Quotes on Religion, Philosophy, and Politics

This is a collection of quotes that I’ve recently posted on the WSJ Facebook page.

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“Isn’t it ironic that after 70 years Russia wants God back while we are trying to kick him out?”

– Ravi Zacharias

“Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between man and man. Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between man-God-man, that is, that God is the middle term.”

– Søren Kierkegaard

“In argument about moral problems, relativism is the first refuge of the scoundrel.”

– Roger Scruton

“We have the worst of both worlds: a Prohibitionary State that gives license to all kinds of evil, but that regulates and restricts actions that are not evil, to manage the chaos that results from the license.”

– Anthony Esolen

“For all of higher civilization’s recorded history, becoming a man was defined overwhelmingly as taking responsibility for a family. That notion — indeed the notion of masculinity itself — is regarded by feminism as the worst of sins: patriarchy.”

– Dennis Prager

“A God who did not abolish suffering–worse, a God who abolished sin precisely by suffering–is a scandal to the modern mind.” 

– Peter Kreeft

“If there is any verse that you would like left out of the Bible, that is the verse that ought to stick to you, like a blister, until you really attend to its teaching.” 

– Charles Spurgeon

“It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity…as atheism is in all respects hateful, so in this, that it depriveth human nature of the means to exalt itself above human frailty.”

– Francis Bacon

“The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books – a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.”

– Albert Einstein

“While sitting on the bank of a river one day, I picked up a solid round stone from the water and broke it open. It was perfectly dry in spite of the fact that it had been immersed in water for centuries. The same is true of many people in the Western world. For centuries they have been surrounded by Christianity; they live immersed in the waters of its benefits. And yet it has not penetrated their hearts; they do not love it. The fault is not in Christianity, but in men’s hearts, which have been hardened by materialism and intellectualism.”

– Sadhu Sundar Singh

“A new philosophy generally means in practice the praise of some old vice.”

– GK Chesterton

“Pride is a poison so very poisonous that it not only poisons the virtues; it even poisons the other vices.”

– GK Chesterton

“He is only a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of the Conservative.”

– GK Chesterton

“Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity–liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative. Liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God…. Liberalism regards Christ as an Example and Guide; Christianity as a Savior. Liberalism makes Him an example for faith; Christianity, the object of faith.”

– J Gresham Machen

“The modernist – the extreme modernist, infidel in all but name – need not be called a fool or hypocrite because he obstinately retains, even in the midst of his intellectual atheism, the language, rites, sacraments, and story of the Christians. The poor man may be clinging (with wisdom he himself by no means understands) to that which is his life. It would have been better that Loisy should have remained a Christian: it would not necessarily have been better that he should have purged his thought of vestigial Christianity.”

– CS Lewis

“Indecency is not wild and lawless. The danger of indecency is exactly that it is tame, dull, direct, inevitable; a mere law in the members. It is automatic evil. Pride makes man a devil; but lust makes him a machine.”

– Malcolm Muggeridge

“… children are simply human beings who are allowed to do what everyone else really desires to do, as for instance, to fly kites, or when seriously wronged to emit prolonged screams for several minutes.”

– GK Chesterton

“What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?”

– CS Lewis

“Any restoration of persons to the divinely intended norm of being valued as image-bearers will threaten a social order that promotes marginalization of the vulnerable. Healing is always destructive in some way. To declare that persons with disabilities are part of the divine moral norm (that they ‘count’) or to claim that the unborn deserve a right to life even though such does indeed impede the free choice of the mother is to challenge a social order that discounts the validity of humans. Such discounting of individuals usually occurs in order to maintain or to establish power and control by taking advantage of the socially weakest.” 

– James R Thobaben

“I want Atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are Religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

-Thomas Nagel

“Here a year or two back me and Loretta went to a conference in Corpus Christi and I got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talkin about the right wing this and the right wing that. I aint even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that’s a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I dont like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I dont think you got any worries about the way this country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt but what she’ll be able to have an abortion. I’m goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she’ll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.”

– Cormac McCarthy, “No Country for Old Men”

“It is a characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy. Humanity in a crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times.”

-Fulton J Sheen

“For true pleasure, the price is paid before it is enjoyed. For false pleasure, the price is paid after it is enjoyed.”

-Ravi Zacharias

“I hope no reader will suppose the ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions – as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in…When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.”

– CS Lewis

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Christianity and High Beauty (With Pictures!)

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

– JRR Tolkien, “The Return of the King”

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I rarely re-watch movies, and I practically never re-watch documentaries. But I’ve watched Roger Scruton’s “Why Beauty Matters” twice now, and I’ll probably watch it again. You really ought to set aside an hour to enjoy it. At the very least, watch the first 3 minutes.

This post will draw somewhat heavily from Scruton’s documentary, but will also include my own thoughts – from more of a “hey-watch-as-I-attempt-to-relate-this-to-Christianity” perspective. Starting with:

1. Beauty in Nature

As alluded to in the Tolkien quote, I find it comforting that the beauty of the natural world is ultimately beyond the reach of man’s corruption. We might do our utmost to despoil the beauty of our immediate environment, but the sprawling majesty of the universe stands by unfazed.

I sometimes talk to atheists & agnostics who point to the sheer size of the universe, and claim that our smallness and apparent insignificance is evidence against the existence of God. I’ve always thought to myself, in response, “what better way for an infinite, all-powerful Being to express Himself to us, than to surround us with mind-numbing vastness and beauty?”

aquinas_unimpressed

When we look upon the night sky…a mountain landscape…a blazing sunset…a wind-whipped prairie…we stop to appreciate these things for their mere existence. They stir something within us, drawing our attention to a craving, within ourselves, for a Higher Beauty that nothing in this universe can quite satisfy.

Glacier Ridgeline

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, NIV)

2. Beauty in Things

If mountains are beautiful because they are created by God, then sculptures and poems are beautiful because they are created by people. Robert Frost creates beauty by describing a forest, even if the poem is, perhaps, eclipsed by the natural beauty of the forest itself.

Man is unique among creatures not only in his ability to appreciate beauty, but in his ability to willfully create beauty for beauty’s sake. In concurrence with Dr. Scruton, I would argue that for a thing to be beautiful, it cannot be created primarily for utility, or for mere self-expression. Beautiful things often possess these qualities, but they must be secondary.

“All art is absolutely useless. Put usefulness first, and you lose it. Put beauty first, and what you do will be useful forever.” – Oscar Wilde

sistine chapel mona lisa

Also: simply calling something beautiful doesn’t make it so! That kind of absurd relativism might be permitted in modern art museums, but not on this blog.

3. Beauty in People

At the risk of sounding repetitive, a person possesses beauty for the simple fact that they exist. This is best illustrated by the perplexing phenomenon of Otherwise Articulate Adults Making Interesting Noises in the Presence of Babies.

Infants are useless in the truest sense of the word. They’re essentially poop machines, incapable of providing us with any tangible service or benefit. Yet babies evoke an emotional response precisely because of their uselessness. When utility is stripped away, we find ourselves reveling in the mere fact of existence of another human person.

newborn infant

This also comes into play when contrasting feelings of romantic love with feelings of lust. The man overcome with romantic love desires nothing more than the flourishing and well-being of his beloved…even if it comes at his own cost…and even if he will never be able to personally take part in her life. He would gladly throw himself in front of a train, rather than see his beloved suffer pain, shame, or disgrace. He will daydream about performing acts of heroic sacrifice on her behalf (rushing into a burning building, diving in front of a bullet, etc.).

The man overcome with lust is primarily interested in how the other person can be of use to him. The object of his lust is an instrument to be used and discarded.

“Pornographic images reduce the person being lusted over to body parts only. There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows too little.” – Pope John Paul II

I believe that the human experience of beauty provides strong inductive evidence for the central claims of Christianity (namely: the existence of High Beauty, original sin, and our subsequent inability to grasp this Beauty unaided). Three observations, in closing:

Firstly: We recognize beauty and know that it’s good…even if we have difficulty defining it.
Secondly: We perceive that our desire for beauty can be tantalized, but never truly fulfilled.
Thirdly: We yearn for Something, unseen, that can fulfill our unfulfilled desire for “more beauty”.