360 Deep Church Rising

         A century ago Christian churches in Europe were—despite the ravages of WWI— reasonably strong.  Now they are little more than empty sanctuaries with poorly-attended services and posturing prelates.  Across the “pond,” half-a-century ago, American churches were thriving; both Catholic and Protestant services, seminaries, and schools were doing well.  With Billy Graham and Fulton J. Sheen serving as spokesmen, churches in the 1950s promised to soar and succeed in coming decades.  But during the past two decades things in America have changed.  Indices of various sorts portend a European-style collapse in the 21st century.  Only 64% of Americans now identify as Christians; only 47% belong to a religious congrgation; one-third of Gen-Z claim to be atheists.  

       Consequently, serious thinkers have appraised the situation and proffered significant suggestions.  In Deep Church Rising:  The Third Schism and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy Eugene Oregon:  Cascade Books, c. 2014; Kindle Edition), Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry call for the recovery of an historical orthodoxy equipped to effectively address modernity, following Lesslie Newbigin, who “was dismayed at the way in which so many churches had thrown in the towel to modernity” (#65).  Prophetically, in 1952, C. S. Lewis wrote:  “To a layman, it seems obvious that what unites the Evangelical and the Anglo-Catholic against the “Liberal” or “Modernist” is something very clear and momentous, namely, the fact that both are thoroughgoing supernaturalists, who believe in the Creation, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Second Coming, and the . . . Last Things.  This unites them not only with one another, but also with the Christian religion as understood ubique et ab omnibus [lit. everywhere and by all].  The point of view from which this agreement seems less important than their divisions . . . is to me unintelligible.  Perhaps the trouble is that as supernaturalists, whether ‘Low’ or ‘High’ Church, thus taken together, they lack a name.  May I suggest ‘Deep Church’; or, if that fails in humility, Baxter’s ‘mere Christians.’”  

       Following Lewis’s lead, a series of meetings of concerned Anglicans, evangelicals and charismatics, met and acknowledged that what Lewis feared has in fact become a “Third Schism.”  Unlike the divisions between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism in 1057 A.D., or between Protestants and Catholics in 1517 A.D., the current schism severs virtually all Christian communities and “undermines the very basis of Christian faith in its denial of the Trinity, incarnation, and the resurrection, and in its treating Scripture as an object of scientific inquiry rather than as a sacred text” (#72).  It is the most ominous development in the history of the Church.  It began in the medieval era when Duns Scotus subtly undermined the traditional understanding of God’s transcendence.  Then William of Occam helped shape the nominalism which became dominant in the following centuries.  In time the “scientific revolution” eliminated Mind from the cosmos.  Responding to the resulting world he faced at the dawn of the 19th century, Friedrich Schleiermacher, “the father of modern theology,” made personal experience the key to faith, and his “influence on Protestant theology has been colossal, and is directly linked with sophisticated and ingenious interpretations of Scripture” (p. 32).  Consequently, theological truth became “person-relative”—autonomous individuals shape their very own “truths”—and nicely-designed to insure personal comforts.  “My truth” trumps “your truth” and has little concern for the “wisdom of the ancients” or for historical Christians creeds or confessions.   

      To Walker and Parry it’s clear that “Christianity is now on sale in multiform shapes and sizes.”  Shop around and surely you can find a version compatible with your inclinations.  While acknowledging how this was probably inevitable in a consumer culture, they insist “that the Christian gospel has a central core of truth that has an objective character about it.  Christian faith is not like a lump of clay that we can reshape however we see fit” (p. 4).  We obviously must deal with modernity and we cannot mindlessly repeat historic creeds.  We must retrieve what’s eternally true and recontextualize it, presenting “a fresh improvisation of the faith that is both deeply rooted in Scripture and tradition but also alive to the worlds we now inhabit” (p. 43).  There are “living traditions” anchored in the “Deep Church” (deep in both history and Gospel truth) that “can survive the wound of the third schism and navigate the rapids of modernity and postmodernity” through “anamnesis, by remembering, by recovering deep church” (p. 44).

       Such recovery involves what C. S. Lewis called a regress, embracing “the Latin sense of regressus—of returning or going back to a former place” (p. 49).   This means fusing “right belief, right worship, and right living.  All three are of the essence of faith in Jesus, of knowing God” (p. 66).  They can be distinguished but not separated—they are all of “faith.”  Right belief (orthodoxia) nourishes itself in what the early Christians called the gospel (evangerlion), which “was a story about what the God of Israel had done for Israel and for the world in Jesus, the Son of God.”  The New Testamernt tells the “story of Jesus—in whom YHWH was uniquely manifest—crucified, buried, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. That was the very heart of the Jesus movement and it has remained such to this very day” (p. 69).  What was believed about Jesus was condensed into the Nicene Creed in 325 A.D.—the creed clearly “affirmed by Orthodox, Catholic, and mainstream Protestant churches to this day.  It was the line in the sand that the churches drew in their attempt to defend the gospel story.  Our contention is that it remains such today” (p. 77).  This Creed the leaders of the Third Schism have denied, contributing to the collapse of the churches.

       Right worship accompanies right doctrine.  In our consumer culture entertainment flourishes, driven by man’s innate human hunger for beauty, one of the great “transcendentals.”  Art and music appeal to what’s deepest in us—though the ways they do so vary dramatically.  Some art is subjective, pragmatic, self-indulging, requiring little thought or discipline because it mainly appeals to our senses and is, consequently, superficial.  Thus young people instinctively flock to rock concerts rather than classical symphonies.  Trying to attract them, many churches have embraced entertainment as the answer to outreach.  “And making worship entertaining does draw crowds—it works.  At least, it works if we think that big numbers of people feeling good for a while is the goal.  But do we have a congregation or an audience?  Do we have worship or a performance?  Are we forming disciples or keeping our customers happy?  Are we honoring God or pleasing ourselves?” (p. 98).  So the Deep Church must always ask whether our worship is shaped by the gospel or by pop culture.  Right worship is “offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.  If it is, then it brings ‘right glory’ because Christ’s worship does” (p. 99).  It focuses on God and Christ, not on ourselves.  Still more:  to worship well Christians need cross-shaped sanctuaries—not fan-shaped entertainment centers—reminding us of Calvary.

       Right practice (orthopraxia) primarily engages us in doing well, being ethical persons.  Long gone is the natural law ethos of traditional Christianity.  Replacing it is an ethical emotivism that normalizes feelings.  If it feels good do it!  To which the Deep Church needs to recover a gospel ethic, a Christian way of living fully evident throughout 20 centuries.  Questions as diverse as abortion and compassion for the poor, property rights and just war, have been fully discussed in the past and give clarity for moral behavior today.  We simply need to “regress”—to recover the way of virtuous behavior.  

       Deep Church rightly identifies the “third schism” impairing the contemporary Church.  It sets forth convincing reasons to explain it.  And some, if not all, of its injunctions might very well help serious Christians work to preach the gospel and do the work of the Kingdom.

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       James P. Shea is the president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota—one of a score or so recently-established, deeply traditional Catholic colleges determined to chart different courses from those taken by prestigious “Catholic” universities such as Boston College and Notre Dame.  Shea recently published From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age (Bismarck:  University of Mary Press, c. 2020), a short and very insightful analysis of current conditions and helpful proposals to equip the Church for coming challenges.  In brief, he says Christian churches in the West have, for more than a thousand years, relied on a rich culture within which they could rather easily proclaim the faith and disciple believers.  In my childhood, for example, the public schools openly supported Christianity and assisted students to follow their faith and adhere to biblical ethics.  That world is fast fading away and will probably never return.   Fulton Sheen saw it coming and in 1974 and said:  “We are at the end of Christendom.  Not of Christianity, not of the Church, but of Christendom” (p. 4).

     This means, Shea says, that:  “We are dealing with the first culture in history that was once deeply Christian but that by a slow and thorough process has been consciously ridding itself of its Christian basis.”  Growing numbers of people have turned away from the Faith.  “We are therefore not attempting to make converts from pagans; we are attempting to bring back to the Church those knowingly or unknowingly in the grasp of apostasy, a different and more difficult challenge.  C. S. Lewis once described this difference as that between a man wooing a young maiden and a man winning a cynical divorcée back to her previous marriage. The situation is made yet more complex in that many who have abandoned Christianity and have embraced an entirely different understanding of the world still call themselves Christians” (p. 7).  Apostasy is primarily intellectual—a matter of changing beliefs, denying the reality of God and then rationalizing such things as adultery and sodomy, infanticide and theft.  

       Giving up on reestablishing Christendom would enable us to recover what Shea labels the “apostolic mission.”  The Early Church, working within a pagan culture, reached people with the Gospel.  A small group of believers, facing much hostility, found ways to build and sustain the church.  “They had great confidence in their Lord, in their message, and in the creativity and fertility of the Church.  They knew that their task was to be used by the Holy Spirit to grow the Church, and they knew the graced means by which it was to grow.  And grow it did” (p. 29).  What they did we too must do, embracing an evangelistic task best understood as presenting “the Gospel in such a way that the minds of its hearers can be given the opportunity to be transformed, converted from one way of looking at the world to a different way” (p. 48).  Preaching in an apostolic manner must be theological rather than ethical, aiming at a transformation of the mind (“a conversion of mind to a sacramental vision of the world”), before prescribing righteous behavior.  

       In a remarkably succinct statement regarding our situation, Shea says:   “We receive from Christ both the times in which we are to live and the grace to engage our world as it is” (p. 24).  Consequently we rightly believe that:  “The Holy Spirit is at work in every age, ours included.  If it is true, as we are assured by Saint Paul, that grace is more present the more that evil abounds (cf. Rom 5), we might expect an especially abundant action of the Holy Spirit in our own time.  Our task is to understand the age we have been given, to trace out how the Holy Spirit is working in it, and to seize the adventure of cooperating with him.  May we be given the wisdom and the courage to rise to the challenge of the new apostolic age that is coming upon us and to prove faithful stewards in our generation of the saving message and liberating life given us by Jesus Christ” (p. 65).

       This wise, readable, reassuring treatise provides one of the most balanced and valuable analyses I’ve read dealing with the Church confronting our troubled world.

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      Eric Metaxas first came to my attention when I read his wonderful biography—Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  Invoking his knowledge of Bonhoeffer, Metaxis recently published Letter to the American Church (Washington, D.C.:  Salem Books, c. 2022;  Kindle Edition), thinking “the American Church is at an impossibly—and almost unbearably—important inflection point. The parallels to where the German Church was in the 1930s are unavoidable and grim” (p. ix).  The same forces of evil are alive and well, and the American Church needs to combat them.  They “have an atheistic Marxist ideology in common,” and operate under the banners of Critical Race Theory, “radical transgender and pro-abortion ideologies,” and wage “war with the ideas of family and marriage.”  Demonic ideologies have “infiltrated our own culture in such a way that they touch everything, and part of what makes them so wicked is that they smilingly pretend to share the biblical values that champion the underdog against the oppressor” (p. xii).

       German Christians remained remarkably silent when the Nazis took charge of their country.  American Christians, Metaxas asserts, are doing the same, failing to defend the unborn, ignoring persecuted believers, saying nothing about “the deadly perniciousness of Marxist atheist philosophy,” or “criticizing the great evil of Communist countries like China.”  “How dare we be silent about such things?” (p. 5).  We do so, in part, because in 1954 Senator Lyndon Johnson “introduced an amendment to the U.S. tax code prohibiting churches—and any other nonprofit organizations—from taking a public stand on political candidates” (p. 8).  Subsequently, pastors have felt muzzled—unable to denounce  evil lest their churches be taxed.  They also failed to speak out because many of them felt a compulsion to be constantly kind and easily aligned with our deeply therapeutic, entertainment-craving culture.  All too often they resemble corporate leaders “who have become especially cowardly and seem willing to say and do whatever someone advises them is necessary to avoid trouble and keep them from being ‘cancelled’” (p. 10).

       Pastoral cowardice was on display, Metaxas thinks, during the recent Covid pandemic.   Bureaucrats, governors and mayors cavalierly branded churches “non-essential” while allowing marijuana dispensaries and strip clubs to remain open!  Getting supplies at Costco was fine, but finding spiritual nourishment in church was forbidden!  Rather than do their homework and defy the despots, church leaders (with remarkably few exceptions) quietly submitted to the mandates and endorsed useless practices such as “social distancing” and masking up!  “This was a deeply disgraceful moment for the American Church” (p. 12).  Caving into the Covid frenzy promoted by the likes of Anthony Fauci and Joe Biden was certainly less noxious than acquiescing to Hitler, but the same kind of cowardice was on display.  

       On Reformation Sunday in 1932, a few months before Hitler took over, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached a prophetic sermon.  At the age of 26 he wanted to awaken Lutherans to the threat posed by those who recruited Luther to support the kind of nationalism embodied in the Nazis.  Many hearers thought it a “jeremiad” exaggerating problems in their country.  Few heeded its warnings, for they failed to discern the signs of the times, wanting to stay safe and hope Hitler would prove innocuous.  Within a year the German Church would divide into the pro-Nazi Deutsche Christen and the Confessing Church, led by Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller and Karl Barth, who in 1934 drafted the Barmen Declaration.  Of 18,000 Lutheran pastors, only 3,000 dared support the declaration; 3,000 openly supported the Deutsche Kristen.  But 12,000—a huge majority of pastors—took no position!  They waited cautiously, hoping to avoid trouble.  Some even displayed the swastika—rather like some American churches recently putting up “rainbow banners or BLM flags.”  Given the “silence and compliance” of these 12,000, the Nazis soon began arresting dissident pastors.  Within years, as WWII began, the Holocaust erupted.

       It all happened, Metaxas things, because German Christians failed to speak out against evil.  And he fears todays American Christians are equally cowardly.  Comforted by the “cheap grace” Bonhoeffer condemned, they fail to be true disciples of Jesus, speaking the truth in love.  Our world is not Bonhoeffer’s, but we should ponder some of the issues we face in the light of his life.  Take, for example, “the cultural Marxism that talks about systemic racism, or the transgender madness that says the Bible’s view of human beings and sexuality is completely false.”  We don’t live in a country that imprisons dissidents, but its ruling class certainly champions “the ideology of atheist Marxism” which is manifestly anti-Christian, and serious Christians are increasingly silenced and punished by corporations, universities, and governments.  So we must continually ask:  “What would God have us do?”  

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       Douglas Groothuis teaches philosophy at Denver Seminary and recently published Fire in the Streets: How You Can Confidently Respond to Incendiary Cultural Topics (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing House, c. 2022).  Reminding readers of the scores of cities set ablaze by rioters in the summer of 2020 following George Floyd’s death, Groothuis says:  “This fire in the streets stemmed from the fire in the minds of many about race, class, and gender.  This fire is strange fire, not holy fire.  While many are rightly concerned about racial justice, economic opportunity, and the fair treatment of LGBTQ people, the leading philosophy behind these protests is CRT [Critical Race Theory]” (p. xix).  An offshoot of Marxism, CRT is currently taught in hundreds of schools, mandated by the military, and endorsed by countless churches.  

       As neo-Marxists, devotees of CRT embrace doctrinaire positions, including atheism, class struggle, revolutionary strategies and utopian aspirations.  To understand it one needs to study Herbert Marcuse, whose student Angela Davis now serves as a “mentor to  a mentor to Black Lives Matter leaders” (p. 12).  Marcuse was frequently invoked by the radicals of the ‘60s, when he “expanded the base for social revolution to include not only oppressed workers (an economic factor), but also those considered to be sexual or social deviants no matter what their economic class (a cultural factor), and those in minority groups (a racial factor).  Thus, he called for homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, and those in other nontraditional sexual categories to join the revolution against the capitalist-traditional-family status quo” (p. 12).  Marcuse endorsed “polymorphous” sexuality and encouraged the counterculture “with its motto of ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’” and simple slogans such as “Make love, not war.”

       As the radicals of the ‘60s successfully marched through America’s institutions, “the fires of revolution” were banked “in the minds of academics and activists.”  Given the opportunity in the summer of 2020 these ideological fires took shape in actual fires throughout America’s cities.  “A turning point was the presidency of Barack Obama who, while he presented himself as a moderate, was in reality an advocate of CRT and black liberation theology as taught in his church by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright” (p. 19).   He was significantly helped by William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who were part of a band of ‘bomb-throwing Marxists’ called the Weather Underground, that terrorized America” (p. 20).  Within a few years Obama’s Democrat Party turned radically leftward and openly supported socialistic notions and promoted class struggle, especially between whites and “people of color.”  Seeing American history through the lenses of the oppressed, leftists determined to bring into being a new nation—to “fundamentally change” the nation as Obama envisioned.  

       Following thoughtful chapters analyzing both the roots of CRT and its current implications, Groothuis sets forth what he thinks are the best ways for Christians to address it.   We must fight fire with fire!  Countering the fires in the streets we need to respond with the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Responding to the fires of hate we need to stoke the fires of love.  Countering the messianic pretensions of so many politicians we need to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We should also insist:   “(1) Objective truth is knowable through reason and evidence, (2) individuals have moral value and human rights as opposed to making group identities based on gender and race definitive, and (3) insuring and protecting free speech is better than silencing people” (p. 153). 

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359 Desperate Remedies, Freudian Illusions

       Homeless people gathering at busy intersections remind us that thousands of them are mentally troubled or captive to various additions, needing interventions by caring organizations to help them.  Fully one-fourth to one-third of the homeless are thought to be mentally ill.  Folks my age also remember how the closing of state mental hospitals contributed to this problem.  In Desperate Remedies:  Psychiatry’s Turbulent Quest to Cure Mental Illness (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, c. 2022; Kindle Edition),  Andrew Shull shows why this has occurred.  “In this book,” he says, “I have attempted to provide a skeptical assessment of the psychiatric enterprise—its impact on those it treats and on society at large” (p. ix).  During the past two centuries, mental “illnesses” have been diagnosed and treated by physicians who thought they were akin to other ailments they treated with medicines or therapeutic remedies.  Psychiatry first developed “as a specialized branch of medicine claiming expertise in the management and cure of what was then called insanity or lunacy” (p. x).  

       For centuries the “insane” had been confined to facilities akin to prisons, keeping them apart from “normal” folks.  This changed, early in the 19th century, when reformers such as Horace Mann and Dorothea Dix, confident they could cure the mentally troubled, helped establish “asylums” throughout the country.  The reformers’ optimism, however, proved illusory, and the medical experts (“alienists” or “psychiatrists”) heading them widely discredited.  They had claimed they could cure up to 80 percent of their patients and utterly failed.  Indeed, by the end of the century the asylums “had been transformed into mausoleums of the mad, a captive population of several thousand and assorted support staff” (p. 4).  Then, following the Civil War, physicians dealing with mental illnesses decided to call themselves “neurologists” and  “insisted that these patients’ troubles had an organic origin and were the result of wear and tear caused by overtaxing of the brains” (p. 7).  They “dismissed asylum doctors as mere boardinghouse keepers and curators of dead souls, willfully ignorant of the latest scientific advances” (p. 7).  

      Rather than try to cure folks, some medical doctors suggested eliminating them.  Influenced by the theories of Charles Darwin and his cousin Francis Galton, they invoked “defective biology” to explain pathologies as diverse as “crime, drunkenness, epilepsy, and hysteria, with madness and feeble-mindedness” thrown into the mix.  Inasmuch as natural selection relentlessly improves the species, defective individuals are necessarily swept aside into the dustbin of failures.  As one “alienist” declared, every year “‘thousands of children are born with pedigrees that would condemn puppies to the horsepond.’  Lunatics were waste products of the evolutionary process, ‘morbid varieties fit only for excretion’” (p. 28).  A “New York physician W. Duncan McKim, heir to a banking fortune and contemptuous of his social inferiors, warned darkly of ‘the ever-strengthening torrent of defective and criminal humanity.’  He urged that ‘a gentle and painless death’ was ‘the most humane means’ of resolving the societal problem that they presented” (p. 28).  Indeed:  “‘The idiot and the low-grade imbecile,’ he hastened to reassure his readers, ‘are not true men, for certain essential human elements have never entered into them, and never can; nor is the moral idiot truly a man, nor, while the sad condition lasts, the lunatic.  These beings live amongst us as men, but if we reckon them as human we shall fare much as if we bargained with the dead or with beasts of prey.’ They should be exterminated en masse with ‘carbonic gas’” (p. 29).  Darwinians such as “Clarence Darrow joined in the chorus, advocating efforts to ‘chloroform unfit children’ so as to ‘show them the same mercy that is shown to beasts that are no longer fit to live’” (p. 29).  That theoretical Social Darwinism leads to actual gas chambers can hardly be better illustrated. 

      Other physicians thought the mentally ill might be rehabilitated rather than discarded.  So they began trying a variety of physiological treatments designed to treat the mentally ill.  Perhaps microscopic bacteria caused schizophrenia as well a syphilis!  Psychobiology was embraced and biological remedies prescribed.  Though slowly embraced by physicians, the germ theory of disease was embraced at the beginning of the 20th century.  Whatever ails one must have a tiny germ as its cause.  Thence emerged a curious theory, focal sepsis—“the presence of unobserved low-grade infections lurking in the corners and crevices of the human body, pumping out poisons via the bloodstream and the lymphatic system—as the likely cause of a host of chronic disorders” (p. 73).  Clean out the sepsis and you heal the disease.  Eat the right food and you cleanse the system—so the health food prescriptions of John Harvey Kellogg were often embraced.  Decayed teeth were suspected of sheltering harmful germs, so extracting the teeth of mentally ill patients became quite popular.  So too it was thought “the poisons that lurked in the bowels” should be surgically treated with colectomies.  Others imagined removing the stomach would resolve mental problems.  There were many claims regarding cures, but virtually no evidence for them.

     Following WWI, with many soldiers suffering “shell shock,” innovative psychiatrists experimented with them, theorizing that their minds needed to be shocked back into normality.  One popular endeavor was to infect a patient with malaria, thinking his elevated temperature would transform his mind.  “The 1920s and 1930s were a period of experimentation with other mechanisms for inducing fever.  Some tried injecting horse serum into patients’ spinal canals, thereby producing meningitis.  Injections of the organisms that caused rat-bite fever were tried, as were injections of killed typhoid bacilli and colloidal sulphur, a technique that by design led to the formation of abscesses.  Alternatively, efforts were made to employ sweat boxes (or diathermy machines, to use the preferred term) to break down the body’s ability to maintain a steady temperature” (p. 95).  Other physicians tried injecting large amounts of insulin, and the director of California’s state hospital system extracted $2 million from the state legislature to implement its use.  Throughout these decades the malarial treatment persisted, and there was a “widespread acceptance of the claim that a biological treatment for a major form of mental illness had been discovered—one that, as crude as it was, seemed to improve the fate of at least a fraction of the afflicted.  Still more crucially, these claims had been validated by the award of a Nobel Prize—an accolade no other psychiatric therapy would achieve until Egas Moniz won the same award in 1949 for inventing the lobotomy” (p. 97).

       Then came electroshock treatments!  They induced seizures thought beneficial for mentally ill patients.  During the 1940s they were widely prescribed, especially in mental hospitals, where they were effective in making troublesome patients more passive and obedient.  In one hospital, it was reported that:  “‘Within two weeks from the beginning of our intensive electric shock treatment the character of the ward changed radically from that of a chronic disturbed ward to that of a quiet chronic ward’” (p. 125).  No one knew precisely how it worked, but some patients said it eased their distress or even restored their sanity.  So rather quickly it was also widely used to treat “diseases” such as depression.  Some patients, however, complained at its brutality, often inducing such violent seizures that broke bones.  Ernest Hemingway was one such complainant.  Before he “blew his brains out with a shotgun, he denounced his doctors at the Mayo Clinic:  ‘What these shock doctors don’t know is about writers … and what they do to them.… What is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business?  It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient’” (p. 133).

       Even worse were tens of thousand lobotomies done in the 1940s and 1950s!  Nobelist Egas “Moniz asserted that in compulsive psychoses and melancholia, the mental life of patients was ‘constricted to a very small circle of thoughts, which master all others, recurring again and again in the sick brain.’  The ‘anatomico-pathological explanation’ of the psychoses, he deduced, must be that the connections between the neurons making up the brain had become stuck, and ‘after two years’ deliberation, I determined to sever the connecting fibers of the neurons in question’” (p. 144).  Within the medical community there was considerable criticism of the procedure, but the medical press endorsed it with such enthusiasm the public generally thought it efficacious.  In time, however, the disastrous results of lobotomies became clear, as is evident in the case of Joseph Kennedy’s daughter, “Rosemary, whose rebelliousness and slight developmental problems he feared might lead her to pregnancy and scandal.”  He arranged for a lobotomy in 1941, which had “disastrous results.  From 1941 till her death in 2005, Rosemary Kennedy was severely mentally handicapped, unable to speak, incontinent, barely able to walk, and hidden from public view (as well as ignored by her parents while they were alive)” (p. 169).  

       By 1960, despite a half-century’s “orgy of experimentation,” nothing the psychiatrists championed had effectively cured mental illness!  So they were consistently challenged by psychoanalysts (following Freud or Jung) who prescribed “talk therapy.”  Far more popular in America than Europe, and to “the chagrin of most American psychiatrists, Freud’s ideas about the sources and treatment of mental illness drew considerable public interest in the years immediately following the First World War” (p.  203).  His ideas promised a liberation from conservative sexual standards and gained many devotees during the “roaring 20s.”  Psychoanalysts following his theories soon opened lucrative practices treating wealthy folks needing a long series of sessions exploring their childhood, dreams, and sexual fantasies.  Therapists such as brothers Karl and William Menninger established national reputations.  European psychoanalysts, fleeing Nazi persecution, located in New York and other cultural centers and effectively promulgated their ideas.  For a variety of reasons, fully explained by Scull, by “the 1960s, the chairs of the great majority of university departments were analysts by training and persuasion, and the discipline’s major textbooks heavily emphasized psychoanalytic perspectives” (p. 226).  Through stage and film, novels and historical works, Freud and Jung were successfully infused into American culture.  Amazingly, “the first celebrity pediatrician, Benjamin Spock,” in his wildly popular The Commonsense Book of Baby and Child Care, which would sell 50 million copies, “translated Freudian ideas about neurosis into prescriptions for child-rearing, helping to indoctrinate a whole generation of young parents into the psychoanalytic perspective on life” (p. 229).

       Despite the apparent eminence of Freudianism, any evidence for its efficacy was markedly anecdotal—illustrations rather than empirical data.  Talk therapy certainly helped mildly-troubled souls who mainly needed someone to talk with, but for deeply-disturbed, mentally ill patients it manifestly failed.  Consequently, almost overnight, in the 1980s the Freudians were dislodged by clinical psychologists armed with a panoply of drugs.  The old conviction that mental illness resulted from purely biological malfunctions returned.  It was, Scull says, truly a “psychiatric revolution!”  Psychopharmacology reigned.  Rooted in decades of experimentation, when “few rules rules constrained” their conduct, “the standards for assessing the value of new drugs were remarkably lax” (p. 272).  Nevertheless, some of the drugs seemed effective in certain cases, including “veritable medicinal” lobotomies—in the 1950s Thorazine was touted as a magic pill, reducing “‘the need for electroshock therapy’” (p. 278).  One researcher almost accidentally discovered that lithium carbonate helped schizophrenic, depressed, and manic patients” (p. 284).  

      Psychiatric drugs were also far cheaper than psychoanalysis—something most appealing to bureaucracies and insurance companies!  Insidiously, psychopharmacology established close ties between psychiatrists and pharmacology corporations.  Then the Federal Drug Administration entered the picture, convinced “that mental illnesses had the same form as physical illnesses, a decision that ensured that drug companies would test and advertise their products as treatments for specific diseases” (p. 318).  Armed with the official manual of the American Psychiatric Association, psychiatrists would ultimately diagnose some 380 “diseases” and prescribe appropriate medications following 10 minute consultations.  Prozac, for example, was routinely prescribed for depression.  “‘Shy?  Forgetful?  Anxious?  Fearful?  Obsessed?’  Newsweek asked its readers in a cover story on the wonders of Prozac, only to promise the secrets of ‘how science will let you change your personality with a pill’” (p. 327).   By 2013, 12 percent of Americans over the age of twelve were taking antidepressants, including “nearly one in five people over the age of sixty” (p. 333).  Restless children—kids suffering attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—rose within a decade “by 41 percent. . . .  A recent study found that the United States accounted for more than 92 percent of the worldwide expenditures for ADHD-treatment drugs.  Nearly one in five American high school boys and one in eleven American high school girls had been diagnosed with ADHD, by far the highest incidence in the world” (p. 334). 

       However!  Once again psychiatrists may have foundered!  Psychopharmacology may have run its course!  Study after study, scholar after scholar, have discredited its efficacy.  “Once more, psychiatry is in crisis” (p. 338).  The psychiatric establishment remans “firmly committed to a biologically reductionist view of mental disorder.  Yet the hunt for the physical roots of mental disturbance has not led to the decisive breakthroughs its enthusiasts were convinced it would” (p. 339).  It appears that mental illnesses are something more than brain disorders.  Assertions regarding such ailments as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder seem increasingly “spurious” and the alleged expertise of the profession questionable.  In truth:  “In 1886, the American alienist Pliny Earle lamented that ‘in the present state of our knowledge, no classification of insanity can be erected on a pathological basis, for the simple reason that, with but slight exceptions, the pathology of the disease is unknown.… Hence … we are forced to fall back upon the symptomatology of the disease.’  Nearly a century and a half later, nothing, it seems, had substantially changed” (p. 349).

       After pouring endless streams of money into psychiatric research, the long-term director of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Thomas Insel insouciantly summed up what all these dollars had purchased.  ‘I spent 13 years at NIMH really pushing on the neuroscience and genetics of mental disorders, and when I look back on that I realize that while I think I succeeded in getting lots of really cool papers published by cool scientists at fairly large cost—I think $20 billion—I don’t think we moved the needle in reducing suicide, reducing hospitalizations, [or] improving recovery for the tens of millions of people who have mental illness’” (p. 358).  Prescription drugs simply haven not helped people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and depression.  Unintended consequences—and costly litigation—have made Big Pharma increasingly unwilling to manufacture drugs targeting mental disorders.  

       Desperate Remedies cannot but sober us.  Scull’s exhaustively researched, dispassionate work shows how demonstrably one of the most trusted, allegedly “scientific” professions abjectly failed.  Mentally ill persons can be restrained in various ways, but how to cure them is as yet unknown.  

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      The critique of psychiatry set forth in Desperate Remedies needs to be read in conjunction with Frederick Crews’ indictment of the founder of psychoanalysis in Freud:  The Making of an Illusion (New York:  Henry Holt and Co., c. 2017; Kindle Edition).  Concerned to finally tell the full about his subject, Crews says:  “My main concern here, however, is with Freud in person—and, indeed, with only one question about him.  How and why did a studious, ambitious, and philosophically reflective young man, trained in rigorous inductivism by distinguished researchers and eager to win their favor, lose perspective on his wild hunches, efface the record of his mistakes, and establish an international cult of personality?” (p. 3).  This is a long, meticulously documented, often troubling account, including much material dealing with other psychiatrists in that era, leaving one with a decidedly negative view of Freud and his theories.  Crews reluctantly shows why the “emperor has no clothes.”  He was a plagiarist and adulterer (conducting a long affair with his wife’s sister and funding an abortion of their child).   He mainly treated his “patients” to collect substantial fees and could never produce one of them actually cured by his ministrations.  There’s nothing to respect about the man and no substance to his “psychoanalytic” dogmas.

       Born into an Austrian Jewish family, Freud early embraced kulturdeutsch and “aimed at Germanization,” changing his given name, renouncing his ancestral religion.  He “briefly considered declaring himself a Christian simply in order to avoid a rabbinical wedding.  His bride, the pious granddaughter of a distinguished Hamburg rabbi, would be admonished that no religious observances could be tolerated in his household.  He would arrive late for his father’s religious funeral and would skip his mother’s altogether” (p. 22).  Though trained as a medical doctor he had no interest in practicing medicine, aspiring instead to make a name for himself as a medical scientist, publishing many books and articles between 1877 and 1900.  None of them were pathbreaking or noteworthy, in part because he lacked mathematical aptitude.  “‘To be tied down to exactitude and precise measurement,’ Ernest Jones observed, was not in his nature’” (p. 26).  

       Unfortunately, his “lazy reluctance to collect sufficient evidence” blemished his pretensions to “scientific” methodologies.  He preferred to make sweeping generalizations based on a few “case studies” with selected patients.  He mulled over myths, folklore, and history.  He was, in fact more a philosopher, especially enamored with Ludwig Feuerbach, whom he admired “above all other philosophers,” and who had “‘developed the thesis Freud would elaborate in The Future of an Illusion (1927):  that the God posited by Jewish and Christian theology is nothing other than a projection of human needs and fears” (p. 28).  He would formulate narratives, knowing “that none of his assertions could be checked” (p. 385).  He had, Crews quips, “retired his microscope for good and had replaced it with a crystal ball” (p. 540).  He, not his patients, “reconstructed” their childhood traumas” (p. 514).  Late in life he would even admit to “fibbing” about case studies, and one wonders just how much Freudianism lives by lies.  

     Significantly affecting his career, Crews insists, was Freud’s 15 year long use of cocaine.  Introduced to it in the 1880s, when few medical doctors understood its potency, Freud both used and prescribed the drug.  He early considered it a “magical remedy” that would make him successful and famous.  He introduced a friend of his to cocaine, and a man who had been “a brilliant scientist” quickly became “a broken man” who wasted away into invalidism before dying within a decade.  In time Freud would try to “obscure his record,” but the lengthy chapters Crews devotes to the issue demonstrates how cocaine must be considered when evaluating the man.  His daughter Anna and legions of Freudians carefully censored the fact, but in pivotal works such as “The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) Freud had repeatedly alluded to his preoccupation with the drug.  Among his seventeen long dreams analyzed in the book, no fewer than eight explicitly involved cocaine” (p. 454).  In time Freud replaced coke with wine, drinking heavily, finding it to be “an old friend” he needed to sip every two hours or so, admitting “‘it deludes me into thinking that things are not really so bleak as they appear to me when sober’” (p. 544). 

      In the 1890s Freud moved away from biological reductionism to a position allowing for the reality of non-material ideas, and he began speculating about the importance of “unconscious” factors in the human psyche.  His “hunches” dealing with troubled souls in his Vienna office led him to think sublimation, repressed memories, frustrated sexual desires, wish fulfillment, family traumas, incestuous longings, etc. actually caused mental illnesses.  He ventured many “guesses,” and “he guessed wrong every time” (p. 554). 

Unfortunately, his one-time colleague, Wilhelm “Fliess, growing impatient with Freud’s succession of brainstorms that were never followed up by testing, had come to suspect that his friend was incapable of objective observation.  As he would put it in August 1901, in the most cutting insult Freud would ever receive, ‘the reader of thoughts merely reads his own thoughts into other people’” (p. 547).  There you have it!  A man who projected his thought onto others managed to become one of the most influential (and corrosive) charlatans of the 20th century.  One of the most celebrated icons of the intelligentsia was a fraud.

# # # 

358 Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest

       For nearly three centuries (since the inception of the Industrial Revolution), gifted thinkers have wrestled with the “good news/bad news” paradox embedded in arguably the most momentous material transformation in human history.  Labor-saving devices and the massive alleviation of diseases and poverty can neither be denied nor despised.  Yet some of the human losses (especially in religious life, educational and artistic excellences) should properly concern us.  Thus the late French philosopher Paul Virilio, noting the many distresses accompanying technological “progress,” spoke of “integral accidents”—apparently inevitable and inescapable spiritual and aesthetic downsides to material improvements. 

       Some of Virilio’s “integral accidents” mar the “digital revolution’s” impact on our schools.  So a decade ago Mark Bauerlein published The Dumbest Generation:  How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future [Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30] (New York:  Penguin, c. 2008).  Lest the title tempt you to think it a frivolous polemic written by an idiosyncratic journalist, Bauerlein was a respected professor of English at Emory University and served as a director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts.  In that role he read and analyzed the most extensive research available, seeking to measure the health and accomplishments of the nation’s schools.  He endeavored “to consolidate the best and broadest research into a different profile of the rising American mind” (p. 7).   As the book’s title indicates, he found our schools less than healthy and manifestly failing.  

       Bauerlein discovered, sadly enough, that school kids were “miserable.”  And they were miserable because they were not growing up properly.  “Maturity follows a formula:  The more kids contact one another, the less they heed the tutelage of adults.  When peer consciousness grows too fixed and firm, the teacher’s voice counts for nothing outside the classroom.  When youth identity envelops them, parent talk at the dinner table only distracts them.  The lure of school gossip, fear of ridicule, the urge to belong—they swamp the minds of the young and stunt their intellectual growth” (p. ix).  Teenagers are technologically adept, but their minds have not been opened “to the stores of civilization and science and politics” because “technology has contracted their horizon to themselves, to the social scene around them” (p. 10).  

       This shrinking horizon stood revealed two decades ago in a variety of standardized tests.  For example, on a 2001 history exam a majority of high school seniors scored “below basic” and only one percent reached “advanced” (p. 17).  Incoming freshmen at Harvard and Stanford in 2005 averaged a “F” in civics.  Amazingly, attending elite universities for four years failed to rectify their knowledge deficit!  No wonder the novelist Philip Roth labeled them “The Dumbest Generation” in The Human Stain!  And they were dumb because they didn’t read.  In fact they were “bibliophobes.”  To Bäuerlein’s amazement:  “It’s a new attitude, this brazen disregard of books and reading.  Earlier generations resented homework assignments, of course, and only a small segment dove into the intellectual currents of the time, but no generation trumpeted a-literacy (knowing how to read, but choosing not to) as a valid behavior of their peers” (p. 40).   Youngsters had simply stopped reading during their leisure times.  

       Rather than reading they stared at screens—TVs, phones, computers, video games—locking themselves into a perpetual adolescence.  Nor did the schools challenge them to move on to maturity.  They were “betrayed” by “mentors” who carried with them a ‘60s commitment to “authenticity” rather than academic excellence.  “By the 1980s, the rebellious, anti-Establishment posture of young adults had become the creed of America’s educational institutions” (p. 182).  Teachers relinquished their “authority,” moving from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.”  They became “facilitators” listening in to small group discussions.  Yet when teachers profess to know nothing why should students work to develop expertise in anything?  In sum, Bauerlein said, the “dumbest generation” was at hand.  

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      Updating his earlier work, Mark Bauerlein recently published The Dumbest Generation Grows Up:  From Stupefied Youths to Dangerous Adults (Washington D.C.:   Regnery Gateway, c. 2022; Kindle Edition).  “This book is in no way a middle-aged man’s ranting against youth,” says Rod Dreher.  “Rather, it is a serious and persuasive analysis of the damage our society has done to its young—wreckage that the Millennial utopians are now visiting on society—and an urgent plea to refuse and resist the mass culture of idiocracy before we condemn another generation.”  Bauerlein urges us to recall an encounter between Herbert Marcuse (the renowned Marxist philosopher inspiring many of the ’60’s radicals) and a group of students on the campus State University of New York, Old Westbury, in 1969.  It was a new college, featuring a student-centered curriculum with youngsters becoming “full partners” with the faculty in learning whatever allured them.  These students eagerly attended Marcuse’s lecture, expecting him to flatter and encourage them, even engaging them in dialogue.  Instead, the aging Marxist spoke with authority as a professor intent on instructing them.  He “‘described the severe Prussian discipline of his own education:  the classics he had to master; the languages he had to learn by exercises and constant tests.  His theme was that no one had any standing on which to rebel against the past—or dare to call himself a revolutionary—who had not mastered the tradition of the West’” (p. 24).  He actually insisted they seriously study great thinkers rather than express themselves!  Sensing the youngsters’ mounting restiveness, he said:  “‘I detect here … a growing anti-intellectual attitude among the students.  There is no contradiction between intelligence and revolution.  Why are you afraid of being intelligent?’”  He reminded them that the greatest revolutionaries—Rousseau, Marx, Lenin—were serious scholars.  The students weren’t persuaded.  Nor did Marcuse back down.  “It was a telling encounter between American upstarts and an Old-World thinker, a clash over readiness, not ideas or politics” (p. 23).  

       The ‘60s generation, of course, went its own way and quickly gained control of the nation’s significant institutions, severing them from the rich traditions of Western Civilization.  “This brings us to the thesis of this book,” Bauerlein says. “The Marcuse affair happened five months before the very first message was sent from one computer to another . . . .  Nobody at Westbury, Sproul Plaza, Kent State, or any other site of student protest imagined what was coming.  They wouldn’t have believed that one day the icon of youth rebellion would no longer be the stormy college student burning a draft card but a bouncy tween on an iPhone.  The generational dynamic would be the same, though.”  This was evident in a 2007 “60 Minutes segment ‘Here Come the Millennials,’ which opened with a warning to employers:  ‘A new breed of American worker is about to attack everything you hold sacred:  from giving orders, to your starched white shirt and tie.’  The querulous longhairs of ’69 self-righteously suspicious of the Man were reincarnated in the networked high schoolers whose teachers hailed them” for “stepping outside the comfort zone of the school system that they have been subject to for most of their lives, authoring their own learning, and in the process, enjoying it.”  Marcuse had rebuked teachers for failing to immerse their students in classical studies, and Bauerlein labels them ‘false prophets” who “were doing a terrible thing.”  Now, however, they not only endorse “the special acumen of the young and the mustiness of tradition” but celebrate ‘the phenomenal tools kids wielded so much better than their parents and teachers.”  The kids’ cell phones and mastery of Facebook, they thought, heralded a great new day.  Instead it disguised an educational “disaster” (pp. 28-29).  Such educators probably never considered the warning of Hannah Arendt, who “had warned that child-centered child-rearing would free kids from the tyranny of adults only to subject them to ‘the tyranny of their own group,’ of their peers, which terrified them far more than the decrees of their fathers’” (p. 30).

       On a university level, this “child-centered” education shouldered its way into Stanford University in 1987.  Jesse Jackson arrived to speak on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, brought to campus by activist students and faculty.  “Five hundred of them gathered in the plaza at the center of campus to hear this charismatic speaker, who was gearing up for another run for the U.S. presidency in 1988.  As Jackson finished his exhortation and the students departed, they sounded the chant that would be repeated in a thousand news stories:  ‘Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture’s got to go!’ “  A year later, the Western Culture Course of studies was, indeed, gone, and Stanford no longer prescribed a general education core for students.  Thenceforth—and rapidly—our most prestigious universities abandoned the task of exposing students to the foundational thought of our culture.  So we now have young people who have been immersed in a technological world surrounding them with “omnipresent screens” providing a deeply-deranged world-view.  “Their multi-year digital exposure hit them during the very years in which the world takes form in a child’s head.  Digital tools and lax mentors primed them to flee from history, religion, great literature, and art, from music and ethics and American civics, into the fantasy of a society that would replicate the teenage bedroom, where freedom and friends predominated, games and photos and chats never stopped.  When school ended and they hit the workplace, the bills piled up, and bosses weren’t so caring, sex partners came and went . . . they had no religion, no cultural patrimony, and no role models to ease the transition.  So they attached themselves to something else:  a religion of sorts, a pugnacious, illiberal demand, a twenty-first-century American-youth version of, precisely, Utopia.  It has many names—‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘Social Justice,’ ‘Racial Justice,’ ‘Democratic Socialism,’ ‘LGBT Rights,’ ‘Antifa’—but ‘Utopia’ captures best the breadth and generality of the attitude” (p. 46). 

       Utopians, by definition, are dreamers.  And our youngsters dream of entering a state of “permanent happiness.”  They don’t want to work to become happy but expect it to be given them.  They claim they’re  entitled to it.  They often espouse “socialism,” not as a philosophical or economic theory but as a longing  for “‘fairness,’ or ‘someone to watch over me.’  It’s a chance to get out from under their student loan payments and find a good job, free health care, and affordable housing in a Millennial hot spot (Austin, Seattle).”  Our Millennials, then are not true socialists, but simply utopians “and they are utopians precisely because they haven’t acquired any political knowledge or weighed any political ideas.  Their worldview fits into neat catchphrases; it doesn’t get any more sophisticated than that.  P. J. O’Rourke pared it down to this in a column entitled ‘This Is Why Millennials Adore Socialism’:  ‘As soon as children discover that the world isn’t nice, they want to make it nice.  And wouldn’t a world where everybody shares everything be nice?’” (p. 82).   As dreamers rather than scholars they know nothing about the histories of capitalism and socialism but imagine a wonderful society can be construed in accord with adolescent aspirations.  Knowing nothing they can envision anything!  Says Bauerlein:  “Ignorance plus self-righteousness is a dangerous mix.  As avid and unbending utopian desires go unfulfilled, you know what will happen next:  idealism will slide into frustration, the promised happy fellowship to come veering into a merciless search for the enemies who must be obstructing it; the positive will turn negative” (p. 84).  So conservative speakers are shouted down on campuses and American cities in 2020 witnessed fires in the streets. 

         Utopian radicals in the streets reveal the nation’s educational deficit, for in spite of enormous amounts of money expended and philanthropists’ lavish endeavors, students are reading no better than they were decades ago.  Ambitious federal initiatives—“Common Core” and “No Child Left Behind”—have done little but enrich educrats.  We’ve “ignored a reality in plain sight:  the average day for a seventeen-year-old Millennial in 2010 was an intellectual wasteland, an immersion in other things, in games and gossip, photos and messages, shows and songs that would do nothing to help him grow up, to acquire the tragic sense that is essential to shaping prudent hopes of what life can be and to the realization that what they believe and enjoy in adolescence is best forsaken by age twenty-two” (p. 123).   They have become, Bauerlein says, “dangerous adults” dismantling civilization.  

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       Pete Hegseth and David Goodwin, in Battle for the American Mind:  Uprooting a Century of Miseducation (New York: HarperCollins, c. 2022;  Kindle Edition), urge us to abandon the public school system, believing it is failing our kids and cannot be reformed.  Hegseth, a popular FOX & Friends commentator, served as the lead author, while Goodwin (who years ago began promoting private schools) did most of the in-depth research.  Introducing the book Hegseth says:  “It is my brokenness that brings me to this book.  Our brokenness.  Nothing but the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ affords these two authors—Pete Hegseth (me) and David Goodwin—the sufficiency to undertake such an audacious task:  writing a book that motivates others to reorient their lives around the education of their most precious gift—their children and grandchildren.”  Acknowledging their fallenness, they “appeal to heaven to breathe timeless truths into this earthly work.”  “The insufficient quality of our own educations—in the classroom, and in life—is the inspiration for this work” (p. xv). 

       The authors were both educated in public schools, unaware of their immersion in the progressive philosophy (most effectively promulgated by John Dewey) which has shaped students for more than a century.  During the 1980s and 1990s, this was evident in “self-esteem” rhetoric and “value-free” ethical nostrums.  But for many parents the ramifications of progressivism first became clear as they watched the virtual classrooms their children “attended” during the COVID-19 panic.  They saw the online lesson plans and teachers’ presentations.  Textbooks were opened in homes rather than secluded in classroom desks.  Alarmed at what they found, moms and dads began attending school board meetings, protesting at what what being taught their children.  Basically school boards and unionized teachers told them to shut up!  Educators’ truths are the final truths!  “This is the future, parents were told.  Get with the program!  White people are inherently oppressive.  Gender is completely fluid.  Climate change will destroy the world.  And America is the ultimate source of evil in the world.  Up is down, left is right, good and evil are subjective—until an educator tells you who or what is good and evil, and then you must comply” (p. 6).  

       Given this situation, Hegseth and Goodwin propose a peaceful revolution—“uprooting a century of miseducation.”  Decades ago it may have sufficed for Christian kids to attend church a few times a week, since their values would not be devalued in their schools.  But today’s youngsters need a more robust, clearly Christian schooling.  Hegseth often cites “Abraham Lincoln’s warning that ‘the philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation becomes the philosophy of government in the next.’  The statement remains true, but it is incomplete.  To put it more comprehensively, the strength of the church in one generation becomes the culture of its people in the next . . . followed by the philosophy of the schoolroom and the government.  The schoolroom is a vital front in the battle for Christendom and Western civilization, but alone—it is not enough” (p. 14).

       It’s not enough because leftists now occupy the “commanding heights” of our culture.  A century ago Vladimir Lenin used the phrase “commanding heights” to describe a strategy of allowing “limited capitalist activities” on a “local level” while insisting “all the main levers of the national economy would be controlled by the state.”  As long as today’s cultural Marxists control the “main levers” of society—schools, media, foundations—they need not worry about smaller institutions.  For they now “control every strong point, every choke point, and every inch of high ground in the realm of American education, and by extension, American culture.  That was the plan, and it worked” (p. 27).  It’s dramatically evident in the schools’ current commitment to Critical Race Theory.  The dominant teachers’ unions—the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA)—promote it.  Indeed, the AFT featured “Ibram X. Kendi—the author of How to Be an Antiracist—at their 2021 national conference.” (p. 28).   The public schools, like the mass media and modern military, talk much about “diversity, equity, and inclusion” to camouflage the radical nature of their agenda.  This became clear as early as 1972 when the NEA hired Saul Alinsky to help “train their own staff.   A 1972 NEA training document, titled ‘Alinsky for Teacher Organizers,’ made the case that teachers should be used to organize, not just for changes in the classroom, but for social change.  Think picket lines and teacher walkouts.  As recently as 2009, the NEA website dubbed Alinsky ‘an inspiration to anyone contemplating action in their community!  And to every organizer!’  For more than sixty years, the NEA has been in cahoots with cultural Marxists—and growing in power” (p. 37).  “Rather than teaching basic skills and knowledge to America’s children, America’s unions believe their job is to solve America’s problems based on their social-justice, culturally Marxist view of the world” (p. 41).

      Consequently, today’s public schools inculturate rather than educate students, using pedagogical methods designed to impart their agenda.  While Critical Race Theory (CRT) overtly denounces racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., it’s ultimately designed to deconstruct “anything and everything that reflects not just the founding principles of America, but the foundations of our families and our faith.  It’s about control—of thought, and behavior.  To the Left, our Western Judeo-Christian roots are the problem—they must be dismantled, one theory, one word, one classroom, and one mind at a time” (p. 32).  This was evident in the “Common Core” promoted by the federal government and designed to cast aside traditional learning.  So too is the widespread use of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.  “It is not hyperbole,” Hegseth asserts, “to state that no other book has had a greater impact on the minds of American youth for the past forty years. When not assigned in classrooms, it has been fully incorporated into the mass-produced textbooks in our classrooms.”  He “was openly anti-American, openly socialist, and always willing to bend history to make America look like an evil country.”  Today’s NEA works hand-in-hand with the “Zinn Education Project,” which has become a leading resource for teachers and teacher educators.  Howard Zinn is no longer an antiestablishment historian . . . he is the establishment” (pp. 39-41).  

     Having despaired of the public schools, Hegseth and Goodman propose recovering a distinctive Western Christian Paideia (WCP), which seeks to purposefully shape the “deeply seated affections, thinking, viewpoints, and virtues embedded in children at a young age, or, more simply, the  rearing, molding, and education of a child.  Classical Christian education creates a paideia unique in all of human history—one that enables freedom” (p. 44).  It takes seriously the fact that we are created in the “image of God.”  It seeks to revive the “common school” that preceded the public school and partnered with “the family and the church, which had been the center of perpetuating the WCP since the first century” (p. 51).  For centuries Christian parents and teachers prioritized “Reason, Virtue, Wonder, and Beauty,” which have largely disappeared in progressive schools.  For example, the widely-used SAT exams measured verbal and quantitative reasoning, essential for succeeding in universities.  But some racial minorities consistently scored lower than whites, so some elite universities are discarding it.  Rather than depreciate reasoning ability, however, WCP schools must recognize and encourage it.  So too with the classical and Christian virtues.  Progressives talk much about “values” rather than virtues, which are “rooted in the affections of a person as they align to God’s affections.  A virtuous person loves the right and the good” (p. 165).  Encouraging youngsters to wonder at the grandeur of creation and the mystery of human consciousness, exposing them to the objective reality of beauty in nature, art and music, will properly educate them as persons with souls, pilgrims on a journey to life everlasting.  The authors persuasively fill in the specifics of their vision of a “classical Christian” education, something both churches and parents should devoutly embrace.

357 Holiness Movement, Ethics, Theology

Darius L. Salter grew up in a Pilgrim Holiness church in North Carolina, earned degrees from Kentucky Mountain Bible College, Asbury College, Asbury Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Drew University.  He pastored, taught at seminaries, including Nazarene Theological Seminary, and served as Executive Director of the Christian Holiness Association.  Few contemporary scholars have his experience and perspective, so much may be learned from his recent publication, The Demise of the American Holiness Movement:  A Historical, Theological, Biblical, Cultural Exploration (Wilmore, KY:  First Fruits Press, c. 2020).  He argues “that the American Holiness Movement has lost its identity primarily because it has been unable to negotiate modernity” (p. 3).  He concurs with and extends the observations made in earlier articles by Keith Drury (a Wesleyan, in “The Holiness Movement is Dead”) and Richard Taylor (a Nazarene, in “Why the Holiness Movement Died.”)  Neither the movement’s distinctive theological commitment to “entire sanctification as a second work of grace subsequent to regeneration,” nor the rules and regulations that once defined “holiness” people, nor the revivals and camp meetings that energized the faithful have endured.  “Holiness” churches survive but the movement has died.

  Rather than develop a systematic treatise analyzing the “demise of the holiness movement,” Salter devotes much of his treatise to significant persons who have shaped it, beginning with John Wesley.   He was obviously a gifted evangelist, his commitment to holy living most admirable, his influence certainly momentous.  But Salter believes “that in his doctrine of Christian perfection, Wesley passed down to his spiritual children a paradigm that has major deficiencies, if not massive contradictions” (p. 20).  By asserting that “nothing is sin, strictly speaking, but a voluntary transgression of a known law of God,” Wesley minimized its power and persistence, leaving his followers with manifold problems.  This was, quite frankly, evident in his personal life.  While preaching “Christian perfection” Wesley was less than perfect, as Salter shows by detailing his troubled relationships with women.  Nor did Wesley give a final statement concerning what he actually believed regarding “entire sanctification.”  Indeed, John once wrote his brother Charles:  “‘I am at my wit’s end with regard to two things—the church and Christian perfection.  Unless you and I stand in the gap, in good earnest, the Methodists will drop them both.’  John was prescient for both English Methodism and eventually American Methodism.  The ideal was too difficult to explain and defend, much less experience” (p. 50).   

As Methodism expanded in America in the 19th century the doctrine of holiness was simultaneously neglected by the hierarchy and popularized, especially by Phoebe Palmer, though Salter devotes little attention to those years.  Instead he jumps from Wesley to two 20th century Nazarene theologians whom he regards as personifications of options ultimately dividing the holiness movement.  Richard Taylor—“the patron saint of the holiness movement” in Salter’s view—“insisted that a second work of grace was the only adequate remedy for inbred sin” (p. 87).  He upheld the positions of the first generation of Nazarenes and “was the most influential person within the conservative holiness movement” (p. 118).  Though Salter knew and admired Taylor, he finds his views of sin and sanctification inadequate.  So too did others, and as he aged he found himself disregarded by younger theologians and preachers and the Nazarene Publishing House no longer published his books.

Leading the opposition to Taylor was Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, who rejected his position on holiness and charted a new way to understand and teach it, claiming she was bringing the church back to John Wesley.  Importantly, as a youngster Wynkoop had tried to fully embrace foundational Nazarene theology.  In revivals and camp meetings she heard how “entire sanctification” could be instantly obtained at an altar.  She sought the “experience” some 40 times and tried to testify to its efficacy.  But somehow the promised “blessing” never came.  Finally, she said, “‘the whole unsavory farce broke around my head, leaving me a full-fledged skeptic, cold-blooded and adrift.  The divine formula upon which I had pinned my faith, didn’t work’” (p. 124).  Rather than leave her church, however, she worked to redefine its theology, ultimately publishing the highly influential Theology of Love, seeking to erase the “credibility gap” she and others had experienced.  The “relational paradigm” she set forth clearly differed from “the holiness formula which until that time, had defined the Church of the Nazarene” (p. 157).  Her treatise was, however, endorsed by the Nazarene Theological Seminary’s official publication, thereby “knowingly or unwittingly” approving a work markedly different from the historic position of the denomination.  Salter provides “insider” information regarding the struggles that transpired in the seminary and denomination in the ‘70s and ‘80s, showing why two versions of “second blessing holiness” competed for dominance, with the Wynkoop faction winning the struggle.  Her theology, Salter contends, is deeply flawed in significant ways, especially in its Pelagian tendencies, but she did in fact became the guru for younger thinkers who would shift the teaching of holiness from an instantaneous experience to a progressive, and basically moralistic, position.

In 2004 the doctrinal uncertainties plaguing the Church of the Nazarene were effectively explained by Mark Quanstrom in A Century of Holiness Theology:  The Doctrine of Entire Sanctification in the Church of the Nazarene:  From Extravagant Hope to Limited Expectation.  The church had come into being at the dawn of the 20th century and shared much of that era’s optimism.  (More that simple optimism, however, Salter thinks “one could argue that the entire Holiness Movement was rooted in a utopian view of life” (p. 159).  After detailing the 20th century’s theological developments, Quanstrom concluded (in a statement not included in the published edition!) that signifiant changes “‘challenge the mission of the denomination which at one time anyway, understood its sole reason for being to consist in the proclamation of the possibility of freedom from sin resulting in a gloriously transformed human nature’” (p. 184).  In Salter’s view, that “sole reason” has dissipated, leaving the denomination rudderless.

Apart from the Church of the Nazarene, Salter devotes considerable attention to Methodists associated with Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.  Henry Clay Morrison dominated the scene in the first half of the 20th century, as did Dennis Kinlaw in the second.  “For many of us,” Salter says, “Dennis Kinlaw had the most capacious mind, the most charismatic personality, the most gracious and appealing platform style, and was the greatest preacher of anyone we had ever known or heard” (p. 227).  He also presided over  “the holiness paradigm shift” inasmuch as nothing he said “could not have been said at a Keswick convention, a Southern Baptist conference or a Roman Catholic renewal convocation” (p. 228).  Kinlaw had a deeply biblical understanding of holiness that Salter fully supports.  It was not, however, the traditional position of the holiness movement.  

In the final section of the book Salter addresses five areas he thinks holiness folks should face:  the world; the self; the other; the animate; and the mind.  But the book’s value lies in its analysis of what has happened rather than prescriptions for what should come to be.  And what’s happened is the death of the holiness movement—which is not to say holiness churches cannot adjust and survive under other flags.

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A young professor at Trevecca Nazarene University, Timothy R. Gaines, has recently published Christian Ethics (Kansas City:  The Foundry Publishing, c. 2021; Kindle Ed,).  He begins with the crucial observation that: “Every day, a dizzying array of moral challenges presses in.  Every day, we make choices between this instead of that.  We face imperfect options because we live in an imperfect world.  Moment by moment, we engage in the work of ethics.  The only question is whether we realize it.  You and I will never avoid ethics” (#70).  To wisely “engage” in this work Gaines embraces the Wesleyan tradition with its “bold optimism” rooted in the confidence that God-in-Christ is at work “making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5).  Jesus came to invite us to join him in living rightly, not by following “moralistic” rules but by allowing Him to make us holy and good.  “The grand hope of the Wesleyan tradition is not that we become ethical people but that we become holy people whose ethics can do no other than reflect the image of God” #779).  Indeed:  “One of the distinctive affirmations of the Wesleyan tradition is the belief in orthokardia—the idea that we must be people of right hearts alongside our right practices and right beliefs” (#262).

Comparing the work of building an ethical edifice with the work of a carpenter, Gaines says “we need plans drawn up so we know what we are working toward. That vision is what ethicists refer to as a vision of goodness, or ‘the good life’” (#336).  To attain that end:  “The most common tools in the workshop of ethics in the Western tradition are the duty tool, the results tool, the God tool, and the virtue tool” (#360).  But these tools are inadequate for the task!  In more traditional philosophical terms, he rejects the deontological (do your duty) position most notably set forth by Kant, the utilitarianism (what’s best for the most people) of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, the divine command (follow biblical commands) position of many Christian thinkers such as Robert Adams, and the virtue (develop your character) ethical traditions best developed by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas.  

Rather than build a “system” of some sort, Gaines thinks we should join Jesus in “the more excellent way,” entering into His new creation and working out its implications.  “‘We cannot create the new creation,’ Néstor Míguez helpfully reminds us. ‘It comes from God as a new earth and a new heaven, which is beyond any human possibility to achieve.’  At the same time, ‘New creation is also an invitation to the hope that becomes an impelling force to join in God’s labor of giving birth to the new creation, a labor conceived, for our side, as a creative participation in the life of God that manifests the liberty of God’s children’” (#502).  Though philosophy has its proper place, its roots are in Athens, where Greek thinkers tried to reason their way to moral certainties.  Mt. Sinai, on the other hand, “is the place where Israel encounters a holy and living God, and comes away from that encounter faced with the question of how they ought to live in response” (#929).  God spoke, calling for a holy people to serve a holy God.

In giving the Ten Commandments—or as Gaines prefers the “Ten Words”—God revealed the right way to live by responding to His holiness.  “The words are spoken as the description of lives lived in dedication to God . . . .  The moral point is that rigid and willful adherence to the ten sayings of God is not the moral vision that shapes holiness ethics.  Rather, a people’s living encounter with a holy God will shape them into and empower them to be a kind of people who won’t murder, commit adultery, or steal—all because they will have no other gods before the living, holy God.  Other gods can’t possibly shape that kind of people because any other god is not holy” (#968).  This means we rightly turn to Scripture, which must be “authoritative.  Looking to Scripture as a source for the formation of Christian ethics is the act of placing ourselves under the authority of the way our ancestors saw God act” (#565).  And God preeminently acted in Jesus.  Reading Scripture in a Wesleyan way means adjusting “our interpretive frequencies to new creation’s wavelength, and we may then be able to work with Scripture in a way that allows us to evaluate how a particular moral command in Scripture intersects with a contemporary moment.”   Thus “we appeal to Scripture in an attempt to find our place within its new creation story and let it speak to us alignment of our life toward new creation’s ends.  It is a dynamic of reading the texts, taking account of ourselves, and being formed by what we find in the biblical story. We can measure ourselves against those texts, asking, ‘Do we reflect a new creation people well?’” (#662).  Reading Scripture in the light of the new creation requires careful, prayerful deliberation as we do ethics, trying to “become holy people whose ethics can do no other than reflect the image of God.  Discernment, therefore, is not the quest to become more ethical but is the work of responding to the grace God pours out, and allowing our motivations, character, and imaginations to be transformed by and aligned toward God.  The shape of the moral life in the Wesleyan tradition is a heart filled with the love of God that spills out into the work of love for our neighbor” (#779).  Such discernment, Gaines thinks, comes primarily in a social rather than a solitary milieu.  So forming small groups to discuss and pray about things is crucial.  

The things we need to think and pray about are highlighted by Gaines in a series of “discernment dialogues” beginning with bioethics, which he reduces to end-of-life decisions.  (Sadly missing in this  “dialogue is the question of abortion, certainly one of the most important issues of our times.).  End-of-life  decisions are complicated by the incredible technologies now available in treating diseases, so the second “discernment dialogue” focuses on the many issues embedded in our technological society, which “perhaps more than any other force . . . shapes our moral lives” (#1866).  We’re easily tempted to wrongly think that anything “quicker, cheaper, and easier” is “automatically better” (#1881).   Technological advances have certainly impacted economics, the focus of the third “discernment dialogue.”  We need to envision a good economy as one whereby an exchange “flows from God and brings flourishing and healing to the whole creation.  Rather than think “‘I earned this, and I’m going to do whatever I want with it’” we should rejoice and say ‘This is a gift from God, and I’d like to use it in a way that helps the world.’ In short, we move from being possessors to being stewards” (#1979).  Political ethics, creation care, racial concerns, sexual and family ethics, are all treated in short, thoughtful dialogues. 

Designed to be used as a study guide for thoughtful laymen, Christian Ethics provides a well-written application of Wesleyan theology (as expounded by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop and H. Ray Dunning) to our world.   Thus there is an underlying existential philosophy that can easily slide into the kind of “situation ethics” set forth by Joseph Fletcher decades ago.  Relying on orthokardia—a good heart—may very will be important in making decisions, but without something like the Natural Law to give guidance one may very well founder in the process.

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For many years Thomas Jay Oord has been publishing books (some 25) urging Christians to make love the centerpiece of their theology.  In Pluriform Love:  An Open and Relational Theology of Well-Being (SacraSage Press, Kindle Edition, c. 2020)he updates (and frequently repeats) positions earlier advanced in Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love (co-written with Michael Lodahl), Defining Love: Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Investigations and The Nature of Love: A Theology.  Love is pluriform, he says, because it “has multiple dimensions and expressions.  Love cannot be understood well nor experienced fully if confined to only one or a few forms” (p. 6).  And he insists it be understood within the context of “an open and relational theology.”  

Oord says most theologians have minimized the importance of love.  For example, Richard Hays, in his “influential book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament “does not regard love as the focus of Jesus or the New Testament.   His relegation of love to the margins is explicit” (p. 11).  So too, Millard Erickson, a Reformed theologian espousing a “moderate” brand of Calvinism, says much about God’s omnipotence and predestination that Oord believes “are at odds with the meaning of love in most scripture and everyday experience.”  In his Christian Theology, “Erickson chooses the magnificence of God, instead of love, as his overarching theme” (p. 16).  Conversely, Oord thinks, theologians who have dealt extensively with love have failed to rightly define and explain it.  Thus Anders Nygren, in Agape and Eros (“the most influential book on agape in the 20th century”) sought to set forth a biblical theology shaped by is understanding of agape, the only kind of Christian love since it comes down from God, whereas eros moves up from man.  Thoroughly Lutheran, Nygren believes only God truly loves—because of man’s utter sinfulness he cannot love God or others.  “God’s agape, Nygren asserts, ‘seeks to make its way out into the world through the Christian as its channel.’  Christians are like tubes through which love from above passes to neighbors below.  The Christian contributes nothing.  When we see humans loving others, we really see God using humans as instruments” (p. 63).  After citing and analyzing a multitude of texts, Oord explains why he finds Nygren’s understanding of agape flawed and rejects it. 

He also rejects St Augustine’s position on love as eros or desire, which can be either proper (caritas) or improper (cupiditas).  “Charity (caritas) desires something or someone for God’s sake.  Cupidity (cupiditas) desires for the sake of something other than God” (p. 107).  So we should love neither ourselves for our own sake nor our neighbor not for his own sake but purely for God’s sake.  Though Oord rejects Augustine’s understanding of eros, he does believe there is a rightful way to understand it, for properly defined it seeks the well-being of others.  Whereas agape is an “in spite of” love, eros is a “because of” kind of love.  “Eros appreciates value and promotes overall well-being because of the value it encounters.  Because of value present in others, creation, and God, lovers can express eros” (p. 147).  But Augustine not only misunderstood eros, he negatively impacted the Christian tradition, shaping its “classical theism,”  His ideas about God’s attributes, such as timelessness, immutability, impassability, etc., negate (Oord thinks) His ability to truly love.  Consequently:  “The theology of love I propose affirms philosophical ideas that lie in stark contrast to ideas Augustine and other classical theists embrace” (p. 142).  So “classical theism” must be significantly revised, if not repudiated, to rightly understand the nature and activity of God.  

Instead of “classical theism” Oord wants to construct a theology that is “open and relational,” rooted in the process thought of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartrshorne he has long championed.  “‘Open’ indicates an open future.  Open and relational thinkers believe God and creation move through time moment by moment into an undetermined future.  Neither creatures nor the Creator predetermine what will occur.  Neither Creator nor creatures foreknow with certainty everything that will happen.  The future does not exist as a set of actual occurrences; it’s a realm of possibilities.  While creatures are born into time’s flow, God experiences time everlastingly.  Love involves actions, and a consistently acting God loves moment by moment. ‘Relational’ stands for the idea God and creatures influence others and others influence them.  Creatures affect God’s experience, and the divine experience changes in response.  God and other creatures affect creatures, and their experiences change in response.  God’s nature is eternally unchanging, but as an experiential agent, God gives and receives in relations with creatures and creation.  Love is inherently relational, and an omni-relational God relates with all others” (pp. 157-158).  

  This omni-relational God is, importantly, “uncontrolling” or amipotent.  Oord “coined this word using the Latin prefix for love we find in positive words like ‘amity,’ ‘amigo,’ ‘amicable,’ and ‘amiable.  ‘Potent’ is the Latin root word of ‘potency’ and ‘potential.’  God is amipotent in the sense that divine love preconditions and governs divine power.  God always exerts power lovingly.  Because love comes logically before power in God’s nature and this love is essentially uncontrolling, divine amipotence never controls.  God’s almighty power is uncontrolling love:  amipotence” (p. 180).  As an important part of his process theology, Oord says God is everlasting (i.e. forever embedded in time) rather than eternal (standing apart from time).  Consequently creation is continually taking place and the traditional notion that God created all things out of nothing (ex nihilo) must be rejected.  “Rather than creating the universe from nothing, God everlastingly, in love, creates in relation to what God previously created” (p. 177).  So, it seems, the material world, as well as God, forever co-exist and are forever evolving.

Reading Pluriform Love reminds us of the multitude of references to various forms of love (agape, eros, philia) in Scripture.  How manifold are God’s ways!  Unfortunately, by repudiating “classical theism,” Oord discards much that is basic to the Christian Tradition and must be read quite cautiously. 

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.”

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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. 

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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!

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