Dwelling Together In Love

Apr 20 2014 @ 2:14pm

Michael Brendan Dougherty reflects on the way Christian celebrate Easter, finding 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.

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American Is A Christian Country

Apr 20 2014 @ 1:27pm

At least when it comes to demographics:

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Max Fisher unpacks the above chart from a Pew study, which shows that the US is “lower than most Western European countries [in religious diversity] and 68th in the world overall”:

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”:

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Making Room For Many Values

Apr 20 2014 @ 12:27pm

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:

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The Wright Way To Read St. Paul

Apr 20 2014 @ 11:29am

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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”:

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Bringing Joy To Life

Apr 20 2014 @ 10:32am

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.”

Previous Dish on Wiman here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The View From Your Window

Apr 20 2014 @ 9:47am

Littleton, Colorado, 4-57 PM

Littleton, Colorado, 4.57 pm

Turning The Nones Toward Faith

Apr 20 2014 @ 9:09am

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.

Quote For Easter Sunday

Apr 20 2014 @ 8:32am

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“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? If God exists and is active, if his will and action truly raised Jesus from the dead, then what we think and do and achieve as human beings is not the only thing that the world’s future depends on. We do all we can; we bring our best intelligence and energy to labour for reconciliation and for justice; but the future of reconciliation and justice doesn’t depend only on us. To say this doesn’t take away one jot of our responsibility or allow us to sit back; as Pascal said, we cannot sleep while Jesus is still in agony, and the continuing sufferings of the world are an image of that agony. But to believe that everything doesn’t depend on us delivers us from two potentially deadly temptations. We may be tempted to do something, anything, just because we can’t bear it if we aren’t making some visible difference; but to act for the sake of acting is futile or worse. Or we may be consumed with anxiety that we haven’t done enough, so consumed that we never have time to be ourselves, to give God thanks for his love and grace and beauty. We may present a face to the world that is so frantic with fear that we have left something undone that we make justice and reconciliation deeply unattractive. We never acquire the grace and freedom to give God thanks for the small moments of joy, the little triumphs of sense and kindness,” – Rowan Williams.

(Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, 1601, via Wikimedia Commons)

Different Ways To Pray, Ctd

Apr 20 2014 @ 7:36am

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:

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A Poem For Saturday

Apr 19 2014 @ 9:12pm

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“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)

A Supremely Strange Short

Apr 19 2014 @ 8:21pm

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.”

Meanwhile, Tim Martin reviews Beckett’s recently published “lost” short story Echo’s Bones. He sees a young writer still struggling to cast off the burden of James Joyce’s influence:

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The Politics Of Porn

Apr 19 2014 @ 8:19pm

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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:

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The Pleasures Of Stoned Sex

Apr 19 2014 @ 6:34pm

Like Savage and Yoffe, Maureen O’Connor celebrates pot’s place in the bedroom:

Perhaps as powerful as the way weed makes users feel, is how it makes them act and interact.

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The Dating Lives Of Porn Stars

Apr 19 2014 @ 5:44pm

Vox talked to some:

Danny Wylde: While in the industry, I’ve only dated people in the industry. My sexual experiences while in the industry with people outside of it often felt like I was a novelty, or something like, “Well, you better be really great in the sack because you fuck for a living.” …

Jesse Flores: I don’t date anyone in the industry. I prefer outside of it only. But being in the industry adds to the struggle. Once I tell the guys I’m in the industry, their creep factor goes into overdrive. They think it’s okay to say or ask whatever, with no respect.

It’s like, “Would you ask that to someone you met at the store or coffee shop?” No! So why is it okay to ask me that just because I do porn?

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Pick-ups To Put Down

Apr 19 2014 @ 5:00pm

Leah Green filmed men’s reactions to her sexist comments:

The Everyday Sexism project catalogs women’s experiences of unwanted sexual advances. One example:

I was grabbed from behind at a club and force kissed by a guy that I’d never even seen before let alone spoken to. When I pushed him off and turned to see who it was there was a whole group of guys cheering and laughing. I still couldn’t even tell which one it was.

Last week, David Foster inspired a storm of Internet invective when he wrote critically of the project, warning that “there is a risk of comparing offensive and clumsy sexual remarks with respectful, courteous sexual advances”:

We can all agree that aggressive, lewd behaviour is deplorable. But what lies behind some of the crude and boorish conduct catalogued by the Everyday Sexism project is repressed sexuality. It is only by becoming more sexually liberated that those energies might come to be expressed in a respectful way. To promote the outright condemnation of any and all direct sexual propositions would be a disastrously regressive step for the feminist movement. It is a clear indication of how much ground the left has ceded in recent decades that any of this needs restating at all. Whatever happened to the sexual revolution?

Kat Stoeffel challenges Foster’s concerns:

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Mental Health Break

Apr 19 2014 @ 4:20pm

A glitchy GIF tour of ’80s and ’90s pop culture:

“The Key To Making Art”

Apr 19 2014 @ 3:44pm

In her Byliner original, “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life,” Ann Patchett describes the process of putting a story on the page. She claims every writer must cultivate a certain capacity:

Forgiveness.

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So You Think You Can Write

Apr 19 2014 @ 3:09pm

When Jenni Diski was just a teenager in 1964, Doris Lessing – who had then just published The Golden Notebook – invited her to live at her home. Diski recalls what she learned about writing from the future Nobel winner:

Doris taught me how to be a writer. I don’t mean she gave me lessons, or talked about writing. I can’t remember her ever talking about writing, except to mumble occasionally that she was on a very difficult bit at the moment, meaning she was preoccupied, or to bellow as I thumped down the stairs past her closed door “Be quiet. I’m working”. I was very impressed with the idea that writing was work. Even now, I always say, “I’m working”, rather than “I’m writing”, if anyone asks. … I learned what it was to be a writer from being around, in the house, day by day, observing her being one. …

To sum it up, being a writer meant:

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Library Love, Ctd

Apr 19 2014 @ 2:25pm

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Today marks the final day of National Library Week. In an essay adapted from The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson, Charles Simic celebrates the democratic draw of the institution:

Like many other Americans of my generation, I owe much of my knowledge to thousands of books I withdrew from public libraries over a lifetime. I remember the sense of awe I felt as a teenager when I realized I could roam among the shelves, take down any book I wanted, examine it at my leisure at one of the library tables, and if it struck my fancy, bring it home. …

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Who Needs World Literature?

Apr 19 2014 @ 1:46pm

Michael Cronin presents the central argument of Emily Apter’s provocative Against World Literature: On The Politics of Untranslatability:

In the anglophone world, where less than 3 percent of all published titles are translations, the idea of world literature would appear to be an urgent and necessary corrective to the political and linguistic hubris of the speakers of a dominant global language. Apter, however, is not so sure. This is not because she does not believe translation to be valuable or important. In fact, it is precisely because she does believe it to be so crucial that she wants it to be taken seriously. Her concerns lie with a notion of world literature that erases difference or sifts out the foreign or the unsettling in the name of easy consumption. In this way world literature mimics a free-market fantasy of the endless, frictionless circulation of goods and information. In this McDonaldization of the written word, there is no room for difficulty or opacity.

Gloria Fisk finds herself unconvinced:

What does a critic oppose, exactly, when she takes a stand “against world literature”? Emily Apter takes that polemic as the title of her latest book, but she uses it to advance a thesis that requires no argument at all: Something always gets lost in translation.

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