Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quotable: Hans Urs von Balthasar

Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.

- Hans Urs von Balthasar

Friday, December 10, 2010

When Philosophers Tell Jokes

Suppose that someone tells the following story: An Indian at an Englishman's table in Surat saw a bottle of ale opened, and all the beer turned into froth and flowing out. The repeated exclamations of the Indian showed great astonishment. 'Well, what is so wonderful in that?' asked the Englishman. 'Oh, I'm not surprised myself,' said the Indian, 'at its getting out, but at how you ever managed to get it all in.'

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, tran. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 161.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Kant 101

"The celebrated Locke, for want of due reflection on these points, and because he met with pure conceptions of understanding in experience, sought also to deduce them from experience, and yet proceeded so inconsequently as to attempt, with their aid, to arrive at cognitions which lie far beyond the limits of all experience. David Hume perceived that, to render this possible, it was necessary that the conceptions should have a priori origin. But as he could not explain how it was possible that conceptions which are not connected with each other in the understanding, must nevertheless be thought as necessarily connected in the object--and it never occurred to him that the understanding itself might, perhaps, by means of these conceptions, be the author of the experience in which its objects were presented to it."

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Reason (New York: Barnes and Nobel, 2004), 59.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Politics or Culture?

These are two recent articles worth considering. R.R. Reno writes "Culture Matters more than Politics":
"These days, the ability to talk about politics in a knowing way is treated as a mark of sophistication, so much so, I think, that we’ve come tacitly to regard political analysis as the rightful domain of intelligence. If George Stephanopoulos were to make passing reference to John Milton or Henry James, the TV host would very likely treat it as a joke. But his slightest speculation about Barack Obama’s latest public statements are treated with high seriousness.
It was not always so. Far from indicating effete and irrelevant erudition, the capacity to talk about Jane Austen or T.S. Eliot or James Joyce was once seen as clear indication of a highly developed and socially relevant mind. Literature, theater, film, the visual arts—a certain acquaintance with and command of these domains made people intellectuals. For Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun and their readers, debates about novels and poetry seemed more fraught with public significance than the ins and outs of current electoral politics."

"Nightmares about cancerous aliens made Nazi anti-Semitism seem plausible. And today it is the cultural imagination of the Islamic world—not its oil wealth or official foreign policies—that makes the region so volatile.
At the end of the day, elections don’t shape or influence our cultural imaginations. On the contrary, our imaginations influence our elections, as the naive nation builders who thought that bringing elections to Iraq would transform the country discovered, much to their dismay."

Tim Keller responds, "Politics and Culture"
"James D. Hunter has been making the same point for years, though he invokes Nietzsche, rather than Marx. In On the Geneology of Morals, Nietzsche argued that Christian moral claims– of the primacy of love, generosity, and altruism–were really just ways for the early Christians to grab power from the people who had it. Christian morality developed out of the “ressentiment” by the weak of the strong and as an effort to wrest their position from them. This view will also lead to the conclusion that politics is what life is really about.

Hunter argues that ressentiment–”a narrative of injury”–has now come to define American political discourse. Both conservatives and liberals make their sense of injury central to their identity, and therefore in each election cycle it is only the group out of power, who therefore feels the most injured and angry, who can get enough voters out to win the election. Politics is no longer about issues but about power, injury, and anger. How Nietzschean! Hunter goes farther and argues that the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and even the neo-Anabaptist (think Dobson, Wallis, Hauerwas) are “functional Nietzscheans” in the public square, either because they see politics as too all-important, or (as in the case of the neo-Anabaptists) they think wielding political power is inherently non-Christian. In each case, Hunter says, Christians are being too shaped by Nietzsche’s view that politics and power is fundamental."

Yet he concludes,
"Reno and Hunter warn that culture matters more than politics, and I agree with them. We must reject the growing belief that power politics is what really matters. Nevertheless, Christians must not over-react. The government is one of the key institutions among others that reflect and shape the underlying beliefs that are the deepest source of public life. I recently wrote an introduction to a book, The City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner. The authors plead with Christian readers to not under-value the role of politics in culture-making, even as they acknowledge the danger of over-valuing it. It’s an important plea. James Hunter makes the intriguing case that those Christians who counsel withdrawal from politics may have as nihilistic a view of power as Nietzsche."

[Anytime I can put these tags on a post (Politics, FriedrichNietzsche, TimKeller, Culture), you know I'll like it.]

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Quotable: Balthasar

In a world without beauty—even if people cannot dispense with the word and constantly have it on the tip of their tongues in order to abuse it—in a world which is perhaps not wholly without beauty, but which can no longer see it or reckon with it: in such a world the good also loses its attractiveness, the self-evidence of why it must be carried out. Man stands before the good and asks himself why it must be done and not rather its alternative, evil. For this, too, is a possibility, and even the more exciting one: Why not investigate Satan’s depths? In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency. In other words, syllogisms may still dutifully clatter away like rotary presses or computers which infallibly spew out an exact number of answers by the minute. But the logic of these answers is itself a mechanism which no longer captivates anyone. The very conclusions are no longer conclusive. And if this is how the transcendentals fare because on of them has been banished, what will happen with Being itself? Thomas described Being (das Sein) as a ‘sure light’ for that which exists (das Seiende). Will this light not necessarily die out where the very language of light has been forgotten and the mystery of Being is no longer allowed to express itself? What remains is then a mere lump of existence which, even if it claims for itself the freedom proper to spirits, nevertheless remains totally dark and incomprehensible even to itself. The witness borne by Being becomes untrustworthy for the person who can no longer read the language of beauty.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: Seeing the Form

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Quotable: Lewis

"One last word. I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one's own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from intellectual counters, into the Reality -- from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That is also why we need one another's continual help -- oremus pro invicem."*

*Let us pray for each other
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 103

Saturday, December 04, 2010

History and John Lennon

I thought this article was interesting: I remember the real John Lennon, not the one airbrushed by history
It was the notion of John Lennon the myth, Lennon the martyr, Lennon the super genius, Lennon the real talent behind the Beatles, Lennon the man who saw through everything, Lennon the avant garde artist and Lennon the gentle, peace loving guy who prayed for the world.

Well, I knew John Lennon, and I liked him a lot. He was very kind and generous to me. I was about to fly out to New York and interview him when I got the call in the middle of the night, UK time, to tell me he’d been shot, so I wept many a tear that day.

But for the past three decades the man I’ve been reading about has grown less and less like the John Lennon I knew and, generally, more and more like some character out of Butler’s Lives Of The Saints.

As an art student John used to draw little cartoons of characters covered in warts. And it sometimes seems that the image of him that has mainly prevailed is one in which his own warts, have been largely air-brushed from public memory by misty-eyed fans, and the efforts of his widow Yoko Ono.

And later,
That he had many good points, there is no doubting. He was witty and funny and the “attitude” that he gave the Beatles chimed perfectly with the baby boomer aspirations of the Sixties. He was clever with words and brilliant at writing songs around slogans he made up, such as Give Peace a Chance and All You Need Is Love, instinctively knowing how to catch the moment and generate a million headlines. And, in association with Paul McCartney, he left the world an unequalled canon of popular songs.

But he was also easily led. It was not clever of him, for instance, to give financial help in 1971 to a self-proclaimed black power leader called Michael Abdul Malik, aka Michael X, who then jumped bail in Britain and fled to Trinidad.

A couple of years later Malik murdered two people on a commune he was running there and was later hanged for his crimes. Lennon couldn’t have known that it would end like that, but he should have been aware, as were many others, that Malik was bad news. Then there was financial help to an Irish Republican movement in the US at the height of the violence in Northern Ireland; not a good idea for a man of peace.

That was John, though, perspicacious in lyric, but, in a life immured by fame, surprisingly easily gulled by those who knew how to flatter him and scratch an ever open guilt wound.

I suspect the song he’s probably best remembered for is Imagine, the lyrics of which many found uplifting, even if the writer of them didn’t exactly practise what he preached. When an old Liverpool friend saw the wealth he’d accumulated in New York and teased him with the lyrics “remember 'no possessions’, John, 'it’s easy if you try’”, the former Beatle’s reply was characteristically, jokingly self-mocking: “It was only a bloody song.”

Friday, December 03, 2010

World's Poverty/Health


The Shadow Scholar

A discouraging article: The Shadow Scholar
I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.