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C.S. Lewis: Wishing that black was a little blacker

leaFor this quote, hat tip to Lea*, who somehow seems to know when anyone discusses civility on any blog across America at the same time as she drives her kids around town in endless loops, takes beautiful pictures of everyone she knows and pursues her career as a thespian in Young Actors Theatre’s Celebrity Edition of High School Musical (tired just writing all this)…

From C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

The liberal Washington Monthly blogger who brings us this quote continues:

If you give in to “the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible”, it’s easy to see how you could end up thinking things about them that it is implausible to think about any group of human beings.. Your opponents become cartoons in your mind, and the normal duty to be charitable and generous, or even realistic, in your views about other people seem not to apply to them. You stop thinking of them as fellow human beings, and start thinking of them as enemies…

No one — not liberals, not conservatives — should forget that their opponents are human beings. And no one can afford to start down the road Lewis describes, in which you allow yourself to be disappointed when your opponents aren’t as bad as you first thought, or want them to be as bad as possible. And no one should get so wrapped up in political fights that in focussing on the mote in someone else’s eye, they lose sight of the beam in their own.

Worth noting is that Lea originally saw this post echoed on a Christian blog Cranach: The Blog of Veith. An iconic Christian author quoted on the blog of a cornerstone left-leaning publication (that I should add my sister used to work for); the left-leaning blog subsequently quoted on a Christian blog.

If you really think about it, all of this makes black a lot less black, eh?

*In the vernacular of this ugly political war we’ve found ourselves in, Lea is my “enemy” and I hers. If you find it impossible to believe that we’re dear friends, you really need to get out more.

The Unlikely Disciple: A sinner’s semester at America’s holiest university

roose kevinI’m just going to toss this one to Meghan Greene, who did a Village Square-ish review of Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple. She liked the book because:

1. He made a bold move- lead by his own curiosity. Born into a liberal Quaker family- this free-spirited, fair-trade coffee drinking, anti-war protesting Brown student decided that after a visit to Thomas Road Baptist Church with A.J. Jacobs (while doing research for The Year of Living Biblically) that he wanted to see more. To understand what it really meant to “go to Liberty”, he decided to enroll.

2. He gave it a fair chance. When something seemed crazy or unsettling. He went deeper. He longed to know and to understand. He joined Bible studies, had regular meetings with professors, played intramurals, sang in the choir and dated Liberty gals. Above all, he was open to Liberty changing him. His way of thinking, his perspective. He was open. (Even to The Liberty Way…. a 46 page Code of Conduct that even makes me cringe. Enough said.)

3. He hasn’t abandoned ship. It would be easy to say that he is done. He, after all, has the last print interview with Jerry Falwell… who wouldn’t hang up their hat? And his book is now published (and it is no longer banned from Liberty’s bookstore). What more is there? But Kev is continually involved in understanding evangelical culture. Namely at Liberty. He is continually seeking the common ground.

John Stuart Mill: “Exchanging error for truth”


“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it…If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: If wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error…We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

Photo credit.

Wall Street Journal: Divided We Stand

patrick-henryLast weekend, The Wall Street Journal hosted a serious look at just what America dividing apart might look like. In Divided We Stand, Paul Starobin (author of After America: Narratives for the Next Global Age) writes:

The philosophical tie that binds these otherwise odd bedfellows is belief in the birthright of Americans to run their own affairs, free from centralized control. Their hallowed parchment is Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, on behalf of the original 13 British colonies, penned in 1776, 11 years before the framers of the Constitution gathered for their convention in Philadelphia. “The right of secession precedes the Constitution the United States was born out of secession,” Daniel Miller, leader of the Texas Nationalist Movement, put it to me. Take that, King Obama.

Today’s devolutionists, of all stripes, can trace their pedigree to the “anti-federalists” who opposed the compact that came out of Philadelphia as a bad bargain that gave too much power to the center at the expense of the limbs. Some of America’s most vigorous and learned minds were in the anti-federalist camp; their ranks included Virginia’s Patrick Henry, of “give me liberty or give me death” renown. The sainted Jefferson, who was serving as a diplomat in Paris during the convention, is these days claimed by secessionists as a kindred anti-federal spirit, even if he did go on to serve two terms as president.

The anti-federalists lost their battle, but history, in certain respects, has redeemed their vision, for they anticipated how many Americans have come to feel about their nation’s seat of federal power. “This city, and the government of it, must indubitably take their tone from the character of the men, who from the nature of its situation and institution, must collect there,” the anti-federalist pamphleteer known only as the Federal Farmer wrote. “If we expect it will have any sincere attachments to simple and frugal republicanism, to that liberty and mild government, which is dear to the laborious part of a free people, we most assuredly deceive ourselves.”/blockquote>

Sunday at the Square: Two-fer


This morning, after the introduction of a church elder returning to visit, he was asked to say a word. Here it is:

“It’s better to be seen that viewed.”

Photo credit.

Bipartisanship mentioned on campaign trail; people pass out from shock

A debate between Representative Dan Lungren (R-CA) and his last challenger Dr. Bill Durst touched on the topic of bipartisanship:

“Let a thousand flowers of religion bloom, they will not hurt us.”

founding-fathers-handsFrom Bob Edwards Weekend, interview with historian Simon Schama, on his recent book The American Future: A History:

The bet that America’s founding fathers made about religion in the 1st amendment when they passed the provision that Congress shall make no establishment with respect to religion and when Jefferson and Madison got through one of the most amazing documents in all American history the “Statute of Religious Toleration” the bet was made was that religion would flourish, that it would prosper, that it would bloom on the strictest possible condition: That you never made heterodoxy, someone else’s religion, a crime. You couldn’t prosecute someone for infringing on what other people took to be religious orthodoxy, you couldn’t lock them up. And from that moment, the founding fathers who were mixed in their degrees of devotion. (Jefferson didn’t think that Jesus was the son of God (but he believed he was a great moral teacher, others were more conventional.) But from that moment on, America flew a flag in my view of very great moral grandeur. It committed itself to toleration as a source of civil union. Let a thousand flowers of religion bloom, they will not hurt us. As Jefferson said very movingly, another person’s religious beliefs “neither break my leg or pick my pocket.” That was a majestically brave thing to say. And the first amendment stands. I wish that our wars in places where they rub up against theocracies like with the Taliban weren’t simply viewed as a matter of pragmatic national security. I’m all for charging the ramparts waving on Jefferson’s statute on religious toleration. We should take comfort and a sense of moral decency from that.

Freedom of Speech and Incitement to violence

Following up on yesterday’s post touching on the dangers of excessive rhetoric…

Here’s the story of conservative radio host Hal Turner. Turner was arrested last week for advocating violence.

Here’s a sampling from his website:

Tonight at 9:00 PM, “The Hal Turner Show” will talk about the recent killing of an abortionist and what the shooter did wrong. No, not the shooting itself; but rather what he did wrong that got him caught! We’ll talk at length about how to carry out such an act and significantly reduce the chances of getting caught. Lets face it; America is in big trouble and only force and violence are going to clean it up. Tonight, we’ll talk about how to use force and violence and not get caught.

Reacting to U.S. Court of Appeals decision that upheld a Chicago firearm ban, Turner posted pictures, office addresses, a map and a picture of the building with arrows pointing to the offices of the three judge panel, saying that home addresses were soon to follow.

Then there was this (the “straw” on the arrest warrent) just a few posts down (link added):

TRN advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force. To that end, THIS WEDNESDAY NIGHT ON “THE HAL TURNER SHOW” we will be releasing the home addresses of the Senator and Assemblyman who introduced Bill 1098 as well as the home address of Thomas K. Jones from the OSE. After all, if they are so proud of what they’re doing, they shouldn;t mind if everyone knows where they live. It is our intent to foment direct action against these individuals personally. These beastly government officials should be made an example of as a warning to others in government: Obey the Constitution or die. If any state attorney, police department or court thinks they’re going to get uppity with us about this; I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down too.

Apparently this is nothing new for Mr. Turner. From 2006 during the debate on immigration reform and amnesty, posted on Mr. Turner’s website:


Quotes by “those people”… Don’t divide into “them and “us”

Guess the speaker… again, it is someone that roughly half the population really dislikes.

Don’t divide the world into “them” and “us.” Avoid infatuation with or resentment of the press, the Congress, rivals, or opponents. Accept them as facts. They have their jobs and you have yours.

Yeeha! The science behind The Village Square

haidtIf you’ve been hanging around with us for a couple of years thinking we might just be onto something, today’s Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times, “Would You Slap Your Father, If So You’re a Liberal,” suggests you’re right. Plus the title is enough to make even our most conservative readers head straight for the Times’ website for a read…

So how do we discipline our brains to be more open-minded, more honest, more empirical? A start is to reach out to moderates on the other side – ideally eating meals with them, for that breaks down “us vs. them” battle lines that seem embedded in us. (In ancient times we divided into tribes; today, into political parties.) The Web site www.civilpolitics.org is an attempt to build this intuitive appreciation for the other side’s morality, even if it’s not our morality.

“Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”

Thus persuasion may be most effective when built on human interactions.

We thought so.

Sunday at the Square: A lighthouse and a crossroads

notre-dameAmid the swirl of debate surrounding his visit, President Obama delivered his Notre Dame commencement speech today. He invoked Father Ted Hesburgh, President of University of Notre Dame for over 3 decades:

Father Hesburgh has long spoken of this institution as both a lighthouse and a crossroads. A lighthouse that stands apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads is where “differences of culture and religion and conviction can coexist with friendship, civility, hospitality, and especially love.”

Obama ended his speech recalling Father Hedsburgh and an inside story of the Civil Rights Commisison:

There were six members of this commission. It included five whites and one African American; Democrats and Republicans; two Southern governors, the dean of a Southern law school, a Midwestern university president, and your own Father Ted Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame. So they worked for two years, and at times, President Eisenhower had to intervene personally since no hotel or restaurant in the South would serve the black and white members of the commission together. And finally, when they reached an impasse in Louisiana, Father Ted flew them all to Notre Dame’s retreat in Land OLakes, Wisconsin — where they eventually overcame their differences and hammered out a final deal.

And years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.

Civility is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

This, from an actual written brainstorming session on grants:

I recognize that Village Square and alcohol shouldn’t formally be bedfellows… I certainly don’t want to encourage tomfoolery which may lead to debauchery then vagrancy, or encourage some sort of “lush” connotation for the organization.

Don’t you wish your grant-writing were half as entertaining?

We have met the enemy, and it is us.

“If you look at what’s happened to great Republics in the past, they generally have not fallen because of external threats. They’ve fallen because of internal threats. Let’s look at Rome as an example, which is the longest standing Republic in the history of mankind. The Roman Republic fell for many reasons, but three seem to resonate today. Declining moral values and political civility at home, overconfident and overextended militarily around the world and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government. We need to wake up, recognize reality and that we have to start making tough choices sooner rather than later, so we can be the first Republic to stand the test of time.”

— Dave Walker, President and CEO, Peter G. Peterson Foundation