Littleton, Colorado, 4.57 pm
David Sedley delves into the philosophy of Epicurus:
Hedonists are ethical thinkers who hold that things are good precisely in so far as they are pleasant, and bad precisely in so far as they are painful. Epicurus was, more specifically, an “egoistic” hedonist, in that he took it to be obvious that the good for each individual, from the moment of birth, is that person’s own pleasure, not other people’s: in other words, your life is a good one if, and only if, you yourself enjoy it. Although an enjoyable life must, according to Epicurus, be centred on moral virtue, what makes it worth living is in the last analysis your enjoyment of it, and not the morality for its own sake.
Moreover there are, besides moral propriety, other factors equally indispensable to enjoying your life.
From “Easter” by George Herbert (1593-1633):
Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.
Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or, since all musick is but three parts vied
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
(Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of St. Thomas, 1602, via Wikimedia Commons)
Alex at Weird Universe captions:
An ad by a Seattle burger restaurant, inspired by the fact that Easter Sunday is on April 20 (4/20), which is a special day for cannabis enthusiasts. Of course, some people are already saying that the ad offends them. But in the ad’s defense, there is a long-standing argument that Jesus and his disciples probably were cannabis users. Though I doubt that argument is endorsed by the Vatican.
Money quote from the guy responsible for the ad:
“No one group is sacred,” [Lunchbox Laboratory owner and "practicing Catholic" John Schmidt] said. “Do you ever watch South Park where they parody everybody and every religion and pretty much anything?”
Researchers in Switzerland are closer to understanding why extreme stress appears to have second-generation effects:
The researchers studied the number and kind of microRNAs expressed by adult mice exposed to traumatic conditions in early life and compared them with non-traumatized mice. They discovered that traumatic stress alters the amount of several microRNAs in the blood, brain and sperm – while some microRNAs were produced in excess, others were lower than in the corresponding tissues or cells of control animals. These alterations resulted in misregulation of cellular processes normally controlled by these microRNAs.
After traumatic experiences, the mice behaved markedly differently: they partly lost their natural aversion to open spaces and bright light and had depressive-like behaviors. These behavioral symptoms were also transferred to the next generation via sperm, even though the offspring were not exposed to any traumatic stress themselves.
Virginia Hughes adds:
The study is notable for showing that sperm responds to the environment, says Stephen Krawetz, a geneticist at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan, who studies microRNAs in human sperm. (He was not involved in the latest study.) “Dad is having a much larger role in the whole process, rather than just delivering his genome and being done with it,” he says.
Viktoria Sorochinski describes her project Anna & Eve, which profiles a mother and daughter:
I first met Anna and Eve in Montreal where I used to live…. They drew my attention because of the unusual dynamic of their relationship. They seemed to interact like two sisters rather than like a mother and a daughter. The little Eve had this incredible power and maturity which one can very rarely encounter in a 4-year old child. The mother, on the other hand, seemed to be much more childish and naive for her age. They were both in the process of growing up and discovering this world. They were both learning from each other.
See more of Sorochinski’s work here.
Michael Brendan Dougherty reflects on the way Christians celebrate Easter, finding that the patterns of Holy Week reveal “a larger, more comprehensible story about God’s covenant with man.” How he describes the movement from Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday:
We gather at the edge of sanctuary, which is the symbol of the heavenly Holy of Holies, and re-enact the part of the vicious mob in Jerusalem who called for the death of God for the sake of God’s name. We become the Roman torturers who mocked the King of the universe with a crown of thorns. We play the roles of the screaming and vain religious men, who work themselves into a fury. Our pastor intones the hysteria of the chief priest who condemned God Himself as a blasphemer. We once more present to God (and to ourselves) the bitter betrayals, laziness, and weakness of the Apostles after whom our priests are modeled — and who too often imitate their bad example.
And after all this, our own Via Dolorosa, we are finally prepared to hear the words, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”
This re-enactment — in which reality is suffused with divine meaning — does not end with the liturgy at our Church and is not reserved for the devout or even the believing. Once this vocabulary for understanding the universe seeps into the imagination, the world takes on the same patterns.
At least when it comes to demographics:
Maybe the most surprising thing here is that most of the US’s religious diversity comes not from religious minorities, who in total are only 5.3 percent of the population, but from the 16 percent of Americans who are unaffiliated. Part of that has to do with the fact that, for all of the US’s racial diversity, many of those racial minority groups tend to Christian: most African-Americans, certainly most Latinos, and a significant share of Asian-Americans.
Now compare the US to France and you’ll see two things: that France has almost twice as many unaffiliateds, as a share of … overall population, and eight times as many Muslims. This comparison also gets to a shortcoming in Pew’s metric, though. Something this data does not show is intra-Christian diversity: the US has lots of different Christian groups, whereas French Christians are overwhelmingly Catholic. Diversity between Catholics and Protestants alone has been hugely important for US religious history. While Americans may not be super-diverse along broader religious categories, that intra-Christian diversity has been a real challenge in the US, and one that the country has done an unusually good job of dealing with.
Emma Green connects these findings to another Pew study on religious violence, noting that “some of the least religiously diverse countries also experience some of the most religious violence”:
Elizabeth Corey reviews Marc DeGirolami’s recent book, The Tragedy of Religious Liberty, which offers an approach to disputes about the First Amendment that “does not rank [competing] values, but rather sees that all of them may well be more or less important, depending on the circumstances”:
Tragedy in the ancient sense, observes DeGirolami, moves not from joy to sorrow but from “struggle to unresolved struggle.” Its essence lies in recognizing fundamentally competing goods and the consequent realization that the conflict between them is permanent. Thus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, for example, Clytemnestra can never be at peace with Agamemnon’s sacrifice of their daughter, even as Agamemnon understands his civic duty as king to require the terrible deed. Both characters act on their respective notions of good, which are partial and incomplete. Both, in taking the action they do, fail to recognize and value something else of great importance.
In just this way, DeGirolami points out that the pursuit of a single value necessarily sacrifices the other goods that have not been chosen.
She goes on to connect this style of thinking to Oakeshott’s:
In November, the Dish noted the publication of N.T. Wright’s 1700-page, groundbreaking exploration of St. Paul and the origins of Christianity, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. In a profile of the Anglican priest and scholar, Jason Byassee takes the measure of his intellectual ambitions:
Wright’s goal in his teaching and writing is to massively revise the way Christianity has been articulated for generations. Christian faith, for Wright, is not about going to heaven when you die. It is not about the triumph of grace over the law of the Old Testament. He says its key doctrine is not justification by grace alone, the cornerstone for the Protestant Reformers. The church has misread Paul so severely, it seems, that no one fully understood the gospel from the time of the apostle to the time a certain British scholar started reading Paul in Greek in graduate school.
“Apologist” and “revisionist” usually don’t fit on the same business card. A significant New Testament scholar told me of the time he first heard Wright speak. “He sounds like the voice of God,” he told a friend on the way out. Then he overheard someone else leaving the same lecture quip, “That guy thinks he’s the voice of God.”
He goes on to highlight Wright’s contributions to the “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP), described as “a relatively recent theological discussion about what Paul really taught about salvation”:
In an interview, the poet Christian Wiman, whose work often grapples with doubt and death, turns his attention to joy:
I feel that there is a great deal of joy in my work of the past ten years, but I do get letters from people telling me to ditch the sackcloth and ashes, and I get tired of my own grimace in mirrors. Can one really just decide to be more joyful, though? One aspect of joy is the suspension of will—the obliteration of will, really—though probably there is an element of discipline in being prepared for joy, just as there is in being prepared for poetry. “Iridescent readiness,” W. S. Di Piero calls it. And there are these lines from Richard Wilbur:
Try to remember this: what you project
Is what you will perceive; what you perceive
With any passion, be it love or terror,
May take on whims and powers of its own.
The thing is, we are always going to feel God’s absence more than his presence. We are always going to feel the imprint and onslaught of necessity, which is the crucifixion, more than we feel the release and freedom of pure joy, which is the resurrection. The first we experience; the second, even when it emerges out of experience, we believe. In that tiny gap of grammar is an abyss of difference. Suffering we know and share intimately with Christ (it’s how we bear it). Faith and hope are always imaginative—that is to say, projective—acts: “Tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.”
Jeremy Polacek notes a new and disruptive sculptural incarnation of Jesus Christ:
Lying blanketed and forlorn on a [Davidson, North Carolina] bench, “Homeless Jesus” has inspired a conversation about homelessness in general, appropriate depictions of Christ and at least one call for his arrest. The life-size statue is the work of Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz who in his artist statement says he’s “devoted to creating artwork that glorifies Christ.” His “Homeless Jesus” is controversial for many reasons; most importantly because of the pose. The figure depicts Jesus as a man under a blanket, with only his exposed feet, wounded by crucifixation, to give away his identity — a starkly different image than the images Christ on the cross, Christ at the nativity or Chris the redeemer that we are used to seeing.
The idea seems to be catching on:
Damon Linker argues that it won’t happen until religion “comes to grips with and responds creatively to the fact of pluralism”:
[P]erhaps the most daunting obstacle to getting the nones to treat traditional religion as a viable option is the sense that it simplifies the manifest complexity of the world. Yes, we long for a coherent account of the whole of things. But we don’t want that account to be a fairy tale. We want it to reflect and make sense of the world as it is, not as we childishly wish it to be.
The tendency toward oversimplification is a perennial temptation for all forms of human thinking, but it’s especially acute in matters of religion … There is a whole, and it can be grasped. But it is a complex whole. A pluralistic whole. A differentiated whole shot through with contradiction and paradox. This is something that modern men and women intuitively understand, even if they’ve never read a word of the great philosophical pluralists (Daniel Bell, Isaiah Berlin, and Michael Oakeshott), and even if they choose to devote their lives to fighting it in a futile and self-defeating embrace of fundamentalism.
“We are not told that Jesus ‘survived death’; we are not told that the story of the empty tomb is a beautiful imaginative creation that offers inspiration to all sorts of people; we are not told that the message of Jesus lives on. We are told that God did something – that is, that this bit of the human record, the things that Peter and John and Mary Magdalene witnessed on Easter morning, is a moment when, to borrow an image from the 20th century Catholic writer Ronald Knox, the wall turns into a window. In this moment we see through to the ultimate energy behind and within all things. When the universe began, prompted by the will and act of God and maintained in being at every moment by the same will and action, God made it to be a universe in which on a particular Sunday morning in AD33 this will and action would come through the fabric of things and open up an unprecedented possibility – for Jesus and for all of us with him: the possibility of a human life together in which the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit makes possible a degree of reconciled love between us that could not have been imagined.
It is that reconciled love, and the whole picture of human destiny that goes with it, that attracts those outside the household of faith and even persuades them that the presence of religion in the social order may not be either toxic or irrelevant after all. But for the Christian, the basic fact is that this compelling vision is there only because God raised Jesus. It is not an idea conceived by the spiritual genius of the apostles, those horribly familiar characters with all their blundering and mediocrity, so like us. It is, as the gospel reading insists, a shocking novelty, something done for and to us, not by us. How do we know that it is true? Not by some final knock-down would-be scientific proof, but by the way it works in us through the long story of a whole life and the longer story of the life of the community that believes it. We learn and assimilate its truth by the risk of living it; to those on the edge of it, looking respectfully and wistfully at what it might offer, we can only say, ‘you’ll learn nothing more by looking; at some point you have to decide whether you want to try to live with it and in it.’
And what’s the difference it makes?
Last time we checked in on Carolyn Browender’s Lenten resolution to spend a week following the prayer practices of different faith traditions, she had tried Mormonism and Quakerism. She then turned to Roman Catholicism:
I borrowed a rosary from a friend and after some hunting around, found a how-to pamphlet from the Knights of Columbus and a list of the different mysteries you’re supposed to mediate on when praying. I didn’t know the Hail Mary, Glory Be, Fatima Prayer or Hail Holy Queen, so my first attempt was clumsy. I kept alternating between the pamphlet for the prayers and the list of mysteries. My second attempt was a bit smoother and was done right before I went to sleep. At this point I’d memorized the Hail Mary and Glory Be, and found it much easier to relax and fall into a more contemplative state. While my mind would sometimes wander while contemplating the mysteries (I focused on the sorrowful ones), I did appreciate the physicality of fingering beads. This seems to be a theme for me this Lent: If there is some kind of ritual or movement I can perform my prayers are likely to be more focused.
Next up was Judaism, which proved a linguistic challenge:
“Jordan (II)” by George Herbert (1593-1633):
When first my lines of heav’nly joyes made mention,
Such was their lustre, they did so excell,
That I sought out quaint words, and trim invention;
My thoughts began to burnish, sprout, and swell,
Curling with metaphors a plain intention,
Decking the sense, as if it were to sell.
Thousands of notions in my brain did runne,
Off’ring their service, if I were not sped:
I often blotted what I had begunne;
This was not quick enough, and that was dead.
Nothing could seem too rich to clothe the sunne,
Much lesse those joyes which trample on his head.
As flames do work and winde, when they ascend,
So did I weave my self into the sense.
But while I bustled, I might heare a friend
Whisper, How wide is all this long pretence!
There is in love a sweetnesse readie penn’d:
Copie out onely that, and save expense.
(Photo by Mark Probst)
Jonathan Crow calls Samuel Beckett’s only movie – titled, simply, Film – “enigmatic, bleakly funny and very, very odd”:
The 17-minute silent short is essentially a chase movie between the camera and the main character O – as in object. Film opens with O cowering from the gaze of a couple he passes on the street. Meanwhile, the camera looms just behind his head. At his stark, typically Beckettesque flat, O covers the mirror, throws his cat and his chihuahua outside and even trashes a picture — the only piece of decoration in the flat — that seems to be staring back at him. Yet try as he might, O ultimately can’t quite evade being observed by the gaze of the camera. …
Ever since it came out, critics have been puzzling what Film is really about. Is it a statement on voyeurism in cinema? On human consciousness? On death? Beckett gave his take on the movie to the New Yorker: “It’s a movie about the perceiving eye, about the perceived and the perceiver — two aspects of the same man. The perceiver desires like mad to perceive and the perceived tries desperately to hide. Then, in the end, one wins.” Keaton himself defined the movie even more succinctly, “A man may keep away from everybody but he can’t get away from himself.”
Christopher Ingraham compares red and blue states’ porn-watching habits:
Blue states watch more porn. But what’s the matter with Kansas? According to Pornhub Insights, Kansas leads the nation in porn pageviews per capita at roughly 194. They don’t specify what interval this is over (monthly, weekly, etc), but the state-by-state comparison is nonetheless interesting.
Plotting Obama vote share in 2012 versus porn consumption, it looks like blue states consume more porn per capita than red ones. Aside from Kansas – a clear outlier – and Georgia, the remaining top ten per-capita porn consumers are all blue. Similarly, New Mexico and Maine are the only blue states in the bottom ten per-capita porn consumers.
Update from a reader:
Kansas is getting the credit for other people’s porn habits. This is due to one the the vagaries of IP-address based geolocation. When a geolocation service tries to figure out where, geographically, an IP address is located but does not have the date to specify at a less-than-national level, it returns the location of a spot in the very center of the country – which is a spot near Wichita, Kansas. Thus, Kansas numbers are inflated by all the IP addresses for which a more specific location could not be identified.
In other porn analysis, Calvin Hennick wonders why commenters on porn sites are, on the whole, more upbeat than those elsewhere on the Internet:
Take this sampling from XVideos, a site where I’ve spent hours, ahem, researching this phenomenon: