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Society and Culture

George Will on the Inability to Blush

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Rock music has become a plague of messages about sexual promiscuity, bisexuality, incest, sado-masochism, satanism, drug use, alcohol abuse and constantly, misogyny. The lyrics regarding these things are celebratory, encouraging or at least desensitizing. By making these subjects the common currency of popular entertainment, the lyrics drain the subjects of their power to shock – their power to make people blush. The concern is less that children will emulate the frenzied behavior described in porn rock than that they will succumb to the lassitude of the demoralized – literally, the de-moralized.

Habits of the Heart

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Habits of the Heart is required reading for anyone who wants to understand how religion contributes to and detracts from America’s common good. Describes the social significance of faiths ranging from "Sheilaism" (practiced by a California nurse named Sheila) to conservative Christianity. It’s thoroughly readable, theologically respectful, and academically irreproachable. ~ Michael Joseph Gross • First published in 1985, Habits of the Heart continues to be one of the most discussed interpretations of modern American society, a quest for a democratic community that draws on our diverse civic and religious traditions. In a new preface the authors relate the arguments of the book both to the current realities of American society and to the growing debate about the country’s future. With this new edition one of the most influential books of recent times takes on a new immediacy.

Sproul, Gerstner, Lindsley on the Public Square

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The church is safe from vicious persecution at the hand of the secularist, as educated people have finished with stake-burning circuses and torture racks. No martyr’s blood is shed in the secular west. So long as the church knows her place and remains quietly at peace on her modern reservation. Let the babes pray and sin and read their Bibles, continuing steadfastly in their intellectual retardation; the church’s extinction will not come by sword or pillory, but by the
quiet death of irrelevance. But let the church step off the reservation, let her penetrate once more the culture of the day and the … face of secularism will change from a benign smile to a savage snarl.

John Stott on Christian Counter-Culture

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Instead of always being one of the chief bastions of the social status quo, the Church is to develop a Christian counter-culture with its own distinctive goals, values, standards, and lifestyle — a realistic alternative to the contemporary technocracy which is marked by bondage, materialism, self-centredness, and greed. Christ’s call to obedience is a call to be different, not conformist. Such a Church — joyful, obedient, loving, and free — will do more than please God: it will attract the world. It is when the Church evidently is the Church, and is living a supernatural life of love by the power of the Holy Spirit, that the world will believe.

Francis A. Schaeffer on Anti-Intellectualism

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Where was the conviction that to wage war against inequality is the church’s responsibility and not a political ideology? Where were those farsighted believers who could offer a voice of reason and hope to the task? Where was the manpower and funding to carry out this visible love of Christ? Why do we always settle for hindsight instead of foresight, reproducing instead of originating, getting on the bandwagon instead of leading the charge? Because a spirit of anti-intellectualism keeps us uninformed we can only attack and not contribute.

The Abolition of Man

Go C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man purports to be a book specifically about public education, but its central concerns are broadly political, religious, and philosophical. In the best of the book's three essays, "Men Without Chests," Lewis trains his laser-sharp wit on a mid- century English high school text, considering the ramifications of teaching British students to believe in idle relativism, and to reject "the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kinds of things we are." Lewis calls this doctrine the "Tao," and he spends much of the book explaining why society needs a sense of objective values. The Abolition of Man speaks with astonishing freshness to contemporary debates about morality. ~ Amazon.com

Francis A. Schaeffer on Anti-Intellectualism

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Where was the conviction that to wage war against inequality is the church’s responsibility and not a political ideology? Where were those farsighted believers who could offer a voice of reason and hope to the task? Where was the manpower and funding to carry out this visible love of Christ? Why do we always settle for hindsight instead of foresight, reproducing instead of originating, getting on the bandwagon instead of leading the charge? Because a spirit of anti-intellectualism keeps us uninformed we can only attack and not contribute.

C.S. Lewis on Loving Books

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One other thing that Arthur taught me was to love the bodies of books. I had always respected them. My brother and I might cut up a stepladder without scruple; to have thumb-marked or dog’s-eared a book would have filled us with shame. But Arthur did not merely respect, he was enamored; and soon, I too. The set up of the page, the feel and smell of the paper, the differing sounds that different papers make as you turn the leaves, became sensuous delights. This revealed to me a flaw in Kirk. How often have I shuddered when he took a new classical text of mine in his gardener’s hands, bent back the boards till they
creaked, and left his sign on every page.

C.S. Lewis on Newspapers

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Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be seen before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.

Miguel de Unamuno on Renouncing Versus Engaging

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Instead of renouncing the world in order that we may dominate it … what we ought to do is to dominate the world in order that we may be able to renounce it. Not to seek poverty and submission, but to seek wealth in order that we may use it to increase human consciousness, and to seek power for the same end. ¶ It is curious that monks and anarchists should be at enmity with each other, when fundamentally they both profess the same ethic and are related by close ties of kinship. Anarchism tend to become a kind of atheistic monachism and a religious, rather than an ethical enconomico-social, doctrine. The one party starts from the assumption that man is naturally evil, born in original sin, and that it is through grace that he becomes good, if indeed he ever does become good; and the other from the assumption that man is naturally good and is subsequently perverted by society. And these two theories really amount to the same thing, for in both the individual is opposed to society, as if the individual had preceded society and therefore were destined to survive it. And both ethics are ethics of the cloister.

The Christian Register on Being Truly Loyal to One’s Heritage

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The people who have the deepest reason to be loyal to this country in its conflict with the powers of darkness abroad are the Americans of German descent who had previously espoused the cause of their Fatherland. Their piety has been dishonored, their confidence has been abused, their defence has been discredited, and their faith has been undermined. They had a reverence for what was great and noble in the land of their fathers; they refused to believe in the reports of baseness; above all, did it seem absurd to suppose that the people whose kindness and truth they knew, could be guilty of the immeasurable savagery and unlimited falseness with which they were charged. It has all been abundantly proved; the half has never been told. The details of treachery which have lately been exposed, of insidious hypocrisy on the part of her highest representatives, sicken the mind and make faith in human nature tremble. To find one’s highest and surest trusts crumbling to dust blown by the wind to discover illusion in the greatest certainty, is reason for turning right about face. Germans most of all will profit by the restoration of truth and good will in their government.

Emma Goldman on Love and Marriage

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The institution of marriage makes a parasite of woman, an absolute dependent. It incapacitates her for life’s struggle, annihilates her social consciousness, paralyzes her imagination, and then imposes its gracious protection, which is in reality a snare, a travesty on human character. Love, the strongest and deepest element in all lives, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?

J. Gresham Machen on Tackling Ideas at the Source

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Now it is perfectly true that men must be brought to Christ one by one. There are no labor-saving devices in evangelism. It is all hand-work. An yet it would be a great mistake to suppose that all men are equally well prepared to receive the gospel. It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resisters force of logic, prevent christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root. Many would have the seminaries combat error by attacking it as it is taught by its popular exponents. Instead of that they confuse their students with a lot of German names unknown outside the walls of the universities. That method of procedure is based simply upon a profound belief in the pervasiveness of ideas. What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mold the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.

G.K. Chesterton on Tradition

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Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.

Arthur Schopenhauer on Sex Disturbing Everything

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The sexual impulse in all its degrees and nuances plays not only on the stage and in novels, but also in the real world, where, next to the love of life, it shows itself the strongest and most powerful of motives, constantly lays claim to half the powers and thoughts of the younger portion of mankind, to the ultimate goal of almost all human efforts, interrupts the most serious occupations every hour, sometimes embarrasses for a while even the greatest minds, does not hesitate to intrude with its trash, interfering with the negotiations of statesmen and the investigations of men of learning, knows how to slip its love letters and locks of hair even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts, and no less devises daily the most entangled and the worst actions, destroys the most valuable relationships, breaks the firmest bonds, demands the sacrifice sometimes of life or health, sometimes of wealth, rank, and happiness, nay, robs those who are otherwise honest of all conscience, makes those who have hitherto been faithful, traitors; accordingly on the whole, appears as a malevolent demon that strives to pervert, confuse and overthrow everything; — then one will be forced to cry, Wherefore all this noise? Wherefore the straining and storming, the anxiety and want? It is merely a question of every Hans finding his Goethe. Why should such a trifle play so important a part, and constantly introduce disturbance and confusion into the well-regulated life of man?

[Editor: Schopenahauer goes on to answer his own question — why all the straining and storming? — saying that sex is what determines each successive generation, and that is of the highest consequence.]

Vincent van Gogh on Marrying To Protect

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Last winter I met a pregnant woman [Sien], deserted by the man whose child she carried. A pregnant woman who had to walk the streets in winter, had to earn her bread, you understand how. I took this woman for a model, and have worked with her all winter. I could not pay her the full wages of a model, but that did not prevent my paying her rent, and thank God, so far I have been able to protect her and her child from hunger and cold by sharing my own bread with her. It seems to me that every man worth a straw would have done the same in such a case. What I did was so simple and natural that I thought I could keep it to myself. Posing was very difficult for her, but she has learned; I have made progress in my drawing because I had a good model. The woman is now attached to me like a tame dove. For my part, I can only marry once, and how can I do better than marry her? It is the only way to help her; otherwise misery would force her back into her old ways which end in a precipice.

Edmund Burke on Lost Chivalry

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It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in, — glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendor, and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream that, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. — But the age of chivalry is gone. — That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprize is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.

David Hume on Freedom of the Press

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It is a very comfortable reflection to the lovers of liberty, that this peculiar privilege of Britain is of a kind that cannot easily be wrested from us, but must last as long as our government remains, in any degree, free and independent. It is seldom, that liberty of any kind is lost all at once. Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom, that it must steal upon them by degrees, and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes, in order to be received. But, if the liberty of the press ever be lost, it must be lost at once. The general laws against sedition and libelling are at present as strong as they possibly can be made. Nothing can impose a farther restraint, but either the clapping an Imprimatur upon the press, or the giving to the court very large discretionary powers to punish whatever displeases them. But these concessions would be such a bare-faced violation of liberty, that they will probably be the last efforts of a despotic government. We may conclude, that the liberty of Britain is gone for ever when these attempts shall succeed.

David Hume on Empathy and the Bandwagon Effect

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No quality of human nature is more remarkable, both in itself and in its consequences, than that propensity we have to sympathize with others, and to receive by communication their inclinations and sentiments, however different from, or even contrary to our own. This is not only conspicuous in children, who implicitly embrace every opinion propos’d to them; but also in men of the greatest judgment and understanding, who find it very difficult to follow their own reason or inclination, in opposition to that of their friends and daily companions. To this principle we ought to ascribe the great uniformity we may observe in the humours and turn of thinking of those of the same nation; and ’tis much more probable, that this resemblance arises from sympathy, than from any influence of the soil and climate, which, tho’ they continue invariably the same, are not able to preserve the character of a nation the same for a century together. A good-natur’d man finds himself in an instant of the same humour with his company; and even the proudest and most surly take a tincture from their countrymen and acquaintance. A chearful countenance infuses a sensible complacency and serenity into my mind; as an angry or sorrowful one throws a sudden dump upon me. Hatred, resentment, esteem, love, courage, mirth and melancholy; all these passions I feel more from communication than from my own natural temper and disposition. So remarkable a phaenomenon merits our attention, and must be trac’d up to its first principles.

Lao-tzu on Being a Great Power

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When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.