Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers on the origin of evil

The orthodox Christian position is . . . [that] the light, and the light only is primary; creation and time and darkness are secondary and begin together. When you come to consider the matter, it is strictly meaningless to say that darkness could precede light in a time process. Where there is no light, there is no meaning for the word darkness, for darkness is merely a name for that which is without light. Light, by merely existing, creates darkness, or at any rate the possibility of darkness. In this sense, it is possible to understand that profound saying, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

But it is at this point that it becomes possible for the evil and the darkness and the chaos to boast: “We are that which was before the light was, and the light is a usurpation upon our rights.” It is an illusion; evil and darkness and chaos are pure negation, and there is no such state as “before the light” because it is the primary light that creates the whole time process. It is an illusion, and that is the primary illusion inside which the devil lives and in which he deceives himself and others.

In the orthodox Christian position, therefore, the light is primary, the darkness secondary and derivative; and this is important for the whole theology of evil. In The Devil to Pay, I tried to make this point, and I remember being soundly rapped over the knuckles by a newspaper critic, who said in effect that after a great deal of unintelligible pother, I had worked up to the statement that God was light, which did not seem to be very novel or profound. Novel, it certainly is not, it is scarcely the business of Christian writers to introduce novelties into the fundamental Christian doctrines. But profundity is a different matter; Christian theology is profound, and since I did not invent it, I may have the right to say so.

The possibility of evil exists from the moment that a creature is made that can love and do good because it chooses and not because it is unable to do anything else. The actuality of evil exists from the moment that that choice is exercised in the wrong direction. Sin (moral evil) is the deliberate choice of the not-God. And pride, as the church has consistently pointed out, is the root of it, i.e., the refusal to accept the creaturely status; the making of the difference between self and God into an antagonism against God.

-Dorthy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church. [First posted on this blog September 14, 2014]

Perfidious Caesar or perfidious Christians?

I first posted this almost two years ago and thought it worth repeating.

[I’m offering here some more tidbits from Dorothy Sayers for your reading enjoyment and discussion. Bear in mind that these words were written in England during the Second World War, around the time that I was born. I’m afraid that many Christians in North America still don’t understand what has gone wrong in the romance between them and Caesar. It is vain to search history for a time when the USA or Canada were truly Christian nations. There was merely a marriage of convenience, which Christians should always have recognized to be convenient only for Caesar, never for Christianity. Now that Christianity has been thoroughly compromised, Caesar has quite lost interest.]

“Up till now the Church, in hunting down this sin [lust], has had the active alliance of Caesar who has been concerned to maintain family solidarity and the orderly devolution of property in the interests of the state. But now that contract and not status is held to be the basis of society, Caesar no longer needs to rely on the family to maintain social solidarity; and now that so much property is held anonymously, by trusts and joint stock companies, the laws of inheritance lose a great deal of their importance. Consequently, Caesar is now much less interested than he was in the sleeping arrangements of his citizens, and has in this manner cynically denounced his alliance with the Church. This is a warning against putting one’s trust in any child of man – particularly in Caesar. If the Church is to continue her campaign against lust, she must do so on her own – that is to say sacramental – grounds; and she will have to do it, if not in defiance of Caesar, at least without his assistance.”

“Now, I do not suggest that the Church does wrong to pay attention to the regulation of bodily appetites and the proper observance of holidays. What I do suggest is that by overemphasizing this side of morality, to the comparative neglect of others, she has not only betrayed her mission but, incidentally, also defeated her own aims even about morality. She has, in fact, made an alliance with Caesar, and Caesar, having used her for his own purposes, has now withdrawn his support – for that is Caesar’s pleasant way of behaving. For the last three hundred years or so, Caesar has been concerned to maintain a public order based upon the rights of private property; consequently, he has had a vested interest in morality. Strict morals made for the stability of family life and the orderly devolution of property, and Caesar (namely, the opinion of highly placed and influential people) has been delighted that the Church should do the work of persuading the citizen to behave accordingly. Further, a drunken worker is a bad worker, and thriftless extravagance is bad for business; therefore Caesar has welcomed the encouragement of the Church for those qualities that make for self-help in industry. As for Sunday observance, the Church would have that if she liked, so long as it did not interfere with trade. To work all round the weekends in diminishing production, the one day in seven was necessary, and what the Church chose to do with it was no affair of Caesar’s.

“Unhappily, however, the alliance for mutual benefit between Church and Caesar has not lasted. The transfer of property from the private owner to the public trust and limited company enables Caesar to get on very well without personal morals and domestic stability; the conception that the consumer exists for the sake of production has made extravagance and thriftless consumption a commercial necessity. Consequently, Caesar no longer sees eye to eye with the Church about these matters and will as soon encourage a prodigal frivolity on Sunday as on any other day of the week. Why not? Business is business. The Church, shocked and horrified, is left feebly protesting against Caesar’s desertion, and denouncing a relaxation of moral codes, in which the heedless world is heartily aided and abetted by the state. The easy path of condemning what Caesar condemns or is not concerned to defend has turned out to be like the elusive garden path in Through the Looking-Glass, just when one seemed to be getting somewhere, it gave itself a little shake and one found oneself walking in the opposite direction.”

[Excerpted from Letters to a Diminished Church, Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Dogma, by Dorthy L. Sayers (1893-1957). © 2004 by W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc. Kobo ebook edition.]

Squirrel cage economy

Twenty-five years ago I took a course taught by a man who had grown up in India and who had travelled the world. He talked of seeing how coffee, tea and sugar were grown by dirt poor peasant farmers. He described the steps in getting these products to the multinational companies that then processed them for world markets. Then he said: “Enjoy your coffee, but remember all the people who have worked so hard and earned so very little so that you could have it.”

This morning I had coffee with Carole Thomas, a lady from our area who owns a farm in Costa Rica and spends over half the year there. She grows black pepper and cacao and buys coffee from a neighbouring farmer and sells these products here in Canada, largely through the Saskatoon Farmers Market.

Through talking to Carole, and also from other sources, I am beginning to think that fair trade coffee may not be quite what it purports to be. For one thing, it costs a subsistence farmer an enormous amount of money to join the fair trade program and become certified. And then, they may not necessarily get any more for their coffee than if they sold it to the private merchants, though the fair trade association may offer a guaranteed price. One other concern that comes up is that the fair trade program doesn’t necessarily buy all of a framer’s production and pays the same, no matter what the quality of the coffee. Therefore a farmer may tend to sell his best coffee to a private merchant for a premium price and sell the poorer quality beans to the fair trade association for their guaranteed price.

That doesn’t really sound like it will ever help the poor farmers to rise above subsistence level farming. I was reminded once again of something Dorothy Sayers wrote during the Second World War:

“It may well seem to you – as it does to some of my acquaintances – that I have a sort of obsession about this business of the right attitude to work. But I do insist upon it, because it seems to me that what becomes of civilization after this war is going to depend enormously on our being able to effect this revolution in our ideas about work. Unless we do change our whole way of thought about work, I do not think we shall ever escape from the appalling squirrel cage of economic confusion in which we have been madly turning for the last three centuries or so, the cage in which we landed ourselves by acquiescing in a social system based upon Envy and Avarice.

“A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.”

Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

I think we’re further than ever from escaping from the squirrel cage, principally because envy and avarice are still the driving force of the world economy. What would it do to the world economy if individuals would renounce envy and avarice, buy products that are the fruit of honest labour, rather than flashy mass produced items made of dubious ingredients in far away lands by almost slave labour?

Timidity in the pulpit

If spiritual pastors are to refrain from saying anything that might ever, by any possibility, be misunderstood by anybody, they will end – as in fact many of them do – by never saying anything worth hearing. Incidentally, this particular brand of timidity is the besetting sin of the good churchmen.

Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers on the origin of evil

The orthodox Christian position is . . . [that] the light, and the light only is primary; creation and time and darkness are secondary and begin together. When you come to consider the matter, it is strictly meaningless to say that darkness could precede light in a time process. Where there is no light, there is no meaning for the word darkness, for darkness is merely a name for that which is without light. Light, by merely existing, creates darkness, or at any rate the possibility of darkness. In this sense, it is possible to understand that profound saying, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

But it is at this point that it becomes possible for the evil and the darkness and the chaos to boast: “We are that which was before the light was, and the light is a usurpation upon our rights.” It is an illusion; evil and darkness and chaos are pure negation, and there is no such state as “before the light” because it is the primary light that creates the whole time process. It is an illusion, and that is the primary illusion inside which the devil lives and in which he deceives himself and others.

In the orthodox Christian position, therefore, the light is primary, the darkness secondary and derivative; and this is important for the whole theology of evil. In The Devil to Pay, I tried to make this point, and I remember being soundly rapped over the knuckles by a newspaper critic, who said in effect that after a great deal of unintelligible pother, I had worked up to the statement that God was light, which did not seem to be very novel or profound. Novel, it certainly is not, it is scarcely the business of Christian writers to introduce novelties into the fundamental Christian doctrines. But profundity is a different matter; Christian theology is profound, and since I did not invent it, I may have the right to say so.

The possibility of evil exists from the moment that a creature is made that can love and do good because it chooses and not because it is unable to do anything else. The actuality of evil exists from the moment that that choice is exercised in the wrong direction. Sin (moral evil) is the deliberate choice of the not-God. And pride, as the church has consistently pointed out, is the root of it, i.e., the refusal to accept the creaturely status; the making of the difference between self and God into an antagonism against God.

-Dorthy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

Women and men

“A man once asked me … how I managed in my books to write such natural conversation between men when they were by themselves. Was I, by any chance, a member of a large, mixed family with a lot of male friends? I replied that, on the contrary, I was an only child and had practically never seen or spoken to any men of my own age till I was about twenty-five. “Well,” said the man, “I shouldn’t have expected a woman (meaning me) to have been able to make it so convincing.” I replied that I had coped with this difficult problem by making my men talk, as far as possible, like ordinary human beings. This aspect of the matter seemed to surprise the other speaker; he said no more, but took it away to chew it over. One of these days it may quite likely occur to him that women, as well as men, when left to themselves, talk very much like human beings also.”
― Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society

Perfidious Caesar, or is it perfidious Christians?

[I’m offering here some more tidbits from Dorothy Sayers for your reading enjoyment and discussion. Bear in mind that these words were written in England during the Second World War, around the time that I was born. I’m afraid that many Christians in North America still don’t understand what has gone wrong in the romance between them and Caesar. It is vain to search history for a time when the USA or Canada were truly Christian nations. There was merely a marriage of convenience, which Christians should always have recognized to be convenient only for Caesar, never for Christianity. Now that Christianity has been thoroughly compromised, Caesar has quite lost interest.]

“Up till now the Church, in hunting down this sin [lust], has had the active alliance of Caesar who has been concerned to maintain family solidarity and the orderly devolution of property in the interests of the state. But now that contract and not status is held to be the basis of society, Caesar no longer needs to rely on the family to maintain social solidarity; and now that so much property is held anonymously, by trusts and joint stock companies, the laws of inheritance lose a great deal of their importance. Consequently, Caesar is now much less interested than he was in the sleeping arrangements of his citizens, and has in this manner cynically denounced his alliance with the Church. This is a warning against putting one’s trust in any child of man – particularly in Caesar. If the Church is to continue her campaign against lust, she must do so on her own – that is to say sacramental – grounds; and she will have to do it, if not in defiance of Caesar, at least without his assistance.”

“Now, I do not suggest that the Church does wrong to pay attention to the regulation of bodily appetites and the proper observance of holidays. What I do suggest is that by overemphasizing this side of morality, to the comparative neglect of others, she has not only betrayed her mission but, incidentally, also defeated her own aims even about morality. She has, in fact, made an alliance with Caesar, and Caesar, having used her for his own purposes, has now withdrawn his support – for that is Caesar’s pleasant way of behaving. For the last three hundred years or so, Caesar has been concerned to maintain a public order based upon the rights of private property; consequently, he has had a vested interest in morality. Strict morals made for the stability of family life and the orderly devolution of property, and Caesar (namely, the opinion of highly placed and influential people) has been delighted that the Church should do the work of persuading the citizen to behave accordingly. Further, a drunken worker is a bad worker, and thriftless extravagance is bad for business; therefore Caesar has welcomed the encouragement of the Church for those qualities that make for self-help in industry. As for Sunday observance, the Church would have that if she liked, so long as it did not interfere with trade. To work all round the weekends in diminishing production, the one day in seven was necessary, and what the Church chose to do with it was no affair of Caesar’s.

“Unhappily, however, the alliance for mutual benefit between Church and Caesar has not lasted. The transfer of property from the private owner to the public trust and limited company enables Caesar to get on very well without personal morals and domestic stability; the conception that the consumer exists for the sake of production has made extravagance and thriftless consumption a commercial necessity. Consequently, Caesar no longer sees eye to eye with the Church about these matters and will as soon encourage a prodigal frivolity on Sunday as on any other day of the week. Why not? Business is business. The Church, shocked and horrified, is left feebly protesting against Caesar’s desertion, and denouncing a relaxation of moral codes, in which the heedless world is heartily aided and abetted by the state. The easy path of condemning what Caesar condemns or is not concerned to defend has turned out to be like the elusive garden path in Through the Looking-Glass, just when one seemed to be getting somewhere, it gave itself a little shake and one found oneself walking in the opposite direction.”

[Excerpted from Letters to a Diminished Church, Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Dogma, by Dorthy L. Sayers (1893-1957). © 2004 by W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc. Kobo ebook edition.]

The Dogma is the Drama

[Excerpts from Letters to a Diminished Church, Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Dogma, by Dorthy L. Sayers (1893-1957). © 2004 by W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc. My copy is the ebook version, purchased from Kobo and read on my Kobo ereader and the Kobo app on my Android smart phone.]

Christ, in His divine innocence, said to the woman of Samaria, “Ye worship ye know not what” — being apparently under the impression that it might be desirable, on the whole, to know what one was worshipping. He thus showed Himself sadly out of touch with the twentieth century mind . . . . The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.

It would not perhaps be altogether surprising if . . . there were a number of people who knew all about Christian doctrine and disliked it. It is more startling to discover how many people there are who heartily dislike and despise Christianity without having the faintest notion what it is. If you tell them, they cannot believe you. I do not mean that they cannot believe the doctrine; that would be understandable enough since it takes some believing. I mean that they simply cannot believe that anything so interesting, so exciting, and so dramatic can be the orthodox creed of the church.

Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it upon an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious — others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended by Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended about something that is not Christ and is nothing like Him? We do Him singularly little honour by watering down His personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.

Two years later

I began this blog on June 8, 2012, not really knowing where I wanted to go with it, nor what to expect in the way of readership and reader reaction. Over a period of two years I have made 480 posts and the blog has received 13,047 views.

Having started out with only a nebulous concept of my goal, I suppose I can say I have successfully attained that goal. I am not elated with the quality of the writing that I have posted, or its reception, neither am I disappointed. This seems a good time to consider where I want to go to from here.

The subtitle of this blog is Apologetics from an Anabaptist Perspective. That is the goal I want to pursue. I hope there are others in the position I was almost fifty years ago when I looked at the disarray of Christianity and thought to myself “There has to be something better than this.”

I have fond memories of  many individuals from a variety of denominations who had a positive influence on my life. But they stand out in rather sharp contrast to the many others whose influence tended to make me suspect there was no substance to the claims of Christianity.

I don’t intend to spend a lot of time criticizing other people, other than attempting to show that it is not necessary to accept an adulterated, degraded form of Christianity that offers no real hope in this life, or the life to come. I came to the faith I now hold through reading history, which gave me hope that those who lived an uncompromising Christian life, even in face of mortal danger, might have their spiritual descendents today. I want to share the enthusiasm that gave me.

That brings me to the second motivation for this blog. I find that many of those spiritual descendents are not well-informed about their spiritual heritage and thus ill-equiped to share their faith with their neighbours, or even their children. If I can inspire them to search deeper into that heritage and its Biblical foundation I will feel rewarded.

Speaking of apologetics, Michael Sherrard has a blog, and a book, entitled Relational Apologetics, Defending the Christian faith with holiness, respect & truth. There is a link to the blog on the right. Yesterday I bought the book and have read it through. I admire his approach and feel it is worthwhile instruction for anyone who aspires to share their faith with others in our post-Christian society. He makes the point that apologetics need not be as scary as it sounds, as the great majority of the people we have to do with are not intellectuals and have not really thought through their objections to the Christian faith.

I bought another book yesterday, Letters to a Diminished Church, by Dorothy Sayers. Her point is that the creeds and doctrines of Chritianity are anything but boring. The truth claims that they make are a startling breath of fresh air for a tired and despondent society that mostly only hears a version of Christianity that is watered down and sweetened in an attempt to cause no offense to modern sensibilities.  This book dates from the 1940’s and the writer was British, but her thesis is  applicable to us today wherever we live.

I will share a few quotes from these books in later posts. I will continue with an eclectic mix of material, but want to focus more on apologetics in a way that will be helpful to those wanting to know more about the Anabaptist faith. Another goal is to take some of the older posts, edit and expand them and publish them as an ebook.

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