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The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton: Feb 2008), p. ix, x.
There is a great gulf today between what is popularly known as liberalism and conservatism. Each side demands that you not only disagree with but disdain the other as (at best) crazy or (at worst) evil. This is particularly true when religion is the point at issue. Progressives cry out that fundamentalism is growing rapidly and nonbelief is stigmatized. They point out that politics has turned toward the right, supported by mega-churches and mobilized orthodox believers. Conservatives endlessly denounce what they see as an increasingly skeptical and relativistic society. Major universities, media companies, and elite institutions are heavily secular, they say, and they control the culture. ¶ Which is it? Is skepticism or faith on the ascendancy in the world today? The answer is Yes. The enemies are both right. Skepticism, fear, and anger toward traditional religion are growing in power and influence. But at the same time, robust, orthodox belief in the traditional faiths is growing as well. ... In short, the world is polarizing over religion. It is getting both more religious and less religious at the same time. There was once a confident belief that secular European countries were the harbingers for the rest of the world. Religion, it was thought, would thin out from its more robust, supernaturalist form or die out altogether. But the theory that technological advancements bring inevitable secularization is now being scrapped or radically rethought.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Macmillan: 1909), p. 94
In the conduct of my newspaper I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country. Whenever I was solicited to insert anything of that kind and the writers pleaded, as they generally did, the liberty of the press — and that a newspaper was like a stage-coach, in which any one who would pay had a right to a place — my answer was that I would print the piece separately if desired, and the author might have as many copies as he pleased to distribute himself, but that I would not take upon me to spread his detraction, and that having contracted with my subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining, I could not fill their papers with private altercation, in which they had no concern, without doing them manifest injustice. Now many of our printers make no scruple of gratifying the malice of individuals by false accusations of the fairest characters among ourselves, augmenting animosity even to the producing of duels; and are, moreover, so indiscreet as to print scurrilous reflections on the government of neighboring States, and even on the conduct of our best national allies, which may be attended with the most pernicious consequences. These things I mention as a caution to young printers, and that they may be encouraged not to pollute their presses and disgrace their profession by such infamous practices, but refuse steadily; as they may see by my example that such a course of conduct will not on the whole be injurious to their interests.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Macmillan: 1909), pp. 88-89.
My list of virtues contained at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud, that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation, that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing and rather insolent, of which he convinced me by mentioning several instances, I determined to endeavor to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest; and I added humility to my list, giving an extensive meaning to the word. ¶ I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion; such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted instead of them, I conceive, I comprehend, or I imagine, a thing to be so or so; or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but that in the present case there "appeared" or "seemed to me" some difference, etc. The conversation I engaged in went on more pleasantly; the modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevailed with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.
Thomas Carlyle on Irony said...
Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh, in Three Books (AMS Library: 1969), pp. 104-105.
Often, notwithstanding, was I blamed for my so-called Hardness, my Indifferentism towards men; and the seemingly ironic tone I had adopted, as my favorite dialect in conversation. Alas, the panoply of Sarcasm was but a buckram case, wherein I had striven to envelope myself; that so my own poor Person might live safe there, and in all friendliness, being no longer exasperated by wounds. Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it. But how many individuals did I, in those days, provoke into some degree of hostility thereby! An ironic man, with his sly stillness, and ambuscading ways, more especially a young ironic man, from whom it is least expected, may be viewed as a pest to society.
Atheist Delusions (Yale University Press: 2009), pp. 33-34.
Hence modernity’s first great attempt to define itself: an 'age of reason' emerging from and overthrowing an 'age of faith'. Behind this definition lay a simple but thoroughly enchanting tale. Once upon a time, it went, Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma. All was darkness. ¶ Then, in the wake of the ‘wars of religion’ that had torn Christendom apart, came the full flowing of the Enlightenment and with it the reign of reason and progress. The secular nation-state arose, reduced religion to an establishment of the state and thereby rescued Western humanity from the blood-steeped intolerance of religion. ¶ This is, as I say, a simple and enchanting tale, easily followed and utterly captivating in its explanatory tidiness; its sole defect is that it happens to be false in every identifiable detail. This tale of the birth of the modern world has largely disappeared from respectable academic literature and survives now principally at the level of folklore, 'intellectual journalism,' and vulgar legend.
"The Value of Historical Theology", in Sundoulos, Fall Issue, 2009 (Talbot: 2009), p. 7.
Leopold Von Ranke's famous maxim that the historian's task is to "tell it like it was" may be ridiculed by those who doubt the possibility or even the desirability of objective history, but I believe Von Ranke was fundamentally correct. In the case of intellectual history, this involves understanding a thinker on his or her own terms, in his or her own context. It is coming to grips with a document's meaning and penetrating what underlies the arguments being advanced. It is no about rehabilitating or castigating those long dead, but about grasping objectively what is being said and why. ¶ While objectivity is the historian's goal, this does not mean that the historian is void of personal commitments, or that he or she must remain neutral as to the truth or falsity of the positions under consideration. The point is simply that history qua history is not about passing such judgments but is merely about getting the story straight, however the chips may fall. It is only after the position has been understood on its own terms and without bias that the historian may turn to evaluation and employ the fruits of his or her discovery in polemical or other theological application. But at that point we've moved beyond the historical task simpliciter and into something else — something wonderfully valuable and necessary, perhaps, but something different nonetheless.
"Christianity's Despicable History" on the CPXtra blog at PublicChristianity.com (Oct 31, 2009).
Christians have to acknowledge just how serious is the complaint today that the church acted despicably throughout its history. This is not just a Roman Catholic problem, with their Crusades and Inquisitions. Protestants have their own dark history. Martin Luther, the German founder of Protestantism, wrote the most awful things about European Jews in his 1543 tract “The Jews and Their Lies”. John Calvin, the founder of the Reformed tradition and one of my favourite theologians, was brutal in his treatment of heretics like Michael Servetus, whom he had executed in 1553. The case is serious. But there is also something wrong with most modern versions of the complaint. First, retellings of the evils of Christianity frequently involve gross exaggerations in popular discussion. This is the product of an unnoticed propaganda. ... [E]very new era retells the past in a way that elevates its own position as the great deliverer, the bringer of special freedoms; and that necessarily requires exaggerating, even lying, about the horrors of the past. We do this on a small scale when we talk about the moralism of the 1950s or the prudishness of Victorian England. It happened on a macro scale in the 18th-19th centuries ... when Enlightenment leaders popularised the expression 'Dark Ages'. Here was an attempt to describe the era of Christendom as an era of oppression, ignorance and violence, as opposed to the era of freedom and peace brought about by secular reason. No serious historian today could go along with this story. ... I ... ask readers to contemplate an important insight. Experts aside, most of us have picked up our knowledge of the Crusades, the Inquisitions and other horrors of Christendom from sources other than respectable academic literature. Is it not possible that we have simply accepted mere propaganda as fact?
"The War Universe", taped conversation, first published in Grand Street, no. 37.
This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games. All games are basically hostile. Winners and losers. We see them all around us: the winners and the losers. The losers can oftentimes become winners, and the winners can very easily become losers.
"Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Health Care" (Sep 9, 2009).
You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, and the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter — that at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.
Dennis Prager on the Nanny State said...
The Dennis Prager Show (September 1, 2009), Hour Three.
A thirty year old who is still relying on mom and dad, it's not a good sign right? So why is a society relying on government a good sign? Tell me the difference between relying on your parents as an adult and relying on the government as an adult? ... If you knew somebody were forty, and on virtually every major financial debt of their life they could turn to their parents, you would think that this is a person who has not grown up. Well, why if you turn to the government are you grown up? What is the difference between nanny-family and nanny-state? This is one of the many reasons that all the founders — especially Jefferson — were so adamant about keeping government small, their belief that humans needed to work out their lives for themselves. Everybody believes that there are a number of individuals who clearly have been hit by such tragedy that the state must come in if nothing else works. And we want other things to work.
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