Music Monday: When Bastille “Can’t Even!”

When I heard this song the other day, I thought it was a parody:

How can you think you’re serious?
Do you even know what year it is? 
I can’t believe the scary points you make 
Still living in the currents you create
Still sinking in the pool of your mistakes 
Won’t you stop firing up the crazies? 

 

This reminds me of Paul Graham’s wonderful essay What You Can’t Say. The very idea that ‘what year it is’ should determine what can, can’t, should, or shouldn’t be said is about as unamerican and certainly as illiberal an idea one can imagine. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from his essay:

We may imagine that we are a great deal smarter and more virtuous than past generations, but the more history you read, the less likely this seems. People in past times were much like us. Not heroes, not barbarians. Whatever their ideas were, they were ideas reasonable people could believe.  

Self-Esteem

A former student sent me a link to a video about self-esteem last week. She asked for my comments. I finally made time to watch it today. Here’s the video:

 

Matt Walsh is certainly correct here. Confidence, defined essentially as known competence in the face of difficulty is superior to self-esteem (see note below). 

But I was asked, why I do not know, for my thoughts. William James defined self-esteem with this equation:

Self-esteem, in this sense, is inevitable. It is impossible to be void of self-reflection to the point that you never compare your level of success to your pretensions. For James self-esteem is your pretension (an ideal vision of yourself) compared to your attainment. Spiritually speaking, this is most fully explained in Romans 7, but Galatians 6:4 puts it most concisely (and more positively):

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. (Galatians 6:3-4)

For the Christian there are two challenges when it comes to self-esteem:

  1. Determining whether our ideal self is a realistic portrayal of our potential based on our understanding of Jesus Christ and our personality, circumstances, and calling.
  2. Making the wise choices necessary to make progress toward our ideal self.

If you confront those challenges and always recall your admiration of Christ and your confidence in his ability to accomplish what he says he will, then I suspect you’ll be in good shape:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

So, “do good things, and you’ll have all the esteem you need.”

Note: What I don’t like about Walsh’s video is that Walsh criticizes a theoretical construct (self-esteem) with a colloquial one (confidence). Note Albert Bandura’s distinction between confidence as a general term (the word Matt uses) with self-efficacy, the definition of which, Matt uses for confidence:

Thoughts on the Trees in Eden

In Genesis 2:9, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are both “in the midst of the garden.” That’s not a literary happenstance. Proverbs 3 makes a startling connection if you keep Genesis 3:6 in mind (the tree was desirable to make one wise): 

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. (Proverbs 3:13-18)

Finding wisdom is a tree of life. 

In terms of what the trees are representations of in our own daily experience I am not quite sure why the trees are in the same place (or are the same tree?). But in Proverbs, wisdom is a tree of life. Maybe something like self-consciousness of death is wisdom but also catastrophic from the point of view of personal experience? I don’t know. 

Jung and God

In Man and His Symbols, Jung attempts to tackle the topic of religious experience:

Christians often ask why God does not speak to them, as he is believed to have done in former days. When I hear such questions, it always makes me think of the rabbi who was asked how it could be that God often showed himself to people in the olden days while nowadays nobody ever sees him. The rabbi replied: “Nowadays there is no longer anybody who can bow low enough.”

This answer hits the nail on the head. We are so captivated by and entangled in our subjective consciousness that we have forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions. The Buddhist discards the world of unconscious fantasies as useless illusions; the Christian puts his Church and his Bible between himself and his unconscious; and the rational intellectual does not yet know that his consciousness is not his total psyche. This ignorance persists today in spite of the fact that for more than 70 years the unconscious has been a basic scientific concept that is indispensable to any serious psychological investigation. (92) 

As interesting as Jung’s interpretation of the rabbi’s quote is, I find the quote itself more interesting. Why don’t we have direct experiences of God? There is no longer anybody who can bow low enough

The New Testament says this:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6b)

And, interestingly, so does the Old:

And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
(Numbers 12:6-8)

But Moses’ experiences with God are not even mediated through dreams and riddles, but through a direct conversational experience that the Bible says is unparalleled (Exodus 33:11)

But the nature of our experience of God is not what concerns me (we cannot decide how God will communicate with us). What concerns me is the mode by which we receive communication from God, and the rabbi said to humble ourselves. And over all, I think that this is right.

Now, of course, we’ve got to humble ourselves before God in the way in which God has revealed himself, but the facts of God’s revelation (Scripture, the resurrection of Jesus, the church in history, etc) are not self-evident to all. But I would suggest that whether you’re a Christian or just somebody who really wants to understand the core of reality, the first personal step is to humble yourself

Note

Jung is right. Christians can use the Bible as a barrier between themselves and God. Jesus warned the Pharisees of this exact danger:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
(John 5:39-40)

You can rely so thoroughly on the faith experience of the characters and writers of Scripture that you never place your faith in God or practice the teachings of Christ. 

But he’s not totally right. Scripture does provide truths about God which register on the moral, logical, and mythological levels and it is meant to do this. The Bible itself is clear that God doesn’t need the Bible to communicate to us. But history has shown that when the Bible is interpreted as a witness to Jesus Christ, it provides a sure guide to God. 

 

Review: Baby’s Very First Library


Got this for my daughter. Don’t be fooled. It’s not a book. It’s a series of books starting with Baby’s Very First Bedtime. 

The adventure starts at night with the moon. This is fitting as reality seems like a dream. Am I awake, sleeping, in between? These experiences of the transcendent and the transitory are fundamental to being human! The story also includes toothbrushes, a trip to the stars for future scientists, self-referential breaking of the forth wall, and finally the exhausted protagonist going to sleep.

The next book is about mealtime, as though the young dreamer escaped from the prison of reality into a dreamscape of delicacies and delights. From this book a child not only learns implicit information about the life-cycle of many creatures starting with an egg and growing from there, but encoded in the story is a deep reflection on etiquette and nutrition. For instance, the only food that is shown eaten is a cookie, but only one bite is taken, indicating that the other foods, untouched (unbitten) by processing are a healthier choice. The bowl appears before the spoon. Portion, serve, then eat. Indeed! And endless abyss of learning and leisure awaits!

The third book, “Baby’s Very First Animals Book” opens with a bang. It juxtaposes nature’s sweetest animal (the lamb) with its most violent (the penguin…seriously look up penguin gang behavior…or spare yourself and don’t). Next it shows the mouse and the cat, rabbit and lion, monkey and chicken, duck and dog. Each showing the Jungian dualities within each of us, our ego must choose between persona and shadow…whom do we choose to be? In this book you find Nietzsche and The Iron Giant rolled into one mega epic.

For the finale: Baby’s Very First Colors Book. Here baby learns that all things end. The sun comes up, just as the moon in the first book. But two of the characters, ice cream and snow man must melt in these conditions. This is sad, but it reminds us that joy is fleeting in most conditions. The story ends with a beautiful fish being hunted (haunted?) by a black cat. Does it pounce? We’re left with a cliffhanger. Why? We must choose. Our children must choose how the tale ends each day of our fleeting lives, as we, like snowman, may melt at any instant!

Five out of five stars. Would read again! Bravo!

Btw, my wife sells this brand of books here:

https://m.facebook.com/Usbornewithavery/?ref=bookmarks

A brief spiritual exercise from Genesis 1:26-31

In Genesis 1, the Lord makes the world insofar as it is experienced by humanity, as a place he considers good and very good. It is a composition of chaos and order and more fully, in Genesis 2, God makes a Garden to demonstrate to man how, as a being in his image, to subdue the earth in a way that brings more potential out of it rather than ordering it in a stifling way (think of a garden with no bugs…super orderly but no fruit!) or leaving it to pure chaos (a field with no edible food for humans, but covered in fire ants and fleas hiding in the weeds).

With this in mind, I think part of being God’s image is asking at the end of our days: “Can I look at what I’ve made of this day and say, with honesty, ‘this is very good?'” And if you can’t, then revise yourself.

Jonathan Edwards had a practice like this, though it wasn’t explicitly based on Genesis 1:26-31:

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

 

Psalms 34:11-14 Genesis 1:26-31
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
(Genesis 1:26-31)

Music Monday: The Highway Man

I’ve always thought this was an intriguing song/poem. I prefer Loreena McKennitt’s song to the poem, but it’s good. 

One reason I like it is that it raises that perennial question: why do people have relationships with people who are bad for them? For instance, dozens of women in the UK are married to men on death row! Also, in college, people with Dark Triad traits are more sexually successful (not defined in terms of ethics).

But I also like it because it’s an example of why self-control is so crucial. The highwayman loses his cool precisely when it’s time to calm and calculating and ultimately dies for it. The woman in the story is the man who dates jerks (in this case, he may have merely been a criminal, but not a jerk to her…hard to say). And the man is like King Solomon, who gave his strength to women (Proverbs 31:3). The archetypes are very real and something like this story happens frequently. People get into a relationship and catastrophically destroy one another while continuing to obsess over one another anyway. 

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The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, 
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 
And the highwayman came riding— 
Riding—riding— 
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

II

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin, 
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin; 
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh! 
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle, 
His pistol butts a-twinkle, 
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

III

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard, 
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred; 
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there 
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

IV

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked 
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked; 
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay, 
But he loved the landlord’s daughter, 
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter, 
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

V

‘One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night, 
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light; 
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day, 
Then look for me by moonlight, 
Watch for me by moonlight, 
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.’

VI

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand, 
But she loosened her hair i’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand 
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast; 
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight, 
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!) 
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.

PART TWO

I

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon; 
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon, 
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor, 
A red-coat troop came marching— 
Marching—marching— 
King George’s men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

II

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead, 
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed; 
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side! 
There was death at every window; 
And hell at one dark window; 
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

III

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest; 
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast! 
‘Now, keep good watch!’ and they kissed her. 
She heard the dead man say— 
Look for me by moonlight; 
Watch for me by moonlight; 
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

IV

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good! 
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood! 
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years, 
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight, 
Cold, on the stroke of midnight, 
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

V

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest! 
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast, 
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again; 
For the road lay bare in the moonlight; 
Blank and bare in the moonlight; 
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain .

VI

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear; 
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear? 
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill, 
The highwayman came riding, 
Riding, riding! 
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night! 
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light! 
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath, 
Then her finger moved in the moonlight, 
Her musket shattered the moonlight, 
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

VIII

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood 
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood! 
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear 
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

IX

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, 
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high! 
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat, 
When they shot him down on the highway, 
Down like a dog on the highway, 
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

X

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, 
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 
A highwayman comes riding— 
Riding—riding— 
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

XI

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard; 
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred; 
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there 
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair. 

Paul Graham on what can’t be said

I love ideas, data, speculation, experiments, and plans.

I also love arguments, refutations, and attempts at persuasion.

And I think what I love the most about the United States is the general legal consensus that outside of inciting people to acts of terrorism, one is allowed to say what they wish without government censure. In this sense, I am and have always been a free-speech absolutist. If somebody wants to make the case that a grave sin is actually sane and good, I’ll hear it. If somebody wants to claim that mega civilizations can control galaxies for energy and call it science, I’ll listen to Michio Kaku:

But, how free speechy (I think I made that up) are we?

Paul Graham suggests a test for your own free speech absolutism by positing a test for moral fashions:

What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They’re just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they’re much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.

If you could travel back in a time machine, one thing would be true no matter where you went: you’d have to watch what you said. Opinions we consider harmless could have gotten you in big trouble. I’ve already said at least one thing that would have gotten me in big trouble in most of Europe in the seventeenth century, and did get Galileo in big trouble when he said it—that the earth moves. [1]

It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

Is our time any different? To anyone who has read any amount of history, the answer is almost certainly no. It would be a remarkable coincidence if ours were the first era to get everything just right.

It’s tantalizing to think we believe things that people in the future will find ridiculous. What would someone coming back to visit us in a time machine have to be careful not to say? That’s what I want to study here. But I want to do more than just shock everyone with the heresy du jour. I want to find general recipes for discovering what you can’t say, in any era.

This particular test is useful. Are my ethical standards determined by the cultural fads or careful reasoning? Christians have a tendency to feel that the Holy Spirit and deep study have prompted them toward some new ethical insight that really is just a way for them to stop being at odds with the dominant culture (sad). But my version is this:

Could you listen to the views of somebody from any time period or culture, insofar as they are not inciting terroristic or mob violence, and not want them silence, jailed, or executed?  

Obviously, this is context specific. Church services aren’t the place for giving heretics a voice, children’s classrooms aren’t the place for letting philosophical cases for sexual deviance be made, and so-on. But I think this test for free-speech absolutism is key. Am I, then, a free-speech absolutist?

Gloria Steinem and Moral Insanity

For Thomas Aquinas, sanity was one’s intellectual capacity to grasp first principles and reason from them. 

For the ancient Hebrews, killing children for fertility is Molech worship.

For Gloria Steinem, neither of those are a negative:

“Are you kidding me? Listen, what causes climate deprivation is population. If we had not been systematically forcing women to have children they don’t want or can’t care for over the 500 years of patriarchy, we wouldn’t have the climate problems that we have. That’s the fundamental cause of climate change. Even if the Vatican doesn’t tell us that. In addition to that, because women are the major agricultural workers in the world, and also the carriers of water and the feeders of families and so on, it’s a disproportionate burden.”

Steinem does, to her credit, depart from other elements of the hard-left zeitgeist. But the paragraph above is nuts on several levels ranging from the commonly accepted definition of the patriarchy as a European phenomenon, the location of major population explosions, the nature of climate models, the question of whether or not children have rights, and the disjoint in her rhetoric between children and their cause. 

Reflections on Abraham

Abraham and Melchizedek in the Loggia di Raffaello in Vatican City.

What is a father?

Genesis presents Abraham as being the father of many nations.

The whole Bible presents the Israelites as the ‘sons of Abraham’ on multiple occasions.

The New Testament, in particular, presents anybody with appropriate faith in God (whatever that means…but usually faith in Christ) as a child of Abraham.

This is significant for many reasons, not the least of which is that the father in the Bible is a figure for the accumulated wisdom of the past in a way that is indicative of a divine voice:[1]

See: Proverbs 1:8,10,15; 2:1; 3:1,11,21; 4:10,20; 5:1,20; 6:1,3,20; 7:1; 19:27; 23:15,19,26; 24:13,21; 27:11; 31:2.

Why does this matter? Abraham’s story in the Bible could be read as a representation of the ideal life of goodness in a post-catastrophic world. Or in question and answer format:

Q: In a world where evil, disaster, and death are a given, what does it mean to seek the good God has for us in the world?

A: Look at Abraham.

The New Testament does not shy away from this answer, despite having Jesus as an example. Jesus, in John 8 points to the works of Abraham. Paul in Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4 points to the faith of Abraham. Hebrews is largely about Abraham’s patient faith in God. And James 2 points directly at the good works of Abraham as exemplary even for those after the resurrection of Christ.

Below are my reflections on some of the passages that indicate that Genesis means for us to see Abraham as an example of the good life:

Genesis 12:1-3

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (2) And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In the passage above, we see that there is an implied condition. Abraham must go to be made into a great nation. That Genesis presents the promise as fulfilled shows that we’re meant to see Abraham as a man who kept a covenant with God. Incidentally, he also took the offer out of self-interest. I’ve written about this before.

Genesis 17:1-8

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, (2) that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (3) Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, (4) “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. (5) No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (6) I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. (7) And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (8) And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

Here, God’s covenant is made more explicit. It’s called a covenant and in it Abraham is promised to be a father of nations. But what is the condition, “walk before me and be blameless.” The reader is to understand that Abraham actually did do this. God promises to make Abraham very fruitful here, which hearkens back to Noah and Adam as the first man and the second first man. While I don’t quote it, the covenant above includes circumcision, which appears to be a civilizational curtailing of sexual obsession. “You’ll be fruitful but there is a limit to that.” I suspect that circumcision goes back to Genesis 2:22-24 to indicate that sexuality is a blessing and a limitation. Abraham is to be the father of many but that understanding is that his sexuality and those of his children be limited by the wound and healing power of marriage.

Genesis 24:1

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.

And this passage shows that by the end of it all, Abraham had been blessed by God in all things. He kept the covenant as best a man can in the circumstances (fallen nature, a barbaric world, and a pagan worldview). And so the indication is that if a reader/listener to Genesis wants to experience the blessing offered to humanity in Genesis 1:26-31, being like Abraham is a stable method of doing so.

This is the affirmation of the Old and New Testaments, of prophets, apostles, and Jesus.

Footnote

[1] Obviously, fathers can also be wrong which is why the Bible commends listening more than tradition, like Scripture and reason to know the truth.