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.
Making entirely too much of a Huff Post piece on the Pope and Fox collaborating, Crusader AXE enlists the unelected legislators of manking to make sense of it all...and Joni, Marlon, Tommy E and WEB answer the call...and poetry ensues.
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.
really? not at all?
this mormon baptism thing is deeply weird. now let's stipulate that being baptized in absentia in the church of jesus christ of latter day saints has no effect on dead people. it can neither redeem nor damn the soul of the deceased, nor indeed create a soul where there was none before. (do jews believe in the soul? or do they believe it in anything like the way mitt presumably does?) at any rate, i say: knock yourselves out. baptize the piss out of me, somewhere deep in utah. just now, in fact, i performed an elaborate ceremony, full of solemn, highly efficacious mumbo-jumbo, to proclaim brigham young and joseph smith posthumously to be atheists, to declare that brigham young and joseph smith were material objects, members of a species of mammals who existed only in the actual world. welcome back to reality, y'all!
in case you're wondering, i agree with all these conservative types that catholic medical institutions must be exempted from rules requiring provision of contraception. this, it seems to me, is perfectly clear on constitutional grounds, but also on basic moral grounds according to which one ought not to require people to violate their own ethical and religious principles. as i always say, ask yourself which has been the source of more evil: permitting people to act according to their own moral convictions, or coercing them to act in violation of those convictions. however, on the same grounds, doctors must be permitted to opt out of these state laws requiring that women wanting abortions must be shown ultrasounds or hear their fetuses described in any particular way. here's what i'd actually suggest: such decisions must be left to each individual doctor, working with her patient. this seems entirely obvious to me. stop trying to institute conformity to your own little beliefs, convictions, prejudices, and allow each person to act according to her own.
santorum was destined to rise. now, maybe we aren't so pleased with a combination of statutory enforcement of religiously-derived moral standards and a neo-conservative foreign policy: huge-state conservatism, in short. but santorum is actually a sincere and intelligent spokesman for his positions, maybe just in comparison to the other candidates. one interesting thing to go along with how mormonism is playing is how catholicism of the santorum stripe goes along with evangelical protestantism. believe me, even though there's plenty they agree on - starting with abortion and gay marriage - you won't have to probe very far in american protestantism to find a richly-justified anti-papism, even at this late date.
simon brings my attention to cockburn on hitchens. i say this piece is based on three basic insights: (1) people who disagree with me are evil. (2) people who are more successful than me are evil. (3) people who are better than me at what i do are evil.
let me say something about the neo-con hitch (and also his friend martin amis), with their embrace of the concept of 'islamo-fascism,' and their suggestions that islam itself needed to be suppressed because of the terrorists who appeal to it. the anti-communist right-wingers of the fifties and sixties had cracked moments, and a really psychotic overreaction suggesting things such as that dwight eisenhower was an agent of the international communist conspiracy. they engaged in an active process of putting everyone under surveillance for intellectual purity, a kind of parody of what they were supposedly fighting against. but however, communism was a frigging nightmare, and if you weren't an anti-communist in 1961, and if you are not an anti-communist now, you were/are extremely wrong, an advocate of totalitarianism and evil. that joseph mccarthy was terribly wrong and extremely dangerous to liberty does not entail that josef stalin was ok. and in this case, if you have anything nice to say about al qaeda-type terrorism (like one of my colleagues at mica, who was in the habit calling osama a 'freedom fighter'), if you do anything to try to take the sting out of the sheer irrational evil, you are really really wrong. and if you think it can be detached entirely from islam, i think you're misguided, as i think the attempt to completely detach stalinism or the khmer rouge from marxist communism is a pitiful rationalization. and obviously hitchens' anti-religious fervor both fed and was fed by his 'islamophobia.' so: i think this led him into numerous extremely wrong conclusions. it led him to endorse something like a world war for the suppression of islam as a whole. but, there was a truth at the heart.
also, opinion journalism is not itself violence or repression. there's no point in vaguely holding hitchens responsible for invading iraq. what he did was write; that doesn't force anyone to do anything. this is one reason why we should defend freedom of expression at its widest scope. the right response to hitchens is to refute the arguments; if he kicked your ass you had no one to blame but yourself, and you should have tried again. i'll give cockburn this: he did try to do that. he is no match for hitchens in argument or polemic or wit, but that just means he needs more craft.
also if he was wrong on this, it of course does not follow that he was wrong in his literary judgments, or his picture of the history of ideas, or whatever it may be. he was often right about such things, and spoke from a depth of knowledge and reflection that made the arguments compelling even if not right.
Chief among them is policy adviser Vince Haley, a deep thinker from the Catholic right who “reads papal encyclicals as a hobby,” Gingrich says.
you're going to love a gingrich administration's approach to reproduction, for example. where is the know-nothing party when you need it?
if i was running israel or if i was in the republican jewish coalition i would actually worry about the extreme enthusiasm for your nation and people of the likes of bachmann and perry, and of all the republican candidates (except paul) insofar as they abase themselves before israel as a way to court evangelical votes. these people intend to convert you, in order to hasten the rapture. for that matter, is that the kind of idea we want as the basis of our middle east policy? obviously it has no rational aspect; it doesn't pursue american interests; it doesn't try to understand anything that's happening on the ground at all; it slaps an a priori and completely rationally arbitrary interpretation on the realities; it is a delusional or psychotic approach to an actually dangerous zone of conflict and to actual real persons. also it is a formula for religious war.
meanwhile newt's notion that the palestinian people are an invention is extraordinarily offensive, and ought to to give everyone doubts about a newt presidency. in some sense every people is invented. 'the american people' is an invention, though it's newt's favorite trope. that doesn't mean it isn't real. you need to listen to how people identify themselves and take that perfectly seriously. but this is a little prelude to 'cultural genocide'; whatever you may call yourselves, you don't count, and the destruction of your culture would not be the destruction of anything.
douthat argues today that there are parallels between catholic priests' sexual abuse of boys and the cover-ups of it and the penn state case. and folks on espn have been describing it as "the worst scandal in the history of college athletics." now let me say why i don't think these things are right, exactly. now, almost any institution - in particular any institution that deals with children - might harbor a pedophile; i guess there's a little segment of the population that is sexually configured this way; lord knows why. but the catholic church, i believe, more or less actively encouraged homosexual pedophilia for centuries. really 'celibacy' amounted to misogyny: the basic idea was not to touch women. and the idea of celibacy attracted many people who were disgusted - often for extremely good reasons - by their own sexuality. i actually think the altar boy was conceived to be a way to keep priests celibate: which is absurd, but there it is. you had thousands of abusers, layers and layers of concealment, and i think actual institutional encouragement. i don't know much about big-time college football, and it has its amazing corruptions, but it would surprise me if it had anything like that going on. what you have is one predator, and one extremely disturbing cover-up.
the worst scandals in college football are scandals that infect the whole thing routinely: those are the scandals that are peculiar to, characteristic of, the institution: scandals involving, say, cash or sex used to lure high school players to commit to a school: the way usc has conducted its program for decades, e.g. or academic scandals that amount to relieving players of their status as students. or judicial-type scandals where player misbehavior is forgiven or concealed over and over. these are the corruptions that are characteristic of the institution, as homosexual pederasty is characteristic of the catholic church. now it's probably true that sandusky was protected by a kind of culture of impunity around big-time college athletics. but it's not, i think, true that child sexual abuse is any more rampant in this environment than in any other. you'd be likelier to find that in children's charities, like sandusky's foundation, and maybe that's a place where we might focus more attention.
[let me acknowledge a little streak of homophobia in what i just wrote. and let me say that i also think that the extreme repugnance with which many people have greeted the sandusky revelations also has such a streak. 'anally raping a ten-year-old boy' causes about as severe a disgust reaction as i am capable of. and let me say: i was sexually abused by one of my step-brothers, and as an adolescent i was incessantly chicken-hawked by men: the guy on the bus who just puts his hand on your crotch; the guy who picks you up hitch-hiking and asks whether you like to masturbate etc etc. i kind of had to fight for a heterosexual identity. well obviously girls have to put up with shit like that from heterosexual men. but if that turned them against heterosexuality, you might understand it. but the homosexual element is intrinsic to the catholic situation (though of course there might be an occasional girl abused by a priest). reason tells me it's just as bad either way. nausea tries to tell me something else. no doubt further therapy is recommended.]
i'm glad to hear that romney and huntsman are members of a non-christian cult. there are two sorts of people i could never bring myself to vote for: (a) a christian (anyone who believes that the eternal god appeared in time and died could believe absolutely anything), and (b) the sort of person who believes anything that the majority of americans believe. haven't we learned any lessons from our long string of failed christian presidents elected by popular vote? geez.
they should ask cain what specifically in sharia law he objects to.
romney and huntsman definitely have weirdness issues.
america might dislike atheists, but even i hate whining atheists. if most people disagree with you, and regard your opinions as incomprehensible and reprehensible, just smile and go right on. actually i can't think of any serious discrimination i've ever faced for being an atheist, born and raised.
i think if rick perry gets into the race, he'll have a reasonable chance of getting nominated (though i don't withdraw my prediction of pawlenty). as sympathetic as i am to his notion of splitting up the united states, which is long overdue, the fundamentalist hyper-right christianity would make him an extremely disconcerting president. then there's cain's call for a straight religious test for office. it's funny, but one of the world's most famous religious skeptics could get elected president of the united states in 1800. now there certainly is a de facto religious test. maybe atheism needs a political party.
we've got to get over this living god business, whether it's selassie or schneerson, obama or lennon, david foster wallace or kurt cobain (oops some of these people are dead).
The saffron-robed Sathya Sai Baba had a huge following with ashrams in more than 126 countries. He was said to perform miracles — conjuring rings and watches and “vibhuti,” a sacred ash that his followers applied on their foreheads — from his overgrown and unkempt Afro-style hair.
um, yeah! give me a couple of says to practice up and i'll conjure rings and watches too, albeit rather badly. i wonder if he did card tricks.
notre dame went well: threw down some immortal technique and anarchist political aesthetics to the catholics. obviously i am disappointed that there's not a permanent government shutdown. i expected the leaders of the legislative branch to resign in embarrassment after a sudden realization of who they actually are. i'm reading henry adams' beautifully-written and -researched history of the united states of america during the administrations of thomas jefferson. jefferson came in and eliminated all internal taxes (funding the federal government exclusively through excises and tariffs on imported goods), while his treasury secretary albert gallatin (a biography of whom henry adams also wrote) launched a systematic effort to eliminate the national debt. jeff wrote: 'Our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization and a very unexpensive one - a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants." tea par-tay! (on the other hand, he was our least christian president, regarded as one of the most extreme religious skeptics in the world. try that in contemporary american politics.)
would it make y'all happy if an american philosophy professor burned a bible? because i'm here for you.
franklin graham on cnn this morning, from japan:
carol costello: 'What do you say to people who ask how God could have allowed this to happen?'
graham: 'We don't think God did allow this to happen. He didn't intend this to happen....And our message to the people of Japan is, continue to trust in God.'
now there is some clear thinking.
obviously the right really has no idea how to respond to egypt. they kind of like freedom and stuff, but then again they are pro-israeli and anti-muslim freaks. this has something to do with how israel is necessary to the rapture or something. i love clear, realistic thinking. anyway, hit that first link and say it with me: thank the good lord for ron paul.