The Rise of Western Christendom​

If you are interested in Western Christianity between the dates of 200-1000, you’ve just found the perfect book. If you are not interested in this mostly unknown part of history, then what’s the matter with you?! 

  • The Tenacity of Paganism — According to Brown, there was never a clean break from Paganism to monotheism. Instead, Paganism came to be thought of as a second rate story for backwards and illiterate people. “Pagan” means countryfolk (75). Christianity was not primarily a religion of the poor and disenfranchised. On the contrary, wealthy and influential people embraced the new faith more readily in cities, which led to the Christianizing of cities at a far quicker rate than rural areas. There is very little on record as far as pagan martyrs after Christianity ascended to power. Paganism wasn’t the last remnants of a former infestation that needed to be stamped out. Christianity became the ribeye steak among the general population, and Paganism was Chicken Mcnuggets! One could continue munching on the Mcnuggets if they wanted to but why? There was steak to be had! Pockets of Mcnugget chomping pagans continued to exist for centuries. 
  • Mixed bag micro-Christianity — Christianity didn’t grow from the top down, it grew from house to house, and village to village without any overarching system. The result was thousands of “roll your own at home” variations of Christianity. Like the countless Micro brewery’s that cover the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, each with their own label, taste and texture, so too developed Micro-Christianity all over Western Europe. Brown describes the variety as “individual beads on a necklace.” One of Christianity’s most effective means of spreading was through slavery. Christians captured and pressed into slavery continued to spread their message of hope. The Christian ability to overcome the burden of his bonds through belief led many captors to salvation. This happened in Iceland, Ireland, and the Scandinavian countries. Slaves didn’t always have their theology straight which contributed to the diversity of Christianity. Also, many of these people groups were willing to accept Christianity, but only with significant exceptions. Ireland embraced the Jesus way but embraced the Old Testament practices of polygamy and tribal violence much to the consternation of missionaries stationed there. Iceland decided to convert on masse one night as a strategy to unify their country. They, however, doggedly clung to their practice of female infanticide and the eating of horseflesh, both practices which the Christian church condemned. 
  • Golden Age of Peasantry — With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, many have thought that Europe plunged into a dark era of misery and ignorance. Perhaps it was a little tougher for the elites of society, but for the peasants, it was a near utopian era! “No longer policed and bullied every year to pay taxes, the peasantry slipped quietly out of the control of their landlords. Rents fell as taxes vanished… Less of their agrarian surplus was taken from them than at any other time in the history of Europe…It was only until the 8th and 9th centuries that the normal life of grinding extortion resumed for the peasant classes” (31)
  • The game changers that led to Christianity’s dominance 
    • Equality — “High and low men and women met as equal subjects, now, to the overruling law of one God….If a poor man or a destitute stranger should come in, do thou, O bishop, with all thy heart provide a place for them even if thou hadst to sit upon the ground.” (64-65) The gatherings had order, to be sure, but the development of equality and even the giving of preferential treatment to the lower classes was something entirely new.
    • Sin and it’s divine and communal solution – Except for Judaism, the universal human condition of sin, had no real identity, it wasn’t a mainstream idea. People didn’t think in those terms. But when the Christians brought it forward, it just made sense, “oh so that’s what that is.” So also did the hope for deliverance in Christ. The battle against sin was not a solo endeavour. Sin was the one thing the Christian community was committed to eradicating. This new way filled people with understanding, home, and a community committed to helping each other get better. 
    • Mobilization of wealth. From the very beginning giving was a significant tenant of the Christian faith. Wealth could be amassed quickly to help the poor and make a real difference in the world. This generosity shocked the Pagans but also won them over. It wasn’t until the 9th or 10th century that giving to the church became mandatory. Forced charity turned out to be a bad idea. But isn’t that what taxes are? 
    • God has come near — The old story of Paganism, was worn out, it wasn’t helpful. The ancient tale that emphasized the unbridgeable chasm between the human world and the divine world had lived its little time. The steep upward glimpse of distant, ruthless and unreachable deities was replaced with a much better story, A story that stood Paganism on its head. As Pope Leo said, “It is far less amazing that human beings should progress upwards towards God than that God should have come down to the human level.” (117) In the Christian story, God, out of love, came to rescue the human. A concept utterly foreign to Pagan thought, but it came like refreshing rain on parched earth. 
  • When the Christian story shifts from “what” to “how” the fights begin. It was the wonder of what God had done in Christ Jesus that filled the Roman world with hope and joy and led to such an incredible conversion rate. Eventually, over time, converts began to wonder precisely how God’s son had invaded the earth. When the focus shifted from what to how, and different answers were arrived at, the gloves came off, and the fights began. They haven’t stopped either, fortunately, over the centuries they’ve become less bloody. 
  • Monophysite mayhem. — Did Jesus have one nature or two? The “official” church decided at Chalcedon that the answer was two. Jesus was both 100% human in nature and 100% divine in nature. If he had only one nature, he could neither be truly divine or human, and that made for a lousy saviour — But the “mono” (one) “physite” (nature) people weren’t buying it. To them, it made no sense to say someone had two natures. It wasn’t possible. Eventually, the Monophysite’s were severely persecuted, to such a degree, that they welcomed Islamic invasion when it came to their territories in the 600’s! I wish it could have been possible to remain amazed at the “what” and less concerned about the “how.” But that wish is impossible. It’s human nature to understand, sadly, violence was the result of the quest to understand the how of the incarnation The message of life, brought death. 
  • Christianity’s tumultuous relationship with Icons In the East, Christians killed each other over the issue. Icons were supposed to be helpful tools aiding in the worship of Jesus, but for many, they became more than that. Pictures of the saints, relics from ancients days, and whatever tangible bits of the past gradually became elevated to the point where Christian’s were coming dangerously close to worshiping the images. For many, the thought of living life without an Icon present became unthinkable. “If only I shall see his likeness, I shall be saved.” Once some key battles were lost, and the Roman empire of the East began to shrink. Byzantines began to wonder if it might be God’s judgment for Idolatry. The “Iconoclast” (Icon Breakers) faction was born. Before long, they found a sympathetic Emperor or two, and the smashing began. Iconophiles (Icon lovers) responded by hiding their icons, and trying to smash Iconoclasts! Iconophiles also attempted to sully the reputation of Iconoclasts by linking them with Islam, which tolerates no images whatsoever. 
  • Emperors being emperors, only one kind of Christianity will do. Christian or not, violence is what emperors do. Whether Justinian in the 5th, Clovis in the 7th or Charlemagne in the 9th. Blood flowed freely and ones religious affiliation seems to have made little difference. Was Charlemagne’s beheading of 4500 Saxon captives in his conquest a bit much? Not really, all in a days work for an emperor! What about his Christian conscience? He doesn’t seem to have struggled with it. By the 9th century, the golden age of peasantry was over, and powerful kingdoms were emerging in the West, of which Charlemagne’s was the strongest. His Frankish Empire decided to go on a mission to correct the false teachings of the countless “micro-Christiandoms” that had sprung up all over continental Europe. The Pagan Saxons had been intermingling with Christian Franks for centuries, creating a “bad brew” of Christianity. For the sake of control, it was time to clarify the ingredients and make sure to get the Christian recipe just right. The monks who had long worked in these brackish waters between Christianity and Paganism protested the violence strongly, “We must preach and persuade” they said. To which Charlemagne responded, “I’ll preach with an iron tongue,” and so he did. In Ireland and England, the need for precision to the “right” type of Christianity also became a bit extreme. Wilfrid, for example, freaked out that the monks didn’t have the proper hairstyles and that the calendar of Holydays wasn’t as it should be. He had been to Rome and learned the way more perfectly. To any Irishman who objected to his changes, he reminded them of their place in the hierarchy of Christianity. They were but a “pimple on the chin of the earth!”  
  • Repentance gone wild. Augustine believed that penance was a frame of mind. It was a lifelong process, because sin, also, was a lifelong companion of the Christian. Pope Gregory and the leaders that followed him made sin and its abolishment from one’s life the absolute focal point for the Christian. In some ways, with this over-focus on sin, God became distant again. Attaining God’s presence in heaven was the goal, and every Christian became responsible to abolish his sins to accomplish this goal. Books of long lists were written, describing in blushing detail every imaginable sin, with the corresponding prescription of penance that needed to be carried out, to be purged from the stain. Priest’s came to function as extremely powerful “doctors” who held the cure for sin. Terror of hell and fear of death without giving doing penance replaced the joy and hope. Mass, confession, and penance became the key to heaven, and the priest’s held those keys. 
  • How Islam swallowed up Christianity in the East In the 6th century, modern-day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, parts of Iraq, parts of Iran, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain were populated predominantly by Christians who were part of a mostly Christian empire. Within 100 years all these lands had been conquered with the sword of Islam, and the Christians who remained within the borders of this expanding Islamic empire were slowly but surely converting to Islam. How did this happen? 
  • Timing is everything: The Byzantines and the Persians had beat each other up so badly that when the Arabs came round, there wasn’t much fight left in either of them. 
  • Commitment is everything: “There was nothing strange in the idea that warfare was blessed by God, but within Arabia itself, the sheer aggression of the followers of Muhammad changed the rules of the game.” (293) Islam was convinced, as was Christianity, that they alone represented the culmination of God’s purposes on earth, it’s just that the Muslims had no limitations whatsoever, coming from their theology, that would prevent them from inheriting the earth through whatever means necessary.
  • At least it’s not Paganism: Many Christians of that era viewed Islam as an “in-between” religion. It was a religion of Abraham. It even affirmed a lot of Christian teachings. Many Christians managed to convince themselves that Islam was simply a more perfected version of Christianity and so they converted. 
  • More freedom under Islam: Islamic rule was not so bad for Christians at first, especially for un-orthodox Christians. In the Byzantine empire, they were hounded, in the Islamic one as long as they paid their extra taxes for being non-muslim they were free to believe what they wanted. “Islam rested as lightly as a mist along the contours of what had remained a largely Christians landscape.” Of course, all that would change, but it was suitable for a while. In the end, it was the steady increase of taxes, the unifying nature of the Arabic language and increasingly better opportunities reserved only Muslims that led to the Islamification of the east. 
  • Gregory vs. Theodore in Bible Study — Western Christians studied their Bibles like Gregory for the first several hundred years. For Gregory, the Bible was a great encoded message sent by God to cast fire into the heart. It echoed with the mighty whisper of God. It was for this “whisper” that the devout Christian should listen, reading the Bible, as it were, “between the lines” – paying less attention to the text itself than to a message from God which lay behind the text. Theodore was not impressed with the Western scholars he found when he finally escaped encroaching Islam and moved from Antioch all the way West to Britain. For Theodore, the Bible was first and foremost a challenging text. Its different books had been written at specific times, by specific authors. One had first to discover exactly what these authors meant before one could go on to draw upon the Bible to nourish higher flights of contemplation. Modern Biblical scholarship went the way of Theodore, but the Gregorys meditative approach dominated the first 1000 years of Western Christianity. Theodore became immensely popular. Being from the Middle East, he could answer all the contextual questions Western Scholars from Britain could never even have hoped to answer. 
  • Moving into a neighbourhood — Monks moved into pagan places and built monasteries — Christianization often took place, on the ground, through a wide penumbra of half participants who had gathered around a monastery. (375) Monasteries were not closed off areas reserved only for quiet contemplation. They became centres of learning and commerce, and as a result, Christianization.
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Wild at Heart

Men are wild. They are not to be tamed. They are not to be “nice.” The author criticizes “nice” guys so many times in this book that I lost count. What’s the big idea of this book? Men were made to have a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue, and an adventure to go on. Our society has attempted to squeeze masculinity out of men. Battles are bad, boys should not play guns, or wrestle, or compete, men should chill out and smoke some weed! Women don’t need men to rescue them, it’s misogynistic to think they do, and safety before adventure is always the priority. Because of our societies anti-masculine bias, men have lost touch with who they are wired to be. This is not good.

Eldredge and Peterson say the same thing.

  • Men need to be men. In many ways, Eldredge is a precursor to some of what Jordan Peterson says in his Twelve Rules Book. Peterson, like Eldredge, encourages masculine characteristics such as competition, leadership, independence, risk-taking, and struggle. Attempting to “gentle” men by squeezing these traits out of them is a terrible idea. 
  •  Jesus isn’t a Softy Both men actively reject Jesus’ “Turn the other cheek” idea as a universal Christian action plan for dealing with conflict. Real men beat up bullies. They don’t tolerate being smacked around by them. Eldredge, complains that this verse is overused far too much, and men are better served to get their instructions from a Jesus who took a whip and cleared the temple from crooks, extortioners, and thugs. Peterson puts it this way “Christianity is not a call to victimize oneself in the service of others… Taking care of yourself doesn’t include being beat up!… It’s not virtuous to be victimized by a bully. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” Eldredge is hotly critical of any version of Christianity that might tame a man and reduce him to merely being kind. “We must not strip a man of his strength and call it sanctification.”
  •  Western Civilization owes a debt of gratitude for men who were free to be men Eldredge believes that much of the good we have in the world today is on account of men who were free to lead, to battle, to take risks, and seek adventure. Peterson says the same thing with his whole push back against the “terrible western patriarchy.”

    On these points, I find my self in near-total agreement. There is a wildness inside of me; that culture and Christianity has taught me is unhealthy. But it’s not.  

Drug the boys. Four times more boys than girls are considered “sick” and given drugs to calm them down. Boys are rough, they don’t sit, they are not quiet, they push the envelope, and so boys don’t fit well with our education system. The solution has been to diagnose them and drug them. This is not good! 

Choosing Eve over God. That was Adams sin. He knew what the right course was. The devil had duped Eve, but he wasn’t fooled. When Eve offered him the fruit, he didn’t object. He wanted Eve even if it meant disobeying God. Unfortunately, this is what men do all the time. They make goddesses out of women, and everyone suffers as a result. 

A Purpose higher than one’s self.  This book contains the most famous letter preserved during the civil war. Major Sullivan Ballou penned it to his dear wife, Sarah. He had a premonition of death, and so he wrote of his undying love to her and their sons who would grow up without a father. In the letter, he claims a cause higher than that of wife and family. For Ballou the higher cause worthy of risking death was: “I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution, and I am willing, perfectly willing to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt…is it weak or dishonourable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

The Major did not want to die, not for his own sake, but because his absence would cause immense suffering upon his wife and children. Even so, the higher purpose prevailed. And this, according to Eldredge, is the sort of purpose every man must find. His use of war illustrations, mainly from blockbuster movies is nearly constant throughout the entire book. Men are supposed to fight for what’s right, men are not supposed to be cowards, men are supposed to risk greatly, sure I get all that, and even agree, but war? Why does it have to be war? I hate war; I’m not a fan, I guess war is man’s masculine language and the illustrations spotlight the risk that’s involved in making the hard right choice. Eldredge believes that men are supposed to be way more than courteous and polite, and I guess Braveheart, and Gladiator helps him communicate that message. 

You are good His big theological push is to get men to see that in Christ, they are not wicked. He wants men to reject the idea that our hearts are sinful. They are not. They are good and righteous hearts.  Eldredge is convinced that If you agree to your own wickedness you’ve given in to a devil’s scheme. We reject porn, tell the truth, and pay our taxes, he says, not because we are sinners saved by grace, instead we reject sin because we are Gods men! Eldredge has no time for any theology that wants to make much of our sinful condition.  

You need a purpose! In particular. He goes after professional ministers. He says that if you’re well paid in ministry and comfortable and don’t have an overarching purpose that drives you, you’ll be easy pickings for the enemy to destroy you. An adulterous affair or some other moral lapse is the likely outcome for a purposeless minister who goes through the motions of ministry. — This was not particularly encouraging to me, as I am currently a minister that lacks a more dramatic purpose. Can a purpose be limited to faithful presence and survival in a neighbourhood? I feel like Eldredge would say, “No.” 

You need to delight in Christ. “Ecstasy and delight are essential for the spiritual life in Christ. If it’s not there men will find other lovers,” says Eldredge. Again this section was less than thrilling for me to read. For a year and a half now, I’ve sat on a park bench each morning waiting to hear from God, waiting to feel close to him, waiting for delight in God. I read my Bible, I pray, and I listen, but ecstasy and delight do not come. Most of the time, I hear nothing but silence. I wonder where God is. Ecstasy? Hardly. Meanwhile, Eldredge, in his book relays time and time again where God talks to him and tells him stuff like a loving father to a son. It’s nice to read, of course, but It is not my experience at all. 

You need to be initiated into Manhood Femininity cannot produce masculinity. Men are essential in the development of boys and men today, “real” men as Eldredge understands them are in short supply, and that’s a problem for our future. He spent a lot of time talking about how dad’s blow it with their sons. It’s true. 

Good Quotes: 

Roland Hines — “Myths are stories which confront us with something transcendent and eternal They are bigger truths than mere facts 

Howard Thurman — “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that because what the world needs is people who are alive .”

John Eldredge — “Life is not a problem to be solved but an adventure to be lived.” 

He quotes at length Ezra Pounds “Ballad of the Goodly Fere,” which I loved. Jesus presented as a man’s man, a couple of lines, and you have the sense: “fere” means companion. “capon” means castrated — It’s Simon the Zealot eulogizing Jesus.

Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all

For the priests and the gallows tree?

Aye lover he was of brawny men,

O’ ships and the open sea.

Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine

When we last made company,

No capon priest was the Goodly Fere

But a man o’ men was he.

I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men

Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,

That they took the high and holy house

For their pawn and treasury.

Final Thoughts — Something isn’t quite right with this book, but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s an oversimplification? Perhaps not all boys are as rough and tumble as he thinks? Maybe there is too much swagger in this book? Too great a longing to ride horses and climb mountains and punch out bullies? Perhaps I’m confused over what exactly the “false self” is? Maybe all the daddy issue investigation was overkill? Maybe he talked about masturbation too much? Maybe it’s all the war illustrations. I hate war. Is being a nice guy such a bad thing? Perhaps it’s the false comparison that one cannot be manly and nice at the same time that doesn’t sit well.  

   For the most part, I appreciated the book, it reminded me to teach my son to be a man, and it summoned up the wild parts of my heart and blessed them. It’s ok for me to compete, and to take risks, and to want to win. It ok for me to chase my dreams. It’s right for me to stand up to bad people and make a fuss if things aren’t the way they should be. Hard work is a good thing, and it’s manly to fight for my wife, and the benefit of women in general. 

God’s Smuggler

It was 1946. The Netherlands needed men to maintain control of their colonies in Indonesia. It seemed like a good idea. Andrew was bored, so he became a marine and went. The Bible, his mom, sent along with him, went straight to the bottom of his duffle bag. War had all the wrong effects on young Andrew; he became a violent, purposeless, carousing drunk. He has fearless on the battlefield, but it was because he was inviting death to come. The bullet to the head he was hoping for didn’t happen; instead, it was a bullet that shattered his ankle. In recovery, a believing nurse encouraged him to read his long-buried Bible. He did, over and over again. The light of salvation dawned in Andrews life, God’s words were a healing sweetness to him. Over time Andrew would go on to lead a storied life serving God by smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. Over ten million copies of his biography sold, it was good for me to finally learn what all the fuss has been about.

Believe the Better Story! 

    Before Andrew went off smuggling Bibles, we worked in a Chocolate factory. There was one particularly crusty communist woman who worked beside him. Over his years of service, they had many conversations together, not too many of which went well. 

“God is the invention of the exploiter class.” she would snap whenever the topic of God came up. 

Finally, on the day he left the factory, he said to her:

“You are getting rid of me at last.”

“But not of the lies you’ve told, you’ve hypnotized these people with your talk of salvation and pie in the sky you’ve blinded them with…well, of course, they believed you. They are untrained. They haven’t been taught dialectical argument. They think just what they want to think, after all, if you could choose — who wouldn’t choose God and all that.” 

    This communist woman’s comment jumped out at me. When it comes to the big stories that shape and direct us, we all must choose. Everyone has a choice. No path is paved entirely with “facts” So why not choose “God and all that” — it is the better story! 

Bible Study Plan: Flip, Read, Obey? 

    After his first visit behind the Iron Curtain, Andrew was sitting on a park bench wondering what had just happened, and what his future might hold. He grabbed his Bible and flipped it open. His eye fell on Revelation 3:2a 2 Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. That ancient verse catapulted through time and lodged itself in the heart of young Andrew. As clearly as he could see the oak trees in the park all around him, Andrew had received his orders from God. He was to do whatever he could to help the weakened and dying church trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Is that how God uses the Bible to speak his plan into peoples lives? Just flip it open, read a random verse, and then obey it? Well, that’s how it worked for Andrew.  

Women Preachers

    We in the West, with all our freedom tend to fight over things that under persecution are not even considered. One such issue is the women in ministry debate. Andrew found a strong-hearted woman tucked away in a village far behind the Iron Curtain. Anna proclaimed good news however she could, she was the shepherd of her little village. Christian men were mostly absent. Some in the Gulag, others dead, many too scared to believe because of the cost. But not Anna, God had compelled her to be His light in that village. No one, certainly not Andrew, would suggest that she stop preaching, teaching, and ministering to her tiny flock on account of her gender. 

Ruled by fear, forced to tell lies

     “Romania welcomes the exploited people of Holland” Was a standard greeting Andrew received from his Christian colleagues behind the curtain. This saying and others like it were said aloud for the benefit an invisible all-seeing eye that collected criticism of the communist government and killed for it. God’s Smuggler lines up perfectly with what I learned about Communism from Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Truth is of no concern; what matters is propaganda. One must uphold a positive view of the communist state and a negative view of the capitalist state at all cost regardless of the truth. One time, Andrew was asked how he was managing to live in Holland since the US’s occupation and brutalization of his home country. Andrew was not permitted to contest the truth of such a claim. Russia’s politicians and news media said it was real and that was that. 

Christianity’s Universal language

     Once while in Romania, Andrew asked the hotel clerk to find him a church to attend. The response was less than helpful. 

“You don’t even speak the language, why would you even want to go?”

without missing a beat, Andrew responded to the question

“Oh, because, Christians speak a universal language “

“Really? What’s it called? 

“Agape, you’ve never heard of it?” 

“No, I have not.” 

“That’s too bad; it’s a wonderful language.”

Dutifully the clerk went about finding a church for Andrew. Later that evening after a full day with Romanian Christians, Andrew returned to the hotel. The clerk was waiting for him. 

“Hey I looked up that word, that’s a Greek word for love. It’s not a language.”

“Love is precisely the language we’ve been speaking all day.” 

Brother Andrews most famous prayer

“God, you made blind eyes see, now please make seeing eyes blind.” 

God answered this prayer at countless border crossings. 

Miracles? 

  •     With Bibles — The Siberian man felt prompted by God to travel to Moscow. Somehow God had told him that if he travelled the 2,000-mile journey to the West, God would make sure to have a Bible waiting for him that he could take back to his church which had no Bibles.  At the same time, God was whispering in the ear of Andrew, telling him to stuff his car full of Bibles and drive 2000 miles to the east to Moscow. Upon arrival, Andrew visited a crowded church of a 1000 people. One, of that number, just happened to be the Siberian. Their eyes met as they passed each other in the foyer. Instantly both of them knew that their appointment was divine. The Bible was given, and the man returned to Siberia, praising God all the way home. 
  •     With Random German Women — In East Germany, Andrew’s Volkswagen died. He found a mechanic who would fix it, but the money needed for the repair Andrew and his two colleagues did not have. They told the mechanic to fix the vehicle anyway and left the shop, praying that somehow God would provide.  A woman walked by; she stopped Andrews colleagues who had gone in a different direction than he. “Are you Dutch?” was her odd question. “Yes,” was their response. “Good,” she said and handed them the exact amount of money they needed to replace the engine of the Volkswagen. To their incredulous faces, she remarked: “God told me to give the first dutch person I saw this money,” and then she walked off. The bill was paid, just on time, according to God’s plan.
  •     With Plane Crashes — Andrew had chronic back pain for most of his life, but it was miraculously fixed when he broke his back in a plane crash! 
  •     With Bullet Wounds — Andrew was unable to walk after his bullet wound to the ankle. Upon surrendering his life to Jesus, he felt a pop in his ankle as he stood up. For a second, it felt like he might have re-broken his ankle, but not long after, all the pain left, and his ankle was fine. How did that happen? Many connected to Andrew looked for a naturalistic explanation, but for Andrew, God’s miraculous invention was always the best answer.

The Bamboo Curtain

    “Religion is for the helpless, and we are not helpless any more” was the slogan of the Chinese that Andrew most often came up against in the early days when first crossing over behind the bamboo curtain. He couldn’t even give any Bibles away because no one was interested in them. 

     The situation caused Andrew to remark that indifference is an even more significant threat to the church than persecution. He is right.  However, he soon found out that the perspective of indifference was what the Chinese communist party was forcing on its people. Bibles were around in China, and they were free for purchase, which made everything look good to curious westerners. However, if a Chinese person strayed from mandated indifference and bought a Bible, he was reported to the authorities and subsequently punished. Bible stores remained open, but no one dared enter, creating the illusion of indifference. Andrew discovered it was only an illusion; the hunger for God’s word in China was voracious.  The biggest smuggling operation that Andrew pulled off in China was a covert night-time barge landing of 2 million Bibles on a deserted beach.

The underground church mobilized and just as the barge got close enough to the land, thousands of Christians charged into the water to grab the contraband and hide it before the authorities arrived. Unfortunately, the authorities disrupted the transfer before it was complete and thousands of Bibles were tossed into the ocean. In the weeks following the event, Andrew heard several reports of little black books hanging out to dry on thatched roofs all over that part of China. Even ocean baptized Bibles were not beyond the need for retrieval for these zealous Christians.  Indifference? Indeed! Communists seem to be good at lying and misdirection, and that’s about it. 

The Rise of the Nones

Who are the “Nones”? They are the people group in America that check “None” when survey’s and census’ come round asking what religious affiliation someone might be. (They are not to be confused with “Nuns” that would be an entirely different book!) As the title suggests, this group is experiencing dramatic growth. They are the 2nd largest group in America behind only the Catholics, and they are the fastest-growing group in America by far.

  1. We don’t care anymore. White doesn’t think the “Nones” are an angry group. It’s just that to them, organized religion just doesn’t really matter anymore. Indifferent is the word that best describes them. “They neither care to practice religion nor to oppose it…it just doesn’t matter that much” (15) “Who knows, who cares?” would be a typical response to the question of God from a None. Jonathan from the Atlantic Monthly rightly calls Nones “Apatheists.”
  2. Gun’s, Lawyers and Money. White speaks of a first “perfect storm” that knocked Christianity off its moorings as the centring pillar of western thought. Freud, Darwin and Copernicus formed a juggernaut which shattered a Christianity previously impervious to attack. The earth wasn’t the centre of the universe as the Bible allegedly taught, there was a naturalistic explanation for the world that didn’t require God. The idea of God itself, according to Freud, was nothing more than a psychological projection coming from human desire. As these assertions became mainstream, Christianity tumbled. In our modern era, another perfect storm has arisen, which is producing Nones at the alarming rates indicated in this book. Christian’s like guns, they don’t like immigrants, and they hate gays, the world views the church which appears to harbour these ideas as disgusting. The church uses lawyers and politics to try to force a moral conservatism on people further producing resentment against the church. Money is the final element. People simply cannot abide, a fat-bellied version of Christianity given over to consumerism and materialism decoratively adorned with opulently wealthy, televangelists and megachurch pastors.  “Guns, lawyers, and money” are the assumed narrative that people believe about the church in our society, which leads to poll numbers such as 91% of people think the church is anti-homosexual. 72% think the church is out of touch with reality. 74% say there is no value in attending church. Etc. Etc.
  3. Syncretism and Postmodernity — The Nones are increasingly into “a mix-and-match mentality of pulling together different threads in various religions to create a personal religion that suits their individual taste.” (51) This roll your own at-home version of religion combines with the conviction that faith is no longer wrong based on what one perceived to be the truth; instead, belief is wrong for claiming there is the truth. Direct truth claims fall flat in the ears of the Nones. 
  4. Christians tried too hard to fit in  — In trying to adapt their religious beliefs to socioeconomic change, to new moral challenges, to novel problems of knowledge, to the tightening standards of science, the defenders of God slowly strangled him (52)… We’ve taken a historic, 2,000-year-old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff…(67) Whites seems to be saying that Christians have failed to live out a radically distinct counter-cultural faith. I think he is onto something. The Christian faith is not true, according to modernistic “fact-based” standards of science and history. Nor is Christianity some sort of simple trick to help a person achieve a better standard of living. When it’s defended and presented in these ways, Nones quicken their step away from the faith. 
  5. Don’t get too excited! — “While it is true that the number of megachurches roughly doubled during the decade (2001-2010) … and they are attracting an ever bigger slice of the religious attender pie, it is a bigger slice of a shrinking pie.” 
  6. Serving the community is the necessary way forward.   — In Chapters 1-6, we learn how and why the Nones are done with religion. In Chapter 7, The chapter title is clear about what will be a failed strategy: If you build it, they won’t come. In this chapter, we are told that if you have a cool church with hip coffee and trendy music and “a real sense of community” the Nones won’t come because they already have hip coffee, trendy music and a real sense of community. The nones are pretty sure that religious organizations are about money, politics, power, and are full of problems. “I already have lots of problems, why should I go to church and get more,” they say. However, most (78%) say that churches actually do a good job helping the poor and benefiting society through service.  The Nones won’t come to your church for coffee and community, but they might help you with a service project. This observation is a good one. 
  7. Where did James Emery White go?  Chapter 12 and following feels like we are reading a completely different book. Andy Stanley must have possessed James Emery White and wrote the rest of the book in his place! Clearly, this is not the same author! The chapter title is called Opening the Front Door, and he leads off with a Lifeway Research poll which suggests that 82% of unchurched people will come to church if they are invited by a friend. Wait, what?  And when they arrive, we must make sure we are friendly, have a killer children’s ministry, and great music. We must make sure our building is in tip-top shape, because “you never get a chance to make a first impression.” and we have to make sure we use power-point and cool videos to keep peoples attention.

    He then goes on a rant criticizing anything that is “para-church” or anyone that is “kingdom centred instead of local church centred.” He launches off into a brutal bashing session against a Christian businessman who spread the gospel through his company instead of his local church. White declares for us what the church is:  It is the place where the gospel is proclaimed, worship songs are sung, communion is taken, and where spiritual care and protection is afforded through qualified pastors. The Sunday gathering is all that matters, and anything that might take away from it is wrong. If books could yell, White would be yelling at this point, and then his book ends. 

    Honestly, this is one of the most bizarre finishes I’ve ever experienced in a book. Chapter 12 and following seem to undo everything that led up to it. White goes to great pains to tell us that the Nones are indifferent to organized religion and that Church attendance is not even on their radar screens.

So what should we do? 

    Give our church buildings a good scrub down, put our smiley faces on and invite the Nones to a consumer-oriented church service because Ed Stetzer thinks 82% of them will come if you ask nicely. 

I just got whiplash. 

Openness Unhindered

What a transformation! She goes from being a leftwing, outspoken lesbian activist university professor to being a Puritan theologian, pastors wife and homeschool mom of four. As I waded through quote after quote of 16th and 17th-century Puritans and studied her technical treatments of various theological terms for sin, I found it increasingly hard to believe that we are actually talking about the same person. If the shift was dramatic in her first book, it is even more so here. 

She genuinely loves these “dead white guys” as she calls them. If it were possible to get in a time machine and move in next door to Jonathon Edwards she would! But I thought the book was not going to be a theological treatise on sin and the sovereignty of God, I thought it was going to be a conversation about human sexuality, help for struggling Christians confused and disoriented by the shifting sands of such a topic. Fortunately, she does emerge from dense 16th century New England theological forests every now and then to offer a thought or two about the difficulties at hand.

  • GSA — Genetic Sexual Attraction. It’s a thing now. It’s an identity, so it can’t be wrong. It used to be called incest, but now we need to de-stigmatize it and affirm it when appropriate because it’s just how some people are. Recently a TED talk said the same thing about Pedophilia, “no one can choose to be a pedophile, and no one can cease being one” Says Mirjam Heine, and so it to must be de-stigmatized and worked with. And so it goes when our sexuality becomes linked with our identity. 
  • So Freud is the culprit, I should have known! Butterfield points her finger straight at Sigmund Freud as the one responsible for moving sexuality from a verb to a noun. Before Freud, sex was what you did after Freud sex was who you were. Thanks to Freud in less than a hundred years the category inventions of homo and heterosexual became immortal truths. Our sexual orientation is now our personhood. According to Butterfield, this is not good news for anyone. It becomes “binding” for the homosexual, she says, forcing him into a category of being with zero flexibility when clearly human sexuality is far more complex and adaptive than the black and white options presented through identity language. For the heterosexual, it’s “blinding” she says, because for the last 100 years, he has thought that his identity category was at least the right one, and so any sort of sexual activity within it surely wouldn’t be as wrong as the other category. But God doesn’t understand sexuality as right or wrong based on these two categories at all. She urges her readers to

“Refuse to let yourself be linked to a false category of personhood that links you to temptation. It’s a lose, lose for everyone. A category invented by Freud should not rule anyone’s life, especially a Christian!” 

  • Homosociality -The deep friendships that are possible among people of the same sex are very important. Unfortunately, says Butterfield “We have lost the ability to be same-sex attracted in a non-sexual way” It’s essential for people of the same sex to love one another deeply without having to wrestle with identity questions around their sexuality. 
  • Easy on the labels, especially if you are young – She quotes Yarhouse on this point. I couldn’t agree more. Children and young people have a hard enough time navigating the troubling waters of adolescence, why would anyone want to saddle confused children with life-altering labels that they cannot possibly understand at such tender ages? Let kids be kids, work with them through the confusion, don’t label them and force them into something while they are still developing. It’s just wrong. It doesn’t help the child. 
  • Gay Christian is not a word pairing she would approve of.  You could see this one coming. Temptation should not be an identity. According to Butterfield, it is not a good idea to “create subcategories of Christians which are defined by patterns of sins.” However, she does interact graciously with another Christian who disagrees wholeheartedly with her on this. Her opponent says, “Naming delivers us from the chaos of unknowing, Gay is the same as deaf or quadriplegic. It’s a condition I have that exists.” I get Butterfield’s point, but I also sympathize with her detractor. Having said that, unhelpful identity terminology connected to temptation, as Butterfield puts it, is not going to go away. Can little pockets of Christian’s insist on other terms that don’t pair identity with temptation? Not with any measure of success in the broader culture as far as I can tell. We will have to work with the terminology that exists. But then isn’t the conversation over? Probably. Which is why Butterfield makes the point. 
  • Hospitality is the way forward Butterfield recognizes that debating “the issue” will hardly advance God’s kingdom, but hospitality will and so will worshiping God on Sunday (Church attendance and sabbath keeping is a big deal to her) She gives a bunch of practical suggestions for how to reach out to neighbours and welcome strangers into the home. All of her kids were adopted through foster care, which is such a testament to the truth that this woman practices what she preaches. 
  • Not from around here. One illustration she gave about gathering the neighbourhood together just struck me as utterly foreign. They decided that they would invite everyone on their block to join them for a prayer walk. The date was set, and flyers were distributed. When the day came something like 30 neighbours showed up to walk the streets and pray, with a meal to follow afterward. The event was a huge success and has become a weekly rhythm that has strengthened the community and created many opportunities for the love of Jesus to spread. If I did that in my neighbourhood, no one would come, and I would probably receive a couple complaints about unwanted Christian proselytizing!

I loved Butterfield’s first book, this one not so much, she did warn us in the introduction to “bear with her” we did, and there was some fruit for the labour, just not as much as I was hoping for.

God and the Gay Christian

Matthew Vines is gay, he is also a Christian. He firmly believes that the Bibles prohibitions against homosexuality do not envision or encompass gay monogamous Christian relationships. According to him, the Bible condemns sexual excess, not sexual orientation. It is, therefore, no sin to act out on same-sex impulses provided they are safely within a covenant of marriage.

I did not enjoy this book. All the interpretations of Scripture feel like such a stretch to me, but they are pulled along by highly charged emotional stories of suffering and abuse. By the end of the book, it’s hard not to think that if I still disagreed with Matthew, I would be on the wrong side of history.

Christians have made mistakes before

Vines is worried that Christians will have to throw out the Bible if they take his position, but he tells his readers that it’s just an interpretive issue, not an authority issue. 

  • We were wrong about slavery. We changed, and the Bible is still authoritative
  • We were wrong about the earth being the centre of the universe. We changed, and the Bible is still authoritative.
  • We were wrong about strict patriarchy and the role of women in the Church. We changed and the Bible is still authoritative. 

Therefore it is entirely possible that we could be wrong about condemning monogamous gay marriage, that we could change and still have the Bible be authoritative.

Within the Church, it would undoubtedly make things a lot easier if Vines were right. Outside the Church, it won’t make any difference at all. Activists are calling for sexual freedom, which is hardly what Matthew Vines is suggesting. Both Christians who hold to traditional views and those who are open to a “Vine-ean” interpretation will still be ridiculed by the broader public.


God wouldn’t do this to his children.

According to the author, it is “bad fruit” to condemn a Christian person to a life of celibacy against their will just because that person happens to be same-sex attracted. It is not “good fruit” for man to be alone! So there must be a better interpretation for those Scriptures that appear to prohibit homosexual activity. A good God would not create a rule that produces the bad fruit of loneliness and perpetual banishment from the intimate belonging that God gifts to human beings in marriage. Monogamous gay marriage doesn’t hurt or damage anyone, therefore it’s “good fruit” The early Church initially thought that Christianity was a Jewish cultural thing, but as the early Church listened to God and looked at their own experiences they decided it was “bad fruit” to force Gentiles to keep Jewish laws and get circumcised. Those were unnecessary restrictions, and so they fell away.
In the same way, it’s bad fruit to force Gay Christians to keep unnecessary sexual laws that technically, if you look at Scripture close enough, don’t even apply to a Gay Christian in the 21st century. Bad fruit does not mean personal hardships or whatever someone doesn’t happen to like. Vine’s use of this parable strikes me as something out of Hobbes’ or Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s playbook. That’s not good. 


Gay people can’t help it, so how can it be wrong?

Gay people cannot change their sexual desires. “Sexual orientation is both fixed and unchosen.” says Vines, therefore “it is impossible for same-sex attracted people to be attracted to opposite sex people.” Many have tried and failed, creating even more problems. He cites the complete failure of the ex-gay movement “Exodus International” as evidence.

But this is not true, Rosaria Butterfield and Deborah Hirsch are two notable examples to the contrary, also, in my own city, I know personally two same-sex attracted men who managed to marry women and are happy. They wouldn’t say they are never attracted to their same sex anymore, but they manage the temptations. God has given them deep affection for the women they married, and it’s working out just fine. Every human relationship is unique, human sexuality is both more complex and flexible than Vines allows with his short definitive statements about sexual attraction.


What about what the Scripture actually says?

According to Vines, all six of the no gay sex passages don’t actually mean no gay sex, they mean no bad gay sex. Bad gay sex is whatever happens outside of marriage. As for the male and female, one flesh marriage thing, well that can go away too as an argument against homosexuality because that isn’t really about biology, it’s about covenant keeping. Moses, Jesus, and Paul when they talk about, leaving and cleaving and one fleshing, they are talking about keeping promises not anatomical body parts that naturally fit together. Promise-keeping is a big part of it to be sure, but no less significant than the male and female coming together. He spent a lot of time attempting to debunk the need for gender complementarity in marriage, his insistence that the terminology is simply about promise-keeping remains particularly unconvincing. 

The Levitical passages against gay sex get tossed out with the shell-fish laws, they don’t apply. Vines rejects, the non-biblical man-made distinction that eliminates civil and ceremonial laws but at the same time keeps the moral ones. According to his hermeneutics, you don’t get to keep some rules and toss the others.

What about Sodom? — The thirteen O.T. passages that condemn Sodom speak against its arrogance, it’s pride, it’s violence, it’s in-hospitality, it’s uncaring attitude, and it’s abuse of the marginalized. They don’t dwell on same-sex behaviour much at all. It’s not until 1st century A.D. that this link is made. Indeed the term “sodomite” according to Vines, is a term from the 11th century A.D.

The words for “abomination” and “despicable actions,” which seem to have obvious links to sexual behaviour are reinterpreted to mean sexual excess. It would be excessive to gang rape someone, or as one scholar suggested to have sex with an angel. Evidently, if one man came to the door with a marriage proposal for Lots guests, it wouldn’t have been so bad.

In the New Testament passages, it’s more of the same. The sin is not in the act itself, Sexual excess is the problem. According to Vines, homosexual activity was always considered excessive in the first century. It was always men who needed more than what they were getting in their marriages. There was no category of orientation and no understanding of gay marriage. It was always sexual “overflow.” To be faithful to the Scriptures’ original intent, this passage and all the rest should only be used to condemn sexual excess. I just don’t buy it. Paul is condemning the action — period. I would rather just walk away from Scripture, then twist it so badly here. Yes, Paul didn’t think in terms of sexual orientation, he didn’t give identity language to behaviour or assume that it could be limited to loving monogamy, but all this talk is irrelevant to the text. What concerned Paul was the behaviour. Paul gives it a thumbs down. Matthew Vines answers with a “yeah but” and then tries valuantly to say that our 21st-century context is different. I just can’t get on board.  


The great sin was misogyny, not gay sex

He quotes Philo, Plutarch and Clement who all seem to think that the great sin of homosexuality was not the act itself. It was that one of the men had to “become a woman” for the act to happen, and nothing was more degrading than that. This perceived sin had its roots in misogyny. To be considered womanly was the great sin. Not gay sex per se. As near as I can gather, the point is, we have evolved from such misogynistic notions now, so active and passive sexual partners are not the offence that they would have been in a patriarchal culture. So…it’s all good now (?)

Final Thoughts

If someone wants to believe this is true, they will. Vines gives enough supporting “evidence” to justify the change, or at least to create enough confusion that Christians will say it doesn’t matter so much anymore. Matthew has worked very hard and presented as strong a case as possible to justify his experience while at the same time, receiving the approving applause of Scripture.

I’m sympathetic to Matthew Vines, I appreciate his diligent work, in many ways, I even hope he is right! But to me, it’s just too much to swallow. He holds up a high view of Scripture but his interpretations seem to speak lies to his claim. 

The Looming Tower

This book helped me crawl into the mind of Osama bin Laden. It helped me understand more of the mess that is the Middle East. A fascinating read. I loved it. Below are some of my observations in no particular order

All could have been avoided, such sad words.

Everyone needs a miracle

It is true, the Russians left Afghanistan. It was too costly, in the end, it wasn’t worth the effort, so they left. The USA was bound and determined to give Russia their own Vietnam, so they happily supplied Afghans with whatever they needed to inflict casualties on Russia. Not too long after their withdrawal, the communist superpower crumbled. Shortly before Russia’s tactical departure, a small Russian force attempted to take out Osama Bin Laden’s out of the way, mountain hide-out. Osama’s team of Saudi freedom fighters were pulverized and fled. The Afghan’s forced the Arabs back into action, and with Afghan support, they managed to kill 35 Russian soldiers and take back their enclave. The foray was not even noticed on the Russian side, one more skirmish in those God-forsaken mountains, but in the heightened religious atmosphere among the men following bin Laden, it was another story altogether, there was a dizzying sense that they were living in a supernatural world, in which reality knelt before faith. For them, the encounter at the Lion’s Den became the foundation of the myth that they defeated the superpower. Within a few years, the entire Soviet empire fell to pieces—dead of the wound that Osama and his faithful band inflicted upon the communist infidels. With Allah, anything was possible. If Russia could fall, so too could America, and so they should. 
Young zealots armed themselves with the miracle stories that flowed out of Afghanistan, stories that spoke of tanks running over Jihadis with no effect and Russian bullets unable to penetrate bodies. Confidence soared as rumours spread that even the birds interfered with Russian aircraft and angles on horseback joined the faithful in battle.

The sword is the better way

Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, believed in Universal Islamic Rule and was opposed to all western ideas of democracy, capitalism, and materialism, he said:

“It is the nature of Islam to dominate not to be dominated – to impose its will on all nations and to extend it’s power to the entire planet, to be the dominant cultural force in the world we must take over, and it’s the duty of all Muslims to assist in this glorious endeavor.

Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, preached against the freedom of the west

“Yes we are reactionary, you intellectuals don’t want us to go back 1400 years! But freedom corrupts our youth, freedom paves the way for our oppressor, freedom will drag our nation to the bottom freedom is the enemy and America is the champion of freedom

Khomeini preached on:

Islam says, Whatever good there is in this world it is because of the sword and the shadow of the sword. People can only be made obedient because of the sword, the sword is the key to paradise. Obedience is better than freedom.

Western ideals cannot survive in the face of Islam, the only hope for lasting peace between the West and Isalm is if Muslims en-masse re-invent their religion embracing democracy, freedom, and love as core values. That does not seem likely.

What makes a terrorist?

The lure of an illustrious meaningful death was heightened because of government oppression and economic hardship. Saudi Arabia, for example, had buckets and buckets of money, but the king spent it all on yachts, gambling and mind-boggling excess. Radicalism prospers in the gap between rising expectations and declining opportunities. The young men from Saudi could see the waste they resented it. Isalm wasn’t the culprit; however, Corrupting Western influences were, they must pay!

Also, the youth were idle, unemployed and bored. Art was impoverished, and entertainment was heavily policed or altogether absent. Finally, when men are culturally set apart from the consoling and socializing presence of women, it’s only a matter of time before trouble starts. — Martyrdom started looking like a pretty good option for these young men whose lives had become stunted.

Add to all this a theology which taught that a man’s sins were forgiven the moment the blood drained from his body in Martyrdom. The forgiven one’s sacrifice would also prevent 70 of his family members from the fires of hell and all his fleshly longings long denied on earth would be fulfilled by the gift of 72 eager virgins awaiting him in paradise.

The biggest “object lesson” that drove many Muslims closer into fundamentalism was the 1967 six day war debacle with Israel. A lot of Muslims came to believe that God had sided with Israel because Muslims had become soft and corrupt like the West. Only a rededication to strict Islam would bring about success in over-throwing the Jews and becoming the dominant force in the world again.

Osama bin Laden’s greatest motivation to radicalize his adherents was made evident in a speech given just before 9/11. In the statement, Osama quoted Mohammed, the prophet who had warned the people of his day against becoming weak “because of your love of life and your hatred of fighting.” He reminded all his martyrs that Islam would always be inferior until they returned to their religion to fight for it. Shame was the motivation that pushed the 19 terrorists to action on that fateful day. These men, unlike many others, were comfortable, well educated and from stable homes, but the way of Islam was still under the thumb of the West, and would always be until they threw off their comforts and fought.

Should have left them alone.

Saddam snatched up oil-rich Kuwait and stood on Saudi’s border. Would they be next? Could the West stand by as a mad man grabbed an unbelievably large share of the world’s oil? Looking back, I say “yes,” America should have stayed out of it as much as possible. Osama wanted to fight Sadaam with his Jihadi’s. Let them fight it out is what I say. Osama was radicalized against the USA when they moved their army into Saudi Arabia. The USA should have let Iraq and Saudi duke it out, and then have come in only at the desperate request of a country on the verge of collapse. The USA invested way too much in a country that could never appreciate them.

The USA is all about sex, and sex is bad.

Initially, the Arab world was fond of America. They were the only country that had fought against colonialism and won. It was a short-lived affection, however. Sayyid Qutb, the thought leader behind modern Islamic extremism, would summarize his perspective on America. “They are a reckless deluded heard chasing after sex and money, little above beasts.” Sayyid was convinced that sex led people away from salvation, and according to him, there was entirely too much of that going on in America! It probably didn’t help that he was propositioned by a drunk woman on the boat that brought him to America for his study tour, or that he managed to find time to read the Kinsey report on sex. He was thoroughly disgusted.

Sayyid Qutb also rejected Christianity as an idealized fantasy. To him, it was a dream that could never come true. Islam was a much better story to him because it was a complete system with rules and laws and the power to enforce them and not just dreams of the way things should be.

It wasn’t long before it was thought and taught that the West’s corrupting influences on Islam were the reason why Islam has not yet succeeded in taking over the world. Which is why the West must be destroyed; the other factor was the USA’s affection for Israel; this was utterly intolerable.


9/11 was completely avoidable.

. The is easily the most troubling part of the book. Intelligence agencies were different than criminal agencies. Intelligence gathering (CIA) had developed a bizarre habit of withholding information from criminal investigation agencies (FBI) The official reason for this lack of collaboration was a determination not to compromise “sensitive sources and methods.” Once a criminal investigation started, the CIA would have to give up control, operatives could lose their cover. They understandably didn’t want that. However, the CIA had more than enough info at their disposable to help the FBI both locate and arrest the 911 bombers. Indeed the CIA even knew when several of the suicide bombers had entered the United States some 20 months before the bombings! Still, they refused to share with the FBI. The FBI was convinced that a terror threat was high, and they asked the CIA repeatedly for help, but without success. 
Why? was there another reason besides the official one? Some say it was because the CIA hated O’Neill, who was the FBI counter-terrorist strongman. He was impulsive, hotheaded, and had a huge personality. He was a threat to many, within the politics of bureaucracy. Whatever the reasons 9/11 was completely avoidable had the two agencies chosen to work together. 
One of the great ironies of this story is that O’Neil was one of the only people who took Osama seriously. It was he alone who truly understood the threat and could have prevented it. Instead, infighting cut his career short, he took a post as a security consultant at the World Trade Centre in August of 2001 he died less than a month later in the attacks.

Lovely Loopholes

Sex outside of marriage is a severe sin in Islam, But Muhammed Bin Laden loved his women, so what could he do? Marry them in the morning and divorce them at night. He did that a lot, so much so that he had a full-time staff member employed to keep track of all the details to make sure no moral laws were broken, and that if any children were produced as a result of these short term marriages, they would be suitably cared for. Fifty-four children were created as a result of these arrangements, the wives numbered in the hundreds. Osama bin Laden was produced by the marriage of Mohammed and a Fourteen-year-old “wife.” Muhammed was clever, but something feels wrong about this.


What would Muhammed Do? (WWMB)

What is the justification for Muslim extremists to kill women and children? In 630, Mohammed allowed the use of a catapult to conquer a walled city even though it would kill women and children. This was all the justification needed to harden the conscience of any tender souled Jihadi. If Mohammed did it, we can too!

Takfir

A doctrine of Islam that believes you can kill other Muslims that don’t agree with you. It goes against the Quran says Lawrence Wright, but does it go against Mohammed’s actions? Whatever the case “Takfir” is the reason why so many Muslim have no qualms about killing one another.

Atheist Delusions

We remember what we want to remember

    Every age necessarily reinterprets and rewrites the past in accord with its own interests, ideals, and illusions (33) The past is always to some extent a fiction of the present (129). 

Hart is disgusted. The tale that modernity is wishing to call history has gotten entirely out of hand, most notably in its recollections of Christianity. 

The story that modernity wants to remember

  • Once upon a time, there was a late Roman Hellenistic culture that cherished the power of reason and pursued science and high philosophy. Then came Christianity, which valued only blind obedience and irrational dogma, and which maliciously extinguished the light of pagan wisdom. Then, thanks to Islam, thirteenth-century Christendom suddenly rediscovered reason and began to chafe against the bondage of witless fideism. And then, as if by magic, Copernicus discovered heliocentrism, and reason began its inexorable charge toward victory through the massed and hostile legions of faith. 
  • The emergence of the secular state rescued Western humanity from the rule of religious intolerance. 
  • Secularism is the exuberant adventure into the adulthood of the race so long delayed by priestcraft, superstition and intolerance. Secularism is the great revolution that liberated society and the individual alike from the crushing weight of tradition and doctrine.

What does Hart think of this story? 

   Utter bilge. Hart criticizes Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Kirsch, Gibbon, MacMullen, and Freeman to name a few. To Christopher Hitchens subtitle on his bestseller “How religion poisons everything” He directs particular malice. What precisely is meant by everything? Hart wonders, then he lists an entire page of wonderful things that would not exist were it not for Christianity, things like the abolition movement, the golden rule and hospitals. He concludes with the comment “It borders upon willful imbecility to lament the rise of Christendom.” One example of the “selective memory” of modernity comes to us through Edward Gibbon’s majestical work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In it, Gibbon argues that Pagan polytheism was more “tolerant” than Christianity because of the plethora of pagan deities to choose from. This “tolerance” is pure fiction. Pagans slaughtered with “extravagant violence” says Hart, Jews and Christians alike. Anyone who denied the god’s existence was in mortal danger.  Adding to pagan “tolerance” was the reality of human sacrifices both on alters, and more prevalently in the coliseums. Pagan systems of belief cared nothing for the homeless, the gladiatorial spectacle, crucifixions, the disposal of unwanted infants, or the brutal slaughter of war captives or criminals. Paganisms “tolerance” was completely ambivalent towards tyranny, injustice, depravity or cruelty. In Gibbons over-reaching bid to prove paganism more tolerant than Christianity, he leaves all these considerations out these items out.  Hart is not about to let him or anyone else get away with it. 

“Vacuous arguments afloat on oceans of historical ignorance, made turbulent by storms of strident self-righteousness. — Their rantings are as contemptible as any other form of dreary fundamentalism.”

Christianity not perfect but…

    “It is true” is the single most used phrase in the entire book. Hart uses it to acknowledge that Christians were not perfect. For example,

“It is true that Christianity’s greatest historical triumph was also its most calamitous defeat”. Hart admits that when Christianity became a politically dominate force unfortunate tragedies happened. “It is true that Christendom in many respects was hardly Christian. Even so, the gospel has at best flickered through the history of the West, working upon hard and intractable natures—the frank brutality of barbarians, the refined cruelty of the civilized— producing prodigies of sanctity and charity in every age.” 

Critics of Christianity point out that slavery and the abuse of women continued on into Christendom. Hart acknowledges that “it is true” but then takes us on a fascinating journey where the norms of abuse accepted without question in paganism gradually fell prey to the corrosive influence of Christian thought. Hart concludes

Christianity has been the single most creative cultural, ethical, aesthetic, social, political, and spiritual force in the history of the West, to be sure; but it has also been a profoundly destructive force; and one should perhaps praise it as much for the latter attitude as for the former, for there are many things worthy of destruction.

The extinction of Paganism was a good thing.

    Pagans became Christians to such a degree that paganism became extinct because paganism was terrible.

“It was time for the gods of that age to withdraw: for too long they had served as the terrible and beautiful guardians of an order of majestic cruelty and pitiless power.”

  • Pagan thought did not embrace science and reason: Christianity upended the progression of science we are told. According to Hart, science as we understand it, didn’t even exist in pagan times, “all its methods, controls, and guiding principles, its desire to unite theory to empirical discovery, its trust in a unified set of physical laws and so on—came into existence only within Christendom, and specifically under the hands of believing Christians.” The “so-called” dark ages of Christendom brought about the university, the first real steps in medicine, and the devolvement of incredible new science-based technology. The same cannot be said for the Hellenistic world or the Muslim world for that matter. They remained technologically static in part because they never developed science beyond theory and they remained committed to a slave culture. The church muting Galileo always comes up as evidence that the church and science were not friends. Hart is not buying it. What’s the story then? “That story demonstrates nothing of Christianity’s aversion to Science but only how idiotic a conflict between men of titanic egotism can become.” 
  • Paganism was depressing: Harts assessment of paganism is particularly bleak: 

“In any event, to return to my principal point, the Christianity of the early centuries did not invade a world of noonday joy, vitality, mirth, and cheerful earthiness, and darken it with malicious slanders of the senses, or chill it with a severe and bloodless otherworldliness.  Rather, it entered into a twilight world of pervasive spiritual despondency and religious yearning….It was a pagan society that had become ever more otherworldly and joyless, ever wearier of the burden of itself, and ever more resentful of the soul’s incarceration in the closed system of a universe governed by fate.

Christianity is a better story.

    In addition to the fundamental goodness of the world, Christianity taught the indispensable value of a human person. The followers of Jesus saw in persons something godlike, to be cherished and adored. Then adding to the image of the divine in all humanity comes the grand rescue story of Jesus, proving once and for all that humanity is loved by God and welcomed into a divine eternal relationship. As Hart puts it: 

By contrast, Christianity taught the incorruptible goodness of the world, the original and ultimate beauty of all things, inasmuch as it understood this world to be the direct creation of the omnipotent God of love. (144) … Christianity brought a deep and imperturbable joy” (145) 

    The advent of Christianity unquestionably changed the world for the better. For Hart, it is unconscionable for respected historians and philosophers not to recognize this. Hart is not apologizing for Christian’s who may have misbehaved in the past. Hart quips “Humans frequently disappoint,” but this truth is not limited only to Christians. He will not accept criticism from angry, misinformed people who:

“have not even paused to acquaint themselves with, for example, the Inquisitions actual history, while at the same time completely ignoring twenty centuries of unprecedented and still unmatched moral triumphs. — its’ care of widows, and orphans, its almshouses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies, and so on.”

    The secular nation-state is the problem – Hart refuses to take the blame for the “so-called” religious wars of the 15th -17th centuries. He insists that they be renamed as the first wars of the modern nation-state. “Religious allegiances, anxieties, and hatreds were used by regional princes merely as pretexts for conflicts whose causes, effects and alliances had very little to do with faith or confessional loyalties.” The protestant reformation succeeded because it served the interest of the emerging nation states. It wasn’t that the Germans became protestant and now wanted independence from the empire. They wanted independence from the empire, and so they became protestant. Hart takes us on an entertaining albeit very disturbing walk through the 15-17th centuries and concludes with a statement that hardly needed to be said. “Few would be so foolish to suggest that any side fought for religious reasons” As the common bond of Christianity decreased in Europe, so the standing armies of the future nations increased. Violence increased in proportion to the degree of sovereignty claimed by the state, and that, whenever the medieval church surrendered moral authority to the secular power, injustice and cruelty flourished. Before the shift, for example in the 10th-11th centuries, the church instituted “Peace of God” days and “Truce of God” days, making war illegal on certain days of the week, fast days, and feast days. By the time the church was finished with the calendar three-quarters of it consisted of periods of mandated tranquillity, the churches great work though not carried out perfectly was always tilted towards peace. 

What came after Christianity faltered was the absolute state and total war. The “religious wars”  were the moderns state’s great struggle to free itself from those institutional, moral, and sacramental allegiances that still held it even partially in check. So that it could now get on with all those mighty tasks—nationalist wars, colonial empires, universal conscriptions, mass exterminations of civilians, and so on.

Is the post-Christian world better?  

    First, for any people, comes its story, and then whatever is possible for those people becomes conceivable within that story — slowly and relentlessly, for centuries now, another story has been replacing the Christian one. Attempts to reverse this process are probably futile. (239)

  • A New God — Freedom.

At the deepest level of their thoughts and desires, they are obedient to principles and promptings that rest upon no foundation but themselves…Freedom of the will is our supreme value. It is for all intents and purposes our god and certain kinds of god (as our pagan forebears understood) expect to be fed.

Human freedom is the thing that drives people to a passionate and often articulate hatred of belief in God. Anything that stands in the way of freedom must be destroyed. Freedom might just as well be seen — from certain more antique perspectives as a kind of slavery to untutored impulses, to empty caprice, to triviality, to dehumanizing values. Modern Freedom is nihilism. The question to ask is where does nihilism lead? Nowhere good.

  • A Better Story — Knowledge. Technological mastery is not just our guiding ideal but our model of truth. Power over material reality is all that matters, that’s the better story of the post-Christian world. 

    Only Christianity teaches the infinite dignity of every soul and the infinite value of every life. Because of Jesus, charity became the shining sun around which all other values were made to revolve. In the Post Christian world, this is no longer the case.  If there is a God of infinite love and goodness, of whom every person is an image, then certain moral conclusions must be drawn; if there is not, those conclusions have no meaning… What Nietzsche understood was that the effort to cast off Christian faith while retaining the best and most beloved elements of Christian morality was doomed to defeat…A civilization, it seems obvious, is only as great or as wonderful as the spiritual ideals that animate it…But as a cultural reality, even love requires a reason for its preeminence among the virtues. Love requires a reason, and the post-Christian world doesn’t have a reason. 

    Then to scare us entirely out of our minds, he quotes the ideas of Joseph Fletcher, Linus Pauling, Peter Singer, James Rachels, and Lee Silver, whose post-Christian ideals seek to manage humanity in what Hart describes as “robustly merciless terms.” When Christianity goes, so goes the sanctity of human life. Reading these guys makes this claim perfectly visible.

    When the aspiring ape ceases to think himself a fallen angel, perhaps he will inevitably resign himself to being an ape. He will rejoice that the universe demands little more from him than an ape’s contentment. This is no description of progress, this is a descent into darkness. 

What can a Christian do? 

    Hart is not jubilant. Christianity’s inexorable movement towards extinction is only resisted by his confidence that the Christian story is a cosmic truth that can never finally be defeated. Hart recommends retreat for the Christian into the desert as the monastics did in the 4th century. They rebelled against Christianity’s own success, to discover again in the quiet wastelands, what it really meant to live for the love of God and one’s neighbour. To banish envy, hate, and resentment from the soul and to seek the beauty of Christ in others. The success of secularism to Hart is the same as the success of institutionalized, politicized Christianity of the 4th century. The authentic Christian retreats from both. In many ways, I think Harts very brief conclusion tilts toward an agreement with another book I read recently, The Benedict Option

Body counting might not be the best comparison.

    Hart with almost monotonous regularity takes the reader back to the 20th century to remind us that the most savage and sublimely violent period in human history was brought about by secular governments who had embraced thoroughgoing materialism informed by Darwinian biology. My one issue with this constant refrain is the failure to consider technology into the body count. The real question to ask in my opinion is what would the badly behaving religious leaders of Christendom have done with weapons of mass destruction had they had them? A question impossible to answer, but I get an uneasy feeling that the body count discrepancy from the Christian to secular would not have been nearly as high if both had weapons of equal capability. 

The Coddling of the American Mind

The West has a problem. We’ve gone soft. We have bought into three lies that have weakened our ability to learn and grow, to be challenged and to discover the truth. As long as we believe these lies we will never be strong; we will never be free. This is a book of the year candidate for me. Below are a handful of gems that I plucked from this provocative and helpful resource. 

The three great untruths

What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The key to life is to avoid pain, avoid discomfort, avoid all potentially bad experiences, mitigate all risks. This is a terrible untruth. The human is not fragile; the human is built to be anti-fragile. We are like our immune systems. Just like we need little bits of lousy stuff to strengthen our immunity, we also need little bits of adversity in our lives to make us better. Helicopter parenting, and a “safety first” mentality do our children no favours.  The grand peanut allergy scare that has taken over North America is an example of how we are going about perceived dangers the wrong way. A broad sampling of babies which were deemed to be at risk to peanut allergy was divided into two groups, one group from the very beginning regularly consumed small doses of food containing peanuts, the other group religiously avoided all contact with peanuts. After a certain number of years, the two groups were tested for a peanut allergy. No one that had been fed peanuts from a young age was found to be allergic; they had all developed immunity. Not so with the other group, instead, a majority of those children ended up with the potentially life-threatening allergy. Protecting the children from peanuts didn’t help them get stronger; it made them weaker! Protecting children from all kinds of danger and risk doesn’t help them either. My absolute favourite quote from this book comes from US supreme court chief justice John Roberts. He was speaking to a graduating class; no one expected him to wish bad luck on these graduates, he did. 

“Now, the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you, I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored, so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

Always trust your feelings. Never question them. Feelings are compelling, but they are not always accurate. Words now in our culture of “safetyism” constitute a real threat, and therefore any word uttered that might make another person feel bad, must not be allowed. Free speech and free inquiry get strangled because hurt feelings are elevated to the level of physical violence. “Prepare the child for the road not the road for the child,” says Van Jones. We have to teach our children to handle ideas and words that might hurt their feelings. Someone should not necessarily be silenced just because what they say doesn’t make you feel good. 

    In the Witches book by Stacy Schiff, I learned that “spectral evidence” was accepted as true. If someone felt they saw your ghost haunting them, their feelings of reality could lead directly to your death. In today’s world “spectral evidence” has been replaced by “feeling evidence.” If someone’s feelings get hurt by what someone else says they can prosecute. The consequences for hurting a person’s feelings, while they stop short of the hanging tree, are creating a massive problem for free speech and the ability to peacefully co-exist. Instead of public shaming and threatening, instead of having to issue trigger warnings, and create safe spaces for people whose feelings might be hurt by words, we need to learn how to grapple respectfully with the ideas and words of people different than ourselves. If we are feeling driven, we won’t be able to sidestep potential offences and move into meaningful conversation. Repeatedly throughout the book, the authors refer the back to something called cognitive behavioural therapy as a means to properly manage feelings. CBT helps people to identify and control cognitive distortions brought about by misplaced feelings.  According to the authors, CBT is a simple, easily acquired tool that produces much better results than anything by Freud or Prozac. Below are eight examples of cognitive distortions that if properly identified can be managed.  

9 Cognitive Distortions

  1. Catastrophising — Focusing on the worst possible outcome and seeing it as most likely. “We are all going to die!”
  2. Over-generalizing — Perceiving a global pattern of negatives based on a single incident. “She didn’t like what I said; no one will like what I said”
  3. Black and White thinking — Viewing people and events in all or nothing terms. “Those people are all evil, rotten and disgusting.”
  4. Mind-reading — Assuming that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts “That person hates me, I know it”
  5. Labelling — Assigning negative traits to yourself or others “He is a Jew, of course, he is cheap.” “I’m just dumb.” 
  6. Negative filtering — Exclusive focus on the negatives, seldom on the positives. “Nothing seems to go right for me.”
  7. Discounting Positives — Trivializing the positives of yourself and others so you can maintain the negative “I’m no good at any of this stuff!” 
  8. Blame-shifting — Focusing on other people as the source of negative feelings. “Its all your fault.”

Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.” — Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    The West has become increasingly polarized, particularly in the USA, the latest statistics reveal that at no time in the history of that country have philosophical and ideological gaps between Democrats and Republicans been wider. Things have become shrill on both sides. The line between good and evil divides party lines now. This is not healthy at all. Solzhenitsyn penned this thought after his incarceration with the Communists; he was cursing them for their callous brutality, when it dawned on him that a couple of years earlier while in the army he had treated several lower-ranking soldiers with the similar cruelty.  To take Solzhenitsyn’s observation to heart is to forever prevent the fire of self-righteous bigotry from spreading. 

Impact versus Intent —  Some say guilt is determined by the impact of one’s words, while other’s say guilt should be established by intent. If someone’s intentions are good they should be cut some slack. This mentality is becoming less and less the case. If a word hurts regardless of intent, there is increasing hell to pay for the person who uttered it. A gracious approach will always look to intent first and will always give the benefit of the doubt. Somehow we need to find our way back to this as a first position when it comes to conversation.

Irony — In 1964 UC Berkley liberals demanded free speech. In 2018 the political progeny of those same liberals beat the crap out of some people who were supporting a free speech. 

Concept Creep  — When certain words gain a much broader range of meaning so that people develop an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm concept creep is happening. Words like “bullying” can mean anything. “Racism” “sexism” “abuse” can now be thrown in the direction of someone who sneezes in a way that another person doesn’t like. It’s not good. You know concept creep has gone too far when Ben Shapiro is called out to be a “Neo-Nazi” for his economic views — Ben is Jewish! 

No Fly Zones — Being transgendered is ok, being transracial is not ok. Why? A liberal feminist scholar took up the question and was promptly blasted out of the water. Her inquiry was not malicious, but that didn’t seem to matter. Even the perception of disagreement created remarkable rage. Freedom of inquiry is a must for a healthy society. So many professors must now walk on eggshells these days lest they offend. 

What about the Church? The authors talk about how essential opinion diversity is for the health of universities. There needs to be “room for rebuttal not calls for retractions.” They talk about how group think and orthodoxy actually lead away from the discovery of the truth. That got me wondering about the church. Could it be that churches are too orthodox, too dogmatic? Are the heresy police that stalk the hallways of many a church no different than the oversensitive left wingers that shout down all counter opinions on university campuses? Is it possible to have a healthy church that has room enough to support the full spectrum of theological, ethical and moral views that naturally tend to divide Christians into factions? My initial response is no of course not. Christians sign on to believe certain things and not others to live in certain ways and not others, and if one isn’t into believing and living in those ways than there isn’t much room at the table for that person.  The church is not a university. However having said this, I do wonder if some churches would do well by substantially widening their circles. 

Give the girls guns? Because girls are relationally aggressive just like boys are physically aggressive the equivalent of putting instant social media in a girls pocket is much like putting a loaded gun in a boys pocket. The authors quote heaps of statistics that bear this concerning theory out. Depression attempted suicide, and mental illness has risen to unprecedented levels among girls. The pressure to perform and compete in the virtual world combined with the social media stress bomb of F.O.M.O ( Fear of missing out) is quite literally killing our girls. A big message of this book is to stay off social media! 

History’s Great Military Blunders

Pride goes before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction. — Never have truer words been written especially when considering military leaders. This was almost without fail the one constant in all of these military blunders. Napoleon brushed off any concerns regarding the long odds of success in his bid to conquer Russia by saying,

“Is there any man blind enough not to see that destiny directs all my operations.”

In the end, 90% of his 500,000 man army perished. The French empire never recovered. 

Marcus Crassus, the Donald Trump of the Roman Empire, suffered from a similar infection. He left off his wildly successful business and political ventures to become a military general. His contemporaries were Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, and he could not match their glory through shrewd business maneuvers. He needed to add “military conquest” to his resume to get to their level. So he went off to conquer the Parthians. It was doable If he listened to his generals, and attacked from the north with the help of the Arminians, but he wasn’t willing to share any glory. So instead he blindly marched his troops straight into the desert, where he and they were cut to pieces by the well prepared and more mobile Parthians. 

General George Custer was similarly afflicted when he arrogantly remarked, “We can kill any number of Indians” That’s why he divided his group up into 3 terribly small segments to more effectively track the Indians and press his attack. He wasn’t worried about the massive number advantage the Indians possessed. He should have been. 

There is a fine line between brilliant confidence and foolish arrogance. I suppose if one wins it’s considered the former, but if one loses it’s the latter.

One of my favourite stories 

    The southern army of China was in desperate need of arrows for their war effort against the mighty Northern Chinese general Cao Cao. The South filled up several military ships with hay covered tightly in canvas and travelled up the river to “confront” Cao Cao’s army which was camped along the shore. As the boats passed by Cao-Cao’s army showered them with arrows. Arrows by the thousands lodged themselves safely in the hay and canvas as the ships went back and forth. After a short while, the ships left looking more like pin-cushions than anything but the mission was a complete success. The south had collected enough arrows to fight another day. 

Appointments based on ability, not heredity. 

    This was Genghis Khan’s great idea and a significant reason for his success.  He chose generals based on their abilities, not their birth.  — His greatest general was a non-Mongol son of a lowly blacksmith, but he won for Genghis 65 major battles and defeated 32 different nations. Napoleon might have succeeded in Russia had he not given a high command to his inept brother. 

Wars are about greed. Greed feels too wrong to justify a war, so every war needs a pretext. 

    The Crimean war got its start over an argument about who was supposed to have the keys to the holy church in Bethlehem. Was it the Russians (Eastern Orthodox) or the French (Roman Catholic)? Can’t get it sorted? Let’s have a war. Truthfully, the Bethlehem thing was a pretext. The Ottoman Empire was dying for decades it had been the “sick man of Europe,” and England, France, and Russia were looking for any excuse to greedily carve it up, like vultures on a dying wildebeest. The war was never really about which priest would get the keys to the church in Bethlehem, it was fundamentally about greed as wars are. 

You need to know what you are up against! 

The Battle of Cartagena was not one of the finest moments for the British empire. Infighting, between the navy and the army, didn’t help at all, bad planning, miscommunication, and disease also made things increasingly worse for those fighting under the banner of the union jack. But the entire bungling story was captured perfectly in the final episode of events. The Brits wanted to storm the walls of the city at dawn, but they got lost in the night, and then their porters deserted them, when they finally arrived at the walls, late and exhausted the beleaguered soldiers ran forward with their scaling ladders only to find out that they were all ten feet to short! 

Failure to realize that in war pragmatism is king. 

The French needed to put down a shopkeepers rebellion to the north in what is now the Netherlands. It should not have been a problem. The French had an advantage 600 knights to 50, and they also had supportive foot soldiers equipped with crossbows in abundance. Also, the shopkeepers were trapped, they had barricaded themselves on a small strip of land with marshy soil in front and a river behind. The job was simple. Have the crossbowmen pick apart the rebels from a distance, and then have the knights storm in and mop things up.  “No sir!” said the knights, knights don’t do the mopping, they do the killing. So instead the knights did a full charge on marshy soil, and got bogged down, the immobile, weighed down knights, need deep in mud gave the lighter more mobile rebels with their long pikes a complete advantage. The French were slaughtered, and the victory led to nationhood for the Netherlands.