"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone, and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."

- Ernest Hemingway, In his Nobel prize acceptance speech
Thoughts of a bloodthirsty librarian

Today I was processing books for the library, part of a large collection given to us by a minister who passed away recently.

I picked up one book on The Philosophy of John Dewey. I went to the web service we use to find cataloging data. Because the book is fairly old, there were only a few listings there. As always, I searched for a record that included the Library of Congress catalog number, because that's the system we use. Unfortunately, there was none.

All the records, I found, were catalogued in Dewey Decimal.

I guess there's a cosmic rightness there that overrides my personal convenience.

Also I found a book called Preaching Values, by Halford Luccock. That's a title that surprises no one in our day. Obviously the book is meant to help pastors pass on Christian moral values in their sermons.

But this book was published in 1928. It was about the values, for preachers, of certain modern Bible translatons.

The new translations included Moffat and Goodspeed.

The past, truly, is a different country, my friends.

And yeah, I fantasize about living in that other country. Some days it looks like Heaven, or Norway, to me.

But our plumbing is better here.

I'm about to write about the Pope's comments on Islam, and the Muslim reaction. If you're sick of hearing about it, you can skip the rest of this post.

I saw a button back in the '60s that said, "Support Mental Health Or I'll Kill You."

Any reasonable person would recognize that rioting and murdering people are a self-contradictory means of proclaiming one's peacefulness. And the fact that a large part of the Muslim world fails to get the joke (such as it is) pretty much says it all.

But the Islamic world doesn't care. Because they're not involved in a struggle of ideas, but a struggle of honor.

Honor, and honor cultures, is one of my hobbyhorses. I believe (perhaps wrongly) that my study of Viking sagas has taught me something about the subject.

It's not about making sense, for our enemies. It's about having honor, being what Bin Laden calls "the strong horse."

As long as we continue our policy, all over the West, of playing a game in which the other side's role is to commit outrages and ours is to reward them for it, they will continue to see us as people of no honor. Weak horses. Countries that it would be an act of charity to conquer, so that they might teach us to be men.

The reasonable way to handle this (not in the common sense of the word "reasonable," which for us means something like "inactive," but reasonable in the sense of operating in a way appropriate to the situation) would be to act to defend our honor. Some kind of strong action is required, not necessarily, but probably, violent.

That would go far to restore our honor in their eyes.

It would be a charitable act too, because it might warn them off. They would be less likely to commit the enormity that seems, under present conditions, pretty much inevitable. Because when that enormity happens--when they blow up a bomb in America, or unleash a chemical weapon, we will unite again and take violent action. Probably even if the president is a Democrat. Many more people will die under that scenario.

It won't happen, of course. Bush would be impeached. Someone might even assassinate him under the current climate of opinion (or passion).

I can hear people objecting now, "But defending our honor's not a Christian response!"

Those who say this are generally the same people who've been trying to tell us for thirty years that America is not a Christian nation, and has never been a Christian nation. Christianity, they insist, is more foreign to American tradition than Peruvian painting or Mongolian music.

But I've written about that before. And I don't believe Christian personal ethics apply to governments. "The emperor bears the sword" (Romans 13:4), after all.

And I also think saving lives is a consideration that bears a certain moral weight.

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Comments on "Thoughts of a bloodthirsty librarian":
1. wearyandwornout - 09/20/2006 9:11 pm EDT

In a recent edition of First Things R.N. had a review of
Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror, by Mary Habeck, that I thought was especially informative. I don't think most of the people who commentators on this issue have a clue what's going on... or even want to. I agree that there are similarities to the 'honor' culture of the old Vikings, but there's a lot more involved; namely an eschatalogical vision, and the will to usher it in via murder. (Not really much different than the old communist vision.)

2. Aitchmark - 09/20/2006 11:08 pm EDT

Yep. We lost 2 buildings and a part of a third, and suffered about 3K casulaties-- in response to which we toppled two governments and have been rolling up terrorist networks all over the world.

But we've done it so humanely, all things considered, they still think of us as wimps.

My old blue collar roots have started to growl that we haven't killed near enough of those sumbitches, and that we need to aim a little higher on various food chains than we previously have.

Guess that's another reason why I'm not a statesman.

3. Dale - 09/21/2006 5:36 pm EDT

I agree with you, Lars. But I think that the core issue is this.

Muslims have to be brought to see that, here in civilization, we believe that you have the rights, simulteneously, (1) not to be a Muslim but (2) to enjoy full citizenship.


All the other issues, e.g. good things such as Israel's right to exist, as well as less defensible things such as the right to commit adultery without legal consequences, are secondary.

4. Kathryn Judson - 09/22/2006 2:28 pm EDT

Regarding the first part of your post, poor Melvil Dewey just can't get any respect, it seems. He invents the Dewey Decimal System and yet every time someone mentions "Dewey" the name that invariably trots out is John Dewey. Poor chap must be turning in his grave. Not that it's pertinent to your point, of course...

5. Hunter Baker - 09/27/2006 7:55 pm EDT

Brilliant as always, Lars.

6. Nick - 09/27/2006 8:49 pm EDT

So what was the position on Moffat's translation? Just curious...

7. Lars Walker - 09/27/2006 10:32 pm EDT

Thanks, Hunter.

Nick: I didn't actually check. I assume he approved of it to some extent, since he wrote a book on using it (along with the others).

8. Mary McLemore - 09/28/2006 12:24 am EDT

How right you are! To me, the proper response is given in Rudyard Kipling's "Grave of The Hundred Head."

9. Tom - 09/28/2006 12:46 am EDT

I'm confused. We responded violently to 9/11 by invading Afganistan and most of the Muslim world supported us. Iran directly aided us. Then we responded even more violently by invading bombing and invading Iraq. But this time most of the world opposed us, particularly Muslims. So what kind of violent action are we supposed to take and who are we supposed to take it against?

And please remember the Pope's full quote. Most of the comments I have read have focused on the idea that Muslims were reacting to the Pope implying that Muslims are violent because they believe in spreading faith by the sword. In fact they were reacting to the Pope saying thier religion is evil. The quote wad "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Most importantly, this kind of thing should be kept in perspective. The violent reaction that made headlines everywhere represented the actions of a miniscule portion of the billion Muslims world wide. So are you advocating that we further alienate a billion muslims, most of whom had a favorable view of the U.S. just a few years ago, in the hopes that it will make the (at most)few thousand who reacted violently respect us more?

Finally, viewing most of the people in the middle east as a uniform mass we call "Muslim" is a large part of why Iraq had turned into such a disaster. George H.W. Bush recognized that the different power groups in Iraq would make an invsion fraught with peril and chose not to. His son refused to acknowledge those perils - that is the only reasonable explanation for the explicit refusal to plan for an occupation.

10. Lars Walker - 09/28/2006 1:33 am EDT

Tom, you're making the common western error. You're imagining what you think to be the root causes of Muslim anger, assuming that they think just the same way you do. My whole point is that they don't. That doesn't mean I'm saying they're subhuman, any more than I'm saying the Vikings were. But I repeat, honor thinking doesn't fit our western categories. The jihadist propaganda machine takes full advantage of that comprehension gap.

11. Francis - 09/28/2006 7:16 am EDT

Tom and others might benefit from the excellent UK TV documentary "No Excuses for Terror" now up at youtube

Links at my blog http://www.di2.nu/200609/27b.htm

12. Lars Walker - 09/28/2006 8:17 am EDT

An added point: Any attempt to make the Muslim world love us is wrongheaded. Islam is not about love. Muslims, unlike Christians, are under no command to love everybody.

The best we can do with the Muslim world is get them to respect us. Unless we can convert them. But we'll never convert them either, if they're convinced that being a Christian means being less than a man.

13. QUASIMODO - 09/28/2006 10:40 am EDT

YOU SAY..."Some kind of strong action is required, not necessarily, but probably, violent. "

What exactly do you have in mind that is different from what we have done? Fly 10 planes into their tallest buildings? In what countries? How do we take "strong action" aganst an enemy without borders? Do we sow the terrorists we catch into pig skins and shoot them? I am told that worked 100 years ago but I wonder if it was really done. I am at a loss as to what "strong action" means. Other than that bit of ignorance or confusion on my part I agree with you.

14. Lars Walker - 09/28/2006 11:35 am EDT

It would be ridiculous and presumptuous for me to recommend specific military actions. I'm sticking to basic principles here. Such as, when they perform an atrocity, like torturing and beheading our soldiers, we perform reprisals. Not torturing and beheading, but a strong action that hurts or humiliates them. I like the idea of shooting terrorists and then burying them in pigskins personally, but I don't know what the practicalities would be.

Above all, never apologize! Apologies impress Christians. Muslims see them only as a form of submission.

15. QUASIMODO - 09/28/2006 11:47 am EDT

that helps. it really does. thanks. I found your site by the link from Southern Appeal ... looks good

(I wonder what the cost of a pig skin is over a body bag)

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