Pithy quotes from our current reading which give us pause to reflect

“I do not know how to teach philosophy without becoming a disturber of the peace.”
― Baruch Spinoza

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So from the Socrates school of philosophy? I think you know a fair amount about Spinoza. Do you have a favorite story from his personal life or an idea of his you most admire?


Tried a couple different episodes. I think what’s giving me the most trouble is their (what I believe to be in my very limited experience) very American underlying views on how the two kingdoms operate, how secular governments organize themselves in (or not in) reference to this particular theology, and what the relationship of non-christians is to the christian understanding of the operation of these kingdoms is. I haven’t taken notes on this and worked through it formally, but I think I’m seeing the same assumptions that I see in many, many american evangelicals today, which is tied to some of our disastrous politics. There’s a lot to discuss, but I don’t know where that would fit, or if anyone is interested in it. I think it would require a bit o’ reading as well, at least on my part.

Thanks for the update, Kendal. Assume you’re talking about Shealogians in which case that sounds fair. To be honest, being a non-American a lot of the political comments either wash over me (coz I don’t fully understand them) or seem impossible to apply to a British context (so I ignore them). For example, the fuss they make about homeschooling or the such and such being unconstitutional, etc, etc. I just put the former down to unchecked white privilege and the latter down them being dyed in the wool republicans. Genuinely, mean no offence to any of our sensible homeschooling parents here.

Happy to carry on the conversation over PM if you want.

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No offense taken. There are just so many complexities and holes to fall into in this landscape. I’ll pm you.

“If you ever wanted to study this we could call that pier review.” ~Craig Keener

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Regarding the state of politics, I see a very clear line in the acknowledgement that reasonable people can disagree about the (inerrancy or authority of the) Bible. It’s a little funny how it catches the tongue for people on both sides of the issue, and it helps frame the political discourse going forward.

Here’s another long quote from Austin Fisher’s Faith in the Shadows. I still have a few more to go. Recently many different discussions on many different topics make this one seem particularly important:

Fisher, Austin. Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt. Bookshare ed., Intervarsity Press, 2018, Loc. 23%-27%.

There is a direct correlation between our ability to apprehend beauty and our ability to apprehend brutality, between our sensitivity to bliss and our sensitivity to suffering. The more we see the world ablaze with the love of God, the more we see the world on fire, burning to the ground, consumed by sin, suffering, and death. I suppose I should have known that (and perhaps I did “know” it), but I was not prepared for what it would mean. I was not prepared to live with a bigger heart beating inside my chest.

How much reality can we bear and remain human? I used to think myself somewhat invincible in these regards. Bring on reality, all of it! I can take it. I have since learned I cannot. It is too heavy and there is too much. I now agree with Henri Nouwen: “ Maybe we have to be tolerant towards our own avoidances and denials in the conviction that we cannot force ourselves to face what we are not ready to respond to and in the hope that in one future day we will have the courage and strength to open our eyes fully and see without being destroyed.” And I think Stanley Cavell says more than he knows when he observes, “ Only a God, or the son of God, could bear being human.”

I sensed God saying, “Surrender to the dark. Feel its weight and its chill. Accept that evil will never again be just a problem for you. Accept that you will never understand it, that it would be far worse if you did.” To extend the Buechner quote from earlier, “ Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

Sometimes it is our faith that makes us feel we are losing our faith. A crisis of faith in the face of evil can be the truest expression of faith, because what we interpret as a loss of faith is often the growing pains of learning to live with a heart three sizes larger beating inside our chest. So if evil (almost) makes us lose our faith, it might be because our faith is growing strong, not growing weak.

I do not understand evil and hope I never do. I bear my share of reality. I tell God the truth. The optics have changed, and I see a wider and deeper range of colors than I did before—brighter brights and darker darks. Evil will never again be a problem but always a crisis and for that I say, “Thanks be to God.” Most of the time, I mean it.


I cannot see Jesus writing that, nor echoing it. This is better:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

I do like this:

I’ll be thinking about this section for a long time. I put it out here, because there’s important meat to chew on, not because I’ve got this down. Also, I hope it’s useful to anyone who runs across it.

Within the environment of fundamentalism there is no meaningful vocabulary for any other way of thinking. In spite of that, I have encountered some alternatives. What are meaningful positive descriptors I can find for what I see and how I think? What are the implications of pursuing this? Where does it take one?

Fundamentalism is popular, because it is easy.

Fisher, Austin. Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt. Bookshare ed., Intervarsity Press, 2018, Loc. 43%-48%.

From the chapter: “Death by Fundamentalism”
Again, I’ve pared this down a lot, hoping to maintain the overall message of the section. All emphases in bold are mine.

Evangelicalism (in many of its current expressions) is deeply influenced by fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a sneaky but very serious threat to Christian faith.

[ ]I fear many who think they have rejected Christianity have merely rejected fundamentalism masquerading as Christianity. Helping people understand the difference … is terribly difficult because fundamentalism isn’t a collection of beliefs so much as it is a way of thinking, and most of us are much more equipped to discuss what we think than we are how we think. But let’s define our terms. What is fundamentalism ?

Fundamentalism proper refers to religious movements that claim to represent a return to “the fundamentals” of a given faith [ ]. And while this is the form fundamentalism takes, fundamentalism is really more spirit than form; it’s less a matter of specific beliefs and more a matter of general temperament. And the spirit of fundamentalism is perhaps best described as a rigid mental attitude that seeks control by pursuing certainty. It makes sense of the world by dividing things up into simple, stark categories. It is heavy on black and white and light on grey. While fundamentalism claims to be concerned with truth, one cannot help but sense it is more concerned with what “feels” certain. It will typically choose two-dimensional felt certitude over three-dimensional truth.

The basic pathology of fundamentalism is the quest for control, a quest secured through certainty, a certainty secured through a designated method of knowledge that, fundamentalism alleges, infallibly produces the whole truth and nothing but it. Instead of moving from “here is the evidence” to “this could be the truth,” it moves from “I must be certain” to “this must be true.” Fundamentalism mistakenly assumes it looks on the world with “ a view from nowhere,” objectively staring down at reality from above.

Something does not have to be literal in order to be true. In fact, the truest things probably cannot be spoken literally. Most Christians throughout history understood this and only recently “ a significant minority of believers became convinced that the truth of their faith depended upon an absolutely literal . . . interpretation of scripture, and felt compelled to stake everything on so ludicrous a wager.”

Fundamentalism never tires of drawing narrower lines in the sand and giving us more ways to lose our faith.

Specifically, fundamentalism’s naive confidence in its ability to glean the objective facts of the Bible through its “plain” reading method left many Christians unable to handle the challenges posed by Darwinianism and higher biblical criticism. We still suffer the fallout. Fundamentalism has its virtues; thinking is not one of them. Love the fundamentalist; hate the fundamentalism.


I love Spinoza. I picked him up as a “mascot” so to speak a while back because I thought his life and work represents my own core values.

In his early twenties, he was expelled from his (Jewish) religious community in Holland. Not much is known about why, but a safe assumption is that it had to do with his religious ideas (or lack thereof). You can google “the text of Spinoza’s excommunication” to read the actual document officiating his cherem. It’s wild stuff.

He was later expelled from Amsterdam on account of pressure from his Jewish community. He was even assaulted by someone bearing a knife who shouted “heretic!” while he stood on the steps of a synagogue. He turned down a position teaching at a prestigious school to continue working single-mindedly produce two of his greatest works: Ethics and The Theological Political Tract while supporting himself working as a lens grinder. Both of the aforementioned works were published posthumously and immediately banned across Europe upon publication.

Much of this had to do with Spinoza’s notions that “God” was not human-like in any way. In fact, Spinoza’s God was pretty indistinguishable from what a contemporary scientist would call “nature.” God was not a being with free will to Spinoza. Everything happens due to prior causes. That was Spinoza’s mantra. And contemporary science pretty much assumes Spinoza from the outset.

To Spinoza, God was a natural force; nothing more, nothing less. Any religious tradition that said otherwise (ie. that he was a thinking being who was foremost concerned with human issues), was more likely engaging in superstition rather than any credible observation about reality.

From wikipedia: Spinoza believed in a “Philosophy of tolerance and benevolence” and actually lived the life which he preached. He was criticized and ridiculed during his life and afterwards for his alleged atheism. However, even those who were against him “had to admit he lived a saintly life.” Besides the religious controversies, nobody really had much bad to say about Spinoza other than, “he sometimes enjoyed watching spiders chase flies.”

I think Spinoza qualifies for admission into the “Socratic school” even though he didn’t willfully drink hemlock for the sake of philosophy. But he did the next-best thing. He sacrificed a comfortable place within society to instead speak the truth as accurately as he could from his hermitage. His views were very unpopular. He likely died as a result of a condition established by his working as a lens grinder and spending so many hours around glass dust.

I think we need tireless workers, like Spinoza, to truly advance our ideas. Falsehood isn’t the only enemy of truth. Established norms (even though their truth-status is vague) can be just as much a hindrance to understanding the truth as ignorance is.

Spinoza was wise enough not to let his cherem define him. He kept working towards the truth, the thing that he saw from the beginning… and kept analyzing it until it came into clarity.

Spinoza’s story reminds us that it isn’t always unholy forces that keep us from the truth. Sometimes it’s just plain established dogma that keeps us all in bondage to the social organism.


Dillon, thanks for laying this out. Spinoza was just a name to me, before I read it.


After I responded to your quote I went to see if my local library would have what I’d was a good biography. They didn’t. Wouldn’t matter now as I’m snowed under reading I’m keen to do. But here is an excerpt from an interview about him I was just reading on Spinoza which I found interesting.

“There’s this aura about Spinoza. He was heroic and we’re still trying to figure out why”

He left the Jewish community and he left Amsterdam and went on to write a number of extremely important philosophical treatises that offered astoundingly modern and reasonable views on religion, on politics and on ethics. His views on God and his views on human well-being are all really extraordinary. He’s of continued importance and relevance today because, even though you won’t, when walking down the street, run into somebody who’s a Leibnizian or a Cartesian, you are likely to run into somebody whose views on the role of religion in the state, or whose views on free thought and free speech are exactly what Spinoza was arguing for in the 17th century.

And, also, I would say on the relationship between religion and science.

Absolutely. Yes.

From The best books on Spinoza

recommended by Steven Nadler

Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die by Steven Nadler


Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Die

That was the book I had been hoping to obtain from my library. The titles of the five recommended books give a sense of the breadth of his thinking which find remarkable given the time and circumstances in which he lived. I remember as an undergrad philosophy major learning about him and Descartes in a survey course. Of course Descartes received the most attention in that setting but we would all be better off if the the same degree of cultural influence had come from Spinoza instead.


This is a convicting passage, especially in light of some PMs we’ve had recently.
Randal Rauser wrote a book, “What’s So Confusing About Grace?” in which he puts very much the same gentle accusation against fundamentalism. Thanks.


Pursuing false certitude is a problem, but when legitimate certitude is available, we reject it and say it is not worth finding? A Man in a boat in a storm comes to mind, and the disciples with him.

How does one observe an unmoved mover?

It’s really quite beautiful or funny how all this philosophy tumbles like a spinning coin.

An unmoved mover or singularity that can affect change without changing, is it aware, unaware, or not yet aware of its action?

I’m reading a fascinating book with a different bent lately: “The Facemaker,” about Robert Gillies, an ear, nose and throat surgeon who saved people’s self respect and relationships by repairing jaws, orbits, cheeks, and throats after horrific injuries in World War I. I learned about it from an NPR (National Public Radio) review ‘The Facemaker’ review: Lindsey Fitzharris profiles WWI surgeon Harold Gillies : NPR

I had no idea of the amazing engineering of dentists, otolaryngologists, and others in birthing the discipline of repairing facial injuries. I have new respect for plastic surgeons and the care they give to people.

"Unlike amputees, men whose facial features were disfigured were not necessarily celebrated as heroes. Whereas a missing leg might elicit sympathy and respect, a damaged face often caused feelings of revulsion and disgust. …

In France, they were called les gueules cassées (the broken faces), while i n Germany they were commonly described as das Gesichts entstellten (twisted faces) or Menschen ohne Gesicht (men without faces). In Britain, they were known simply as the “Loneliest of Tommies” — the most tragic of all war victims — strangers to themselves.

Themes of self sacrifice, pride in work, loneliness, and self examination run through this book. I’m about 40% through, and am really enjoying it so far. The author wonders about why superficial things like facial appearance matter so much to us, but also gets into some really neat, technical details about how flaps of skin from the chest, etc survived in the transfer from one portion of the body to the other. Men learned to eat again with artificial jaws, when previously they had to take in liquids only through the remnant of a throat. All this took place without antibiotics–something made it even more astounding, as many men did die from infection.


That’s what I felt too after reading Paul Brand who did similar work for the poor in India, and in the UK ww2.

At least that’s the respectable face that plastic surgery has, as opposed to the morally disfigured face the profession has in it’s service to and promotion of high dollar vanity.


Yes, that was a great book, too!
Yes, I also sometimes tend to view the plastic surgeons as potentially catering to tummy tucks and other high dollar things.
I know that there have been plastic surgeons who donate time to Africa periodically, to repair cleft palates, etc. Some specialized OBs repair vesicovaginal fistulas, where chronic urine leaks from having babies too young as teenagers.

They also are great with surgical mission work to do cleft lips surgery and such. A one time procedure that can make a difference for a lifetime.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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