Much has been said in praise of Chesterton's The Everlasting Man in the nine decades since it was first published, but somehow it remains today less famous than it deserves to be, by several orders of magnitude. This book gives a clear and compelling defense of Christianity, on both historical and philosophical grounds, timeless perhaps in its truths but very timely indeed in how and to whom it presents them. Page after boisterous page, Chesterton is funny, eloquent, cheeky, and rigorously logical. Every educated Christian ought to be familiar with The Everlasting Man.
A reader shouldn't embark upon this book with any fear of boredom. Chesterton is a master of the English prose style: Every sentence is a delight to read, every word is carefully set in place, and each paragraph flows powerfully and pleasantly from its beginning to its close. His books are worth reading even if only for the pleasure of their symmetry and clarity. Chesterton's writing, however, has much more to recommend it than mere beauty of form. In my experience, his three most impressive and endearing intellectual attributes are: his common sense, his erudition, and his piety. Each is spectacularly on display in The Everlasting Man.
At some point, a Bible student realizes with dismay that Bible scholars agree on almost nothing.
The creation is as perplexing as its consummation; God started making stuff sometime between six thousand and sixteen billion years ago, either with the immediacy of a conjurer or with the patience of a gardener, and He will return to set it right either tomorrow or several millennia hence or never or two thousand years ago, accomplishing this by a process either astonishing or subtle or imperceptible or imagined.
Ethics and economics and political engagement give us a further nest of interconnected and impossible questions. What about war? What about poverty? What's the gospel? Who is Jesus, and Who was He, and why did He come to the earth? What about mission, evangelism, justice? What is humanity? What about slavery? How about equality? How about marriage, sex and the sexes, virtue and law and institution and creed? What about fate and prophecy, promises and fear-mongering? What about forgiveness and retention of sins? How does that work?
West-East Divan -- The Poems, with “Notes and Essays”: Goethe’s Intercultural Dialogues (2010), with commentary by Martin Bidney.
Goethe’s book is a pathbreaker, a boundary-crossing intercultural poetic dialogue—one of the most notable and far reaching visions of East-West understanding achieved in modern times. Martin Bidney p. xxv
I would count Goethe among the wisest well-instructed admirers of the Middle-Eastern cultures he non-dogmatically, entertainingly, and thoughtfully presents. Martin Bidney p. Li
The catastrophe of 9/11 brought the fact and complex reality of Islam closer to those in North America than had been the case in the history of those living in Canada and the USA. Many were baffled, confused and angry about the aggressive nature of Islam. Most, sadly so, know little about Islam other than exotic and romantic tales of the East or the demonized image of the militant, suicide bombers. Is there more to the West and Islam than two cultures waged in a clash of civilizations?
The European Tradition has, since the early Middle Ages, pondered the relationship of Islam and Christianity, Orient and Occident, and there can be little doubt that Goethe’s West-East Divan is one of the crowning achievements of that lengthy intercultural dialogue. Goethe (1749-1832) died 180 years ago this year (2012), so there are plenty of good reasons to turn and heed this icon of German culture. The publication of East-West Divan and Goethe’s “Notes and Essays” is a plough to soil cultural breakthrough. The “Introduction” and ”Commentary Poems for Goethe’s West-East Divan” by Martin Bidney makes for an exquisite dessert after a literary feast from a well prepared table. Goethe would be more than pleased and delighted with Bidney’s palate pleasing literary insights and poetry.
WHEREVER you go in the Middle East today, you see the Arab Spring rapidly turning into the Christian winter.
The past few years have been catastrophic for the region's beleaguered 14-million strong Christian minority.
In Egypt, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has been accompanied by anti-Coptic riots and intermittent bouts of church-burning. On the West Bank and in Gaza, the Christians are emigrating fast as they find themselves caught between Benjamin Netanyahu's pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised and pro-Hamas Sunni Muslim neighbours. Most catastrophically, in Iraq, two thirds of the Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam.
It was Syria that took in many of the 250,000 Christians driven out of Iraq. Anyone who visited Damascus in recent years could see lounging in every park and sitting in every teahouse the unshaven Iraqi Christian refugees driven from their homes by the sectarian mayhem that followed the end of the Baathist state. They were bank managers and engineers, pharmacists and businessmen - all living with their extended families in one-room flats on what remained of their savings and assisted by the charity of the different churches.
For the past week I’ve been marinating in Kevin Miller’s Huffington Post article, “Why We Need the Language of Hell.” That bit of commentary, penned by the director of the, Hellbound? Documentary, may be the most poignant summary of humanity’s perennial need for wrath lingo since Rene Girard’s Things Hidden… (1978).
It’s certainly timely, given the recent epidemic of domestic massacres (a jaw-dropping oxymoron!) and ongoing malignant violence in which we’re entangled overseas. Miller’s commentary makes a striking point in tracing the pervasive use of ‘hell-speak’ to diagnose the bloodshed and prescribe a just response. Some primitive intuition—from the depths of our death anxiety—evokes liberal analysts and shiny churchgoers alike to move quickly from revulsion at suffering to the ancient imagery of fiery wrath.
A pastor-friend of mine from the Midwest reported this week that one of his pristine elderly congregants was lamenting news of the latest ambush on American troops in Afghanistan. This precious Christian lady says, “Our boys are over there getting killed by the people they are trying to help. Maybe we need another Hiroshima.”
James Eagan Holmes allegedly slaughters 12 people at a movie theater in Colorado. Survivor Stephanie Davies describes the event: "We were laying there, literally in the mouth of hell."
Anders Behring Breivik kills 69 people at a summer camp in Norway. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg seeks to capture his grief: "It was a paradise of my youth that has now been turned into hell."
A tsunami devastates the Tōhoku region of Japan, killing thousands. Daily Mail reporter Alex Thompson describes the scene as "Hell on Earth."
Two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City. Brian Williams describes the event 10 years later: "It was a day when hell rained down on earth from the skies and changed all of our lives forever..."
As these and numerous other examples demonstrate, when seeking to describe a natural disaster or manmade tragedy, hell is often the first word that springs to mind. And we don't just use "hell" to describe the event. We also demand it as punishment when human perpetrators are involved.
Thanks to a prod from Graham Ware, I’m currently reading Clark. H. Pinnock’s excellent essay The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent. Published in 1990, Pinnock’s essay critiques the “traditional” doctrine of hell as eternal torment for the wicked and argues for the (then) radical notion of Annihilationism–the belief that the “impenitent wicked suffer extinction and annihilation” rather than unending torment in hell.
Early on in the essay, Pinnock recognizes that he is embracing a minority view. Even though other prominent evangelicals, such as John Stott, were coming to similar conclusions at the time, Pinnock expresses some concerns about going public with his beliefs:
In defending the annihilation of the wicked, I realize that this is the view of a minority among evangelical theologians and church leaders and that I place myself at risk when I oppose the traditional view of hell as endless agony and torment. After all, it is a well-established tradition, and one does not oppose such a tradition without paying a price in terms of one’s reputation. Even worse, I recognize that this puts me in some odd company, a fact which is regularly used against the position I am defending, for it is usually argued that only heretics or near-heretics deny the doctrine of everlasting punishment and defend extinction. The idea is that if the Adventists or the liberals hold such a view, the view must be wrong. In this way the position can be discredited by association and not need to be taken seriously or worried about. Of course it is not much of an argument, but it proves effective with ignorant people who are taken in by rhetoric of this kind.
Herman Hesse (1877-1962) was one of the most conscious spiritual seekers in his time and one of the finest and most consistent European doves in an age of two world wars and an ethos of overt hawkishness and militarism. Hesse fled Germany to Switzerland because of his opposition to German aggressiveness in WWI, and his many poignant anti-war writings were collected and summed up in If the War Goes On. Hesse settled in Montagnola (near Lugano in the Italian part of Switzerland) and he won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1946 for his classic and probing novel The Glass Bead Game. My wife (Karin) and I had the good fortune of spending time at Hesse’s home/museum in Montagnola in June 2012. It is 50 years in 2012 since Hesse died, and there is a variety of events celebrating Hesse’s prolific and committed life being put on in various parts of Europe in 2012.