Laughing In the Face of Evil

Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast on chutzpah contended that it was more audacious for Joseph Columbo to form the American Italian Defamation League than it was for Al Ruddy to pitch the idea of Hogan’s Heroes to executives at CBS. The audacity or chutzpah in both cases was huge. Columbo was himself the head of one of New York City’s major crime families and wanted the American Italian Defamation League to detect and denounce popular perceptions that Italian-Americans were mobsters. Ruddy‘s audacity stemmed from his Jewish identity and the incongruity of creating a show that portrayed Nazi prison camp officers as somewhat lovable and always clueless. To add to Hogan’s Heroes audacity, the chief writer, Bernard Fein, along with Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink), and John Banner (Sargent Schultz) were Jewish. In fact, Klemperer and Banner were German refugees who fled Hitler’s policies during the 1930s. One more audacity — the head of CBS, the network that bought the show, which ran for 6 years (1965-1971), won two Emmy’s out of twelve nomination, was William S. Paley, also a Jewish American.

An obvious question is how you can make a sitcom about the Nazis only 20 years after the defeat of Hitler. An even bigger question is how Jewish Americans, some of whom had experience in Germany, could include National Socialism in a humorous production.

For my money, Hogan’s Heroes is way more audacious than the American Italian Defamation League.

And yet, laughter is one way of coping with persecution and social injustice. Jews have a long history with using humor to persevere. One delightful avenue into Jewish humor is the documentary, When Jews Were Funny (it deserves way more than IMDB’s collective rating of 3 stars). Another is Joseph Epstein:

Why are Jews so funny? Jews are like everyone else, of course, only more so. They have what Henry James called “the imagination of disaster.” Optimism is foreign to them. They find clouds in silver linings. If they do not court suffering, neither are they surprised when it arrives. They sense that life itself can be a joke, and one too often played upon them. They fear that God Himself loves a joke.

Adam, alone in the Garden of Eden, brings up his loneliness to God.

“Adam,” the Lord says, “I can stem your loneliness with a companion who will be forever a comfort and a consolation to you. She, this companion—woman, I call her—will be your friend and lover, helpmeet and guide, selfless and faithful, devoted to your happiness throughout life.

“But Adam,” says the Lord, “there is going to be a price for this companion.”

When Adam asks the price, the Lord tells him he will have to pay by the loss of his nose, his right foot, and his left hand.

“That’s very steep,” says Adam, “but tell me, Lord, what can I get for a rib?”

So why don’t advocates for social justice have a sense of humor?

According John Gray:

Contrary to a familiar line of criticism, there are few signs of hypocrisy in [egalitarian thinkers]. Hypocrisy requires a measure of self-awareness, and there is little evidence of that in them.

The same goes for humor. You need self-awareness, and even self-deprecation, to have a good sense of humor.

So how did Dave Chappelle get so funny?

Not Morality but Decency

What if Christians talked more about decency than morality, about what is normal than about what is righteous or God glorifying? Sure, we have churches to talk about the demands of God’s law and how believers glorify God. But, as 2kers are wont to point out, persuading non-Christians to embrace Christian morality sans regeneration or the means of grace seems to be bass ackward.

Does that leave us without a case for those sexual and family aspects of public policy or social life that so animate religious conservatives? It certainly leaves us without a moral high ground. But it’s not as if that high ground doesn’t look to non-Christians like a moral high horse.

So why not take a page from Joseph Epstein? His first collection of short stories about Jewish life in Chicago included one that revolved around a non-observant Jewish businessman meeting his daughter, who had just had an abortion, for dinner to express his disapproval. Part of dinner conversation went like this:

“Daddy, did you really expect me not to sleep with anyone while I was in college?”

“No,” he said, “I guess I didn’t really expect that, but I wouldn’t have minded if you hadn’t. I would have minded a hell of a lot less than I do about what has happened.”

The waitress set down their food. “Enjoy,” she said.

“You still haven’t told me why this bugs you so much, Daddy. Do you think your daughter is now, somehow, damaged goods?”

“I don’t know as I would put it that way, baby, but maybe I do. But not in the way you might think.”

“How then?”

“I think it’s a goddamned damaging thing for a girl to have had an abortion at nineteen,” he said, more emphatically than he had intended. He looked across the aisle at the two old broads and the expressionless face of the senile old gent, and hoped they hadn’t heard him.

“Look, Deb,” he said, talking more softly now, “if you’ve had an abortion at nineteen, what’ve you got planned for twenty-four, or thirty-one, or forty-two?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that, for the first time, as a result of what’s happened, I can imagine a terrible life for you. A life of confusion and sadness and heartbreak. And it terrifies me.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Maybe an abortion is a solution to the problem of a pregnancy, but I suspect that it brings its own problems. It isn’t as tidy as it sounds; I suspect that it takes its toll. Once you undergo something like this, your opinion of yourself changes, maybe in small little ways, but it changes. Maybe, because of something like this, you no longer think so well of yourself. Maybe it becomes easier to do more foolish things.”

“I don’t think that’s true, Daddy.”

“I hope it isn’t, sweetheart, I really do hope it isn’t.”

“But what could I have done?”

“You probably did all that you could do, but I think you may be making a big mistake if you think you got away with it. An abortion, anyhow one of this kind, is a dreary and common and pretty crummy thing.”

“What do you want, Daddy?” She had only been picking at her food, but now she gave up even doing that. Tears were in her eyes. Harry remembered her in braces.

“What I want you can’t give me, Deborah. What I want isn’t even reasonable. I want you back the way you were before this happened.”

“What I am supposed to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. The world is slipping away, my sweet girl, and there’s evidently not much any of us can do about it. But I don’t have to like it. And I especially don’t have to like my kid becoming a part of it.”

If we can join with all (how many?) those people who think abortion who think not that it is a violation of the sixth commandment but “crummy,” would social standards be higher? Maybe.

Maybe He Needs MmmeeeeeEEEEEE

Scott Sauls may have spent too much time with Tim Keller, the author of Center Church, because Pastor Sauls seems to think that he is at the center of Presbyterianism. The reason for saying this is that he admits that he needs to hear from those with whom he differs. Here’s his list:

I don’t know where I would be without the influence of others who see certain non-essentials differently than I do. I need the wisdom, reasoning, and apologetics of CS Lewis, though his take on some of the finer points of theology are different than mine. I need the preaching and charisma of Charles Spurgeon, though his view of baptism is different than mine. I need the Kingdom vision of NT Wright and the theology of Jonathan Edwards, though their views on church government are different than mine. I need the passion and prophetic courage of Martin Luther King, Jr., the cultural intelligence of Soong Chan Rah, and the Confessions of Saint Augustine, though their ethnicities are different than mine. I need the reconciliation spirit of Miroslav Volf, though his nationality is different than mine. I need the spiritual thirst and love impulse of Brennan Manning and the prophetic wit of GK Chesterton, though both were Roman Catholics and I am a Protestant. I need the hymns and personal holiness of John and Charles Wesley, though some of our doctrinal distinctives are different. I need the glorious weakness of Joni Eareckson Tada, the spirituality of Marva Dawn, the trusting perseverance of Elisabeth Elliott, the longsuffering of Amy Carmichael, the honesty of Rebekah Lyons, the thankfulness of Anne Voskamp, the theological precision of Kathy Keller, and the integrity of Patti Sauls, though their gender is different than mine.

In the world of hipster Protestantism this is cool but not Snapchattingly trendy. If I were to assemble my own list of those with whom I disagree theologically but who have shaped my thinking in profound ways it would include: Orhan Pamuk, Joel Coen, Tom Stoppard, F. Scott Fitzgerald, H. L. Mencken, Aaron Sorkin, Wendell Berry, Michael Oakeshott, Edward Shils, David Simon, John McWhorter, Andrew Sullivan, Louis Menand, David Hackett Fischer, Henry May, Richard John Neuhaus, Joseph Epstein, and Ethan Coen. See what I did there? I went outside Christian circles with most of that list. Do I get points for being really cool and cosmopolitan?

The thing is, none of those writers really helped me understand the nature of the Christian ministry as Presbyterians understand it. I’ve learned greatly from these figures about being human, which comes in handy for overseeing a congregation or participating in a church assembly. But I don’t look to these people for my life in the church.

But here’s the kicker for Pastor Sauls: what if he learned from those with whom he disagrees about Presbyterianism like Old Schoolers? What might his ministry look like then?

My sense is that because Pastor Sauls via Keller thinks he is in the heart of Presbyterianism or conservative Protestantism or evangelicalism, he already has his Presbyterian bases covered.

And in that case, boy does he need to understand the nature of disagreement.

Is Joseph Epstein Off Limits to a Christian?

About a year ago, Joseph Epstein, one of (all about) my favorite writers, produced a piece on the value of liberal learning. It is smart and clever, as Epstein’s essays always are, and this one helps me try to convince freshmen in Western Heritage of the value of Greek philosophy (during a wee peek at the Epicureans and Stoics; truth be told, it also allows the philosophically challenged like me to find a network time killer in the third week of classes).

But it occurred to me this morning while preparing for class that Epstein is also useful for exposing the posturing of transformationalists as either theonomists, fundamentalists, or both.

Epstein talks about the value of a liberal education in ways that seem impermissible to many neo-Calvinists who employ the language of w-w:

The death of liberal arts education would constitute a serious subtraction. Without it, we shall no longer have a segment of the population that has a proper standard with which to judge true intellectual achievement. Without it, no one can have a genuine notion of what constitutes an educated man or woman, or why one work of art is superior to another, or what in life is serious and what is trivial. The loss of liberal arts education can only result in replacing authoritative judgment with rivaling expert opinions, the vaunting of the second- and third-rate in politics and art, the supremacy of the faddish and the fashionable in all of life. Without that glimpse of the best that liberal arts education conveys, a nation might wake up living in the worst, and never notice.

Notice that Epstein makes these assertions without any reference to God, special revelation, or regeneration. (Why would he? He is not pretending to be a Christian.) He is thinking entirely as a human being. Some might say he is doing so — gasp — autonomously. But can anyone who is serious about literature and learning (Christian or no) really take issue with Epstein’s notion of a liberal education and its value? Someone like Bill Smith has questioned the idea of Christian math or Christian pedagogy with all the sense that common sense yields. But when it comes to a liberal education, are Calvinists really supposed to say that Christians know a liberal education better than non-Christians? Even though the liberal arts and their derivation from classical languages and letters by Christians predated Reformed Protestantism, we are now supposed to conclude that only faculty with a biblical or Reformed w-w will be the ones to yield a genuinely liberal education?

This is complete nonsense and amazingly smug, as if regeneration somehow gives Christians insights into tragedy, epistemology, or historical contingency. I have been around lots of Christians where those awarenesses have never shown the slightest signs of presence. And that’s because an education comes through lots of long hours of reading and reflection, and even then doesn’t necessarily take hold. You need a certain natural acumen for such things; regeneration cannot make a Christian intelligent (only God can and he does it through nature, not supernature).

And yet, transformationalists continue to opine that 2kers are the ones who are rocking the boat and upsetting the consensus of Reformed churches, as if a hyper-antithesis is not far more radical than anything 2k advocates are saying. Just yesterday I heard a podcast which described the Christian scholar’s task as one of bringing secular universities into conformity with biblical truth. The reason is that secular learning is illegitimate since it denies the fountain of all truth. Well, if secular universities are illegitimate, then what of secular governments? And if secular governments are illegitimate, what of secular persons? Is there a place in this world between the advents of Christ for non-Christian learning, non-Christian governments, and non-Christian persons (like Joseph Epstein)? If Epstein is wrong about sound learning and informed aesthetic judgments, if persons can only know good from bad literature by reading the Bible first, or can only form valid political arrangements by having Christians perform the political founding, or persons are not worthy of reading or hearing unless they are first regenerate, then Christians are in the same position as some forms of political Islam.

But Reformed Protestantism has never insisted on such a construction of the antithesis because it never questioned the legitimacy of contributions from non-Christians. Once you accept that people who do not know Christ, along with the institutions they found, are legitimate and reflect in some measure of the image of God in man along with the truths of general revelation, then you can aspire to be learned the way that Epstein is, or try to follow constitutional republicanism the way the founders of the U.S. did, or even read Plato and Thucydides for profit the way most college students in the West for centuries have (if you were rich and smart enough). If you appeal to common grace to free you from the polarities of such hyper-antithesis, by all means, go right ahead. That means you have to stop bellyaching about secular learning, secular governments, and secular persons because common grace is a way of affirming that all of those institutions and people have a legitimate role in God’s gracious ends. It also means giving up transformationalism because common grace has already done what you seemed to think transforming the culture would do.

But if you draw a line between the regenerate and unregenerate and extend it to intellectual life, or institutions, whether political or educational, you have removed yourself from the history of the West and taken a harder line than even some popes were prepared to go. You have not gone to the Land of Chocolatebut to the Twilight Zone.

Missing (one of) the Cats

For cats in the Hart home, Monday is the cruelest day of the week. It was a Monday night in the fall of 2008 when we took Skip to the Vet to be “put down.” Then last Monday, en route to the coast of Maine, our dear Isabelle succumbed to the cancer that made her little more than fur and bones (despite her voracious appetite). We brought Isabelle into our Philadelphia home to fill the void left by Skip, who had been an elegant presence for eighteen years. Isabelle saw us through a number of arresting transitions, from losing a job to moving out of our favorite city. (Thankfully, we still have Cordelia, though hers is a strange comfort since she did not find Isabelle to be a welcome housemate.)

Though a pretentious name it is, Isabelle was actually named not for a queen or writer but another cat. Joseph Epstein wrote an essay almost two decades ago, “Livestock,” about his seven-year-old cat, Isabelle. Because he is one of our favorite living writers and because the essay is full of charm and mirth about the virtues of cats, we decided to give our second pet the name of Epstein’s feline.

As a tribute to our Isabelle, here is an excerpt from Epstein’s essay about his Isabelle:

I hope that I have not given the impression that Isabelle is a genius among cats, for it is not so. If cats had IQs, hers, my guess is, would fall somewhere in the middle range; if cats took SATs, we should have to look for a small school somewhere in the Middle West for her where discipline is not emphasized. Isabelle eats flowers — though for some reason not African violets — and cannot be convinced to refrain. We consequently don’t keep flowers in the apartment. Although my wife and I love flowers, we have decided that we love this cat more, and the deprivation of one of life’s several little pleasures is worth it.

I am, then, prepared to allow that Isabelle isn’t brilliant but not that she isn’t dear. She is, as I have mentioned, currently seven years old, yet already — perhaps it is a habit of my own middle age — I begin to think of the shortness of her life, even stretched to its fullest potential. Owing to the companionship of this cat, I have begun to understand friends who, having lost a dog or cat through age or illness, choose not to replace it, saying that they can’t bear to go through it all again.

Solzhenitsyn remarks in one of his novels that people who cannot be kind to animals are unlikely to be kind to human beings. A charming sentiment but far, I suspect, from generally true. (“I wanted you to see why I work with animals,” says a female veterinarian in a novel by Jim Harrison. “I can’t stand people.”) Yet genuine kindness to animals is always impressive. One of the finest stories told about Mohammed has to do with his having to answer the call to prayer while a cat is asleep on the hem of his cloak; with scissors he cuts off the hem, lest he wake the cat, and proceeds on his way. (With My Trousers Rolled, 30)

It Doesn't Require a Worldview To Know What's Wrong with Higher Education

From Joseph Epstein’s review in the Wall Street Journal of The Cambridge History of the American Novel:

Only 40 or 50 years ago, English departments attracted men and women who wrote books of general intellectual interest and had names known outside the academy—Perry Miller, Aileen Ward, Walter Jackson Bate, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Lionel Trilling, one could name a dozen or so others—but no longer. Literature, as taught in the current-day university, is strictly an intramural game.

This may come as news to the contributors to “The Cambridge History of the American Novel,” who pride themselves on possessing much wider, much more relevant, interests and a deeper engagement with the world than their predecessors among literary academics. Biographical notes on contributors speak of their concern with “forms of moral personhood in the US novels,” “the poetics of foreign policy,” and “ecocriticism and theories of modernization, postmodernization, and globalization.”

Yet, through the magic of dull and faulty prose, the contributors to “The Cambridge History of the American Novel” have been able to make these presumably worldly subjects seem parochial in the extreme—of concern only to one another, which is certainly one derogatory definition of the academic. These scholars may teach English, but they do not always write it, at least not quite. A novelist, we are told, “tasks himself” with this or that; things tend to get “problematized”; the adjectives “global” and “post”-this-or-that receive a good workout; “alterity” and “intertexuality” pop up their homely heads; the “poetics of ineffability” come into play; and “agency” is used in ways one hadn’t hitherto noticed, so that “readers in groups demonstrate agency.” About the term “non-heteronormativity” let us not speak.

These dopey words and others like them are inserted into stiffly mechanical sentences of dubious meaning. “Attention to the performativity of straight sex characterizes . . . ‘The Great Gatsby’ (1925), where Nick Carraway’s homoerotic obsession with the theatrical Gatsby offers a more authentic passion precisely through flamboyant display.” Betcha didn’t know that Nick Carraway was hot for Jay Gatsby? We sleep tonight; contemporary literary scholarship stands guard.

Christ and Whatever

This video has been making the rounds and it reminded me of how inexact the current evangelical understanding of culture is. Many assume that culture is everything that the church or religion is not and so Christianity and culture need to be brought into a coherent relationship. The problem is that this understanding of culture is about as precise as the adolescent quip “whatever.”

For instance, here is an on-line dictionary definition of culture:

1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
2. that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.
3. a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.

In other words, culture used to refer generally to the arts, education of a liberal variety, morals, manners, and languages. This definition arose chiefly in the eighteenth and nineteenth century when European nations were caught up with their superiority over barbarian continents and peoples. That’s not meant to be a swipe against the notions of higher, lower, and middle-brow cultures. It is to suggest that we are using the word today when talking about “the transformation of culture” in a different way than it was originally employed. Since language is essential to culture, the idea of transforming English or Dutch or Swahili according to — what, Christian rules of language? — makes about as much sense as transforming culture.

What is not used nearly as much — in fact, seldom — by evangelicals is the phrase “civil society” and this is much closer to what people mean when they talk about transforming culture. Civil society refers to all of those spheres of life outside control by or regulation from the state. It is comprised of clubs, community organizations, schools, and voluntary associations of all kinds including churches, for starters. And what characterizes civil society, as opposed to culture, is pluriformity and diversity. A healthy civil society is one in which people form distinct associations to address separate parts of human existence. A Kuyperian might be tempted to speak of sphere sovereignty when thinking about civil society but in a healthy society voluntary associations far outnumber the spheres.

But what is particularly frustrating about contemporary appeals to culture and its need for transformation is that the Bible fails to yield a definition of culture or describe a Christian one for that matter. The notion of culture is much later than Hebrew or Christian times and the concept is simply absent in Scripture. That sure is an oddity if Christians are more then ever agitated to Christianize the culture.

Of course, the remedy, as usual, is to read the likes of a Russell Kirk, T. S. Eliot, or Joseph Epstein on culture and what makes for a wholesome one, and let the Bible speak for itself about matters of faith and practice. Authors who do not go to the Bible for the details of a healthy culture do go to another divinely revealed book whether they know it or not — general revelation. If evangelicals spent more time reading secular authors on culture, and less time trying to find cultural patterns or norms in holy writ, they might deflate the scope of culture and find less reason to transform it. And that in turn might elevate the importance of word, sacraments, and prayer. 201: Wit and Sarcasm

The first installment in this series about this blog was to clarify what a blog is. One aspect that I did not mention was that the more successful blogs are provocative – that is, they agitate readers and that’s why people come back. The most successful blogger in the world arguably is Andrew Sullivan, the former editor of the New Republic, and his blog is hardly tepid.

This leads to the second point in need of clarification. is the on-line presence of the Nicotine Theological Journal. Long before provocations started at this blog, the editors and authors of the NTJ were provoking readers and library patrons in hopes of thinking through the implications of Reformed faith and practice today, with a little levity and sarcasm thrown in. The editors’ inspiration was partly Andrew Sullivan whose time at the New Republic made it one of the most thoughtful, rancorous, and witty magazines on politics and culture at the time. But Sullivan was not the only inspiration. Other authors who wrote on serious matters with wit and sarcasm that provided models for the NTJ were Richard John Neuhaus, P. J. O’Rourke, Joseph Epstein, H. L. Mencken, and Calvin Trillin.

None of these sources, readers may object, are Reformed. Which raises the question whether Reformed authors may engage in wit and sarcasm when pursuing their convictions. Well, the answer is yes. If you spend much time in the polemical writings of the Old School and Princeton theologians, you will find a fair amount of wit and sarcasm. Here are a couple examples, the first from Charles Hodge after a seven-round dogma fight with Edwards Amasa Park (named for Jonathan Edwards – ahem) over theological method and the nature of Calvinism:

It is a common remark that a man never writes anything well for which he has “to read up.” Professor Park has evidently labored under this disadvantage. Old-school theology is a new field to him; and though he quotes freely authors of whom we, though natives, never heard, yet he is not at home, and unavoidably falls into the mistakes which foreigners cannot fail to commit in a strange land. He does not understand the language. He find out “five meanings of imputation!” It would be wearisome work to set such a stranger right at every step. We would fain part with our author on good terms. We admire his abilities, and are ready to defer to him in his own department. But when he undertakes to teach Old-school men Old-school theology it is very much like a Frenchman teaching an Englishman how to pronounce English. With the best intentions, the amiable Gaul would be sure to make sad work with the dental aspirations.

The second comes from Benjamin Warfield in one of the last pieces he ever wrote, an article objecting to the latest proposal (1920) to unite the largest Protestant denominations in the United States:

Now it is perfectly obvious that the proposed creed contains nothing which is not believed by evangelicals. and it is equally obvious that it contains nothing which is not believed by Sacerdotalists – by the adherents of the church of Rome for example. And it is equally obvious that it contains nothing which is not believed by Rationalists – by respectable Unitarians. That is as much as to say that the creed on the basis of which we are invited to form a union for evangelizing purposes contains nothing distinctively evangelical at all; nothing at all of that body of saving truth for the possession of which the church of Christ has striven and suffered through two thousand years. It contains only “a few starved and hunger-bitten” dogmas of purely general character – of infinite importance in the context of evangelical truth, but of themselves of no saving sufficiency. So far as the conservation and propagation of evangelical religion is concerned, we might as well for a union on our common acceptance of the law of gravitation and the rule of three.

By the way, these were a couple of quotes readily available from Hodge and Warfield. If you go farther into their works, along with those of Old Schoolers like Dabney and Thornwell you will find many more examples, sometimes of laugh out loud proportions.

One last source of inspiration for and the NTJ is – duh – J. Gresham Machen. He did not show a lot of wit or sarcasm in his writings. But his polemics were nonetheless blunt, so much so that many who believed charity to be the only Christian virtue considered Machen mean and beyond the pale. But it is precisely Machen’s candor and warrior spirit that is worthy of emulation. The following is from a piece he wrote for an inter-faith gathering on the relations between Christians and Jews:

The fact is that in discussing matters about which there are differences of opinion, it is really more courteous to be frank – more courteous with that deeper courtesy which is based upon the Golden Rule. For my part, I am bound to say that the kind of discussion which is irritating to me is the discussion which begins by begging the question and then pretend to be in the interests of peace. I should be guilty of such a method if I should say to a Roman Catholic, for example, that we can come together with him because forms and ceremonies like the mass and membership in a certain definite organization are, of course, matters of secondary importance – if I should say to him that he can go on being a good Catholic and I can go on being a good Protestant and yet we can unite on common Christian basis. If I should talk in that way, I should show myself guilty of the crassest narrowness of mind, for I should be showing that I had never taken the slightest trouble to understand the Roman Catholic point of view. If I had taken that trouble, I should have come to see plainly that what I should be doing is not to seek common ground between the roman Catholic and myself but simply to ask the Roman Catholic to become a Protestant and give up everything that he holds most dear.

. . . So to my mind the most inauspicious beginning for any discussion is found when the speaker utters the familiar words: “I think, brethren, that we are all agreed about this . . .” – and then proceeds to trample ruthlessly upon the things that are dearest to my heart. Far more kindly is it if the speaker says at the start that he sees a miserable narrow-minded conservative in the audience whose views he intends to ridicule and refute. After such a speaker gets through, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I regard him as just as narrow-minded as he regards me, and then having both spoken our full mind we may part, certain not as brothers (it is ridiculous to degrade that word) but at least as friends.

None of this is to suggest that pulls off the wit, sarcasm, polemics, or bluntness of the writers who have inspired this endeavor. It is only to point out that the tone and style of is not over the top.

Two Kingdom Tuesday: When the Light of Nature Brightens

For the critics of natural law and two kingdoms who think the light of nature needs the lift of special revelation to be discernible, comes a sensible essay by one of my favorite writers, Joseph Epstein. The occasion for the piece published in the Weekly Standard was the presentation by a professor at Northwestern University that involved a sex act, performed in front of undergraduate students. Epstein himself taught for many years at Northwestern while editing the American Scholar and has first-hand knowledge of the demise of academic standards and even common sense within Northwestern and higher education more generally.

Not only is Epstein’s article worth reading for its diagnosis of the problems that afflict universities and colleges, but it also demonstrates that people who are not regenerate have the capacity for moral discernment.

Consider the following:

When I began teaching at Northwestern in 1973, the smoke had not yet cleared from the student revolution. I recall at the time hearing gossip about a teacher who was sleeping with one of his students, and when I checked with a friend on the faculty, he confirmed that it was likely true. “Do many younger professors sleep with their undergraduate students?” I asked this same friend. “I don’t know many who don’t” was his rather casual reply.

Does sleeping with one’s undergraduate students come under the shield of academic freedom, or was it instead an academic perk, or ought it, again, to be admonished, if not punished by dismissal? Although a youngish bachelor at the time, I eschewed the practice myself, chiefly because I thought sleeping with one’s students was poor sportsmanship—fish in a barrel and all that—and my own taste happened to run to grown-up women; I also thought it was, not to put too fine or stuffy a point on it, flat-out wrong. I wondered, too, if in its taking unfair advantage—a teacher after all has the power of awarding grades to students—it wasn’t an obvious violation of academic freedom, and not merely crummy.

Why would Reformed Protestants not want to encourage such wisdom and conviction by insisting that Epstein first take out his copy of the Hebrew Scriptures before commenting on conditions at his old campus?