21 January 2005

More of my thoughts on The West Wing

If you still like The West Wing (or at least used to), you should check out this book, Considering Aaron Sorkin
It’s available for pre-order right now from the publisher (and I’m not
quite sure that this means you’ll get it before you would in a retail
outlet), but won’t show up at Amazon and bookstores until April.

I note that I am a contributor, with my piece, “Virtue From Vice: Duty, Power, and The West Wing.”  So, yes, this is something of a shameless plug.

Posted in IvoryTower on 21 January 2005 at 9:10 am by Nate
20 January 2005

Summer camp’s over

…And, yes, I have returned from methods camp.

On some level, it really was like summer camp — the intense experience
that forges apparently meaningful friendships.  Only time will
tell how many of these people will end up being actual friends (as
opposed to conference drinking buddies — which are valuable, too,
don’t get me wrong).  But the re-entry to the real world is
disorienting.  As one friend (I’m pretty sure about that) put it:

so, I can’t help thinking that it’s incredibly irresponsible of
[the organizers] to let all of as leave Arizona without some sort of
real world reentry program. I’ve spent the weekend in seclusion in my
apartment; there are so many bloody PEOPLE all over the place and I’m
getting tired of continually thinking I see someone from IQRM and then
having them turn around and feeling disappointed and disoriented
(again). I figure, though, if IQRM was a temporary retreat to
adolescence, then each day I can regain a year and within a couple
weeks be back to my normal, somewhat jaded, less drama-prone self.

Yes.  Drama.  That’s another element of summer camp.

Here’s to re-integration with our fellow jaded day-to-day life people….

UPDATE: Andrew puts it thus:

I got an email today from someone I was out there with… and talk about
warmth. I fear that I may have made lifelong friends in two short
weeks. It, of course, remains to be seen if the two weeks out west was
really a Breakfast Club type of thing. But here’s to hoping that it
isn’t. I’m too old for those kind of things anymore, and besides, these
people wear well.

Precisely.

Posted in Day2Day on 20 January 2005 at 9:58 am by Nate

Sex and marriage

AKMA ponders the idea of marriage-as-licit-zone-of-sex
(There’s more than that, but you’ll have to read it.) If you remove the
sex from a relationship and leave only the “other stuff”–“shared
lives, mutual care, [and] lifelong exclusive spiritual intimacy”–it’d
amount to a relationship that people wouldn’t have much of a problem
with.

Posted in OnTheWeb on 20 January 2005 at 9:51 am by Nate
11 January 2005

Secular academics and religion

Some advice for my fellow academics, gleaned from several days of
conversation made and overheard.  Sometimes I feel like a tour
guide.  Others I wonder at the lack of knowledge.

  1. Please know something about the terms you use
    Don’t just throw them about because they sound aspersive and will get a
    particular hoped-for reaction from your listeners.  Know that
    fundamentalists, evangelicals, and Christians may and do all refer to
    separate groups of people.  Similarly, just because”Methodist” and
    “fundamentalist” end in the same ending, “-ist”, this does not mean
    that there’s any synonymity there.

  2. Overall, it might help to know something about religion in general
    What do people actually believe?  How do we account for the
    significant diversity within religions?  Ask yourself this
    question: “Do all [political scientists, sociologists, economists,
    etc.] believe the same things?  Do they fight over what things are
    important?”  Assume that religions might operate similarly. 
    Remember that religion is a social phenomenon, albeit one that’s
    possibly more widespread than any other in time or place.  So to
    generalize about religion unknowledgeably allows only the demonstration
    of ignorance.  Case in point: the Roman Catholic Church no longer
    celebrates Mass in Latin, nor does it teach that Jews were Jesus’s
    killers.  In fact, in the case of the latter, just the opposite is
    true: the RC Church goes to great lengths to apologize for its role in
    anti-Semitic activities through the ages, teaches (at least in the
    Western World) its adherents lots about Judaism (some might even argue,
    more than it teaches them about Catholicism or the Christian Bible),
    and has formally apologized for its complicity in many evils
    perpetrated about Jews and asked for forgiveness.

  3. By the way, you have to understand religion
    It’s a massive, forceful (good and not), and affective.  It’s here
    to stay.  If you are interested in the world, you have to learn
    about it to make sense of the world that we live in, where the
    non-religious are an extremely small group.  We now know that
    “progress”, “liberalization”, and such do not automatically secularize
    people; the opposite may in fact be the case. But even in religion’s
    non-extreme versions (i.e., most of it, but what does not generally
    make the news), it still explains a vast amount of what’s going on with
    people, why they live as they do, why they act consistently or not, who
    they see themselves as, and all the repercussions that can come from
    those.  As an educated person, it would simply be irresponsible to
    not know something substantive about religions and their adherents.

  4. Your negative experience with some congregation, denomination, or a religion may not be generalizable
    It’s a good bet that it is not. 
    Yes, it’s true that those were formative experiences for you, but that
    doesn’t mean that you can say much beyond that.  Example: you may
    have found Christianity intellectually unsatisfying in your youth or
    even be discouraged from being intellectual in your faith (just
    as I did and was told), but that does not mean that the whole religion
    is devoid of
    intellectual content nor that you would still find it such.  You
    have changed, the particular congregation you grew up in may have
    changed, and the world may be more complex than the community in which
    you had experience.

  5. “Religion” does not equal “stupid.”  I have noted this before
    Plenty of very intelligent people are religious; I’d like to think that
    I am a decent example here.  Plenty of the religious aren’t
    particularly dumb.  In fact, they may be more educated in some
    forms of social life than many secular academics.  Many Christians
    and Jews know more about literature than secular people, because they
    have a background in the scriptures that provide much of the
    inspiration for that literature.  Could many contemporary American
    Christians stand to bring more intellectual rigor and questioning to
    their faith?  Yes, of course.  But who is there to teach
    them, if we as academics tell them that their religious life is
    incompatible with the life of the mind?  For one thing, it’s not
    true, and for another, we fail them if we don’t teach them how to think over what to
    think. Finally, academic credential or progressivism or both do not
    equal intelligence — I’ve heard plenty of stupid, stupid, stupid
    reasoning come from the pens and mouths of the progressive and the
    academically credentialed.  Sometimes, my fellows academics, “the
    Christians” are smarter than you.

  6. Stereotype and disdain for the religious verge on the hypocritical
    Look, I’m not trying to accuse any person of actually being a hypocrite
    here.  But there is more than a small disconnect when we
    stereotype the religious as [fill in the blank] or we look down on the
    religious because they are not open-minded.  These are precisely
    the sins I hear the religious most often accused of committing. 
    But there’s no power in the criticism if we have to do such to make the
    point.  What I think this comes down to, often, is that some of us
    academics are unhappy that those who are religious don’t share
    our values.  But some of us who are religious could complain that
    intellectuals (and, I might add, other co-religionists) don’t share our
    values.

This is not to say that academics and intellectuals are anti-religious,
anti-Christian, or anything like this.  I’ve found many of my
fellow academics who are interested in religion, and for whom I provide
a safe person to talk to about the matter.  And this is not to say
that similar criticisms and suggestions don’t apply to many of the
religious people in our society.

But to hold each other to standards that neither will live up to itself
strikes me as more than just ignorance — it is an active violation of
the standards that each community professes to live by, whether it be
the quest for knowledge and discovery, the Law, or the Gospel.

UPDATE (17 January): While wandering about the interweb, I found an article that says some of the same things as I did.

Posted in IvoryTower on 11 January 2005 at 12:23 am by Nate

What do you do when you are in Arizona for a weekend?

You go to Sedona, and several different people take pictures.

I imagine more IQRM photos will go up at Andrew’s.

A couple of the ones of me are objectionable, simply because I got caught looking bad.  Hmm.

Posted in Day2Day on 11 January 2005 at 12:20 am by Nate
7 January 2005

Blaming God?

We went to see Hotel Rwanda about a week ago when we were in New York.

Watching two hours on the Rwandan genocide requires much of you, as you might expect.

For
many people, Rwanda or the recent tsunamis invokes the theodicy
problem, that is, how can there be a God in a world where there is so
much suffering, so much tragedy, so much senseless violence, made
either by us or by the forces of nature.

Thomas Merton once pointed
out that arguing against the existence of a God by pointing to our pain
and suffering made little sense until you consider the
alternative.  Perhaps, in light of the suffering and cruelness we
create in the world, the proof of God’s existence lies in the
demonstrated love that some extraordinary people show, or even in the
morsels that we all occasionally let glimmer through.

As we left the
theater, a young woman, perhaps about 25 or 30, was doubled over in her
seat, weeping, even several minutes after the credits closed.

Voltaire grappled with the problem, in the aftermath of the 1755 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Lisbon, Portugal, wrote a poem that raged against the inexplicability of the tragedy:

But how conceive a God supremely good,
Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves,
Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?
What eye can pierce the depth of his designs?
From that all-perfect Being came not ill:
And came it from no other, for he ’s lord:
Yet it exists. O stern and numbing truth!
O wondrous mingling of diversities!

A recent column in the Boston Globe
considered the issue.  The cloumn itself isn’t so interesting,
original, or eloquent, as it only seems to say that if we don’t
consider God responsible anymore for tragedies like this, our
conspicuous refusal to blame God for not forestalling the tragedy
provides the only prop for our belief.

BF found this line of reasoning faulty:

Scot Lehigh’s column “Faith meets science” (op ed, Jan. 5) raises the
theological question of human suffering that the earthquakes in Lisbon,
the recent tsunamis, and countless large and small tragedies in between
prompt: when disasters happen, where is God?

The Salvodoran theologian
Jon Sobrino, writing in response to the 2001 earthquakes in El Salvador
(quickly forgotten outside of El Salvador), maintains the depth of that
question but adds a second: where are we? This is not just a question
about our relief efforts now, but about our inattention before the
tsunamis. Why, in a world of such resources, were so many malnourished
children unable to escape the waves? Why did so many buildings collapse
in a world where our sturdy structures protect our books, our stereos,
our entertainment centers? How do the structures of international aid
and debt which support our lifestyles contribute to the vulnerability
of our world’s poor?

At its best, the Christianity which I profess
teaches the real presence of God with us in our suffering without
denying or dismissing how brutally mysterious such suffering can be.

But before we dismiss disasters only as “acts of God” beyond all
reasoning, we must ask ourselves the second question: how are these
disasters also acts of humanity, acts of ours, what we have done or
failed to do?

Brian F.

And in Rwanda.  Do you
want to see what supports and challenges my own theism?  Men and
women like Paul Rusesabagina, who have no grand designs or deliberate
moral codes, simply acting to save.  In Hotel Rwanda, Paul
offers that he places his priority of energy on his family, and that he
can’t be bothered to help others.  And yet, when asked to help
others, when it truly does matter, he does. Risking his life and
the lives of his family, he helps others.

A friend and I were
discussing this movie the other day, and we had both seen the Charlie
Rose interview on 26 November 2004, featuring the makers of the film,
Don Cheadle (who plays Rusesabagina), and Rusesabagina himself.
 Rusesabagina remains a functional and articulate man, but there
is something off in him that you can but just notice, what I can only
ascribe to a fundamental and profound weariness of incomprehension.

See
this movie when it comes to your neighborhood.  You saw
Schindler’s List, and this is more affecting, more real, and more
shaking.

Posted in Rayleejun on 7 January 2005 at 12:20 am by Nate
6 January 2005

Thank you, Nelson

Nelson Mandela made this announcement today:

SALT
ROCK, South Africa, Jan. 6 – Nelson Mandela, who has devoted much of
his life after leaving South Africa’s presidency to a campaign against
AIDS, said Thursday that his son had died of the disease in a
Johannesburg clinic.

The son, Makgatho L. Mandela, 54, had been
seriously ill for more than a month, but the nature of his ailment had
not been made public before his death on Thursday.

At a news conference in the garden of his Johannesburg home, the
elder Mr. Mandela said he was disclosing the cause of his son’s death
to focus more attention on AIDS, which is still a taboo topic among
many South Africans. To keep the illness secret would wrongly imply
that it is shameful, he said.

“That is why I have announced that my
son has died of AIDS,” he said. “Let us give publicity to H.I.V./AIDS
and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal
illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody
has died because of H.I.V./AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as
something extraordinary.”

What is it about the adversity
of South Africa that has produced rare people of courage, humility,
grace, and depth like Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu?  And why
does it seem necessary that we have to see the rawest ravages of all
that this world and all that our species has to offer to see saints in
our midst?

Posted in Politicks on 6 January 2005 at 11:59 pm by Nate

Power, unlimited power

I have more power than you can imagine.  I create tsunamis….

Posted in Rayleejun on 6 January 2005 at 11:57 pm by Nate

Power, unlimited power

Apparently, I have more power than you can imagine.  I create tsunamis….

Posted in Rayleejun on 6 January 2005 at 11:27 pm by Nate
5 January 2005

Gay West Wing

One of the significant plots of last night’s West Wing dealt with
rumors
of C.J. possibly being gay.  She spends the whole day portrayed in
the episode dealing with shame, being second-guessed, watching people
speculate about her most interior and essential life in public, and
making excuses where none needed to be made.  And then she gets to
tell the press that her sexuality is none of their business.

A nice thought, but like another set of details last night, untrue. The
people who are most vociferous in their protestations that sexuality
should be a private matter also clamor the loudest for such knowledge
“when it’s relevant.”  The information should stay private when it
does not have any use, but it should become public when it has a use to
someone, seems to be the line of argument that’s really at work
here.  It’s disingenuous to say the least.  And for those of
us who actually don’t think that a person’s sexual orientation (at
least in the situation presented here) has bearing, there’s still
prurient curiosity (and all sorts of covering justifications) to
overcome our principles.

Part of me wants to believe that if more people could have the
experience like C.J. had, to face the potential for being
second-guessed, questioned, ostracism, and spoken about in false
secrecy, perhaps there’d be more potential understanding of gay people
and other sorts of people who suffer at the hands of power.

But I am not optimistic, for I see how other sorts of minorities, who
face similar bigotry, treat sexual minorities — in exactly the way
they wish not to be treated themselves.

C.J. may have learned, but I am not so sure the other members of the West Wing universe have.  And I am pretty sure the people of our non-imaginary world have not.

On another note from the episode, the cowardice that the president
showed in the face of a fundamentalist senator with a literalist
interpretation of the Bible was stunning.  The president got in a
couple of lines about trying to be Christlike on love; and that perhaps
the literalism was not the only way to read the Bible, that the Bible
may be literally true but that we can’t know enough to know that we
have it correct.  And he tries to convince the senator that an
anti-gay rider amendment to the budget bill has nothing to do with his
oath. “When I raised my right hand, I swore an oath to uphold the
Constitution, not to put everything I might believe into it.” 
“But, Mr. President, when you did that, where was your left
hand?”  And then the scene ends, as if to say that no more can be
said, that the senator’s simplistic understanding of the marvelous
complexity of the world proved the true view, after all.

Posted in Politicks on 5 January 2005 at 11:00 pm by Nate