pre⋅ténse

I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move.

Month: October 2012

On the shores of the Lethe: is oblivion the best we can do in addressing the problem of evil?

I am reading through Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Wolf. I have previously written about the introductory chapter, and I will have more to say about the book as a whole. In general, my impression is that Volf is casting Christ’s teachings about forgiveness, reconciliation, and repentance in the language of modern and post-modern philosophy, and responding to the challenges to the Christian message posed by those systems.

There is a lot to praise in the book, and I will come to those points in subsequent posts. I am finding the chapter on embrace to be of uneven quality, however. In particular, Volf posits that in the final redemption suffering will be eliminated through… choosing not to remember suffering. This strikes me as such an odd claim to make that I would be considerably less confident in making it if Volf hadn’t made the point so clearly:

In a nutshell, my argument is this: since no final redemption is possible without the redemption of the past, and since every attempt to redeem the past through reflection must fail because no theodicy can succeed, the final redemption is unthinkable without a certain kind of forgetting. Put starkly, the alternative is: either heaven or the memory of horror. Either heaven will have no monuments to keep the memory of the horrors alive, or it will be closer to hell than we would like to think. For if heaven cannot rectify Auschwitz, then the memory of Auschwitz must undo the experience of heaven. Redemption will be complete only when the creation of “all things new” is coupled with the passage of “all things old” into the double nihil of nonexistence and nonremembrance. Such redemptive forgetting is implied in a passage in Revelation about the new heavens and the new earth. “Mourning and crying and pain” will be no more not only because “death will be no more” but also because “the first things have passed away” (21:4)-from experience as well as from memory, as the text in Isaiah from which Revelation quotes explicitly states: “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”.

(NB: I’m reading on a Kindle and don’t have easy access to page numbers for a proper citation; I imagine a Google Books search will produce a page number for you if you really need it.)

Let me get one thing out of the way: Volf is preoccupied with victims’ rights and is quick to qualify elsewhere that in the present time we must not forget, and that even in the final redemption, nonremembering will be voluntary. Volf is not in the least susceptible to the charge of trying to erase victims’ sufferings. The victims will forget of their own initiative.

So on to the real point. Is the final redemption only possible if we not only cease to suffer, but choose not to remember that we or others have suffered? Volf says so:

For ultimately, forgetting the suffering is better than remembering it, because wholeness is better than brokenness, the communion of love better than the distance of suspicion, harmony better than disharmony.

There’s a lot packed into that, but what I would draw attention to is: “forgetting the suffering is better than remembering it, because wholeness is better than brokenness”. If I’m not completely misunderstanding these passages, the basic idea is that it’s impossible for evil to be redeemed to the emotional satisfaction of the victim. The best we can hope for is lethean oblivion, where we simply choose not to think about certain things – some sort of supernaturally-enabled neurotic repression.

I find this to be reprehensible and completely anti-Christian. To me it is a basic article of faith that redemption is possible – redemption rather than annihilation. Volf seems to believe in annihilation of experiences, rather than their redemption. And this is not through ignorance of the biblical text, of course. Of the two passages in the New Testament that can really address theodicy as we think of it, Volf goes to Romans.

In what strikes one as an “anti-theodicy” of sorts-an abandonment of all speculative solutions to the problem of suffering-the Apostle Paul writes: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). The logic is as simple as it is profound. If something is not worth comparing, then it will not be compared, and if it will not be compared then it will not have been remembered. For how would one fail to compare suffering with glory if one remembered the suffering while experiencing the glory? When we reach the other side and the bridge connecting the new to the old is destroyed so as to prevent the old from ever invading the new, the last part of the bridge to disappear will be the memory of the old.

The logic is sound but the premises are not, specifically this one: “if it will not be compared then it will not have been remembered”. It’s simply not true that everything that isn’t compared will be forgotten. (The incomparability of Star Trek: First Contact with any of the other TNG movies has no bearing on whether we can remember the other movies… though I’m not saying that in that particular case oblivion wouldn’t be preferable!)

But what Paul is actually saying is that the glory to come is not worthy of comparison with our present sufferings. As in, the Zimbabwean dollar is not worthy of being compared with the American dollar. Both are real, but their relative values are so disproportionate as to make comparison laughable.

Setting aside that the meaning of Romans 8:18 is being twisted in that passage, I think it is pastorally significant to note that Paul wrote that passage both as victim and perpetrator. He had presided over at least one death, and had also of course suffered considerably at the hands of various parties. He was walking around with a lot of dark memories. The problem of suffering is a theoretical problem for someone like me, but not for someone like Paul. I think his faith in the incommensurate nature of our present sufferings and our future glory is credible as a personal conviction.

Do I have it worked out? No. Do I read The Brothers Karamazov with an answer to Ivan Karamazov burning in the back of my mind? No. And if Ivan Karamazov multiplied examples of brutality nearly to the point of voyeurism, it is similarly easy in a discussion like this to become dismissive of suffering in the extreme. But being fairly young, I can look back on painful experiences of the past (emotional or physical), remembering the pain, but feeling no pain in the present. That kind of experience gives me heuristic confidence to believe that some final redemption is possible.

In a more lighthearted vain, how should we imagine the heroes of our faith talking about their lives in the Resurrection, with all of the sufferings stripped out?

  • Polycarp of Smyrna. “I was on a journey heading eastward – I can’t think why right now, but all my friends were trying to stop me – and then I was going into an arena, and… Huh. That’s as much as I can remember.”
  • Maximilian Kolbe: “I remember I had a lot of guests at the time, thousands even. I can only imagine they were going to a convention. Then there was a knocking on my door at night… I don’t remember anything else.”
  • Alan Paton: “I was a school teacher, and then I did some other work that I can’t quite remember, and I wrote a book that became quite famous (about what, I couldn’t say), and then it seemed like there were a bunch of meetings after that. What could we have been talking about?”

All to say, we do not now understand how all of the suffering in the world will be redeemed. It is painfully easy to produce examples of sufferings that appear to be unredeemable (or at least, unredeemed). But that’s not the same as saying that no suffering has been redeemed. The examples above, I hope, show that even in our relatively narrow historical perspective, we can see the benefit of the suffering of people like Polycarp, and we can also see how suffering provided the context for the Christian service of people like Kolbe and Paton.

One final thought from Volf. This sentence is taken from the beginning of the discussion, and while he takes it in a different direction from what I would have, it is a helpful warning against trying to fit everything into a system.

The problem of suffering, whether past or present, cannot be addressed as a speculative question.

Changes

The original version alluded incorrectly to the Styx as the mythological river of forgetfulness. It also referred to The Grand Inquisitor in the context of theodicy, which was wrong. (The Grand Inquisitor is actually quite a good story, and separate from what Ivan had to say about the problem of evil.)

Bombs away

Continuing in my tradition of juxtaposing otherwise unrelated documents…

From the BBC:

The UK might have to recognise that creating a viable state in Afghanistan is not achievable, an influential group of MPs has said.

In a debate on the report in Parliament, committee chairman, Lib Dem MP Sir Malcolm Bruce said: “Of course the committee would wish to see, in due course, that Afghanistan can function as a normal state and certainly not a rogue state. But we have some degree of scepticism whether a British government fund of £178m a year can in itself really achieve a viable state. The danger is if that becomes the overriding focus it may be at the expense of delivering material, practical progress in terms of livelihoods, the rights of women, health and education.”

From Time:

It was something both candidates could agree on. Near the end of the last debate between President Barack Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney on Monday, moderator Bob Schieffer asked the Republican presidential candidate where he stood on the U.S.’s “use of drones.” Romney voiced his support for the President’s ongoing policy of using unmanned weapons to attack terrorist targets, saying the U.S. should be ready by “any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world.” In a conversation that ranged from U.S. education to trade with China, Obama and Romney saw eye to eye on a several foreign policy points, but none generated as little debate as the Obama Administration’s increased dependence on drone technology, which has proved to be such a nonissue in this presidential race that it merited only a few words from Romney, and none at all from the sitting President.

From which I conclude that, in the view of our international leaders:

  1. Nation-building is an unsustainable, costly, and uncertain business. I certainly agree with that. I can enumerate mistakes made by Western governments in this AfPak adventure, but I certainly cannot outline, even with retrospect, a strategy that would have worked.

  2. Dropping missiles on brown people half-way around the world is entirely sustainable, and not costly in any way that will be significant to the American public (and therefore American policymakers).

Number 1 is sad-but-true. Number 2 is true-and-reprehensible.

My contribution and my society’s contribution: a recycled college admission essay

I am in the process of filling out an application for an M.A. program, which requires essay responses to three questions/prompts. Here is one of the prompts.

Briefly describe an experience you have had during the last year and tell how it has affected your personal growth.

It’s quite a coincidence, but I had previously been asked to develop a prompt that would lead to the most bland and unenlightening essay responses imaginable, and this is exactly what I came up with.

But when I sat down to write the thing, I actually managed to come up with something that didn’t bore me. So here it is, very lightly edited:

I have spent much of the last year doing language documentation under a fellowship from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I do much of the work sitting at a desk, but I’ve also spent about three months doing fieldwork in the Wakhan corridor, where the language that I am documenting (Wakhi) is spoken. Wakhis live at an elevation of about 10,000 feet, and they’re surrounded by mountains reaching thousands of feet higher than that. Life is difficult. Everyone is malnourished. The Wakhis are certainly the poorest people I have been among; they are the poorest in this country, aside from their neighbors the Kyrgyz, who live at a higher elevation still. It is impossible for me to be in such a situation without reflecting on why I am so rich and they are so poor. My reflections have gone in two directions: first, in recognizing how little I contribute to my life; second, in recognizing what I do contribute to my life.

I come from the most individualistic culture in the world, and even within that culture I stand out as an individualistic person. I esteem the ideal of the self-made man, and in unguarded moments I consider myself to be such a man. But here are some things that I’m not responsible for: growing up in a peaceful country, growing up in a country which has cured nearly every disease I am likely to face, growing up in a country where the rule of law is never in question, growing up in a country where commodities are bought and sold irrespective of the ethnicity of the buyer and seller. America is not a paradise; I have heard reports of oppression in America. But they are reports: they’re not things that I’ve faced, or even seen first-hand. They don’t really get inside of me and affect my outlook on life. To these basics benefits of life in a liberal democracy, I can add the investment that my country has made in my education and academic work, which I would estimate to be in excess of $200,000 for my post-secondary education alone. The most I’ve done to earn any of that money is to write an essay or a proposal. And all of those opportunities would count very little, if I hadn’t been born into a family which valued education and hard work. I acquired a passion for reading and research from my parents and grandparents; if I had been less fortunate in my parents, I might have acquired a substance abuse problem instead.

But alongside the realization of to the extent to which I am embedded in society, I have also come to appreciate my personal contribution. One is a recognition that I have much to learn – especially about things that are closest to me, and especially about things that are within my specialty. I have every expectation of learning new things, and discovering better ways of doing things, until the day I die. But I have not always found this expectation among traditional people, who can be quite uninterested in learning something new about farming, for instance. There is a humility required to learn something new. There is also humility in trusting those who have expertise. It requires arrogance to insist vehemently on receiving a course of penicillin, against the recommendation of a Western-educated doctor. I benefit from my ability to trust established medical authorities to make health recommendations, and similarly from my ability to trust other authorities for other decisions.. I recognize that I do not know better than them. Finally, for all of the benefits I have received from society, I own my personal responsibility carrying my life forward. My life goal is not to find the protection of a rich patron; neither is it to attract a loyal group of clients to serve and support me, and to keep them from becoming independent. Within the context of the resources available, I recognize that the condition of my life is my own responsibility.

These two streams of thought are at once contrary and interdependent. My willingness to learn new things exists in a context in which it is possible to do so responsibly, i.e., is largely a product of the education I have received. My willingness to try new things exists in a context where it is responsible to try new things. No matter how badly I fail, it is inconceivable that my children would starve. My trust for experts depends on the existence of trustworthy experts. My owning of personal responsibility takes place in an economic context in which one can live by one’s wits and succeed. But by the same token, the society I live in is what it is, in part, because the personal and cultural values that I have come to appreciate in myself, are widely held by others. These interdependencies have not, to now, permitted me to come to a settled estimate of my own contributions and my society’s contributions to my well-being.

Two portraits of the other

Recently I’ve read two books about cultures foreign to my own, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Things Fall Apart is widely cited as the best known African novel. The Good Earth helped Buck to win a Pulitzer.

Let me note from the outset that these books have nothing to do with one another, so far as I am aware. The connections between the books arise in my mind merely because I happened to read one immediately after I had read the other (which in turn is merely a fluke of when my holds on them came through from the library).

Similarities

Both books are about the downfall of basically good, hard-working men. They are both books that have a near-explicit intention to educate the readers about Igbo and Chinese culture, respectively. The influence of outsiders is present in both books, with missionaries and various other outside forces figuring into both narratives.

I will be more controversial: neither author, properly speaking, has standing to address the issues that s/he address. Buck was the daughter of Western missionaries. She had a lifelong interest in China, and perhaps spoke the language. She could have witnessed events similar to what she narrate. But was not an insider. Achebe is an Igbo, but he grew up in the colonial period, not in the time of transition from the traditional period that is depicted in the book. He is an insider, though not a witness to what he writes about. More from the authors’ backgrounds than from the quality of the narratives, one gets the sense that the authors are filling in the gaps.

Differences

Both books are didactic, but Buck does it better. She writes dialog in a slightly stilted English style, as if trying she had been producing an overly literal translation. She weaves explanations into the text in a way that manages not to be heavy handed. She explains characters’ motivations and emotions in a way that allows us to infer their cultural values. Achebe, in contrast, litters the text with Igbo words. This is a technique that works when used sparingly, but it rapidly becomes tedious if overdone. Little of the first part of the book contributes to the whole, but concentrates on introducing Igbo manners and customs (which never come up again…). The narrator often steps into explain what’s going on, with the consequence that the text begins to read rather like an anthropological description than a novel.

Both books deal with the downfall of the main characters: Okonkwo as a result of interventions from foreign forces, Wang Lung as a result of his moral failures. And this is a crucial difference between the books.

As the title suggests, The Good Earth is about the relationship between man and the soil, and the consequences of disrupting that relationship. Wang Lung begins a poor farmer and ends a wealthy city dweller, but what he gains in lucre he loses in moral character, as he neglects his wife and falls into moral dissipation. At the end of the book, the rupture is complete, as his sons secretly agree to sell the land after his death, which they known to be against his wishes. Foreigners are present in the book, but they are either harmless and foolish customers or religious zealots preaching an unintelligible message. (The revolutionary agitators in the story may have had foreign backing, but this is not noted.)

In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is similarly a self-made man. He is represented as a man with flaws (within Igbo cultural parameters): a dangerous temper, a harshness to his family. Yet his fate is determined by outside forces: his son converts to Christianity, his tribe is cowed by the power of local colonial officials. He commits suicide out of frustration rising from the estrangement he feels from reality, and that estrangement is caused by outsiders. Achebe is by no means painting an idyllic picture of pre-colonial Igbo culture. He is careful to depict the moral and the immoral aspects of the culture. Among the negative: violence against women, warfare and mutilation of corpses, folk magic leading to the death of children. Yet none of these are implicated in the fate of the protagonist.

As I noted, these books are not in explicit dialogue with one another. I was struck by the superficial similarity of the books, but also their deeper incompatibility. In the one the protagonists’ downfall is due to intrinsic factors; the other is a result of purely extrinsic factors. A consistent theme in this blog (and my own thought) is the abdication of personal responsibility, particularly (but not exclusively) in the developing world. Nevertheless, I will leave it at what I’ve written so far.

Both books are well worth the reading.

Exclusion and Embrace is an excellent book; now what are we talking about?

I bought myself the Kindle edition of Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace. A Google search will quickly produce a listing of the best minds of our day falling over themselves to praise this book. My interest was piqued when N.T. Wright said that it was the best theological book he’d read in 20 years.

“Miroslav Volf” is also a really cool name. He and Dag Hammarskjöld began public life with an advantage.

Judging from the introduction and chapter 1, the thesis of the book is that:

  • our cultural identity is an inseparable part of who we are
  • that we should nevertheless maintain an internal distance from our own cultures in order to be able to offer a moral critique, and not be susceptible to its blind spots
  • that while group differences often occasion exclusion, but that we should instead embrace the Other while maintaining our ability for moral critique of other cultures

It lends no little credibility to the book that Volf was developing these ideas during a time when Serbs were slaughtering his fellow Croats (in the 1990s). [An inappropriate joke about the likelihood of learning about reconciliation from someone from the Balkans has been removed.]

I’m past the introduction and through the first chapter, so I suspect that Volf is not going to define “culture”. This is a pity, because he maintains that we need to maintain the ability to offer moral critique of cultures (i.e., both ours and others).

Here is an annotated list some of my cultural values.

  • I drive on the right side of the road. (This could be different; I don’t really care.)
  • I eat lots of gingerbread around Christmastime (I would care if this changed; but I know it has no moral significance.)
  • I buy and sell commodities based on price, irrespective of the ethnicity and nationality of the other party. (This has moral significance for me, to the point of its being self-evident; but it is by no means a cultural universal.)
  • I aspire to financial independence, so that ultimately I am secure financially, without being dependent on my parents or my children, and ideally without them being dependent on me. (This is closely held, but I feel that at least parts of it spring from sinful attitudes, and an overly individualistic culture.)
  • If I had a business and had to hire someone, I would give no preference to someone who was related to me. (This goes without saying for me, but I am gradually coming to the point ascribing some moral weight to it.)

To engage personally with Volf’s book, it would really help to know what kind of cultural values he has in mind. Liking different types of Christmas cookies? Wearing funny traditional outfits? Eating with hands? Having a different religion? Not believing that water can carry pathogenic organisms? Feeling social heterogeneity is a threat to society?

Since ethnic cleansing is on the table, I am optimistic that Volf will present a sufficiently comprehensive vision to cover the gamut of cultural values. I would feel more comfortable knowing where we were going if I had some more specific examples.

Galileo’s trial and the anthropocentrism of scientific discovery

The BBC reports that the pope’s butler has been sentenced to 18 months house arrest for stealing confidential document. To which the obvious rejoinder,

Fortunately for him, the Vatican is softer on theft than it is on heliocentrism.

(My Facebook status. Facebook is great for one-liners.)

This was the joke that had to be made, but in fact the controversy between the Roman Catholic Church and Galileo is something of a soapbox of mine, so I feel obligated here to set the facts straight.

The fact is that the geocentric model of the universe fit the empirical data better than the heliocentric model, until Kepler discovered his laws of planetary motion. There was a gap of sixty to eighty years between the death of Copernicus and Kepler’s discoveries. The heliocentrists were taking it more or less on faith. Or, as Michael Polanyi writes in Personal Knowledge,

What is the true lesson of the Copernican revolution? Why did Copernicus exchange his actual terrestrial station for an imaginary solar standpoint? The only justification for this lay in the greater intellectual satisfaction he derived from the celestial panorama as seen from the sun instead of the earth. Copernicus gave preference to man’s delight in abstract theory, at the price of rejecting the evidence of our senses, which present us with the irresistible fact of the sun, the moon, and the stars rising daily in the east to travel across the sky towards their setting in the west. In a literal sense, therefore, the new Copernican system was as anthropocentric as the Ptolemaic view, the difference being merely that it preferred to satisfy a different human affection. (pg. 3)

Polanyi observes accurately that scientists routinely subordinate the “facts” to their intellectual passions. Copernicus and Galileo both did this; Kepler validated that subordination. This raises the question, of course, of how we should ever expect the product of scientific reasoning to correspond to reality, and of how and in what sense scientists act responsibly. That is the subject of the rest of Personal Knowledge.

So I certainly don’t advocate thumb-screws and house arrest as a way to resolve scientific disputes, but I am overly weary of the popular usage of Galileo of a hero of fact over traditionalism.

Three cheers for initiative

This BBC story showed up on the glowing rectangle a little while ago. A municipal government in Zimbabwe has decided to address a sewage problem with a series of synchronized toilet flushes.

Many residents of Zimbabwe’s second city have simultaneously flushed their toilets, as part of an official attempt to prevent blocked sewage pipes. Bulawayo Mayor Thaba Moyo told the BBC the “big flush” would keep pipes wet and so prevent them getting clogged up.

Now I’m not a plumber, but the tone of the BBC article, and extrapolating from Zimbabwean governance in general, suggests that this will not work. So we all smirk and return to our lives. But there’s this at the end of the article:

The proposal has had a mixed reception in the city. “Our leaders are a joke,” said Petros Ncube. “What they should be doing is finding money from donors to buy new sewer pipes,” he said.

I hope Petros Ncube is not representative of a typical Zimbabwean.

I will say this of the toilet flush plan: it will be clear if it doesn’t work. And if it doesn’t work, we will know to blame Mayor Thabo Moyo. And if this episode is representative of other episodes, he should be replaced by his constituents. But they have no reason to hold him accountable if, to their thinking, government is something that distributes money obtained from other governments, and a leader is someone who begs money from other governments.

His Bondange and Our Bondage

My Bondage and My Freedom is a remarkable book. In appreciating it, one could take any number of approaches. Writing to an 1855 northern audience, Douglass takes the time to explain how slavery works: practically, psychologically, spiritually; and of course how it harms, again practically, psychologically, spiritually. The book is invaluable for that purpose, but I am more interested here in the man.

The turning point in Douglass’s life was his confrontation with Edward Covey, a man to whom he had been hired out to be broken. Douglass suffered under Covey for about six months, before one day confronting him physically:

Well, my dear reader, this battle with Mr. Covey—undignified as it was, and as I fear my narration of it is—was the turning point in my “life as a slave.” It rekindled in my breast the smouldering embers of liberty; it brought up my Baltimore dreams, and revived a sense of my own manhood. I was a changed being after that fight. I was nothing before; I WAS A MAN NOW. It recalled to life my crushed self-respect and my self-confidence, and inspired me with a renewed determination to be A FREEMAN. A man, without force, is without the essential dignity of humanity. Human nature is so constituted, that it cannot honor a helpless man, although it can pity him; and even this it cannot do long, if the signs of power do not arise. (emphases original)

This was, for Douglass, the point at which he stopped being a slave and became a man. He recorded a desire to be free from an early age, but this was the point at which he considered himself to have achieved it, in principle if not in fact.

I could wish for thirty million such experiences in the country where I live and work. People in this country are in the throes of the tribal-to-peasant transformation. The patron-client relationship is fundamental. Whether in the city or the village, they are looking for someone to take care of them.

And why would you work hard? If you fail, you fail. Why would you risk starting a business? The bribes, the cartels… If you succeed, everyone will hate you for succeeding, and your family will still take all your money. After all, if you get money, it’s because you’re taking it from someone else. The only honest advancement is through an NGO, which is the equivalent of winning the lottery.

When will people stand up and proclaim their freedom?

Of course, they wouldn’t call themselves slaves. And neither would we Westerners, though there are things which enslave us.

Back to Douglass. His transformation is all the more remarkable if we consider Douglass’s mental state. He describes quite clearly elsewhere in the book how, when well fed and well treated, his mind was constantly on escape. By contrast, when he was hungry and beaten, he could think only of his physical well being. He doesn’t actually draw attention to this point, but his moment of freedom occurs when he was physically weakest. All of his attention should have been on survival, and in spite of that he overcame himself, and overcame Covey.

So then. I am left filled with admiration for Frederick Douglass, but without a plan or a hope for this country. Douglass was influenced by two books in his time of bondage. One was the Bible. The other was The Columbian Orator, a collection of significant Enlightenment political speeches. Neither of those translates easily here.

Book review bits

As Wikipedia explains, MBMF is largely an expansion of Douglass’s earlier work, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. There’s a lot of repeated material in MBMF; today MBMF would probably count as a “revised and expanded” second edition, rather than a standalone work.

But the stories are just as good the second time. I read the Narrative about a year ago, and if anything it was like listening to my grandfather retell the same old, good stories. The new material has largely to do with his experiences in the United Kingdom, during two years of “semi-exile”; it was interesting, but not compelling.

One point of interest is Douglass’s religion. At the end of the Narrative there is a paragraph tacked on clarifying that he only meant to criticize hypocritical Christianity, not the true religion. I was left with an ambiguous feeling, because the explanation seemed… well, tacked-on. In MBMF, however, there was much greater focus on faith. He describes his conversion, and subsequent events in his faith life, in classic evangelical (Methodist) terms. There were plenty of biblical allusions that I just barely caught.

One wishes that English style had not changed so drastically in the last 150 years. I’ve read a good deal of 1800s prose, but the language was still a challenge for me. Here are the gems.

As one genuine bankbill is worth more than a thousand counterfeits, so is one man, with right on his side, worth more than a thousand in the wrong.

I, too, would invoke the spirit of patriotism; not in a narrow and restricted sense, but, I trust, with a broad and manly signification; not to cover up our national sins, but to inspire us with sincere repentance; not to hide our shame from the the(sic) world’s gaze, but utterly to abolish the cause of that shame; not to explain away our gross inconsistencies as a nation, but to remove the hateful, jarring, and incongruous elements from the land; not to sustain an egregious wrong, but to unite all our energies in the grand effort to remedy that wrong.

The man who has thoroughly embraced the principles of justice, love, and liberty, like the true preacher of Christianity, is less anxious to reproach the world of its sins, than to win it to repentance. His great work on earth is to exemplify, and to illustrate, and to ingraft those principles upon the living and practical understandings of all men within the reach of his influence. This is his work; long or short his years, many or few his adherents, powerful or weak his instrumentalities, through good report, or through bad report, this is his work.

To enslave men, successfully and safely, it is necessary to have their minds occupied with thoughts and aspirations short of the liberty of which they are deprived. A certain degree of attainable good must be kept before them.

© 2017 pre⋅ténse

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑