The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Category quotes

Against his will

A man cannot be placed against his will in a situation opposed to his conscience.

~ Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You. Trans. Constance Garnett.

The operative concept is the will. If one is seemingly forced to go against it, the reality is that one's will truly preferred to preserve what was being threatened.

Ignatius against hypocrisy

Ignatius' letter to the Magnesians, 4.1:

πρέπον οὖν ἐστὶν μὴ μόνον καλεῖσθαι Χριστιανούς, ἀλλὰ καὶ εἶναι.

Therefore it is proper to not be only called Christians, but to be Christians.

Category: quotes

Other transubstantiations

Form Carsten Jensen's We, The Drowned, describing food given to prisoners of war held in a church:

We were each given a spoon and a metal bowl and made to line up by the altar. And it was, in its way, a form of communion, because it took every last scrap of imagination to transubstantiate what was in our metal bowls into something edible . . .

Category: quotes

Reason and character

People of my generation are more cautious. I think we don't believe that people can be improved in their character by reason. That seems a very french idea.

\~ The hacendado in All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.

Category: quotes

The Use of the Arts

I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.

\~ Kurt Vonnegut

Category: quotes Tags: arts

White collar

Even more than critical thinking or time management, what the white-collar economy requires from most workers is the ability to spend the bulk of their waking hours completing tasks of no inherent importance or interest to them, to show up every day, and to not complain overmuch about it.

Christopher R. Beha, in an article on for-profit colleges. From "Leveling the Field" in Harper's vol. 323, no. 1937, p. 56.

Category: quotes Tags: labor

Our friend, semantics

Ordinary speech is full of such errors. Semantics is constantly correcting our carelessness.

William H. Gass, on some writing errors in a short excerpt. In "Enter A Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's", Haprer's vol. 323, no. 1937, p. 78.

That soft glow

You used to sound like a teacher / and everyone wanted to know / how you could tell the truth / without losing that soft glow.

\~ David Bazan and Jason Martin in the Ghosts of the Past version of "Broken Arm"

Category: quotes

Negative Capability

Cornel West turned me on to John Keats' "negative capability":

'The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.'


'At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.'

I need that.

Category: quotes

Does justification by faith preclude natural law?

In writing about Christian attitudes toward justice, Jacques Ellul argues that natural law is incompatible with justification by faith:

Such a theory [of Natural Law] leads to an elimination of the Doctrine of Justification, for this doctrine when properly understood puts an end to every pretension of Man to know Justice naturally by his own means --- to say nothing of achieving it. If God alone is just and does not impart his righteousness to Man except in justification --- if He does not make known to Man His work of justice except by revealing Himself to Man --- then we must conclude that Man knows nothing of justice apart from this act of God; that there is no justice written in the nature of Man.

In other words, how can there be justice (righteousness) in nature when we are wholly dependent on God for righteousness? It is an interesting point. I know that many Christians partake of both sides of the dichotomy which Ellul is presenting here.

Category: quotes Tags: Ellul

More on objective morality

James McGrath does not express Christian moral obligations in the same terms I do, but [he agrees that various conceptions of Christian "objective" morality are problematic][]. My favorite quote:

And so perhaps, instead of trying to prove that morality is objective, we should be working to make it objective, if morality is something we are concerned about.

Whether subjective or objective, get that plank out of your own eye first.

[he agrees that various conceptions of Christian "objective" morality are problematic]:

Young-Earth Creationism is blasphemous?

[][]James F. McGrath argues that [young-earth creationism and intelligent design are both blasphemous.][] Part of the argument he puts forward in defense of this idea is that creation is a better witness to the creator's act than is scripture:

And while we're on the subject, anyone with literacy skills can write a book claiming to be by or about God or to reveal the truth. It is much harder to make a planet, or life, let alone a universe. And so, if one believes that there is a Creator and wants to get an appropriate sense of the majesty, power, wisdom and activity of that Creator, should one look to texts written by people (whether divinely inspired or not) or to the creation itself?

Jesus himself once used the same rhetorical device:

When Jesus saw their reaction he said, “Why do you respond with evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – then he said to the paralytic – “Stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” And he stood up and went home.

\~ Matthew 9:4-7, NET Bible

McGrath puts the "which is easier" question to good use here. It is difficult to draw an analogy between the interpretation of literature and the interpretation of empirical evidence. Yet the question remains for young-earth creationists remains, "if my reading of the creation narrative in the Bible is true, why is science so woefully wrong on this one point?"

[]: [young-earth creationism and intelligent design are both blasphemous.]:

Category: quotes Tags: origins

Ignorance, cont.

How did I miss this one?

Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.

\~ Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Ignorance addendum

The gods value morals alone; they have paid no compliments to intellect, nor offered it a single reward. If intellect is welcome anywhere in the other world, it is in hell, not heaven.

\~ Mark Twain, quoted in Harper's Magazine, April 2011, p. 36.

Though I suppose I need to be careful not to conflate intelligence with knowledge.

Ignorance made us hungry

Selected quotations to illustrate a theology of ignorance:

Ignorance made us hungry
information made us no good

\~ David Bazan, Hard to Be

Every look in search of you
No need for books when we're with you

\~ Me Without You, Every Thought a Thought of You

For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

\~ 1 Corinthians 2:2 (NET)

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.

\~ John 14:26 (NET)