Book Review: The Master And His Emissary

The Master And His Emissary:  The Divided Brain And The Making Of The Western World, by Iain McGilchrist

There are a lot of cliches about left brain and right brain thinking.  And most of them tend to favor the left brain, which is praised for its logical thinking and linguisic abilities, as opposed to the more vaguely understood right brain.  What this book does is place the concern about our brain’s divided hemispheres and put it in a variety of contexts, wondering about the benefits of having two nearly independent hemispheres, looking at the comparative anatomy of the sides of the brain and how they operate in people (especially with strokes and other brain damage) as well as animals, and providing a deep historical look at the way that the Western world in particular has operated during the course of the history from the beginning of the Greek classical age to the contemporary period.  The author has a lot of pointed things to say about how it is that the contemporary age and numerous other troublesome periods of history where it seemed as if the left side of the brain was more highly valued and more dominant, but what he has to say about left-brain dominance is pretty unkind, it should be noted.

This book is a very large one at over 450 pages of material, but for all that length it manages to only be 12 chapters with various supplementary material.  The book begins with a list of illustrations and acknowledgments and a preface to the expanded edition of the book that expresses surprise at the popularity of the book.  The introduction, discussing the right brain as the “master” and the left as an emissary with incomplete information and a strong sense of hubris, and the conclusion on the way that contemporary society as seen the emissary betray the master and enshrine left-brain dominance, frame the work as a whole.  In between the twelve chapters of the book are divided equally in two parts.  The first part of the book explores the divided brain (I), with chapters on the brain’s asymmetry (1), what the two hemispheres do (2), language, truth, and music (3), the nature of the two worlds of the hemispheres (4), the primacy of the right hemisphere (5) and what allows the left hemisphere to periodically triumph (6).  The second part of the book explores how our brain has shaped our world (II), with chapters on imitation and the development of culture (7), the ancient world (8), the Renaissance and reformation (9), the enlightenment (10), romanticism and the industrial revolution (11), and the modern and postmodern worlds (12).  The book is concluded with the usual endnotes, bibliography, and index.

It is hard to say whether or not I agree with where the author is going when it discusses the division of the hemispheres and the priority of the right, to say nothing of his scathing discussion of contemporary culture and Western history.  Nevertheless, the author’s thinking is certainly well worth taking into consideration.  We do live in a world where savage misunderstanding and paranoia run rampant and where there is little ability for us to get a full and coherent picture of the world because of the problem of perspectives.  If the author is correct, the autism we find in the contemporary world to such a great extent is a fault of our societal worldview and the incentives and approach we have to the world, and the task of overcoming it a daunting one.  Like many books, the author here seeks to defend melancholy from the hostility it has been viewed by others, pointing out the insight that comes from coming to grips with even unpleasant realities.   It seems likely that the author has some insight worth following, and that there are clear advantages to having one side of the mind be the master and the other the emissary, or for one to be an emperor and the other a directrix, as a friend and I hypothesized so long ago that it seems almost another life.  To have independently come to the insights of the author is flattering, but much work remains to be done to see if the author’s thoughts are indeed correspondent with the reality of history and brain anatomy, and this is not a straightforward matter to understand.

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Book Review: The Workshop And The World

The Workshop And The World:  What Ten Thinkers Can Teach Us About Science And Authority, by Robert P. Crease

This author is a great hypocrite, and unfortunately not a very self-aware one.  It is hard to know exactly what this author is trying to accomplish in this book, because if the author is trying to encourage people who do not already agree with the author to give consensus science a great deal of cultural and political authority (particularly in questions about evolution and anthropogenic climate change), this book is not going to be very convincing.  Indeed, the book insults those who doubt the efficacy of vaccines, view intelligent design as more compelling than evolution, or who do not think that models about climate change are all that compelling as being either dupes of corporate shills or dishonest people who do not really disagree with the “truths” of the consensus view the author defends but seek political capital through expressing skepticism.  This considerably oversells the scientific value of the theories the author is unsuccessfully attempting to peddle and undersells the seriousness of doubts or their legitimacy, neither of which is ultimately helpful in providing the sort of pro-science support the author wants and demands but is unlikely to get from this flaming pile of nonsense.

This book is almost 300 pages long and is devoted to supporting the author’s biased and mistaken views on the legitimacy of scientific authority against questions and rival theories and interpretations as seen through the eyes of ten very slanted biographical essays divided into four periods.  After an introduction the author looks at Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis and praises Bacon’s love of the “new science” that seeks to carve out a place for science outside of religious authority while downplaying Bacon’s skeevy personal life or corruption (1), as well as giving the usual biased view of Galileo’s opposition to the Catholic view of science (2) and an equally biased view of the workshop thinking shown by the frequently mistaken Descartes (3).  After that the author turns to Vico and the problem of going mad rationally (4), as well as the hideous problems of scientific development explored by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein (5), and the harrowing picture of Compte’s positivist approach (6).  Three more essays look at the problem of authority and bureaucracy explored by Weber (7), the problem of science and patriotism explored in Kemel’s Turkey (8), and the cultural crisis of the West explored by Husserl (9), before closing with a call to action from Arendt’s writings (10) that equates those who deny evolution or climate change with Nazis, after which there is a conclusion, acknowledgements, notes, and index.

Indeed, the book is even worse than misguided, but shows the author attempting to abuse the cultural power of scientists or supporters of particular positions to silence and ridicule and even criminalize opposition.  While viewing any criticism of scientific arrogance and overreach as dishonest and feigned, and expressing a fear that science deniers (his oft-used club to beat others with) will use authoritarianism on poor defenseless and noble scientists just trying to defend the truth and enact wise policies in light of that supposed truth, the author shows himself to be as authoritarian and as nasty as any of the people this book condemns, like Hitler.  Few would-be authoritarians, after all, are as jesuitical as this particular one, who cannot even assume that his opponents are well-meaning and sincere, much less more right than he is about scientific questions he presumes are settled in favor of the author’s own views, rather very much in doubt.  Perhaps he ought to have reflected upon the erroneous views of past generations of scientific speculators and reflected on the poor philosophical base so much of his argumentation lies on, and perhaps he would not beclown himself as he does here.  But that would be a vain hope, as any author who was self-aware of the intellectual and moral poverty of his position would not write the way that this one does.

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Book Review: Wittgenstein’s Poker

Wittgenstein’s Poker:  The Story Of A Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers, by David Edmonds & John Eidinow

Calling Wittgenstein a great philosopher would appear to be a highly charitable view given his terrible sense and fondness for oracular statements.  It demonstrates the rather low bar that autocratic and possibly mentally unwell personalities have to meet in order to make a mark in the world of philosophy.  Indeed, one of the more puzzling aspects of this book is how it is possible that nearly 300 pages of material could be written (even on smallish pages) over an interaction that lasted ten minutes long in a meeting room in Cambridge where two philosophers who traveled in similar circles as exiled and irreligious Viennese Jews met each other for the first and only time and things did not go particularly well.  The story is compelling enough, but making an entire book out of the incident might strike many people as being somewhat excessive in terms of what needs to be worked up to make the incident that serious and that worthwhile.  As someone who is used to seeing historically important people have books written of small and obscure incidents, though, this book is by no means the most insignificant moment that I have read a book about, so at least it has that going for it.

This particular book is divided into 23 chapters.  The author begins with a discussion of the noted poker itself (1) and then looks at the subject of memory and its deceptiveness (2).  There is a discussion about the way that both Popper and Wittgenstein bewitched others through charm (3), and the disciples that each of them had collected, especially Wittgenstein (4).  There is a look at the third man, Bertrand Russell, who brought Popper to the discussion in order to tweak Wittgenstein (5).  There is a discussion of the faculty of Cambridge (6) and its politics as well as a look at the Jewish context of the lives of both men, which takes several chapters (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12), including a chapter about the death of the head of the Vienna Circle, a man deeply hostile to Popper (13), and Popper’s ambivalent relationship with that circle (14, 15, 16).  The author also examines Popper’s rising success (17) and the question about puzzles and problems that divided the two (18, 19).  Finally, the author seeks to moderate the opinions of the incident by presenting an approach of seeking to harmonize accounts and give all of the people involved the benefit of the doubt, which leads to a detailed discussion of the accounts the authors received from eyewitnesses of the contretemps, included in an appendix.

What is fascinating about this book is the way that it blends so many aspects together of philosophy and culture.  No one reading this book with a remotely fair mind (if such a thing can be said about me as a reader) can leave without realizing that famous philosophers are as much human beings as the rest of us.  And that is not always a good thing.  We remember things wrong, remember ourselves as the heroes of our encounters even if we remember what we could have and should have said instead of what we did actually say, and get involved in decades-long drama over petty incidents with other people.  It just so happens that these people were noted figures in a very small world of 20th century philosophers.  As a reader I found myself being ultimately a fan of neither of the philosophers or their approaches, although I found more to like and appreciate about Popper than about Wittgenstein, but that is something would be fairly obvious given my own ideological perspectives and my own worldview.  This book is mainly for philosophically inclined readers, as many casual readers will not know what the fuss is about.

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The Working Of Satan In 2 Thessaslonians 2

The working of Satan is something that we have spent a long time discussing so far in our look at what the Bible has to say about our adversary.  We have just seen how Satan attempts to prevent the truth from being proclaimed through inspiring violent hostility against those who tell the truth.  Let us now examine the other side of the picture, in Satan’s encouragement of the official proclamation of deception, which is written about at some length in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12:  “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.  Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.  Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?  And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.  The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

There is a lot of speculation about the identity of the man of lawlessness and the nature of the deception and of course the timing of this deception for what appears to be an end-time prophecy.  There is a fascinating aspect of demonology in terms of the restraint of the mystery of lawlessness that is being referred to here as if the pull towards lawlessness is something that begins long before it becomes most dangerous.  This is a tendency we can see in various aspects of the mystery of lawlessness and the hostility to God’s ways that we find in our own contemporary society as well as in a look at history.  And in our own world, if we want to gain insight into what the Bible is saying by comparison with our own experience, we can see various matters that restrain the mystery of lawlessness, including the development of people’s consciences, the beneficial aspects of traditional morality, the cultivation of rule of law, and even the relatively good behavior of elites that encourages respect of law in the general public.  It is when these are undermined that the mystery of lawlessness appears particularly obviously.

It is also noteworthy that the mystery of lawlessness itself is labeled by Paul as a working of Satan.  There are obvious reasons why this is the case, but there is also a somewhat paradoxical nature of this activity of the lawless one that mirrors the paradox of lawlessness and ungodliness in general.  Lawlessness in general is anarchical and the hostility of people to God’s laws and God’s ways detracts from the orderly nature of the behavior of people.  Yet it should be noted that those who oppose God’s laws are not in general simply libertarians who want to be free to live immoral lives without being coerced into the appearance of righteousness (though some people are like this), but in the main we find that they simultaneously desire to coerce other people into favor of their ungodly and immoral ways.  This same contradiction, this Janus-faced attitude of anarchy towards above authorities and tyranny towards those viewed as lower, can be found in Satan’s approach as a whole, which require a great deal of deception on numerous levels.  Self-deception is necessary to avoid recognizing that one is behaving in a hypocritical fashion by refusing coercion towards righteousness while endorsing coercion in favor of unrighteousness.  Deception of others is necessary to deaden the impact of a vestigial conscience as well as a reminder of divine judgment, and frequently there needs to be deception about the nature of truth itself so as to privilege one’s feelings and not recognize the empirical truths that come either through statistical understanding or reasoning from sound premises or recognizing truth in creation.  In all of these areas of deception Satan is involved in the promotion of lawlessness as well as in figures who coerce large portions of the globe on behalf of Satan’s interests.

Characteristically, it is Satan’s working of deception that is the source of his other powers over others.  Truth is required to be genuinely free because when one is deceived one is prey to a variety of falsehoods that prevent freedom.  On the one hand deception leads us to be enslaved by imaginary and neurotic fears, and so it is little surprise that those who are worked on most successfully by Satan find themselves enslaved by anxiety and worry, whether it is the worry about other people liking them or worries about the power of their appearance or (correspondingly) a lack of concern in matters of reality.  Similarly, deception leads to slavery to one’s desires and lusts, or the harmful effects of chemicals and behavior, that which to harm to our minds, bodies, heart, and spirits.  The benefits gained from ungodliness are elusive, and people find themselves suffering as a result of having adopted the wrong attitudes and behaviors, and yet in their deceived state they tend not to repent of this and seek the truth, but rather to attack those who are telling them unwanted truths.  In this way the mystery of lawlessness, whether it appears as a widespread societal pull towards evil or as a coercive authority that seeks to enforce moral anarchy in the nature of a Hitler or Stalin, serves Satan’s interests and ultimately serves to the harm of humanity, even those people who are in support of such evils.

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Avoiding The Snare Of The Devil in 1 Timothy 3 And 2 Timothy 2

Avoiding the snare of the devil is an important quality when it comes to selecting leaders among bodies of Christians.  In fact, the need to avoid falling into the snare of the devil is such a key element that it occurs twice, in slightly different wording, when Paul discusses the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:  “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;  not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.  Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, when Paul later speaks about leaders who have fallen away, he again uses the term “snare of the devil” to discuss their fate in 2 Timothy 2:14-26:  “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.  Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.  And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.  Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”  But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.  Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.  Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.  And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”

At the start, there would not seem to be many connections between a discussion of the qualification for godly leaders and a discussion of those who have strayed because of various doctrinal errors, but Paul uses the expression “snare of the devil” in discussing both, and it is therefore worthwhile for us to ponder the shared context involved here.  On the one hand, it is important that leaders in God’s church have the godly character that will allow them to avoid the snare of the devil.  We will discuss what particular qualities are involved shortly.  It is also noteworthy that after discussing those who have departed the truth that Paul expresses his wish that those who have fallen away will repent and escape the snare of the devil, while also providing a set of qualities that ordinary believers can cultivate to help them avoid the same problem themselves.  There are a great many layers of meaning to discuss in these passages, but let us limit ourselves in the present discussion to those things which relate to Satan, as that is enough for our present purposes.

It should not be surprising that Paul would connect Satan with the pressures faced by leaders in the Church of God.  As we have seen, Paul reflected often on the workings of Satan and pondered how to thwart them, and it should not be surprising that this would be a concern of his pastoral epistles as it is a concern of all of his other letters.  If you wish to bring shame and dishonor upon God’s people it is pretty easy to use the behavior of leaders to bear as a sign of how ordinary believers deserve to be treated.  Since there is no shortage and has never been any shortage of people who have ambitiously sought positions and titles and offices despite (or because of) a complete unworthiness to hold such positions, who indeed are themselves servants and children of Satan rather than children of God, it would make sense that Satan would use the failures of his own followers who happen to be a part of Church of God organizations and congregations as a way of bringing dishonor upon the name of God and His people.  This is a predictable long-term strategy that Satan has had from the beginning, and Paul is knowledgeable enough about Satan’s ways to point out the need for being wise about who to select as leaders in order to avoid this taking place as best as possible.

What qualities of an elder does Paul indicate would help one escape the snare of the devil?  Being blameless, honorable in one’s marital relationships (not engaging in divorce and remarriage), temperate (in control of one’s moods and behavior), sober-minded, of good behavior (and not bad behavior), hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent or greedy, gentle and not quarrelsome, not covetous, someone who is able to keep their own house in order.  Now let us compare what, in the next chapter, he says about ordinary believers and the qualities that they should cultivate so as to avoid falling into the snare of the devil:  fleeing youthful lusts, pursuing righteousness, being faithful and loving, being peaceful, avoiding foolish and ignorant disputes, not being quarrelsome, but being gentle, able to teach, patient, and humble.  Indeed, there are a lot of areas of overlap in the qualities that Paul views as being suitable for all believers and those which qualify one to be in positions of leadership.  Indeed, the ordinary believer who demonstrated himself as able to teach and in pursuit of righteousness as someone who avoids foolish quarrels will have attained the qualities that would make one suitable to be a leader within the church, which at least provides a subtle indication that being a godly believer and preparing for leadership are close to being identical in the eyes of Paul, which has a great many implications that will be worthwhile for us to ponder on and explore at a later time.

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Book Review: The War Of 1812

The War Of 1812, by Rebecca Stefoff

The War of 1812 presents some major challenges for the reader and writer of history or atlases.  Does one focus on the naval matter of impressment and the disastrous embargo of Jefferson’s presidency, and deal with the problem of time that led the repeal of these practices not arrive at the United States in time to discourage war, and does one talk about the widespread sectional dissatisfaction with the conflict or deal with Canadian nationalism?  Does one focus attention on the frontier and the desire of Southern and Western Americans for more land to settle, increasing conflict with native tribes who relied on arms and other support from Britain?  In examining the battles of the war, does one focus on the small-scale ship-to-ship combat or the war on the lakes or the various military invasions of Canada or the successful American defense that led to a draw?  Who won and who lost the war?  It is clear that the natives lost it and that both Canada and the United States ended up with a stronger identity in the aftermath of the conflict, but the most decisive battle was fought after peace was achieved and few histories of this kind focus on the diplomatic effort that made the Treaty of Ghent possible.

This book is admittedly not a straightforward history but rather a historical atlas, but I admit I like it all the better for that.  Like the other books I put on hold from the library about the War of 1812, this volume is a very short one at about 50 pages, and its contents are even more compact at three chapters.  The first chapter looks at the road to war, discussing frontier matters, clashes at sea, the trouble with trade thanks to ineffective efforts at embargoing British (and French) trade, as well as the conflicts in Indiana between native tribes and American settlers (1).  After that the author discusses and provides maps for the new nation at war, with a look at war hawks in Congress, Madison’s declaration, the early (and unsuccessful) Canadian campaign as well as the war at sea (2).  After this there is a discussion of the end of the war, with a look at the British efforts to invade the United States on multiple fronts, Jackson’s successful efforts to subdue the Creek nation, the successful American defense of New Orleans, and a look at the winners and losers of a drawn war (3).  After this there is a glossary, map list, chronology, suggestions for further reading, and an index.

By and large this is a good book that provides a great deal of the context of the War of 1812 that shows why and how it was fought and what the results of the conflict were, at least for Americans.  To be sure, the book could have done more at discussing the effects of the war on Canada, but Canadian history is one of the most obscure and easy-to-forget areas of the history of the War of 1812 and while many contemporary writers want Americans to think about questions of immigration and treaties, few think of Canada and its separate interests apart from the British or Americans.  Be that as it may, this book is certainly a good one that at least comments about the American destruction of York in a way that provides context for the British revenge attack on Washington DC in 1814 that is otherwise so difficult to understand and defend.  This book is liberally festooned with pictures and maps, and that is certainly something that is easy to appreciate as well, as no book ever had too many good maps in it.

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Book Review: A Primary Source History Of The War Of 1812

A Primary Source History Of The War Of 1812, by John MIcklos, Jr.

It is probably a bad sign that I did not realize that this book was aiming to be a primary source-based history until after I had finished reading the book.  That is not to say that this book does not contain quite a few references to primary sources, even making its quotation of various papers and letters and other writings marked in different color.  It is more that the book contains rather blunt editorializing and fails to provide the sort of context and explanation for sources that would have drawn attention to the primary source focus that the author was going for.  As far as historical sources for the War of 1812 go, this one is by no means a bad one.  It is short and sometimes terse [1], and as a result lacks the kind of nuance that one would expect and hope for from a historical work, but if you are looking for a generally narrative history of the war you can certainly do worse than this.  I would have liked to have recognized the book as an example of primary source focus as that is something I generally appreciate.

This book is the shortest book I have read on the history of the War of 1812 at just over 30 pages, and that brevity clearly means that it has to be very efficient about what it covers, made all the more dramatic by the fact that the book attempts to incorporate isolated quotes from primary source documents as well, making it somewhat more ambitious than most similar efforts.  The author begins with a discussion about the failures of communication that led the United States to declare war after the British had suspended the articles of impressment that led to rising American hostility.  After that there is a discussion of the causes of the war, particularly as it involved clashing American, British, and native interests in the Midwest.  After that the author discusses the disastrous failure of American efforts to invade Canada at multiple points, and hen spends a short chapter discussing the far-flung naval war in mostly individual ship-to-ship combat.  The author then turns to discuss the British invasion of the United States and closes with a discussion of how the successful American defense led to a victorious peace, after which there are suggestions for further reading as well as an index.

What would have made this book easier to recognize as a primary source-based one?  Well, while the author uses a different color to note quotations from primary sources as opposed to his usual style of editorializing, he could have done a lot more to integrate primary sources into his writing rather than simply picking quotes not in context to burnish his own writing.  Perhaps most interesting of all would have been an approach that provided primary sources that themselves gave the narrative for the events, which may have included the declaration of war, the text of the treaty of Ghent, newspaper reports on battles, letters or memoirs from soldiers and generals and politicians, and even the resolutions of the Hartford Convention that so many people disregard as part of the results of the war from a political perspective.  There are many ways that this book could have put more attention on primary documentation, and that would have been a marked improvement over this book, but while this book is a modest achievement as a volume, it still is worth appreciating.

[1] My favorite example of this terseness is the following reference to the burning of York:

“This time U.S. troops succeeded in capturing York (now Toronto), a major Canadian city.  As they retreated, British soldiers set fire to the powder at their fort.  A huge explosion followed.  It killed and wounded hundreds of U.S. and British soldiers.  Angry U.S. troops burned government buildings.  Some homes were damaged too (17).”

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Book Review: The War Of 1812 (America Goes To War)

The War Of 1812 (America Goes To War), by Anne Todd

It is interesting to see what a historian includes about the War of 1812 when seeking to write to young audiences, presumably American ones, with very tight space constraints.  It is obvious that the loss of space will often mean a loss of nuance, in the same way that it is hard to have nuanced twitter conversations because there is only so much nuance that can fit in 288 characters.  When writing about an inconclusive war but one that was decisive in inspiring nationalist feeling in the United States and Canada that lasted for more than two years and involved naval combat all around the world as well as numerous different fronts from New Orleans to the Chesapeake to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Valley, there is a lot of material that can be included and it is revealing what an author chooses to focus on and chooses to omit.  As is often the case, I did not find very much included in this book to be objectionable or troublesome (although more on that below), but I did find some of the omissions to be especially troublesome in that they failed to provide the sort of balance that would have made this a more valuable entry-level book into the history of the War of 1812.

This short book of about 50 pages is divided into 5 chapters with various sidebars to provide more information about some topics.  After some fast facts about the conflict, the author begins with the context of the War of 1812, looking at the unfinished business of frontier settlements and naval impressment as what drove the United States towards war (1).  After that the author discusses the call to arms in the United States and Great Britain and in the army as well as the navy, pointing out American unpreparedness (2).  The third chapter discusses major battles but leaves a great many of them out (3), including all of the battles along the Niagara front.  After that the author discusses life in camp (4) including the threat of disease.  The final chapter includes the final battles, including the unsuccessful attack on Baltimore by a British combined army-navy task force and the successful American defense of New Orleans as well as the peace treaty at Ghent which ended the war in a status quo antebellum (5).  Throughout the book there are maps, timelines, words to know, suggestions for further reading, websites, and an index.

How could this book have been better?  In terms of what the book included, only the author’s desire to blacken the reputation of the United States with regards to land treaties with tribes could be faulted, and that is a matter of historical fact, as unpleasant a fact as it is.  Far more troubling are the book’s omissions.  The author, for example, discusses the burning of Washington DC (albeit briefly) but does not comment at all about the previous burning of York (now Toronto) that preceded it and provided the justification for the British outrage.  Likewise, the author discusses American nationalism as a major cause of the War of 1812, but does not discuss at all the Canadian nationalism that helped the population of the Canadian provinces to resist incorporation into the United States and has continued to this day to provide at least a negative sort of national identity.  It is not likely that adding a few more pages would have provided the author with the insight to have written about these matters, because it seems likely that it is a failure of imagination and perspective rather than a shortage of space that led such matters to be omitted in the first place.

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The Hindrance Of Satan In 1 Thessalonians 2

As should be very obvious by this point, Paul frequently referred to Satan in various parts of his writings, to a much greater extent than most of us are wont to do.  We find one of the more casual references to the efforts of Satan in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20:  “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire.  Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.  For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?  For you are our glory and joy.”  In order to better understand this passage and what it says about the workings of Satan in trying to hinder the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, it is worthwhile to examine some of the context and reason why Paul was unable to be in the presence of the brethren of Salonika.  

Fortunately, we have a record of Paul’s time in this area in Acts 17:1-9:  “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”  And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.  But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.  But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.  Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”  And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things.  So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.”

This particular example provides a case study of how Paul interpreted what happened to him in Salonika as being motivated by Satan.  In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul states that Satan hindered Paul from seeing the brethren again face to face.  In Acts 17, we see the mechanics of what hindered Paul, namely the envy of the Jews at hearing the Gospel of the Kingdom of Christ that stirred up a mob that forced Paul out and required Paul’s host, Jason, to post a bond for the security of the city to prevent future disorders.  The whole scene appears out of a KKK-style effort at intimidating those who bring unwanted social change as a way of bullying people who have different opinions from the masses.  For the sake of historical context, this sort of Jewish anti-Christian collusion with heathen mobs in order to attempt the intimidation of Christians is by no means an isolated phenomenon, as it would later result in the martyrdom of Polycarp in the second century AD.  We see, though, that Paul clearly calls anti-Christian intimidation efforts the workings of Satan, and the people who attempt to attack Christianity as evil men.

Obviously, there are implications from this.  One of them is that Paul’s personification of the problems faced from opposition as springing from Satan justifies the same approach being used by believers today to recognize that a great deal of contemporary anti-Christian hostility in society springs ultimately from Satan and his demons.  Additionally, we can see that attempts to harass and intimidate people have not greatly changed over the past two thousand years.  Just as was the case in Paul’s time, those who make reasoned but unpopular cases and deliver unwanted truth are often respond to with violence by those who are envious of the esteem that people can gain from those who are willing to be convinced by the truth.  And those who are envious or threatened by unwanted truths have easy recourse to stir up evil men (and women) and seek to use violence to speak where they lack the facts and rhetorical skill to speak otherwise.  Nothing has changed when it comes to the response that envious and hateful people deal with unwanted truths by seeking to silence truthtellers with violence.

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Ephesians 4:27 and 6:11 And The Spiritual War Against The Devil

When we look at the spiritual war against Satan as discussed in Ephesians 4 and 6, there are two passages in particular that stand out as being well worth discussion.  We find the first in Ephesians 4:25-32, which tells us:  “Therefore, putting away lying, Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.  “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.  Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.  Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

We find the second passage, regarding the armor of God, in Ephesians 6:10-20:  “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Why does Paul mention the devil in these two passages?  What insight do we gain from the devil by looking at how to avoid giving place to him and how to engage in spiritual warfare against him and his kingdom?  First, let us examine how it is that one avoids giving place to the devil in Ephesians 4.  First, Paul urges honesty instead of deception, generosity instead of theft, edifying rather than corrupt communication, and graciousness and peacefulness rather than wrath and bitterness.  In pointing out the qualities to avoid, Paul implies the sorts of behaviors that give place to Satan in the first place.  To avoid giving place to Satan and being subject to corruption and domination by him, one must avoid those qualities that allowed Satan to become the adversary of God and man and cultivate those qualities of gracious and edifying speech and of generous honesty that made Jesus Christ who He was.  As is so often the case, Paul presents the reader of his letter with the choice of becoming more like Jesus or more like Satan, with the consequences plain and obvious.

This competitive and hostile aspect of the comparison between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the devil is made plain in Ephesians 6.  While the image of the armor of God and its analogues in the Roman armor of the time is obvious enough and frequently commented upon, the implications that our enemies are spiritual and not physical is not well understood or applied.  Paul’s intense and frequent focus on demonology in his letters that we have seen points to his understanding that our ultimate enemies are not on the physical plane but on the spiritual plane, and that our attention needs to be moved from the people with whom we may debate and quarrel to the larger spiritual and intellectual battleground that motivates these conflicts in the first place.  Regardless of the controversies that may exist between us and other people when it comes to petty political matters, the real fight is with the spirits and powers of darkness that motivate such struggles over power and who encourage intellectual and moral follies that lead to disagreements and arguments.  It is worthwhile to note that the armor of God includes such unexpected qualities of combat such as truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and prayer.  Clearly, this is not the sort of combat that most of us envision when it comes to doing battle with others.

Despite the fact that Paul is being particularly obvious and consistent with his call for humility and peace and graciousness when it comes to our interaction with others and despite the fact that he points to deeper spiritual realities as underlying the disagreements we have with other people, these passages are not easy for us to apply in our lives.  We are physical beings with limited insight and observation and it is very easy for us to attack other people with whom we have a disagreement without seeing the larger issues at stake.  It is hard for us to be humble because we lack understanding of our spiritual state or the spiritual state of others, or anything internal to other people as far as their thinking process or feelings or beliefs are concerned.  No amount of repeating the need for humility and honesty and fair dealing and recognizing the real enemy is going to make it easy to do so.  Nor does Paul’s sincerity and his own ability to see the hand of Satan in trying to corrupt the truth of the Gospel, which was done most notably to his own writings, and in seeking to attack believers make it easy for us to turn our eyes to spiritual rather than physical matters.  The hard work is to believe, understand, and apply these truths, not to speak or write them.

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