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In Defence of Free Will

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In casting about for a suitable topic upon which to address you to-day, I have naturally borne in mind that an inaugural lecture of this sort should be devoted to some theme of much more than merely esoteric import: to some theme, for preference, sufficiently central in character to have challenged the attention of all who possess a speculative interest in the nature of the universe and man’s place within it. That is a principal reason why I have chosen to-day to speak on free will. Mighty issues turn, and turn directly, on the solution of the free will problem. It is in no way surprising that for centuries past it has exercised a fascination for thinkers both within and without the ranks of the professional philosophers that is probably not paralleled in the case of any of the other great problems of metaphysics.There are, however, other considerations also which have governed my choice of subject. More particularly, I have been influenced by a conviction that the present state of philosophical opinion on free will is, for certain definitely assignable reasons, profoundly unsatisfactory. In my judgment, a thoroughly perverse attitude to the whole problem has been created by the almost universal acquiescence in the view that free will in what is often called the ‘vulgar’ sense is too obviously nonsensical a notion to deserve serious discussion. Free will in a more ‘refined’ sense — which is apt to mean free will purged of all elements that may cause embarrassment to a Deterministic psychology or a Deterministic metaphysics — is, it is understood, a conception which may be defended by the philosopher without loss of caste. But in its ‘vulgar’ sense, as maintained, for example, by the plain man, who clings to a belief in genuinely open possibilities, it is (we are told) a wild and even obnoxious delusion, long ago discredited for sober thinkers.

The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

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Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as “a bad press.” We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine — “dull dogma,” as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.

The Encyclopedia Britannica on the Cross

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The meaning ordinarily attached to the word “cross” is that of a figure composed of two or more lines which intersect, or touch each other transversely. Thus, two pieces of wood, or other material, so placed in juxtaposition to one another, are understood to form a cross. It should be noted, however, that Lipsius and other writers speak of the single upright stake to which criminals were bound as a cross, and to such a stake the name of crux simplex has been applied. The usual conception, however, of a cross is that of a compound figure. Punishment by crucifixion was widely employed in ancient times. It is known to have been used by nations such as those of Assyria, Egypt, Persia, by the Greeks, Carthaginians, Macedonians, and from very early times by the Romans. It has been thought, too, that crucifixion was also used by the Jews themselves, and that there is an allusion to it (Deut. xxi. 22, 23) as a punishment to be inflicted.

The Crucifixion

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The cross of Christ, as if it were the glittering eye of God, has in a most wondrous way held man spell-bound, and made him listen to its strange story “like a three years’ child” who “cannot choose but hear.” Were not the fact so familiar, men would call it miraculous. Had its action and history been capable of a priori statement, it would have seemed, even to the most credulous age, the maddest of mad and unsubstantial dreams. For it is not only that in the immense history of human experience it stands alone, a fact without a fellow, the most potent factor of human good, yet with what seems the least inherent fitness for it, but it even appears to contradict the most certain and common principles man has deduced from his experience. We do not wonder at the cross having been a stumbling-block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. We should have wondered much more had it been anything else.

The Gift of the Magi

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One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

The City Without a Church

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By far the most original thing here is the simple conception of Heaven as a City. The idea of religion without a Church — “I saw no Temple therein” — is anomalous enough; but the association of the blessed life with a City — the one place in the world from which Heaven seems most far away — is something wholly new in religious thought. No other religion which has a Heaven ever had a Heaven like this. The Greek, if he looked forward at all, awaited the Elysian Fields; the Eastern sought Nirvana. All other Heavens have been Gardens, Dreamlands — passivities more or less aimless. Even to the majority among ourselves Heaven is a siesta and not a City. It remained for John to go straight to the other extreme and select the citadel of the world’s fever, the ganglion of its unrest, the heart and focus of its most strenuous toil, as the framework for his ideal of the blessed life. ~ Excerpt

The Will to Believe

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In the recently published Life by Leslie Stephen of his brother, Fitz-James, there is an account of a school to which the latter went when he was a boy. The teacher, a certain Mr. Guest, used to converse with his pupils in this wise: ” Gurney, what is the difference between justification and sanctification? — Stephen, prove the omnipotence of God!” etc. In the midst of our Harvard freethinking and indifference we are prone to imagine that here at your good old orthodox College conversation continues to be somewhat upon this order; and to show you that we at Harvard have not lost all interest in these vital subjects, I have brought with me tonight something like a sermon on justification by faith to read to you, — I mean an essay in justification of faith, a defence of our right to adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, in spite of the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced. ‘The Will to Believe,’ accordingly, is the title of my paper.

The Greatest Thing in the World

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In this timeless speech, Henry Drummond argues that the greatest thing, the summum bonum, is love. But this love is not here just a cliché, the love of pop songs and romantic comedies. As Drummond puts it: “Patience; kindness; generosity; humility; courtesy; unselfishness; good temper; guilelessness; sincerity — these make up the supreme gift… You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity.” I have always appreciated this fact, that the biblical portrait of love is not merely a beautiful but empty concept, but rather a love with form and flesh. Drummond enumerates and expounds on the nature of biblical love, contrasting it with other goods, analyzing its aspects, and defending its primacy of place. ~ Afterall

Live While You Live

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The sects in the Church might be judged by a comparison of their favorite holidays. And so might eras in history be judged. It is matter of real interest, then, to see how all poets and prophets of all divisions of the Church unite on this day, to proclaim it the Sunday of Sundays, the High Holy Day of the year. For this is to say that poet and prophet, of every sect and those least sectarian, have found out at last that the Christian Religion stands for Life. Life instead of form; Life instead of Laws; Life instead of Grave-clothes; Life instead of Tombs; Life instead of Death ; — that is what Christianity means, and what it is for. You would be tempted to say that the Saviour had already enforced this completely in what he said to men; tempted to say that Easter morning was not needed either for illustration or enforcement. Certainly the gospel texts are full of the lesson. "Because I live, ye shall live also." "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself." "This is Life Eternal — to believe on thee." And central text of all, the text we have chosen for the motto of this church, "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." If texts alone ever did anything, these and a thousand more would show what The Truth is, and The Way. But one is tempted, in bitter moods, to say that texts never do anything, that words never achieve or finish anything. One is tempted to remember how he said that any man who prepared God’s way is greater than any man who only proclaims it, how prophets and prophesying were done with, mere talk was over — praise the Lord! and energy, action, force had come in instead, praise the Lord! Yet, if anybody did still trust in talk, he might take a lesson from these Gospels.

What I Believe and Why

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We know the world of existences and forces under three forms, that of matter, that of life, and that of thought. In preceding articles I have indicated how the world of matter and the world of life appear to me to bear witness to a superior Intelligence which has created or guided them. I now come to consider whether the world of thought has a similar origin, or has merely grown, in an evolutionary way, out of the worlds of matter and life. ¶ The forces of matter, life and thought are totally diverse from each other. Life is a phenomenon of tremendous significance. It marks an absolutely different stage in the operation of nature. Physical forces can give us rocks, mountains, continents, rivers, oceans, winds, lightning and rain, and their continued operation would reduce the earth to a degradation of morass and sea. But life brings a new force which fights physical forces, produces forms vegetable and animal, which operate and direct to their own ends all physical forces and exercize a dominance over them. But there is a third stage in the operations of nature. As organic life is of a different order from inert matter, so mind is of yet another order from either, and vastly higher than they. With the animal kingdom there came in mind, not possest by the physical elements, and no more by the vegetable kingdom. It is, in some degree, a characteristic of all animal life. The lowest forms have intelligence enough to feel for their food. As higher forms appear they learn to avoid danger, to search abroad for their sustenance, to swim, to fly, to run, till conscious reason appears in man and is supreme over the course of nature.