The Time Being

The frenzy of the Christmas Rush is mercifully over.  The felt joy of Christmas Day itself, while real and memorable, was already fading by Boxing Day, and now we begin to remember where we are: facing the long weeks of Seasonal Affective Disorder until the light begins to return, interrupted by the forced celebration of New Year’s Day.  And the culture we inhabit seems in the doldrums of winter itself, poised between forced celebration and despair.  The words of the poet ring true:  “The time being is the hardest time of all.”  What are we to do in such a moment?

There is no hope to be gained by looking to society or to the state.  The irrational hatred of everything good and wholesome by Islamic Terrorists is matched only by the sad inability of the West to find a reason to preserve itself.  Multiculturalism has blinded us to the stubborn fact that not all cultures are created equal after all.  There is a difference between barbarism and civilization.  Civilization is to be preferred, but it cannot be preserved or defended if it refuses to believe in an objective difference between itself and the barbarians.  There is a difference between health and decadence within that civilization, even when it is not threatened from without.  Health is to be preferred, but it cannot be preserved if we refuse to believe that there is an objective difference between good and evil, if we are unable to use a word like “wholesome” without irony.  We have met the enemy, and he is us.

pogo enemy is us

There is no hope to be gained by looking to the church.  The most popular and fastest growing form of Christianity in the world is the so-called “Prosperity Gospel,” the health-and-wealth or “name it and claim it” (more accurately, “blab it and grab it”) movement.  If ever we wanted a theology scientifically designed to confirm the suspicions of our secular neighbors that ministers are just in it for the money, boy, have we got one!  More faithful followers of the Savior who sacrificed Himself, not for self but for others, seem more marginalized than ever.  They have not adjusted well to the loss of the position of cultural privilege they once enjoyed, and half of the adjustments they propose to the new situation they have finally come to recognize sound more like strategies for retreat than for a better and more effective engagement.  Scandal, compromise, and accommodation where there is not actually false teaching–no, if you are looking for encouragement, do not look to the church.

How then is the faithful remnant to sustain itself in this moment of cultural Seasonal Affective Disorder?  As it has always done, when it faced even worse times like the fall of Rome: by staying focused on the things that do not change; by remembering that while Seasonal Affective Disorder may seem permanent while you are in its grasp, it is, by definition, seasonal;  by staying faithful to its Lord as something worth doing for its own sake whatever the outcome and leaving the consequences in His hand.  It will do so more effectively if it remembers the wisdom of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

space-sunrise

For though the last lights off the black West went,

Oh, morning at the brown brink Eastward springs

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast, and with, Ah! bright wings.

For more of Dr. Williams’s writing, check out his books on the Lantern Hollow estore:  To order ($15.00 each + shipping), go to  https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.
A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness!

OPTIMISTIC PESSIMISM

I am a Southerner. Lost Causes don’t bother me. We are used to them.

Portrait-RELee7

In the short run, I am not very optimistic for our society or for the church. We as a society are trying to maintain our democracy while dismantling its foundation–the self evident truth that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. This project is doomed to failure. Nevertheless, having repudiated the only foundation on which a successful democracy has ever been erected, we presume to teach the rest of the world how to “do” democracy. This is sheer idiocy.

People Who Understood the Foundations
People Who Understood the Foundations

Meanwhile, the conservative church’s only response is senselessly to berate the society for departing from a foundation it no longer remembers ever having had, rather than doing the only sensible thing to address the situation: re-evangelizing it from scratch and teaching it the biblical world view again. At the same time, I see our theological birthright, the hard gains of an Evangelical movement that clawed its way up out of Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism, being squandered for a mess of Post-Modern epistemological pottage, soft nihilism masquerading as humility about truth.  Look, if there is no resurrection then Christ is not raised; and if there are no valid metanarratives, then Christianity is not true. The Evangelical movement is exactly where the mainline Protestant denominations were a century ago, losing its message to the Spirit of the Age so slowly and subtly that it doesn’t realize what is happening. Only now, the friends of Truth, remembering how ugly things turned during the old Fundamentalist days, no longer have any stomach for the fight. Oh, yes, the future is bleak indeed.

"And thought the last lights off the black West went, / Oh, morning at the brown brink eastward springs!" -- Gerard manley Hopkins
“And thought the last lights off the black West went, / Oh, morning at the brown brink eastward springs!” — Gerard manley Hopkins

Fortunately, both History and Theology save me from despair. History tells me that things have looked this bad before, or worse–right after the fall of Rome, at the height of Medieval papal corruption before the Reformation, and at the height of the Endarkenment of the Eighteenth Century before the First Great Awakening came seemingly out of nowhere. And Theology tells me that God is sovereign and doesn’t need favorable cultural situations to accomplish his purpose or preserve His remnant or even initiate a new Reformation leading to a new Awakening. So, thank God, I don’t need optimism. In fact, the need to find optimism based on a Pollyanish view of circumstances through rose colored glasses–which a lot of Christians seem to think it their duty to concoct–is the most pessimistic and depressing thing I know of.

Puddleglum Did Not Need Optimism Either
Puddleglum Did Not Need Optimism Either

We have no hope in this world. Good! That means we’ve got the Enemy just where we want him. Lift up your heads, for our redemption draweth nigh!

 

For more writing by Dr. Williams, go to the Lantern Hollow Store and order his books, Stars through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012), and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).  Order ($15.00 each) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.
A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

LESSONS FROM BULGARIA

Visiting Bulgaria this summer was an education in the legacy of communism, which brings death and oppression wherever it gains a foothold. Francis Schaeffer analyzed it well in HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE. Communism has to bring oppression because it imposes an economic regime that is not rooted in reality and destroys natural incentives.  The only way you can achieve an artificial equality of economic result is by force—and those wielding the force will not participate in the forced equality.  Power tends to corrupt, and the absolute power required for the dictatorship, not of the proletariat but of the self-appointed elite acting in their name, corrupts absolutely.  These outcomes are not avoidable; they are coded into the DNA of the system by its very nature, and not all the good intentions in the world can avoid them.

Cathedral in Sofia
Cathedral in Sofia

The results in Bulgaria were unmistakable. What was built before the communist regime was villages that looked like English country villages from the Cotswolds, only with red-tile roofs rather than thatch, and cities that looked like European elegance–central Sofia could be Vienna, with Romanesque Orthodox churches instead of Gothic Catholic ones.  These are both environments in which human beings could live with dignity.  What was built during communism was universally ugly and dehumanizing:  Orwellian factories (empty) and worse than Orwellian high rises (crammed full), sprouting like a cancer on the outskirts of the cities. The contrast was stark.  The photos below were taken when those buildings were new.  They were bad enough then.  Imagine them covered over now by a half century of grime and neglect.

Communist Neighborhood
Communist Neighborhood

What was left behind after the Marxist regime fell was cynicism. I was surprised when the Evangelical pastors in Sofia asked me to talk on PostModernism, thinking it a Western problem. No, they said, they had their own version of it, a result of people knowing they had been systematically lied to by the communist government for two generations. The resulting cynicism about truth has opened the people to a philosophy that denies determinative meaning to texts. The genesis of their cynicism about meaning is different from ours, but the results are the same.  Preaching the Good News that personal Truth has entered our history becomes harder when there is no concept of truth; discipling Christian converts into the meaning of the Text which records that revelation becomes harder when there is no concept of objective meaning. It is what Schaeffer described as the loss of “true truth,” now on the steroids provided by Post-Modern “theory.”

CommunistBuildings4

It is no coincidence that Post-Modern scholars often also tend to be Marxists. Both systems have no place for any objective truth to which their results must be submitted; both subordinate truth to their social agendas, which become self-justifying. Evil supports evil and attracts it. The connection was hard to miss in that former Soviet satellite. And the damage takes generations to heal.

Preaching in Varna
Dr. Williams Preaching in Varna, Bulgaria

Have no truck then with these two allied philosophies and yield them no quarter! They are both straight from the Pit.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.
A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.  Order from the Lantern Hollow Press estore, https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/!

WHY IS MARRIAGE DIFFERENT?

Why is marriage treated differently from all other relationships that people are free to enter into?  That is a question that has to be answered if we are to understand what is at stake in the current debates over Same-Sex Marriage.  Yet few seem to be asking it.

Wedding2

Marriage is in fact treated very differently from other relationships. You don’t need the government’s permission or a license or its recognition to become best friends or even roommates with anyone you like, and you can change those arrangements at will and it’s nobody else’s business. (What those roommates do in private is also, from a secular standpoint, nobody else’s business–and this is the basis from which we are arguing here. SSM makes no sense even on a secular basis!)  So why do you need a license to get married?  Why is your spouse’s name registered with yours in the county courthouse but your BFF’s is not?

Wedding1

Historically, marriage has been treated differently from other relationships for one reason and one reason supremely: It naturally tends to the creation of children and is normally the best context in which they can be reared to become productive citizens.  (While homosexual couples are now allowed to adopt children, their relationship has no natural tendency to produce children, while that of traditionally married couples does.  Traditionally married couples must normally go out of their way if they want to avoid having children.  Same-sex couples must go out of their way in order to have them.)  Because of this natural and biological connection between traditional marriage and the next generation, the state has a legitimate and compelling interest in supporting and promoting marriage, so understood, as an institution.  This is why it rightly defines parameters of eligibility and gives those who meet them and formally enter into that arrangement certain rights which people in other relationships do not have.

Courtroom

The fact that marriage serves other purposes too and the fact that all marriages are not fruitful in childbearing do nothing to change the state’s legitimate interest in marriage.  The facts that many marriages end in divorce and that many children are conceived out of wedlock are also irrelevant.  The fact that some people do something badly is no reason for the state not to support and encourage that thing done well.  Otherwise, the fact that some people with driver’s licenses drive while intoxicated or drive dangerously would mean that we should therefore give licenses to everyone whether they qualify or not or just get rid of driver’s licenses altogether.  The absurdity of that conclusion shows the absurdity of the arguments from  abuses of traditional marriage.

Family1

Now, if we divorce (ahem) marriage from this historic family-oriented understanding, there no longer remains any reason to treat it differently from other relationships. Therefore, expanding it to include SSM does in fact change the definition of marriage and tends toward making marriage itself as an institution irrelevant.  Once its biological rootedness in childrearing is severed completely, then it is hard to see why other forms of relationships might not also be called “marriages”—polygamy, incest, bestiality.  Where will it end?  Anyone who says, “Oh, that will never happen” just has not been paying attention to recent history.

Family2

Traditional marriage is under lots of pressures in the modern world, and the reconceptualization it is now suffering is not its only problem. But the state has no business adding to those pressures by changing the basic nature of the institution in a way that goes against the state’s own compelling interests. Note that this argument has nothing to do with religion or with the morality of homosexual acts in themselves. The reason we have given is why marriage is treated differently from other relationships in non-Christian countries as well as Christian ones. Faithful Christians agree with this case, as do Jews and Muslims, and they have additional reasons for opposing the change. But the case is not driven by their support alone.  So even secular people need to ask themselves why we ever had such an institution as marriage in the first place, and whether the answer to that question is really something they can afford to ignore in their passion for tolerance and “equality.”

HilburnWedding

Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College.  For more of his writing, check out his books at Lantern Hollow Press:  Reflections from Plato’s Cave (on philosophy and apologetics), Stars Through the Clouds (his poetry), and Inklings of Reality (on a Christian philosophy of reading). Order at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.
A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

WHEN TO JUST SCROLL ON

InternetWrong2

I have been complimented more than once for my way of conducting controversies on the internet: courteously, constructively, with substance.  It took me back a bit at first.  I didn’t think I was doing anything special.  Then I started paying attention to the norm.  I think I fail often at speaking the truth in love, but apparently the bulk of the people on the internet are even worse.  Here are some guidelines I try to follow.  I do so rather inconsistently, but I hope I’m getting better.

1.  Think twice if the thread belongs to someone you barely know, or who is only a “Facebook Friend.” Jumping in to correct people on someone else’s thread, or, worse, actually hijacking it, makes you a “troll.”  It’s rude.  JUST SCROLL ON.

InternetWrong32.  Do you have an actual point to make, or are you just trading insults?  The latter will convert nobody and only alienate not only your opponents but any neutral lurkers you want to keep them from influencing.  If that’s all you’ve got, JUST SCROLL ON.

3.  Do you have an actual point to make, or are you just saying things that you think will make you look smart to the group among the onlookers you are vainly trying to impress, or at least smarter than your opponent?  The latter will convert nobody and only alienate not only your opponents but any neutral lurkers you want to keep them from influencing.  If that’s all you’ve got, JUST SCROLL ON.

4.  Can you make your point in one short paragraph, or a couple at most? Nobody is going to read the interminable essay you are about to post.  Nobody is going to follow the link to the massive dissertation you read (or wrote on your blog) on the topic.  They might not even bother to roll their eyes at you.  (I read, and write, long articles and even books.  There is a place for them.  A Facebook thread isn’t it.)  All together now:  JUST SCROLL ON.

5.  OK, you’ve made succinctly and courteously an actually relevant point. Your opponent isn’t interested; he just wants to keep arguing, without even taking it into account.  You’ve called him back to it once, but it did no good.  The discussion has now degenerated into a contest about who gets the last word.  Let him have it.  The only alternative is to sink to his level.  You can take some of the sting out of it by noting, “I think we’re just starting to repeat ourselves.  I’ve made my point.”  Then if he takes the last word, he’s the one who looks bad.  Let him.  JUST SCROLL ON.

InternetWrong1

I think you get the idea.  There is definitely a place for internet debate.  We don’t want to let nonsense and ignorance go unchallenged.  But sadly, we often do more harm than good when we let ourselves get goaded into trading rants.  When you feel that temptation, what should you do?    All together now:  JUST SCROLL ON.

To order some of Dr. Williams’ long books, such as REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE or INKLINGS OF REALITY, go to  https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.