Friday, June 21, 2019

It's in our nature

Just read a very interesting post on the pervasiveness of smart phones and why we are so easily addicted to them. Here's an extract, but do read the whole thing here (HT: Galli Report).
The technology has now become ubiquitous, and students are no different from anyone else in their addiction to smartphones. The underlying question is, why were we all so vulnerable to smartphone addiction when the gadgets arrived on the scene? The answer lies in our nature.

College students are a symbol of the larger society. This is so because, contrary to what some of the evidence suggests, college students are human, and, as such, share our basic moral and spiritual make-up. It might be tempting to think technology has changed this basic human nature. It has not.

Technology amplifies, but does not alter, who we are. We are creatures with a deep and abiding desire to avoid the real. We seek to escape awareness of ourselves and of God through distraction and denial, a point Pascal made centuries ago when he famously pointed out that all the trouble in the world stems from people’s inability to sit quietly in their rooms alone. Not much has changed.

.&thinsp. .

The common root of every instance of denial and pernicious distraction is not technology, but the inner fear of seeing ourselves as we actually are. We much prefer to see ourselves as we imagine we are. When others refuse to play along, that fear can easily become anger at them for exposing our game. The quest to leave our vices behind and achieve the peace that can only come from living with integrity demands that we do the opposite, that we face our shortcomings squarely, even if that means enduring some temporary discomfort. Too many of us remain stuck in the grip of our vices simply because we have developed the reflexive and automatic habit of avoiding knowledge of them. A quick reach into the pocket or a quick scroll with the thumb is all that is required.

<idle musing>
Ouch! But he's correct. Our society's drug of choice right now the smart phone, which is becoming smarter all the time (while we become dumber!). As a small voice of protest, I changed my email signature on my phone from "Sent from my [insert name of brand here]" to "Sent from my not-so-smart phone." Ok, it's a dumb protest, but maybe, just maybe I'm protesting because I know I'm more addicted than I'd like to admit.

What about you?

Just an
<idle musing>

Is it just a symbol?

For the majority, one suspects, of ‘practising’ Christians — and what does ‘practising’ entail in this context? — the Crucifixion remains an unexamined inheritance, a symbolic marker, of familiar but vestigial recognitions. This marker is revered and invoked in conventional idiom and gestures. Its concrete status, the enormity of suffering and injustice it incarnates, would appear to have faded from felt immediacy.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, page 381

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Drink the hemlock

Every time a community attempts, by censorship, ostracism or killing to silence a moral-intellectual outsider within its walls, to gag or efface his intolerable queries, it lives a Socratic hour. But concomitantly, the thinker, the scientist, the artist, the ironist or satirist who presses in extremis his deconstructive doubts, who sets his addiction to what he takes to be the truth above the inherited beliefs and compromises essential to the continuance of the city, repeats the Socratic provocation. Consciously or not, whether on a secular level (that of a Karl Kraus) or on a religious-philosophic level (that of a Simone Weil), the ‘No-sayer’ to injustice, to human greed and stupidity, is not only risking but soliciting a Socratic destiny.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, page 378

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A higher loyalty

The ‘patriotism’ of the truth—seeker is antithetical to Rousseau’s civic option. The sole citizenship of the cleric is that of a critical humanism. He knows not only that nationalism is a sort of madness, a virulent infection edging the species towards mutual massacre. He knows that it signifies an abstention from free and clear thought and from the disinterested pursuit of justice. The man or woman at home in the text is, by definition, a conscientious objector to the vulgar mystique of the flag and the anthem, to the sleep of reason which proclaims ‘my country, right or wrong’, to the pathos and eloquence of collective mendacities on which the nation- state - be it a mass-consumer mercantile technocracy or a totalitarian oligarchy — builds its power and aggressions. The locus of truth is always extraterritorial; its diffusion is made clandestine by the barbed wire and watch-towers of national dogma.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, page 322

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


The choice is not a comfortable one. But perhaps the concept of choice is itself a fallacy. As I have implied throughout, the intellectual, the inebriate of thought is, like the artist or philosopher, though to a lesser degree, born and not made (nascitur non fit, as every schoolboy used to know). He has no choice except to be himself or to betray himself. If ‘happiness’ in the definitions central to the theory and practice of ‘the American way of life’ seems to him the greater good, if he does not suspect ‘happiness’ in almost any guise of being the despotism of the ordinary, he is in the wrong business. They order these matters better in the world of the despot, Artists, thinkers, writers receive the unwavering tribute of political scrutiny and repression. The KGB and the serious writer are in total accord when both know, when both act on the knowledge that a sonnet (Pasternak simply citing the first line of a Shakespeare sonnet in the venomous presence of Zhdanov), a novel, a scene from a play can be the power-house of human affairs, that there is nothing more charged with the detonators of dreams and action than the word, particularly the word known by heart. (It is striking and perfectly consequent that America, the final archive, should also be the land whose schooling has all but eradicated memorization. In the microfiche, the poem lies embalmed; recited inwardly, it is terribly alive.) The scholar in the Soviet Union understands precisely what the KGB censor is after when he seizes and minutely scans his article on Hegel. It is in such articles, in the debates they unleash, that lie the motor forces of social crisis.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, page 302

Monday, June 17, 2019

Spotless worship

The immediately preceding theme is pure and spotless worship (H, 1:27). At first sight, due to the terminology a modern reader might think that the perfection of worship is the correct praise of God through song and the sincerity of heart in dedicating worship to God, and perhaps we could also add the absence of evil thoughts, especially at the moral level. The author, however, sees that part as one side of the coin, an incomplete part that loses its significance without the other part: the concrete proof of love to the needier neighbor.—Elsa Tamez in Reading the Epistle of James: A Resource for Students, ed. Eric F. Mason and Darian R. Lockett, forthcoming

Friday, June 14, 2019

The giving God

The epistle [of James] begins with the vision of how a believer’s life should progress: The audience members should rejoice as they face trials because of what they know, which is that God is at work in perfecting them through these times. In order to gain this perspective, however, the believer is cautioned to turn in faith to God, because God will give what is needed for one to have that correct perspective. Here James’s utter trust in God’s good and generous nature makes its first appearance: “ask of the giving God [tou didontos theou]” who gives “to all generously and without finding fault, and it will be given to him/her” (Jas 1:5). James places the present participle between the article and noun rather than after the pair, placing the emphasis on the participle (“giving”) as God’s nature, not merely an action that God does. It becomes, as it were, almost a title describing God’s character: “the giving God” rather than simply “the God who gives,” although translationally the latter works better. It is God’s character to give—and to give to all (pasin)—as James counters any preconceived notion that God gives only to those who have some special reason for receiving (Vlachos 2013, 25). To drive this point home, James then uses both a positive and negative description, “singly” or “generously” (aplōs) and “without finding fault” (mē oneidizontos); the repetition provides rhetorical emphasis. God’s inherent nature as generous should not be questioned: he is unstinting in his very nature.—"Salvation in James: Saved by Gift to Become Merciful," by Mariam Kamell Kovalishyn in Reading the Epistle of James: A Resource for Students, ed. Eric F. Mason and Darian R. Lockett, forthcoming

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Surprising reversal!

What one has, then [in James], is a description of Jesus as the reigning Lord, who is glorious. He is the one who is coming, and his coming is as eschatological Judge. This contrasts with the Father who is described more mildly. The Father is jealous, indeed, but ready to receive the repentant and always prepared to send good and only good to his people. This is not an absolute contrast, but it is a surprising reversal of what one might expect from typical readings of the Christian Scriptures.—Peter H. Davids in Reading the Epistle of James: A Resource for Students, ed. Eric F. Mason and Darian R. Lockett, forthcoming