There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said…
This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.~C.S. Lewis, Introduction to On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius
Here’s the Sampler for the month. Don’t worry, I avoided any political babble and COVID-19. For productive, interesting, and valuable content, take a look.
In writing, the race is not to the swift but to the clear. Clear writing requires clear thinking. This is one reason Rachel and I decided to school our children at home. We all need to write better than we do, and we write more often than we realize. Texts, emails, presentations, thank you cards, and notes for the next meeting all involve writing! We’re all writers, and a little effort goes a long way. Perhaps this is why the New York Times has an article in their “Smarter Living” column entitled: How to Edit Your Own Writing. It’s quite good.
David Mathis (I’m reading a lot of his articles lately) gives a Christian Hedonist’s take on a theology of exercise: “How might it change your exercise routine if you did not exercise for mere weight loss, or long-term health, or improved physical appearance, but you did it to enjoy God more?” Mathis shows capable Christian writing on a subject that has intrigued me for years.
In spite of the cash I spent on Logos Bible Software, I still almost always use Blueletterbible.org when I’m looking up a word or reference in Scripture. It’s free and remarkably easy to use.
My parents have been passionate about organic and sustainable farming for years. I’m usually skeptical, as wary of the organic industry as the ‘Big Agriculture’ its trying to displace. However, it’s hard to argue with fresh eggs and the satisfaction of eating meat and vegetables you nurtured from start to finish. In the interest of being open minded, I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food last month. I enjoyed reading Pollan’s insistence that we make food and nutrition much too complicated. He’s able to argue the nutrition science, if that’s your thing, but he prefers to summarize his book in seven words: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. I lost three pounds just reading that. Dad, next up is The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Be Still My Beating Heart!
Finally, Matthew Crawford has a new book coming out in June! Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road
P.S. Send me any goodies you come across in your travels of the wasteland that is the internet. You can also leave some recommendations in the comments thread.
I believe I can help those who want to think better, but—I need to say it before taking one more step—no, it’s not because I’m an academic. My fellow academics, taken as a group, are just as reluctant to engage in genuine reflection as the less highly educated person in the street. Academics have always been afflicted by unusually high levels of conformity to expectations: one of the chief ways you prove yourself worthy of an academic life is by getting very good grades, and you don’t get very good grades without saying the sorts of things that your professors like to hear.
~Alan Jacobs, How to Think (pp. 23-24)
I read this in bed a few weeks ago. Academics are not immune to peer pressure, Jacobs says. Over the next few days, similar ideas from a variety of authors floated to the surface of my mind. A kind of conversation emerged:
First voice, John Locke
Michael Shermer wrote for the Scientific American about speaking with narrow minded people. I considered here that his advice was sound, but his article seemed too lax on his own atheistic tribe. I brought in John Locke, who said we tend to think and argue in favor of our desires, rather than our reason.
Second voice, Allan Bloom
In what oddly became the most commonly visited post on this site, I reflected on Bernie Sanders’ popularity and his supporters use of the term ‘Revolution’. I mention Allan Bloom:
Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.
~Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, (emphasis mine)
When we remove the voices that challenge us, we should beware the ecology of ideas we’re creating. Locke and Bloom reinforce Jacobs’ concern.
Third voice, Rosaria Butterfield
I remembered a counterpoint to Jacobs. Rosaria Butterfield, wrote on the benefit of university culture. Describing her entrance into the church after conversion:
I miss being in the company of risky and complex thinkers, people who are invested in our culture and who challenge me to think to the edges of my comfort zones. I believed then and I believe now that where everybody thinks the same nobody thinks very much.
~Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, pg. 7
Butterfield argues that the Academy is a fitting place for the exchange of ideas. See how her statement echoes Bloom? There’s tyranny afoot when other perspectives are edged out. Jacobs, however, says there’s more insularity in the Academy than Butterield acknowledges. Professors aren’t immune to the peer pressure and temptations to desire Locke mentioned.
Maybe Butterfield is issuing a statement of faith in what the university should be.
Finale, Matthew Crawford
Matthew Crawford, the philosopher-turned-motorcycle-mechanic, agrees:
Getting things right requires triangulating with other people. Psychologists therefore would do well to ask whether “metacognition” (thinking critically about your own thinking) is at bottom a social phenomenon. It typically happens in conversation— not idle chitchat, but the kind that aims to get to the bottom of things. I call this an “art” because it requires both tact and doggedness. And I call it a moral accomplishment because to be good at this kind of conversation you have to love the truth more than you love your own current state of understanding. This is, of course, an unusual priority to have, which may help to account for the rarity of real mastery in any pursuit.
~Matthew Crawford, emphasis mine. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (p. 63).
Rare indeed. This is my favorite kind of reading. Continuing Crawford’s argument, guiding your books into a conversation is indispensable when learning to think. The kind of freedom that emerges is what a liberal arts education is all about. Think about it.
We have an Invisible Coat Rack at our church. People see it only when they need it. After they deposit their coat, the rack disappears. The coat is forgotten forever. The rack never has less than four coats at a time.
As I meander through books, magazines, and the vast expanse of the internet, I go back for the coats I left hanging for later. A well-written article is worth the effort. Assuming I have plenty of shallow stuff in my life, I look for things that are deep and demand another look. I graze to find things worth digesting.
I’m rarely able to give these things the attention they deserve at first glance, so I save them for times that I stop for reading and reflection. So, here’s the stuff I can’t let go. I’ll send posts like this with the following things in mind: articles, essays, blog posts, books, podcasts, sermons, lectures, and other tools or sites that I keep revisiting. What are you enjoying lately?
Seth Godin asks: Is everything is going to be okay? That depends.
Greg Morse of Desiring God compels me to sing my loved ones home.
I’ve been listening to a political podcast called The Argument. It has all the heat but plenty of light. Short, irenic debate amongst these New York Times writers: Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg, and David Leonhardt.
My Psalter for all occasions, I carry it with me wherever I go. Crossway knows how to creatively print Bibles: