it made me want to believe. @crispinsartwell (i) is tweeting a series of contemporary bluegrass gospel songs. i think this is most beautiful popular music, as good or better than it has ever been. here are the first two.
[contd from below] and, since we saw the dome, i am pondering 'the apotheosis of washington' by constantino brumidi (1865). perhaps some of the people on our tour were a bit surprised to see washington approved of by roman gods rather than jesus, for some believe we live in a christian nation. but you'd have to say, looking around the mall, that the imagery is fundamentally pagan: consider lincoln enthroned in his parthenon like a trans athena. the tour guide did his little rap about roman republicanism, and how appropriate this fresco is to the next great republic after rome, etc.
but, when you get the whole thing straight, it's about elevating washington to the status of a god, and the best roman parallel would be...caligula and all those political leaders who claimed and enforced their godhead or that of their predecessors by decree. this sort of worship of human beings goes well beyond paganism into sheer groveling.
the iconographic program is likely based on vasari/zuccari's ceiling for the duomo in florence, which, like the italian renaissance in general, apparently represents a wildly incoherent new religion in which jesus cavorts with the roman gods.
in particular, 'the apotheosis of washington' subs in gw for christ enthroned at the last judgment, which appears at the analogous place in the (much larger) duomo composition. we've gone very far very fast from 'all men are created equal.'
one thing i believe we can safely say: this cannot be an iconography of republicanism.
so this has just fully struck me, but the italian renaissance really did develop a new syncretic religion. however, the combination of christianity with the classical gods is quite literally absurd, on so many grounds i am not going to enumerate them now. ummmm, what did jesus say in the gospels about your little warrior and sex gods etc? or how about the stuff on humility?
i say, looking at it squarely, that the religious beliefs of a michelangelo, as expressed in his work, are an unbelievable historical, conceptual, and spiritual mess. try his apollo/christ on for size. he's back! a big beefy sexy channing-tatum christ who's all geared up for that assignation with venus or mars, or an earth girl of either gender.
it's not that this didn't occur to people at the time, one way or another: martin luther was quite clear about it, i think. or savanarola and sandro botticelli: he realized after awhile that his art had been obviously incompatible with his professed christianity and that of his continent. of course, just seeing clearly the actual iconography does not entail that one starts burning its products. but the tensions would have been hard to miss for anyone, and the reconciliations took a lot of work. they'll take a lot more, because these things are irreconcilable.
this is part of what necessitated a counter-reformation, and one might look at caravaggio's work after the initial wave of pagan/homoerotic images. the depictions of christ and all the associated figures are relentlessly human, peasant, humble, and yet exalted. it is a rechristianizing of art and of catholic europe in the face of the new, flatly heretical religion (which was the religion, mind, of an ultra-corrupt papacy). at that moment, and until we get to the neo-classical phase, we seem to be less in need of flitting cherubim and all the accoutrements of the greek pantheon. the story of jesus is the story of god becoming human, not of humans becoming gods.
of course, just because the belief system underlying it is a farrago of irreconcilable confusions and bizarrely conflicted psychological complexes doesn't mean the art doesn't have something going for it.
in re: pence. everyone talks about the indiana religious freedom law. as i've said over and over, i (alone among anyone i've ever talked to) support such laws completely. the idea that you have to get another bakery or florist for your wedding in indianapolis is just not jim crow, or even any actual problem whatsoever, and different sorts of people can be discriminated against, for example on the basis of their religion. you are going to have to show me that there are real costs, or real lack of access to essential services etc to convince me that someone's religious conscience should be violated under legal constraint.
i've published a book called 'waterway' on kindle and paper.
it includes my translation of the tao te ching, which i've worked on for twenty-five years or so. it started with chinese-reading grad students at vanderbilt, and underwent many phases; sometimes i taught it along with mitchell or red pine's translations. a version published on my web site in the early 2000s got a little bit of a following on new-agey websites and such.
it presents a very distinctive translation into what i hope is notably unstilted english; it is as different from stephen mitchell's (which i love) as mitchell's is from, say, witter bynner's (which i like). i think you will understand the text differently when you read it.
This book can tell you nothing;
the Tao leaves you where you began.
A maiden can leave things nameless;
a mother must name her children.
Perfectly empty or carrying ten thousand words, you still return,
and return, and return.
Naming things loses what unites them.
Failing to name things loses them into what unites them.
Words are limits that make experience possible.
But form and formlessness are the same.
Tao and the world are the same,
though we call them by different names.
This unity is dark and deep, but on the other hand it is deep and dark.
It opens into the center of everything.
the second part of waterway is what i hope will be a fundamentally new classical taoist text. i've dubbed it the wu wei ching or book of non-action; it is drawn from kuo hsiang's commentary on the chuang tzu. i really think that kuo hsiang's version of taoism gives the deepest statement of taoist metaphysics and of wu wei as a guide to practical action.
Not only is it impossible for not-being to become being, it is impossible for being to become not-being. So from where and how do things and for that matter the absence of things arise? What came first?
If we say yin and yang came first, how did they come? From where; from what?
Maybe nature came first. But nature is only another name for beings.
Suppose I say the Tao came first. But the Tao is only another name for not-being, so how can it arise? There must be another thing or not-thing and so on infinitely.
When you get down to it, we cannot say anything except that things just are, that they arise spontaneously and spontaneously disappear.
watching francis address congress. despite my extreme skepticism of religious hierarchy, even i am moved, though i am not, unlike boehner, biden, rubio, and others, crying. (never seen anything quite like that.) he has appealed for an end to political polarization, for decency toward immigrants, and so on.
he paid tribute to dorothy day. that there is an anarchist, baby.
earlier on cnn, donna brazile and anna navarro, left and right political consultants, insisted that francis falls outside the left-right spectrum or "our little political disagreements." for heaven's sake let that teach you something about the left-right spectrum, about the miserable limitations of the activities in which you yourself are engaged.
i was at the gettysburg bluegrass fest yesterday, seeing people who are to me what the beatles, springsteen, or taylor swift are to others: in particular, doyle lawson and quicksilver were frigging unbelievable. right he played mandolin and sang with the country gentlemen and j.d. crowe and the new south, got mandolin tips from bill monroe, etc. i got a selfie!
doyle focuses to a large extent on gospel, and has featured a number of the greatest bluegrass singers over the years, including russell moore (who appeared yesterday with his band iiird tyme out) and jamie dailey. he's got a relatively new ensemble now, and man the harmonies were as beautiful as anything i have ever heard. (also the dobro player, josh swift, is an astonishing virtuoso.) the new gospel disc open carefully, message inside, is truly excellent, but doesn't seem to be available on itunes.
more or less the current lineup:
with russell moore on lead vocals:
here is about as good a concert film as you will ever see. now, with regard to any style of music you may admire - from rock to high-end jazz or orchestral art music - i want to ask you something. do the very top people in that field play as well as that? do they sing any better? no, they don't. but perhaps they are more...affected.
alright alright, i'll hit the religious conscience laws. as you may know, i've defended such laws many times, but let me try to describe why i regard the current situation as ridiculous. so, first off, the laws are mere provocations, or responses to getting swamped by gay marriage all of a sudden. they are an attempt to carve out a little zone of legit homophobia (and yet they trap me, for example, because i cannot not affirm the actual text of the law.) it's a manufactured issue. but then the insane outrage about it, which i've heard from a lot of people, is very silly, and i could not possibly oppose such laws until you show me that they will create great actual burdens on actual people. that someone had to switch florists one time for their wedding is not going to get it. and if that's what you're outraged about: shelve it.
charles blow appears to think a situation in which there's one pizzeria in indianapolis that won't cater a gay wedding is similar to one where people are systematically excluded from education, or voting, or basic social recognition. really it makes it a bit hard to take you seriously on other matters. if no actual significant burdens are imposed on anyone, then there can be no argument against permitting people to act according to their religious convictions. i do want to point out that, though it's easy to sort of make all oppressed groups equivalent in their oppressedness, many gay people are, for example, bourgeois white men. the chances that no one will cater the wedding of, or in general leap to provide the widest range of services to, bourgeois white people are slim and none.
capitalism might not have cured jim crow, but it's doing fine with this. the basic thing is that people want to sell you stuff, ok? the chamber of commerce and wal-mart and apple show you that this is not really going to be an actual problem. but andrew cuomo etc is grandstanding to the max, and i'm telling you that all anyone i know wants is to be enraged by the right in a self-congratulatory ecstasy. try to find an actual reason though, ok?
anyway, i'm irritated that the right is using a principle which i do regard as sacred - the right of individual conscience to secede from the demands of the state or to refrain from activities which violate it - to get me nodding along with an underlying bigotry. i'm irritated at the left for relentlessly blowing this small thing up and using it as a club. really, i'm just sick of our politics, which never asks what's true or false or good or evil, but only how people can be manipulated to join up by defining and hating an enemy. in that situation, there's no difference between symbolic and substantive issues.
here's a pretty good example of the pc approach to history, where whatever would serve your argument or have (according to you) positive social results is asserted as true, no matter how obviously false it may be. the piece asserts that images of muhammad were not banned until 2001, when the taliban banned them. then it describes various islamic regions and moments in which the prophet was depicted. but then he really does have to deal with the fact that there are few if any known images from the arabian peninsula, certainly the origin and center of the islamic world. his explanation is that they had the arabic language. now i think actually you have to grapple with the whole history of restrictions and prohibitions on images in the monotheistic religions: start with the golden calf story in hebrew bible. the general association of images of divine or saintly figures with idolatry runs very strongly - though of course not uniformly - through judaism, islam, and protestant christianity. really it sounds like there has been no or little censorship or destruction of images in the history of islam. um. and the language thing is the worst argument i ever heard: just the sort of thing you try not to examine because if true it would help your case. let's see: americans and french people and chinese people and hindu people and ancient greek people have had both extremely rich languages and a non-stop barrage of images. often these work in concert, and so on.
In Scepticism and Animal Faith Santayana goes so far as to assert that all knowledge is faith precisely because we are never in a position decisively to refute scepticism, that is, to remove objective uncertainty. Santayana sets out the familiar sceptical arguments elaborately, and in fact endorses their conclusions. That is, he affirms that we are in a position, as far as the exercise of reason with no assumptions is concerned, of radical and unrelievable doubt as to the existence of the external world, the deliverances of memory, even as to the existence or at least the nature of the subject. Or rather, if we were in fact creatures that generated beliefs by the emotionless exercise of reason with no assumptions, our doubts would be radical and unrelievable. But as agents, as passionate, individual creatures of the sort we are, we happen in fact to be under no serious doubt about these things. (The similarity of the position under consideration to the "naturalized" epistemology of Quine and others should here be remarked. Like Kierkegaard and Santayana, proponents of that project hold that scepticism is irrefutable and that how we actually come to acquire beliefs is relevant to how we ought to acquire them. And the similarity of the position to my reading of Diogenes, Johnson, and Moore need hardly be emphasized.) Santayana says: "the scepticism I am defending is not meant to be merely provisional; its just conclusions will remain fixed, to remind me perpetually that all alleged knowledge of matters of fact is faith only."(20)
This does not mean that all factual claims are wholly unjustified. Rather, Santayana's view is that all such claims rest finally on beliefs for which no justification can be produced. Knowledge, says Santayana, is faith mediated by signs. We take our intuitions to be signs of external objects and events. Taken in that way, such intuitions can lead to justified beliefs. But there is no justification for taking them that way. Animal faith, then, consists in the treatment of intuitions as signs of the external world, in "supposing that there is substantial there, something that will count and work in the world" (SAF p.39)
stray graph that might have been in the atlantic piece:
I want there to be no God, and I am speculating that it is the same for Richard Dawkins. We would find a God-centered universe less open, less fascinating, less challenging than a material universe, and perhaps also more oppressive. We need to acknowledge that, like everyone else, we believe not as reasoning machines, but as flesh-and-blood human beings.
i have an essay on atheism up at the atlantic. i might put the point a bit more strongly: no one lives without faith, and no one's belief system can establish itself with no assumptions or no passionate commitments or no irrational kierkegarardian leaps.
i know what you're wondering. you're wondering, what does that asshole crispy think about hobby lobby? as you may know, i am highly in favor of conscience or religion-based opt-outs on various government mandates, a position i defended here and there. this is not as clear a case, and the conscientious conduct of both owners and workers is affected. but still i am going at it this way again. you should ask yourself how you would respond if by law you were required to implicate yourself in something you yourself regarded as terribly wrong.
and trying to go from anarchist to legal "mind", i would say this: imposing this requirement across the board obviously comes with social costs, for example it really does place a burden on the religious freedom of people like the owners of hobby lobby. it is a matter on which coercion by the state must be justified by a substantial social or state interest. that is, the costs of allowing such exemptions must be significant even for the matter to be legally controversial. now in weighing these costs i do not want to hear about hypothetical scenarios in which general motors or apple is refusing on religious grounds to offer various benefits. much less do i want to hear various more catastrophic scenarios. i want a relaistic assessment of the real costs. in this case, some women will not be covered by their employer for four drugs. so if they are unable to obtain those drugs, or have to pay exhborbitantly for them, that is a cost, and then the question would be, what are the various ways of ameliorating that? and the actual precedent as it might actually be taken up in an actually capitalist economy is relevant if realistic. i just don't think the sky is falling if the administration starts granting such waivers.
god told benedict to quit. perhaps He had extremely good reasons. i can picture the conversation: 'look, We want your letter of resignation on Our desk in the morning. if not, regrettably, We'll have to terminate you.' it's business-mystical, baby. i always figured someone must have been dangling a devastating scandal over benedict's head. no doubt it was that committee which is the catholic god. (i know y'all have been struggling with this for millennia, but the solution is straightforward: three gods, one committee.)
i just wish 'individualism' wasn't used pejoratively to mean greed and self-seeking. actually, against francis, i think it is big social coalitions, corporate and state, which create chronic structural inequalities. no one does that alone any more than they can transform the world alone or whatever it is you have in mind. also i would challenge francis to help 'the poor' without actually helping any individual.
obviously i am in reactionary mode right now. hard to tell why. maybe it's because i've been hanging out with my mom and reading richard rorty. while i'm at it, i've been listening to eric church. now, he's one of many male country singers who are basically working in a modified traditonalist vein and basically singing about the joys of getting drunk (well, hip hop, pop, my ex-wife, etc seem to be in an extremely drunken mode these days. party unto death, y'all.) the model is kenny chesney, which is quite unfortunate, though the boy can sing a country song and had good moments early on. also the thing with new male country stars is that they are emerging in this 'man-candy' era. so, you know, luke bryan takes longer getting into his jeans or having them painted on than beyonce. florida-georgia line is another example of the approach.
but i feel that eric church is a cut above: a bit better songs, a bit better singing. also, there is a twist of weirdness. what is up with his religion is interesting, and he throws jesuses around very cavalierly, saying that we need a country music jesus, or even more astonishingly that his woman loves him like jesus does. now, that really makes you wonder how jesus does love people, and also how people love jesus. on the other hand, i've also concluded that 'like jesus does' is an amazing song: both beautiful and interestingly bent. he has a lot of good songs, actually, and if i were predicting, i'd say that he's sort of an emerging george strait or alan jackson.
on man-candy: i guess we rather enjoyed our scopophilia before we got a bad conscience, so y'all knock yourselves out. i feel old and ugly, though. ah well, we deserve that too!
i don't know what you think about country music, but it's certainly the only genre where any major artist could sit down in front of a mic with a guitar at any time and blow you away. 'She knows the man I ain't/She forgives me when I can't." that is good.
that is classic country, and at least registers the other side of all the happy drunk songs.
i guess we should keep pretending that it's not the case that islam is a problem. that we shouln't say it, of course, does not entail that we don't all know it's true. in fact, i think that the main or even the only thing we should prohibit people from saying is the truth. i mean, there's no real reason to repress what's false; you might as well just refute it. nazism was never itself a problem, of course; people just made bad applications of it; it was a peacable philosophy of universal love and prosperity.
i have a funny feeling that the purpose of the whole amazing history of catholicism - the incomprehensible authoritarian hierarchy, the endless scholastic yip yap, the astonishing mysteries of the trinity and the eucharist, the clouds of choiring angels and saints, the burning of heretics, the attitude toward women and apples, the funny costumes, all that art, the confessional, 'celibacy,' 'God' - has always been buggery. it just never made any sense otherwise, putting it mildly.
well, the apocalypse has occurred, and our lives and world have been completely transformed in every aspect. a new world has replaced the old world. but amazingly enough, the new world is indistinguishable from the old world. we escaped into the same. everything, even you, has been replaced by itself. i think the idea was to teach us that we better learn to like where we are. only then will god show us something else.
one thing to be said for seemingly gratuitous provocation: it seems like the outrage would have to get a little old if you're just barraged by images, etc. one way to get past it, or perhaps to provoke a jihad crusade would be just to ridicule muhammad all the time everywhere. it's hard to stay pissed off all the time about what's all around you. many of us regard with perfect composure or even don't notice at all things which, were they the only or one of the few of their kind would offend us deeply. in a world full of kind helpful people that lady at the dmv would be a monster. after awhile it's impossible really to be offended that people have guns or that that porn is really gross. i picture your basic islamist hearing about the umpteenth offensive gesture and just going oh christ.
watcha readin, crispy? the 'magisterial' (i.e. long) biography: jonathan edwards: a life, by george marsden. really, edwards conducted quite the amazing life, though i have to say that, even with the vast materials brought to bear by marsden, something mysterious stiill lurks at the center. and though the life is filled with incident, it's certainly in the thought and writing where edwards' heart lay.
rarely has the idea of reactionary progressivism had more purchase. edwards was in many ways a radical figure, but in the guise of a 'revivalist,' constantly engaged in the project of preserving the most hard-assed calvinism: totally opposed to any hint of free will, convinced of total human depravity, an advocate of god's apparently entirely arbitrary grace. these were still the orthodoxies of his chiildhood; the eighteenth century seemed to set itself to explode them all and develop a far more 'optimistic' intellectual structure. from this point of view, edwards attacked not only deists, 'arminians,' etc. but the establishment churches of new england. he was a spearhead of the radical 'new lights' and a friend and fan of the rather democratic and individualist rock star george whitefield, spearhead of the 'great awakening.'
indeed edwards as pastor at northamption, mass., in 1825-26 partly gave rise to the awakening that swept both england a new england. edwards' book a faithful narrative of the surprising work of god told the story of how almost everyone in the town had apparently been 'saved.' what might be hardest for the modern reader to swallow is the extreme darkness of edwards' preaching, even as it brought people to christ. he taught that one should always - literally, always - be aware of one's own soon-to-come death and of the likelihood of eternal punishment (described in excruciating detail), and above all of the fact that we all deserve infinite punishment even if we live the most exemplary lives possible. the event that really ended the northampton revival was a suicide of a particularly earnest believer: one joseph hawley, who was completely convinced of his irremediable depravity. but even immediately afterwards, edwards could blame satan and preach, "There is no expressing the hatefulness and how hateful you are rendered by [sin] in the sight of Gid. The odiousness of this filth is beyond all account because 'tis infinitely odious. You have seen the filthiness of toads and serpents and filthy vermin and creatures that you have loathed and of putrefied flesh. . . . Your filthiness is not the filthiness of toads and serpents or poisonous vermin, but of devils which is a thousand times worse," etc.
again, though there were many disputes, an exile from northampton to an indian outpost, a rise to the presidency of princeton (which he hardly liived to realize), the real climax of the life are the late works that edwards lived to complete, and marsden presents them as the climax also of the biography. this could be be bathetic, but i think the work amply sustains this treatment. what's most amazing is the comprehensive, and -believe it or not - stunningly optimistic vision articulated in the nature of true virtue (1857.)
[God is] the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty; from whom all is perfectly derived, and on whom all is most absolutely and perfectly derived, and on whom all is most absolutely and perfectly dependent; of whom, and through whom, and to whom, is all and all perfection; and whose being and beauty is as it were the sum and comprehension of all existence and excellence: much more than the sun is the fountain summary comprehension of all the light and brightness of the day. . . . True virtue most essentially consists of benevolence to Being in general.
really where edwards arrived by extreme applications of logical acuity applied within a scriptural framework, was an ecstatic religious vision of merger with god and all being. rarely has a more extreme set of contradictions been held so firmly in suspension.
i'm joining forces with the santorums to do something about this evolution business, a la edward wilson. (henry thanks for the correction!) really if we were far more cooperative than we are - in precisely the same environment - evolutionary theorists would have less than no trouble explaining that, and likewise if we were far more competitive or aggressive. if everyone did art all the time, or if there was no such thing...no prob. that is, you've got a wee little issue with empiricalness (or possibly empiricity). (once again: our idea of art goes back at absolute most to the renaissance, more likely the 18th century. baby it is not genetic.) look, you just start with the idea that natural selection has to explain everything. really? does it explain why i just tripped over that tree root? or why my forebears have been doing so for eons? does it, in other words, explain my clumsiness, my ugliness, my indifference, my psychosis, my psoriasis, etc? does it simultaneously explain, let's see, democracy, communism, and fascism? does it explain the income tax, the protestant reformation, and rihanna's hairstyle? oh it's got to. no, no it doesn't. every change in the organism is accompanied by a thousand 'unintended' or irrelevant or non-adaptive or counter-adaptive effects. the idea that everything has an explanation, and that all the explanations must appeal to a single principle, is much more a religious than a scientific orientation. it has the same form as an appeal to god's will: everything can be explained by one thing, which we just stipulate in advance. someday we'll wonder how we ever thought this. you reason from effect to cause, but the cause is a single dimension of explanation that is assumed to obtain prior to any detailed examination of the effect: it's apriorism or something. or we're just pretending it's not an infinitely complicated mess out here.
frank bruni argues that "Neither Rick Santorum nor the Vatican speaks for most American Catholics." perhaps i am just bewildered by the whole idea of catholicism. but i would have thought that letting the vatican speak for you is more or less a necessary condition for membership. if you disagree with the pope on a wide variety of issues, you're a protestant: that's what 'protestant' means. it seems like maybe catholicism, like judaism, has mutated from religion to ethnicity: you're a catholic if your mom is. but the catholic chuch qua religion is certainly the most epistemically authoritarian religion this side of scientology. if you're uncomfortable with that, just ditch. ok maybe catholicism is central to your identity, though you don't believe a damn thing it asserts. oh i don't know: work up a new identity, one that's closer to your identity.