3 Minute Theologian

Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 5)

Fear no more…

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, 
Nor the furious winter’s rages; 
Thou thy worldly task hast done, 
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages: 
Golden lads and girls all must, 
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust. 

Fear no more the frown o’ the great; 
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke; 
Care no more to clothe and eat; 
To thee the reed is as the oak: 
The scepter, learning, physic, must 
All follow this, and come to dust. 

Fear no more the lightning flash, 
Nor the all-dreaded thunder stone; 
Fear not slander, censure rash; 
Thou hast finished joy and moan: 
All lovers young, all lovers must 
Consign to thee, and come to dust. 

No exorciser harm thee! 
Nor no witchcraft charm thee! 
Ghost unlaid forbear thee! 
Nothing ill come near thee! 
Quiet consummation have; 
And renownèd be thy grave!

The Weathercock

Now it is not the office of the Church of Christ to be a weathercock, but to witness to the stable, eternal background in front of which these figures cross the stage, and so to preserve and maintain precisely those elements of the truth which are in most danger of being lost. For this reason, it rarely happens that the Church can “co-operate” with a popular movement; more often it is compelled to protest against its onesidedness. If we consider at what periods the Church has been most true to itself, and has conferred the greatest benefits on humanity, we shall find that they have been times when Churchmen have not been afraid to be “in the right with two or three.” Like certain ministers of state, the Church has always done well in opposition, and badly in office.

William Ralph Inge, The Church and the Age (London: Longmans, Green, 1912).

Judas reading Calvin

A predestined minion

The doctrine of predestination, says the XVIIth Article, is ‘full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort to godly persons’. But what of ungodly persons? Inside the original experience no such question arises. There are no generalizations. We are not building a system. When we begin to do so, very troublesome problems and very dark solutions will appear. But these horrors, so familiar to the modem reader (and especially to the modem reader of fiction), are only by-products of the new theology. They are astonishingly absent from the thought of the first Protestants.

(I am speaking, of course, about initial doubts of election. Despair after apostasy …is another matter and was no Protestant novelty. When Judas hanged himself he had not been reading Calvin.)

C. S. Lewis, ‘New Learning and New Ignorance’, in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama: The Completion of the Clark Lectures, Oxford History of English Literature 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), p. 34.

One of my colleagues is a leading scholar of the work of an English poet on whom he has written some major studies. Partly as a result of a chance personal connection, in recent years he helped choose the exhibits, write the captions, and make other contributions for a display at a small museum devoted to this writer’s life and work. I spent no small amount of time in 2011 and 2012 chivvying the poor staff at this museum. Could they supply visitor numbers? Sorry, could they please document those numbers in a publicly verifiable form? Did they have evidence of what visitors to the exhibition made of the experience? Did they ask them to fill in questionnaires, did they have a comments book? Sorry, could they provide extracts in a duly authenticated form? What was the evidence of the benefit the visitors derived from their visit? Sorry, I mean evidence of what the exercise calls ‘change in their behaviours’? And so on.

…But in reality these kinds of effects, even if desirable in themselves, as no doubt many of them are, do not testify to the quality of the research at all. My colleague’s scholarship on this poet would still have been of the same high quality whether or not he had happened to be involved with this museum, let alone whether we could demonstrate beyond doubt that a thirteen-year-old visiting with a school party had written in the comments book that the exhibits were ‘ace’.

Stefan Collini, Speaking of Universities (London; New York: Verso, 2017), pp 50-51

John Donne has a bad day

Letter to Sir Henry Goodere

…but mine needed an occupation, and a course which I thought I entered well into, when I submitted myself to such a service, as I thought might employed those poor advantages, which I had. And there I stumbled too, yet I would try again: for to this hour I am nothing, or so little, that I am scarce subject and argument good enough for one of mine own letters: yet I fear, that doth not ever proceed from a good root, that I am  am so well content to be less, that is dead.

From Letters to severall persons of honour written by John Donne, LONDON, Printed by J. Flesher, for Richard Marriot, and are to be sold at his shop in St Dunstans Church-yard under the Dyall. 1651.

The immense parlez-vous of American government

In the early summer of 1941, John Maynard Keynes was sent by Churchill to negotiate with the American government the developing terms of the Lend-Lease agreement between Britain and the USA. The war was not going well for Britain at the time, and money was short. It wasn’t helped by American insistence on Britain selling UK-owned assets held in America, to American businesses, at knock-down prices. The American government, especially under the suspicious leadership of Henry Morgenthau, secretary to the Treasury, wanted Britain to continue fighting the war, but not be in any position to use American aid or money to rebuild economic capacity for after the war.


Morgenthau and Keynes at the later Bretton Woods Conference, 1994 (Morgenthau uncharacteristically using a bit of paper)

With this unstated aim, the Washington system of government proved to be an absolute asset. Keynes, bewildered by his need to negotiate simultaneously with three different officials, four different departments, and 23 separate political players, spent much, much longer in Washington that he expected (he said in a letter to a friend after his return to England “I always regard a visit [to the USA] as in the nature of a serious illness to be followed by convalescence.”1. Keynes wanted to brief his employers, so on 2 June 1941 he wrote a long letter to Kingsley Wood, Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the middle of advising Wood about the status and content of negotiations, he warned that the American way of doing things would hamper his efforts:

The other main criticism which must strike one’s attention here relates to the organs of government. To the outsider it looks almost incredibly inefficient. One wonders how decisions are ever reached at all. There is no clear hierarchy of authority. The different departments of the Government criticise one another in public and produce rival programmes. There is perpetual internecine warfare between prominent personalities. Individuals rise and fall in general esteem with bewildering rapidity. New groupings of administrative power and influence spring up every day. Members of the so-called Cabinet make public speeches containing urgent proposals which are not agreed as part of the Government policy. In the higher ranges of government no work ever seems to be done on paper; no decisions are recorded on paper; no-one seems to read a document and no-one ever answers a communication in writing. Nothing is ever settled in principle. There is just endless debate and sitting around. But this, I suppose, is their characteristic method. Suddenly some drastic, clear-cut decision is reached, by what process one cannot understand, and all the talk seems to have gone for nothing, being the fifth wheel to the coach, the ultimate decision appearing to be largely independent of the immense parlez-vous, responsible and irresponsible, which has preceded it.

…I have already stayed here longer than I intended. But things move very slowly owing to the dissipation of authority, the reluctance to settle anything in principle and the fact that all important matters are conducted orally. But I am still hoping that another fortnight will see me through—for better or worse.2

Any further comment necessary?

  1. Keynes Papers (Personal Papers/80/9): letter to P. A. S. Hadley, 10 September 1941 []
  2. John Maynard Keynes, ‘Letter to Sir Kingsley Wood, 2 June 1941’, in The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, ed by. D. E. Moggridge, vol. 23: Activities 1940-1943, External War Finance, 30 vols. (London; New York: Macmillan; Cambridge University Press, 1979), 103–113. Emphasis added. []

Adrian Gill’s Three-Act Farce

A. A. Gill died today, three weeks after announcing that he was living with, and dying from, multiple cancers. His colleagues, friends, and some enemies, are paying tribute to his personal kindness and his writing ability. I pray for him, and all his family.

As we prepare for Advent 3, and the world is full of ItFeelsABitLikeXmas hashtags, I thought I would reproduce this article he wrote for The Spectator in 1997, which I have treasured (and often preached on!) ever since then:

‘A Three-Act Farce’ by A. A. Gill (The Spectator, 8 November 1997, p 36)

The truth is that Christmas dinner is potentially the worst meal of the year, unless you are American, in which case Thanksgiving is worse. Convention, sentimentality and the Germans have contrived to invent a hybrid meal that flouts good taste, digestion and the resources of even a well-appointed kitchen. For a start, the modern turkey is a hideous bird. It doesn’t matter if it’s bronze, black, white, free-range or had a public school education, no amount of tricks and stuffings and handy one-to-ten tips is going to make it taste anything other than turkey. Then there are the 27 side dishes and bits and pieces that have to be produced with it: potatoes and sprouts and carrots and parsnips and chestnuts and sausages and bacon and bread sauce and cranberry sauce and gravy. And that is before you even get inside the bloody thing; then there’s more sausagemeat and sage and onion … No one, not even Keith Floyd, would invent that as a main dinner course from scratch. There are far too many strident flavours that contradict one another and the textures are all the same.

… The truth is that anyone who knows anything about cooking wouldn’t touch Christmas dinner with a ten-foot Christmas tree. That leaves the rest of you who gird your loins and get out of a warm bed at four in the morning to stick your hand up a cold, dead, bird’s bum and try to fit 27 pans onto four gas-rings. This is the worst bit about Christmas dinner: it’s cooked by people who don’t do anything more demanding in their kitchens than open a packet and throw the odd plate from Boxing Day to Hallowe’en, but come December suddenly decide to climb an epicurean Everest. And you don’t get a practice run — it’s not as if all these ingredients are familiar; they only come out once a year.

And yet and yet — even as I write this it rings hollow. Every year I say it’s going to be beef or pork or goose or venison or anything else followed by apple pie or trifle, but I know that when it actually comes to it I’ll lose my nerve and, just like the foolish folk who don’t know any better, I’ll be flogging round the shops on the 22nd looking for a bronze bird and a proper stilton and be up until three a.m. picking through currants, because if you eat anything else it’s just another day and Christmas isn’t just another day, it’s Christmas. …

There is one good thing about Christmas dinner and appalling mess and work and the people you have got to share it with; it proves that God has a sense of humour. I mean, who else’s deity would contrive to celebrate the holiest day of the way that way? Hindus get lentils, Muslims get fresh air; the Jews have boiled eggs in salt water. We Christians get a three-act farce where you have to wear a paper hat.

Actually there is one thing you should eat at Christmas; it’s the original fast food. It only takes a second but is harder to prepare for than anything: a sliver of unleavened bread and a sip of wine. Oddly in all the Christmas articles I’ve had to write, this is the first time I’ve thought to recommend it.

May he rest in peace, and rise to the glory of the Lord’s Table.

5 Reasons Why ‘Arrival’ Doesn’t

Amy Adams, experiencing something profound

Amy Adams, experiencing something profound

I was really looking forward to it, especially after the Good Doctor™1 enthused so greatly about it. But, during and after seeing it last night, I realised that Arrival is a very poor piece of work indeed, and this is for five reasons, most of which involve spoilers2

  1. It is INERT. There is no dramatic progression. The movie just hangs there, like one of the aliens’ pebble space craft (seemingly carved out of larva). The major conflict, in the first half of the movie at least, is what is Forest Whitaker going to be able to say to his (clinical) supervision team? We are told that Louise and Ian (Adams and Renner) are brilliant people, but as alway in popular films, we never see them being brilliant, other than that beloved trope of Hollywood, the dawning realisation close-up. It is inert because it wants to trumpet that most impossible of sci-fi clichés, the wickedness of a linear understanding of time – and because all time, space, events are present, here and now, there is no engagement with an audience which is, unforgivably, sitting in a theatre and watching the movie spooling out chronologically, linearly.
  2. It is PSYCHOLOGICALLY UNBELIEVABLE. How does a human being deal with the psychological trauma of being able to see the whole of their life laid out before them, expect to be able to make choices, to get out of bed in the morning, to decide on whether to have coffee or pancakes for breakfast? If it has all happened, then nothing matters, and if nothing matters then what is the point of living? The only psychologically convincing response to such an experience is madness or annihilation.
  3. Louise Banks is notSTRONG FEMALE CHARACTER. She is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown right from the moment she arrives in Montana – we can tell this because of her furrowed brow and her stumbling walking. This is a woman in crisis. And she is both the only woman and the only person in crisis. Jeremy Renner is reduced to being concerned, good natured, and aw-shucks in the background. It is Louise who has the intuitive (feminine?) break-through as to the nature of the aliens’ language and thought-processes, and she does that by being semi-hysterical for 3/4 of the movie. And if language rewires brains, why is she the only one given eldritch insight into the future? Dr Ian seems to be as adept in interpreting the logograms as she is, so why doesn’t he have an insight? Oh, that’s right he does: that Louise (as a woman to fall in love with) is more interesting and significant than alien encounters – first contact becomes the background and means to hooking up, the world’s most expensive Match.com encounter.
  4. Unforgivably, it is another example of KILLING OFF A CHILD TO VINDICATE AN ADULT. Louise’s daughter dies in the first five minutes of the film, and then grows, and is cute, and says portentous things, and dies, over and over again through the movies. It is an egregious example of the Plot Moppet trope, the child that only exists to propel the plot (such as it is in this film) and to “grow” the adult protagonists (see also Nic Cage’s execrable film Family Man.). And calling the girl “Hannah” to flag up and justify the time-scheme? Really, why didn’t they just call her “Visual Aid No. 1”?


  1.  (See what I did there?) It tells us that the UNIVERSE IS ALL ABOUT HOW WE FEEL ABOUT OURSELVES. It doesn’t tell us anything new compared with the (not so) great sci-fi films of the past: Solaris (both versions) or  Contact or The Day The Earth Stood Still. Aliens come from out of a clear blue sky, and humanity, forced to work together, overcome all divisions, until, in this instance, the Chairman (?) of the People’s Liberation Army gets to whisper sweet nothings in Amy Adams’s ear. If Contact was the rearrangement of the cosmos to deal with Jodie Foster’s daddy issues, and Interstellar was The Railway Children in space, then Arrival is daughter issues over a static, furrowed and frankly unengaging hour and a half of cruelly chronological time.

Sigh. When will we get another sci-fi film that really does deal with what might be, rather than ways we can feel better about ourselves and our choices?


  1. of the BBC’s Flagship Film Programme []
  2. “He’s a girl, she’s a bloke, it’s a sledge, he’s a ghost” – come on, the spoilers in this film are flagged in the first voice-over narration! []

The medicalization of morality

The medicalization of what have previously been considered moral issues is a broader cultural phenomenon. This trajectory is irresistible—who wants to be the last asshole standing, issuing condemnations rather than solicitude? But here we see the sly logic by which democratic nonjudgmentalness gets turned to advantage in unregulated capitalism, with the aid of an expansionary psychiatric establishment. To capital, our moral squeamishness about being “judgmental” smells like opportunity.

Matthew Crawford The World Beyond Your Head, (2015), p. 107

Crawford is speaking specifically of gambling and the thanatos principle which is built into corporate controlled gambling in the U.S.  But his insight applies more widely. 

A Nice Cup of Tea

A_Nice_Cup_Of_TeaI’ve been back in the UK for three weeks now, and have been enjoying the ease in getting, and the ubiquity of, a nice cup of tea. Which made me think of George Orwell. So, for my daughter, spending her summer in Utah, and with whom I have had many debates about the proper method for making a nice cup of tea1:

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.

Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.

Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.

Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.

Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.

Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.

Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.

Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.

Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilised the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

George Orwell, ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’, in As I Please (1943-1945), ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, vol. III of The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, IV vols., (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968), pp 40-43. Originally printed in The Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.

  1. step ten is the controversial one! []
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