Friday, September 13, 2019


The silver cation is a unique ion, different from all other silver ions. It slides chaotically in the water, electrostatically unfulfilled. It entered the solution with a nitrate anion, which is similarly lost.

But after a time, the silver cation found a bromide anion, which resolved its tension. They fall out of solution.

Things are ideal: There is a silver cation for every bromide anion. Things work out for all the silver ions and all the bromide ions: there are none left in solution.

Atheistic gods

When we do not believe in God, do not trust God, who is going to save the world? We have to. We have to be God. We have to be good, we have to be effective. We have to be responsible. We have to know best what to do.

This sounds good.

Except that when we do not believe in God, do not trust God, we set up ourselves as gods. We take responsibility for other people's lives, we take over their lives. We interfere with other people's development. We see things from our point of view -- who could be wiser than us? We attack other people's developing points of view and self-trust, attack their trust in God. We insert ourselves in people's lives, as though we want them to worship us, for them to give us glory, so that we can be acknowledged as trustworthy. We want other people to see the error of their ways. We think we have facts, we act like we know things beyond any doubt -- unless someone else can make themselves god over us, beat us down and dethrone us. We do not choose to give glory to the God who doesn't tend to beat us down and dethrone us, the true God.


People want to be considered trustworthy by other people. They have a point of view on reality, on well-being, and want the other person to both have their values and also trust in their path toward realizing those values.

We point toward things that are trustworthy, make a public noise about it. We say "This movie is deep", will stir deep things. Depth is good. This movie is effective in bringing it to us. It is trustworthy. We are impressed and wish to make others be impressed in the same way that we are.

This rendering of "this is trustworthy" toward something, about something, can be called "glory".

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Shared Vision

We have a tendency to think that things that all of us can see are more real than things that only one person can see. This protects us from wild ideas and claims about reality, and also from the insights of sensitive people.

Realistic Sword-fighting

Sometimes as part of a drama on a stage, you want there to be sword-fighting. A more realistic drama (a drama with more reality), requires a metal sword. You can blunt the edge to some extent, but you can still do a lot of damage with it. Or you can use a wooden or plastic sword, if it's not as important to be realistic.

Real Self

What is the real self? Is it the self that we choose? We choose images.

If you would prefer to be someone, you might try to be that person, and project that image. But you may not be able to be that person. You can't live in this world as that image. So then you just are yourself -- but are you really yourself? Or is the real you the one that you would choose if there were no other constraints, the ideal image?

Max Stirner made the point that you don't know what a slave wants until they get freedom.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Lift Up Your Head

Sometimes it's a relief to see that you're part of a bigger battle. The enemy soldier close at hand can fill your gaze, can make you feel like there's nothing but you and them, all risk to you and nothing else to fight for.

Sometimes literally lifting up your head takes you out of the mindset of narrowmindedness.


Skills and anti-skills are both learned. A skill is something that helps you to enact your will in the world. Magic, technology, taking charge. An anti-skill is a lesson learned which is about something outside of you taking charge of your life, or is you not enacting your will. Prayer, waiting, making space, can all be skills that aspire to be anti-skills. But true anti-skills are not part of the order of Law, doing what you have to to survive. They happen to you apart from instrumental or even, sometimes, epistemic rationality, are orthogonal to human goals, even, sometimes, human perspectives. Coming to see things properly is less often a skill, is more often an anti-skill. When you see things properly, you are not more powerful than reality. It is affecting you.

We like to be born with the right anti-skills, because acquiring them is often beyond our ability, no matter how hard we try. Some anti-skills may never be learned through our own strivings.

Skills and anti-skills work together, and both are components of wisdom, spiritual and practical maturity.


Law is what you have to do to survive. Knowing the facts can be Law, doing the right thing can be Law, being cynical can be Law.

Once we understand Law, understand what is needed to survive, we feel like we have the right to enforce Law, to push it on other people and fit ourselves into it. We can lean hard on it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"Make God your God"

"Make God your God", says the Bible. "Love God with all of your being", says Jesus, "and love your neighbor as yourself". God comes first, before humans.

But what does God want? God is love, is the God of love. So can't we just reduce "love God with all of your being" to "love humanity"?

If you make God your God, you trust him and obey him as well as work for his interests. If you make "the love of humanity" your God, you don't trust the same way, or obey the same way. You run on different fuel and listen with different ears.

Death in the City

(a book review)

One thing that Simone Weil, Ramon Llull, and Francis Schaeffer all have in common is an emphasis on holiness, more genuine Christianity, and also, that they're obsolete. I think obsolescence and holiness are inherently related, because to be holy is to be set apart, somewhat set apart from history. The Old Testament is a work of holiness and conservatism.

It feels kind of strange, kind of deliberate, to be reading and promoting people I feel in my flesh to be obsolete, but when I actually read them (at least, Weil, and more so, Schaeffer), I can feel myself connecting with what they talk about as though it's current. Quickly after putting the book down, I find myself back in 2019, but life was more true when I was in the book.

Holiness movements don't have to be obsolete. John Wesley had a successful one, which led to the Methodist church. The effective altruists are rather like an atheistic, humanistic holiness movement. (The effective altruists love (no, "do good to") those who are distant as well as those who are close, and they set themselves apart from climate change to focus on more neglected existential risks. If the ethos of humanism is "humans save humanity by their efforts", then they live that out in a genuine and distinctive way.) Schaeffer had some limited success with his L'Abri center, and had some effect on the political sphere. Non-Christians tend to think of him now as an architect of the Christian Right, if at all. But Schaeffer was not as fortunate as Wesley or the EAs in riding the vital wave of his culture. Wesley was a progressive. There was a time when orthodox Christian beliefs could be progressive, instead of having to split off really Christian thinking from really progressive thinking. Schaeffer seems to be trying to hold together truly Christian thinking -- attempting to stay true to Christ as revealed in the Bible, independent of human pragmatism -- with the spirit of progressive culture, the spirit of caring about people and the world. He didn't want the church to be intellectually split off from the world, but rather to be able to speak in every area, as God had spoken in every area already. But he was conservative in outlook at the same time, seemed to see himself as fighting a losing battle that had to be fought.

I read Francis Schaeffer mostly when I was in college, and there was something in the reading that said: "there's a way to reform human culture to become actually good, and the way to that is through Christianity." It was an exciting thought. I turned away from him after a while, but recently read a work I had missed, Death in the City. Here are some ideas in it:

People are taken more seriously when they are seen as capable of doing real wrong. (People are more significant.) Compassionate Christianity sees people as real and in need of salvation. Doctrine without compassion and reliance on God in daily life is dead, fake, ineffective. Through ongoing relationship with Jesus, over time we are "impregnated" to bring fruit into the world. Reformation (return to source doctrine) and revival (new work of the Spirit, new turning of hearts) go together.

If you know that God exists and has absolute standards, you care more. The stakes of life are higher, and you have to depend on him for salvation, because the standard matters and you can't make it without him. If there are real standards, then people can really be lost, and you can really care about their well-being. Being really Christian (really taking people seriously) causes people to love more genuinely and with more passion and holds society to a higher standard. A coach can get you to try harder than you would yourself. You'll set a goal to try 20% harder and only go 15% harder, but the coach will get you to try 50% harder because she knows you better than you know yourself, and after several failed attempts, you'll make it. A God outside of human pragmatism, or a standard not up for negotiation, can be that for people. To me, this sounds progressive, and in my younger days, more in the phase of life of seeking progressiveness, I saw Christianity as more progressive than secular thinking.

(A few weeks after first drafting this, I am struck by another point from Death in the City, which is that Schaeffer wanted people to have a personal relationship with God, which in some ways is like having a personal relationship with the standard. Personally-relating is the way to live all of life, including the life of bringing things up to standards. Schaeffer would say "personally-relating because of the 'God who is there'", I think, and a God who is present in your life protects you from the natural tendency toward "I'm a survivor, will think whatever I need to to survive, will write off whoever I need to to survive, will cease personally-relating mode of life, will reduce all things opposed to my survival as means to my ends.")

But even in college, I was able to tell that Schaeffer was writing to a much different world than mine. I think our world has a certain innocence to it, believe it or not, an innocence with respect to sin if not to anything else. I hardly have an inherent sense of sin. I know that many Christians still do, but my "flesh" is more secular, even if my will (perhaps my true heart), tries and tries to be Christian. But I can still see some of Schaeffer's vision, the vision that might never be, because we'll never go back to the old days of believing in real sin, real guilt, as opposed to guilty feelings or thoughts, back to real standards.

It's strange. If you look close up, people do seem to care as much as they ever did. And yet, I don't see very many people caring as much as Schaeffer did. If you don't like conservative Christians, you should read Schaeffer just to see a "steel man" of their position, perhaps in his ideas, but more essentially in the kind of voice he had. I don't know too much about his life, so I won't comment on that, but a writing style isn't nothing as far as indicating what kind of person someone is.

Overall, our culture feels bustling, alive, active -- on one level. And played out, over, feeble -- on another. In the political sphere, there is militancy (godless mob absolutes), but not real love, and no guilt, no absolutes that can implicate both the executor of mob justice and its victim into a brotherhood. Opposed to that is an enfeebling blunting of absolutes, a distrust of our moral motions. (Maybe I'm caricaturing the left and liberals, respectively.) The biblical position is that we are all under God -- Schaeffer would say, "under God's wrath", but that doesn't work nowadays, but still, under God.

People nowadays who care as much as Schaeffer did tend not to be Christians (that I know of -- I think if there was someone like Schaeffer nowadays among Christians I would know about it, but maybe not). These more secular caring people seem to be putting out fires rather than thinking of the long term. It's natural during traumatic times to focus on the immediate threat and then its recurring aftershocks. Culture is something way behind the problems we have now. We want to deal with climate change now, but wouldn't it have been much better if we could have gone back to the early 20th century when we first knew the threat and adjust civilization back then? But then maybe there were many cultural reasons why we wouldn't have done that then. So then to go back to the early 19th century and deal with those 20th century cultural reasons upstream? If we could reform the culture, then we would have a base to respond to geographically distant problems (distant people), or looming threats, as one people. Most of our existential risks come from human activities. If we had a really good culture, we wouldn't have anything to fear as a species, except from the natural world.

I realize that at this point, it may be like saying to the captain of the Titanic as it goes down "You know, if you had chosen a different route a week ago, none of this would be happening." Could any of this cultural change have possibly worked in the past? Or is human nature too hard to change? Was Christianity tried and found wanting, as some would allege? Or was it not even tried, as both Gandhi and Chesterton alleged? Schaeffer quotes the book of Jeremiah in Death in the City, and Jeremiah is an interesting book because it starts off with one of my favorite writing quotes (1:9-10):

Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, "Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
It seems like Jeremiah is going to be a powerful person. But nobody likes what he has to say and he gets thrown in a pit. The king burns his prophecy rather than heeding it. It looks like Jeremiah's just telling the truth, to no further purpose. Maybe his words brought on the judgment they foretold (in some way helped God bring the judgment), and maybe future people have been inspired by Jeremiah to "build and to plant" from his words. But Jeremiah's reality for many years would have been one of "I am saying what I'm supposed to say but there's no apparent power in my words."

Maybe you just have to say the truth as the ship goes down -- the truth is a good in itself. But maybe there will be the future generations who can pick up the message and apply it, and so vindicate God and Jeremiah. We live in an analogous time with climate change. We don't know how bad it will be. Our best messages probably won't turn the ship around. Perhaps only a remnant will survive, who will then have to put together a new world. What will they remember? The Israelites kept Jeremiah in mind, for generations down to this day. What is worth remembering?

One reply to Schaeffer would be: "What you're saying isn't true. You don't know that God exists." Schaeffer engaged with the people of his time and obviously was able to remain a Christian throughout (although I remember he had a period of doubt sometime during his adult life which led to him understanding Christianity better). But it's a fair point, and one which many people have tried to answer without enough success to create an actually good public religion. But another reply is "Even if what you're saying might be true, we don't want to hear it. Liberal humanism is good enough for us. It's too risky to listen to what you have to say. We like vagueness. Vagueness is peace. Absolutes lead to fanaticism and psychological distress, so don't even try to have a better approach to absolutes. Having one God is bad, too coercive. Liberal morality is a better thing to have be coercive. And isn't life beautiful? There isn't enough time to be ugly to each other. People are good and should not be made to feel bad. Let's all be one as we wait for the end."

Maybe we are on the Titanic going down, the embodiers of a dying culture. But I want to bear witness to the possibility that if we could just believe in God, a God who cares more than Schaeffer did and asks more of us than we ask of ourselves, we could have an actually good society, and that this possibility is a good thing, and we can recognize that even if we don't think it can be realized. In other words, to become agnostics who are no longer comfortable in our agnosticism, or even atheists who regret that the best of the "widely-believed fairy tales" can never be true. If they were true, all the causes humanism concerns itself with could be addressed, with no more miracle needed than the change in heart and outlook of those responsible for human society -- all of us. All this to say that a proof of the existence of the right kind of God should be a welcome thing to a humanist.

Some cultural changes seem impossible. We can't even imagine them. To imagine them would be a cultural change. And yet cultural changes occur. More so than Schaeffer did, Llull and Weil both tried to imagine ideal societies. I can't imagine any of their obsolete visions coming true. But I am part of this culture. I realize now that I'm more likely to believe a professor's tired, off-hand comment than a homeless person's passionate, well-thought-out theories. When I was younger, I tended more to the reverse. Our civilization is old, but after it dies, there may be a younger one to replace it.


Some people don't like the word "conservatism", but I can give it a meaning that might be acceptable to some who find it distasteful.

In Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, the main character goes through stretches of his life, one time as a very serious ascetic, and then as a businessman-of-this-world, and on to other roles. It seems like he used up the "life energy" of each phase and then moved on -- perhaps if I re-read I'll see that he had to move on and had little to no choice.

We find ourselves bending toward pragmatic considerations, even believing things that help us to survive. The winds and the waves are very strong. But is there anything that we hold onto with persistent, sometimes unrewarded, even sometimes bitter effort? That would be one of our "conservatisms".

A man and woman might make each other their conservatisms, no matter what changed around them, their relationship a good thing they hold onto out of the past. They might have children and hold onto them (those links to the future) as conservatisms. The family might hold onto their allegiance to God all together, as things change. There could be other conservatisms than those -- vocations, hobbies, perspectives on the world, remembering past experiences or past relationships.

The energy for progressivism comes out of the far-reaching outworking of some conservatism. A conservatism plays itself out in how we live our lives and what our lives are, in the long term. You can sometimes see someone's conservatism written into their face.

Sometimes we are able to ask ourselves "Should we continue in this particular conservatism?" and choose one way or the other to keep it or let it go.