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Book of Days – April 29 – Joan of Arc arrives at Orléans
Saturday, April 29, 2017, 4:47 AM

On this date in 1429, Joan of Arc arrived at Orléans, relieving the English siege, which ended less than two weeks later, on May 8.  It represented the first French victory with Joan of Arc present with its army and its first major victory in the Hundred Years War since its loss at Agincourt in 1415.

Today’s writing is an excerpt from Robert Southey’s epic Joan of Arc, the section entitled Rheims.

Joan of Arc entering Orleans 227x300 Book of Days   April 29   Joan of Arc arrives at OrléansJoan of Arc Entering Orléans
by Jean-Jacques Scherrer (1887)

blankblankbla THE MORN was fair
When Rheims re-echoed to the busy hum
Of multitudes, for high solemnity
Assembled. To the holy fabric moves
The long procession, through the streets bestrewn
With flowers and laurel boughs. The courtier throng
Were there, and they in Orleans, who endured
The siege right bravely; Gaucour, and La Hire,
The gallant Xaintrailles, Boussac, and Chabannes,
Alenson, and the bravest of the brave,
The Bastard Orleans, now in hope elate,
Soon to release from hard captivity
His dear-beloved brother; gallant men,
And worthy of eternal memory,
For they, in the most perilous times of France,
Despaired not of their country. By the king
The delegated Damsel passed along,
Clad in her battered arms. She bore on high
Her hallowed banner to the sacred pile,
And fixed it on the altar, whilst her hand
Poured on the monarch’s head the mystic oil,
Wafted of yore by milk-white dove from heaven
(So legends say) to Clovis when he stood
At Rheims for baptism; dubious since that day,
When Tolbiac plain reeked with his warrior’s blood,
And fierce upon their flight the Almanni prest,
And reared the shout of triumph; in that hour
Clovis invoked aloud the Christian God
And conquered: waked to wonder thus, the chief
Became love’s convert, and Clotilda led
Her husband to the font.
blankblankbla The missioned Maid
Then placed on Charles’s brow the crown of France,
And back retiring, gazed upon the king
One moment, quickly scanning all the past,
Till in a tumult of wild wonderment
She wept aloud. The assembled multitude
In awful stillness witnessed: then at once,
As with a tempest-rushing noise of winds,
Lifted their mingled clamors. Now the Maid
Stood as prepared to speak, and waved her hand,
And instant silence followed.
blankblankbla “King of France!”
She cried, “at Chinon, when my gifted eye
Knew thee disguised, what inwardly the spirit
Prompted, I promised, with the sword of God,
To drive from Orleans far the English wolves,
And crown thee in the rescued walls of Rheims.
All is accomplished. I have here this day
Fulfilled my mission, and anointed thee
King over this great nation.”



Book of Days – April 28 – Mutiny on the Bounty
Friday, April 28, 2017, 6:34 AM

On this date in 1789, Fletcher Christian led a group of disaffected crewmen in seizing the captain of the HMS Bounty, Lieutenant William Bligh, forcing him and 18 loyal members of the crew into the ship’s launch, and setting them adrift in the South Pacific.  Bligh and the loyalists managed, through much hardship, to navigate the boat more than 3,500 nautical miles (4,000 miles) to reach safety in Coupang in Timor, after a nearly disastrous layover in Tofua.  Bligh made it back to England in March 1790 and was treated as a hero, acquitted during a court martial trial for having lost the ship.  In November 1790, the HMS Pandora began its voyage to capture and return the mutineers for court martial.

Fourteen of the mutineers were arrested in Tahiti and transported back to England.  In a harrowing voyage, only 10 made it back to England alive.  The trial resulted in four acquittals and six convictions.  Of the six, two were pardoned, one obtained a stay of execution, and three were hanged.  But the trial turned out badly for the reputation of William Bligh, who was revealed as a cruel and overbearing leader.

Christian and eight other mutineers left Tahiti with 20 Tahitian captives, 14 of whom were women. They headed in search of Pitcairn Island, an uninhabited island, which they finally managed to find in January 1790.  There, after dismantling and burning the HMS Bounty, Christian established a colony made up of mutineers and the captive Tahitians.  And there they remained undiscovered until February 1808, by which time, all but one of the mutineers was dead, mostly having died violent deaths, including Christian himself.

From the beginning, the Mutiny on the Bounty captured the public imagination and has resulted through the years in a variety of literary and cinematic works.  Today’s writing is an excerpt from Lord Byron’s poem, The Island, the first canto of which tells the story of the mutiny and Bligh’s voyage.  The poem, and even the first canto, is too long to reproduce in full here.  I will only publish the first part of the first canto, but will provide a link to the remainder.  Also included is a link to a recorded reading of the poem.  Lord Byron still held a favorable view of William Bligh, as is reflected in Canto the First of the poem.  The remaining three cantos related Lord Byron’s imagination as to Christian and his mutineers’ lives on Pitcairn Island.  It is more fiction than history.

The Island, available at Project Gutenberg.

 

The Island

Canto the First:Part I

The morning watch was come; the vessel lay
Her course, and gently made her liquid way;
The cloven billow flashed from off her prow
In furrows formed by that majestic plough;
The waters with their world were all before;
Behind, the South Sea’s many an islet shore.
The quiet night, now dappling, ‘gan to wane,
Dividing darkness from the dawning main;
The dolphins, not unconscious of the day,
Swam high, as eager of the coming ray;
The stars from broader beams began to creep,
And lift their shining eyelids from the deep;
The sail resumed its lately shadowed white,
And the wind fluttered with a freshening flight;
The purpling Ocean owns the coming Sun,
But ere he break—a deed is to be done.

A reading of The Island, available through LibriVox.



Book of Days – April 27 – The Sultana Disaster
Thursday, April 27, 2017, 6:41 AM

Today, April 27, is the 152nd anniversary of the greatest maritime disaster in the history of the United States.  Three weeks earlier, Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, not formally ending the Civil War, but assuring a Union victory nonetheless.  As a consequence, the Confederacy released Union prisoners of war which it was holding.  The Sultana, a privately-owned steamboat plying the waters of the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers, had left New Orleans on April 21, 1865, heading up river.  On April 23, the boat stopped at Vicksburg, Mississippi, where the captain negotiated with Union officials to take on board released POWs, receiving $5 for each enlisted man and $10 for each commissioned officer.  The Sultana was designed and approved to carry 376 passenger; it had on board 2155 passenger.

Sultana at Helena Arkansas 300x169 Book of Days   April 27   The Sultana DisasterThe overloaded Sultana at Helena, Arkansas

While at Vicksburg, the captain had a boilermaker examine some issues with the boilers.  The boilermaker recommended immediate repairs.  The captain instead had him patch the problems and promised to have the repairs made when he reached St. Louis.  On April 26, the Sultana stopped at Memphis, where it added more coal and at 1 a.m. on April 27, it continued its journey upriver.  One hour later, the boilers, laboring against strong currents and a grossly overloaded boat, exploded.  The explosion was massive and heard in Memphis, two miles away.  More than 100 men were killed instantly in the explosion and approximately 1700 total were killed, either by drowning or exposure to the frigid waters of the river.

The Sultana disaster killed hundreds more than the sinking of the Titanic 47 years later, but between the surrender of Lee, the assassination of Lincoln, and the manhunt and killing of John Wilkes Booth, it was little reported at the time and little remembered since.

April 27 is also the birth date of Ulysses S. Grant, born on this date in 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio.

Today’s writing is a poem written by one of the survivors of the disaster, William H. Norton, Company C, 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

The Burning of the Sultana

Midnight’s dreary hour has past,
The mists of night are falling Fast,
Sultana sounds her farewell blast,
And braves the might stream;
The swollen river’s banks overflow,
The deaden clouds are hanging low
And veil the stars bright silver glow,
And darkness reigns supreme.

Her engine fires now brighter burn,
Her mammoth wheels now faster turn,
Her dipping paddles lightly spurn
The river’s foaming crest:
And drowsy Memphis, lost to sight,
Now fainter shows her beacon light,
As Sultana steams in the dead of night,
And the Union soldiers rest.

The sleeping soldiers dream of home,
To them the long-sought day had come,
No more in prison pens to moan,
Or guarded by the gray;
At last the changing fates of war
Had swing their prison “gates ajar,”
And “laurel wreaths” from the North afar
Await their crowning day.

For Peace has raised her magic hand,
The Stars and Stripes wave o’er the land,
The conquered foemen now disband,
“As melts the mowing dew;”
And mothers wear their wonted smile,
And aged sires the hours beguile,
And plighted love awaits the while
The coming of the blue.

On sails the steamer through the gloom,
On sleep the soldiers to their doom,
And death’s dark angel oh! so soon-
Calls loud the muster roll.
A-burst-a-crash-and-timbers fly,

And-flame-and-steam-leap to the sky,
And-men awakened-but-to die-
Commend to God their souls.

Out from the flame’s encircling fold,
Like a mighty rush of warriors, bold,
They leap to the river dark and cold,
And search for the hidden shore.
In the cabins, -and-pinioned-there,
A mid-the-smoke-and-fire-and-glare,
The-awful-wail-of-death’s-despair
Is heard above the roar.

Out on, the river’s rolling tide,
Out from the steamer’s burning side,
Out where the circle is growing wide,
They battle with the waves.
And drowning men each other clasp,
And writhing in death’s closing grasp
They struggle bravely, but at last
Sink to watery graves.

Oh! for the star’s bright silver light
Oh! for a moon to dispel the night!
Oh! for the hand that should guide aright
The way to the distant land!
Clinging to driftwood and floating down,
Caught in the eddies and whirling around,
Washed to the flooded banks are found
The survivors of that band.

Norton, William H. “The Burning of the Sultana.” Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors. Comp. Chester D. Berry. Lansing, 1892. 12-13.



Book of Days—April 26, 2017
Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 9:48 AM

As a new feature, Gregory Laughlin, Associate Professor of Law and Law Library Director at the Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, will post from time-to-time writings which relate to the day of the year or of the Church Calendar, along with, where available, links to readings of those writing available on YouTube on elsewhere. This will serve as a sort of literary book of days, or, rather, blog of days, if you will.



Today, April 26, was the date of the baptism of William Shakespeare in 1564 at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was the third child and first son of John and Mary (Arden) Shakespeare, and the first to survive into adulthood. The Shakespeares would have five more children, four of whom survived to be adults. John Shakespeare was a prosperous glover and leather worker and the son of a farmer, Richard Shakespeare. Fifty years after his death, Thomas Plume related of a conversation with Sir John Mennes, in which the latter reported that John Shakespeare had told him that “Will was a good honest fellow, but he durst have cracked a jest with him at any time.”

In commemoration of William Shakespeare’s baptism, Sonnet 71:

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell;
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if (I say) you look upon this verse,
When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

A reading of this sonnet by the actor David Tennant:



The Myth of Progress
Monday, April 24, 2017, 8:09 PM

The myth of progress is a false myth that really,
really seems true.

Some years ago I escorted a delegation of business and government representatives from Thailand around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Lancaster is the heart of Amish country and is about 30 miles from my boyhood home.

I lived and traveled extensively in East Asia at a young age and parts of it I really did not like.  I was a young and fairly materialistic American, unhappy at times with what was too much materialism, even for me.

And yet, every member of the delegation I escorted through Lancaster County that day expressed a fond appreciation of the Amish.  They surmised that their lack of technical progress had rendered them a happier community. Nearly everyone over the age of 25 gets that sense of things when driving through Amish County.

Despite how apparent this seems to most Amish country tourists, nearly all of us moderns still cling to the myth of progress. We look back and thank our lucky stars that we have modern medicine, washing machines (imagine no washing machines!), and the internet.  But modern appliances have little to do with the myth of progress.  I’m inclined to think that confusing this technical progress with the myth of progress is our most deadly modern confusion.

Middlesex school The Myth of Progress

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Gottscho-Schleisner Collection [reproduction number, e.g., LC-G612-T-45094]

Whittaker Chambers used to lump Soviet communism, German Nazism, British socialism, New Dealism, Spanish Falangism, etc. together under one banner: communism.   Seen this way, communism is simply man’s belief that he can set the world straight.

It took me a good bit of reading to get my head around how progress created such problems. And I’m not alone in my slow learning.  In The Funeral of a Great Myth, C.S. Lewis pointed out that we couldn’t even conduct a single political campaign without the myth. Both sides must promise “a better future.” And not satisfied selling mere appliances (which is all they are selling), the denizens of Silicon Valley couldn’t get out of bed in the morning without a strong faith in this false myth.  Some are taking it to the wildest of extremes.

For a quick introduction to the myth of progress, you could do no better than the essay The Funeral of a Great Myth in the C.S. Lewis Essay Collection. Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce has some lectures discussing the myth in The Crisis of Modernity. Georges Sorel jumps in deep with his masterpiece The Illusions of Progress (1908), as did Christoper Lasch in The True and Only Heaven (1991).



Irreligion in God’s Service
Friday, April 21, 2017, 1:53 PM

The good folks of the church in which I was raised taught me the Bible, and had the good sense not to edit out the violence in the Old Testament, for they understood it was there to teach us something. One account I have found memorable from youth is that of the ecumenical prayer conference of the prophets of Baal in I Kings xviii 21f. What I find most striking here is the deep religious sincerity of these devotees of the Lord (for that is what “Baal” means—an excellent interchurch device for friendly comprehension of the God of Israel with the gods of the surrounding districts). The prophet Elijah, as was, alas, his custom, showed no respect at all for their piety or devotion. In fact he made fun of it, demonstrating a most un-Christian attitude toward these sincere efforts to unify the Church, treating them instead as apostasy from the one, true, and embarrassingly proprietary God—and to top it off had the lot of them massacred at the end, sincerity and all. The narrative bears repeating:

Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you halt between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people answered him not a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, and I only, remain a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks, and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under. I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under it.  Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God that answers by fire, let him be God.”

And all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.” And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, “Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first, for ye are many, and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.”  And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which had been made. At noon, Elijah made fun of them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god.  Either he is conversing, or hunting, or on a trip–or maybe he’s sleeping and you need to wake him up.”  So they cried aloud, and cut themselves in their customary manner with knives and lancets, till they gushed blood. When midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any divine response.

Elijah said unto all the people, “Come near me.”  And all the people came near him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be thy name.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. He put the wood in order and cut the bullock in pieces, laying him on the wood, and said, “Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it the third time.” And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.

At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near, and said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that you are the Lord God, and that you have turned their heart back again.”  Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.”

And Elijah said unto them, “Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they took them, and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.

No one who understands this account will be overly impressed by supposed exercises in piety—like “much prayer,” “consultation with wise and devout brethren,” “earnest searching of the scriptures,” the “consensus of the Council of Bishops,” or even “Evangelical New Testament scholars!” or other modern forms of jumping up on the altar and calling on “God”–where plain, reasonably skeptical intelligence indicates the real point of the whole business is an attempt to evade doing the right thing. Really, does one even need to “pray about it” where we have already been instructed on what the right thing is?

Many examples come to mind, but here is one from personal recollection: I once knew a congregation that established a months-long prayer meeting to “seek the Lord’s face” on whether they should stay in a downtown location where they would be required to devote their ministry to the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind in a changing neighborhood–or move to a fine new suburban building. What do you think “the Lord” told them? Yep—you guessed it–God’s comfort zone matched their own–and could have guessed it before the meetings started.

Might one suppose it will be more tolerable in the Judgment for a church that made such a move (or even did something pretty wicked) just admitting it didn’t have enough faith for the work rather than making a religious show of justifying its own desires in God’s name—another way of taking it in vain? Might one think that some Elijah in that church who refused to attend the prayers and was labeled unspiritual for his recusance was the one who went down to his house justified?



Three Trojan Horses
Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 4:16 PM

From the May/June Issue of Touchstone:

Trojan Horse 155139970 1 Three Trojan Horses

Three Trojan Horses
Insider Attempts to Disorient the Orthodox
by
Alexander F. C. Webster

The benighted Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete in June 2016 reminded Orthodox Christians that the rock of Orthodox faith and practice has been splitting for decades. The fissures are particularly evident among the approximately one million Orthodox Christians in the United States.

What is unconventional about the tone of the conflict is the aggressive ad hominem rhetoric of the avant-garde toward those who insist on unwavering fidelity to Orthodox Tradition. In a community widely known for its conservative approach to religious doctrine, morality, and liturgical rites, innovators would normally maintain a low profile, avoiding unwanted attention and charges of “heresy,” while gradually trying to effect “change.” Ironically, the Orthodox traditionalists are under assault and on the defensive in America and in a few autocephalous (“self-headed”) Churches around the globe.

The Orthodox “left” is waging their offensive on three fronts. Since the vast majority of the Orthodox faithful in this country are unaware of such machinations by the few but determined intellectual elites—clergy and laity—engaged in this spiritual warfare, I shall borrow Orthodox columnist Rod Dreher’s use of Homer’s “Trojan Horse” as an apt metaphor for the primary tactic of those elites.1 In fact, I intend to triple-down on that metaphor. Like the celebrated tactical ploy of the ancient Greeks, the contemporary Orthodox Trojan Horses appear to be gifts but are, instead, full of clandestine theological warriors poised to sack the Church.

Read the rest.



Note to a Young College Professor
Tuesday, April 11, 2017, 10:47 AM

By questioning your school’s commitment to giving its students diversity training, even on the grounds that it’s not an academic subject, and not what they’re paying for, you have now identified yourself as a conservative (for only conservatives say things like that), and a word of caution is in order.  Never underestimate the depth of the hatred underlying the kind of liberalism you are encountering, for your question is not to the liberal merely academic, but personal, and what may appear a minor curricular matter on the surface has roots in, and resonates down to, a condemnation of the person that the liberal knows is both true and authoritative.

 

Take abortion, for example: liberals are characteristically in favor of it.  It’s part of the Democrat Party platform.  How could people who have hair-trigger reactions of conscience to other concerns–for example, environmental or racial, or saving dolphins and baby seals–just pass over as a matter of “a woman’s choice” the killing of a human fetus in utero?  They don’t acknowledge God, the real one anyway, but are condemned for gross hypocrisy by the moral canons to which they already hold.  So when one does something as slight as suggesting that some progressive idea might be subject to questioning, it is likely to set off a violent chain reaction, for its holders know what this means about their souls, and to say they don’t like it is an understatement.  Don’t be surprised at the extent or irrationality of what they will do by way of attempts to exterminate.

 

You’re sitting on a powder keg, smoking a cigar, and if it goes off, one is past argument and into the realm of sheer irrationality in which one no longer should imagine he can use reason as either an offensive or defensive tool, but rather holds to it as a testimony of light in darkness, a moral duty of those who love Truth.  It does no good to worry or complain in such environs about the irrationality of one’s adversaries, but one goes about one’s business honorably, and as calmly and cheerfully as possible, never giving anyone just cause to question his goodness.  Ultimately this is because we fear God–and I suppose even the Kantian one would do for such purposes.

 

In your position I would give some thought to whether my father was using me as a tool to forward his own agenda.  In my own case I would reject the notion because it is subject to several major problems, the greatest of which is indefinite regress, for my father got his ideas from someone else, as it seemed good to him, and so back through a great many others.  I am not my father’s puppet if I freely agree with him and with those who think as he does when I am at liberty to disagree.  Somewhere along the line one has to abandon the charge that opinions and loyalties among conservatives are the product of psychological coercion, even when on occasion they may be.  And of course, the coercion table turns nicely, especially in the modern university that wants to have its students concerned with diversity, as long as its definition excludes anyone who thinks differently than a modern liberal.



The ACNA: Still Waiting for Phase 4
Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 2:42 PM

In January of this year the bishops of the Anglican Church of North America, in a pastoral communication posted on its website, said,

In 2012, the task force [on holy orders] was asked to develop resources to help guide the bishops’ future discussions on holy orders in general, and the ordination of women in particular. At our meeting this week, the Holy Orders Task Force presented Phase 4 of their work to the college. The College thanked the task force for the hard work that they have done on this topic in just a few short years. Having received the report at this meeting, the conversation then turned to the timeline for addressing these issues.

The Phase 4 report is being formatted and combined with the previous documents from the task force. This report will be passed on to the GAFCON Primates and to our ecumenical partners for feedback, and released to the whole Church in late February.

It is now early April, and I can nowhere find the Phase 4 report that was to be “released to the whole Church in late February.” There may be good reasons for this delay, of course, but one wonders why, if there are, they have not been made public after more than a month’s wait.

My own belief, as I have stated earlier in Mere Comments, is that

This task force’s conclusions on Part 4 can easily be extrapolated from Part 3, where no convincing reason for the denomination-wide adoption of any one of what are presented in it as four family rules [“churchmanship” varieties] could be found.  This is what one can expect in January from the Task Force, unless it is reconstituted or disbanded . . . .   Here is what the Task Force will conclude : Arguments pro and con [on women’s ordination] . . . all carry some weight, but at the end of the day they are, taken as a whole, inconclusive because they are associated with conflicting and inconclusive ecclesiologies. On that account, for the sake of unity, no departure from the status quo, that is, the denominational acceptance of women’s ordination, can be urged. There you have it.

How, indeed, can one effect divorce in a godly manner, breaking the “family” in a dispute over “rules?” And just what kind of people would be willing to do this?  Bad people, I daresay, very bad people, schismatic people who do not prayerfully seek for unity–so often the happy and peaceable fruit of doing precisely the wrong thing.

The bishops say they are not bound by these reports, but because such things are so often commissioned to deflect criticism from those responsible for the final decision onto an “advisory” body (this is how these shows operate), one wonders whether there might be a closer relation between the spirit of the bishops and the conclusion of the Reports than at present appears. But we don’t know yet, and must await developments. I am anxious to see whether I have been right about this business, and whether a mea culpa or an I Told You So is called for.



Phillip E. Johnson on Dreher’s ‘Benedict Option’ in Houston
Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 11:19 AM

by Phillip E. Johnson

Chapter One of Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, starts with a gripping description of a super storm, much like Hurricane Katrina, which inundated New Orleans while George W. Bush was president. The storm he describes is metaphorical. The storm that concerns Dreher is a cultural one that has brought ever more irresistible waves of secularism to the West, meaning Europe and North America.

Dreher pessimistically thinks that this storm is so all encompassing that it will bring about the end of Christianity in the West within our lifetimes. He sees the situation as similar to that faced by the early church after the end of the Roman Empire, at the beginning of the sixth century A.D.

People had to face the fact that the world as they had known it was gone, and disorder and persecution would continue indefinitely.

What was needed was a strategy that would allow the Christian faith to survive and even grow during the years of chaos, so that the faith would be ready to participate in the recovery of society, once civilization was re-established. What Benedict provided was a rule of life for monasteries that would shelter believers while they spent their lives in prayer and preparation for the return of civilization.

In our current crisis situation, what we need is not the sort of institutions that Benedict founded, but other institutions that provide the space for survival and preparation for the future. Education has to be the first priority, but the educational programs must exist within Christian communities that provide support for the academic and moral instruction that the schools are providing.

Dreher mentions specifically the thriving classical Christian schools that are providing education superior to that available in wholly secular schools. As one example, Dreher cites St. Constantine School in Houston, Texas, founded by philosopher and educational visionary Dr. John Mark Reynolds.

At this point, the story becomes highly personal for me. I first met John Mark Reynolds in the early 1990’s, when he sent mean email commenting on a debate I had on Wisconsin Public Radio with a woman who had made a career for herself as the police chief of Darwinism, gathering her forces to confine and extinguish any popular eruptions of dissent from the faith of scientific materialism.

That initial email led to a long series of messages between us which marked a growing intellectual and personal compatibility. I learned that John was being delayed in completing his PhD in philosophy, because he was selling insurance to support his family. I wanted to help John get out of that situation and into college teaching. Just in time, I learned that a position was available at Biola University in Los Angeles and recommended John for it.

In his first year at Biola, he not only finished his PhD thesis, but also conceived and began to administer what they called the Torrey Honors Program, a superb liberal arts program that rejuvenated Biola. [R. A. Torrey, an influential preacher and educator, served as dean of Biola from 1912 to 1924.]

After many years as director of the Torrey program, John accepted the job of provost at Houston Baptist University. Everything went well for several years, but it then became clear that John’s true calling lay in another kind of institution. He met with representatives of Houston’s Eastern Orthodox community (John is Orthodox).

Many of these people had left the Middle East because of the constant threat of violence against Christians and had come to Houston, where they prospered. In need of developing their own job of educating their children, they invited John to become founder and president of The Saint Constantine School, which combines primary and secondary school education with undergraduate college teaching, all under the same roof.

One purpose of this innovation is to reduce the notoriously staggering cost of a college education. This is just the sort of educational model that should prosper if Dreher is right about what is coming. Maybe even if he isn’t.

Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone and his articles are available here.


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