is hardly any sequence of childhood facts under (1) and (2), let them be as nasty and twisted as you want, that could not be sublimated into a great story. An abusive childhood can indeed be overcome. 

But all-important is narrative (3), the grownup’s retrospective. There are two limiting cases by which this can manifest itself: There is the case of George MacDonald, whose childhood — specifically and notably, his relation to his father — was wonderful in every discernible way. There is, at the other extreme, the crabbed, disrupted and disruptive child — think Eustace –, who, mirabile dictu, eventually comes to reinterpret his entire early world by inversion of how he interpreted it originally — to realize, for example, that the “nasty ogre of a father” was, at worst, exactly the father most suitably matched, in the providence of God,  to what he needed; and at best, actually a good man, the opposite of what he once thought. Of course, the story for many will be a mixture of these two limiting cases.

Now (1) and (2) without (3) might be interesting to a certain kind of biography, especially when the goal is to show how the stamp of greatness was present from an early age. “The child is father to the man,” the Greeks said. Think of the legends of George Washington’s childhood, or Herodotus’ treatment of Cyrus the boy. In this study of Lewis, in contrast, I will almost always be interested in (1) and (2) only as reflected in (3). We have (3) most notably in his 1955 book, Surprised by Joy.  SBJ is thus itself an event in the life of Lewis occurring well into middle age. I will self-consciously interact with that work even while telling the story of his life as a young boy, because it is the retrospective product of Lewis the man that is the only thing we are after.

In short, this is not so much about Lewis’ childhood as the middle-aged Lewis’ reflection on his own childhood.

I mentioned George MacDonald’s relationship to his father, and in contrast, the first thing that pops out in Wilson’s biography is Lewis’ life-long scorn for his father. Likewise, the first thing one has to observe about SBJ is its vicious treatment of his father. A supercilious hostility toward his father undoubtedly began in early childhood, and scarcely abated throughout his life.

What makes this fact particularly painful is that any objective reading of the facts of the case indicates that Lewis had one of the greatest fathers imaginable, and moreover, one even whose eccentricities were so suited to Jack’s needs as to only make sense in view of a Divine craftsman who works all things out in infinite wisdom. Albert Lewis was hard-working, successful, funny, devoted, smart, and pious. He wept openly when taking leave of the boys for school at the Belfast quays. But here is how Jack the adult describes him:

When he opened his mouth to reprove us he no doubt intended a short well-chosen appeal to our common sense and conscience. But alas, he had been a public speaker long before he became a father. He had for many years been a public prosecutor. Words came to him and intoxicated him as they came. What actually happened was that a small boy who had walked on damp grass in his slippers or left a bathroom in a pickle found himself attacked with something like Cicero on Catiline, or Burke on Warren Hastings; simile piled on simile, rhetorical question on rhetorical question, the flash of an orator’s eye and the thunder cloud of an orator’s brow, the gestures, the cadences and the pauses. (SBJ 38)

We can be quite sure that if the offense was “leaving the bathroom in a pickle,” this was something more culpable than Jack is making out. Compare Jack’s dismissive attitude toward his offense with Augustine’s in regard to stealing pears. Indeed, the proof that this is so tumbles willy-nilly out of his own mouth as he continues the narration:

The pauses might be the chief danger. One was so long that my brother, quite innocently supposing the denunciation to have ended, humbly took up his book and resumed his reading; a gesture which my father (who had after all only made a rhetorical miscalculation of about a second and a half) not unnaturally took for “cool, premeditated insolence.”

Though Lewis concedes “not unnaturally,” it is obvious that that is not his burden. Whether Warnie’s act was premeditated, it was certainly cool and insolent — not “humble” — for a boy to listen to his father’s philippic, and neither apologize nor defend, but simply pick up a book and start reading. What these boys needed was a good thrashing. It is along that direction alone — too indulgent — that the father’s discipline can be criticized. But a vicious literary allusion has popped into Lewis the boy/man’s mind, so he continues:

The ludicrous disproportion between such harangues and their occasions puts me in mind of the advocate in Martial who thunders about all the villains of Roman history while meantime lis est de tribus capellis

This case, I beg the court to note,
Concerns a trespass by a goat

Common sense and internal evidence suggests that the narrative of the father’s declamation is exaggerated — Jack is obviously enjoying this opportunity to pile on some literary references. (Indeed, doing the very thing he accuses his father of.) What is most troubling about the narrative is a side-effect of the total lack of humility, shame, or repentance as the middle-aged man looks back on his childhood antics. None of the attacks on his father are necessary to the stated purpose of the biography — to explain his theory of “joy” in connection with his conversion. What we have instead is the 56-year-old still-a-boy glancing up at us boy-readers with a wink and a twinkle in the eye, as if to whisper, “It’s really bad, isn’t it?” Winston Churchill played the same game in his book Roving Commission. Insightfully (though not in connection with this particular incident), Wilson mentions that about this time Lewis saw the play Peter Pan:

It is one of the Grand Conspicuous Omissions in Lewis’s autobiography that he says nothing about this experience which, to judge from the Lewis Papers, was momentous. For there was no children’s story more apposite to his life than that of the little boy who could not grow up…  (26)

I am not latching onto the trivial hypothesis that Lewis “refused to grow up, to become a man.” No, the theme I am suggesting is more in the nature of a warped dishonesty. It is a willingness to use others as objects to drag through the mud in order to bring the spotlight to some feature of oneself — even, a rather trivial feature of oneself. 

Seeing Peter Pan happened just after the time Jack spent at Wynyard, a school headed by Rev. Capron, eighteen months that parlays into one tenth of the autobiography under the title “Concentration Camp.” The section includes more sly Peter-Pan-like winking and tittering about how awful “Oldie” the headmaster was. Despite the trashing, it turns out Jack was something of a teacher’s pet — “a position which I swear I never sought” he quickly reassures us boys, lest we should suspect he might have broken the Boyhood Code (SBJ 26). He makes up for this on the next page by taking Peter Pan kitsch to yet a new level — the faux-scholarly footnote documenting Oldie’s sin: [fn #1: “this punishment was for a mistake in a geometrical proof”]. Tearing down other authority figures is in the same genre as doing so to one’s father, according to our catechism, and once it becomes clear what Jack is doing, it becomes quite tiresome. I therefore skip rehearsing it further here. 

However, there are two other themes in this chapter that we must also keep our eye on that have important beginnings in this epoch.

First, in this period, he claims to have adopted real, genuine Christianity for the first time, being taught doctrines by the high Anglo-Catholic men “who obviously believed them” “as distinct from general ‘uplift’” (33). But the implication that his religious training in Belfast could be characterized as “general uplift” is either an errant lie or an egregious example of self-deception. It will be worth dwelling on this a moment. 

We first recall his nurse Lizzie Endicott from the peasant class that taught him to avoid the “dirty wee popes” in the mud puddles. Not profound religion, but certainly heart-felt, and certainly not “general uplift.” Then there was his Presbyterian governess Miss Harper. “A theological lecture interspersed between the sums was one of his first intimations there was Another World in which Christians were supposed to believe. He preferred the other world of his own invention.” (Wilson, 16). There was the presence of his grandfather Lewis, “who wandered about the corridors of Little Lea muttering psalms” (Wilson 24). There was the deep piety of his father, which I will document d.v. a bit more another time. Finally, we have the proof that Lewis’ training was not “general uplift” from a letter Wilson dug up written by Jack himself at this very time! The 56-year-old that wrote such a glowing account of the Anglo-Catholic service evidently forgot what the 10-year-old had written:

In this abominable place of Romish hypocrites and English liars, the people cross themselves, bow to the Lord’s table (which they have the vanity to call an altar) and pray to the Virgin. (24)

Oops. It can be dangerous writing things down and then forgetting about them.

As I have long suspected, the above letter is proof positive that his protest in later writings of not knowing the Reformed perspective is fake. It is dissimulation. The “more genuine Christianity” he discovered here is described as prayer, Bible, and conscience. (SBJ 34). There is no mention of repentance — conscience, after all, can simply refer to the inner resolution to do good –, nor of a sense of sin, nor of the satisfaction of Christ. Yet Lewis the 56-year-old identifies this as “real, genuine Christianity,” in contrast to the heart-felt piety of many around him as a boy in Belfast, which he dismisses as advocating mere uplift.

The second ominous theme that starts to develop in this chapter is already hinted at when he says (SBJ 27) “everyone talks of sadism nowadays”. They do? we ask. He mentions the things he liked in literature at this period: “sandals, temples, togas, slaves, emperors, galleys, amphitheaters; the attraction, as I now see, was erotic, and erotic in rather a morbid way” (SBJ 35). Wait… the attraction was what again?! and in what way?! That he identifies this list of literary props with morbid eroticism at all is certainly troubling; that this is the second major theme of this period of his life, along with adopting for the first time “genuine Christianity” is baffling as well.

Moreover, his breezy adoption of a quasi-Freudian outlook is troubling. As a Christian, he should have attacked that pseudo-science, as he had just begun to do eight years earlier in the voice of Bill Hingest (p. 36). Instead, he plants sly memes inviting the reader to take Lewis on as a patient. “You will remember,” he says, “that I had already learned to fear and hate emotion; here was a fresh reason to do so” (SBJ 33). But fear and hate can themselves be modeled as emotions. So he was emoting against emotions, but doing so in second-order reflection. A genuine emotion isn’t observed, it is felt, it is the manner of expression. As soon as I say, “I am angry,” I am not angry in an honest way any more. I am observing someone — me — that is angry. Imagine Wotan, while chasing down Brunnhilde after her disobedience, saying “this is good; I’m really in touch with my emotions now.” Why would a grown man say of his childhood, “I should have welcomed and loved emotions.” What is it that he missed? A passive aesthetic experience? Failing to maximize the inner experience? But would he not then have missed the experience of hating and fearing emotions?

Moreover, if there is anything to psychoanalysis, it should certainly not be performed on oneself. That would assume without warrant that the mesh were superficial, easily transcended the moment notebook and pencil were picked up. Lewis talks like a superficial man here, as though a deep warpage of the soul is the stuff for beer-hall banter, to which anonymous bystanders can also be invited to contribute. There is something narcissistic and precious about this move to self-psycho-analysis which, if not precisely dishonest, is at least inauthentic.

In a nutshell, there we have Wynyard, arguably the turning point of his life, when he embraced a Christless Christianity and “morbid eroticism.” He learns to slander, and bend and suppress the truth. He even refers to Wynyard as Belsen (23)— if he must use such a macabre slander, wouldn’t humility suggest using an analogy to the British concentration camps? For the British invented the practice fifty years earlier, in South Africa. Wilson notices some of the troubling themes, and digs a little. But much more should be done in studying this fateful year. The shock of coming to a strange land with strange accents, smells and bells immediately following the death of his mother seems to have changed Lewis permanently. He himself seems to have sensed it, by dwelling so long on a relatively short period of time, and turning the hapless Rev. Capron into such an ogre. But he doesn’t seem able to untangle the deep self-deception of his own heart and mind. That is the fearsome thing about self-deception.

The trashing of his father and other authority figures, even counter to evident facts, the beer hall psychoanalysis, the dishonesty, the morbid eroticism, and the self-deceptions surrounding his own religious development, are troubling indeed. Biographers are going to have to keep digging. Surprised by Joy was written three years after he met Joy Davidman in person, and his succumbing to her flatteries suggests that that relationship should be looked into as part of the cause of that hideous defection. But whatever the influences, he must be held accountable for his own behavior.

The greatness of his fiction does survive the man, however.

More later.

Let there be shouting!

The evil jewess is dead, she’s dead!

When the wicked perish, there is shouting, Prov. 11:10.

At this very moment, she is receiving her eternal sentence.

The word of God gives us every warrant for rejoicing at this moment.

We may take a moment from the Big C hoax to shout for joy, at least for a little while.

OPC elders propose replacing Mt. 18 with public hectoring

There is a blog in which one Aimee Byrd successfully summons a posse of OPC cavalry to round up and arrest some boys that allegedly said some mean things about her on a private Facebook chat group. Apparently there was a spy that took a bunch of screenshots of the mean things and broadcast them. Now Miss Aimee is on the warpath and wants people to lose their jobs and/or be ecclesiastically disciplined. My interest is piqued especially because I have written on the inner genius and beauty of what we call “Matthew 18” and observe here this principle yet again being honored in the breach. It is important because of the many men that have deputized themselves to be part of the posse, including a number of names that are well-known in the OPC.

Having scanned a number of the screen-shots from the offending chat room, I can say, on the one hand, that a few things were said that would not have been heard at Robert E. Lee’s mess table. There, according to Dabney, no word was ever heard that would make a lady blush or a parson furrow his brow. On the other hand, we are living in an age that is decidedly rejecting the mores of that age, symbolized by the monuments to that great man being torn down all around us, with active complicity of our rulers, and passive complicity of not a few even in the orthodox church. In particular, the passing of the last remnants of that age is exemplified ironically enough by an Amazonian warriorette leading the charge and being at the center of the fray. There can be no masculine space, even a secret one. She seems to be saying, “how dare they ask if I can cook a good roast beef? I have written five books. Five, I tell you! The latest is being published by Zondervan! How dare they!” But if you want the age of gentility, you have to take it all, not just the parts you like.

This taut-lipped quiet fury is typical of a dying Puritan culture that has lost its humor and is about to lose its faith. Florence King lamented the phenomenon even in the secular realm. Let a Southerner patiently explain to the New England transplant the difference between white trash and “common,” and there was sure to be a letter to the editor earnestly exhorting that “we need to be careful to” and so on. The new canard of the ecclesiastical Soft Left is some point about “denial of the image of God.” As if telling some knee-slapper about a nigger passing the watermelon patch or a honky at the hoe-down has aught to do with some long-faced theological locus.

Let’s start by analyzing what should have happened if the “victim” of the cracks were a man. I can only think of three possible responses.

  1. He could say, “it’s just a private chat room. If they had courage, they would take their criticisms public. Let the dead bury the dead.” Or better yet, cover it in love, and humor.
  2. Or, he could follow Matt. 18, admonishing them to be more temperate, urging them to withdraw their comments and correct their ways, keeping the matter private until all means were exhausted. The “one or two” others brought in if necessary would also exhort with rigorous privacy being honored.
  3. Or, he could challenge them to a duel.

(1) would surely be the thing. Little was said that was out of bounds in a private setting. Most if not all was an expression of true concern about heresy in the church, mixed with some rough and tumble cracks that men must be permitted to indulge from time to time. Indeed, I daresay the majority of the comments would have been permitted even at Robert E. Lee’s table. If you can’t take the heat, get back in the kitchen. And remember that the screenshots were lice-picked to exhibit the most offensive things. (2) is of course our duty, if the matter just can’t be let go of. Dabney says that (3) is contrary to the law of God, but Alexander Hamilton Stevens argued that the duel was the way that a physically weaker man could equalize the playing field. I think Dr. Johnson would have sided with Stevens. It must be conceded that there was doubtless a great deal more courtesy and temperate language in a culture where the duel loomed as an ever-present possibility. Dabney worried that the practice gave license to bullies to do murder, but I think it also tended to prevent tempests in a teapot from boiling over. The bluff would be called. Naturally, we can’t expect Miss Aimee to challenge to a duel — female empowerment has its limits, I think all will concede — , but what about her husband, Mr. Aimee? Where is he in all this? Andrew Jackson challenged to dozens of duals to protect his ladies’ honor, and we carved his face on Mount Rushmore!

In any case, the one thing that would not be permitted would be to “dox” the whole group, to betray their confidentiality, to stab them in the back, to plant poison, hoping, passively, that the whole lot of them would be “dealt with” by ecclesiastical authorities, or — for those not holding church office — to be fired by their employers.

All of the quoting of Westminster Catechism and Webster and Bible verses do not change the fact that that is what it is.

The doxing of innocent bystanders along with the offenders has already been pointed out in the comments, and even that odious practice is defended by Miss Aimee. However, it has not been sufficiently emphasized that the doxing even of the “offenders” is evil. The leaking of the information by the secret informant — the biblical term is talebearer — and its publication is the one act in all of this that is truly villainous. Such an act shows neither loyalty nor a desire for reform. Well do the Proverbs speak to this.

Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. (Prov. 26:20-22)

Note that the censure of talebearing is not that there is no tale to tell. It is not that the tale is false — that would be lying, or slander. The wickedness of the talebearer has to do with the inner disposition and intent. It is to destroy, not to heal. The craft and guile of the talebearer is to claim, perhaps even in the honesty of self-deception, just the opposite. But his claim is belied ex opere operatum by the nature of the bad method.

The fact that you can be fired for saying something unapproved is one of the hideous perversions of our current society. It is bad enough that corporations think this is any of their business. Worse, there is not even a hearing, or a chance to defend yourself. You probably won’t even be told why you were let go. It is the American capitalist version of the Soviet labor camp system — except that the Soviets had enough shame to at least give you the appearance of a hearing. It was a sham, but even they had enough residual memory of justice to want to give the appearance. 

The irksome situation we find ourselves in is that ever more people claiming to be Christians have accepted this “system,” and use it. It is far worse than a violation of the Apostle’s admonition,

Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? (I Cor 6:7). 

It is worse because it is not even “going to law” one with another, but cynically leveraging a system that is utterly lawless, and not even bearing the semblance of lawfulness. Would that they would “go to law with one another.”

The behavior of Miss Aimee’s signatories is disgusting even apart from ratifying the doxing. Not a word is breathed about the talebearer. It is simply now a “public revelation” as if by magic. Actions are declared publicly to be sinful without any investigation or query, let alone a vote. But facts don’t speak for themselves: you couldn’t do this in justice if the screenshot were a picture of a bloody knife. In fact, it is hard to imagine any brute fact that would eo ipso be proof of sin or of a crime, obviating the need for cross-examination. Yet somehow, WLC requires them to belly-ache in public rather than even now conceal the matter.

It is an ungodly exhibitionism and virtue-signalling. They reassure their victims that the missile “does not constitute formal charges.” I guess that’s supposed to be a relief?

Which is worse, to have charges brought, or to be publicly pilloried without the slightest effort at fact-finding or cross-examination?

Would any of these men want to be on trial with a jury composed of their co-signatories?

What is upsetting is, not that Miss Aimee, while slyly pouring fuel on the fire, is saying, “y’all gonna hafta fight this one out — I’m just a girl” while twirling her blond locks. That is what it is. No, what is upsetting is that all of these men, some reputed to be pillars, are piling in to her lynch team in wholesale despite of our Lord’s teaching, and even of what we could deduce from natural law. For the principle beneath Matthew 18 can largely be recognized by natural reason.

Greenville Seminary ready to recommend closing churches to beat on pots and pans

The first response of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary to the Corona virus on Apr 3, 2020 (later they posted several others, some much better) shows just how weak the modern church has become: indeed, the shuttering of the churches can well be modeled as us being hoist on our own petard in allowing such leaders.

Rev. Willborn makes a number of mistakes on the book of church order and the sacraments, to the point of amazement. But lest this discussion become tedious, I am going to limit my remarks for now to the viral part of his essay.

He constantly refers to submitting to the magistrate who is acting out of love. (Actually he doesn’t even refer to authorities correctly most of the time, as we will see.) This manner of speaking is ambiguous. He does not know if the magistrate is acting out of love. Moreover, there is a difference between being motivated by love, and acting in a way that is objectively loving, in the sense of actually being beneficial. Consider, to illustrate, that the magistrate said we should go out on our front stoops from 10 to 12 each Sunday morning and beat on pots and pans to scare the virus away.  Such advice could be motivated by love. But would Rev. Willborn still advocate shuttering the churches so that we could submit to the magistrate and beat on pots and pans during the time that church would normally meet? There is no indication that Rev. Willborn would oppose this, since beating on pots and pans does not necessarily violate a law of God. But if he would oppose a magisterial decision that reached this level of absurdity, then he needs to realize that it behooves church officers to make at least some level of independent examination of means and evidence, and not simply bah like sheep at each power grab made by magistrates.

The reader is invited to first scan his piece without prejudice, here. In my remarks that follow, Willborn’s text is indented.

We live in most unusual days. Presently our civil leaders, to whom we are to submit unless they command us to disobey God,

1. Why does Rev. Willborn use the word “leader”? The guy that organizes your neighborhood block party is a leader, but we need not submit to him. Leader has too vague of a connotation in English. We only need to submit civilly to one holding relevant and lawful authority. This is not a quibble. We need to be precise in our key terminology so as not to set up wiggle room for making mistakes later.

2. Rev. Willborn, will you remember this principle when your colleagues celebrate the civil disobedience of those opposing segregation, and will you rebuke them for celebrating resistance to something that was not disobeying God? For it is not disobeying God to drink from a designated water fountain.

3. Is it the case that we must submit to every civil authority, the only exception being if they command us to disobey God?

i. any notion of jurisdiction? Your local dog-catcher can impose a tax on you?

ii. any notion of constitutional limits? Can he take your wood, even though article 31 of the Magna Carta clearly states, “Neither we [the king] nor any royal official will take wood for our castle, or for any other purpose, without the consent of the owner.” Or are all such constitutional limits governed by the Willborn-Caveat, an implicit “unless we decide otherwise” on the part of the magistrate?

iii. Apart from the constitional question, can the civil authority break the law of God, provided that what he does is not forcing you to disobey God? That is, he can steal all your goods on a whim? You must not resist?

have given us clear directives on how to promote the public health of ourselves and neighbors.

Allegedly how to promote, Rev. Willborn, allegedly how. Beating on pots and pans does not in fact promote public health, except perhaps inadvertently by virtue of getting a little exercise.

[there follows a windy digression on the 4th commandment, love and law, which are not quite accurate or relevant… but we need to focus.]

Concerning the “love of neighbor,” let us be reminded that both the Old Testament and New Testament speak to an aspect of Sabbath keeping that relates to keeping the day in the proper way. Particularly, I am speaking of deeds of necessity and mercy (Isa 58:13, 14; Luke 4:16; 14:5; Matt 12:1-13; Mark 2:23-3:5; Westminster Confession of Faith 21:8).  In our present national situation set before us in God’s most wise providence, it is both necessary and merciful for us to observe the civil magistrates’ call to think more highly of others than self (Phil 2:3).

But the civil magistrate has not called us to think more highly of others than self. This is just Willborn’s unjustified commentary on the civil magistrates’ diktats. Moreover, is it within the magistrate’s purview to command people to think more highly of others than self? Has Willborn taken theonomy to an unheard-of height, thinking the magistrate should legislate the spiritual commands? How about the fruits of the Spirit while he is at it?

It is necessary to love our neighbors by protecting them, and it is an act of mercy to avoid the contraction and spread of the virus

Substitute any flu for the word virus. Then it is not merely an act of mercy, but justice as well, that you cover you mouth when sneezing, avoid others when infected, wash your hands, and in short do everything your mother taught you to do.

Some of us, based on studying the actual numbers along with comparison to what is known and not known, believe this Coronavirus is in fact just another flu, not even more virulent than the average. So, if the magistrate would shut down church services to slow the spread of the same flus we have had for 100 years, would Willborn allow for that as well? If not, why not, based on his principles?

by following the wisdom of our civil leaders.

1. There he goes with “leaders” again — why doesn’t Willborn act like a leader and resist this nonsense if anyone can be a leader?

2. Willborn does not know that the diktats of our civil authorities are wisdom. There is every reason, based on the words, both internal and external, to see that they are not wisdom. (i) For example, the reason given for the six foot rule is because that’s how far sneeze particles travel. But wearing a mask would block the particles even more effectively. So why not say, everyone must keep six feet distance, unless wearing a mask? (ii) Speaking of masks, first they told us not to wear masks, now they tell us we should. Has “science” made some new discovery in the last two weeks? Or are they in disarray? Where is the wisdom? (iii) There is no landing plan. The virus is not going away just because everyone locks down. It is not wise to engage in a course of action that has no way to finish. (iv) If saving every life is the law of love and mercy, then again, why not take the same measures to eliminate deaths from ordinary flu — which still outstripped the deaths from Corona by more than a factor of three as of the date of Willborn’s screed? (v) The cure is clearly worse than the disease. Indeed, if they do not reverse these (foolish, not wise) measures soon, there could be mass starvation, during which people will not be thinking much about the virus. (vi) Why not have an absolute quarantine of that small subset of the population that is truly at risk, while allowing everyone else to build up herd immunity, just as happens with every cold and flu?

In short, Willborn is completely unwarranted in identifying the actions of our rulers as wisdom. There is ample reason to doubt that our rulers’ diktats are based on wisdom. It is not good to call foolishness wise.

He continues:

3. Now let me make a general observation about the importance of keeping the Lord’s Day, while at the very same time obeying those “kings” given us for our good (Rom 13:1-4; 1 Pet 2:13-17). The Westminster Confession of Faith gives us the biblical balance that is needed in times like these when it says that public assemblies of Christ’s church are not “carelessly or willfully to be neglected” (WCF 21.6). For Christ’s church indiscriminately to meet in days of widespread sickness, a sickness that is highly communicable, would be careless.

The sickness is neither widespread, nor highly communicable. There is no data supporting either of these assertions.

Why the qualification to meet “indiscriminately”? Why not just say it would be careless “to meet,” since that is what Willborn’s advice actually amounts to? He frequently uses qualifications that give a little bit of surface plausibility to his assertions, yet are unjustified in terms of his own principles.

While we desire to meet, we are lamenting the disease and the consequences it has brought upon us, especially a Psalm 42 absence from public worship. With the Psalmist, we long for a return with the throng to His worship. Therefore, we are not carelessly and willfully neglecting the worship, therefore, we are not disobeying God in following the wisdom of the civil leaders and medical community.

Now the “wisdom” has been extended from “leaders” — there he goes again — to the whole medical community. But do we have access to the latter? Hardly. Dr. Fauci is a career bureaucrat and proven fraud, having been through an almost identical panic-mongering in connection with AIDS some 30+ years ago. The girl-doctor standing next to him has made enough howler statements for us to realize she is also two freckles short of a cat’s whisker. (My favorite: “it is peaking on a log scale.”)

We need to realize that most doctors never learned much more about transmission models or probability theory than any other college graduate, and far less than many non-medical graduates. I have no doubt that the most learned amongst them know how to navigate through the complexities, but this is a small minority. And how do we find them? Are politicians able to make this selection? I would trust a local vote from all the AMA members of each town on who to trust, rather than these vetted and politicized bureaucrats with medical degrees.

Another thing that should make us very suspicious is that those professionals that have demurred from the media and Willborn’s position — and there are many — are shouted off the stage or ignored, and not rebutted. Just by the rules of debate, this should make us nervous.

Keeping the context of the fourth commandment in mind—it is for our good, not our harm and it must be out of love and concern for our neighbor’s welfare—will help us think through the appropriateness of our Governor’s “love your neighbor” Ordinances and how we approach ALL corporate gatherings, including church services.

Despite all the flowery and frankly manipulative language, Willborn does not know that the Governor’s diktat is motivated by love of neighbor. I suppose it is charitable of him to think this, but it is not reasonable or warranted. And there is no threading of any relevant distinctions in his advice. He should drop all the ambiguous qualifications, and just state his principle in bold form, something like this:

It is our Christian duty to obey the magistrates, even to the point of shutting down the churches, and regardless if their commands are reasonable, or constitutional, or well-motivated; we must do so even if the commands are out of jurisdiction, or based on a power-grab, or a transfer of all the wealth of the nation to the hands of international bankers, or for whatever reason the magistrate might be motivated by, which it is not ours to ask about anyhow. (Harris’ paraphrase of Willborn)

That is Willborn’s principle, when you analyze what he has said. So just say it, Rev. Willborn.

… [Something about China and Rome]

You are in essence joining those of us who can meet without violating the Civil Magistrate’s Ordinance 17, so that we can love our neighbors, but also provide us all something of a platform to worship our God in our homes, without forgetting the Day and the corporate body of Christ.

All we need is : love… dah, dadadada.  (HT: Beatles)

Now, let me get to another aspect of this whole unique epoch in which we find ourselves. Just as some Christians may wrongly feel like they are disobeying God (and the fourth commandment specifically) by obeying the Governor and loving their neighbor,

Please stop Willborn. Substitute “obeying the Governor and hating their neighbor” because your knowledge cannot distinguish these two.

so some may feel guilty for not receiving the weekly or monthly (in our case) administration of the Lord’s Supper.

… [There follows some remarks on why not to take private communion.]

In conclusion, let us not “legalize” the Sabbath Day. Let us not “beat ourselves up” because we are keeping the Governor’s ordinance and the law of Christ to love our neighbors by promoting and preserving their health.

Stop it Dr. Willborn. This mindless incantation of love, without evidence or plausibility, is moving from the manipulative to downright prevarication.

… [There follows some remarks on the Lord’s Supper and its alleged unknowable frequency, and lack of necessity anyhow.]

Worthy of another essay.

The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion

One of the reasons I don’t believe in the global warming narrative is because its most strident and belligerent advocates appeal to “science,” and demand that we submit to “science,” even though they themselves know nothing about science. At bottom, then, it is an appeal to authority, and a specific class of men is put forth as having that authority.  But the class of men that are deemed scientists is actually a small subset of those with master’s degrees or above in the sciences. The vast majority of these go on to careers in engineering, programming, or management, and are not heard from again so far as their scientific training. The ones that get positions in universities or laboratories are (1) carefully vetted before getting their positions, since it is entry into a guild that guards its prerogatives and does not want too much dissent; (2) once in, they are involved in a life-long struggle for funding; and most funding comes from the government. So the appeal to the authority of science actually comes down to an appeal to the pronouncements of a small subset of science majors that have been vetted by the guild and who are largely beholden to the government for their funding. Even many that appear to be privately funded, such as in the pharm industry, are still tied to the government indirectly, since the government grants their product license. In short, the appeal to the authority of science is at bottom a circular reference back to the authority of the government, masked as an appeal to science.

I don’t mean the guild scientists are liars — though some are, provably. But I mean that what is going on with “science” is quite different from the mythos created by popular images such as Madame Curie sacrificing her health and her life in pursuit of truth. The majority of actual men practitioning science are subject to all the motives of fashion and conformity and self-interest that motivate men in any field, except perhaps even more so, because of the funding problem. Some can rise above it; some can’t. This is why we need wisdom more than “science.”

Instead of “scientists” delivering judgments that everyone receives obediently, they should be the ones doing the tedious work of dredging up and presenting the relevant facts. We have, probably, over a million men in our nation that can understand scientific arguments based on data. Let the data and the argument be presented, and let us decide if the conclusions are valid. We don’t want, we don’t need a new priestly class.

Coronavirus Mortality

It must be said that the publicly-disclosed facts do not support the Coronavirus (hereafter: the Big C) Panic. The numbers coming out of Italy started the panic, with terrifying talk of 3.4% mortality rate. Here are the facts, however.

  1. The average age of one dying from the Big C in Italy is 80.
  2. 99.2% of the deaths were people that had at least one other illness. Almost half had three or more other illnesses.
  3. Many of these 80 year olds with 1 or more life-threatening diseases would have entered the hospital and never come back out anyhow, but in the meantime would have been exposed to the Big C; but anyone dying in a hospital with the Big C was counted as dying on account of the Big C.
  4. The denominator in the mortality rate is greatly understated, since random testing has not taken place, and the people that are tested are already more likely to have it. To illustrate using an extreme example: if one person (say, not knowing he has it) infects a nursing home and all 100 inmates die as a result, but no one else is even tested for it, this would look like a 100% mortality rate. If 10 or 100 times more people actually have it than are known, the mortality rate goes down by a factor of 10 or 100.

See this excellent summary, done with Germanic thoroughness. (If there are subtitles other than English, turning off all subtitles will leave only the english.

Next, we compare the Big C to regular flu in the USA this season:

  • Flu:      39 million illnesses, 400,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths (CDC)
  • Big C:  300 thousand illnesses and 8,000 deaths (Johns Hopkins)

Ordinary flu still has a 3x lead on the Big-C as of the date of my posting this. The number of illnesses is astonishingly different: a factor of 100 more illnesses from the flu. Note that the number of flu illnesses is not measured directly, but extrapolated from certain previously determined infection proportions. But in the case of the Big-C, only the “confirmed” cases are listed, with all the problems highlighted above. If the same extrapolation method was instead used, the mortality rate would come way down.

Fear of death

If I had a condition that made me more susceptible to dying from the Big-C, and someone asked, “Tim, would you like us to stop all the production of automobiles, shut down all the restaurants and coffee shops in the nation, as well as many other businesses, causing 15% unemployment, add 2 Trillion dollars to the national debt, shut down the churches, eliminate social intercourse, and destroy the ability of young people to buy houses for a generation, if by doing so you could live another couple years?” I would say “of course not.” “But would you give the go ahead if this applied to a thousand, or even ten thousand?” “No of course not: go away.”

There is something unseemly about this “we’ve got to do whatever it takes to save lives.” The wicked fear death above everything else. But the reaction is not rational even on their terms. You could save tens of thousands of lives by shutting down all the roads to driving cars. Assuming all this social distancing really works, you could save tens of thousands of lives already from the ordinary flu by doing it. You could save hundreds of thousands of lives by ceasing these meaningless wars in the Middle East.

For the damned, you can understand the fear, even if it is irrational. Such is their fear of death and judgement, they seem to be willing to saw off the branch they are sitting on! and take everyone else with them. Such is their hatred of Donald Trump, or the church, or America, or all of the above, that the agitators in press and politics are willing to bring the whole thing down.

Thus, I don’t think it is only fear that motivates them. Elsewhere

Augustine Updated: The Origin, Progress, and Destiny of the City of Corona

I have written about the memes and new realities they are creating, in service to their master Satan. There is a demonic triumphalism in their visage. Nevertheless, both the fear and the demonic smell of victory lead them to their own destruction. If the trucks stop rolling, most of us will die — including the men that are bringing it to pass. But apart from that, several of their idols are falling. The government schools are closed. Men are forced to break their addiction to ESPN, because there are no games to watch. There is less public blaspheming of our Savior’s name in the pubs and taverns.

I have often wondered how it came about that the Ammonites and Moabites, while attacking Jehosophat, rose up one morning and instead killed each other.

For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. And when Judah came toward the watch tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped. II Chr. 20:23-24.

Of course it was the hand of Jehovah. But that is only (admittedly most important) half of the story. With the Panic of the Big-C, we can finally get a glimpse as to how it might have come about. Doubtless, every soldier had a very good reason, he thought, for why he was justified to slay his neighbor. “If I told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times to stop that loud snoring: but you did it again. Take that!” and off flew his head.

What should have been done

Pretend that the official account of the Big-C were accurate, contrary to the facts.

Then, what should have been done was an absolute quarantine of the elderly and other categories at risk. The youth could have been organized into teams to do shopping and chores for the quarantined, getting a small amount of pay and perhaps some college credit for social service. This is how a real nation behaves. (In Dresden, this was done to serve the refugees pouring in, before the Allies rained down fire from the sky.) With near zero exposure to those actually in danger from the virus, everyone else would continue his work, letting the normal herd effect slowly take over.

Israel Defense Minister Bennett explains.

But the Church

This is the time for strong men to see the signs of the times and lead in the church. It is the time to speak, and perhaps take a confrontational stand against the unlawful diktats and furthering of irrationality by our rulers. But at least speak, even if you can’t act.

But what do we see? Just the opposite. They speak, but in terms of a school-girlish acceptance of the priestly class’s propaganda, even in the teeth of what they can see with their own two eyes. It is utterly unseemly to see Christians capitulating. In a subsequent post, I will analyze the published positions of OPC pastors as well as of supposedly rock-ribbed orthodox Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

They appeal to the will of God, but it seems to me that what we can say about the will of God in this connection is that such men be replaced.


Ten or twelve life-changing books: #11

11. 1994 The Vanderbilt Agrarians, I’ll take my Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition [1930]

The delay in writing this piece on life-changing book #11 is that I wanted to go back and skim and the book for concrete ideas and have found it hard to do so. Instead, I will try to describe in broad strokes a vision of the world that has blossomed and ramified from the roots laid by the book.

What makes the book powerful is that each of the dozen authors is a high-quality intellectual, and each approaches a separate aspect of culture, whether it be history, literature, sociology, or fiction, but all to the end of a common thesis: that unchecked yankee industrialism is ruining our quality of life.

The starting point is that a people must be rooted in the land. For growing food, yes, but much more than that. There is a whole aesthetic of human relations, architecture, relation to animals, and daily life that is tied up with living close to the land.

There is a place for towns, provided these are not just places to jam bedroom developments. Towns must have a townish basis, but this should include the cross-hatch of agriculture markets and services.

I am sort of a city-boy myself, and I have adapted the agrarian vision to include cities. The mindless capitalist industrialization that these authors warn about has eaten up the cities as well. It used to be that every town and city in America had a unique, local stamp. This was partly due to the geographic layout — the physical location of hills, streams, rivers, or coastline —, and partly due to idiosyncracies of free expression — colorful townhouses here, little houses crammed into nooks and crannies and spacious houses on boulevards for the rich folk there, darkness here, gaslamps there, brick emphasis here, wood there. Nature and Nurture. There was a sharp boundary leaving the town and entering the country. But what do we have now? The country hardly exists properly speaking. The approach to the city is a mindless faceless congeries of corporate restaurants, big-box stores of identical brands, and the McDonalds-BurgerKing-Wendies guantlet that slowly increases in density. What were once estate farms are now crammed with neat, cookie-cutter tract houses and McMansions. There is no ‘there’ there — anywhere.

They say it is economic progress, it is inevitable — but how is it progress? A working man of my grandparents’ generation could buy a snug brick house and single-handedly support a wife and four children at home. Who can do that today? And for all that, no has true leisure today. Women do not throw tea parties, and men scarcely have time to meet you at a pub for a relaxed beer. People don’t pursue hobbies. What passes as leisure is largely spent passively consuming garbage on a flickering screen.

People feel it and are resisting. My town has several farmers’ markets; zoning chiefs require “green belts” and organic foods have made a big comeback. As such, these things are commendable, but there is also something affected about it — a kind of yuppy chic permeates even these efforts. It doesn’t go to the root.

Globalism is the external enemy and covetousness the internal one. International banking, the stock market, options, lotteries, and gambling must all be destroyed; but can’t be as long as turning a quick buck is a bigger motivation for our people than family, clan, and folk.

I wish I could say that the gospel is the answer. In one sense it is of course: the relentless stomping out of beauty and grace is a natural concomitent of rejecting God. But zionist dispensationalism in the Christian South has contributed its fair share to the mess. It seems like conservative Christians never see a war they don’t love. Televangelists and mega-churches feed the problem. It is personal salvation, feeling good, and prosperity — where prosperity is defined right in harmony with the thing we are critiquing.

Conversely, it is often the areligious Left that sees the problem I am describing more clearly. Not the leftist Masters, but the dazed street leftists in your local college town.

So yes, “the gospel is the answer,” but some of the questions need to be reformulated before the gospel properly understood can be called an answer.

This is a big subject, indeed, an all-encompassing one. I can’t do it justice in a single essay, and in fact even my brief summary is admittedly painting with a broad brush and lacking nuance. I commend this book as a starting point to begin the discussion, to start thinking about these things.

Brief Intermission: Tribute to Greg Bahnsen

A brief side-bar is needed in this autobiographical sketch of life-changing books. Spanning the interval 1983-1993, no single book stands out, but that was the period of my association with my dear friend and mentor Greg Bahnsen. Though I am avoiding mentioning names in this bookish auto-biography, his needs to be mentioned as the greatest single personal influence on my life in adulthood.

In view of that, it will perhaps be thought odd that I do not count any of his books as life-changing. Indeed, I found many of his books pedantic, even annoying. We had opposite tendencies at the aesthetic level. It is hard for me to imagine anyone becoming a Theonomist through reading Theonomy or its sequels. Then again, he may have felt the same way. Theonomy was actually a comparatively small part of his life, less in fact (by way of negation) than for many of his vitriolic opponents.

One of his teachings that drove deeply into my soul was the ramified implications of Matt. 18. Beyond the obvious three-fold “method” taught there for correcting offenses, Greg taught that even if you have a legitimate grievance, if the way you got to this point was via gossip, slander, tale-bearing, or prevarication, then you had to first go back and fix those errors before “continuing.” The putative grievance had to be left on the table until those errors were dealt with properly. Often, it turned out that the grievance all but vanished by the time those steps were taken — or at least, could be covered in love. What this taught me was that Matt. 18 is not some bureaucratic “manual of discipline,” but something much deeper: an insight into what it means to be human, and to be a human with integrity. The requirements of privacy and caution are not just little nuisances, but go to the heart of the matter. I have continued to develop this theme and hope to write on it anon.

Twice I turned against him. Both times, God gave me the heart to seek reconciliation, and Greg was gracious in a way that was itself life-changing. When I came to him the second time, I was moved to the core by his statement that the whole purpose of his ministry for the previous ten years may well have been, in God’s providence, just to set the stage for that moment. And afterwards, my offenses were never mentioned or remembered.

I will not try to summarize all the many ways he changed my life. That has come out before and will continue to do so. In summary, I will simply say he was a man of a great heart. Indeed, in the divine comedy, the literal heart ailment that killed him well before the age of 50 can be taken as a metaphor for his life. Like our Lord, he can be said to have died of a broken heart.

Ten or twelve life-changing books: #4

4. 1976 Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Throughout the grinding of our souls in the gears of the great Nighttime Institution, when our souls are pulverized and our flesh hangs down in tatters like a beggar’s rags, we suffer too much and are too immersed in our own pain to rivet with penetrating and far-seeing gaze those pale night executioners who torture us. A surfeit of inner grief floods our eyes. Otherwise what historians of our torturers we would be! (Vol 1, chap 4).

I can remember how passages like this made my hair Continue reading