356 Miracles Today

The Christian faith necessarily requires a confidence in miracles—nothing could be more miraculous than Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection, cardinal doctrines of the Faith.  Consequently critics have in various ways denied the reality of miracles while believers remain persuaded that they bear witness to the reality of a supernatural world.  Addressing this issue, Lee Strobel recorded a set of interviews in The Case for Miracles:  A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, c. 2018; Kindle Edition).  Before becoming a Christian, Strobel was a deeply skeptical atheist, denying the very possibility of anything miraculous.  But as a believer he has begun to cautiously give credibility to some seemingly undeniably supernatural events, as carefully defined by Richard L. Purtill:  “‘A miracle is an event (1) brought about by the power of God that is (2) a temporary (3) exception (4) to the ordinary course of nature (5) for the purpose of showing that God has acted in history’” (p. 27).  As he began to study the subject, Strobel was amazerd to find that “nearly two out of five US adults (38 percent) said they have had such an experience—which means that an eye-popping 94,792,000 Americans are convinced that God has performed at least one miracle for them personally.  That is an astonishing number!” (p. 30).  Equally astonishing is a study that says:  “Three-quarters of the 1,100 doctors surveyed are convinced that miracles can occur today—a percentage that’s actually higher than that of the US population in general.  So maybe it’s not surprising that six out of ten physicians said they pray for their patients individually” (p. 31). 

Before talking with believers Strobel determined to honestly state “the case against miracles” so he interviewed Dr. Michael Shermer, the editor of the Skeptic magazine, a columnist for Scientific American, an adjunct professor at Chapman University, and the author of more than a dozen books.  Once a sincerely devout Christian, he abandoned his faith while studying psychology in graduate school.  Though resolutely skeptical of all things supernatural, he is neither bitter about his youthful religious experiences nor contemptuous in the “angry atheist” mode.  Rather he simply recites the basic reasons David Hume set forth nearly 300 years ago, insisting:  “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.”  To Shermer, “Better words could not be found for a skeptical motto” (p. 53).  Hume’s argument was quite simple:  the natural world is all there is, so miracles cannot happen; any reports regarding them must be disbelieved.   This is obviously a self-defeating, circular argument—assuming your conclusion in your premise.  Furthermore, Hume arbitrarily rejected one of the most basic scientific principles by ignoring all empirical evidence, ancient and contemporary, regarding the miraculous.  

Leaving Shermer and his doubts behind, Strobel went to Wilmore, Kentucky, to interview Craig Keener, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, who’s published 21 books, including an award-winning four-volume  commentary on Acts.  Prodded to think about the many miracles reported by St Luke, Keener began an in-depth study of the subject and wrote a 1,172 page treatise—Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, “‘arguably the best book ever on the subject of miracles,” according to noted biblical scholar Craig A. Evans” (p. 76).  Another fine scholar, Ben Witherington III, thinks it is “perhaps the best book ever written on miracles in this or any age.”  In addition to showing why he finds the New Testament record quite credible, Keener recounted some of the many contemporary miracles he finds compelling.  He mentioned “Cambridge University professor John Polkinghorne, one of the world’s foremost scholars on the intersection of science and faith,” who knew a “woman whose left leg was paralyzed in an injury.  Doctors gave up trying to treat her, saying she would be an invalid for life.  In 1980, she reluctantly agreed to hear a prayer by an Anglican priest.  Though she had no expectation of healing, she had a vision in which she was commanded to rise and walk.  Said Polkinghorne, who has doctorates in both science and theology, ‘From that moment, she was able to walk, jump, and bend down, completely without pain’” (p. 111).  (The witness of Polkinghorne, whom I personally met years ago, cannot be casually rejected!)  And so too are the many other incidents Keener cites, concluding:  “‘Anti-supernaturalism has reigned as an inflexible Western academic premise for far too long.  In light of the millions of people around the globe who say they’ve experienced the miraculous, it’s time to take these claims seriously.  Let’s investigate them and follow the evidence wherever it leads.  If even a small fraction prove to be genuine, we have to consider whether God is still divinely intervening in his creation’” (p. 117).

Though miraculous healings are wonderful, the most amazing of all miracles is creation—creatio ex nihilo!  If God spoke into being the heavens and the earth, smaller-scale miracles would be quite likely.  To get an up-to-date report on cosmology, Strobel interviewed Professor Michael George Strauss, a professor of physics at the University of Oklahoma.  He has done research at the Fermi National Accelerator Center and is now involved with a corps of distinguished physicists working at the “Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, smashing protons together to understand, among other things, the properties of the top quark, the fundamental particle with the highest mass” (p. 166).  Strauss thinks “the incredible precision of the universe and our planet is not just intriguing, but it’s compelling evidence for a miracle-working Designer” (p. 175).   Christians believe this Designer assumed our flesh in the Incarnation and rose from the dead following His crucifixion. 

Having celebrated the glories of supernatural miracles, Strobel finishes his treatise with a sobering section entitled “difficulties with miracles.”  In a very personal passage, he says his wife, Leslie, a wonderful Christian who studies and prays and loves the needy, lives with constant pain.  “She is simply the finest and most devout person I have ever known,” he says.  “Have we prayed for relief from her pain? Continually. Have we beseeched God for her healing?  Often and fervently.  Have we seen any improvement?  Quite the opposite” (p. 235).  Knowing that Douglas Groothuis, a Denver Theological Seminary professor, was dealing with similar issues with his wife, Becky, Strobel visited him.  She suffers primary progressive aphasia—an incurable degenerative disease which begins with the loss of verbal skills.  Watching her slide from a super-skilled wordsmith into a stupor-stricken shadow of her former self has, understandably, tried Groothuis’ faith.  They have prayed and prayed, requested others to pray for them, and nothing has happened.  “‘How has all of this affected your relationship with God?’  I asked.  He exhaled deeply.  ‘I’ve learned to lament,’” he said.  We must remember that “Jesus laments over the unbelief of Jerusalem.  On the cross, his lament came as the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  If Jesus can lament and not sin, then I suppose we can.  And just as his lament was answered by his resurrection, so ours will be too.  Look—God’s good world has been broken by sin, and it’s morally and spiritually right to lament the loss of a true good.  I’m grateful for the lament we see in Scripture—it’s God helping us learn how to suffer well’” (p. 246).  Revealing the depth of his anquish, Groothuis said:  “‘When I’m angry at God, when I’m distressed and anguished and seething at my circumstances, I think of Christ hanging on the cross for me.  This brings me back to spiritual sanity.  He endured the torture of the crucifixion out of his love for me.  He didn’t have to do that.  He chose to. So he doesn’t just sympathize with us in our suffering; he empathizes with us.  Ultimately, I find comfort in that’” (p. 247).

Acknowledging he no longer hopes for a miracle, Groothuis cited a phrase in Ecclesiastes suggesting there’s a time to give up—an insight amplified by the Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier, who said that “wisdom is knowing when to resist and when to surrender.”  What consoles him is his “confidence that God exists, that Jesus is his unique Son, that the resurrection actually occurred, and therefore his promises to us—promises of hope and eventual healing—are true” (p. 253).  Where someone to ask him “how are you doing?” He says:  “‘Well, of course, I’d tell them the truth.” “That I’m hanging by a thread,” he said. “But, fortunately, the thread is knit by God.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *. 

Craig S. Keener’s Miracles Today:  The Supernatural Work of God in the Modern World (Grand Rapids:  Baker Publishing Group, c. 2021; Kindle Edition) supplements his much longer work on the subject. This book,” he says, “contains only a few samples of the hundreds of millions of miracle claims reported around the world today, many of them similar to the kinds of accounts I have offered in this book.  I have focused here partly on accounts close to me, and (in a majority of cases) on accounts not already provided in my academic book Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, which contains hundreds of other accounts.  Accounts that appear for the first time here are based especially on my interviews with the people in question or on works that provide good evidence for trusting them” (p. 230).  He begins this treatise with an account of Barbara, who had suffered from chronic pulmonary disease for 16 years.  After his freshman year in college, Keener helped a team conduct a Bible study in Barbara’s nursing home.  Suddenly one of the other leaders felt led to pray for her healing.  He took her hand and said “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to rise up and walk!”  Keener was shocked and felt himself utterly without faith.   But to everyone’s amazement Barbara stood up and began walking!  It was a miracle!  Years later, in 2015, Keener interviewed another Barbara—Barbara Cummiskey Snyder—who had been disabled by multiple sclerosis.  A surgeon, Dr. Harold Adolph, said she “was one of the most hopelessly ill patients I ever saw” who’d had been repeatedly admitted to hospitals and expected to die.  She had difficulty breathing, her intestines and bladder worked poorly, she was basically blind and hadn’t walked for several years.  Following a visit from some of her friends on June 7, 1981, “she suddenly heard a booming, authoritative voice over her left shoulder. ‘My child: Get up and walk’” (p. xiii).  She instantly jumped out of bed, standing on feet that were no longer seriously deformed.  Her hands were suddenly normal and she could see!  She removed her tracheostomy tube, and her earlier-atrophied muscles were completely restored.  The next day she went to see Dr. Howard Marshall, who recalls:  “‘I thought I was seeing an apparition!  Here was my patient, who was not expected to live another week, totally cured.’”  After running tests and consulting with his colleagues, he said:   “‘I’ll be the first to tell you:  You’re completely healed.  I  can also tell you that this is medically impossible.’”  She’s lived “roughly four decades with no recurrence of MS.  Dr. Marshall deems it his ‘rare privilege to observe the Hand of God performing a true miracle.’” (pp. xiv-xv).

Amazingly, what happened to the two Barbaras is happening all around the world, and Keener diligently documents it.  Following Augustine and Aquinas, he defines a miracle as “a divine action that transcends the ordinary course of nature and so generates awe.”  By “transcending the ordinary course of nature,” these thinkers don’t  mean an unusually awesome sunset.  They mean “something you would never expect to happen on its own” (p. 3).  Keener briefly acknowledges skeptrics’ questions and quickly turns listening to eyewitnesses, noting that “nearly three-quarters of doctors in the United States believe in miracles.  More important, over half of the physicians surveyed noted that they had witnessed what they considered to be miracles” (p. 26).  He cites scores of doctors’ reports, such as:  “Dr. Alex Abraham, a neurologist, reports cures of severe epilepsy, tumors, heart failure, and other serious conditions.  Dr. Mirtha Venero Boza provides an eyewitness report of a severe burn that healed during prayer.  Dr. Tonye Briggs attests as an eyewitness to the dramatic closing of a massive wound overnight after prayer” (p. 77).   Still more:  “Dr. William Wilson, professor emeritus at Duke University, certifies the healing, after three hours of prayer, of a Methodist pastor friend of his, who had previously had ’75% occlusion of his major arteries’” (p. 77).  

Keener also finds impressive the “dramatic cures” reported at Lourdes, France.  Catholic doctors and theologians devote much care to investigating reported miracles and validate only those demonstrably true.  Some 7,000 healings have taken place there, including Francis Pascal, who was “cured of ‘blindness’ and ‘paralysis of the lower limbs’ at the age of three years and ten months, on August 28, 1938.”  “One might also consider Marie Bigot, cured of blindness, deafness, and hemiplegia on October 10, 1954.  Unable to work and deemed an invalid owing to verified physical causes, the nearly blind Serge Perrin visited Lourdes and, on May 1, 1970, was anointed.  Within hours his vision unexpectedly returned fully, and he was able to walk unaided.  Doctors verified that no trace of his previous medical problems remained; six years later, in view of his continued health, the cure was recognized by the church as miraculous” (p. 58).  

The same kinds of miracles recorded in the New Testament are occurring today.  The blind see, the lame walk, and the dead are brought back to life!  There are nature miracles akin to Jesus’ calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  The sheer number of vignettes Keener records and the specific kinds of documentation he presents surely affirm the reality of miracles.  To read this book certainly strengthens a believer’s faith in the reality of the Supernatural.

                                   * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Working as an apologist, Eric Metaxas has written Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life (New York:  Penguin Publishing  Group, c. 2014; Kindle Edition).  The acclaimed author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery  and Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Metaxis has a skilled writer’s gift for clear writing and persuasive logic.   He initially lays the philosophical groundwork necessary for a thoughtful examination of the subject, noting that the “Greek word for miracle is ‘simaios,’ which means ‘sign.’  Miracles are signs, and like all signs, they are never about themselves; they’re about whatever they are pointing toward.  Miracles point to something beyond themselves.  But to what?  To God himself. That’s the point of miracles—to point us beyond our world to another world.  They are clues that that other world is not in our imaginations but is actually out there, wherever ‘out there’ actually is” (#291).  

In a very real sense all of creation points to something actually “out there.”  As rational beings we want to know why things exist, why we are what we are, what is the meaning of life.  “So just as what we call miracles point to something outside themselves—which is to say God—the miracle of the very existence of things does precisely the same.  Things point beyond themselves.”  Consequently, “not just those things we would clearly recognize as miracles but every single thing in creation ultimately points beyond itself to the creator, who is by definition outside temporal and material existence and outside his own creation.  Everything has meaning!  It’s in the nature of things.  De Rerum Natura” (#306).  To those who think modern science has made miracles incredible, Metaxas cites Ludwig Wittgenstein’s dictum:  “The great delusion of modernity is that the laws of science explain the universe for us. The laws of nature describe the universe . . . but they explain nothing.”  Modern scientists describe a mysterious universe brought into being in an instant, usually called the Big Bang.  Furthermore, they find themselves amazed by the intricacies—the fine tuning—of this universe.  “In fact, the speed at which the cosmos expanded out of that microdot in question was so outrageously perfectly calibrated that physicists say it constitutes the ‘most extreme fine-tuning yet discovered in physics.’  Astrophysicist Hugh Ross says an ‘analogy that does not even come close to describing the precarious nature of this cosmic balance would be a billion pencils all simultaneously positioned upright on their sharpened points on a smooth glass surface with no vertical supports’” (#744).  Such data lead us to the question:  “What if everything we learn from science points us toward the idea that information came in from outside the system, from a world beyond the realm of science?  What if science points us beyond science?” (#454).  Mounting evidence simply indicates “that our existence is an outrageous and astonishing miracle, one so startlingly and perhaps so disturbingly miraculous that it makes any miracle like the parting of the Red Sea pale in such insignificance that it almost becomes unworthy of our consideration, as though it were something done easily by a small child, half-asleep.  It is something to which the most truly human response is some combination of terror and wonder, of ancient awe and childhood joy” (#857).  

Like Craig Keener, Metaxas seeks to share the “miracle stories themselves, since they are perhaps the best evidence we can have for miracles” and “decided to limit the book only to the stories of people I knew personally” (#80).  Turning to “miracle stories” Metaxas begins with conversions to Christ, specifically his own.  As a young adult in 1988 he had a dream in which Jesus “revealed himself to me in a way that changed everything and from then on I have had no doubt that he is exactly who he says he is and that I want to give him my whole life” (#1833).  Believing in Jesus so dramatically changed him that he “knew it really was miraculous.  It was as if I could somehow feel God inside me, filling up whatever part of me had sought him in that direction.  I suddenly didn’t want what I had previously wanted.  I knew that God was the answer to all my desires.  I wanted God” (#1847).  His conversion was “the miracle that opened the door to so many other miracles in my life” (#2047).  “At long last my search was over.  It was over.  And it was true.  There was a God and Jesus was God and he had shown that to me in a way that only I could understand, in a way that utterly blew my mind.  God knew me infinitely better than I knew myself, and he had taken the trouble to speak to me in the most intimate language there was:  the secret language of my own heart” (#2145).

The miracles of healing Metaxas documents include his “own grandmother telling me how she had prayed for her own leg, which was hurting, and ‘felt a sizzling’ and was instantly healed” (#2371).  Caring for him and her brother, she “spoke to God, saying, ‘I can’t take care of these children today unless you heal me,’ and as she was talking to God—which is to say, as she was praying” she was healed.  “She was not a woman given to hyperbole.  Although there’s nothing dramatic about it, I mention it because I have heard many stories like it over the years” (#2378).  One of the stories involves Cisco Anglero, who found God in prison.  One of his imprisoned friends, Hector, became sick, “shaking and shivering” in bed, suffering from AIDS.  He’d lost a great deal of weight and thought he was dying.  Hector said:  “‘The Holy Spirit told me that if you pray for me, what I feel now is going to be gone.’” Cisco had been a believer for only six weeks and had no idea what to do.  But he “loved his friend and wanted to do what he could” and prayed a simple prayer.  “Suddenly, Cisco told me, a very bright light—’as bright as the sun,’ he said—covered the two of them, ‘like a halo.  It was a circle.’ They were on the second floor of the facility, so it couldn’t have been actual sunlight.  Cisco said that when he finished praying the light went away and he went back to his bunk and sat down. Then, suddenly, he saw Hector stand up, take the blankets off, and take his coat off and the sweater too.  And then Hector began jumping up and down and saying over and over, ‘Thank you, Jesus!  Thank you, Jesus!  Thank you, Jesus!’” (#2401).  

Hector wasn’t instantly healed, but a few months later, in a hospital, he asked Cisco to pray for him over the phone.  Cisco did.  After he hung up, one of Hector’s relatives told him, his “whole body began shaking violently, so much so that all the intravenous needles came out of his body.  He then fell off the bed, got up, and started jumping up and down, over and over, thanking God.  It was a miracle.  She told Cisco that the Kings County doctors had been checking Hector for the last three days and they couldn’t find any evidence of the AIDS virus in his body.  They decided to keep him there for a few more weeks, just to make sure that he was okay, but after that, they would release him” (#2458).  Restored to health, Hector soon attended a Bible college, preparing for a life of ministry.  

I’ve cited, in detail, only a few of the miracles Metaxas absolutely believes happened.  Placing them within the context of his Christian faith explains them.  Reading his treatise certainly encourages readers who trust him to believe miracles still happen.  

# # # 

355 Epstein on Energy

Rick Perry, the former Governor of Texas who served as Secretary of Energy in President Trump’s cabinet, recently urged everyone concerned with our energy crisis to read Alex Epstein’s Fossil Future:  Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More, Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas—Not Less (New York:  Penguin Publishing Group, c. 2022;  Kindle Edition).  For a decade Epstein has been researching, writing, and speaking on energy issues, and he’s committed to providing a reasonable alternative to the radical environmentalism which has increasingly dominated America’s public policies.  Though he deals adeptly with scientific data, he’s most concerned with philosophical principles and practical reason, for as G.K. Chesterton once noted:  “Men have always one of two things: either a complete and conscious philosophy or the unconscious acceptance of the broken bits of some incomplete and shattered and often discredited philosophy” (“The Revival of Philosophy-Why?,” In Defense of Sanity).

Of all the philosophies needing a revival, common-sense Aristotelianism is stands out.  And though Aristotle is never cited in Epstein’s text it’s clear that his views gain traction inasmuch as they draw upon the perennial philosophy of the great Greek ethicist.  Unlike Plato, with his utopian tendencies, Aristotle always sought to identify and pursue reasonable, attainable, goals.  The main thing of Aristotle prescribes in his Nichomachean Ethics is eudaemonia, usually translated “happiness.”  Rather than pursuing riches, sensual pleasures or fame, we attain eudaemonia by rationally ordering our lives to attain good ends, by acting so as to fulfill our potential.  Living virtuously (being temperate, courageous, wise, and just), seeking the “golden mean” (knowing how to balance things rather than lurch about seeking an impossible perfection), and enjoying the good life are all part of the Aristotelian tradition.  As Aristotle said:  “The happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action.”  Extending his ethics to politics, he observed that by nature we are social beings, thriving best in healthy families and communities.  States—political structures—are essential because they can nurture man’s moral and intellectual welfare.  Like Aristotle, Epstein wants us to focus on the human rather than the physical world.  A decade ago he published The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (New York:. Penguin Publishing Group, c. 2014; Kindle Edition), a “book is about morality, about right and wrong.  To me, the question of what to do about fossil fuels and any other moral issue comes down to:  What will promote human life?  What will promote human flourishing—realizing the full potential of life?” 

In Fossil Future Epstein repeats his previous book’s theme, citing much the same the evidence.    He wants us to acknowledge this:  “Nature is not a Garden of Eden in which all the food we need is available to be effortlessly plucked.  While certain environments, left to their own devices, might grow some useful fruit trees, no environment, let alone the average environment around the world, left to its own devices, produces abundant, healthy food for millions of people or more” (p. 136).  Rather than imagining a world as we might like it to be, we should handle it as it really is—a frequently dangerous place we must master with the machines that enable us to thrive.  The elitist environmentalists celebrating the “Green New Deal” generally want to minimize human impact on nature rather than promote human flourishing by using and transforming it.  They are, consequently, Epstein thinks, deeply anti-human.  They think humans easily  harm a fragile physical world because they assume the “Earth, absent human impact, exists in an optimal, nurturing ‘delicate balance’ that is as stable, sufficient, and safe as we can hope to expect” (p. 91).  They assume we must take a dubious “delicate nurturer” stance, refraining from exploiting Nature.  Yet if “our goal is eliminating human impact—usually in the form of  ‘going green,’ ‘minimizing environmental impact,’ ‘protecting the environment,’ or ‘saving the planet’—the value of energy to human flourishing, and even human flourishing as such, is barely considered” (p. 88).  Promoting such ideals involves taking an “incredibly negative view of human beings”—what Epstein deems the “parasite-polluter assumption”— that man’s main impact on our world “is to parasitically plunder our environment of resources and to pollute it to make it unsafe and unhealthy” (p. 92).

Arguing there’s a better alternative, Epstein wants us to pursue policies designed to maximize “global human flourishing,” knowing that fossil fuels have made our world a wonderful place and allowing our species to thrive in truly amazing ways.  Even better, these fuels can make our world ever better.  “I’m going to try to persuade you,” he says “that if you want to make the world a better place, one of the best things you can do is fight for more fossil fuel use—more burning of oil, coal, and natural gas.  While we are almost universally told that more fossil fuel use will destroy the world, I am going to make the case that more fossil fuel use will actually make the world a far better place, a place where billions more people will have the opportunity to flourish, including: to pull themselves out of poverty, to have a chance to pursue their dreams, and—this will likely seem craziest of all—to experience higher environmental quality and less danger from climate” (p. 3).  From the “human flourishing perspective, climate change is not inherently bad—and climate change that involves more warming and more CO2 (plant food) in the atmosphere will surely have many positives even if they are significantly outweighed by negatives.  On a human flourishing standard, we want to avoid not ‘climate change’ but ‘climate danger’—and we want to increase ‘climate livability’ by adapting to and mastering climate, not simply refrain from impacting climate” (p. 18).  If we would stop trying to save the planet and resolve to improve the world for humans “we can have it all—the best of what exists naturally and the best of what we can create—including the time and ability to enjoy what exists naturally” (p. 99).

To fuel our optimism, Epstein develops helpful categories to discern what’s true sorting out the purveyors of environmental information.  First, there are the real researchers, the trained scientists meticulously recording and analyzing the state of the world.  They are scrupulous in dealing with the evidence, cautious in making projections, concerned to put their observations in the proper context, and frequently critical of what parades as “science” in the popular media.   These are the thinkers Epstein trusts and cites, and they differ significantly from the doomsday utterances of President Biden and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  For example, many environmentalists claim with certainty that the globe will warm up 2°C this century.  But when you read the actual researchers, they are less sure and many think that even if such warming occurs it will not prove harmful.  Indeed, “the world’s leading climate economist,” Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus, says an added 2°C would not be  catastrophic and that Green New Deal proposals “‘would do far more harm than good’” (p. 11).  Above all, it’s clear “that climate scientists lack the causal understanding of climate needed to make meaningful predictions” (p. 333), and the best of them refuse to do so.  Were researchers actually shaping public opinion we would all profit.

In addition to the researchers, there are the synthesizers who summarize their research.  “In climate science, the world’s leading synthesizer is the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which synthesizes research that is performed mostly in universities and in government science institutions” (p. 11).  Synthesizers, however, often lack the skills of the researchers and easily allow personal biases to shape their summaries.  They constantly do this by omission—failing to consider crucial aspects of the original studies.  Thus the IPCC, in its critique of fossil fuels, failed to note one momentous detail:  “The death rate from climate-related disasters, especially over the last one-hundred-plus years as CO2 levels have risen, tells us an enormous amount about humans’ ability to adapt to or master climate danger.”  In all the IPCC synthesis reports this is never mentioned!  Yet in fact:  “Climate-related disaster deaths have plummeted by 98 percent over the last century while “temperatures have risen by 1°C” (p. 13).  A person in the 1920s was fifty times more likely to die of climate-related disasters than we are!  The poor work of the synthesizers often exasperates the researchers, as was evident when a prominent scientist, Richard Tol, resigned from his position in the IPCC, complaining that it had changed researchers’ position of “Not without risk, but manageable,” to a more headline-grabbing message that “‘We’re all gonna die’”—“from what I think is a relatively accurate assessment of recent developments in literature to . . . the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (p. 14).

More numerous and influential than the researchers and synthesizers are the disseminators—the institutions and journalists who inform the general public, The New York Times and The Washington Post, the TV networks and radio pundits, the college and high school teachers.  Unfortunately, Epstein says:  “The dissemination of synthesized research is frequently distorted to a degree that is almost impossible to overestimate.”  Novelist Michael Crichton once said that if you read a newspaper article dealing with something you know well you immediately recognize that “‘the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues.  Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. . . . You read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story,” and then read an adjoining article about something in a distant place and naively assume it gives us the total truth! (p. 14).  Given the power of the disseminators in shaping the public understanding—what Epstein calls “our knowledge system”—the West is embarking on a self-destructive experiment that may easily impoverish us all.  

To enable us to think more clearly Epstein urges us to evaluate environmentalists, climatologists, and other “designated experts” by looking at their sorry track records rather than trusting their current predictions.  Prominent alarmists such as Al Gore and James Hansen—lauded as “climate prophets” in some circles—have consistently made demonstrably false predictions.  In fact, Epstein argues, “a study of our knowledge system’s track record on climate reveals that not only has it not been right about climate, it has been 180 degrees wrong” (p. 44).  As “Exhibit A” consider the career of the hugely influential Dr. James E. Hanson of the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Institute for Space Studies.  In 1986 he predicted the the “greenhouse effect” would cause global temperatures to soar “by one-half a degree to one degree Fahrenheit [0.28–0.56°C] from 1990 to 2000” and “by another 2 to 4 degrees [1.11–2.22°C] in the following decade.”  In reality, there was only a 0.12°C rise in the 1990s and only a 0.19°C increase in the 2000s.  Hansen missed his prediction by a factor of five to ten!” (p. 45).  Joining Hansen in making dire predictions, John Holdren warned that global warming could kill a billion people before 2020!  Despite such wildly erroneous declamations, President Barack Obama choose Holdren to be his top science adviser!  Much of the problem with “experts” such as Hansen and Holdren is their record of “(1) wildly overpredicting the negative climate side-effects of fossil fuels and (2) ignoring the climate mastery benefits that come with them.  The particular error our designated experts made on climate is an instance of a broader error I call ‘catastrophizing’” (p. 50).  Decades ago leading experts declared we would soon run out of fossil fuels, “seemingly unaware that ten-plus times more oil and gas, let alone coal, exist in the Earth than humanity has used in its entire history—meaning that imminent depletion was impossible” (p. 55).  

Even worse, our experts constantly paint dire portraits of “the most promising long-term alternative to fossil fuels, nuclear energy, engaging in even more brazen distortions of science than it has used with fossil fuels—suggesting that its hostility toward cost-effective energy as such will drive it to catastrophize with even the scantest of evidence” (p. 60).  In fact, nuclear energy, like fossil fuels, “has already produced relatively low-cost, extremely reliable electricity around the world.  It has shown promising applications for industrial-process heat and heavy-duty transportation.  And it emits no air pollution or CO2 and has the best safety track record of any form of energy.  Nuclear’s remarkable cleanliness and safety flow from the basic, well-established nature of nuclear energy production” (p. 60).  Certainly there is a theoretical danger of plants “melting down,” but there are no “documented deaths from nuclear radiation from commercial reactors.  Zero!  And yet most of us think of nuclear energy as very dangerous—because our knowledge system has catastrophized it despite not a shred of plausibility from the fields of nuclear science or engineering.  It has done this above all by distorting the issue of nuclear radioactivity” (p. 61).  By doing so, we probably won’t even know that “one of the most promising emerging technologies is nuclear microreactors that are simple to operate and small enough to fit on the back of a semitruck. They could be used for everything from powering industrial projects in remote locations to quickly restoring power to areas hit by a natural disaster” (p. 360).

In addition to halting the development of nuclear power plants, anti-human extremists intent on eliminating human impact on nature have opposed logging, plastics, new roads, new factories, etc.—the very things most needed to make the world a better place.  “One particularly horrifying example of our knowledge system’s pursuit of this goal has been the widespread elimination of the lifesaving, malaria-destroying compound DDT.  According to the politically liberal National Academy of Sciences, this compound has saved 500 million lives from malaria death.  But it has been largely eliminated from the poor world by way of pressure from rich nations that were up in arms about reports that DDT has a side-effect of . . . thinner bird eggshells.  Countless millions of people have died to eliminate our alleged impact on eggshells.  (Like most such claims, this impact-on-eggshells claim also proved to be wildly distorted)” (p. 82).  

On the other hand, countless millions of people who might have died have lived because of technological developments providing abundant food, clean water, safe shelter, sanitation, efficient transportation, cold storage and medical care.  In fact, we’ve “taken an unnaturally dangerous planet and made it unnaturally safe” (p. 153).  For example, our fossil fuel-empowered agricultural system has effectively eliminated the devastating famines that ravished countries such as China a century ago, dramatically increasing life expectancy.  We now have a “whole innovative subindustry of agricultural research, where individuals devote their whole careers to studying how to grow more and healthier food.  Chief among such individuals is Norman Borlaug, the leader of the Green Revolution (not related to the modern Green movement), whose work in genetics and plant breeding has been credited with preventing upwards of a billion deaths from hunger and malnutrition” (p. 140).  Importantly, Borlaug’s break-through work utilized natural gas- based fertilizers enabling farmers to produce the amazing amounts of food needed to feed mankind.  Fossil-fuels also power effective irrigation systems that further enable farmers to produce enormous crops.   

Epstein effectively shows why “alternative” sources of energy cannot possibly sustain human flourishing.  To even imagine quickly replacing fossil fuels with green energy is a totally “crackpot idea.”  We must understand that all these “alternatives”—solar panels, windmills, waste wood, biofuels from corn or sugarcane—have been tried for 50 years.  Despite lavish subsidies, solar and wind energy cannot but fail to replace fossil fuel use by 2050.  Solar and wind energy cannot but fail because of their diluteness and intermittency.  They also use rare-earth materials only obtained through mining large sections of land, using powerful machinery.  “Building solar and wind electricity generation requires ten times more mined materials than building fossil fuels electricity generation” (p. 212).  The vaunted “total electric” system envisioned by our elites requires an “extreme controllability; the electrical grid needs to be able to provide industrial and residential users with electricity on-demand—whenever they need it and in whatever quantities they need it in” (p. 213).  And as folks in Texas learned in February 2021, this is precisely what sun and wind energy cannot do!  Only when devotees of solar and wind energy conceal the true costs of making the panels and windmills can they craft compelling arguments—“partial cost accounting”—to justify their installation.  “In reality, every grid in the world uses solar and wind only as a parasite on reliable sources: coal, gas, nuclear, and large-scale hydro, none of which qualify as “renewable” by most definitions” (p. 219).  In fact:  “solar and wind replacing fossil fuels isn’t a fantastic breakthrough; it’s a thoroughly dishonest fantasy—one that is used to advance anti-impact, anti-energy policies” (p. 223).

However much we might imagine ending our use of fossil fuels, they remain “the world’s energy of choice 80 percent of the time—that’s four times more than all alternatives combined.  Solar and wind, by contrast, provide just 3 percent of the world’s energy—and that 3 percent is almost exclusively for electricity, which is less than 20 percent of the world’s energy use.  Solar and wind technologies make almost no contribution to crucial areas of energy use such as heavy-duty transportation and many forms of ‘industrial process heat’—generating very high levels of heat for such processes as making plastics and making cement.  Fossil fuel use is not shrinking; it is growing.  CO2 emissions have grown by 60 percent since the first major United Nations climate conference in 1992.  In every five-year period since then, fossil fuel use has increased more than the use of any other form of energy” (p. 180).  Unlike electric cars, the cargo ships, diesel trucks, heavy construction equipment and airplanes so necessary for commerce industry require gas, diesel, and oil.  

Burning fossil fuels will certainly increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  But Epstein argues it will be minimal and we can creatively deal with it.  Though we’re told by our knowledge disseminators that we’re destroying our world, there’s simply no evidence there’s an environmental catastrophe is in the making.  Global cooling—as evident in the “Little Ice Age” several centuries ago—would be far more deadly than global warming.  Since 1850, atmospheric CO2 has increased “from just under 0.03 percent—280 parts per million—to just over 0.04 percent—420 parts per million.”  Yet earlier in earth’s history there was nearly 15 times that amount and nothing catastrophic occurred.  All too many of the fears broadcast by our media—forests burning, floods descending, oceans risings, hurricanes burgeoning—are demonstrably unrelated to “climate change.”  Sadly, Epstein says, we have been seriously misled by our knowledge system regarding CO2’s climate impacts.  “In reality, there’s nothing whatsoever “unprecedented” going on in terms of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or the average temperature on Earth” (p. 321).  Furthermore:  “There is no direct correlation between temperature and CO2.  And when one looks more closely at the times they do correlate in past eras, CO2 rises come after temperature rises, not before—due to the rising temperature warming the oceans and releasing CO2” (p. 335).

Importantly, we’re never told about the positive aspects of CO2, which “is both a warming gas and a fertilizing gas.  One minute of commonsense thinking about” this should make it clear how plants will profit from more fertilizer and longer growing seasons (p. 297).  In fact, “today’s CO2 levels are quite low from a plant-preference perspective” (p. 297), so more atmospheric CO2 would green up the planet.  Looking at the past two decades, because of the fertilizer effect “the world has added additional green areas equivalent to the size of all the Amazon’s rainforests” (p. 298).  This very positive development, however, has been largely ignored.  Sadly:  “Many eminent climate scientists have been publicly smeared as ‘climate change skeptics’ or even ‘climate change deniers’ even though they think the evidence shows that CO2 has a warming impact on climate—they just think the negativity of that impact is severely overstated and/or the accompanying benefits of fossil fuels are severely understated” (p. 303).  To Epstein, if we consider “the universally acknowledged history of climate and life on this planet, we inevitably come to the conclusion that rising CO2 levels leading to an unlivable planet is literally impossible—because the planet was incredibly livable for far less-adaptable organisms, with much in common with us, when CO2 was at levels that we could not come close to even if we wanted to” (p. 321).  So relax and give thanks for fossil fuels!

354 Truth & Beauty

In The Truth and Beauty:  How the Lives and Works of England’s Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understand of the Words of Jesus (Grand Rapids:  Zondervasn, c. 2022), Andrew Klaven provides us some fresh, persuasive ways to address our increasingly godless culture.  Klavan is well-known in the literary world, considered by Stephen King a “most original American novelist of crime and suspense.”  In an earlier book—The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ—he recounted how reading literature tilled the soil for his remarkable conversion.  “No one could have been more surprised than I was,” he said.  “I never thought I was the type.  I had been born and raised a Jew and lived most of my life as an agnostic.  I believed in the fullest freedom of thought into the widest reaches of fact and philosophy  I believed in science and analysis and reasonable explanations.  I had no time for magical thinking of any kind.  I couldn’t bear solemn piety.  I despise even the ordinary varieties of willful blindness to the tragic shambles of life on earth.”  In short, for half-a-century he’d been a hard-boiled realist—“a worlding by nature”  But coming to Christ (and being baptized) he “acquired a new realism.  My deepened relationship with God augmented my talent for living” (p. 4).  Desiring to more fully understand the Faith he turned to the Bible, but found some of its passages, such as the Sermon on the Mount, incomprehensible.  Discussing this with his classics-educated son he heard these words:  “‘Maybe the problem is that you are trying to understand a philosophy instead of trying to get to know a man.’  I recognized this on the instant as the single smartest thing anyone had ever said to me.” (p. 5).  So he embarked on a quest to get to know Jesus.  He taught himself koine Greek and read the Gospels, not “trying to understand Jesus’ philosophy” but “to get to know him:  who he was inside, how he saw the world, how he tried to make us see it.  And that is ultimately what this book is about” (p. 12).

Setting the stage, Klavan explains why he finds help in the 19th century Romantic poets.  Nor is he alone in this discovery.  William Wordsworth had provided C.S. Lewis “a stepping-stone to faith” by giving glimpses of a more ethereal world and enabling him to escape the iron fetters of materialism.  To Klavan:  “Mostly without seeking to, mostly without meaning to, these poets rediscovered what is provable in the living of it:  that the deepest experience of human existence, the most creative, the most joyful, and surely the most true is the experience taught to us by the incarnate Word of God and bought for us by his crucifixion and resurrection” (p. 17).  Consequently, when he “returned to Jesus searching for a deeper understanding of his words, he sent me back to literature—to the poetry I loved most—so that it could explain him to me anew.  To paraphrase the lines of T. S. Eliot, a modern Christian poet deeply influenced by the Romantic tradition, the end of all my exploring was to arrive where I had started and to know the place for the first time.  I hope that others will find what I found:  that that journey—that literary journey of the Romantics through an age of unbelief back to the entryway of faith—is nothing less than the journey home” (p. 19).  With Dante, “having strayed from the right path and lost it,” we need to head home.  

After delving into the problems of our increasingly godless world, Klavan turns to Wordsworth and Coleridge as sources to both rightly diagnose and properly rectify out worldview.  Both men were unusually talented, and they together wrote a book, Lyrical Ballads with a Few Other Poems that “would revolutionize the art of English poetry” (p. 122).  Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” begins the book and Wordsworth’s “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” concludes it.  One of C.S. Lewis’s friends, Owen Barfield (an Inkling), wrote Poetic Diction and dedicated it to Lewis.  He thought Coleridge’s philosophy “fits into the collaborative cycle of creation,” showing “that, in its origins, language originally expressed the unity of physical and spiritual experience.”  Consequently:  “The purpose of poetry, Barfield says, is to reunite the language of the physical with the language of the spiritual in our minds, and so recreate the original human experience of the physical and the spiritual as one thing” (p. 127).  As with icons in Eastern Orthodoxy, we see through what is here to see what is there.  

We crave meaning, Klavan says, “and it matters whether we find that meaning in collaboration with reality or step out of that collaboration and find ourselves left with nihilistic nonsense” (p. 129).  Coleridge found such “collaboration with reality” in Jesus.  As St John declared:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made.”  So, to Coleridge:  “‘Might not Christ be the World as revealed to human knowledge? . . . .  ‘A kind of common sensorium, the total Idea that modifies all thoughts?’  The word sensorium means the apparatus of human sensation, the way in which we experience the world.  Coleridge’s idea is that Christ is the model and perfection of that experience, a true melding of flesh and spirit, life and Logos, man and God.  The more we experience the world through Christ, the more we become like Christ and know the world truly” (p. 130).  We’re able, Colderidge thought, to behold with our finite minds the “eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am” (p. 130).  Thus “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” concludes:  “He prayeth well who loveth well /  Both man and bird and beast. / He prayeth best who loveth best, / All things both great and small:  / For the dear God, who loveth us, / He made and loveth all.”  Of all the Romantic poets, only “Coleridge was philosophically brilliant enough to understand that their declarations about nature—its immortality, its beauty and truth—needed to rest upon the supernatural, ‘a kind of common sensorium’—as he called Jesus Christ—‘the total Idea that modifies all thoughts’” (p. 162)

Wordsworth and Coleridge effectively answered Hamlet’s searching query:  “‘Who’s there?’  By depicting the human imagination as ‘a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am,” and as ‘an agent of the one great mind . . . creator and receiver both, working but in alliance with the works which it beholds,’ they had restored the essentially Christian relationship of man with the Logos.  They had written a new mass, which made of all nature the bread and wine, the melding of material and meaning.  Which brings us back to C. S. Lewis’s observation:  ‘For some souls I believe, for my own I remember, Wordsworthian contemplation can be the first and lowest form of recognition that there is something outside ourselves which demands reverence . . . For ‘the man coming up from below’ the Wordsworthian experience is an advance. Even if he goes no further he has escaped the worst arrogance of materialism:  if he goes on he will be converted”  (p. 141).

Following his discussion of the Romantic poets, Klavan turns to “The Word Made Flesh:  Jesus Versus Unbelief,”  finding:  “Jesus’ life expresses the Logos, the Word that speaks the world into being, the Word that is with God and that is God.  Jesus is that Word made flesh.  The meaning of Jesus’ life is the meaning of everything.  His truth is truth.  His right is right.  His beauty is beauty.  These are human ideas—truth, right, beauty.  These are ways we humans experience the indescribable Logos.  But how do we know our truths are true, our right is right, our beauty is beautiful?  We know by knowing Jesus.  He is what Coleridge said he was:  ‘the World as revealed to human knowledge . . . the total Idea that modifies all thoughts’” (p. 169).  Inasmuch as He is the Word, “everything Jesus does is a story, but because he is the Word incarnate, it is also life, because his story is the story of the meaning of life.  Picture him as a bridge between the physical world and its immaterial meaning” (p. 172).  This is ever-evident in Jesus’ parables, for they show us a transcendent realm illustrated in the tangible, transient world.  “Meaning is above nature—it is supernatural—because it is the idea that nature expresses” (p. 173).

Many today refuse to acknowledge any supernatural realm, rejecting any designing Mind, any Logos working creatively in the cosmos, denying the reality of any immaterial God Who created all that is.  But religious thinkers respond by asserting “that consciousness [or mind], acting at a distance, has a role in creation, that consciousness precedes creation, that it is creation’s source and motive force and can bring what was not there into existence and change what is there into something new. This is the very first thing that happens in the Bible.  God says let there be light—and there is.  And it’s what Jesus does in the miracles and healings.  He uses consciousness to affect matter” (p. 191).  Klavan thinks “it is actually more plausible to believe that matter is the spoken word of the One Great Mind than that it is simply itself.  Mathematics would not work if this were not so—it would have no underlying idea to which to refer.  Truth, morality, and beauty likewise—they would be smoke and illusion, as the materialists say they are.  But they’re not.  Math, truth, morality, and beauty are all ways in which our minds translate matter into meaning—the Logos—the meaning in the consciousness of the Great Mind.  And since our minds are made in the Great Mind’s image, there is no reason not to believe that his Word could appear among us in the guise of ourselves.  Like all miracles, it seems unlikely only before it happens.  Afterward, it seems entirely reasonable.  Such a person, the embodied Word, would be the clear mirror which shows us the image of moral reality we now see only darkly.  He would be the silent presence of the truth the language of our lives can only roughly express.  And he would be inexpressible except as presence, as story, as a living metaphor for himself.  He would be like the experience of bread and wine—indescribable.  You have to taste and see that it’s good” (pp. 192-193).

On the road to Emmaus the risen Christ opened his disciples’ minds to the truth of the scriptures, for they speak of Him.  Subsequently, Christians found Christ in Hebrew history and sacred writings.  Similarly, Klavan has found Jesus as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of all things.  And the end is revealed to us in His Resurrection, which was “like everything else Jesus did:  itself and its meaning.  He really rose from the dead, and, rising, he showed that the Word speaks the body into existence and that if the body speaks the Word, it becomes part of its endless creation and will be spoken into life without end.  The resurrection tells us that when the flesh becomes the Word, the Word will become flesh again, in a new body, incorruptible.  The resurrection says to us:  heaven and earth shall pass away but the Word will never pass away.  Therefore, become the Word” (p. 228).  

Commending Klavan’s  book, Stephen C. Meyer (author of Return of the God Hypothesis)says: Andrew Klavan has written a stunningly original work that defies classification by genre.  It is, at once, literary, philosophical, and deeply Christian—and, for all those reasons, personally enriching.”  Still more:  “The Truth and Beauty is full of insight about romantic love and human mortality, the perils of utopian politics, the nature of men and women, the meaning of life and the moral order, science and the possibility of knowledge, and especially, the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels.  Not since reading C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce in college has a single book induced such deep and constructive theological reflection in me, as I suspect it will for many other readers.”  Similarly, Carl Trueman says:  ‘We live in a disenchanted world, a world of commodities and ‘stuff’ that simply do not satisfy the intrinsic human craving for meaning and transcendence.”  But:  “For those who love both Christ and great literature . . . this book is a delight and a means to that most important of things:  the reenchantment of our world.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To Saint Teresa of Calcutta:  “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.  We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love.  There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.  The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality.  There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”  As Jennifer Roback Morse makes clear in The Sexual State: How Elite Ideologies Are Destroying Lives and Why the Church Was Right All Along (Charlotte, N.C:  TAN Books, c. 2018; Kindle Edition), our hunger for love has been seriously subverted by our culture.  We’re certainly blessed in many ways, yet all too frequently we’re lonely, anxious and depressed.  Children and women seem especially troubled.  “The average child in the 1980s reported more anxiety than child psychiatric patients in the 1950s” and “women’s happiness declined both absolutely and relative to men between the 1970s and the turn of the century” (#139).  

Why might this be?  Morse blames the Sexual State.  Citing many examples as well as scholarly studies, she says cohabitation, divorce, pornography, casual hook-ups, contraception, abortion, etc. have soared following the Sexual Revolution in the ‘60s.  Its main tenets are:   “separate sex from childbearing:  the Contraceptive Ideology; separate both sex and childbearing from marriage: the Divorce Ideology; eliminate all distinctions between men and women except those that individuals explicitly embrace:  the Gender Ideology” (#318).  These ideologies certainly prevail in America’s universities and media and have helped shape various Supreme Court decisions.  As a devout, traditional Catholic, Morse says the only significant alternative is “the Catholic Narrative.  The unbroken teaching of the Catholic Church is that the Contraceptive, Divorce, and Gender Ideologies are all at war with human nature and divine law” (#676).  Consequently they must be resisted.  

Unfortunately the Church faces a formidable foe in the modern state, controlled by secular elitists.  “The Sexual Revolution has never been a grassroots movement.  It is and always has been a movement of the elites justifying their preferred lifestyles, imposing their new morality, and, in the process, allowing them unprecedented control over others” (#743).  It’s the state that runs the nation’s schools and insists they promote the Sexual Revolution.  It’s the state that issues judicial edicts imposing no fault divorce, same-sex marriage, trans-gender “rights,” etc.  It’s the state the zealously excludes any religious traditions, admonitions or prescriptions from the public square.  Only the state has coercive power to impose its standards, though they are manifestly false.  In fact: “Children do need their parents, and therefore marriage is the proper and just context for both sex and childrearing.  Men and women are different.  The true sexual revolutionaries resent these facts.”  They fantasize about making a better world with utopian components.  But denying reality doesn’t ultimately change it—it simply harms the persons shoved into its molds.   “It requires government coercion, media propaganda, economic restructuring, and educational indoctrination to cancel out the impact of sex differences” #823).    People capable of believing a man pretending to be a woman is actually a woman can easily believe 2 + 2 = 5.  

Having assessed the power of the Sexual State, Morse devotes many chapters to examining court decisions, academic research and personal anecdotes, finding abundant reasons to reject the contraceptive, divorce and gender ideologies.  “The contraceptive revolution was supposed to make ‘every child a wanted child,’ but who can take that cliché seriously now?,” she says.   Highly educated career women may consider it a great good, but “the percentage of children born to unmarried mothers has increased dramatically during the period in which both contraception and abortion were legally available and highly promoted.”  The data speak clearly:  “regardless of intent, the results of have been catastrophic for women and children” (#1457).  But the government has imposed its will and promoted contraceptives by all means necessary, guided by a perverse commitment to eugenics.  As Margaret Sanger declared in 1919:  “More children from the fit, less from the unfit—that is the chief issue of birth control,” a vision, empowering the corps of “ardent believers” who lead the feminist and environmentalist armies.  And they are financed by some of the world’s most wealthy and powerful men, such as George Soros, Warren Buffett and John D. Rockefeller III.  Speaking at the Third World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974, Rockefeller said “promoting women’s rights was a key to reducing world population” (#1796). 

Aborting 60+ million unborn American babies in 50 years has certainly helped reduce world population and has been zealously promoted by the Sexual State!  But it’s suppressed evidence showing how abortions harm women.  Multiple studies link abortion with breast cancer, and one scholar asserts: “‘Induced abortion is now a commonly-accepted risk factor for breast cancer—except in North America, where it is denied chiefly for political reasons.’  The American medical profession is complicit in suppressing the knowledge of this well-documented risk” (#2154).  For example, Leslie Bernstein, a National Cancer Institute researcher found birthing a baby helps protect a woman from breast cancer—“the biggest bang for the buck is the first birth, and the younger you are the better off you are”—but she refused to promote her research because of its political implications.  Our elites have championed contraception and abortion, enabling women to pursue careers, buy houses, and enjoy our affluent society.  Almost alone in resisting the contraceptive ideology, Morse says, is the Catholic Church, for the “unbroken teaching of the Church is that the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act must not be separated” (#2640).  She insists the Church is right, and the faithful should fully embrace and follow her teachings.  

Turning to the Divorce Ideology (firmly established by no-fault divorce laws) Morse stresses that:  “Children of divorce were the first victims of the Sexual Revolution.  Children of unmarried parents followed quickly behind them.  Now, children of same-sex couples and children of donor conception are the latest victims” (#2706).  Children clearly “suffer from the loss of connection with their parents.  Children suffer from their parents’ divorce.  Children suffer from the loss of their fathers if their parents never marry in the first place.  Children suffer from their parents’ remarriages and other couplings.  And while the evidence is still relatively new, early indications are that the children of donor conception have serious issues with the circumstances of their conception.  It takes a lot of propaganda to maintain the myth that the kids will be fine” (#3545).  We now confront “two competing worldviews.”  Christians have traditionally held that adults who bring children into the world have duties regarding them.  Secularists insist adults should enjoy sexual pleasures with little concern for children who have to adjust to their parents’ desires, and the Sexual State should maximize opportunities for sexual expression.  Lawmakers have crafted policies that enabled unmarried women to get money for both contraception and child care.  Consequently, whereas in 1960 only 5 percent of all births were to unmarried women, within a decade 10 percent  were non-marital, and “since 2011, over 40 percent of all births are to unmarried women” (#3241).  The soaring illegitimacy rates were significantly fueled by governmental policies.  Casualties ensuing from the Divorce Ideology created a wasteland are all around us, should were care to consider it.

The final ideology—the Gender Ideology—has only recently begun making inroads into our culture, infiltrating multiple institutions, taking increasingly radical forms.  Contraception severs sex from babies and divorce separates children from parents, but Gender Ideology frees individuals from their own bodies.  Its proponents “now insist that any individual can reconstruct his or her own personal gender identity,” that “gender is a construct merely assigned at birth,” and that “genitalia are not sufficient to classify people into male or female” (#3685).  As is now evident, when courts decree that men self-identifying as women may compete in women’s athletics, the Gender Ideology is now part of the Sexual State.  That this is “truly revolutionary” goes without saying. 

Morse concludes her treatise by urging us to move “From the Sexual State to a Civilization of Love:  A Manifesto for the Family,” which includes ending sex education in public schools, abolishing taxpayer-funded women’s and gender studies, reforming divorce laws, stopping the “marriage tax” in welfare programs, outlawing abortion, and eliminating same-sex marriage.  Probable?  No, but probative! 

353 The Bidens’ Delaware Way

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post recently acknowledged the credibility of the evidence embedded in the laptop of President Biden’s son, Hunter.  They did not, however, confess or apologize for suppressing the evidence when it was published by the New York Post a few weeks before the 2020 presidential elections.  Headlined “Biden’s Secret Emails,” the Post’s articles detailed how Vice President Joe Biden had been significantly involved in his son’s business deals, especially in Ukraine and China.  All references to the Post’s exposé were expunged from Twitter and Facebook, and none of the major newspapers or TV networks covered it.  Adding to the information blackout, within a week “fifty former senior intelligence officials led by the former Obama administration’s CIA director, John Brennan, and director of National Intelligence, James Clapper” claimed the laptop contained nothing more than Russian “disinformation.”  It’s now clear that the “coordinated censorship of America’s oldest newspaper, with the fourth largest circulation in the nation, amounted to election interference.”  Indeed, post-election “polls suggest that if the full story of the Bidens’ international influence-peddling scheme had been told before the election it could have changed votes in crucial marginal seats and possibly flipped the result” (p. 11-12).

Miranda Devine, an Australian journalist working for the Post, probes the Bidens’ affairs in Laptop from Hell: Hunter Biden, Big Tech, and the Dirty Secrets the President Tried to Hide (New York:  Post Hill Press, c. 2021; Kindle Edition).  She tells, in part, the sad “story of a son of political privilege tormented by the defining tragedy of his childhood” (p. 5).  Hunter’s mother and baby sister were killed in 1972 when their car struck a truck.  The truck driver tried to avoid the collision, which was probably caused by Mrs. Biden, though (thirty years later, after trucker was dead) Joe began accusing him of being intoxicated and causing the wreck.  Hunter was nearly three years old when his mother died.  He and his brother Beau were seriously injured, and though they recovered physically emotional scars endured.  As the distinguished literary critic Leon Edel said:  “There is no hurt among all the human hurts deeper and less understandable than the loss of a parent when one is not yet an adolescent.”  With daddy Joe spending most of his time in Washington, his sister Val and her husband moved into Joe’s house to look after Beau and Hunter.  In time Joe re-married, but Hunter never felt close to his step mother Jill.  Tellingly, his happiest childhood days were spent in summers with his birth mother’s parents on Owasco Lake in upstate New York, and late in life he had a large map of the Finger Lakes tattooed on his back. 

Hunter’s childhood trauma and struggles may help explain some of his laptop’s contents—“rampant drug use and explicit homemade pornography.”  We learn of his relationship with Lunden Alexis Roberts, a stripper whose stage name was ‘’Dallas,” who gave birth to his child whom he acknowledged  only after required to submit to a paternity test.  Though ordered to pay child support, Hunter never recognized the child, claiming he “had no recollection” of this affair.   We also learn that Hunter launched an affair with Hallie Hunter, the widow of his brother Beau, shortly after his death in 2015.  Soon after the funeral Hunter left his wife and their three daughters to live with Hallie in Beau’s home, two miles distant from father Joe’s lakefront estate.  They turned the house into “a party house where people would sit all night on the porch smoking crack.  Hunter also filmed many of his sex sessions with Hallie and would upload the videos onto his PornHub account for the world to see, with titles such as ‘Lonely Widow’” (p. 30).  Inevitably  the press reported that Hunter and Hallie were having an affair, but Hunter persuaded his father to bless their twosome, saying:  “‘We are all lucky that Hunter and Hallie found each other as they were putting their lives together again after such sadness” . . . .  They have mine and Jill’s full and complete support and we are happy for them’” (p. 55).  Summing it all up in his 2021 autobiography, Beautiful Things, Hunter lamented:  “I was the sicko sleeping with his brother’s wife.”  

Such details might easily evoke a sympathetic analysis of Hunter’s inner turmoil.  But his laptop, Devine discloses, also reveals significant evidence of his financial corruption.  We find therein  “corporate documents, bank transfers, and emails detailing a vast international influence-peddling scheme, sanctioned by the world’s most despotic regimes—and implicating ‘Honest Joe’ Biden himself.  It would provide a window onto the corruption that is Washington’s original sin, as conducted on a global scale by one of its most skilled and calculating practitioners” (p. 9).  With Devine we get glimpses into “the Biden family business, involving the president’s brothers as well as Hunter” from 2010 to 2019, detailing “Joe’s life as the globe-trotting vice president of the Obama administration, the favor-trading senator from Delaware who would go on to become leader of the free world.  The laptop also puts the lie to President Biden’s repeated claims that he knew nothing about his son’s shady business ventures in China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Russia, and beyond” (p. 11).  He was a discreet but deeply involved player in Hunter’s endeavors.  

When Joe Biden became Vice President in 2009, Hunter Biden’s fortunes soared.  He landed a spot on the board of Eudora Global (a venture capital firm run by one of Joe’s best supporters) that garnered him $80,000 a year.  He became a “counsel” for the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner—closely tied to the Clintons—doing little but getting $216,000 yearly.  Hunter’s “work” for these companies mainly “meant opening doors using his family name.  One of his 2017 emails celebrated a three-year deal with one of his Chinese partners, CEFC chairman Ye Jianming, which guaranteed him $10 million annually ‘for introductions alone’” (p. 38).  He routinely followed his uncle’s Jim’s prescription:  “‘Don’t worry about investors,’ . . .  ‘We’ve got people all around the world who want to invest in Joe Biden’” (p. 38).  

This was simply part of the “Delaware Way” whereby Joe Biden (for four decades) “had leveraged a quid pro quo system of cronyism and trading favors for political influence” (p. 57).  Becoming Vice President, Joe determined to “extend the ‘Delaware Way’ template internationally by using his son (often assisted by Joe’s devoted younger brother Jim) as bagman for family.  During his decades as a senator, “Joe had become expert at not getting caught doing anything illegal or too obviously unethical.  Never be too greedy, never leave a trail, never say too much—and always, but always, play the sympathy card if the heat comes on” (p. 58).  He carefully cultivated his public persona as an honest man with a wholesome family.  Privately, however, he wanted to head up a Delaware version of the Kennedy clan.  “He constructed a mythical persona full of tall tales of derring-do, exaggerations, and outright lies about his accomplishments.  He lied about nonexistent academic awards and scholarships.  He plagiarized speeches willy-nilly, and in one infamous case, appropriated the personal life story of British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, pretending that he, too, was descended from coal miners and was the first in his family to get a college degree ‘in a thousand generations.’  He routinely repeated far-fetched stories with himself as the big guy, including a favorite in which he single-handedly faced down a ‘bad dude’ named ‘Corn Pop’ who was armed with a straight razor and ‘ran a bunch of bad boys.’  He pretended that he trained as a racial activist in black churches, claimed he was at the center of the civil rights movement in Selma and Birmingham, and stated he had been arrested in Soweto on his way to see Nelson Mandela in prison.  None of it was true.  Each lie served to boost his ego, to place him as the shining superhero of every grandiose story, smarter, tougher, more honorable than anyone, with the best marriage, the best children, the best house, the best life” (p. 77).

As the vice president, Joe Biden gave his son Hunter “the role of paying the bills for the rest of the family through lucrative grace-and-favor jobs and sweetheart deals facilitated by Joe’s network of connections in Delaware and, later, throughout the world” (p. 56).  Though he claimed he had “never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings,” the laptop proves he lied.  For example, in 2015 Joe attended a meeting in a Georgetown restaurant, Cafe Milano—known as a favorite spot for “the world’s most powerful people” to mingle.  Hunter had been cultivating contacts around the world who wanted to meet his dad, so he arranged for “his benefactors from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Russia” to talk with the vice president in one of the cafe’s private rooms.  Among the invitees were “Russian billionaire Yelena Baturina and her husband, corrupt former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov” (p. 100).  She had sent Hunter $3.5 million on February 14, 2014, to underwrite some of his endeavors.  Aware of the impropriety of attending such a session, Joe Biden initially denied he did so.  He later confessed he was there but claimed he’d not discussed politics or business!  Whatever he discussed, Devine says, all that mattered was for him “to show up and shake hands.  All that matters is that Hunter demonstrates his pulling power” (p. 102).  

Laptop from Hell contains important evidence concerning the Biden family’s ties to a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burismo.  Soon after Joe became vice president, his son Hunter, Chris Heinz (John Kerry’s stepson), and Devon Archer, a former senior adviser to John Kerry, formed an investment firm:  Rosemont Seneca Partners.   In 2014, Devon Archer proudly posed for a photograph with the Vice President in his West Wing office.  Precisely one week later Archer would join Burisma’s board.  Soon thereafter “Hunter joined Archer on the Burisma board, for the handsome sum of $83,333 per month” (p. 112).  Neither Archer nor Hunter Biden had any background qualifying them to serve on the board of an energy company.  Apparently they needed only sit in on occasional meetings and get hefty paychecks.  When Burisma’s questionable maneuvers led to a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating the company, board members Biden and Archer came under scrutiny.  Reacting quickly, Vice President Biden flew to Kyiv in 2015 and spoke to the Ukrainian parliament, denouncing “the cancer of corruption” plaguing the Office of the General Prosecutor who was spearheading the Burisma investigation.  Privately Biden demanded the prosecutor be fired, and he was, quite quickly.  Subsequently, with a new prosecutor in office, the Burisma investigation was discontinued.  “In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2018, Joe boasted that he had flown into Kyiv and threatened to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees for Ukraine unless Shokin [the prosecutor] was fired.  ‘I looked at them and said, “I’m leaving in six hours.  If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.”  Well, son of a bitch.  He got fired.’  Shokin insists that he was pressured to resign precisely because he was pursuing Zlochevsky [chairman of Burisma] and seizing his assets.  In a bombshell interview with Ukrainian publication Strana in 2019, he said he had been planning ‘to interrogate [Hunter] Biden Jr., Archer and so on’ before he was ousted” (pp. 120-121).  No incident more clearly reveals the Biden family at work than the Burisma case.  

Equally concerning are the Bidens’ China ties.  Though Joe Biden claimed, in his final presidential debate, that Hunter had not made money in China, abundant evidence proves the contrary.  Hunter and his uncle Jim were, the laptop shows, involved in a “venture with energy conglomerate CEFC, the capitalist arm of President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative” (p. 162).  The CEFC chairman, Ye, offered Hunter $10 million a year for “introductions alone” and soon gave him a 3.16 carat diamond.  Hunter, during the years 2015 and 2016, made crucial contacts for CEFC in various places, including Kazakhstan, Georgia, Oman, Ukraine, and Romania.  As ever, Hunter gained entree by trading on his father’s name.  Expecting compensation, Hunter confronted CEFC Director Zang Jianjun:  “‘You owe my family $20 million!’ he [Hunter] screamed.   ‘We’ve done work for you all over the world the last couple of years.  Why haven’t we been paid?’” (p. 178).  Though many Chinese promises went unfulfilled, “the Bidens did manage to extract more than $6 million from CEFC” (p. 204).

In many of these endeavors Vice President Biden was surreptitiously involved.  Laptop emails refer to him in code words such as the “big guy,”  and an important, credible witness, Tony Bobulinski confirms the laptop’s contents.  A business associate of Hunter’s, Bobulinski personally discussed a China business deal with both him and the the Vice President.  “‘Keep an eye on my son and brother and look out for my family,’ Joe told him” (p. 162).  Bobulinski soon learned that Hunter and Jim waved the Biden name while keeping Joe from any apparent involvement in their dealings, for they were “paranoid” about the ramifications should the vice president be implicated.  Nevertheless, Bobulinski says, he soon “‘saw behind the Biden curtain, and I grew concerned with what I saw.  The Biden family aggressively leveraged the Biden family name to make millions of dollars from foreign entities even though some were from communist controlled China’” (p. 167).  

When he was inaugurated as President in 2021, Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jan Psaki, assured the nation he was “committed to ensuring we have the most ethically vigorous administration in history.”  But no one reading Laptop from Hell could have any illusions regarding such a claim!  Page after page, detail after detail, show how the Biden Familys’ Delaware Way enriched both Joe and his clan.  

                                     * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For many years Peter Schweizer has been scouring the records of powerful political and business figures, diligently exposing the corruption of both Republicans and Democrats.  He devoted an earlier book to Clinton Cash, and he effectively zeroes in on Republicans such as Senator Mitch McConnell when looking at American politicians with questionable ties to China.  Very much a muckraker, Schweizer doubtlessly seizes upon especially egregious details and probably fails to provide proper contexts, but he does give us the kind of investigative journalism needed to hold the powerful accountable.  The Biden family has appeared in three of his recent works.  

In Secret Empires:  How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends (New York:  Harper, c. 2018; Kindle Edition), written two years before Hunter Biden’s laptop was discovered, Schweizer devoted a chapter to “American Princelings”—Hunter Biden, Christopher Heinz (Secretary of State John Kerry’s stepson), and Devon Archer, a friend of both Heinz and Kerry.  In 2009 they launched an investment firm, Rosemont Seneca, and opened an office in Washington D.C. a couple of miles from Vice President Joe Biden’s residence.  One of their companies, “Rosemont Realty openly touted its ties to Vice President Joe Biden.”  Its prospectus proudly noted—as a “key consideration”—that “Hunter Biden (the son of Vice President Biden) is on the advisory board” (p. 58).  “Over the next seven years, as both Joe Biden and John Kerry negotiated sensitive and high-stakes deals with foreign governments, Rosemont entities secured a series of exclusive deals often with those same foreign governments” (p. 26).  Some of those deals were made with Chinese tycoons.  Within a year of Rosemont Seneca’s founding, the three Princelings spent two days meeting and taking pictures “with the largest and most powerful government fund leaders in China” a few hours before the Vice President Biden met China’s president Hu.  In 2013 Hunter flew with his father on an official trip to Asia.  In Beijing the vice president was royally welcomed, while his son simultaneously secured “an exclusive deal with Chinese officials” which was announced ten days later.  Hunter led the way in managing to get a deal “that no other Western firm had in China,” ultimately garnering $1.5 billion in investments.  Carefully examined, this is but one of many such deals, so a “troubling pattern emerges from this research, showing how profitable deals were struck with foreign governments on the heels of crucial diplomatic missions carried out by their powerful fathers” (p. 27). 

Schweizer’s Profiles in Corruption:  The Abuse of Power by America’s Progressive Elite (New York:  HarperCollins, c. 2020; Kindle Edition) devotes one chapter to Joe Biden and his “self-enriching” schemes, involving “no less than five family members: Joe’s son Hunter, daughter Ashley, brothers James and Frank, and sister Valerie” (p. 48).  In Joe’s endless political campaigns, beginning in 1972, family members served as campaign and finance managers and were richly rewarded for doing so.  “Valerie ran all of his senate campaigns, as well as his presidential runs in 1988 and 2008.  But she was also a senior partner in a political messaging firm named Joe Slade White & Company; the only two executives listed at the firm were Joe Slade White and Valerie.  The firm received large fees from the Biden campaigns that Valerie was running.  Two and a half million dollars in consulting fees flowed to her firm from” contributions for his “2008 presidential bid alone” (p. 54).  Running for the Senate in 1972 Biden admitted he “went to the big guys for the money” and was willing “to prostitute” himself in the process.  This meant delivering the goods the “big guys” wanted.  Predictably, as a senator he routinely supported legislation favoring the corporations chartered in Delaware, including banks, credit card giants, and law firms engaged in lucrative litigation, especially dubious asbestos-damage suits.  He also helped sons Beau and Hunter get good positions with legal firms or as lobbyists pulling in high-dollar “consulting fees.” 

An illuminating episode showing the Biden family strategy involved StartUp Health, established by three Philadelphia family members.  Obamacare had just been enacted, and various firms were competing to cash in on its provisions.  In 2011 two StartUp executives scored a meeting with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office.  The very next day the company was featured at a HHS conference.  “StartUp Health would continue to enjoy access to the highest levels of the White House as they worked to build up the business.  Indeed, StartUp Health executives became regular visitors to the White House.  Should you wonder why, just note that the chief medical officer of StartUp Health was Howard Krein, who was married to Joe Biden’s youngest daughter, Ashley.  “Advancing the commercial interests of StartUp Health using the Oval Office and Air Force Two would continue over the next half-decade while Biden was in office” (p. 71).  Needless to say, StartUp Health prospered.  As did Ashley!

The most recent Schweizer treatise is Red Handed:  How America’s Elites Get Rich Helping China Win (New York:  HarperCollins, c. 2022; Kindle Edition), showing how congressmen, Silicon Valley technocrats, Wall Street brokers, diplomats, the Bush and Trouderau “dynasties,” and scores of academics line up get lucrative deals with China.  Leading the crowd, naturally, are the Bidens.  Repeating much of what he detailed in earlier books, Schweizer says the Biden-China ties continue.  Father and son simply follow a “business model offering access to the highest levels of power in Washington in exchange for big-money international deals” (p. 15).  This was evident when, soon after Joe Biden was elected in 2020, a meeting of prominent Chinese businessmen and Communist Party leaders revealed their delight at the good news.  “They smiled, laughed, and applauded as [a respected insider, Di] discussed the global stage and China’s influence in the United States.”  “Old friends” in Washington and on Wall Street, he assured them would prove helpful.  Alluding to the new president’s “son’s deals, the audience laughed knowingly. ‘There are indeed buy-and-sell transactions involved in here, Di added” (p. 10).  Vice President Biden’s door was frequently (if secretly and off-the-books) open to Chinese leaders, and Di obviously expected the pattern would continue while he was president.  

Such transactions, Schweizer calculates, have brought the Bidens “some $31 million from Chinese businessmen with very close ties to the highest levels of Chinese intelligence during and after Joe Biden’s tenure as vice president.  Indeed, as of this writing, some of those financial relationships remain intact.”  Though Hunter Biden was most visible in these endeavors, newly-uncovered documents “provide even more evidence that this is a story about not just Hunter Biden, but Joe Biden himself” (p. 11).  Emails from Hunter show him claiming he gave “Pop” significant sums.  The initials JRB (Joseph Robinette Biden) appear in correspondence discussing money.   For a decade Hunter paid for his father’s multiple private phone lines.  He also paid remodeling costs for Joe’s Delaware home.  As the cascade of data flows on, the pattern gets ever-clearer:  the Biden Family “Delaware Way” brought them carloads of cash. 

352 Peter Kreeft: A “Modern Socrates”

Upon retirement, some distinguished professors are given a Festschrift—a collection of essays written by former students to celebrate their scholarship.  Unlike these scholars, Peter Kreeft—for decades a professor of philosophy at Boston College—is acclaimed more for his witness to the Christian Faith than his scholarly accomplishment.  So the essays in Wisdom and Wonder:  How Peter Kreeft Shaped the Next Generation of Catholics, ed. Brandon Vogt (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, c. 2021; Kindle Edition) celebrate Kreeft’s worth as a Christian apologist.  The books’s editor has written nine books and established ClaritasU to enable Catholics to “talk about their faith.”  He hosts Bishop Barron’s “Word on Fire Show” podcast and is active in Chesterton societies.  Introducing the volume, Vogt remembers coming upon one of Kreeft’s books (Handbook of Catholic Apologetics) while he was troubled by serious theological questions during his college years.  As a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) student, Vogt had taken no philosophy courses and was unprepared to deal with the ultimate issues he was pondering.  In Kreeft he found a guide who led him, ultimately, to enter the Catholic Church, for he concluded:  “‘My goodness, this is all true—all of it. Christianity is rational and logical’” (p. 8). Vogt learned not only to embrace the rich intellectual traditions of the Faith but learned how to think!  And he’s not alone.  “I don’t have hard data on this,” he says, “but from the perspective of someone connected to hundreds of Catholic converts, I think it’s hard to find another figure in American Catholicism who has influenced more conversions to the Church over the last three decades than Peter Kreeft” (p. 11).

  This is because:  “First, philosophy begins in wonder.  This was Socrates’ motto, and Kreeft embodies it better than anyone I know—which is, unsurprisingly, why many people also dub Kreeft a ‘modern Socrates’” (p. 13). Engaging readers in the process of reasoning, rather than spoon-feeding them cliches, is fundamental to his approach.  “Second, the intellectual life and the spiritual life are one” (p. 14).  Kreeft never tires of showing how one can be both an intellectually curious and competent philosopher while simultaneously loving and serving God.  “Third, there are many strong reasons to believe in God.”  In laymen’s terms, Kraft persuasively sets forth a multitude of reasons to be a theist.  Indeed, his “most famous piece of writing” is “probably his ‘20 Arguments for the Existence of God’, which appears as chapter 3 in his Handbook of Catholic Apologetics” (p. 15).  “Fourth, beauty is a signpost to faith” (p. 16).  The sheer beauty of St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City played an important role in Kreeft’s becoming Catholic, and he routinely celebrates both the beauty of creation (he’s an avid surfer) and artistic works.  “Fifth, the world hangs on the prayers of ordinary people” (p. 17).  Anything but an elitist, Kreeft writes for and trusts the capabilities of the common man.  Thus he excels in providing figures of speech and memorable phrases.

In his entry to the collection, “The Sentence That Changed My Life,” John DeRosa tells of growing up playing video games rather than reading books.  But things changed dramatically when, as a college freshman, he read these words in Kreeft’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics:  “We believe Christ’s Resurrection can be proved with at least as much certainty as any universally believed and well-documented event in ancient history.”  That sentence set him on a course of intellectual discovery and enlightenment, for while he’d attended church all his life he’d never heard that what was taught (e.g. Jesus’s Resurrection) could be proven.  Delving into Kreeft’s apologetics, DeRosa was “reintroduced” to the Faith and was motivated to “pursue truth as I aimed to fall more in love with the One who is the way, the truth, and the life” (p 23).  Thankfully he also fell I love with reading and discovered other masters of apologetics such as C.S. Lewis, “whose book Miracles swept me off my feet” (p. 27).  

Logan Paul Gage chairs the Philosophy Department at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  With advanced degrees from Baylor University, he’s devoted himself to higher education and gratefully remembers Peter Kreeft’s role in helping him discern the importance of the Socratic, Platonic, and Aristotelian ways of thinking.  In his books “one senses a [Socratic] soul searching for understanding, and it is infectious.  This is seen both explicitly, in works such as The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, and also implicitly, in many of Kreeft’s dialogues” (p. 41).  Then Plato’s appreciation for beauty in the life of the mind—evident in his Symposium—resounds throughout the works of Peter Kreeft, showing how we can move from a delight in beautiful things to an ultimate joy in the Ultimate Realm providing their forms.  Finally, there is an Aristotelian Lesson, extolling virtue and the Summum Bonum.  We most deeply desire happiness, the Summum Bonum, and living virtuously provides it.  “It is difficult” Gage says, “to think of any contemporary writer who has done more to communicate the central insights of the Western intellectual tradition to the hearts and minds of the next generation in so accessible a manner.  More than this, his corpus reveals how Christianity fulfills the highest aspirations of the best and brightest in antiquity, how Christ himself is the answer to the perennial longings of the human heart” (p. 50).

Though most of the contributors to Wisdom and Wonder discuss Peter Kreeft’s books, Matthew Becklo celebrates “his work as a digital-age speaker and teacher” (p. 51).  There’s a wonderful web site—PeterKreeft.com—that makes available many of his lectures.  As a collegian alienated from God, Becklo inadvertently found a book in his father’s library by Walker Percy:  Lost in the Cosmos.  Reading it intrigued him, and he soon found  Kreeft’s lecture dealing with it on the internet.  “It would be difficult to overstate,” he says, “just how much this lecture, and the others that followed, molded my thinking about myself, the world, and God over the course of the next few years.”  Having failed to make sense of things on his own, he found in Kreeft a “teacher who conveyed the love of wisdom and its culmination in the Logos” (p. 53).   

Yet another aspect of Kreeft’s influence is marked by Father Blake Britton, who discusses Jesus-Shock: Rediscovering the Uniqueness of Christ, wherein Kreeft stressed the differences between Jesus and other religious teachers such as Buddha and Muhammad.  In brief, the difference is this:  all the others explained how to think and live whereas Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  It’s His Person, not His message, that truly matters.  He didn’t point to truths—He claimed to Be the Truth.  The word  for truth used in St John’s gospel—alitheia—“means ‘unveilment’ or ‘unconcealedness’.  . . . .   Alitheia is an activity; it is dynamic. The truth Christ gives us is not inert data or a collection of intuitions.  The truth he gives is his very self.  It is a truth that is ‘living and effective,’ a truth that ‘bubbles up’ and spills out from within” (p. 62).  This means, Kreeft insists, we ultimately know Truth by knowing the Living Lord Jesus.  “The possibility of a personal encounter with Christ, what Kreeft calls the Real Presence of Jesus, is the main cause of ‘Jesus-shock.’”  Thereby we may actually, actively share “in Christ’s very life.  To become a Christian is not to become acquainted with Jesus’ ideas or teachings; it is to become acquainted with the presence of Jesus himself” (p. 66).  

I’ve focused on only a few of the short essays in this book simply to illustrate how Peter Kreeft helped scores of young folks discover the goodness of God’s ways.  Over the years I often assigned some of his books in my philosophy classes, simply hoping my students would find in him (and in the thinkers he cited, such as Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, and Lewis) a guide for life.  

                                               * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

One of Peter Kreeft’s best recent books is Wisdom of the Heart:  The Good, the True, and the Beautiful at the Center of Us All (Gastonia, NC:  TAN Books, c. 2020; Kindle Edition).  As a philosophy professor he has always known how “desperately” we “need good philosophy, for philosophy is the love of wisdom.  But wisdom is about life, and life is about love, and love is the work of the heart.  Therefore, philosophy is (or should be) about the heart.  We need brains, but we also need hearts.  Hearts need brains to direct them, but brains need hearts to pump lifeblood into them.  We need light, but we also need heat.  We need truth, but we also need love.  Both are absolutes.  Here is my attempt to combine the two, to throw some light on that fire and to put some fire into that light” (p. 6).  We are all sojourners, traversing life’s highways, and we make choices regarding them, and of the “three kinds of highways—those of the body, the heart, and the mind—the most momentous are those of the heart, because that is where love comes from and love is the force that decides everything for us.  As Augustine says, ‘Amor meus, pondus meum,’ ‘My love is my weight,’ my gravity, my density and my destiny” (p. 8).

Unfortunately, we’re tempted to ignore our hearts.  As Wordsworth so memorably lamented:   “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.  / Little we see in nature that is ours.”  This is evident in those universities which have abandoned the liberal arts tradition, focusing largely on utilitarian, job-focused, instruction—largely ignoring ultimate issues such as God and one’s soul.  Consequently, “students emerge from four years of college far less, not more, in love with religion, morality, wisdom, virtue, tradition, and common sense than when they entered” (p. 176).  There’s little concern in for either saving or losing our souls, little heed for Jesus’s warning:  “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk 8:36, KJV).  This is tragic, for one’s soul, or one’s heart, Kreeft explains, “is what makes a person a unique individual,” (p. 30), and is essentially the power to love.  In the heart “diverse powers (intellect, will, human emotions, and animal emotion) can combine in a single love is what leads us to posit that mysterious ‘I’ or self or subject or person or ‘who’ is their unifying cause” (p. 32).  

It’s the heart that truly loves.  Only an immaterial soul can love, whereas material entities lack such potential.  Rocks cannot “love sunlight.  They do not move toward it, and it does not cause any perfection or joy in them” (p. 57).  But we can.  And we do love.  After detailing some 14 kinds of love—including the well-known Greek storge, philia, eros, agape—Kreeft considers “bad loves:  today’s seven deadly sins.”  These sins are in fact “deadly loves” or “deadly heart diseases.”  His “candidates for the seven deadliest sins, the seven most popular idols, the seven most broken and deformed kinds of love in our world today are:  1) Autonomy, disguised as freedom; 2) Self-esteem, disguised as respect;  3) Technologism, disguised as power; 4) Lust, disguised as pleasure; 5) Sloth, boredom, and passivity, disguised as entertainment; 6) Equality, disguised as justice; 7) Irreverence, disguised as creativity or originality” (p. 69).  

Having thoroughly defined and discussed good and bad loves, Kreeft treats “the soul’s circulatory system:  Christianity as nothing but love.”  “Love is the whole point of our being, and of our lives, and of our religion” (p. 96).   Importantly:  “Christianity is not merely a religion that is about Christ, it is the religion that is from Christ, the Christ who is love incarnate.  Christ is God, and God is love, therefore Christ is love.  Christ is also perfect man, and perfect man is also love.  Thus Christ shows us the two things it is the most absolutely necessary for us to know: what God is and what we must be.  And the answer to both questions is love” (p. 97).  God, as Aristotle taught and Kreeft affirms, “is not the ‘material cause’ (or content) of all things—that is pantheism—but he is the ‘formal cause,’ the ‘efficient cause,’ and the ‘final cause’ of all things.  He is the transcendent formal cause—that is, the meaning, the standard, the paradigm, the prototype, the archetype, and the touchstone of all things.  Things are real only insofar as they are in some way like his reality.  He is also the efficient cause—that is, the origin and maker of all things.  And he is the final cause—that is, the end and purpose and point and good and goal and consummation and perfection and fulfillment and flourishing and blessedness and fullness of joy of all things.  And in all three of those causes, he is love” (p. 101).  

A loving heart has its reasons, which are “seeings” rather than reasonings, utilizing “the third eye,” the “eye of the heart, which simply ‘sees’ or ‘knows’ or intuits, usually without being able to clearly comprehend and define (the first act of the mind) or to formulate a propositional judgment (the second act of the mind) or to prove what it sees (the third act of the mind)” (p. 116).   With the “third eye” we discern the reality of what Rudolph Otto called the “numinous.”  Loving it “makes you wise.”  Rightly attuned to the divine, Jesus’ disciples rightly saw God as revealed in “him when he came” (p. 120).  Consequently:  “Your love is your destiny because it is your density, your weight, your spiritual gravity.  You go where your heart goes.  Since this is the very beginning of everything in one’s life, it is also the very end.  We will all get what we want.  Those who want God’s will, will get it; those who want their own, will get that.  That is the difference between Heaven and Hell.  As C. S. Lewis says in The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”  Thankfully, God as revealed in Jesus “wills only one thing:  our good, our perfection, our joy.  To the extent that we conform our will to God’s will, we attain this purity and unity of heart and thus peace and joy” (p. 125).  

Seeing God rightly enables us to wisely discern moral standards (with our conscience), true propositions (with our intuition), and beautiful realms of reality (with our aesthetic sense).  Thus the ancient transcendentals—Truth, Goodness, Beauty—may enter our hearts and enable us to walk well the pathway to Heaven.  This was all known clearly by St Thomas Aquinas, who “defined truth as ‘the adequation (equation, equalizing, conformity) of the mind to being’ (adaequatio intellectus et rei), love as ‘willing the good of the other (volens bonum aliud), and beauty as ‘that which, being seen, pleases” (id quod videtur placet)” (p. 174).  “Truth humbly knocks at your door with credentials—arguments—in its hand.  Goodness makes demands but waits outside your door for you to freely open to it.  But beauty seeps under all your doors and walls like water.  Unlike truth and goodness, beauty is irresistible” (p. 177).  From which the three “supernatural virtues” emerge, for:  “The object of faith is truth and the wisdom it brings.  The object of charity is goodness and the virtue and holiness it brings.  The object of hope is beauty and the joy it brings” (p. 180).  And this gives us the truly good life.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Given his vocation as a teacher and writer, Peter Kreeft has long excelled in opening up the philosophical riches of the Christian tradition to his readers.  In I Burned for Your Peace:  Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, c. 2016;    Kindle Edition), he prints and ponders significant passages of one of the true classics of the Christian tradition, probably “the single most read, reread, and quoted post-Biblical Christian book ever written.  On its very first page is the single most quoted post-Biblical Christian sentence ever written, and that sentence is its central theme and the main thing Augustine is ‘confessing’:  that ‘Thou hast made us for Thyself and [therefore] our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.’  The Confessions is simply the Gospel; it is the Gospel of the restless heart” (#98).  And “What he confesses is, most fundamentally, God and His goodness, not just himself and his badness.  This book is not first of all the story of what Augustine did about God but the story of what God did about Augustine” (#106).

Kreeft doesn’t pretend to offer “a complete scholarly commentary on the Confessions,” for his treatise “is not scholarly, and it is not even a ‘commentary’ in the usual sense of the word.  It is an unpacking of some of the riches in Augustine’s massive treasure chest.  It is a string of pearls obtained by diving expeditions into the oyster beds in the deep sea of the Confessions.  . . . .  My words are only the unpacking, the stringing, the festooning, the framing.  They set off and call attention to Augustine’s words . . . as his words do the same thing to the Word, Christ.  The reader must practice sign reading:  look not at signs, but along them, at what they point to:  look along my words to Augustine’s and along his to Christ” (#43).

He endorses his invitation by saying:  “The experience of reading the Confessions feels like listening to a symphony or like tasting the world’s best wine.  It sings.  It cries.  It shouts.  It whispers.  It weeps.  It bleeds.  So does your soul if you dare to step into its words, as you would step into the sea when it is alive with waves.  It should be read as poetry is read:  aloud, slowly, thoughtfully, and repeatedly.  It is not a pill to be swallowed but a cud to be chewed.  For it is literally inexhaustible.  It is like an enormous cow that gives you fresh milk every day.  No one ever wrote words that sing like his. They fly off the page like birds.  They shoot through the air like arrows of fire and shatter your heart and stun your mind.  He is the greatest master of Latin who ever lived, and Latin is probably the most beautiful language that ever lived” (#124).

When Medieval artists sought to portray Augustine they always employed “the same two symbols:  a burning heart in one hand and an open book (the Bible) in the other.  For Augustine combined fire and light, a passionately fiery heart and a dazzlingly brilliant head, as no mere man in history has ever done.”  All of us are indebted to him, for he is very much alive in our thoughts inasmuch as we are nurtured by Western Christian Culture.  “Almost single-handedly he forged the medieval mind.  Yet he is also quintessentially modern:  introspective, emotional, self-doubting, complex” (#57).  He thought about and lived out the everlasting drama of “God’s providential design and man’s free choices, or predestination and free will, or destiny and responsibility, both of which Augustine strongly defended.  For he saw them, not as contradictory, but as complementary dimensions of the drama—like the two dimensions of every smaller story ever told by anyone in this Great Story:  the predestination and providence of its Author and the real choices of His characters” (#38).   In truth, as Scripture declares, without Him we can do nothing, but we are simultaneously to ask, seek, and knock, doing our part.  

Pausing to muse over the famous words, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in thee,” Kreeft says:  “Here it is:  one of the greatest sentences ever written, the basic theme of this book and of life itself.”  Augustine cites both objective and subjective truths—God made us and we need Him.  “We feel like homing pigeons because we are” (#152).  Like Job, Augustine writes less a philosophy than a prayer—praises, petitions, contrition, celebration.  This moves him to a wonderful philosophical realization:  “‘since nothing that is could exist without You, You must in some way be in all that is [therefore also in me, since I am].  And if You are already in me, since otherwise I should not be, why do I cry to You to enter into me? . . . O God, I should be nothing, utterly nothing, unless You were in me—or rather unless I were in You, of whom and by whom and in whom are all things’” (#235).  He sees that God is neither outside nor inside us—we are in Him; He is the One within whom we subsist.  And he personally encountered this One in a garden near Milan—a dramatic conversion that “would change the history of Western civilization” (#2043).  Overwhelmed by his sinful burdens, weeping as he wondered if he could ever satisfy his inner longings, “suddenly I heard a voice from some nearby house, a boy’s voice or a girl’s voice, I do not know: but it was a sort of sing-song, repeated again and again, “Take and read, take and read.”  “Tolle, lege, tolle lege.”  Knowing God was speaking him, he took a Bible and beheld Paul’s words in Romans:  “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.”  The lost was found, and he thereafter devoted himself to preaching the saving Truth he’d found.

Augustine found that “God is truth and God is love” (#2288).  And he finally confessed:  “Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved Thee!  For behold Thou wert within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made.  Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee. I was kept from Thee by those things, yet had they not been in Thee, they would not have been at all.”  With Augustine and Kreeft as guides, we have an illuminated pathway to eternal life, the ultimate peace we most deeply desire.

351 Plato Forever

In his preface to Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche declared that “Christianity is Platonism for the people,” and he determined to destroy therm both.  Yet the distinguished mathematician/philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said the history of Western philosophy is little more than a “footnote to Plato,” and however frequently he’s been assailed by ambassadors of modernity such as Nietzsche, Plato still speaks, for he set forth a powerful worldview that perennially attracts serious thinkers.  This is especially true for Christians who have, from the earliest centuries, found much in Plato to interweave with their faith.  “Plato’s philosophy is remarkably religious,” says Paul Tyson, “and some of Plato’s most profound insights and moral sympathies can quite easily be merged with Christian doctrine and practice” (p. 38).  Accordingly, the stories of Christian Platonists such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien have garnered such vast audiences.  Therein we find “that real reality still speaks to us; reality undergirded by intrinsic moral meaning and (for want of a better term) ‘public’ spiritual purpose, and overshadowed by divine goodness and love” (p. 22).  Inasmuch as “‘Platonism’ means belief in transcendent Reality that relativizes the transience, contingency, injustice, moral relativism, violence, and mortality of human existence understood in exclusively immanent terms, then yes, Christianity is a type of Platonism” (p. 119).So says the Australian philosopher, Paul Tyson, in Returning to Reality:  Christian Platonism for Our Times (Eugene, OR:  Cascade Books, c. 2014; Kindle Edition).  He notes that all of us, even as children ponder philosophical questions, so:  “Everyone does metaphysics.  Whenever we endeavor to understand the nature of reality we are doing metaphysics” (p. 1).  We wonder about immaterial as well as material realities; we think about spiritual as well as physical things; we are religious as well as sensate beings.  So Tyson invites us to read his “essay on Christian metaphysics” that holds “Christian Platonism is right about the nature of reality” since it declares “the unseen God really is the present source and ongoing ground of all created reality,” and that “the qualities of beauty, goodness, and truth, wherever they are in some measure discovered, are divine revelations of real meanings that give the world in which we live its value and purpose” (p. 3).  Tyson thinks Christian Platonism deeply shapes Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.  For example, in the concluding volume, The Last Battle, “all the heroes of the story have died and find themselves in Aslan’s country.  But it is not a world where they are disembodied spirits and it is a world that they strangely recognize.  Professor Kirke—Digory from The Magician’s Nephew—explains that the true reality of all good things does not pass away.  The mortal world that we call ‘real’—the realm of birth and death, change and struggle, chance and entropy—is really a realm of shadows, yet these shadows somehow participate in the reality to which they point.  So when we die and our soul leaves the realm of shadows, we enter reality (still as embodied souls, but with a very different, yet strangely the same, body) properly for the first time.  Aslan’s country—the origin and destiny of all that is truly Real—is the home of all that we taste as true, beautiful, and good in the shadow lands.  Aslan’s country is the home of what reality we do know here in the realm of shadows, and it is the country to which we are traveling through our mortal lives.  After this explanation Digory Kirke observes that ‘It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!’” (p. 25).   

Tyson also thinks J.R.R. Tolkien effectively reworks ideas found in Plato’s Republic.  Tolkien’s Hobbits—simple, truthful, good, faithful—exemplify classic morality.   “Hobbit goodness is for small people who love and serve, for people who do not want to dominate and who refuse forceful ambition as a mode of operation.  Hobbit morality is the opposite of Nietzschean greatness, the opposite of Wagnerian poetics, the opposite of the quest for self-defined personal glory that characterizes inherently agonistic and constructivist understandings of virtue.  . . . .   Thus Plato and Tolkien set the wisdom of the little people against the power of the great” (p. 31).  

This Platonic wisdom of the little people certainly appears in the New Testament, and Tyson notes some important passages, though he admits he is “proof-texting” in the process.  In statements such as “For now we see in a mirror darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (I Cor 13:12), Paul clearly believes here is a transcendent, spiritual world wherein we hope to abide.  Plato’s dialogue, Phaedrus is “in some regards like 1 Corinthians 13” inasmuch as it “is concerned with love and with the unseen truth that is more basic than the appearances that are manifest to us by our sensory appreciation of the world” (p. 85).  In the wonderful Prologue to John’s Gospel we read:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with With God, and the Word was God”—a passage totally consonant with Plato’s metaphysical position.  So Tyson says:  “In sum, the New Testament maintains that the Word of God is the non-material source of all that is tangible in the cosmos, that eternal realities are primary and material realities are derived from and dependent on primary reality for their existence, and that the realm of immediate tangibility is not the ultimate realm of reality. Thus, if we are to ‘see’ reality as it really is, we cannot see it with our physical eyes.  We must see it by a process of spiritual discernment which is a function of our receptivity to divine illumination” (p. 84).    

To Plato, philosophy “was the pursuit of a high way of life that was a moral and intellectual discipline so that the soul would be prepared to leave the body upon physical death.  Indeed Plato defines philosophy as a preparation for death: a preparation that involves the practice of dying to all those things that would hinder the soul in its eternal journey towards the Good” (p. 53).  So Tyson thinks:  “The development of Christian Platonism did not happen as a foreign invasion of Greek philosophical ideas into a discretely Jewish primitive Jesus movement.  Rather, Judaism was profoundly influenced by Greco-Roman thought and culture before the New Testament era; the New Testament is written in Greek and its key terms are informed by the Septuagint; the New Testament is saturated with the worldview that synthesizes religion and broadly Platonist philosophical concerns that was common to its age, and; key Jewish readings of Greek notions of logos and doxa are original to Christian faith and are firmly carried into Christian orthodoxy” (p. 123).

In the ancient world Christian apologists such as Justin Martyr and Origin dug deeply into Plato as they developed important theological positions.  Augustine, of course, openly wove Platonic notions into his theological works.  “The Augustinian approach was to think of forms as ideas in the mind of God, which necessarily inform any actual, particular, existing thing with its intelligible essence.  So for something to exist in the created cosmos it must be made a particular instance of something—and for beings like us, matter is the medium of our particular existence—but the intelligible essence of the particular instance of any identifiable ‘thing’ is given to it by the Word of God, speaking form into matter, bringing an idea in the mind of God into expression in concrete material actuality.  So creation is an ongoing process where everything that is is called into being by God, and for the duration of its existence as a particular instance of a certain kind of being, it is always dependent on God for its essential nature and concrete instantiation” (p. 138).

In the High Medieval Ages Christian thinkers such as Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas delved into Greek philosophy (the former favoring Plato while the latter turning to Aristotle).  They both sought to integrate faith and reason and found in the ancient Greeks wonderful sources.  Unfortunately, late Medieval thought, personified by William of Occam, shifted from Platonic Realism and set forth the Nominalism which largely undergirds modern philosophy—especially insofar as it subscribed to tenets of the scientific “revolution” of the 17th century.  After surveying the various trajectories of modern philosophy, and showing how they militate against orthodox Christianity, Tyson urges us to return to the Classical world, embrace and explain Plato, and do the hard work of setting forth a reasonable and persuasive metaphysics—“returning to reality.”  

“In Australia,” Tyson says, “the deforestation, overgrazing, and over-farming of our semi-arid lands has resulted in the degradation of the fragile topsoil, a rising of the water table, and the lifeless salinization of vast tracts of land.  Our modern Western ways have rendered much of this vast and beautiful country a wasteland.  Culturally, we are seeing something similar” (p. 188).  So, counter-culturally, Christians need to rediscover ultimate, unseen rather than seen realities.  Doing so means recovering ancient ways of thinking and living—prioritizing prayer and contemplation, “being still and knowing” that He is God, cultivating an inner stillness, opening ourselves to God.   “We must return to a vision of reality that is grounded in revealed truth of a genuinely spiritual and transcendently sourced nature” (p. 210).  Then, perhaps, both we and our churches will revive.  

                          * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Few contemporary philosophers have so helped students for so many years as Peter Kreeft.  In The Platonic Tradition (South Bend, IN:  St. Augustine’s Press, c. 2018) he makes available a series of easily-accessible lectures designed to “get you hooked” on one of the truly great thinkers of all time.  He wants us to understand Plato’s “worldview,” which enables us to climb out of the “‘cave’ of matter, sensation, and time into another dimension, another kind of reality that is spiritual, rational, and timeless.  If there is a single word for this it is probably the word “transcendence,” or “moreness.”  As Hamlet memorably said:  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  Indeed:  “That is the essential point of Platonism:  moreness, transcendence, another kind of reality outside our cave” (p. 5).

To Kreeft:   “The Platonic tradition in Western philosophy is not just one of many equally central traditions.  It is so much the central one that the very existence and survival of Western civilization depends on it.  It is like the Confucian tradition in Chinese culture, or the monotheistic tradition in religion, or the human rights tradition in politics” (p. 3).  Plato’s greatest insight and perdurable legacy—his “Big Idea”—is his theory of “forms,” which are more than mental constructs.  We do not form them—they inform us.  “They are objective truths, objective realities, that are not visible to the eye of the body but only that of the mind.  But the mental eye that sees them is not merely the eye of reasoning or intelligence in the narrow modern sense, but the eye of contemplation or intellectual intuition” (p. 4).

We continually interact with very real things.  “Our minds bump up against the objective and unchangeable reality of 2 + 2 = 4, or ‘triangles always have 180 degrees,’ or ‘justice is a virtue,’ or “effects must have causes.’  Our bodies bump up against real physical walls that we can’t walk through, and our minds just as really and truly and unarguably bump up against real walls of thought that it’s simply impossible to knock down or change.  Triangles and virtues are no less real than physical walls and rocks.  If the truths of mathematics and metaphysics were merely mental, if we made them up, then we could change them, as we can change unicorns or mermaids or hobbits.  But we can’t. And the same is true of the laws of ethics.  If justice were simply man-made, we could change it just as we can change traffic laws.  But we can’t.  We can’t make genocide right or honesty wrong. We discover them; we don’t invent them. And where do we discover them?  Where are they?  In the world outside the cave” (p. 13).

We can know various realities when we think rightly.  Our non-material minds are mysteriously connected with the eternal world of Forms.  Seeking to “know himself,” Socrates discerned “the first Platonic form . . . the form of himself, the essential self” (p. 26).  He could then discover Truth, Goodness, Beauty—the transcendentals—that come into one’s mind from an eternal world, rather “like a meteor coming down from outer space, or like an angel coming down Jacob’s ladder from Heaven.  It doesn’t come from the earth, because it’s not made of matter, and it doesn’t come from my mind.  It comes to my mind and judges my mind as right or wrong depending on whether my mind reflects it and conforms to it or not” (p. 15).  There is a great “chain of being” ascending from purely material to purely immaterial things.  This hierarchy, in Plato, “is a qualitative hierarchy, a hierarchy of value, with the absolute ruling principle being the Good” (p. 21).

After introducing us to Plato’s main positions, Kreeft shows how subsequent thinkers endorsed and expanded upon them.  Aristotle, Plotinus and Augustine, Bonaventure, and Aquinas and many more followed his footsteps.  Though we sometimes stress their differences, both Plato and his pupil Aristotle were epistemological realists, believing in objective truths, knowable realities apart from our minds.  They also “believe reality culminates in a single perfect God, who is eternal Form without matter.  Both believe the universe is ordered hierarchically into kinds, species, immutably different Forms.  Both believe in teleology, final causality, objective purpose, for everything, or as it’s called today, ‘intelligent design’” (p. 38).  Augustine, of course, “was a Christian Platonist.  It’s often said that he ‘baptized Platonism.’  Augustine’s Christianity was not for him a postscript to Plato; Plato was a prescript to Christianity.  Augustine was not a Platonist who happened to be a Christian but a Christian who happened to be a Platonist” (p. 45). 

After showing how much of modern philosophy—nominalism, positivism, nihilism—discarded Platonism, Kreeft finishes his lecture series by inviting us to escape from our caves of ignorance and step into the Sunshine, seeing “Signals of Transcendence in Our World.”  Pondering such things as death and immortality, love and joy, consciousness and imagination, art and music, mystical experiences and nature’s revelations, we may very well join Plato in better grasping the ultimate meaning of it all. 

                               * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Few books better introduce one to the profundity of Plato than Louis Markos’ From Plato to Christ:  How Platonic Thought Shaped the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, c. 2020; Kindle Edition).  He endeavors to show how “the works of Plato can be most profitably read on two simultaneous levels:  as works of genius in their own right and as inspired writings used by the God of the Bible to prepare the ancient world for the coming of Christ and the New Testament” (p. ix).  Above all Plato sought Wisdom, not as prescribed by assorted wise men but as the “one and eternal Truth that transcends our ever-shifting world, that abides and endures” (p. 4).  As is illustrated by his Allegory of the Cave, Plato always tried to move from “the small-t truths of our shadowy world to the capital-T Truth that dwells beyond, on the other side of the door” (p. 6).  In the wake of the Presocratic philosophers, who floundered in the swamp of monistic materialism, clinging to either monism or pluralism, Plato “set Western philosophy on a truly noble path” summed up nicely by St Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:18:  “For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

After conducting us on an illuminating journey through a number of Plato’s dialogues, Markos digs down into two of his later works—Laws and Timeaus.  Unlike The Republic, Platos Laws prescribes not a “corps of specially educated philosopher-kings but . . . a system of laws: not rex lex (where the king is the law) but lex rex (where the law is the king)” (p. 79).  Rather than training “moral guardians,” he seeks to discover “fixed moral standards that can then be instilled in the citizens” (p. 83).  As he frequently does, he points “to the four classical virtues, which Plato here ranks in descending order of importance as wisdom, self-control, justice, and courage” (p. 83).  These virtues come from a transcendent realm, so obviously the Sophist Protagoras’s assertion the “man is the measure of all things” cannot stand.  On the contrary:  “‘God ought to be to us the measure of all things, and not man. . . .   And he who would be dear to God must, as far as is possible, be like him and such as he is.  Wherefore the temperate man is the friend of God, for he is like him; and the intemperate man is unlike him, and different from him, and unjust’” (p. 91).  Plato is clearly sought to align God and man, seeing that “the existence of such a God not only makes sense philosophically and theologically but is also profoundly practical in the social and political sphere:  ‘It is a matter of no small consequence, in some way or other to prove that there are Gods, and that they are good, and regard justice more than men do. The demonstration of this would be the best and noblest prelude of all our laws’” (p. 93).  Here “Plato comes quite close to a biblical understanding of God as a Being who is intimately involved in the world he made” (p. 94). 

In Timaeus Plato sets forth acosmological argument for the existence of God only hinted at in Laws.  Of all his dialogues, “Timaeus comes closest to the Bible in its view of God, creation, and the Beatific Vision.  Indeed, though it is highly unlikely that Plato had access to the Hebrew Scriptures, parts of Timaeus read like a commentary on Genesis 1” (p. 96).  After retelling the myth of Atlantas, Plato proposes that “it is neither mechanical forces nor jealous deities who shaped the backdrop against which we act out our small but meaningful lives.  It was God, not an impersonal divine mind or a pantheistic force spread out across the universe, but a personal deity to whom Plato, shockingly, gives the titles of Father and Creator” (p. 102).  Nothing like this had ever appeared in Greece!  Apart from the biblical Genesis, “Timaeus is the only ancient book to posit a Creator who predates matter” (p. 102).  Still more, this Creator, Plato said, was “good” and “desired that all things should be as like himself as they could be.  This is in the truest sense the origin of creation and of the world . . . God desired that all things should be good and nothing bad, so far as this was attainable’” (p. 105).  God is Good and wants to bless His creation.  

Unsurprisingly, Christians have found in Plato a rich reservoir of philosophical insights worth incorporating into their worldview.  So Markos guides us on an intellectual journey through some of the most influential thinkers who have counted themselves Plato’s pupils—“specifically Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Palamas, Augustine, Boethius, Dante, Erasmus, Descartes, Coleridge, and C. S. Lewis, though a fuller list would include Aquinas, Donne, Milton, Newman, and Chesterton” (p. 119).  Considering how such great Christians embraced Plato, Markos says:  “It is my belief that Plato was one of the greatest sub-creators of the ancient world.  He may not have written epics like Homer or tragedies like Sophocles or histories like Herodotus . . . but he did construct myths that brought to shimmering life his vision of a two-tiered cosmos in which the unseen World of Being is more real and substantial than the World of Becoming that we perceive, day by day, through our senses.  Just as importantly, his myths have inspired generations upon generations of philosophers, theologians, and poets—both pagan and Christian—to journey from the lower world to the higher.  Those who truly love Plato have not been satisfied merely to study him.  They have yearned to see the things-that-are with the clarity that he saw them, to perceive behind the shifting shadows of our world the eternal things that do not fade or decay or die.  They have sought to defend the Good, the True, and the Beautiful as real things and justice as an absolute to which we must conform ourselves.  And they have struggled mightily to resist the downward pull of the appetitive part of their soul lest they grow dull, languid, and brutish.  Plato the sub-creator makes us want to do these things, even as Lewis and Tolkien make us want to visit Narnia and Middle-earth or look up and see the heavens, not as our house, but as our home” (p. 217).

    Speaking for himself, Markos says:  “I can attest that reading Plato has made me want to be a better man, a better teacher, and a better Christian, to ascend the rising path and so find my true telos, the higher purpose for which I was born” (p. 217).  And so too may we!

# # # 

350 “The Most Egregious Failure”

     

In 1841 Charles Mackay, an English journalist, published a three-volume treatise entitled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, examining dozens of hysterical, irrational phenomena such as the South Sea Bubble, Tulipomania, the Witch Mania, etc.  These books are not particularly worth reading today, but the title is both memorable and prescient, for the reactions to the COVID19 pandemic can only be called understood as “extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds!”  Still more:  Mackay’s advice for his readers clearly applies to us:  “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Could I get all Americans to read a book that would help us recover our senses by providing accurate insight into what’s happened in the past two years, I’d probably commend Scott W. Atlas’s A Plague Upon Our House: My Fight at the Trump White House to Stop COVID from Destroying America (New York:  Bombardier Books. Kindle Edition, c. 2021).  Atlas provides persuasive personal information inasmuch as he served for four months in the White House, advising President Trump.  And he writes with the precision and truth-commitment one rightfully expects of a highly-trained and compulsively meticulous scientist.  With Winston Churchill, he insists:  “Truth is incontrovertible.  Panic may resent it.  Ignorance may deride it.  Malice may distort it.  But there it is.”  Reading the  book, weighing its evidence and argument, one can only conclude:  “there it is.”

Atlas is the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow in health care policy at the Hoover Institution and served as a “senior advisor for health care” to presidential candidates in several elections.  He has advised world leaders and frequently testified in Congress providing perspectives on public health.  The author of many scholarly articles and books, he has been interviewed by scores of media from around the world.  He’s received many awards and served as an ad hoc member of the nominating committee for the Nobel prize in medicine and physiology and has routinely been listed in The Best Doctors in America.  He spent years caring for patients, doing research and training leaders in neuroradiology and MRI and wrote a “standard book in a revolutionary field, MRI of the Brain and Spine.”

Now he’s written a book for the general public to provide an accurate history of his role in addressing what he considers “the greatest health care care crisis in the past century.”  He also seeks to accurately “clarify the facts underlying the pandemic, free from the filter of government bureaucrats, academics, and scientists with political and other biases.”  He also wants to help us “address future crises” which could “threaten the very principles of freedom and order that we often take for granted” (p. 16-17).  He’s “shocked at the enormous power of government officials to unilaterally decree a sudden and severe shutdown of society—to simply close businesses and schools by edict, restrict personal movements, mandate behavior, regulate interactions with our family members, and eliminate our most basic freedoms, without any defined end and with little accountability.”  And he’s “stunned at the acceptance by the American people of draconian rules, restrictions, and unprecedented mandates, even those that are arbitrary, destructive, and wholly unscientific.  The acquiescence of the citizenry to such extraordinary and ill-conceived restrictions in a nation that was founded on the principles of freedom from an overbearing government, in a country that stands as the world’s beacon for independence and liberty, is nothing less than shocking” (p. 17).  In addition, he is distressed by “the overt bias of the media, the lack of diverse viewpoints on campuses, the absence of neutrality in controlling social media, and now more visibly than ever the intrusion of politics into science. Ultimately, the freedom to seek the truth and openly state it is at risk” (p. 18).

When the pandemic hit America Atlas was deeply involved in academic research, but as he read the pronouncements concerning it he became concerned by the quality of the evidence and the wisdom of the proposals coming forth  from organizations such as the World Health Organization, the National Institute of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the White House Coronavirus Task Force.  Anthony Fauci (allegedly the “nation’s expert in infectious diseases”), Deborah Birx and Robert Redpath are all bureaucrats rather than research scientists.  For many years the three had studied HIV/AIDS, an illness quite different from COVID-19, and had focused “on the development of a vaccine, rather than treatment . . . —a vaccine that still does not exist” (p. 24).  Given their positions, Fauci and Birx spoke for the federal government and called for “a total societal shutdown,” devastating the country.  “As a health policy researcher for more than fifteen years with decades in medical science and data analysis,” Atlas says,  “I had never seen such flawed thinking.  I was bewildered at the lack of logic, the absence of common sense, and the reliance on fundamentally flawed science” (p. 25).

Consequently, a fog-like culture of fear shrouded the land.  Critical thinking—openly discussing trustworthy data—could hardly be found.  Atlas “began asking myself, ‘Where are the rational scientists?’  I soon found one.  Dr. John Ioannidis, one of the world’s most renowned epidemiologists and a colleague previously unknown to me at Stanford University, authored an amazingly prescient piece in March entitled, ‘A Fiasco in the Making?  As the Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Hold, We Are Making Decisions without Reliable Data.’  His short essay will go down as one of the most important—and most infamously ignored—publications in modern medical science” (p. 26).  Atlas also began daily corresponding with another distinguished Stanford epidemiologist, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.  They formed a small band of committed scholars began trying to accurately assess the pandemic/panic.  

They also sought to make their views public.  Atlas urged scientists to do science by relying on empirical evidence rather than hypothetical models.  He stressed protecting the elderly—who were dying at an alarming rate despite the lockdowns—“while allowing younger, healthy people with an extremely low risk to function, so that the harms of the lockdown would end.”  He was especially incensed at school closures:  “The most obvious denial of science, the most egregious and inexplicable failure of policy leadership in our country, was indefinitely closing schools” (p. 49).  Unfortunately, teacher unions effectively paralyzed “parents with fear by lying about the danger in schools.”  Kids were not at risk, and most teachers were not in high-risk groups—“92 percent are under sixty.  The bottom line was this:  America was uniquely hysterical in its disregard of actual data on schools and children, more off the rails than almost anywhere in the world” (p. 50).  Sweden, for example, kept its 1.8 million children in school “without subjecting them to testing, masks, physical barriers, or social distancing.  The results?  Exactly zero COVID deaths in kids, while Sweden’s teachers had a COVID risk similar to the average of other professions. Schools were not high-risk settings” (p. 51).

Atlas began making public pronouncements in March 2020, emerging as one the most qualified critics of the lockdowns.  Unexpectedly, he received a call in July 2020 asking him to come to the White House, go through interviews, and perhaps serve as an advisor to President Trump as an expert on public health concerned by the government’s handling of the COVID crisis.  Basically an apolitical research scientist, he neither knew nor particularly supported Trump, but he was anxious to do something to help the country.  Meeting the president, he faced “a rapid-fire series of questions about the pandemic,” ranging from lockdowns to hydroxychloroquine.  Atlas then “went into some detail about harms from the lockdowns—facts about the missed cancer treatments, the skipped organ transplants, the cancers that were never diagnosed.  I told him how the fear had caused people having heart attacks and strokes to avoid calling for an ambulance.”  He noted the harms children suffered as schools closed, and  “was impressed that the president asked the right questions” (p. 74).  

Given the media portrayals of Trump, Atlas “was pleasantly surprised,” seeing how “he was frustrated—not just at how the country was still shut down, but that he had allowed it to happen, against his own intuition.  At one point, he exclaimed with irritation in his voice, but to no one in particular, ‘Why the hell wasn’t this guy here six months ago?’  It was as if he understood that his closest advisors—several standing in that room—had somehow let him down” (p. 74-75).  Trump shared with Atlas an awareness of the lethality of the virus while also realizing that incredible societal harms were being done by various governmental agencies.   As early as March 2020 he had rightly warned:  “The cure cannot be worse than the disease.”  And he also knew what Atlas was soon to discover:  “‘I’m sure you will teach me many things while you’re here.  But there is only one thing you’ll learn from me.  Only one.  You will learn how vicious, how biased, how unfair the media is” (p. 80).  Sure enough, upon arriving in Washington D.C., nothing shocked Atlas more than the national  media, which sought in every way possible to misrepresent the facts and spread fear throughout the country.  They did everything possible to misrepresent him, his scholarly achievements, and his statements.  They slandered him, “engaging in propaganda tactics scarcely different from those used by regimes like the USSR or Communist China to discredit political enemies” (p. 150).  “No opportunity to inflame the voters was going to be missed by what I now believe are the most despicable group of unprincipled liars one could ever imagine—the American media” (p. 149). As soon as he arrived in the White House Atlas began interacting with the COVID Task Force, quickly learning that Deborah Brix dominated the meetings.  She also flew around the country, meeting with governors, university presidents, and health officials, presenting herself as the official spokesman for the Task Force.  She and her associates blithely ignored the president’s directives while promoting their own agenda.   Though most Americans assumed Anthony Fauci was in charge of things, that was due to “his nearly ubiquitous presence and solo interviews on national and international media” (p. 98).  Internally, Birx called the shots, and Atlas quickly discovered her limitations.  For example, when he first met her they discussed masks.  “‘Just curious,’ I asked, ‘what study is the most important one to show masks are effective?’ ‘The hair salon study!’ she replied confidently.’”  He then challenged her, saying it was might be considered a “clinical report” but not “solid science.  I knew the study well, having already dissected it in detail with a few epidemiologists before I set foot in Washington.  My colleagues had all laughed at it.  It was poorly done, and the conclusions were not valid.  It was an embarrassment that it had been published prominently on the CDC website, let alone cited in the media by experts” (p.84).  The “study” Birx claimed  to be “proof” of the need for masks was based upon the experiences of two hair stylists, one of whom had COVID, and their impact on a few clients getting their hair done.  That was it!  Purely anecdotal!

Soon he realized he was an outlier on the Task Force, and he ultimately concluded that attending its meetings was a waste of time.  Since he had come to advise the president, who was supposedly in charge of national policies, he never understood why the president’s wishes were hardly considered by the Task Force.  Trump wanted to reopen schools and the economy, but the Task Force seemed to go its own way, following Birx and Fauci.  As the sole public health policy expert in the White House, however, Atlas was determined to help Trump understand why many of the nation’s leading experts disagreed with Birx and Fauci.  (Thousands had signed the Hartford Declaration!). He wanted to tell him “what I thought, not to be a mouthpiece for what he thought.  I came there to speak on behalf of the American public, especially those who were being destroyed by the lockdowns.  And I could not sit silent and watch this mass destruction” (p. 128).  He also felt morally obligated to speak truthfully to the American people and took advantage of any opportunity to do so, taking “that responsibility more seriously than anything else in my life” (p. 133).  

Birx constantly claimed she was “all about data,” but in her data were frequently flawed and often derived from worldometer and state dashboards—“layman-level websites”—that seriously failed to provide what scholars demand.  Her reasoning was often fallacious—lapsing into circular reasoning, mistaking correlation for causation, tossing off non sequitors, etc.  She and others seemed “incapable of basic logic” and neither she nor Fauci or Redpath—the “experts” on the Task Force—“showed detailed knowledge of ongoing scientific literature on the pandemic” (p. 99).  To Atlas’ amazement, they never “ever brought scientific publications into the meetings that I attended.”  Nor did they demonstrate suitable “familiarity with clinical medicine or had any clinical perspective on medical journal publications” (p. 100).  Birx routinely presided at the meetings, “comfortable speaking to the nonmedical group in the meetings, pushing policies without being challenged, including testing healthy people, quarantining asymptomatic children and adults, and arbitrarily closing restaurants and bars, specifically ‘after 11:00 p.m.’  No one bothered to ask about the science behind that seemingly magical moment.  Why not 9:30 p.m. or 11:30 p.m. or even 2:00 a.m.?  What about the research that showed only a small fraction of cases stemming from bars and restaurants?  Contact tracing data showed that only a tiny percentage of cases originated in restaurants and bars.  That was ignored.  In fact, it seemed completely unknown in the White House until I presented it” (p. 246).

Almost all the meetings he attended in the White House lacked the scientific rigor he’d both anticipated and demanded.  “No contrary evidence was mentioned.  Warnings, broad statements, and assertions were uttered, but never any data or evidence” (p. 206).  The nation was controlled by “experts” who didn’t really know what they were doing!  “The striking uniformity of opinion by Birx, Redfield, Fauci, and Giroir was not anything like what I had seen in my career in academic medicine, and I took that as an absence of independent thought.  And that’s not science” (p. 244).  Birx was extremely defensive and easily angered if anyone questioned her views.  But one thing she knew well:  how politicians work.  And she knew that Vice President Pence, fearing to “rock the boat” would defer to her views.  After all, there was an election to be won!  So too the communications folks in the White House cowered in fear, facing “a relentlessly hostile media.  . . . . They were held hostage by the potential reaction in the press from Fauci and Birx” (p 259).  Hoping to get Trump re-elected they dared not risk even challenging the “experts.”  

While the nation’s governors implemented whatever Birx and Fauci decreed, Atlas tried to get the White House to care for those who were most at risk and dying.  “I kept stressing that locking down, restricting everyone, was extraordinarily harmful, especially to the working class and the poor.  The lockdowns were a luxury of the rich, and it was unconscionable to continue them” (p. 236). He told Birx that no one could stop the virus from spreading.  “‘But,’ he said, ‘we can and must increase the protection of those at risk to die.  Only a narrow group has a significant risk to die, not everyone.  What we can do is minimize the deaths, that’s the entire point—to stop people from dying.  And we should stop sacrificing children and destroying families by locking down healthy, low-risk people.’” (p. 238).  These strategies were clearly not working.  Cases multiplied, deaths mounted, but officials endlessly insisted everyone wear masks and stay home.  The media amplified the narrative and the masses complied.  Atlas began to wonder if those in charge kept doing senseless things because they could not bear to admit they had been wrong.  

He also thinks we should have honestly faced the fact that masks could not stop the virus from spreading.  “The empirical evidence from the US and all over the world already had shown masks failed to stop COVID-19 cases from surging” (p. 332).  In November 2020, the Annals of Internal Medicine published Denmark’s “‘randomized, controlled’ Danmask-19 study.  That seminal study—of the highest scientific quality in clinical trial research—evaluated masks in more than 6,000 adult participants. That study showed there was no statistically significant difference between those who wore masks and those who did not when it came to being infected by the SARS2 coronavirus—nothing different between masks and no masks” (p. 343).  Despite the evidence, the scientists and politicians shaping public policy relentlessly insisted masks could arrest the virus, upholding nothing more than a “dearly held belief” and making a public declaration of both fear and personal righteousness.  Doctors certainly wear masks while doing surgery, as did Atlas when he was in an operating room.  “But the real reason doctors wear masks is to stop large droplets of saliva, coughs, or sneezes from entering the sterile field and contaminating a wound or incision.  They do not wear masks in operating rooms to stop aerosolized viruses emitted via breathing.  This virus primarily spreads by aerosols, invisible with every breath.  That type of spread escapes around a mask” (p. 329).  The COVID virus is significantly smaller than the pores in surgical masks.  “It should not be necessary to explain how absurd it was to even consider that a scarf or bandana would stop the virus” (p. 330).  Though he knows it’s a polarizing issue, and though he wishes masks work, he cannot “endorse a requirement for unscientific, irrational behavior.  I do not choose to wear a copper bracelet for arthritis.  Others may choose to, and that’s fine.  I am in favor of having everyone who wants a mask to wear one” (p. 330).   When caring for symptomatic patients, who often cough or sneeze, wearing masks make sense.  

In a searing summation of his brief experience in D.C, Atlas says:  “It was too much for me.  To sit in that Task Force, to listen to these so-called experts, with such influence, people who denied the data, who were not even critiquing the scientific literature.  People who hadn’t worked with patients for decades, who showed no perspective on clinical medicine.  Public health officials who heinously and consistently disregarded the horrible destruction occurring in the wake of their policies—policies that were undeniably followed throughout the country, no matter what they claimed otherwise, no matter what the president or anyone else tried to say.  The lockdowns—their lockdowns—were at this point, in my mind, reprehensible, totally unforgivable, a crime against humanity” (pp. 239-240).  

Hoping to give the public an alternative perspective, Atlas scheduled a “roundtable meeting with the president” to introduce him to Atlas’ Stanford colleague Jay Bhattacharya, an expert in infectious disease, health policy, and economics” as well as other “nationally recognized academic experts.”  That meeting was cancelled at the last moment when Dr. Birx could not attend—primarily, Atlas thinks, because she “would have suddenly found herself in the minority among a group of respected authorities” (p. 251).  The meeting was rescheduled—and again Birx absented herself.  Undaunted, Atlas persevered and ultimately orchestrated a roundtable in President Trump’s Oval Office.  Trump “eagerly commandeered the meeting” and dove “into the important issues of the pandemic, posing questions to each doctor and listening intently to their responses.”  After the November election, Atlas resigned from his position and later talked with the president, who said:  “‘You did a great job.  We had a great relationship. We got a lot done.  And you worked hard.  You’re a fighter.  I appreciate that.” Atlas thanked him and said he’d done all he could to help the country.  To which Trump said:  “‘You were right; you were right about everything’” (p. 300).  

And Atlas thinks Trump was also right about most everything.  “From his March 23, 2020, statement during the initial fifteen-day lockdown that ‘the cure cannot be worse than the problem,’ President Trump repeatedly stated his overall strategy:  protect the vulnerable, prevent hospital overcrowding, and open schools and businesses.  These principles were stated numerous times throughout the pandemic in the president’s speeches, briefings, and statements issued from inside and outside the White House.”  But the White House Coronavirus Task Force he appointed was “not in synch” with him.  Entrusting the nation’s health to this task force was “a massive error in judgment.  Against his own gut feeling, he delegated authority to medical bureaucrats, and then he failed to correct that mistake” (p. 308).  Its director, Vice President Pence, “was a thoughtful and engaged participant, and he listened to his main doctors,” Drs. Fauci, Birx, and Redfield, who constantly moulded the media and advised the nation’s governors.  They had one simple policy:  lockdowns.  They had one ultimate solution:  a vaccine.  Yet their policies utterly failed.  Indeed it is “likely the most egregious failure in the history of modern health policy” (p. 308). 

349 The Real Anthony Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci enjoys an exalted reputation throughout many echelons of society.  His charisma and confidence, omnipresent on TV throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, made him a trusted face for “science.”  There are Tony Fauci fan clubs and donuts, an “I heart Fauci” throw pillow, an “In Fauci We Trust” coffee mug, a “Honk for Dr. Fauci” yard sign, and even a Dr. Fauci prayer candle!  To dare question Fauci easily removes one from Twitter or Facebook, and books questioning his probity go unlisted by media giants such as Amazon.  Fortunately for Fauci, a fawning media have largely shielded him from serious critiques, dismissing them as conspiracy theories concocted by devious cranks and misfits.  Consequently, we have a thoroughly misinformed public, leaving, for example, typical Democrats thinking half of those infected with COVID were hospitalized, whereas the real number was less than one percent!  

A medical doctor who’s never practiced medicine, Fauci began working in 1968 for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID, a department within the  National Institutes of Health) and ultimately became its director.  He is now the most senior and highly paid ($417,608 annually) bureaucrat in the federal system.  A consummate manipulator, he’s created a scientific and financial empire that controls an enormous segment of public health policy.  Fauci’s success is rooted in his skillfully snaring federal grants for research in the early 1980s.  Under his guidance, NIAID funding for AIDS mushroomed from $297,000 in 1982 to half a billion dollars by 1992!  Virtually all this money was poured into seeking a vaccine to prevent the HIV virus from developing into full-blown AIDS.  (Such a vaccine has never been found and many scientists now think HIV is simply present in some AIDS patients without being the actual cause of the disease).   In time Fauci would become a trusted advisor to presidents and ultimately emerge during the COVID-19 epidemic as the face of the federal government.

Countering all the acclaim Fauci has garnered, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. insists we should know The Real Antony Fauci:  Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health (New York:  Skyhorse Publishing, c. 2021; Kindle Edition).   Unlike Fauci’s public personae, Kennedy judges him to be a devious Machiavellian who has orchestrated harmful policies while enriching himself and his loyal cadres.  Sharing this view, Nobel laureate for medicine Luc Montagnier says:  “Dr. Joseph Goebbels wrote that ‘A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.’  Tragically for humanity, there are many, many untruths emanating from Fauci and his minions.  RFK Jr. exposes the decades of lies.”  Throughout this book it’s clear that Kennedy is writing as a prosecutor rather than an even-handed historian, but the evidence he presents (if true) is truly damning, for the damage done to the world by one man is virtually beyond belief.  “The disturbing story” Kennedy tells “has never been told, and many in power have worked hard to prevent the public from learning it.  The main character is Anthony Fauci” (p. 26).  

Robert Kennedy Jr. is himself is a lifelong Democrat, a member of perhaps the most prominent and powerful political family in recent American history.  He personally knows scores of politicians and bureaucrats, including Anthony Fauci.  His uncle “Ted” Kennedy helped write many of the regulatory laws overseeing federal departments that now serve as “sock-puppets” for the industries they’re supposed to supervise.   Much of his life RFK Jr. devoted to environmental and public health issues, serving as president of Waterkeepers and fighting “Big Oil, King Coal” and assorted corporate polluters.  While so doing, he enjoyed the favor and support of leftists in his party and the media.  He “published regularly in the New York Times and all the major papers” and magazines.  He gave speeches all over the country, deriving a significant income thereby.  But:  “All that changed in 2005, after I published an article, “Deadly Immunity,” about corruption in CDC’s vaccine branch” (p. 327).  

He’d dared enter the debate over vaccines, and he soon discovered that “Big Pharma” essentially controlled the nation’s health agencies through incestuous, corrupt schemes.  Federal agencies now receive billions of taxpayer monies to research diseases.  The researchers getting the money, working in universities or government-supported labs, then propose medicines (most likely vaccines) for the diseases.  Promising meds are then patented by the researchers, who profit handsomely as the public pays for their use.  “The CDC [Centers for Disease Control], for example, owns 57 vaccine patents and spends $4.9 of its $12.0 billion-dollar annual budget (as of 2019) buying and distributing vaccines.  NIH [National Institute of Health] owns hundreds of vaccine patents and often profits royally from the sale of products it supposedly regulates.  High level officials, including Dr. Fauci, receive yearly emoluments of up to $150,000 in royalty payments on products that they help develop and then usher through the approval process” (p. 26)

So Kennedy “wrote this book to help Americans—and citizens across the globe—understand the historical underpinnings of the bewildering cataclysm that began in 2020.  In that single annus horribilis, liberal democracy effectively collapsed worldwide.  The very governmental health regulators, social media eminences, and media companies that idealistic populations relied upon as champions of freedom, health, democracy, civil rights, and evidence-based public policy seemed to collectively pivot in a lockstep assault against free speech and personal freedoms.  Suddenly, those trusted institutions seemed to be acting in concert to generate fear, promote obedience, discourage critical thinking, and herd seven billion people to march to a single tune, culminating in mass public health experiments with a novel, shoddily tested and improperly licensed technology so risky that manufacturers refused to produce it unless every government on Earth shielded them from liability” (p. 23).  

Honestly confronting what happened during the past two years should shock us.  Fauci’s policies—masks, quarantines, lockdowns, and social distancing—were all prescribed, if not mandated, and none of them were ever justified by peer-reviewed studies showing their effectiveness.  On the other hand, Fauci et al. discouraged and actually sought to ban doctors from using demonstrably effective therapeutics, resulting “in by far the most deaths, and one of the highest percentage COVID-19 body counts of any nation on the planet.”  Consequently, the United States, “with 4 percent of the world’s population, suffered 14.5 percent of total COVID deaths” (p. 30).  Just recall, for example, the deafening drumbeats demanding everyone wear masks, and then realize:  “There is no well-constructed study that persuasively suggests masks have convincing efficacy against COVID-19 that would justify accepting the harms associated with masks.”  Indeed, “retrospective studies on Dr. Fauci’s mask mandates confirm that they were bootless. ‘Regional analysis in the United States does not show that [mask] mandates had any effect on case rates, despite 93 percent compliance.  Moreover, according to CDC data, 85 percent of people who contracted COVID-19 reported wearing a mask’” (p. 54).  Nor did lockdowns reduce infection rates.  In fact, the less a country followed Fauci’s prescriptions the better it fared!  Kenya, for example, suffered only 97 deaths per 1,000,000 residents whereas the United States suffered 2,107!  Quarantining the healthy has never dealt effectively with infectious diseases and was consequently discouraged by the WHO [World Health Organization], an arm of the United Nations.  That Fauci encouraged it suggests he is both scientifically and morally obtuse. 

Perhaps the most damning accusation Kennedy levels at Fauci’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic is this:  “Medicines were available against COVID—inexpensive, safe medicines—that would have prevented hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and saved as many lives if only we’d used them in this country.  But Dr. Fauci and his Pharma collaborators deliberately suppressed those treatments in service to their single-minded objective—making America await salvation from their novel, multi-billion dollar vaccines” (p. 52).  One of the nation’s premier epidemiologists, Yale’s Harvey Risch, the author of over 350 peer-reviewed publications, insists you should “‘quarantine and treat the sick, protect the most vulnerable, and aggressively develop repurposed therapeutic drugs, and use early treatment protocols to avoid hospitalizations.’”  Had we aggressively used therapeutic drugs and implemented sensible policies, we “could have easily defanged COVID-19 so that it was less lethal than a seasonal flu.  We could have done this very quickly.  We could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives’” (p. 63).  

Agreeing with Risch, Dr. Peter McCullough (an internist and cardiologist who has published 600 peer-reviewed articles, making him the most published physician in history in the field of kidney disease related to heart disease) says the pandemic should have been handled quite differently.  “‘We could have dramatically reduced COVID fatalities and hospitalizations,’” he says, by “‘using early treatment protocols and repurposed drugs including ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and many, many others.’”  He has successfully treated 2,000 COVID patients and “points out that hundreds of peer-reviewed studies now show that early treatment could have averted some 80 percent of deaths attributed to COVID.  “‘The strategy from the outset should have been implementing protocols to stop hospitalizations through early treatment of Americans who tested positive for COVID but were still asymptomatic.  If we had done that, we could have pushed case fatality rates below those we see with seasonal flu, and ended the bottlenecks in our hospitals.  We should have rapidly deployed off-the-shelf medications with proven safety records and subjected them to rigorous risk/benefit decision-making,’ McCullough continues. ‘Using repurposed drugs, we could have ended this pandemic by May 2020 and saved 500,000 American lives, but for Dr. Fauci’s hard-headed, tunnel vision on new vaccines and remdesivir’” (p. 65).  Such physicians are Kennedy’s heroes!  More than merely seeking to find the truth, McCullouigh has spearheaded a “worldwide network of front-line physicians using repurposed drugs to save lives around the globe” (p. 83).

Rather than working with scholarly doctors such as Risch and McCullough, the federal bureaucracy sought to suppress their views.  Research universities, having received millions of dollars from the NIH and Fauci network, toed the line he drew, refusing to do anything but search for a magical vaccine.  Says McCullough:  “‘Not a single medical center set up even a tent to try to treat patients and prevent hospitalization and death.  There wasn’t an ounce of original research coming out of America available to fight COVID—other than vaccines’” (p. 79).  Sadly enough, some of this nation’s most distinguished doctors “believe that Dr. Fauci’s suppression of early treatment and off-patent remedies was responsible for up to 80 percent of the deaths attributed to COVID.   . . . .   The relentless malpractice of deliberately withholding early effective COVID treatments, of forcing the use of toxic remdesivir, may have unnecessarily killed up to 500,000 Americans in hospitals” (p. 80).   

Assessing all this, Kennedy declares:  “There is no other aspect of the COVID crisis that more clearly reveals the malicious intentions of a powerful vaccine cartel—led by Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates—to prolong the pandemic and amplify its mortal effects in order to promote their mischievous inoculations.  From the outset, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and other therapeutics posed an existential threat to Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates’ $48 billion COVID vaccine project, and particularly to their vanity drug remdesivir, in which Gates has a large stake.”  If drugs like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin (which had long enjoyed the approval of the FDA and were both inexpensive and widely available, were to prove effective) the “pharmaceutical companies would no longer be legally allowed to fast-track their billion-dollar vaccines to market under Emergency Use Authorization.  Instead, vaccines would have to endure the years-long delays that have always accompanied methodical safety and efficacy testing, and that would mean less profits, more uncertainty, longer runways to market, and a disappointing end to the lucrative COVID-19 vaccine gold rush.  Dr. Fauci has invested $6 billion in taxpayer lucre in the Moderna vaccine alone.  His agency is co-owner of the patent and stands to collect a fortune in royalties.  At least four of Fauci’s hand-picked deputies are in line to collect royalties of $150,000/year based on Moderna’s success, and that’s on top of the salaries already paid by the American public” (pp. 84-85).  

Kennedy’s dark suspicions regarding Fauci are fueled by his examination of Fauci’s treatment of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.  Thus he devotes several lengthy chapters of the book to detailing and condemning what Fauci did by using his bully pulpit to “terrify millions into wrongly believing they were at risk of getting AIDS when they were not” and thereby getting lavish federal funding for his agency.  He “perfected his special style of ad-fear-tising, using remote, unlikely, farfetched and improbable possibilities to frighten people” (p. 307).  His “first instinct as national AIDS czar had been to stoke contagion terror,” and he wrote an article in 1983 “warning that AIDS could spread by casual contact.”  Though the disease was largely restricted to intravenous drug users and male homosexuals, Fauci deviously declared that anyone, through even casual contact, could catch the disease.  He and his close colleague, Dr. Robert Gallo, early focused in on HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) as the “sole cause of AIDS,” but despite enormous expenditures and clinical trials “no one has been able to point to a study that demonstrates their hypothesis using accepted scientific proofs” (p. 401).  In fact, not nearly all AIDS patients have the NIV virus and millions of folks have NIV but never contract AIDS.  It seems to be yet another fallacious example of confusing correlation with causation! 

Taking over the HIV program from the National Cancer Institute, Fauci quickly began promoting AZT, an anti-cancer drug that he thought might successfully treat AIDS.  But AZT itself had proven to be horrendously toxic!  Arguably “the world’s most accomplished and insightful retrovirologist,” Dr. Peter Duesberg, actually accused “Dr. Fauci of committing mass murder with AZT, the deadly chemical concoction that according to Duesberg causes—and never cures—the constellations of immune suppression that we now call ‘AIDS’” (p. 403).  But Fauci zeroed in on AZT as the magic bullet, and for 36 years he funneled all federal grants to researchers vainly determined to make HIV the culprit causing AIDS.  His grants helped fuel the panic regarding HIV-induced AIDS in Africa.  Scary news stories said some half of the adults in some African nations were infected with HIV and would soon suffer massive depopulation.  None of these doomsday predictions came true, “and most HIV-infected Africans showed no sign of illness” (p. 415).  But millions of dollars were raised and sent to African research centers and thousands of Africans suffered in clinical trials alleged designed to stop the AIDS “epidemic.”  Numerous scholars now believe the African epidemic was simply fabricated!  This sorry story—and Bill Gates’ involvement in it—deserves a fuller discussion than I can afford here, but it should be widely shared!

  Fauci also disregarded what seemed to be effective treatments developed by physicians treating AIDS’ patients with off-the-shelf “therapeutic drugs that seemed effective against the constellation of symptoms that actually killed and tormented people with AIDS” (p. 345).  Despite their successes, Fauci “refused to test any of those repurposed drugs, which had older or expired patents and no Pharma patrons.   . . . .   Big Pharma and its PIs were loath to test any drug with patents they didn’t control” (p. 346).  Sadly, “One of NCI’s top virologists, Dr. Frank Ruscetti . . .  recalls of that era, ‘We could have saved millions of lives with repurposed and therapeutic drugs.  But there’s no profit in it. It’s all got to be about newly patented antivirals and their mischievous vaccines’” (p. 346).  Employing phrases quite familiar to us 40 years later, Fauci blithely asserted “he simply could not recommend a drug until he saw ‘randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled trial’ results.  That was the ‘gold standard,’ he said.  It would be that, or nothing.  When they asked him, ‘Why not?’ he shouted, ‘There’s no data!’” (p. 353).  He has always preferred quantifiable models to practicing physicians’ demonstrations.  

Fauci flourished as he perfected the practice of using academic physicians and researchers whose careers depend upon federal grants.  These Principle Investigators (PIs) do the research and clinical trials necessary for licensing new drugs.  “Thanks to NIH’s largesse, and to NIAID in particular, a relatively tiny network of PIs—a few hundred—determines the content and direction of virtually all America’s biomedical research” (p. 315).  And they dare not displease Anthony Fauci!  Still more:  these PIs get lucrative grants and “legalized bribes” extended through honoraria, expert witness fees, speaking gigs, and first-class travel to exclusive resorts for conferences” (p. 326).  So they are quite subservient to what Kennedy calls “Big Pharma.”  Fauci’s critics, including Dr. Duesberg “charge that by stifling debate and dissent, Dr. Fauci milled public fear into multi-billion-dollar profits for his Pharma partners while expanding his own powers and authoritarian control” (p. 405).

Kennedy demonstrates the incestuous nature of all this by telling how PIs worked to develop a vaccine to control HPV (human papilloma virus) and prevent cervical cancer.  In 2006 a distinguished (ACIP) panel recommended all girls aged nine through twenty-six get the vaccine.  Merck (the pharmaceutical company promoting the shots) acknowledged it had not thoroughly tested the product, “so no one could scientifically predict if the vaccines would avert more injuries or cancers than they would cause.”  But Gardasil was approved and became “the most expensive vaccine in history, costing patients $420 for the three-jab series and generating revenues of over $1 billion annually for Merck.  That year, nine of the thirteen ACIP panel members and their institutions collectively received over $1.6 billion of grant money from NIH and NIAID” (p. 317).  

In this long (900+ pages) and meticulously documented treatise, Kennedy provides much to ponder!  This is far more than a book about the coronavirus or Anthony Fauci.  It reveals a great deal about our public health and the agencies designed to promote it.  Prompting us to take action, RFK says:  “We can bow down and comply—take the jabs, wear the face coverings, show our digital passports on demand, submit to the tests, and salute our minders in the Bio-surveillance State.  Or we can say No.  We have a choice, and it is not too late.  COVID-19 is not the problem; it is a problem, one largely solvable with early treatments that are safe, effective, and inexpensive.  The problem is endemic corruption in the medical-industrial complex, currently supported at every turn by mass-media companies.  This cartel’s coup d’etat has already siphoned billions from taxpayers, already vacuumed up trillions from the global middle class, and created the excuse for massive propaganda, censorship, and control worldwide.  Along with its captured regulators, this cartel has ushered in the global war on freedom and democracy” (p. 925).  It’s time for us to act both wisely and courageously!  

I’ve focused on Robert Kennedy’s book, because it presents the same evidence and comes to much the same conclusions as several other books I’ve read.  Charles Ortleb, determined to reveal Fauci’s disreputable conduct in dealing with AIDS, wrote Fauci The Bernie Madoff of Science and the HIV Ponzi Scheme that Concealed the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic (HHV-6 University Press, c. 2021; Kindle Edition).  As the editor of a gay newspaper, the New York Native, Ortleb writes with an outrage fueled by his belief that Fauci gravely mishandled his task and bears responsibility for the suffering and deaths of thousands of AIDS victims.  He has concluded “that the similarities between AIDS science and Nazi science are too obvious for people of conscience to ignore’ (p. 8).  Focusing on other Fauci misdeeds, Steve Deace’s Faucian Bargain: The Most Powerful and Dangerous Bureaucrat in American History (New York:  Post Hill Press, c. 2021; Kindle Edition) delineates his bureaucratic dexterity that has harmed the country.  

Benjamin Franklin once said:  “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  So Deace says:   “COVID-19 has taught us this history lesson in the harshest of terms.” We did what we were told and watched millions die anyway.  “Lockdowns didn’t work, but they kill.”  We found a bit of momentary safety and lost our liberty.   

# # # 

348 RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IMPERILED?

In 1783, reflecting on his service as commander-in-chief of the colonial armies, George Washington said:  “The establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the Motive which induced me to the Field, the object is obtained, and it now remains to be my earnest wish and prayer, that the Citizens of the United States would make a wise and virtuous use of the blessings, placed before them.”  His ideas of freedom would soon be inscribed in the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing citizens important rights vis-a-vis their government.  Today, however, when many of those freedoms seem imperiled, we should especially note threats to the very first item therein listed—freedom of religion:  “Congress shall establish no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  

Contrary those who envision that amendment as a “wall of separation” between church and state, Kenneth Starr insists it actually erected a “‘wall of protection’ so that faith communities can freely chart their own course without disrupting significant public interests” (p. 13).  So he has written Religious Liberty in Crisis:  Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty (New York:  Encounter Books, c. 2021, Kindle Edition).  No one could more adequately deal with this subject, for Stasrr is both a noted legal scholar and a devout Christian.  Appointed to the District of Columbia Circuit of Appeals by President Reagan, then serving as Solicitor General of the United States under President George H.W. Bush, he might well have joined the United States Supreme Court in 1990 had not President Bush decided to avoid a Robert Bork style battle in the Senate by appointing the enigmatic David Souter instead.  Add to his judicial prowess the fact that he was born in Texas and reared in a pastor’s home (his father ministering in the Churches of Christ denomination).  Thenceforth, though moving away from his father’s denomination, he says:  “Faith proved to be a pillar of strength in my daily life.”  

Starr begins his treatise by asserting:  “Our national DNA contains a dominant freedom gene” (p. 1).  “Ordered liberty” is basic to the American way.  Freedom of religion is simply one important aspect of its flourishing.  But that freedom has been severely limited by the various lockdowns imposed by governments endeavoring to deal with the COVID crisis.  Along with mandated business and school closures, churches and religious institutions had their worship services cancelled.  “Religion, just like virtually every other sector of American society, other than Walmart and the local liquor stores, was facing a deep crisis” (p. 8).  Ignoring the First Amendment, numbers of “American Caesars” simply decreed that health concerns cancelled freedom of religion.  Tellingly, the Caesars deemed some activities absolutely essential—marijuana outlets in Colorado and California, casinos in Nevada!  When the Supreme Court was asked to rule on the Nevada restrictions, the majority of justices supported the outrageous position Neal Gorsuch pilloried, declaring:  “‘[T]here is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel’” (p. 10). 

Here and there a few churches chose to defy government edicts but were subject to crushing fines and harsh denunciation.  Most chose to go along to get along and design creative alternatives to corporate worship.  In retrospect, Starr challenges people of faith to seriously consider one essential “question:  when does the government’s authority trump religious assembly and expression?”  His answer:  demand autonomy!  It’s the master “key to religious liberty.”  It is “a special concept for friends of religious liberty.  It is one of what we can call the Great Principles that undergird our system of ordered liberty.  Properly understood, the autonomy principle provides an extra layer of constitutional protection for all faith communities, and it is one that the Supreme Court has vigorously policed and guaranteed” (p. 12).  Autonomy entails self-government.  Any free person or institution governs himself.  Importantly:  “Throughout our nation’s history, the idea of autonomy, of leaving churches alone to govern their own affairs, has been deemed fundamental to our constitutional order.  Simply put, faith-bearing Americans have upheld the notion that Caesar should mind his own business and stay out of matters of religion, including matters of church governance.  This allows the faithful to freely exercise the tenets of their religion without fear of government interference, or of discrimination—a founding principle of our constitutional order” (pp. 12-13). 

Despite alarming assaults on religious liberties during the COVID panic, Starr wants us to understand how the Supreme Court has increasingly defended the autonomy of churches.  Wisely utilizing these decisions will enable us to better deal with coming threats to religious freedom, for they have declared that, “absent compelling reasons, the government cannot pass laws that target religious institutions in discriminatory ways; and governmental entities cannot interfere with religious institutions, including church schools, in ways that compromise their autonomy to express their beliefs and carry out their faith vision” (p. 18).  And he’s written this book in an eirenic and optimistic way, hoping to show that “the prospects for continuing protection of religious liberty are actually quite good” (p. 18).

Thirty years ago I debated an atheist in San Diego who was determined to remove as cross from atop Mt Soledad in La Jolla.  The cross had stood since 1913 as a memorial to those killed in military action and was widely esteemed as a landmark in the area.  The atheists’ legal maneuvers, countered by veterans’ and religious organizations, would ricochet through various courts for 25 years—only to be concluded with the Department of Defense sold the property to a private organization which would leave the cross in place.  A similar case recently occurred in Prince George’s County, Maryland (now a suburb of Washington, D.C.), involving what’s known as the Bladensburg Cross.  It was erected following World War I to commemorate the soldiers from Prince George’s County who died doing battle in Europe and was funded and cared for by government entities.  For decades it was quite uncontroversial.  But then the American Humanist Association decided it posed a dire threat to all who would see it and brought a lawsuit to remove it.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit “agreed with the Humanists.  The court found that the memorial cross was an unacceptable symbol of Christianity physically situated on public property.  It had to come down” (p. 24).  The appeals court cited a famous case, Lemon v. Kurtzman, that decreed public monuments must have purely secular themes and reasoned a cross failed to pass that test.  

But when the case was subsequently brought to the U.S. Supreme Court a surprise verdict was rendered!  “In a stunning 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court concluded that the Bladensburg Cross would continue to stand.  The basis of the court’s decision? The cross was not so much a religious symbol as it was a monument to history and tradition, reflecting and embodying the culture of the people who erected it.  All but two of the nine justices (Justice Ginsburg and Justice Sotomayor, who viewed the monument as a religious statement) accepted that proposition, determining that the long-standing religious symbol could remain in place on public land, maintained and preserved through the expenditure of local taxpayer dollars.  To say it was a blow to the Humanists is an understatement” (p. 25).  Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito appraised and defended the presence and significance of religious symbols—crosses and the 10 Commandments—standing on public property.  Speaking for the Supreme Court, Alito decried efforts to tear down monuments or rename cities or otherwise “‘de-Christianize’ American society  would reasonably be perceived as governmental hostility to religion” and thus violate the First Amendment (p. 27).  

So too the Supreme Court has moved in the direction of permitting prayer is public facilities, something disallowed for decades by a variety of courts since the 1962 Engel v. Vitale Supreme Court decision.  “In essence, the court concluded that composing prayers for recitation in the public schools, or in any other official activity, constituted government overreach” (p. 54).  Subsequently, all too many “wildly overread” the Court’s opinion, which “did not ban prayer in public schools under any and all circumstances.  Far from it.  To the contrary, what was constitutionally offensive was much more limited, namely, the official sponsorship of prayers that aligned the government with an expression of faith” (p. 55).   Fearful school administrators (fearing vocal agitators and costly lawsuits) and lower courts (determined to exclude religion from state-supported institutions) were especially inclined to ban all prayers.  

From banning prayers the secularists turned to banning Bible clubs and student-led religious activities in the schools and Christmas displays on public lands and the phrase “in God we trust” in the pledge of allegiance.  But in time the Congress responded to these issues by passing the Equal Access Act during the Reagan years.  This bill illustrates “a larger truth,” Starr says.  “Time and again, Congress and the president monitor the religious-liberty landscape, step into the fray and strike mighty blows, often collaboratively, in favor of religious freedom.”  This was particularly evident when in 1993 Congress passed “the most important religious-liberty Congressional reform in the nation’s history:  the Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (p. 73).  “It was an historic first.  Religious liberty had never enjoyed such an overwhelming legislative triumph” (p. 76).  Consequently, in recent years—relying on history and tradition rather than lower courts’ decisions—the Court has reasoned, for example, that inasmuch as chaplains had offered prayers in various legislators since the Republic’s founding, prayers in civic sites may be allowed.  

School vouchers, enabling parents to send their children to private schools, have strengthened religious freedom in the country.  In the 1990s, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, prodded by Milwaukee’s poorly-performing public-school system, vigorously promoted vouchers (dubbed “school choice”) and recruited Kenneth Starr to orchestrate the legal defense of his endeavors.  Various challenges wound their way through multiple courts until the Supreme Court finally rendered a verdict that granted “an enormous victory for religious liberty” (p. 95).  Speaking for the majority, Chief Justice Rehnquist ignored the tangle of prior decisions dealing with state aid to parochial schools, “cast a wide descriptive net, reviewing an enormous body of Supreme Court precedent,” and highlighted “three earlier high court decisions that had approved different forms of parental choice . . . which resulted in parochial schools or institutions receiving state funds” (p. 94).  

Had Kenneth Starr not been known for his pro-life convictions he might have become a Supreme Court justice!  As a committed Christian he has resolutely defended an unborn baby’s rigbt to life.  Arguing this cause before the Court as Solicitor General, in the infamous Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, he said:  “Roe v. Wade should be overruled,” because it “was wrongly decided twenty years earlier and has been unsparingly criticized over the years for the weakness of its legal reasoning.”  Roe v. Wade had “created a new constitutional right out of whole cloth” and “needed to be overturned” (p. 137).   Though he (and many legal scholars) thought they had a strong case,  a plurality of the justices decided to retain the “core Holding” of Roe, basically they thought overturning it would create social unrest.  Invoking a legal precept (stare decisis) they simply declared “it’s been decided.”  Abortion rights were enshrined!  

  In fact, stare decisis had never proved decisive in Supreme Court decisions—the Court had throughout the years overruled some 200 of its own decisions. Thus Justice Louis Brandeis, a century ago explained:  “‘[I]n cases involving the Federal Constitution, where correction through legislative action is practically impossible, this court has often overruled its earlier decisions.  The court bows to the lessons of experience and the force of better reasoning, recognizing that the process of trial and error, so fruitful in the physical sciences, is appropriate also to the judicial function’” (p. 144).  By ignoring Brandeis’ admonition and insisting Roe v. Wade be firmly established throughout this nation’s judiciary, the justices in Planned Parenthood v. Casey perpetuated what Starr considers an evil and divisive practice.   

As is evident in his discussion of abortion, Starr acknowledges the power of anti-religious forces in America.  While he finds many encouraging elements in Supreme Court decisions during the past 50 years, he warns Christians that secularists are ever on the offensive, seeking to eliminate religion from the public square.  Endless illustrations of this may easily be assembled.  “But it is not only religious liberty that’s under assault in America.  Our entire constitutional order of democratic debate is under challenge” (p. 169).  Finally:  “In this era of open hostility to communities of faith, let’s ‘keep calm and carry on,’ with winsomeness and “charity for all,” fighting the good fight and championing the Great Principles of American liberty.

                                 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Whereas Kenneth Starr, reading recent Supreme Court decisions, found reasons for optimism regarding religious liberty, David Horowitz, in Dark Agenda:  The War to Destroy Christian America (West Palm Beach, FL:  Humanix Books, 2018. Kindle Edition), wrote to decry the rising tide of assaults on it.  Such endeavors are hardly new:  “Since its birth in the fires of the French Revolution, the political left has been at war with religion, and with the Christian religion in particular” (p. 10).  The Jacobins renamed the Notre Dame Cathedral the “Temple of Reason,” sought to suppress the Church and killed thousands of Christians.  Decades later Karl Marx decried religion as “the opium of the people” and Communists thereafter tried to all means possible to eradicate it.  And today’s American leftists, given the opportunity, will do precisely the same.

They would do so because the Left is deeply religious, and as Pascal wisely wrote, centuries ago:  “Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions.”  Analyzing the work of one of the “new atheists,” his friend Christopher Hitchens (a brilliant journalist who wrote God Is Not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything), Horowitz found him full of an ill-founded religious faith:  Marxist humanism (Comte’s “religion of humanity”).  His “vision of mankind’s liberation from timeless afflictions—fear, disease, tyranny—is as head-spinning as any flourish in Marx’s writings.  It is in fact an updated version of Christopher’s lifelong romance with Marxism, which he never really abandoned” (p. 19).  Along with Marx, he wanted to “abolish religion” in order to secure their ultimate happiness. 

Reared in a “red diaper” home, Horowitz was a deeply committed Communist, one of the leaders of the “New Left” in the 1960s.  He personally knows many of the leading leftists and fully understands their agenda.  Generally labeling themselves “progressives,” they continue to pursue their socialistic, utopian dreams—a heaven-on-earth.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they no longer espouse “‘Communism.’  They call it social justice.’  Like Communism, social justice is an impossible future in which the inequalities and oppressions that have afflicted human beings for millennia will miraculously vanish and social harmony will rule” (p. 29).  They fail to acknowledge the great truth proclaimed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago: “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.”

Solzhenitsyn’s position—the ancient Christian view—is anathema to the social justice warriors now so prominent in the United States, for they lobster good and evil in classes or ethnic groups or genders.  “These opposing visions are the root cause of the war that is the subject of this book. The social redeemers view the Christian concern for the salvation of individual souls as counterrevolutionary, a cause of social oppression.  To them, religious believers are obstacles on the path to the future—and must be removed. That is why progressives have declared war on religious liberty, which is America’s founding principle.  And that is why they seek to silence and suppress its defenders” (p. 32).

This effort to silence Christians is significantly, if surreptitiously, on display in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, which was opened a decade ago.  To Horowitz:  “The $621 million center is less a monument to the nation’s founding and institutions than it is to the antireligious left’s vision for America.  When it opened, all references to God and faith had been carefully, deliberately edited out of its photos and historical displays.  One panel in particular claimed that the national motto of the United States is E Pluribus Unum (‘Out of Many, One’).  In fact, the national motto, as established by an act of Congress in 1956, is ‘In God We Trust.’  A replica of the Speaker’s rostrum of the House of Representatives omits the gold-lettered inscription ‘In God We Trust’ above the chair.  Photos of the actual Speaker’s rostrum were cropped to hide the inscription.”  “An enlarged image of the Constitution was photoshopped to remove the words ‘in the Year of our Lord’ above the signatures of the signers.”  It is obvious that:  “The designers of the center had gone to great lengths to alter essential American history. (p. 33).  

Those in charge of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center rather resemble the “ministry of truth” in George Orwell’s l984.   As do educators crafting textbooks for public schools!  For example, references to the Pilgrims or the Mayflower have been deleted from elementary school textbooks in several states.  Since the word “Pilgrim” might lead children to think religion was important, they must learn about “early settlers” or “European colonizers.”  If Thanksgiving is mentioned there is no clue regarding whom is to be thanked.  As well as censoring textbooks, the public schools “prohibit Christian students from reading the Bible, praying, displaying the Ten Commandments, and even mentioning the word ‘God’” (p. 48).  Leftists controlling the public schools refuse to expose students to the fact that America was deeply rooted in Christian thought.  These endeavors rely on a radical reinterpretation of the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment so that:  “Not only is it now unconstitutional to freely exercise religion in a public school, but the freedom of speech is abridged (prayer is speech).  Freedom of the press is shut down (God has been edited out of our history textbooks).  The right of the people to peaceably assemble on school grounds (such as a prayer huddle after a game or a baccalaureate service) is severely restricted” (p. 52).  

What’s transformed the public schools has also transpired in the nation’s sexual ethos.  Horowitz analyzes this process by citing Margaret Sanger’s resolve in the 1920s to “remake the world” by “controlling birth” and granting women “reproductive freedom.”  In time her aspirations flourished as the Supreme Court (in its 1965 Griswold edict) found “a ‘right to privacy’ in the ‘penumbras’ and ‘emanations’ of the Bill of Rights” which “would provide a rationale for a series of new rights that would change the American landscape for generations to come:  in 1972, the right to birth control for unmarried couples; in 1973, a woman’s constitutional right to abortion; in 1977, a right to contraception for juveniles at least sixteen years of age; in 2002 a right to homosexual relations; and in 2015, a right to same-sex marriage” (p. 64).  That all this constituted a “sexual revolution” cannot be denied.  And that it constituted a full-fledged assault on the Christian tradition is also quite clear.  

Repeatedly Horowitz emphasizes that today’s culture wars are, from the Left’s perspective, mere aspects of one ultimate war-to-the-death!  Issues such and abortion are part-and-parcel of a larger agenda—a deadly agenda to destroy Christianity.  “Each victory motivated the leftists to move on to the next item on their expansive agenda.  The issue was never the issue.  The issue was always the revolution.  Each radical victory only inspired more radical aspirations and efforts” (p. 76).  Underlying all the various assaults on religious liberty is “a radical movement whose members are convinced the society-transforming ends justify the undemocratic and extra-constitutional and even racist means” (p. 73).  These radicals threaten to dissolve what the nation’s Civil War once established, “a society that approaches the ideals laid down in our country’s founding documents.”   They control a political party “committed to an identity politics that is the antithesis of the ideas and principles the founding established.”  He warns that:  “A nation divided by such fundamental ideas—individual freedom on one side and group identity on the other—cannot long endure” (p. 126).  

347 Trampling Down Death by Death

When my late wife Marilyn died, my old college friend Keith Walker sent me a book by Julian Barnes:  Levels of Life (New York:  Vintage Books, c. 2013), an elegant depiction of the grief he endured when his wife died.  As is evident in various versions of psychotherapy—and especially in Victor Frankl’s “logotherapy”—there is much solace and inner healing in rightly naming things, in precisely identifying what’s true about one’s soul and the world, in moving beyond illusory platitudes and accepting how things really are.   So anyone looking for a serious—and at times searing—depiction and diagnosis of grief will find Levels of Life therapeutic.  Consider, for example, Barnes’ perceptive analysis of the temptation to “relish the pain”—to nurture one’s sense of virtue in suffering so heroically the loss of a spouse.  There are, in fact, “many traps and dangers in grief, and time does not diminish them.  Self-pity, isolationism, world-scorn, an egotistical exceptionalism:  all aspects of vanity.  Look how much I suffer, how much others fail to  understand:  does this not prove how much I loved?  Maybe, maybe not.”  Amazingly:  “Mourning can also become competitive:  look how much I loved her/him and with these my tears I prove it (and win the trophy).  There is the temptation to feel, if not to say:  I fell from a greater height than you—examine my ruptured organs” (p. 123).   Such passages cannot but challenge the reader to carefully examine and honestly evaluate one’s grief.  Is it really about one’s lost love?  Or is it merely another form of pride seeking to burnish one’s self-esteem?  

The first two sections of the book are devoted to describing the intersecting lives of two 19th century celebrities—Fred Burnaby, a famous balloonist, and Sarah Bernhardt, a noted actress.  Their story provides an artistic prelude for Barnes’ main task:  describing “the loss of depth,” the “grief story” he experienced when his wife of 30 years died quite quickly (37 days) as an aggressive form of cancer sucked away her life.  What he felt was not depression but sadness, a paralyzing sense of lostness, an inability to live with the zest and hopes earlier known.  Once valued things such as money and fame and world-saving political causes lost their luster.  

He did not hope to see her again.  “I believe dead is dead,” he said.  And yet he talked to her continuously!  “This feels as normal as it is necessary” (p. 111).  He dreamed of her regularly and found himself much consoled thereby.  He sensed, for years after she died, her presence.  On the one hand he believed she was dead-dead, but on the other hand he felt she somehow lived on.  Barnes is admittedly trapped in the Nietzsche’s godless world.  Consequently:  “When we killed—or exiled—God, we also killed ourselves.  . . . .  No God, no afterlife, no us” (p. 94).  The atheist creed must be accepted, of course, he acknowledges:  “But we sawed off the branch we were sitting on.  And the view from there, from that height—even if it was only the illusion of a view—wasn’t so bad” (p. 94).  In short:  he acknowledges what he needs is a religious perspective promising life everlasting, but he cannot embrace it.  For ultimately, as he declares in his final paragraph:  “It is all just the universe doing its stuff, and we are the stuff it is being done to.  And so, perhaps, with grief” (pp. 127-128).  

Ironically, Barnes cites Dr. Samuel Johnson’s diagnosis of his sorrow.  He “well understood the ‘tormenting and harassing want’ of grief; and he warned against isolationism and withdrawal.  ‘An attempt to preserve life in a state of neutrality and indifference is unreasonable and vain.  If by excluding joy we could shut out grief, the scheme would deserve very serious attention.’  But it doesn’t.  Nor do extreme measures, like the attempt to ‘drag [the heart] by force into scenes of merriment;’ or its opposite, the attempt ‘to sooth it into tranquility by making it acquainted with miseries and more dreadful and afflictive.’  For Johnson, only work and time mitigate grief.  ‘Sorrow is a kind of rust of the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away’” (pp. 117-18).  But what Barnes fails to say is that Samuel Johnson was a deeply devout Christian who could perceptively describe the reality of grief while trusting in the goodness of God to finally wash away all our tears and bring us to eternal life with lost loved ones.  

In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote powerfully about what he felt when his wife died.  He wrote the book in a few weeks, and one might think he would be permanently paralyzed by grief.  But we know, from other sources, that he did by no means lose his faith in God and faithfully served Him in the years remaining to him.   Reading Barnes moving description, one remembers St Paul’s wonderful testimony—“we are not as those who have no hope.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Another good friend from college days, Barth Smith, suggested I read Trampling Down Death by Death by Spyridon Bailey, an Orthodox theologian living in Britain  (Great Britain:  FeedARead Publishing, c. 2014).  The book’s title is taken from an Orthodox hymn: “ Christ is risen from the dead, / Trampling down death by death / And on those in the tombs / Bestowing life.”  Bailey not only sets forth his understandings but routinely cites trustworthy authorities from earlier centuries.  (He also makes clear, sometimes with polemical sharpness, why he thinks Roman Catholic and Protestant theologies cannot be fully embraced).  In essence, he says:  “Engaging with the truth of our death,” he says, in accord with the Christian Tradition, “must become a priority if we are to live as we should.”  

We will all die not because we are mere mortals but because Adam failed to embrace God’s plan for us.  By nature, we were designed to live forever, so death is not truly “natural” for us.  But sin entered the human story, and we endure its consequences.  “We must recognize that death violates God’s purpose for us, it sits in opposition to the intended fruitfulness and communion for which we were created.”  Despite our sins, however, a loving God designed a plan whereby we may attain His original will for us.  Unlike the worldly view of most moderns, who find everything ultimately meaningless, Christians know that “the love of God gives meaning to everything we do since God wills that we experience His love for all eternity.”

Given God’s original design:  “The body is not an old set of clothes to be discarded at death.”  Though many people think the soul will be liberated from the body and live forever in a purely spiritual realm, well-instructed Christians look to the reunion of body and soul in the final resurrection, and “we can at least say with certainty that our bodies will be the same ones but made incorruptible.”  We must embrace and delight in the body God has given us, for in eternity “it will be perfected and made the true servant of our soul.”  Consequently Christians have always buried their dead, believing their bodies are “precious” and will play “an important part in our eternal future.”  Cremating the body, as Hindus do, signifies a belief that the body is an “old shell” worth discarding and annihilated in the cremation-furnace.  

But the story of Jesus, for Christians, is largely about death and resurrection.  He became incarnate—embodied—for us and died the death we all must die.  “Our physical existence is dignified and the process of renewal began when Christ entered His mother’s womb.”  But on the Cross and in the tomb He “entered into that darkness and overcame the final enemy by trampling down death by death:  He illuminated even the despair of the tomb with the power of His love.”  We were, after all, created in God’s image, which is manifestly evident in our souls, not our bodies.  But the soul forms the body and “does not undermine the body’s importance.”  So death merely interrupts God’s plan for us, and it does not “completely separate the soul from the body, for we “are one being, body and soul,” and death “is an outrage” made tolerable only by the Reality of Christ’s Resurrection, “the central and essential belief of Christianity.”

Bailey also explains the Orthodox position on a phrase in the Apostles’ Creed, sometimes called “the harrowing of hell,” a doctrine that was prominent in the Early Church.  While Jesus’ body lay dead in the grave, His soul sought “to release those who could not yet enter Paradise.”  So His “soul descended into Hades while His body lay broken and dead in the tomb.  Saint Peter tells us that He went and preached unto the spirits in prison (1Peter 3: 19).  He descended so that he could raise them up from captivity with Him when he ascended.  Saint John Chrysostom . . . says:  ‘Hell was taken captive by the Lord Who descended into it. It was laid waste, it was mocked, it was put to death, it was overthrown, it was bound.’”

When Jesus died on the Cross his followers grieved.  So too “we hold and weep over our dead or dying.  But we are called to see that the cross is not simply an instrument of torture and death but a means to our redemption.  We cannot remain fixed at the point of the cross, we must move beyond it to what follows.  And so we must place the cross at the centre of our ordinary lives in order that it may become the prism through which we see life and the world.”  So grief is “the sting of love when the one we love dies, and “bereavement is a cross most of us must bare at some point in our lives.  It isn’t a Christian duty to believe so much in eternal life that we are untouched by someone’s death; that would be a grotesque distortion of what it means to be a human being.”  

Importantly, the grief felt by Jesus’ followers was soon assuaged by the Joy of His Resurrection.  So too our grief will be healed inasmuch as we look not at the tomb but to the Risen Lord, and we “benefit enormously from staying focussed on the reality of eternal life, and on all that Christ achieved in His resurrection.”  Being healed from grief is not “a betrayal of the one who has died.”  Good grief ultimately helps “us to trust in God.  Only when we accept that our loved one is in the hands of God can we gain peace.”  Finding comfort and peace, having one’s heart healed, “does not diminish the person’s importance to us.” Rather, one finds joy rather than sorrow in many wonderful memories of the departed.

Because Jesus triumphed over death, his followers enjoy a living hope of life everlasting with Him, and the Scriptures make “clear that the souls of the righteous enjoy the blessings of God after death.”  At the moment of death we will face a “particular judgment” that determines whether or not we enter Paradise (an antechamber of the final Heaven).  Following Christ’s return, we will face the “general judgment,” whereby all accounts are finally and rightfully settled.  During our earthly sojourn, the most important thing we do, as is evident in many New Testament passages, is to repent of our sins.  Those who are finally saved are they who were truly penitent.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Since I first began studying philosophy I have admired and relied on the works of Joseph Pieper—short, incisive models of cogent Christian thinking.  My initial introduction to him came when I read his Leisure:  The Basis of Culture.  In the “Introduction” to this book, T.S. Eliot (who had studied philosophy at Harvard) noted that academic philosophers had little impact upon the 20th century public while Pieper managed to do so.  He did this by “restoring philosophy to a place of importance for every educated person who thinks, instead of confining it to esoteric activities which can affect the public only indirectly, insidiously and often in a distorted form.  He restores to their position in philosophy what common sense obstinately tells us ought to be found there:  insight and wisdom” (p. 14).  Equally laudatory remarks regarding Pieper were given by one of the greatest 20th century theologians, Hans Urs von Balthasar, who said he was a “philosopher, who in Goethe’s words contemplates the ‘holy and manifest mystery’ of Being and its meaning” and effectively employs the “language which always grows out of the wisdom of man as he philosophizes unconsciously” (“Foreword” to Josef Pieper:  An Anthology, p. ix).  

I recently reread (for probably the third or fourth times) Pieper’s Death and Immortality (New York:  Herder & Herder, c. 1969).  He begins his discussion by noting that the subject is “an especially philosophical subject,” contrasting the radically dissimilar declarations of two eminent 20th century thinkers, Jean-Paul Sartre and Pope John XXIII.  The former, an atheistic existentialist, said:  “It is absurd that we are born; it is absurd that we die.”  On the contrary, said the pope:  “Every day is a good day to be born; every day is a good day to die” (p. 8).  It’s neither the times nor the places that shape our attitudes—it’s what we take to be true regarding Reality.  Importantly, as Kierkegaard declared:  “‘Honour to learning, and honour to one who can treat the learned question of immortality in a learned way.  But the question of immortality is no learned question.  It is a question of the inner existence, a question which the individual must confront by looking into his own soul’” (p. 130).  

For us mortals, pondering our own death cannot but prompt the most serious of all thoughts.  Thus St Augustine, following the death of a close friend when he was 19 years old, noted:  “I had become a great question to myself.”  His study of Cicero no doubt deepened this concern, for to Cicero, Pieper says, “philosophizing is nothing else but consideration of death, commentatio mortis” (p. 10).   But while we witness others dying and wonder at the prospects of our own death, we cannot experience it as we do eating and drinking, laughing and crying.  It eludes the kind of analysis we give other human activities.  It is the most certain thing in the world—but precisely what it is remains bewilderingly uncertain.  Nevertheless, “in the shock that is inflicted upon us by the death of a beloved person” we come closest to personally experiencing it.  The great Christian dramatist (and existential philosopher) Gabriel Marcel said, “To love a being is to say, ‘Thou, thou shalt not die!’” (p. 20).  When we profess our love, something in us prompts us to declare its everlasting dimensions.  And if our love is eternal, surely the one we love is equally eternal.  So as a loved one dies we know (inasmuch as one may know) what death means.

We have also developed remarkable euphemisms, designed to evade the harsh reality of death, to “not name the reality of the thing, rather to obscure it, make it unrecognizable and divert our attention to something else” (p. 23).  So we say the person “passed away” or “expired” or “fell asleep.”  An even deeper evasion is “the sophism of not encountering death, which Epicurus seems to have been the first to formulate; ‘Death is nothing to us; for as long as we are, death is not here; and when death is here, we no longer are.  Therefore it is nothing to the loving or the dead’” (p. 29).  Skeptics and atheists ever since have repeated this refrain, but something about it always rings hollow.  So to live honestly, Pieper insists, we must consider all the aspects “of the human experience embodied in living speech,” of reality itself, embracing the many paradoxes posed by end-of-life experiences (p. 30).  

We do, instinctively it seems, follow Socrates in his final hours and inevitably speak of the “separation of body and soul.”  Thus Thomas Aquinas said “that the ratio mortis, the ‘concept’ of death, implies that the soul separates from the body” (p. 33).  Precisely what that means, however, defies easy explanation.  It’s obvious, to most of us, that there’s an inner “self” which gives “orders” to the body.  I “tell” my hand to move, my legs to run, my jaw to chew.  Still more, it is obvious that losing a limb—or even most of my limbs—doesn’t really change the nature of my inner self, my soul.  So, as Plato insisted in Alcibiades, “the soul is the man” and “we are dealing with one of the firmest findings in the history of philosophy—all Christian thinkers before Thomas Aquinas were “Platonists”; all defined man as the soul which uses the body as the musician his lute” (p. 34).  

But by nature we are both soul and body.  To be finally separated from the body is inescapably tragic.  Here “the great tradition of Christian theology” speaking through Aquinas, “is unequivocal:  ‘Of all human evils, death is the worst’; it is ‘the most extreme of all human suffering’; by it man is ‘robbed of what is most lovable:  life and being’” (p. 51).   In a perfect world, soul and body would never sever.  So we cannot but wonder if death is a “natural event or a punishment.”  Atheists and Naturalists, of course, deny the reality of the soul and thus see death as a purely natural event, like a leaf falling from a tree.  But Christians, while believing that God made a perfectly good world, take seriously the ramifications of original sin and conclude that as a consequence man became “something different” from his original design.  Thus death, the separation of body and soul, comes as a consequence of Adam choosing to turn away from God, to live life on his own terms.  

Only when death is understood as a punishment for Adam’s and our sins—a punishment well-deserved—will we rightly understand and accept it.  Though the human justice system often fails, rendering unjust punishments of various sorts, the Divine Justice is perfectly calibrated and we will ultimately know and accept how death was justly prescribed for us.  We will “become aware that in this case, and perhaps in this case alone, crime and punishment are in complete accord; that death is not, unlike all humans penalties, something imposed more or less without relation to the fault, but is the consequence and fruit already implied in the sin” (p. 68).  “The only honest and clean way not to sweep the scandal of death under the rug and on the other hand not to fall into a state of revolt against Creation consists in coming to see death as punishment, and submitting to that; once more, not death as an ‘idea’ and general phenomenon, but our own death and the death of those we love” (p. 75).  Only when we put the badness of death within the context of the far worse badness of sin will we be able to freely accept it.  But, still more:  there is one death which above all makes our deaths tolerable.  This was the “one single death which was entirely an act of freedom, though it took the form of a cruel execution; . . .  ‘only a Man who . . .  served in our sad regiment as a volunteer . . . could perform this perfect dying’” (p. 82). 

This means, of course, that we are pilgrims rather than permanent residents on planet earth.  Death’s reality constantly reminds us, as Pascal said, that “We are not, we hope to be” (p. 85).  Throughout life’s journey, we make decisions that prepare us for the final moment, the point of transition, the end (meaning both the termination and the purpose) of our endeavors.  “The tradition,” Pieper says, “has coined a formula for this personal sealing of earthly existence.  It is described as the termination of the status viatoris” (p. 84).  A viator is a pilgrim.  The great question, at the end, is what will be his status, his standing, his readiness for what’s to come.  “In death the last decision is passed, for good or ill, upon the life as a whole; henceforth nothing in that life can ever again be undone” (p. 86).  So Kierkegaard confided to his diary:  “’In the moment of death a man is helped by the situation to become as true as he can be’” (p. 93).  

Thoughts of death necessarily awaken questions regarding immortality.  While philosophical materialists have always denied the immortality of the soul, Pieper was astounded by some “modern Protestant” theologians who shared their view!  He argues, reiterating the classic stance Thomas Aquinas, that:  “Innumerable (infinitae) are the testimonies of Holy Scripture which witness the immortality of the soul” (p. 107.  He finds further support in the oft-misrepresented Plato, who posited immortality mainly in the light of divine judgment and its fearful punishments.  To Plato, only the good, who are right with God, will enjoy the “true bliss” of life everlasting.  In one of his final works, Phaedrus, “when he launches on what seems a wholly fresh approach to the question of ‘in what sense a living being is termed mortal or immortal’, he suddenly ceases to speak of the soul alone.  ‘We think,’ he says, ‘of a living being, spiritual and physical at once, but both, soul and body, united for all time.’  Moreover, he goes on, immortality is not to be regarded as a mere rational concept susceptible of demonstration; rather, we think of it with our minds on ‘the god whom we have never seen, nor fully conceived’” (p. 116).  Plato, Pieper says, “seems to be suggesting:  If ever immortality is conferred upon us, not just the soul but the entire physical human being will in some inconceivable manner participate in the life of the gods; for in them alone is it made real in its original perfection” (p. 116).  Thus for Plato, persons are better termed indestructible or imperishable rather than immortal.  As Aquinas, commenting on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, put it:  “’That is perishable which possibly cannot be; that is imperishable, incorruptible, which cannot possibly not be’” (p. 117).  

# # #