Worth Reading - 10/27

1. Trevin Wax writes about accepting the Reformers even despite their warts (some of them very significant). A good essay about understanding the sinfulness of those who came before us, as well as our own sinfulness.

During this season of celebrating the Reformation, I am happy to lift up Reformation heroes. I love Martin Luther for his zeal and courage in proclaiming the precious truth of justification by faith alone, no matter the cost to him personally. I am grateful to God for him.

Luther’s anti-Semitism, egregious as it is, does not lead me to abandon his rediscovery of justification; it leads me to lean harder into it. Here’s the glorious truth: the reality Luther saw so clearly provides the answer to the sin he didn’t.

In other words, Luther discerned the reality of justification by faith alone better than he discerned the sinfulness in his own heart and life. And it’s that reality of justification by faith alone that levels us all and drives us to our knees—thankful for the clear example of horrendously flawed theologians articulating the only doctrine that gives hope to all of us who are horrendously flawed. It’s only in the security of being wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ that we can say, “Challenge me, Lord. Change me, Lord. Expose my wickedness.”

In the end, when death came for Luther’s mortal body, and the last of his parasitical sinfulness was destroyed, his final words contained no more vile epithets toward the Jews, but only a deathbed confession of his Jewish Messiah: “We are beggars; this is true.”

2. There continues to be good evidence that print is not dead, but is, in fact, growing. This is good news for bibliophiles, as this article from First Things argues:

It was thought that the resistance to screens and preference for books was just a generational matter. People liked books because they grew up with them. They didn’t read on screens so much, merely due to old habits, or nostalgia, or plain curmudgeonliness. Once the millennials head into middle age, they’ll take with them the screen-reading dispositions they acquired in childhood.

This is why the studies of children and students are especially illuminating. They suggest that old-fashioned enjoyment of real objects, actual books, not virtual books, may not be a historical trend running out, or a social construct lingering past its due date. Something about screen reading may be less natural, congenial, or in some fashion “human,” than book reading.

3. Anne Kennedy spent some time thinking aloud about struggles with mental health in a world of material prosperity. It is well worth your time.

This freedom from physical discomfort gives a wide, capacious space for all the illnesses of the mind and soul to come into full flower. The modern person who believes him or herself to have a right to, an inheritance really, of happiness, has no impediments of the body to distract him from the sorrows of the mind. And so many many people in our modern world are troubled, crowded by unhappiness. Sometimes I am most assuredly one of them.
Indeed, the ease of my material circumstances makes me believe that I am, in some sublime way, owed even more. I ought not suffer for any reason. Nothing should ever go wrong or bad. Look, my stove heats up when I turn the nob, my food is preserved in my fridge, my house is basically warm, nothing bad should happen to me. When it does I am horrified and have no category in which to place such an eventuality.

Furthermore, all the comfortable helps in my life make me believe that I’m probably a good person. All the easy things around me make me think that I must be an easy and kind person with only upright motives and never bad ones. It’s other people out there who are wrong, just like when the tea kettle breaks–it’s not I who am broken.

And so, being atop a universe of myself, supported by technology and central heating, the deep sickness of my humanity has no context, no room for sorting out or being brought to heel. It only grows and flowers and bears fruit.

4. Bruce Ashford provides some reasons not to read books....really. His list is pretty good.

We should refuse to read books. I mean it. Not all books, of course, but many of them. In particular, we should refuse to read a book merely because it appears on Amazon’s “Recommended for You,” is displayed on the front table at Barnes & Noble, or is promoted by the big wigs at your favorite club or conference.

Often a book gains attention not because of its quality but because the literary presses and marketing experts have pushed the book into your digital space. Other times, a book gains attention because it is written by one of the influencers in your social network, and the influencers in that network promote each other’s books in a mutually obsequious manner.

My point is this: it’s not always cream that rises to the top. At a dairy farm, yes. At a sewage plant, no. And it could be plausibly argued that America’s book industry looks more like the latter than the former.

5. This is a longish read, but an important one for those who want to burn liberalism (understood philosophically, not as progressive politics) to the ground. The author is critical of the effects of modern liberalism, but notes that many critics ignore the many positives it has brought.

Would things be better if more of my furniture was traditionally handcrafted rather than bought at Ikea? Sure, that would be great. Would the above-listed goods harmonize better within our lives if local, independent booksellers and grocers were not losing so much business to Amazon? Undoubtedly. (Maybe the cashier could even get back to using an abacus.) The point is that, accepting the authors’ rightful insistence that such questions must be evaluated in light of an objective concept of the human good, things are not bad.

Nor does it contradict this to point out that at any point in history, features of that age may create tension within and among these aspects of the good: for example, technology nowadays increases the time we have free from labor but may simultaneously make friendships more superficial because they can be virtual. There are sometimes unavoidable trade-offs and, often, unintended side-effects: what helps x go better may inhibit y in some way. But so what?

The portrait Milbank and Pabst offer of a “Western slide into theoretical nihilism and cultural despair” is not remotely reflective of reality. Where do they even get such a negative vision? Was it merely, as they say on page 1, the “challenge of Islamism after 2001” and the financial disruption of 2008? Just those two events? That seems unlikely. It is of course the case that Western nations have acted unjustly in consequence, by making, for example, irresponsible bank bailouts that let the guilty off the hook, and unjustly detaining suspected terrorists without trial. It is indeed the case that greater wealth for the many has arrived alongside inequality between the very rich and the many, including ongoing food shortages in Africa and workers condemned to near slavery in Bangladesh. So the comparatively better world that we have is far from a perfect world.