Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Death: A Rabbi and a Priest Walk Out of a Bar…

January 14, 2009

Today at lunch I was told that Rabbi Alan Lew, a seemingly vigorous, recently retired pulpit rabbi, died yesterday during a post-prayer walk.  January 4th, 9 days ago, I helped Alan and his wife find transportation from this retreat center to visit friends in Martha’s Vineyard.  He then traveled to Maryland to continue teaching with Jeff Roth and Joanna Katz about mindfulness, brokenness. From his website:

Rabbi Lew’s book This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation was published by Little Brown and Co. in August of 2003. ” . . .Yet for Rabbi Alan Lew, the real purpose of this annual passage is for us to experience brokenheartedness and open our hearts to God. . . . Lew has marked out a journey of seven distinct stages, one that draws on these rituals to awaken the soul and wholly transform us. . .”

I like and despise the Days of Awe, an annual death preparation meant to transform our lives.  During the Yom Kippur fast, white is worn to suggest our burial outfit and bathing discouraged.  You are already rotting!  The soul must experience Tshuvah, or re-direction, turning to the ways of God and away from sin, in order to be granted life in the coming year. This is severe yet Alan know the energy can be guided toward self-revelation, the death of the old self must be embraced.

I also note Richard John Neuhaus’ passing.  His fascinating life teaches what is possible.



Manual for Postmodern Childrearing

October 3, 2008

“How would you bring up a child if you took the lessons from postmodernism literally? The young Swedish writers Athena Farrokhzad and Tova Gerge present a postmodern parenting guide.”

From an otherwise odd and unpleasant list, these are my favorites, especially the last one.

Emphasise the child’s potential mobility in the structure of desire by constantly spinning, shaking and upending the container in which it is kept, e.g. bed, buggy, baby walker and skin.

Combat the metaphorical system in the child’s language acquisition process. Point to a dog and say: “Paw, woof woof, mammal”.


Brothers-in-Arms? Secular Humanism and Religious Faith

September 26, 2008

I have a favorite recent First Things post. Edward Oakes explores a mostly unknown T.S. Eliot essay which he recently stumbled upon.  Eliot, writing in 1930 in an anthology on the modern condition, suggests secular humanism, even aggressive anti-Christian skepticism, challenges the religious person to clarify and refine their faith, thereby serving as an ally for truth.

[V]ery little knowledge of human nature is needed to convince us that hierarchy is liable to corruption, and certainly to stupidity; that religious belief, when unquestioned and uncriticised, is liable to degeneration into superstition; that the human mind is much lazier than the human body. . . . If we cannot rely, and it seems that we can never rely, upon adequate criticism from within, it is better that there should be criticism from without.

Eliot then demands more original secular critiques!

Oakes adds:

Even a passing glance at what I have earlier in these pages called “pop atheism” is enough to show how pathetically mediocre are the recent apologetes for atheism. Going from Nietzsche to Bertrand Russell to Richard Dawkins and ending with Sam Harris is quite a declension.


The Company We Keep

September 25, 2008

Permit me a praise of First Things, once marketed as “the intellectual center of the conservative movement.” I’m impressed, especially today, by numerous writers who creatively explore the deeper issues of public life.  I don’t always agree. I almost always feel challenged.  That’s the kind of company I enjoy.

In Sin and Cinema Tim Perry notes notes that some of Hollywood’s most popular villains — Voldemort, The Joker, Magneto, Michael Corleone, Sauron — communicate “the traditional, rich, and incisive language that Christian cultures once used to describe the human condition.”  We must not become monsters to fight monsters.

R.R. Reno offers layman’s logic why it’s “fair” taxpayers will bailout Wall Street. “The net worth of all Americans who have [housing and] stock and bond-based assets was supported by exactly the economic dynamics that have produced the mess that we—statistically the very same people—are now going to pay to unwind in what I hope is an orderly fashion. My friends, most of us did profit from the sub-prime [or lax lending] debacle.”

Junior Fellow Stefan follows the culture war skirmish between Citadel cadet’s fists and Princeton Marching Band’s sass.

Editor Father Richard John Neuhaus reflects on trajectory “faith in public life.”  While extreme separationists worry about the Coming Theocracy, they “tolerate, or may even assiduously protect, the public expression of marginal religious opinion, of opinion that is not likely to influence our common life. But they take alarm at the voice of the majority.”

RJN continues, “In the Constitution, the majority imposes upon itself a self-denying ordinance; it promises not to do what it otherwise could do, namely, ride roughshod over the dissenting minorities.” Why would a majority do this to itself?  RJN concludes by unearthing the religious values that inspired this system.


McCain’s Worst 10 Policy Ideas

September 18, 2008

Foreign Policy magazine gives us these.

I find 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 outright wrong for my own “good policy” criteria — advances my notion of the interests of “the country” and “the people.” Like with Obama’s list I showed last week, FP magazine seems to use a range of criteria for “bad policy.”  Item 1 is on the list because it won’t ultimately succeed and will produce negative consequences.  However, the definition of negative in this instance, the weakening of the UN, is likely a goal of the proposal.  Item 10 charges McCain’s market based climate change policy won’t succeed. The goal is worthy, but the concern is implementation.  List compilers, then, are confusing means and ends.  This logic won’t get us out of stale, unproductive discussions either in the Beltway or beyond

  1. Creating a League of Democracies
  2. Calling for a Gas-Tax Holiday
  3. Requiring a Three-Fifths Majority to Raise Taxes
  4. Flip-flopping on Immigration
  5. Drilling Our Way Out of the Oil Crisis
  6. Balancing the Budget through Victory in the War on Terror
  7. Making the Bush Tax Cuts Permanent
  8. Supporting Abstinence-Only Education and the Global Gag Rule
  9. Calling for 45 Nuclear Power Plants
  10. Backing Cap-and-Trade Without a 100 Percent Auction

Revealment and Concealment in Language

September 4, 2008

Revealment And Concealment: Five Essays by Haim Nahman Bialik, translated and afterword by Zali Gurevitch (Ibis, 2000)

Haim Bialik was a leading Hebrew poet in pre-state Israel. The nation honors him with streets, stamps, schools, and cafes.  Bialik’s poems are memorized by schoolchildren.

These 5 essays, which are given a valuable overview by translator Zali Gurevitch, poet and professor at Hebrew U., range from abstract philosophy of language to Jewish ritual and Jewish history.  Fifteen years ago in a college course I was introduced to the thunderous, prophetic tone of Bialik’s Hebrew poetry. In an outstanding independent Georgetown bookstore (Bridge Street Books) five years ago I fortunately happened upon this collection in the Judaica section.  Altogether, the essays demonstrate the systematic and subtle brilliance of the late 19th/ early 20th Century Hebrew Renaissance leader.


Rhetoric and Morality

September 4, 2008

“Is the good speaker a good man?” asked Quintillian.

The ancient Greek Sophists sold their skills to anyone with coins.  Half the field of Communications in today’s academy is dedicated to public relations and marketing.

Not necessarily, I respond to Quintillian.  So when is one sure than employing oration skilsl or teaching them is not aiding injustice?

“The power to speak well and think rights will reward the man who approaches the art of discourse with love of wisdom and love of honor.”  Isocrates, Antidosis

Love of wisdom and honor?  Oh, I think I got out of those required classes by complaining to my adviser.


Small Town Values?

September 3, 2008

Besides being more politically astute than most commentators allow, Gov. Palin also represents a reality that liberal elitists must destroy, according to What I Saw in America.

There can be little doubt that the viciousness of the attacks on Palin … are motivated by fear, not confidence. Sarah is a threat to the Obama coronation, particularly inasmuch as she is the living refutation of his disdain for “bitter people who cling to their guns and religion.” Palin’s happy warrior visage shows that guns and religion and the values of small town America are the sources of satisfaction and joy, not what people console themselves with when they don’t decamp to New York or L.A. Her very existence shines a bright white light on the underlying assumptions of “false consciousness” that the Democratic elite attribute to the working class. Nothing could be more offensive to their therapeutic worldview, and because of that, she must be crushed – feminism be damned.

I’m not convinced of this argument entirely though this it does address a major blindspot for liberal meritocrats, cosmopolitans, the new class, etc.


Tattoo You?

August 30, 2008

I Corinthians "Love is.."

Chronicles of Atlantis directs us to R.R.Reno’s fine essay at First Things. Chronicles supplemental insights are not his own, he rather “defers to the words of René Girard on originality.” Girard, as you know, is the literary scholar who developed anthropology in the service of theology.

Reno’s essay is short, moving and sad.  He sympathizes with the desire of many youth, especially the successful meritocrats, to stand out a tad in their heavily standardized and mobile lives.  See what you (th)ink.


Rights Talk: Demopaths in the UN Edition

August 28, 2008
Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Can liberal, rights-based society sustain itself under threats from inside (i.e. loss of respect for rule of law and tyranny) and outside (overtaken by enemies of liberal society)?

The Telos Journal blog recently assessed these developments, finding “The Declaration of Human Rights is being distorted and damaged in the very name of human rights.” Scholar Richard Landes has coined a useful term for this tragedy.

Demopaths are people who use democratic language and invoke human rights only when it serves their interests, and not when it calls for self-criticism or self-restraint. Demopaths demand stringent levels of human “rights” but do not apply these basic standards for the “other” to their own behavior. The most lethal demopaths use democratic rights to destroy democracy.”

See below for commentary and choice excerpts from the Telos post.