Review of Nancy Pearcey’s Love Thy Body

Every so often there appears a book which provides such an insightful cultural diagnostic that you wish everyone would read it. For me, Nancy Pearcey’s Love Thy Body (Baker, 2018) is one such book. Pearcey’s thesis is that numerous problematic trends in our culture, from the pro-choice movement to transgenderism to the hook-up culture, are all driven by a low view of the body. Specifically, a philosophical concept which she calls “personhood theory” serves as the common rationale for these movements. Personhood theory, she says, “presumes a very low view of the human body, which ultimately dehumanizes all of us” (p. 20).

Through most of history it was generally understood that to be a human being is to be a person. But in the 20th century—especially the early 1970s—philosophers began to differentiate these two things, introducing the body-person dichotomy. This concept was pivotal in the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion throughout the country (proposing that the fetus is human but not a person under the 14th amendment).

From there, the body-person dichotomy has driven secular views on many other issues, including, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, homosexuality, transgenderism, and the hook-up culture. Pearcey says, “Christianity holds that body and soul together form an integrated unity—that the human being is an embodied soul. By contrast, personhood theory entails a two-tiered perspective that sets the body against the person” (p. 21). (Thus, it is important to note, Pearcey does affirm mind-body dualism. What she is critiquing is body-person dualism or, which is what she dubs “personhood theory.”)

The biblical, Judeo-Christian view is teleological, seeing purpose in the human body as well as the rest of nature, since it is designed by God. The modern root of personhood theory is Darwinism, which sees all of nature as an “amoral mechanism.” According to Pearcey, “if the body has no intrinsic purpose, built in by God, then all that matters are human purposes.” This means that the human body may be “manipulated and controlled to serve the human agenda, like any other natural resource” (p. 24).

This view is dehumanizing, because it implies that mere humans do not have rights.  Only persons do. But a constant theme throughout Scripture is that our bodies matter.  Nature is good. Our physical beings are created by and treasured by God.

Christianity emerged in a cultural context dominated by a low view of the body, due to the influence of Platonism and Gnosticism. With Jesus’ ministry of physical healing, his own physical resurrection, the Pauline concept of the body as God’s temple, and the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, among other things, the Bible puts a strong emphasis on the inherent sacredness of the human body. In the early modern period, the ideas of Descartes and Kant undermined this biblical view. More recently, Darwinism and contemporary materialistic philosophies rejected it altogether, and as our culture embraces materialism we see its dehumanizing effects.

Pearcey discusses some of the practical ways that personhood theory and its low view of the body are manifested in contemporary culture:

  • Euthanasia: If the body is separate from the person, then if an individual’s cognitive functions are gone the person is gone. So terminating the life of their body is acceptable.
  • Physician-Assisted Suicide: If the body is separate from the person, then I can dispose of my body whenever I autonomously choose to do so.
  • Infanticide: Since a newborn baby cannot reason and has no self-concepts, it is not yet a person and therefore may be destroyed.
  • Hooking Up: If the body is separate from the person, then I can freely involve my body sexually with others, and this need not affect me personally. Sex is just something I do with my body.
  • Pornography: If the body is separate from the person, I can view and even act in pornographic videos, since these are just bodies.
  • Prostitution: If the body is separate from the person, I can sell my body or use others for sex, since these are just our bodies.
  • Homosexuality: If the body is separate from the person, then my sexual desires and preferences are more important than my biology (genetics and genitalia) in determining who I may have sex with.
  • Transgenderism: If the body is separate from the person, then my biology is irrelevant to my actual gender.

Pearcey notes several bizarre and problematic implications of the personhood theory. One of these is that it undermines women’s rights. If a “woman” is no longer defined biologically, then we cannot identify sex-based oppression. Moreover, even biological “men” can claim that their women’s rights are violated if they identify as women, just as such individuals are permitted to use women’s bathrooms in many states.

The influence of personhood theory has been vast in Western culture. Yet no one can agree on exactly what constitutes a “person”! Philosophers have proposed all sorts of conditions and criteria, but there is no consensus. In contrast, on the Judeo-Christian view that all humans are persons, there is clarity as to who are persons, and it is scientifically verifiable. For this reason, Pearcey maintains that the body-person dichotomy is anti-science.

Love Thy Body provides a much-needed constructive critique of a prevalent perspective in contemporary American culture. Although it contains many significant philosophical insights, the book is written in a semi-journalistic style which is fit for a popular audience. My only critique is that it is that the book is a bit heavy with examples which illustrate Pearcey’s points such that the discussion sometimes seems repetitive. It could have been tightened by 50 pages or so. But this is a relatively minor flaw which should not dissuade readers. I highly recommend this book!

Taylor Swift’s Album Lover: A Review

I didn’t become a “Swifty” until the summer of 2017. After basically ignoring her music as presumably vacuous pop drivel, I decided to give her music a chance and began listening to, well, all of her stuff. It didn’t take long for me to realize she is exceptionally talented, especially as a songwriter. The clincher for me was her song “The Lucky One” from her Red album (which I consider her record best to date). It is a brilliantly crafted piece about the tragedy of celebrity fame, which so many crave but which typically oppresses and often destroys those who achieve it.

I regard my awakening to the genius of Taylor Swift as also an awakening to my own latent sexism. I had allowed the fact that she is a very attractive female to keep me from taking her seriously as an artist. In subsequent conversations with several men, I have sensed a similar tendency in them, and some have admitted this to me. Anyway, lesson learned.

One of the things I find most impressive about Taylor Swift’s songwriting—in addition to the clarity of her lyrical themes and her uncanny knack for musical hooks—is her insight into human nature. Many of these insights, of course, concern negative aspects of human nature (e.g., selfishness, dishonesty, unfaithfulness, fickleness, etc.), but she often celebrates human goodness as well. Regardless of the relational context, Swift is reliably observant and a powerful commentator on the human condition.

These gifts are on full display in her recently released seventh album, Lover.  Over all, I think it is about as strong as anything she’s done before. But stylistically it is the least she has advanced from one album to the next. Her progression from country to electronic pop over the course of her first six albums is impressive, but Lover ends that evolution, parking somewhere between 1989 and Reputation from a stylistic and production standpoint.

Personally, I like the fact that there are actual drum kits used on several songs. It adds to the albums energy and also makes for some variety. The title track is especially rich because of this, effecting an ambience reminiscent of some spacious 1950s-era ballads.

Some highlights, it seems to me, are “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” “Paper Rings,” and “ME!” But, lyrically, “The Man” stands out—one the best songs you’ll ever hear regarding gender double standards. “Cruel Summer” is extremely catchy, featuring wonderfully sassy background vox. Delicious. “I Forgot that you Existed” and “You Need to Calm Down” are vintage Taylor Swift digs. Great songs.

“Cornelia Street,” “The Archer,” and “Soon You’ll Get Better” provide a contemplative touch to the album that was mostly absent from her last two records. The latter song concerns Swift’s mother’s continuing bout with cancer. I don’t know how she sang it without crying. I suspect those were some emotional recording sessions.

The weakest tracks are “False God,” “I Think He Knows” and, especially “It’s Nice to Have a Friend.” Those would have been solid B-sides, but they’re not needed on this album, which would have been a tighter, more consistently strong record without them—and still 50 minutes long.

So Lover is another fine effort by popular music’s best young songwriter.  To sum up my feelings about Swift’s music these days: It isn’t hate. It isn’t indifference. It’s just love.

Three Great Books About Marriage

Recently I attended a wedding of a former Taylor student, and this naturally got me thinking again about marriage.  It also prompted some reflection on books I’ve read on the topic.  I haven’t read many marriage books, but several of the ones I have read are really good.  Here are my top three.

Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage – This book features Keller’s characteristic earthy realism, lucidity, and insight.  Among the points he rightly emphasizes are (1) the importance of your spouse being your best friend, (2) the way that marriage demands transparency and constancy between husband and wife, (3) the power of a good marriage to benefit the children, both morally and psychologically, and (4) the essential roles of forgiveness and repentance in a healthy marriage.  All of these things add up to the unique capacity of marriage to catalyze deep personal transformation into Christ-likeness.  The book closes with a frank and often humorous discussion of sex in marriage.  It also features an entire chapter on a topic you don’t encounter often in marriage books: singleness.  Here Keller highlights the goodness of singleness and how we need to remember that earthly marriage is actually “penultimate,” an image of the real thing—our eternal union with Christ.  This is an excellent book for contexts ranging from premarital counseling to veteran married couples interested in deepening their theological understanding of their relationship.

Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George, What is Marriage? – Unlike Keller’s book, this one is more philosophical, aiming to defend the traditional conception of marriage as essentially a union between one man and one woman.  The authors offer a profoundly well-reasoned natural law case for this conviction.  Their succinct definition:  “Marriage is, of its essence, a comprehensive union: a union of will (by consent) and body (by sexual union); inherently ordered to procreation and thus the broad sharing of family life; and calling for permanent and exclusive commitment, whatever the spouses’ preferences.” In addition to demonstrating the rational grounds for monogamous heterosexual union, the authors illustrate the danger and irrationality of departing from this norm.  This is an ideal volume for those interested in understanding the rationale for public endorsement of the traditional view of marriage.

Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage – This remarkable volume is not only a great book on marriage, it is one of the best books of any kind I have ever read.  Though he bills himself as an amateur on the subject and primarily a creative writer, Mason is actually master psychologist and student of human nature.  The book is effectively a phenomenology of married life, which pivots on the fundamental insight that human beings have a natural tendency to deny the personal reality of others (which, Mason notes, is tantamount to “antagonism toward God”).  Since marriage necessarily involves an invasion of one’s privacy, it fundamentally challenges this tendency, so one must either be transformed or be crushed by the experience.  Thus, Mason calls marriage “one of God’s most powerful secret weapons for the revolutionizing of the human heart.”  It is, he says, “a wild audacious attempt at an almost impossible degree of cooperation between two powerful centers of self-assertion.”  And that is why a good marriage is mysterious, even miraculous.  Mason’s book is recommended not just to those interested in learning more about the nature of marriage but to anyone who appreciates profound insights into the human condition and the meaning of life.  Yes, it is that good.

Suffering with Christ—a Light Burden?

There are two teachings of Jesus which might seem irreconcilable or at least a source of rational tension.  On the one hand, Jesus tells us that following him comes at a significant personal cost.  He says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Mt. 16: 24-25).  Elsewhere he tells his followers, “you will be hated by everyone because of me” (Mt. 10:22).  The Apostle Paul reiterates this same point when he asserts, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).  Paul also goes so far as to say that “we are heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings” (Rom. 8:17).  This theme of suffering with Christ is heavily emphasized by the biblical writers, as it recurs in such passages as Rom. 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 3:10-11; 1 Pet. 4:13; James 1:2-4; and 1 Pet. 1:6-7.

Of course, these sobering declarations regarding the difficult road of submission to Christ are also accompanied by the promise that our loss and suffering on earth will be more than compensated for by heavenly reward, as Jesus assures us that those who faithfully serve him are storing up “treasures in heaven” (Mt. 6:20), that “the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Mt. 16:27).  Therefore, promises the Apostle Paul, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

So there is a certain irony here—that one must lose in order to gain, suffer in order to know everlasting joy.  But the point of tension to which I refer emerges when we consider another teaching of Christ, remarkably one that aims to comfort us.  I am thinking of Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).  This naturally begs the question, if life in Christ is marked by suffering and difficulty, how could such be an “easy yoke” or a “light burden”?  I certainly would not describe the travails of the Apostle Paul or his fellow apostles in that way.  Nor would I be inclined to use such terms to describe the lives of the many Christians who are currently being martyred around the world these days.

Of course, it is indeed helpful to place all such Christian suffering in eternal perspective.  Knowing that we will be forever comforted and relieved of all burdens in the afterlife does make our suffering more bearable.  But there is another consideration that must be borne in mind here, and that is the contrasting burden of the person who refuses Christ and lives for their own self.  A psalm says, “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (Ps. 1:6).  A proverb declares, “the way of the transgressor is hard” (Pr. 13:15, KJV), and another proverb asserts, “the righteous person is rescued from trouble, and it falls on the wicked instead” (Pr. 11:8). In fact, the prevailing theme in the book of Proverbs is that the life of wisdom brings joy and great reward, while the life of folly brings frustration, sorrow, and destruction.  So here we have a clear contrast between the comparatively easy yoke and light burden of wise life as opposed to the hard yoke and heavy burden of the foolish life.  Add to this the weight of guilty conscience which plagues the fool, and the burden is compounded.  As John Calvin once said, “the torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.”  The true disciple of Christ is spared this torture, having been fully forgiven and also empowered by the Spirit to live a repentant, obedient life.

Considered in this light, Jesus’ observation that his yoke is easy and his burden is light makes much sense, even on this side of paradise.  We might experience significant suffering in this life, but we have the joy of knowing this will flower in eternal reward in the afterlife.  And during our earthly sojourn, we are spared the oppressive burden of a guilty conscience.  For all of the difficulties we may face as Christians, that is certainly a comparatively easy yoke. So Christ’s teachings that there is a high cost to following him and that his burden is light are reconcilable after all.

My Time at the Army War College National Security Seminar

This past week I was honored to be guest at the Army War College National Security Seminar in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The aim of the Army War College is “to educate and develop leaders for service at the strategic level while advancing knowledge in the global application of land power.” And the function of the National Security Seminar is to have those developing leaders interface with civilian leaders from diverse industries and organizations in order to mutually educate and inspire.

Each day there was a plenary session. These featured Ambassador Deborah McCarthy, director of NORTHCOM General Jeffrey Buchanan, Harvard University Professor of Government Jeffrey Frieden, and former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Each speaker focused on one of the four instruments of national power (captured in the acronym “DIME”): diplomacy, information, military, and economics. Then we would break up into our various seminar groups, of which there were 24 total.  Each seminar consisted of about a dozen rising colonels who had just completed the Army War College 10-month training (which is a prerequisite for continuing promotion up to the highest levels of the military hierarchy). In addition to these officers, there were several international military brass—those in my seminar were from Spain, Algeria and Brazil. There were military officers from about 75 nations total at the NSS. During our seminar discussions, we wrangled over the nature and role of diplomacy, emerging changes in munitions and technology, foundational values of military enterprise, and the importance and challenges of U.S. military and civilian relationships.  Very rich stuff.

In the above photo are pictured everyone in my seminar. There you will see all of the military officers (including a Navy officer and an Air Force officer) and the six of us guests, each of us having been sponsored by one of the officers. One guest does counter-terrorism work with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Another is a judge who has served on the state Supreme Court in Idaho. Another is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host. And two others own or direct telecom and information security organizations.

All of us civilian guests were deeply impressed by the officers, whose collective knowledge regarding everything from federal intelligence to munitions to geopolitical dynamics is deep and extensive. Yet for all of their knowledge, experience and achievements, I was most impacted by their humility—every one of them. Truly inspiring.

I was one of just a handful of academics at the event (besides, of course, the professors who teach at the War College). It was good to see a fellow academic—Harvard scholar Jeffrey Frieden—give one of the plenary talks. He did a superb job explaining the pros and cons of economic globalization. Fascinating stuff, actually.

It is not an overstatement to say this experience was life-changing for me. I’ve always been a huge fan and supporter of the United States military (in part because my father served in WWII), but my time at the AWC NSS has taken that to a completely different level.

Scripture and Moral Self-Assessment

In his Lectures on Ethics, Immanuel Kant proposed that there are two methods by which people measure themselves morally: (1) comparing themselves with perfection and (2) comparing themselves with others.  For those who do the latter, he observed that when one does not measure up to someone else, one can bridge the gap by striving to attain his/her good qualities or seeking to depreciate his/her good qualities.  The latter is the easier course, Kant noted, which is why so many take it.  And this, he says, is the vice of jealousy.

I tend to agree with Kant here.  None of us like to see our moral faults and shortcomings, which is why we’re all inclined to compare ourselves to others rather than to a standard of moral perfection.  To believe in the authority of Scripture, therefore, is to defy that natural tendency and opt to assess oneself according to the standard of absolute perfection.  This is, of course, as humbling as it is motivating and inspiring.

Yet, although this commitment to the authority of Scripture enables one to overcome the pitfall noted by Kant, it is no guarantee that we won’t “cheat” in the game of moral assessment.  For there is another way to lower the moral standard even while consulting Scripture, and that is by interpreting Scripture in a way which favors oneself, whether in terms of one’s life choices, desires, or preferences.  This is a temptation we all face, and it is especially challenging because this form of interpretive cheating is almost always unconsciously done, perhaps as a form of self-deception.

So how does one guard oneself against this pitfall of self-favoring misinterpretation of Scripture? Obviously, we need to practice sound biblical hermeneutics—interpreting Scripture as responsibly as we can, abiding by sound interpretive principles.  We also need to be prayerful, honestly asking God to show us our faults and to use his Word to convict us of sin in our lives.  But we also need the guidance of the church—fellow Christians, both contemporary and historical.

Consulting church history for what the greatest Christian minds have said on critical issues of our time is something that is often overlooked these days, because ours is such an historically myopic culture.  But it is precisely for this reason that we must be careful to look to our theological forbears for guidance.  Their insights—especially when there is consensus or even uniform opinion among orthodox biblical scholars and theologians throughout history—might give us the best chance at ensuring that we are not misled by our own personal desires and preferences (not to mention popular culture) when interpreting Scripture.  They provide us with something far more objective than our own exegetical skills as we strive not to “cheat” in our moral self-assessments.

New Publication: “Open-mindedness and Disagreement”

Recently, an article of mine entitled “Open-mindedness and Disagreement” was published in the journal Metaphilosophy. You can access the article here. In the article I consider the relevance of open-mindedness to the problem of peer disagreement. Here is the article abstract:

The current debate about disagreement has as rivals those who take the steadfast view and those who affirm conciliationism. Those on the steadfast side maintain that resolute commitment to a belief is reasonable despite peer disagreement. Conciliationists say that peer disagreement necessarily undermines warrant for one’s belief. This article discusses the relevance of open‐mindedness to the matter of peer disagreement. It shows how both the steadfast and the conciliatory perspective are consistent with a robust and substantive display of open‐mindedness. However, it also turns out that there are more ways to display open‐mindedness on the steadfast view than on the conciliatory view.

In the article I distinguish between two basic accounts of open-mindedness. On the “indifference account,” defended by Peter Gardner, to be open-minded about an issue is to lack any firm commitment about it. Whereas, on the “contest” model, defended by William Hare, to be open-minded is to be willing to have one’s views challenged and thus be critically receptive to alternative perspectives. I see these accounts as constituting distinct but compatible forms of open-mindedness. So, then, when it comes to the two views on peer disagreement—the steadfast view and conciliationism—what role might either form of open-mindedness play in the epistemic lives of persons of each persuasion?

This is one of those articles where, in the course of writing it, I was surprised to see where my reasoning led me. Prior to deeply exploring this issue, I would have thought that the virtue of open-mindedness plays a more significant role in the epistemic life of the conciliationist, but in one sense the opposite turns out to be the case. Although we might naturally think of conciliationists as tending to be more open-minded than steadfastians, there are nonetheless more ways to display this trait on the steadfast view than on the conciliatory view. For in the face of peer disagreement, the conciliationist may only display indifference open-mindedness, but the steadfastian may display either indifference or contest open-mindedness.

My Trip to Greece and Italy

Recently, I returned from a 17-day sojourn through Greece and Italy.  The trip was led by Footsteps Ministries and traced the “footsteps” of the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys as recorded in the book of Acts.  More than 50 Taylor students were on the trip, which functioned as a Biblical Studies course.  The leaders of the trip—David and Elizabeth Sparks, as well as Dave Sparks, Jr. and Kleanthis Iliadou, were tremendous guides, extremely knowledgeable in Greek and Roman history as well as biblical literature.  They also demonstrated a wonderfully pastoral touch.

At the Parthenon

Our journey began in Thessaloniki, where we visited the Arch of Galerius, the Basilica of St. Demetrios, and the Roman forum.  From there we went on to Philippi, where we visited the site of Lydia’s baptism and had a tour of the archaeological site: tour of the archaeological site: the agora, basilicas, theater, city walls, and the traditional location of Paul’s imprisonment.  Next we traveled to Berea to see the Rostrum of Paul and the Jewish Quarter with its synagogue.  Then we continued on to Vergina, site of the royal tombs of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.

Next, we traveled to Delphi, but on our way we stopped to visit the monasteries of Meteora, which are perched high atop gigantic rock formations.  In Delphi we visited the sanctuary of Apollo, the Delphic agora, theater, and stadium.  This is where the oracle at Delphi, reputedly speaking for the god Apollo, declared that Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, which is was our next destination.  We stayed in Athens four days, visiting the theater of Dionysios, Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Zeus, the Acropolis, where the Parthenon, Erectheion, Temple of Athena, and other sites are located.  We

Ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum

also visited Areopagus (Mars Hill), where the Apostle Paul gave his discourse recorded in Acts 17.

While in Athens I used a free day to hike up to the northern part of the city, wending my way through the tangled, cramped city streets to visit the remnants of Plato’s Academy.  I also made my way over to the ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum.  Although these sites are not as visually dazzling as many of the other destinations on this trip, they were highlights for me—just to walk amongst the remnants of the schools founded by these two great Greek thinkers, whose writings have so deeply impacted Western history.

At the Roman Colosseum

We also visited Corinth, visiting the extensive ruins of the ancient city and climbing up to the Corinth acropolis, where the views are spectacular.  Then it was on to Italy, where we spent the final four days of the trip, visiting numerous sites in Rome, including Piazza del Popolo, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, St. John Lateran Church, St. Paul’s Basilica, the Church of St. Sebastian, and the Roman catacombs.  We also spent a day in Vatican City, visiting the Bridge of Angels, St. Peter’s Square (which isn’t really square), the Vatican Museum, and the Sistine Chapel.

What an extraordinary experience!  If you decide to visit Greece and/or Italy, then by all means do it with Footsteps Ministries.  The Sparks family are the best!

The Best and Worst of 2018

It’s been another exciting year, and we want to thank you all for reading and, if applicable, posting comments on our blog. Once again, we would like to close out the year with some summary remarks about good and bad stuff related to film, music, books, sports, food, and family.

Film Experiences:

Jim:  This year I saw numerous films and few of them were disappointments. My expectations were low going into several of these, which contributed to my delight at their quality. One of these was Solo: A Star Wars Story, which wonderfully matched the Star Wars campy humor aesthetic at its best. Another was Incredibles 2, which blew me away in terms of how naturally it followed and even improved upon the seemingly unmatchable first film. What took them so long?! And my expectations were especially low with regard to A Star is Born, but under Bradley Cooper’s superb direction, combined with some strong acting and singing performances by Cooper and Lady Gaga, what seemed from the start to be a really bad idea (why remake such a bad film?) became a stunning triumph—an authentically portrayed tragic tale at a time in Hollywood history when tragedy seems to be a dead genre. Bravo! Two other highlights for the year for me were Phantom Thread (Daniel Day-Lewis is truly a master of his craft) and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (the Coen brothers—directors of the film—are masters of theirs).

Amy:  Jim stole a few of my choices for great film experiences, but here are a few others he didn’t mention. I spent a lot more time watching the small screen than the big screen this year. However, two highlights among blockbusters were Avengers: Infinity War and Mission: Impossible-Fallout. Neither was the best movie ever, but once you have committed to a series, you have to see it through, right? The Searchers and My Life as a Zucchini were two small screen gems we enjoyed as a family. I discovered Sneaky Pete which is a brilliantly produced con series and Patrick Melrose. The kids and I devoured The Great British Baking Show and all I can say is it was scrummy! We also made sport with several Hallmark movies this Christmas (one point if you can predict upcoming dialogue, two points for predicting plot developments) which are a bit like your Aunt Betty’s cheese ball: unoriginal and bland but for some reason you can’t stop yourself from consuming it.

Jim’s Best Musical Experiences of the Year:  One of the highlights of the year was taking my daughter, Maggie, to see Taylor Swift in concert at Lucas Oil stadium in September. Maggie cried through much of it, while I simply enjoyed the show. Seeing Bailey, Sam, and Andrew develop as musicians (guitar, drums, and piano, respectively) has been wonderful. As for new music that I’ve especially enjoyed, by far my biggest discovery of the year was the Avett Brothers. I have been vaguely aware of them for years but I never really dug into their stuff. Then I discovered their song “No Hard Feelings” at a time in my life when I really needed it. This prompted a deep dive into their catalogue and I’ve been astounded by the musical beauty and lyrical wisdom of their work ever since.

Amy’s Best Food Experiences of the Year:  This summer, a friend and I catered two weddings, with our husbands and kids playing supporting roles.  So much work, so much time, so much fun. Kind of like marriage, actually. Being trusted to play a significant role in one of the biggest days of a couple’s life is a true honor . . . not to mention the joy of discovering homemade pickled beets and chicken shawarma. Yum yum.

Jim’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  The Chicago Cubs had a strong regular season, but I’ll leave it at that (see disappointing sports moments below), and the New Orleans Saints have been dominant in the regular season as well, and I’m hopeful that their season this year won’t end in a crushing last second defeat like last year (see below as well). Sam’s Eastbrook high school soccer team won sectionals again, which was fun.  And his first year on a travel team was great for him as well.

Amy’s Favorite Sports Moments of the Year:  Ironically, my favorite sports moment involved watching my team lose. We had a challenging spring semester and making a run for the border (to Canada) with Jim for our anniversary was a much-needed break. Attending my first NHL game (Detroit vs. Montreal) was icing on the cake. Go Red Wings!

Jim’s Most Disappointing Sports Moments of the Year:  The Chicago Cubs early dismissal from the playoffs via a loss in the wild card game against the Colorado Rockies was disappointing. But it wasn’t terribly surprising, as all season long they seemed to lack the timely hitting that great teams consistently come up with. And the New Orleans Saints’ sudden ousting from the playoffs in January due to the “Minneapolis Miracle” TD pass reception by Stefon Diggs was one of the most difficult moments in my life as a sports fan. Oh well, there’s always next year, and I’m hoping this year will be it for my Saints.

Amy’s Most Painful Sports Moment of the Year:  I really thought (and hoped) the Cubs would make a deep run in the playoffs, but I enjoyed watching the Red Sox win it all. On a more personal note, Andrew’s travel basketball team lost in double overtime despite the other team going down two players and he ended up with a concussion, a first for the both us.

Good and Bad Reads of the Year:

Jim:  One of my favorite reads this year was Christian Faith and Social Justice: Five Views, edited by Vic McCracken. The book displays just how widely varied are the perspectives on social justice, even within the Christian community. And it doesn’t even include a chapter on the natural law perspective, which is probably the book’s main weakness. Here is my full review of the volume. Another superb scholarly text I read this year was Linda Zagzebski’s Epistemic Authority, which explores the role of authority in belief formation. Next to Alvin Plantinga, Zagzebski is probably my biggest contemporary hero in Christian philosophy and, more specifically, virtue epistemology. Everything she does is lucid and profoundly insightful. The worst book I read this year (and probably for many years) was Willie James Jennings’ The Christian Imagination. It is a work which is unfortunately highly touted in many circles, but which lacks anything like a coherent argument for its thesis. I also read many superb (and a few not so good) scholarly articles pertaining to hell and open-mindedness, my primary scholarly projects these days.

Amy:  I read so many great books this year, some for pleasure, some I had to muscle through, and some that were a little bit of both. Mindset by Carol Dweck and A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman were two that challenged my narrative-oriented brain but were well worth the effort as was Reflection on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis, though in a more spiritually edifying way. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin and Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington were sobering reminders of the history of prejudice in our country which both, ironically, left me hopeful about the potential of our future. The Choice by Dr. Edith Eger is one of the best books I read this year and one I couldn’t stop recommending to people. Our family entered the world of the Enneagram with The Road Back to You and I have loved all things P. G. Wodehouse this fall and winter. Lethal White, the next in the series by Robert Galbraith, aka J. K. Rowling, did not disappoint.

Best 2018 Family Memories:

Amy:  Our 20th wedding anniversary trip in March was wonderful especially our trip to the Toronto Museum of Art and hiking around Montreal. This year was full of transitions for us as a family. Bailey graduated from high school started at Taylor this fall. His absence is felt by us all and yet we are excited to see him moving on to bigger and better things. I wrapped up homeschooling with Maggie and Andrew and with their entrance into our local public school, I have taken on the role of cheerleader rather than teacher, a role I quite enjoy unless it means explaining linear equations, to myself and Maggie, at 11:30 at night. The kids and I took a trip over fall break with my folks and enjoyed beautiful scenery and one another’s company. We have all also loved having my niece, Rachel, living with us this year.

Jim:  Our trip to Canada in March was a rewarding and timely excursion. On the way home, we visited Ausable Chasm, the “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks,” which we both enjoyed immensely. Also, seeing our sons Sam and Andrew develop as athletes (soccer for Sam and baseball, basketball, and soccer for Andrew) has been a lot of fun. And having Bailey as a student in my History of Philosophy class at Taylor was also a memorable, if sometimes strange, experience. Also, building a chicken coop and acquiring some chicks (which are now full-grown, ready-to-lay, hens) has been quite the adventure. Lastly, taking part in a two-day retreat of silence at the Abbey of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky two weeks ago with my father-in-law, brother-in-law, and our six sons was a highlight as well. The extended time of prayer, Bible study, and silent meditation was spiritually enriching and cleansing. And the bourbon chocolate fudge made by the monks was a nice bonus!

Best Kids’ Quotes of the Year

Here are some of the best quotes of the year from our kids, which come from Maggie (14) and Sam (16):

  • Maggie: “I wish cancer would get cancer and die.”
  • Sam: “The worst things happen to people when they forget how small they really are.”
  • Maggie: “Moms know. Dads understand.”
  • Sam: “No one is anonymous under the divine eyes.”
  • Maggie: (in a conversation about sexual ethics) “Truth does not have an expiration date. It’s not frickin’ milk.”
  • Maggie: “If someone kidnapped me and held me against my will but gave me ice cream regularly, I would stay.”

New Year’s Resolutions:

Amy:  I want to strive to be more disciplined in scripture reading. I am working on turning worries into prayers and with my career as a homeschooling mom coming to an end, I am figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.

Jim:  Once again, my primary goal this year is to be more regular with posts on Wisdom and Folly. But I really mean it this time!


Happy 2019 everyone!

Viewpoint Diversity and the Academy

Generally speaking, we all value—or ought to value—diversity.  Be it ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic, aesthetic, methodological, culinary, or human developmental (i.e., age), we know—or should know—that human diversity is a good thing for a community and a good thing for us as individuals to experience.  On this much, hopefully, we can agree.  And it is appropriate for any school, business, or organization to cherish and pursue diversity.  But why this is a reasonable value is seldom explained or defended.  What is it exactly that makes diversity a human good?  Why, in particular, is diversity a valuable thing at a university?  And why is this especially true for a Christian university?

As cognitive creatures, humans are inherently doxastic beings, naturally forming beliefs all day every day about all sorts of things.  And for beliefs to be rational they must be adequately informed.  Humans are also social animals, as Aristotle famously noted.  Human societies are inherently plural, so our operation within communal atmospheres is fundamental to our existence.  As doxastic social beings, then, we rely on others within our communities to instruct, challenge, and correct us as we form beliefs about a whole range of subjects.  And if all members within a given community believe the same things about all issues, then there may be instruction, but there won’t be challenges or corrections to our beliefs.  Given that all of us hold some false beliefs that need correction, a lack of doxastic plurality would leave us with little hope for escape from the grip of these falsehoods.  Any further enlightenment would be limited by the confines of the already agreed upon set of beliefs that everyone in our midst already affirms.

If this is true for any community, then it is especially the case in an academic community. Diversity of views is inherent to the original and on-going purpose of the university, as a place where many different perspectives and belief commitments co-exist and integrate in creative, cooperative, and innovative ways.  Of course, it is not enough to have the “versity” without the “uni” of “university.”  Something must unify us in the midst of the plurality of perspectives and convictions.  And this is what distinguishes the Christian university, which regards Christ as the star of the academic solar system.  As the Apostle Paul says, “in Christ all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  So in the Christian university, Christ is the hub and focal point of everything we learn, teach, and practically implement.  At least that is our goal, even if we constantly fall short of attaining this ideal.  This conviction is rooted even in the creative order itself.  God is the maker of all things, and the universe is inherently diverse, so if we are to properly worship and understand God, we must appreciate the diversity within his creation.  So the good of diversity for the Christian university is grounded both in Christology and divine creation.

But notice that this diversity good is essentially doxastic—it has to do with the variety of beliefs, viewpoints, and perspectives.  Yet when diversity is promoted and celebrated in academic communities these days, it is not the first thing many people think of.  Rather, we often think of racial or gender diversity (and, perhaps, to a lesser extent, diversity of age or physical ability).  This is not to say that these forms of diversity are not themselves valuable, but these biological differences have no communal value in themselves any more than other biological factors, such as eye color, height, or the shape of one’s bicuspids.  We properly value racial and gender diversity only because they are somewhat reliable indicators of the deeper essential value of viewpoint diversity.  But they are not infallible indicators of diverse perspectives.  Biological diversity (plurality of races, genders, etc.) does not guarantee viewpoint diversity.  Nor does the lack of such diversity within an academic community guarantee a lack of viewpoint diversity.

So is the current obsession with biological diversity in the American academy misguided?  To the extent that it ignores or fails to appreciate the deeper value of viewpoint diversity, I think it is.  After all, if the end in view is plurality of perspectives, then racial and gender diversity are, as just noted, not infallible indicators of the achievement of that end.  Of course, one might point out that biological diversity within a community is important for another reason, specifically as an indicator of fair hiring procedures.  But, important as that is, it is a separate issue.  And here, too, biological diversity or the lack thereof is not by itself an infallible indicator of fairness in hiring or the lack thereof.

So, again, diversity of biological attributes such as race and gender within an academic community is valuable, but only secondarily or derivatively.  My contention is that they are not valuable in themselves but valuable because of a deeper good, namely viewpoint diversity, the plurality of perspectives which is so crucial to the advancement and enhancement of learning, which of course is the ultimate good of any academic community.