Thursday, April 15, 2010

Aristotle's Politics--Great Ideas Program Vol. I

There are some readings from the Great Books that simply discourage the reader because the moment within which she lives. Reading from Aristotle's Politics is such an experience. Contrasting the mind of the brilliant philosopher with the mindlessness of the technician lawyers running the country is simply discouraging.

Adler points out two of the greatest blessings given to the fallen west from the Greeks (in particular Aristotle). The gift of the idea of citizenship and of the idea of constitution. Sadly, these have all but been lost in the modern moment. Aristotle's Politics follows his Ethics in large part because he seemed to believe that a good state could help make good citizens.

In the midst of Aristotle's reflections about the natural order that even includes slavery, he also critiques the limitless acquisition of wealth. He begins his marvelous book with,

"Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good" (1). In light of our own times, more people should be reminded that humans are a "political animal" endowed with speech (3) and can govern ourselves best in our local (think, even smaller) community with noble ends.

Adler asks many interpretive questions that could really guide to a deeper understanding of this most important work. A few are: What is the meaning of natural? What is the role of property in the state?

Aristotle's Politics. Translated by Benjamin Jowett (The Barnes and Noble Library of Essential Reading)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On the Nature of a Calculus--Readings from Gateway to the Great Books Vol.9

Over the years I have asked what I thought at the time simple questions of people that I was certain would know. Asking the question what is "a calculus", of math majors and math teachers only to get an odd expression of "I should know this, but...". Anyone desiring to know this should read this clear and extremely insightful "On the Nature of a Calculus" (68-78).

After defining suggestive sign, expressive sign, substitutive sign and the relationship between word and sign, Whitehead provides the answer to the question, "The art of the manipulation of substitutive signs according to fixed rules, and the deduction therefrom of true propositions is a Calculus" (69).

Whitehead provides an extended reflection on the meaning of equivalence and a distinction from mere identity. So the point "2+3 and 3+2 are not identical" (71) might surprise many a math student and possibly a few teachers. Whitehead also explores the truism and the paradox. He briefly describes the theory of quantity (75) and thus provides a clearer role quantities play in the calculus.

As a logician and philosopher, Whitehead makes key connections with the role of demonstration and inference. He also gives proper credit to the place of intuition in math. A concluding thought about the complete project of math is illuminating, "The whole of mathematics consists in the organization of a series of aids to the imagination in the process of reasoning; and for this purpose device is piled upon device" (77).

It is always more helpful to the student to provide the "whys" of a discipline as you are providing the "hows".

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Books on Christian Humanism or (Modeling Christian Humanism)

Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis. He set the standard again in this book. His articulation of mere Christianity is what many of us mean by Christian Humanism.

Christianity: The True Humanism by Thomas Howard and J.I. Packer. This one is my personal favorite and the one that reflects the beliefs most shaped by traditional and conservative Biblical Christianity.

Christian Humanism: Creation, Redemption, and Reintegration by John P. Bequette. Left of center on some issues but still a most important work on Christian Humanism.

The Case for Christian Humanism by R. William Franklin and Joseph M. Shaw. A rich work but the authors are left of center, especially in the latter chapters.

Readings in Christian Humanism ed. by Joseph M. Shaw, R. W. Franklin, Harris Kaasa and Charles W. Buzicky. A fantastic companion volume to the above work. Many excellent excerpts.

New Religious Humanists: A Reader ed. by Gregory Wolfe. Not exclusively Christian Humanists but many are and even the readings from Jewish Humanists (Leon Kass and Jon Levenson) are great.

True Humanism. The classic by Jacques Maritain. Truly a masterpiece of Christian Humanism.

Christian Humanism: A Critique of the Secular City and Its Ideology by Thomas Molnar. A solid work of Christian Humanism with powerful arguments against the various anti-humanisms and even against bankrupt secular humanism.

Several Books on Literary Criticism (theory) by Christian theorists

Among scholars and critics of ‘primary narrative,’ it is widely recognized that the emergence to prominence of literary theory over ‘explication de texte,’ despite certain evident attractions, carries with it a disturbing proclivity to occlude the texts which were once, ostensibly, theory’s justification. David Lyle Jeffrey, People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture, 354

I am posting these in the order I read them with a brief thought or two of their value to me. I have also been influenced by the literary reflections of Christians from Augustine to T. S. Eliot, but the works below are works by Christian theorists writing consciously and Christianly about theory.

Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective by Leland Ryken. This one started it all for me and I am deeply in the debt of Leland Ryken.

Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. A fantastic brief survey of literature and Veith is always guided by Christian thinking when he writes about literature and theory.

How to Read Slowly: Reading for Comprehension by James W. Sire. From the author of The Universe Next Door, here he gives us his book on reading Christianly with worldviews in mind.

Towards a Christian Poetics by Michael Edwards. Deeper work of what a Christian literary theory could look like. Places tremendous stress on “creation, garden, fall, Babel, Pentecost, and redemption” as related to language and reading.

Contemporary Literary Theory: A Christian Appraisal ed. by Clarence Walhout and Leland Ryken. An outstanding survey of the major contemporary theories explained from the vantage point of the Christian faith.

The Discerning Reader: Christian Perspectives on Literature and Theory ed. By David Barratt, Roger Pooley & Leland Ryken. Similar to the above book but also includes some examples of Christian literary theory.

Triumphs of the Imagination: Literature in Christian Perspective by Leland Ryken. Similar to his other works, Ryken engages literature and calls for Christian thinking.

Realms of Gold: Classics in Christian Perspective by Leland Ryken. In this book Ryken specifically applies Christian thinking to specific works of literature. Good, but too short.

Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You’ve Always Wanted to Read ed. by Os Guinness and Louise Cowan. Includes more than literary classics, but a ton of helpful thoughts provided by Christian scholars.

People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture by David Lyle Jeffrey. A rich, deep, and extremely well informed work on the roots of Christian thinking about literature and the role that the Bible plays in that history.

In the Reading Gaol: Postmodernity, Texts, and History by Valentine Cunningham. Without a doubt the best (un)do-ing of all that passes for criticism of the past(s)(ed) thrity years. In places extremely funny, but always insightful.

A History of Literary Criticism by Harry Blamires. Blamires was a student of C.S. Lewis and the great thinker who gave us the pharse “think Christianly”. He does just that in this work on literary criticism.

Christ and Apollo: The Dimensions of the Literary Imagination by William F. Lynch. A work that calls readers to seek meaning in the particular, limited and finite. A marvelous critique of the Gnosticism that dominates much modern literary theory.

The Three Best Books I’ve Ever Read on Sin

One by a Literature Professor, one by a Bible scholar (a real one), and one by a Systematic Theologian (a real one).

In this briefest of reviews, I will say what I really liked about each and if there is anything I did not really like and then why you should read this book.

Original Sin: A Cultural History by Alan Jacobs (Literature Professor)
Jacobs has a wonderful style. I loved how he unintentionally made the case that Julian of Eclanum took Augustine to task on the doctrine of sin and clearly bested Augustine (56-66). This work is rich with stories and is best when it avoids scripture (102), as those are the times when Jacob’s really (again unintentionally) supports the view of the universality of sin, but not Calvin’s fabricated total depravity. Read this book for the great and instructional anecdotes.

Sin: A History by Gary A. Anderson (Bible Scholar)
When many people talk about what Bible words mean in the original Hebrew and Greek they almost never mean what this scholar does. By examining key metaphorical expressions of sin and the times this expressions were dominate within the history of Jews and Christians, Anderson gets a much more accurate word picture or word story of sin and how sin is to be treated. Some of what he says would shake or even trouble Bible fundamentalists, but they don’t read books like this so they are probably safe. Anderson, like Jacobs and Plantinga recognize that words and the associated ideas have histories. This is the more technically difficult of the three but still an accessible treatment. Read this one for the reward of being exposed to a real Bible scholar.

Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin
by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (Systematic Theologian)
This work is so rich with insights, you may want to start reading this one first. Plantinga really does get at the nature, various dynamics, and the many manifestations of sin. This is a most sophisticated reflection of the subtly and depth of sins workings. For example, Plantinga’s observation that murder is the close cousin of envy (159). By the way, next to pride, envy must be the most prevalent sin in the Christian academy. Read this one so that you will be more aware of the workings of sin and by a graced virtue, sin less than you do now.

All three books have a strong respect for scripture but all three also recognize that all ideas (including Biblical doctrines) have a history. These ideas are rooted in particular times, places, and in part—human designs.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Poetic words on the resurrection of Jesus that are deep and highly edifying

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

—John Updike

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What this Christian Humanistic blog is all about....

Essentially Christian Humanists have roots that reach long back into Western history. In the Renaissance, "The humanist was ‘the master of the humanities’ the one who teaches or loves or practices the ‘study of humanity’ or ‘humane letters’”1

Echoing the words of the Roman playwright Terence, "I am human and I count nothing human foreign to me." As a Christian Humanist I passionately seek to think Christianly about all that I am and all that I do. I will write blogs from the vantage point of Christian Humanism on:

  • cultural history
  • education
  • liberal arts
  • literature
  • philosophy
  • religion (general and Biblical)
  • math
  • the arts
  • science (physics, astronomy, etc)
  • social science
NOT because I am an expert, but because I desire to know and to honor God in my knowing. In a unique volume, Readings in Christian Humanism, the editors, say that “Christian humanism is the interest in human persons and the positive affirmation of human life and culture which stems from the Christian faith. It shares with other humanistic philosophies the motive of discovering and supporting whatever enhances human existence, but is distinctive in finding the source and goal of human powers in God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit. Where secular forms of humanism focus on ‘merely’ human interests, deliberately excluding transcendent factors from consideration, Christian humanism seeks an understanding of the whole range of human experience in the light of God’s revelation to humanity in the person and work of Jesus Christ.”2

One would think that the Christian academy would be the perfect place for such intellectual and spiritual activities. Sadly, the anti-intellectualism that has swept the nation is all too present in the Christian university.

I seek any and all to join me as we seek to know together and think Christianly about all that is.

1 Jean-Claude Margolin, Humanism at the Time of the Renaissance, (Durham: The Labyrinth Press, 1981, 3.

2 Joseph M. Shaw, R.W. Franklin, Harris Kaasa and Charles W. Buzicky, Readings in Christian Humanism (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1982), 23.