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!

# # # 

350 “The Most Egregious Failure”

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

349 The Real Anthony Fauci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # # 

348 RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IMPERILED?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reared in a “red diaper” home, Horowitz was a deeply committed Communist, one of the leaders of the “New Left” in the 1960s.  He personally knows many of the leading leftists and fully understands their agenda.  Generally labeling themselves “progressives,” they continue to pursue their socialistic, utopian dreams—a heaven-on-earth.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they no longer espouse “‘Communism.’  They call it social justice.’  Like Communism, social justice is an impossible future in which the inequalities and oppressions that have afflicted human beings for millennia will miraculously vanish and social harmony will rule” (p. 29).  They fail to acknowledge the great truth proclaimed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

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

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

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

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

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

347 Trampling Down Death by Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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346 HEAVEN (reprint)

As you would expect, I’ve thought much of Heaven since my wife Marilyn’s death on September 8, 2021.  I’m now grieving very much as I did following my first wife Roberta’s death in 2007.  As many of you well know, mourning saps one’s energy—beyond doing what’s absolutely essential for the day there’s little interest in doing things like writing book reviews.  As C.S. Lewis said:  “no one ever told me about the laziness of grief.”  So I’m simply going to reprint my February 2008 “Reedings” which was devoted to books on Heaven.  (Incidentally, my sister Barbara, teaching a course in counseling for Nazarene Bible College, uses this issue as a reference).  Thankfully, there are wonderful written works that provide scriptural, philosophical, and testimonial perspectives—solid sources for Christian belief.  Randy Alcorn’s Heaven (Carol Stream, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., c. 2004) certainly provides what Rick Warren considers “the best book on Heaven I’ve ever read.”  Presciently, perhaps, during the summer of 2020, with no awareness that my wife Marilyn would soon be diagnosed with stage four cancer, I explored Alcorn’s book with an Adult Bible Study I led in the Community Fellowship of  Christians in Lake George, Colorado.  It was, and is, a work of great consolation as well as illumination.  

Alcorn prefaces his biblical discussion with a brief reference to history and anthropology, where ample “evidence suggests that every culture has a God-given, innate sense of the eternal—that this world is not all there is” (p. xvii).  He cites St. Cyprian, who said that death “‘sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom.  Anyone who has been in foreign lands longs to return to his own native land . . . .  We regard Paradise as our native land’” (p. xviii).  Alcorn then dedicates his book to all who are “burdened discouraged, depressed, or even traumatized” (p. xx).  Only Heaven can salve our deepest sorrows.  “‘It becomes us,’ wrote the great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, ‘to spend this life only as a journey toward heaven . . . to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life.  Why should we labor for or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end and true happiness?’” (p. 5).  Scripture devotes much attention to this ultimate end, though today’s teachers and preachers say little about it.   “What God made us to desire, and therefore what we do desire if we admit it, is exactly what he promises to those who follow Jesus Christ:  a resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected Earth.  Our desires correspond precisely to God’s plans” (p. 7).  

Any lack of interest in Heaven betrays an atrophied imagination.  In his fictional works C.S. Lewis activates this essential human faculty.  Using the imagination, Alistair McGrath says, affirms “‘the critical role of the God-given human capacity to construct and enter into mental pictures of divine reality, which are mediated through Scripture and the subsequent tradition of reflection and development’” (p. 15).  Still more, Lewis said:  “‘While reason is the natural organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning’” (p. 22).  Alcorn then develops “a theology of heaven,” differentiating between the “present” and “eternal” heavens.  At death the redeemed go immediately to a “present” or “intermediate” Heaven.  At the end of time and the resurrection of the body and the final judgment, they will enter the “eternal” Heaven—or the New Earth that will be established for them.  Though not yet enjoying their resurrected bodies, residents of the present Heaven occupy a unique space and enjoy a mysteriously embodied existence—as was evident when Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration.  

Adam was first made a physical being, then given a spirit.  So, Alcorn reasons, “God may grant us some physical form that will allow us to function as human beings while in that unnatural state ‘between bodies,’ awaiting our resurrection” (p. 57).  Since the Resurrected Jesus has a body, “If Christ’s body in the present Heaven has physical proportion, it stands to reason that others in Heaven might have physical forms as well, even if only temporary ones” (p. 59).  “It might be better, then, if we think of the location of the present Heaven as not in another universe but simply as a part of ours that we are unable to see, due to our spiritual blindness.  If that’s true, when we die we don’t go to a different universe but to a place within our universe that we’re currently unable to see” (p. 184).  To envision this possibility, note how contemporary physicists who routinely talk about a dozen or so invisible “dimensions” to the universe!

Sifting through the Scriptures, Alcorn finds no less than 21 details concerning the saints in the present Heaven.  They are the same persons, conscious of their new place, remember their earthly life, know what’s happening on earth, pray for us, wear robes, have a sense of time, and feel bound to believers on earth.  “There is not a wall of separation within the bride of Christ.  We are one family with those who’ve gone to Heaven ahead of us” (p. 67).  While he’s firmly Protestant, this position squares precisely with the Catholic tradition regarding the “communion of saints,” declaring that “it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the place of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods” (#955).  At the end of time, Alcorn insists we will be restored to the Earth God initially envisioned.  The New Earth will be the original Eden Adam lost.  Though scarred by sin, this earth is at least a shadow of the New Earth.  So to think about the eternal heaven it helps to look about us and rejoice in the mountains and streams, the music and sunsets, that daily ennoble our lives.  “It is no coincidence that the first two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1-2) begin with the creation of the heavens and the earth and the last two chapters (Revelation 21-22) begin with the recreation of the heavens and the earth” (p. 132).  

After setting forth his “theology” of heaven, Alcorn turns to answering common questions regarding it.  We will live (sin excepted) much like we live now.  We will eat and drink, read and study and discuss new truths, work creatively, enjoy fellowship with friends and family.  Married ties will be strengthened and the joys of the man-wife relationship intensified.  Animals will be there, occupying their niche in God’s design.  For all these positions Alcorn has texts.  And frequently he cites respected authorities, ranging from Augustine to Wesley to C.S. Lewis, to support his views.  The book is helpful and persuasive—simply the place to begin thinking biblically about the hereafter.  

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Equally valuable to me is a philosophical treatise by Boston College’s Professor Peter Kreeft, titled Heaven:  The Heart’s Deepest Longing  (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, c. 1980).  “This book,” he says, “is the thought-experiment of looking with the eye of the heart and exploring what we see of the deep desire hidden there, the desire for heaven” (p. 39).  He begins by noting that the “question of hope is at least as ultimate as the other two great questions [what can I know?  what ought I do?].  For it means “‘what is the point and purpose of life?  Why was I born?  Why am I living?’” (p. 12).  All of us wonder, at times at least, “Is that all there is?” (p. 46).  Historically, as is evident in everything from Indian burial mounds to Egyptian pyramids, man has above all hoped for heaven, however variously envisioned.  

What all men long for, Aristotle persuasively argued, is happiness.  And this happiness, added Pascal, “is neither outside nor inside us:  it is in God, both outside and inside us” (p. 32).  Pascal further said that the heart has its reasons that reason never knows, and when we honestly look within (listening to our hearts), Kreeft says, there is  “a heavenly hole, a womblike emptiness crying out to be filled, impregnated by your divine lover.  Heaven is God’s body; earth is ours” (p. 35).  Though our minds may open up mathematical means to decipher the universe, our hearts give us different but equally valid and valuable truths regarding ourselves.  

Love also has its ways of knowing, a clairvoyant “X-ray vision” (p. 37), seeing the essence of things.    “Only one who loves you really knows you, and the deeper the love, the deeper the knowledge.  The non-lover may know everything about you, but only the lover knows you” (p. 37).  So thinking about heaven is an exercise of the heart and of love.  Inasmuch as we love God we come to know Him.  Inasmuch as we lovingly long for happiness and heaven we come to know them.  As Malcolm Muggeridge said, in Jesus Rediscovered:   “‘I had a sense, of something enormously vivid, that I was a stranger in a strange land; a visitor, not a native . . . a displaced person.”  Consequently, he concluded:   “The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves to be at home here on earth.  As long as we are aliens, we cannot forget our true homeland’” (p. 63).   

Such musings are prodded by the genuinely strange dimensions of earthly realities such as time.  At times it seems we never have enough time.  At other times we wonder if the clock will ever change.  We think much about the future and the past, wondering how things will be and how things were.  In a moment we can encompass the centuries in our minds.  To Kreeft, our “nostalgia for Eden is not just for another time but for another kind of time” (p. 70).   Underlying all our musings on time, we truly “long for the infinitely old and the infinitely new because we long for eternity” (p. 80).  “Time and death make life precious, but they do not make it eternal.  But that is what we long for (‘thou hast put eternity into Man’s heart’), even if we do not know what it is” (p. 73).  Facing death we long to live on, forever and ever.  

Clues to eternal, heavenly bliss may be found, Kreeft suggests, in our authentically personal relationships.  Consider, for example, how much a person reveals through his face.  There is a “numinous, most magical” quality to the face, for here mind controls matter.  “A human face is more than a part of the body, an object; it is a part of the soul, a subject, an I.  It is the place where soul still transfigures body as its Creator designed it to” (p. 99).  Furthermore, romantic love, like a face, reveals a deep inner reality.  “It is like a sacrament in that way:  a special sign of a general truth, a local reminder of a universal reality” (pp.101).  That’s because:  “As the face is the epiphany of the person, the person is the epiphany of the universe, the universe’s face as seen by the ‘haunt detector’ called romantic love” (p. 101-102).  Readers of Dante’s Divine Comedy remember that “God appeared to Dante as a Beatrice-shaped glory.  Yet Beatrice was not obliterated by the divine light.  Dante did not merely pass through Beatrice to God; he found God in Beatrice.  He did not love Beatrice less because he loved God more” (p. 102).  “Romantic love is a powerful image of the love of God because, unlike lust, it does not desire a possessable and consumable thing (like a body).  It wants not to possess but to be possessed, not by the beloved but by love itself, the reality in which both lovers stand” (p. 107).   

Our world, Kreeft says, is not really distant from heaven.  Rather, “heaven includes earth as the soul includes the body.  My soul includes my body because it is my me, my personhood, and part of this is what I call ‘my’ body” (p. 115).  Earth’s an accurate image, a shadow of Heaven, which is “more real, more substantial than earth,” has “more dimensions than earth, not fewer,” and is “clearer, more detailed and specific than earth, not vaguer” (pp. 116-117).  The Eternal Word indwells both Heaven and Earth.  He is “Christ the Haunter, the incarnate divine Mind, the Logos.  . . . .  The divine Idea perfectly and completely expressed before the world was created, the divine Word that was the instrument creating the universe, the divine design reflected in all created order, finally focuses at this single point:  a human individual who says ‘I am’, claming to be the divine I AM ‘before Abraham was’.  All signs lead to him because all signs come from him” (p. 118).  Rightly seeing His world we see his Face!  The God Whose Face was visible in Christ is the great “I AM who says, ‘I am with you always’, and that I AM is the absolute, the unchangeable, the utterly reliable.  Our I is flighty, relative, and unreliable.  But our I can plug into the I Am and then it and its joy become as eternally solid as the joy of I AM.  Faith is that plug. (p. 160) 

What we hope for in Heaven is a continuous state of joy, an extension of those moments of joy we experience while on Earth.  Such joy is a truly ecstatic—rooted outside of us, not inside us—reality.  “Just as love is not in us but we are ‘in love’ (‘it’s bigger than both of us’), joy is not in us but we are in it:  ‘Enter into the joy of thy Lord’” (p. 145).  “Heaven is ek-stasis; hell is in-stasis.  Heaven in coinherence; hell is incoherence.  Heaven is aspiration; hell is greed.  Heaven is love; hell is lust” (p. 150).  Joy comes to those who fully, and finally, submit their wills to God’s will.  “In His will,” said Dante, “is our peace,” and “’Thy will be done,’” echoes Kreeft, “is the infallible road to total joy” (p. 158).

Submission to God’s will here-and-now gives us a foretaste of Heaven, for “Earth is not outside heaven; it is heaven’s workshop, heaven’s womb” (p. 172).  Seen from this perspective, we are not “pie-in-the-sky” daydreamers fantasizing a better world.  Indeed, “Heaven is not escapist because we are already there, just as the fetus in the womb is already in the world because the womb is in the world and subject to its laws, such as the laws of gravity and genetics” (p. 174).  Still more:  “Heaven is not a thing or even a place; it is a Person; that’s why it (he) is present.  Heaven is where God is—God defines heaven, not heaven, God—and God is present in every place” (p. 175).  All who will may enter, for we are justified by faith—and our “faith is in God’s present (gift) of his Present (now) presence (here)” (p. 181).  For “This is the Gospel, the scandalously good news:  that we are guaranteed heaven by sheer gift” (p. 183).  

In a profound appendix, Kreeft cogently develops a philosophical case for C.S. Lewis’s “argument from desire,” which he finds to be one of the most persuasive arguments for the existence for God ever advanced.  Without question “it is far more moving, arresting, and apologetically effective than any other argument for God or for heaven” (p. 201).  He sums it up thusly:  1) “The major premise of the argument is that every natural or innate desire in us bespeaks a corresponding real object that can satisfy the desire.”  2) “The minor premise is that there exists in us a desire which nothing in  time, nothing on earth, no creature, can satisfy.”  And 3) “The conclusion is that there exists something outside of time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire” (p. 202).  

To his knowledge, Kreeft says, agreeing with Lewis, “No case has ever been found of an innate desire for a nonexistent object” (p. 203).  By nature we desire more than nature affords.  We desire a supernatural reality called heaven.  Even better, C.S. Lewis asserted (in The Problem of Pain):  “Your soul has a curious shape because it is . . . a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. . . .  Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand” (p. 67).  

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Two “testimonial” books, testifying to the reality of “life-after-death,” deserve perusing.  Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven:  A True Story of Death & Life  (Grand Rapids, MI:  Fleming H. Revell, c. 2004) tells the story of a Baptist pastor who had a terrible automobile accident in 1989, was declared dead at the scene, lay immobile for 90 minutes, and then revived to spend many months recovering from his injuries.  During those 90 minutes he entered heaven, where he met many people he knew who had preceded him.  While there, he says, “My heart filled with the deepest joy I’ve ever experienced” (p. 31).  Marvelous music, praising Christ the King, thrilled him and still resounds in his memory.  Colors were more vivid, people were more wonderful—all was in fact perfect.  “I was home; I was where I belonged,” he says.   “I wanted to be there more than I had ever wanted to be anywhere on earth” (p. 33).  

A more fascinating story, for me, was written three decades ago by George G. Ritchie, M.D., entitled Return from Tomorrow (Waco, TX:  Chosen Books, c. 1978).  His medical training, as well as his philosophical bent, make the book both a fascinating narrative and a meaningful reflection.  In 1943, aged 20, Ritchie was in Texas, preparing for service in WWII.  While there he was stricken by the flu, which turned into double pneumonia.  Despite the doctors’ efforts, he apparently died; they pronounced him dead and covered his face with a sheet.  From his perspective, however, he simply became immaterial.  He walked down the hospital corridors, but no one saw him.  Then he flew overland, heading toward his home in Richmond, Virginia.  He saw the countryside passing underneath.  Then he alighted in a strange town (Vicksburg, MS) and wandered about a bit, noticing specific details of it.  As in the hospital, he saw things as if he were physically present, but no one could see him—and he could easily move through solid things.

At that point he decided he needed to get back to Texas and recover his embodied state.  He returned to the hospital and “began one of the strangest searches that can ever have taken place:  the search for myself.  From one ward to another of that enormous complex I rushed, pausing in each small room, stooping over the occupant of the bed, hurrying on” (p. 42).  In time he found the room where his body lay—though the face was covered he knew it because of a distinctive ring on his left hand.  He realized that others thought he was “dead” but he really wasn’t!  While trying to get back into his body, the room suddenly turned bright—“it was like a million welders’ lamps all blazing at once” (p. 48).  The light was not an “it” but a “He,” a Man who was clearly “the Son of God” (p. 49).  This was not the Jesus he’d heard about (with considerable disinterest) in Sunday school!  He was powerful.  And He “loved me” (p. 49).  In that moment he envisioned all the details of his 20  years on earth.  And the question from the Light was:  “What did you do with your life?” (p. 52).  He realized that he’d lived, almost exclusively, for himself.  Though he had professed a faith in Jesus as a child, he hadn’t really sought to serve Him.  He realized that a life rightly lived was a life consumed by love.  

Thereafter Ritchie was taken on a journey that exposed him to various places inhabited by those who had died.  He saw self-absorbed people, self-promoting and verbally vicious and vindictive people who had made their own hell—much like the folks in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce.   “With a feeling of sick familiarity I recognized here my own thinking” (p. 65).  With Jesus beside him, he realized that Jesus had not “abandoned them, but they who had fled from the Light that showed up their darkness” (p. 66).  Above all they had failed to see Him.  Then he was taken to another kind of place where people peacefully studiously in an extensive library, engaged in a great project of some sort.  They were “supremely self-forgetful” and thus utterly at peace.  They were not yet in heaven, but “They grew and they have kept on growing” (p. 71).  Finally, though at quite a distance, he was granted a glimpse of heaven itself.  “At this time I had not yet read the book of Revelation.  I could only gape in awe at this faraway spectacle, wondering how bright each building, each inhabitant, must be to be seen over so many light-years of distance.  Could these radiant being, I wondered, amazed, be those who had indeed kept Jesus the focus of their lives?” (p. 72).  

After this incredible journey, Ritchie returned to his body in the hospital, reviving nine minutes after being declared dead.  Alive again, he began to live fully.   He suddenly began to notice and care for others.  There were “no casual events for me since that night in Texas, . . . no ‘unimportant’ encounters with people.  Every minute of every day since that time, I’d been aware of the presence of a larger world” (p. 85).  Equally important, though he naturally feared the physical pain of dying, “as for death itself, I not only felt no fear of it, I found myself wishing it would happen” (p. 105).  

In time he went to medical school and, after practicing medicine for 13 years, further studied to become a psychiatrist.  Through it all, a lesson he learned while treating a Christ-like soldier in Europe remained paramount:  “in losing myself, I had discovered Christ.  It was strange, I thought:  I’d had to die in Texas, too, to see Him.  I wondered if we always had to die, some stubborn part of us, before we could see more of Him” (p. 112).  In retrospect, he reflects upon his “return from tomorrow,” saying:  “Whatever I saw was only—from the doorway, so to speak.  But it was enough to convince me totally of two things from that moment on.  One, that our consciousness does not cease with physical death—that it becomes in fact keener and more aware than ever.  And secondly, that how we spend our time on earth, the kind of relationships we build, is vastly, infinitely more important than we can know” (pp. 15-16).  

345 Return of the God the Hypothesis

During the past two decades the dramatic increase of Americans self-identifying as “Nones” (having no religious faith) has concerned thoughtful Christians.  Particularly among the young, it seems, many are disinterested and even hostile to the Christian tradition.  Asked by pollsters to explain their stance, they often say “science” (especially  the chemical evolution of life and the biological evolution of species) had disproved it.  Concerned by this development, Stephen Meyer has written Return of the God Hypothesis:  Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe (New York:  HarperOne, Kindle Edition, c. 2021) to show why their position is certainly questionable and probably untenable.  

Meyer received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science and works with the Discovery Institute in Seattle.  He has written two scholarly treatises, Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, which I have favorably reviewed in earlier editions of my “Reedings.”  Therein he “argued that certain features of living systems—in particular, the digitally encoded information present in DNA and the complex circuitry and information-processing systems at work in living cells—are best explained by the activity of an actual designing intelligence.  Just as the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone point to the activity of an ancient scribe and the software in a computer program points to a programmer, I’ve argued that the digital code discovered within the DNA molecule suggests the activity of a designing mind in the origin of life” (p. 10), though  he refrained from making philosophical claims concerning the existence of God.  

With this recent treatise he makes such claims, challenging entrenched scientific dogmas that have shaped the worldview of millions of people.  He begins by acknowledging that today’s scientific worldview is deeply materialistic, asserting that “matter, energy, and/or the laws of physics are the entities from which everything else came and that those entities have existed from eternity past as the uncreated foundation of all that exists.  Matter, energy, and physical laws are, therefore, viewed by materialists as self-existent.”  Without any mental qualities, these entities have randomly assembled themselves into all that exists.  So there cannot be immaterial realities such as God or the human soul.  Varieties of materialism have been propounded for thousands of years by ancient Greeks such as Democritus as well as makers of modernity such as Thomas Hobbes, Charles Darwin, and Francis Crick.  The materialistic position was succinctly summed up by astronomer Carl Sagan:  “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”

On the contrary, Meyer seeks to demonstrate that:  “The properties of the universe and of life—specifically as they pertain to understanding their origins—are just ‘what we should expect’ if a transcendent and purposive intelligence has acted in the history of life and the cosmos.  Such an intelligence coincides with what human beings have called God, and so I call this story of reversal the return of the God hypothesis” (p. 19).  This “hypothesis” was basic to the development of modern science, as is evident in the works of Copernicus, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton.  Such theistic scientists endeavored to “‘Diligently pursue the physical causes of things, for that’s how science is done; but, at the same time, [recognize that] design is sometimes evident in the whole contrivance one is studying’” (p. 54).  Indeed:  “This tradition attained an almost majestic rhetorical quality in the writings of Newton” (p. 72).  “As he explained: ‘How came the Bodies of Animals to be contrived with so much Art, and for what ends were their several Parts?  Was the Eye contrived without Skill in Opticks, and the Ear without Knowledge of Sounds? . . .  And these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from Phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent?’” (p. 72).  In short:  Meyer’s views are thoroughly in accord with the West’s greatest scientists.

In the 19th century, however, the “theistic science” of Newton et al. was edged aside by the “scientific materialism” now dominating the West.  Influential philosophers such as David Hume and Karl Marx, as well as scientists such as Pierre Laplace and Charles Darwin, worked to eliminate the need for a Creator/Sustainer, so that:  “By the beginning of the twentieth century, science—despite its theistic beginnings—seemed to have no need of the God hypothesis” (p. 99).  

Yet, as the 21st century begins, some of the guiding assumptions of materialism may be crumbling.  By definition, materialism assumes the eternality of the material world—in one mode or another matter has existed and simply circulated from one thing to another, and no Creator is needed to explain it.  However, sophisticated discoveries by astronomers such as Edwin Hubble led to an avalanche of evidence regarding an expanding universe which pointed to an initial, explosive moment of creation, popularly known as the “big bang.”  (This is the first of Meyer’s three scientific discoveries justifying the return of the God hypothesis.)  One of Hubble’s gifted associates, Alan Sandage, an agnostic for much of his life, found the evidence so persuasive that he ultimately changed his mind.  Speaking at a meeting in 1985, “he not only described the astronomical evidence for the beginning of the universe; he shocked many of his colleagues by announcing a recent religious conversion and then explaining how the scientific evidence of a ‘creation event’ had contributed to a profound change in his worldview.  I recall his looking intently at the audience and gravely stating, ‘Here is evidence for what can only be described as a supernatural event. There is no way that this could have been predicted within the realm of physics as we know it.’  As he spoke, he paused between the words ‘super’ and ‘natural,’ saying them separately for emphasis. He went on to explain that ‘science, until recently, has concerned itself not with primary causes but, essentially, with secondary causes.  What has happened in the last fifty years is a remarkable event within astronomy and astrophysics.  By looking up at the sky, some astronomers have come to the belief that there is evidence for a ‘creation event’” (p. 172).  “He continued:  I now have to go from a stance as a complete materialistic rational scientist and say this super natural event, to me, gives at least some credence to my belief that there is some design put in the universe.’”  Still more:  “‘I am convinced that there is some order in the universe.  I think all scientists, at the deepest level, are so startled by what they see in the miraculousness of the inner connection of things in their field . . . that they at least have wondered why it is this way’” (p. 172).

What Sandage and contemporary cosmologists recognize as a point of “singularity” indicates the physical universe came into being from nothing physical!  It was, as Christian theologians have always declared:  “creatio ex nihilo—‘creation out of nothing’ (nothing physical, that is)” (p. 186).  Trying to evade such a possibility, various materialists have proposed alternative theories, including the “many universes” hypothesis.  But quite recently some of the world’s finest physicists have ruled out such options, showing why “all cosmological models in which expansion occurs—including inflationary cosmology, multiverses, and the oscillating and cosmic egg models” cannot evade a creation event.  Indeed, the “evidence for a beginning is now almost unavoidable.  As he [Alexander Vilenkin] explains, ‘With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe.  There is no escape; they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning’” (p. 203).  Indeed, “in the beginning God!”  

The second scientific discovery Meyer discusses is often called the “Goldilocks Universe.”  From every angle of investigation, the universe seems amazingly fine-tuned.  Four fundamental forces underlie all that is:  gravity; electromagnetism; the strong nuclear force; the weak nuclear force.  The slightest difference in any one of these forces would have made the formation of the universe impossible.  Essential chemicals, most especially carbon, need to be precisely what they are in order for anything to be.  Physicist Fred “Hoyle was stunned by these and other ‘cosmic coincidences’ that physicists began to discover after the 1950s.  Whereas before he affirmed atheism and denied any evidence of design, he began to see fine tuning as obvious evidence of intelligent design.  As he put it in 1981, ‘A common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.  The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question’” (p. 218).  Meyer carefully cites the scientists and provides the mathematical data to show that the universe is incredibly fine-tuned, suggesting the Mind of a Maker at work.

The third scientific discovery Meyer explores is the “origin of life and the DNA enigma.”  Monistic materialists, such as Richard Dawkins, tenaciously upheld the dogma that biology is “‘the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose’” (p. 257).”  But the more we know of living things the more it seems they have been meticulously designed by an all-knowing Mind.  One of America’s premier biologists, Dean Kenyon, published a rigorously materialistic textbook, Biochemical Predestination in 1969.  But within a decade he was overwhelmed by the implications of recently discovered realities of DNA and began to question his own positions.   In 1985 he publicly repudiated his earlier theory and “argued that the presence of information in the DNA molecule defied explanation by all current naturalistic theories of the origin of life, not just his own” (p. 263).  The notion that “chance and necessity” would bring living creatures into being appears less and less possible.  Thus “Nobel laureate Christian de Duve, a leading origin-of-life biochemist until his death in 2013, categorically rejected the chance hypothesis precisely because he judged the necessary fortuitous convergence of events implausible in the extreme.  In a memorable passage in his 1995 article ‘The Beginnings of Life on Earth,’ de Duve made explicit the logic by which he rejected the chance hypothesis.  As he put it, ‘A single, freak, highly improbable event can conceivably happen.  Many highly improbable events—drawing a winning lottery number or the distribution of playing cards in a hand of bridge—happen all the time.  But a string of improbable events—drawing the same lottery number twice or the same bridge hand twice in a row—does not happen naturally’” (p. 273).  Nor, says Meyer, could life on earth have happened naturally!  Furthermore,  since the discovery of DNA every materialistic explanation of the information indwelling and shaping biological cells has failed.  

Beyond calling into question the materialistic position on the origin-of-life, Meyer argues Intelligent Design properly explains it.  Drawing upon the notion that new information is a consciously-developed activity, there might be a “way to formulate a rigorous scientific case for intelligent design as an inference to the best explanation—specifically, the best explanation for the origin of biological information.  The creative action of a conscious and intelligent agent clearly represents a known and adequate cause (one ‘now in operation’) for the origin of specified information.  Uniform and repeated experience affirms that intelligent agents can produce large amounts of functional or specified information, whether in software programs, ancient inscriptions, or Shakespearean sonnets. The specified information in the cell also points to intelligent design not just as an adequate explanation, but as the best explanation. Why?  Experience shows that large amounts of specified information invariably originate from an intelligent source.  This is particularly apparent when the information is expressed in a digital or alphabetic form.  A computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind, that of a software engineer.  Similarly, the information in a book or newspaper article ultimately derives from a writer—from a mental, rather than a strictly material, cause” (p. 288).  

In his final chapters, Meyer shows how the these scientific discoveries justify believing the “God hypothesis.”  An Intelligent Being could bring into being all that is, design it meticulously, and create living creatures on planet earth.  The rational process of abduction—inference to the best explanation—makes such belief highly reasonable and persuasive.  Reflecting on his research at Cambridge University, especially devoted to one of its most illustrations professors, Sir Isaac Newton, he thought about “how thinking about science and God had changed since the publication of Newton’s great Principia in 1687, almost exactly three centuries earlier.  In the epilogue to a later edition of that book called ‘The General Scholium’ and in other scientific works, notably the Opticks, Newton articulated a profoundly theological perspective.  Not only did he extol the order and uniformity of nature as a reflection of God’s character and superintending care of creation; he argued for the existence of God based on the design evident in nature—in short, for a God hypothesis” (p. 593).  Newton “also understood that the most fundamental laws of nature either merely describe the observed regularities in nature or they manifest the ‘constant Spirit action’ of a ‘Divine Sustainer’ of the world.  He did not think the laws of physics alone explained the origin of the solar system or, still less, the origin of the universe” (p. 596).  Consequently:  “For Newton, nature not only provided evidential support for belief in God, but his God hypothesis functioned as a hugely productive science starter.  There is no reason to think that updating that hypothesis will threaten scientific advance today. On the contrary, there is good reason to expect that it will inspire deeper interest in discovering more about the intricacy, order, and design of the universe, just as it did for Newton himself” (p. 622).

Though Meyer’s in-depth scientific discussions may challenge general readers, he generally makes his ideas clear and provides personal insights as well as illustrative materials.  To understand how an advocate of Intelligent Design applies his scientific expertise to theological positions, Return of the God Hypothesis is a fine presentation. 

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Richard E. Simmons III worked in the insurance industry for 28 years before establishing The Center for Executive Leadership to help counsel and inspire for businessmen and professionals.  He recently published Reflections On The Existence Of God:  A Series Of Essays (Birmingham, AL:  Union Hill, c. 2019)—a decidedly non-academic, but deeply serious, presentation of reasons to believe there’s a God.   Simmons has been seriously reading and pondering the issue for nearly three decades, so his short chapters (easily read in 10 minutes) reveal his rhetorical gift for popularization.  They usually focus on a significant person, or a quotation, eliciting commentary by the author.  “This book lays out,” he says, “in short essays, much of the evidence for the existence of God that is available.  We should seek to take the evidence offered and use it to make reasonable conclusions.  What you will find is, as the evidence accumulates, it enables us to come to confident conclusions about God. Who He is.  And, that He truly is” (p. 21).

Simmons deals with the importance of seeking truth, resolving the problem of pain and evil, discerning moral principles, finding meaning in life, understanding science, the importance of Jesus and His Resurrection, etc.  Finding atheism irrational and self-contradictory, he endorses the Christian Way.  He hopes to “help people see how a God-centered worldview makes sense of what we see and experience in life.  I have tried to demonstrate that Christianity is logical, non-contradictory, and more fully true to the facts of human existence than atheism.  It clearly leads to a more dignified and compassionate view of human life.  The bottom line: It has greater explanatory power than atheism. The reason for this is because it is true. God exists. When you live in harmony with His design you will experience a coherence to your life, which will help make sense of the world” (p. 219).  That he found it true for himself is clarified in the book’s final pages.  

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In God?  Very Probably:  Five Rational Ways to Think about the Question of a God (Eugene OR:  Cascade Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2015), Robert H. Nelson, an economist and professor at the the School of Public Policy of the University of Maryland, sought to set forth “the record of the recent progress of my thinking, taking me from a long-standing basic agnosticism as recently as about eight years ago to now believing that a god (very probably) exists.”  I’ll examine only two of the “rational ways” he proposes.  

One reason to believe is “The Miracle of Mathematical Order in the Natural World.”  Mathematics, as Plato showed, take form in our minds and seem to inform every aspect of the cosmos.  This mathematical order, guiding physicists in their research, has given birth to an amazing series of discoveries (e.g. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.  In a 1960 article, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,”  Eugene Wigner referred to the miraculous nature of the intricately mathematical laws of nature and of our mental ability to understand them.  No purely naturalistic process, as is expounded by Charles Darwin, can begin to explain this phenomenon.  Centuries earlier, one of the most powerful thinkers in human history, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz—“the smartest person who ever lived,” some think, who co-developed calculus along with Newton—thought similarly.  To him, “all thought has a ‘fundamentally mathematical structure,’ [and] it follows that “God must be a perfect mathematician” (p. 59).

Inasmuch as atheists routinely cite Darwin as their inspiration, Nelson makes a careful study of naturalistic evolution in a chapter entitled “Darwinism as Secular Fundamentalism.”  There’s no doubt the living world constantly changes, or evolves, in many ways, and Darwin’s careful observations are useful in understanding life’s history.  But “to say that ‘evolution exists’ is to say very little, not much more informative than to say that ‘history exists’—a virtual truism” (p. 99).  So too, to say “natural selection” occurs is little more enlightening than to observe wars have helped shape world history.  In fact, Nelson thinks, the updated version of Darwinism (neo-Darwinism) simply lacks empirical confirmation.  It was, as one might say, closer to a matter of Darwinist faith than a demonstrated historical fact” (p. 106).  In fact, it’s significantly different from science—it’s what Mary Midgley says is a ReligionModern secularists, she says, are clearly “evolution-worshippers,” with Life as something akin to a god.  Thinkers such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould wrote shortly before he died, “are the ‘apostles’ of a new secular fundamentalism that was seeking to win converts to ‘the true Darwinian scripture’” (p. 108).

Discounting the new fundamentalism, Nelson exposes its internal self-contradictions, joining legions of logicians who have doubted the Darwinian story.  C.S. Lewis, for example, famously said:  “Naturalism . . . offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behavior; but this account, on inspection, leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends.”  Darwinists routinely claim to have discovered the ultimate “truth” that explains all that lives.  But if they are right, explaining the mechanism of “evolution through natural selection,” they cannot claim to know any durable “truth.”  Yet they dogmatically insist that all beliefs, as well as  all species, continually evolve through the survival of the fittest.  The notion of “fittest” may very well enable it to survive for a time, but all beliefs, like all species, will be replaced by better ones.  “Hence, to believe that Darwinism is ‘true’ leads to the conclusion that it is ‘not true,’ a direct contradiction.  Applying the method of contradiction as widely employed by mathematicians, we can logically then conclude that Darwinism itself is necessarily ‘not true,’ although it may be evolutionarily useful (but we could not know this as a ‘truth’ either).  In order to find real truth in the world, it requires stepping outside the workings of biological evolution, something which for the true-believing Darwinist is impossible” (p. 112).  Importantly, “Darwin himself was aware of this problem,” confessing in 1881, “that ‘with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.  Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?’” (p. 112).

As an eminent economist demanding empirical evidence and employing rigorous logic, Nelson gives readers considerable reason to believe in God.

344 White No Longer or Fault Lines?

When some of my friends informed me the Nazarene Theological Seminary has invited Robert P. Jones, the author of White Too Long:  The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (New York:  Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, c. 2020) to give a series of lectures, I decided to read it and see what he might say.  Jones is the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute and writes regularly for The Atlantic online.  He holds a PhD in religion from Emory University, briefly taught religious studies at Missouri State University, and earlier published The End of White Christian America, which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.  His sequel has  garnered accolades, such as that by Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, who says:  “White Too Long is a rich and astute reflection on the role of white churches in creating and sustaining America’s system of racial caste.  Robert P. Jones features his customary skillful blend of journalism, social science, and commentary, adding splashes of illuminating personal memoir, to explicate how churches perpetuated white supremacy for centuries—and still do.” 

Jones’ thesis is concisely summed up in the book’s epigram, a 1968 statement by James Baldwin:  “I will flatly say that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation.  They have been white, if I may so put it, too long;   they have been married to the lie of white supremacy too long; the effect on their personalities, their lives, their grasp of reality, has been as devastating as the lava which so memorably immobilized the citizens of Pompeii.  They are unable to conceive that their version of reality, which they want me to accept, is an insult to my history and a parody of theirs and an intolerable violation of myself.”  In brief, to Baldwin and Jones:  this nation’s original sin of slavery has so tarnished its history that nothing short of a massive cultural upheaval could redress the past and establish a truly equitable society.  

White Too Long combines copious details regarding Jones’ personal pilgrimage as well as historical anecdotes.  (Indeed, his approach to history is largely a matter of finding illustrations to prove the points he wants to make!  Such, moreover is the method followed by influential writers Robin D’Angelo in White Fragility and fits in nicely with a postmodernist commitment to “narratives” rather than traditional “objective” approaches.)  Reared in a pious Southern Baptist environment in Jackson, Mississippi, Jones followed the path of devotion enjoined by his church—numerous weekly services, revivals and youth camps, daily routines of prayer and Bible study.  Following high school he attended Southwestern Theological Seminary intending to enter the ministry.  In time, however, he became critical of his church, with its focus on personal salvation, and determined to make social justice his vocation, working through his research center.  

He now takes a decidedly jaundiced look at the history of Southern Baptists, a “convention” organized in the 1840s to defend slavery, though he occasionally notes similar developments in Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Catholic churches.  He condemns celebrated Southern Baptist founders, such as Basil Manly, not only for their antebellum activities but also for their prominent roles in supporting the Confederacy, resisting Reconstruction, passing Jim Crow laws, imposing mandatory segregation, and opposing the civil rights movement.  “While the South lost the war, this secessionist religion not only survived but also thrived.  Its powerful role as a religious institution that sacralized white supremacy allowed the Southern Baptist Convention to spread its roots during the late nineteenth century to dominate southern culture.  And by the mid-twentieth century, the SBC ultimately evolved into the single largest Christian denomination in the country, setting the tone for American Christianity overall and Christianity’s influence in public life” (p. 2).  Consequently, white churches have ever led the way in making racism America’s true DNA. 

Today’s evangelicals simply carry on, in more subtle ways, the nation’s pernicious  racism.  To Jones, current efforts of Southern Baptists to address racial issues are basically “the white Christian shuffle.”  Thus Richard Land, a prominent denominational spokesman criticized some Black Lives Matter assertions (bolstered by President Obama) regarding the death of Trayvon Martin.  Then there’s “Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary—the oldest SBC seminary, which was founded in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina, but relocated to Louisville, Kentucky, after the Civil War.  Mohler presents a case study in the limitations of how far even well-intentioned white evangelicals are willing to go to reckon with their white supremacist past” (p. 56).  At times Mohler has spoken boldly about the sinfulness of racism and the need for racial reconciliation, but he ultimately denies “that their legacy requires reparative or costly actions in the present” (p. 56).  Even worse, though Mohler acknowledges the seminary’s founders, James Boyce and John Broadus “served as chaplains for the Confederate army, he also defends them as ‘consummate Christian gentlemen, given the culture of their day’” (p. 58).  

Christians, past or present, Jones suggests, should share his position on things racial or forfeit their claims to the true faith.  Indeed, he wonders if “Christian conceptions of marriage and family, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, or even the concept of having a personal relationship with Jesus developed as they did because they were useful tools for reinforcing white dominance?  Is it possible that the white supremacy heresy is so integrated into white Christian DNA that it eludes even sincere efforts to excise it?” (p. 71).  Anyone wanting to peruse a voluminous litany of evil deeds orchestrated by white American Christians will find in this book an abundant supply.  Should one want to enter the “woke” world of many modern churchmen, this is a useful text.  

What’s lacking is the balanced perspective of thoughtful historians such as Eugene Genovese, whose many scholarly works (not listed in Jones’ bibliography) afford in-depth nuances missing in White No Longer.  The book is, in fact, an excellent illustration of the “anachronistic fallacy” (imposing current ethical standards upon past persons or institutions) succinctly dispatched by David Hackett Fisher in Historians’ Fallacies.  So too, Jones seems to be unwilling to imagine that there is such a thing as “invincible ignorance,” blinding people in certain times and places to what seems virtually self-evident in other eras.              

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In Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe (Washington:  Salem Books, Kindle Edition, c. 2021), Voddie Baucham Jr., casts a critical look at those promoting most versions of  “Critical Social Justice.”  Born in Los Angeles, he was reared by a single mother who “shaped my thinking about who I was and what I was capable of.  She never said or did anything to cause me to believe that my blackness was a curse or a limitation.  She gave me a sense of agency and accountability that remains with me to this day” (p. 14).  Since they lived in a tough neighborhood, she decided to re-locate to Texas, where they found a more healthy environment.  “Not only would I go to high school, college, and seminary in Texas, but it is also where I met and married my wife, welcomed all nine of my children, and started my ministry.  I often say, ‘I am a Californian by birth, but a Texan by the grace of God!’” (p. 15).

Largely because of his mother’s strict discipline, Baucham flourished in high school, excelling academically as well as athletically.  He fully entered into the life of his school, serving as a leader in many organizations and graduating as a Merit Scholar.  Granted a football scholarship to New Mexico State University, he almost instantly became a starting end and enjoyed a successful year.  More importantly, he met a Crusade for Christ representative and began a process of biblical study and philosophical seeking that led him to faith in Christ.  “I believed the Gospel. I repented of my sin.  And God saved me” (p. 24).  Transferring to Rice University in Houston the next year, he continued playing football while pursuing a pre-law program.  He also  he met and married a wonderful woman.  After two years at Rice, feeling a call to ministry, he transferred to Houston Baptist University, joined a Southern Baptist church, and “was welcomed into Southern Baptist life” (p. 30).  A gifted preacher, he was soon speaking all over the country and gaining the attention of prominent Baptist leaders such as Al Mohler.  

He was, however, at that time more black than Baptist!  His early infatuation with Malcolm X and the “black power” movement had prompted him to assume a defiant stance vis-a-vis white America.  Only time, experience and study—particularly the importance of careful exegesis when expounding the Bible—awakened him to the realization that his deep concern for justice actually alienated him from the “social justice warriors” so influential in today’s culture.  In particular, as he looked at the celebrated cases of “injustice” he found folks bearing false witness!  Looking at the celebrated stories of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Baucham found the  Black Lives Matter spokesmen consistently “bearing false witness,” a violation of biblical justice.  

While the issues he addresses appear throughout society, Baucham’s concern is with Evangelicals.  He’s concerned that pastors such as Tim Keller and various denominations have embraced the social justice agenda, while other pastors, such as John MacArthur, and organizations have opposed it.  He’s concerned that the historically “mainline” evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, published “nothing less than a full-throated recitation of the ideology of Critical Race Theory” (p. 127).  And he fears “fault lines” preceding an earthquake are appearing.   As a black Southern Baptist minister, now serving as the dean of the School of Divinity at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia, he brings to the discussion both rich scholarship and personal perspectives making his treatise an important source whereby we may better understand important issues.  “This book is,” he says, “among many things, a plea to the Church. I believe we are being duped by an ideology bent on our demise.  This ideology has used our guilt and shame over America’s past, our love for the brethren, and our good and godly desire for reconciliation and justice as a means through which to introduce destructive heresies.  We cannot embrace, modify, baptize, or Christianize these ideologies.  We must identify, resist, and repudiate them.  We cannot be held hostage through emotional blackmail and name-calling.  Instead, we must ‘see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ’ (Colossians 2:8)” (p. 204).

Of ultimate import, Baucham thinks, is to rightly understand and properly pursue justice.  But there are contentious arguments concerning its true nature.  He has, has “pursued justice my entire Christian life.  Yet I am about as ‘anti–social justice as they come’”  because he thinks “the current concept of social justice is incompatible with biblical Christianity” (p. 5).  Battles are being waged by “two competing worldviews in this current cultural moment.  One is the Critical Social Justice view—which assumes that the world is divided between the oppressors and the oppressed (white, heterosexual males are generally viewed as “the oppressor”).  The other is what I will refer to in these pages as the biblical justice view in order to avoid what I accuse the social-justice crowd of doing, which is immediately casting its opponents as being opposed to justice” (p. 6).  Fault lines have appeared in Evangelicalism, and an earthquake may very well follow.

“At the epicenter of the coming evangelical catastrophe,” Baucham believes, “is a new religion—or, more specifically, a new cult.  While some may consider the term ‘cult’ unnecessarily offensive, it happens to be the most accurate term available to describe the current state of affairs.  John McWhorter was the first observer I am aware of to refer to it as the ‘Cult of Antiracism.’  Others have used similar terms, and I think they are right to do so” (p. 66).  “This new cult has created a new lexicon that has served as scaffolding to support what has become an entire body of divinity.  In the same manner, this new body of divinity comes complete with its own cosmology (CT/CRT/I); original sin (racism); law (antiracism); gospel (racial reconciliation); martyrs (Saints Trayvon, Mike, George, Breonna, etc.); priests (oppressed minorities); means of atonement (reparations); new birth (wokeness); liturgy (lament); canon (CSJ social science); theologians (DiAngelo, Kendi, Brown, Crenshaw, MacIntosh, etc.); and catechism (‘say their names’)” (p. 67).  Missing from the lexicon is soteriology!  That’s because in the antiracist religion there’s no salvation—“only perpetual penance in an effort to battle an incurable disease” (p. 67).

The sin of racism, according to social justice warriors, can be neither forgiven nor eradicated because it’s not tied to  individuals’ beliefs or behaviors.  Rather, it is “systemic,” embedded in the amorphous depths of “society.”  It’s evident in economic or educational inequalities which must be eliminated in order for oppressed groups to get justice.  Whites cannot, as persons, confess or repent of their sin because it’s not really theirs—it’s “institutional” or “structural.”  They cannot pray for God’s forgiveness, nor can they plead the blood of Christ.  Instead they’re “told that they must do the unending work of antiracism. And this work must be done regardless of their own actions since the issue at hand is a matter of communal, generational guilt based on ethnicity” (p. 129).  So, ironically:  “today we have ‘racism without racists’” (p. 85). 

In 2018 Baucham was one of 15 men, recruited by John MacArthur, who drafted the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.  “What came out of that meeting would,” Baucham thinks, “prove to be a pivotal piece of the puzzle in the contemporary discussion of race, ethnicity, and justice inside and outside the Church” (p. 133).  Though the document failed to stimulate the healthy dialogue its signers hoped for, it elicited a response from the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention, which passed a resolution (carefully guided by SBC President J.D. Greear) supporting Critical Race Theory.  The one man who might have persuasively opposed the resolution was Albert Mohler, “the most respected theologian and cultural apologist in the SBC, who has repeatedly repudiated CRT” (p. 149).  But he “didn’t say a word.  Nor could he.”  To do so would have put him in the position of openly opposing a prominent black delegate and given his critics the opportunity to brand him a racist representing the “white supremacist faction” within the SBC.  Subsequently, however, Mohler and the Council of Seminary Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention released a statement repudiating CRT and the convention’s controversial resolution.  While they condemned “racism in any form,” they declared that the “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.”

Baucham supports this critique of CRT because it tries to rectify problems in the black community by blaming whites and demanding reparations of various sorts.  But many blacks such as himself want to challenge their communities to solve their own problems.  Thus many pastors get “standing ovations as they passionately admonish their young members to ‘pull up your pants, get an education, stop dropping babies all over the place, learn to speak proper English, get all that gold out of your mouth.…’  They and their members know that, regardless of what is going on outside the black community, culture matters.  The black family matters.  Education matters.  Decisions and choices matter.  And above all, God’s Word matters” (p. 158).  For example, God’s Word clearly condemns abortion, something generally ignored or carefully nuanced by most social justice proponents.  To Baucham this is a scandal, for the killing of the unborn is devastating the black community.  Christians may genuinely differ when seeking to alleviate poverty or care for immigrants or provide housing for needy families.  But abortion is another matter.  “‘How we will respect and understand the nature of life itself is the overriding moral issue,’” said Jesse Jackson’s in his pro-life days,  “‘not of the black race, but of the human race.’  I could not agree more! That is why I believe the abortion question belongs at the center of any discussion about race and justice” (p. 172).  “Fifteen and a half million black babies have been aborted since 1973.  That means abortion is not only the leading cause of death among black Americans, but it has taken more black lives than heart disease, cancer, accidents, violent crime, and AIDS combined.  Though black women make up less than 13 percent of the population, they account for 35 percent of all abortions.  In major cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, more black babies are aborted than born” (p. 175).  Don’t murder!  Stop killing the innocents!  That’s a fundamental component of living justly.   Yet numbers of “Christians” approve it!  Critical Social Justice spokesmen  rarely condemn it.  Indeed, “access” to it crucial, enabling women to freely choose whether or not to kill the baby.  “‘Abortion is a social justice issue,’ says SafeAbortionWomensRight.org, ‘in that criminalizing, restricting or stigmatising abortion creates barriers that women with unwanted pregnancies face in exercising body autonomy’” (p. 181).

Other than recovering a biblical concept of justice, Bauchan has no easy solutions  to the divisive racial issues we face.  In part this is because he doesn’t believe there is actually a “racial injustice problem.”  He’s encountered racists and acknowledges racism exists.  But he rejects “the idea that America is ‘characterized by racism,’ or that racism is an unavoidable byproduct of our national DNA.  In fact, I believe America is one of the least racist countries in the world” (p. 201).  Christians must realize there’s a war going on, and:  “If white people need to ‘check their privilege,’ then Christians will soon be asked to do the same.  Make no mistake about it—we are under attack” (p. 209).  Inasmuch as the Black Lives Matter “organization is Marxist, revolutionary, feminist, misandrist, pro-LGBTQIA+, pro-abortion, and anti-family, with roots in the occult” (p. 223) make it something Christians should resolutely condemn and oppose. 

In the book’s final chapter, Baucham sets forth a remarkable testimony.  Living in Africa, reflecting upon the tragic history of slavery, he had a moment of clarity and charity.  His ancestors once lived where he now lives, and “for one reason or another, other Africans sold them into slavery—probably after taking them as slaves themselves.  I thought about the horrors of the Middle Passage and the indignities of bondage in America.  I thought about the fact that slavery had robbed me of so much that I didn’t even know which African country my ancestors had come from, let alone which tribe.  Then I thought about the moment at hand, and something switched.  Suddenly, I realized that I had traveled thousands of miles from the place of my ancestors’ oppression to the place of their betrayal.  And for the first time in my life, I forgave.  I didn’t forgive because I was big enough, or a godly enough man.  Nor did I forgive because anybody asked me to. I forgave because I was overcome by the weight and majesty of God’s providence.  By God’s providence, my ancestors survived their ordeal.  By God’s providence, one of their descendants (me) had returned—not as a slave of men, but as a slave of Christ.  By God’s providence, I was born a free man and a citizen of the greatest Republic in the history of mankind.  By God’s providence, I was numbered among the healthiest, freest, most prosperous people (of any race, not just black people) on the planet.  By God’s providence, I had received the best theological education available in the world.  And by God’s providence, He had brought me back to Africa to bless the descendants of the people who sold my ancestors into slavery.  So I forgave.  I forgave the Africans who took my ancestors’ freedom.  I forgave the Americans who bought and exploited them.  . . . .   I just forgave!  I did not harbor any ill will.  I did not feel entitled to any apologies or reparations.  By God’s grace, I recognized that Providence had blessed me beyond my ancestors’ wildest dreams—or my own.  I couldn’t help but remember Joseph’s words: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

In the end, it is forgiveness that will heal our wounds. My hope is not that white Christians can feel sorry enough for their past or that ministries and organizations can dig up and grovel over enough historical dirt.  That is not the powerful, life-changing, world-confounding message of the Gospel.  That is the message of the world” (p. 229).