Notes on Christianity
and Ideas

Issue 5
September 1997

Published by Theodore Plantinga

In this issue ....

Does punishment deter bad conduct? Would it help to make a spectacle of punishment? Or should all punishment be administered privately, away from public view? Click here to read "Punishment as Public Spectacle."

Did you try to change your diet but your doctor discouraged you? Click here to read "The Scoffer and the Believer: Toward a Christian Philosophy of Food Selection."

A philosopher struggles with the impulse toward modesty and reticence and produces a fine book of reminiscences. Click here to read "Narrative Reticence: The Case of Henry Stob"


Don't take the term literally. I don't plan to turn pages for you. If I inform you of a website, I will simply pass on the address. But for the most part I will comment here on materials in the world of the printed page -- brief book notes, observations about periodicals, and perhaps a comment on an event.

On gang violence. Is there a connection between the rise of violence and the collapse of literacy, both of which seem to be taking place in our electronic age? Barry Sanders thinks so. In an engaging but somehow loosely argued book entitled A Is for Ox (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), he tries to make a case that there is. The book includes a wonderful chapter on the mentality of those who, it seems, can only be fully alive when they have a powerful weapon in hand (see pp. 155-186). But the book is not just a plea for literacy, even though Sanders does argue that genuine literacy instilled in the youth combats the tendency toward violent behavior. He also maintains that in our electronic age we need to recover oral arts and skills. It's the kind of book, in short, that cannot be easily summarized. Tolle, lege.

On dying well .... It used to be an art, during the Middle Ages. In more recent centuries it was at least expected that one would speak some memorable last words. But nowadays a person nearing death is apt to wind up in a hospital, all doped up, and essentially unable to contemplate his impending demise. Anatole Broyard, an American writer stricken with an incurable cancer, was determined to die well in the old style. See his essay "Intoxicated by My Illness" (which should really be called "Intoxicated by My Illness and Impending Death") in the book of the same title (New York: Charles Potter, 1992). He explains that he wanted to be alive when he died (p. 30). Indeed, his illness -- paradoxical as it may sound -- somehow made him come alive. He explains: "Freud said that every man is convinced of his own immortality. I certainly was. I had dawdled through life up to that point, and when the doctor told me I was ill it was like an immense electric shock. I felt galvanized. In was a new person. All of my old trivial selves fell away ...." [pp. 37-8] The upshot: "You have to live each moment as if you're prepared to die." [p. 6] Broyard's approach to illness and death (one needs a style in which to be ill) is worth a look. An unusual book, which his wife had to edit and finish, since he really did die in the process.

Body piercing. It's often called body modification, but piercing comes closer to it. I see more and more of it on the Redeemer campus. I don't like it, and I sense there is something wrong with it. I got a lot of light on the subject recently from Rev. Steve Schlissel, a Reformed pastor in Brooklyn, New York, who mails out a letter called "Messiah's Mandate," which is always interesting reading. Schlissel is an excellent writer, and he has insights into various matters that you will not easily find elsewhere. He writes about his ministry in New York and also about issues of interest to a broader Christian public. I won't try to sum up what he says about body piercing; instead I urge you to write away for it Ask for the sixth letter for 1997 and get yourself placed on the mailing list. His church address is 2662 East 24th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11235. He can also be contacted at [email protected] The website address is WWW.MESSIAHNYC.ORG.

The bulldozer of change ... Have you been run over by it yet? Here at Redeemer College we see it on the horizon heading toward us. The delicious phrase, by the way, is by a technology writer named Frank Ogden, who dubs himself "Dr. Tomorrow" and enjoys prophesying about the Brave New World that is rapidly bearing down upon us. The Ogden book I read recently in which the phrase occurs is Navigating in Cyberspace: A Guide to the Next Millennium (Toronto: Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 1995). It's worth a look, especially if you have forgotten what "hyperbole" means.

General information

This electronic journal is my way of keeping in touch with friends, colleagues, former students, and so forth. It does not have a regular publication schedule. Feel free to download it and pass it around. You may even wish to send me a comment; I do not guarantee a response to each communication. If you wish to repost anything in this journal, please let me know. If you care to print something in paper form, this can also be arranged, provided that I retain the copyright so that I will remain free in my use of the material.

Theodore Plantinga
E-mail: [email protected]

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