Saturday, April 10, 2010

They Were Asking For It

From the Bishop of Tenerife (Spain):
There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you. . .

My one response, after some thought, is that only a pederast believes there is anything provocative about the actions of a prepubescent boy.

This is truly disgusting.

Is Malcolm McLaren Really Dead?

I ask this question because, by his own admission, McLaren's entire life was dedicated to provoking responses, mostly negative. He set up a fetish shop in fashionable King's Road in London and called it Sex. He tried managing The New York Dolls at their drug-and-booze-fueled nadir. Finally, he organized a group that he felt would achieve the goal of pissing off a whole lot of people, from the royal family to the Labour Government to the music industry, and he called this little band of juvenile delinquents The Sex Pistols. Unfortunately for McLaren, the lead singer was the thoughtful, intelligent, and rage-filled John Lydon, who took the opportunity offered by McLaren to make a name for himself.

McLaren was dedicated to an obscure branch of radical thought known as situationalism. Dedicated to provocative street theater, the situationists thought that spectacle offered the opportunity to present alternatives to the current state of affairs; the opening of a sex shop, promoting a band that challenged the monarchy in the year of the Queen's jubilee, getting this unruly group of hooligans first on UK television where they spouted "rude words", then a record deal with a major label; all of this for McLaren offered two opportunities. First, to make a whole lot of money (although this backfired after the Pistols broke up and lawsuits sprouted like mushrooms on a log); second to live out situationist fantasies of radical performance. It failed here, too, as the Pistols spawned an entire music movement, the results of which continue to influence contemporary music. If you don't believe me, consider that, in 1989, in a concert in Moscow, no less a commercial behemoth than Motley Crue opened their show with "Anarchy in the UK".

McLaren's post-Pistols career was a slide in to striving to reclaim his moment in the sun. He managed, for a time, the bubblegum postpunk band Bow Wow Wow, but ran in to trouble during a photo shoot with the band's underage female lead singer. In the mid-1990's, he got the surviving members of the Sex Pistols to get together for a tour (as Billy Joe of Green Day sang, "I am an Anti Christ; buy some of my merchandise"). And now, he is gone.

Or is he?

An Honest Response To A Polite, Thoughtful Discussion

I was surprised to see that, rather than get deleted, a comment of mine actually received a thoughtful response. I thought that, to be fair and balanced, I would offer my own honest retort.

First, as to Judge Napolitano, I will let readers, ignorant (like me) or informed concerning who this person is and what his views are be based upon the two links. I really can't say whether I would grant him any benefit of the doubt, if for no other reason than the platform he serves, FOXNews.

Second, while I appreciate the kind words in your update - I really do! - I cannot, really, offer any back. The reality is this. The person who posted the original, Eric Ashley, has, for all intents and purposes, retreated behind a flaming wall of ignorance, paranoia, and fear-mongering that is wholly out of proportion to anything currently going on in America. The President's politics are far closer to Carl Levin's than Karl Marx, to be honest. The Affordable Care Act does no "take over" health care; on the contrary, it regulates the health insurance market, allowing access to quality health care for more Americans without disrupting the current insurance industry, except perhaps in terms of their profits. Our system is far closer to that of Switzerland than Great Britain; the Swiss have health care for all with individual mandates and private doctors and insurers. The British have health care for all with doctors as state employees and no private insurance industry.

I was addressing, specifically, the issue of "Obama's Army" (and had the Elvis Costello song, "Oliver's Army" going through my head the whole time), and so I went to the text of the Affordable Care Act and found an uncontroversial, sensible provision for the mobilization of health care workers in times of national emergency. From this modest proposal, Eric spun fantasies of a six thousand person Army doing the bidding of our fearless leader. I cannot, for the life of me, understand this. It is, quite literally, senseless. Listening to Judge Napolitano, by the by, on this particular issue, was of little help precisely because his own fantasies are unrelated to the letter, let alone spirit, of the Affordable Care Act provision in question.

Finally, while it would be wonderful for me to grant a certain benefit of the doubt to you, Eric, I cannot. I have been reading the things you've been writing, both at American Descent and your own site, since the 2008 election, and I have been saddened by what I've read. It is possible to disagree on politics, to think a particular official's positions on issues are wrong-headed, without that person being evil. If you read carefully through all I've written, you would notice, I think, I have been critical of the Obama Administration on all sorts of matters. I was also critical of the Bush Administration. When evidence of crimes - defined for our purposes here as public evidence that a law has been violated, whether or not that determination has been made judicially - arose, I called them that. Since I have yet to read of the Obama Administration wiretapping citizens here at home; having many of their acts overturned by the Supreme Court and declared illegal; or any other controversy, I shall await evidence of actual acts - in other words, facts - before saying anything.

You, and the rest of your cohorts, are not so circumspect. Your fantasies of a Marxist Obama destroying Americas capitalism and religious life are, without putting any subtlety to it, insane. Indeed, much of the Republican opposition to Obama and the Democrats in Congress, while understandable as a political strategy, veers in to territory best suited for fringe characters. I cannot, with any honesty or integrity, be either as polite or circumspect as you, even as you make an honest effort at doing so in this post. You, Eric, and Marshall, and Mark, and Bubba, begin with false premises - that you know with certainty that Obama is an anticonstitutional Marxist; that his protestations to the contrary are lies; that those of us who voted for him and continue to support him (mostly) are either participants in these lies or dupes - and from there wander away from anything resembling reality.

My real problem with all this is simple: during the Bush years, while it is true there were many voices on the left that went quite a bit too far, I do not recall anyone on the left calling for the death of Denny Hastert. At most, many, including myself, thought that both the President and Vice President should be extradited to the Netherlands for trial before the World Court. I still think that, and am quite upset with the Obama folks for not pursuing a serious investigation of the Bush/Cheney years. Since there is ample evidence in the public sphere that crimes were indeed committed, I hardly consider this a controversial position to take.

With Obama, however, there is no resort to facts; no argument based in anything other than some kind of rancid paranoia that is fed by a continual stream of nonsense from sources both known - FOXNews, AM talk radio - and unknown. I would be lying if I discussed the creation of a private army for the current President as if it were something real. It isn't. I cannot treat this as anything other than the warped fantasies of people who have no grasp of what is really going on. In order to keep our public discourse from slipping even further off the rails, I can only say that I refuse to treat the delusions of the ignorant as a serious topic for discussion. Like the "beliefs" of creationists, or the global-warming-deniers, I will not now, nor ever, respond to any comment that seriously offers a view of the Obama Administration as stripping our country of the Constitution.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Be Prepared Takes On Sinister Tones

First it was the Roman Catholic Church. Now, it seems, the Boy Scouts of America have been found out covering up hundreds of cases of sexual depredations by Scoutmasters.

The part of this story that made my jaw drop when I heard it on the way home this morning was the line taken by the attorneys for BSA. Their argument for keeping this guy around was that they were acting under the influence, as it were, of the mores and tenor of the times (in this case, the 1980's). One would think that an organization that has managed to fight against gay Scout leaders for decades might be a little less tone deaf to the idea this smacks of serious idiocy. The guy admitted to molesting 17 boys Think about that.

And the BSA, via their attorneys, said, "Well, he can still volunteer." Because, you see, it was a small town and the boys would be embarrassed and harassed in school if it became public knowledge they had been victimized by this guy.

I hope they have to fork over every last cent.

Packing My Library (UPDATE)

This is inspired by an essay by Walter Benjamin entitled "Unpacking My Library". I do hope the gentleman isn't spinning in his grave.

Yesterday, I packed the first box of books in preparation for our move in late June. It was a mixed bag of books. A Penguin Classics edition of Beyond Good and Evil that I can get rid of; how many copies of Walter Kaufman's translation of that work do I need? A biography of Queen Victoria. Several works by Rudolf Bultmann. Adolf von Harnack's What is Christianity?. Ernst Troeltsch's Religion in History. An overview of the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky. Some of those small volumes from the Loeb Classical Library Series that I am quite sure I will not read but love because of what they are. Lady Chatterley's Lover.

I also set aside a few volumes. A couple slim volumes from Lisa's seminary days. A book on the relationship between Martin Heidegger's philosophy and personal political views that challenges the conventional American view that the two can be separated. A translation from the Ugarit of ancient Canaanite myths and legends.

There is far to go, but what surprised me yesterday was as much the decision of what to keep as the decision of what to discard. There is no rhyme or reason to it. I already mentioned the Loeb books. I am quite sure I am not going to sit and read Sophocles any time soon; I cannot bring myself to part with them. On the other hand, the book on Heidegger, which I read once years ago, might come in handy. One book in particular I am keeping for nothing more than sentimental reasons; it is entitled Forbidden Knowledge, and it covers issues of censorship, what is and is not proper literary fodder. It considers, among other titles, "Billy Budd" by Melville, the works of the Marquis de Sade, and what reading these texts can teach us even as we carefully weigh their moral merits, or lack thereof. I am keeping this particular text for the sole reason that I sat and read it in the hospital while waiting for my wife to go in to serious labor with our older daughter.

As I move through the shelves of books, I am going to be forced to consider whether or not to keep many, many volumes. Compared to my incomplete set of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, the three volumes of Emil Brunner's Christian Dogmatics might stay, or it might go. I have read these three volumes, while I am still putting off finishing the rest of Barth; on the other hand, Barth is far better to read (mostly) than Brunner. If I had to guess, I will dip in to those thick, black volumes from T&T Clark far more than the little paperbacks from John Knox. Yet . . .

And what of owning both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, which both contain copies of the complete Constitution in the back? I have a copy of the collected writings of George Washington that I found so horrible to read - he was quite a self-righteous prig, our first President - that I couldn't finish, and will in all likelihood never crack again. I have several volumes on Watergate; how many versions of that particular event do I need? I have two volumes of the official biography of Winston Churchill; a one-volume bio by his official biographer, Martin Gilbert; the first two volumes of William Manchester's incomplete biography; and the one volume biography by Roy Jeynkins. Do I need all of them? What of my biography of Franco? DeGaulle?

Then there is my philosophy shelves. Volumes by and about everyone from Aristotle to Weissman (I don't own any Zizek; yet). A multi-volume consideration of the thought of William Ockham. Multiple volumes of Ernst Bloch, Plato, Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Nietzsche, Schelling, Fichte, Kant, Hegel, Rousseau, Heidegger . . . I sometimes feel I'm drowning in Teutonic prose. St. Thomas offers a respite, to be sure, and I have quite a few volumes of his works as well. But what about Imre Lakatos' Collected Papers? Interesting, and they have fed my own thinking in many subtle ways. Yet, should I or shouldn't I . . .

In an essay entitled "Unpacking My Library", Walter Benjamin reports a conversation he had with someone who was visiting his home and asked about a particular volume that Benjamin was just then talking about having purchased. Was he, Walter, going to read it? Oh, no, replied Benjamin. Books, for Benjamin, were as much objects d'arte as they were things of practical value.

I cannot afford such a luxurious view; in reality, neither could Benjamin. I have three thick, heavy boxes I picked up at work last night that I am going to fill with books over the weekend. I wonder if I am going to succumb to what I think of as the Benjamin temptation - to view my books as being precious merely for being. Between my wife and myself, we have hundreds of volumes to pack, move, then unpack and arrange, yet again. I do not have any coherent criteria for keeping or discarding this or that volume (Lady Chatterley's Lover? I could part with that, but yet . . .) and as I keep thinking the library just has to get smaller, I wonder if any will develop. Will I be plagued by fits of nostalgia and snobbishness? Will I continue to hold on to Helmut Thieleke's Christian Faith even though the first chapter is a detailed critique of "Death of God" theology that hasn't been in serious vogue for over a generation? His volume on nihilism, sure, but this?

Part of me thinks it would be interesting to just get rid of all of them and start fresh. Could I do that?

Could you?

UPDATE: Why, oh why, am I keeping The Chicago Manual of Style? I think I have issues.

Socialist Leveling

I've been thinking a bit about the commonly-heard complaint that socialism, once implemented, would impoverish the vast majority of the population. Leveling, it seems, is always viewed by critics as something that would act to drag down the vast majority of people. Yet, if one considers real mixed economies in western Europe, they have higher standards of living and lower poverty rates. While there are obvious differences - Britain, for example, is far more stratified a society than Denmark; France has social problems related to immigration from former African colonies and the reaction of the population to them that don't exist in Norway - and the relative smallness and homogeneity of the populations might make a difference, I'm still curious as to how this notion began. Actual socialist countries tend to level up. Why do critic believe that won't, or can't, happen here?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Horrible Stupid People, Part One Million

Henry at Crooked Timber points out Ross Douthat's apologia for the Roman Catholic pederasty cover-up. Like the old chestnut about Satanists across the country breeding babies for sacrifice, Douthat's lie is worth considering in detail. The "culture of permissiveness" to which Douthat refers never existed, except in the minds of those who had no idea that people had sex. Furthermore, Douthat projected this idea of America's fall from sexual grace on to a completely different country. Even further still, he projected this particular bit of crazy back two decades.

What I would like to know is this: Is it possible for a Roman Catholic to stand up and say that, first, the current Pope did indeed know and covered up his own and the entire hierarchy's knowledge of the predations upon Irish boys; further, I would like to know if it is possible to discuss this particular "scandal" as what it actually is - a crime that not only demystifies but really destroys the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Why is it that whenever members of a favorite institution of the right becomes subject of scrutiny for crimes, it is never the fault of those who committed the crimes in question?

Why can't Douthat man up and lay the blame where it belongs - squarely at the feet of Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, ne Pope Benedict XVI?

What a horrible, despicable man he is.

Why Is The Right So Loopy?

After last night's discovery that there are people in this country who actually believe Barack Obama inserted a clause in to the Affordable Care Act providing for the creation of his own private army - as I typed those words my brain was screaming "I can't believe I'm writing this!" - I ran across this post by Matt Yglesias that attempts to address the question in the title of this post. Both his own, and the original by Julian Sanchez of Cato to which he is responding, address bits and pieces of the puzzle.

It is one thing for conservatives to insist they disagree with the President and Congressional Democrats on all sorts of matters, based on their vision of what America should be. Nothing wrong with that; that's part of politics, and it does get heated because all sides root their arguments in a basic love of country, and the desire to do what's best for all of us. For the right, though, there is a fundamental illegitimacy in non-right-wing thought and political action that becomes apparent in the birthers, the accusations of socialism/fascism of the President and Democrats in Congress, the protests over the Nuclear Posture Review, and so on. It is quite literally impossible to have an honest discussion with people who insist that, at some fundamental level, their opponents have no legitimacy as partners in the American project. Rather than talk about the merits, say, of cap-and-trade versus source-taxing; the Affordable Care Act versus the alternative's offered that skirted around subsidizing current insurance industry plane via a general public option, we instead have accusations that all of it is nothing more than pieces of Obama's nefarious plans to destroy our country.

When I discovered last night that some folks actually insist that ACA provides for the creation of Obama's Private Army, I did what anyone with a modem would do. I went and checked the actual language of the ACA and discovered an innocuous provision concerning mobilizing health care workers during an emergency. What convinces me these folks do not consider liberals, Democrats, or the President worthy of any benefit of the doubt is that doing what I did - checking the actual bill versus the insane discussion of the bill by some folks on the right - never even occurred to them. If it did, there is certainly no evidence of it. It is a bit like someone insisting the sky is yellow and refusing to look out the window because even if the sky appears blue, they will manage to point out how illusory that color really is.

Why this is so . . . I'm quite sure race has much to do with it. Race, intellectual laziness, not having developed the habit of checking out claims made by those presented as "authoritative". Yet, there is a gap there. Like those who insist the constitutional provision for the census is actually unconstitutional, there comes a point where you have to throw up your hands and say, "You're freaking nuts!"

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Things That Make Me Say WTF?!? UPDATE

Does anyone, anywhere, have any idea what the hell Eric is talking about?

UPDATE: I did something that Eric Ashley did not do. I went and read the final, passed bill online. The relevant passage reads as follows:
A Ready Reserve Corps within the Commissioned Corps is established for service in times of national emergency. Ready Reserve Corps members may be called to active duty may be called to respond to national emergencies and public health crises and to fill critical public health positions left vacant by members of the Regular Corps who have been called to duty elsewhere.

From this pretty straight-forward and sensible provision allowing for calling up public health officials to assist in crises we suddenly have . . . Obama's private army? I still say, WTF?!?

Wise Words From A Lost Soul

I will admit it up front. I have not read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. I do know that part of Wallace's construction of his brave new world unites the US, Canada, and Mexico into something he calls One North American Nation that is abbreviated ONAN. Anyone who can make a pun like that, and make it look easy, is to be admired.

In his weekly column "Intellectual Affairs", on Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee describes an encounter with some of Wallace's archive at the University of Texas, and a small book that is nothing more than a series of interviews with Wallace as he conducted that horrid grind many writers must endure, the book tour. It seems that Wallace endured this particular interruption of his life with something approaching full consciousness not only of its absurdity, but the way it was actually a part of all he was writing against. The entire piece is a marvelous addition to a growing body of work that attempts to do justice to the contradictory nature of Wallace's life and early death at his own hands.

Unlike, say, Hemingway, whose entire life and work seemed to move, with the gift of hindsight, toward the moment he took the gun and put it in his mouth, Wallace's lifelong battle with depression, his earlier attempts at suicide do not seem presaged in his work. While one could, I suppose, look to passages of personal reflection such as those Scott highlights as a kind of testimonial Wallace is preparing, a statement of his own sense of his place in the great cultural game of which he is a part and toward which he has mixed feelings, I think that is wrong. Or, if not wrong, perhaps being far too reductive.

I was struck - in fact, thunderstruck - by a quote Scott uses to close out his column. For all his intelligence, his genius, Wallace refuses to reserve for himself or any writer a place of honor in our culture.
What writers have is a license and also the freedom to sit – to sit, clench their fists, and make themselves excruciatingly aware of the stuff that we’re mostly aware of only on a certain level. And that if the writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart the reader is. Is to wake the reader up to stuff that the reader’s been aware of all the time. And it’s not a question of the writer having more capacity than the average person. It’s that the writer is willing I think to cut off, cut himself off from certain stuff, and develop ... and just, and think really hard. Which not everybody has the luxury to do. But I gotta tell you, I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mine, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I’m going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person.

For myself, I can only add a humanist "Amen". The best writers do not assume they have some kind of plenary indulgence, but offer what they have in full knowledge that it has all been said before; all they are doing is taking the picture apart and putting it together in a way that makes sense to them. When they do their job right, readers say, "Yeah, that makes sense." Treating your audience like a bunch of morons who should be kowtowing at the feet of their wisdom and insight is a sure way to have one's books end up in the remaindered shelf.

I for one rarely assume my readers or commenters are dumber than I*. "[T]rying to have a conversation" is as good a description of what's going on here as anything. Even novelists are just doing that, and Wallace understood that.

Reading these words, and knowing that the person who said them, who lived them is no longer with us makes me very sad for our collective loss.

*There are exceptions, of course. Those who have proved, through repeated experience, they really aren't that bright I will indeed call out as such. For the most part, though, I assume that anyone reading this is at least as smart as I am, if not a great deal more so.


Here's at least part of what has the right frothing at the mouth over the released Nuclear Posture Review.
[T]he United States is now prepared to strengthen its long-standing "negative security assurance" by declaring that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are part to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

Seriously. This has people on FOXNews and the rest of the right-wing screechosphere declaring that the US is preparing to surrender Cleveland if we are threatened by Venezuela. Or something. Or that, by declaring a "no first use" against non-nuclear states we are somehow signaling we won't ever use nuclear weapons. Or something. To be honest, trying to figure out what they're saying as the spittle flies from their mouths is really difficult. All the document declares is this - if the US finds itself (as it is now) in a conflict with a non-nuclear adversary, we won't use nuclear weapons.

Nothing wrong with that at all.

The reaction from the right, in all honesty, is neither surprising nor even, by a conventional understanding of the word, "news". Since the darkest days of the Cold War, the right has insisted that liberals are soft on military policy, are quite willing to trade our freedoms and sovereignty for not being attacked by nuclear weapons, and that by pledging "no first use" (in this case, only under certain conditions), we are "signaling" to all sorts of potential foes our willingness to see mushroom clouds over Phoenix.

Since none of this is true, and the comments from right-wing critics wholly unrelated to the facts of the matter, rather than sit around and argue with them, it would be far easier to just take the position I am - either deal with the policy as outlined in the NPR or don't be taken seriously.

NPR I - The Link

Before you say a word, read it.

I will delete any comments that discuss things that are either not contained in the Nuclear Posture Review, or that show that the commenter has not read it. Since it is available for anyone to read, read it.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Loss Of Coherence

This post at The New Inquiry got me thinking about our current condition as people poised on the brink of the cultural rejection of much of our inherited tradition of religious belief. This is not to say that "religion" is going to disappear; rather, I believe that America, like western Europe, is poised to become yet another culturally secular place, where the vocabulary of faith is as unintelligible to the vast majority as Urdu. We are already at a loss to explain why religion is important in our public life, repeating platitudes and cliches that bear no resemblance to the complex interplay of personal and collective belief and their existential import.

One way of navigating this particular thorny path might well be, as pointed out in the post, not so much reconciling the irreconcilable, but simply setting aside any desire for coherence, yet refusing the grant "irreconcilability" any intellectual or existential traction. One of the problems we moderns have with religious belief is the notion, repeated ad nauseum, that the choices between belief and non-belief offer us stark contrasts. Yet, if one is willing enough to enter in to the life of faith, to surrender oneself to the demands that belief in God place upon us as individuals and collective members of the Church, it becomes clear all too soon, that these are actually false choices. Facing the incoherence of the world around us, we are called as believers to love it in all its horror and sublime beauty precisely because our God has also loved it enough to sacrifice the glory of deity in order that the world may yet become what it was created to be.

In other words, really seeing the world as a believer, one affirms the essential nihilism that surrounds us all as the way of the world. It becomes the task of the believer to affirm the essential goodness of this sad panoply of madness and joy, sorrow and ecstasy, and to live within it as deeply, as consciously, as possible, without ever allowing it to define our own existence. The lack of coherence that is the source of so much of our contemporary malaise, of which our contemporary loss of understanding of the vocabulary of faith is a presentiment, is a stage that is necessary for the believer. We stand upon the one rock, to quote Jesus, that does not fail, as the floods wash away all the rest around us. It is not up to us to be the rock; it is only our part to declare this rock's existence, and to offer a hand up out of the maelstrom. While not washed away by it, we are as much victims precisely because every body that washes by (to continue the metaphor a bit) cries out to our heart. We cannot, no matter how hard we try, save them all, but should at least rejoice at each instance of this or that individual grasping our hand and being pulled to (relative) safety.

Right now, our society is in the midst of the storm at its fiercest. The churches in their varieties are losing the ability to speak to those around us, to call out so others can understand us, and get a helping hand up. We have allowed a combination of ignorance and sloppy-thinking to become our lingua franca, with the fake notions of left/right, liberal/conservative become our dominant modes of thought and communication. We accept far to readily the (false) modern idea that there is some kind of separation between the "personal" and the "social"; that "religion" is some kind of "personal" area that has no impact upon our social lives. We are stripping ourselves of the ability to be, as we are called to be, the hands and eyes and heart of the God who is declared to be love for this broken world.

The loss of any intellectual or moral or existential coherence, summed up so well by the appeal to nihilism can be affirmed by the Church and believers. What we need, though, is the renewal, or perhaps invention, of a vocabulary that can speak to this reality without allowing it to overwhelm our ability to communicate an alternative from it.

Murder By Helicopter

By now, if you are a reader of this site, you are also aware of the video showing an Apache helicopter in Iraq firing upon what we now know are a couple Reuter's reporters on a rooftop in Iraq, then upon a van that came to attempt assisting them.

I think the title of this post sums up my own view of the events depicted.

The blood on our hands gets thicker and more and more difficult to clean off.

Monday, April 05, 2010

St. Paul, Bishop N. T. Wright, & The Resurrection Of Jesus

So one of the scripture readings at the Easter service yesterday was from 1 Corinthians 15, where St. Paul argues for the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus not only from the evidence of testimony (including his own encounter, recorded in idealized detail in the Book of Acts), but from a kind of inexorable logic. It seems that some of the good Christians of Corinth were teaching that there was to be no general resurrection of the dead; St. Paul chastises them on this by asking a simple question: If there is no resurrection of the dead, how can they preach that Jesus was raised from the dead? He goes off on a riff, insisting that either Jesus was raised from the dead, which proves that the dead shall indeed be raised, or the dead do not raise, in which case Jesus was not raised, and all of the kerygma of the early Church is a lie. He even says, at one point, that if the dead are not raised, then Christian who so believe are even more pitiable than others, because their entire worldview, their entire message, is based upon a lie. All they teach, all they preach, all their work in the world, all their hope for the coming Kingdom of God is a fanciful tale.

I realized with that marvelous insight that comes with time and a tired brain, as that particular passage was read, that N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God is nothing more than 800 or so pages expanding this particular theme. That is to say, while we can certainly discuss the differences and distinctions among a variety of Scripture scholars and theologians on the question, for Wright in this particular work - for all the chapters on the raising of the dead in the thought of antiquity and related cultures of the Levant; of the emergence of the resurrection of the dead in Second Temple Judaism; of the way the early Christian believers took that idea and molded it to suit their needs - in essence, Wright is insisting on the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead as necessary to keep the rest of the Christian message from being understood as nonsensical.

On this point he is exactly right. Even more than the death of Jesus - important as that is - it is his rising from the dead never to die again that clinches our understanding of who we are as a people. Our reverence for his teachings, our collective memory we call Scripture and tradition, our liturgy and worship all melt in to air if we deny the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Yet, my guess is if we were to poll most Christians, across denominations and ideological perspectives, I would think it quite likely most believers today would deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. They would interpret it, in all likelihood, allegorically; in many ways, German Scripture scholar Rudolf Bultmann anticipated this particular way of thinking in his existentialist readings of the New Testament. Going back even further, we can read the Glaubenslehre of Friedrich Schleiermacher as doing much the same thing. Rather than "deny" the resurrection, Schleiermacher and many of his followers in the period of Romantic theology in the 19th century reinterpreted it (see Karl Barth's lectures on 19th century theology, Protestant Thought: From Rousseau to Ritschl, a work praised by no less a scholar than Martin Marty).

For all that Wright insists on the basic reality, the fact of Jesus resurrection from the dead, he skirts many issues, not the least of them being any way to historically verify (or perhaps falsify) the claim. One reason I think this is so is far too much of the scholarly discussion around this very heated question involves an understanding of the subtle distinctions in German theology of the different ways to speak of "history". Rather than get mired in such detail, he takes the path of St. Paul. He discusses The Martyrdom of Polycarp and other pre-Constantinian writings that testify to the intractability of many Christians' belief in the resurrection of Jesus and what it means for them. He garners from this review of so many people being quite willing to refuse, even under torture, to deny the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, that it was for them something real in a way that defies our contemporary attempts to reinterpret it and therefore deny it.

Yet, the question as we emerge from the celebration of Easter Sunday, is pressed upon this writer: Do I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and with that belief in my own resurrection from the dead at the end of time?

I can only give a simple answer to this question: Yes.

If you want proof, I have none to offer other than the efficacy of the Christian faith in my own life. Proof is for people who don't want to believe, as far as I'm concerned. Beyond the simple fact that I do so believe, I can only say that I am edified by many of those who at one and the same time skirt the question of the reality of the resurrection, yet affirm the significance of such belief in the life of the Church. Yet, I think such people - Paul Tillich, the aforementioned Bultmann, my former bishop Joe Sprague - are far too willing to succumb to the modernist temptation; they are willing to trade that most precious gift laid at the feet of the Church, the proclamation of new life in the risen Christ, for far more convoluted discussions of "meaning" that divorce that meaning from any actual event (and, ah, that last word is another freighted by far too much meaning).

If this declaration makes the reader uncomfortable; if it makes my other writings no longer worthy of serious consideration because I am willing to submit myself to this bit of pre-modern thought, then all I can say is, "Oh, well." The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and what it portends not just for me personally - not really the center of my won faith anyway - but for all of creation, makes of my own belief not something that is negotiable. On the contrary, it roots all the other things I believe - my trust in science as an explanation for all sorts of phenomena in the world; my political and social beliefs; my rage at injustice; my hope for the future in the face of all sorts of evidence that it might not be as bright as one could wish - and I find all these confirmed each and everyday in countless ways. I need not justify to those who would reject belief in the resurrection of Jesus why it is so I believe. I make the declaration, and can explain how it functions as a source of hope and life for myself and millions of other believers. Beyond that, well, if you don't like it, all I can say is, "Been nice talking to you." I will affirm the resurrection anyway. Those who rest easy in their modernist pose have many other qualities that I find distasteful, so I am really not interested in their good opinion at any rate.

So, with millions of believers around the world, I say with all seriousness, "He is risen, indeed!"

Music For Your Monday

This is by way of experiment. I am introducing myself to the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I hate to admit it, but I really like them precisely because they sound so much like the kind of stuff we listened to back when I was in college. Nostalgia. Ugh. But, they're really good!


"Heads Will Roll"


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Improving The Social Safety Net

The next big-ticket legislative item is financial services regulatory "reform", which actually should consist of reinstating regulations that used to exist but no longer do. In any event, I would like to suggest a way of framing this issue that might provide some traction with the public, offering a better chance to pass it.

For the most part, both supporters and opponents see this as an issue primarily of economic regulation, which is to say something unrelated to the general health and welfare of society apart from money-making. Yet, if we should have learned any lesson from the collapse of the financial services sector a couple years back, it is that the theory of atomized, free-standing institutions acting on behalf of their most basic self-interest - profit - do not actually understand the most socially acceptable means of achieving those ends. If pursuing the profits within a financial bubble increases profits, then they will do so. The notion that those who did so acted without understanding that the housing market was overinflated in value is, at this point, incomprehensible. I am not by any means one who understands these issues, yet as early as 2007 it was clear to me that real estate values were hyperinflated. Furthermore, I made occasional statements to the effect that far too much credit was already extended on overinflated mortgages, which were in turn treated as assets rather than liabilities. I called it, at one point, a house of cards, needing only a slight breeze to bring it tumbling down. The breeze came, and down it all came.

As Congress gets ready to consider ways to police the financial services industry, it might be important to talk about the entire project less in terms of old-style industrial or economic regulation. Rather, the lesson from our most recent catastrophe should indicate that setting limits to the actions of financial markets; making determinations of what are and are not proper actions for players in the game to make; separating out consumer banking from investment banking (reinstating Glass-Steagall in some manner, fashion or form) - all of these and other steps that should be taken whether they are planned or will be done is another matter . . .) should be discussed as a further extension of the social safety net. These are not "restrictions" on "economic growth" done in the name of envy, or spite, or as a punitive measure that can be removed as the economy improves. Rather, these measure are being proposed as a way of protecting all of us, not least the financial services sector itself, from the dangers inherent in their own propensity for reckless behavior. Setting aside any question of theory, it should be repeated, again and again, that we are living through the empirical refutation of the idea that an industry free of serious oversight and administrative limits on action will act in ways that serve not only its own bottom line, but its most basic self-interest, survival. We are also living through empirical refutation of the notion that we can treat any sector of society as separate in some way from the rest. The collapse of the financial services sector nearly brought the entire US, and the world, economy, to a halt. Any time someone starts to talk in this fashion, just repeat, politely and firmly, that this theory is no longer tenable based on our collective experience.

We seek to regulate and oversee the financial services sector because we wish to protect the entire country from the ill-effects of bad decision making in an unregulated market. Time and again we have experienced that industries tend toward self-destruction, whether in the short- or near-term, and the results have been social calamity. We are seeking to regulate to protect the entire society from the effects of free markets.

He Is Risen!

The Times Change, But The Whine Continues

In what seems to be an emerging theme, I want to point out that I am growing increasingly frustrated not with the Tea Bag Crowd, or the Birthers, or Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck, or Newt Gingrich. These folks all have their varying roles and, to be honest, they all differ in a variety of ways. The first among them, for all they yell a lot, have attracted the attention of the conservative media, and occasionally are confused about their actual message, are still nothing more or less than citizens going about the business of being active participants in our public life. Are they confused about what it is they want? A great deal less so, I think, than liberals, but this is usually the case with the party out of power. Palin and Gingrich are irrelevant; they are celebrities, not serious public figures, famous for having once been in the spotlight but neither will hold an office of public trust again, and neither is held in high public esteem, outside a small coterie of people who find the things they say agreeable (which is hardly surprising). Limbaugh and Beck are entertainers, pure and simple. They have one job - to attract an audience and keep themselves working, and they know how to do that well. I neither know nor care whether they believe the things they say, nor am I concerned about the effects their views have on public discourse; there have been and always will be demagogues on all sorts of political views. Like Palin and Gingrich, they are irrelevant, the political equivalent of a sideshow freak tent that attracts two kinds of people - the voyeurs who come to gawk, and those who think it is high-minded to come and debunk the whole thing. The first are to be pitied as individuals; the second tend to be busybodies who think it is their business to show the world how clever they are.

No, my real concern is not with these elements. Rather, it is the on-going liberal and leftist whine about the "the corporate media". What specifically attracted my attention this early Easter morning before the sunrise was this.
[T]he Republicans and their allies in the press should be disqualified from this process for propagandizing the public and for allowing the violent rhetoric coming out of these Tea partiers, Fox News and Republican members of Congress to continue. Until some more of your cohorts in the media are willing to do the same thing you did here, that's not going to happen. This dangerous nonsense only going to get worse until we get these media monopolies broken up.

We should have hundreds of those like Rachel Maddow, Amy Goodman, Thom Hartmann, Bill Moyers and others out there that everyone that visits this site is well aware of, giving equal weight to liberal voices that there is a market for, but has been suppressed by our corporate media that wants to pretend to play fair while marginalizing those that care more about facts over hype.

First of all, "the Republicans and their allies in the press"? While there is pretty clear evidence from a whole history of columns and books that some writers - I am thinking of David Broder, Bob Woodward, George Will, Bill Safire - do have some kind of bias in favor of Republican politicians. In more recent times, journalists such as Judith Miller and Chris Cilliza have been pretty consistent in favoring sources with ties to the Republican Party, sometimes to the detriment of our nation (Miller, in particular, ran a series of columns pimping an Iraqi dissident in the run-up to the war in the winter of 2002-2003 despite serious misgivings among intelligence and other officials that the information this dissident was providing was mostly BS). For the most part, however, the press's failings are due less to questions of ideological or party bias and more to institutional sclerosis.

More to the main point of this particular post, my own frustration with the highlighted section revolves around two things. First, as detailed by Bob Somerby, for all she is intelligent and effective, Rachel Maddow is just as apt to fill her show with fluff and nonsense as Glenn Beck; far worse, calling out Republicans for being short on facts is a bit of the old pot-and-kettle show because Maddow is guilty of the same crimes against facts in service of ideology.

Second, and a far larger point, I find it interesting that an internet website would wax eloquent concerning the desire for more liberal voices on television news programs even as these programs - like newspaper opinion journalism - are waning in influence. The record not only of honesty and integrity, but also accountability on these programs is staggeringly low. Recent decades have seen the rise of media stars - I for one no longer consider them serious political commentators - the likes of Bill Kristol, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly who are full of sound and fury, yet are about equally guilty of both erroneous reporting and horribly bad prophetic ability. Their insistence that they have the ears of the powerful and simultaneously give voice to the voiceless are usually only half right. They may be listened to by those in power; those who follow their advice, however, usually end up on the losing end of political struggles, especially over the past four years.

The simple reality is the entire landscape of public discourse is altered. While it may be that these media stars and others one could name draw large salaries, appear all over print and television, and pride themselves on being players in the fascinating, intoxicating game of politics. For the most part, though, they are remnants of an age that is passing. While the shake-up and breakdown is still-ongoing, I continue to insist that the internet - both left and right - is of far more importance than either print or television journalism and commentary.

I really do not care whether there are more "liberal" voices out there, and I do not believe, really, that the issue is some kind of corporate conspiracy against liberal or left-wing voices. Oh, I am quite sure that no self-respecting senior manager at GE, or Disney, or News Corp. would hire a serious liberal (the except, I think, is ABC's hiring of Paul Krugman as a commentator on their Sunday news chat show; he has the advantage of a Nobel Prize that a lot of other liberals don't share). This can be chalked up, easily enough, to the commonsensical notion that no corporation is going to hire someone whose views would be antithetical to their interests. This is neither evil nor illegal. It is just good, solid, corporate self-interest at work.

This is why the internet serves the valuable function of providing a voice to those who are left out of the conversation. Whether one is liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, Socialist or Libertarian, it is easy enough to gain entry to the larger world of our on-going talk and argument.

Sitting around and whining about the lack of liberal voices on television, and using one as factually compromised as Rachel Maddow as a prime example, does no one a service. Just as at one time it was fine that the right owned AM talk radio, it is fine that more conservative voices seem to have the corner on television news programs. For years now, the dominant voices on the liberal/left spectrum have been right here, on the internet, and I see no reason why, for the foreseeable future, this will not continue.

To quote some guy who made a name for himself in politics recently, We are the ones we've been waiting for.

Virtual Tin Cup

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