Religion

Excerpts from Benedict Anderson, Gottfried Benn, and Bob Altemeyer

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! I am spending it in Boulder, CO, one of the most beautiful cities in America. From “Static Poems” Deafness to imperatives is profundity in the wise man, children and grandchildren don’t bother him, don’t alarm him. To represent a particular outlook, to act, to travel hither and yon are all signs of a world that doesn’t see clearly. –Gottfried Benn (in Poetry, 11⁄09.) Adult authoritarians tend to be highly ethnocentric and heavy users of the “consensual validation pill” (Newcomb, 1961).

A limited ecumenism

My latest op-ed, “A limited ecumenism,” appeared today in Sightings, the newsletter of the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. It discusses the Catholic Church’s recent outreach to traditionalist Anglicans. Sightings is a free online publication sent out twice a week to over 7,000 scholars, ministers, students, and others interested in the intersection of religion and public life; you can subscribe to it at the Sightings subscription page.

Readings from Solomon's 'Judaism: A Very Short Introduction'

Martin Buber and Emanuel Levinas put their faith in the God of relationships. Alles Leben ist Begegnung (‘all life is encounter’), declared Buber, and the important thing is to get your relationship with God and with people right (I-Thou, rather than I-It); from that relationship, which is the essence of Revelation, ethical action flows; laws and rules are feeble attempts to capture revelation, and doomed to inadequacy. … Genesis 1:27 states clearly enough: ‘So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Readings from Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning'

I am currently reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl, a psychiatrist, was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, for several years. He survived the experience and went on to develop the theory of “logotherapy,” a branch of psychoanalysis that focuses on human beings’ “will to meaning.” The part of the book that discusses Frankl’s memories of his camp experience is, like any Holocaust memoir worth its salt, extremely disturbing and difficult to read, but it ought to be read in spite of that.

Readings from Charles Taylor and Erich Auerbach

One way to put the question I want to answer here is this: why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable? … Important as science is to our present outlook, we mustn’t exaggerate its causal role here, and make it the main motor of the transformation. Our encasing in secular time is also something we have brought about in the way we live and order our lives.

A vacation and a reading list: a personal update

It’s hard to believe how quickly things happen. My summer term - roughly six hours a day, five days a week of education classes - is drawing to a close, and as of Friday afternoon I’ll be free for an entire month (the life of a student is good - certainly beats two or three weeks of vacation over the course of a year). I’ll be in Colorado (Boulder, Telluride, Denver) for almost two weeks, in Chicago for one, and in Muskegon for one - as well as a few days of camping in Northern Michigan with friends.

Quotes from Czeslaw Milosz and Herman Melville

I finished “Moby-Dick” yesterday. It was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read - but also incredibly beautiful and rewarding. — The past is inaccurate, because we cannot determine how it was in fact, no matter how hard we try. We must rely on people’s memory, which is treacherous, because memory is constantly juggling and revising the data of experience. …In telling about an event, we ourselves cannot avoid revising it, because our narrative simplifies and composes a whole out of selected components, while omitting others.

Quotes from Randall Jarrell, Herman Melville, and John D. Caputo

From Next Day Wisdom, said William James, Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise If that is wisdom. Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves And the boy takes it to my station wagon, What I’ve become Troubles me even if I shut my eyes. … Imaginings within my imagining, I too have taken The chance of life. Now the boy pats my dog And we start home.

Readings from Melville's 'Moby-Dick'

But how? Genius in the Sperm Whale? Has the Sperm Whale ever written a book, spoken a speech? No, his great genius is declared in his doing nothing particular to prove it. It is moreover declared in his pyramidical silence. …If hereafter any highly cultured, poetical nation shall lure back to their birth-right, the merry May-day gods of old; and livingly enthrone them again in the now egotistical sky; in the now unhaunted hill; then be sure, exalted to Jove’s high seat, the great Sperm Whale shall lord it.

Excerpts from Czeslaw Milosz's 'Milosz's ABC's'

I made it, but I have always tried to remember that I owe it to my lucky star, not to myself, and that right next door are entire neighborhoods of unfortunates. I will say even more: the thought of their grueling labor and unfulfilled hope, of the gigantic prison system in which the unneeded are kept, taught me to look skeptically at (America’s) decorations - those well-kept houses amidst the suburbs’ greenery.