Everything! Everything! Everything!

25 05 2010

Blows my mind how little I know. That is most excellent.

I’m not kidding: However much I wish I knew, mm, everything, that there is so much more out there to discover keeps me keepin’ on.

Consider my medieval Euro-history project: I recently finished Charles Freeman’s The Closing of the Western Mind (which is about the transition from the pagan to the Christian era), and man! what a jumble early Christian history is!

I did know that it took awhile for Christianity to gel as an institutional movement, but thought that after the Council of Nicaea in 325 everything was all sewn up until the Great Schism of 1054, and even then, it wasn’t until Luther and Calvin that the [western] Christian fabric was truly rent.

Only I didn’t know what the Council of Nicaea actually accomplished (something to do with the Trinity, maybe? And that Nicene Creed, right?), didn’t know that very little was settled at Nicaea, that the splits between the Eastern and Western churches were evident within a century of Christ’s death, and never knew, frankly, how the Copts fit into all this.

Well.

I still don’t know, frankly, but slowly, slowly, this is all seeping in.

This is how I learn something new.

My approach  is to read promiscuously, trusting that with enough exposure I’ll be able to piece together a particular phenomenon. And I don’t need to dive into deep scholarship at the outset either; solid popular books (like Freeman’s) give me the chance to train my sights, as well as offer a decent bib I can crib. I do prefer that what I read be, you know, good, but even the junk can sometimes be useful, if only as a kind of astringent for my thoughts.

Anyway, that’s how this political theorist began her work with genetics: Snatching every book with the word ‘gene’ in the title and gulping them down, then more slowly working my way toward what, for my purposes, were the most important (or delectable, to continue the metaphor) platters on the table.

I’m still in the gorge phase of my research, slurping up commentary on how orthodoxy was invented and how intertwined it all was with empire; how faith, political power, and obedience to god and man never quite fit together; how misogyny was built into early belief; how anti-Judaism became anti-semitism; and how time itself was changed.

And that’s just the beginning.

A colleague asked where I was going with all of this. I don’t know, I told him. I know there’s something there, but I don’t yet know what it is.

Now that, my friends, is one of the best feelings in the world.





Waiting for Armageddon

19 05 2010

I do loves me some apocalypse—fictionally.

But actual death and destruction does not make my heart go pitter-pat, unless by ‘pitter-pat’ one means racing-with-anxiety-and-despair-not-joy.

Yeah, I have my moments of ‘fuck ’em all’ and ‘people suck’, but I have no real sense that all humans should perish, or that by large numbers of us perishing the survivors will be redeemed. I don’t think we can be made clean or whole or without all the crap that led us to the apocalypse in the first place. Maybe the survivors would  chomp on one another, a la Cormac McCarthy, or maybe they’d*separate themselves into chosen communities and live-and-let-live; either way, it’s not at all clear to me how this is in any way ‘better’.

(‘*They’, not ‘we’: I have a chronic disease which requires daily treatment; absent that treatment, I die. It’s possible that I could manage to stockpile the thousands of pills necessary to keep me going for years, but I doubt it. The apocalypse will have to go on without me.)

C. and I had a conversation about this the other night, and while I’ll desist saying much about her position beyond noting that she’s more optimistic about post-apoc possibilities than I, I will admit that I was a bit startled by her, mm, cheer.

I am not cheerful about humans, pre- or post-apocalypse. We’re greedy and self-centered and violent and far too willing to use one another for our ends. Sure, we have our good qualities—I happen to like that we figured out how to make wine, chocolate, and a comfy pair of slippers—but we’re not all that.

We are, however, all that we have.

Now, the godly among us might disagree, but except for the  world-hating of the god-believers, most of  the faithful admit there can be joy in the world.

In any case, this is our world: beat-up and weird and so, so complicated and ours. This world is ours, and we are who we are in this world. If this world ends, so do we.

And I think that would be a damned shame—again, not because we’re so great, but because we’re not, because we don’t have to be, because we can be beat-up and weird and so, so complicated. I’m pissed that we’re fucking our world over because in so doing we’re making it increasingly difficult to find out just how we can be human in the world. The possibilities we’re foreclosing. . . .

There are some among us, of course, who do revel in the foreclosure. Some may be secular (extremist environmentalists, for example), but it’s that minority of the godly who look forward to the end-times who grab the bulk of the attention.

Which brings us, belatedly, to Waiting for Armageddon. This short documentary, now streaming on Netflix, follows a group of dispensationalists who are straining at the confines of the world and looking forward to its end—an end which begins in Jerusalem.

It’s basic Bible-prophecy stuff: The in-gathering of the Jews in Israel is foretold in scripture, as is the rebuilding of the Temple, one-world government headed by the anti-Christ (and, for some pre-tribulationists, the early return of Christ), the rapture of the faithful, the tribulation (think ‘great wailing and gnashing of teeth’, ‘four horsemen’, etc.), and the millennial reign of Christ on earth. One hundred forty-four thousand Jews will convert and be saved, while the rest will perish, (along with almost everyone else), all as a prelude to the great cleansing and the springing forth of heaven on earth.

Great, huh? One guy said it was going to be a lot of ‘fun’. Well, y’know, he said, maybe not fun-fun, seeing as how so many will suffer and die horrible, horrible, deaths, but fun in that I was-right-and-I-get-to-watch kind of way.

Whoo-hoo! Totally not at all like the crowds cheering the lions ripping apart the Christians in the Coliseum.

Some of the folks at least managed to be chagrined at the thought of so much death, and most preferred not to dwell on how exactly the Al-Aqsa mosque and al-Haram ash-Sharif complex will be removed without utterly destroying the site of the putative third Temple—but hey, God will take care of all that.

What matters most of all of that these people are right, and if it takes the destruction of the world to prove them in their right[eous]ness, so be it.

Of course, they’d say it’s not about them, it’s about God, that they’re just following the Word. But they’re so God-damned happy about all of this, so God-damned sure that this is The Way, that it’s difficult not to conclude that this is less about God and more about them.

They don’t like the world, and they want to see it end.

Not coincidentally, those who are younger are less avid for The End. They want to marry and have kids and then maybe the end could come, as one young woman said, ‘When I’m 85,’ i.e., when she would end anyway. She doesn’t despise the world quite enough for it to end before she’s had a chance to enjoy it.

These dispensationalists are a minority even among evangelicals, who are themselves not representative of all of Christianity. The film was too short fully to engage cross-Christian talk on The End, nor even those who believe that we are in End Times and are pained by the prospect of the extermination of billions of people.

Instead, we are left with the smiling faces of those who want to see us all end.





No comment

10 04 2010

From Brian Fisher at the American Family Association’s Focal Point blog:

First, the most compassionate thing we can do for Americans is to bring a halt to the immigration of Muslims into the U.S. This will protect our national security and preserve our national identity, culture, ideals and values. Muslims, by custom and religion, are simply unwilling to integrate into cultures with Western values and it is folly to pretend otherwise. In fact, they remain dedicated to subjecting all of America to sharia law and are working ceaselessly until that day of Islamic imposition comes.

The most compassionate thing we can do for Muslims who have already immigrated here is to help repatriate them back to Muslim countries, where they can live in a culture which shares their values, a place where they can once again be at home, surrounded by people who cherish their deeply held ideals. Why force them to chafe against the freedom, liberty and civil rights we cherish in the West?

In other words, simple Judeo-Christian compassion dictates a restriction and repatriation policy with regard to Muslim immigration into the U.S.

I may need something stronger than ‘No comment’. . . .

h/t: ChristianityToday





Friday poem: Second Space

25 12 2009

I don’t want to cast aspersions, but:

Viruses are evil.

Do I exaggerate? Is it possible that not all viruses, are, in fact, evil? Do I moralize on a subject which has little to do with morality? Could I be taking this cold just a mite too personally?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes again.

Thus the cause (proximate and otherwise) for the lacunae in posting, tho’ there is always, head befogged by cold or not, more to be said.

Saved, then, by the Friday poem: sayings on another’s words.

Today is Christmas, and while I doubt that Jesus was born 2009 years ago on this date—I’m among those who think the early Church bogarted the pagan celebration of solstice for its own purposes—I’m not much bothered by the bad timekeeping.

After all, I’m neither pagan nor Christian, and tend to think of time as a useful construct rather than a moral force: that we may be wrong about times and dates  may cause chagrin scientifically, historically, but philosophically? A mere oops will suffice.

In any case, if Jesus of Nazareth was born, he had to have been born some time, so why not late December or early January (for all you Orthodox readers)?  Jesus-the-Capricorn: why not?

This is all a long prelude to a poem by a poet who is rather more unsettled by God than I am. Blake? Auden? Ah: Czeslaw Milosz.

Milosz, the Polish poet tormented by Polish history, by all the blood and ashes so recently spilled in his land. He struggled with God, with his fellow Poles, with his fellow humans, with himself, breaking beauty against the hard and tumbling facts of existence.

In his early poems Milosz is easier with God, with his nearness and apart-ness; then again, in his early poems Auschwitz had not yet been called forth by the Germans,  was still Oœwiêcim, a small town southwest of Krakow.

This is one of his later poems, overtly yearning for God, in mourning for his absence. If he had been a sign or symbol early on, by the end of the century God was, for Milosz, a bruising reality—one  necessary for mortal life.

So I the unbeliever in search of something more give this space to a believer in the something more. Peace, in all things.

Second Space

How spacious the heavenly halls are!
Approach them on aerial stairs.
Above white clouds, there are the hanging gardens of paradise.

A soul tears itself from the body and soars.
It remembers there is an up.
And there is a down.

Have we really lost faith in that other space?
Have they vanished forever, both Heaven and Hell?

Without unearthly meadows how to meet salvation?
And where will the damned find suitable quarters?

Let us weep, lament the enormity of the loss.
Let us smear our faces with coal, loosen our hair.

Let us implore that it be returned to us,
That second space.





God: Gotta love ‘im!

6 08 2009

Just finished GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

Summary: I believe what I believe. Christianity is true because Christianity is true. Non-Christian perspectives do not make sense from a Christian perspective.

Uh-huh.

Orthodoxy is one of those books oft urged on non-believers as a way of allowing us to make sense of, and perhaps, bring us to, faith. It’s not quite an exercise in apologetics, not least because its argument, such as it is, is less about proclaiming and defending the doctrines of the church than in ridiculing alternative beliefs: His critiques of contemporary thinkers are scattershot, mixing and mashing them up so as to be better able to dismiss them all as incomprehensible, and his discussion of doctrine is almost non-existent.

No, the book seems more a matter of Chesterton explaining himself to himself, a turn-of-the-century version of the Talking Heads lyric Well, how did I get here? As such, it’s a kind of brief theological psychology, with reason dragooned into the role of the therapist.

Read this book if you’re interested in Chesterton, or if you particularly enjoy the alleged wit of reversal, along the lines of ‘you think A is B, but B is A.’ O ho ho! Imagine an entire book of such bon mots:

Descartes said, ‘I think; therefore I am.’ The philosophic evolutionist reverse and negatives the epigram. He says, ‘I am not; therefore I cannot think.’

If the apple hit Newton’s nose, Newton’s nose hit the apple.

If Nietzsche had not ended in imbecility, Nietzscheism would end in imbecility.

And on and on, epigram substituting for argument.

Allow me my own: I came looking for the argument from the man, but found the man in the argument. Alas, biography is not philosophy.

See, that’s not so hard now, is it?

Perhaps I should give the last word to the long-departed Mr. Chesterton (substitute ‘book’ for ‘novel’):

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.





Where was I?

20 11 2008

Fascinatin’ discussion on a number of conservative sites (Douthat at the Atlantic, Rod Dreher at CrunchyCon, Christianity Today mag) on whether Obama (ahem: President-Elect Obama!) is a Christian. Or whether he’s a good Christian. Or Orthodox. Or orthodox.

All this based on a 2004 interview with Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Trib and parts of Dreams of My Father. The key for these commentators is not just what he said, but what he didn’t say. He’s insufficiently Nicene! He’s Arian! He denies the divinity of Christ! He doesn’t know how many angels dance on the head of a pin! (Okay. I made that last one up.)

Goodness. These gents are behaving like jazz fans or vegetarians: if you don’t line up exactly—OUT with you.

For the record: I like jazz and am vegetarian-ish, i.e., I don’t know who the drummer was in that session on Blue Note in 1954, and I occasionally eat fish.

Not very orthodox, I know.

_____

I like to read thoughtful religious and conservative posts, and not (just) in a know-thy-enemy kinda way. I think it’s important to remind myself that ‘the other side’ also contains a fair number of thoughtful people, that I can find good criticism of my own positions, I can learn something about which I know little, and, yeah, that sometimes ‘the other side’ isn’t so far away.

That said, Rod Dreher at CrunchyCon has lost his mind when it comes to Prop 8 and homosexuality. One commentator in response to his hysteria (viz. his header: Gay mob assaults peaceful Christians) put it best: ‘The Russians are coming!’

Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t understand why some folks are upset by Prop 8, and saying mean things to religious proponents.

Doomed. DOOMED!

_____

An article in the New York Times a week or so ago, about the various and too-often violent clashes in India, contained a great line:

One observer (gotta go back and get his name) accused the various sides of engaging in ‘offense mongering’.

Offense mongering. Excellent!

_____

I’ve given up on NaNoWriMo.

I’ll still work on the story—which would never have made it to novel status, anyway—but I’m no longer chasing those 50,000 words.

As I discussed with C., cramming for words doesn’t really work for me, and I’m worried that stuffing in all those unnecessary adverbs and adjectives is wreckin’ ma teknik.

Still, I’m glad to have written what I have, and glad to have participated in this. I wouldn’t have known, otherwise, how this race for words could be so disruptive.

C., however, is bangin’ away, and says that this kind of pressure is just what she needs to kick her in the head. In a good way.

_____

Abortion.

Oh, criminy, I can’t even start. Can’t. do. it.

Let’s just say that women are apparently not to be considered.

_____

I’m an adjunct professor, so should probably blog about the execrable position of adjuncts in academia at some point.

But I have to get up early tomorrow to go teach.

_____

My dad is home, and expected to recover fully.

The docs said he is very, very lucky.