All But Dissertation No dissertation--none of the time!
Wednesday, July 31, 2002
A friend wrote me recently with a question: what did I think of Michael O'Brien's apocalyptic novel Father Elijah? My response: it's OK, but it's certainly not literature. Why is it that some Catholic novelists today (and in the past, of course) think they have to whap their readers over the head with explicit and obtrusive lectures on doctrine? Whap, whap, whap! goes the novelist.
My friend's question intensified an on-going intellectual quest in my own mind that I may express in two parts: 1) What makes literature good? 2) Can anti-Catholic, or more generally, anti-Christian, writers, in the midst of their anti-Catholic/Christian writing, produce good literature even if it offends God and (Catholic) man?
To begin, it is quite clear that writers of impeccable Catholic credentials can produce quite awful literature. Father Elijah is not a bad book literarily; it's just not good. But consider Bud McFarlane's Pierced by a Sword. It has all the lectures of O'Brien and more (whap! whap! whap!), and it is certainly written much more poorly than O'Brien's, but I must admit that I enjoyed it, McFarlane's, better than O'Brien's. I've even read it more than once, which I couldn't manage with O'Brien. The characters in the former were engaging; there was a consistent sense of humor; the plot really keeps one going until the end. I don't mind admitting that I enjoy bad books; I don't want to read "literature" all the time.
I happen to be a huge fan of T. S. Eliot. I also have a sneaking suspicion that his earlier work, before his conversion, is superior to his later work after his conversion. The "Four Quartets" from this later period are absolutely stunning, but they simply cannot match "Prufrock," "The Waste Land," or even "Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service:"
The sapient sutlers of the Lord
Drift across the window-panes
In the beginning was the Word.
In the beginning was the Word.
Superfetation of to en And at the mensual turn of time
Produced enervate Origen.
Esoteric snob that I am, I think it just doesn't get any better than this.
Speaking of esoteric snobs and all-but-unpronounceable words, I'm working my way through Joyce's Ulysses now. I wrote a long post a few weeks(?) ago on it, mentioning how I spent a good hour on one paragraph. As I listen to the audio version and read more more and more of it, I can see why the book was banned. Even today many parts of it shock me, innocent that I am. Some examples: too much emphasis on bodily excretions, bad language, making fun of the Mass, sex, sex, sex, Molly Bloom's adultery, her fantasies of doing it with the priest to whom she is confessing, the scene at the brothel ... I could go on and on. It's no wonder that American censors gave it a thumbs down in the 1920s.
But the book is absolutely brilliant. The blazing virtuosity of the language; the puns in Greek, Latin, Irish; the ingenious plays on the Odyssey; the incredible characterization that is possible through the stream of consciousness method; the impact Joyce's work had on everything literary and beyond, even if readers/viewers don't realize it (that tree falling in a forest thing) ... all of this keeps me coming back to the novel day after day, my jaw dropping ever lower at each reading.
How does this reading enhance one's everyday life? An example: my husband and I watched "Moulin Rouge" a few months ago. I didn't like it. But after reading "Circe," the nighttown scene in the brothel, I understood "Moulin Rouge" and what the filmmakers were doing and why. The movie was a riff on Joyce, even if the filmmakers themselves didn't know it. I still don't like the movie, but now at least I get a pleasant little frisson of enjoyment from the whiff of intertextuality.
So, how should Christians react to Joyce's intermixture of blasphemy, potty humor, and outstanding literary achievement?
There's the dismissing-it-out-of-hand approach. For example: John Senior wrote a book called The Death of Christian Culture, published by the obscure and otherwise rather intolerable RC Books. Senior's ideas had a large and positive impact on my own in terms of education of children and other issues, on which he is excellent. But on Joyce the man is a raving lunatic. "A tour de farce," he says (actually, he applies this to Finnegan's Wake, but I think Joyce might have accepted that nice turn of phrase in re: Ulysses gladly). "The 'stream of consciousness' technique, as it is called, is an artistic error to begin with. Art, as Aristotle said, is not chronology but a 'story' that presupposes intelligent selection according to a form conceived in the mind of the artist" (both quotes from p. 80). Perhaps, Mr. Senior, art that departs from Aristotle might also have some merit? It has been a while since the Poetics came out.
It's that sort of response that elicits comments like the following from leftie journalists:
In one corner of this fight lies the question of high culture in literature and the arts, automatically defended by the Right - who, it is clear, sometimes do not know what they are talking about, since much in high culture is profoundly subversive of what they cherish: think of the anticlerical Voltaire, the adulteresses Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, Madame Butterfly living in sin with Pinkerton, the liar Odysseus, the communistic New Testament, and endless examples besides, which, if they knew of it, would certainly affright America's gun-and-family-loving right.
There is so much to untangle in the above paragraph that I, like Penelope, might be up all night pulling it apart. Let me ignore the "communistic New Testament," because that phrase, too, will tie me up interminably, and focus on Anna Karenina. There is a book of literary genius that I hated. It was depressing. It had Russian men giving really long speeches and emoting all over the place. (I hate emotive men. My husband knows this.) Russian literature in general is really a drag, with the exception of Dostoevsky. Oh, back to the main issue: yes, Catholics and conservatives in general do tend to look down on adultery. But the author of the above misses the point utterly and completely. Adultery is in the book? So what? The question is, how does Tolstoy deal with adultery? In my reading of the novel, Anna's actions bring misery to her family, her friends, and, famously and most importantly, to herself. Tolstoy treats adultery just as the Bible does: he unequivocally condemns it, but instead of preaching, he makes it come alive in story. Have you ever met anyone who wouldn't read Anna Karenina just because of the presence of sin in it? Gee. I think we better throw out the Bible, then.
Anna Karenina, the Bible, Joyce's Ulysses: all speak of the human condition through the medium of good literature. If anyone reads the Bible him/herself, not just taking in the Sunday readings or the radio preacher, he/she will soon begin to see quite a bit of offensive stuff. It's how we grapple with the offensive stuff that makes all the difference.
A final point to extend the conversation a bit further in a slightly different direction. An intriguing article appeared recently on Mozart. Most of us have probably seen the movie "Amadeus," which portrays the composer of ethereal music as a sex-obsessed obscenity of a human being. The reality, it seems, is that and even more:
Mozart wrote to his cousin Maria Anna in a sort of love letter, "I shit on your nose, so it runs down your chin."
Frankly, this is worse than anything I've yet come upon in Joyce. As the editor of Mozart's letters says, "It was a paradox that the same person who wrote such sublime music used such language. But it was the case."
The awful produces the sublime.
The orthodox produces the sub-par.
What are we to do?
You've certainly noticed the ads on top of almost every blog. A few minutes ago I was reading a fellow blogger, and the ad caught my attention: it promoted a book on blogging, and took me to this Amazon site. I knew nothing of this book or author until I clicked there, but what is striking is both the list of books under "Customers who bought this book also bought ..." and the conversation taking place in the reviews of the initial book. Instapundit chimes in with a thumbs up; one person denigrates the book, saying that it's ludicrous: why should bloggers actually have to read hard copy? when everything is already there on the web? Even if this is so, I would like to have Blood's royalties, especially after Instapundit's endorsement.
Now, I don't know what "people" think, but I've always thought dogs in general (and my dog in particular!) are quite smart. This article, however, goes beyond commands and stupid pet tricks. It describes a study that hypothesizes that dogs can count. The research didn't sound very convincing to my ears, but what do I know? Maybe I'll try it on my dog here at home.
A worthless piece of trivia, but perhaps of interest nonetheless: these doggie counting sprees were performed at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Domini canes indeed!
I know people at Hebrew U, both profs and students. Haven't heard any word on them yet. My advisor leaves for Jerusalem for a sabbatical year September 1. We talked this morning at a scheduled meeting, and he was unaware of the bomb until I told him. "This changes a lot," he said in a rueful tone. I look forward to seeing exactly what he means by that.
There's no doubt about it: education courses kill the mind, repel the best, and attract the worst, speaking in terms of intellect, anyway. Tom Sowell says more on this, for example:
Yet private schools are able to get better qualified people, partly because most private schools do not let education course requirements screen out intelligent people. Some private schools even refuse to hire people who have been through that drivel.
Mark Shea offers a link to an article by George Weigel, excerpted from a new book of his, that discusses the inappropriateness of applying the labels "liberal" and "conservative" to church matters. He is of course completely correct. They are political terms. He's also correct in his analysis that, in the aftermath of Vatican II, they were moderately useful labels. But ultimately they don't work, and new vocabulary must replace them.
An immediate example of the inadequacy of these political labels appears in the confusion demonstrated by many non-Catholics in the chattering classes (journalists, pundits, TV talk-show types, some intellectuals who write for and attract public notice) when they try to characterize the pope. He's against the death penalty: Ah, he's a liberal! He's pro-life: oooh, he's a conservative. Read the media reports about the pope anywhere in the mainstream press. The writers are honestly staggered by the pope's "contradictory" commitments.
But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the truth about the pope is neither one of these extremes, liberal or conservative. The truth underlying his philosophy is his theology, and it's something that transcends labels altogether--the ethic of life, or as John Paul himself put it, evangelium vitae, the gospel of life. (I don't want any arguments here about how the church has changed its position on capital punishment over the last x number of years; so it has. Yes, the church does that sometimes.)
Thinking about this reminded me of the "granola conservative" conversation that was all the rage in the Blogosphere a few weeks ago, inspired by Rod Dreher's article in the NRO. I didn't comment on it then because I hadn't been blogging for a few days and felt like a late-comer at a party who saunters into the middle of someone's story and asks to be filled in. But I had to chuckle at all the mental energy expended on that debate. A personal note may be in order here: I not only make my own bread; I buy 25 lb. sacks of wheat and grind the flour first (in an electric grinder, just in case you had a vision of me with a mortar and pestle). I was one of those earth mamas when my baby was a baby: my son never had a drop of formula in his life, he nursed until he was almost two, I ate organic food the whole time, etc. etc., all the while listening to Rush Limbaugh and homeschooling. I've always circulated freely among the right and the left, and except for a few unhappy months in a wretched Catholic homeschooling group that was as rigid as a Stalinist reading group, never received any flack from anyone about any of my "contradictory" activities.
The real problem is finding a group where people don't think in labels and slogans and demand conformity to what those labels supposedly require. I brought this up once with my favorite priest/mentor, who is considered conservative and reactionary in the liberal college in which he teaches and a flaming liberal by many Catholics who call themselves orthodox (here is another label! Can't seem to help it!).
"You need to worry," he said, "when you find yourself comfortable in either group [the liberal or the conservative]."
Though he said this many years ago, I have never forgotten it. If we are truly engaged in living in the real world, and true to ourselves at the same time, we probably will never be completely at home in any group. Human opinion is legitmately diverse on many, many, things, even within the Church. If we are not 1) cutting ourselves off from anyone who disagrees with us, or 2) nodding pleasantly at statements we believe bosh simply to keep the peace, we will find ourselves challenged in many places most of the time. That's one thing that is so incredibly fun about the academic life. For the most part, at least in my experience, academics have the joy of arguing civilly with each other their whole lives. We write up a point, put it out for comment, take critique thankfully, and rewrite, revise, and start the process over again.
One more point that is not really related to any of the above. Weigel concludes his article with a few statements about doctrine, and how itshould not be considered boring. He missed a prime opportunity to quote one of my favorite little phrases from GKC. The large one was arguing against those who find orthodoxy, in his words, "dull as ditchwater."
"But," he said, "those who look at ditchwater closely and carefully find that it is teeming with quiet fun."
A Waterville woman was charged with child endangerment because she allegedly let her daughter and another girl spend the night at a motel with two men they met on the Internet, police said.
The woman drove her 13-year-old daughter and her daughter's 14-year-old friend to the bus station to meet the two men, said Police Chief John Morris.
The girls went to a motel with the men and had sex before the 14-year-old girl's parents found out and contacted police, Morris said.
The parents of both teenagers knew their daughters had met the men on the Internet, and the parents of the 14-year-old made it clear to their daughter she was not to have contact with them, police said.
But the mother of the 13-year-old lied to the parents of the older girl and drove the girls to the bus station on July 23, police said.
Perhaps the most telling evidence of this cultural and sexual agenda is the fact that the Catholic Church, which has official status at the United Nations, was not invited to attend the conference. The Church was barred from the event even though the U.N. acknowledges that it cares for over one-quarter of all the world's AIDS patients. Conference organizers decided to ignore the knowledge garnered through these treatment programs, however, because they knew that the Vatican would mention other things as well. "We do not understand why the Vatican was not invited," said Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán. He added that U.N. officials "have been saying the same thing [about condoms] constantly for the past dozen years," despite the fact that the safe-sex message has led to "no visible results." In fact, "the number of AIDS victims is rising." Perhaps it was for fear of heresies like these that Barragán was not invited.
A few days ago I read James Joyce's "The Dead" for the first time. I don't think I would have understood it much even five years ago. Then, after reading two or three critical essays on the story, I suffer the bombshell: Joyce wrote the story when he was 26. Ouch. More on Joyce is bubbling to the surface soon.
Cuban Canadian Foundation president Ismael Sambra said after speaking to some of the asylum seekers: "The main reason they decided to leave Cuba is the repression there. It's not possible to express their religious ideas there."
The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
I disagree with the reviewer on one point, though:
What Springsteen has done brilliantly, therefore, is capture the two near-opposite feelings of most Americans in the days and weeks after September 11: on the one hand, a deep grief for the lives lost; on the other, a belief that we will "rise up."
Ah, no. These are not near-opposite feelings. They have been united forever, most notably in the guts of 11 men and their friends after a crucifixion, the sight of an empty tomb, and the realization of what the two, together, might mean.
For the last few days I've been devoting some heavy thinking to a post that will encompass Mozart, elitism, potty humor, James Joyce, piousness, and objective standards of "good." I hope to pull it all together tomorrow.
Was it What's Wrong with the World that G. K. Chesterton concluded with his plea that little girls living in poverty keep their long hair? I don't own that particular book and so am going on memory here. GKC was arguing against bureaucratic do-gooders ("We're the government and we're here to help you!") who insisted that impoverished girls should have short hair because long hair would be a breeding ground for lice. No, the great one said, all little girls have the right to their beautiful hair without the government getting its nasty know-it-all fingers on it.
The notice arrived yesterday giving Stanley and Eileen Green 30 days to leave their Chelsea home of 45 years.
Their crime? Having two cats.
Frank and Dianne Stephenson and their three children are expecting a similar letter any day. Their crime? Having a cat and a 66-pound German shepherd - 46 pounds over the limit.
They are two of dozens of Chelsea families who have suddenly found themselves faced with a terrible choice: give up pets they consider members of their families, or give up the only homes they can afford.
A new policy the Chelsea Housing Authority has adopted limits both the number and weight of pets at affordable-housing developments: Only one animal is permitted per unit, and cats and dogs must weigh no more than 10 and 20 pounds, respectively.
``I'm 78 years old. I fought for my country in World War II. And now they're going to take me to court and evict me for having one extra cat?'' said Stanley Green, who has refused to give up Pebbles and Velvet, the two tortoise-colored cats he and his wife adopted after their last two cats died of cancer. ``This is ridiculous.''
Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin could not be reached yesterday for comment. But according to figures the agency provided to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, tenants of 46 of the 197 state-subsidized family units have applied to keep pets they own. Eight of them have received permission.
The MSPCA understands the reason for the policy change: a series of high-profile attacks across the nation that have resulted in serious injuries, and opened owners and landlords up to potential lawsuits.
But basing a policy on weight instead of behavior, MSPCA officials say, will only force out harmless pets and allow some smaller ones with behavior problems to remain.
After reading this, I cursed out the bureaucrats loudly and long in front of the computer, then raced down to tell my husband and son about this article. We covered the dog's ears so he wouldn't get upset. But we were upset. How dare they, the #&*% wretches, demand that low-income folks choose between affordable housing and their pets? This is so patently ridiculous that one can only hope that media attention makes the perpetrators back down quickly.
John Leo implies that bloggers have taken over the task of the now defunct SmarterTimes.com, which subjected the Old Gray Lady to acute analysis and correction. The New York Times used to be a great paper. Still it is such an influential one that no one can ignore it, but woe to your brain if you accept it uncritically.
The son, the dog, and I spent yesterday pleasantly at my aunt's lakehouse in Michigan. She is ten years older than my father and had a dozen children, the youngest of which is my age. I admire her more than any other woman I know. Both she and my uncle finished only high school, married directly thereafter, and raised the 12 children on one income. As my aunt tells me, "You have to remember that taxes were only 3-4% at that time. You kids can't manage now like we did."
They did well, and in their 70s they literally travel the world. Next month they leave for yet another world cruise, this one for 46 days to WWII sites, including Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and they finish in Beijing, where they'll meet their grandson who is teaching English to Chinese policemen. My uncle is a WWII vet; he fudged about his age to enlist and served on a PT boat in the South Pacific. He never talks about the war. I wonder if this is his way of coming to grips with those experiences 60 years ago. I would never have asked him this, even if he had been there; he and his sons and grandsons were up in Canada for their annual fishing trip.
The son and the dog had a marvelous time. Since they were on private property, there were no ridiculous "No dogs on beach" signs posted. Those of you from my generation might remember those Snoopy cartoons of the 1970s in which Snoopy moved from place to place, only to be greeted with "No Dogs Allowed," always sung in a lugubrious tone. That little piece of pop culture always runs through my head every time I see those signs.
Because he was allowed on the beach, this was the first chance the pup had to swim in really deep water. My son jumped off the dock and called to the dog, who stood there uncertainly. He raced back and forth, jumped from one dock to the other, and finally decided to take the plunge, his desire to be with his boy overwhelming his fear. They spent the rest of the afternoon swimming happily together along with a cousin who had kayaked over from his beachhouse.
My aunt and I spent the day talking family, past, present, and future. We talked about genealogy, always a favorite topic in our huge extended family. We talked about recent graduates, the new babies coming, what everyone is doing. My aunt is an amateur theologian as well, and I was amused that she had made up a list of questions to ask me, none of which I could answer.
"You've got to realize we don't talk about things like this in my theology program!" I exclaimed after being regaled with questions like "Was the devil expelled from heaven because he was jealous of God's creation of humanity?" and "Do you think we'll know everything all at once when we get to heaven?"
"Well whyever not?" she protested.
And, like always, she loaded us up with fresh produce and home-canned pickles and apple butter and homemade sweet rolls when we left. What a wonderful lady.
This article of liberal faith--that conservatism is not just wrong but angry, mean and, well, bad--produces one paradox after another. Thus the online magazine Slate devoted an article to attempt to explain the ``two faces'' of Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal. The puzzle is how a conservative could have such a ``winning cocktail-party personality and talk-show cordiality.'' Gigot, it turns out, is ``Janus-faced'': regular guy--``plays basketball with working reporters''--yet conservative! ``By day he wrote acid editorials ... by night he polished his civilized banter (on TV).''
A classic of the genre--liberal amazement when it finds conservatism coexisting with human decency in whatever form--is The New York Times news story speaking with unintended candor about bioethicist Leon Kass: ``Critics of Dr. Kass' views call him a neoconservative thinker. ... But critics and admirers alike describe him as thoughtful and dignified.''
But? Neoconservative but thoughtful and dignified. A sighting: rare, oxymoronic, newsworthy.
Archeologists this week began searching for caves that may contain additional Dead Sea Scrolls, using sophisticated hi-tech equipment that explores under the surface of the Judean Desert. All the known Dead Sea Scrolls have been published.
Dr. Magen Broshi, director of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the repository for the scrolls, said yesterday that he is heading a team using ground-penetrating radar in the Qumran area at the northwestern end of the Dead Sea to see if there are undiscovered caves which might hold more scrolls.
A great man has died: Aleksandr Ginzburg, the poet and dissident in the Soviet Union. Famously, he was asked at one of his trials where he was born: “The Gulag Archipelago,” he said. He was asked his nationality: “Zek” (prisoner).
But what I didn’t know, before reading his obit, was that he, a Russian Orthodox, “adopted his mother’s Jewish family name as a young man to protest Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaigns.” That took my breath away.
Can one imagine oneself doing that? In that environment?
CAMBRIDGE, MA—Jon Rosenblatt, 27, a Harvard University English graduate student specializing in modern and postmodern critical theory, deconstructed the take-out menu of a local Mexican restaurant "out of sheer force of habit" Monday.
"What's wrong with me?" Rosenblatt asked fellow graduate student Amanda Kiefer following the incident. "Am I completely losing my mind? I just wanted to order some food from Burrito Bandito. Next thing I know, I'm analyzing the menu's content as a text, or 'text,' subjecting it to a rigorous critical reevaluation informed by Derrida, De Man, etc., as a construct, or 'construct,' made up of multi-varied and, in fact, often self-contradictory messages, or 'meanings,' derived from the cultural signifiers evoked by the menu, or 'menu,' and the resultant assumptions within not only the mind of the menu's 'authors' and 'readers,' but also within the larger context of our current postmodern media environment. Man, I've got to finish my dissertation before I end up in a rubber room."
A New York City lawyer has filed suit against the four big fast-food corporations, saying their fatty foods are responsible for his client’s obesity and related health problems.
Samuel Hirsch filed his lawsuit Wednesday at a New York state court in the Bronx, alleging that McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC Corporation are irresponsible and deceptive in the posting of their nutritional information, that they need to offer healthier options on their menus, and that they create a de facto addiction in their consumers, particularly the poor and children.
This blog has mentioned the American women held captive in Saudi Arabia more than once. If you're in the DC area, please take note of this from WSJ Opinion Journal Online:
Just a reminder that tomorrow is the demonstration in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington to demand freedom for Amjad Radwan, an American citizen whom the Saudis are holding captive with the compliance of the U.S. State Department (we first noted it Friday). Here's the vital information:
When: 10 a.m. Thursday, July 25
Where: Saudi Embassy, 601 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, between the Watergate and Kennedy Center
For more information: Call Rep. Frank Wolf's office, 202-225-5136.
Mary Beth Bonacci gives us the stats that support yet another reason to start shouting when we hear that people are handing out condoms to "protect" youngsters (or anyone else):
So now the UN figured out that condoms don't work? Could this possibly come as any surprise? Just last year, the government released a major study, involving the NIH, the HHS, the CDC and every other government agency with "health" in its mission, which found that the condom does NOTHING to prevent 98% of all heterosexually transmitted STDs. Nothing. And yet, everyone keeps promoting them. when the study came out, one die-hard condom promoter (I think he was with Planned Parenthood) said that the results shouldn't be released, because if they were, "people might stop using condoms."
Remember the scene from the movie "Casablanca" when, after the crowd at Rick's sings La Marseillaise, drowning out the German national anthem, the Nazis force Captain Renault to find a pretense to shut down the bar? Renault exclaims,
"I'm shocked, shocked, to find that there is gambling at this establishment!"
At that moment another character approaches him with handfuls of money, saying,
"Your winnings, sir."
This is what came to mind when I heard that Sen. Tom Daschle quietly slipped into a spending bill language exempting his home state of South Dakota from environmental regulations and lawsuits, in order to allow logging in an effort to prevent forest fires.
Yep. And exempting your state gets you re-elected, doesn't it, Mr. Daschle?
It's really hard to work when my son is practicing his trumpet and the dog is howling--simultaneously. Summertime, and I can't go into my office much. But would I trade either of them for continuous peace and quiet? Never, ever, ever.
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, back to the article on the Mesopotamian and Jewish backgrounds of the concept of seven heavens.
The new archbishop has an interesting mix of views, if one may trust the article:
"If there is one thing I long for above all else, it is that the years to come may see Christianity in this country able again to capture the imagination of our culture, to draw the strongest energies of our thinking and feeling," Williams said at a news conference after his appointment was announced.
Williams, 52, has been praised in some church quarters as an orthodox Christian and a deep thinker. Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town, describes Williams as "the leading theologian in our communion." But some conservatives have been alarmed that he admitted ordaining a priest whom he suspected of living in a homosexual relationship.
Williams, who was in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11 as terrorist strikes brought down the World Trade Center, has criticized the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and has condemned sanctions against Iraq and the American threats of military action against Saddam Hussein.
Williams takes the helm of a Church of England which is suffering a steep long-term decline in attendance and increasing pressure on its financial resources. He has advocated "disestablishment" — ending the church's privileged position as England's legally established church, whose supreme governor is the monarch.
Nice new blog from Joshua Jericho, Little Latin, Less Greek. Jericho is an English A.B.D. who often writes about theology; I'm a theology A.B.D. who often writes about English. How true it is that it's not work if you don't have to do it!
For two years, the Rev. Volodymyr Dolganyuk lived in the small, spartan room at a monastery here studying the word of God. For two years, he had no idea that just beneath his feet lay the work of unspeakable evil.
Then one day someone decided to unseal the basement of the 17th-century building and came across a few bones. And then some more. And still more. By the time all the rubble and sand had been cleared out of the catacombs, the remains of 225 people had been unearthed -- not those of ancient ancestors, but of fathers and mothers and siblings of today's Ukrainians, probably victims of a wave of killing by Soviet secret police after World War II.
A Christian group is going to federal court to force the University of North Carolina from requiring its incoming freshmen to read a book about the Koran.
The university requirement is "putting a positive face on what many people believe to be an evil religion, a very evil religion," said Joe Glover, president of the Family Policy Network.
The book flap began when the university announced all 3,500 Chapel Hill freshmen in the Class of 2006 would be reading Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations. The book translates and discusses the earliest 35 suras, the first words Muslims believe God revealed to the prophet Mohammed.
"This was a book chosen in the wake of Sept. 11," UNC Chancellor James Moeser said in a late May interview with Foxnews.com. "A fifth of the world’s population subscribes to the Islamic religion, and yet it’s not a well-understood religion. This is a great opportunity to have a conversation on the teachings of one of the world’s great religions, how it’s been used or misused, whether it’s a religion of peace or not."
Catholics who believe in women's ordination, giving priests a choice in remaining celibate, who condone the use of birth control and celebrate gay marriages are all converging in Toronto for the Alternative World Youth Day.
Tobias Rachke, a 23-year-old student from Berlin, said he wants to share ideas with other young people who love Jesus but don't accept many of the church's social teachings.
"It is a very moving thing for us to be in Toronto. To see all the youth and to hear their ideas, it is encouraging," Rachke said.
"We will be with them, handing out leaflets and condoms and asking them what they want the church to be."
Milton Chan, coordinator of the organization, says members of the group were removed by police.
"We want to know if police were asked by World Youth Day organizers or other Catholic authorities to intimidate and suppress voices that seek open dialogue on issues that the Catholic Church refuses to address," said Chan, who feels an obligation to reach out to pilgrims.
"I feel that God is calling me, I feel something burning in me to speak out against injustice and what is blatantly hypocritical."
He said the condoms he will hand out have both practical and symbolic value. Chan wants the young people to ponder how responsible it is to brand condoms -- which protect people against AIDS and unwanted pregnancy -- a sin.
"In reality, there are (hundreds of thousands of) kids coming together. There will be people having sex whether John Paul likes it or not. We want them to be protected."
Why do people like Milton Chan think that young people are no better than dogs in heat? Where does he think he is, Woodstock? There's no doubt that the sexual abuse crisis has emboldened such jerks, and unfortunately this is one of the least egregious natural consequences of the crisis. But that fact makes articles like this no less enfuriating to read.
Clarifying note: My argument is not with married couples who question the church's teaching on artificial means of birth control. In a nutshell, I think that both sides of that debate, the church and the dissenting married couples, have profoundly important points to make that are not necessarily irreconcilable. My argument is with people who strew condoms by the handful to teens so they can fornicate. Yes, fornicate. An ugly word for an ugly deed that can have some nasty, ugly consequences.
The museum easily succeeds in meeting its professed goals. For those fascinated with gaining a peek at the tools employed by spies, it is a virtual lodestar. The museum contains over 200 of the tools employed by master spies, from secret cameras, bugs, and weapons — the poisoned umbrella tip used by Bulgarian intelligence to kill an exiled dissident in London — secret compartments in aerosol shaving-cream containers, — the shoe heel worn by a Western diplomat in the Soviet Union, which the KGB had fitted with a transmitter to record his every conversation. We even are shown an unsightly and unassuming dog turd that lay in a city street — but which contained a microphone for secretly recording street conversations.
As many as 360 families, all low-income and many headed by former welfare recipients, could lose government- subsidized child care in coming weeks because providers say they won't be able to staff their centers if forced to pay the city's so-called living wage.
Boston requires city contractors to pay a minimum of $10.54 an hour, more than twice the federal minimum wage of $5.15. The providers say they can't afford to pay the wage and have appealed to the city for an exemption. A ruling is expected shortly.
The Bush administration will not pay $34 million it earmarked for U.N. family planning programs overseas, an initiative aimed at controlling population but one that conservative groups charge tolerates abortions and forced sterilizations in China.
As an undergraduate English major, I had to take the obligatory women's writers course, which was surprisingly quite good, including as it did Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Flannery O'Connor, Katherine Mansfield, Tillie Olsen, etc. But the course came with a free subscription to Ms. Magazine, and like a little twit, I swallowed everything in it whole in great hungry gulps. (As my son reminds me whenever I use the word, a "twit" is a pregnant goldfish, so there's actually a subtle metaphor running throughout that last sentence. Just thought you might like to know in case you missed it.)
Phyllis Schlafly was the devil personified to the Ms. crowd, and I accepted its judgment until sometime in the early '90s when I began a slow shift toward conservatism and had to reevaluate, painfully, the ideas I had swallowed without so much as chewing or tasting them. For instance: Schlafly was right about the ERA! Unbelievable!
Coulter's encomium gives a great deal of information about Schlafly, but she doesn't mention one important contribution: Schlafly's encouragement to education, chiefly in her books urging parents to teach their children to read before they entered school. Those materials helped our family in the early years.
We still don't have any rain here. The front page story in the local paper today is "Farmers pray for big rain so they don't lose corn crops". As the granddaughter, niece, and cousin of midwestern farmers, I feel their anxiety. The clouds have gathered and threatened rain a few times, but they've dropped none.
We had a sunny afternoon today to watch "ShakesScenes" on campus outside by the Vietnam memorial fountain. Students from city high schools, the junior college, and the local theater group presented scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, As You Like It, and others for three hours. The best was the Midsummer Night's Dream, which was played camp-ily and elicited loud roars of approval from the audience.
Next Saturday we're going to the campus' production of The Tempest. I'm pleased to say that my son and I have read the whole play aloud together and greatly enjoyed it. I've been working towards this moment for years. First he watched Wishbone on PBS when he was quite small; then we read Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare; he has read several historical novels based on the performances of the plays (The Shakespeare Stealer and Shakespeare's Scribe, if you want titles); we've gone to several other live performances of Shakespeare and watched productions on video. But even with all this, he would never tolerate reading aloud the actual play itself, as much as I coaxed. This year it finally happened. We sat down to read, and he sat still, and he wanted to read parts aloud (the scenes with Trinculo, Stefano and Caliban were his favorites), and we laughed and puzzled out odd words and phrases and imagined how a director might set forth various scenes. There's no point doing things like this unless the child is having fun; else you destroy the plays for him for life. We did have fun, and we're looking forward to seeing how they stage the play next week.
I hope you've been following Joel Mowbray's righteous crusade against the bureaucrats in the State Department and their, shall we say, laxity, in issuing visas. If you haven't, learn about it at National Review Online.
JESUS WHO?: An Ohio woman who says that a teacher prevented her son from writing about Jesus is suing the Brookfield School District, according to The Herald, a paper in nearby Sharon, Pa. Peggy Koehler says that when her son, whom the suit describes as "educationally challenged," picked Jesus as the person who influenced him most for an essay assignment, his teacher told him that Jesus was not a real person and that he should pick another topic. In addition to asking for $1.5 million in damages, the Herald reports, the suit wants the school district to declare that Jesus is a real person.
It sounds more like the teacher is the one who is "educationally challenged," at least when it comes to history and religion.
Eggheads can be bad guys, too. Fred Bass, owner of the Strand bookstore in Manhattan, said the most popular targets in his store were books on higher mathematics and philosophy, and scholarly religious works. "There's a certain group of intellectuals who feel entitled to their knowledge, and steal for themselves," he said.
It has been a busy week, but it's almost over. My son, who has been chauffeured about town in air-conditioned comfort all week, said at one point,
"I like keeping busy and having a lot to do."
My first thought: the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it? My comment to him: "I can't wait 'til you can drive yourself around, then." My second thought: how in the world could I possibly want him to be driving? From about the age of four to age fifteen child-rearing really is golden: children can communicate their needs and wants fairly effectively, at least more effectively than a toddler can; they're fun to talk to and do things with, and you don't have to worry constantly about their physical safety as you do for a two year old or a driving teen.
We're having thought-provoking conversations in our commuting time. Yesterday he brought up the topic of abortion. A little background: from the time the boy could toddle he has participated in the annual Life Chain in October, usually holding the sign that reads, "Abortion Kills Children." I've had several queasy feelings of discomfort about this activity every year. 1) It looks rather manipulative to include a child in a demonstration of any sort, be it right, left, good, bad, or indifferent. He doesn't have a real choice in it; he just follows his parents. 2) In addition to not having a choice, can he have any understanding of the abortion issue? 3) Related to (2), is it right to explain abortion to him so he does begin to understand the issue?
I chose to introduce him gradually to what abortion is when he was seven or eight. Of course, he was horrified. What child wouldn't be? Interestingly, during the 2000 election, his class, like most others around the country, had a mock election. He told me when he came home that he asked one of his classmates, "How can you vote for a democrat? They support abortion." His classmate didn't know what abortion was, and my son took it upon himself to explain it to him. My emotions about this were mixed. I'm sorry that any child has to know what abortion is, and I would prefer that the parent of my son's friend had brought it it up with her own child. But children are independent individuals, and they discuss many things among themselves, including things we would rather they didn't, like wild ideas about sex. At least abortion is a reality. I'll address the point about Democrats in a minute.
In the car he brought up the main question that gnaws at him: how can a woman condone an abortion, kill her own baby? He's old enough now that I can build on his own life to attempt to answer that question. He has had enough life experience that he understands the desire to evade responsibility for mistakes; to lie, to shrug it off, to try to push it on someone else, to destroy evidence.
"People make mistakes, and then they don't want to face the consequences. All of us feel that way sometimes. When people are scared or afraid of being humiliated, they tend to think kind of selfishly." He easily understood this. All of us who are honest with ourselves can.
Then he brought up Democrats and Republicans and their positions on abortion, which is a part of his wonderment about "how can someone get an abortion, or support an abortion, or make laws allowing abortion?" In the past I had told him that Republicans are pro-life and Democrats pro-abortion, obviously knowing all along that that is a generalization bordering on the egregious. But the boy is just starting to move past the "good guy--bad guy" dichotomy, though if he heard that last statement, he would indignantly protest that he is more nuanced than that (whoops--I'm putting academy-speak in his mouth). In reality, he's just starting to internalize the fact that people are a real mix of good and evil, and that we tend to shift from varying degrees of one to the varying degrees of the other throughout our lives.
So yesterday I brought up the idea of party platforms, and how a person can belong to a political party and yet not agree with everything the party officially promotes.
"There are pro-life Democrats and pro-abortion Republicans, but unfortunately there are more of the latter than the former."
The conversation continued a bit longer, but this is the last thing he said: "It seems that life is just asking 'why' over and over again, isn't it?"
I knew it! I just sent a message to my husband about this with a little "I told you so" note. Wives can do that with impunity about completely inconsequential issues. He has been hearing me talk about the incredible shrinking clothes sizes for so many years now that he finishes the comments before I can.
While staying the same weight/shape for some years, I've seen my clothes tags fall into consumptive decline: 8 --- 6 --- 4 --- 2. I'm afraid I'm going to have to shop in the teen section before too long, and the clothes over there are horrid.
Surely the "dumbing down" of women's sizes has something to do with the "epidemic of obesity" we keep hearing about?
The American Federation of Teachers union has decided that if it can't beat private school vouchers in the ballot box or in the courts, it will ... destroy the schools by undermining what makes them excellent. Sandra Feldman, president of the AFT,
would have private schools accepting vouchers conform to the same "accountability" standards that the public schools increasingly face. She would also force these schools to hire "certified" teachers.
A very good private school in our city has a number of Ph.D.s on staff that are not teacher certified. Who would you rather have teaching your high schooler, an instructor with a Ph.D. in history, English, or theology, or one with an undergraduate degree in education (love of young people being a constant for both)?
"On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained."
The second place winner is even better (or worse) in my opinion:
"The professor looked down at his new young lover, who rested fitfully, lashed as she was with duct tape to the side of his stolen hovercraft, her head lolling gently in the breeze, and as they soared over the buildings of downtown St. Paul to his secret lair he mused that she was much like a sweet ripe juicy peach, except for her not being a fuzzy three-inch sphere produced by a tree with pink blossoms and that she had internal organs and could talk."
celebrates the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the last few years. Ordinary journalism, fiction, departmental memos, etc. are not eligible, nor are parodies: entries must be non-ironic, from serious, published academic journals or books. Deliberate parody cannot be allowed in a field where unintended self-parody is so widespread.
I read things examples of these at least weekly. Actually, I read one similar to the following this morning:
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
The above is why I escape to good fiction, not Gary Wills, in my free reading time.
It looks to be a busy week. My son is attending two mini-courses at the university ("Groovy Grammar" and "An Exploration of Tolkien's Middle Earth," if you care to know). To make life even more interesting, he finishes up tennis lessons this week, so we're zipping over to another state in between the two mini-courses. Even the dog has his activities. He won his first major show this past weekend in Cleveland, and I have to drive hours and hours to retrieve him. We like to stay busy, but this is ridiculous and more than a bit unusual. I probably won't be blogging much.
You might want to click over to Steve Mattson, who posted a really intriguing reflection on the connections between Catholic hyper-intellectualism and Protestant fundamentalism.
Eve Tushnet, while protesting that she is a (budding) journalist and not a biblical scholar, nonetheless makes some cogent points on Christianity and pacifism.
After September 2003, the College Board will no longer flag the disabled students' scores, a practice that advocates for the disabled have long denounced as stigmatizing and discriminatory. Without the notations, colleges will now have no way of knowing if an applicant took the test under normal conditions, or used a computer, worked in a separate quiet room, and had four and a half hours for the three-hour test.
High school guidance counselors said the elimination of flagging could set off a wave of new applications for accommodations, including some from students without real disabilities.
"And it's further complicated by the fact that the SAT is introducing a new writing component, so I'm already getting strings of e-mails from guidance counselors who expect a big surge of accommodation requests from kids who have bad handwriting, dysgraphia."
I wondered when someone would publish an opinion like this. Knowing nothing of this field, I still hypothesize that it resembles archaeology, where a researcher's identification of a find often says more about the researcher than about the find--a sort of ancient Rorschach test.
We chortle in our joy over this unbelievably beautiful day. It's warm but not hot, neither humid nor dry, and the sky is a deep blue. It is a paragon of days. Therefore I will not blog until later this evening, although as usual there is much to say.
I hope that, wherever you are, your day is just as good.
Yesterday's news, and you've probably already read it, but in case you haven't, here it is:
"The main thrust of this case is not my daughter, it's me," says Michael Newdow, the man who initiated the suit that led to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling against the Pledge of Allegiance.
What a sad story. Newdow has never married the mother of his daughter, of whom he is attempting to gain custody. The man sounds like an almost certifiable nutcase, and the person who has been, is, and will continue to be injured is the girl, but not by the Pledge of Allegiance. By her father.
Clearly, Bush, in wrapping religious cloaks around the presidency, has a goal that is alien to what the founders of our nation had in mind.
Has he missed the fact that the former Taliban rulers and the al-Qaida terrorists have used fundamentalist religion as the fuel for their brutal political ends? Lest anyone forget, millions of people fled to America, long before it became a nation, to escape religious oppression.
Given Bush's track record, it is reasonable to assume that he will try to tinker with other long-standing traditions upholding the separation of church and state. He reads the Bible every day for divine guidance. I wish he would also find time to read the U.S. Constitution once in a while.
See comments below by Peter Steinfels, Peter Berkowitz, and Philip Hamburger that give us real facts, not misguided opinion, on separation of church and state.
A lawsuit filed yesterday against the Archdiocese of Louisville alleges that Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly ''lied'' two years ago when he testified that he didn't recall any prior lawsuits against the Rev. Louis Miller.
In what may be the first sexabuse complaint in the nation to accuse a bishop of perjury, Miller's niece, Mary C. Miller, charged that Kelly's March 2000 deposition in a lawsuit that she had filed against her uncle the year before amounted to an act of ''deceit and fraud.''
Amy Welborn offers a long and balanced, on the whole, reflection on and critique of Gary Wills' Why I Am a Catholic and Papal Sin. I have read neither. When I'm not engaging in academic reading, I read for enjoyment, and I knew from many reviews of those books that they would not be enjoyable. If you have read Wills and either like or dislike his work, I urge you click over to Welborn and see what she has to say.
What I want to comment on briefly are Welborn's reflections on intellectualism and faith. She addressed her remarks strictly to her perception of the mix of the two in the person of Gary Wills, but I would like to expand on the topic.
Academia at the Ph.D. level can suck all the life out of one's faith if one allows it.
They'll hurt you, and desert you
They'll take your soul if you let them
Oh, now but don't you let them
This blog is part of my struggle to keep my soul and not let "them" take it. Actually, there is no conspiracy; there is no "them." Most professors in my Ph.D. program have been wonderful, supportive, faith-filled souls. Some are active Protestant ministers of various denominations. Others are faithful Catholic priests. Some have been orthodox Jews. (Unfortunately, I've never had a Muslim professor, though I have had Muslim friends.) It's the process itself that steals one's soul. I have a hard time reading the Bible devotionally now, after x number of years dissecting it. As I wrote in one of the first posts here, the Bible becomes T.S. Eliot's "patient etherised upon a table."
A Ph.D. program is a completely different animal than a Master's program. A Master's program draws a more diverse crowd, people who are interested primarily in active ministry as well as in academic study. A Ph.D. program generally demands enormously more than a Master's in terms of the depth and breadth of the work, the languages required, the time. As one of my professors says, it changes you and makes you a different person. You are enculturated, professionalized, transformed into the image of an academician, with all the goods and evils inate in such a creature.
I've shared this transformation and my misgivings about it most deeply with a particular friend, and whenever we meet, about once a year, she always asks, "How is your faith life?" It's always a welcome and challenging question.
I turn to the lives of the saints, who never let me down, most importantly lately, Mother Theresa (yes, technically she's not a saint, but let that go). Love and humility: these are why I must return to Mother. I also continually reread The Imitation of Christ, which C. S. Lewis once somewhere called "an astringent." One of the Imitation's opening lines is "I would rather have compunction than know how to define it," and little goads against intellectualism like this are scattered throughout the rest of the book.
Another wonderful antidote to intellectual pride is the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (and mothers, of which there are a few: Sarah, Syncletia, maybe a few others I can't remember now). Benedicta Ward's alphabetical collection is the best one that's easily accessible, but I first encountered the Sayings in Thomas Merton's slim volume. We were required to read them in a 400 level course entitled simply "Prayer." The professor who taught the course was a Catholic priest, a deeply profound intellect, a basketball player, a stand-up comedian, a deep lover of students, and he spent all of his spare time counseling the hundreds of students who sought his advice and spiritual direction every week. I will never forget his saying that it's the little old ladies who attend daily Mass who are the best theologians. I went into this field because I wanted to be like him. When I taught my first course, I made sure to use the Desert Fathers.
Note: upon seeing this in print, it struck me how much verbiage is devoted to reading. It's rather ironic, isn't it, that even in the struggle against intellectualism, a student's first line of defense is books. There's also conversation and especially service to the world, beginning with one's own family and parish. Funny how these didn't come immediately to mind.
My son is a little myth-monger. He loves Greek/Roman and Norse mythology and has read many different retellings of them. As he tired of these, he moved to science fiction/fantasy. After a while he began to exhaust the quality literature in this genre as well (he's read Narnia, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the first few books of the Dune series, as well as L'Engle). So I thought I would offer him Beowulf. We got Seamus Heaney's stunning translation, read by Himself, the Nobel Prize winning poet, on CD. My son absolutely loved it.
Now, however, we have a little joke going. Beowulf is a Geat, but my son likes to change it to "geek."
"I am Beowulf of the tribe of the Geeks."
"I am from Geekland."
"I am a Geek, and I am here to save you."
"You are a prince among Geeks."
We construct as many variations on this theme as we can and laugh until we cry.
If anyone has recommendations on good mythology/fantasy/science fiction for a gently-reared pre-teen, I would love to hear them.
1) Recounted is the story of the philosopher Bertrand Russell's talk originally titled ''Words and Things''; when this subject was frowned upon as unsuitably plebeian, Russell retitled it ''Linguistic Correlates of Epistemological Constructs,'' and his elitist audience lapped it up.
2) An offbeat treat for language mavens and bibliophiles is ''In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture'' -- and how it begat interminable subtitles -- by Alister McGrath (Anchor, $15, paperback). In the 1631 edition of this 1611 work, Exodus 20:14 had a small typo in it: the commandment read, ''Thou shalt commit adultery.'' The printers were fined severely for leaving out the not, and the edition became known as ''the Wicked Bible.'' It has long sold at a premium.
Frank Gibbons has some good comments on Christian/Catholic films in his new blog. I particularly enjoyed reading the quote from Frank Peretti on "terrible Christian movies." Gibbons is probably correct in his analysis that Peretti must be talking about Bible camp movies. As a teen I attended many non-denom Bible camps and suffered through too many of these scare-flicks, staging my first "boycott" when I refused to watch the one where martyrs' heads are cut off. Then there was the one where the girl converts the entire football team, and the last shot in the movie is the glare of a semi's headlights as it is about to pulverize a whole van of the Christians head-on in their lane. I can't believe I remember these things. Of course, Catholics can be just as bad, but we tend to that particular form of badness in our stories rather than in our movies. I've always had a visceral (pun intended) dislike of the sacred heart cult. I hope that doesn't offend anyone who has a devotion to it. I just don't like blood and gore. The sacred heart devotion must help many people, or else it wouldn't continue. But it's not for me, the person who has never watched even a single horror film.
In the District of Columbia thousands of students are in need of high-quality educational options. Since 1997 charter schools have been providing some choice for those families lucky enough to get a spot for their child. Charter schools are public schools started by interested parents, teachers and community leaders, who in exchange for freedom from burdensome regulations, agree to be held to rigorous accountability standards. These innovative schools are now serving 14 percent of the District's schoolchildren -- and the waiting lists continue to grow.
But charter schools face a severe shortage of facilities, one that could be easily remedied if the mayor's office would free a handful of the 30 surplus public school buildings in the city's inventory. The District's public school hierarchy could also help mitigate this facilities crisis, but it says it can't part with any of its space.
The thousands of families clamoring for better educational opportunities for their children in our nation's capital need an immediate solution. That is why we are introducing the D.C. Student Opportunity Scholarship Act of 2002 in both houses of Congress. This bill will provide scholarships to some of the District's poorest students to enable them to select the public or private school of their choice from participating schools in the District and the surrounding areas. This program, like the Cleveland program upheld by the Supreme Court, would allow families to choose from a wide variety of providers, including religious schools.
This legislation was approved by Congress in 1998 but promptly vetoed by President Clinton. Back in 1998, more than a thousand D.C. families expressed interest in this type of program, and several hundred more came to the Capitol recently on a sweltering day to show their continued desire for scholarships. We think the time has come to respond to the pleas of these families and give their children the same opportunity that those of us with greater means already have -- the chance for a good education.
Interesting. Someone from Wolfram.com, as in Steve Wolfram, who wrote A New Kind of Science, has visited this site. I wondered if we would get a hit from them, since we've mentioned the book several times.
Two House members have asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the National Education Association's political campaign expenditures.
Republican Reps. Charlie Norwood of Georgia and John Culberson of Texas sent a letter last week to the IRS's commissioners demanding they look into whether the nation's largest teacher's union uses its general treasury funds — instead of its political action committee (PAC) fund — to support political campaigns.
Why don't they give to pro-life groups so that they have more students and thus more jobs for their members?
Lately, analysis of the Nazi era and the Holocaust has once again intensified worldwide. But the confrontation with Communism and the gulag still lags behind. There are psychological, ideological and also tangible political reasons for this. The example of Romania shows that, even in the East European countries most strongly affected, there is still powerful resistance against facing up to the phenomenon.
This from the Religious Studies News/Society of Biblical Literature edition, July 2002. I copy it in whole because I don't think non-members can get there through this link.
Karen H. Jobes:
"Getting it right" in Bible translation is important because these texts are the most important that humanity will ever read. But one of the challenges of Bible translation is defining what "getting it right" means.
I serve on the Committee for Bible Translation (CBT) that is completing Today's New International Version (TNIV), a revision of the NIV. I have also served as a translator for the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS). Translating both the Hebrew text and the Greek Septuagint text into English offers an interesting perspective, for the ancient Greek translators faced many of the same issues as modern Bible translators. The Septuagint translators worked under the influence of the particular historical moment in which they lived. How they handled their text invites reflection on how modern English translations are also products of our own times.
Bible translators stand at the intersection of the biblical world and their own, with the task of communicating an ancient text in a contemporary language. The Greek translator of Isaiah provides interesting examples of the issues and problems this task presents. For instance, he sometimes substituted the more familiar names of local Greek deities in place of the long-forgotten names of pagan Semitic deities being denounced. Is it "right" to substitute contemporary terms that would clearly communicate the message to the readers in place of ancient terms and idioms that would be accurate but meaningless? Where do accuracy and clarity meet in "getting it right"? Interestingly, the name of the city-god of Alexandria, a possible location for where Isaiah was translated into Greek, was never chosen as an appropriate substitution for the deity being denounced.
Although this example may seem to be an ancient case of political correctness, after working on the TNIV I realize how near impossible it is for readers to reconstruct the reasons for a given translation decision, much less the motive behind it. Contrary to the appearance of involved principles at play, a particular phrasing might be chosen for the simple reason that it is the easiest to read aloud. Bible translation illustrates that the complexities of text and language resist being reduced to any inviolable set of rules.
Manuscript evidence indicates that more than one Greek translation was produced in the ancient world. The number of English translations available today speaks to the way the Bible is viewed in our culture. I question whether the number of English translations and "niche-Bibles" available today is good for the health and unity of the faith communities that read them. What do the forces that drove this situation imply about a theology of Scripture?
As a Bible translator today, Isaiah's words have never been more reassuring: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isa. 55:10-11, NIV).
Karen H. Jobes, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of New Testament
Walter Harrelson in a different article on the same site offers this little gem:
The slogan attributed to Jehuda ben Ilai still stands: "One who translates literally, lies; one who adds to the text, blasphemes." Translators carry out their perilous assignment between those two poles.
A commentator below calls me an elitist, and self-serving to boot, for my disparaging remark about Maureen Dowd's attempted theologizing:
Maybe we should also leave the study of democracy to political commentators and the political parties.
Does not spiritual truth reveals [sic] itself equally in silence and contemplation as it does in scholarly study?
I think theological truth reveals itself only in silence and contemplation, activities at which saints much more than scholars excel. Mother Theresa is a better theologian in my view than about 90% of the "theologians" working today. Faithful people without theological credentials trump careerist academicians every time. The ideal, at least in the realm of the mind, is a scholar who loves God: an Augustine, a Chrysostom, an Aquinas, a von Balthasar. These luminaries grace the world only once and again, like a Mother Theresa.
Anyone who has read this forum for a while sees that one of its main purposes is an outlet for me, a descent from the "tower" a la Tennyson's Lady of Shalott. I use it as an escape from the often sterile demands of academia and as a tool to work through my questions about spending my life in academia rather than as, say, a full-time pro-life advocate (which might be a more godly way to use one's life). I hope I don't privilege theologians qua theologians, because they don't deserve it.
My argument, rather, is with someone, Maureen Dowd in this case, who as a respected journalist in a highly-regarded venue, the NYT, doesn't bother to get her facts straight. She writes about a complex issue, women's ordination, and makes it appear as if it could be reduced to whether Mary Magdalene was a disciple of Jesus or not. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I wrote a paper for historical Jesus scholar John Meier on this very issue and determined that yes, it is very likely that MM did follow Jesus in the way of a disciple (you can read his own discussion of this in A Marginal Jew vol. 3). Why the gospels did not call her one is a totally different question. But so is women's ordination, which depends not on a strictly biblical argument but rather on a sacramental one, the idea of being in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Catholics believe that sacraments do what they say they do. They are symbols, but they are not "only" symbols: baptism truly gives new life, the eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ, ordination makes a man "another Christ." Our beloved pope has written that the church has no power to ordain women. It simply can't be done, because Jesus became flesh. The reality of the incarnation means that Jesus was truly human as well as truly divine. So if someone is ordained a priest, he takes on the full embodiment of Christ. If I may opine a little: our society at this very peculiar time of its life believes that gender doesn't matter. As the Kinks sang, "girls will be boys and boys will be girls" and increasingly fewer and fewer care. Thus they hate the Church for caring.
I have nothing against Protestants ordaining women for all sorts of roles: ministers, elders, preachers, whatever they want to call them. But Catholics claim something different.
Everyone makes mistakes, and I'm sure I've made my share here. But Maureen Dowd, who writes for money, takes her famous name and her famous paper and abuses both by failing to follow the facts. She hasn't done her homework. Unfortunately, many other NYT reporters have the same failing when it comes to religion--they do not engage in "silence and contemplation" or even good old plain secular fact-checking. I'm sorry TheSmarterTimes.com is no longer in operation. It was the Socratic gadfly to the cocky gray lady.
By the way, I still believe the NYT is indispensable and often has crack reporting. It just did not in this article.
Note: describing Dowd as someone "who writes for money" makes her sound like an ink-stained literary prostitute, which is not at all what I meant. How about "a professional writer" instead.
What famous people, fictionalized, would say the following:
" `You love me as well. I know it!' she added defiantly. . . .
" `Yes, I do love you,' he said. `I love your courage and your integrity, your insights and your quietness, and if I were going to have a life that went in another direction, I would choose you to be beside me on that path. . . .'
" `I don't understand! Why can't you take that path?' "
According to a new novel by Margaret George, these sparring lovers are Mary Magdalene and Jesus.
But wait--there's more! In the words of Maureen Dowd, who wrote this review:
The revisionists argue that, wittingly or unwittingly, the men who run Christianity obliterated Mary Magdalene's role as an influential apostle and reduced her to a metaphor for sexual guilt.
The main confusion was sown in the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great conflated Mary of Magdala — a friend of Jesus who was present at the Crucifixion, who anointed his body for burial and who was the first to see the risen Christ — with Mary of Bethany (Martha and Lazarus's sister) and an unnamed sinful woman in the Gospel of Luke who bathed Jesus' feet.
The question is not merely academic, given the roiling state of the Roman Catholic Church. The church refuses to allow women to be ordained as priests because there were no female apostles. If Mary Magdalene was a woman of hard virtue rather than easy virtue, then the church loses its flimsy justification.
Uh-huh. It's so head-shakingly amusing to watch these NYT-types attempt theological analysis sometimes. (Though the point about the erroneous conflation of M of M with the sinful woman in Luke 7 is correct.)
Peter Berkowitz in an essential article in the Weekly Standard makes the connection between Thomas Jefferson's anticlericalism and his promotion of "a wall of separation between church and state." Berkowitz, like Peter Steinfels below, uses Philip Hamburger's Separation of Church and State as a basis for his argument:
Contrary to Justice Breyer, what Hamburger actually shows is that "the constitutional authority for separation is without historical foundation." In the 18th century, according to Hamburger, the Establishment Clause was thought by most Americans to protect religious liberty by preventing establishment of religion by the federal government, but not to interfere with a variety of common contacts and cooperation between church and state. Indeed, the Constitution's prohibition on the establishment of religion by Congress was seen as consistent with--and a protection of--the establishments of religion that existed at the time in several states. In that context, Jefferson represented a distinctly minority view. He advanced the doctrine of strict separation as an expression of his general anticlericalism, seeking to go beyond the prohibition on national establishments to a ban on contacts and cooperation between church and state.
The doctrine of strict separation picked up steam in the mid-19th century, and reached full speed in the 20th century Establishment Clause cases. Throughout its history, Hamburger emphasizes, the doctrine has been primarily used not to enlarge the sphere of religious liberty, which was the original purpose of the Establishment Clause, but to restrict and subvert the liberty of religious minorities.
Contrary again to Justice Breyer's view, in the 19th and 20th centuries strict separation of church and state was not the principle that restrained intolerance of Catholics. Rather, as Hamburger demonstrates, strict separation was used to advance that intolerance: Protestants with nativist sympathies invoked it to deny aid to Catholic schools, while at the same time they saw it as permitting public aid to public and private schools that taught a generalized Protestantism.
After taking three boys swimming this afternoon, I went to the main branch of our local public library to get The Book of Splendor by Frances Sherwood. The library catalogue said it was checked in, but it wasn't on the new book shelf where it was supposed to be. So I asked the librarian, and she went into the stacks to look for it there. As I waited, browsing other new books, a woman walked up beside me.
The librarian returned, saw the woman next to me and said, "We're looking for your book."
"You're the author?" I asked.
She nodded. "Did you see the review in the New York Times?" "It was really good," I responded.
We did not find the book, and I eagerly await it.
A very quirky random thought: wouldn't it be fun if people could speak in hyperlinks?
"Here's the article you wanted," one could say, while another accessed it with a literally personal wireless network.
As well as being taken up by history, Amis' book is taken up by a theory. Namely, that something in the nature of the Soviet experiment -- unlike the Nazi one -- can make it seem blackly hilarious. For instance, when the 1937 Census Board informed Stalin that the population of the USSR was 163 million as opposed to the expected 170 million, mainly because so many people had been murdered, Stalin had the Census Board shot for "treasonably exerting themselves to diminish the population" -- and thereby diminished the population still further. The Bolsheviks promised paradise and delivered hell. They boasted of massive gains in productivity while the entire country starved. They trumpeted the "freest elections in the world" when there was only one candidate -- and he was a mass murderer. This "gap between words and deeds," Amis believes, is fertile ground for humor, and has allowed the horror of that time to be laughed off in a way the Nazi era could never be.
One knows what he means, but Amis' theory about the "laughter and the 20 million" feels dangerously close to sophistry. To bolster his argument, he quotes from the diary of Lyubov Vasilievna Shaporina, the founder of the Leningrad Puppet Theater ("Quelle blague! I went into the booth, where supposedly I was going to read the ballot and choose my candidate for the Supreme Soviet -- 'choose' means you have a choice. There was just one name, already marked. I burst out laughing uncontrollably, right there in the booth . . .") and concludes that "There â has never been a regime quite like it, not anywhere in the history of the universe. To have its subjects simultaneously quaking with terror, with hypothermia, with hunger -- and with laughter." But this "laughter" sounds more like hysteria to me, and even if it was funny, I bet it was funny about once every 20 years. Take a walk in Plummer Park sometime and check out the older Russians there. Lack of hilarity is engraved in their faces.
It's often impossible to know what movie is appropriate for your child based on ratings. All PG-13 movies are immediately suspect in this household, and the article above supports everything I've felt about that slippery rating. We always use Focus on the Family's movie reviews. If they give it the thumbs up, we know it is clean indeed. The bishops have a movie review site as well, but I think FoF's is more detailed.
By any reasonable assessment, most Jewish students would like to remain typical American collegians, going to class (or not), drinking beer, and cheering for the football team. But these students are liable to be sucked into the drama, in times so fraught. As Hillel's Michael Granoff says, "Only a minority of Jewish students are activists in any sense. Most are really bewildered by anti-Israel or anti-Semitic statements or actions. And they don't have the tools to respond. They may have a gut instinct to defend Israel, but they can't articulate what they feel." Harvard's Prof. Wisse notes that "a lot of these kids are unfairly put on the defensive, lacking the facts to fight back. And yet this generation, like others, in clutch time, will not be allowed to sit on the fence."
When they tip from that fence, it may well be in a rightward direction. Stories of such movement abound, including one from Rabbi Elazar Meisels, a Torah instructor in Michigan. In one of his classes, he says, "the talk got around to anti-Israel media bias, and the most vocal of this bunch — a real liberal — just kept going on the topic." Rabbi Meisels recommended that he take a look at National Review and its website. "And this fellow looks at me incredulously and says, 'That's Bill Buckley! I can't do that!' And I said, 'Why not? They're saying what you're saying, but with more facts and better English.'" The gentleman soon became hooked. Rabbi Meisels admits to enjoying the "discomfiture of liberals" on display before him. "They have such a difficult time trying to justify their past beliefs and trying to maintain them. I've been watching this progression. I've got a group of guys I teach every week. They've been complete liberals, never hearing other arguments, blaming Israel for everything, blaming the settlements — and they're shifting. Conservative ideas and policies are getting a respectful hearing. It's so much easier [for a conservative] to talk to people now."
Who is the Lady of Shalott?Click here and find out. Why do I call myself the Lady of Shalott?
In addition to being a blogger, I'm a wife, mother, and Ph.D. student specializing in scripture and the Graeco-Roman world, and I'm just a little bit pregnant with a dissertation (but we're not going to talk about the dissertation, are we? No!). In hopes of receiving tenure someday at a university as wonderful as the one I now attend, this blogger will remain resolutely anonymous. Nothing like yards of politically incorrect off-the-cuff statements to derail the tenure track. But we'll have lots of fun anyway.