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Being Human

Geddes MacGregor on Belief in an Afterlife

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Here we must stress a paradox to which we cannot, I think, direct our attention too closely; theoretically one might have imagined — and this indeed was what many people did in the nineteenth century — that as soon as the majority of men in a given society ceased to believe in an afterlife, life in this world would be more and more lovingly taken
care of and would become the object of an increased regard. What has happened is something quite different, the very opposite in fact: this cannot, I think, be overemphasized. Life in this world has become more and more widely looked upon as a sort of worthless phenomenon, devoid of any intrinsic justification, and as thereby subject to countless interferences which in a different metaphysical context would have been considered sacrilegious.

Roger Ebert on Sex and Guilt

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That era is as long dead as the time when Indiana barbers kept the Police Gazette at the bottom of their towel drawers. We live in an age so compulsively permissive that I sometimes wonder whether anyone under 21 would know a forbidden thrill if he felt one. Norman Mailer was on the right track in “The Armies of the Night” when he protested against those who would remove the guilt from sex: Without guilt, he wrote, sex would lose half the fun.

Helen Gardner on Withdrawal from the World

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The mystical conception, fundamental in the great religions of the East, of the soul as imprisoned in matter, and of redemption as salvation and escape from the world of time and the flesh, is incompatible with the sense that all our experience in this world has value and meaning which would seem to inspire the tragic poet… Religions which preach withdrawal from the world of human action, and train the human spirit in detachment from its fellows, teaching it to aspire towards ‘the flight of the Alone to the Alone’, or to the bliss of Nirvana, put aside the tragic question, and will not inspire artists to find meaning in human life in its short course in this world of illusions.

William Henry Channing on the Crucifixion

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To view the crucifixion of Christ aright, as an objective fact of the world’s history, we should regard it as an act of the race, considered as an individual. Alas, for poor humanity! It had gone so far astray from its Creator, that it could not recognise Him even when He came to its every affection and faculty, in the human form of tenderest sympathy, of kindest, most patient instruction, of long suffering even unto death. The very light that was in it was darkness; for in the name of God it was, that it blasphemed and laid murderous hands on the perfect manifestation of the Divine in human life. Such was the crucifixion in the world’s history. And in the history of every individual, is there not precisely the same crucifixion of Christ? Is it not universal experience, that, by reason of the darkness that is in us while we are realising our own individuality, we reject, and misconceive, blaspheme, and attempt to destroy some principle which would lead us into life? He who is not conscious of some degree of this, has not lived to know himself.

C.S. Lewis on a Universe With No Exit

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There was one way in which the world, as … rationalism taught me to see it, gratified my wishes. It might be grim and deadly but at least it was free from the Christian God. Some people (not all) will find it hard to understand why this seemed to me such an overwhelming advantage… I was, as you may remember, one whose negative demands were more violent than his positive, far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and feeling it something of an outrage that I had been created without my own permission. To such a craven the materialist’s universe had the enormous attraction that it offered you limited liabilities. No strictly infinite disaster could overtake you in it. Death ended all. And if ever finite disaster proved greater than one wished to bear suicide would always be possible. The horror of the Christian universe was that it had no door marked Exit.

J.R.R. Tolkien on Fairy-Stories

Go The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many question, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.

What’s Wrong With the World

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This book is a dandy — a little social commentary full of Chesterton’s ever-so-fun-and-clever humor and incredible way of making you realize that the ways in which we humans think is often the exact opposite of what we ought to think. The content is, I suppose, a bit dated… it is intended for the turn-of-the-century (the last turn, not this one) English reader; as such, issues such as women’s suffrage might appear to be entirely culturally irrelevant. If read in its historical context, however, it can function both as a history lesson and poignant (in its time) social commentary. And, needless to say, as with all truly good observations about something in the past, there is a good deal which is extremely pertinent to the current social condition… even in those things that might appear outmoded. A good read. ~ Fred Schultz

James Kavanaugh on the Seekers

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I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know — unless it be to share our laughter. ¶ We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love. ¶ For wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves.

Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith

Go If this is, as Chesterton called it, a "slovenly autobiography," then we need more slobs in the world. This quirky, slender book describes how Chesterton came to view orthodox Catholic Christianity as the way to satisfy his personal emotional needs in a way that would also allow him to live happily in society. Chesterton argues that people in western society need a life of "practical romance, the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome." Drawing on such figures as Fra Angelico, George Bernard Shaw, and St. Paul to make his points, Chesterton argues that submission to ecclesiastical authority is the way to achieve a good and balanced life. The whole book is written in a style that is as majestic and down-to-earth as C.S. Lewis at his best. The final chapter, called "Authority and the Adventurer," is especially persuasive. It's hard to imagine a reader who will not close the book believing, at least for the moment, that the Church will make you free. ~ Michael Joseph Gross

Truth and Ontology

Go That there are no white ravens is true because there are no white ravens. And so there is a sense in which that truth "depends on the world." But this sort of dependence is trivial. After all, it does not imply that there is anything that is that truth's "truthmaker." Nor does it imply that something exists to which that truth corresponds. Nor does it imply that there are properties whose exemplification grounds that truth. Trenton Merricks explores whether and how truth depends substantively on the world or on things or on being. And he takes a careful look at philosophical debates concerning, among other things, modality, time, and dispositions. He looks at these debates because any account of truth's substantive dependence on being has implications for them. And these debates likewise have implications for how and whether truth depends on being. Along the way, Merricks makes a number of new points about each of these debates that are of independent interest, of interest apart from the question of truth's dependence on being. Truth and Ontology concludes that some truths do not depend on being in any substantive way at all. One result of this conclusion is that it is a mistake to oppose a philosophical theory merely because it violates truth's alleged substantive dependence on being. Another result is that the correspondence theory of truth is false and, more generally, that truth itself is not a relation of any sort between truth-bearers and that which "makes them true." ~ Book Description

Humanity

Go English ethicist Jonathan Glover begins with the now commonplace observation that the last 100 years were perhaps the most brutal in all history. But the problem wasn't that human nature suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse: "It is a myth that barbarism is unique to the twentieth century: the whole of human history includes wars, massacres, and every kind of torture and cruelty," he writes. Technology has made a huge difference, but psychology has remained the same — and this is what Glover seeks to examine, through discussions of Nietzsche, the My Lai atrocity in Vietnam, Hiroshima, tribal genocide in Rwanda, Stalinism, Nazism, and so on. There is much history here, but Humanity is fundamentally a book of philosophy. In his first chapter, for instance, Glover announces his goal "to replace the thin, mechanical psychology of the Enlightenment with something more complex, something closer to reality." But he also seeks "to defend the Enlightenment hope of a world that is more peaceful and more humane, the hope that by understanding more about ourselves we can do something to create a world with less misery." The result is an odd combination of darkness and light — darkness because the subject matter of the 20th century's moral failings is so bleak, light because of Glover's earnest optimism, which insists that "keeping the past alive may help to prevent atrocities".

Truth and Truth-Making

Go Truth depends in some sense on reality. But it is a rather delicate matter to spell this intuition out in a plausible and precise way. According to the theory of truth-making this intuition implies that either every truth or at least every truth of a certain class of truths has a so-called truth-maker, an entity whose existence accounts for truth. This book aims to provide several ways of assessing the correctness of this controversial claim. This book presents a detailed introduction to the theory of truth-making, which outlines truth-maker relations, the ontological category of truth-making entities, and the scope of a truth-maker theory. The essays brought together here represent the most important articles on truth-making in the last three decades as well as new essays by leading researchers in the field of the theory of truth and of truth-making. ~ Book Description

Can Faiths Make Peace?

Go It is often alleged that religion is a major cause of war and dissent. History is littered with the wreckage of religious conflict, from the crusades onwards, and it is frequently maintained that it is religion which is the tinderbox that ignites so many regional disputes - from Bosnia's ethnic cleansing to the ongoing conflict in Iraq. If religion is on trial, the evidence against it so often seems damning. But is the picture really as grim as has been painted? Very little is heard in defence of religion and few attempts have been made to put the other side of the case. The essays in this volume are among the first systematically to explore the role of religion as a force for peace, both historically and in the contemporary world. They focus on the efforts that have been made by individuals, communities and religious groups to secure conflict-resolution and replace hostility with tolerance and mutual respect. Specific topics explored include: nationalism and religious conflict; revolution and religious wars; the impact of secularisation; ethnicity and religion; conflict over holy places; and making and keeping the peace. ~ Product Description

Reforming Theological Anthropology

Go With the profound changes in today's intellectual and scientific landscape, traditional ways of speaking about human nature, sin, and the image of God have lost their explanatory power. In this volume F.LeRonShults explores the challenges to and opportunities for rethinking currentreligious views of humankind in contemporary Western culture. From philosophy to theology, from physics to psychology, we find aturn to the categories of "relationality." Shults briefly traces this historyfrom Aristotle to Levinas, showing its impact on the Christian doctrine ofanthropology, and he argues that the biblical understanding of humanity has much to contribute to today's dialogue on persons and on humanbecoming in relation to God and others. Shults's work stands as a potenteffort to reform theological anthropology in a way that restores its relevance to contemporary interpretations of the world and our place in it. ~ Product Description

Dallas Willard on Finitude and Adultery

Go Intimacy is the mutual mingling of souls who are taking each other into themselves to ever increasing depths. The truly erotic is the mingling of souls. Because we are free beings, intimacy cannot be passive or forced. And because we are extremely finite, it must be exclusive. This is the metaphysical and spiritual reality that underlies the bitter violation of self experienced by the betrayed mate. It also makes clear the scarred and shallow condition of those who betray. ¶ The profound misunderstandings of the erotic that prevail today actually represent the inability of humanity in its current Western edition to give itself to others and receive them in abiding faithfulness. Personal relationship has been emptied out to the point where intimacy is impossible. Quite naturally, then, we say, "Why not?" when contemplating adultery. If there is nothing there to be broken, why worry about breaking it? ¶ One of the most telling things about contemporary human beings is that they cannot find a reason for not committing adultery. Yet intimacy is a spiritual hunger of the human soul, and we cannot escape it. This has always been true and remains true today. We now keep hammering the sex button in the hope that a little intimacy might finally dribble out. In vain.

Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right

Go Harry G. Frankfurt begins these lectures by asking, "What is it about human beings that makes it possible for us to take ourselves seriously?" Based on the Tanner Lectures in Moral Philosophy, Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right delves into this provocative and original question. The author maintains that taking ourselves seriously presupposes an inward-directed, reflexive oversight that enables us to focus our attention directly upon ourselves, and "it means that we are not prepared to accept ourselves just as we come. We want our thoughts, our feelings, our choices, and our behavior to make sense. We are not satisfied to think that our ideas are formed haphazardly, or that our actions are driven by transient and opaque impulses or by mindless decisions. We need to direct ourselves — or at any rate to believe that we are directing ourselves — in thoughtful conformity to stable and appropriate norms. We want to get things right." The essays delineate two features that have a critical role to play in this: our rationality, and our ability to love. Frankfurt incisively explores the roles of reason and of love in our active lives, and considers the relation between these two motivating forces of our actions. The argument is that the authority of practical reason is less fundamental than the authority of love. Love, as the author defines it, is a volitional matter, that is, it consists in what we are actually committed to caring about. Frankfurt adds that "The object of love can be almost anything — a life, a quality of experience, a person, a group, a moral ideal, a tradition, whatever." However, these objects and ideals are difficult to comprehend and often in conflict with each other. Moral principles play an important supporting role in this process as they help us develop and elucidate a vision that inspires our love. ~ Product Description

Is Christianity Good for the World?

Go This book reproduces an insightful and spirited recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson over what Dostoevsky called the Eternal Questions: What is the real nature of the universe in which we find ourselves? What are the ultimate bases of reason and ethics? Are there any ultimate sanctions governing human behavior? Though Hitchens is always worth reading for his quick wit and frequently surprising arguments, unfortunately in this debate he does not come off at his best. While graciously conceding that Hitchens has clean hands, Wilson wielding a very fine knife shows that Hitchens, sad to say, doesn't have any hands to begin with. Hitchens is of the view that the universe is the accidental consequence of swirling particles, claiming that his reason has led him to this conclusion. Wilson, in the style of C.S.Lewis, points out that if the world outside Hitchen's head is given over wholly to such irrational chemical processes, the world inside Hitchens' head can be no differently composed, and that what Hitchens refers to as "rational argument" has been "arbitrarily dubbed" so. ~ Stanley H. Nemeth

Miracles

Go This book by CS Lewis was probably his most philosophical work. As such, it is not a light read at all and would probably prove difficult for beginners who have not been exposed to heavily philosophical material. But for those who want a highly intellectual philosophical discussion of the possibility of miracles, this book is certainly worthy of one's attention. There are a number of strengths to this book which continue to make the book solidly relevant better than forty years after the revised edition came out. Lewis cuts to the heart of the matter very quickly in asserting that rejection of miracles apriori is a common attitude that at its core, is anti-intellectual. Attempts to base rejection of miracles on probabilities, as Hume tried to do, are philosophically untenable and require a betrayal of basic realities that are universally accepted. Lewis then systematically dismantles the worldview that tends to most cradle apriori miracle rejection, naturalism. He compellingly shows that naturalism is a worldview that cannot stand up to philosophical scrutiny. Key to Lewis's presentation is his argument that naturalism can be demonstrated to be false in its complete rejection of supernaturalism merely by the reality of reason. Logic and reason of the mind, by themselves, are supernatural acts that cannot be explained or accounted for in nature, as naturalism demands. Supernaturalism, according to Lewis is not only possible, but pervasive since the act of logical thinking itself is supernatural in origin. ~ J.F. Foster at Amazon.com

The Image of God

Go When Ric Ergenbright began his travel career, his passion was seeing and photographing the differences between the world’s cultures. But time and experience showed him that human societies are more alike than not. People everywhere laugh when they are happy, cry when they are hurt, and ask the same "big" questions about life. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? Does God exist? Is there life after death? How then should I live? In Psalm 8, King David asks the question of the ages: "What is man?" How we answer this all-encompassing question determines how we live as individuals and societies, because our perspective of people, nature, and God is founded on our perception of man. It defines our understanding and expression of love; it governs our rule over the natural world; and it reveals the deity that we worship and serve. From the beginning, God has communicated His truth to man through images and stories of real-life events. Following this example, Ric Ergenbright combines current-day photographs of the worldwide family of man with the historical narrative of man’s creation, fall, and redemption to illustrate the eternal relevance and life-changing power of this story, which is for all people of all nations.

Francis A. Schaeffer on a Placebo God

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A man like Sir Julian Huxley has clarified the dilemma by acknowledging, though he is an atheist, that somehow or other, against all that one might expect, man functions better if he acts as though God is there. This sounds like a feasible solution for a moment, the kind of answer a computer might give if you fed the sociological data into it. God is dead, but act as if he were alive. However, a moment’s reflection will show what a terrible solution this is. Ibsen, the Norwegian, put it like this: if you take away a man’s lie, you take away his hope. These thinkers are saying in effect that man can function as man for an extended period of time only if he acts on the assumption that a lie (that the personal God of Christianity is there) is true. You cannot find any deeper despair than this for a sensitive person. This is not an optimistic, happy, reasonable or brilliant answer. It is darkness and death.

Francis A. Schaeffer on Homosexuality and Antithesis

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Some forms of homosexuality today are of a similar nature, in that they are not just homosexuality but a philosophic expression. One must have understanding for the real homophile’s problem. But much modern homosexuality is an expression of the current denial of antithesis. It has led in this case to an obliteration of the distinction between man and woman. So the male and the female as complementary partners are finished. This is a form of homosexuality which is a part of the movement below the line of despair. In much of modern thinking all antithesis and all the order of God’s creation is to be fought against — including the male-female distinctions. The pressure toward unisex is largely rooted here.

Francis A. Schaeffer on Humanity

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Anyone with sensitivity and concern for the world can see that man is in a great dilemma. Man is able both to rise to great heights and to sink to great depths of cruelty and tragedy. Modern man is desperately struggling with the concept of man in his dilemma.

Francis A. Schaeffer on Human Free Will

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The historic Christian position is that man’s dilemma has a moral cause. God, being nondetermined, created man as a nondetermined person. This is a difficult idea for anyone thinking in twentieth-century terms because most twentieth-century thinking sees man as determined. He is determined either by chemical factors, as the Marquis de Sade held and Francis Crick is trying to prove, or by psychological factors, as Freud and others have suggested, or by sociological factors, such as B.F. Skinner holds. In these cases, or as a result of a fusion of them, man is considered to be programmed. If this is the case, then man is not the tremendous thing the Bible says he is, made in the image of God as a personality who can make a free first choice. Because God created a true universe outside of himself (or as an extension of his essence), there is a true history which exists, man as created in God’s image is therefore a significant man in a significant history, who can choose to obey the commandments of God and love him, or revolt against him.

Francis A. Schaeffer on Grace Alone

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We do not need to bear our guilt, nor do we even have to merit the merit of Christ. He does it all. So in one way it is the easiest religion in the world. But now we can turn that over because it is the hardest religion in the world for the same reason. The heart of the rebellion of Satan and man was the desire to be autonomous; and accepting the Christian faith robs us not of our existence, not of our worth (it give us our worth), but it robs us completely of being autonomous. We did not make ourselves, we are not a product of chance, we are none of these things; we stand there before a Creator plus nothing, we stand before the Savior plus nothing — it is a complete denial of being autonomous. Whether it is conscious or unconscious (and in them most brilliant people it is occasionally conscious), when they see the sufficiency of the answers on their own level, they suddenly are up against their innermost humanness — not humanness as they were created to be human but human in the bad sense since the Fall. That is the reason that people do not accept the sufficient answers and why they are counted by God as disobedient and guilty when they do not bow.

Bertrand Russell on Love, Knowledge, and Pity

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Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair… Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.