Weekly Meanderings, 23 March 2019

Weekly Meanderings, 23 March 2019 March 23, 2019

John Lennox, Oxford Christian mathematician:

Oxford, England — John Lennox, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, leans forward in his chair, his blue eyes brightening, as he explains how his peculiar profession nearly shipwrecked the academic career of one of his intellectual heroes, Christian author and apologist C. S. Lewis.

Shortly before he disembarked for France to fight in the British Army during the First World War, Lewis failed his “fearsome” qualifying examination in algebra to continue his studies at Oxford. “He had to go to a crammer, which is an ancient word for a school where they crammed the information into you,” Lennox tells me. “But the world war intervened.” When Lewis returned to Oxford in January 1919, the university waived the mathematics requirement for him and other war veterans. “So, we were in a hair’s breadth of never having Lewis’s literary genius and output because of algebra — the subject I love,” he laughs. “There is something ironic in that.”

Perhaps something providential as well. By the time Lennox arrived at Cambridge University as an undergraduate in 1962, he already had devoured many of Lewis’s writings. He couldn’t resist sneaking out of his math lectures to hear Lewis lecture on John Donne before a packed auditorium.

More than any other thinker, it was Lewis — an atheist who converted to Christianity with the help of J. R. R. Tolkien — who gave Lennox the conceptual tools to confront the materialist objections to faith in God. “I thought it was very important to try to walk inside the shoes of someone who knew atheism from the inside, and Lewis provided that guide to me,” he says. “In all his questioning, there was the slow development of his impression that there was a God who could be taken seriously. All of that became very important to me.”

Now, at 75, Lennox has distinguished himself internationally for his intellectual defense of Christianity. He has debated — and, according to his admirers, bested — celebrated atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Peter Singer. A fellow in the philosophy of science at Oxford, he writes books that explore the essential compatibility between the scientific quest, rightly understood, and religious belief. Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo: All believed in a God who created and sustained the universe. “Instead of the founders of modern science being hindered by their belief in God,” Lennox reminds me, “their belief in God was the motor that drove their science.”

Newsweek’s Cristina Maza:

The persecution and genocide of Christians across the world is worse today “than at any time in history,” and Western governments are failing to stop it, a report from a Catholic organization said.

The study by Aid to the Church in Need said the treatment of Christians has worsened substantially in the past two years compared with the two years prior, and has grown more violent than any other period in modern times.

“Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution,” the report said.

The report examined the plight of Christians in China, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Turkey over the period lasting from 2015 until 2017. The research showed that in that time, Christians suffered crimes against humanity, and some were hanged or crucified. The report found that Saudi Arabia was the only country where the situation for Christians did not get worse, and that was only because the situation couldn’t get any worse than it already was.

The authors criticized the administration of President Donald Trump for not holding Saudi Arabia accountable for its human rights violations and instead focusing on the trade relationship between the two nations. In May 2017, Trump signed a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia during his first overseas trip in office.

The report put special focus on Middle Eastern countries like Iraq and Syria, where the authors argued Christians would have been entirely wiped out if it weren’t for military action and the assistance of Christian humanitarian organizations, like Aid to the Church in Need.

“The defeat of Daesh [the Islamic State militant group] and other Islamists in major strongholds of the Middle East offers the last hope of recovery for Christian groups threatened with extinction,” the report found. “Many would not survive another similar violent attack.”

Congratulations to Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck:

An American professor has become the first woman to be awarded the Abel Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious international mathematics awards.

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced in Oslo on Tuesday that Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck of the University of Texas at Austin was this year’s winner of the prize, seen by many as the Nobel Prize in mathematics.

The award was worth 6m Norwegian kroner ($704,000).

The jury cited Keskulla Uhlenbeck’s “fundamental work in geometric analysis and gauge theory which has dramatically changed the mathematical landscape”. It also praised her as “a strong advocate for gender equality in science and mathematics”.

The prize was first awarded in 2003 to honor the 19th-century Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel.

Sad news about LifeWay:

LifeWay Christian Resources, the largest Christian retail chain in America, plans to close all 170 stores this year and shift its offerings entirely online.

“The decision to close our local stores is a difficult one,” said acting president and CEO Brad Waggoner, who is succeeding longtime LifeWay president Thom Rainer.

“LifeWay has developed close connections with the communities where our stores are located, and we have been honored to serve those communities. We will continue serving local congregations as they meet the spiritual needs of their neighbors.”

The Southern Baptist affiliate announced in January initial plans to reduce its locations this year due to declining sales and financial pressures, but ended up deciding it wasn’t viable to keep any stores open past 2019. Rainer saidthey did all they could to save the stores, which span across 30 states.

“Our retail strategy for the future will be a greater focus on digital channels, which are experiencing strong growth,” Waggoner said in an announcement on Wednesday. The chain will continue online sales through LifeWay.com.

LifeWay’s store closures come two years after its competitor, Family Christian Resources, shut down all 240 locations in the midst of mounting debt and bankruptcy. Cokesbury Bookstores closed all 38 retail stores in 2013.

Alan Jacobs, Francis Spufford, and copyright expansiveness:

One of the best works of fiction I have read in the past several years was written by the acclaimed English writer Francis Spufford — and no, I do not refer to his award-winning novel Golden Hill, though indeed I loved that book too. The story I’m referring to is called The Stone Table, and before you Google it or look for it on Amazon, please understand that you will not find it. And that’s because of intellectual property law.

For Spufford’s book is set in Narnia, the fictional world created by C. S. Lewis. The Stone Table features characters who appear in other Narnia books: most notably, two children named Polly Plummer and Digory Kirke and the great lion Aslan. The seven Narnia books that Lewis wrote have already come into the public domain in some countries, and may even do so in the United States — though those of us who have seen the law extend copyright again and again may be pardoned for doubting that it will ever happen. But Spufford has written a new Narnia story, so copyright law doesn’t affect his: what matters is that the world of Narnia is a registered trademark of C. S. Lewis (PTE.) Ltd. — and trademarks, if they are consistently used and defended against infringement, last forever. (This is why so many companies will sue for trademark infringement even in apparently trivial cases: they’re afraid that if they don’t they’ll be accused of having abandoned their copyright.) Moreover, trademarks are often international in their scope.

So as long as there is money to be made from Narnia™, then, books like The Stone Table cannot be published and sold without the express consent of C. S. Lewis (PTE.) Ltd.

Wow, a long story on the roots of white racist ideology in the USA and well worth reading and storing:
The concept of “white genocide”—extinction under an onslaught of genetically or culturally inferior nonwhite interlopers—may indeed seem like a fringe conspiracy theory with an alien lineage, the province of neo-Nazis and their fellow travelers. In popular memory, it’s a vestige of a racist ideology that the Greatest Generation did its best to scour from the Earth. History, though, tells a different story. King’s recent question, posed in New York Times interview, may be appalling: “White nationalistwhite supremacistWestern civilization—how did that language become offensive?” But it is apt. “That language” has an American past in need of excavation. Without such an effort, we may fail to appreciate the tenacity of the dogma it expresses, and the difficulty of eradicating it. The president’s rhetoric about “shi-thole countries” and “invasion” by immigrants invites dismissal as crude talk, but behind it lie ideas whose power should not be underestimated.
The seed of Nazism’s ultimate objective—the preservation of a pure white race, uncontaminated by foreign blood—was in fact sown with striking success in the United States. What is judged extremist today was once the consensus of a powerful cadre of the American elite, well-connected men who eagerly seized on a false doctrine of “race suicide” during the immigration scare of the early 20th century. They included wealthy patricians, intellectuals, lawmakers, even several presidents. Perhaps the most important among them was a blue blood with a very impressive mustache, Madison Grant. He was the author of a 1916 book called The Passing of the Great Race, which spread the doctrine of race purity all over the globe.
Sugary drinks and premature deaths:
People who drank more sugar-sweetened beverages had a greater risk of premature death, particularly from cardiovascular disease and to a lesser extent from cancer, according to a new study led by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health..“Our results provide further support to limit intake of [sugar-sweetened beverages] and to replace them with other beverages, preferably water, to improve overall health and longevity,” Vasanti Malik, research scientist in the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the study, said in a statement.The drinks include carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks. Researchers said that they were the single largest source of added sugar in the US diet. The new study was published Monday in the journal Circulation.Researchers looked at data from 80,647 women participating in one study and from 37,716 men in another study. After adjusting for major diet and lifestyle factors, the researchers found an increasing risk of early death for those drinking more sugary drinks.People who drank two or more per day had a 21 percent increased risk of early death, compared with people who consumed such drinks less than once a month.The risk was even worse for early death from cardiovascular disease. Those who drank two or more sugary drinks a day had a 31 percent higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease.Researchers said they also found a modest link between sugary drinks and early death from cancer.“These findings are consistent with the known adverse effects of high sugar intake on metabolic risk factors and the strong evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, itself a major risk factor for premature death.” Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, said in the statement.Researchers also looked at artificially-sweetened beverages, finding that replacing sugary drinks with artificially-sweetened ones was linked with moderately lower risk of early death. But they also found a high intake of artificially-sweetened drinks (four or more per day) was linked to a slightly increased risk of overall and cardiovascular-related death among women, so they cautioned against overimbibing those types of drinks.

George Yancey, I fear, is all too accurate:

To summarize, a significant percentage of our society wants members of the other political party to be gone – by any means necessary. Their desire for violence will rise if their party loses. Of course we are guaranteed that one of the major parties will lose the presidential election in 2020. And those who are most knowledgeable are the most partisan and most likely to buttress potential violence. My religious tradition argues that human depravity is the best way to understand the human situation. When I look at information like this, how could I not believe that this approach is correct?

I did not need this study to see how inept we have become in dealing with our political opponents. Recently Vice President Biden got in trouble from partisans. Not partisans from the right but from the left. His crime: He called Vice President Pence a decent person.

Let me stop some of you right now who are getting ready to make the silly argument of false equivalence. Take a look once again at the survey. Progressives are at least as willing to put their enemies to death as conservatives. We have a bipartisan problem, and it will not be solved if one side steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that they are playing their role in creating this atmosphere of hate. I generally find the false equivalence argument to be more representative of confirmation bias than a legitimate argument. I am especially unimpressed by it when there is survey data that contradicts that argument.

How can we start to move away from this type of toxic political environment? Of course having a President that does not fan the flames of resentment and anger would help. But as much as I would love to put the entire blame on President Trump, this problem predated his rise to power. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that the people on the other side of the political spectrum are human too. Social media has not helped. It becomes easy to use dehumanizing names such as libtard or Rethugican when we are safely typing behind a keyboard. Identity politics on the left and right also helped to create an atmosphere where we only have to be concerned about the fate of people like us. I am certain there are more sources of this type of dehumanization and tolerance of violence that are developing in our society. In time, I hope we can develop the type of research that will allow us to better understand the origin, and possible solutions to this troubling trend.

But I am not going to offer any set solutions in this current blog. More than solutions, I hope to provide a warning. And in providing this warning, hope to motivate more individuals to understand just how bad off we are. People believe that we are sophisticated enough as a society that we will not resort to violence and killing to achieve our political aims. Oh sure in the past we have not always lived up to our goals of non-violence but we have outgrown that version of America right? This is naïve thinking. It only takes a small percentage of the 18.3 percent of Democrats and 13.8 percent of Republicans who think violence is justified if they lose the election to plunge our society into some degree of chaos. And once the shooting starts, where does it end?

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