Introducing New Podcast

Last summer I had the privilege of being visited by Jason Van Boom, who teaches history and philosophy at the University of Tartu in Estonia. During car journeys and meals, Jason and I would get into fascinating conversations. Once he commented that our conversations might form the basis for an interesting series of podcasts. I responded that a podcast sounded like a great idea and thought little more of it. Then, a few months later, Jason took up the idea in earnest and the result was “The Robin & Boom Show.”

There was quite a lot of behind the scenes work to get the show up and running, but it’s finally available wherever you listen to podcasts in both Apple and Andriod platforms. We also have our own YouTube channel.

Our niche is to explore issues about the flourishing of the soul from a classical Christian perspective.

In our beta episode, we discussed our plans for the podcast, as well as the continued relevance of philosophical debates that occurred during the Middle Age.

In our first official episode, Jason and I discussed the issue of children’s screen time and the impact technology is having on our youth.

In our second official episode, Jason and I talked about the politics, including the similarities and difference between the American and European political scene. We also explored the importance of symbols, metanarratives, tribalism, and operational philosophical assumptions that animate contemporary public discourse.

Episode #3 was a fascinating discussion with a guest from Portugal, Keith Pimental. We discussed parenting, politics and the importance of having a perspective that includes history stretching backwards and eternity stretching forwards.

Episode #4 continued our conversation with Keith Pimental, as we discussed tribalism, education, and how parents and teachers can develop critical thinking in the youth.

The great thing about this podcast is that you can be involved. If you have a question you would like us to address in a future episode of the show, simply post it on our Facebook Page.


Daniel Hannan on Brexit

In an article that appeared last Monday, Daniel Hannan raised concern that the UK remainers are prepared to tear down Britain’s democracy (including the precedents that form the essence of its constitution) to keep Britain tethered to the EU.

It’s hard not to sympathize with Hannan, for the pieces are all being put in place so that a reversal of Brexit can be presented as the only solution. Let’s not deceive ourselves here, for a permanent customs union would be a de facto reversal of Brexit, as Hannan explains in the video below.

Great Lent and Cultural Anthropology

During this season of Lent, I have thought more than once about the spiritual value of struggle. The Church would not have given us an entire season devoted to struggling if it were not appropriate to view struggle in a positive light.

Not everyone agrees that struggle is good. In my Touchstone article The Cross of Least Resistance, I quoted a number of influential evangelical leaders who taught that the presence of struggle in a person’s spiritual life is a sure sign that something is wrong. This present article will not attempt to expose the hermeneutical and exegetical errors in the opinions of these false teachers (for that, see here and here and here). Instead, I want to look at the question of struggle from the perspective of cultural anthropology. But first, why cultural anthropology?

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Self-Esteem, Self-Compassion and Self-Love

Should you love yourself?

Is self-esteem good? Should you love yourself? What about self-love? There currently exists much confusion on these questions. Moreover, each of these terms require careful unraveling. Let’s begin with self-esteem.

Self-Esteem = BAD

Self-esteem is generally understood as involving a subjective decision to evaluate oneself (including one’s abilities, accomplishments and circumstances) in a positive way. The goal of self-esteem is not to help a person become better, but merely to feel better. Accordingly, self-esteem is disconnected from questions of virtue (i.e., “is the decision to think of myself in this way moving me closer towards ethical goals?”) as well as disconnected from questions of truth (“is the decision to think of myself in this way in line with the objective reality about myself?”). Through its dislocation from virtue, self-esteem can easily collapse into narcissism, while its dislocation from truth can cause self-esteem to collapse into delusion.

In the mid 80’s, the State of California poured thousands of dollars into an initiative designed to raise children’s self-esteem. Based on the secular humanist wisdom at the time, lawmakers fully expected that an increase in self-esteem would cause a boost grades and a reduction in bullying, crime, teen pregnancy and substance abuse. In reality, the initiative was a complete disaster.

Further empirical research has continued to confirm that self-esteem has many negative effects, including narcissism, self-absorption, contingent self-worth, self-righteousness, aggression in response to threatened egotism, and self-validating assessments of one’s abilities that undermine the process of further improvement. Self-esteem can also lead to a fragile sense of self-worth, since one’s self-worth becomes dependent on self-concepts that may be threatened through failure, lack of external validation or genuine self-knowledge.

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Human Trafficking in the Pacific Northwest

“You Work For Me Now”

Amber grew up in foster care, spending time with various families in Eastern Washington. Although Amber was popular at school and appeared well-adjusted to the outside world, she struggled to believe in her own self-worth. She spent time with some loving families, yet she always knew that people were only taking care of her because they were paid to.

While Amber’s school friends looked forward to growing up and going to college, Amber knew that once she reached seventeen, she would be on the street. Six months before aging out of foster care, Amber met a man named Randy at the bus station.

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Calvin’s Fragile Doctrine of Divine Sovereignty

King’s College London

When I started my doctoral work at King’s College London, I was a Calvinist. When I finished my doctoral work, I was not. My transition away from Calvinism was largely a result of reading the primary sources, looking at what Calvin himself wrote as opposed to simply reading the writings of Calvinists. Since contemporary reformed thinkers tend to present a sanitized version of Calvin’s thought, it can be a real eye-opener to spend some time in his own writings.

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Calvinism’s Existential Problem

In Part 3 of the 5-part series I wrote for Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy on why I stopped being a Calvinist, I explored the existential problem that arises from the split teleology inherent in Calvinist metaphysics and their fragmentation of God’s will into competing modalities.

Reformed theology generally affirms that with respect to God’s revealed will, the telos or goal of each and every individual includes eternal union with Him, but with respect to His hidden will, the telos of certain individuals includes eternal disunion with Him. This means that for everyone that isn’t saved, there is a dual telos, for in one sense God’s desired end for such people is salvation, but in another sense it is damnation.

One of the problems I raised against this model in Part 3 of my series is a purely personal or existential problem I encountered when wrestling with this framework.

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Wisdom From St. John of Kronstadt

“Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it: where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where there are no temptations for faithfulness and love, it is uncertain whether there is really any faithfulness and love for the Lord. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations.”

                                             —St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1909)

Doing the World as it Was Meant to be Done

David Fagerberg’s book Consecrating the World: On Mundane Liturgical Theology explores ways in which the liturgy spills out into everyday life, and how all of the world can begin to be viewed through sacramental eyes. Here is a gem from pp. 79-80.
“…there is something wrong with how we look at [the] world. We have inherited amblyopia from Adam and Eve, and the eye that has become lazy is our spiritual one. We let our wandering eye rest not on creations true teleology, but only upon its usefulness to our own self-satisfaction. The world becomes worldly when we do not use our spiritual and sensible eyes together. That accounts for why Christian doctrine must walk the paradox of simultaneously affirming the good of nature, and rejecting the natural as the ultimate end of human existence. The world has not caused our idolatry, rather our idolatry has wronged the world. St. Paul says it groans in the travails of childbirth until man and woman take up their abandoned post of cosmic priest again (Romans 8), and Kavanagh says we can only finally do the world the way it was meant to be done if we are restored to this liturgical relationship with the world. Sometimes the overly spiritual Christian suggests that redemption consists of turning a blind eye to the world, but in fact redemption consists of having our proper activity returned to us in both domains–the profane as well as the sacred.”

Refuge in Insignificance

Moore’s law, which expresses itself in computers becoming smaller and smaller, seems to parallel what is happening in our machine-mediated discourse. Our public discourse has been shrinking at a rate rivaled by the speed at which the integrated circuit has diminished in size.

When fax machines first appeared, it was like magic precisely because they could transmit so much text. I remember standing in wonder at the fax machine in my father’s bookstore as it dropped page after page on the floor. When email appeared, it was again astonishing that so much text could be sent over the computer. People would spend hours crafting careful email messages that drew on the tradition of letter writing.

That didn’t last very long. As our communication media have evolved through instant messaging, text messaging and finally Twitter, what has come to attract us is not length but brevity. Our communication media orient us to eschew complexity and depth, to give preference to what is brief and transitory.

At least, that is what dawned on me when reading Nicholas Carr’s chapter on Twitter in his brand-new book Utopia is Creepy and Other Provocations. This chapter, which is a reprint of Carr’s 2007 blog post, points out that Twitter’s great accomplishment has been to fragment the fragments, enabling us to turn any event in our lives, no matter how trifling, into a headline. Twitter dignifies the banal and glorifies the boring by enabling us to turn any experience into a stop-the-press bulletin. Twitter thus “wraps itself and its users in an infantile language” in which we can take refuge in the insignificant. Carr’s closing paragraph connects Twitter to emerging Virtual Reality technologies:

As the physical world takes on more of the characteristics of a simulation, we seek reality in the simulated world. At least there we can be confident that the simulation is real. At least there we can be freed from the anxiety of not knowing where the edge between real and unreal lies. At least there we find something to hold onto, even if it’s nothing.