Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Monday, June 16, 2014

A great injustice

Dear Hannah,

I want you to take a good look at these pictures: really take a moment and study them. The one on the left is a portrait of Jonathan Edwards, quite possibly the greatest theologian who ever lived; a man who spurred an important religious revival and left behind him generations of doctors, lawyers, pastors and statesmen.  The portrait on the right is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, quite possibly the greatest and most dangerous author of the French Enlightenment; a man who spurred the massacres of the French Revolution, and left behind him scores of bastard children.

















Ignoring their accomplishments and just looking at the two of them, who  would you rather be like?  Who would you rather be around? The frumpy sourpuss on the left, or the kind-eyed and handsome man on the right?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Kill a child, save the planet

Dear Hannah,

I've heard strangers say, perhaps a dozen times, that if the Native Americans had only kept control of the Americas the environment would be in much better shape.  I think this is only half a truth.  It's less that Native Americans were good at taking care of the environment, and more that they were really bad at taking care of their children. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

On Pharisees

Dear Hannah,

If you've spent any amount of time with Christians, you've heard them toss the term Pharisee around.  This means if you have a brain, you've realized that the term Pharisee is used by Christians as frequently and unfairly as the term Hitler is used by political activists.  In essence, everyone who's doing better than us, who's asking us to take God more seriously, or who's asking us to do things differently than we're currently doing them, is a Pharisee.  We'd do much better to recognize that the people most like the Pharisees -- or, in other words, the people with their same prejudices, their follies, and their theological silliness -- are the ultra-orthodox Jews.  But then I suppose we'd be in danger of being called Hitler.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fabius and Minucius

Dear Hannah,

As I'm thinking about the many different angles I could approach the topic of repentance, none seems more useful to me than an old story about a Roman general named Fabius Maximus.  Now, Fabius was an old and experienced man when Hannibal invaded Italy, and the Romans spent a lot of time deriding him because he refused to engage Hannibal's army.  Fabius knew that Hannibal's army was too experienced and too powerful to be defeated by the Romans -- he knew, almost by instinct, that the best way to beat Hannibal would be to avoid an engagement, and let the invading army starve itself to death, even though it meant letting Hannibal ravage the country.  But the rest of the Romans disagreed, thinking it was too cowardly to hide in the mountains like Fabius wanted, and they decided it would be better to risk an open engagement.

Symbolism and society

Dear Hannah*,


I haven’t seen any pictures, but I’ve been told that when my grandpa was a baby, he used to wear a fluffy dress.  Now, my grandpa wasn’t a sissy; he actually turned out to be a very muscular, very virile, very rugged machinist, and he happened to get a woman pregnant before he was even married to her (a woman who became my grandma).  But the reason that I mention his wearing a dress as a boy, is because nobody was ever concerned during those days that making him wear a little dress was going to in any way make him effeminate or give him gender confusion.  Today, making a baby boy wear a dress would either arouse a healthy amount of laughter or a deep sense of concern; yesterday, that is how we dressed a good portion, if not all, of our soon-to-be warriors, machinists, preachers, and neighborhood grocers.

Friday, June 6, 2014

On free will

Dear Hannah,

I know I just recently wrote you an essay about how people who discuss concepts like the freedom of the will are wasting their time; but my advice, as all general advice, is not always as simple as it seems.  The fact that there are some things we can't entirely understand doesn't mean that we shouldn't think about them; it simply means we should be careful we don't base our entire lives upon the speculative when there's a very high likelihood it can be proven false by what's demonstrative.

Our lives are really a mixture between speculation and common sense: our senses tell us all the causes and effects of the world around us, which become knowledge; our minds remember what we've seen and predict the future, and when they do so correctly, it's known as wisdom.  But when our minds apply these patterns to other things we haven't entirely experienced, and then we begin to think about things we haven't ever really seen, this is known as speculation.  You rely on either of these extremes too heavily, and you're a dolt.  Too much common sense means no dreaming; too much speculation means no wisdom.  Too much of the former means we never improve what we know, too much of the latter means we never maintain what we have.   Maybe Farmer Joe will never fall for an egalitarian ponzi scheme or become a practically retarded theologian, but I have a hard time believing he could have ever written The Federalist.  And maybe Einstein will invent all kinds of new things, but I have a hard time believing how this could be a real benefit to him when he let his family go to ruin.  The truth is that we need both kinds of men; but we should never try to be them -- although if I had to be one of the two, I would rather be (and be surrounded by) the simpleton with common sense. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The problem with theologians

Dear Hannah,

The more I think about the phrase common sense, the more convinced I am that the people who have least to do with it are theologians.  Common sense is, of course, an allusion to our hearing and sight, and an implication that if we're seeing and hearing the same things, then we must be coming to some kind of an obvious understanding about what they mean.  The theologian has nothing to do with any of this.  He spends his time arguing about things he's never really seen from Someone he's never really heard.  Even Job was honest enough to say, when he finally met his Creator, that all the while he'd been talking about someone he'd never really met (Job 42:5-6).  The theologian in this sense is slightly less honest: the more seriously he takes his profession, the more you'd think he got his creeds from God in person.