Tuesday, September 30, 2003
It took some doing, but all my old Blogger posts have now been properly formatted and "published" here on the new and improved Movable Type incarnation of Philocrites. That means two things: the site's search engine is up and running, and I'll be taking down the redundant Blogger archives soon. I'm gradually incorporating the pre-blog pages into Movable Type (all the stuff I posted before January 2003), so that material will gradually be available for searches and sorting over the next month or so.
As for September's statistics . . .
Monday, September 29, 2003
Competing (quietly) with Mel Gibson's "Passion" for the New Testament film audience this year is "The Gospel of John." Unlike Gibson's hotly contested film, the new movie — which is being marketed only to Southern Evangelicals — is more sensitive to the New Testament's history of anti-Semitic interpretation:
Rabbi Eugene Korn, director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, saw the movie at a screening on Wednesday. A critic of the Gibson movie, he pronounced "The Gospel of John" a "responsible" treatment of the text. For a Jewish viewer, "it's difficult and some of it is offensive, but that's the Gospel of John," he said. The movie makes clear John's depiction of the Crucifixion as part of a divine plan, Rabbi Korn said, adding, "The implication is that no people are responsible for the death of Jesus."
There's a word for the seminary phenomenon Matthew Gatheringwater encountered recently:
I am in a workshop with other students and Professor Thandeka. She has asked us to point a pen at the ceiling and focus our eyes on the tip of the pen. Holding our eyes on the tip of the pen, we gradually lower the pen until it is cradled in the palm of our opposite hand. She asks us to describe the experience. "I began to see auras!" exclaimed one student, "colors radiating out of my hand and swirling around it." Another student saw a light that went from person to person until it spun around the room. "As I brought the pen down, it became heavier," one man explained, while another said the pen appeared to be entering his body and melting into his flesh.
Credulousness afflicts religious liberals as much as anyone else. (See John Buescher's new book, The Other Side of Salvation: Spiritualism and the Nineteenth Century Religious Experience for a lot more on the variety that especially captured Unitarian and Universalist imaginations a century ago.) The rarest and most needed ministerial gift, as far as I'm concerned, is the capacity to sympathize with the religious imagination while exercising the intellectual and moral restraint not to claim to see when you don't.
Dwight (aka Religious Liberal) embarks on some extended theological analysis of the anti-liberal Episopalian Robert J. Sanders and offers a "religious naturalist" middle way between orthodox theology and Sanders's nemesis, ecstatic theology. I don't have much to add, but I'm happy to see that "moral imagination" is part of Dwight's theological vocabulary:
In a religious naturalist view, ethics doesn't start with principles nor commands, but in the ability to survey the possibilities in a given situation and take the requiste course of action..To develop a moral imagination which can see such possibilities requires conversation, engaging the other to deepen and widen one's meaningful appreciative understanding of the world.
I'm enjoying my relentlessly cheerful copy of Revolve, the New Testament packaged as a girl's fashion magazine. There are moments, however, when the text so flagrantly defies the Old Navy illustrations that accompany it that I can't help but wonder what Evangelical 'tweens will make of it.
Take page 218, for example: A cartoon of a preppy red-headed girl in a long-sleeve blue sweater with white collar, a red checked skirt, a black shoulder bag — hair neatly pulled back in a long ponytail — accompanies a "Bible Bio" for Jael:
Jael was the woman about whom Deborah prophesied. One day, General Sisera, an enemy of the Lord, came to the tent of Jael and asked for water. She gave him a cup of milk and a blanket. When he had fallen fast asleep, Jael took a tent peg and drove it through his head into the ground. She had killed him. After this, Deborah rejoiced and the land of Israel enjoyed forty years of peace. Jael played a key role in God's will for the people of Israel at that time. Jael shows us the greater truth that God has a role for each of our lives.
Now that's an abrupt moral! The shoulder bag is just large enough to carry a tent peg. Maybe shopping isn't so bad after all! Just think of all the accessories you might need!
Sunday, September 28, 2003
From the Washington Post:
At CIA Director George J. Tenet's request, the Justice Department is looking into an allegation that administration officials leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer to a journalist, government sources said yesterday.
The operative's identity was published in July after her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy "yellowcake" uranium ore from Africa for possible use in nuclear weapons. Bush later backed away from the claim.
The intentional disclosure of a covert operative's identity is a violation of federal law.
The officer's name was disclosed on July 14 in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak, who said his sources were two senior administration officials.
Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. Wilson had just revealed that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson's account touched off a political fracas over Bush's use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.
"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.
Talk about a bombshell. Calpundit cuts to the chase:
This is not trivial stuff, and it wasn't an innocent mistake. Someone who is very senior, very experienced, and who is trusted with the highest levels of national security information, exposed a CIA agent. They knew what they were doing, and they shopped it around systematically to make sure someone took the bait.
Even if the two leakers were Ari Fleisher and Karl Rove — people who wouldn't have the names of undercover agents just sitting around, we hope — we still have to ask, Who told them? Be sure to read Josh Marshall as this story unfolds.
Meanwhile, call your representatives. This incredibly reckless abuse of power deserves outrage and sustained pressure from Congress and the press.
"Islamic Spain has been hailed for its 'convivencia' — its spirit of tolerance in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims, created a premodern renaissance," Edward Rothstein writes in the New York Times (reg req'd). Maria Rosa Menocal's book The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain argues "that Andalusia's culture was 'rooted in pluralism and shaped by religious tolerance,' particularly in its prime — a period that lasted from the mid-eighth century until the fall of the Umayyad dynasty in 1031."
But Rothstein argues that the past didn't live up to our fondest expectations:
Andalusian governance was also based on a religious tribal model. Christians and Jews, who shared Islam's Abrahamic past, had the status of dhimmis — alien minorities. They rose high but remained second-class citizens; one 11th-century legal text called them members of "the devil's party." They were subject to special taxes and, often, dress codes. Violence also erupted, including a massacre of thousands of Jews in Grenada in 1066 and the forced exile of many Christians in 1126.
In fact, throughout Andalusian history — under both Islam and Christianity — religious identity was obsessively scrutinized. There were terms for a Christian living under Arab rule (mozarab), a Muslim living under Christian rule (mudejar), a Christian who converted to Islam (muladi), a Jew who converted to Christianity (converso), a Jew who converted but remained a secret Jew (marrano) and a Muslim who converted to Christianity (morisco). . . .
Ms. Menocal cites the ways Islamic styles appear in Spanish synagogues (one, in Toledo, even incorporating Koranic inscriptions) and in the 14th-century Christian palace the Real Alacazar in Seville. But far from exhibiting convivencia, these resemblances display the power of a culture as dominant as American popular culture is now: it is imitated even if otherwise opposed.
This is a fascinating. But I'm most struck by this aspect of the article:
Tolerance may have left less of a cultural mark than intolerance: the historian Joel L. Kraemer has suggested that in Andalusia, a sense of precariousness inspired mysticism, esoteric teachings and a "prudent dissimulation" before Islamic superiors. . . .
Saturday, September 27, 2003
At 10:04:53 EST on Friday, someone using a U.S. State Department server visited this site with the anachronistic Google search, "Eli Pariser communist." As with most of the government-hosted searches that land here, I imagine this one was a personal interest search that had nothing to do with any actual government task — like the search yesterday using a Social Security Administration server to find a satirical passage about the election of Gene Robinson as Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire. But it makes you wonder, doesn't it?
It would seem that the government wouldn't use traceable servers and IP addresses to conduct anything like intelligence gathering. (Or would they?) It would also seem that communism wouldn't represent much of a threat to American interests anymore. I suppose I wouldn't blink if someone from, say, the Department of Agriculture wondered if the MoveOn.org organizer was a pinko, but I can't help but raise an eyebrow when someone at the State Department finds this a question worth wasting ten minutes on.
The server name was "acheson-a3.state.gov"; the IP address was 184.108.40.206. I'd love to know more about this particular visit.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
is played a bit differently in a Unitarian Universalist church.
Here's the section of the Fox News interview with President Bush in which Bush talks about his faith and the war in Iraq:
BUSH: [... A]fter I made the decision — not made the decision — told Tommy Franks and Don Rumsfeld that they had — that they had the orders to move in on Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was in the Situation Room, and it was a dramatic moment. It was a heavy moment for me, and I wanted to come outside and reflect, so I came out and got the dogs and we walked around the South Lawn a couple of times. And it was — for me it's like going to walk in a forest. You know, it's my chance to...
HUME: You couldn't get away out here?
BUSH: Well, you learn to adjust.
HUME: I guess.
BUSH: But this was getting away, and I came and walked a couple of times and gathered my thoughts and thought very seriously, a serious reflection about what I had just done, and said a prayer or two.
HUME: Now, your faith is an integral part of your life. How often do you pray? Where you do you pray? Talk to me about that.
BUSH: Well, I pray daily, and I pray in all kinds of places. I mean, I pray in bed, I pray in the Oval Office. I pray a lot. And just different — as the spirit moves me. And faith is an integral part of my life. I — I...
HUME: How do you hold the situation in Iraq in juxtaposition to your faith?
BUSH: Well, I — first of all, I would never justify — I would never use God to promote foreign policy decisions. I recognize that in the eyes of an almighty, I am a lowly sinner, and I ask for strength and wisdom and I pray for calmness when the seas are storming, and I pray for others. I pray for — I pray a lot for families who have lost a life. I went to Walter Reed, was struck by the braveness — bravery of our soldiers, and kind of got a quiet moment afterwards and prayed for them and their families.
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
"And the best way to get the news is from objective sources, and the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."
—George W. Bush, in an interview with Fox News.
"After two years of declining values, the rich finally got richer."
Monday, September 22, 2003
"The last time God spoke regularly to a girl on television was on the 1967 sitcom 'The Flying Nun.' This season, on three different shows, God is commanding girls to clean their rooms, get jobs and solve crimes."
("And the Word Was Given Unto the Networks." Alessandra Stanley. New York Times 9.22.03, reg req'd)
What makes the unfolding saga of "The Passion" hard to ignore is not so much Mr. Gibson's playacting fisticuffs but the extent to which his combative marketing taps into larger angers. The "Passion" fracas is happening not in a vacuum but in an increasingly divided America fighting a war that many on both sides see as a religious struggle. While Mr. Gibson may have thought he was making a biblical statement, his partisans are turning him into an ideological cause. . .
As the A.D.L.'s Rabbi Eugene Korn has said of Mr. Gibson to The Jewish Week, "He's playing off the conservative Christians against the liberal Christians, and the Jews against the Christian community in general."
So, is the movie anti-Semitic? One person who has seen the rough cut of the film that Gibson is showing by-invitation-only audiences told Rich: "[I]t's not a close call — the film clearly presents the Jews as the primary instigators of the crucifixion."
Mr. Gibson would argue that he is only being true to tradition, opting for scriptural literalism over loosey-goosey modern revisionism. But by his own account, he has based his movie on at least one revisionist source, a 19th-century stigmatic nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, notable for her grotesque caricatures of Jews. To the extent that there can be any agreement about the facts of a story on which even the four Gospels don't agree, his movie is destined to be inaccurate. People magazine reports he didn't even get the depiction of the crucifixion itself or the language right ("The Passion" is in Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew, not the Greek believed to have been the lingua franca of its characters). Like any filmmaker, Mr. Gibson has selectively chosen his sources to convey his own point of view.
And, finally, this alarming reminder:
As for Mr. Gibson's own speech in this debate, it is often as dishonest as it is un-Christian. In the New Yorker article, he says that his father, Hutton Gibson, a prolific author on religious matters, "never denied the Holocaust"; the article's author, Peter J. Boyer, sanitizes the senior Gibson further by saying he called the Holocaust a "tragedy" in an interview he gave to the writer Christopher Noxon for a New York Times Magazine article published last March. Neither the word "tragedy" nor any synonym for it ever appeared in that Times article, and according to a full transcript of the interview that Mr. Noxon made available to me, Hutton Gibson said there was "no systematic extermination" of the Jews by Hitler, only "a deal where he was supposed to make it rough on them so they would all get out and migrate to Israel because they needed people there to fight the Arabs. . . ." (This is consistent with Hutton Gibson's public stands on the issue; he publishes a newsletter in which the word Holocaust appears in quotes.)
There's a lot more, of course, in Rich's ice cold response to the hot-headed director. Read it. ("The Greatest Story Ever Sold", New York Times 9.21.03, reg req'd)
Saturday, September 20, 2003
So did the Dalai Lama come to your city to bless a Buddhist temple? Do you have one of Zagat's top-rated bistros in your neck of the woods? Did Krispy Kreme choose your town to launch its statewide invasion? The answer is yes if you happen to live in the new spiritual, culinary, and trendsetting capital of Massachusetts.
The article includes Unitarian bonus trivia about Lydia Maria Child's "Over the River and Through the Woods" — written about a singular wood and a grandfather's house in Medford — and James Pierpont's "Jingle Bells" — written apparently "in a pub on Salem Street." ("Funky town: For diversity, affordability, and doughnuts, there's no place like Medford." Ed Siegel. Boston Globe 9.20.03, C1, C6.)
Regarding Pierpont: Savannah trivia junkies may protest, "But he's ours!" And here we bump up against the nuances that tourists always hate and tour guides usually forget. According to a copy of Savannah magazine I received from a friend, "In 1852, the Rev. John Pierpont Jr. came to minister to the [Unitarian] congregation. His brother, James Lord Pierpont, became the church's organist and conducted children's singing classes. James Pierpont's holiday classic "Jingle Bells" was copyrighted during his tenure in Savannah."
Aha! (See "Troup Square Jewel" by Lisa Lane, Savannah Jul/Aug 2001: 47-51; thanks, P.G.!)
Shopping for the Dalai Lama.
And speaking of Medford, my friend Hank Peirce, the minister of the funky Unitarian Universalist church in the funky town, tells the Boston Phoenix about his recent adventures trying to decide what do you give the man who has nothing?
(This entry was expanded 9.20.03 19:35:41.)
I'm exhausted from all the Ralph Waldo Emerson bicentennial celebratin', but there's more tonight at Boston's Fanueil Hall. This morning's Boston Globe asks Richard Geldard, one of the speakers at tonight's program, "In a country with so many people belonging to organized religions, wouldn't Emerson's disdain for organized religion and Christianity leave him irrelevant to many Americans?" This answer strikes me as, well, too flattering to be true:
Emerson is a hero to the Unitarians and Universalists, because they have, I think, a more enlightened view of the individual religious experience.
("Emerson's philosophy still resonates." Rich Barlow. Boston Globe 9.20.03: B2)
Update: Or, let me put it this way: The Unitarian Universalist fondness for Emerson is partly — maybe even largely — due to our emphasis on individual religious experience, but I wouldn't say that makes us more enlightened. In Concord, where streets and schools and all manner of things are named "Emerson" and "Thoreau" and "Alcott," but where Transcendentalism has hardly shaken people out of conventionality, we're likely to find at least as prominent a reason for the veneration of Emerson: that's where he's from. A huge reason for the UU love affair with Emerson is that he's the most famous Unitarian. That's not enlightened; it's just human.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
You'll think this a strange admission from a Unitarian Universalist, but I can't wait to get a copy of Jaroslav Pelikan's new book, Credo. The history of ideas is the only discipline I would go back to school to study, and it was my favorite part of my English and div school work. But my interest is especially motivated by the fact that religious liberals react to doctrine with a peculiar schizophrenia: Unitarian Universalists often say they're "non-creedal" — true enough — and yet they also often quote the liberal religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs's "It matters what we believe." (Indeed it does.) So perhaps a study of the history and significance of creeds and confessions is especially important to a bunch of heretical religious intellectuals and their denominational heirs.
So go find a copy of the Sept. 20 Christian Century — subscribe, too — and read William C. Placher's review of Credo, "Believe It or Not: Why Creeds Matter." Here are two key paragraphs, broken up and given subtitles by your helpful philocrator:
Confessions arise, [Pelikan] argues, from exegesis, prayer, polemics and politics.
Exegesis. Those who read the Bible seriously (as opposed to those content to memorize a dozen or so all-purpose proof texts) will find themselves puzzling over how to reconcile James and Paul on the relation between works and faith, John 10:30 ("I and the Father are one") and John 14:28 ("the Father is greater than I") and a host of other apparently conflicting passages. Figure out how to put such pieces together in a coherent whole, and you are doing theology; suggest the answer you figured out to your fellow Christians, and you are proposing doctrine; write down what you and they agree on, and you have produced a confession.
Prayer. Similarly, in private prayer and public liturgy, Christians turn to God and need to figure out how they should properly address God. Thus reflection on prayer, like exegesis, leads toward doctrine.
Polemics. So do polemics and politics. "Wherever there is a creed," Alfred North Whitehead once remarked, "there is a heretic round the corner or in his grave." Pelikan doesn't quite agree—he cites the Apostles' Creed, for instance, as having emerged from baptismal covenants without a primary focus on any particular heresy—but he does readily concede that polemics against heresies are an important reason for the emergence of confessional statements.
Politics. Finally, he admits, politics also plays its role. He quotes the title of a book by the Dutch scholar H.M. Kuitert: Everything Is Politics but Politics Is Not Everything. No creed or confession has been written without political influences at work, but Pelikan maintains that the meaning or importance of any significant creed cannot be reduced purely to its political implications.
Correspondence with a reader of UU World recently led me to the observation that Unitarian "non-creedalism" has two quite distinct roots: One is our "heretical" root in anti-Trinitarian, Arminian, and eventually Romantic and modernist deviations from Nicene or at least Congregationalist orthodoxy. Or, to put it more simply, the "liberals" we regard as forerunners of modern Unitarianism embraced doctrines that fell outside the orthodox doctrinal perimeter. They weren't anti-doctrinal; they just embraced different doctrines, sometimes at great personal peril.
But the other is our "political" root in movements that protested against the imposition of creeds in civic life. Objections to state religions, the prosecution of heretics, and the political authority of religious leaders are expressions of this concern. Call it the "question authority" approach. This root has turned out to be more enduring among Unitarian Universalists.
Early on in American Unitarian history (probably with Theodore Parker) the idea emerged that the church oppressed its own members (or, more accurately, its ministers) when it expected some degree of doctrinal conformity within the church, even though no political coercion was involved. This strikes me as significant, because the political battles for religious freedom and for freedom of conscience were also battles for the freedom of association — the right to join with others who shared a common goal.
But what happens to a group that decides it can't or shouldn't name its common purpose? (The history of the Free Religious Association would be a good case study.) Or, in the case of the Unitarian Universalist Association, when it ducks doctrinal questions and yet treats its bylaws — and its annual resolutions — as if they were proof-texts?
I ask all this because I admit to having become a Unitarian more out of a commitment to the tradition's liberalism than to its unitarianism. But, as Whitehead said, "definition is the soul of actuality," and we're currently struggling with the realization that we've let ourselves get a little undefined. So I find it helpful to have Placher's gloss: "Figure out how to put such pieces together in a coherent whole, and you are doing theology; suggest the answer you figured out to your [co-religionists], and you are proposing doctrine; write down what you and they agree on, and you have produced a confession." But of course, we won't dare to admit that's what we're doing.
"We believe that God made good his promise by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari, doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love."
From the Masai Creed, c.1960, quoted by William C. Placher in a review of Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition in the Christian Century 9.20.03: 20-24.
"The actions taken by the New Hampshire Episcopalians are an affront to Christians everywhere. I am just thankful that the church's founder, Henry VIII, and his wife Catherine of Aragon, his wife Anne Boleyn, his wife Jane Seymour, his wife Anne of Cleves, his wife Katherine Howard, and his wife Catherine Parr are no longer here to suffer through this assault on our 'traditional Christian marriage.'"
The Christian Century, which published this zinger in the Sept. 20, 2003, issue, attributes it like this: "From an editorial in the Los Angeles Times (August 16), in response to the Episcopal Church's making Gene Robinson of New Hampshire its first gay bishop."
Hmm. I can't find the passage in the Times archive — but I do find it at Looka (9.11.03, fifth item), where it's attributed thusly: "Letter to the editor, Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2003." And I find it prominently displayed on The Onion of church Web sites, Landover Baptist Church, where the quote is attributed to the oughta-be-real Betty Bower. So, did the letter appear originally in the Times, or is this just a great joke that is gaining a bit of Web-enhanced credibility? And does it matter? I'm still laughing . . .
Where does Wesley Clark fit into the current line of Democratic candidates? Joan Vennochi reviews the packaging of his nine opponents:
[Howard] Dean is the antiwar, finger-waggling ex-governor of a tiny, nondiverse state. [John] Kerry is the Vietnam veteran and Massachusetts liberal who wants to be defined only as a Vietnam veteran. Richard Gephardt wants to be the candidate of jobs and labor but is mostly a captive of the congressional establishment and a very stiff head of hair. Senator Joseph Lieberman is a remnant of Al Gore's failed effort to prove he could be exciting by picking the first Jewish candidate for vice president. John Edwards has dimples and a Southern accent. Florida Senator Bob Graham has a Southern accent. Al Sharpton is black and humorous in more ways than one. Carol Moseley Braun is a black woman and former rising star, since crashed. Dennis Kucinich is a true believer whose beliefs are far too left to be nationally palatable.
("Is Clark the 'package' Democrats seek?" Joan Vennochi. Boston Globe 9.18.03)
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
I'm too busy at the moment to comment as I'd like on several significant articles — but you should feel more than welcome to comment on any of the following:
First: "God Help the Democrats" by John H. Bunzel (Los Angeles Times 9.14.03, reg req'd); moderate Democrat and fellow unbeliever Calpundit expands the argument and, as always, hosts a lively followup conversation.
Second: "Cheney link of 9/11, Iraq challenged" (Boston Globe front page, 9.16.03). Media critic Dan Kennedy comments, "It's a rare day indeed when the media call the White House on one of its mind-boggling lies." Yesterday's Washington Post also jumped on Dick Cheney's prevarications, although it doesn't do it explicitly until paragraph 16. Joshua Micah Marshall, however, blasts away.
Third: "Dizzying Dive to Red Ink Poses Stark Choice for Washington" by David Firestone (New York Times 9.14.03, reg req'd); "Show U.S. the Money" by Steven Mufson (Washington Post 9.14.03); and especially "The Tax-Cut Con" by Paul Krugman (New York Times Magazine 9.14.03, reg req'd). There's a lot of blog commentary out there already, but Matthew Yglesias thinks the American public — who are "the most fiscally-irresponsible people on earth" — may not care to wake up from their dogmatic slumber before a financial collapse. (Kevin Drum interviews Krugman at Calpundit.)
And, finally, Gen. Wesley Clark will enter the presidential race tomorrow. Josh Marshall reflects on his chances here and here.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
From the blogs: Matthew Gatheringwater writes about a mugging and the strange phenomenon sometimes called "ministerial presence" in My Bus Fare and Jesus . . . Revsparker (who has been writing some powerful entries about a parishioner in prison) offers a moving meditation with the striking refrain, "Nothing left of me." . . . Religious Liberal picks apart the book Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, discovers a lot of deceit, and says we must "evangelize a different, humane, religious vision" in response . . . And, although it's two weeks old, read Real Live Preacher's imaginary correspondence with a church seeking a new minister:
Do you want me timid and wearing little spectacles, droning from a dusty prayer book while people nod in the pews? Do you want a gentle eunuch, tamed and kept by the church gentry? Do you want to pull my chain and watch the pretty Jesus words come out?
Finally, I want to call attention to some modern Muslim blogs: A Dervish's Du'a' (thanks for the link!) posts a fascinating Progressive Muslims' Mission Statement . . . Also check out alt.Muslim, Shi'a Pundit, and Muslim Wake-Up.
The Dalai Lama is the Big Event in Boston this weekend. (On our way back into town from a trip to Northampton, Mrs Philocrites and I watched his motorcade speed toward Harvard. He travels in a black SUV accompanied by several other large vehicles and a swarm of police motorcycles. I half expected to see brilliant robes fluttering in open windows, but no.)
He spent yesterday with neuroscientists at MIT — where one researcher suggested that "scientists could use minds trained by meditation to study mental phenomena the same way a high-powered telescope allows 'stable, vivid observation of stars and planets.'" The New York Times Magazine excitedly reports on inconclusive early studies of monks' brain activity, but who would dispute Richard Davidson's statement that "these are the Olympic athletes, the gold medalists, of meditation"?
And in the Globe's Ideas section, Jeffery Paine asks, "How, in a mere generation, did we get from Tibetan Buddhism's near-extinction in its homeland to its remarkable flowering in America?"
In the early 1970s, when Geshe Wangyal, Chgyam Trungpa, and other exiled lamas arrived here, they were astonished by the welcome they received from countercultural types like Allen Ginsberg, who expected those lamas to remake them into American versions of wise Eastern sages. Beyond the counterculture, many others — including liberal, well-educated Americans who had outgrown their faith of origin and were uncomfortable with anything theological — began to demand satisfactions reminiscent of the ones once provided by religion. As the Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow noted in 1998, ever more Americans claim that "they are spiritual but not religious, [that] their spirituality is growing but the impact of religion on their lives is diminishing." An increasing number of discontented souls turned to the exiled Tibetan lamas, who were out of work, and to Tibetan Buddhism, which, unmoored from Tibet, was free to become American Buddhism — or at least to meet Americans halfway. . . .
Modern people want a path shorn of dogma, fundamentalism, exclusivity, complex metaphysics, and culturally exotic paraphernalia, a path that can be integrated with ordinary life and practiced anywhere," one lama observed. Older Christian theologians might have responded that such a path would not be religion, but the Tibetan response was, in effect, "No problem." Indeed, over 2,500 years ago the Buddha himself declared he was not promulgating a new religion but teaching remedies for suffering, and that no one should accept his teachings on faith.
And there's a bonus for readers of this site:
Amid all his responsibilities, and despite the tragedy of Tibet everpresent to him, he obviously was a happy man, really a bon vivant who exuded a confidence that all would work out well. Westerners watching him observed a religion, it seemed, of generosity, high spirits, and good sense. (Tibetan monks and advanced Western students see a different side of the Dalai Lama, however. To them, he teaches centuries-old esoteric practices and expounds ideas about a multidimensional universe that might astound a proper Unitarian or Episcopalian minister.)
"I still, as a humanist, pursue the God-project. And I believe humanism has an important role to play in that project by helping us to focus on humanity, by helping us to clear away superstitious constructs and magic shortcuts, by giving us the tools to achieve more than was possible in the past, by democratizing religion, and by revealing the algorithms that make our world tick. But humanism needs what religion gives: a passion for purpose, a concern to embody the good, and the sense of an all-embracing universal oneness that encompasses all existence . . ."
(The Humanist God-Project, John Hoad, Ethics To Live By 7.4.03.)
Saturday, September 13, 2003
Richard Higgins, who wrote about the legacy of Ralph Waldo Emerson for Unitarian Universalists in UU World earlier this year, expands on Emerson's theology in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin. It's a very fine essay.
Google News turns everyone into a press-clipping service: Enter "Unitarian Universalist" in the Google News search engine, and voila!, all sorts of things pop up. But Google has taken this a step further and saved you the trouble of typing in the keywords in the first place: Just sign up for e-mail news alerts — on any keywords you want — and Google will send you a daily round-up of news links. Click here to sign up for the Unitarian Universalist news list.
Friday, September 12, 2003
It looks like Gen. Wesley Clark may announce his candidacy for the presidency as early as tomorrow. Here are several sites to watch: Draft Wesley Clark and Draft Clark 2004 are leading the grassroots effort to encourage his candidacy; a Wesley Clark blog follows the campaign news; and the Washington Monthly features a sample of the general's writing and analytical skills. Ask yourself: Can your president write magazine articles about foreign policy? Does he even have a foreign policy?
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Not every Anglican church leader in Africa is apoplectic about the American Episcopal Church's election of an openly gay bishop. Desmond Tutu's successor in Southern Africa, the Most Reverend Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane, criticized the talk of schism by several other African leaders in an interview the Guardian:
He insisted that the integrity of the US church's decision at its general convention last month to confirm the election of Canon Robinson as diocesan bishop of New Hampshire should be respected. Some archbishops are demanding that the appointment must be rescinded, although there is no mechanism for that.
Archbishop Ndungane said: "The Episcopal church is an autonomous province with its own procedures and processes which determine its own decisions. It is full of good people and they have followed one of the most transparent and democratic processes of decision-making in the whole Anglican communion.
"It is very arrogant to assume that the people in America do not know what they are doing. We have got to respect their decision.
"We have also got to respect the integrity of our provinces as autonomous entities whether we agree with them or not, or whether they make us uncomfortable or not. The Archbishop of Canterbury is first-among-equals but he has no jurisdiction or authority to intervene."
Talk about a missed opportunity: Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's tax reform plan collapsed yesterday, due to strong opposition from the state's wealthy property owners — and due to opposition from the poor themselves! Jason Zengerle reports in The New Republic Online (sub req'd) that American Idol Ruben Studdard tried to rouse Alabama's black voters to Riley's cause in a concert for 10,000 people on Friday, but didn't bother to stump for the tax reform measure itself:
Tuesday, September 9, 2003
What an extraordinary cover illustration The New Yorker features for the week that marks the second anniversary of 9/11 — a simultaneous tribute to loss and to the beauty and vitality of a great city.
It's one of the best magazine covers I've seen in a very long time.
Why does lunatic-fringe Judge Moore get all the religion-in-the-news press when the governor's religious campaign to repair Alabama's egregiously regressive tax structure — the state-wide vote is today — gets almost none? Gregg Easterbrook (with a new TNR blog) offers a simple explanation:
Because the snarling judge and his intolerant followers show Christianity in a bad light; by granting them attention, the media make Christianity look bad. Gov. Riley's crusade to help the poor shows Christianity at its luminous best. Therefore the media ignore Riley.
It turns out that liberal Christianity may prove to be only the next-best kept secret in American religion; the real best kept secret is progressive Evangelicalism.
Francis Wilkinson writes (for the liberal American Prospect Online) that the Evangelical movement that is trying to reform Alabama's tax structure challenges a deeply-held liberal bias:
For the first time since black ministers and some of their white brethren marched arm in arm in the civil-rights era, a group of Christians in the South are championing social and economic justice for the dispossessed as a matter of spiritual imperative . . . But as if determined to defy the most cherished stereotypes and bedrock prejudices of enlightened liberals everywhere, the primary actors in this campaign are the kind of white, conservative, Billy Graham evangelicals to whom Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed his Letter from Birmingham Jail . . .
And lest you think that a divinity school paper can never make a difference in American politics, consider this: Wilkinson explains that a Beeson Divinity School thesis, published as the pamphlet The Least of These: Fair Taxes and the Moral Duty of Christians, launched this political movement and converted Gov. Riley. So take heart, seminarians, and good luck, Bob Riley!
Sunday, September 7, 2003
I went to John Kerry's Boston rally last Wednesday to soak up the political vibes and see what kind of life my senator has in his campaign. He seemed a lot more lively than William Saletan says he was in South Carolina — ouch! — but I got the feeling that the audience was animated not by any strong feeling for John Kerry, but by simple passion for a new president in 2004. Many clearly disliked the Bush administration — the loudest cheer of the evening came in response to Kerry's promise that "when I am president, the attorney general won't be named John Ashcroft" — but even among Kerry's longtime supporters here in Boston, it seemed that most of us were really shopping for a winner — any winner.
(The experience confirmed something Andrew Pulrang observed: "What Howard Dean and any other Democrat who wants to win needs to do, I think, is challenge the Left ... "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" ... to move beyond hatred, beyond the (frankly) snobbish cultural animus we have for Bush. Attacking him as an idiot will only rally the people who like him. Maybe we should ignore him and focus on his administration. Just never refer to him. He's irrelevant.")
So is Howard Dean going to ride the insurgent wave into the White House? I doubt it, not because I don't like him or wouldn't vote for him, but because I think his most energized supporters may not live where they'll be needed most. It just doesn't matter how many hyped-up college kids there are in Massachusetts. My state will give its electoral votes to the Democrat, whether it's Lieberman or Dean or Edwards, just as my former home state — Utah — is so reliably Republican that candidates don't even visit.
I appreciated Richard Eurich's letter to the editor in the Boston Globe on Friday:
Joan Vennochi's column "Passion works for Democrats" (op ed, Sept. 4) suggests that presidential elections are won by candidates who mobilize their base rather than by those who tack to the center to pursue swing voters. Vennochi envisions a passionate candidate who will catalyze the Democratic base with emotion and energy. However, the president is elected by the Electoral College, not by popular vote, which means that base appeal is somewhat beside the point. The reality is that there are about 35 states that are either solidly Democratic or solidly Republican. The election is won or lost in the remaining 15 states, which include such electoral heavy-hitters as Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. These states are up for grabs because they have large populations of swing voters. Swing voters control swing states, and swing states control elections. The Republicans understood this in 2000, when they slipped one past the popular radar by marketing Bush as a compassionate conservative. Bill Clinton, the only Democrat to win reelection in the past 50 years, also took this lesson to heart.
If the Democrats intend to win in 2004, they must deal in political realities rather than emotional catalysts.
I'm reminded of the Libertarians who decided they had had it being such a tiny minority in so many places — and started planning a mass migration to a state that they could actually hope to influence. Maybe that's what the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" should start doing: move devoted cadres from Democratic strongholds to the states where a Democrat needs just a few more votes.
Meanwhile, I'm holding out to hear from Wesley Clark.
We are not at war with Terrorism. To state the situation more accurately, Radical Islamic Fundamentalists have declared war on the United States and are using Terrorism, defined as deliberate surprise attacks on civilian populations, as their primary strategy.
Read the rest at Prophet Motive.
Henry Nelson Wieman wrote: "None of us has the whole truth; all of us are subject to error in our beliefs about God. But all of us can and should worship, whether we use the word God or not." Matthew Gatheringwater explores Wieman's approach to prayer.
Saturday, September 6, 2003
Thanks to the generosity of a reader who was simply tired of watching Philocrites flounder in the backwaters of Blogovia — no trackback! no comments! no RSS! it's like a village without running water to some people — this site will be emerging soon in a new and improved Movable Type incarnation. (We're talking about a very generous and tech-savvy reader, folks, to whom I owe a lot of thanks. Thanks!)
How exciting! The transition may mean, however, that you may experience some technical difficulties over the next few days. Philocrites will still be www.philocrites.com, but while I move Blogger posts to MT, things may disappear, links may break, all hell may break loose. Who knows! See you in the new Philocrites soon.
Thursday, September 4, 2003
Student art is officially a fire hazard in Boston schools — so say farewell to the bulletin board.
Also in today's education news: The brand new, liberal-free Ave Maria University (established by Domino's Pizza owner Tom Monaghan) is also a housing development and the site of a future "Catholic Augusta National."
But the New Yorker's back page this week, introducing a pharmacopia of drugs from some wittier parallel universe (sorry, not on-line, at least in this universe), really cracks me up. If you've had too much Platitudium Bromide or Soporifiquil, try some Pseudointellectuol or Pedanticort. (They go well together.) Funniest pair: Confusadril and Cucumberdil.
Meanwhile, Butterflies and Wheels offers a dictionary of academic new-speak, helpful in decoding all graduate seminars.
Ian Buruma's New York Times Magazine essay, "How to talk about Israel" (mentioned below), may have provided a useful service to the American left by trying to clarify how some liberal political grievances have ended up playing into (or flagrantly embracing) anti-Semitism. But it downplays the reality of anti-Semitism, according to a sampling of blog commentary:
Tuesday, September 2, 2003
Canadian-British philosopher Ted Honderich apparently believes that "some forms of terrorism — including Palestinian suicide attacks against Israeli civilians — are morally justifiable." Jefferson Chase writes in the Boston Globe:
In a recent lecture, titled "Terrorism for Humanity," delivered at the International Social Philosophy Conference at Boston's Northeastern University, Honderich reiterated his more controversial belief that acts of terror are morally justifiable if they aim to better people's lives.
Time for an important distinction: Understanding someone's motivation — say, the motivation of a suicide bomber — is quite different from offering a moral sanction for their actions. Morality is not a fancy name for "by any means necessary." The allure of revolutionary violence is a profound temptation for some thinkers, but this really goes out of bounds.
Meanwhile, Ian Buruma asks, What's anti-Semitism got to do with it?
Matthew Gatheringwater has posted a marvelous piece by John F. Hayward that describes some ministerial types. Are you a chimp, a hen, a swallow, a hippo, a weasel, an owl, or a fox? Or perhaps you're a mongrel. Scroll down if you want to skip Matthew's quiz, or answer the questions first and then see what you are in the clerical bestiary.
And other analogies...
Monday, September 1, 2003
Philocrites welcomed more readers than ever in August: 1,540 visits to the front page (up from 959 last month) and 2,950 page views through Google and other "back door" points-of-entry. (Most popular Google topics this month: Paula Frederiksen's critique of Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic film "Passion," Jack Hitt's Harper's essay "A Gospel According to the Earth," and husband-seeker Kimberly Devlin.)
I also went to the trouble this month of tracking visits to my essays, hymns, and sermons pages, modest little backwaters on the site that are counted separately. The essays are the most popular, with 175 visits this month — and the real plagiarism season hasn't even started yet! Sermons came in second at 78 visits. Hymns, you'll be shocked to learn, just aren't a popular Web commodity — only 51 visits. But if you'd like a copy of the set to sing in your congregation, let me know. Thanks, everybody!
Let's hear from the Anglican bishop of Rwanda about the election of an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire: "It is unbelievable what has happened: spiritual genocide." This a ghastly example of moral analogy gone horribly wrong. Here's a report on the involvement of Christians — including Anglican bishops — in the actual genocide in Rwanda.
Another Rwandan bishop likes the "spiritual genocide" analogy, too: Back in 2001, discussing liberal trends in the Episcopal Church and the missionary efforts launched by Third World Anglicans to North America to counter them, Bishop John Rucyahana said, "The members of the Anglican Communion cannot let what happened in Rwanda a physical genocide deflect from the spiritual genocide going on in ECUSA by standing on the sidelines and watching and doing nothing. Therefore we cannot stand by. We must take action." Let this sink in for a minute: These bishops have the audacity to suggest that the slaughter of more than half a million people is morally comparable to welcoming gay and lesbian people to full participation in the church.