Weekend Reading

1. J.R.R. Tolkien's hope for the modern world, from the Imaginative Conservative:

One would be blind to miss Tolkien’s disgust. “I wonder (if we survive this war) if there will be any niche, even of sufferance, left for reactionary back numbers like me (and you). The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be one blasted little provincial suburb.” Soon, he feared, America would spread its “sanitation, morale-pep, feminism, and mass production” throughout the world.. Neither “ism”—corporate consumer capitalism or communism, both radical forms of materialism—seemed particularly attractive to Tolkien, a man who loved England (but not Great Britain!) and who loved monarchy according to medieval conventions, while hating statism in any form.

Indeed, as with St. Augustine as the barbarians tore through Rome’s gate on August 24, 410, at midnight, Tolkien looked out over a ruined world: a world on one side controlled by ideologues, and, consequently, a world of the Gulag, the Holocaust camps, the Killing Fields, and total war; on the other: a world of the pleasures of the flesh, ad-men, and the democratic conditioners to be found, especially, in bureaucracies and institutions of education. Both East and West had become dogmatically materialist, though in radically different fashions. In almost all ways, the devastation of Tolkien’s twentieth-century world was far greater than that of St. Augustine’s fifth-century world. At least barbarian man believed in something greater than himself. One could confront him as a man, a man who knew who he was and what he believed, however false that belief might be. “I sometimes wonder,” C.S. Lewis once mused, “whether we shall not have to re-convert men to real Paganism as a preliminary to converting them to Christianity.” Twentieth-century man, led by fanatic ideologies, used state-sponsored terror to murder nearly 205 million persons outside of war. War in the same century claimed another 50 million persons. Simply put, the blood ran frequently and deeply between 1914 and Tolkien’s death in 1973.

2. What is meaningful work and how can we find it? Hugh Welchel from The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics explores the question:

Research done last year by the Barna Group shows that 75 percent of U.S. adults say they are looking for ways to live a more meaningful life. Only nineteen percent of adults say they’re extremely satisfied with their current work.

The desire to find meaning in our work is important across all age groups.

Many people in their forties and fifties are leaving their occupations for what they perceive to be more important, meaningful jobs.

Twenty-somethings currently entering the job market are particularly interested in work that will make a difference to them and society. They are looking for work that expresses their identity and lets them creatively use their talents to help others. They believe this type of work is to be found, for the most part, in the NGO/nonprofit world.
Classical theism, with its identification of God with infinity, has developed a reputation for emphasizing divine transcendence to the point of making God nearly unknowable. The problem with this judgment is that infinity—as in, God is infinitely unknowable—does not admit to degrees. An infinite God is not like an unimaginably large number that we could count to if only we had enough time. Nor is an infinite God like the largest possible number we know, or at least know well enough to use in any practical way. That would be, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Graham’s number, which has to do with the theoretical dimensions of the geometric shape known as a hypercube. Paradoxically, Graham’s number is at least as mysterious as the idea of infinity, since it exists only as a function of an extremely complex mathematical proof, and infinity, though hotly debated, is a fairly fixed idea—even if it is really nothing more than the idea of that which is unimaginable.

4. Russell Moore explores what it means to live as a Christian in this culture after the culture wars:

As a child growing up in a Southern Baptist church, I learned my place in American culture through rapture movies. These films—based on a pop-dispensationalist reading of prophecy—pictured a time when the church would be suddenly ripped from the earth, sailing through the air to be with the invisible (to the viewer) Jesus Christ. These films would always then picture the panic of those who were “left behind” and depict the societal chaos that would emerge once the “salt and light” of the culture had disappeared. We never considered that if such a rapture were to happen, American culture might be relieved to be rid of us.

Historian Rick Perlstein notes the “culture wars” that ignited in the 1960s and 1970s were really about dueling secular prophecy charts. “What one side saw as liberation, the other side saw as apocalypse,” and vice-versa, he writes. It’s hard to argue with his thesis. The scenes of LSD-intoxicated college students frolicking nude in the mud of the Woodstock Festival in New York would seem horrifying to the salt-of-the-earth folk in Middle America for whom “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius” would seem like a threat. At the same time, Merle Haggard’s counter-revolutionary anthem would have the same effect, in reverse. The words, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” must seem like hell, if you’re in Woodstock.
Gnosticism was at the heart of much of the New Testament writers’ objections. At its root, Gnosticism argued that the material world was bad, and the spiritual world, or realm, was good. The majority of Gnostics, then, practiced a mix of asceticism and even philanthropy as they tried to divest themselves of material goods in an attempt to pursue knowledge through the spiritual world. The New Testament writers wrote in detail about the danger of Gnosticism, and we consistently affirm their objections, but when it comes to the underlying theology in Gnostic thought, I wonder if the church isn’t guilty of embracing its premise?

Since I was a small child, I have been taught that our time here on earth was limited. All of history points to the return of Jesus Christ when he would call his children home to his eternal kingdom. Earth, then, is a temporary holding place—a place for us to live in such a way so we honor God, but a temporary home, none-the-less.