Zikkaron is the Hebrew word for the Greek anamnesis. The difference between the two conceptions can hardly be exaggerated: they represent two different worlds, two different modes of understanding human existence.
The Hebrew word is “a sacrificial term that brings the offerer into remembrance before God, or brings God into favorable remembrance with the offerer” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). It refers to something given in time and space, which is the point of reference and contact between man and the Absolute, between man and God—in this case, man’s action in the form of a sacrifice, offered in the context of liturgical celebration. This commemoration of something that has happened in space and time becomes clearly visible in the celebration of Passover. It is a memorial set up to be observed as a liturgical remembrance of sacred history.
At the celebration of Pascha, the youngest participant asks why this night is different from all other nights (Ma Nishtana), and, in an elaborate liturgy, the Exodus from Egypt is not only remembered and commemorated, but is re-actualized, re-presented through the retelling of the Exodus story (Maggid). Those present are not only remembering something in the past, as if they were witnessing the event from afar, but are participating in the actual Exodus through the liturgy. Their celebration is a part of God’s ongoing saving activity, not only in the past, but here and now, concluding with the expression of hope that the Messiah will come and that the next celebration of Passover will be in Jerusalem, the Holy City. In the present, the celebration looks back to something that once occurred, and it looks forward in hope to something that will happen in the future, and all is encompassed in God’s mighty and liberating deeds for his people.
We can say that the reason for the celebration of Pascha is man’s reaction to God’s action. It is not an end in itself, a nice tradition to strengthen the Jewish identity, although that may come as a byproduct. It is God’s initiative, his action, which is “the reason for the season.”
NEW from the March/April 2013 issue of Touchstone.
Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction
by Terence Nichols
reviewed by Graeme Hunter
Diane, a mother in her mid-forties, is dying of leukemia, leaving behind her husband and two teenage boys. The stuff of domestic tragedy. You can easily imagine distraught relatives, and nagging questions that have no reply.
However, in Terence Nichols’s fine book, Death and Afterlife, Diane’s death figures as a luminous episode, which left her loved ones with “an inexplicable sense of peace and joy.” Her story serves as a frame for Nichols’s book, not only to introduce the wider themes of death and what comes after, but also to prepare the reader to consider the forgotten art of “dying well,” the master theme towards which the story builds.
It was wise to defer that unfamiliar theme to the end of the book. Modern people need all the help they can get to grasp an idea so out of keeping with the age. A world as materialistic, scientistic, and consumerist as ours inclines by its nature to impulsive self-absorption, and is little given to introspection about death or the inscrutable reality behind death’s door. Instinctively the modern mind thrusts aside such meditations as morbid and medieval. In their place we put the celebration of life. Think of the new style of obituary, in which we are promised a celebration of the loved one’s life but seldom a funeral, much less a Service or Mass of Christian Burial. Lacking the concepts to deal intelligently with death, we think it better to avert our gaze.
A Better Approach
Nichols’s engaging book offers readers something better. It presents the Christian Church’s considered wisdom about death and the afterlife in a manner that is both informed and practical. It addresses the difficulty of integrating Christian belief on these matters with modern presuppositions, and only then turns to offering practical ways of making the contemplation of mortality, resurrection, and eternal life our means of dying well.
NEW from the March/April issue of Touchstone:
On June 4, 1955, C. S. Lewis wrote to Dorothy Sayers to thank her for a pamphlet and letter she had sent him. He noted, in passing, that “as always in Holy Week,” he had been “re-reading [Sayers's] The Man Born to Be King. It stands up to this v. particular kind of test extremely well.” We might, I think, do far worse than imitate Lewis in our own Lenten reading.
The Man Born to Be King is a series of radio plays, twelve in all, dramatizing the life of Jesus from birth to death and resurrection. First broadcast by the BBC in 1941–1942, they were published in 1943, together with Sayers’s notes for each play and a long Introduction she wrote recounting both her aims and approaches in writing the plays and some of the first (often comical) reactions from the public.
Sayers did not suffer fools gladly, and she takes evident delight in recounting objections, many of which grew out of a kind of piety that resisted the deliberate realism of the plays. Thus, for example, among those who wrote her with objections was one who objected to her having Herod tell his court, “Keep your mouths shut.” The reason for the objection? Such “coarse expressions” struck the correspondent as “jarring on the lips of any one ‘so closely connected with our Lord.’”
Of course, some of the objections can be better understood and may seem less comical if we note how much has changed since the plays were first broadcast roughly three-quarters of a century ago. Sayers notes in her Introduction that British law at the time prohibited “the representation on the stage of any Person of the Holy Trinity”—and this, in turn, encouraged listeners to think of Jesus in ways that could scarcely do justice to his genuine humanity. Therefore, while observing within Christian sacred art “a dialectic” that emphasizes sometimes the incarnation of the eternal Word in Jesus, and other times the “scandal of particularity” in Jesus the first-century Jew, her plays tilt in the latter direction, toward a kind of realistic narrative. Jesus is, quite simply, the man born to be king.
There were, though, other difficulties confronting her that have not changed much over time. For the British public at the time she wrote—but also, in many cases, for us today—the Gospels were known chiefly “as a collection of disjointed texts and moral aphorisms wrenched from their contexts.” This is, after all, the way we read them Sunday after Sunday. There is nothing wrong with doing so; indeed, there is much that is right about it. Still, it creates problems for the dramatist who aims to produce a story that is coherent in its overall trajectory and in its several episodes.
On the Adventures of Gift-Giving in a Large Family
It was one of our more embarrassing Christmases. It started when our daughter Isabel opened her grandmother’s gift: a beautiful doll of a newborn baby. It was exactly what she had wanted. It was also identical to the one from me that she had opened a minute before. Obviously, I had gotten my Christmas lists mixed up.
But I was thinking on my feet that morning.
“Oh look, Isabel!” I exclaimed, “Twins!”
Isabel’s puzzled look turned to a smile.
I wasn’t so lucky with Teresa, who was staring at her jewelry kit in bewilderment.
“Don’t you like it?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s not that,” she said at last. “It’s just that Marta gave this to me at my birthday party back in July. Don’t you remember? You put it away right away so that John wouldn’t eat the beads.”
“I thought you bought it for her,” my husband whispered to me.
“I thought you bought it for her,” I whispered back.
“At least,” he sighed, “we gave it to the right kid.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that this had happened—like hobbits, we give away so many gifts in our family of twelve that we end up using a lot of recycled ones. We even have a mathom chest where we store gifts between incarnations. It’s just that we do try not to give the same thing twice to the same child.
These Christmas adventures by Rebecca Sicree have been a regular feature in November/December issues of Touchstone for the last couple years now and they are very fun reads.
On the New Adventures of the Baby Jesus
On the Bethlehem Baboon & Other Christmas Traditions
On the Missing Element in a Government Jobs Strategy
Daniel Patrick Moynihan (the longtime Democratic senator from New York) once suggested instituting twice-daily mail service as a way of providing good government jobs for African-American males. Moynihan’s notion demonstrates that modern liberals do not always build up the number of government jobs because more employees are needed to accomplish some mission, but because they are trying to provide a quality lifestyle for large numbers of people. In other words, the job itself (the entry on the payroll) is the mission.
In his response to President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels commented that the president appears to sincerely believe that a middle class can be created with government jobs paid for by government dollars. Perhaps such a position would not be so fantastic if there were a different spiritual core at the heart of modern left-liberalism.
Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat reviewed by Leon J. Podles
. . .
Ross Douthat has observed the decline of Christian orthodoxy in America, and his thesis in Bad Religion is simple: although the United States remains a religious nation, the religions that are flourishing are Christian heresies. Douthat uses Alister McGrath’s definition of heresy, which is “best seen as a form of Christian belief that, more by accident than design, ultimately ends up subverting, destabilizing or even destroying the core of Christian faith” (Bad Religion, 9). Douthat also largely concurs with Chesterton’s view of heretics as simplifiers who want to resolve the paradoxes and tensions of Christianity by discarding or distorting a key element in the Christian synthesis.
On Maurice Sendak & the Horror of a Domesticated Gospel
Maurice Sendak was, by all accounts, a lonely, misanthropic, cynical, homosexual atheist. But he managed, with his dozens of children’s books, to unite a generation around a sense of wonder and creativity. When I heard, a few days ago as I write this, that he died, I lamented not only his passing, but all that he has to teach a church he never embraced.
Sendak’s most famous work, of course, is his children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. It’s about a boy named Max, who is sent to his room for telling his mother he’ll eat her up. My sons love this story. Whenever I read it, they start shifting around in their seats as they hear about his room becoming a forest, and about his encountering scary, teeth-baring “wild things.”
My boys aren’t unusual. I loved that story as much as they do, when I was their age. And when I talk to people about my age, I find that this book has struck, and strikes, a particular resonance with at least two generations of American children, no matter what their racial, social, economic, or religious backgrounds. The root of that lies, I think, in the fact that Sendak had a more realistic view of evil than many Christians do, at least when it comes to our children.
Pious Public Silence Is Dereliction of Duty
From time to time, some orthodox Christians wonder aloud whether the pro-life movement, the struggle to defend the integrity of marriage, and other “social issues” implicate believers in an overly political activity that is a distortion of their faith. It would be best, they argue, for Christians simply to bear witness to their beliefs—even more in their lives than in their words—and not to politicize religion.
The dangers in such politicization are real enough. Christians can indeed become so involved in causes as to define their faith exclusively in those terms, to lose sight of why they are involved, and to push into the background everything that does not relate directly to those causes—a mirror image of what liberal religion has become.
Now available at touchstonemag.com, a book review from the March/April 2012 issue of Touchstone:
Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith
by Clifford Williams
IVP Academic, 2011
(188 pages, $22.00, paperback)
reviewed by Louis Markos
It has been two decades now since such writers as Alasdair McIntyre, Mark Noll, and Lesslie Newbigin (and, before them, Francis Schaeffer) alerted us to the fact that we are still living in the Enlightenment. Starting in the eighteenth century, and picking up speed in the nineteenth, Western thinkers began to drive a wedge between reason and emotion, logic and intuition, history and myth, science and religion. For each pair (or binary), the first word was privileged over the second as the proper vehicle for seeking truth. The upshot of this Enlightenment split between empirical facts and spiritual values was to slowly edge Christianity out of the universities and the public square and into a tight, private, self-referential box cut off from the concerns of analysis, research, debate, and “real” life.
Thus things remained until an Oxford English professor named C. S. Lewis bravely challenged the reigning orthodoxy of the Enlightenment: an orthodoxy so pervasive and invisible that it had come to be taken for granted as “the truth.” In his apologetical writings of the 1940s and 1950s, Lewis dared to suggest that Christianity represented a rational, consistent, and testable worldview that had never been disproven and that deserved a place at the table. In his wake, an ever-growing cadre of Christian thinkers, both inside and outside academia, have similarly wrested their minds free of the Enlightenment split to champion the intellectual integrity and fruitfulness of the Judeo-Christian worldview.
The result has been stunning: a steady stream of carefully constructed, powerfully argued, cutting-edge books that have mounted a logical, systematic defense of Christ, the Creeds, and the Church. From miracles to the problem of pain, the historicity of the Resurrection to the reliability of the Gospels, these books have marshaled the critical tools of the secular university to address issues and answer questions that have long been used by Enlightenment-minded academics to dismiss the truth claims of Christianity. Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Gary Habermas, Chuck Colson, Alister McGrath, J. P. Moreland, Alvin Plantinga, N. T. Wright, and dozens of others have fought the good fight, using their apologetical arguments to help restore the intellectual reputation of Christianity to its pre-Enlightenment status.
They have done well indeed, but they also have, it could be argued, made a methodological error. In their praiseworthy campaign to champion the rational side of Christianity, many apologists have bought into the very Enlightenment split they set out to rectify. That is to say, they have taken for granted that the truth of Christianity rises or falls on the appeal it makes to reason. “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity,” Lewis assures us in Book III, Chapter 11 of Mere Christianity, “if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it.” Though there is much more to Lewis than this, the statement embodies well the goal of most modern apologists: to prove that Christianity is not an emotional, feel-good religion but a logically consistent belief system.
Reclaiming Existential Apologetics
Enter Clifford Williams, a professor of philosophy at Trinity College (Deerfield, IL) who specializes in the work of Kierkegaard. In Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, Williams, following in the footsteps not only of Kierkegaard but also of Pascal, challenges apologists who would too quickly accept the facts/values split.