The Country Where Merit is Run Down, Part III: The Asians Strike Back

With–what else?–a lawsuit, with complaints to the Federal government to boot:

Getting into Harvard is tough enough: Every year come the stories about applicants who built toilets in developing countries, performed groundbreaking lunar research, or won national fencing competitions, whatever it takes to edge out the competition. So you can imagine that the 52-year-old Florida businessman and author Yukong Zhao is incensed that gaining admission may be even harder for his children—because of their race.

“It’s not a political issue,” he says. “It’s a civil-rights issue.”

Mr. Zhao helped organize 64 groups that last month asked the Education Department to investigate Harvard University for discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions. The allegation is that Harvard is holding Asian-Americans to higher standards to keep them from growing as a percentage of the student body. The complaint, filed also with the Justice Department, follows a lawsuit against the university last fall by the nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions.

I’ve been duly taken to task over the issue of merit in Ivy League admissions, but as you can see others aren’t happy about the situation.  In a loudmouth culture Asians aren’t much to rock the boat, but enough is enough, and frankly I’m glad to see they’re taking action.

There are a couple of other issues here.

The first is the current tendency of American elites to create a “mandarinate”, i.e. a country where advancement is based on a certain educational background which gains entry to a cursus honorum to the top.  The Chinese in particular understand mandarinate completely: they invented it through their examination system for the bureaucracy, which was in place until the end of the Ching Dynasty in 1911.  (And they made fun of it too, as Wu Ching-Tzu did in The Scholars).  In that sense our elites are hoisted by their own petard.  At one time getting ahead in this country wasn’t so tied to your educational background; changing that has had unintended consequences.

The second is that those STEM people are making things “complicated”:

Mr. Zhao runs through other stereotypes that he says are used against Asian-Americans, such as their strength in science, technology, engineering or math. “Right now we have huge gaps in STEM education, and actually in this area a lot of Asian-American kids perform really well. But when they apply to elite colleges, their strength becomes a weakness.” He notes that Albert Einstein was a quiet, violin-playing math whiz: “Einstein would not be admitted to Harvard today.” Unless the violin added to his holistic appeal.

Maybe not…yesterday I attended the first day of my wife’s state music teacher’s convention, which consists of the elementary and junior high piano competitions.  The state winners were almost all Asian.  So we were talking to one of the winners’ families.  Her dad is a structural engineer.

It just never ends…


On the Creation of the Universe: The Order of the Works of God

Lining up another one of the Elevations on the Mysteries by Bossuet, III, 7:

God made the basis of his work.  God decorated it, God put the finishing touch, God rested.

When he made the basis of his work, that is to say in confusion the heavens and the earth, the air and the waters, it was not said that he had spoken.  When he began to decorate the world, it is thus that he made his word appear: God said: Let there be light, and the light was.  And so on for the rest.

 The word of God, it is his wisdom; and wisdom begins to appear with order, distinction and beauty; the creation of the basis pertains more to power.

And this wisdom, from where does it begin, if not by the light, which of all bodily natures was not the first to carry his impression? Wisdom is the light of spirits, ignorance is compared to darkness.  Without light, all is deformed, all is confused: it is she who embellished the beginning and differentiates objects by her outbreak which she diffuses and which, to say so, she paints and gilds.  May the light appear, the most beautiful of material creatures, who embellishes all the others; and note that your author is all light in himself: And art clothed with light as with a garment: amictus lumine sicut vestimento: that the light which he is clothed with is inaccessible in herself: but that she scatters forth, that it pleases him, on the intelligent natures, and dims to accommodate weak eyes.  That he is beautiful and beautifying; that he is breaking out and bubbling up, luminous, and by her light obscure and impenetrable, known and unknown at the same time! Appear, now one time, beautiful light, and make us see that light and intelligence foresees and directs all the works of God.  Eternal light, I adore you: I open to your rays my blind eyes; I open and lower at the same time, not daring to draw away from my view of you, from fear of falling into error and darkness; neither also to stop too much on this infinite outbreak, from fear that to dare look at your majesty, I might not be dazzled by your glory.

It is to the favour of your light that I see the light to be born in the world; and that following your works, I see you grow perfection little by little; until that which you put a happy end worthy of you, in creating man, the spectator and admirer of all your works, and the only one who can profit from such marvels.  After this, only rest remains to you, to show that your work is perfect and that there is nothing else to add?

Blessed be you, o Lord, in the first day of the universe, where creation appeared in light, and all together the symbol of the day which you wanted to sanctify in the New Testament which is Sunday: where the corporal light shined all together in this word: that the light was made, and the spiritual light in the resurrection of the Saviour and in the descent of the Holy Spirit, who began to give birth in the world to the light of apostolic preaching.

May this be our first day; that this day fill us up with joy; may it be for us a day of rejoicing and sanctification, where we say with David: This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.  This is the day of the Trinity to be adored: the Father appeared by the creation of the light; the Son by his resurrection: and the Holy Spirit by his descent.  O holy day, o happy day! May you always be the true Sunday, the true day of the Lord, by our faithful observance, as you are by the holiness of your institution.

Here is our first say.  But let us not forget the sixth where man was created.  Will we not rejoice in this day of our creation? It soon became unhappy and maybe the day of our fall, at least it is certain that the day of our fall followed it shortly.  But let us admire the mystery; the day where the first man, the first Adam was created, is the same where the new man, the new Adam died on the Cross.  It is thus for the Church a day of fasting and mourning in all the following generations; a day which is followed by the sad repose of Jesus Christ in the tomb, and which is nevertheless full of consolation for the hope of future resurrection.

O man! See in the sixth day your loss happily restored by the death of your Saviour.  Renew in this day the memory of your creation and the admirable figure of the formation of the Church, by that of Eve our mother and the mother of all living.

O Lord! Give me the grace in celebrating the memory of the six days of your work, to arrive to your rest in a perfect acquiescence to your will; and by this rest to return to my origin, in rising with you, and in clothing me in your light and your glory.

Stresses and Strains in Soils: Elastic and Plastic

A new monograph for my geotechnical readers.  You can download it here.  Abstract is as follows:

Many undergraduate civil engineering students find their required geotechnical courses strange. They enter into a new world of soil classifications, granular mechanics and porous materials, and a raft of empirical formulae. There seems to be little connection between the topics and a unifying theory is hard to find. Other enter geotechnical engineering in the course of their work as equipment suppliers, owners and the like, who may not have specific training in the field and find many of the concepts baffling. This article attempts to approach one of the important topics in geotechnical engineering in a different way. In the past, presentation of theory was just that–presentation–and it was difficult to apply the theory in a practical way except for the simplest of cases. Now, with finite element analysis, this theory can become practical reality. Many practising civil engineers, however, look on FEA as a “black box” where one puts in (hopefully meaningful) data and gets out answers which are at best no more meaningful than the data. Hopefully this article will bridge the gap between the two and make learning the essentials of stresses in soils easier.

Bullies and Chastity Rings

This is the month we get to see whether SCOTUS will “redefine” marriage.  That “redefinition” was entirely avoidable if either the protagonists or the opponents of same-sex civil marriage had challenged the concept of state defined marriage to start with, but our political debate is not up to such an idea–not yet, at least…

In the meanwhile, let’s think about some things.  We all know that the charge for same-sex civil marriage was made by the leadership of the LGBT community.  That acronym doesn’t contract (and it used to be the GLBT community until the lesbians got bent out of shape) but it expands, sometimes two or three times the size.  We should ask: why are all of these sexualities so important?  Why should any or all of them form an aggrieved group?

The answer to these questions is fairly simple.  In a society where sex is a private matter–and we used to have that–one could keep many things out of the “public” eye.  But the sexual revolution put paid to that: today one’s bedroom (or car back seat or wherever) activities are pretty much out there.  For people whose sexual activities don’t fit the “norm” for whatever reason that can be painful.  So it’s easier to follow the footsteps of others, form an aggrieved group, and demand “rights”.

One letter of the alphabet soup that falls in and out is “A” for asexuals.  It’s a fact that there are people whose interest in sex is little or nothing.  For those whose life is defined by their sexual activity–and gay and lesbian people are that par excellence, if nothing else in opposition to the majority of society–it’s hard to get one’s head around that concept.  So the letter falls in and out.

The one letter that never gets into this collection is “A” for abstinent.  The whole concept that someone would voluntarily abstain from sex for any reason is anathema to just about everybody in this deal: gay, straight, in between, you name it.  It’s particularly odious to those who, as noted earlier, define their lives by their sexual preference (and the activity that goes with it).  It’s the main driver why a) the LGBT community hates real Christianity the way it does and b) that hatred resonates with the heterosexual community.  (I’d remind my readers that the French enthroned a “Goddess of Reason” during their revolution: hatred for the traditional Christian sexual morality predates our current mess).

So how do our churches respond to this?  One way are the “chastity rings” that some of our youth pastors exhort their charges to wear as a sign that they will save themselves for marriage.  We should first say that this commitment may turn into a lifetime vocation, in which case many apologies to the Roman Catholics are in order.  And apologising to the Roman Catholics is a hard thing for Evangelicals to do.

Beyond that, as a South Floridian, I’ve always been uneasy with the whole concept of chastity rings as a way of showing one’s commitment in this regard.  That’s not because of the abstinence outside of marriage; I’ve defended that more than once on this blog.  I grew up in a culture where it was very difficult to have a high-profile commitment like that.  If you did, you were subject to enormous peer pressure to cave to the culture, and that’s only gotten worse in the intervening two score.  It’s hard enough to be a Christian young person in this society without painting a target on your back–or hand–to boot.

Evangelicals by definition exhort their people to witness for their faith.  We’re coming into a culture–and some of us have had a taste of that–where it won’t be necessary to put out a lot of publicity about being a Christian.  If you are one, and especially if you’re serious about the Christian sexual ethic, you won’t need publicity as much as pain relief.  That’s because we live in a bully culture, where societal norms are formed through peer pressure, sometimes forcefully.  The LGBT community is well aware of that; that’s why they work the system the way they do.

The problem our opponents face is that they haven’t figured out how to translate the satisfaction of hormonal desires into real happiness, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to make the connection.

On the Creation of the Universe: Acts of Faith and Love on All Things

Acting again to post Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 6:

You are all powerful, of God of glory!  I adore your immense and voluntary generosity.  I pass all the centuries, and all the evolutions and revolutions of nature; I see you as you would be before all beginning and all eternity; that is to say that I see you as you would be; the creature has changed, but you, Lord, are always what you are.  So I leave behind all creature and I see you being alone, before all the ages.  O the beautiful and rich gift which you made in creating the world! The earth was poor under the waters and was void in her dryness, before you made the plants germinate, with all their different fruits and faculties; before the birth of the forest, before you made like a painting grass and flowers, and before you covered the earth with animals! That the earth was poor in the vastness of its womb, before she made the retreat with so many fish! And what was less living and more void than the air, before you filled it with flying things? But how much was the sky itself poor, before you sowed it with stars, and before you lit the sun to preside during the day, and the moon to preside in the night? All the mass of the universe was unformed and the chaos was frightful and poor, when light was missing! Before all that, that the nothingness was poor, as it was a pure nothing! But you, Lord, who would be and who carries everything in your all powerfulness, you only have to open your hand and you have filled with blessing the heavens and the earth.

O God, that my soul is poor! It’s a true nothing from which you pull little by little the good which you want to spread: it is only a chaos before you began to sort out all thoughts.  When you began by faith to begin the light, it was imperfect, until you formed it with charity; and that you are the true sun of justice, as intense as bright, you embraced me with your love! O God! Be always praised for your own works.  It is not enough to enlighten me one time; without your help I fall in my first darkness, because the sun is always necessary to the air it brightens so that it can stay bright.  How much more do I need that you do not stop enlightening me and that you always say: That the light be made?

Book Review: Daniel-Rops’ A Fight for God

One of the things Americans politicians endlessly yammer about is the way they’re “fighting” something or someone.  It never ends–they fight special interests, they fight the President, and when they want to be more positive they’re “fighting for you”.

The result of this mentality is obvious these days.  But what if there’s really something–or someone–worth fighting for, against a real enemy?  The answer to that, from a Roman Catholic perspective at least, is Daniel-Rops’ A Fight for God, which details the history of the Church between 1871–the beginnings of the French Third Republic and the unification of the German Second Reich–and 1939, when the Third Reich invaded Poland and began World War II.  It’s an eventful and trying era for the world in general and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, although the “separated bretheren” didn’t escape unscathed.

Daniel-Rops opens with a sweeping view of the secularist age which he writes about.  In this “goose who gets up in a new world every morning” age we live in, his description of the various enemies of Christianity has a very contemporary feel to it, and it’s hard to see that much has changed in the half century since he wrote it.  An example of this comes when he gets to the effect secularism had on sexual morals:

No less evident was the disruption of Christian society, the second factor which marked the process of dechristianization.  The collapse of Christian social structures was both case and consequence of that process.  It was not by chance that in all countries one of the first aims of anticlerical governments had been to secure the passing of laws to legalize divorce.  Indeed one of the most flagrant signs whereby the ebb of religion might be recognized was the progress of divorce.  It gained ground wherever it was made legal.  At the same time there was a marked increase in the number of purely civil marriages.

While ecclestiastical law was thus flouted, Christian morality itself was undermined.  This becomes clear when one looks at the sexual life of countries which still called themselves Christian.  The strict principles of the Church were openly defied.  The number of children born outside of marriage steadily increased; at Paris it rose from 22 per cent in 1877 to 39 per cent in 1937.  But even that was not the most serious feature; abortion was common, and adultery, fostered by a certain type of literature, was frequent among the middle classes.  The whole western world was gliding towards that obsession with sex which is so characteristic of our age; and the cinema from its very beginning contributed largely to encourage such an outlook.

He then outlines the lives of the four Popes whose reigns span the era: Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI.  In the American church it has been fashionable to forget the era before Vatican II as a pious monolith that was blown apart by Vatican II and the 1960’s.  But each pontiff had a different personality and handled their situation differently.  Because of both the nature of the Catholic Church and the era, each pontiff also had to deal with both spiritual and temporal matters.  Daniel-Rops is careful to note that, if Vatican I had proclaimed the pope’s infallibility in spiritual matters, same did not extend to temporal ones, although he shows that in many cases the Vatican used wisdom and discretion.

He then launches into the main body of the book, the history of the Church, largely in Europe.  Secularism–and Daniel-Rops does not fail to include Freemasonry as central protagonists of that idea–was on the offensive in the last part of the nineteenth century, but how this played out relative to the Church depended upon the country.  In Germany and Switzerland, both governments launched  kulturkampfs which, if successful, would have severely curtailed the activity of the Church.  The Church managed to fight the state to a draw in both cases.

France was a more serious situation, but some of that was the result of French Catholics (lay and clergy) belligerently overplaying their hand (sound familiar?) in the early years of the Third Republic.  That led to a backlash that came to a head with l’affaire Dreyfus.  The result of that was that most of the Catholic educational system in France was forced to close, the Concordat revoked and state and church officially separated.  “Separation of church and state” meant something entirely different in France and many other parts of Europe; it generally meant the state was free of ecclesiastical control to the extent that the state controlled the activity of the church (sound familiar too?)

The situation in Italy was complicated by the fact that, in the process of unifying the country, the Kingdom of Italy had the bad taste to take over most of the Papal States.  The Pope became a “prisoner” in the Vatican.  It took more than half a century to finally straighten out this mess with the Lateran Treaty, and that signed with Benito Mussolini’s government.

In the early years of the era the Church took a dim view of the development of democratic institutions in Europe, but reality slowly sunk in.  Another reality that sunk in was that the Church had largely lost the working class.  A large part of that response was the papal formulation of Catholic social teaching and the beginning of Catholic Action movements, which included Catholic trade unions and political parties, the mix and nature of which varied from country to country.  American Catholic conservatives have expressed shock that the current pontiff has reminded the world of Catholic social teaching; part of the problem is that American Catholicism never had to develop a truly independent social action movement from the main political parties and trade unions.

Relationship with hostile states wasn’t the only difficulty the Church experienced in this period.   Pius X especially dealt with the problems posed by Modernism.  It may seem strange that Daniel-Rops is himself concerned with this after some of the things he says in books such as Sacred History, but there’s no doubt that people such as Alfred Loisy and George Tyrell went further than the church–and even Daniel-Rops–were ready to go.  Some Catholics may still be sore at the outcome of this, but it beats the outcome of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in Protestant churches–on both sides.

World War I (where the Pope was accused of taking sides) saw a softening of attitudes towards the Church, especially in France, where many priests died during the war (and that in an army without official chaplains).  This is a similar result to the one we saw in Stalin’s Soviet Union during and after World War II.  But that leads us to the last part of the history: the rise of the totalitarian states such as the Soviet Union, Italy and Germany.  Concerning these Daniel-Rops has this to say:

Whatever their respective ideologies, all those new regimes were totalitarian.  According to them the State, the collectivity, was the sole legitimate reality.  Under State direction all living forces must be united in order ensure growth of the collectivity.  The State therefore had a righ to dominate man from his birth to his death, to impose upon him the principles, activities, ways of life and even opinions which it considered useful.  In such a system man is nothing: the State alone counts.  That doctrine was charcteristcs of the Soviets no less than of National Socialism, and indeed of Fascism, whose theorists coined the very word ‘totalitarian’.

The Church adopted a two prong strategy to deal with this.  One the one hand, it signed concordats with regimes such as Mussolini’s Italy (1929) and Hitler’s Germany (1933).  Daniel-Rops defends such a practice by basically stating that a concordat gave it status within such states without necessarily approving of that state; one would hope that the Vatican is taking that approach with its recent recognition of the Palestinian State.  On the other hand the Church opposed many moves of both states, especially Germany, to integrate the Church into its general program; Daniel-Rops rightfully characterises Nazism as “fundamentally antichristian.”  The book’s time scope ends with Pius XI dying as Germany prepared to invade Poland and once again drown Europe in blood.

But all was not in Italy, Germany and France; Daniel-Rops spends time on the smaller countries such as Belgium, Austria and Spain.  But he also casts his view abroad.  This is where the book really looks to the future, now our present, more than anywhere else.  He details both the Church’s situation in traditionally Catholic areas (such as Latin America), countries that transition from mission field to home front (such as the United States and Canada) and true mission fields such as Africa and Asia.  He notes the pastoral issues in Latin America and warns that they could give an opening to Protestants, which they have done in a big way.  He also notes that Islam’s “revival” and renewed opposition to Christianity started in the years leading up to World War II, something that the West was slow to realise (and, especially in the case of Britain, actually fomented that revival with its policies).

Roman Catholic missions have always been hampered by the rigid structure of the church and its priesthood.  One thing that offset that was an important decision by the Vatican shortly after World War I: the decision to actively open up the priesthood and episcopacy to non-European people.  In that regard they were ahead of just about every Protestant church out there except for the Pentecostals, whose own mission was just getting started.  The success of the Catholic mission is in no small way attributable to that decision.

The United States occupies an interesting place in his history.  It is introduced in a negative way as Daniel-Rops considers “Americanism” as a precursor to Modernism.  It’s sometimes hard to figure out what he means by Americanism, but what it boils down to is that the practical way in which the American church operated came out as something entirely different when put in front of a European (especially French) audience.

In spite of a good deal of anti-Catholicism in American society, Daniel-Rops recognises that the Roman Catholic Church had almost ideal conditions to operate in the United States.  Without an agressively secular government interfering in its affairs, it could carve out its own destiny.  Part of that destiny was the Vatican’s rejection of the concept of different systems of parishes and dioceses for the various ethnic groups.  The practical result of this was that the Irish came to dominate the life of the American church.  As was the case with Evangelicalism, Celtic Christianity set the agenda, something that doubtless needs some revision for the present situation.

The book ends with a brief biography of St. Thérèse de Liseux, who became the Church’s patron saint for missions within a few years after her death in 1897.  That may seem strange for an author as scholarly as Daniel-Rops, but he uses the simplicity and austerity of her life and the single-mindedness of her faith as a response to Friedrich Nietzsche’s proclamation of ‘God is dead’ which he starts the book with.

Protestants are generally loathe to make a positive spin on Catholic history such as this.  However, with corporatist states breathing down Christianity’s neck in so many places and in so many ways and with other types of persecution rearing their ugly heads, the relevance of his narrative of this era leaps out at you.  People decry  the decline of Christianity in Europe, but reading Daniel-Rops we should be thankful it survived at all, and we who are elsewhere should be neither so smug nor short-sighted about our own situations.  Instead we should be concentrating on the conflict we really need to be waging: A Fight for God.

On the Creation of the Universe: The Six Days

Another day, another post from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 5:

The design of God in the creation and in the description which his Holy Spirit dictated to Moses, is first to make himself known as the all-powerful and very free creator of all things, who without being limited to another law except for his will, had done all without need or constraint, only by his pure will.  It is thus why he who could do all, who could by a single decree of his will, create and arrange all things, and by a single wave of his hand, to say so, to make the outline and the end of his canvas and at the same time to draw it, to paint it, and to perfect it.  Nevertheless he wanted to suspend in order the efficacy of his action and make in six days that which he could do in an instant.

But the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of all of this unformed mass which we saw in the first words of Moses, preceded the six days, which did not begin until the creation of light.  God wanted to make and mark the outline of his work, before showing his perfection; and, after having made first as the foundation of the world, he wanted to make the ornament with six different steps which he wanted to call six days.  And he made these six days one after the other, as he made all things; to make visible that he gives things being, form, and perfection as pleases him, as much as it pleased him, with an entire and perfect liberty.

Thus, he made the light, before making the great heavenly lights where he wanted to put them together; and he made the distinction of days, before creating the stars which he used to perfectly regulate them; and the evening and the morning were distinguished, before their distinction and the perfect division of day and night were well-marked; and the trees and bushes and grasses were seeded on earth by the order of God, before he made the sun which ought to be the father of all the plants; and he explicitly detached the effects with their natural causes, to show that all, naturally, only holds to him alone, and only depends on his will.  And he was not content to approve all his work when it was done, in saying that it was very beautiful and very good; but he distinguished each work in particular, in remarking that each was good in and of itself; he shows us that each thing is good in particular, and that the assemblage is very good.  For it is in this way that he distinguishes the beauty of all with those of particular beings; to make us hear that if all things are good in themselves, they receive a beauty and new goodness by their order, by their assemblage, by their perfect assortment and addition one to another, and the admirable help which they give each other.

Thus, the creation of the universe, as God wanted to do it, and as he inspired the narrative to Moses, the most excellent and first of his Prophets, gives us true ideas of his power; and makes us see that, if he constrained nature to certain laws, he did not constrain himself, for as much as he wished, reserved to himself the supreme power to detach the effects which he desired, the causes which he gave them in the common order, and to produce the extraordinary works which we call miracles, according to what pleased his eternal wisdom to dispense them.

On the Creation of the Universe: Efficacy and Liberty of the Divine Command

Marching on in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 4:

God says: Let there be light, and there was light.  The King says: March, and the army marches; that one makes such an evolution, and it is made; all the army moves at one command of a Prince, that is to say at a single small movement of his lips.  It is among human things, the most excellent image of the power of God; but, at its base, this image is defective! God has no lips to move; God does not beat the air with a tongue to produce some sound; God only has to want in himself, and all which he eternally wants is done as he wished and when he has marked.

He then said: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.  Let there be a firmament, and there was one.  May the waters be assembled, and they were assembled.   Let great lights be lit , and they were lit.  Let animals come forth, and they came forth, and so one with the rest.  He spoke, and things were made; he commanded, and they were created.  Nothing resisted his voice, and the darkness did not follow the body more rapidly, as all followed the commandment of the All-powerful.

But bodies necessarily shed their shadow; the sun itself sends its rays; the waters themselves gush forth from one source, without which the source could hold them; the heat, to say so, forces fire to produce it; because all is submitted to one law and one cause which dominates it.  But you, o supreme law!  O cause of causes! Above your works, master of your action, you do not act outside of yourself except when it pleases you.  All is equally nothing in front of your eyes; you owe no one anything; you need no one; necessarily you do not produce that which is equal to you; you produce all the rest by pure goodness, by a free commandment, not this changing and irresolute liberty which is the lot of your creatures, which do not make you greater nor happier, and of which all together only have the right to exist which you give them.

Thus, my God, I owe you all.   I would owe less to your goodness, if you owe me something, if your liberality be necessary.  I want to owe you everything, I want to be to you in a way most absolute and entire; because that fits best with your supreme perfection, to your absolute domination.  I consecrate to your free and sovereign empire, all which you have given me in freedom.

The @ourCOG Tweet That Said More Than It Meant To

Yesterday I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when this jumped out, from @ourCOG, the social media outlet of the Church of God:vercingetorix


The painting they used is “Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms At The Feet Of Julius Caesar” by Lionel-Noël Royer.  Having just re-read Caesar’s De Bello Gallico, it leaped out at me.  I doubt the people at @ourCOG really grasp what it means, but for Evangelical Christianity in general and the Church of God in particular it isn’t pretty.

Vercingetorix was the leader of the Gauls in their last major revolt against the Romans under Julius Caesar.  Beyond the famous “three parts” which Caesar describes at the start of his classic, the Celtic inhabitants of what is now France were divided into a number of tribes, some loyal to the Romans, some not, some going back and forth.  Vercingetorix managed to get most of them on board a general revolt against Caesar.  He experienced initial successes and a victory at Gergovia, but then did something that can only be described as stupid: he decided to make his “big stand” at Alesia.

It was stupid because Alesia, hilltop fortress though it was, was a sitting duck for the strong point of the Roman military: siege operations.  (The Jews also learned this the hard way more than a century later at Jerusalem, when Titus sacked the city and tore town the Temple).  Caesar promptly laid siege to the town and the Celts on the outside were unable to relieve it.  So Vercingetorix and the Celts were forced to surrender, as shown in the painting.  (Well, not really; Royer embellished it considerably from Caesar’s account).   Gaul passed to Roman rule, which would remain until the Franks conquered it five centuries later.

This is significant because the Church of God’s “core” ethnic group in this country is the Scots-Irish, another Celtic group who panicked a century and a half ago and broke away in the Confederate States of America.  That conflict had some equally stupid moments such as Pickett’s Charge, where the Confederates threw themselves against entrenched Union position.  As was the case with the Gauls, no match for the methodical and well-supplied Romans under Julius Caesar, the South saw its brave men in grey beaten down by an opponent with greater numbers and industrial might.

Today Evangelical Christianity–largely centred in the South–is up against it with things like same-sex civil marriage.  And the temptation once again is to whip up an emotionalistic rally and plough into a great battle which should result in triumph.  I guess that’s part of the “prophetic voice” that the tweet refers to.  It drives a great deal of our idea about worship and church life; we’re always looking for “breakthrough”.

But all too often what we’ve ended up with it not breakthrough but breakdown.  Our quest for glory may start at Gergovia and Manassas but usually ends up at Alesia and Appomattox.  It’s time we seek the counsel of others in the Body of Christ and take a fresh approach to this problem before we run headlong into another disaster, because no wrapping it in spiritual rhetoric will change the reality.

We can’t work our way to heaven, but face it: God deserves better than this.

On the Creation of the Universe: God Had No Need Either to Find a Location to Place the World or to Fix the Beginning of All Things

Getting back to Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 3:

Weak and imbecile that I am, who only sees mortal artisans whose works are subject to time, and who choose certain moments to be the start and end of their work, and who also need to be in a certain place to act and to find a location to fashion and set up their work!  I want to imagine the same thing where something similar in this all-powerful worker who made the heavens and the earth; without dreaming that, if he had made all, he made the time and the place, and that these two things, which any other worker ought to find set up, were themselves part of his work.

Afterwards I want to imagine, there are six or seven thousand years, and before the world was made, as an infinite succession of revolutions and moments one after another, of which the creator had chosen one to fix the beginning of the world; and I do not want to understand that God, who made all, did not find anything that God who made all did not find anything done in his work before he acted.  Thus before the beginning of the world, there was nothing but God alone; and in the nothing, there was no succession, no duration, nothing that is, nothing that exists, and nothing outside of God which God has made.

Lift up my thought above all image of sense and custom, to make me hear in your eternal truth, that you who are him who is, is always the same without succession or change; and that you make change and succession everywhere where it is.  Consequently you make all the movements and all the circulations of which time is the measure.  You see in your eternal intelligence all the different circulations which you can make; and, naming them to call them all by their name, you have chosen those which pleased you to make them so one after the other.  Thus the first revolution which you have made was the course of the sun, was the first year; and the first movement which you have made in material, was the first day.  Time began according to your pleasure and you made the beginning as it suited you, as you made what and when came after, that you do not stop to develop the changeless centre of your eternity.

You made place in the same idea that you made time.  For you, of God of glory and majesty, you have no need for any place.  You live in yourself entirely, without another extent except those which you know, you know all; either that of your power, you can do all; or that of your being, from all eternity you are all.  You are all is necessarily so; and that which cannot be and which is not eternally with you, adds nothing to the perfection and fulness of the being which you alone have.  Who added to your knowledge, to your power, to your grandeur, what type of local space is there?  Nothing at all.  You are in your works by your strength which forms and sustains; and your strength, it is yourself, it is your substance.  When you stop acting, you are no less than what you are, having no need to extend yourself, neither to be in your creatures, neither in some location or space which might be.  Because the place where space is extended, and a space and an extension, proportions, distances, equalities are nothing; and if one wants that you might find all these distances done, these extensions, these proportions that you did not make yourself, one falls back into the error of those who place something outside of you, which would be necessarily co-eternal and not your workmanship.  O God! Dissipate these false ideas from the spirit of your servants.  Make them hear that without having need to be any part, or to make yourself a dwelling place, you are all to yourself; and that, when it pleased you without any need to make the world, you made with the world time and place, all extension, all succession, all distance; and to the end that from all eternity and before the beginning, there was nothing but you alone: you alone then one time, you alone not needing anything but yourself.  All the rest is not; there was neither time nor place, since time and place were something; there was only pure possibility of the creature you wanted to make, and that possibility existed only in your omnipotence.

You are thus eternally, and because you are perfect, you can do all you want; and because you can do all you want, all is possible for you; and it is only possible radically and originally because you can.

I adore you, o you who can do all!  And I submit to your all-powerfulness so that I eternally want only what you want of me, and only reserve the power to carry it out.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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