Drab Utilitarianism

I’m making my way through J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism and will be posting some of my notes here. Describing the woeful tendency of liberalism to quash all higher aspirations in favor of “drab utilitarianism,” Machen gives this example:

In the state of Nebraska, for example, a law is now in force according to which no instruction in any school in the state, public or private, is to be given through the medium of a language other than English, and no language other than English is to be studied even as a language until the child has passed an examination before the county superintendent of education showing that the eighth grade has been passed. In other words, no foreign language, apparently not even Latin or Greek, is to be studied until the child is too old to learn it well. It is in this way that modern collectivism deals with a kind of study which is absolutely essential to all genuine mental advance. The minds of the people of Nebraska, and of any other states where similar laws prevail, are to be kept by the power of the state in a permanent condition of arrested development.

Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

What is curious about this example is that it is the exact opposite of what today’s liberal would advocate. Public school teachers and boards in many states are strong proponents of teaching in multiple languages, especially Spanish, and of striking down English-only laws. I can’t imagine a law being passed that would prevent a school from teaching a non-English language before eighth grade. (In fact, the law Machen refers to was revoked in 1923, the same year Christianity and Liberalism was published.)

How can it be that what Machen saw as an example of liberalism would now be seen as an example of extreme conservatism? My guess is that he would argue that A) is it still utilitarian (bi-lingual education results in higher achieving graduates, which results in higher achieving citizens, etc.) and B) that both banning and requiring multiple languages in school are examples of the state meddling in the private affairs of citizens.

If These Be Not Truths

“Even if there be no hereafter, I would live my time believing in a grand thing that ought to be true if it is not. And if these be not truths, then is the loftiest part of our nature a waste. Let me hold by the better than the actual, and fall into nothingness off the same precipice with Jesus and Paul and a thousand more, who were lovely in their lives, and with their death make even the nothingness into which they have passed like the garden of the Lord. I will go further, and say I would rather die forevermore believing as Jesus believed, than live forevermore believing as those that deny Him.”

~ George MacDonald, Thomas Wingfold, Curate

Puddleglum must have been a MacDonald fan, according to what he says to the Queen of Underland:

Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

The Silver Chair (via Goodreads)

(MacDonald quote via Alan Jacobs)

Qualities of Dreams

Those who join in the work of animation are people who dream more than others and who wish to convey these dreams to others. After a while they realize how incredibly difficult it is to entertain others. Anyone who has tried to describe the wonderful or bittersweet qualities of his dreams should be able to understand how hard this is.

Hayao Miyazaki

First Class Novels

A novel, according to my tastes, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, and if a pretty woman all the better.

Charles Darwin

Words to Live By

Last night T and I attended the funeral of a good friend’s mother. The young pastor gave a wonderful homily, and the words he said that hit me with the greatest impact were these, spoken to him many years ago by the woman who had died:

“You don’t have to compromise because you don’t have to survive.”

Every Christian business, every Christian college, every Christian school, every Christian non-profit, every Christian artist, every Christian church, and every Christian home needs to engrave these words on a plaque and hang it on the most prominent wall available.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Marx

I would like to… accuse Marx of plagiarism. His critique of capitalism is, in essence, the biblical concern for widows and orphans, stripped of its theological foundations and applied to the conditions of modernity.

Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p. 203 (qtd. in Keller, The Reason for God, p. 59

When Must We Write?

In danger of life, our own or others, in self defense, if it the only way of saving our identity in a crisis. We must speak and write and think and teach and testify when we and our mind would disintegrate without it. We speak lest we go mad.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Fruit of Lips, p. 30

Speaking for myself, I can say that this is fairly accurate.

A Man Can’t Throw His Heart Away

We can’t throw our hearts away. We can’t get a new heart, or at least we cannot get a new heart on our own. If I were to make a decision to throw my old heart away, that decision would have to be made by my old heart. And if my old heart could do something as wonderful as throwing my old heart away, what is the need for a new heart?

Douglas Wilson, Ploductivity

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…