Saturday, 31 May 2008

A helpful warning from your friendly PC publisher

I have just collected two books I ordered over the internet from Wilder Publications (via Waterstones.com). Both books carry the following notice on the inside of the front cover:
This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.
Just so no-one thinks I've gone and picked out the most racist, sexist etc. texts I could find, I should point out that the books in question are Sickness Unto Death and Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing by Søren Kierkegaard*. Kierkegaard is not generally known for his bigotry. Therefore, I assume they put this warning on the inside of every book they publish that was written before, well, "today", whenever that is for the purposes of "views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and interpersonal relations".

There are two questions I would like to pose about the substance of this warning:
  1. How on Earth can Wilder pretend to know what values these books would reflect if they were written today?
  2. Is fitting in to the contemporary climate of opinon virtuous in itself?
And here are my answers:
  1. They can't
  2. If so, then surely these book's being "products of [their] time" makes them virtuous. If not, then it cannot be right to protect children from opinions outside our own climate of opinion.
Thoughts?

* It's bad enough that they spelled his name "Sören Kierkegaard" on the front cover. I can't read Danish, but still I consider it very unlikely indeed that the letters "ø" and "ö" are interchangeable in that language.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Mirrors for the divine light

The following passage comes from the final chapter of C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves, entitled "Charity" (Glasgow: Fount, 1979), pp 119-120:
All those expressions of unworthiness which Christian practice puts into the believer's mouth seem to the outer world like the degraded and insincere grovellings of a sycophant before a tyrant, or at best a façon de parler like the self-depreciation of a Chinese gentleman when he calls himself "this course and illiterate person". In reality, however, they express the continually renewed, because continually necessary, attempt to negate that misconception of ourselves and of our relation to God which nature, even while we pray, is always recommending to us. No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that He does so, not because He is Love, but because we are intrinsically lovable. The Pagans obeyed this impulse unabashed; a good man was "dear to the gods" because he was good. We, being better taught, resort to subterfuge. Far be it from us to think that we have virtues for which God could love us. But then, how magnificantly we have repented! As Bunyan says, describing his first and illusory conversion, "I thought there was no man in England that pleased God better than I." Beaten out of this, we next offer our own humility to God's admiration. Surely He'll like that? Or if not that, our clear-sighted and humble recognition that we still lack humility. Thus, depth beneath depth and subtlety within subtlety, there remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own, attractiveness. It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realise for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us. Surely we must have a little—however little—native luminosity? Surely we can't be quite creatures?
I hardly think this point can be stressed enough. The temptation to spiritual pride is always there, and unbelievers are right to condemn the sin when we act upon this temptation. N.B. in the above, where Lewis speaks of "nature", he means sarx, generally translated as "the sinful nature" or, in older Bibles, "the flesh". It's what we are without God's grace.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

News on the campaign against abortion in the UK

I received the following e-mail this morning from The Alive & Kicking Campaign:
Dear [mattghg],

The first abortion vote in Parliament since 1990 is now just ten days away (20 May) and the time is very short. The media debate is understandably intensifying.

You recently very kindly signed the Alive and Kicking petition on abortion which now has over 25,000 signatures and will be formally presented to Parliament very shortly.

Would you be willing to take two minutes to sign a new petition to lower the upper limit for abortion for normal babies from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below?

Petition

If you can spare a bit more time you could also

1. Watch the launch of the 20 weeks campaign (5 minutes)
2. Send an e-postcard to your MP or a friend (2 minutes)
3. Order free postcards to distribute to friends (3 minutes)
4. Get up to date with the 20 weeks campaign (as long as you like)

Please forward this to others

Many thanks for your time

Alive and Kicking
If (you're a British citizen and) you agree with the above, then please take some time to look into this and sign one or both of the petitions.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Some reflections on the elections

In 2000, Ken Livingstone (left, admitting defeat) was expelled from the Labour Party for running against party candidate Frank Dobson in the London mayoral election — which he won, running as an independent. He was readmitted to the party in 2004 when it couldn't face the prospect of losing a second election in a row to an outcast. How ironic that he should now be booted out of office at least in part as a result of the general malaise affecting Labour. That's not to minimise the effect of his accusing a Jewish journalist of acting like a Nazi, or of the stench of corruption coming from the London Development Agency, or of simple public boredom with the incumbent. But I do wonder who would be mayor today if Livingtone had remained independent — although, to his credit, he apparently doesn't.

I don't share the gloomy expectations of some regarding what Boris Johnson (right, with David Cameron) will do to the capital: he decided a couple of years ago to stop being a journalist and start being a politician. Not that I'm overjoyed at his being mayor, either. But politics is always a choice between the lesser of various evils. On that score, I'm rather sickened that the BNP now has a seat on the London Assembly.

In Reading, where I live, the council slipped out of Labour's control (to NOC) for the first time in eleven years. It's been one of those elections. If you want to know how I feel about that, well, it's a secret ballot :)

Praying for revival

Do you think that the Church of England, or, more broadly, the church in England, is in a bad state at the moment? Not nearly as bad as it was in the early eighteenth century, ‘a period of place-seeking, money-grabbing and moral irrelevance’, according to William Hague’s biography of William Wilberforce, The Life of The Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner (London: Harper Collins, 2007), pp 9-11:
Many observers considered that Christianity was largely absent from much of the Church’s preaching. The renowned lawyer Sir William Blackstone did the rounds of the best preachers in London before declaring that ‘Not one of the sermons contained more Christianity than the writings of Cicero’. The vicar Henry Venn considered, after listening to sermons in York, that ‘excepting a single phrase of two, they might be preached in a synagogue or mosque without offence’. It was common for apathetic clergy simply to buy sermons from each other [...] This was not surprising in an age when many of the clergy ceased to perform religious duties at all. Having been appointed to a lucrative parish, it was common practice for clergymen to become absentees, keeping the living obtained from the parish and delegating curates to carry out their duties at a much lower rate of pay. [...] Hard drinking was common, Wesley writing from St. Ives in 1747 that two clergymen were led home at one or two in the morning in such a condition as I care not to describe’.

Above all, it was the ruthless competition for the most lucrative parishes and dioceses that made the eighteenth-century Church a place of touting and toadying ambition [...] With such rewards available, the Church was converted into a branch of the aristocracy. To cap it all, political patronage was decisive in most of the senior appointments. [...] By 1750 Manchester had a population of twenty thousand, but only one parish church.

And yet, from such an inauspicious situation there arose a great revival. Jonathan Fletcher over at Reform has used this information as part of his case for British Evangelical Anglicans to stay within the CoE (HT: Anglican Mainstream). I plan to refrain from posting on that question until we’ve had the full post-Lambeth shakedown. But what I will say is that reading these words of Hague’s has served to remind me, amid all I hear about the ‘decline of Christianity in the West’, of just how timeless the call to ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’ (Acts 2:40) is. And prevailing reactions to this call remain the same, too. Jürgen Spieß has said as much regarding the comparison between the responses he gets to his talks and those the Apostle Paul got to his speech at the Areopagus; and Hague also cites (p16) these words of the Duchess of Buckingham:
It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting and at variance with high rank and good breeding.
Quite so. The gospel is offensive. I well remember being offended by it. But it’s true. Of course, the danger with taking this tone is that we become judgemental of the surrounding culture without actually trying to help, or even acknowledging that, but for the grace of God, we would be under the same judgement. Adam Groza has recently made this point well while expounding Chesterton: the Christian believes
Not that sin is a problem in general, but that my sin causes pain and suffering in the world [my emphasis, heh]
But that said, we shouldn’t accept spiritual stagnation or backsliding in ourselves, individually, and we shouldn’t accept it on a social level, either. Time to pray – and work, under God – for revival.