Postulating with Peterson re 12 Rules for Life

Notes from Jordan B Peterson: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote To Chaos, London, Allen Lane/Penguin, 2018, Forward by Norman Doidge.

Clinical psychologist and public intellectual Jordan Peterson has made an extraordinary impact with his online lectures and video presentations which have achieved over 100 million YouTube hits in the last four years. Not bad for a man whom Greg Callaghan, Associate Editor of The Age’s Good Weekend has dismissed on February 3 2019 as a writer of obfuscating drivel!  Somehow I think Jordan Peterson will be making an impact for a long time yet, and well beyond the appearance of both Greg Callaghan in print and indeed The Age itself. I notice in passing that Greg Callaghan has 1059 followers….only a little less than 100 million to catch up to Peterson! Of Course Peterson’s opponents are busy accusing him of being a Nazi for daring to be intelligent about the current philosophical and politically correct narrative; and some conservative Christians think he has no right to quote from and use the Bible because he doesn’t see God the way they do but I am sure he will cope with both of these criticisms.

Norman Doidge’s challenging Foreward is engaging in itself. Doidge suggests that this is not a good age for a book of rules for life but reminds readers that the 10 “rules” in the Bible were indeed accompanied by stories and Peterson’s 12 rules are similarly accompanied by many stories.

Doidge describes Peterson as a former Harvard professor, a successful psycho-therapist, a Mid-West cowboy, someone who thinks at a meteoric rate, someone who  is constantly communicating and who loves to dialogue and be challenged, who makes his own furniture, designs his own house, is strongly committed to helping disadvantaged students, someone “tormented by”  simplistic ideologies of the right or the left as “substitutes for true knowledge” and which inevitably support the idea that a nation could kill its own people for an idea, the author of Maps of Meaning, a “highly complex work”, a brilliant and popular lecturer, one who respects both scientific method and publication but also the profound psychological appeal and wisdom of many ancient stories, one who has read deeply in Nietzsche, Jung, Freud, Dostoyevski, Solzhenitsyn, Eliade, Erich Neumann, Piaget, Frye and Frankl, one who accepts the Buddhist notion that life is suffering, that happiness is a pointless goal that should be replaced by a search for meaning not for its own sake but as a defence against suffering that is intrinsic to our existence,  one who has read deeply in classical psychological theory, who likes hero myths in which the hero must die to overcome the challenge,  one who is controversially opposed to “forced speech’, who dislikes over-protective parents, who dislikes ideologues who pretend they know how to make the world a better place before they’ve taken care of their own chaos,  and all this just for starters.  Doidge notes in particular that when Jordan Edwards would take a liberal stand for free speech, he would be accused by left-wing extremists as being a right-wing bigot.

Doidge himself presents a useful introductory argument regarding Millennials who have, in his view,  been thoroughly taught two seemingly contradictory ideas about morality, simultaneously:

  1. that morality is relative, at best a ‘personal judgment’;  that there is no absolute right or wrong; that moral rules are personal opinion or happenstance or accidents of birth, culture, ethnicity, upbringing or history. Additionally the post-modern left makes the additional claim that one group’s morality is nothing but its attempt to exercise power over another group. So, the decent thing to do is to show tolerance and …just about the most inappropriate thing an adult can do is give a young person advice about how to live.

And so a generation has been raised untutored in what was once called, aptly, “practical wisdom.” which guided previous generations…choosing to devalue thousands of years of human knowledge about how to acquire virtue, dismissing it as passé, “not relevant’ or even “oppressive.” They were so successful that the very word “virtue” sounds out of date, and someone using it appears anachronistically moralistic and self-righteous.  Doidge notes that Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics defined virtues simply as the ways of believing most conducive to happiness in life and vice was defined as the least conducive to happiness….the virtues always aIm for balance and avoid the extremes….By contrast, our modern relativism begins by asserting that making judgments about how to live is impossible, because there is no real good, and no true virtue (as these two are only relative). Thus relativism’s closest approximation to “virtue” is “tolerance”….But it turns out that many people cannot tolerate the vacuum—the chaos—which is inherent in life, but made worse by this moral relativism…so right alongside relativism, we find the spread of nihilism and despair, also the opposite of moral relativism, the blind certainty offered by ideologies that claim to have an answer for everything.

2.   The second teaching that millennials have been bombarded with …they sign up for a humanities course, to study the greatest books ever written. But they’re not assigned the books; instead they are given ideological attacks on them, based on some appalling simplification

Because we do not yet have an ethics based on modern science, Jordan is not trying to develop his rules by wiping the slate clean—by dismissing thousands of years of wisdom as mere supertition and ignoring our greatest moral achievements. Far better to integrate the best of what are now learning with books human beings saw fit to preserve over millennia…If our ideals are unattainable, why do we bother reaching in the first place? Because if you don’t reach for them, it is certain you will never feel that your life has meaning. And perhaps because, as unfamiliar and strange as it sounds. in the deepest part of our psyche, we all want to be judged.  

Jordan Peterson:

p. xxxiii  Overture: How could the world be freed from the terrible dilemma of conflict, on the one hand, and psychological and social dissolution, on the other?  The answer was this: through the elevation and development of the individual, and through the willingness of everyone to shoulder the burden of Being and to take the heroic path. We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world. We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. It’s asking a lot. It’s asking for everything. But the alternative—the chaos of the collapsed state, the tragic catastrophe of the unbridled natural world, the existential angst and weakness of the purposeless individual—is clearly worse.

p. xxxiv -v  “There”  [“getting there”] is the dividing line between order and chaos…the soul of the individual eternally hungers for the heroism of genuine Being, and that the willingness to take on that responsibility is identical to the decision to live a meaningful life. 

p.1         Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back. This rule is copiously explained using the analogy of the establishment of dominance by lobsters and their mating rituals. The victor assumes total dominance. The defeated lobster retreats and retires and fades away into weakness and oblivion. Peterson encourages us to face up to life directly and strongly. (p28 Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.)

p.12    Peterson quotes Mark Twain: It’s not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble. It’s what we know for sure just ain’t so!  Peterson notes that nature is not static at least not in any simple sense. It’s static and dynamic at the same time. Yin and Yang…chaos and order.

p13- 14  It is also a mistake to conceptualise nature romantically. …We rhapsodise about the beauty of nature but we don’t fantasize about elephantiasis and guinea worms (don’t ask), anopheles mosquitoes and malaria, starvation-level droughts, AIDS and the Black Plague…If Mother Nature wasn’t so hell bent on our destruction it would be easier for us to exist in simple harmony with her.

pp14-15     Dominance hierarchy is built into evolutionary change…. This is why, when we are defeated, we act like lobsters who have lost a fight. Our posture droops, we face the ground. We feel threatened, hurt, anxious and weak. If things do not improve, we become chronically depressed.

p.31  Rule 2:  Treat Yourself like Someone You are Responsible for Helping. 

p33. People are better at filling and properly administering prescription medication to their pets than to themselves. What could it be about people that makes them prefer their pets to themselves?

p.34  Scientific truths were made explicit a mere five hundred years ago, with the work of Francis Bacon, René Descartes and isaac Newton [and Gottfried Leibniz]. In whatever manner our forebears viewed the world prior to that, it was not through a scientific lens…Because we are so scientific now—and so determinedly materialistic—it s very difficult for us even to understand that other ways of seeing can and do exist. 

p.35  The scientific world of matter can be reduced, in some sense, to its fundamental constituent elements: molecules, atoms, even quarks. However, the world of experience has primal constituents, as well. The domain , not of matter, but of what matters!  These are the necessary elements whose interactions define drama and fiction. One of these is chaos. Another is order. The third (as there are three) is the process that mediates between the two, which appears identical to what modern people call consciousness. It is our eternal subjugation to the first two that makes us doubt the validity of existence—that makes us throw up our hands in despair, and fail to care for ourselves properly.

Chaos is the domain of ignorance itself. It’s unexplored territory….it’s the place you end up when things fall apart; when your dreams die, your career collapses, or your marriage ends. 

p36. Order, by contrast, is explored territory..order is tribe, religion, hearth, home and country..the floor beneath your feet, and your plan for the day ..the public façade we’re called upon to wear, the politeness of a gathering of civilised strangers, and the thin ice on which we all skate. …But order is sometimes tyranny and stultification, as well, when the demand for certainty and uniformity and purity becomes too one-sided.

p.41 In its positive guise, chaos is possibility itself, the source of ideas, the mysterious realm of gestation and birth . As a negative force, it’s the impenetrable darkness of a cave and the accident by the side of the road…Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters ..most men do not meet female human standards. It is for this reason that women on dating sites rate 85 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. 

p.43  We eternally inhabit order, surrounded by chaos. We eternally occupy known territory, surrounded by the unknown. straddle that fundamental duality is to be balanced.

p.44  Order is not enough.  You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you need to know. Thus, you need to place one foot in what you have mastered  and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering. Then you have positioned yourself where the terror of existence is under control and you are secure, but where you are also alert and engaged.

p.46  Re nakedness in the garden of Eden…a common nightmare involves the sudden appearance of the dreamer, naked, on a stage in front of a packed house…..It just not appear possible, even for God himself, to make a bounded space completely protected from the outside—not in the real world, with its necessary limitations, surrounded by the transcendant. 

p. 47  The worst of all possible snakes is the eternal human proclivity for evil. The worst of all possible snakes is psychological, spiritual, personal, internal. No walls, however tall, will keep that out. …Solzhenitsyn..the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being….Even the most assiduous of parents cannot fully protect their children…It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them….Question for parents: do you want to make your children safe or strong?

p.48   ..the capacity for women to shame men and render them self-conscious is still a primal force of nature. 

p.49  ..the snake features in the Garden of Paradise as the creature who gave us the vision of God (in addition to serving as the primordial and eternal enemy of mankind.)

p.50    In their vulnerability, now fully realised , [Adam and Eve] felt unworthy to stand before God.  If you can’t identify with that sentiment, you’re just not thinking. Beauty shames the ugly. Strength shames the weak. Death shames the living—and the Ideal shames us all. Thus we fear it, resent it—even hate it cf Cain …what are we to do about that? Abandon all ideals of beauty, health, brilliance and strength? That’s not a good solution. That would merely ensure that we would feel ashamed, all the time. 

p.51  Adam hid from God…they are afraid to walk with God. That’s not particularly admirable, perhaps, but it’s certainly understandable. God’s a judgmental father. His standards are high. He’s hard to please …people, unsettled by their vulnerability, eternally fear to tell the truth, to mediate between chaos and order, and to manifest their destiny…we can understand Eve’s error. She was deceived by the best. But Adam! No one forced his words from his mouth.

p.53  Perhaps Heaven [at this point cut off from Adam and Eve]  is something you must build, and immortality something you must earn.

p.54-5  Animals can’t manage [evil] but humans, with their excruciating, semi-divine capacities, certainly can. And with this realisation we have well nigh full legitimisation of the idea, very unpopular in modern intellectual circles, of Original Sin. …Our ancestors chose their sexual partners, and they selected for —consciousness? And self-consciousness? and moral knowledge?   And who can deny the sense of existential guilt that pervades human experience? And who could avoid noting that without that guilt—that sense of inbuilt corruption and capacity for wrongdoing—a man is one step from psychopathy?  …Human beings have a great capacity for wrongdoing. It’s an attribute that is unique in the world of life. ….What then is to be done?…we seek the healing medicament..Perhaps Man is something that should never have been. [cf Peter Singer..the earth would be better of without homo sapiens]. What then is to be done?

p.56  God creates the world with the divine, truthful Word, generating habitable, paradisal order from the precosmogonic chaos. He then creates Man and Woman in His image, imbuing them with the capacity to do the same—to create order from chaos, and continue His work….The moral of Genesis 1 is that Being broth into existence through true speech is Good…we retain an intimation of the prelapsarian state. We remember so to speak. We remain eternally nostalgic for the innocence of childhood, the divine, unconscious Being…[cf C S Lewis: The Weight of Glory: “these things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited..”]   in their perfection [man and woman] were also less, not more, than their post-Fall counterparts. Their goodness was something bestowed, rather than deserved or earned. They exercised no choice. God knows, that’s easier. But maybe it’s not better than, for example, goodness genuinely earned…free choice matters.

p.57 …perhaps it is not simply the emergence of self-consciousness and the rise of our moral knowledge of Death and the Fall that besets us and makes us doubt our own worth. Perhaps it is instead our unwillingness —reflected in Adam’s shamed hiding—to walk with God, despite our fragility and propensity for evil….Could man reach his potential without the challenge and danger?

p.57-8 The entire Bible is structured so that everything after the Fall—the history of Israel, the prophets, the coming of Christ—is presented as a remedy for that Fall, a way out of evil. The beginning of conscious history, the rise of the state and all its pathologies of pride and rigidity, the emergence of great moral figures who try to set things right,  culminating in the Messiah Himself—that is all part of humanity’s attempt, God willing, to set itself right. And what would that mean?…to embody the Image of God—but to do so consciously, of our own free will..back as awake beings…

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time…

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree…

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of things shall be well

When the tongues of flames are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one. 

(“Little Gidding.” Four Quartets, T S Eliot)

p.58-9      In the latter half of the C20th and into the C21st mass violence has declined but another problem has arisen. Many folk are arrogant , and egotistical, and always looking out for themselves,  but many others have the opposite problem: they shoulder intolerable burdens of self-disgust, self-contempt, shame and self-consciousness. Thus, instead of narcissistically inflating their own importance, they don’t value themselves at all…they believe that other people shouldn’t suffer, and they will work diligently and altruistically to help them alleviate it. They extend the same courtesy to animals they are acquainted with—but not so easily to themselves.

p.59-10   ..”loving your neighbour as yourself” …has nothing to do with being nice …it has more to do with being strong. Becoming a slave to your neighbour or the person in need helps no-one in the long run. 

p.60  …your mistreatment of yourself can have catastrophic consequences for others. This is most clearly evident, perhaps, in the aftermath of suicide, when those left behind are often both bereft and traumatized.

p.61  ..Yet people prevail and continue to do difficult and effortful tasks to hold themselves and their families and society together. To me this is miraculous —so much so that a dumbfounded gratitude is the only response….it is always the wounded people who are holding it together.

p.62   ..You need to consider the future and think,   “What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly.?”…

p.63   Peterson quotes Nietzsche:  “He whose life has a why can bear almost any how”.

p.67 Rule 3: Make Friends with People  Who Want the Best for You.  Basically surrounding yourself with the wrong company can only drag you down to their level. (A summary of Peterson’s early life in the Canadian backwoods.)


85  Rule 4: Compare Yourself to Who You were Yesterday, Not to Who Someone Else is Today. 

p.87  If the internal voice makes you doubt the value of your endeavours—or your life, or life itself—perhaps you should stop listening. If the critical voice says the same denigrating things about everyone, no matter how successful, how reliable can it be? Maybe its comments are chatter, not wisdom. “There will always be people better than you”— that’s a cliché of nihilism…talking yourself into irrelevance is not a profound critique of Being. 

p.92  Be careful when you’re comparing yourself to others. You’re a singular being, once you’re an adult… We must see, but to see, we must aim, so we are always aiming…We succeed when we score a goal or hit a target. We fail, or sin, when we do not (as the word “sin” means to miss a mark. [from Greek ῾αμαρτανειν].

p.94  ..where you start your renovations might not be as important as the direction you are heading…much of happiness is hope, no matter how deep the underworld in which that hope was conceived. 

p.96  ..what you aim at determines what you see…contrasted with sustained intentional blindness. [Dr Daniel Simons’ famous video of a ball game in which viewers were to count the number of times the white shirts threw the ball to each other; but there was also a gorilla walking across…few saw it until they looked again but not counting… ]

p.98  The Hindu Vedic texts: the world as perceived is maya—appearance or illusion. This means,  in part, that people are blinded by their desires (as well as merely incapable of seeing things as they truly are). This doesn’t matter so much when things are going well, and we are getting what we want (although it can be a problem, even then, because getting what we want currently can blind us to higher callings). But all that ignored world presents a terrible problem when we’re in crisis, and nothing whatsoever is turning out the way we want it to. Then there can be far too much to deal with. 

p.99  …it’s not that ‘life sucks, and then you die’… Life doesn’t have the problem. You do. 

p.102-3  The philosophical study of morality—of right and wrong—is Ethics….Religion concerns itself with the domain of value, ultimate value….it is about proper behaviour…what Plato called “The Good”….You cannot aim yourself at anything if you are completely undisciplined and untutored.  You will not know what to target, and you won’t fly straight, even if somehow you get your aim right. And then you will conclude, “There is nothing to aim for.” And then you will be lost…It is therefore necessary and desirable for religions to have a dogmatic element. What good is a value system that does not point the way to a higher order? And what good can you possibly be if you cannot or do not internalise that structure, or accept that order—not as a final destination, necessarily, but at least as a starting point? …this is not to say ..that obedience is sufficient..there must be vision beyond discipline, beyond dogma…it is for such reasons that Christ said, in the Gospel of Thomas, “The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but men do not see it.”

p.103  Does that mean that what we see is dependent on our religious beliefs? Yes! And what we don’t see as well! You might object, “But I’m an atheist.” No, you’re not (and if you want to understand this, you could read Dostoyekski’s Crime and which the main character, Raskolnikov , decides to take his atheism with true seriousness, commits what he has rationalised as a benevolent murder, and pays the price).  You’re simply not an atheist in your actions, and it is your actions that most accurately reflect your deepest beliefs…. You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act… You are too complex to understand yourself.

p.103-4  Some of our knowledge of our beliefs has been documented. We have been watching ourselves act, reflecting on that watching, and telling stories distilled through that reflection, for tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. ..Part of the knowledge so generated is what is encapsulated in the fundamental teachings of our cultures, in ancient writings  such as the Tao te Ching, or the Vedic Sciptures or the Biblical stories. The Bible is, for better or for worse, the foundational document of Western civilisation (of Western values, Western morality, and Western conceptions of good and evil)….its careful, respectful study can reveal things to us about what we believe and how we do and should act that can be discovered in almost no other manner.

p.104 ..Old Testament God doesn’t much care what modern people think. He often didn’t care what Old Testament people thought either…Nonetheless when His people strayed from the path—trouble was certain to follow. 

p.105 The Old Testament Israelites and their forebears knew that God was not to be trifled with, and that whatever Hell the angry Deity might allow to be engendered if he was crossed was real. Having recently passed through a century defined by the bottomless horrors of Hitler, Stalin and Mao, we might realise the same thing….

p.104-5…New Testament God is often presented as a different character (although the Book of Revelation, with its Final Judgment, warns against andy excessively naïve complacency).  He is all-loving and forgiving…In a world such as this—this hothouse of doom—who could buy such a story? The all-good God in a post-Auschwitz world?….  Nietzsche considered New Testament God the worst literature crime in Western history. In Beyond Good and Evil he wrote:…To have bound up this New Testament (a kind of ROCOCO of taste in every respect) along with the Old Testament into one book, as the “Bible,” as “The Book in Itself” is perhaps the greatest audacity and “sin against the spirit” which literary Europe has on its conscience.

p.107  aim at the improvement of Being….in other words, you decide to act as if existence might be justified  by its goodness—if only you behaved properly. And it is that decision, that declaration of existential faith, that allows you to overcome nihilism, and resentment, and arrogance…..It is that decision, that declaration of faith that keeps hatred of Being, with all its attendant evils,  at bay. And, as for such faith: it is not at all the will to believe things that you know perfectly well to be false. Faith is not the childish belief in magic.  That is ignorance or wilful blindness. It is instead he realisation that the tragic irrationalities of life must be counterbalanced by an equally irrational commitment to the essential goodness of Being. it is simultaneously the will to dare set your sights at the unachievable, and to sacrifice everything, including (and most importantly) your life.   But how?…

p.107 You might start by not thinking—or, more accurately, but less trenchantly, by refusing to subjugate your faith to your current rationality, and its narrowness of view….it means you must pay attention.

p.110 …concentrate on the day, so that you can live in the present, and attend completely and properly to what is right in front of you..but do that only after you have decided to let what is within shine forth, so that it can justify Being and illuminate the world. Do that only after you have determined to sacrifice whatever it is that must be sacrificed sot that you can pursue the highest good. ..Consider the lilies of the field…..(Luke 12:22-34).

p.113  Rule 5.  Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything that Makes You Dislike Them.

p.118  Our society faces the increasing call to deconstruct its stabilising traditions to include smaller and smaller numbers of people  who do not or will not fit into the categories upon which even our perceptions are based. This is not a good thing. Each person’s private trouble cannot be solved by a social revolution, because revolutions are destabilising and dangerous. We have learned to live together and organise our complex societies slowly and incrementally, over vast stretches of time, and we do not understand with sufficient exactitude why what we are doing works. Thus, altering our ways of social being carelessly in the name of some ideological shibboleth (diversity springs to mind) is likely to produce far more trouble than good, given the suffering that even small revolutions generally produce.

p.119  Was it really a good thing, for example, to so dramatically liberalise the divorce laws in the 1960s?  …I see today’s parents as terrified by their children, not least because they have been deemed the proximal agents of this hypothetical social tyranny, and simultaneously denied credit for their role as benevolent and necessary agents of discipline, order and conventionality.  They dwell uncomfortably and self-consciously in the all-too-powerful shadow of the adolescent ethos of the 1960s, a decade whose excesses led to a general denigration of adulthood, an unthinking belief in the existence of competent power, and the inability t distinguish between the chaos of immaturity and responsible freedom….there are catastrophes lurking at the extremes of every moral continuum.

p.119-120  The belief that children have an intrinsically unsullied spirit, damaged only by culture and society, is derived in no small part from the eighteenth-century Genevan French philosopher Jean-Jacques. Rousseau was a fervent believer in the corrupting influence of human society and private ownership alike. He claimed that nothing was so gentle and wonderful as man in his pre-civilized state. At precisely the same time, noting his inability as a father, he abandoned five of his children to the tender and fatal mercies of the orphanages of the time. 

p.120 …human beings are evil, as well as good, and the darkness that dwells forever in our souls is also there in no small part in our younger selves. In general, people improve with age, rather than worsening, becoming kinder, more conscientious, and more emotionally stable as they mature. Bullying at the sheer and often terrible intensity of the schoolyard rarely manifests itself in grown-up society. William Golding’s dark and anarchistic Lord of the Flies is a classic for a reason.

p.120 …bluntly put: chimpanzees conduct inter-tribal warfare. Furthermore they do it with unimagined brutality..

p.124 We assume that rules will irremediably inhibit what would otherwise be the boundless and intrinsic creativity of our children, even though the scientific literature clearly indicates, first, tat creativity beyond the trivial is shockingly rare and, second, that strict limitations facilitate rather than inhibit creative achievement. Belief in the purely destructive element of rules and and structure is frequently conjoined with the idea that children will make good choices about when to sleep and what to eat, if their perfect natures are merely allowed to manifest themselves.  These are equally ungrounded assumptions.

p. 125  People often get basic psychological questions backward. Why do people take drugs? Not a mystery. It’s why they don’t take them all the time that’s the mystery. Why do people suffer from anxiety? That’s not a mystery.  How is it that people can ever be calm? There’s the mystery. 

p.129f  Discipline and punish must be handled with care. The fear is unsurprising. But both are necessary. They can be applied unconsciously or consciously, badly or well, but there is no escaping their use.

p.130 It’s not that it is impossible to discipline with reward. In fact, rewarding good behaviour can be very effective. B. F. Skinner was a great advocate of this approach with significant success. 

p. 136f Rules should not be multiplied beyond necessity. Alternatively stated, bad laws drive out respect for good laws. This is the ethical—even legal—equivalent of Occam’s razor, the scientist’s conceptual guillotine,  which states that the simplest possible hypothesis is preferable. So, don’t encumber children—or their disciplinarians —with too many rules. That path leads to frustration.  Limit the rules. Then figure out what to do when one of them gets broken. The second principle: Use the least force necessary to enforce those rules.

p.141  Every gingerbread house has a witch inside it which devours children

P.141…time out can be an extremely effective form of punishment, particularly if the misbehaving child is welcome as soon as he controls his temper.

p.142  Parents should come in pairs. Raising young children is demanding and exhausting…Parents should understand their own capacity to be harsh, vengeful, arrogant, resentful, angry and deceitful. 

p.143 Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world—merciful proxies, caring proxies—but proxies nevertheless. This obligation supersedes any responsibility to ensure happiness, foster creativity, or boost self-esteem. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

p.147 Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world. 

p.147f Murderous individuals …appoint themselves supreme adjudicators of reality and find it wanting. They are the ultimate critics. For such individuals, the world of experience is insufficient and evil—so to hell with everything! …..Goethe’s Faust made a pact with Mephistopheles, the devil…in return he receives whatever he desires while still on earth. Mephistopheles is the eternal adversary of Being.  

I am the spirit who negates

and rightly so, for all that comes to be

deserves to perish, wretchedly.

It were better nothing would begin!

Thus everything that your terms sin,

destruction, evil represent—

that is my proper element. 

p.149f  It’s not only the obviously suffering  who are tormented by the need to blame someone or something for the intolerable state of their Being. At the height of his fame, influence and creative power, for example, the towering Leo Tolstoy himself began to question the value of human existence. Tolstoy began to develop thoughts that life is meaningless and evil…Tolstoy could identify only four means of escaping from such thoughts..retreating into childlike ignorance of the problem…pursuing mindless pleasure; continuing to drag our a life that is evil and meaningless, knowing beforehand that nothing can come of it.. the strength to act rationally and quickly put an end to the delusion by killing themselves…. For years he hid his guns from himself and would not walk with a rope in hand, in case he hanged himself.

p.150  Tolstoy wasn’t pessimistic enough . The stupidity of the joke being played on us does not merely motivate suicide.  It motivates murder—mass murder, often followed by suicide. That is a far more existential protest. By June of 2016, unbelievable as it may seem, there has been one thousand mass killings  (defined as four or more  people shot in a single incident, excluding the shooter) in the US in twelve hundred and sixty days. That’s one such event of five of every six days for more than three years. 

…the biblical story of Cain and Abel …described murder as the first act of post-Edenic history…and not just murder, but fratricidal murder—murder not only of someone innocent but of someone ideal and good, and murder done consciously to spite the creator of the universe. Today’s killers tells us the same thing, in their own words.

p.151   A religious man might shake his fist in desperation at the apparent injustice and blindness of God. Even Christ Himself felt abandoned before the cross, as the story goes. Other alternatives include fate,…the brutality of chance…a character flaw in the murderer…why is there so much suffering and cruelty?

p.153  Nietzsche wrote these words: “Distress, whether psychic, physical, or intellectual, need not at all produce nihilism (that is, the radical rejection of value, meaning and desirability). Such distress always permits a variety of interpretations….it is also possible to learn good by experiencing evil…Many, perhaps even most, of the adults who abuse children were abused t themselves as children. However, the majority of people who were abused as children do not abuse their own children.

p.155 One man’s decision to change his life, instead of cursing fate, shook the whole pathological system of communist tyranny to its core. It crumbled entirely, not so many years later, and Solzenhitsyn’s courage was not the least of the reasons why. He was not the only such person to perform such a miracle.  Václav Havel, the persecuted writer who later, impossibly, became the president of Czechoslovakia, then of the new Czech Republic, comes to mind, as does Mahatma Gandhi. 

p.157 Responses to suffering other than corruption and anger can include: clean up your life; work hard on your career/job; have you made peace with your brother/family? are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity? do you have destroying habits? start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. 

p.158 …say only those things that make you strong. Do only those things that you could speak of with honour….don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Have some humility….start to work on the subtle things you know to be wrong…maybe then tragedies will remain tragic instead of Hellish. If enough people did this the world might not be evil.

p.161  Rule 7: Pursue What is Meaningful (Not what is Expedient).

p. 166..  Here’s a productive symbolic idea: the future is a judgmental father.  Another productive idea is sacrifice now, to gain later  as well as sacrifice will improve the future.

Cain and Abel are really the first humans, since their parents were made directly by God, and not born in the standard manner.  Cain and Abel live in history, not in Eden.  They must work. They must make sacrifices to please God, and they do so, with altar and proper ritual. But things get complicated. Abel’s offerings please God, but Cain’s do not.

p.171 The sacrifice of the mother, offering her child to the world, is exemplified profoundly by Michelangelo’s great sculpture, the Pietà, …Michelangelo crafted Mary contemplating her Son, crucified and ruined. It’s her fault. It was through her that He entered the world and its great drama of Being.  Is it right to bring a baby into this terrible world? Every woman asks herself that question. …It’s an act of supreme courage, when undertaken voluntarily.

p.171-2  In turn, Mary’s son, Christ, offers Himself to God and the world, to betrayal, torture and death—to the very point of despair on the cross, where he cries out those terrible words: my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew27:46). That is the archetypal story of the man who gives all for the sake of the better—who allows God’s will to become manifest fully within the confines of a single, mortal life. That is the model for the honourable man.  In Christ’s case, however—as He sacrifices himself—God, HIs Father, is simultaneously sacrificing His son. It is for this reason that the Christian sacrificial drama of Son and Self is archetypal. It’s a story at the limit, where nothing more extreme—nothing greater—can be imagined. That’s the very definition of “archetypal”. That’s the core of what constitutes “religious”.

p.174-5   There is also the problem of evil to consider….Not the least of this is what Goethe called “our creative, endless toil.” [Faust, Part 2 ]…We therefore sacrifice the pleasures of today for the sake of a better tomorrow….[Mankind] was also granted (or cursed by) the knowledge of Good and Evil…once you become consciously aware that you, yourself, are vulnerable. You understand the nature of human vulnerability, in general.  You understand what it’s like to be fearful, and angry, and resentful, and bitter. You understand what pain means.  And once you truly understand such feelings in yourself, and how they’re produced, you understand how to produce them in others.

p.176  Evil enters the world with self-consciousness.

p.177  Life is indeed “nasty, brutish and short,” as the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes so memorably remarked. But man’s capacity for evil makes it worse. 

p.178-9 Things do not progress well for Cain….Cain encounters Satan in the wilderness, for all intents and purposes, and falls prey to his temptations. And he does what he can to make things as bad as possible, motivated by (in John Milton’s imperishable words): 

So deep a malice, to confound the Race

Of Mankind in one Root, and Earth with Hell

to mingle and involve—done all to spite

the Great Creator.  [Paradise Lost, Book 2].

p.179-180  “After Auschwitz,” said Theodore Adorno, student of authoritarianism, “there should be no poetry,”  He was wrong. But the poetry should be about Auschwitz. In the grim wake of the last ten decades of the previous millennium, the terrible destructiveness of man has become a problem whose seriousness  self-evidently dwarfs even the problem of unredeemed suffering. And neither one of those problems is going to be solved in the absence of a solution to the other.  This is where the idea of Christ’s taking on the sins of mankind as if they were His own becomes key, opening the door to deep understanding of the desert encounter with the devil himself. “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto,” said the Roman playwright Terence:  nothing human is alien to me.”

p.180  “No tree can grow to Heaven,” adds the ever-terrifying Carl Gustav Jung, psychoanalyst extraordinaire, “unless its roots reach down to Hell.” 

In the desert, Christ encounters Satan (see Luke 4:1-13 and Matthew 4:1-11). …It means that Christ is forever He who determines to take personal responsibility for the full depth of human depravity…This is nothing merely abstract (although it is abstract); nothing to be brushed over. It’s no merely intellectual matter.  

p.181 In the great and fundamental myths of ancient Egypt, the god Horus—often regarded as a precursor to Christ, historically and conceptually speaking—experienced the same thing, when he confronted his evil uncle Set (fn8 ..the word Set is an etymological precursor to the word Satan), usurper of the throne of Osiris, Horus’s father. Horus, the all-seeing Egyptian falcon god, the Egyptian eye of supreme, eternal attention to itself, has the courage to contend with Set’s true nature, meeting him in direct combat. In his struggle with his dread uncle, however, his consiousness is damaged. He loses an eye. ..

p.183-4 Christ’s third temptation is the most compelling of all ..the kingdoms of the world laid before Him for the taking. That’s the siren call of earthly power: the opportunity to control and order everyone and everything. Christ is offered the pinnacle of the dominance hierarchy …Power also means the capacity to take vengeance, ensure submission, and crush enemies. But, there’s something above even the pinnacle of the highest of dominance the Tao te Ching has it: 

He who contrives, defeats his purpose;

and he who is grasping, loses.

The sage does not contrive to win,

and therefore is not defeated; 

he is not grasping, so does not lose.  [verse 64]

p.186- 7  Christianity’s achievements in the early centuries of its existence were substantial including its critique of slave owning and the rights of the lowest order of society; its courage in the face of the barbaric cruelty of the Romans; its opposition to infanticide, to prostitution, and to the principle that might means right; its support of the rights of women; mercy to enemies; the separation of church from state. 

p.188 -192    Nietzsche’s devastating C19th  attack on Christianity centred on the twin poles of (i) the enlightenment scientific assault  of the fundamental Christian stories eg the creation account…the idea of God is dead!  and (ii) that Paul and later Protestantism had watered down the idea of the imitation of Christ and the importance of “works” and replaced it with a too easy solution of “justification by faith alone, ” as well as the devaluation of earthly life by its emphasis on the hereafter resulting in a passive acceptance of the status quo on earth and an excuse for Christian’s not to take on the earth’s moral burdens.  Nietzsche’s call was to the “Will to Power” and Dostoyevski’s  story of the “Grand Inquisitor” told by his “atheist superman”  Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov exerted a powerful impact on Nietzsche. Nietzsche called his fellow humanity to achievement, ambition and the will to achieve the highest possible position in life.  Peterson argues that the Grand Inquisitor spoke truthfully about a childish, sanctimonious, patriarchal, servant of the state church..a corrupt edifice of Christianity but also argues that the spirit of Christ, the world -engendering Logos, had historically and might still find its resting place —even its sovereignty —within the dogmatic structure [of the church.]

p. 193  Peterson agrees that the dogma is dead, at least to the modern Western mind. It perished along with God. What has emerged from behind its corpse, however, and this is an issue of central important —is something even more dead; something that was never alive, even in the past: nihilism, as well as an equally dangerous susceptibility to new, totalizing, utopian ideas. It was in the aftermath of God’s death that the great collective horrors of Communism and Fascism sprang forth (as both Dostoyevski and Nietzsche predicted they would). Nietzsche, for his part, posited that individual human beings would have to invent their own values in the aftermath of God’s death. But this is the element of his thinking that appears weakest, psychologically: we cannot invent our own values, because we cannot merely impose what we believe on our souls. This was Carl Jung’s great discovery—made in no little part because of his intense study of the problems posed by Nietzsche. We rebel against our own totalitarianism, as much as that of others…

p.193-4 Peterson takes us back behind Nietzsche to Descartes and his doubt. see if he could establish, or discover, a single proposition impervious to his skepticism….He was teaching for the foundation stone on which proper Being could be established. He found it, as far as he was concerned, in the “i” who was aware. …cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).

p.194-5  The philosopher Karl Popper, certainly no mystic, regarded thinking itself as a logical extension of the Darwinian process. A creature that cannot think must solely embody its Being. It can merely act out its nature, concretely, in the here-and-now…But that is not true of human beings. We can produce abstracted representations of potential modes of Being. We can produce an idea in the theatre of the imagination. We can test it our against other ideas, the ideas of others, or of the world itself. If it falls short, we can let it go. We can, in Popper’s formulation, let our ideas die in our stead. [1977 lecture at Darwin College, Cambridge]…..Now, an idea is not the same thing as a fact. A fact is something that is dead, in and of itself. It has no consciousness, no will to  power, no motivation, no action.  There are billions of dead facts. The internet is a graveyard of dead facts. But an idea that grips a person is alive. It wants to express itself, to live in the world.

p.196-7  In 1984 , I started down the same road as Descartes… just exactly what happened in the C20th anyway? how was it that to many tens of millions had to die, sacrificed to the new dogmas and ideologies? How was it that we discovered something worse, much worse, than the aristocracy and corrupt religious beliefs that communism and fascism sought so rationally to supplant? No one had answered those questions, as far as I could tell.. Solzhenitsyn wrote , definitively and profoundly , in his Gulag Archipelago..about the Nuremberg trials, which he considered were the most significant event of the C20th. The conclusion of those trials? There are some actions that are so intrinsically terrible that they run counter to the proper nature of human Being….These are evil actions. No excuses are available for engaging in them.

What can I not doubt? The reality of suffering. It brooks no argument. Nihilists cannot undermine it with skepticism. Totalitarians cannot banish it. Cynics cannot escape from its reality. Suffering is real, and the artful infliction of suffering on another, for its own sake, is wrong. That became the cornerstone of my belief…. 

p.197-8 Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human being understands, a priori, perhaps not what is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good. 

p.200 To have meaning in your life is better than to have what you want.

p.201 Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient. 

p.203 Rule 8: Tell the Truth—Or, At Least, Don’t Lie. 

p.209 Taking the easy way out or telling the truth—those are not merely two different choices. They are different pathways through life They are utterly different ways of existing.

p.212 If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself.

p.214  The prideful, rational mind, comfortable with its certainty, enamoured of its own brilliance, is easily tempted to ignore error, and to sweep dirt under the rug. Literary, existential philosophers, beginning with Søren Kierkegaard, conceived of this mode of Being  as “inauthentic.” An inauthentic person continues to perceive and act in ways his own experience has demonstrated false. He does not speak with his own voice.

p.217-8 ..rationality is subject to the single worst temptation—to raise what it knows now to the status of an absolute.  cf John Milton Paradise Lost, on Satan…

He trusted to have equaled the most High, 

If he opposed; and with ambitious aim

Against the Throne and Monarchy of God

Raised impious War in Heaven and Battel proud

With vain attempt.  Him the Almighty Power

Hurled headlong flaming from the Ethereal Sky

With hideous ruin and combustion down

To bottomless perdition, there to dwell

In Adamantine Chains and penal fire…..

…. reason falls in love with itself, and worse. It falls in love with its own productions. It elevates them, and worships them as absolutes. Lucifer is, therefore, the spirit of Totalitarianism…such elevation, such rebellion against the Highest an Incomprehensible, inevitably produces Hell. is the greatest temptation of the rational faculty to glorify its own capacity and its own productions and to claim that in the face of its theories nothing transcendent or outside its domain need exist. 

p.220  Milton, Paradise Lost again: 

The mind is its own place, and in itself,

Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

Here we may reign secure, and in my choice

To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.

Those who have lied enough, in word and action, live there, in hell—now. 

p.222-3 Culture is always in a near-dead state, even though it was established by the spirit of great people in the past. But the present is not the past. The wisdom of the past thus deteriorates, or becomes outdated, in proportion to the genuine difference between the conditions of the present and the past . That is a mere consequence of the passage of time, and the change that passage inevitably brings. But it is also the case that culture and its wisdom is additionally vulnerable to corruption—to voluntary, wilful blindness and Mephistophelian intrigue. Thus, the inevitable functional decline of the institutions granted to us by our ancestors is sped along by our misbehaviour—our missing the mark- in the present. 

p.225-6  A totalitarian never asks, “What if my current ambition is in error?” He treats it, instead, as the Absolute: It becomes his God, for all intents and purposes. It constitutes his highest value. …All people serve their ambition. In that matter, there are no atheists. There are only people who know, and don’t know, what God they serve. [cf Bob Dylan: “you gotta serve somebody”!]

p.233  Rule 9: Assume that the Person You are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t.

p.237 The past appears fixed, but it’s not—not in an important psychological sense. There is an awful lot to the past, after all, and the way we organise it can be subject to drastic revision…when you are remembering the past, as well, you remember some parts of it and forget others. You have clear memories of some things  that happened, but not others, of potentially equal import— just as in the present you are aware dog some aspects of your surroundings and unconscious of others…You’re not objective, either. You’re alive. You’re subjective.  You have vested interests.

p.242   A listening person tests your talking (and your thinking) without having to say anything.  A listening person is a representative of common humanity.  He stands for the crowd.  Now the crowd is by no means always right, but it’s commonly right. It’s typically right. If you say something that takes everyone aback, therefore, you should reconsider what you said. I say that, knowing full well that controversial opinions are sometimes correct—sometimes so much so that the crowd will perish if it refuses to listen. It is for this reason, among others. that the individual is morally obliged  to stand up and tell the truth of his or her own experience. But something new and radical is still almost always wrong. You need good, even great, reasons to ignore or defy general, public opinion.  That’s your culture. …If you’re reading this book there’s a strong probability that you’re a privileged person. You can read. You have time to read. YOu’re perched high in the clouds. It took untold generations to get you where you are. A little gratitude might be in order. If you’re going to insist on bending the world to your way, you better have your reasons.

p.243 Carl Rogers, one of the twentieth century’s great psychotherapists, knew something about listening. He wrote,”The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate, because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have it.” [Journal article]

p.259   Rule 10: Be Precise in your Speech.

p.271 Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission. 

p. 275  Why avoid, when avoidance necessarily and inevitably poisons the future?…why remain vague, when it renders life stagnant and murky?…why refuse to investigate, when knowledge of reality enables mastery of reality?  If you wait instead until what you are refusing to investigate comes a-knocking at your door, things will certainly not go so well for you.

William Butler Yeats: “The Second Coming”.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

p.280  Precision specifies. ….What you hear in the forest but cannot see might be a tiger. …but it might not be, too. If you turn and look, perhaps  you will see it’s just a squirrel.

p.281 Don’t hide baby monsters under the carpet. They will flourish. 

p.282  You must determine where you are going in your life, because you cannot get there unless you move in that direction. Random wandering will not move you forward. It will instead disappoint and frustrate you and make you anxious and unhappy and hart to get along with (and then resentful, and then vengeful, and then worse).   Be precise in your speech.

p.285 Rule 11: Do Not Bother Children when they are Skateboarding.

p.306  Peterson identifies two architects of the assault on the values of Western civilisation: 

Max Horkheimer and the Frankfurt School ..1930s. He believed that Western principles of individual freedom or the free market were merely masks that served to disguise the true conditions of the West: inequalilty, domination and exploitation. He believed that intellectual activity should be devoted to social change, instead of mere understanding and hoped to emancipate humanity from its enslavement. 

Jacques Derrida, leader of the postmodernists, who came into vogue in the 1970s  Derrida described his own ideas as a radicalised form of Marxism. When Marxism was put into practice in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed. Private property was eliminated, and rural people forcibly collectivised. The result? Tens of millions of people died. Hundreds of millions more were subject to oppression rivalling that still operating in North Korea, the last classic communist holdout. The resulting economic systems were corrupt and unsustainable. The world entered a prolonged and extremely dangerous cold war. The citizens of those societies lived the life of the lie, betraying their families, informing on their neighbours—existing in misery, without complaint (or else). Marxist ideas were very attractive to intellectual utopians. …Sartres supported Marxism until 1968 (the Czech Spring; then Solzenhitzen).

p.311  Derrida famously said (althoughhe denied it, later):”Il n’y a pas de hors-texte”—often translated as “there is nothing outside the text”. His supporters say that is a mistranslation, and that the English equivalent should have been “there is no outside-text”. It remains difficult, either way, to read the statement as saying anything other than “everything is interpretation,” and that is how Derrida’s work has generally been interpreted.  It is almost impossible to over-estimate the nihilistic and destructive nature of this philosophy. It puts the act of categorisation in doubt.  It negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than that of raw power. Biological distinctions between men and women? Despite the existence of an overwhelming, multi-disciplinary scientific literature indicating that sex differences are powerfully influenced by biological factors, science is just another game of power, for Derrida and his post-modern Marxist acolytes, making claims to benefit those at the pinnacle of the scientific world. There are no facts. …all definitions of skill and of competence are merely made up by those who benefit from them, to exclude others, and to benefit personally and selfishly. 

There is sufficient truth to Derrida’s claims to account, in part, for their insidious nature. Power is a fundamental motivational force  (“a” not “the”) . People compete to rise to the top, and they care where they are in dominance hierarchies. But (and this is where you separate the metaphorical boys from the men, philosophically) the fact that power plays a role in human motivation does not mean that it plays the only role, or even the primary role. 

p.313  If radical right-wingers were receiving state funding for political operations disguised as university courses, as the radical left-left-wingers clearly are, the uproar from progressives across North America would be deafening.

p.335  Rule 12: Pet a Cat When you Encounter One on the Street. 

p.343  What is the link between vulnerability and Being? An old Jewish story, part of the Commentary on the Torah begins with a question, structured like a Zen koan. Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a Being lack? The answer? Limitation. …and it is for this reason, so the story goes, that God created man. No limitation, no story. No story, no Being. That idea has helped me deal with the terrible fragility of Being.  I don’t want to claim that this somehow makes it all [ie intense suffering] all OK…but there’s something to be said for recognising that existence and limitation are inextricable linked. 

Though thirty spokes may form the wheel,

it is the hole within the hub

which gives the wheel utility.

It is not the clay the potter throws,

which gives the pot its usefulness,

but the space within its shape,

from which the pot is made.

Without a door, the room cannot be entered,

and without its windows it is dark

Such is the utility of non-existence. [Lao-Tse: The tao te ching:  verse 11:The Utility of Non-Existence.]

p.345  Being of any reasonable sort appears to require limitation. Perhaps this is because Being requires Becoming, as well as mere static existence—and to become is to become something more, or at least something different. That is only possible for something limited. 

p. 345f  But then what about the suffering? Dostoyevski: It cannot be said that world history is reasonable. The word sticks in one’s throat. [Notes from Underground].  cf Goethe’s Faust Part 11:

Gone, to sheer Nothing, past with null made one!

What matters our creative endless toil,

When, at a snatch, oblivion ends the coil?

“It is by-gone”—how shall this riddle run?

As good as if things never had begun,

Yet circle back, existence to possess;

I’d rather have Eternal Emptiness. 

p.346  Clearly the answer is not to create more suffering ..that only makes a bad situation even worse. And I also don’t think it is possible to answer the question by thinking. Thinking leads inexorably to the abyss. It did not work for Tolstoy. It might not even have worked for Nietzsche, who arguably thought more clearly about such things than anyone in history…it ’s noticing, not thinking that does the trick.  Perhaps you might start by noticing this: when you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations…there appear to be limits on the path to improvement beyond which we might not want to go, lest we sacrifice our humanity itself.

p.355 Coda. 

Ask, and it shall be given to you; Seek, and ye shall find; Knock, and it shall be open unto you; For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7&8).

p.357 Re arguments: You must decide whether you want to be right or you want to have peace…

p.357  you must be receptive to that which you don’t want to hear.

p.361 Re the world: ..act so that you are not made bitter and corrupt by the tragedy of existence. 

p.365  Re ageing: Replace the potential of my youth with the accomplishments of my maturity….A life lived thoroughly justifies its own limitations…The young man with nothing has his possibilities to be set against the accomplishments of his elders..

Yeats: Sailing to Byzantium

“An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless /Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing /For every tatter in its mortal dress.

p.367  …nothing is going so badly that it can’t be made worse…..The King of the damned is a poor judge of Being.

Books read January 2019


Philip Yancey:  I Was Just Wondering, Sydney, Strand Publishing, 2005 (1989)

This is one of Yancey’s earliest books…a collection of short pieces written when he was a regular writer for a monthly edition of Christianity Today, a task he commenced in 1983.  Yancey has since written some seriously honest, theologically challenging, spiritually uplifting and  influential books including What’s So Amazing About Grace, The Jesus I Never Knew and Soul Survivor,  which would feature in many Christian readers’ top ten Christian books list. This early collection demonstrates all the quirky, well balanced, widely read, supremely courageous traits which characterise Yancey’s acute observations of the world around him and how Christian believers should respond. 

In his forward Yancey sets a high standard indeed for himself.  Looking around at creation he “wants to express his own sense of awe and love for God’s creation. He quotes Renaissance polymath and mystic Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man which defined the role of humanity in creation as follows: ..the divine Artificer still longed for some creature which could comprehend the meaning of so vast and achievement, which might be moved with love at its beauty and smitten with awe at its grandeur.  

Whether Yancey has achieved that goal the reader of this collection will have to decide but for me, in these bite size articles Yancey manages to challenge and raise thoughts for me which seem fresh, new and often hurtfully sharp. He asks more questions than he provides answers for but the questions leave the reader troubled enough to soul search for his or her own authentic response. His inspiration is Walker Percy’s book The Message in a Bottle which commences with six pages of questions. Each section of Yancey’s book begins with a series of very good questions indeed.

Some of Yancey’s themes include: comparing running an acquarium with running a universe; wild animals and Job; theology derived from dirty jokes; why high school reunion folks are the just the same ten years later as they were in school; against psychological determinism; Chesterton’s view of the origin of pleasure; the midnight church of alcoholics anonymous which acknowledges dependency; the Bible’s lack of support for smugness eg about the AIDS epidemic; the impact of Christianity on medicine in India; former president Jimmy Carter now building houses for the homeless; missiles for hostages in Iran; comparing Pinochet and the Pope in Chile; Simon Wiesenthal and forgiveness for horrors committed; the liberation of Dachau and a US soldier’s responses; Jacques Ellul’s sense of personal failure to resolve secular activism with his devotional theology ..(love vs power); Henri Nouwen’s decision to give up international fame and influence at its peak to spend the rest of his life caring for one massively disabled and dependent young man; small idols and distractions that edge out God in modern life; growing up Fundamentalist is still better than growing up without any religious faith at all; living in an evangelical enclave compared with the pharisee in the Temple; society’s C20th reversal of William James’ findings in Varieties of Religious Experience; George MacDonald on grace; T S Eliot ..can a liberal intellectual darling become a Christian and stay a Christian? Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn..imprisonment and conversion; Shusaku Endo and The Silence … the fate of persecuted pre-war Japanese Christians; how could Nazism achieve what it did in middle class Germany and how will the US be seen in 70 years’ time? primal passion in Jeremiah; mixed metaphors in Hosea; why the pseudepigraphical Gospels of a miraculous Jesus don’t cut it; the spirit of arranged marriages and why they mostly work; nine possible answers to the riddle of Job; Helmut Thielicke’s view that Americans have an inadequate theology of suffering and why; the world judges God by those who bear his name cf Nietzsche: “His disciples will have to look more saved if I am to believe in their saviour”; black holes and God; whatever happened to heaven..and many more!   5 stars. 

Daniel Defoe: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Years a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her brother) Twelve Years a Thief, Eight Years a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest and died a Penitent, (usually known simply as Moll Flanders), 

New York, The Bibliophilist Society, 1931 (original published in 1722). This 1931 hardback edition includes an introduction by W H Davies, (1871-1940), Welsh “people’s” poet and writer and also contains  outrageous  illustrations of Moll Flanders sexual encounters by American artist John Alan Maxwell. (In a profile of Maxwell in the February, 1948 issue of Esquire Magazine,[8] writer Robert U. Godsoe described the artist:

Here is a romantic painter of dangerously exciting women–women with ‘great mystery in their hair and moisture on their hands.’   (Wikipedia)

I remember reading Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe when I was quite young and although I found its length daunting I do recall that the old fashioned language was nevertheless direct and easy to understand. Defoe never wastes a word and does not worry too much about adjectives or description of surroundings. The story is everything and it rolls along with plenty of action. Moll Flanders is a rollicking tale indeed. Apparently loosely based on a historical London criminal identity Moll King it certainly soon takes off with a life of its own. The novel highlights the vast disjunction in the  early C18th and probably forever! between the aristocracy and the poor in England and the well-known misbehaviour of sons of the aristocracy with household maids which is where Moll Flanders’ troubles begin. On the other hand there is little moralising or preaching.

The narrative is breezy, entertaining, at times thought provoking, always engaging and leading on the reader to find out what could possible happen next.  Defoe’s Puritan Christian faith emerges very strongly in the prison section but even here there are no artificial conversions or dramatic changes of heart or character.  Nearly 400 years on Moll Flanders ages very well and in all that time I doubt it has very often been out of print.   4 stars.

Michael Glover, Great Works: Encounters With Art,  London & New York, Prestel, 2016.

Great Works:Encounters With Art is a beautifully crafted and richly produced book containing elegantly reproduced photographs of fifty major works of art, mostly paintings but some sculpture. Michael Glover is a London-based poet, art critic and magazine editor and writer.  This book is a collection of some of his many sharp and pithy analyses written mostly for the The Independent UK newspaper.   Many of these works are from British galleries but others are from galleries throughout Europe and the USA.

Many of my favourite paintings are discussed  here including Mantegna’s The Dead Christ from the Brera in Milan, Grünewald’s Resurrection of Christ from he Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, France, Caspar David Friedrich’s Traveller Above the Mists  from Hamburg’s Kunstalle, Fragonard’s The Swing, from London’s Wallace Collection, and Massacio’s The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden from Florence’s Brancacci Chapel.  In addition Glover has analysed Japanese woodblock prints, an ancient Assyrian low-relief lion sculpture and a large number of twentieth and Twenty first century artists including Paul Klee, Louise Bourgeois, Cy Twombly, and Marlene Dumas amongst many others. 

Glover’s attention to detail, flamboyantly thoughtful analysis, historical background and richly poetic descriptive language make reading this book a special privilege.  I was constantly amazed by his ability to point to aspects of a painting and minute details in paintings I thought I knew well and have never noticed before.  5 stars +

Alex Miller:  Watching the Climbers on the Mountain,  Sydney, Pan Books, 1998

Alex Miller’s first novel contains all the hallmarks of what in my view qualifies him as Australia’s finest writer since Patrick White, even though he was born in England. These hallmarks include deeply painted, intricate and alive  descriptions of outback Queeensland bush and mountains; equally intricate and crafted insights into characters especially male/female relationships; teasing plot development which several times threatens to terror and then recedes until finally delivering; a devastating study of coming of age for young children in remote outback Australia. 

Beyond all of the above the narrative contains a deeper search for meaning and understanding of being alive and surviving in life.  This is a tragic love story told with psychological tautness and with the occasional gem of a sentence that prophesies the greatness to come in future Alex Miller novels…. eg a  sentence such as old age is the only secure refuge from manhood (p66). This novel grips the reader from the first sentence and does not let go until the end.  I read it in three hours ..could not put it down.  (but then I am the president of the Alex Miller fanclub!); 5 stars.

This is a clever insight into the historical background of Jesus from a world class Danish New Testament scholar who has written in the areas of Early Palestinian Christianity, Early Christian traditions and Pauline theology from both a sociological and psychological perspective. 

Gerd Theissen: The Shadow of the Galilean, translated from German by John Bowden, London, SCM, 1987 (published 1986 in German).

The Shadow of the Gallilean

This text takes an oblique view of the background to Jesus’ ministry and the actual ministry itself with its results.  It is based on events in the life of a fictional non-observant but deeply thoughtful Jewish fruit and grain merchant Andreas from Sepphoris, a large Roman city in Galilee near Nazareth. Andreas had a long standing friendship with Barabbas and was inadvertently caught up in a riot in Jerusalem and imprisoned and questioned by Roman authorities. As a result and to buy his freedom Andreas agreed to be a fifth columnist, reporting to the Roman authorities on Jewish revolutionary activities.  This set up enables Theissen to explore the background religious and political  situation in Judaea and Galilee as it were from an interested but fairly neutral observer. 

Theissen achieves this at several levels.  His study includes a close up look at the Essenes/Qumran community; the wilderness prophets and mystics including Bannus and John the Baptist; the Zealots and sicarii resistance fighters, the Pharisees and Sadducees, first century Greek poets and mystics and of course Jesus of Nazareth.  In addition Theissen carries on a conversation about his writing with a fictitious New Testament historian and scholar “Dr Kratzinger”. This discussion enables Theissen to deal with the many historical, textual, doctrinal and historiographical issues that abound in New Testament studies.  He does this by a comprehensive footnote system which provides up to date and helpful data on all of the above issues. In this process he challenges many mid C20th liberal theological biases in the study of the New Testament text and provides useful insights into alternative ways of looking at the material now backed up by a vast amount of research into first and second century  Jewish and early Christian literature and the pseudopigrapha, and ever increasing excavations of inscriptions and other archaeological data. Of course the book and its narrative can be read for interest on its own without any reference to the detailed footnotes which are kept to the rear of the book. 

The result is a multi-layered book which retains interest and indeed a high level of intrigue and excitement. Although some of the contacts Andreas made look a little too convenient stylistically this is a minor criticism and the reader understands in any case what Theissen is trying to achieve. This book is a creative, careful and entertaining way of entering into reasonably high level introductory New Testament studies and a reading guide and the footnotes provide many suggestions about further exploration if the reader is so motivated. 

Apart from anything else this study demonstrates firstly that the narrative about Jesus’ crucifixion is very complex and has many threads..there is no single reason for the crucifixion; and secondly that there can be no doubt about the subjective authenticity of the appearances tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. [p211]

I enjoyed this book more than I expected and it has left some images and sayings in my head that I won’t forget. One is a convert who says: If he has died for me, then I am obliged to live for him. 5 stars.

Jordan Bernt Peterson: 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos, London, Allen Lane (Penguin imprint), 2018.

Jordan Peterson (born June 12, 1962) is a Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. His main areas of study are in abnormal, social, and personality psychology, with a particular interest in the psychology of religious and ideological belief, and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance.  (Wikipedia)

Jordan Peterson has been described in the New York Times in 2018 as the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.. I do not normally read self-help books and it is unfair to call 12 Rules for Life just a self-help book. In fact it is very difficult to attempt to summarise or concisely define the elements of this book. Peterson’s erudition covers an exceptionally deep and wide ranging knowledge of both psychological theory as well as current research on a huge array of topics. The Wikipedia article on Peterson alone lists over 16 significant published papers on psychological research in major journals.  His broader lectures and on-line teaching have reached a vast audience.

In 2013, Peterson began recording his lectures (“Personality and Its Transformations”, “Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief” and uploading them to YouTube. His YouTube channel has gathered more than 1.8 million subscribers and his videos have received more than 65 million views as of August 2018.

All of this background alone would make for an interesting read on how to live a meaningful life but Peterson’s interests go far deeper than psychology and psycho-therapy.  His knowledge of religious literature is deep and far-reaching including the ancient Sumerian/Babylonian creation and flood myths; the equally ancient Hindu Vedas, the tao te ching, the Hebrew Scriptures, the teaching of Jesus, the early Greek philosophers, and bringing it up to date, an exhaustive knowledge of Marxist ideology and C20th Communist history.  In addition Peterson demonstrates a close reading of Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn and Nietzsche as well as the poetry of Yeats, Milton, Eliot and  a host of current writers and commentators on “life in the Western world”. 

Peterson’s comments go deep, they are clear, they are based on sound reasoning and evidence, they are acute and cutting but also humble and careful and many are based on his own personal experiences from a life which has had more  very tough encounters than most.  indeed, Peterson’s courage in challenging many C21st currently held and frequently regurgitated viewpoints and assumptions in the media has earned him as many enemies as friends and makes for stirring and at times uncomfortable home truth reading. 

In his own words his 12 rules are as follows:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself like someone your are responsible for helping
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to someone else today.
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).
  8. Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie.
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
  10. Be precise in your speech.
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street. 

I can only say that reading this book is guaranteed to change a little and perhaps a great deal of how you think and live is deeply insightful, at times humorous, profoundly engaging and important writing…nothing he writes about is fatuous or trivial. There are some weaknesses eg there seems to be some repetition at times and a need for more careful editing in some places but this is carping criticism.  The book is strong meat. The reader needs to concentrate and be prepared to think very hard indeed and then change some things. Those who stay the distance will find much to help them live more fruitfully and effectively in the C21st.   5 stars.

Books read December 2018

Saint Augustine: The City of God, with Introduction by Thomas Merton, translated from Latin by Marcus Dods, the Revd George Wilson And the Revd J J Smith, New York,  Random House (The Modern Library), 1950 [originally commenced  c 413 AD  and written in instalments over 13 years], 892pp including detailed index.

This is a substantial and demanding read by any standards and is more like a spiritual experience or a course of lectures than anything else I can compare it with.  Thomas Merton, wisely I think, encourages the reader who wishes to know Augustine to read first his Confessions, to enable the reader to understand his background and life and his central theological themes and Christian ideals. 

In  The City of God the reader is faced with a vast canvass indeed …a history and time-line of the known world, detailed philosophical analysis, lengthy Biblical summary and analysis, lengthy social analysis; speculative thoughts about Heaven and Hell;  Merton asks: How many Americans will have the patience to follow him through all of this? Good question! 

 We are  plunged into deep thoughts; irritating  digressions; a passion for numerology;  seemingly unnecessary detail about things that can never be known in this world; annoying at times over – allegorisation of Old Testament passages combined with unnecessary literalism in some New Testament interpretation; surprising reliance on apocryphal writings; for C21st readers at times outrageous anti-semitism, sexism and “hate speech”; horrifying physical description in parts including cannibalism; wondrous spiritual visions of the beatific vision; intense philosophical disputations especially with Plato, Cicero, Virgil and Porphyry and the historian Varro; remarkably very little reference to theologians except the occasional nod to Jerome and breathtaking honesty. eg p 741 on Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11..”I frankly confess I do not know what he means.”  It was refreshing to see Augustine not being drawn to a particular view of the complexities in the book of Revelation including the millennium and other obscurities in some Biblical texts where he confessed to being uncertain of how to interpret them.

Some initial responses for me were:

  1. It was awe inspiring to get a feel for the cataclysm produced by the sacking of Rome and fall of the Roman Empire and how unsettling and terrifying it must have been for ordinary citizens of Rome [interesting to compare it with the 2019 Trump/Democrat based shut down of the US Congress/UK Brexit debate chaos/French yellow vest destroyers of Paris and other cities …the fall of the Western World???etc  In a different way Augustine’s ignorance and scepticism about “the antipodes”  (p532)
  2. A surprising lack of interest by Augustine in “Reformation” themes eg “justification” mentioned only on pp786-7 and the phrase “justification by faith” not mentioned at all; In all his extensive treatment of the OT no reference at all to Isaiah’s suffering servant and Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
  3. The evidently unclear status of the Biblical canon in the early C5th and constant reference to church authorities’ uncertainty about various books which have come to be called the Apocrypha as well as Augustine’s clear preference for the Septuagint over the Hebrew text of the Old Testament where there are differences. 
  4. Troubling anti-Semitic and sexist references; 
  5. Augustine’s obvious admiration for the intellectual strengths of  Plato, Cicero, Virgil and Porphyry and the historical work of Varro (now lost)  mixed with his intense criticisms of all of them whenever their view conflicted with Christian faith; (only one mention of Aristotle and only one of Seneca); 
  6. Somewhat chilling evidence of the rise of the importance of relics of the apostles and martyrs and their value for healing alongside a degree of naivety regarding supernatural healings and miracles…an indication of the dominance Augustine would have over the development of mediaeval theology in the coming centuries; 
  7. The constant and intense analysis of demons/fallen angels and their power and influence
  8. Augustine’s surprising theological flexibility including his strong defence of human free will (and we will still have it in heaven); our ability to remember the past in heaven (p 867); evil in the world before the creation of man (p811); that “God wills many things he does not perform” (p812); that God “killed his own Son” (p575) On predestination and freewill..we embrace both. We faithfully and sincerely confess both. The former, that we may believe well; the latter, that we may live well. (p157); that evil has no positive nature..the loss of good has received the name ‘evil’ (p350)
  9. On the other hand Augustine’s regimented view of the impact of “original sin” on humankind in Book 19 seems to me to misunderstand Paul’s argument in Romans 1 – 11 especially 5:12 (death spread to all because all men sinned). Nowhere does Augustine seem to grapple with the problem of those who have never heard the good news about Jesus although he does allow that original sin’s impact will not hurt the young. He seems unaware of the radical unfairness of the result of one decision of one man at the beginning of creation and the theological impact of billions punished for eternity because of their failure to accept God’s solution in sending his son to die for those who believe the Christian story of redemption. The impact of Augustine’s writing about original sin cannot be over-estimated and I believe still hampers evangelism in the C21st.  

The City of God contains two major sections:  Books 1 – 10 deal with the Greek and Roman gods and Greek and Roman philosophy contrasted with Christian faith.   Books 11 – 22 elucidate the various contrasts and interactions between the two cities ..the earthly city and the heavenly city. Augustine’s demonstrated knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology and philosophy as well as what was then known of the history of the ancient Near East is impressive. I agree with Thomas Merton that the outstanding books are 19 and 22 and they might be a good place to start on the other hand there is also an ongoing logic in the whole work which gives the last three chapters a substantial power and gravitas which would not be felt without the labours of the first 18 chapters. 

Do I recommend this book?  Only for mature Christians with a healthy background in history, philosophy and  theology and a deep personal faith in God. There is much of powerful value and much to think about.  Most non-believers with a C21st scientific understanding of the world would consider much of what Augustine writes here as arrant nonsense. His book forces Christian believers to consider very carefully indeed whether or not they do believe in the bodily resurrection to eternal life.  3 stars.

Books read November 2018

BOOKS READ November 2018

Shaun Bythell: The Diary of a Bookseller, London, Profile Books, 2017

Jewish bachelor Shaun Bythell runs a second hand book shop in Wigtown, a small Scottish town with a reputation for second hand books in the tradition of Hay on Wye but fewer shops. Bythell has published a diary of his life as a bookseller whose house and private garden is the shop although it is possible some of the events and funny conversations with customers have extended beyond the twelve months of the diary. Bythell has developed an online reputation for being acerbic with customers who ask inane questions or behave badly in his shop and this has resulted in the antics that occur in his shop attracting international interest and folk now travel to Wigtown to experience “the Book Shop”. His extraordinary off-sider Nicky who seems to mis-shelf more books than she places correctly provides much of the humour in this book. As a regular visitor to any second hand bookshop I found this element of the book engaging.

Of additional interest is Bythell and the shop’s involvement in the reinvigoration of a small country town with literary festivals and cultural events. He seems to be indefatigable in such efforts and the results appear to have been significant. A further massive sub-theme of this book is the immense power wielded by Amazon Books and its subsidiary Abe Books over privately run book sellers all over the world. The sheer power of their price-cutting methodologies and the fact that to survive independent secondhand booksellers have little choice but to work through Amazon’s systems means that the industry is constantly under threat as margins reduce. Curiously in an epilogue written two years after the book was written Bythell notes that good second hand bookshops are fighting back successfully. Long may it continue! A third plus to reading this book is its frequent reference to many interesting books both fiction and antiquarian many of which whet the appetite for further literary exploration. Although the diary format can become tedious this book did maintain my interest to the end…but then not everyone shares my love of second hand bookshops! 3 stars.

Nancy Mitford: Love in a Cold Climate, Melbourne, Penguin, 2008 (1949)

Nancy Mitford (1904-73) was the daughter of “the second Lord Redesdale” (Drabble) and clearly grew up in the societal whirl and mores of early twentieth century English aristocracy about which she wrote many novels, of which Love in a Cold Climate is the most frequently read. This story is told from the point of view of the self-effacing Fanny, daughter of the irresponsible “bolter” [based on the real life of five times married Idina Sackville]. In the novel, Fanny describes in some detail the affairs of her cousins the Raddletts including her eccentric Uncle Matthew who is based on Lord Redesdale. This particular narrative concentrates on the showy, fabulously wealthy neighbouring Montdore family especially the dominant, racy and bohemian Lady Montdore, her obscure regular companion “Boy” Dugdale, her later over the top companion Cedric and the life and lovers (or lack of) her coldly beautiful daughter Polly Hampton. Mitford’s whimsical, light and sardonic commentary on the antics of these reckless upper-class aristocrats [Drabble] makes for useful entertainment on a four hour plane flight from New Zealand which is when I read the novel. Diverting, but sadly pointless. 3 stars.

Patrick Kinross, [John Patrick Douglas Balfour, Lord (Baron) Kinross]: The Ottoman Empire, London, Folio Society, 2003 (First published by Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1977, under the title The Ottoman Centuries:The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire.)

This is a masterful work of historical analysis written with verve, style, passion, insight and a deep understanding of the culture and history of both Ottoman civilisation and its European interactions. Kinross was a Scottish historian and writer, served in the British Air Force in WW11 and as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Cairo from 1944 to 1947.

The history covers the early Ottoman rise from the C13th wave of pagan refugees from the Asian steppes fleeing from Mongol dominance and possibly staying and settling in the north west of Asia Minor when the Mongols withdrew. Their founder was legendary Osman, son of Ertoghrul, and initially they were simply one of the smaller populations which survived from the invading Seljuk Empire and the Mongol Protectorate. Assimilated into Islamic faith and culture but maintaining their own complex Turkish language and unique culture they effectively took over the remains of the crumbling Byzantine Empire benefitting greatly from the sacking of Constantinople by Western Crusaders in 1453.

Kinross tells this story based around colourful and powerful key leaders and battles including Murad, the conqueror of the Balkans, Mehmed the conqueror of Byzantine lands in the East, Barbarossa the Pirate conqueror of the Mediterranean, and Suleiman the Magnificent. Suleiman established the flower of Ottoman culture and military power even threatening the fall of Vienna itself and so close to extending the power of the Ottoman Empire into central Europe. This vast and complex empire covering many cultures and faiths spread at one stage from Persia to the Armenian border with Russia, the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt to modern day Rumania, Bosnia and Moldavia in the Balkans and across the north coast of Africa around the Mediterranean. Inevitably such a vast empire with so many different cultures and faiths would suffer decline but as “the sick man of Europe” the Ottoman Empire survived well into the C20th and its story is profoundly interesting.

Kinross’s strength is to maintain interest and excitement in spite of the vast amount of cultural, geographic and historical complexity through his understanding of the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of leaders and the key factors in the outcome of battle after battle. The reader is drawn into the Ottomanian dream and compelled to continue. Although the West has often regarded the Ottomans as brutally savage barbarians in need of civilising (and they were responsible for many horiffic massacres), nevertheless this analysis demonstrates that the armies of emerging European powers in the Middle Ages and into the modern period were no less barbarous and responsible for many massacres of their own. I have read few histories as good as this one. Apart from anything else the story explains clearly the basis of the commencement of World War I in Europe and the complex failed negotiations to prevent it as well as the inevitable blood bath in the former Yugoslavia once the Russian backed strongman Tito’s reign was over.

This Folio edition as expected comes with magnificent layout, artistic and photographic illustration and an excellent introduction and updated bibliography by controversial Oxford and Koç University Istanbul Professor Norman Stone who has challenged the Western view of the Armenian genocide regarding these events as a horrific civil war for possession of land. I read this complex work of 628 pages in 2.5 days and could not put it down. 5 stars and rising.

Marilynne Robinson: What Are We Doing Here? London, Virago, 2018

Marilyn Robinson: American novelist and philosopher

Award-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson of Housekeeping, Gilead, Home and Lila fame is also a world-regarded philosopher, moralist and public lecturer. Her teaching home is Iowa State University but she has lectured to large audiences throughout the Northern Hemisphere. This 2016-2018 collection includes lectures from the University of Chicago ( What is Freedom of Conscience? ); Liverpool Hope University (What are We Doing Here?); The University of Lund, Sweden (Theology for this Moment); Brigham Young University (The Sacred, The Human); Harvard Memorial Church ( The Divine); Stanford University (The American Scholar Now); Princeton University (Grace and Beauty); Northwestern University (The Beautiful Changes); The University of Virginia (Our Public Conversation: How America Talks About Itself); San Marino, California (Mind, Conscience, Soul); Regent College, Vancouver (Considering the Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Love); Westminster Abbey (Integrity and the Modern Intellectual Tradition); Harvard Divinity School, Old Souls, New World ); Trinity Cathedral, Little Rock, Arkansas (Slander). In addition it includes a 2016 article on Barak Obama who initially publicised her work, which was published in The Nation.

Robinson’s work is wide-ranging and intellectually demanding, informed by her personal strongly held Christian faith. It also includes a vast array of important yet out of the way historical material. It is also deeply challenging of many strongly held views current in recent Western intellectual discourse as well as some strongly held conservative Christian positions. In one essay she laughs at herself for being the philosopher of unpopular points of view and she certainly takes no prisoners in her assault on many commonly held ideas and writing, clearly demonstrating the lack of genuine historical basis and reference for many of them.

Robinson’s particular targets include amongst many others:
(i) the decline of careful and well researched political and rhetorical replaced by phantasms of the moment, or the decade…politicians playing to constituencies, by interest groups, by journalism that reflects unreflectingly whatever gimmicky notion is in the air and reinforces it. (p85) [in my view, not assisted by the 24 hour news cycle which by definition must blow up every minor comment into a major news crisis].
(ii) our superficial tourism …reality is that turbulent region out thoughts visit seldom or briefly, like Baedeker tourists eager to to glimpse the sights that will confirm our expectations and put us on shared conversational ground with decades of fellow tourists . We leave trash on Mount Everest, we drop trash in the sea, and reality goes on with life… (p91)
(iii) history writing that is vastly overly dependent on current day concepts of economic determinism (p90);
(iv) American university scholarship which “demonstrates” the collapse of interest in Western civilisation …western civilisation has “dropped” richness in painting, poetry, music, architecture and philosophy as meaningless categories (P91) cf also the losses in our modern understanding of psychology (P268). In general Robinson suggests that we appear to have effectively established “ the right to belligerent ignorance.”
(v) A general “Diminution” …one of the great projects of our time appears to be “dimunition”. (p253)
(vi) The thraldom of modernism (p260);
(vii) the tyranny of scientific and philosophic reductionism (p271 and just about every lecture);
(viii) her decided opposition to positivism (P274).

Clearly three of Robinson’s passions include Calvinism, the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards. In these essays Robinson provides a clear and well documented defence of both Calvinism, and before Calvin, John Wycliffe and the Lollards with their brave attempts to translate the Latin Bible into English before the printing press and their courage under fire in spreading its message. She demonstrates that Calvin’s hard edged teaching on Predestination is a relatively minor part of his vast and clear, well balanced, well researched scholarship and powerfully thoughtful theological output.

Equally powerfully Robinson defends the Puritans in several essays which effectively demonstrate their non-fanatical, generous and successful peace creating civil laws in both England and Massachusetts which contrasted strongly with the viciousness of Tudor penalties for any deviation from the theology of the day in both England and the Southern American colonies. The Puritans fell apart in England because Cromwell had no logical successor and because of, in the end, unsolvable differences within their own ranks over church organisation between Presbyterians and Congregationalists. In relation to Jonathan Edwards, she regards him yet as America’s finest theologian and suggests, as with Calvin, that superficial scholars pick out one sermon on Hell and use this to dismiss as hotheaded eccentricism his vast and deeply argued philosophical and theological output.

Robinson’s theological and philosophical drive is formidable and yet to be answered successfully to my knowledge. She must truly be regarded as one of, if not the finest American philosophers writing today. 5 stars.

Marilynne Robinson: Housekeeping, London, Faber, 1981 [1980]

Mariynne Robinson’s Orange Prize winning first novel is a powerful and evocative description of two children orphaned at a very young age and brought up in turns by an assemblage of somewhat ambivalent relatives in an American wilderness town called Fingerbone. The story is told from the dreamy and imaginative point of view of the youngest daughter Ruth and her more resourceful and determined older sister Lucille.

This is no simple read. Robinson writes with such emotional power and with such believable insight into a child’s mind that the reader is both entranced and at the same time traumatised by the drama of the children’s lives. The reader longs for a an upturn of events but resolutions continue to be unexpected. There is no doubt that the novel makes a very strong impression on the mind of the reader which stays with you longer than most. The town and the story is built around a lake and a long railway bridge which straddles the lake. There are images here that indeed could last a life-time. Robinson cuts to the core of deep human longings and insights and although the tale is extraordinary she never resorts to melodrama. 4 stars.

Shadowing Sheridan re God is Good For You


The following notes and comments are based on the material in Greg Sheridan: God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times, Crows Nest Au, Allen & Unwin, 2018.  The bulk of these quotations are from Part 1 Christianity  (pp1-167). There are fewer quotes from part 2 Christians as this section is largely the opinions of the various Christian individuals Sheridan has interviewed for the book…this is not to say they have nothing useful to say but my intention for this blog is to carve out Sheridan’s key line of argument as to “why God is good for you”. Without agreeing with everything in his book I think his attempt is brave, helpful and an enormous wake up call to the Australian and Western Christian church if they are not already somnolent!

i)     Sheridan argues that Western humanity without God could lead to human boredom and confusion and produce deadly consequences. (p1). This may or may not be true. What is true is that Western Society, since Classical Greek society, through the Roman Empire to Christendom leading to Western hegemony throughout the Americas and Africa has been theocentric. The book has not been written on what these societies might look like without transcendent religious principles.

ii)    It is no exaggeration to say that Christianity is in nearly existential crisis in the West (p2)…the West—meaning for the moment  Western Europe, North America and Australia and New Zealand—is trending atheist as the rest of the world is trending religious. (p3) It is hard to dispute this statement. Alister McGrath made the point powerfully in his recent book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea..there are more Christians in Nigeria than in the whole of the USA, Canada, Britain and Australia put together! This is not a good stat for the West! In Australia the predominant growth in active Christian churches has come from immigrants born elsewhere in the world.

iii)    In every age group above 45 years a solid majority of Australians identify as Christian, but in every group below 45 a solid majority is not Christian. (p4) This is certainly true of the average Anglican parish in Gippsland. In our quite vigorous local Anglican Church in Gippsland the average age of parishioners is above 73.

iv)    An Ipsos poll found that 39 per cent of Americans agree that religion generally does more harm than good. (p7) Evangelical Christians, who even a decade ago seemed the most dynamic part of the American Christian churches, are having great difficulty passing their faith. (p8)  I think this is also true of Australian evangelical families today.

v)   Catholic and Christian schools, though they do much wonderful work, have not been effective in communicating even the knowledge of the contents of Christianity to their students, much less in instilling a devotion to lifelong commitment. (p8f) I work as a chaplain in an upper middle class P -12 school of almost 1000 students. Only a tiny percentage of these students would own up to Christian faith.

vi)    Schools are not the most important factor in sustaining religious belief in young people. The family is the most important factor. Schools can’t do what families don’t do. But part of the crisis of belief in Western Christianity is a paradoxical crisis of knowledge….[young people] ..know almost nothing of the history and the content of their civilization. (p9)

vii)  The therapeutic age we inhabit tells us always to follow our dreams, to be true to ourselves, that our life’s project is self-realisation. But often enough our dreams at any moment are a bad guide to what we should do. This is true at all the different stages of life. (p11)

viii)    It is too easy to convince ourselves that what we want to do at any moment is justifiable. (p12) [Without faith,] for quite a long time society will live off its accumulated moral capital. A broad code of ethics will seem self-evident because that’s what people have always believed. But our ethical instincts—liberalism, human rights, even secular and democratic government—came about through hundreds of years of predominantly Christian thinking, refinement and social practice. If God is gone, the basis for our ethics is gone. As the French philosopher Ernest Renan once put it: we are living off the scent of an empty vase. (p12)

ix)    Even the high priests of the new atheism sometimes acknowledge this. Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling The God Delusion, admits that without God, there is no absolute standard of right and wrong. He thinks humanity, unguided by God, can provide the standard instead. I have less faith in humanity by itself than he does. (p12)

x)     I never see a religion section in a mainstream bookshop now; There are honestly titled ‘self-help’ shelves, or more pretentiously, they are labelled, speciously, ‘spirituality’. (p15)  I agree this is often the case. In the Gippsland town I live in there is an excellent bookshop. They stock Richard Dawkins, Christopher HItchins, A C Grayling, but no Alister McGrath, no Tim Keller, no John Dixon, no N T Wright, no C S Lewis. I buy there regularly. Earlier this year I gave them a list of suggested titles they might consider stocking but none have materialised so far.   Readings in Carlton in Melbourne does have a religion section with some Christian material.

xi)    We have reached the stage where now much popular culture is overtly hostile to Christianity. Much more is just indiffererent.  (p17)

xii)   A lot of this, of course, has to do with the revelations of shocking and terrible crimes of clerical child abuse, a grave subject which any contemporary consideration of Christianity has to address…Now forces hostile to Christianity have used these abuses to try to sweep religion out of the public square altogether. (p17f).

xiii)   If in Australia, as the census suggests, half the population are Christians, then at the very least popular culture does not reflect reality. It is unrepresentative. It discriminates against Christians by blanking them out of the culture just as it formerly discriminated against racial minorities.(p20)

xiv)   Most university-level courses that deal with history or politics or literature or the humanities generally have at their heart an attachment to one form or another of critical theory or some related approach which nominates Western civilisation as the chief demon of history. In the view of all these these theoretical approaches the West is guilty of racism, sexism, colonialism, militarism, exploitation, class discrimination, neo-colonialism, economic imperialism and quite a few other sins. And it is uniquely guilty of these crimes. Because Christianity is so associated with Western civilisation, Christianity is cast as a primary villain as well. (p20).

xv)   Being Christian doesn’t solve the human condition. People still behave badly and do evil. But they also behave well and do good. The sense of Christianity in education has become cockeyed, unbalanced, inaccurately hostile. (p21).

xvi)    On pp22-23 Sheridan traces a line of Christian decline from Mediaeval times as expressed in the C18th Edward Gibbon’s ironic and dismissive treatment of early Christian figures, and especially of early devotional practices alongside the C14th distinction between the spiritual and the physical;  the Renaissance emphasis on the glory of humanity as opposed to spirituality;  to the disunity in Christianity provoked by the Protestant Reformation, the C17th wars of religion through to  philosopher David Hume’s C18th dismissal of miracles alongside the scientific revolution and philosophical Enlightenment and the upheaval of the C19th industrial revolution resulting in increased division between rich and poor and the rise of atheistic Marxism. In the C20th he cites two world wars, the sexual revolution, impact of technology, the gradual decline of family life, French existential pronouncements about the death of God, Freud’s dismissal of religious faith as repressed sexual desire and the development of academic Biblical scholarship’s attack on the authenticity, age and unity of Biblical texts. He cites as the final challenge the sustained affluence of the West through technological advance leading to the view that humanity no longer needs God’s mercy.

xvii)    Sheridan notes that in Australia… the State is starting to restrict Christianity…although in no sense like the way Christianity is persecuted in many parts of the world….In fact Christians are the most persecuted religion in the world, a story often ignored by Western media because they conceive of Christianity as the villain, not the victim. (p24).

xviii) Against this data Sheridan notes that after Government, the churches are the biggest deliverer of social services in Australia. (p25) and religious schools subsidise massively the cost of education in Australia (p26).

xix)    …in the US religious people give about four times as much to charities do non-religious people  [Arthur Brooks: Who Really Cares] (p27) and the US National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper in 2017 titled “Is Religion good for you?” Here is one of the headline results: ‘Doubling the rate of religious  attendance raises household income by 9.1 per cent. (p28) Sheridan cites other data conclusively showing a direct relationship between religiosity and happiness. (p29).

xx)    Sheridan notes that even the long-running Western efforts for governments to take over all the traditional welfare and solidarity functions of the churches and the family are finally an outgrowth of long religious sentiment. (p29f)He cites the Christian background of C19th and C20th liberalism;  the C19th Christian opposition to slavery and support for the working class, the spirituality of socialism under Britain’s Atlee, Papal encyclicals, Wesleyan campaigns for decent wages and working conditions.

xxii)   In the C20th the soul—the embodiment of our deepest integrity and destiny—gave way to the self, as the therapeutic age replaced the age of belief. Now, in our postmodern times, in the world of social media and the universal quest for celebrity, even the self has been supplanted by the brand, the quintessential expression of which is the ‘selfie’.  (p31) A certain panic at the existential emptiness of liberal atheism impels liberalism to a new authoritarianism. Everyone must genuflect to the same secular pieties. (p31) [So also argued in the podcasts of Jordan Edwards!]…Nothing is more powerful now in Western politics, or more dangerous, than identity politics. It sells itself as a way to help disadvantaged and marginalised communities. But eventually everyone wants a slice of identity politics and it sets all against all. (p31)

xxiii)     It has been rightly said that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in everything. An intolerant atheism is just one variant of a wild miscellany of ideologies and esoteric cults gaining ground in the West. (p31)

xxiv)    Jeremy Corbyn old-fashioned communist banners —hammer and sickle —have featured in big rallies in London. In the murderous violence at Charlottesville in the US in 2017, Nazi symbols were in evidence. The two most evil ideologies, which spawned the two most evil dictatorships in the blood-soaked 20th century, once more find minds so shallow and so ill prepared for life as to be fertile ground for them. (p.32) …If we lose God , we lose something essential of our humanity. (p32)

xxv)    “Materialism, the most boring as well as the least accurate way of experiencing the world and recording experience, is the dominant mindset the Western intelligentsia in our day.”  A N Wilson: The Book of the People, 2016.

xxvi)     Sheridan notes, quoting Jonathan Sacks,  that the Genesis narrative, rather than being myth as such, is rather a polemic against myth. (p38) (referring to Ancient Near Eastern myths e.g. Enuma Elish where mankind is made from the blood of the dead god Kingu. Sheridan further notes that only atheist fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins …take it absolutely literally, in order of course to discredit it. (p38) He further notes, correctly I think, that the Old Testament, contrary to popular press, is full of the universality of God, even as it records the special place of the Jewish people. (p39).

xxvii)     None of this proves or disproves God, but it shows what a friend the Judao-Christian God has been to human reason. It is also the case that as the Old Testament progresses, the Jewish knowledge of God becomes deeper, more sophisticated. This is all important to keep in mind when considering the notion that belief in God is rational, because it is not the case that belief in any god, or all gods, is entirely rational. (p39)

xxviii)    That is not to say other religious traditions, many with deep wisdom and the fruits of centuries of human contemplation, do not themselves confirm the rationality of believing in God. (p40)

xxix)     A rational belief need not be a proven belief. A belief can be justified but not proven. Much of the problem comes from popular misunderstanding of what belief is. Belief involves the will as much as the intellect, perhaps more. (p40)

xxx)     Faith, including religious faith, is not the enemy of reason. Faith is the basis of reason. This is because the central question of faith is most often not what you believe, but who you believe. (p41)

xxxi)     One reason most people are neither convinced to believe nor convinced to disbelieve by rational arguments alone is because God is a God of experience. Most people believe in God because they have an experience of God, and that experience of God most often comes through other people. (p42f)

xxxii)     There is today a great effort to bluff people out of their beliefs about God by ridicullng and demeaning those beliefs, claiming that people’s faith is primitive and superstitious….Sheridan quotes Australian poet Les Murray in “The Last Hello”, a meditation on his father’s death. At the end of the poem he writes: 

“Snobs mind us off religion nowadays, if they can.

Fuck them. I wish you God.”   (p43)

xxxiii) Sheridan comments on Thomas Aquinas’ five philosophical proofs for the existence of God: I find Thomas’s approach, including what was termed the argument from design (which has nothing to do with the modern theory of intelligent design), overall convincing. But it is not a knock-out argument, because God is neither provable nor disprovable.

xxxiv) It is one of the central mysteries of the human condition that all truth, like all l ife, requires a dynamic balance. To be true, all truths involve a balance of t truths, and this balance is always dynamic. Nothing inert is alive and no truth is really true if pursued in isolation from other balancing truths. The great fanaticisms of history typically obsess over one intellectual commitment which, if balanced and constrained by other intellectual commitments, could be quite true and quite benign. But pursued exclusively they cease to be truths. Nazism began with a love of country. Love of country is no bad thing, but without all the balancing and limiting truths that constrain it, it goes i insane. (p46)

xxxv)  Sheridan compares religious faith with falling in love. The decision is rational, but reason is only a small part of the process. The decision goes beyond the rational. (p46f) He then quotes Tim Keller: (The Reason For God). ..all of our strongest desires, correspond to a strong reality…(eg hunger, sleep, food, sex). The desire to behave decently implies the existence of decency. The desire for God, therefore, implies God. The vast majority of human cultures seem to be saying, with Les Murray: “I wish you God.” (p47)

xxxvi) It is not inconsistent to believe that Christianity is completely true and that yet other religious traditions contain much truth. And it would be absurd for Christians to hold that only they have ever experienced God directly. So this vast human testimony of the direct experience of God has to be confronted by anyone taking the subject seriously. (p48)

xxxvii) Where does this voice of conscience come from? And who are we answerable to about it? (p48)

xxxviii) Why is there something rather than nothing? (Sacks reports this question being asked at a Jewish function and its receiving the querulous response ‘And if there was nothing, still you’d be unhappy.’) (p49)

xxxix) How come our world is so incredibly receptive to the evolution of life, and of human life? (p94) Sheridan quotes Fred Hoyle: ‘A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics.’  (p49) and he quotes Freeman Dyson: The more I examine the universe in detail and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find t hat the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.’  (p50)

xl)  Sheridan refers to Stephen Hawking’s hypothesis of an infinite number of parallel universes “so that we got the one that was just right’  Sheridan replies: Now God and Science are very different, but if you can believe in an i nfinite number of parallel universes, it’s surely as easy as apple pie to believe in God.  (p50)

xli)    Sheridan comments on the possibility that we are alone in the universe. Perhaps the universe was made just for us. (p50) On the other hand Sheridan dislikes this statistical fact at present the least compelling of all the arguments for God. One lesson that a lifetime of journalism teaches you is that just because something is exceedingly unlikely doesn’t mean it won’t happen…if something is statistically unlikely it is nonetheless logically possible. Sheridan notes that previous ‘God of the gaps’ arguments have fallen on hard times. (p50f)

xlii)   Rather, the grandeur and wonder and majesty of the universe are more suggestive to me of God’s personality. (p51)

xliii)  The only people who evolutionary theory discomfits, unless its claims are exaggerated in a tendentiously anti-God fashion, are extreme biblical literalists. p52)

xliv)  Sheridan opposes Jesuit Theilhard de Chardin’s perfectly cockamamie idea that Christianity itself was evolution and the whole human race was evolving towards God. There was beautiful poetry in his words, but trying to fit good and evil, humanity and God, into a vast plan of evolution which didn’t allow for individual human agency was, in the end, just irredeemably eccentric, His writings could not deal convincingly with evil.  (p56)

xlv)   When those who make mistaken claims for science set out to destroy God, they always end up diminishing human beings. (p58)

xlvi)    On Dawkins’ book The God Delusion Sheridan comments: the universe implies a creator; it doesn’t prove a creator. Dawkins tries to turn this on its head and say: improbable as the universe is, God is even more improbable. But despite all his scientific learning he actually doesn’t provide any evidence that God is improbable..and of course such a question—quantifying the probability of God —is in any event absurd…Dawkins admits he has not studied theology—that is, the wisdom the finest minds of humanity have accumulated from experience, reflection and, indeed, revelation through the centuries—but then makes dogmatic statements about God as though he, Dawkins, were endowed with divine knowledge and we lesser mortals must accept the absolute authority of his pronouncements…eg Dawkins asserts that God could have created complex life unless he himself was complex. And if he is complex the he must have evolved. And if he evolved he was therefore not at the beginning of things. Certainly none of Dawkins’ argument here is remotely proven, or remotely likely, or even a little bit intuitive. It’s atheism by pronouncement, not logic.  (p59f)

xlvii)   Sheridan challenges much in the anti-Christian arguments of Christopher Hitchens, for example, that the Revd Martin Luther King Jr was not really a Christian. (p62) But Sheridan admired Hitchens as a professional journalist..he  had read a lot of books, talked to a lot of people, travelled widely, thought about things and at the end of all this he got in the ring and threw a few punches and saw if any of them landed, expecting all the while to absorb a few rhetorical blows himself ..he was not at all pompous.  Dawkins, on the other hand, is an eminent scientist in one field  but has no particular expertise in other fields. …he constantly misrepresents Christianity by taking i ts most extreme literalist and fundamentalist interpretation and making that stand for the whole of Christianity. He is atheist fundamentalist who apparently thinks that only a semi-deranged, extreme fundamentalist is a true Christian. (p63)

xlviii) Dawkins and Hitchens claim to dislike Mother Teresa because they disagree with her views on theology and abortion. When I read their attacks I wanted to ask them both, how many times had they interacted personally with, and t ried personally to help, the poor and diseased and the dirty and the hungry on the streets of Kolkata? (p65)

  xlix)  Christians have a right to be worried about what is happening to their beliefs in the West. The primary challenge is not intellectual but cultural. And it may yet become much more than cultural.Yet most of the world is religious . As I write this I have a full-time foreign editor of an Australian newspaper for more than 25 years. It is impossible to interact with Asia, or the Middle East, South America or Africa for that matter, and think that religion is not central to people’s  lives. (p66)

xl)    ..I am aware that all religious belief looks much more reasonable from within the tradition that it does from the outside. In the swirl of anti-Christian satire and abuse that runs through much popular culture these days, I remember seeing a description of Christian practices along the lines of: ‘so you eat this dead guy’s flesh while a non-human judge in the sky monitors your mind and if you’re guilty of thought crime sends you to burn in a fire forever as punishment’ …..the hostile atheist summer of Christian belief does make a point about just how strange the Christian beliefs are, at least by the standards of today’s culture. (p72)

xli)    On miracles Sheridan comments: It would be extremely perverse to believe in God but believe that he can only do the things we can do ourselves….One thing that the New Testament, the Apostle’s Creed and the general teaching of the Christian churches does not allow you to hold is that Christ was a great moral teacher, a social worker or a political revolutionary, but not divine, or claim to be divine, or to establish a new system of belief, in short a new religion. (p77)

xliii) It may even be that some Christian leaders find it easier to talk about the ethical stuff, in which most people of good-will can find something to feel positive about, and which is certainly indispensable, rather than the actual religious claims of Christianity….lots of Christian beliefs are not really easy. They are liberating. The longer you spend with them, the more sense they make. (p80)

xliv)  Sheridan comments on the search for justice in society. If there is no God… the fate of many in the world is wickedly unfair, unjust. (p81)

xlv) In the Christian view, Christ chose, in solidarity, to share in human suffering on the cross. He chose to stay behind with us, to share in the suffering of the human condition. (p84)

xlvi) The modern mind rebels against the idea of angels and devils, yet readily enough accepts, as we have seen, and without the faintest shred of evidence, the idea of an infinite number of universes, many of them exactly like ours.  (p87)

xlvii) …whatever we do with our lives, [according to Christianity], we too will be judged. This is justice. This, in the end, is the adult responsibility of creatures with the majestic gift of free will, and a creator who takes their decisions seriously. It is a comfortable thought when we think that bad people might be responsible for what they’ve done. It’s not necessarily as comfortable when we think that we ourselves will be responsible for our choices as well.  (p87)

xlviii) On hell, Sheridan quotes Australian evangelical author Roy Williams saying he cannot accept that anyone goes to hell permanently, for all eternity. His view on hell seems to echo a somewhat ambiguous remark by Pope Francis t hat ‘no-one can be condemned forever because that is not the logic of the Gospel.’ (p88)

xlix)  The ragged edges of Christianity, the loose ends, don’t make me think it untrue; rather the reverse. The raggedness of faith is something you can love, something that feels true and human. It is all of a piece with faith. One paradox of faith is that it always involves a dimension of doubt. If it was absolutely self-evident, there would be no need for faith….the absence of absolutely neat and compartmentalised formulas is a sign of life. Only dead things are completely stable.  (p88f).

l)      The atheist has to believe that all religions are all completely wrong, and that the overwhelming majority of human beings who live today and who have ever lived were all deluded about the most important things in life. (p93)

li) …the Christian understanding of God is that God is not just good; he is goodness itself, God is love itself. So when God is a jealous God, he is demanding fidelity to goodness itself. (p94)

xli) What I have always found more perplexing is the idea that we spend eternity in our bodies. Some Eastern religions believe in a purely spiritual eternity…a bodily resurrection, which Christianity teaches, is much more uncompromising, much more radical. [p.94} While the bodily resurrection is a radical idea 1 Corinthians 15 makes it clear that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. What is sown is a physical body ..what is raised is a spiritual body…a body yes but in a perfected spiritual form beyond our existing comprehension.

liii) Chapter 3 title: What did we ever get from Christianity —apart from the idea of the individual, human rights, feminism, liberalism, modernity, social justice and secular politics? (p96)

liv) The first great statement of classical secularism…’Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s….Jesus said: My kingdom is not of this world. (p96f)


lv) On sexual or racial  discrimination: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 30:28) …every human being has unique and irreducible worth in their relation to God (p98f)

lvi) Nonetheless, we shouldn’t overcame for Christianity either. There are passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament which imply a toleration of slavery..(p99)

lvii) People get their idea of Christian corruption and obscurantism from films like The Name of the Rose, or, even more ludicrously, The Da Vinci Code. (p101)

lviii) Western science was born because of the attempt to discover the workings of God’s laws in nature. (p103) [cf Kepler: thinking God’s thoughts after Him.]

lix) Sociologist Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity, locates one critical factor in the early expansion of Christianity as its appeal to women. (p104)

lx) Sheridan quotes Pope Benedict’s 2005 encyclical letter, God is Love: the close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-Biblical literature. (p105)

lxi) Sheridan notes that unlike Jesus’ male disciples, both Mary his mother and Mary Magdalene never let him down, and were with him as he died.

lxii) Sheridan quotes Larry Siedentop: Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. (2014)….Siedentop amply demonstrates …that no part of the pre-Christian ancient world supplied anything like the moral, existential, spiritual or intellectual basis on which the idea of the human individual, and all the main ideas behind modernity, could possibly rest ….The most decisive of all was Christianity’s universalism, ….[arising] from the belief that the human condition involves a unique encounter between every human being and God, that each human being has been created in the image of God and possesses an immortal soul and that human beings by their own decisions and outlook can greatly influence their own relationship with God.  (p107)

lxiii)   The intervention of God into Jewish history meant that in some sense history had a direction. Therefore time had to be conceived of as linear, not cyclical, as was the common idea in the ancient world. A linear view of history is liberating, while a cyclical view of history can lead to determinism and fatalism. (p108)

lxiv) Paul not only followed Jesus; he offered the first fusion of Jewish and Greek thinking. (p109)

lxv) Tertullian, who wrote in early 3rd-century Carthage, was the first great Latin author in Christendom. He understood the implication of conscience for religious liberty. …”Nonetheless it is a basic human right that everyone should be free to worship according to his own convictions.”  (p109f) Sheridan notes: It hardly needs to be said that Christians at times spectacularly failed to live up to Tertullian’s insight..(p110)

lxvi)   The lives of the saints, even the spectacle of the martyrs, provided  people with an example of a kind of social mobility. However you were born, you could be a saint. (p110)

lxvii)   In the century after Constantine’s conversion the authority of the Roman empire in any event began to slide. There was a certain disorder in the times. Christian bishops became important figures in cities, projecting order and leadership. With their concern for the poor, the Christian churches instituted what was in effect the first welfare states in some of those cities. (p110)

lxviii) …Saint Benedict emerged to shape decisively one of the greatest forces to influence Western civilisation; the innovation of Western monasticism. (p111)

lxix) …the developing field of church law or Canon law…came to greatly influence secular law.. (p114)

lxx) St Augustine, who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries in North Africa himself sometimes considered the inventor of the individual in Western culture.  His Confessions were the first psychological autobiography. (p114)

lxxi) In the 12th and 13th centuries…Western universities, all of them Christian universities, made their appearance. [p117]

lxxii) Sheridan quotes Siedentop: “The example of the church as a unified legal system found on the equal subjection of individuals thus gave birth to the idea of the modern state.” (p118)….in great contrast to ancient law, the Christian conception of natural law transmogrified over time into a doctrine of human rights. (p119)

lxxiii) It is also the case that many Christians said and did appallingly bad things in the name of Christianity during the Middle Ages. Numerous popes said foolish things. Anyone who seeks to condemn Christianity because of the sins of Christians will have plenty of material to work with.  [The argument here has been that the ideas of Christianity developed and led to the birth of modern liberalism….many, many bad ideas were tried along the way. In my view, Christianity has been overwhelmingly a force for good in history. But there is no denying the many bad things many Christians did. (p121)

lxxiv) The Protestant Reformation (or more accurately Reformations) attacked much that was corrupt in the old church. It introduced its own new corruptions as well. Martin Luther had many moral and theological insights, but he advanced Christian anti-Semitism to a kind of hysterical fever pitch. The Reformation shattered the unity of the Western Christian church. Its worst outcome was the series of religious wars that followed. And then both Catholic and Protestant used coercion, sometimes terrible and merciless, to compel adherence to one denomination or another. This was not only an evil in itself; it had a devastating impact on the ultimate prestige and moral credibility of Christianity, especially with intellectuals. (p122)

lxxv) The Enlightenment of the 18th century ..produced scientific and technological advance of a fundamental kind. …but the interesting thing about the Enlightenment is that its chief publicists were literary men rather than the scientists themselves. (p122) Sheridan quotes Stark: “What the proponents of Enlightenment actually initiated was the tradition of angry secular attacks on religion in the name of science.”  (P122) Sheridan concludes: It was not t he scientists who led the charge against religion, for the best scientists understood both the strengths and the limitations of science. (p123)

lxxvi) In chapter 4 Sheridan grapples with the problem of evil. …one of the things our culture likes to do with evil is medicalise it. This helps us avoid confronting the reality of evil. (p125)…everything must be explained in terms of biology and culture and philosophical materialism. Only the spirit cannot be admitted into our explanations….to think of our public culture as therapeutic …actually diminishes the majesty of choice which is at the heart of humanity, and which confronts every person. The ability to choose between good and evil, and among every shade of grey in between, is an ineradicable element of human nature. (p126f)

lxxvii) ,,,the mystery of evil lies within human agency and human choice. The Christian view of evil, which was the view of Western civilisation until five minutes ago, when the culture stopped believing in the transcendent, is that humanity is universally challenged by …sin, that we live in a fallen state. (p127)

lxxviii) Even our sense of moral outrage presupposes God. Just who are we outraged against if there is no God? Not only that: why do we think the universe, our world, our neighbourhood, anything we find appalling, is morally wrong? If our world is just atoms and energy and evolution then whether we l ike it or not, it has no moral character at all. It’s just a question of our own paltry preferences. (p129)

lxxix) ..the straightforward explanation for evil is our sovereignty, our free will as individuals. If we have free will  we have the ability to choose to do and be evil.  (p135)

lxxx) Because we are so affluent in the West, because we hide death in hospitals and nursing homes, becausese we anaesthetise so much pain and provide so sedulously for our own comfort, we sometimes forget that every human being is in need of God’s mercy, that every human life contains its own tragedy. (p135)

lxxxi) One consideration is that God seems to respect his universe. It has its own independence. It follows its own rules. (p135)…Sheridan quotes G K Chesterton: The refusal of God to explain his design is itself a burning hint of his design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. (p137)

lxxxii) What is certainly the case is that merely being Christian does not solve the contradictions of the human condition.  A Christian is not immune [from the reality that] the line between good and evil runs through the middle of every human heart. (p139)

lxxxiii …the most systematically persecuted religious minority in the world are Christians [based on research from the non-partisan Pew Reseach Centre….on the other hand: whenever Christianity has been banished, the problems of humanity have got worse not better. (p140)

lxxxix) A. N. Wilson, in recounting his journey to temporary atheism, recalls looking at several religious conflicts and coming to the conclusion that religion caused war. But then he looked at several conflicts where religion was not a f actor, or not a big factor, and decided that the real thing conflicts have in common is human beings and human nature.

xc) The worst crime of Christians in my lifetime is clerical child sexual abuse. This is the most devastating and terrible thing I have learned about Christians and institutional Christianity. (p143)

xci) Looking back does it show that the Christian churches were uniquely bad? In one sense, sadly not. Police figures suggest the vast majority of abuse of children occurs at home. Our society is living through an epidemic of abuse against women and children.  Overwhelmingly the perpetrators are men. What is utterly shocking is that this happened at all on a large scale in Christian institutions. (p144)

xcii) The 1960s also marked a new stage in the hyper-sexualisation of culture. Even in Australia there was a brief period in the early 1970s when some semi-respectable people argued that pederasty, or man/boy love, as it was sometimes called, was ethically defensible.In the context of comprehensive apologies over this issue, Pope Benedict XVI commented: ‘in the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as  something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of t he concept of ethos. It was maintained—even within the realm of Catholic theology—that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself.’  This kind of confusion had one tangible, terrible result. (p145)

xciii) The churches have to go on, after this shame, with all the tasks they are needed for.

xciv) There is no evolution in the human soul, just social change that can make it harder for easier to fortify a good conscience. Evil never goes away. For Christians, too, it seldom takes a holiday.  (p148)

xcv) Some Christian fundamentalists interpret the Old Testament literally, or nearly literally…..This is an interpretation which has no support in mainstream Christianity.  Judaism also had its fundamentalists  and literalists especially the Karaites, whose origins date back to the 1st century BC. These fundamentalists reject the rabbinic commentaries, or interpretations, of the Hebrew scriptures. Instead they look for the plain meaning of the words. They can accept that a poem is a poem, or a figure of speech a figure of speech. But whatever the meaning was when the text was first written and first read is the meaning they are after. The Karaites represent a tiny minority in world Judaism.  (p151)

xcvi) Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is one of the finest interpreters of Jewish scriptures. His reflection on Christian, Islamic and other religious books is also profound and illuminating. No-one, though, writes about the Old Testament books more evocatively, faithful to both their original intent and their utility in everyday life. In his important book Not in God’s Name, Sacks shrewdly observes: ‘Every (religious) text needs interpretation. Every interpretation needs wisdom. Every wisdom needs careful negotiation between the timeless and time. Fundamentalism reads texts as if God were as simple as we are. That is unlikely to be true.’  (p152)

xcvii) The Old Testament always engages in its context. It was inspired by God but written by human beings for human beings. It was inspired by God but not dictated by God. It is not the distilled essence of heaven but the wrestled truth of humanity in dialogue with heaven. (p155)

xcviii) Naturally God will speak in a different tone of voice to different people at different times. Human understanding of God is always limited, although God does not change. I certainly cannot believe that God ever tells anyone to slaughter every man, woman and child in a given population. So let me declare my own rejection that is a lasting message inspired by God.  (p166)

xcix) There’s still a lack of comfort about politicians of faith who talk publicly about the inspiration of their faith. That’s partly because while politicians tend to be more churchgoing that the population generally, they are reported on by journalists who tend to be less churchgoing than the general population.  (p204)

c) John Howard: There is a big difference now even from ten years ago, and t that is a determined and vicious attack on Christianity. The attempt to drive religion out of the public square is quite clear. This has accelerated a lot in the last ten years. But you can’t understand Western culture without understanding Christianity. (p214)

ci) The only truly acceptable contemporary Christianity for Western political culture now seems to be a Christianity which doesn’t mention God and which subscribes to conventional elite wisdom on policy issues. (p218)

cii) Sheridan quotes an Australian monk who quotes French sociologist Jean Baudrillard: ‘The five qualities that postmodernism lacks are depth, coherence, meaning, authenticity and originality.’ (p269)

ciii) Sheridan ventures his preferred option for Christian operatives today: theological conservatives  and operational pragmatists with strong situational awareness, as the military might say.  (p279)

civ) Sheridan quotes Allan Bloom’s 1987 classic: The Closing of the American Mind: ‘there is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes that truth is relative. Sheridan comments: If you believe that all truth is relative, then you also believe that truth is not true any longer, that really there is no truth.  (p283)

cv) Sheridan notes Campion College in NSW. It has dedicated itself to immersing its students in the great tradition, based on the great books, of Western civilisation. This is not such a novel idea overseas. Campion College is Australia’s only liberal arts college, but such beasts abound in the US (p285)

cvi) Christians in the West now live in exile. They have been banished from Christendom, however imperfect and unsatisfactory Christendom was when it existed. Their situation is perplexing, full of paradox and difficult to understand. But Christians and their churches and their leaders won’t be able to respond effectively unless they understand the dimensions of their situation…The Christian churches in Australia and in the West generally have poor situational awareness. Until five minutes ago many of them thought they still represented a consensus view of life and social goods, and indeed ultimately of human meaning, in our society. That is no longer true. As this book has argued, Christianity in the West is in crisis. He cites Jesus in Mark 13:13 you will be hated by all because of my name. (p317ff)

cvii) Sheridan notes that in today’s Western environment Christian ideas are seen as stale and dull. (p321)

cviii) English Anglicanism is in its weakest position since the Reformation. Its decline is radical, rapid and dizzying. A tiny proportion of English young people regard themselves as Anglican. So whatever the virtues or otherwise of the English Anglican strategy, it is impossible to argue that it has worked. (p323)

cix) When mainline Christian churches have attempted to be culturally and socially relevant they have typically tended to fall into one or both of two traps. Trap one is that in trying to make their message more culturally acceptable they have actually watered down the content of their message. This is not only wrong in principle but, paradoxically, it seldom if ever works even in marketing terms…the other typical mistake is that in choosing to ape the secular culture, they don’t actually do contemporary cultural expression very well, while abandoning the transcendent beauty of their own traditions. (p329)


Books read October 2018


Oliver Goldsmith: The Vicar of Wakefield/She Stoops to Conquer, New York,  Harper & Row, Perennial Library, 1965 [1766].

Oliver Goldsmith was born in Ireland, educated at Oxford and travelled throughout Europe before settling down to write in London. He would perhaps have not achieved recognition except for the friendship and patronage of Dr Samuel Johnson. The Vicar of Wakefield is his only novel and can be regarded as a novelistic version of the Biblical Book of Job. Wakefield describes the ministry of a well meaning and devout country vicar and his family whose fortunes take several turns for the worse, finally resulting in total destitution and the imprisonment of the vicar in a very ordinary prison.  The plot which, on his own admission, is full of wild improbabilities, nevertheless makes entertaining, humorous and beguiling reading. The vicar’s sincere but sometimes foolish simplicity is tempered by the author’s presentation of the value of the vicar’s simple faith in the Christian God and human communion.* 

There is something in this novel of the initial despair of the two eldest daughters in Austen’s later Sense and Sensibility.  The steady stream of horrific and unlikely unhappy outcomes followed by the joy of the final chapter compare exactly to the final chapter of Job which describes Job’s rehabilitation after the most horrific hardship.  Goldsmith succeeds in creating a novel which can still raise a smile and a sense of moral uprightness even after 250 years.

At the same time as writing a humorous and engaging moral tale Goldsmith takes the opportunity to expatiate on his favourite issues of the day including politics (chapter 19) in which he defends liberty and the monarchy but opposes the accumulation of wealth to the few;  a minor sub-plot which describes the attempts of his son to make his fortune by various entertaining means, at first in London and then in various parts of northern Europe (chapters 20 and 21); and an essay on the best way to encourage reformation of prisoners in gaol (chapter 26). Goldsmith’s generous and clever good humour refuses to be defeated by a potentially shabby and destructive C18th moral environment and his generous and gentle mode of argument would be welcome today in our C21st lust for entrenched oppositional  hatreds and certainties on Facebook and in the media.  This is a novel totally out of date and fashion but still very readable.  3 stars.

*taken from the Introduction to this edition by R. H. W. Dillard,pxix.

Oliver Goldsmith: She Stoops to Conquer, 1773. [publishing details as above]

Goldsmith was singlehandedly responsible for turning the mood of the English theatre scene from the choice of the somewhat wooden and immoral world of Restoration Comedy and the sanctimonious sentimentality of the London stage in the mid C18th. Goldsmith’s play is simply laugh out loud funny and is still so today and still presented for the joy and amusement of the many. It is a complete farce but in a believable and elegant way which would have made Noel Coward proud.  I really enjoyed reading this play and did laugh out loud!   5 stars.

Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own,  Frogmore, St Albans UK, Triad Panther, 1977 [1929]

Virginia Woolf is one of the twentieth century’s finest authors and this essay is about writing, in particular about women writing. The genesis of the novel was a request for her to give two lectures to the Arts Society at Newnham and Odtaa Colleges at  Girton, UK  in October 1928. The lectures are written in the form of a story or short novel and are written with all the exceptional grace, fluidity, imaginative force, elegance and learning that has marked her substantial works of fiction, literary criticism, memoirs and published letters.

Woolf’s key point about women writing is that before they can write they need both money and a room of their own in which to write.  Written just ten years after women in England were given the right to vote and where women’s colleges at Oxford and Cambridge were hard to find and substantially under- endowed this essay is yet written without anger or to make a particular case.  It simply states the fact that prior to the nineteenth century women did not have money of their own and anything they did earn was their husbands; and secondly that even if they were well off and encouraged by their husbands they did not have a room of their own to write in but had to write in sitting rooms where there were always other folk present, making demands and needing to be spoken to. The first of these barriers (money) she admits is true also of men…men also need money so that they have time to give to the serious business of writing and she cites a detailed article proving this by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: The Art of Writing. (on page 101).

Woolf cites many other reasons why so few women wrote apart from the above and the fact that “scribbling” was not considered an appropriate thing for women to be doing. These barriers include the fact that writing usually demands a wide, contacts, experiences that were rarely open to women prior to the nineteenth century. She also looks deeply into the “state of mind” of writers..which is hard to determine, but good writing should be free of anger; good writing simply is good writing and is harmed by bitterness or deep regrets of the past or anything else that gets in the way of the finest wisdom and words that humans can put together.

. In establishing the foregoing arguments Woolf manages to include a vast array of female writers in England from Elizabethan times onwards and also finds space to make some useful comments about the relative merits of various male English writers and in particular the atrocious, ignorant and baleful negative comments about women’s writing from several otherwise highly regarded literary critics.

I found this to be a moving and elegantly written piece of writing which left me with several images of beauty and the difficulty faced by the first women “scribblers”  that will be hard to forget.   5 stars.

David Attenborough: Journeys to the Other Side of the World: Further Adventures of a Young Naturalist, London, Hodder & Stoughton/Two Books, 2018 [1981]

I first approached this book with some nervousness thinking it might be a rather dry scientific analysis of a number of obscure creatures and plants from equally obscure places. I was delighted to be immediately enjoying Attenborough’s engagingly urbane, humorous and indeed exciting writing style. Attenborough’s courage, energy and determination captivated me immediately and I found this beautifully photographed and illustrated book difficult to put down.

This book is a follow up to his 2017 Adventures of a Young Naturalist and is an abridgement of three already published Attenborough works: Quest in Paradise (1960 ..a search for birds of Paradise in New Guinea); Zoo Quest to Madagascar (1961) and Quest Under Capricorn (1963..Northern Territory journeys).

The New Guinea material is extraordinary. Even in the 1960s New Guinea, the second largest island in the world after Greenland) was largely uncharted.  Attenborough and his intrepid cameraman journeyed where only one or two white explorers and administrators had ever been in search of birds of paradise. The hardships, climate, dangers of all kinds were extreme and the communications severely limited. Apart from anything else it is a story of survival and of powerful interest.

The Madagascar journey was historically and biologically very worthwhile but perhaps the least interesting of the three sections.   The final third of the book detailing 1960s journeys through the Northern Territory is mesmerising, humorous, revealing and challenging. The interaction of white Australia with indigenous ancient Australian culture in the 1960s is thrown into new relief when viewed from an outsider’s perspective.

I think this is a book I will long remember and return to.  5 stars

Greg Sheridan: God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2018.

Greg Sheridan is a well known Australian media commentator on current affairs and since 1992 has been the Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper. Sheridan is a committed Roman Catholic and his wife is a Sikh believer and they have three sons who are members of the Sikh community in Australia. He has written six books on Australian/International relationships and issues. This is his first book on religion.  Sheridan has clearly spent a considerable amount of time researching the material for this book and has interviewed in some detail a large number of political and religious figures in the process.

The book is divided into two quite different sections.  Part 1 is a defence of the validity and enduring value of the Christian faith even as it fades away in the West. The book has particular reference to Australian believers but with more than a nod to the Western world in general. Sheridan’s coverage includes an analysis of “the sins of Christians” including ancient scars such as the inquisition and the Crusades as well as the recent uncovering of horrific pedophile scandals. Sheridan writes as a committed Roman Catholic but has clearly researched deeply into many Protestant Christian communities and demonstrates an excellent understanding of their approaches and functioning.

Part 2 consists of a series of interviews with a significant number of politicians who espouse Christian faith from both sides of the political divide and other chapters on outstanding Christian leaders and spokespersons of a wide range of denominations and involvement including Planetshakers, Focolare, Monastics, Campion College and many others. Sheridan also devotes chapters to descriptions of vigorous “signs of life” in many Christian communities, new styles of church and worship  and organisations that are making an impact on Australian society. He closes with some advice to Christian leaders and churches on what needs to be done to reignite Christian faith in Australia.

Sheridan’s very up to date examples, his well known pithy and sharp style, his sensitive assessments of individuals and shades of difference in religious beliefs, his courage in fronting some formidable political leaders and his sympathetic attempts to get inside the real thinking of individuals about a topic which is seldom discussed in public make this book hard to put down. This book is half way between  serious research and serious investigative journalism. Insiders will quibble at some of his analyses and outsiders might think he spends too much time on some issues.  In my view he has sharply hit on just the right tone.

If Australian Christians don’t accept that their time in the sun is over, that their once privileged position no longer counts in Australian society, that in fact they are facing and will face increasing hostility and abuse for their views and that if they don’t regroup and reignite they will face oblivion, then it will not be Sheridan’s fault. He has sounded a bugle call for what needs to be done and given some fine examples. Ordinary Christians will sense a real challenge and excitement here. Church leaders and key operators should take careful note and read it twice. Truly a clarion call to the Australian church…Wake up ..get going…be alive and be faithful…don’t lie down and don’t water down. This is not the work of a professional theologian or of an ordained priest…it is the carefully delineated thoughtfulness of a highly committed Christian thinker and an at times brutally even-handed but also  highly competent  and sympathetic Australian journalist.  5 stars.

Andrew Moody: The Will of Him Who Sent Me: An Exploration of Responsive Intra-Trinitarian Willing, Bletchley, Milton Keynes UK, Paternoster, 2016.

Coleridge, in his once very popular Aids to Reflection (1825) wrote: …I have not entered on the Doctrine of the Trinity….[this doctrine] demands a power and persistency of Abstraction, and a previous discipline in the highest forms of human thought… (In Aphorism 96). I note also the Psalmist in Ps 131:1b ..I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me….

I should have taken both pieces of advice to heart before starting on Andrew Moody’s extraordinary  account of his Doctoral thesis which seeks to search out the possibility of an inter-trinitarian response from the Son to the Father within the one will of God who is Father, Son and Spirit. Needless to say this book is a difficult read even for someone well versed in theology. Three reasons for this difficulty stand out immediately, one practical and the other two inevitable.

On the practical side there are some problems with the layout printing of the book as the extensive footnotes often extend beyond the page of their notation requiring much turning forward and back and the footnotes can’t be ignored because much of the “juice” of the argument is contained within them. In addition there are numerous proofing errors and some web-references especially have been distorted by a copying process which makes them difficult to read.

The inevitable further  difficulties are first, the specialised language especially with terms emerging from analytical philosophy.  Immediately the reader is confronted with words like causal taxis, perichoresis, dyothelitic and monothelitic theology, aseity, innascibility, condescent, ectypal, supralapsarianism, apophatic,  decretive and so on which one hasn’t used since third year systematic theology research if even then.  Secondly of course is the Latin! I have good Biblical Greek but never studied Latin. The first chapter of this discussion focussing first on the “Pro-Nicene Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus), and followed by the magisterial work of Augustine and the Mediaeval Western synthesis after Augustine in chapter three inevitably involves extensive use of Latin sentences not all of which are easily translateable and to a non-Latin student this is a very tough beginning.

With all of these precautionary warnings this book is yet a vigorous and thought provoking read. Moody bravely jumps into the fray of tensions between the competing ideas of the subordination of the Son to a Monarchic  (and masculine) Father  verses a theology of total equality of the three persons of the Trinity, not least in lively disputation with his former teacher Kevin Giles amongst many others. After a while the reader becomes genuinely interested and excited by the whole notion of “ responsive intra-trinitarian willing” (RITW), which seems at first  an obscure central argument for a substantial book. Inevitably also these arguments tie in with current debates within evangelical circles between complementary and egalitarian models of Christian ministry. Moody steers a bravely fair and moderate path between these attached and divisive issues pointing out with clarity the strengths, weaknesses and challenges on both sides.

Another exciting part of the book for me is Moody’s helpful exploration into the current revival of Orthodox approaches to the mystery of the Trinity especially in the work of George Palamos and in addition the revival of Hegelian dialectic in various ways in Moltmann, Pannenburg and Robert Jenson, and in addition the revival of Christian Neoplatonic ideas in the work of Urs von Balthasar and David Bentley Hart, with even a glance at the “radical orthodoxy” of John Milbank. A strength of this book is the vast array of primary and secondary resources and books referred to. Having all this material together in one place is a substantial achievement and very helpful for anyone wishing to do further work on Trinitarian studies.

In the end for me, with my no doubt  too simple view of things,  there seems to be no realistic way to define finally the notion of the Trinity in Christian thought. Some approaches such as Arianism and tri -theism are definitely out; but when it comes to further delineation every writer, no matter how careful, in prosecuting their case, and trying to find analogies, will inevitably move at times towards either  modalism or put too much stress on the individuality of the “persons” within the Trinity.  The reasons I draw this conclusion are threefold. (i) the complex   philosophical terms inevitably required to define the indefinable are themselves subject to varying interpretation; (ii) The sheer extraordinariness of the incarnation of the divine Son of God as the man Jesus of Nazareth puts almost impossible stress on the notion of divine willing since Jesus has both a human and a divine will and as Moody shows some writers arbitrarily use this fact to decide that some Biblical events relate to the Son’s human will and some to his divine will and do so inconsistently (iii) any attempt to adequately define the reality and nature of “God” in any religious faith is doomed to inadequacy because in the end there is inevitably mystery here beyond human understanding.

This book is a tribute to Moody’s amazingly elastic and deeply penetrating mind and his grasp of many of the threads which make up current theological discourse. If you are looking for a simple and straightforward guide to the theology of the Trinity don’t start this book. If you seek a genuine exploration of the power and purpose of the trinitarian revelation of God to mankind according to the Church’s finest thought leaders throughout the last 1500 years then this book is an excellent place to start. It will set your mind to exploding in five directions at once. It has for me!  Five stars!


Navigating around naturally nature-filled New Zealand  23 Sept – 6 October 2018

Ann at SilverleavesWhy do we have to go to New Zealand? It’s so comfortable here on Phillip Island!

23 September: 5.30am start to drive 2 hours to Tullamarine airport for a 3.5 hour Qantas flight in a very long, narrow and tight tin can Boeing 737 packed to the gunwales. Landing in Wellington and  escaping through customs,  we renegotiated a hire car to include an incar sat nav (blue Ford Mondeo wagon with fabulous turning circle) and found our way through pre daylight-saving darkness  to the Grand Chancellor hotel Wellington where our room wasn’t really all that grand and not much was happening on Sunday evening!  Found some yummy Chinese food next door and happy to have arrived safely.  Note to future self drivers hiring a car in NZ …don’t go into detail about your itinerary.  Hire companies don’t like you taking your hire car across Cook Strait on the car-ferry! They will try to persuade you to change to a different vehicle on the other side which can by annoying. We were very pleased to have our Mondeo for the whole two weeks and two ferry crossings.


NZ Mondeo

24 September;  Walked our feet off all day in wonderful Wellington with cool sunny weather (which remained with us for two whole weeks!). Our first stop after the tourist centre for some up to date free maps was Te Papa, the People’s Museum which is an exceptional exhibition and includes an award winning ANZAC historical recreation using real N Z heroes and was certainly the most moving and powerful recreation of Gallipoli I have ever experienced..deeply emotionally involving.  In addition the Maori history, artifacts and  guided tour were all sensational especially an original and complete early  thatched  meeting house celebrated on a very popular 1935 2d orange stamp.


View of Wellington Harbour from the top floor of Te Papa, the Museum of the People.

NZ Te Papa Museum Wellington.jpg

Amazing Te Papa Museum (Museum of the People) in Wellington  (tour guides fantastic ..need a good 2 hours plus here)

NZ"The Beehive" Wellington's Parliamentary building.jpg

“The Beehive”  ..New Zealand’s impressive Parliamentary Buildings in Wellington.

Next stop was the very short cable car ride to the top of the hill overlooking Wellington and a very steep but beautiful walk around the Botanic Gardens. NZ in Spring is an amazing mix of new leaf deciduous trees (larches and poplars especially contrasting with evergreen pines), pink and white blossom everywhere and exceptional rhododendrons and camellias in full bloom as well as the native yellow gorse flowering all over the hillsides and because their Spring is later than ours, daffodils, jonquils and tulips  everywhere also.NZ Wellington cable car.jpg

Finally we walked to the other end of town to one of  the largest wooden Gothic cathedrals in the world, Old St Paul’s Cathedral, now maintained by Government support and  not far away from the brand new cathedral on the hill, close to the Beehive Parliament building and  the gracious law school library. The new cathedral is also impressive and makes a remarkable contrast to the small wooden cathedral of old. We certainly used up some shoe leather in Wellington. It is a vibrant, friendly and creative city.

NZ Wellington Anglican Cathedral.jpg

Wellington’s “new” Anglican Cathedral replacing “Old St Paul’s”..a remarkable wooden Gothic cathedral now maintained as a working church with Government support.

"Old St Paul's" in Wellington.jpg

“Old St Paul’s”  Constructed in 1866 and one of the finest examples of wooden Gothic Revival architecture in the world. Still retained as a place of worship although no longer Wellington’s Anglican cathedral

Dinner at the Grand Chancellor was casual and we were overwhelmed by the friendship of locals who overheard our complex plans and gave us very good realistic advice and suggestions which were very helpful indeed.

25 September:  We headed north from Wellington and after an initial fight with the SatNav about finding a voice as well as the map for directions (which was eventually solved by a friendly Ford dealer in Lower Hutt (it took him 10 minutes..I didn’t feel completely stupid!) and commenced our driving tour. We drove first  cross-country from Lower Hutt through haunted hills and deep forest and very curly roads to the West coast of the North Island and the seriously blue/turqoise ocean of the Southern Pacific …what a sight as you turn a corner from the forest and find a turquoise ocean.

NZ North Island southern ocean.jpg We moved on to the small town of Otaki. Why I hear you ask? Because in Otaki is J R Mowbrays Collectables Ltd, NZ’s and one of the world’s largest philatelic dealers. I have been bidding online in their auctions for many years and it was a delight to meet John Mowbray himself and his staff and see the whole very large set up in action.


NZ Richard at Mowbrays Stamp Dealers Head office in Otika

Richard at Mowbray Collectables  Stamp Dealers in Otaki where he met John Mowbray, the founder,  in person.

Continuing north we stopped in at a very helpful “possum and merino” clothing outlet and succumbed to several of their beautifully created knitted garments. Hitting the highway again we finished up at Lake Taupo.. NZ’s largest lake and a very popular holiday spot.

NZLake Taupo North Island.jpg

Lake Taupo..huge lake; very pleasant town with two impressive art galleries.We had a little cottage to ourselves here for two nights and enjoyed the relaxed vibe and friendly environment of the town. Needless to say the scenery en route whether ocean, mountain pass or forest was always impressive.

26 September:  From our base in Lake Taupo we journeyed north through stunning snow capped mountains and plateaux to Rotorua and its powerful Wai-O-Tapu geyser and many other geysers besides in the Te Puia  geo-thermal park and artistic school. Students from all over NZ come here to create exceptional works of art in the Maori tradition and work with wood, fabric, steel, precious stones, musical instruments. and just about every other medium to produce works of art of exceptional quality.  As well as the bubbling mud-pools and excitable geysers we were able to catch a glimpse of our first real kiwi . a small black flightless nocturnal  bird which is the NZ’s national icon also recognized on an equally popular 1935 1d red NZ stamp. Te Puia has a special “nocturnal reversal house” which enables guests to see a kiwi in action although I have to say it was still pretty dark and it was just a glimpse of a very shy critter indeed!  Te Puia was a fabulous experience and our Maori guide was impressive.


NZ Rotorua geyser

Wai-O- Tapu  “going off” at Roturoa!

We returned the same day  to our Lake Taupo cottage

27 September:  From Lake Taupo this time we drove south east to the seaside resort of Napier in the Hawkes Bay region with our first sight of a black stony surf beach…it takes a while to get used to the idea.  In 1931 a devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake destroyed the area, killing 256 people and injuring thousands. The town of Napier was destroyed and when it was rebuilt it was the height of the Art Deco era.  The centre of town has retained and indeed celebrated these amazing shop fronts and major buildings and even many new buildings and homes are created in this style. It is a very stylish town but black stony surf?? I don’t think so!

NZ Napier black stone surf beach

What do you think?

Our trip back to Wellington had to be rerouted because of landslips in the Thompson Pass area but whichever way you travel through the mountains back to Wellington from Hawkes Bay area the driving is challenging, beautiful and needs care.  One interesting small town on the way back was Woodville which has two very impressive collectibles shops in one of which Richard found a treasure trove of early Dinky Toys and Micro Model cars.. a collector’s heaven.   We stayed that night back in Wellington at the St Paul’s apartments which were undergoing refurbishment so we had a good deal, but no outside view!

28 September:  After a slow start relaxing and reading we drove to the Inter-Islander port, one of two major ferry companies taking vehicles across Cook Strait. On both of our crossings we enjoyed good weather and calm seas. The journey takes about four hours and there is plenty to do on board including excellent dining facilities, films and many places to view the scenery or for children to be involved in activities. Our destination was the seaside village of Picton which has a glorious harbour at the head of Charlotte Sound and is again surrounded by hills. The one flaw of the Mondeo is that the vibration of the ferry upsets its burglar alarm. On both crossings I was called up to go down to the hold and unlock the car to stop the alarm!


NZ Cook Strait Car Ferry

Picton, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound is one NZ’s most picturesque towns with many inviting galleries and restaurants and even a useful second hand bookshop! It has its own little Sydney Harbour Bridge which is still quite a steep climb!

NZ Picton harbour)

Picton Harbour looking out over Queen Charlotte Sound. Gorgeous town for just sitting and relaxing!

29 September:  We made an early start from Picton on Highway 1 to Christchurch. This is one of the most spectacular journeys anywhere in the world by car or by train.  But in 2016 the massive Kaikoura earthquake, magnitude 7.8 destroyed large sections of both the highway and the railway and produced structural damage as far away as Wellington as well as two major tsunamis. Fortunately the area at the epicentre of the Kaikoura earthquake is not heavily settled and only two deaths were attributed to this massive earthquake. The highway has only reopened this year and there are still many one lane only hold ups. The railway has not yet reopened. In spite of the many pauses this journey is one for the ages.  Massive surf beaches and sea-scapes, spectacular snow clad mountains, vast tracts of forest and beautifully manicured vineyards and orchards especially in the Marlborough region.  The “wow” factor is very much present on this journey.

In spite of hold ups we managed to make our Christchurch destination in good time to walk the 20 minute journey to the centre of the city. Christchurch is the second largest city in NZ and here once again we came face to face with yet another seismic catastrophe. In 2010 a magnitude 7.2 earthquake weakened the structure of many Christchurch buildings and in 2011 a 6.2 magnitude earthquake closer to the centre of Christchurch caused massive damage right in the middle of the city. The quake killed 185 people and turned the centre of the city into molten lava.  The magnificent brick Gothic Anglican Cathedral was severely damaged, many thought irreparably,  but in 2017 a decision was taken to rebuild the cathedral in its traditional Gothic style. In the meantime Anglicans have been worshipping in a nearby “Cardboard cathedral” which has its own unique beauty and simplicity (and many would wish it would remain the cathedral).


NZ Christchurch cathedral damage





NZ Christchurch Cathedral 2018A terrible sight but nothing compared with the trauma of the death of 185 people and the complete destruction and disruption of the business and transport centre of the city! Cathedrals can be rebuilt but the impact of seismic savagery will last for genderations in this city.NZ Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral

The temporary “Cardboard Cathedral” in Christchurch.  The interior ceiling is indeed made out of reinforced cardboard!


We wandered through several of Christchurch’s glorious parks and gardens ( there are over 90 in Christchurch) Christchurch is the second largest NZ city after Auckland and has its own style, not only its array of botanic gardens but also its old style trams in its centre (including a shopping mall with a tram running through its centre); a casino and some very funky restaurants (including an American style Route 66 eatery with wonderful fifties music where we had dinner.


NZ Christchurch USA Route 66 Cafe It is a city which seems to breathe the beauty and grandeur of New Zealand alongside its vulnerabilty and the warnings inside the various motel rooms we occupied were salutary. We arrived back in our motel room in time to catch the exceptionally tense last quarter of the AFL Grand Final between Collilngwood and West Coast and had to commiserate with the many Magpie supporters in our extended family. I have to say for Aussies one of the amazing things about NZ newspapers is the complete absence of any reference at all to AFL issues.

30 September.  From Christchurch we took another 300km+ drive to the very popular holiday destination of Wanaka just 40 minutes by car north of Queenstown. The drive from Christchurch was memorable once again with spectacular scenery including snow clad mountains, forest and agriculture, rivers,  attractive small communities and very well built roads. It is ridiculous how frequently we would turn a corner and let out an involuntary “wow” at the rich vistas  laid out before us.  We arrived in good time at Wanaka and found a very useful motel/park with very practical laundry facilities enabling us to catch up on some clothes washing. Like Taupo, Wanaka sits on a beautiful elongated lake and our weather here was warm and dreamy.  Here we made use of the local supermarket and cooked our own dinner for two evenings. Wanaka is a seriously relaxing place.

1 October .  From Wanaka we celebrated NZ’s commencement of daylight saving with an amazing “over the mountain” drive to Queenstown past the Cardrona Hotel, one of only two remnant buildings from the goldrush in the area in the 1860s.  The climb to the top past Cardrona needed careful attention (as did the climb down into Queenstown) but the view from the top was well worth the effort. We felt on top of the world.


NZ view from Cardrona pass peak

Queenstown once again boasts spectacular scenery with huge mountains on three sides and a smooth flowing quiet river on the edge of a seriously bustling town. Traffic here was excitable and the city radiates youthful energy with adventures of every type on offer in many places.  We enjoyed the vibe of Queenstown but were happy to retreat to Wanaka via the longer and flatter route through rich fruit growing areas (where yummy home made ice cream was a roadside treat.)


NZ Queenstown

Gloriously situated Queenstown surrounded on all sides by protective mountains with a beautiful river to sit and watch a busy town go by.

2 October.  We were sad to leave Wanaka but also were looking forward to our  300+km drive towards the South Island West Coast through some of its highest mountains including Mt Cook to the West Coast and once again were treated to quite inspiring landscapes and ever-changing vistas. After the forest came the spectacular Southern ocean with nothing between us and Antarctica. One highlight of this journey was lunch at the rather strange Hard Antler Bar and Restaurant in Haase. This wild west establishment had a distinctly “take it or leave it” style and the ceiling was literally covered with the antlers of vast numbers of deer that are hunted in the area (as an introduced pest).  [It is interesting to go online and see the warfare between antler bars all around the world and the attention they get from vegetarian and vegan protestors].


NZ Hard Antler Bar and Cafe Haase

Huntin’ and shootin’ Hard Antler bar and restaurant..not to everyone’s taste but we found the food was good!

Our goal was the Franz Josef glacier and appropriately it has produced its own town! With daylight saving help we arrived in time to walk the approximately 2km up and down walk into the glacier past a series of fine silvery waterfalls. Due to safety precautions it is no longer possible to actually set foot on the glacier without reverting to a helicopter and guide landing but it was exciting to be within a stone’s throw and see in reality a geomorphological feature I recall studying so carefully in the Melbourne University Geography department in the 1960s!  An additional highlight was the outstanding food provided by the chef at the Alice May restaurant in the village of Franz Josef Glacier.  This was a meal to be long remembered and a quite unexpected treat.


NZ Franz Josef glacier

Retreating Franz Josef glacierNZ North Island waterfall

Impressive “trident” waterfall  on the walk into Franz Josef glacier

3 October.  Our West coast journey continued with another dazzling surf, forest and mountain 300+km drive to the sleepy town of Westport. Our lunchtime stop this time was quite a contrast to the “outback” town of Haase. We were treated to the far more civilised and prosperous “greenstone and gold” town of Hokitika, made famous in recent years  by the widely book club read and Man Booker prize winning 1860s gold rush novel Luminaries, the second novel by Eleanor Catton. Hokitika is a stylish town with its own art deco cinema whose restaurant sells  seriously good meat pies of great variety and in addition some outstanding pastries.  Hokitika also has at least four major greenstone shops  (NZ jade whose sale is controlled by the Maori population) and in addition  The Gold Room, ; run by an outstanding jeweller this retail outlet is  a quite remarkable shop full of historical material about the gold rush days but also impressive for its high quality gold workmanship.

I have to say after all these highlights that the surfing town of Westport was somewhat of a letdown but nevertheless we had a comfortable motel with an attractive garden setting and in any case a good rest was needed.

4 October.  Our final South island journey was yet another 300km+ journey back to the Picton ferry through spectacular mountain gorge scenery, quiet little towns and finally the fertile Marlborough plains, source of so much of the sauvignon blanc and pinot gris downed in quantities by Australian quaffers. A particular highlight was the delightful rural town of Murchison which currently is lucky to have a gold star French pastry chef and his wife who have created a quality of coffee and cake which I believe it would be hard to match anywhere. Quite remarkable! How long can he last in this quiet little town?

In Blenheim near Picton we discovered the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and the Omaka Classic Car display centre.  Local flying enthusiasts commenced this collection of classic aeroplanes and the chairman of the Centre is extraordinary Film Director and entrepreneur Sir Peter Jackson of the Lord Of the Rings films fame who is also the creator the impressive Wellington War Memorial.  The Omaka Classic Car collection of 140 vehicles is personally owned by Blenheim dentist and business man Ron Stewart and includes about 8 Jaguars, 3 impressive Daimlers, an Austin A105 in immaculate condition, many Holdens and Fords and a host of other now quite rare vehicles including a Super Shadow Rolls Royce. (But no Triumph Mayflower!]

austin A105

Immaculate Austin A105 and Wolseley 16/60 (Omaka Classic Cars

Rolls Royce Silver Shadow

One of 9 Jaguars in Ron Stewarts Omaka Classic Collection


recreated C type Jaguar – very few originals anywhere in the world

After finally extracting myself from the Car Display we returned to the same amazing motel in Picton and enjoyed this stunningly calm and peacefully beautiful fishing village at the head of Charlotte Sound.

sad to leave Picton

5 October.    We mooched around Picton for the first half of this day enjoying the scenery, the Jewellery shops, the second hand bookshop and just the peace and quiet with very little driving!  In the afternoon we rejoined the InterIslander ferry and passed through gorgeous Queen Charlotte Sound back to the North Island.  Our motel on this evening was in trendy yuppy Lower Hutt and we truly enjoyed the wonderful dinner provided by the very crowded Buddha Stix restaurant.


5 October.  Our final day in NZ  was spent In Wellington at the Weta Conceptual Design and Manufacturing Workshop responsible for the amazing Peter Jackson visual characterisations which brought The Lord of the Rings to the screen as well as much of the visual wonder  of James Cameron’s Avatar movies. In addition Weta was also the company that animated the original UK produced Thunderbirds Are Go puppet tv programs into a new six dvd series. This guided tour workshop is simply an amazing place and the company maintains a huge staff employed in a variety of roles.  A highlight of this visit was lunch at The Larder, 500 metres up the hill from the Studio with the most sensational menu and food.

NZ Weta Design Studio troll from Tolkien

Richard outside the Weta Design Studio with a model of a Tolkienian troll

In the afternoon we sadly bade farewell to our faithful Mondeo and enjoyed the hospitality of the Wellington airport as we awaited our return flight to Melbourne. New Zealand had stolen our hearts…a peaceful, stunningly beautiful and energetic place. We are glad we went!


Books read September 2018

L. Frank Baum:  The Wizard of Oz, Camberwell Au, Puffin, 1994 [2000]

Lyman Frank Baum worked in the theatre, newspapers, magazines, inventing, retail and poultry farming before turning his hand to writing children’s books, (originally his own children).  His much loved story of Dorothy and Toto her dog, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the cowardly Lion, the mighty Wizard of Oz, the wicked and good witches, the Munchkins, the Winkies, the Quadlings, the Hammer Heads and much much more has become one of the most loved children’s books of all times.  The 1939 movie starring Judy Garland, one of the earliest technicolour movies, has become an all-time classic in its own right.  The Wizard of Oz also has its own psychological and moral message….look inside yourself for the brains, the heart and the courage you need to live a happy and effective life and at the same time don’t just take authority for granted without testing its validity and truthfulness. As for the compulsory green spectacles for all in Oz, things aren’t always what they seem!  An exceptional moral story for children, well before Narnia and Tolkien.  5 stars.

Anh Do: The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir, Crow’s Nest Au, Allen & Unwin, 2010.

One of the funniest and most powerful biographies I have ever read.  Anh Do’s extended family were refugees from Vietnam following the Communist North’s victory in 1976. The harrowing account of their boat trip to Malaysia assailed by pirates twice and finally without water, food or an engine! makes harrowing reading. Following resettlement in Australia as refugees Anh Do’s family work voraciously to establish a new life for themselves. The account of their financial ups and downs, Anh Do’s education in a Sydney Catholic school, his university studies, countless interesting jobs, his marriage and gradual emergence as a stand-up comic and an artist are told with fast humour, integrity, truthfulness (we get the good and the bad) and energy. This is a laugh out loud book but also a book which deals with serious change in Australian life in terms of attitude to racism, opportunity and amazing resourcefulness.  Serious challenges in the lives of his extended family are also dealt with sensitively and powerfully.  A book with serious energy that energizes the reader.  5 stars.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera, trans. Edith Grossman,  Melbourne Au, Penguin, 2008 [1985 in Spanish]

Regarded as Colombia’s greatest writer the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez has also been described as the most important writer in Spanish since Cervantes [ but what of Borges? Lorca? Neruda?] Love in the Time of Cholera is probably his most frequently read novel after One Hundred Years of Solitude and by and large is written in realistic style rather than that of magic realism like hie earlier work, with the possible exception of its concluding pages.

Based on the love affair and eventual marriage of Marquez’s parents which was strongly opposed by his grandparents Love in the Time of Cholera tells of the excruciating love life of Florentino Ariza and the beautiful but cold Fermina Daza.  Childhood sweethearts their friendship was forbidden by Daza’s father and she eventually married the outstanding young doctor Juvenal Urbino who became a national hero for his cultural, medical, musical, artistic and engineering skills. Their marriage lasted until they were in their seventies. His story and “battle” with old age and with Daza is the second major plot in the narrative. But Florentino Ariza never gives up and eventually, after Urbino’s death,  in their old age and dotage Florentino and Fermina truly fall in love.

All of this would make for engaging reading on its own as a story of indomitable love conquering all and it is indeed in this respect a thoughtful and powerfully written narrative especially about the importance of sexual pleasure in old age.  In the intervening years thirty years  of waiting, however, Marquez has Florentino engage in a literal avalanche of raunchy love affairs, many of which are described with joyously flagrant and literally “fragrant” detail because it is a novel in which perfume and bodily odour both play a major part! In addition Florentino’s role in these relationships can “from the outside” only be described as a hunter (a term the translator uses), a rapist, a man sick with  fixation with his own sexual drive,, a regular inhabitant of brothels, and on several occasions as a groomer and eventually a molester of young girls resulting twice in suicides. This appallingly immoral and destructive  behaviour is made worse by the  deliberate cultivation of a reputation for himself as a homosexual, uninterested in women, a pose which gains him unsuspecting access to women he intends to seduce. At the same time he manages to build a successful business career for himself eventually becoming Company Director and Chairman of a major river transport company, where he again used his power and office to seduce any woman who came his way. Marquez never at any stage makes any moral judgment about Florentino Ariza. It is simply “love in the time of is what it is even if young people’s lives are destroyed by a dirty old man.

There is of course, a moral compass, not necessarily a Christian compass,  in D H Lawrence, in Tolstoy, in George Eliot, In Flaubert, in Zola and even in Borges. I struggled fifty years ago in English tutorials at Melbourne University because I insisted on bringing morality into the discussion of the worthiness of a novel or a poem. I guess I haven’t changed my view that, in the end, good literature lifts up and throws thoughtful and challenging light on what it is to be human, to live, to love, to be faithful, to make mistakes, even to be tragic but not to honour evil, destructive and fetishistic behaviour.

Only in one sentence in the last two pages does Marquez throw the book at Florentina Ariza.  When they persuade the captain of their riverboat cruiser to throw of all the other passengers for their return journey so they can be open lovers the captain flies the cholera flag which entitles them to leave passengers behind but when they come to their home port they are directed to quarantine dock for two months.  They decide to return and sail on for ever and the novel ends but not for before Marquez blames the ships companies of which Ariza was the key player for the destruction of the river industry for not caring for the river and preventing settlement along its banks resulting in the destruction of the jungle and the wild life ..the main reason for the cruising and also the destruction of the river by siltation. This one sentence does not do it for me. I give this novel just two stars, for the sheer brilliance of Marquez’s eloquent analysis of the delicacy of human relationships and the finely and brilliantly drawn flawed character of Juvenal Urbino but none for cruel and sadistic approach to the potential beauty of human sexuality.  2 stars

Jamming with Jaimie Smith on Cultural Liturgies

The following notes are based on James K A Smith: Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, Grand Rapids MI, Baker Academic, 2009 (Volume 1 of Cultural Liturgies.)


p17 “Christian education” has routinely been understood to be about Christian ideas— which usually requires a defence of the importance of “the life of the mind”.  This leads to regarding the goal of Christian education as development of a Christian perspective, or more commonly now, a Christian worldview.

p17-18  In this study, Smith asks the major question what if education, including higher education, is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut—what the New Testament refers to as καρδια (kardia – “the heart”)? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions—our visions of “the good life”—and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect..What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?…That actually is the wager of this book: It is an invitation to re-vision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project? [

p19.  Smith introduces the phenomenon of “cultural liturgies”….how and why do we humans  do what we do? [Smith explains in fn 8 p25 that he uses the term liturgy  as a synonym for worship. In the word liturgy, readers should not hear the valorization of any particular form or stye.]Cultural liturgies “ which have parallels with religious liturgies include shopping malls and the rituals associated with massive sporting events (anthems sung by spectators with hand on heart etc).

p21 The major icons and temples of modern America are found in shopping malls, not religious cathedrals. (This was written in 2009…in 2018 with the rapid increase in on-line shopping many American shopping malls are emptying out and going broke. Folk are buying on-line or shopping in unique and chosen shops of interest to particular buyers and interests, not necessarily vast crowds of ῾οι πολλοι. ) Nevertheless Smith’s point is that “shopping” tugs at the heart-strings of more Americans than does religious observance.

p25.  The  core claim of this book is that Liturgies —whether “sacred” or “secular” —shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love….every liturgy is an education, and embedded in every liturgy is an implicit worldview or “understanding” of the world….an understanding of the world that is pretheoretical, that is on a different register than ideas.

p26-27. Because I think that we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities— what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are—is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world.

p27.  What is the aim, or τελος  telos, end/completion point] of a Christian education?…I think we need a rearticulation of the end of Christian education, which will require a reconsideration of worldview-talk as it comes to dominate conceptions of Christian education.

p28   In a long footnote (fn11) Smith distinguishes between cognitive approaches to education (a reflective propositional way of intending the world that traffics in thinking and ideas)  and an affective “attunement”  to the world that precedes the articulation ideas and even beliefs. He describes this as akin to Heidegger’s account of Befuindlichkeit, “attunement” or “affectedness”.

p28 We are so prone to associating education with the cognitive stuff of ideas that it’s difficult for us to imagine education as a more formative, affective matter. Our imaginations get stuck in a rut, and it becomes difficult to get out of them to imagine things differently….(fn 12) This is an example of the way that particular configurations of the “social imaginary” can become so dominant that we fail to see them as a particular, contingent construal. Instead, these ingrained habits of perception are taken to just be “the way things are”. 

Thus Charles Taylor contends that the “modern” social imaginary “has now become so self-evident to us that we have trouble seeing it as one possible conception among others.”  [Taylor: Modern Social Imaginaries, Durham, NC, Duke University Press,2004, p2]  On p65 Smith summarizes Taylor’s definition of a social imaginary…all societies and communities are animated by a social imaginary, but this does not mean that all are oriented by a theory. The social imaginary …is “much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode”. …what we “think about” is just the tip of the iceberg and cannot fully ore even adequately account for how and why we make our way in the world. There’s something else and something more rumbling beneath the cognitive that drives much of our action and behaviour. The social imaginary refers to “the way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings,” which is “not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in images, stories, and legends.”  [Taylor: op.cit. p23]

p30. Smith uses George Orwell’s novel Road to Wigan Pier, [London, Penguin, 2001] to illustrate how the English public schools had little success in inculcating Latin and Greek into their average students (including Orwell himself) but were highly successful in inculcating snobbishness …the despising of the lower classes. Orwell writes: You forget your Latin and Greek within a few months of leaving school—I studied Greek for eight or ten years, and now, at thirty-three, I cannot even repeat the Greek alphabet—but your snobbishnes, unless you persistently root it out like the birdweed it is, sticks by you to your grave. [ibid, p128]

p31  Smith uses Orwell’s example to show that whilst education promotes head knowledge what actually sticks is the emotional/gut level/heart knowledge communication that can easily occur in the educational process such as snobbishness in an upper class school, or in C21st Christian education,  where many Christian schools, colleges, and universities —particularly in the Protestant tradition—have taken on board a picture of the human person that owes more to modernity and the Enlightenment, than it does to the holistic, biblical vision of human persons. In particular, Christian education has absorbed a philosophical anthropology that sees human persons as primarily thinking things….leading to the dissemination of Christian ideas rather than the formation of a peculiar people. i.e. the “world-view” approach dominates.

p32 …such construals of worldview belie an understanding of Christian faith that is dualistic, and thus reductionistic: it reduces Christian faith primarily to a set of ideas, principles, claims, and propositions that are known and believed. The goal of all this is “correct” thinking….in the rationalistic picture …we are also seen as things whose bodies are nonessential (and rather regrettable) containers for our minds…..Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behaviour; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly—who loves God and neighbour and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love.

p33  We fail to counter the powerful cultural liturgies around us. We need a pedagogy of desire.

p34 Before we think we pray….The classical axiom is lex orandi, lex credence:  what the church prays is what the church believes. We pray before we believe, we worship before we know….we need to move from the model of “Christian universities,”  …to “ecclesial colleges”.

PART 1 Desiring, Imaginative Animals.  

We don’t counter the powerful cultural liturgies around us. The church has a stunted philosophical anthropology  p41


p41….humans are lovers before they are thinkers.

p42…Protestant Christianity has been overly cognivist/overly intellectualist; focussing on “messages”…It is just this adoption of a rationalist, cognitivist anthropology that accounts for the shape of so much Protestant worship as a heady affair fixated on “messages”  that disseminate Christian ideas and abstract values (easily summarised on powerpoint slides). The result is a talking-head version of Christianity that is fixated on doctrines and ideas, even if it is also paradoxically allied with a certain kind of anti-intellectualism.

p43.  …before we are thinkers, we are believers…Beliefs are more “basic” than ideas.  Thus Alvin Plantinga speaks of “properly basic beliefs”  and Nicholas Wolterstorff of “control beliefs”….Beliefs, we might say, are more “basic” than ideas. …human persons are understood not as fundamentally thinking machines but rather as  “moral believing animals” [Christian Smith: OUP,2003], or as 

essentially religious creatures, defined by a world-view that is pre-rational or supra-rational.  For a more technical discussion of this point, see Herman Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of of Western Thought: Studies in the Pretended Autonomy of Theoretical Thought, ed. James K. A. Smith, Collected Works B/4 (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1999.

p44-5.  Jamie Smith agrees that Reformed Christianity has laudably assaulted reductionist rationalisitic  claims for the ‘objectivity’  of reason that engender a secularlzation of the “public sphere”  [especially the massive work of Alvin Plantinga  and others such as Nancey Murphy [Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1990] and George Marsden: The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, New York, OUP, 1997]. Nevertheless  Smith argues that this model of the human person seems just to move the clash of ideas down a level to a clash of beliefs and secondly that it still tends to operate with a very disembodied, individualistic picture of the human person.  The beliefs that orient me still seem quite disconnected from my body…what I am passionate about, how do/should I worship, how I live,what I do in my life. He cites with approval Stanley Hauerwas: When Christianity is turned into a belief system, it is reduced to something available without mediation by the church. [How Risky is The Risk of Education?” in The State of the University: Academic Knowledge and the Knowledge of God.  Oxford, Blackwell, 2007,p51]  Smith will go on to argue in this book that the “Christian academy” must be more completely expressed through “church”.

p46.   Jamie Smith seeks to go back beyond Calvin’s emphasis on belief to the Augustinian idea  that our primordial orientation to the world is not knowledge, or even belief, but love….we must get into the heart of folk ahead of the head!

p47-73 Smith uses the philosophy of Derrida, Caputo, Husserl and Heidegger as the philosophical basis of his analysis. To further develop his case he uses theologians Augustine, Hauerwas, MacIntyre, Graham Ward, Aquinas, and George Lindbeck;  He also uses  contemporary film,  Nabokov on Dickens, American baseball drills, sociology’s critique of theological axioms as unverifiable, psychologist Timothy Wilson, Charles Taylor’s ground breaking work on “Social Imaginaries (p63), Pierre Bourdieu’s “logic of practice”, Pascal, Gordon Graham’s idea of the irreducibility of artistic “truth”, early Christian asceticism (the importance of shaping desire in order to know), and Tolkien. [Phew!!!  Take a big breath before you embark on these pages! they are demanding.]

In brief, We need to shape desire in order to know!  The Christian vision of the kingdom of God must discern to what ends all sorts of cultural institutions are seeking to direct our love. What we do (practices) is intimately linked to what we desire (love) so what we do determines whether, how, and what we can know. (p70)We need to accept that all societies throw up an array of liturgies that function as a pedagogy of desire.” [p73] The Christian view of human flourishing is very different from secular alternatives! Folk don’t need more ideas, data and dogma necessarily ..they need to increase their desire for God. Many Americans for this reason have turned from evangelicalism to Orthodox mysticism e.g. C6th Maximus the Confessor who taught that the key to directing and increasing one’s desire for God is the acquisition of virtues..non-cognitive dispensations acquired through participation in concrete Christian practices like confession. (p71)

In my view they also need a genuinely loving and caring community which demonstrates the love of God through  meaningful liturgy, genuine and practical support, opportunities for growth including spiritual growth and service, and rich fellowship.

 [My problem with Smith’s analysis at this point is that he is assuming these folk are already Christian which I am guessing is easy to do in America where there are still so many Christians.  He is right that many evangelicals have grown weary of thin praise services with lengthy exegetical sermons which can easily become a retelling of the text that has already been read aloud hence their interest in the spiritual depth of Orthodoxy.  But before secular folk can be bothered exploring a religious “social imaginary” they need to be persuaded through ideas, teaching, apologetics and a worthwhile philosophy of religion that there is some value in religious spirituality. Smith’s work is great for jaded and shallow evangelicals but we still need Christian schools and universities teaching the philosophy, apologetics and biblical theology of the Bible so that they are equipped to rightly divide the word of truth and give an account of the hope that is in them.  We can’t con folk into the kingdom by explosive activities like a football final or disguised greed like shopping experience of such youth work is that it certainly attracts the masses but it doesn’t translate to Christian commitment. The numbers only last while the excitement lasts….a bit like the prodigal son. True love of God only occurs through God calling and this is a much more mysterious event which happens to the most unlikely folk in the most unlikely way including even in some church services no matter how “ineffective” or “uninspiring” they may seem to others.]

p75-7  The question is not whether we love but what we love…I’m guessing that I don’t have to convince you that sex sells almost everything. It is so pervasive that we can perhaps become a bit blind to it….marketing taps into our erotic religious nature and seeks to shape us in a way that this passion and desire is directed to strange gods, alternative religion, another kingdom….what if we didn’t see passion and desire as such as the problem, but rather sought to redirect it? What if we honoured what the marketing industry has got right— that we are creatures primarily of love and desire—and then responded in kind with counter-measures that focus on our passions, not primarily on our thoughts and beliefs?  In Smith’s view the church tries to get ideas to trump passion …to bring passions into submission to the intellect .  (p76)

p77     Smith turns to Inklings member Charles Williams idea of “romantic theology” to counter the current ideas/beliefs based notion of Christian formation.

cf Charles Williams: Outlines of Romantic Theology”, ed. Alice M. Hadfield, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990, p70 and He Came Down from Heaven, 1938 reprint, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1984 p.96….Love is a testament to the in-breaking or emergence of the divine in human experience, and thus to be affirmed as an expression of our deepest erotic passion, the desire for God. (p77) cf Augustine: You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you. 

pp78 – 9 Smith channels Baz Lurhmann’s film Moulin Rouge (desire for art challenged by the desire for love vs desire for money challenged by love)…Love wins; Williams might say starting with  ᾿ερος (eros) and ending with ᾿αγαπη (agape).  Smith uses this material  to challenge the criticisms of “mushy” worship choruses that seem to confuse God with our boyfriend.  (p79fn7)….. I don’t think we should so quickly write off their “romantic” or even “erotic” elements (the Song of Songs comes to mind in this context). This, too, is testimony to why and how so many are deeply moved in worship by such singing.While this can slide into an emotionalism and a certain kind of domestication of God’s transcendance, there remains a kernel of “fittingness” about such worship. 

p79      Smith further channels the work of Catholic novelists such as Graham Greene (especially in “The Heart of the Matter”, Walker Percy, Evelyn Waugh, Anne Sexton, Flannery O’Connor…the thin fulcrum that tips from sexual desire to desire for God…The quasi- rationalism that sneers at such erotic elements in worship and is concerned to keep worship “safe” from such threats is the same rationalism that has consistently marginalised  the religious experience of women— and women mystics in particular.

p.80-88    Smith investigates cognitive psychological studies based routines and rituals that create important habits and pre-cognitive dispositions in our lives and demonstrates links and similarities between habits (“thick” and “thin”), practices, rituals (including rituals of ultimate concern) and liturgies and channelling Tillich as well as George Lindbeck’s cultural linguistic model of religion.  Secular liturgies capture our hearts by capturing our imaginations and drawing us into ritual practices that “teach” us to love something very different from the kingdom of God.

p.90-1 By describing secular/cultural liturgies are religious, I mean that they are institutions that command our allegiance, that vie for our passion, and that aim to capture our heart with a particular vision of the good life….intentionally loaded to form us into certain kinds of people—to unwittingly make us disciples of rival kings and patriotic citizens of rival kingdoms.  Smith channels the film version of Spiderman 2 as a symbol of a human construction that got out of control and destroyed the humans which created it. It is form of apocalyptic literature. The question is when does our attachment to cultural practices become assimilation to culture.

p92.   We need a kind of contemporary apocalyptic…a genre that sees through the spin and unveils for us the religious and idolatrous character of the contemporary institutions that constitute our own milieu.

p93 Liturgies both secular and religious grab hold of our καρδια (kardia) [our heart] and want nothing less than our love….

p94 …secular liturgies function as pedagogies of desire

p95 ..the rituals associated with secular liturgies constitute a pedagogy, a training of our hearts and loves….its own education of desire…we are being trained to be a people who desire the earthly city in all sorts of guises….keep in mind that what’s happening between the commercials is very much part of this commercial outreach. Television was invented to create audiences for advertising, not the other way around. [fn9]..the hip, happy people that populate television commercials are the moving icons of the consumer gospel, illustrations of what the good life looks like: carefree and independent, clean and sexy, perky and perfect.  The mall creates a sense of “lack” which quickly translates to “need”. (p97)

pp96-101   …the mall’s version of the “kingdom”:

i) an implicit notion of brokenness akin to “sin”….the beautiful people are not like us, we’re not like them… if I consume I will be like them

ii) a strange configuration of sociality  …I shop with others.

iii) the hope of redemption in consumption….I shop therefore I am…but the dazzle fades rather quickly..

iv) a vision of human flourishing (quality of life) that is unsustainable….don’t ask don’t tell…though the US comprises only 5 per cent of the world’s population, we consume somewhere between 23 and 26 per cent of the world’s energy….a way of life we cannot feasibly extend to others…the privilege of exploitation…Smith uses Orwell’s novel The Road to Wigan Pier to highlight the exploitation of the industrial revolution.

p102  Smith illustrates the methodology of marketing  by channeling  the Frontline documentary “the Persuaders.”

pp103 -112 Smith discusses the cultural liturgy of the military -entertainment complex in society. Cf May Day in Socialist societies, the daily pledge of allegiance in the classroom, the national anthem at major sporting fixtures, July 4th parades, American nationalism in general  (p107)the gospel according to America compared with the Gospel of Christ; p108 in the American military a smooth fit between discipleship and killing..”a loyal American”..the loyalty oath..a  “matter of ultimate allegiance.  Smith channels the liturgy of American nationalism as shown in film..the masterful cinema of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, the edgy drama of “Rescue” or predictable drama of The Patriot”…the entertainment industry churns out remarkable amounts of material that solidify the myths of the national ideal; also (p110) the more prolific examples of this genre ..found in the works of Jerry Bruckheimer…”Pearl Harbour”; “Black Hawk Down”; ..and sports mythologies like “Remember the Titans” and “Glory Road”; or the new “National Treasure” franchise (which plays on the sacralization of American founding documents.) This section concludes with a detailed excursus on Patriotism as a cultural liturgy..he quotes Augustine: Christ is the true patria [country – Confessions  7.21.27].

pp112 -121 Cathedrals of Learning: Liturgies of the University….a further pedagogy of desire….the university is not only, and maybe not even primarily, about knowledge. It is, I suggest, after our imagination, our heart, our desire. It wasn’t to make us into certain kinds of people who desire a certain τελος  [telos], who are primed to pursue a particular vision of the good life….while on the one hand it seeks to shut out reference to the divine, it nonetheless lives off the borrowed capital of religious aspiration.(p113)

 [as does the media and political world in the West …denying Christian morality and the achievements of Western Civilisation, it nevertheless is regularly outraged over “correct ” issues of gender/racial diversity/sexual assault whilst applauding the freedom of adults to indulge in complete sexual freedom/base pornography/sexually oriented daily sitcoms/licentious literature etc etc.  nb cf Hauerwas: A focus on the virtues means you cannot easily separate what you come to know from how you come to know. Any knowledge worth having cannot help but shape who we are and accordingly our understanding of the world. Thus I use the description, ‘moral formation,’ rather than education, because I think all education, whether acknowledged or not, is moral formation.” [“How Risky is The Risk of Education?”  in The State of the University : Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God, Oxford, Blackwell, 2007] (p113fn37).

p118-121 Smith channels Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons to underline his critique of university cultural liturgies…a sad story indeed although Smith notes (fn 46 p121 ) that Wolfe omits any reference to Charlotte Simmons’ religious belief, which, demographically, one would have expected to be a more significant part of her home formation and perhaps would have continued into her university habits.

p121-2  The Persisting Witness of Idolatry….secular cultural liturgies are visions of human flourishing..that are antithetical to the biblical vision of shalom..we need to see not only what vision of the kingdom is implicit in the practices of Christian worship but also the way in which Christian practices need to function as counter-formation.

p122-3   Smith quotes Calvin’s victim of the sensus divinitatis … “there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an “awareness of divinity”….sin and the Fall cannot eradicate this seed of religion, this impulsion to worship. He quotes Calvin: …[man] prefers to worship wood and stone rather than be thought of as having no God…. Here Smith disagrees with Alvin Plantinga’s reading of the sensus divinitatis …as a “basic” knowledge of God, a natural disposition to form theistic beliefs,”  [Warranted Christian Belief, Oxford, OUP, 2000, PP170-75]whereas I think Calvin is asserting a natural instinct for worship.

pp123-5  Smith channels again the “romantic theology” of Charles Williams to underline his Calvin’s point about man’s natural instinct to worship…He who, not in any sense for himself or to himself, is surrendered to an entire ardour cannot be said to be far from the Kingdom which will manifest Itself at Its chosen time; the sooner if, as has been insisted throughout, this ardour is directed and controlled by the doctrines of the Christian Religion. [Charles Williams: Outlines of Romantic Theology, ed. Alice M Hadfield, Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1990 p.72]. Smith further challenges “romantic” literature including Dante’s Vita Nuova, Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins and  Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

pp126-`29  Smith channels Orwell’s 1984 to demonstrate that sometimes Christians fail to articulate strategies of resistance [to the power of cultural liturgies] because they fail to see a threat…or misdiagnose the threat.  Smith argues that Christians misdiagnose the threat because of a flawed, stunted philosophical anthropology…while secular cultural liturgies are grabbing hold of our gut (kardia) by means of our body and its senses —in stories, images, sights and sound…the church’s response is oddly rationalist …still seeing us as Cartesian minds….while secular liturgies are after our hearts through our bodies , the church thing it only has to get into our heads…In 1984 Winston is private resister to the system at home and failed to register the potential power of the “system” to control him once he was betrayed. Winston assumed he was insulated and isolated and unaffected by the system but he misdiagnosed its power to control 1984’s case by unadulterated fear (which sort of destroys Smith’s argument that in the end it is ‘desire” that wins us over but never mind].

PART 2 Desiring the Kingdom: The Practiced Shape of the Christian Life. (p131)

It is at this point in Smith’s argument that this book managed to lose some interest for me because his basic argument (in simplistic terms) is as follows: 1. Current American reformed Presbyterian church worship is based on a series of praise hymns, fairly intellectualised free spoken prayers and a lengthy analytical sermon about central Christian ideas.

2. Smith’s solution to this “mind centred” approach is to appeal to our heart and our desire by  introducing liturgy/sacramentalism into church worship which, in summary, looks basically like the modern Anglican Australian Prayer Book Eucharist and Baptismal services and special services such as tenebrae!  On the other hand,  my current worship experience could do with a bit (a lot?)  less formal liturgical process, ancient hymns, moral preaching only loosely based on a biblical text and formal prayer book prayers.  This new emphasis on early church liturgical practice and music has undergone a significant revival in the US as writers like Robert Webber and Marva Dawn attempt to put some “liturgical strength and culture” into Fundamentalist American church worship. I can understand their motivation but Australian Anglicanism tends to have the opposite problem…we could do with a lot more mind and energy in many of our Anglican worship centres especially in rural areas.

I have been an Anglican all my life and I can indeed enjoy high end cathedral worship. I have visited and worshipped in many of the world’s most amazing Romanesque and Gothic Cathedrals and even lowered myself to enter some Baroque cathedrals.  Nevertheless I have  to say that over 60 years I have never seen standard liturgical Anglicanism grow a church. The Holy Spirit grows the church and the Holy Spirit is unpredictable..worship needs to be flexible, up to date, accessible, friendly, challenging, Biblical, emotional, clear, loving and personal amongst other things.  Beautiful liturgy can be breathtakingly passionate  in the sense of a Bach Mass in B Minor but in the end the Gospel must be preached, the bugle must be heard clearly. I suspect African Anglican churches I have worshipped in could teach us more about how worship can become a liturgy of desire more so than a standard repetitive Anglican Communion service, no matter how beautifully read and/or sung.

There is a further problem with Smith’s material in this second section and this is the increasingly prolix nature of his prose: Consider this paragraph from p140: There is a performative sanctioning of embodiment that is implicit in Christian worship, invoking the ultimate performative sanctioning of the body in the incarnation —which itself recalls the love of God that gave birth to the material creation—its reaffimation in the resurrection of Jesus, and looks forward to the resurrection of the body as an eschatological and eternal affirmation of the goodness of creation.  By the way I fully agree with his defence of the importance of the permanent

materiality of creation but it is a little surprising to find a paragraph of this multisyllabic complexity in a book about how Christians have lost ground because of their overly mind-centred approach to Christian communication.

Nevertheless Part 2  of Desiring the Kingdom is a very detailed and helpful analysis of the purpose and justification  of the various elements of traditional Christian liturgical practice including its sacramentalism . I will not summarise this material but note various issues which interested me in particular.

  1. Too often we try to define the essence of Christianity by a summer of doctrines.   (p134)
  1. we begin with the Bible as the source of our doctrines and beliefs and then “apply” it to come up with worship practices that are consistent with, and expressive of, what the Bible teaches. (p135). The essence of Christian faith cannot simply be a summary of Christian doctrines.
  1. Channelling Catholic and Orthodox traditions Smith suggests that …human knowing of God is mediated through formation, imitation, affectivity, intuition, imagination, interiorization, and symbolic engagement. (p138). In  In fn10 on this page Smith suggests that “practical theology” should be at the centre of the theological curriculum, displacing the privileged place of “systematic” theology.  In good evangelical worship all of these nouns can and should be present in my view.

iv.  Smith suggests that it is crucial that we recall the priority of liturgy to doctrine. (p138)  I doubt that he has established this statement in his brief discussion on pp 138-9. Yes liturgy well and truly pre-dated the earliest formal creeds but 1 Corinthians 15 tells me that the basis around which the earliest Christians met for worship and “liturgy” were the central tenets of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Messiah, of which the eucharist was indeed an evocative symbol.

v.   Smith again channels Walker Percy’s novel Love in the Ruins in his defence of sacramentalism and the celebration of the natural world. (p142) On p143 he channels for the same purpose Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem God’s Grandeur, and on pp144 -147 he channels Graham Greene’s novels and Anne Sexton’s poetry to illustrate the fundamentally aesthetic, not didactic  nature of Christian worship. Of course as a former teacher of English Literature no-one is more fond than me of including poetry in a sermon. But I have to say that my enthusiasm for such poetic injections is frequently not appreciated by my hearers, especially my wife! Perhaps I choose the wrong poets but one of my special favourites is Hopkins!   I must note that in footnote 27 p144  Smith does note: This is not to suggest that worship is merely aesthetic, nor am i suggesting that there is not a didactic moment to worship.  

vi.  Smith quotes N T Wright: Jesus determined that it was his task and role, his vocation as Israel’s representative, to lose the battle on Israel’s behalf. This would be the means of Israel’s becoming the light, not just of herself …but of the whole world. [The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was  and Is, Downer’s Grove,IL, Intervarsity, 1999.]

vii.  p166 and fn29p167: Christian worship practices carry their own understanding that is implicit within them (pace Charles Taylor), and that understanding can be absorbed and imbibed in our imaginations without having to kick into a mode of cerebral reflection.  I recognise that some might be uncomfortable with this claim, since it seems to suggest that there can be some sort of virtue in “going through the motions.” On this point I’m afraid I have to confess that I do indeed think this is true. While it is not ideal, I do think there can be a sort of implanting of the gospel that happens simply by virtue of participating in liturgical practices. (this is the ballpark of the principle of ex opera operate). 

[I do recall C S Lewis writing somewhere that the beauty of knowing the liturgy off by heart is that your heart and mind are left free to hear God speaking and to meditate in your own way..or words to that effect.]

viii. Regarding the greeting and sharing of the Peace, Smith comments: We are immediately reminded that worship is not a private affair… p169.

ix. p175. Regarding the reading of the ten commandments or a summary thereof, Smith comments: The secular liturgies of late modern culture are bent on forming in us a notion of autonomy — a sense that we are a law unto ourselves and that we are only properly “free” when we can choose our own ends, determine our own telos. Since its early beginnings, Charles Taylor notes, modernity has been marked by a rejection of teleology, a rejection of the notion that there is a specified, normative end (telos) to which humanity ought to be directed in order to enjoy the good life. And this rejection was driven by a new notion of “libertarian” freedom, which identified freedom with freedom of choice…The announcement of “the law”  is a scandal to those who are primarily formed by modern secular liturgies. The notion of “the law” of God is completely counter-cultural today.

x. p176 and fn.51. The announcement of the law reminds us that we inhabit not “nature” but creation, fashioned by a Creator, and that there is a certain grain to the universe—grooves and tracks and norms that are part of the fabric of the world. I’m alluding here to Stanley Hauerwas’s adoption of John Howard Yoder’s claim that “people who bear crosses” are “working with the grain of the universe.” See Hauerwas: With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI, Brazos, 2001 p17).

xi. p176 and fn 52.  Indeed the biblical vision of human flourishing implicit in worship that we are only properly free when our desires are rightly ordered, when they are bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good. Thus Augustine considered the situation of libertarian freedom—having no defined telos and thus being “free” to do whatever I want (so valorised in modernity)— as actually the situation of fallen, sinful freedom.

xii. p180-1 excursus on confession as liberation. Smith uses Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American to underscore the liberating power of confession in people’s lives.

xiii)  p180 confession and and assurance of pardon, we meet a moment where Christian worship runs counter to the formation of secular liturgies that either tend to nullify talk of guilt and responsibility or tend to point out failures without extending assurance of pardon. On the one hand, Oprah-fied liturgies tend to foster an illusory self-confidence (“Believe in yourself!” that refuses to recognise failure, guilt or transgression, castigating such things as “negative energy’” that compromises self-esteem.

xiv)  p182 fn60 Richard Hays emphasizes that for Paul, “the goal of God’s redemptive action” isn not the rescuing of individual souls but rather “to raise up a people to declare his praise”  (Hays: The Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, p84] Or as he summaries elsewhere, “granted that Scripture tells the story of God’s activity, we must say in the same breath that God’s activity is directed towards the formation of a people “ (Hays: The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture, [Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 2005, p171] Consequently Hays admonishes that if we want to adopt a Pauline hermeutic—if we want to read the Scriptures as Paul did—then we need to adopt and “ecclesiocentric” (Echoes, 86, 183-94) or “ecclesiotelic” hermeneutic that sees this social focus of God’s creational and redemptive work as directed toward re-creating a people rather than saving individual people—“a people of his own” (Titus: 2:14).  [but, not to deny the strengtht of this Hay’s ecclesial approach,  how can you re-create “people” without saving individuals???]

xv) p185 Using 1 Corinthians chapter 1:27- 28 Smith reminds us that the church in Corinth at least was not made up of the flourishing “beautiful people” but the down-trodden…not just the have-nots; they’re also the are-nots”!

xvi) p185 and fn 72.  Smith comments on the idolisation of “the family”  in many evangelical churches. Thus Schmemann admonishes, “A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not ‘die to itself’ that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage is not adultery or lack of ‘adjustment’ or ‘mental cruelty.’ It is the idolisation of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed towards the Kingdom of God”. (For the Life of the World : Sacraments and Orthodoxy, 2nd ed. [Crestwood NY, St. Vladimir’s, 1973, p90]

[this is a strongly made point and a very important corrective in relation to the failure of many churches to minister effectively to adult singles. Nevertheless I believe he goes way too far….Adultery is a real sin and so is mental cruelty …both are alive and well in evangelical and, I am sure, Orthodox marriages.] 

xvii) p186 Our baptismal promises attest to the fact that “the church is our first family”.

xix) p 189 Re Contemporary Concrete Renunciations in the Baptismal service.  The baptismal promises are very general. The sins of the modern age are perhaps more subtle…Think about the particular configurations of cultural institutions and practices the need to be (daily) renounced in order to truly foster human flourishing…[but who today (2018) decides what is a sin? Is it Facebook outrage? unelected & unaccountable media spokespersons and journalists? Politicians? University sociologists and psychologists? School teachers? This is not simple…]

xx) p191In contrast to secular liturgies that are fixated on the novel and the new (including the liturgies of the university) , which are trying their best to forget what happened five minutes ago, Christian worship constitutes us as people of memory. It cuts against the grain of myths of progress and chronological snobbery that assume “we” (late moderns) must know more and thus must know better. The communal recitation of the Creed conditions us to recognise the role of tradition in our contstrual of the world. It forms in us salutary habits of deference and dependence (anathema in liberal democracy) in what we think and believe, recognising and celebrating our debts and dependencies. In fn88 Smith recognises that the form of the creeds needs to be modified in relation to the liturgical and other situations of their use e.g. the discussion of the tenets of the creed being discussed in a theological lecture ideally should be worded differently from a creed being used in outreach worship.]

xxi) p192  What we believe is not a matter of intellectualising salvation but rather a matter of knowing what to love, knowing to whom we pledge allegiance, and knowing what is at stake for us as people of the “baptismal city”.’…rival cadences, sometimes doing battle in our imagination with the cadences of other pledges that would ask for our allegiance and loyalty.

xxii) p192 -3 The was we pray also will be nuanced by the situation in which we are placed. Eg we should perhaps try to appreciate how strange [public prayer] might look to Martian anthropologists, for here is a group of what appear to be otherwise (relatively) normal people engaged in a conversation with someone who seems to be absent…like having a conversation with ourselves…or in a kind of enchantment…but in fact ..we are called, even chosen, as a people not for our own sake but for the sake of the world…as Israel was chosen in order to be a light unto the nations.

xxiii) p195 Re the public reading of Scripture: We have emphasised that humans are liturgical animals, whose desire is shaped by rituals of ultimacy  that we described as liturgies. Implicit in such liturgies is a story; thus the claim that we are liturgical animals is a correlate of Alasdair MacIntyre’s claim that “man [sic] is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal. cf Hauerwas: We are a storied formed community…[ in The Hauerwas Reader: ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, (Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2001, p171-99]

xxiv) p200 The eucharist is an eschatological supper awaiting the renewed kingdom of God.

xxv) Re forgiveness; As a school for learning to love our neighbour, and thus becoming reconciled, it is also a school for learning to love our enemies—the most scandalous element of renewed community in the kingdom come. [Of course both Corrie Ten Boom and the aftermath of the Rwandan tragedy remind us that after very deep and titanic hurt, true reconciliation cannot come before there is some sense of contrition on the part of the perpetrator (unless they are mentally unable to express contrition)]

xxvi) p205 re church financial practices: The reconciled and redeemed body of Christ is marked by cruciform practices that counter the liturgies of consumption, hoarding, and greed that characterise so much of our late modern culture. 

xxvii) p206 & fn.115  re the church reaching out:  Smith channels the Patty Griffin song No Bad News to highlight the line: Singing the End of Strangers…And we’ll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us, till there are no strangers any more. 

xxvii) p208 The question is how are Western Christians any different from our secular neighbours? Isn’t it the case that…we don’t seem to look  very peculiar? That is, we don’t seem to be a people that looks very different from our neighbour, except that we go to church on Sunday mornings while they’re home reading the paper…we will need a a more nuanced account of how some liturgies trump  others; in this case, we could suggest that though these parishioners participate in Christian worship, their participation in other secular liturgies effectively trumps the practices of Christian worship.

xxviii) p210  Smith defends some forms of modern monasticism…it is not a matter of seclusion. But neither does it see itself engaged in a triumphalist project of changing the world.

xxix) p218 The danger of an intellectualised “Christian world view” approach to Christian university process. …what if a Christian perspective turns out to be a way o domesticating the radicality of the gospel? What is the rather abstract formulas of a Christian worldview turn out to be a way to tame and blunt the radical call to be a disciple of the coming kingdom?

xxx) p219-20 Smith channels Hauerwas: When the Christianity of “Christian Education” is reduced to the intellectual elements of a Christian worldview or a Christian perspective, the result is that Christianity is turned “into a belief system available to the individual with mediation by the church.” [Hauerwas: How Risky? p51] Christianity “is not beliefs about God plus behaviour. We are Christians not because of what we believe but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. Becoming a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding but of becoming part of a different community with a different set of practices.  [Stanley Hauerwas: After Christendom? How the Church Is to Behave If Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas, [Nashville, Abingdon, 1991 p107.

More Cavorting with Coleridge: Aids to Reflection. This time on Moral and Religious Aphorisms


38.   …all teachers of Moral Truth, who aim to prepare for its reception by calling the attention of men to the law in their own hearts, may, without presumption consider themselves to be Apostles …namely Ambassadors for the Greatest of Kings..and the great Treaty of Peace and reconcilement betwixt him and Mankind.

39. On the feelings natural to ingenuous minds towards those who have first led them to reflect: Though divine truths are to be received equally from every Minister alike, yet it must be acknowledged that there is something (we know not what to call it) of a more acceptable reception of those which at first were the means of bringing men to God, than of others; like the opinion some have of physicians whom they love. The truths of the Gospel are applicable to all; but as remedies produce not always equal effects, so to different individuals different portions of the Word appear peculiarly applicable…And as it is with Scriptural truths so it is with those who preach them, some progress in one direction, and some in another; Labourers do not all work in the same spot, though they reap the same harvest.

40.  The worth and value of Knowledge is in proportion to the worth and value of its object. What then is the best knowledge? The exactest knowledge of things, is to know them in their causes; it is  then an excellent thing, and worthy of their endeavours who are most desirous of knowledge, to know the best things in their highest causes; and the happiest way of attaining to this knowledge, is to possess those things, and to know them in experience.    [what things does Coleridge mean? The love and salvation of God? The love and commitment between a man and his wife? being present at the safe birth of your own child?The extraordinary beauty of creation ..the sea in the morning air? snow on the highest mountains? the South Gippsland hills? birdsong in the morning? The singing garden of C J Dennis at Toolangi? Simpson’s Gap at dawn? a Spring garden on the Bell’s Line of Road in the Blue Mountains? Tuscany in late summer?  being lost in Venice? sitting quietly  overlooking the view from the oracle at Delphi? fireflies on a summer’s evening in Champagne Illinois: the power of Niagara Falls? Giraffe grazing in the Akagera Game Park in Rwanda? Gazing for an hour at a huge Constable landscape in London or Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal in St Petersburgh? standing still at the  overgrown graves of William and Jane Morris at Kelmscott or the view of the Thames near their house? Stourhead Garden in late afternoon in Autumn,? standing in the middle of Sherbrooke Forest at daybreak? reading Tolstoy, D H Lawrence, Milton, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Eliot  or Alex Miller? pondering the immensity and deep beauty and wonder of the universe with modern photography? a faithful and loving dog? listening to Bach’s St John Passion?  Lying in the middle of the Eyre Highway on the Nullabor Plain at midnight? watching the moon rise over Mont St Michel in Summer? assimilating the view beside St Biago in Montepulciano in Summer? walking quietly in a temple garden in Kyoto? sitting quietly in a boat on the Gordon River surrounded by 3000 year old rainforest in Tasmania? standing quietly in Bourges Cathedral (or Chartres, or Durham, or St David’s in Wales, or the Hagia Sophia or a mountain peak in Switzerland or on top of the Great Wall of China? a true and lasting friendship? sitting in a library of personally selected books and thinking? being still and knowing that God is God? singing hymns of faith with a huge crowd at Belgrave Heights Keswick Convention? the privilege of being alive? the joy of teaching receptive students?]

41. It is one main point of happiness that he that is happy doth know and judge himself to be so. This being the peculiar good of a reasonable creature, it is to be enjoyed in a reasonable way. It is not as the dull resting of a stone, or any other natural body in its natural place; but the knowledge and consideration of it is the fruition of it, the very relishing and tasting of its sweetness. [Coleridge appends a “Remark” after this aphorism, defending the Doctrines of Revealed Religion from prejudices widely spread, in part through the abuse, but far more from ignorance, of the true meaning of doctrinal Terms, which, however they may have been perverted to the purposes of Fanaticism, are not only scriptural, but of too frequent occurrence in Scripture to be overlooked or passed by in silence.  He goes on to refer, in particular, to comments by Archbishop Leighton regarding the doctrine of Salvation, in connexion with the divine Foreknowledge  [election],  which he entitles effectual calling, the morality of which was being called into question in his day.]

42.  Two Links of the Chain (viz. Election and Salvation) are up in heaven in God’s own hand; but this middle one (i.e. Effectual Calling) is let down to earth, into the hearts of his children, and they laying hold on it have sure hold on the other two: for no power can sever them. If, therefore, they can read the character of God’s image in their own souls, those are the counterpart of the golden characters of His love, in which their names are written in the book of life….So that finding the stream of grace in their hearts, though they may not see the fountain whence it flows, nor the ocean to which it returns, yet they know that it hath its source in their eternal election, and shall empty itself into the ocean of their eternal salvation…Therefore make your calling sure, and by that, your election….We are not to pry immediately into the decree, but to read it in the performance. Though the mariner sees not the pole-star, yet the needle of the compass which points to it, tells him which way he sails; thus the heart that is touched with the loadstone of divine love, trembling with godly fear, and yet still looking towards God by fixed believing, interprets the fear by the love in the fear, and tells the soul that its course is heavenward, towards the haven of eternal rest.  He that loves may be sure that he was loved first…..although from present unsanctification, a man cannot infer that he is not elected; for the decree may, for part of a man’s life, run (as it were) underground… a man hath no portion amongst the children of God, nor can read one word of comfort in all the promises that belong to them, while he remains unholy. Note: Coleridge adds to this aphorism a note again quoting Archbishop Leighton against the sneers of the Sciolists [superficial pretenders to knowledge] on the one hand and Fanatics  on the other in which Leighton states: In Scripture the term Spirit, as a power or property seated in the human soul, never stands singly, but is always specified by a genitive case following ; this being a Hebraism instead of an adjective which the Writer would have used if he had thought, as well as written in Greek. It is “the Spirit of Meekness” (a meek Spirit), or “the Spirit of Chastity”, and the like. The moral Result, the specific Form and Character in which the Spirit manifests its presence, is the only sure pledge and token of its presence; which is to be, and which safely may be, inferred from its practical effects, but of which an immediate knowledge or consciousness is impossible; and every pretence to such knowledge is either hypocrisy or fanatical delusion.

43.  If any pretend that they have the Spirit, and so turn away from the straight rule of the Holy Scriptures, they have a spirit indeed, but it is a fanatical spirit, the spirit of delusion and giddiness; but the Spirit of God, that leads his children in the way of truth, and is for that purpose sent them from Heaven to guide them thither, squares their thoughts and ways to that rule whereof it is author, and that word which was inspired by it, and sanctifies them to obedience. He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4) 

 [Coleridge appends to this aphorism a lengthy essay with 19 paragraphs in which he attacks both atheism and those who build their lives on some sort of spiritual experience alone without reference to the clear Word of God in Scripture; in addition he responds to his critics especially Jonathan Swift and Joseph Butler who accuse him of “enthusiasm” or pretending to have spiritual gifts; in addition he argues that Deism is effectively Atheism.]

(i)..serious and sincere Christians ..can be helped when reading theology if they will accustom themselves to translate the theological terms into moral equivalents; saying to themselves—this may not be all that is meant, but this is meant, and it is that portion of the meaning, which belongs to me in the present stage of my progress. For example: render the words, sanctification of the Spirit…by Purity in Life and Action from a Pure Principle.

(ii)[A man] needs only to reflect on his own experience to be convinced that the Man makes the motive, and not the motive the man. What is a strong motive to one man, is no motive at all to another. If, then, the man deternines the motive, who determines the Man—to a good and worthy act, we will say, or a virtuous course of conduct? The intelligent Will, or the self-determining Power? True, in part, it is; and therefore the Will is pre-eminently the spiritual Constituent in our being. But will any reflecting man admit, that his own Will is the only sufficient determinant of all he is, and all he does?  [Coleridge goes on to suggest that Agents, known and unknown act on a man’s will as well as the Air he breathes (environment) and his health.]

(iii) the World we see everywhere evidences of a Unity, which the component parts are so far from explaining, that they necessarily pre-suppose it as the cause and condition of their existing as those parts: or even of their existing at all… is highly reasonable to believe a Universal Power, as the cause and pre-condition of the harmony of all particular Wholes…and yet unreasonable and even superstitious or enthusiastic to entertain a similar Belief in relation to the  System of intelligent and self-conscious Beings to the moral and personal World? But if in this, too, in the great community of Persons, it is rational to infer One universal Presence,  a One present to all and in all, is it not most irrational to suppose that a finite Will can exclude it?

(iv)Whenever, therefore, the Man is determined (that is, impelled and directed) to act in harmony of intercommunion, must not something be attributed to this all-present power as acting in the Will? and by what fitter names can we call this than THE LAW, as empowering; THE WORD as informing; and THE SPIRIT as actuating? 

(v)What has been said here amounts (I am aware) only to a negative Conception; but this is all that is required for a Mind at that period of its growth which we are now supposing, and as longs as Religion is contemplated under the form of Morality. A positive insight belongs to a more advanced stage; for spiritual truths can only be spiritually discerned. This we know from Revelation, and the existence of spiritual truths being granted) Philosophy is compelled to draw the same conclusion. But though merely negative, it is sufficient to render the union of Religion and Morality conceivable; sufficient to satisfy an unprejudiced Inquirer that the spiritual Doctrines of the Christian religion are not at war with the Reasoning Faculty, and that if they do not run on the same Line (or Radius) with the Understanding,  Yet neither do they cut  or cross it. It is sufficient, in short, to prove, that some distinct and consistent meaning may be attached to the assertion of the learned and philosophic apostle that “the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit” [Rom.8:16], that is, with the Will, as the supernatural in Man and the Principle of our Personality—of that, I mean, by which we are responsible Agents: Persons, and not merely living Things. [Coleridge attaches a philosophic addendum to point 5 in which he defends Free-will from being natural to man because man is originated with Free-will. Coleridge therefore argues that throughout the New Testament, Spiritual and Supernatural are synonymous.

(vi)It will suffice to satisfy a reflecting mind, that even at the porch and threshold of Revealed Truth there is a great and worthy sense in which we believe the Apostle’s assurance, that not only doth “the Spirit aid our infirmities” (Rom.8:20); that is, act on the Will by a predisposing influence from without, as it were, though in a spiritual manner, and without suspending or destroying its freedom (the possibility of which is proved to us in the influences of Education, or providential Occurrences, and above all of Example), but that in regenerate souls it may act in will and spirit, it may “make intercession for us” (Rom.8:26) “with groanings that cannot be uttered” (Rom.8:26). Nor is there any danger of Fanaticism or Enthusiasm as the consequence of such a belief, if only the attention be carefully and earnestly drawn to the concluding words of the sentence; if only due force and full import be given to the term unutterable or Incommunicable, in St Paul’s use of it. In this….it  signifies that the subject…is something which cannot, which from the nature of the thing is impossible that I should, communicate to any human mind…It cannot be the object of my own direct and immediate Consciousness; it must be inferred….[Coleridge attaches to this note some references on the subject of consciousness, its general phenomena, and to psychological researches.  He notes Sir William Hamilton: Lectures on Metaphysics; Locke’s Essay..where consciousness is considered as connected with personality;  and Butler: On Personal Identity, for some critical remarks on Locke’s views. A madman is frequently not conscious of his own identity and that identity must be referred to the consciousness of others. But since sane self-consciousness is the most reliable testimony to the mind in which it inheres, so the same evidence is here appealed to, to establish a spiritual truth which enthusiasm or fanaticism is apt to distort.]

(vii)If any reflecting mind be surprised that the aids of the Divine Spirit should be deeper than our Consciousness can reach, it must arise from the not having attended sufficiently to the nature and necessary limits of human Consciousness. For the same impossibility exists  as to the first acts and movements of our own will —the farthest back our recollection can follow the traces, never leads us to the first footmark —the lowest depth that the light of our Consciousness can visit even with a doubtful Glimmering, is still at an unknown distance from the Ground: and so, indeed, must it be with all Truths, and all modes of Being that can neither be counted, coloured or delineated. Before and After, when applied to such Subjects, are but allegories, which the Sense or Imagination supplies to the Understanding. The position of the Aristotelians, Nihil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu [“there is nothing in mind which was not previously in the senses] on which Mr. Locke’s Essay is grounded, is irrefragable; Locke erred only in taking half  the Truth for a whole Truth. Conception is consequent on Perception. What we cannot imagine, we cannot, in the proper sense, conceive. [ so also, I think, Anselm: God is that than which no greater thing can be conceived.]

(viii)..whatever is representable in the forms of Time and Space, is Nature. But whatever is comprehended in Time and space, is included in the mechanism of Cause and Effect. And conversely, whatever, by whatever means, has its principle in itself so far as to originate its actions, cannot be contemplated in any of the forms of Space and Time —it must, therefore, be considered as Spirit or Spiritual by a mind in that stage of its Development which is here supposed, and which we have agreed to understand under the name of Morality, or the Moral State: for in this stage we are concerned only with the forming of negative conceptions, negative convictions; and by spiritual I do not pretend to determine what the Will is, but what it is not — namely, that it is not Nature. And as no man who admits a Will at all (for we may safely assume that no man not meaning to speak figurately would call the shifting current of a stream the WILL of the River [cf “The River windeth at his own sweet will” — Wordsworth’s exquisite “Sonnet on Westminster-bridge at Sunrise,] will suppose it below Nature, we may safely add, that it is supernatural; and this without the least pretence to any Notion or Insight.

(ix)Now Morality accompanied with Convictions like these, I have ventured to call Religious. Morality. Of the importance I attach to the state of mind implied in these convictions, for its own sake, and as the natural preparation for a yet higher state and a more substantive knowledge, proof more than sufficient, perhaps, has been given in the length and minuteness of this introductory Discussion, and in the foreseen risk which I run of exposing the volume at large to the censure which every work, or rather which every writer, must be prepared to undergo, who, treating of subjects that cannot be seen, touched, or in any other way made matters of outward sense, is yet anxious both to attach to, and to convey a distinct meaning by, the words he makes use of —the censure of being dry, abstract, and (of all qualities most scaring and opprobrious to the ears of the present generation) metaphysical; though how is it possible that a work not physical , that is, employed on Objects known or believed on the evidence of the senses, should be other than metaphysical, that is: treating of Subjects, the evidence of which is not derived from the Senses, is a problem which Critics of this order find it convenient to leave unsolved.

(x)The author of the present Volume, will, indeed, have reason to think himself fortunate, if this be all the Charge! How many smart quotations, which (duly cemented by personal allusions to the Author’s supposed Pursuits, Attachments, and Infirmities) would of themselves make up “a review” of the volume, might be supplied from the works of Butler, Swift, and [William] Warburton [literary critic and Bishop of Gloucester]. For instance, [now quoting Dean Swift]        “ It may not be amiss to inform the Public, that the compiler of the aids to Reflection, and Commenter on a Scotch Bishop’s platonico-calvinistic commentary on St Peter, belongs to the sect of the Aeolists [pretenders to inspiration], whose fruitful imaginations lead them into certain notions, which although in appearance very unaccountable, are not without their mysteries and their meanings; furnishing plenty of Matter for such, whose converting Imaginations dispose them to reduce all things into TYPES: who can make SHADOWS, no thanks to the Sun; and then mould them into SUBSTANCES, no thanks to Philosophy: whose peculiar Talent lies in fixing TROPES and ALLEGORIES to the LETTER. and refining what is LITERAL into FIGURE and MYSTERY” . —Tale of the Tub, Section xi [Swift].

(xi)And would it were my lot to meet with a  Critic, who in the might of his own Convictions, and with arms of equal Point and Efficiency, from his own Forge, would come forth as my Assailant; or who, as a friend to my purpose, would set forth the objections to the matter and pervading Spirit of these Aphorisms, and the accompanying elucications. Were it my task to form the mind of a young man of Talent, desirous to establish his opinions and beliefs on solid principles, and in the light of distinct understanding,— I would commence his theological studies, or, at least, that most important part of them respecting the aids which Religion promises in our attempts to realise the idea of Morality, by bringing together all the passages scattered throughout the writings of Swift and Butler, that bear on Enthusiasm, Spiritual Operations, and pretences to the Gifts of the Spirit, with the whole train of New Lights, Raptures, Experiences, and the like. For all that the richest wit, in intimate union with profound Sense and steady Observation, can supply on these topics, is to be found in the works of these Satirists; though unhappily alloyed with much that can only tend to pollute the imagination.

(xii)Without stopping to estimate the degree of caricature in the Portraits sketched by these bold Masters….I would direct my Pupil’s attention to one feature common to the whole Group —the pretence, namely, of possessing or a Belief and expectation of possessing, an immediate Consciousness, a sensible Experience, of the Spirit in and during its operation on the soul. It is not enough that you grant them a consciousness of the Gifts and Graces infused, or an assurance of the Spiritual Origin of the same, grounded on their correspondence with the Scripture Promises, and their conformity with the Idea of the Divine Giver. No! They all alike, it will be found, lay claim (or at least look forward) to an inward perception of the Spirit itself and of its operation.            [At first glance Coleridge seems in this aphorism to deny the possibility of any Christian’s sense of “knowing” or ‘having” the Spirit of God in their lives, along the lines of typical C18th deistic Enlightenment disapproval of “enthusiasm”. But in paragraph vi in this extended essay Coleridge makes it clear from Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit is “infused” into our lives and indeed takes possession of us when our own thoughts and Spirit cannot speak or pray. What Coleridge opposes here is the human claim that a person can take control of God’s Spirit at will and use the power of God at will.  Whereas the opposite is the case. We cannot control God and we cannot always rely on our feelings about God’s love and power. Sometimes God “feels” very far away indeed, even in the life of the most devout and “spiritual” disciple. Sometimes also Satan can masquerade as an angel of light and deceive “even the elect”. We need to rest on the assurances of God’s love and protection in his Word and not trust in our own resources for we are frail and weak without the strength and power of God infusing us. Indeed as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10..for when I am weak then I am strong  and we have this power in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Cor.4:7]] 

(xiii)Whatever must be misrepresented in order to be ridiculed, is in fact not ridiculed; but the thing substituted for it.  It is a Satire on something else, coupled with a Lie on the part of the Satirist, who knowing, or having the means of knowing the truth, chooses to call one thing by the name of another. The Pretensions to the Supernatural, pilloried by Butler, sent to Bedlam by Swift, and (on their re-appearance in public)  gibbeted by Warburton, and anatomised by Bishop Lavington, one and all have this for their character, that the Spirit is made the immediate object of Sense or Sensation….[Coleridge’s complaint against the superficially clever but false satire of Jonathan Swift etc  in this paragraph stands up well today (in the C21st) as a description of the cheap comedy/“satire” routines of the vast majority of stand up comics and political comedy tv shows of the loony left. With their single minded unaccountable and unelected journalists and pundits  they ply their well worn trade knowing that they will always get a laugh by bagging anything that challenges whatever is the trendy “spirit” of the popular secular culture/zeitgeist today. Woe betide any clear Christian thinker such as Jordan Peterson who dares to challenge the shallow all pervading tide of acceptable left thinking today. Of course they will never oppose any other religious point of view because it is trendy to accept the ideas of any faith other than the Christian heritage of Western culture. Often they forgo such criticism of other faiths  for fear of their own lives and safety which is understandable, but their inconsistency is not commendable and demonstrates their lack of conviction. Nothing much has changed it would seem in the last 300 years since Coleridge. At least Jonathan Swift was aware that his views would not land him a good position in the church and yet pursued his satire which was, as satire goes, brilliant ..unlike the cowardly media faff we have today whose soul aim it would appear is to get a cheap laugh.]

(iv)Well then! —for let me be allowed still to suppose the Reader present to me, and that I am addressing him in the character of Companion and Guide —the positions recommended for your examination not only do not involve, but they exclude, this inconsistency. And for aught that hitherto appears, we may see with complacency the Arrows of Satire feathered with Wit, weighted with sense, and discharged by a strong Arm, fly home to their mark. Our conceptions of a possible Spiritual Communion, though they are but negative, and only preparatory to a faith in its actual existence, stand neither in the Level or in the Direction of the Shafts.

(xv)If it be objected, that Swift and Warburton did not choose openly to set up interpretations of later and more rational Divines against the decisions of their own Church, and from prudential considerations did not attack the doctrine in toto altogether, that is their concern ( I would answer), and it is more charitable to think otherwise. But we are in the silent school of Thought. Should we ‘lie for God,’ and that to our own Thoughts? They indeed, who dare do the one, will soon be able to do the other. So did the Comforters of Job: and to the Divines, who resemble Job’s Comforters, we will leave both attempts.

(xvi)But (it may be said) a possible Conception is not necessarily a true one; nor even a probable one, where the facts can be otherwise explained. In the name of the supposed Pupil I would reply —that is the very question I am preparing myself to examine; and am now seeking the Vantage-ground where I may best command the Facts. In my own person, I would ask this Objector, whether he counted the Declarations of Scripture among the Facts to be explained. But both for myself and my Pupil, and in behalf of all rational Inquiry, I would demand that the Decision should not be such, in itself or in its effects, as would prevent one becoming acquainted with the most important of these Facts; nay, such as would, for the mind of the Decider, preclude their very existence. Unless ye believe, says the Prophet, ye cannot understand. Suppose (what is at least possible) that the facts should be consequent on belief, it is clear that without the belief the materials, on which the understanding is to exert itself, would be wanting.

(xvii)The reflections that naturally arise out of this last remark, are those that best suit the stage at which we last halted (section viii), and from which we now recommence our progress — the state of a Moral Man, who has already welcomed certain truths of Religion, and who is enquiring after other and more special Doctrines; still however as a Moralist, and desirous indeed to receive them into combination with Morality, but to receive them as its Aid, not as its Substitute. Now, to such a man I say, Before you reject the Opinions and Doctrines asserted and enforced in the following Extracts from Leighton [Archbishop], and before you give way to the Emotions of Distaste or Ridicule, which the prejudices of the Circle in which you move, or your own familiarity with the mad perversions of the doctrine by the Fanatics in all ages, have connected with the very words, Spirit, Grace, Gifts, Operations &c., re-examine the arguments advanced in the first pages of this Introductory Comment (sections iii-xviii), and the simple and sober View of the Doctrine, contemplated in the first instance as a mere idea of Reason, flowing naturally from the admission an infinite omnipresent Mind as the Ground of the Universe. Reflect again and again, and be sure that you understand the doctrine before you determine on rejecting it. That no false judgments, no extravagant conceits,no practical ill-consequences need arise out of the right Belief of the Spirit, and its possible communion with the Spiritual Principle in Man , can arise out of the right Belief, or are compatible with the Doctrine, truly and scripturally explained.

(xviii).  On the other hand, reflect on the consequences of rejecting it. For surely it is not the act of a reflecting mind, nor the part of a Man of Sense to disown and cast out one Tenet, and yet persevere in admitting and clinging to another that has neither sense nor purpose, that does not suppose and rest on the truth and reality of the former! If you have resolved that all belief of a divine Comforter present to our inmost Being and aiding our infirmities, is fond and fanatical — if the Scriptures promising and asserting such communion are to be explained away to the actions of circumstances, and the necessary movements of the vast machine, in one of the circulating chains of which the human Will is a petty Link — in what light can Prayer appear to you, than the groans of a wounded Lion in his solitary Den, or the howl of a Dog with his eyes on the moon? At the best, you can regard it only as a transient bewilderment of the Social Instinct, as a social Habit misapplied. Unless indeed you should adopt the theory which I remember to have read in the writings of the late Dr Jebb, and, for some supposed beneficial re-action of Praying on the Prayer’s own Mind, should practice it as a species of Animal-magnetism to be brought about by a wilful eclipse of the Reason, and a temporary make-believe on the part of the Self-magnetizer!

(xix)At all events, do not pre-judge a Doctrine, the utter rejection of which must oppose a formidable obstacle to your acceptance of Christianity itself, when the Books, from which alone we can learn what Christianity is and what it teaches, are so strangely written, that in a series of the most concerning points, including (historical facts excepted) all the peculiar Tenets of Religion, the plain and obvious meaning of the words, that in which they were understood by Learned and Simple for at least sixteen centuries, during the far larger part of which the language was a living language, is no sufficient guide to their actual sense to to the Writer’s own meaning! And this too, where the literal and received Sense involves nothing impossible or immoral, or contrary to reason. With such a persuasion, Deism would be a more consistent Creed. But, alas, even this will fail you.  The utter rejection of all present and living communion with the Universal Spirit impoverishes Deism itself, and renders it as cheerless as Atheism, from which it would differ only by an obscure impersonation of what the Atheist receives unpersonified,  under the name of Fate or Nature. 

44. The proper and natural Effect, and in the absence of all disturbing or intercepting forces, the certain and sensible accompaniment of Peace, (or Reconcilement) with God, is our own inward Peace, a quiet and calm temper of mind. And where there is a consciousness of earnestly desiring, and of having sincerely striven after the former, the latter may be considered as a Sense of its presence. In this case, I say, and for a soul watchful, and under the discipline of the Gospel, the Peace with a man’s self may be the medium or organ through which the assurance of his Peace with God is conveyed. We will not therefore condemn this mode of speaking, though we dare not greatly recommend it. Be it, that there is, truly and in sobriety of speech, enough of just Analogy in the subjects meant, to make use of the words, if less than proper, yet something more than metaphorical; still we must be cautious not to transfer to the Object the defects or the deficiency of the Organ, which must needs partake of the imperfections of the imperfect Beings to whom it belongs….but with yet greater caution, ought we to think respecting a tranquil habit of inward life, considered as a spiritual Sense, as the Medial Organ in and by which our Peace with God, and the lively Working of his Grace on our Spirit, are perceived by us. 

 This Peace which we have with God in Christ, is inviolable; but because the sense and persuasion of it may be interrupted, the soul that is truly at peace with God may for a time be disquieted itself, through weakness of faith, or the strength of temptation, or the darkness of desertion, losing sight of that grace, that love and light of God’s countenance, on which its tranquillity and joy depend.  Thou didst hide thy face, saith David, and I was troubled. (Psalm 30:7). But when these eclipses are over, the soul is revived with new consolation, as the the face of the earth is renewed and made to smile with the return of the sun in spring; and this ought always to uphold Christians in the saddest times, viz., that the grace and love of God towards them depends not on their sense, nor upon anything in them, but is still in itself, incapable of the smallest alteration. 

A holy heart that gladly entertains grace, shall find that it and peace cannot dwell asunder; while an ungodly man may sleep to death in the lethargy of carnal presumption and impenitency! but a true, lively, solid peace he cannot have. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. (Isaiah 42:21)

45.  Worldly hopes. Worldly hopes are not living, but lying hopes; they die often before us, and we live to bury them, and see our own folly and infelicity in trusting to them; but at the utmost, they die with us when we die, and can accompany us no further. But the lively Hope, which is the Christian’s Portion, answers expectation to the full, and much beyond it, and deceives no way but in that happy way of far exceeding it.         A living hope, living in death itself! The world dares say no more for its device, than Dum spiro spero [while I breathe I hope]; but the children of God can add, by virtue of this living hope, Dum expiro spero [while I die I hope].

46.  The Worldling’s Fear. It is a fearful thing when a man and all his hopes die together. Thus saith Solomon of the wicked, Proverbs 11:7 [When the wicked dies, his hope perishes, and the expectation of the godless comes to nought.When he dieth, then die his hopes (many of them before, but at the utmost then, all of them. but the righteous man hath hope in his death, Proverbs 14:32.  [ Coleridge appends a note here: One of the numerous proofs against those who, with a strange inconsistency, hold the Old Testament to have been inspired throughout, and yet deny that the doctrine of a future state is not taught.]

47. Worldly Mirth. As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is the that singeth songs to a heavy heart, Proverbs 25:20. Worldly mirth is so far from curing spiritual grief, that even worldly grief, where it is great and takes deep root, is not allayed but increased by it. A man who is full of inward heaviness, the more he is encompassed about with mirth, it exasperates and enrages his grief the more; like ineffectual weak physic, which removes not the humour, but stirs it and makes it more unquiet. The spiritually benighted may partake largely of worldly pleasures in vain, for the light of divine comfort alone can disperse the Egyptian darkness of the soul.


But spiritual joy is seasonable for all estates; in prosperity, it is pertinent to crown and sanctify all other enjoyments, with this which so far surpasses them; and in distress, it is the only Nepenthe  [Egyptian herbal drink that banishes sorrow], the cordial of fainting spirits; so, Psalm 4:7 He hath put joy into my heart. This mirth makes way for itself, which other mirth cannot do. These songs are the sweetest in the night of distress.

48. Plotinus thanked God that his Soul was not tied to an immortal Body.  The wonderfully imaginative Hellenic writers clothed much of their acute philosophy in fable, the mythic with them symbolises the real. So, Tithonus is represented as possessed of immortality, which, inhering in a body that sinks into decrepitude, at last becomes burdensome, a perpetual weariness, because too strongly contrasting his decay with the perpetual beauty of his bride. Tennyson, his readers will remember, has this as the subject of one of his poems.



The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,

The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,

Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,

And after many a summer dies the swan.

Me only cruel immortality

Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,

Here at the quiet limit of the world,

A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream

The ever-silent spaces of the East,

Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.

Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—

So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,

Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d

To his great heart none other than a God!

I ask’d thee, ‘Give me immortality.’

Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,

Like wealthy men, who care not how they give.

But thy strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,

And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me,

And tho’ they could not end me, left me maim’d

To dwell in presence of immortal youth,

Immortal age beside immortal youth,

And all I was, in ashes. Can thy love,

Thy beauty, make amends, tho’ even now,

Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,

Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears

To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:

Why should a man desire in any way

To vary from the kindly race of men

Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance

Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?

A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes

A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.

Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals

From thy pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,

And bosom beating with a heart renew’d.

Thy cheek begins to redden thro’ the gloom,

Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,

Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team

Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,

And shake the darkness from their loosen’d manes,

And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.

Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful

In silence, then before thine answer given

Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.

Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,

And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,

In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?

‘The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.’

Ay me! ay me! with what another heart

In days far-off, and with what other eyes

I used to watch—if I be he that watch’d—

The lucid outline forming round thee; saw

The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;

Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood

Glow with the glow that slowly crimson’d all

Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,

Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm

With kisses balmier than half-opening buds

Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss’d

Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,

Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,

While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.

Yet hold me not for ever in thine East:

How can my nature longer mix with thine?

Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold

Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet

Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam

Floats up from those dim fields about the homes

Of happy men that have the power to die,

And grassy barrows of the happier dead.

Release me, and restore me to the ground;

Thou seëst all things, thou wilt see my grave:

Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;

I earth in earth forget these empty courts,

And thee returning on thy silver wheels.

49.  What a full Confession do we make of our dissatisfaction with the Objects of our bodily senses, that in our attempts to express what we conceive the Best of Beings, and the Greatest of all Felicities to be, we describe by the exact Contraries of all, that we experience here —the one as Infinite, Incomprehensible, Immutable, &c., the other as incorruptible, undefiled, and that passeth not away. At all events, this Coincidence, say rather, Identity of Attributes, is sufficient to apprize us, that to be the inheritors of bliss we must become the children of God.

The remark of Leighton’s is ingenious and startling. Another, and more fruitful, perhaps more solid inference from the fact would be, that there is something in the human mind which makes it know (as soon as it is sufficiently awakened to reflect on its own thoughts and notices), that in all finite Quantity there is an Infinite, in all measures of Time and Eternal; that the latter are the basis, the substance, the true and abiding reality of the former; and that as we truly are. only as far as God is with us, so neither can we truly possess (i.e. enjoy) our Being or any other real Good, but by living in the sense of his holy presence.    A Life of wickednesss is a Life of lies; and an Evil Being or the Being of Evil, the last and darkest mystery.

50.  The Wisest Use of the Imagination.  It is not altogether unprofitable; yet it is great wisdom in Christians to be arming themselves against such temptations as may befall them hereafter, though they have not as yet met with them; to labour to overcome them beforehand, to suppose the hardest things that may be incident to them, and to put on the strongest resolutions they can attain unto. Yet all that is but an imaginary effort; and therefore there is no assurance that the victory is more than imaginary too, till it come to action, and then, may prove but (as one said of the Athenians) fortes in tabula, patient and courageous in picture or fancy: notwithstanding all their arms, and dexterity in handling them by way of exercise, may be foully defeated when they are t fight in earnest.

51.  The Language of Scripture.  [In this long “aphorism” Coleridge particularly engages with Biblical commentators who seek to evade scriptural passages whose literal meaning is difficult e.g. the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. He believes the literal interpretation is usually the most honest and should not be evaded if possible reasonably]

The Word of God speaks to men, and therefore it speaks in the language of the Children of Men. This just and pregnant thought was suggested to [Archbishop] Leighton by Genesis 22:12 [{God] said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me”.] …On moral subjects, the Scriptures speak in the language of the Affections which they excite in us: on sensible objects, neither metaphysically, as they are known by superior intelligences; nor theoretically, as they would be seen by us were we placed in the Sun; but as they are presented by our human senses in our present relative position.  Lastly, from no vain, or worse than vain, Ambition of seeming “to walk on the Sea” of Mystery in my way to Truth, but in the hope of removing a difficulty that presses heavily on the minds of many who in Heart and Desire are Believers, and which long pressed on my mind, I venture to add : that on spiritual things, and allusively, to the mysterious union or conspiration of the Divine with the Human in the Spirits of the Just, spoken of in Romans 7:27 [ “And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God], the Word of God attributes the language of the Spirit sanctified to the Holy One, the Sanctifier.

Now the Spirit in Man  (that is, the Will) knows its own State in and by its Acts alone. [Coleridge adds a complex mathematical analogy here which I omit]. Let the Reader join these two positions: first, that as one with the Will so filled and actuated: secondly, that our actions are the means by which alone the Will becomes assured of its own state: and he will understand, though he may not perhaps adopt my suggestion, that the Verse, in which God speaking of himself,  says to Abraham, Now I know that thou dearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld they Son, they only Son, from me — may be more than merely figurative.  An accommodation I grant;  but in the thing expressed, and not altogether in the Expressions. In arguing with infidels, or with the weak in faith, it is part of religious Prudence, no less than of religious Morality, to avoid whatever looks like an evasion. The retain the literal sense, wherever the harmony of Scripture permits, and reason does not forbid, is ever the honester, and nine times in ten, the more rational and pregnant interpretation. The contrary plan is an easy and approved way of getting rid of a difficulty; but nine times in ten a bad way of solving it.  But alas! there have been too many Commentators who are content not to understand a text themselves, if only they can make the reader believe that they do.

Of the Figures of Speech in the Sacred Volume, that are only Figures of Speech, the one of most frequent occurrence is that which describes an effect by the name of its most usual and best known cause: the passage, for instance, in which Grief, Fury, Repentance, &., are attributed to the Deity. But these are far enough from justifying the (I had almost said dishonest) fashion of metaphorical Glosses, in as well as out of the Church; and which our fashionable Divines have carried to such an extent as, in the doctrinal part of their Creed, to leave little else but Metaphors. [Coleridge concludes with some further references to other works to help folk look at this matter further].

52. The Christian no Stoic.  Seek not altogether to dry up the stream of Sorrow, but to bound it, and keep it within its banks. Religion doth not destroy the life of nature, but adds to it a life more excellent; yea, it doth not only permit, but requires some feeling of afflictions. Instead of patience, there is in some men an affected spirit of pride suitable only to the doctrine of the Stoics as it is unusually taken. They strive not to feel at all the afflictions that are on them; but where there is no feeling at all, there can be no patience.

Of the sects of ancient philosophy the Stoic is, perhaps, the nearest to Christianity.  Yet even to this sect Christianity is fundamentally opposite. For the Stoic attaches the highest honour  (or rather, attaches honour solely) to the person that acts virtuously in spite of feelings, or who has raised himself above the conflict by their extinction; while Christianity instructs us to place small reliance on a Virtue that does not begin by bringing the Feelings to a conformity with the Commands of the Conscience. Its especial aim, its characteristic operation, is to moralise the affections. The feelings that oppose a right act must be wrong feelings. The act, indeed, whatever the Agent’s feelings might be, Christianity would command: and under certain circumstances would both command and commend it— as a healthful symptom in a sick Patient; and command it, as one of the ways and means of changing the feelings, or displacing them by calling up the opposite.

Corollaries to 52c. (1) The more consciousness in our Thoughts and Words, and the less in our Impulses and general Actions, the better and more healthful the state of both head and heart. As the Flowers from an Orange Tree in its time of blossoming, that burgeon forth, expand, fall, and are momently replaced, such is the sequence of hourly and momently Charities in a pure and gracious soul. The modern Fiction which depictures the son of Cytherea with a bandage around his eyes, is not without a spiritual meaning. There is a sweet and holy Blindness in Christian  LOVE, even as there is a blindness of Life,  yea, and of Genius too, in the moment of productive energy.  *Cytherea is another name for Aphrodite who was said to have come from the island of Cythera and later Cyprus. The son of Cytheria/Aphrodite is Aeneas by Anchises. Bandages around his eyes  represents the saying that “love is blind”.

(2) [NB. in this passage Coleridge demonstrates how clearly the general theory of  the related evolutionary growth of living things leading to homo sapiens was known and understood at least fifty years before Darwin wrote the The Origin of Species, which partially shows why the response of the general community was not as great as might have been thought from the American Fundamentalist debate today.]

Motives are symptoms of weakness, and supplements for the deficient Energy of the living PRINCIPLE, the LAW within us. Let them be reserved for those momentous Acts and Duties in which the strongest and best balanced natures must feel themselves deficient, and where Humility, no less than Prudence, proscribes Deliberation. The lowest class of Animals or Protozoa, the Polypi for instance, have neither brain nor nerves. Their motive powers are all from without. The Sun, the Light, the Warmth, the Air, are their Nerves and Brain. As life ascends, nerves appear; but still only as the conductors of an external Influence; next are seen the knots or Ganglions, as so many Foci of instinctive Agency, that imperfectly imitate the yet wanting Centre.  And now the Promise and Token of a true Individuality are disclosed; both the Reservoir of Sensibility and the imitative power that actuates the Organs of Motion (the Muscles) with the net-work of conductors, are all taken inward and appropriated; the Spontaneous rises into the Voluntary, and finally, after various steps and a long Ascent, the Material and Animal Means and Conditions are prepared for the manifestation of a Free Will, having its Law within itself and its motive in the Law—and thus bound to originate its own Acts, not only without, but even against alien stimulants. That in our present state we have only the Dawning of this inward Sun (the perfect Law of Liberty) will sufficiently limit and qualify the preceding Position if only it have been allowed to produce its twofold consequencw—the excitement of Hope and the repression of Vanity.

53.  An excessive eating or drinking both makes the body sickly and lazy, fit for nothing but sleep, and besots the mind, as it clogs up with crudities the way through which the spirits should pass, besmirching them, and making them move heavily, as a coach in a deep way;  thus doth all immoderate use of the world and its delights wrong the soul in its spiritual condition, makes it sickly and feeble, full of spiritual distempers and inactivity, benumbs the graces of the Spirit, and fills the soul with sleepy vapours, makes it grow secure with and heavy in spiritual exercises, and obstructs the way and motion of the Spirit of God in the soul. Therefore, if you would be spiritual, healthful, and vigorous, and enjoy much of the consolations of Heaven, be sparing and sober in those of the earth, and what you abate of the one, shall be certainly made up in the other.

54.Inconsistency. It is a most unseemly and unpleasant thing to see a man’s life full of ups and downs, one step like a Christian, and another like a worldling;  it cannot choose but both pain himself and the edification of others.

The same sentiment, only with a special application to the maxims and measures of our Cabinet and Statesmen, had bee fully expressed by a sage Poet of the preceding Generation, in lines which no Generation will find inapplicable or superannuated:

God and the world we worship both together,

Draw not our laws to Him, but His to ours;

Untrue to both, so prosperous in neither, 

The imperfect Will brings forth but barren Flowers.

Unwise as all distracted Interests be,

Strangers to God, Fools in Humanity:

Too good for great things, and too great for good,

While still “I dare not”  waits upon “I will”. [Faulke Greville, Lord Brooke]

55. continued: The Ordinary Motive to Inconsistency.  What though the polite man count thy fashion a little odd and too precise, it is because he knows nothing above that model of goodness which he hath set himself, and therefore approves of nothing beyond it; he knows not God, and therefore doth not discern and esteem what is most like Him. When couriers come down into the country, the common home-bred people possibly think their habit strange; but they care not for that: it is the fashion at Court. What need, then, that Christians should be so tender-hearted, as to be put out of countenance because the world looks on holiness as a singularity? It is the only fashion in the highest Court, of the King of Kings himself.

56.  Superficial Reconciliations, and the Self-Deceit in Forgiving. When, after variances, men are brought to an agreement, they are much subject to this, rather to cover their remaining malices with superficial verbal forgiveness, than to dislodge them, and free the heart of them. This is a poor self-deceit. As the philosopher said to him, who, being being ashamed that he was espied by him in a tavern in the outer room, withdrew himself to the inner, when he called after him, “That is not the way, you will be further in!” So when hatreds are upon admonition not thrown out, but retire inward to hide themselves, they grow deeper and stronger than before; and those constrained semblances of reconcilement are but a false healing, do but skin the wound over, and therefore it usually breaks forth worse again

57. Of the Worth and Duties of the Preacher. The stream of custom and our profession brings us to the preaching of the Word, and we sit out our hour under the sound; but how few consider and prize it as the great ordinance of God for the salvation of souls, the beginner and the sustainer of the Divine life of Grace within us! And certainly, until we have these thoughts of it and seek to feel it thus ourselves, although we hear it most frequently, and let slip no occasion, yea, hear it with attention and some present delight, yet still we miss the right use of it, and turn it from its true end, while we take it not as that ingrafted word which is able to save our souls (James 1:21).

Thus ought they to preach the word; to endeavour their utmost to accommodate it to this end, that sinners may be converted, begotten again, and believers nourished and strengthened in their spiritual life; to regard no lower end, but aim steadily at that mark. Their hearts and tongues ought to be set on fire with holy zeal for God and love to souls, kindled by the Holy Ghost, that came down on the apostles in the shape of fiery tongues.

And those that hear, should remember this as the end of their hearing, that they may receive spiritual healing, life and strength by the word.* For though it seems a poor despicable business, that a frail and sinful man like yourselves should speak a few words in your hearing, yet, look upon it as the way wherein God communicates happiness to those who believe, and works that believing  unto happiness, alters the whole frame of the soul, and makes a new creation, as it begets it again to the inheritance of glory. Consider it thus, which is its true notion; and then, what can be so precious?

[* The believer familiar with the word and doctrine of Scripture is,  by means of preaching, kept in remembrance of those spiritual truths which he already knows (1 Peter1:12, 13 …”it was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look) , but which without such preaching he is apt to forget. So the Holy Communion is repeated, not for its novelty, but as a remembrance of that death which gave eternal life to man.  Yet too many hearers view preaching as a means of intellectual entertainment alone; and commendable only in proportion to its rhetorical results. The sinfulness of man and the love of God are complained of as too familiar topics! Such hearers should pause to consider for a moment that they are the stumbling blocks and hindrances of the young, the delight of the infidel, and are impediment to the Gospel. To speak slightingly of means before the young believer is a grievous evil, not easily atoned for or remedied in after years. Self-examination is more befitting. (Psalm 19:13 Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me!) 

58. The difference is great in our natural life, in some persons especially; that they who in infancy were so feeble, and wrapped up as others in swaddling clothes, yet afterwards come to excel in wisdom and in the knowledge of the sciences, or to be commanders of great armies, or to be kings: but the distance is far greater and more admirable, betwixt the small beginnings of grace, and our after perfection, that fulness of knowledge that we look for, and that crown of immortality which all they are born to, who are born of God. 

But as in the faces or actions of some children, characters and presages of their after-greatness have appeared (as a singular beauty in Moses’s face, as they write of him, and as Cyrus was made king among the shepherd’s children with whom he was brought up, &c.), so also, certainly in these children of God, there be some characters and evidences that they are born for Heaven by their new birth. That holiness and meekness, that patience and faith which shine in the actions and sufferings of the saints, are characters of their Father’s image, and show their high original, and foretell their glory to come; such a glory as doth not only surpass the world’s thoughts, but the thoughts of the children of God themselves. (Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1John 3:2).

58c.  This Aphorism would, it may seem, have been placed more fitly in the Chapter following. In placing it here, I have been determined by the following Convictions: 1. Every State, and consequently that which we have described as the State of Religious Morality, which is not progressive, is dead or retrograde. 2. As a pledge of this progression, or, at least, as the form in which the propulsive tendency shows itself, there are certain Hopes, Aspirations, Yearnings, that, with more or less consciousness, rise and stir the in the Heart of true Morality as naturally as the Sap in the full-formed Stem of a Rose flows towards the Bud, within which the flower is maturing.3. No one, whose own experience authorises him to confirm the truth of this statement, can have been conversant with the Volumes of Religious Biography, can have pursued (for instance) the lives of Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Wishhart [Scottish reformer who worked with John Knox], Sir Thomas More, Bernard Gilpin [“apostle of the North”, Bishop of Durham, fighter against church abuse and preferments], Bishop Bedel [translated the Bible into Gaelic], Egede [Hans Egede, Lutheran missionary form Norway to Greenland], Swartz, and the missionaries of the Frozen World, without an occasional conviction, that these men lived under extraordinary influences, which in each instance and in all ages of the Christian era bear the same characters, and both in the accompaniments and the results evidently refer to a common origin. And what can this be is the Question that must needs force itself on the mind in the first moment of reflection on a phenomenon so interesting and apparently so anomalous. The answer is as necessarily contained in one or the other of the two assumptions. Those influences are either the Product of Delusion (Insania Amabilis, and the Re-Action of disordered Nerves), or they argue the existence of a Relation to some real Agency, distinct from what is experienced or acknowledged by the world at large, for which as not merely natural on the one hand, and yet not assumed to be miraculous on the other, we have no apter name than spiritual. Now if neither analogy justifies nor the moral feelings permit the former assumption, and we decide therefore in favour of the Reality of a State other and higher than the mere Moral Man, whose Religion* consists in Morality attained under these Convictions, can the existence of a transitional state appear other than probable, or that these very Convictions, when accompanied by correspondent dispositions and stirrings of the Heart, are among the Marks and Indications of such a State. And thinking it not unlikely that among the Readers of this Volume, there may be found some individuals, whose inward State, though disquieted by Doubts and oftener still perhaps by blank Misgivings, may, nevertheless , betoken the commencement of a Transition from a not irreligious Morality to a Spirtual Religion, with a view to their interests I placed this Aphorism under the present Head.

  • For let it not be forgotten, that Morality, as distinguished from Prudence, implying (it matters not under what name, whether of Honour, or Duty, or Conscience, still, I say, implying), and being grounded in an awe of the Invisible and a Confidence therein beyond (nay, occasionally in apparent contradiction to) the inductions of outward Experience, is essentially religious.

59.   The most approved teachers of wisdom, in a human way, have required of their scholars, that to the end their minds might be capable of it, and they should be purified from vice and wickedness. And it was Socrates’s custom, when any one asked him a question, seeking to be informed by him, before he would answer them, he asked them concerning their own qualities and course of life.

60. Knowledge not the Ultimate End of Religious Pursuits.  The Hearing and Reading of the Word, under which I comprize theological studies generally, are alike defective when pursued  without increase of Knowledge, and when pursued chiefly for increase of Knowledge. To seek no more than a present delight , that evanisheth with the sound of the words that die in the air, is not to desire the word as meat, but as music, as God tells the prophet Ezekiel of his people, Ezekiel 33:32. And lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hat a pleasant voice, and can play well upon an instrument; for they desire to hear thy words, and they do them not. To desire the word for the increase of knowledge, although this is necessary and commendable, and, being rightly qualified, is a part of spiritual accretion, yet, take it as going no further, it is not the true end of the word. Nor is the venting of that knowledge in speech and frequent discourse of the word and divine truths that are in it;  which, where it is governed with Christian prudence, is not to be despised, but commended; yet, certainly, the highest knowledge, and the most frequent and skilful speaking of the word, severed from the growth here mentioned, misses the true end of the word. It any one’s head or tongue should grow apace, and all the rest stand at a stay, it would certainly make him a monster; and they are no other, who are knowing and discoursing Christians, and grow daily in that respect, but not in holiness of heart and life, which is the proper growth of the children of God. Apposite to their case is Epictetus’s comparison of the sheep; they return not what they eat in grass, but in wool.

61. The Sum of Church History.  In times of peace, the Church may dilate more; and build as it were into breadth, but in times of trouble, it arises more in height; it is then built upwards; as in cities where men are straitened, they build usually higher than in the country.

62. Worthy to be Framed and Hung up in the Library of every Theological Student.  When there is a great deal of smoke, and no clear flame, it argues much moisture in the matter, yet it witnesseth certainly that there is fire there; and therefore dubious questioning is a much better evidence, than that senseless deadness which most take for believing.  Men that know nothing in the sciences, have no doubts. He never truly believed, who was not made first sensible and convinced of unbelief.

Never be afraid to doubt, if only you have the disposition to believe, and doubt in order that you may end in believing the Truth.  I will venture to add in my own name and from my own conviction the following:

63. He, who begins by loving Christianity better than Truth, will proceed by loving his own Sect or Church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.

64. The Absence of Disputes, and a General Aversion to Religious Controversies, no Proof of True Unanimity. The boasted Peaceableness about questions of Faith too often proceeds from a superficial Temper, and not seldom from a supercilious Disdain of whatever has no marketable use or value, and from indifference to Religion itself. Toleration is a herb of spontaneous growth in the soil of Indifference; but the Weed has none of the virtues of the medicinal Plant, reared by Humility in the Garden of Zeal. Those who regard Religions as matters of Taste, may consistently include all religious differences in the old Adage, De gustibus non best disputandum  [There is no disputing about tastes]. And many there  be among those of Gallio’s temper, who care for none of these things, and who account all questions in religion, as he did, but matter of words and names. And by this all religions grow together. But that were not a natural union produced by the active heat of the spirit, not a knitting together, but a freezing together….

Much of our common union of minds, I fear, proceeds from no other than the afore-mentioned causes, want of knowledge, and want of affection to religion. You that boast you live conformably to the appointments of the Church, and that no one hears of your noise, we may thank the ignorance of your minds for that kind of quietness.

The preceding extract is particularly entitled to our serious reflections, as in a tenfold degree more applicable to the present times than to the age in which it was written. We all know, that Lovers are apt to take offence and wrangle on occasions that perhaps are but trifles, and which assuredly would appear such to those who regard Love itself as a Folly. These Quarrels may, indeed, be no proof of Wisdom; but still, in the imperfect state or our Nature, the entire absence of the same, and this too on far more serious provocations, would excite a strong suspicion of a comparative indifference in the Parties who can love so coolly where they profess to love so well. I shall believe our present religious Tolerance to proceed from the abundance of our charity and good sense, when I see proofs we are equally cool and forbearing as Litigants and Political Partizans.

65. The influence of Worldly Views (or what are called a Man’s Prospects in Life), the Bane of Christian Ministry.  It is a base, poor thing for a man to seek himself; far below that royal dignity that is here put upon Christians, and that priesthood joined with it. Under the Law, those who were squint-eyed were incapable of the priesthood; truly this squinting toward our own interest, the looking aside to that, in God’s affairs especially, so deforms the face of the soul, that it makes altogether unworthy the honour of the spiritual priesthood. Oh! this is a large task, an infinite task. The several creatures bear their part int this; the sun says somewhat, and moon and stars, yea, the lowest have some share in it; the very plants and herbs of the field speak of God; and yet, the very highest and best, yea of all of them together, the whole concert of Heaven, and earth, cannot show forth all His praise to the full. No, it is but a part, the smallest part of that glory, which they can match.

66. Despise None: Despair of None. The Jews would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way, but took it up; for possibly, said they, the name of God may be on it. Though there was a little superstition in this, yet truly there is nothing but good religion in it, if we apply it to men. Trample not on any; there may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God way be written upon that soul thou treadest on; it may be a soul that Christ thought so much of, as to give His precious blood for it; therefore despise it not.

67. Men of Least Merit most Apt to be Contemptuous, because most Ignorant and most Overweening of Themselves.  Too many take the ready course to deceive themselves; for they look with both eyes on the failings and defects of others, and scarcely give their good qualities  half an eye, while on the contrary, in themselves, they study to the full their own advantages, and their weaknesses and defects (as one says) they skip over, as children do their hard words in their lesson, that are troublesome to read; and making this uneven parallel, what wonder if the result be a gross mistake of themselves.

68. Vanity may Strut in Rags, and Humility be Arrayed in Purple and Fine Linen. It is not impossible that there may be in some an affected pride in the meanness of apparel, and in others, under either neat or rich attire, a very humble unaffected mind; using it upon some of the afore mentioned engagements, or such like, and yet, the heart not at all upon it.  Magnus qui fictilibus utitur tanquam argento, nec ille minor qui argento tanquam fictilibus, says Seneca: Great is he who enjoys his earthenware as if it were plate, and not less great is the man to whom all his plate is no more than earthenware.

69. Of the Detraction among Religious Professors.  They who have attained to a self-pleasing pitch of civility or formal religion, have usually that point of presumption with it, that they make their own size the model and rule to examine all by. What is below it, they condemn indeed as profane; but what is beyond it, they account needless and affected preciseness; and therefore are as ready as others to let fly invectives or bitter taunts against it, which are the keen and poisoned shafts of the tongue, and a persecution that shall be called to strict account. 

The slanders, perchance, may not be altogether forged or untrue; they may be the implements, not the inventions, of Malice. But they do not on this account escape the guilt of Detraction. Rather, it is characteristic of the evil spirit in question, to work by the advantage of real faults, but those stretched and aggravated to the utmost; IT IS NOT EXPRESSIBLE HOW DEEP A WOUND A TONGUE SHARPENED TO THIS WORK WILL GIVE, WITH NO NOISE AND A VERY LITTLE WORD. This is the true white gunpowder, which the dreaming Projectors of silent Mischiefs and insensible Poisons sought for in the Laboratories of Art and Nature, in a World of Good; but which was to be found, in its most destructive form, in “ the World of Evil, the Tongue”  [James 3:6]

[So what to do when faced with a point of view theologically one does not agree with? better to say nothing perhaps? but does silence demonstrate agreement? In a one to one discussion you can disagree politely and carefully or perhaps ask a clarificatory question. In a seminar you can ask a polite question. In a discussion with a larger group it is tricky…whatever is said needs to be said without malice or desire to hurt;  one can affirm part of the argument and add to the conversation with a question which extends or turns a point in the direction you feel led to go…like a philosothon! In a proud pontificating or aggressive group where all are of like mind silence is probably better (not casting pearls before swine). Better to seek a  one on one conversation in quietness. Coleridge’s advice is very pertinent when going into print or in a sermon where there is no immediate right of reply…the written word also needs to be polite and without intent to hurt and the preached word should simply stick to clear proclamation, not confusing a congregation with theological disputations..]

70. The Remedy.  All true remedy must begin at the heart; otherwise it will be but a mountebank cure, a false imagined conquest. The weights and wheels are there, and the clock strikes according to their motion.  Even he that speaks contrary to what is within him, guilefully contrary to his inward conviction and knowledge, yet speaks conformably to what is within him in the temper and frame of his heart, which is double,  a heart and a heart, as the Psalmist hath it. Psalm 12:2. [Every one utters lies to his neighbour;

with flattering lips and a double heart they speak]  (RSV)

71.  It is an argument of a candid ingenious mind, to delight in the good name and commendation of others; to pass by their defects, and take notice of their virtues; and to speak and hear of those willingly, and not endure either to speak of or hear the other; for in this indeed you may be little less than guilty than the evil speaker, in taking pleasure in it, though you speak it not. He that willingly drinks in tales and calumnies, will from the delight he hath in evil hearing, slide insensibly into the humour of evil speaking. It is strange how most persons dispense with themselves in this point, and that in scarcely any societies shall we find hatred of this ill, but rather some tokens of taking pleasure in it; and until a Christian sets himself to an inward watchfulness over his heart, not suffering in it any thought that is uncharitable, or vain self-esteem upon the sight of others’ frailties, he will still be subject to somewhat of this, in the tongue or ear at least.  So, then, as for the evil of guile in the tongue, a sincere heart, truth in the inward parts, powerfully redresses it; therefore it is expressed, Psalm 15:2, That speaketh the truth from his heart. O sweet truth! excellent but rare sincerity! he that loves the truth within, and who is himself at once  THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE, He alone can work it there! Seek it of him.

It is characteristic of the Roman Dignity and Sobriety, that, in the Latin , to favour with the tongue  (favere lingua) means to be silent.  We say, Hold your tongue! as if it were an injunction, that could not be carried into effect but by manual force, or the pincers of the Forefinger and Thumb! And verily—I blush to say it—it is not Women and Frenchmen only that would rather have their tongues bitten than bitted, and feel their souls in a strait-waistcoat, when they are obliged to remain silent.

72.  On the Passion for New and Striking Thoughts.  In conversation seek not so much either to vent thy knowledge, or to increase it, as to know more spiritually and effectually what thou dost know. And in this way those mean despised truths, that every one thinks he is sufficiently seen in, will have a new sweetness and use in them, which thou didst not so well perceive before (for these flowers cannot be sucked dry), and in this humble sincere way thou shalt grow in grace and in knowledge too. 

73.  The Radical Difference between the Good Man and the Vicious Man. The godly man hates the evil he possibly by temptation hath been drawn to do, and loves the good he is frustrated of, and, having intended, hath not attained to do. The sinner, who hath his denomination from sin as his course, hates the good he is sometimes forced to, and loves that sin which many times he does not, either wanting occasion and means, so that he cannot do it, or through the check of an enlightened conscience possibly dares not do; and though so bound up from the act, as a dog in a chain, yet the habit, the natural inclination and desire in him, is still the same the strength of his affection, is carried to sin. So in the weakest sincere Christian, there is that predominant sincerity and desire of holy walking, according to which he is called a righteous person, the Lord is pleased to give that name, and account him so, being upright in heart, though often falling. 

*[Coleridge here adds an extended excursion on the doctrine of imputed righteousness, that “controverted Doctrine, so warmly asserted and so bitterly decried”,  held by Archbishop Leighton,  “and on this account principally, that by many of our leading Churchmen  his Orthodoxy has been more than questioned, and his name put in the list of proscribed Divines, as a Calvinist.”.  Coleridge agrees that Leighton holds this view and Coleridge defends it on the grounds that “the general Spirit of his Writings leads me to presume that it was compatible with the eternal distinction between Things and Persons, and therefore opposed to modern Calvinism. But what it was, I have not (I own) been able to discover.  The sense, however, in which I think he might have received this doctrine, and in which I avow myself a believer in it, I shall have an opportunity of showing in another place.”  Coleridge proceeds at this stage of his argument  to attack the “taking for granted, that the peculiar Tenets of the Christian Faith asserted in the Articles and Homilies of our National Church are in contradiction to the Common Sense of Mankind.”

 Coleridge then proceeds to a defence of at least of the doctrine in so far as it is neither irrational or immoral on the grounds that it provides a basis of common human morality.  “I here avow my conviction, that the doctrine of IMPUTED Righteousness, rightly and scripturally interpreted, is so far from being either irrational or immoral, that Reason itself prescribes the idea in order to give a meaning and an ultimate Object to Morality; and that the Moral Law in the Conscience demands its reception in order to give reality and substantive existence to the idea presented by Reason. ] I think he means that there is an imputed righteousness in the sense that God has planted a desire and thirst for Himself in every human heart (the “moral law in the heart”) which each person either admits to and seeks out or deliberately quells or ignores and pretends is not there.  

My own view is as follows: 

  1. righteousness” (δικαιοσυνη) in the context of Romans 3, 4 and 8 is best translated “acquittal”  or “covenant justice” or a “declaration of being in the right”. The term “righteousness” is also used elsewhere in the New Testament including by Paul,  to describe a holy or God-centred way of living. The ideas are linked ..the “righteous life” commended in the New and Old  Testament is indeed the “covenant justice” God has called us to.
  1. This declaration of aquittal in Romans 3, 4 and 8  is made by God to folk ‘while we were yet sinners”. i.e. God in Christ “justified/acquitted “the ungodly”.  This is the “good news”  (the Gospel).
  1. This acquittal is based on the faithfulness of Christ in becoming the “sin offering” (῾ιλαστηριον) for the sins of the world (including ours)  on the Cross and defeating evil and death by his resurrection in the power of God. nb it is not our faith in Christ that brings about our acquittal, it is the faithfulness of Jesus in his death and resurrection.
  1. Those who have been called and chosen by God to live a new life in the Holy Spirit will be lead increasingly to “holiness” (῾αγισομος ) of living as they are, bit by bit,  “sanctified” or brought to live more fully in the power of the Holy Spirit day by day.
  1. In spite of this deep experience of Christ’s love and forgiveness they still commit sinful acts but regularly and in sad and true remorse seek the continuing forgiveness and acceptance of God and renew their faithfulness through repentance, sacrament, prayer, fellowship, worship and carefully reflecting on God’s Word in the Scriptures.

(vi) Such folk have a huge, deep and pressing responsibility to be “little Christs” [Bonhoeffer] to everyone they meet and deal with. Those called and chosen by God to be his witnesses in the world share this heavy burden of completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. They need not be anxious about who is or is not “going to heaven when they die”…Salvation is God’s work.  Their task is simple proclaim joyfully and with passion the love and power of God for every person, in season and out of season and to work ceaselessly for the care and redemption of God’s good created order.


74.Your blessedness is not,—no, believe it, it is not where most of you seek it, in things below you. How can that be? It must be a higher good to make you happy. 

74c Comment. Every rank of Creatures, as it ascends in the scale of Creation, leaves Death behind or under it. The Metal at its height of Being seems a mute prophecy of coming Vegetation, into a mimic semblance of which it  crystallizes. The Blossom and Flower, the acme of Vegetable Life, divides into correspondent Organs with reciprocal functions, and by instinctive motions and approximations seems impatient of that fixture, by which it is differenced in kind from the water-shaped Psyche, that flutters with free wing above it. And wonderfully in the insect realm doth the Irritability, the proper seat of Instinct, while yet the nascent Sensibility is subordinated thereto—most wonderfully, I say, doth the the muscular Life in the Insect, and the musculo-arterial in the Bird, imitate and typically rehearse the adaptive Understanding, yea, and the moral affections and chartities of man. Let us carry ourselves back, in spirit, to the mysterious Week, the teeming Word-days of the Creator; as they rose in vision before the eye of the inspired Historian “of the generations of the Heaven and the Earth, in the days the Lord God made the Earth and the Heavens” [Gen.2:4]. And who that hath watched their ways with an understanding heart, could, as the vision evolving, still advanced towards him, contemplate the filial and loyal Bee; the home-building, wedded and divorceless  Swallow; and above all the manifoldly  intelligent Ant tribes, with their Commonwealths and Confederacies, their Warriors and Miners, the Husbandfolk, that fold in their tiny flocks on the honeyed Leaf, and the Virgin Sisters, with the holy Instincts of Maternal Love, detached and in selfless parity—and not say to himself, Behold the Shadow of approaching Humanity, the Sun rising from behind, in the kindling Morn of Creation! Thus all lower Natures find their highest Good in semblances and seekings of that which is higher and better. All things strive to ascend, and ascend in their striving. And shall Man alone stoop? Shall his pursuits and desires, the reflections of his inward life, be like the reflected Image of a Tree on the edge of a Pool, that grows downwards, and seeks a mock heaven in the unstable element beneath it, in neighbourhood with the slim water-weeds and oozy bottom-grass that are yet better than itself and more noble, in as far as Substances that appear as Shadows are preferable to Shadows mistaken for Substance!  No! While you labour for any thing below your proper Humanity, you seek a happy Life in the region of Death. Well saith the Poet

Unless above himself he can

Erect himself, how mean a thing is man!      [Samuel Daniel: To the Lady Margaret, Countess of Cumberland ]

75. There is an imitation of men that is impious and wicked, which consists in taking a copy of their sins. Again, there is an imitation which though not so grossly evil, yet is poor and servile, being in mean things, yea, sometimes descending to imitate the very imperfections of others, as fancying some comeliness in them; as some of Basil’s scholars, who imitated his slow speaking, which he had a little in extreme, and could not help. But this is always laudable, and worthy of the best minds, to be imitators of that which is good, wheresoever they find it; for that stays not in any man’s person, as the ultimate pattern, but rises to the highest grace, being man’s nearest likeness to God, His image and resemblance, bearing his stamp and superscription, and belonging peculiarly to Him, in what hand soever it be found, as carrying the mark of no other owner than him.

76.  Those who think themselves high-spirited, and will bear least, as they speak, are often, even by that, forced to bow most, or to burst under it; while humility and meekness escape many a burden, and many a blow, always keeping peace within, and often without too.

77.  Our condition is universally exposed to fears and troubles, and no man is so stupid but he studies and projects for some fence against them, some bulwark to break the incursion of evils, and so to bring his mind to some ease, ridding it of the fear of them. Thus men seek safety in the greatness or multitude, or supposed faithfulness of friends; they seek by any means to be strongly underset this way; to have many, and powerful and trustworthy friends. But wiser men, perceiving the unsafety  and vanity of these and all external things, have cast about for some higher course. They see a necessity of withdrawing a man from externals, which do nothing but mock and deceive those most who trust most to them; but they cannot tell whither to direct him. The best of them bring him into himself, and think to quiet him so; but the truth is, he finds as little to support him there; there is nothing really strong enough within him, to hold out against the many sorrows and fears which still from without do assault him. So then, though it is well done, to call off a man from outward things, as moving sands, that he build not on them, yet, this is not enough. for his own spirit is as unsettled a piece as is in all the world, and must have some higher strength than its own, to fortify and fix it. This is the way that is here taught [Isaiah 8:12,13 ..Do not call conspiracy all that this people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread;  1 Peter 3:14,15…But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.] Fear not their fear, but sanctify the Lord your God in your hearts; and if you can attain this latter, the former will follow of itself. [ie don’t get too excited or downhearted by the idiocy and apparent triumph and victory  of politicians, media pundits, comedians, philosophers, popular writers . No matter how bad the world seems God is greater and our calm trust in and faithfulness in Him is what is needed. Focus on the things that matter ..on His Word, on our faithfulness, on our relationships, on our work, on our walk with Christ and in His Spirit. on beauty, on good writing and thinking, on teachers of wisdom.  Let the world and its fretfulness have its day…world leaders and media hacks come and go. God is forever and before and after. ]

78. Worldly troubles, idols. The too ardent Love or self-willed Desire of Power, or Wealth, or Credit in the World, is (an Apostle has assured us) Idolatry. Now among the words or synonyms for idols, in the Hebrew Language, [there are many words] that signify Troubles and Terrors. And so it is certainly. All our idols prove so to us. They fill us with nothing but anguished Troubles, with cares and fears, that are good for nothing but to be fit punishments of the Folly, out of which they arise.

79. On the Right Treatment of Infidels. A regardless contempt of infidel writings is usually the fittest answer; Speta vilescerent. (What is despicable should become vile). But where the holy profession  of Christians is likely to receive either the main or the indirect blow, and a word of defence may do anything to ward it off, there we ought not to spare to do it.

Christian prudence goes a great way in the regulating of this. Some are not capable of receiving rational answers, especially in Divine things; they were not only lost upon them, but religion dishonoured by the contest. 

Of this sort are the vulgar Railers at Religion [eg Richard Dawkins], the foul-mouthed Beliers of the Christian Faith and History. Impudently false and slanderous Assertions can be met only by Assertions of their impudent and slanderous falsehood; and Christians will not, must not condescend to this.  How can mere Railing be answered by them who are forbidden to return a railing answer? Whether or on what provocations such offenders may be punished or coerced on the score of Incivility, and Ill-neighbourhood, and for abatement of a Nuisance, as is in the case of other Scolds and Endangers of the public Peace, must be trusted to the Discretion of the civil Magistrate. Even then, there is danger of giving them importance, and flattering their vanity, by attracting attention to their works, if the punishment be slight; and if severe, of spreading far and wide their reputation as Martyrs, as the smell of a dead dotage at a distance is said to change into that of Musk. Experience hitherto seems to favour the plan of treating these Betes puantes and Enfants de Diable, as their fourfooted brethren, the Skink [lizard] and Squash [racoon] are treated by the American Woodmen, who turn their backs upon the fetid Intruder, and make appear not to see him, even at the cost of suffering him to regale on the favourite viand of these animals, the brains of a stray goose or crested Thraso of the Dunghill. At all events it is degrading to the Majesty, and injurious to the character of Religion, to make its safety the plea for their punishment, or at all to connect the name of Christianity with the castigation of indecencies that properly belong to the Beadle, and the perpetrators of which would have equally deserved his Lash, though the religion of their fellow-citizens, thus assailed by them, had been that of Fo and Juggernaut. 

On the other hand, we are to answer every one that inquires a reason, or an account; which supposes something receptive of it. We ought to judge ourselves engaged to give it, be it an enemy, if he will hear; if it gain him not, it may in part convince and cool him; much more, should it be one who ingenuously inquires for satisfaction, and possibly inclines to receive the truth, but has been prejudiced by false misrepresentation of it. 

80. Passion no Friend to Truth. Truth needs not the service of passion; yea, nothing so disserves it, as passion when set to serve it. The Spirit of truth is withal the Spirit of meekness. The Dove that rested on the great Champion of truth, who is the Truth itself, is from Him derived to the lovers of truth, and they ought to seek the participation of it. Imprudence makes some kind of Christians lose much of their labour, in speaking for religion, and drive those further off, whom they would draw into it. “I have often thought it wisdom to decline disputes in religion when the cause of truth might suffer in the weakness of my patronage. Every man is not a proper champion for truth, nor fit to take up the gauntlet in the cause of verity.” [Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici]

The confidence that attends a Christian’s belief makes the believer not fear men, to whom he answers, but still he fears his God, for whom he answers, and whose interest is chief in those things he speaks of. The soul that hath the deepest sense of spiritual things, and the truest knowledge of God, is most afraid to miscarry in speaking of Him, most tender and wary how to acquit himself when engaged to speak of and for God. [Coleridge here appends a footnote: ] To the same purpose  are the two following sentences from Hilary: Etiam quæ pro Religione dicimus, cum grandi metu et disciplina dicere debemus . (“What we say on behalf of Religion, we ought to say with great awe and skill)”—Hilarius, De Trinitate, lib.7

Non relictus est hominum eloquiss de Dei rebus alius quam Dei sermo. (“No account has been left by the eloquence of men concerning the truths of God other than of God himself.”)—idem.  The latter, however, must be taken with certain Qualifications and Exceptions; as when two or more Texts are in apparent contradiction, and it is required to state a Truth that comprehends and reconciles both, and which, of course, cannot be expressed in the words of either. Eg. the filial subordination  (My Father is greater than I), in the equal Deity, (My Father and I are one).

81. On the Conscience: It is a fruitless verbal Debate, whether Conscience be a Faculty or a Habit. When all is examined, Conscience will be found to be no other than the mind of a man, under the notion of a particular reference to himself and his own actions.

Comment—81c.  What Conscience is, and that it is the ground and antecedent of human or (self-)consciousness, and not any modification of the latter, I have shown at large in a Work announced for the Press, and described in the Chapter following. I have selected the preceding Extract aa an Exercise for Reflection; and because I think that in too closely following Thomas à Kempis, the Archbishop [Leighton] has strayed from his own judgment. The Definition, for instance, seems to say all, and in fact says nothing; for if I asked, How do you define the human mind? the answer must at least contain, if not consist of, the words, “a mind capable of Conscience”. For Conscience is no synonym of Consciousness, nor any mere expression of the same as modified by the particular Object. On the contrary,  a Consciousness properly human  (i.e. Self-consciousness), with the sense of moral responsibility, presupposes the Conscience, as its antecedent Condition and Ground. Lastly, the sentence , “It is a fruitless verbal Debate “ , is an assertion of the same complexion with the contemptuous Sneers at Verbal Criticism by the contemporaries of Bentley. In questions of Philosophy or Divinity, that have occupied the Learned and been the subject of many successive Controversies, for one instance of mere Logomachy [an argument about words]  I could bring ten instances of Logodœdaly, or verbal Legerdemain, which have previously confirmed Prejudices, and withstood the advancement of Truth in consequence of the neglect of verbal debate, i.e. strict discussion of terms. In whatever sense, however, the term Conscience may be used, the following Aphorism is equally true and important. It is worth noticing , likewise, that Leighton himself in a following page  (vol ii.p.97) tells us that A good Conscience is the Root of a good Conversation; and then quotes from St Paul a text. Titus 1:15, in which the Mind and the Conscience are expressly distinguished. [To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure, their very minds and consciences are corrupted. ]

82. The Light of Knowledge a necessary Accompaniment of a Good Conscience. If you would have a good conscience, You must by all means have so much light, so much knowledge of the will of God, as may regulate you, and show you your way, may teach you how to do, and speak, and think as in His presence.

83. Yet the knowledge of the Rule, though accompanied by an Endeavour to accommodate our conduct to this Rule, will not of itself form a good Conscience.  To set the outward actions right, though with an honest intention, and not so to regard and find out the inward disorder of the heart, whence that in the action flows, is but to be still putting the index of a clock right with your finger, while it is foul, or out of order within, which is a continual business, and does no good. Oh! but a purified conscience, a soul renewed and refined in its temper and affections, will make things go right without, in all the duties and acts of our calling.

84. The Depth of the Conscience.  How deeply seated the conscience is in the human Soul is seen in the effect which sudden Calamities produce on guilty men, even when unaided by any determinate notion or fears of punishment after death.  t/he wretched Criminal, as one rudely awakened from a long sleep, bewildered with a new light, and half recollecting, half striving to recollect, a fearful something, he knows not what, but which he will recognize as soon as he hears the name, already interprets the calamities into judgments, Executions of a Sentence passed by an invisible Judge; as if the Pyre of the Last Judgment were already kindled in an unknown Distance, and some Flashes of it, darting forth at intervals beyond the rest, were flying and lighting upon the fact of his Soul. The calamity may consist in loss of Fortune, or Character, or Reputation; but you hear no regrets from him. Remorse extinguishes all Regret; and Remorse is the implicit Creed of the Guilty.

85. [In this very long aphorism Coleridge demonstrates his commitment to the ancient classical notion of the ‘great chain of being’ which ties all things on earth into a deep seated ordained relationship. This idea began to run out of steam in the C18th and is no longer held in any organic sense although it has tended to reappear in C20th evolutionary theories of progress. See Michael Ruse:Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology.  Nevertheless Coleridge’s idea that every person is capable of communion with God and capable of being indwelt by God’s Spirit is indeed a Biblical truth…Jeremiah 29:12-14 : You will seek me and you will find me if you seek me with all your heart… and Augustine: Confessions ..You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until we find ourselves in You] . 

  God hath suited every creature He hath made with a convenient good to which it tends, and in the obtainment of which it rests and is satisfied. Natural bodies have all their own place, whether, if not hindered, they move incessantly till they be in it; and they declare, by resting there, they they are (as I may say) where they would be. Sensitive creatures are carried to seek a sensitive good, as agreeable to their rank in being, and attaining that, and no further. Now, in this is the excellency of Man, that he is made capable of a communion with his Maker, and, because capable of it, is unsatisfied without it: the soul, being cut out (so to speak) to that largeness, cannot be filled with less. Though he is fallen from his right to that good, and from all right desire of it, yet, not from a capacity of it, no, nor from a necessity of it, for the answering and filling of his capacity.

   Though the heart once gone from God turns continually further away from Him, and moves not towards Him till it be renewed, yet, even in that wandering, it retains the natural relation to God, as its centre, that it hath no true rest elsewhere, nor can by any means find it. It is made for Him, and is therefore still restless till it meet with Him.

    It is true, the natural man takes much pain to quiet his heart by other things and digests many vexations with hopes of contentment in the end and accomplishment of some design he hath; but still the heart misgives. Many times he attains not the thing he seeks; but if he do, yet he never attains the satisfaction he seeks and expects in it, but only learns from that to desire something further, and still hunts on under a fancy, drives his own shadow before him, and never overtakes it; and if he did, yet it is but a shadow. [cf Psalm 39:6 Surely every man stands as a mere shadow.] And so, in running from God, besides the sad end, he carries an interwoven punishment with his sin, the natural disquiet and vexation of his spirit, fluttering to and fro, and finding no rest for the sole of his foot; the waters of inconstancy and vanity covering the whole face of the earth. 

   These things are too gross and heavy. The soul, the immortal soul, descended from heaven, must either be more happy, or remain miserable. The Highest, the Increated Spirit, is the proper good, the Father of Spirits, that pure and full good which raises the soul above itself; whereas all other things draw it down below itself. So, then, it is never well with the soul but when it is near unto God, yea, in its union with Him, married to Him; mismatching itself elsewhere, it hath never anything but shame and sorrow. All that forsake Thee shall be ashamed, says the Prophet, Jeremiah 17:13; and the Psalmist, They that are far off from thee shall perish. Psalm 73:27. And this is indeed our natural miserable condition, and it is often expressed this way, by strangeness and distance from God.

   The same sentiments are found in the works of the Pagan philosophers and Moralists. Well then may they be made a Subject of Reflection in our days. And well may the pious Deist, is such a character now exists, reflect that Christianity alone both teaches the way, and provides the means, of fulfilling the obscure promises of this great instinct for all men, which the Philosophy of boldest Pretensions confined to the sacred few.

86. A Contracted Sphere, or what is called Retiring from the business of the World, no security from the Spirit of the World.  The heart may be engaged in a little business, as much, if thou watch it not, as in many and great affairs. A may drown in a little brook or pool, as well as in a great river, if he be down and plunge himself into it,and put his head under the water. Some care thou must have, that thou mayst not care. Those things that are thorns indeed, thou must make a hedge of them, to keep out those temptations that accompany sloth, and extreme want that waits on it; but let them be the hedge; suffer them not to grow in the garden.

87.  On Church-going, as a part of Religious Morality, when not in reference to a Spiritual Religion. It is a strange folly in multitudes of us, to set ourselves no mark, to propound no end in the hearing of the Gospel. The merchant sails not merely that he may sail, but for traffic and traffics that he may be rich. The husbandman plows not merely to keep himself busy, with no further end, but plows that he may reap with advantage. And shall we do the most excellent and fruitful work fruitlessly—hear only to hear, and look no further? This is indeed a great vanity, and a great misery, to lose that labour, and gain nothing by it, which, duly used, would be of all others, most advantageous and gainful: and yet all meetings are full of this. *Coleridge adds a footnote to this aphorism quoting the Puritan Richard Baxter: Baxter censures carelessness in this respect also, on the part of the hearers, and adds, “How then are those ministers that are serious in their work? Do we, as Paul, tell them weeping of their fleshly and earthly disposition, and teach them publicly from house to house at all seasons and with many tears: do we entreat them as for their soul’s salvation? Or rather do we not study to gain the approbation of critical hearers, as if a minister’s business were of no more weight than to tell a smooth tale for an hour, and look no more after the people till the next sermon? In a word, our want of seriousness about the things of heaven charms the souls of men into formality, and brings them to this customary careless hearing, which undoes them. May the Lord pardon the great sin of the ministry in this thing, and in particular my own.”  Saints Rest chapter 7.

88. On the Hopes and Self-satisfaction of a Religious Moralist, Independent of a Spiritual Faith—On what are they grounded?   There have been great disputes one way or another, about the merit of good works; but I truly think they who have laboriously engaged in them have been very idly, though very eagerly, employed about nothing, since the more sober of the schoolmen themselves acknowledge there can be no such thing as meriting from the blessed God, in the human, or, to speak more accurately, in any created nature whatsoever: nay, so far from any possibility of merit, there can be no room for reward any otherwise than of sovereign pleasure and gracious kindness of God. [Luke 17:10  So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you say, ‘We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty.’  Matthew 25:30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness, there men will weep and gnash their teeth]; and the more ancient writers, when they use the word merit, mean nothing by it but a certain correlate to that reward which God both promises and bestows of mere grace and benignity. Otherwise, in order to constitute what is called merit, many things must concur, which no man in his senses will presume to attribute to human works, though ever so excellent; particularly, that the thing donfmuc not previously be a matter of debt, and that it be entire, or our own act, unassisted by foreign aid; it must also be perfectly good, and it must bear an adequate proportion to the reward claimed in consequence of it. If all these things do not concur, the act cannot possibly amount to merit. Whereas I think no one will venture to assert, that any one of these can take place in any human action whatever. 

But why should I enlarge here, when one single circumstance overthrows all those titles; the most righteous of mankind would not be able to stand, if his works were weighed in the balance of strict justice; [Psalm 130:3 If Thou O LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? Psalm 143:2 Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for no man living is righteous before thee. 1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us]; how much less then could they deserve that immense glory which is now in question! Nor is this to be denied only concerning the unbeliever and the sinner, but concerning the righteous and pious believer, who is not only free from all the guilt of his former impenitence and rebellion, but endowed with the gift of the Spirit. “For the time is come that judgment must begin ad the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?—(1 Peter 4:17,18 For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear). The Apostle’s interrogation expresses the most vehement negation, and signifies that no mortal, in whatever degree he is placed, if he be called to strict examination of Divine Justice, without daily and repeated forgiveness, could be able to keep his standing, and much less could he arise to that glorious height. That merit, says Bernard, ‘on which my hope relies, consists in these three things: the love of adoption, the truth of the promise, and the power of its performance’. This is the threefold cord which cannot be broken. [Ecclesiastes 4:12b A threefold cord is not easily broken.]

88c. Often have I heard it said by advocates for the Socinian scheme [ Italian Reformation era ideas that challenged trinitarian theology and moved towards the later Unitarian view of the abiding goodness of human nature.] —True! we are all sinners; but even in the Old Testament God has promised Forgiveness on Repentance. One of the Fathers ( I forget which) supplies the Retort—True! God has promised pardon on Penitence: but has he promised Penitence on Sin? —He that repenteth shall be forgiven: but where is it said, He that sinneth shall repent? [2 Timothy 2:b God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth. Hebrews 12:16,17  that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.] But Repentance, perhaps the Repentance required in Scripture, the Passing into a new mind, into a new and contrary Principle of Action, this METANOIA [μετανοια, The New Testament word which we render by Repentance, compounded of μετα, τρανς  and        νους, mens [the mind], the Spirit, or Practical Reason,] is in the Sinner’s own power? at his own liking? He has but to open his eyes to the sin, and the Tears are close at hand to wash it away!—Verily, the exploded tenet of Transubstantiation, is scarcely at greater variance with the common Sense of and Experience of Mankind, or borders more closely on on a contradiction in terms, than this volunteer transmentation, this Self-change, as the easy* means of Self-salvation! But the reflections of our evangelical Author on this subject will appropriately commence the Aphorisms relating to Spiritual Religion.

* May I, without offence, be permitted to record the very appropriate title, with which a stern Humorist lettered a collection of Unitarian tracts? Salvation made easy; or, Every man his own Redeemer.