Thursday, July 16

TJ on Intelligent Design

"I hold, without appeal to revelation, that when we take a view of the Universe, in its parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition. It is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an Ultimate Cause, a Fabricator of all things from matter and motion." --Thomas Jefferson

Eugenics at the Court and the Times

The story was first reported by the New York Times in an interview of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The justice's blithe comments about using abortion to control unwanted segments of the population were shocking, creepy, scandalous, and brazen.

Not surprisingly, her Eugenic-tone created shock-waves just about everywhere--well, just about everywhere except in the mainstream media. As Damian Thompson pointed out in the London Telegraph, "The mainstream media have completely ignored the story about one of the most powerful people in the country essentially endorsing Eugenics.... What the heck is going on here? What are we to make of the media’s complete silence on this issue? They don’t see a little Eugenics between friends as a big deal? They thought it was taken out of context?"

He goes on to assert, "As the large metropolitan newspapers die, they’re wondering why. This is why. You might think the New York Times might want to trumpet its exclusive. But the mindset of that pompous, prickly, boring, self-regarding publication is so overwhelmingly liberal that it didn’t even realise it had a story on its hands."

Of course, none of this is really news. As Linda DeMerle has observed the Left has never abandoned its historically cozy ties to the "scientific racism" of Eugenics pioneers like Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger. It's just the same ol' same ol' repackaged for modern consumption.

Alas, judging by the Sotomayor hearings, we moderns continue to consume it with abandon.

Wednesday, July 15

Reading the Classics

Mark Twain once defined a literary classic as “a book which people praise but don’t read.” Fortunately, Joseph Malaby Dent, founder of J. M. Dent & Sons, never took that quip to heart. Over the course of his career he probably did more than any other single individual to inculcate a popular appreciation for the classics—his Everyman’s Library editions, provided excellent translations in durable bindings at extraordinarily cheap prices. Walk into almost any used bookshop in the English speaking world today and there is apt to be a whole section filled with the little volumes that throughout the first half of the twentieth century became synonymous with the literary life.

Born in the old English village of Darlington, he was the tenth child of George Dent, a housepainter. As a youngster, he received elementary instruction at a local grammar school that emphasized little more than basic reading and writing skills. But by the time he was thirteen, he had already entered the workforce as an apprentice to a printer. Shortly thereafter, he turned to bookbinding. A voracious reader, he became especially enamoured with the classics—the ragged old volumes he was most likely called upon to rebind.

In 1867, he moved to London, where he set up his own bookbinding shop. He quickly gained a reputation for fine craftsmanship; indeed, his customers frequently rued the fact that his fine leather bindings put to shame the unattractive Victorian typography of the sheets they bound.

Encouraged by his rather elite clientel, Dent founded his publishing business in 1888. His first production, Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia, was edited by Augustine Birrell and illustrated by Herbert Railton, followed in 1889 by Goldsmith's Poems and Plays. Works by Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Geoffrey Chaucer, Daniel Defoe, Maria Edgeworth, Henry Fielding, Samuel Johnson, Lord Tennyson, and W. B. Yeats followed between 1889 and 1894. All of these early editions were expensively produced in limited quantities on handmade paper. Nevertheless, they enjoyed remarkable following among the literary cognoscenti.

In 1893, the bookseller Frederick Evans suggested that Dent publish a series of pocket volumes of William Shakespeare’s plays. Though there did not seem to be much demand for cheap editions of the classics—in fact, sales of the great books had suffered a serious and steady decline throughout the latter half of the Victorian Age—Dent decided to follow the inclinations of his own heart and mind. He established the Temple Shakespeare series in 1894. The series was an almost immediate success. Then in 1904, with years of experience publishing classics at popular prices, Dent began to flesh out his ambitious vision for the Everyman’s Library. It was to be a series of one thousand classics—practically the whole canon of Western Civilization’s great books—sold at an affordable price. Production began in 1906 and more than a hundred and fifty titles were issued by the end of that first year.

Thus it was Dent and his passion for the classics that ensured great literature would be available to the general public in durable editions and at affordable prices.

Friday, July 10

John Calvin (July 10, 1509-May 27, 1564)

John Calvin (July 10, 1509-May 27, 1564)

Today marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of the pastor, theologian, and social reformer, John Calvin. His father, an attorney, made certain John received the best possible education‹so, he attended the little Brethren of Common Life school in his hometown of Noyon in the Picardy region of France, just about sixty miles north of Paris. Later, he went to study in Orleans and Paris where he first began to explore the ideas of Luther’s nascent Protestant Reformation. He published the first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, which propelled him as a thinker and spokesman to the
forefront of Protestantism.

Calvin made his first trip to Geneva that same year while on the way to Strasbourg. He was compelled to stay there (very much against his will) and helped to establish the church until he was asked to leave two years later (for which he was actually quite grateful and delighted).

The next two years spent in Strasbourg pastoring under the tutelage of Martin Bucer were the happiest of his life. But, the city fathers in Geneva had a change of heart and in 1541 they persuaded Calvin to return to the city (much to his own dismay).

The first Sunday he was back in the pulpit, he picked up exactly where he had left off two and a half years earlier--as if nothing had happened in the interval. He remained there the rest of his life. Laboring in the Word over the course of the next twenty-three years, he oversaw a dramatic reformation of the church and city and ultimately, much of the rest of Western Europe.

The transformation was stunning. As a result, liberty, opportunity, advancement, productivity, and innovation touched nearly every aspect of life and culture. Calvin’s Scriptural facility and doctrinal steadfastness ultimately proved to be the genesis for some of the greatest renewals in the modern church including that of the Puritans, the Covenanters, the Pilgrims, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Foreign Missions Agencies, and the Bible Societies.

But, his impact was not only felt in the church. Indeed, so great was Calvin’s influence that most modern historians (even those who despise his Biblical theology) have had to concede that he was the “virtual founder” of Western freedom and

Essential Calvinpalooza

Monday, July 6

The Great Schism

On this day in 1054, the Christian Church suffered a permanent schism when the four eastern Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch broke off fellowship with the one in the west, Rome.

The division came during the prelacies of Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople and Leo IX, Pope in Rome. The year before, Cerularius had circulated a treatise criticizing a number of the practices of the Roman church in unusually strong terms. Catholics did not allow their clergy to marry, for instance. This was contrary to both Scripture and tradition, according to Cerularius. In addition, Catholics used unleavened bread in their Eucharist, again in contradistinction to the long-held standards of the Eastern Church's dogma.

But the most serious concern for Cerularius was that the Latin church had added the word filoque to the Nicene creed, asserting that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both Father and Son. This, it seemed to the hierarchs of the East, to be a heinous flirtation with heresy. Indeed, Cerularius excommunicated all bishops of Constantinople who followed the Western ritual and closed their churches using military force.

Both the criticisms and the actions incensed Leo. He demanded that Cerularius cease and desist--and then as if to add insult to injury, he demanded that each of the other patriarchs submit to the authority of the papal see. Any church which refused to recognize the pontiff's decree was an "assembly of heretics," he said--a "synagogue of Satan." The Eastern patriarchs weren't about to accept this characterization. In their view, the five patriarchates had always been held to be equal--Rome merely being "first among equals."

In an effort to enforce his decrees, Leo sent a delegation to Constantinople. The legates were led by a brilliant, though unyielding man, Cardinal Humbert. But Humbert was so brusk with Cerularius that the patriarch refused to speak with him. Aggravated by this treatment, the legates traded a series of anathamas. Back and forth went the insults. And then to make matters worse, before they could get any further direction from Rome, Leo died.

Taking matters into his own hands, Humbert and his delegation marched into Hagia Sophia on July 6, 1054, and placed a bull on the altar, excommunicating Cerularius. After this act, Humbert made a grand exit, shaking the dust off his feet and calling on God to judge.

In turn, Cerularius convoked a council and once more blasted Western practices. Humbert was anathematized. The Orthodox condemned all who had drawn up the bull. There was no chance of reconciliation between the factions.

The unity of fellowship, forbearance, and love which Christ had said should mark his followers was irrevocably broken. The next four hundred years were marked by incessant fractiousness and scandal--with only intermittently-stifled efforts at reform--inevitably leading to the magisterial Reformation at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Sunday, July 5

Calvin 500

Calvin 500, the international Quincentenary celebration of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth (July 10, 1509), opened today at St. Pierre Cathedral in the old town of Geneva. Beginning with a welcome by Guillaume Taylor from the St. Pierre Parish Council, approximately 500 worshipers attended the opening convocations, featuring morning worship music from Calvin’s time and a sermon on Philippians 3:8-12 by Sinclair Ferguson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Columbia, South Carolina.

The evening services featured Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, psalm singing, and a sermon by Bryan Chapell, President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

”Calvin is one of the most important thinkers in history," said Calvin 500 Executive Director David Hall, who also is pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) located just outside Atlanta in Powder Springs, Georgia. “His ministry and writings left an indelible impression on the modern world, and especially Western culture. It would be hard to find a figure from history more worthy of remembering, if lasting impact for good is the standard.”

Throughout the coming week, scholars and ministers will present lectures and sermons in these historic environs to celebrate the contributions of the magisterial Genevan reformer.

Saturday, July 4

Our Legacy of Freedom

On June 9, 1776, the Continental Congress accepted a resolution made two days earlier by Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee to appoint a committee to draft a declaration of secession from the dominions of the English King and Parliament. On June 29, the committee—composed of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston—presented their draft for debate and a vote. Finally, on July 4, an amended version of that draft was accepted. The war that had been raging for more than a year had finally driven the reluctant revolutionaries to sever all ties with their motherland.

The original draft of that Declaration of Independence had been penned by the youngest member of the committee, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), but it hardly bore the mark of immaturity. Indeed, it powerfully expressed that profound yearning of the American Founders for the most remarkable fruit of Christian civilization: the rule of law.

The opening refrain of the Declaration affirms the necessity of that kind of absolute standard upon which the rule of law can then be established, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Appealing to the "Supreme Judge of the World" for guidance, and relying on His "Divine Providence" for wisdom, the Founders committed themselves and their posterity to the absolute standard of "the laws of nature and of nature's God." A just government exists, they argued, solely and completely to "provide guards" for the "future security" of that standard. Take away those guards, and the rule of law is no longer possible.

That is precisely why they felt compelled to so boldly declare their autonomy from the British realm. The activist government of the Crown had become increasingly intrusive, burdensome, and fickle and thus the possibility of rule of law had been thrown into very real jeopardy. The Founders merely protested the fashion and fancy of political, bureaucratic, and systemic innovation that had alienated the inalienable.

They said that the King's government had, "erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance." It had, "called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant. . .for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with the King's measures." It had, "refused assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary to the public good." It had, "imposed taxes without consent. . . taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our government." And it had, "plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, destroyed the lives of our people . . . and excited domestic insurrections amongst us."

The Founders believed that no one in America could be absolutely secure under the king, because absoluteness had been thrown out of the constitutional vocabulary. Because certain rights had been abrogated for at least some citizens by a smothering, dominating political behemoth, all of the liberties of all the citizens were at risk because suddenly arbitrariness, relativism, and randomness had entered into the legal equation. The checks against petty partiality and blatant bias had been virtually disabled.

Thus, they acted boldly to "form a more perfect union." They launched a sublime experiment in liberty never before surpassed, never again matched.

Sadly, not even in our own time.

Author P.J. O'Rourke comments, "There are twenty-seven specific complaints against the British Crown set forth in the Declaration of Independence. To modern ears they still sound reasonable. They still sound reasonable in large part, because so many of them can be leveled against the present federal government of the United States."

May the God of our Fathers afford us sufficient grace and courage to once again lay hold of this rich legacy of freedom.

Thursday, July 2

Our Highest Ambition

"It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn." --George Washington

Wednesday, July 1

HEM's Twelfth Night!

This summer, the Orchestral-Pop, Chamber-Folk, Americana-Roots music ensemble HEM, joined forces with the Public Theater of New York City to compose the score for an outdoor production of Twelfth Night! The annual Shakespeare in the Park production is one of NYC's most celebrated summertime offerings--made all the more appealing this year by the addition of HEM’s artistic virtuosity.

Not surprisingly, the rave reviews are already in. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The musical interludes, in fact, are among the high points of the show, with the score composed by the indie folk-rock group HEM filled with hauntingly memorable songs.”

Newsday said, “This exceptionally musical production has beautiful folky-Elizabethan-Irish-Scottish-doo-wop songs by a group called HEM. Someone, please, ask HEM to write a show.”

The New York Times was no less effusive, “Music, as you may have gathered, is far from incidental to the production. The handsome score is written and performed by the “symphonic folk-rock” band HEM. In addition to the songs--most expertly led by the gifted comic actor David Pittu as a sour ragamuffin Feste--there is music to add color, wit, life to almost every scene, played on a mixture of strings, percussion and woodwinds, the sound evoking a distant era without straining for period authenticity.”

According to Variety, “Add in the soul-stirring music of neo-folk ensemble HEM and you have one magical night in Illyria.”

Soon, the music will be available to those of us who were unable to attend the performances. Preorders are now being taken at the HEM Music website.

Stott Day Reading

Time for a Declaration Redeux?

"We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." --The Declaration of Independence