Archive for the 'religion' Category
Ivor the Engine, 1958, first series, sixth episode.
From an essay by Raymond Geuss on Richard Rorty, of which I was reminded the other day:
The very idea that the United States was “special” has always seemed to me patently absurd, and the idea that in its present, any of its past, or any of its likely future configurations it was in any way exemplary, a form of gross narcissistic self-deception which was not transformed into something laudable by virtue of being embedded in a highly sophisticated theory which purported to show that ethnocentrism was in a philosophically deep sense unavoidable. I remain very grateful to my Catholic upbringing and education for giving me relative immunity to nationalism. In the 1950s, the nuns who taught me from age five to twelve were virtually all Irish or Irish-American with sentimental attachment to certain elements of Celtic folklore, but they made sure to inculcate into us that the only serious human society was the Church which was an explicitly international organization. The mass, in the international language, Latin, was the same everywhere; the religious orders were international. This absence of national limitation was something very much to be cherished. “Catholica” in the phrase “[credo in] unam, sanctam, catholicam, et apostolicam ecclesiam” should, we were told, be written with a lower-case, not an upper-case, initial because it was not in the first instance part of the proper name of the church, but an adjective meaning “universal,” and this universality was one of the most important “marks of the true Church.” The Head of the Church, to be sure, and Vicar of Christ on earth, was in fact (at that time) always an Italian, but that was for contingent and insignificant reasons. The reason most commonly cited by these nuns was that, as Bishop of Rome, the Pope had to live in the “Eternal City,” but only an Italian could stand to live in Rome: it was hot, noisy, and overcrowded, and the people there ate spaghetti for dinner everyday rather than proper food, i.e., potatoes, so it would be too great a sacrifice to expect someone who had not grown up in Italy to tolerate life there. I clearly remember being unconvinced by this argument, thinking it set inappropriately low standards of self-sacrifice for the higher clergy; a genuinely saintly character should be able to put up even with pasta for lunch and dinner every day. I have since myself adopted this diet for long periods of time without thinking it gave me any claim on the Papacy.
Since the platitudinous nonsense that is broadcast as ‘Thought for the Day’ on Radio 4 each morning presumably contributes in some small way to the fact that ours is, basically, a secular society, why are the atheists or the humanists (or whatever they want to call themselves) so keen to get in on the act? It’s not as if they’d be allowed to broadcast non-platitudinous non-nonsense, I take it, as the slot’s not supposed to be controversial or partisan, and it’s difficult to do n.-p. n.-n. without running a severe risk of being c. or p.. So it’d be platitudinous nonsense, as before, but coming from the secular rationalists or agnostics (or whatever they want to call themselves), instead of coming from the ranks of the God-squad. And the foreseeable result of that would be that listeners would be put off non-theism then, to just the same extent as ‘TftD’ puts them off theism now. I must be missing something, somewhere along the line, but right now I just can’t see what it is.
There are various reasons why there hasn’t been much ( = anything) here recently. One of them is that my hard drive self-destructed last week — and one consequence of that is that if you sent me any email between 11 and 18 December, you might like to send it again if you ever want to receive any kind of reply…
Oh, and if anyone knows where to get a transcript of the Pope’s recent ruminations on gender, please post a link in the comments. Usually vatican.va is pretty good about this kind of thing, but glancing through the site this morning I found next year’s new year’s message and his recent attempt to engage the world’s Hindus in some kind of conversation, but nothing about trannies.
(He’s had a public debate with JÃ¼rgen Habermas, hasn’t he? I don’t see why he shouldn’t go head to head with Judith Butler. It’d be great on YouTube, esp. if he showed up to discuss gender performativity in a dress.)
[Normal service to resume eventually.]
There was a good piece by the excellent Samuel “On Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations: A Philosophical Companion” Fleischacker in Norm’s Writer’s Choice series last week, not least because most of it is actually about the book Rushdie wrote, which is sometimes hard to recover through the increasingly thick fog of what became “The Rushdie Affair”. He liked it as much as I did, when I read it in the second half of 1989, though with a much richer appreciation of what we might call Rushdie’s engagement with theodicy than I’d have been capable of sustaining back then, years before I started reading Augustine.
It’s nice to be reminded, too, of Martin Scorsese’s film of The Last Temptation of Christ. Fleischacker thinks it had “a far deeper religious sensibility” than that of its critics who charged it with heresy. That might be true, but I just remember it as tortured, laughable nonsense. (“Heaven’s a party, and everyone’s invited!”, says Scorsese’s Christ at one point, or something similar, and I don’t recall it ever getting more profound.) His Gangs of New York was also very, very bad, but there seems to be something about the badness of the religious film that gives it a certain kind of grandeur, of which the badness of the secular film falls short.
Ever since I started reading the Vatican’s excellent website about ten years ago I always thought it odd that you could get it in English, French, Portuguese, and so on, but not in Latin. Now the BBC is reporting today on the launch of the Vatican’s Latin website and suggesting the Pope’s enthusiasm for Latin might be the reason for its belated appearance. I’m quite pleased with this. Not so pleased that I’ll forgive the Church for its appalling record on child abuse or contraception or for closing down Amnesty International groups in its schools in Northern Ireland because Amnesty thinks rape victims should be allowed to have abortions, or anything like that. But, still, I’m quite pleased.
In her speech to the IPPR this morning, Margaret Hodge said this:
Next year will also see the anniversary of Henry VIIIâ€™s accession to the throne. Given some of the less savoury parts of his reign, itâ€™s not an obviously straightforward event to commemorate. But understanding his reign is essential to understanding England. He is an iconic figure, a well-known personality in our history. And whether in separating state and religion, or in instituting English as the common language, or in being the first to clearly define and map our boundaries, a deeper understanding of his reign may help the important debate on England which is emerging.
Emphasis added. Her last contribution to the important debate on England wasn’t such a good one, either.
The reference to “Sir Charles Darwin” is slightly curious, too. His ODNB entry says that “Many thought it shameful that the British establishment signally failed to honour him” with a K, but no doubt Hodge knows better. Unless she was referring to this chap.
So, Mr Blair’s become a Catholic, and there are a billion pop explanations in play — that Blair’s keen to wallow in guilt for his disastrous foreign policy, and nobody does guilt better than Catholics (cf going straight into the Middle East job after doing so much, and in such a well-intentioned way, to bollocks up the region) — that it’s the long-term result of being married to Cherie Booth, once you’ve jumped through all the Carole Caplin papaya-flavoured hoops that have been set up along the way — that you can’t quite keep that much moralism bottled up inside you without letting it spill out all over something, and now he doesn’t have the British people anymore he might as well absorb himself into the Holy Roman and Apostolic Catholic Church. (I’m sure we can always come up with more: if you do, pop ‘em in the comments).
But it seems to me there’s a more interesting, longer-term trajectory at work in what we can usefully for the purposes of this post call Blair’s mind, and I’ll say a bit about that over the fold.
There’s a helpful round-up of the recent Martin Amis kerfuffle over at Matt‘s place.
All I’ll add is that we need to see the remarks about his urges to stripsearch people who look as if they might be from Pakistan (etc.) in a slightly wider context. Amis is also someone who thinks he can discern murderous intentions towards his family in the glance of an Arab doing his job, who can write things like “the impulse towards rational inquiry is by now very weak in the rank and file of the Muslim male”, who seems to absorb Bernard Lewis-like explanations of historical problems when non-crazy explanations are readily available, who recycles inflammatory quotations from Hezbollah’s leader that circulate freely around the internet, but which no-one ever quite manages to trace back to an authentic-looking source, and so on.
(This last one strikes me as weird, because presumably it’s not too hard to find Hezbollah leaders saying offensive things, so why is the very-possibly-made-up quote the one that everyone’s heard somewhere or other?)
We can practice our careful reading skills as much as we like on that particular “urges” passage, and we can be as charitable towards him as we want to be (though we should also bear in mind that there’s a long history of people with really offensive views managing to present them in ways that aren’t quite so offensive on a charitable reading of their words). But Amis also has form here when it comes to saying the kinds of things about Muslims that the real crazies also like to say, and it’d be a shame to lose sight of that fact in the parsing of his words from the interview.
I’m not sure enough about what I really think is going on in Amis’s head (and I’m not interested enough in either him or his books to spend too much time on trying to work it out), but he seems to me to be somewhere on the slippery slope that has Mark Steyn and Melanie Phillips festering at the bottom, and it doesn’t look to me as if he’s too anxious to be stepping off it any time soon. (But perhaps I’m being uncharitable.)
Acts 17:18: “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him [St Paul]. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.”
I’m going to guess that the Stoic philosopher is the one with the beard. (The Stoics liked their beards.)
Full story over here.
Thanks to the people, mostly called Chris, who’ve been contributing to the thread below. We haven’t had nearly enough discussion of the Church Fathers on this blog over the last few years — most blogs, in fact, are deficient in this respect — and that’s something I’d like to encourage.
So, if we look at the tradition of Protestant fundamentalism that took shape in C20th America, then, sure, it doesn’t look much like what we find in the Catholic church. But what if we’re trying — for whatever reason, and it might be a stupid thing to want to do — to develop a workable concept of fundamentalism that can travel across different religious traditions – Christian, Jewish, Islamic, possibly Hindu?
And then the thought that strikes me is that what we associate with fundamentalism isn’t narrow textual literalism per se, partly because — and I really don’t know much about this — while Islamic fundamentalists are keen on their verses from the Qu’ran I’m not sure that they are textual literalists in the manner of Christian Protestant fundies. Here’s a bit of Sayyid Qutb, who people tell me is pretty important in contemporary Islamic fundamentalism(s). It’s taken pretty much at random, but glancing through it, this doesn’t strike me as overly concerned with narrow readings, resisting interpretation, and so on, and I don’t think that American Protestant fundamentalists talk about verses from the Bible in quite this way.
So I wonder whether we’re best off thinking about fundamentalism(s) in terms of a particular kind of claim to religious authority, which often (not always) involves a re-reading of foundational texts, and that this is what makes the idea of Catholic fundamentalism somewhat paradoxical, because Catholicism just is a claim about authority: what it is to be a Catholic (at least as far as the Church is concerned) is to accept the magisterium and so there just isn’t the space within Catholicism to come out and tell the bishops that you’ve got a more authoritative reading of scripture (or whatever) than they have.
And moving away from the idea of textual literalism may also help to think about the idea of Hindu fundamentalisms. I’m inclined to sympathise with the idea that we’re basically talking about “a bunch of political crazies” here (see Chris Y in the comments), and the malleability and whole invented-traditionness of modern Hinduism must be relevant. But it may be that political craziness and the claims to dogmatic authority are more important to a workable concept of fundamentalism than anything else.
(Andrew Vincent from Sheffield was giving a talk in Oxford yesterday about thinking about fundamentalism, and that got me onto thinking about the Catholics. After all, if the Pope’s got the key to heaven, he’s probably got the key to the concept of fundamentalism, too.)
Insofar as you can give content to the idea of religious fundamentalism, do you think there are or can be Roman Catholic fundamentalists or not? If you think there are, who are they, or who might they be? If you think there aren’t, or that there can’t be, is this because you think fundamentalists are textual literalists, and Catholicism isn’t especially bothered about the Bible, or for a different reason? Sort of relatedly, do you think there are Hindu fundamentalists or not? If you do, what is it about them that makes them fundamentalists? Answers in comments, please. Please don’t be inhibited by any lack of specialist knowledge about any of these subjects.