Thursday, June 27, 2019

For those who have ears to hear!

Finally, for James, several things characterize those whose behavior is not consistent with that of someone who is a disciple of Jesus. They let themselves be seduced by and conform themselves to the values of a society that is not compatible with the values proclaimed by the royal law (that is, of the kingdom), the prophets, and Jesus; they neither enter into solidarity with the needy nor control their tongue. For James, their faith is empty, therefore it does not save them (2:14).—"Don’t Conform Yourselves to the Values of the Empire," by Elsa Tamez (trans. Kevin Johnson) in Reading the Epistle of James: A Resource for Students, ed. Eric F. Mason and Darian R. Lockett, forthcoming

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Mercy triumphs!

The story of salvation begins entirely with God and his gracious action. But then the assumption is that, given this rebirth and empowerment, a person shall live wholeheartedly according to God’s will. Sanctification is inseparable from salvation. When people instead choose the idols of worldly power and wealth, or even nation or family over God, they reveal their doubleminded hesitation, and for that they receive judgment. In this economy, judgment is not the shock. Rather, God’s responsiveness to his people’s attempts at single-minded worship, mercy, and repentance is astounding. Perfection is not expected, but the letter depicts deep frustration over the audience’s willful lack of growth. Their covenant adultery has James upset and concerned, because the only outcome for such duplicity is judgment and destruction. But praise be to God, “mercy triumphs over judgment.”—"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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

You gotta serve somebody

If there truly are two ways of being as James depicts in 1:13–18, then one obeys either the law of sin and death or the word of truth that gives freedom. Obedience is a given; James only questions what one obeys; and so, like a forgetful person who fails to realize her nature has been gifted a transformation but continues in her prior patterns, those who continue to act according to their natural desires deceive themselves about the law they obey, and thereby bring forth death in themselves.—"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

Monday, June 24, 2019

It ought not to be so!

The Epistle of James, like the synoptic Jesus, sets out to unmask the strategies of those who claim to be religious and yet act out of narrow self-interest (Jas 1:26–27). In so doing, the author exposes the exploitive strategies of the rich and powerful and reveals the plight of the poor. The world, now as then, is divided sharply into rich and poor nations, and all nations are also divided into rich and poor. In the poor nations, the poverty is pitiful, and in the struggle for survival the poor, wherever they are, cannot win. Meanwhile the rich live in wasteful luxury, obscuring reality while justifying the inequality into which people are born and from which they cannot escape. In this situation the James of the epistle says, “My brothers and sisters, it ought not to be so!”—John Painter in Reading the Epistle of James: A Resource for Students, ed. Eric F. Mason and Darian R. Lockett, forthcoming

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


I'm at the atla conference in Vancouver through Saturday AM. I may or may not be posting until then... meanwhile, I have a few hours to walk around. Seems like a beautiful town!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Our national myth

The American Adam is not an innocent — far from it. But he is a corrector of errors. He has, after its brief and creative role in the New England temper, all but abandoned even the metaphor of original sin. The notion that the human condition is, ontologically, one of ‘dis-grace’, that cruelty and social injustice are not mechanical defects but ‘primaries’ or ‘elementals’ in history, will seem to him defeatist mysticism. No less so the hunch that there are between tragic historicism, between the concept of ‘fallen man’ and the generation of the unageing monuments of intellect and of art, instrumental affinities. It may be that these monuments, born of autistic vision, are counterstatements to a world felt, known to be ‘fallen’. There is in eminent art and thought a manichaean rebellion. ‘A truth,’ taught Alain, the French maitre de pensée (itself a phrase significantly untranslatable), ‘is the refusal of a body.’ There can be no didactic sophistry more un-American, no ideal more alien to the pragmatic immanence of ‘the pursuit of happiness’.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, page 298

Friday, June 07, 2019

Is the price too high?

Civilization, in the elevated and formal sense, does not guarantee civility, does not inhibit social violence and waste. No mob, no storm-troop has ever hesitated to come down the Rue Descartes. It is from exquisite Renaissance loggias that totalitarian hooligans proclaim their will. Great metaphysicians can become rectors of ancient universities in, at least, the early days of the Reich. Indeed, the relations between evaluative appreciation of serious music, the fine arts, serious literature on the one hand and political behaviour on the other are so oblique that they invite the suspicion that high culture, far from arresting barbarism, can give to barbarism a peculiar zest and veneer. American thinkers on the theory and practice of culture have long sensed this paradox. The price which the Athenian oligarchy, the Florentine city-regime, the France of Louis XIV or the Germany of Heidegger and Furtwangler have paid for their aesthetic-intellectual brilliance is too steep. The sacrifice of social justice, of distributive equity of sheer decency of political usage implicit in this price is simply too great. If a choice must be made, let humane mediocrity prevail. Feeling the manifest force of this line of insight, having articulated this force within its own expressive means, the American cultural establishment is sceptical of itself and apologetic towards the community at large. This self-doubt and defensiveness have produced a subtle range of attitudes all the way from mandarin withdrawal to public penitence.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, pages 295–96

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Pseudo-literacy and the U.S. school

One cannot, beyond a severely limited and superficial degree, inject sensibility and intellectual rigour into the mass of society. One can, instead, trivialize, water down, package mundanely, the cultural values and products towards which the common man is being directed. The specific result is the disaster of pseudo-literacy and pseudo-numeracy in the American high school and in much of what passes for so-called ‘higher education’. The scale and reach of this disaster have become a commonplace of desperate or resigned commentary. The predigested trivia, the prolix and pompous didacticism, the sheer dishonesty of presentation which characterize the curriculum, the teaching, the administrative politics of daily life in the high school, in the junior college, in the open—admission ‘university’ (how drastically America has devalued this proud term), constitute the fundamental scandal in American culture. A fair measure of what is taught, be it in mathematics, be it in history, be it in foreign languages, indeed with regard to native speech, is, in the words of the President of Johns Hopkins, ‘worse than nothing’. It has produced what he calls ‘America’s international illiteracy’ or what Quentin Anderson entitles ‘the awful state of intellectual affairs in this country’.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, pages 293–94

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Living a lie

The adoption, on a continental scale, of an eschatology of monetary-material success represents a radical cut in regard to the Periclean—Florentine typology of social meaning. The central and categorical imperative that to make money is not only the customary and socially most useful way in which a man can spend his earthly life — an imperative for which there is, certainly, precedent in the European mercantile and pre—capitalist ethos — is one thing. The eloquent conviction that to make money is also the most interesting thing he can do, is quite another. And it is precisely this conviction which is singularly American (the only culture, correlatively, in which the beggar carries no aura of sanctity or prophecy). The consequences are, literally, incommensurable. The ascription of monetary worth defines and democratizes every aspect of professional status. The lower-paid — the teacher, the artist out of the limelight, the scholar — are the object of subtle courtesies of condescension not, or not primarily, because of their failure to earn well, but because this failure makes them less interesting to the body politic. They are more or less massively, more or less consciously patronized, because the ‘claims of the ideal’ (Ibsen’s expression) are, in the American grain, those of material progress and recompense. Fortuna is fortune. That there should be Halls of Fame for baseball-players but few complete editions of classic American authors; that an American university of accredited standing should, very recently, have dismissed thirty tenured teachers on the grounds of utmost fiscal crisis while flying its football squads to Hawaii for a single game; that the athlete and the broker, the plumber and the pop-star, should earn far more than the pedagogue — these are facts of life for which we can cite parallels in other societies, even in Pericleian Athens or the Florence of Galileo. What we cannot parallel is the American resolve to proclaim and to institutionalize the valuations which underlie such facts. It is the sovereign candour of American philistinism which numbs a European sensibility; it is the frank and sometimes sophisticated articulation of a fundamentally, of an ontologically immanent economy of human purpose. That just this ‘immanence’ and ravenous appetite for material reward is inherent in the vast majority of the human species; that we are a poor beast compounded of banality and greed; that it is not the spiky fruits of the spirit but creature comforts we lunge for — all this looks more than likely. The current ‘Americanization’ of much of the globe, the modulation from the sacramental to the cargo-cult whether it be in the jungles of New Guinea or the hamburger—joints, laundromats and supermarkets of Europe, points to this conclusion. It may be that America has quite simply been more truthful about human nature than any previous society. If this is so, it will have been the evasion of such truth, the imposition of arbitrary dreams and ideals from above, which has made possible the high places and moments of civilization. Civilization will have endured after Pericles by virtue, to quote Ibsen again, of a ‘life-lie’. Russian or European power relations and institutions have laboured to enforce this ‘lie’. America has exposed it or, pragmatically, passed it by. The difference is profound.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, pages 289–90

Monday, June 03, 2019

Is there such a thing as American culture?

This, then, is my surmise: the dominant apparatus of American high culture is that of custody. The institutions of learning and of the arts constitute the great archive, inventory, catalogue, storehouse, rummage-room of western civilization. American curators purchase, restore, exhibit the arts of Europe. American editors and bibliographers annotate, emend, collate, the European classics and the moderns. American musicians perform, Often incomparably, the music which has poured out of Europe from Guillaume de Machaut to Mahler and Stravinsky. Together, curators, restorers, librarians, thesis writers, performing artists in America underwrite, reinsure the imperiled products of the ancient Mediterranean and the European spirit. America is, on a scale of unprecedented energy and munificence, the Alexandria, the Byzantium of the ‘middle kingdom’ (that proud Chinese term) of thought and of art which was Europe, and which may be Europe still.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, pages 281–82

<idle musing>
Fascinating idea—and probably true. I can't think of a single original (nontechnology) idea that has sprung from the United States.
</idle musing>