Footnote 29 — Alistair Cooke, America: A Personal History (1973)

Footnote 29 — Alistair Cooke, America: A Personal History (New York: Basic Books, 1973)

Since I first heard it decades ago, I have been intrigued by the unique perspective, colorfully describing aspects of the American Revolution by Alistair Cooke, BBC and British newspaper correspondent (and, later, host of Masterpiece Theatre). Cooke came to the USA in 1932 on a fellowship to Yale after graduating Cambridge, married a descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, became an American citizen on 1 December 1941, and stayed, for the most part, from the Great Depression until his death in 2005.  Cooke toured the US by automobile many times seeking stories to explain to British subjects the enigmatic behaviors of their American cousins, attempting to bridge the chasm described in George Bernard Shaw’s memorable depiction (later borrowed famously by Sir Winston Churchill) of the British and Americans as “one people separated by a common language.”  Cooke’s 13-part television series, The Americans (1973), was accompanied by a book, from which the following passage is excerpted.

“We should not forget that for quite a time the rebels thought of themselves as Englishmen abused, and in many engagements felt an uncomfortable sympathy for the Englishmen sent over to fight them.  In Ridgefield, Connecticut, there is a plaque sunk in the wall of a cemetery.  It says:  ‘In defense of American independence at the Battle of Ridgefield, April 27th, 1777, died Eight Patriots who were laid in this ground, Companioned by Sixteen British  soldiers, Living, their enemies, Dying, their guests.’

“The British arrived as a professional army expecting, with companies of German mercenaries, to fight European set battles. Not enough of them had learned, at first or second hand, the lessons of the French and Indian Wars.  The Americans were at once too shrewd and too untrained to oblige them with an old world war. First of all, as John Adams said, the colonial population divided up into one third that took to arms, one third that was either openly or secretly loyal to the British, and one third that didn’t give a damn – not the best recipe for a disciplined national army.  

      “So against the army of British regulars there stood – besides some French volunteers, immensely valuable as professionals at the start – mainly a large, improvised force of farmers, mechanics, tradesmen, parsons, lawyers, grocers, hunters, trappers, con men, thieves, and hoodlums. ‘Never,’ their sorrowing commander was to lament when the going was bad, ‘such a rabble dignified by the name of army.’  How could they hold off for six years, much less defeat, one of the crack armies of Europe?

     “For one thing, there was weaponry.  The British army for the most part used smooth-bore muskets that allowed a lateral error of three feet at a hundred yards range.  The British infantryman was not trained to pick off single targets; he stood shoulder to shoulder with his fellows and they sprayed, shall we say, in the general direction of the enemy!  The Americans had smooth-bore muskets too, but as the war moved into the interior the British came up against the frontiersmen, who did not use guns for sport.  Their very existence depended on shooting their food on the wing and saving their families by picking off Indians in night raids. They needed a weapon that was light and accurate, and found it in the Pennsylvania flintlock, developed for them by German settlers in Pennsylvania who doubled the length of the barrel and grooved it make the bullet spin and stay on line…

        “At long range, this weapon did bloody damage to shoulder-to-shoulder infantry.  A Pennsylvania Tory who had seen it at work wrote a letter to a London newspaper offering rather chill advice: ‘This province has raised a thousand riflemen, the worst of whom will put a rifle ball in man’s head at a hundred and fifty or two hundred yards.  Therefore, advise your officers who shall hereafter come out to America to settle their affairs in England before their departure.’  This reputation for sharpshooting was magnified in England into a witch’s curse, and there were some lively desertions among men drafted for service in the Colonies.  It is, on the whole, and all-too-true American myth:  that legendary reputation for spotting the bull’s eye which began with the embattled farmers and was sustained down through the next century and a half by Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, and Sergeant York…

     “A British commander sent home a short report that was read in the House of Commons.  The gist of it was: ‘The Americans will not stand and fight.” They were jack-in-the-box guerillas who would fight like devils for a day and a night and then go home and harvest their crops on the weekend.  They would return, not always in any discernible formation, and after a swift onslaught vanish into the country by night, and then again at some unpredictable time come whizzing in like hornets.  What baffled and eventually broke the British was what broke the Roman armies in their late campaigns against the barbarians, and for so long frustrated the Americans in Vietnam. …. [A]s William Pitt sadly commented, looking at his drawn lines on an alien wilderness: ‘You cannot conquer a map.’

Footnote 28 — Reading Biblical Narrative – Jan P. Fokkelman

Footnote 28 — Jan P. Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative: An Introductory Guide (Westminster John Knox Press, 2000; trans. Ineke Smit), pp. 21-22.

“As the meaning of a text is only realized through the mediation of the reader, our responsibility for its meaning is greater than the text’s own.  Moreover, this meaning is realized in the here and now; we confer meaning around the year 2000, not in 800 or 500 BCE. This may seem obvious, but it needs to be stated clearly.  The effect of bestowing meaning on one’s own readings and interpretations has hardly, if at all, been taken into account by established Bible scholarship (the so-called historical-critical school), which assumes its own attitude to be self-evident. This approach sets out to ‘understand the Bible texts within the framework of their own time,’ according to the slogan characteristic of these scholars. This attitude conveys a totally different message: the text comes from far away, dates from a long time ago, and is rooted in a radically different culture.  Thus, there is a three-fold alienation which has discouraged many Bible readers, students of theology, and future preachers.

“It is true that the text of the Bible comes from the Near East, that it is almost 2000 to 3000 years old, and that it originated in a culture which differed greatly from ours, both materially and spiritually. These differences should not be underestimated; yet these distances are only half-truths, and if you treat them as unshakeable axioms they will quietly turn into lies and optical illusions. There is a greater, more important truth, which is that these texts are well-written.  IF they are then so fortunate as to meet a good listener, they will come into their own without having to be pushed into the compartments ‘far away,’ ‘long ago’ and ‘very different.’ As products of a deliberate and meticulous designing intelligence they have been crafted to speak for themselves, provided there is a competent reader listening closely.

“It is only natural that the Bible text should have quickly freed itself from its origin.  The current rather infelicitous phrase is that the text has been decontextualized: maker, audience, and context have long been lost.  Of course, the writers knew that this was to be the fate of their stories, laws and poems – assuming for the moment that they were not born yesterday. Reading the Bible ‘within the setting of its own time?’ A lofty goal, but in the first place this is a perilous enterprise since the setting is not there any more – it was lost about two thousand years ago. Secondly, it is hardly a viable undertaking, as we are not Israelites. The publication of a text implies that its umbilical cord has been cut; from then on, it is on its own.  Now, good texts can indeed manage alone, as from the beginning they have been designed to outlive their birth and original context by a long way.  The writer knows that he cannot always accompany his text to provide explanations, clear up misunderstandings, etc. He has to let go of his product completely; he should leave it to his poem or story to take care of itself on its own.  So he decides to provide is text with the devices, signals, and shapes with which it can withstand the onslaught of time and guide the reading activities of the loyal listener.”

Footnote 27 – C.S. Lewis: The Discarded Image

Footnote 27 – C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1964), p. 89.

Earlier I posted information about CS Lewis’ death on November 22, 1963. Normally this would have received significant press and public attention – the death of a respected scholar at both Oxford and Cambridge who became a wartime fixture in Britain for his radio discussions during the dark days of World War 2; the former atheist who became of the most significant and widely-read apologists for the truth of Christianity – was “overtaken by events” of the same day.

The significance of CS Lewis as an academician and scholar is sometimes overlooked or dismissed by those who know him only through his more popular apologetics books, or who cavalierly dismiss his views.  But his work as a scholar of medieval literature and the trans-generational and cross-cultural transmission of knowledge is significant.  His posthumously-published work,The Discarded Image (Cambridge University Press, 1964) is one of my “favorites” – describing how medieval texts assimilated the Greco-Roman corpus of “natural history” (what would, in the 19th century, be dubbed “science”) – useful to a green graduate student in the History of Science at Emory University in Atlanta, grappling with bestiaries and other strange accumulations of knowledge. .

As a young man, I once had a flash of insight that youthful hubris allowed me to imagine at the time to be one of the few truly “original” ideas I ever had (everyone should have one or two such ideas in a lifetime, no?) It was the notion that God does not really “foreknow” what happens in the future (as though He were limited to looking at the future through a keyhole, or the “wrong” end of a telescope – actually an apt description of the limited view of prophets and angels described in 1 Peter 1:10-12). Rather, since He is not time-bound, and therefore is already “at” tomorrow, or next year, He knows what decisions I make in my future since he is already “there.” In the same way that I know what choices I made for breakfast this morning (bacon and eggs, cereal, bagel? – ALWAYS go for the bacon, if available), similarly, He knows my “future-to-me” choices, without limiting them in any way. The insight seemed so profound and original at the time…..

Then I encountered Lewis’ comments below, published while I was still a high school kid only beginning to contemplate such matters.  Ah, well….there is no shame in being superseded, or pre-dated, by C.S. Lewis!

Here’s the text:

“God is eternal, not perpetual.  Strictly speaking, He never foresees; He simply sees.  Our ‘future’ is only an area, and only for us a special area, of His infinite Now.  He sees (not remembers) your yesterday’s acts because yesterday is still ‘there’ for him; He sees (not foresees) your tomorrow’s acts because He is already in tomorrow.  Just as a human spectator, by watching my present act, does not at all infringe its freedom, so I am free to act as I choose in the future because God, in that future (His present) watches me acting.”

        C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1964), p. 89.

Footnote 26 — The Atlantic: Amazon’s new deal with the U.S. Postal Service

Footnote 26 — Megan Garber, “Amazon’s New Deal with the U.S. Postal Service: The Unlikely Alliance That Ended Sunday Mail Delivery … in 1912” (The Atlantic, November 12, 2013)

A newspaper delivery vehicle for the Sunday Mail in Brisbane, Australia (Wikimedia Commons)

With the help of an extremely 21st century company, the Postal Service is going back—in a small way—to its 17th-century roots. When the U.S. Postal Service teams up with Amazon to offer Sunday mail delivery, the move will mark the first Sunday mail delivery the U.S. has seen, with a few exceptions, for a century.

The USPS … has long been an early adopter. The system that laid, literally, the groundwork for a growing nation wasn’t just about mail; it was also about connection. It was “the sole communication lifeline of the newly formed nation.” The Founders and their followers recognized this. Until the USPS was reorganized in the 1970s, the final position in the presidential line of succession was, yep, the Postmaster. And in 1810, Congress passed a law requiring that local post offices be open for at least an hour on Sundays; most were open for much longer.  ‘Men would rush there as soon as the mail had arrived, staying on to drink and play cards.’

Despite and because of all that, the Postal Service was also … a party. As the historian Claude Fischer puts it, “post offices themselves were important community centers, where townsfolk met, heard the latest news read aloud, and just lounged about.” (The offices played that role, in part, because the Postal Service didn’t offer home delivery, even in large cities, until after 1860.) On Sundays, that town-center role was magnified. When everything else was closed but the local church, post offices were places you could go not just to pick up your mail, but also to hang out. They were taverns for the week’s tavern-less day. “Men would rush there as soon as the mail had arrived,” Fischer writes, “staying on to drink and play cards.”

Post offices, as a result, were also sources of controversy. In the 1820s, leaders from a variety of Protestant denominations campaigned to end Sunday delivery on religious grounds. Similar movements would arise over the course of the 19th century. And the objection wasn’t just to the Sunday-ness of Sunday delivery, to the fact that mail delivery on Sunday was a violation of the Sabbath. It was also to the social-ness of Sunday delivery. The six-day-delivery campaigns, Fischer writes, were “part of the churches’ wider efforts to enforce a ‘Puritan Sabbath’ against the demands of Mammon and against worldly temptations like those card games.” Exacerbating the problem, from the Puritanical perspective, was the rise in immigration among Catholics, “many of whom,” Fischer notes, “celebrated ‘Continental’ Sundays which included all sorts of secular pleasures—picnics, even beer halls—after (or instead of) church.”

The Ellisville, Illinois, Post Office, photographed on July 30, 1891 (USPS)
By the early 20th century, new technologies—the telegraph, the telephone, the train—had reduced people’s urgent reliance on the Postal Service. They could then, better than they could have before, do without Sunday deliveries. In 1912, without any debate on the matter, Congress added a rider to a funding bill. It ordered that “hereafter post offices … shall not be opened on Sundays for the purpose of delivering mail to the public.” On August 24, Taft signed the bill into law. On September 1, it was enacted.And for just over a century, that law was, with its few exceptions, obeyed. As a result, we’ve all grown up in a United States that translates the logic of the Bible—Sunday, the day of rest—to the commercial and communicational lives of its citizens. In a small way, thanks to a company that is also an early adopter—and that is also, in its way, reorganizing the nation—that is now changing. The day of rest need no longer be fully restful. If you are, that is, a member of Amazon Prime.


Amazon’s new deal with the U.S. Postal Service will reverse a century-old approach to mail.
  NOV 12 2013, 11:12 AM ET

  MEGAN GARBER is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at theNieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media

Footnote 25 — Harvard Magazine: The Power of Patience: Teaching students…

Footnote 25 — Jennifer L. Roberts, The Power of Patience: Teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention, Harvard Magazine (November-December 2013).

Read more at:

Editor’s note: The Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT) conference last May asked participants to ponder the following framing question: “In this time of disruption and innovation for universities, what are the essentials of good teaching and learning?” At the conference, after a panel of psychologists had discussed aspects of the “science of learning,” three speakers addressed the “art of teaching”—among them then professor of history of art and architecture Jennifer L. Roberts (now Elizabeth Cary Agassiz professor of the humanities), who also chairs the doctoral program in American Studies. She confessed limited exposure to education theory, and then proceeded to provide a vivid demonstration of deep humanistic education and learning, drawn from her own teaching in the history of art, but with broader applications. Although she makes broad use of digital technology in her teaching, she feels that it is also essential to give students experience in modes of attentive discipline that run directly counter to the high-speed, technologically assisted pedagogies emerging in the digital era—and to the experiences and expectations of contemporary students. Roberts adapted the following text from her HILT presentation.

I‘M NOT SURE there is such a thing as teaching in general, or that there is truly any essential teaching strategy that can be abstracted from the various contexts in which it is practiced. So that we not lose sight of the disciplinary texture that defines all teaching, I want to offer my comments today in the context of art history—and in a form that will occasionally feel like an art-history lesson.

During the past few years, I have begun to feel that I need to take a more active role in shaping the temporal experiences of the students in my courses; that in the process of designing a syllabus I need not only to select readings, choose topics, and organize the sequence of material, but also to engineer, in a conscientious and explicit way, the pace and tempo of the learning experiences. When will students work quickly? When slowly? When will they be expected to offer spontaneous responses, and when will they be expected to spend time in deeper contemplation?

I want to focus today on the slow end of this tempo spectrum, on creating opportunities for students to engage in deceleration, patience, and immersive attention. I would argue that these are the kind of practices that now most need to be actively engineered by faculty, because they simply are no longer available “in nature,” as it were. Every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, toward immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity—and against this other kind of opportunity. I want to give them the permission and the structures to slow down.


DECELERATION, then, is a productive process, a form of skilled apprehension that can orient students in critical ways to the contemporary world. But I also want to argue that it is an essential skill for the understanding and interpretation of the historical world. Now we’re going to go into the art-history lesson, which is a lesson about the formative powers of delay in world history.


And this is actually a lesson with much wider implications for anyone involved in the teaching or learning of history. In the thousands of years of human history that predated our current moment of instantaneous communication, the very fabric of human understanding was woven to some extent out of delay, belatedness, waiting. All objects were made of slow time in the way that Copley’s painting concretizes its own situation of delay. I think that if we want to teach history responsibly, we need to give students an opportunity to understand the formative values of time and delay. The teaching of history has long been understood as teaching students to imagine other times; now, it also requires that they understand different temporalities. So time is not just a negative space, a passive intermission to be overcome. It is a productive or formative force in itself.

GIVEN ALL THIS, I want to conclude with some thoughts about teaching patience as a strategy. The deliberate engagement of delay should itself be a primary skill that we teach to students. It’s a very old idea that patience leads to skill, of course—but it seems urgent now that we go further than this and think about patience itself as the skill to be learned. Granted—patience might be a pretty hard sell as an educational deliverable. It sounds nostalgic and gratuitously traditional. But I would argue that as the shape of time has changed around it, the meaning of patience today has reversed itself from its original connotations. The virtue of patience was originally associated with forbearance or sufferance. It was about conforming oneself to the need to wait for things. But now that, generally, one need not wait for things, patience becomes an active and positive cognitive state. Where patience once indicated a lack of control, now it is a form of control over the tempo of contemporary life that otherwise controls us. Patience no longer connotes disempowerment—perhaps now patience is power.

If “patience” sounds too old-fashioned, let’s call it “time management” or “temporal intelligence” or “massive temporal distortion engineering.” Either way, an awareness of time and patience as a productive medium of learning is something that I feel is urgent to model for—and expect of—my students.

Read more at:

Footnote 24 — The Archbishop of Atheism

Footnote 24 — Isaac Chotiner, “The Archbishop of Atheism, New Republic (November 11, 2013), p. 27.

Interesting comments from the New Republic interview with Richard Dawkins by Isaac Chotiner – loathe as I am to give Dawkins more publicity, you can read more about it at

IC: People talk about “new atheism.”8 Is there something new about it?

RD: No, there isn’t. Nothing that wasn’t in Bertrand Russell or probably Robert Ingersoll. But I suppose it is more of a political effect, in that all these books happened to come out at the same time. I like to think that we have some influence.

IC: Sometimes when I read the so-called new atheists, there’s almost a certain intellectual respect for the fundamentalist thinkers. For being more intellectually coherent.

RD: I’m interested you noticed that. There’s an element of paradox there—that at least you know where you stand with the fundamentalists. I mean, they’re absolutely clear in their error and their stupidity, and so you can really go after them. But the so-called sophisticated theologians, especially ones who are very nice, like Rowan Williams and Jonathan Sacks, you sometimes don’t quite know where you are with them. You feel that when you attack them, you’re attacking a wet sponge.

8  This term is generally applied to the work of Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, but it does not have a meaning that is substantively

From “The Archbishop of Atheism,” New Republic, November 11, 2013 (p. 27 of the print edition).

Footnote 23 — How To Think About the Death of An Atheist

Footnote 23 – Douglas Wilson, “How To Think About the Death of An Atheist: An Opponent Reflects Upon the Death of a Famous Atheist” (Christianity Today, December 16, 2011)

This excerpt comes from an online Christianity Today article by Douglas Wilson, reflecting upon his relationship with Christopher Hitchens.  The two formed a relationship during the course of Hitchens’ promotional book tour for “God Is Not Great.”

Wilson’s article reminds us that Christ died for atheists as well, and we should not allow strong feelings of antipathy for their beliefs to deter us from seeing them as fallen human beings, as we all are, and praying that the good news of God’s grace might move them to repentance and salvation. Observing the frequent hypocrisy and self-righteousness apparent in the lives of many “Christians” may help explain the virulent anti-Christian rhetoric which seems to abound these days.

My memory of this article was triggered by a request from a friend that we who claim to follow the Messiah should pray fervently, specifically, and by name for another well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins, whose recent bizarre comments about child sexual abuse are easily explained as a perfectly logical consequence of atheistic assumptions.  Still, such abhorrent views do not excuse Christians from our duty to speak with grace and truth.

Excerpts of Douglas Wilson’s article, originally posted 12/16/2011, are reproduced below. Read more of Wilson’s reflections at

Christopher Hitchens was a celebrity intellectual, and, as such, the basic outlines of his life are generally well known… I came to know Christopher during the promotion tour for his atheist encyclical, God Is Not Great. True to form, Christopher did not want to write a book attacking God and his minions only to have the release be a wine and cheese party in Manhattan with a bunch of fellow unbelievers, where they could all laugh knowingly about the rubes and cornpones down in the Bible Belt. So he told his publicist that he wanted to debate with any and all comers, and in the course of promoting his book, he did exactly that. I believe his book tour began in Arkansas, and the range of his debate partners included Al Sharpton, Dinesh D’Souza, and numerous others.

In response to this general defiance he delivered to the armies of Israel, my agent Aaron Rench contacted Christianity Today to see if they would be willing to host a written exchange. They were, and when Christopher was contacted, he quickly agreed as well. That online exchange attracted some attention, and the debate was made into a small book (Is Christianity Good for the World?). The short promotion tour for the release of the book was a series of debates that Christopher and I held in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, which were filmed for the documentary Collision.

As a result of all this, we were thrown together in a number of situations. One time we shared a panel in Dallas, and I told the crowd there that if Christopher and I were not careful, we were in danger of becoming friends. During the time we spent together, he never said an unkind thing to me—except on stage, up in front of everybody. After doing this, he didn’t wink at me, but he might as well have.

So we got on well with each other, because each of us knew where the other one stood. Eugene Genovese, before he became a believer, once commented on the tendency that some have to try to garner respect by giving away portions, big or small, of what they profess to believe. “If other religions offer equally valid ways to salvation and if Christianity itself may be understood solely as a code of morals and ethics, then we may as well all become Buddhists or, better, atheists. I intend no offense, but it takes one to know one. And when I read much Protestant theology and religious history today, I have the warm feeling that I am in the company of fellow unbelievers” (The Southern Front, pp. 9–10).

….Unbelievers can smell accommodation, and when someone like Christopher meets someone who actually believes all the articles in the Creed, including that part about Jesus coming back from the dead, it delights him. Here is someone actually willing to defend what is being attacked. Militant atheists are often exasperated with opponents whose strategy appears to be “surrender slowly.”

G. K. Chesterton once pointed to the salutary effect that the great agnostics had on him—that effect being that of “arousing doubts deeper than their own.” Christopher was an heir of the Enlightenment tradition, and would have felt right at home in the 18th-century salons of Paris. He wanted to carry on the grand tradition of doubting what had been inherited from Christendom, and to take great delight in doubting it. This worked well, or appeared to, for a time.

But skepticism is a universal solvent, and once applied, it does not stop just because Christendom is gone. “I think, therefore I am. I think.” We pulled out the stopper of faith, and the bathwater of reason appeared undisturbed for a time. But modernism slowly receded and now postmodernism is circling the drain. Our intelligentsia needs to figure out how to do more than sit in an empty tub and reminisce about the days when Voltaire knew how to keep the water hot.