During this season of Easter, as the Church celebrates the breaking forth of New Creation, I’ve had occasion to reflect on the relationship of God’s Kingdom to this world. In an interview with Uri Brito about my book Saints and Scoundrels, Uri asked me about Christ’s statement “My Kingdom is not of this world” and how this should inform our thinking about Christendom. Here’s a transcript of Uri’s question followed by my reply (to listen to the entire interview, click here):
Is this world, and our physical experiences within it, unimportant to God? Can anything of lasting spiritual importance be accomplished in the present space-time universe, or is it simply a waiting room for the life to come? Is it a waste of time for Christians to invest too much attention in this-worldly ‘secular’ pursuits—whether culture, the arts or our individual vocations—since everything of ultimate value is other-worldly?
For many modern-day Christians, the answers to the above questions are plain: what we do in this world is unimportant, and the best we can hope to do is to focus exclusively on the life to come. Such an understanding leads to a truncated view of the gospel, leaving whole departments of life isolated from the transforming influence of Christ.
We could look at a number of different areas where this diminished view of the gospel is operative, but in this post I will limit myself to the issue of work. Building on my earlier post, I will be using the wisdom of Dorothy Sayers as an entry point into the discussion. (To learn more about Dorothy Sayers, see Chapter 17 in my book Saints and Scoundrels.)
In April 2009, British atheist A.N. Wilson shocked the world by announcing that he was returning to the Christian faith. When asked later in an interview what was the worst thing about being faithless, the writer and newspaper columnist replied:
When I thought I was an atheist I would listen to the music of Bach and realize that his perception of life was deeper, wiser, more rounded than my own. . . . The Resurrection, which proclaims that matter and spirit are mysteriously conjoined, is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story. J. S. Bach believed the story, and set it to music.
A.N. Wilson is not alone. In his Introduction to the book Does God Exist? Peter Kreeft noted that he personally knows three ex-atheists who were swayed by the argument, “There is the music of Bach, therefore there must be a God.” Of these, Kreeft informed his readers, two are now philosophy professors and one is a monk.
Even the God-hater Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), upon hearing a performance of the St. Matthew Passion, was compelled to admit that “one who has completely forgotten Christianity truly hears it here as gospel.”
Bach would certainly approve, for he once remarked that “music’s only purpose should be the glory of God and the refreshment of the human spirit.” To underscore this point, he wrote the initials SDG (Soli Deo Gloria) at the end of most of his scores.
This is the third post in my series on essential oils and brain fitness. To see other posts in the series, click here.
As I continue this series of articles on essential oils and brain fitness, it may be helpful to ask, why is brain fitness even important? Why devote time out of your busy life to developing a healthy brain?
One very good reason to start developing a healthy brain is that scientists have found that if your brain is unhealthy, there is a greater chance that the rest of our body will also deteriorate.
Listen to these words from neuroscientist and brain-researcher, Dr. Caroline Leaf, who wrote in her book Switch On Your Brain about the wide-ranging consequences of how we use our brains:
“You think all day long, and at night as you sleep, you sort out your thinking. As you think, you choose, and as you choose, you cause genetic expression to happen in your brain. This means you make proteins, and these proteins form your thoughts. Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Eric R. Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning neuropsychiatrist for his work on memory, shows how our thoughts, even our imaginations, get ‘under the skin’ of our DNA and can turn certain genes on and certain genes off, changing the structure of the neurons in the brain…. Our brain is changing moment by moment as we are thinking. By our thinking and choosing, we are redesigning the landscape of our brain.”
Readers of this blog will know that I have never been a fan of President Trump. But at least I held out hope that something good might come of his presidency if Trump could avoid the military adventurism of the last two administrations, reign in America’s secret and forgotten wars, and halt the headlong rush towards another cold-war situation with Russia.
Alas, these hopes are now dashed. On Friday morning I woke up to the news that President Trump has started a war with Syria, attacking the very regime that has been fighting ISIS. This has occurred despite evidence that the earlier 2013 attack was staged by jihadist rebels to turn the international community against Assad, and despite prima facie evidence that the current attacks “may” have been perpetrated for a similar reason, and despite the fact that the goals and terms of surrender for this new war have yet to be made clear.
With the same impetuosity with which he goes on Twitter without considering the consequences of rash, careless and inflammatory speech, Trump is now rushing into an impulsive, ill-considered and illegal war with Syria in the absence of proper due diligence. The lack of due diligence was encapsulated by Robert Merry in an article this morning for The American Conservative this morning:
What does Trump owe to his constituency, the people who put him in office? Does he owe them a resolve to avoid getting enmeshed in yet another Mideast war, even in the wake of the horrendous chemical weapons attack in Syria? Does he owe them actual proof that Assad was in fact the perpetrator?
More broadly, does he owe the American people an explanation of just what he intends to accomplish with this military action, what its parameters are going to be, what’s its limitations might be? Does he owe Congress any respect as the branch of government charged with the responsibility to declare war?
Trump administration officials waxed bellicose on the matter immediately, before there could have been any serious investigation of what actually happened in Syria. Assad, it was assumed instantly, was the culprit. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Assad deserved “no role” in governing his country. Thus is America seemingly set to embark on yet another adventure in regime change, a policy that reaped endless regional havoc when it was done in Iraq and Libya.
To be sure, this type of impulsive military adventurism is something we have come to expect from our presidents. However, there is a key difference between this engagement and past engagements in the Middle East. The difference is that Trump has not even given a nod towards the legal constraints that properly regulate military action. As Noah Millman explained at The American Conservative this morning:
Least of all should it be a surprise that President Trump cares even less than his predecessors for the norms and legal constraints on military action. Trump hasn’t the slightest legal warrant whatsoever in domestic or international law for his attack on Syria. In this he has extended the precedents set by Barack Obama (who prosecuted war well beyond the warrant approved by either Congress or the United Nations), George W. Bush (who made war with Congressional approval, but based on deceptive marketing, and who conducted that war in a manner that violated international and domestic law), and Bill Clinton (who made war without international warrant but with the clear and solid support of our NATO treaty allies). But this time there is barely a fig leaf of legality, and no public attempt whatever to justify the action as based on anything but Presidential whim.
Impulsive behavior has consequences, and only time will tell what the consequences of this impulsivity will be.
I’ve often had occasion to reflect on Neil Postman’s trenchant comparison of the dystopian visions of Orwell and Huxley, as represented in their respective books 1984 and Brave New World. In 1985, the year after Orwell’s prophecies failed to materialize, Postman suggested that perhaps we should think twice before congratulating ourselves.
“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.
Since Postman wrote those words, Orwell’s warnings have continued to capture the public mind while Huxley’s warnings have been comparatively neglected. During the ten years I spent working for a Christian lobby group, we were on constant alert to Orwell’s dark vision, which seemed imminent during Obama’s Presidency. In those days, things were clear to us; Obama could never have been mistaken as an angel of light as he aggressively pursued policies that eroded the freedom of Christians and–to the more conspiratorial minded among us–inched us closer to the Orwellian apocalypse.