About Will McDavid

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...

Contact

Author Archive
    Another Week Ends: Overrated Successes, Disappointing Babies, Nostalgia for Human Error, Impossible Repayment and Technocrat Baseball

    Another Week Ends: Overrated Successes, Disappointing Babies, Nostalgia for Human Error, Impossible Repayment and Technocrat Baseball

    1. William Deresiewicz’s clickbaity “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League” draws in high-achievers and their parents to, well, pull the rug out from under them. Apologies for the lengthy quotes, but it’s very good, ht MB:

    These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures…

    Read More »

    Dead Horses, Repentance, and American Religion

    Dead Horses, Repentance, and American Religion

    Allen Tate, an admired Southern poet (friend of Robert Penn Warren and teacher of Robert Lowell), published an essay in 1930 diagnosing the complexities of Southern and, by extension, American religion. It appears in a work by defenders of the agrarian way of life, titled I’ll Take My Stand, a book with some high points of wisdom which are neglected, now, as a result of its significant/egregious low points of racism and Southern revanchism. Tate finds American religion to be pragmatic in a bad way, focused on an abstract ability to work rather than a view of the whole human. You can…

    Read More »

    Mockingbird: Bringing You the Gospel (pt 37)

    Robot Butler at a Party

    “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

    Gerhard Forde Doesn’t Shore Up the Old Adam, But Kills Him

    Here is a drastic parting of the ways with a theology of glory. The Christ of the Cross takes away the possibility of doing something. The theologian of glory might be able to follow to the point of accepting the truth that Christ has fulfilled all things, but then that will have to be used as a motivational tool to make sure the law gets its due. The point is precisely that the power to do good comes only out of this wild claim that everything has already been done. The language has to break out into preaching. Never mind that when we look to ourselves we find no sign of good works. Never mind our fears and our anxieties. We are looking in the wrong place. Look to Christ! He has done it all. Nothing will be gained by trying to shore up the Old Adam. Christ leaves nothing for the Old Adam and Eve to do. The old can only be killed by the law, not given artificial respiration by recourse to it… To the theologian of the cross the language of grace and faith must be pushed absolutely to this length – until it kills the old and raises the new.

    -Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross

    Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner, pt 1 (“Was”)

    Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner, pt 1 (“Was”)

    One advantage of the Internet is providing a certain type of community for people in places where there’s little of it, and in that spirit we’re starting a Mockingbird reading group (no law!), which will really just be planned serial blog posts with commentary encouraged. The book will be Go Down, Moses, a favorite among Faulkner’s works, and one with a fair amount of thematic consonance with what’s going on at Mbird. The novel itself is a series of interweaving and cumulative short stories, with a novella about a bear taking up most of its second half. The critical approach will be…

    Read More »

    Another Week Ends: Blinded with Science, Stumped by Meaning After God, Paralyzed by the Law of Ice and Fire, Outmaneuvered by a Cheeseburger and Oversimplified by Gallup

    Another Week Ends: Blinded with Science, Stumped by Meaning After God, Paralyzed by the Law of Ice and Fire, Outmaneuvered by a Cheeseburger and Oversimplified by Gallup

    1. Aquinas followed Aristotle in claiming the end (telos, purpose) of biology is medicine. Science has long been a technical discipline designed primarily to promote human flourishing / well-being. Of course, it was always contemplative to a degree, satisfying curiosity or even, as Aquinas also notes, teaching us about God. The study of creation reflects upon the Creator. One wonders what the role of science is today, what a panel of researchers would say if asked. My best guess would be something along the lines of increasing knowledge for knowledge’s sake; if pressed further, one might say that pure knowledge works to bolster happiness and/or…

    Read More »

    Love Endures Fecklessness: Marilynne Robinson on The Sound and the Fury

    Love Endures Fecklessness: Marilynne Robinson on The Sound and the Fury

    Among Marilynne Robinson’s many brilliant essays, a 2012 Foreword to the Modern Library’s latest edition of The Sound and the Fury particularly struck a chord, the edition a must-buy despite its paint-chipped wood (new south!) cover. Maybe it’s her easy command of language, her gently probing (rather than assertively polemical) style of argument, maybe that it’s one of the few pieces I’ve read on Faulkner’s opus that seems like it takes the novel’s now less-than-in-vogue religious sensibilities seriously. At any rate, the publishers got it right with asking her to do it (see too the JJ Sullivan intro to Absalom, Absalom!). A couple of highlights below:

    The…

    Read More »

    Mockingbird: Bringing You the Gospel (pt 36)

    n1132790384_304553_5154

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”

    Introducing Mockingbird’s Guide to Genesis

    Introducing Mockingbird’s Guide to Genesis

    This piece originally appears as the Introduction chapter of Eden and Afterward, Mbird’s latest publication, which looks at Genesis through the lenses of literary commentary, theology, and everyday life. Contents include Adam, Abel, Noah, Babel, Abram, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, Leah, Tamar, and Joseph.

    There’s an old story of a Jewish rabbi who once attempted to heal a blind man. After rubbing saliva in the man’s eyes and laying hands on him, the rabbi asked if the cure had worked. “I can see people,” the man ventured, “but they look like trees, walking.” Then, as the account of this healing in the book of…

    Read More »

    Mockingbird: Bringing You the Gospel (pt 35)

    n1167971677_296874_9599

     

    “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
        —let Israel now say—
    if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
        when our enemies attacked us,
    then they would have swallowed us up alive…”

    (Psalm 124:1-3)

    Myths of Progress and Hopeful Defeatism

    Myths of Progress and Hopeful Defeatism

    For those interested in human folly and hard truths, look no further than John Gray, a political philosopher whose work On Progress and Other Modern Myths (The Silence of the Animals) debunks many of our species’ self-flattering stories about where we came from and where we’re going. An agnostic himself, Gray realizes the decline of Christianity won’t issue in quite the same unproblematic post-religious paradise that some of his contemporaries might think:

    For humanists, denying that humanity can live without myths can only be a type of pessimism. They take for granted that if human beings came to be more like the rational…

    Read More »

    Another Week Ends: Capitalist Christians, Parents Teaching Achievement (Not Empathy), Post-Penitent Pantene, Sedaris’s Journey to the Ends of the Law (and Back), Antinomian Aucklanders,  and Crooked-Timber Anthropology

    Another Week Ends: Capitalist Christians, Parents Teaching Achievement (Not Empathy), Post-Penitent Pantene, Sedaris’s Journey to the Ends of the Law (and Back), Antinomian Aucklanders, and Crooked-Timber Anthropology

    1. The New York Times hosted a debate asking the question of whether capitalism has become incompatible with Christianity. It’s a pretty interesting forum, and some highlights with commentary are below:

    [Gary Dorrien, Union:] The field I teach, social ethics, was founded in the late 19th century as a protest against capitalist ideology. American social gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch put it poignantly: “Capitalism has overdeveloped the selfish instincts in all of us and left the capacity of devotion to larger ends shrunken and atrophied.” Pope Leo XIII described capitalism as a system defined by the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition, including its…

    Read More »

    The Logic of Grace and the Exclusivity of Meaning

    The Logic of Grace and the Exclusivity of Meaning

    I was a bit surprised, reading Bulfinch’s Mythology yesterday, to discover an interesting ‘allegorizing’ move in the Greek myth of a river-god, Achelous, losing his horn. Hercules and Achelous, the story goes, were wrestling for the right to wed Dejanira, a beautiful woman. Achelous transforms into various creatures, including a snake, in his attempt to best Hercules, and Hercules subdues them all. Finally, Achelous transforms into his last remaining form, a bull, and Hercules rips off one of his horns, which becomes ‘Cornucopia’, the horn of plenty. Then things get interesting – as Bulfinch notes,

    The ancients were fond of finding a…

    Read More »

    Finding Myself at The Ontario Symposium; or Self-Forgetfulness

    Finding Myself at The Ontario Symposium; or Self-Forgetfulness

    Back in 1988, a bunch of social psychologists met in a sunny Canadian province to run through new experiments, theories, and approaches in social psych research. The theme was self-inference processes, or the ways we make judgments – accurate or inaccurate, constructive or merely descriptive – about, you know, who we are. The result is a mostly mundane, dry, and technical body of psych literature, littered with revolutionary insights into who we are (which, nonetheless, Luther had arguably discovered or personally reified centuries before), leavened with some real, concrete, original insight.

    We’ve covered less psychology of late on the site, partly because it feels the field…

    Read More »

    Gerhard Forde on What Matters

    From the brilliant Gerhard Forde’s sermon on Galatians 6, found in his work on the Captivation of the Will:

    For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.

    -Galatians 6:15-16

    Captivation-of-the-Will-Forde-Gerhard-O-9780802829061“The God of all grace and mercy whose intention it is to relate to us through faith and trust has (you might say) two big problems with us – both of which destroy the relationship God purposes.

    One is quite obvious. It is the problem designated by ‘uncircumcision,’ or the problem of our lawlessness, our existence among the lesser breeds without the law, our immorality and waywardness and heedlessness, even our temptation to boast in it. We are all aware enough of such things to acknowledge the problem and to recognize that it destroys faith and trust.

    But the other problem is more subtle, and mostly hidden from us, especially at this place. It is really the main one that Paul wrestles with in his letters. It is the problem of the ‘circumcision,’ the problem of our lawfulness, our morality, our holiness, our so-called sanctification, our do-it-yourself religions, and all of that. What we don’t see is that the ‘circumcision’ destroys the relationship of faith and trust as surely as the ‘uncircumcision.’

    So now God has acted finally in this very proclamation by his apostles to have his way with us. God has taken the whole business out of our hands. Neither your lawlessness nor your lawfulness, you immorality nor your morality, your unholiness nor your holiness – none of it matters a bit now, but a new creation. Indeed, in most radical fashion, Paul announces not only that it no longer matters but that it is now exposed as sin! ‘The scripture consigned all things – good and bad! – to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.’ ‘Whatever is not of faith is sin’ (Gal 3:22; Rom 14:23). All escape routes shut down. There is nothing to be done now but just listen. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision count for anything, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule.”