Thursday, May 31, 2007

Koons on "logical dilemma" vs. "paradox" (re: grace or works)

Luis de Molina
A Middle Knowledge Solution?
(Image from Grandes Economistas)

Picking up on yesterday's short post, another short post follows.

Robert Koons has concluded that Lutherans do, in fact, implicitly acknowledge that works play a role in salvation, for according to Lutheran doctrine, "our continuing in faith, and our avoidance of a kind of carnal sin that is incompatible with saving faith" ensure that one remains in a state of grace. In the words of Koons:
Thus, it seems that Lutherans must admit that our works do contribute to our final salvation, so speaking of "salvation through faith alone" is an exaggeration. (pdf, page 32)
Koons then constructs a hypothetical exchange:
A Lutheran might respond at this point with the charge that Roman theologians are excessively concerned with logical consistency. Salvation involves an element of impenetrable mystery, beyond human comprehension, and it is therefore improper to seek to reduce doctrine to a logically coherent system. This disqualification of logic cuts both ways, however. The core of the case for the Lutheran consists of the claim that Roman doctrines contradict the Biblical principle of sola gratia. The identification of such a contradiction is a logical matter. A Roman theologian could respond, with considerable justice, that the Lutheran is overlooking the paradoxical relationship between divine grace and human freedom, expressed by Paul himself in the epistle to the Philippians: "Work out your salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work within you, both to will and to work." Lutheran theology attempts to reduce this paradox to a logical dilemma: either salvation through grace alone or salvation requiring an element of human cooperation, but not both. (pdf, page 32)
A Lutheran might indeed respond this way -- calling this a logical dilemma -- since Koons hypothetically did so and was actually (still) a Lutheran at the time. I don't know if a Catholic would opt for calling this a paradox, but Koons the Catholic hasn't (yet) disavowed the term.

I'm not very comfortable with either expression, certainly not if the term "paradox" is intended to indicate an ineluctable contradiction that one simply has to accept. I'd prefer to attempt a resolution through the Middle Knowledge theology of Luis de Molina, something that I've superficially dealt with before on this blog:
Kevin Kim's Water from a Skull

Two senses of "going to happen"
Sorry about this short entry, but student essays are calling...

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Koons on Lutheran 'Inconsistency'

A Merely Carnal Thinker?
(Image from Wikipedia)

One learns something new every day. Robert Koons reports (pdf) on what he calls "three mutually inconsistent theses":
Lutherans affirm what seem to be three mutually inconsistent theses: (1) that we can lose our faith, and thereby our salvation, (2) that our faith is strengthened through the external means of grace (Word and sacrament), which require our diligent use, and (3) that our works have absolutely no role in securing our final salvation. (page 31)
I presume that Koons will elaborate further on this point about inconsistency, but I'll confess that I didn't know enough about Lutheranism to realize that it teaches that a Christian can lose the state of grace. As Koons notes, Lutherans differ here from Calvinists and many of those evangelicals whose denominations stem from the Calvinist tradition:
Calvinists and modern evangelicals who embrace the theory of "once saved, always saved", have the virtue of logical consistency. On their view, once we have received the free gift of salvation through faith, there is absolutely nothing we can do or fail to do that would entail the loss of our salvation. The Lutheran Confessions (the Apology of the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord) rightly rejects this position as offering a merely "carnal assurance". (page 31)
Koons then quotes from the Apology and the Formula on the necessity of works and deeds and also cites -- without quoting -- I Corinthians 6:9, Galatians 5:21, Ephesians 5:4, Romans 8:13, and Colossians 3:6 as indicating that salvation can be forfeited.

I wonder, however, what is meant by "carnal assurance." Assurance of salvation in the formula "once saved, always saved" would seem to be about spiritual things, so I have to guess that the Lutheran dismissal of this assurance as 'carnal' would have to mean that such a (mis)understanding about salvation stems from lack of spiritual insight on the part of those who believe such a thing.

Hmmm, speaking of ad hominem...

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Koons on Faith and Works in Catholicism

(Image from Wikipedia)

I've read a bit more in "A Lutheran’s Case for Roman Catholicism," the essay (pdf) by Robert Koons, and I'm musing my way through his thinking -- specifically, through his views on faith and works.

On the issue of faith versus works, I wonder if Koons is merely explaining Catholic doctrine or possibly nudging it along towards a Lutheran position:
Rome does not claim that God's grace renders anyone sinless in this life: everyone sins daily and is in daily need of forgiveness for Christ's sake. At the same time, the Lutherans do not deny that there is something internal to us (in nobis) that is required for our justification: namely, the faith that lays hold of Christ's righteousness. So the question comes down to this: what internal condition (in nobis) is required for us to lay hold of Christ's righteousness? The Scriptures sometimes speak of faith justifying or saving (or even of baptism as saving). These are understood as elliptical, expressing that it is Christ as believed in who justifies, or Christ in whom we are baptized who saves. By the same token, when Rome speaks of our being justified 'by good works', this can be taken as also containing an ellipsis: we are justified by Christ as the one who brings forth good works in us as His fruit.

Lutherans say that it is faith alone that does the apprehending, although saving faith is always accompanied by regeneration and good works. Rome teaches that it is 'faith working in love' that apprehends Christ's merits: that is, that [it] is the whole process, including both faith (as its root) and hope, love and works of charity (as the fruit), that is involved in apprehending Christ. In both cases, it is only Christ and only His merits that reconcile us to God. Lutherans are unfair in claiming that the Romans propose to substitute our merits for Christ's. One could, with as much justice, claim that Lutherans propose to "substitute" our faith for Christ's merits. The biblical evidence (including the Lutheran's most important text, Romans 4), simply doesn't, taken as a whole, clearly favor the Lutheran position. (pp. 26-27)
Koons suggests that when Catholics speak of the Christian being "justified by good works," then the wording "can be taken as ... containing an ellipsis," namely, that the Christian is "justified by Christ as the one who brings forth good works" as fruit.

Question: Is that what Catholics do mean?

Certainly, it could be taken that way if that's what is meant. Okay, let's take it that way, with the provision that the Catholic position might be somewhat different.

Koons refers to Romans 4, the famous passage where Paul elaborates upon the statement that "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3, NRSV). According to Koons, it seems, Lutherans emphasize that Abraham's faith is itself a gift from God, such that one's personal faith is the expression of an inward state granted by God. The faith is not a substitute for Christ's merit. Similarly, for Catholicism, one's works are no substitute for Christ's merit, for they can also be understood -- implies Koons -- as the expression of an inward state granted by God. At least, I think that this is what Koons is saying.

But why bring works into this economy of salvation at all since Paul not only quotes scripture as stating that "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:4), but also says in Romans 4:3 that "if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about" and in Roman 4:5 that "to one who works, wages are not recognized as a gift but as something due"? Koons doesn't at this point explain why Catholics bring works in, but he would probably point to James 2:21-24:
21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:21-24, NRSV)
Such would be the reason that Catholics introduce works at this point in the economy of salvation. Even so, Koons argues, what this means in Catholic thinking is that the Christian is "justified by Christ as the one who brings forth good works" as fruit.

Is that what it means? Catholic readers, is Koons correct?

Supposing that he is, where does free will fit into this? If I recall, Luther rejects free will, whereas Erasmus affirms it. Does Koons Lutheranize Catholicism here and make good works purely Christ's works, or does he leave implicit a Catholic acknowledgement of free will on the part of human beings?

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Monday, May 28, 2007

A Gnostic Detour

Primo Levi
(Image from The New York Times)

I continue to delay my promised grappling with the ideas of Robert Koons, but perhaps today's tangent will prove interesting to some.

Over the weekend, I happened to read "Prisoner of War" (New York Times, May 27, 2007), Jonathan Rosen's review of Primo Levi's A Tranquil Star: Unpublished Stories (translated by Ann Goldstein and Alessandra Bastagli).

Primo Levi (1919-1987), as most of you already know, survived Auschwitz and wrote about this defining event in a couple of works -- in 1947/58, Se questo è un uomo (If This Is a Man, published in the States as Survival in Auschwitz), and in 1963, La tregua (The Truce published in the States as The Reawakening) -- but the experience left its mark on a number of other stories.

I haven't read much by Levi even though I bought one or two of his books while I was studying in Berkeley back in the eighties, and those books are on my shelves, misplaced somewhere among the double-shelved volumes of similarly unread books. Perhaps I'll finally read them in my old old age, when I'll ask myself, "Why didn't I read these before?" It's a question that I've been asking myself for years about books that I've just read -- initially, if I recall, after Morse Hamilton introduced me to Dostoevsky back in 1976.

Literature that deals with the existential questions concerning good and evil is what I find most compelling. I guess that this is what drew me in my academic studies to focus on Gnosticism, though I don't generally have a very high opinion of the Gnostic solution.

Anyway, I'm wondering if I should read Levi's stories in A Tranquil Star, for they deal with these questions. In one of the stories, "Gladiators" (1976), Rosen tells us that a "reluctant man brings his eager girlfriend" to watch a battle between people and cars, but the "spectacle sickens both of them." Rosen remarks:
What Levi's story captures, and passes on to the reader, is the guilt that observers feel just for having been there at all; their mere presence implicates them. It is the sensation he noticed in the eyes of his Russian liberators in "The Reawakening," the shame "the just man experiences at another man's crime."
I recall feeling something like this during the Balkan crisis of the early nineties -- perhaps shame that Europeans could still be doing such things to minorities nearly 50 years after the Holocaust, shame in the presence of the world. Rosen observes that Levi's concern with shame, however, was broader:
This shame, as much as the crimes of the Germans, was the human stain that darkened and spread over Levi's long career. His radical humanism kept him from taking refuge in "us and them" distinctions -- he was much more focused on the shame of the species. (Unlike Eli Wiesel, Levi -- a highly assimilated Jew -- never quarrels with God, in whom he did not believe even as a young man.)
Before whom, then, does one feel this shame? The universe? The universe itself, however, appears flawed:
[D]espite his rational stance, human guilt took on mystical overtones in his work, and can seem a sort of belated original sin. It's bound up with the question, which troubles all his writing, of whether his time in Auschwitz was a season in hell or a glimpse of the true condition of the world.

That question haunts these stories as well. The possibility of transcendent evil is felt with great force in "The Molecule's Defiance" (1980), a seemingly straightforward account of a night at a factory that grows sinister when a vast batch of resin forms a single monster-molecule and bursts free of its container. "The hatch rose by itself, not suddenly but gently, solemnly, as when tombs open and the dead arise." The palpable dread comes not from the fear of an explosion or the loss of a night's work or the expectation of reprimand that dogs the chemist on duty, but from a kind of moral sickness, a sense that evil has sunk into the very molecular structure of the world. "A fire or an explosion can be a much more destructive accident, even tragic," the narrator tells us, "but it's not disgraceful, like a gelatinization."
Despite Rosen's suggestion of "transcendent evil," the evil here seems more immanent, more material, therefore Gnostic. Rather than love as that which binds all things together, something else is lurking:
[The] image of rational scientific rescue is undone in a story like "The Molecule’s Defiance," where the laws of science do not seem rational at all. Instead of each molecule having "two hands" that form an elegant "rosary," they develop a third hand and then "every rosary joins with two or three other rosaries, and in the end they've formed a single molecule, a monster." Religious imagery overwhelms scientific language, and all the irrational elements that Levi recoiled from in human society seem to have penetrated the very fabric of the universe.
Rosen avoids the morally laden term "evil" and uses instead the expression "irrational elements," but that fits with a Gnostic view of the cosmos -- a cosmos that at its core is evil because it is irrational, chaotic, yet somehow conscious even though ignorant.

Intellectually, I don't find Gnosticism compelling, but Levi's story might be, and might not be so Gnostic-sounding as Rosen's account makes it seem ... though Rosen doesn't mention Gnosticism, for that matter.

Perhaps I see only what preoccupies me...

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Gearing up for Koons...

Just between you and me...
(Image from Wikipedia)

The recently noted issue of Gnosticism has reminded me of my first encounter with the thought of Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996) back in the early 1980s.

His greatest work, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the book in which I first encountered his thought, came to me as a hard revelation. Hard to understand, I mean. It had just been translated from the German by Robert Wallace into somewhat 'Teutonic' English -- those long Germanic sentences that Samuel Clemens complained about in "The Awful German Language."

Anyway, the interesting thing, for me, lay in Blumenberg's revelation of how the Church's early overcoming of Gnosticism, particularly in Augustine, was actually a mere postponement, that the genuine overcoming of Gnosticism occurred with the rise of the Modern Age in reaction to the Nominalist construction of God as a radically free being who could have created a world entirely evil without having to apologize to anyone about having done so -- the very sort of intra-Christian theological irrationalism that Pope Benedict was referring to in his Regensberg Address that got him into difficulties last year for not limiting himself to a critique of the one brief phase of Catholic thought, nor to the extensive phase of Protestant thought, on God's nature, but extending his critique by noticing that the God of Islam, Allah, seemed to be essentially (if one can rationally speak of essentialism here) the paradigmatic Nominalist God.

Yes, I've just written an awful Teutonic sentence. Sorry.

Protestantism as a sort of Neo-Gnosticism is an old critique, and while it's a bit misleading (because based on a certain reified understanding of what Gnosticism was), I understand the point and concede that there's something to it even though it's at times been used to silence a protesting voice. I recall the very Catholic professor Helmut Waldmann calling me a Gnostic during a discussion of his views on Gnosticism back when I was living in Tuebingen, perhaps late 1992 or early 1993. He meant that I was Protestant, and I didn't take his attack very seriously, for he rather arbitrarily located the origins of Gnosticism in what he called Mannerbunde (literally, "bands of men"), by which he meant warrior bands, if I recall, but I never read his book.

But these things that I'm telling are all just biographical details revealed to fill a slow blog day while I gear up to return to the essay by Koons, which had mentioned the Gnosticism referred to in the first line of this post. I had hoped to investigate his argument a bit further this morning, but my family and I took at trip to Inchon yesterday, so I didn't get up at my usual early hour this morning, and I now have to prepare myself to attend my 'Gnostic' church...

But I'll leave you with this poem, which I've posted before (January 31, 2006) but which has relevance this morning because it was inspired by my first reading of Blumenberg, whose investigation of Gnostic strains in post-Medieval theology brought me to wonder how the preterite might feel about the arbitary God of some variants in Protestant thinking:
Preteritic Memories

The risen lord has passed over me.
I have felt his shadow, like the cold, dark
shade of a vicious bird of prey, seeking
out those whom he elects, into whom he
can surely sink penetrating talons.

I am glad he has passed over, this
cruel angel of death, wings beating with
cool passion roused in that one
ancient of days, Yahweh, semitic god
before whose solemn name men trembled.

Was it the darkness I felt passed then,
when I shivered, or was it my fear;
and did I hesitate, to raise my eyes,
afraid of what it was might be above?
Look not upon the form of god, and live.

Pronoia has passed from the world,
never fully persuaded, anyway,
by the word -- and neither could the mighty
divine will work its mysterious way,
recusant matter refusing ideal form.

Utterly lost, but haunted by the past,
an illusion, a cosmos we could trust,
nostalgic for the order broken then,
we now construct unhidden purposes --
but find concrete transcendence has its cost.
I wrote this poem around 1985, and it was also influenced by my reading of Thomas Pynchon, who has rather a lot to say about Gnosticism in his novels.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Park Wan-suh: Who Ate Up All Those Singa?

Park Wan-suh
(Photo from Korea Image)

"Or is it Park Wan-seo?" I wondered, when I read this name in a JoongAng Daily article, "A mother writes about loss" (Park Soo-mee, May 19, 2007), which also translated the novel's title differently:
"Who Ate Up the Singa" is another autobiographical novel based on the author's wartime memories and is set in the ruined city of Seoul.
I was wondering about this because using the romanization's correct form -- I mean 'correct' according to Park's own spelling -- would be essential for the translation that I had been asked to proofread and review.

Yes, oddly enough, I was solicited as the reviewer of a recent translation still at the manuscript stage. I'm not sure why the translation institute chose me, possibly because of the translating work that I've done with my wife or perhaps because of the editing that I've done for other Korean scholars, but somehow, I came to their attention.

Anyway, I had in mind this question about the correct spelling for the author's name, so when one of my colleagues at Kyung Hee University invited me to a lecture by this same writer, I readily agreed despite my poor Korean.

The talk took place on May 23 and must have been very entertaining because Park often had her audience laughing. I understood a few words, thereby managing to piece some things together and to imagine some other things -- mostly from my having read the Singa novel.

At the talk's end, a number of scholars attending were asked to stand up and draw slips of paper from a box in a lottery for lucky students (among the very many present) to receive signed copies of Park's books. Even I was asked to perform this minor task and to my surprise was introduced as the scholar reviewing a translated manuscript of the Singa book. I hardly deserved any honor for that, but the students oohed and aahed anyway.

I wish that the real translators had been present, for those two deserved that recognition. I'd name them here, for the minor recognition that my blog might confer, but I don't have authorization to do so. They are, however, well known in the field, and their translation of this wonderful novel is magnificent.

After the lottery, I asked and learned that the author spells her name precisely as the translators had rendered it: Park Wan-suh.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Now for some more godless ramblings...

C.S. Lewis
Another Godless Rambler?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Since Silly Sally and her acolytes object to my godless attention to Tiber-Swimmer Robert Koons, perhaps it's time to return to that article in which Koons was training for his swim.

But maybe you didn't know about my godlessness? Well, first from Silly Sally (aka Harvard Man):
I "sense" a thin coat of religious profession behind the surface of Gypsy Scholar's heart, hiding the inside from view; ... I sense ungodliness alive beneath.
Next, from Silly Sally's anonymous acolyte:
Maybe, there is a huge resevoir of ungodliness underneath that religious exterior.
I don't know quite when my 'religiosity' became an issue since I've neither focused on my private views nor ever suggested that I possess any special sanctity. I guess that I'm nevertheless a hypocrite because if I discuss religious issues, then I'm presenting myself as religious but must be pretending because I won't reveal my personal religious views in detail. But as I once told Silly Sally, I'm not interested in discussing my personal faith online with her, for I don't trust her -- nor do I know that I can trust all of the hundreds of people visiting my blog daily. Anonymous Acolyte is a fine example of why I shouldn't reveal too much of myself online, for The Acolyte -- being unsure of how to attack me spiritually -- attacks my 'priggishness' instead:
You are a prig using his own arbitrary standard as a hammer of malice against a unique personality. You can call your Procrustean bed simple blog propriety. But, to others it looks like mean spirited priggery. Discerning inspection reveals Sally to be quite proper.
Anonymous Acolyte was defending Silly Sally's right to self-expression of this sort:
Sonagi, You Buddha-bitch ex-Mormon niggard.
That was Silly Sally's 'humorous' (I suppose) response to Sonagi's criticisms. I reckon that I should be grateful to Silly Sally and The Acolyte for demonstrating to me the way, the truth, and the life through their own online behavior. But their pseudonymous and anonymous status leaves me wondering to whom I should be so grateful for such scriptural forthrightness and spiritual courage.

But let's turn again to Robert Koons, who avoids ad hominem and signs his own name to his words. Here, speaking still as a Lutheran -- in the pdf file of his "Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism" (July 13, 2006) -- he makes an intriguing analogy between Lutheran views and Gnostic ones concerning the nature of the body:
The Lutheran conception of glorification embodies a kind of Gnosticism, wrongly identifying our sinfulness with our physical bodies. Lutheran theologians assume that the death of our mortal bodies will, all by itself, free us forever from the propensity to sin, as though sin's reality in our lives is grounded entirely in our physical aspects. In fact, Paul uses the word 'flesh' (sarx) to refer to aspects of our lives that are entirely mental, intellectual and spiritual in nature (such as envy or pride). If our soul is still 'fleshly' at death, the mere separation of that soul from our bodies will not suffice to correct its disordered state: a process of purification after death will be required.
Why does Koons say this? Because in his studied opinion:
The core of the Lutheran position then, seems to be that this transformation [into a sanctified state] (i.e., our final glorification) must occur instantaneously and willy-nilly at the death of the believer -- that no active cooperation by us is involved. Lutherans in effect insist that sanctification has nothing to do with glorification -- we are all equally and immediately glorified at death, regardless of how far our sanctification has progressed, and this final step requires no cooperation or suffering on our part.
In other words, once free of the corrupt, physical body, the Christian soul is instantly sanctified. Hmmm.... Well, Lutheranism isn't my tradition, so I can only accept (provisionally, anyway) what Koons has stated, but I confess that I have noticed a tendency in Protestant rhetoric toward a sort of Gnostic denigration of the world.

Take an example from Silly Sally's comments:
The world is ever the same; one huge mass of sin and ungodliness . . . . It must be you who are changed; it must be you who die to it. Now, is it not true that it is the meeting of the two worlds in one embrace, which gives the [outside] world all its power to ensnare and entangle your feet? . . . . Let the worldly spirit be but crucified in your breast, then you shall be like the dying man who has no sympathy with the living world. You will be transformed: transcendent orientated. You will gladly seek pie in the sky.
Some of this I can agree with, but the concluding remark leaves me wondering. Pie in the sky? Lurks there here a quasi-Gnostic denigration of things physical, of an evil cosmos, of a hopelessly corrupt body?

I don't know, but rhetorically, Silly Sally's words indicate denigration of the world. My question partly turns on the ambiguity in the term "world." What is meant here? Is one not to enjoy things of the created world as gifts from God? Is life just one vale of tears, a painful pilgrimage through the shadow of death?

Or is one allowed to enjoy a fine wine -- maybe even, along with C.S. Lewis, an occasional pipeful of tobacco?

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Postscript: Lee Je-chun on French Wines vs. American Wines

(Image from Wikipedia)

In a follow-up to yesterday's post on the idiosyncratic views of Mr. Lee Je-chun, proprietor of Jell Wine in Itaewon-dong, I did a Google search and found a document consistent both with Bruce's view that Mr. Lee is repeating the words of "someone who is selling French wine" and with Jon Allen's view that Mr. Lee "has been taken in by his French wine seller."

According to this pdf French document from 2004, or thereabouts, Mr. Lee's stock of wines for 2003 amounted to about 1000 sorts, with French wines being somewhat under 50 percent but principally "des Grand Crus ou des vin haut de gamme," meaning that he has his shop stocked up on a lot of expensive French wines that he needs to sell.

The document also states that he recommends wines from Chile and Australia -- which, I suppose, means that he also carries them.

American wines are not mentioned, which would perhaps suggest that he does not carry them in stock -- hardly surprising since he warns us to "avoid American wines." He wouldn't say that if he were trying to sell some.

Be that as it may -- and perhaps someone who has shopped at Jell Wine can let us know if the place carries any American wines -- Mr. Lee's emphasis upon the superiority of French wines probably reflects what he's learned from his French wine sellers, but it also likely expresses his own business interest in selling the many expensive French wines that he's stocked up on.

For the record, I'm sure that Jell Wine carries in stock a large selection of excellent wines, and I wouldn't wish to discourage anyone from shopping there, but I would advise shoppers to take with a grain of salt Monsieur Lee's views on American wines.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Anti-American Wine 'Expertise' in Korea

A Good Red Wine Moment
Lee Je-chun: "...avoid American wines"
Toasting the Reds?
(Image from JoongAng Daily)

Now, a post on one of those worldly charms that Silly Sally has been warning me about...

Last week, the JoongAng Daily published an article by Daniel Jeffreys, "Looking for a good wine? It's all a matter of balance" (May 18, 2007). While I'm happy to read of the increasing prominence of Western wines here in Korea, I found the statements by one of the Korean wine experts a bit ... how should I say? Um ... idiosyncratic.

I'm no expert, though, so I sent an email to my old friend and wine expert Bruce Cochran, asking for his opinion. At the time that I sent the email, the article was not available online, so I didn't send the entire article but typed up a few selected quotes for Bruce to consider.

Here is my initial email to Bruce on the subject:

Bruce, I have just read a somewhat disconcerting article on wine, giving the opinion of Korean experts, and I'd like your brief but considered (polite) response to some choice quotes and paraphrases of quotes from one expert. I'd provide the entire article, but it seems closed to online viewing.

Here's what Lee Je-chun is reported to have said:

"The most important attribute of a good wine is it's (sic) balance," says Lee. "The exact combination of acidity, alcohol and tannins."


"For Lee, wine means red wine. Like many connoisseurs he regards white wine as frivolous. When he talks about balance he's referring to the subtlety found in vintages made with grape varietals like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon."
While I'll admit an affinity for red wines, I find Lee's attitude toward white wines off-putting. What's your opinion? Lee goes on to state:

"It's best to choose a wine that has 13.5 percent alcohol by volume," he says. "Anything less than that and the wine will be too thin with no finish. And if there's more, the wine's taste will be overpowered."

By this he means it will be too syrupy. Like other experts, Lee is critical of wines like Chateauneuf-du-Pape because their alcohol content hovers around 12.5 percent.
I'd agree that too little alcohol would make for a thin wine, but the percent should be balanced with other factors, and 12.5 percent doesn't seem bad to me. Lee adds:

And avoid American wines.

"They cost so much because the land is the most expensive in the world," says Lee. "With good American wines you are paying a lot for the soil and not so much for the grapes."
I find this hard to believe, but if it's true, I'm willing to learn. I can't believe that American land is so expensive, and I'm sure that one can find excellent American wines for competitive prices, though as imports to Korea, they might be overpriced, a point that I'd need to look into.

Anyway, Bruce, my feeling is that this expert is biased, possibly not an expert -- or perhaps knowledgeable but idiosyncratic. I'd like to post a blog entry about this, but I want to speak with knowledge, so I'm turning to you. If you want to reply, keep in mind that I'd be citing and quoting your remarks ... so you might perfer to decline.

Or you could see it as an opportunity to contribute to an understanding of wine here in Korea.

Not that many people read my blog...
After sending this email to my friend, the article became available online, so I sent it along so that Bruce could read the quotes in their context -- and I added this comment:

The article is one that I want to like, and I'm happy that Koreans are taking an interest in wine -- not just in drinking it but also in knowing about it. I've just a bit taken aback. The Korean expert's wholesale criticism of American wines may be correct, for all I know, but it smacks of the Anti-Americanism that is so common and even casual here and other places that I've lived outside of the States. I've come to consider Anti-Americanism as something like the weather -- I can talk about it, but I can't do anything about it.
So much for my remarks. Here is Bruce's response (though you might first want to go read the JoongAng Daily article):

Good Morning Jeff,

At least it's morning here. Writing is easier for me during the morning hours. I'm not sure why.

Thanks for sending that complete article. It helps me a little, as I try to understand this fellow's words, and perhaps some sentiment behind them.

Let me please just comment on a few of the quotes.

First, let's stipulate that all are welcome to the wine world, and I, personally, am pleased to see people in an old culture open up to the world of wine.

Maybe there's a little anti-Americanism with this fellow, maybe subconsciously even if it's that prevalent. If he'd prefer that we leave him to Kim Jong-il...

But never mind that for now. Let's look at the wine comments.

One thing I noticed from the start, is that he is one of the few people left in the world who are still drinking French wines. Even the French are drinking less of it. The French wine industry has been tanking (excuse that, please) for some years now. They lost England, they lost the U.S. There are reasons both for their lost business and their difficulty in trying to recover, but that takes too long for this email. You might Google the initials CRAV. That's a winemakers' trade union in the south that has become desperate enough to set off some small bombs to protest their loss family farms, while the government officials dither about what to do.

The main reason is that French wines are difficult to learn because they are named for French places. Most of the world now uses grape names. Learning your favorite places for your favorite grape is easier as a step #2 than as step # 1 in learning about wine.

I do agree with him on the importance of balance.

I also agree with the idea of too much sun producing too much sugar, which means too much alcohol. This is a problem in Napa Valley right now, because of some warmer weather, and some winemakers extract alcohol through a process called reverse osmosis.

But too much water meaning too much acidity? I think temperature is more of an influence, as in underripe grapes. I think of 1982 German wines, poised to be one of the great vintages until untimely autumn rains swelled the grapes with water. That produced record quantity instead of record quality.

Regarding his preference for red wines, that's a national trend here, too. Part of it is the perceived health benefits. Part is a maturing "national palate". But all of it is the newby's tendency to latch onto something they can easily understand, to the exclusion of many other things. How many times do we hear somebody boast, "I only drink ..." ... followed by a famous name that is so allocated that you know they can't get very much of it. Some people in the trade call them "label drinkers." It's a sign of immaturity, as is the idea about drinking only red wine. Maybe he'll grow out of that.

The comment about 13.5 percent alcohol is just pure crap. Again, I'd point to a fine German riesling as a pointed example.

And who is he to decide what is "good"? I don't like liver (except foie gras d'oie). Is liver good or bad? How about raw oysters? Not much consensus on that. I suggest to my wine class students that it's really more appropriate to say you like or dislike a wine that pass judgement on its goodness or badness.

As to Chilean wines, they aren't all grown at high altitudes. I do like them, though. Just got back late Feb from my third visit.

The comment about sunny days and cool nights is accurate and is used a lot in the wine trade.

Now as to the comment about high real estate prices in California, that's hard to argue with, particularly if you consider Napa Valley. But there are other parts, too. How much does land cost in those Burgundian vineyards he likes? Or Bordeaux (the best parts)?

It sounds to me like he was told this concept by somebody else, probably someone who is selling French wines. (Don't discount the sometimes insidious influence of the trade. I say that as a member of it.)

And this is followed by his comment about the importance of vineyard location in French wines. How much would a parcel of Chateau Margaux cost?

The concept of eating a chicken with the feathers still on it bothers me a little bit. I understand what he means though.

I think we're reading the comments of a fellow who has learned just enough to feel pretty good about his knowledge, which in the wine world means he likely has a dose of humility in his future. In his culture he's probably an expert, and "in a room full of blind people, the one-eyed guy is king." Plus, he needs to sell some wine.

It's hard to make blanket statements about wine. I've been in the business for 28 years as a retailer, wholesaler, importer, teacher, writer and tour guide, and am still surprised from time to time. It's one of the things that makes the wine world so fascinating. You can never learn it all.

Thanks Jeff, for an interesting look into a culture where wine is new. I remember when it was like that here...
Well, there you have it. Now, go drink some good wine -- or whatever you fancy. As the days heat up, I begin to prefer the chilled white stuff that Lee Je-chun warns us against...

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Special Sort of Troll

Hier stehe Ich, like "Luther Before the Diet of Worms"
Photogravure Based on Painting by Anton von Werner (1843–1915)
(Image from Wikipedia)

Some weeks past, a special sort of troll graced this blog: 'Harvard Man', a sock puppet for 'Silly Sally'. I prefer to this person as 'Silly Sally' and conventionally use the feminine pronoun.

Silly Sally -- whom I've encountered in comments on other people's blogs -- is amusing, brilliant, and caustic. Her comments are psychologically perceptive attacks on the personal character of those with whom she disagrees. By "psychologically perceptive," I mean that she is extraordinarily gifted with a sense of where a person can best be hurt.

For an earlier encounter with Silly Sally (aka Harvard Man), see the comments to my blog entry of April 24, 2007: "Morning Alarm...."

She returned again yesterday to respond to my blog entry on "Koons Swimming the Tiber." I'm again impressed by her brilliance. I quoted a passage on "alien righteousness" in the online paper (pdf) by Robert Koons:
The crucial issue is this: is the righteousness by which the justified are justified an alien righteousness, the righteousness of Christ entirely outside of us (extra nos) and apart from regeneration and the new kind of life that results?
After various caustic remarks about Catholicism and Koons, she turned to my character:

Gypsy's "alien" and even "domestic" justification and righteousness before God is in exact proportion to the life and strength of his faith and his deadness to the world's charm.
I want you to appreciate this statement. It is not an off-the-cuff remark. It has depth. It is, of course, a personal attack, but it's so subtle and interesting that I'll let it stand. Yet, I won't engage it other than intellectually. I'm not interested in defending myself against personal attacks, for whom -- other than Silly Sally -- would I be trying to convince?

But I am interested in understanding the sense of things, so I wrote to her:

[P]erhaps you could explain this:

Gypsy's "alien" and even "domestic" justification and righteousness before God is in exact proportion to the life and strength of his faith and his deadness to the world's charm.
It sounds like a rather neat dichotomy, and admirably expressed, but I'm not sure that I've understood.

It's not a chiasm, is it?

Do you mean that an alien justification (and righteousness) means strong faith (and 'strong' deadness to the world), whereas a domestic justification (and righteousness) means a weak faith (and 'weak' deadness to the world)?

Or are you linking justification to faith and righteousness to deadness to the world?
I'm curious as to what Silly Sally meant this to say. Intellectually curious, I mean. As for the personal and spiritual dimensions to its meaning as these concern my character, I have no interest in discussing them with Silly Sally. Why not? Because I don't trust her. Nor do I trust all of the hundreds of people who visit my blog daily.

I know that Silly Sally's remarks about Catholicism (and other matters) will be offensive to many, but I urge you to let them pass. I won't allow my blog to descend into vitriolic polemics, and if comments become ad hominem attacks, I'll block the comments function and delete the ad hominem.

Take that as a friendly caution.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Koons Swimming the Tiber

View of Tiber River
Looking Towards Vatican City
But where are the raccoons?
(Image from Wikipedia)

No, this isn't some Ozark dialect referring to Italian raccoons plunging headlong into the Tiber River like lemmings into the sea, which also doesn't happen.

Rather, it's is a reference to a recent but long-developing decision by the philosopher Robert C. Koons, of the University of Texas at Austin, to enter the Roman Catholic Church (h/t Bill Vallicella). His decision follows only a couple of weeks after a similar decision by Baylor University professor of Church-State Studies Francis J. Beckwith.

Beckwith was reverting to Rome after years as an evangelical Christian, but Koons grew up as a Protestant and has spent years as a Lutheran. Prior to his recent decision, Koons had already publicly articulated views favorable to Catholicism, particularly in a paper posted to his website last year on July 13, 2006: "A Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism" (pdf).

Note that he specified that this is a "Lutheran's Case," not a "Lutheran Case," for the latter would constitute a contradiction. The former, while no contradiction, also surely implies some inner tensions and could likely only express a momentary stage in a developing theological position.

In his more recent online announcement of an even greater affinity for Catholicism, Koons summarizes his turn to Rome. Previously, he had held that the Roman Catholic Church held to the truth from the first to the twelfth centuries but then departed from the truth by moving toward a view enunciated by such nominalist philosophers as William of Ockham, a view that Koons considered a type of "Pelagian" error, meaning "the notion that human beings can save themselves through the exercise of unaided human reason and will."

He still holds this view about the late Medieval Church, just as he continues to believe that the Church overreacted to Martin Luther's initial attempts at reform. Where he has changed his views is on his opinion concerning the Council of Trent. Previously, he held that Trent merely confirmed the Church in its error concerning salvation, namely, that individuals could save themselves. Koons therefore believed that the Catholic Church had nothing of theological importance to say since Trent. In his own words:
The logic of my position was a simple one: the modern Roman Church clearly embraced an erroneous doctrine of justification, which nullified its otherwise strong historical claim to continuity with the apostles (especially on the matter of ecclesiology, the theory of the Church), depriving modern Christians of any good reason to embrace late-medieval and modern developments in Roman Catholic doctrine (including the immaculate conception and papal infallibility).
Koons then tells us that he had come to alter his views on this point:
My confidence in this position was shaken by three blows: (1) new scholarship (primarily by Protestants) on Paul's epistles, which raised profound doubts about the correctness of Martin Luther's and Phillip Melanchthon's excessively individualistic and existentialist reading of Paul's teaching on justification by faith, (2) the fruits of Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogue on justification, expressed most fully in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1997, that greatly clarified for me the subtlety of the doctrinal differences between the two bodies, and (3) a more thorough exposure to the writings of the early Church fathers, especially those considered most "evangelical": Chrysostom, Ambrose, and (above all) Augustine of Hippo.
This third point is the most significant for Koons, for it touches upon the central issue of the Reformation, as he notes in his "Case for Roman Catholicism":
The crucial issue is this: is the righteousness by which the justified are justified an alien righteousness, the righteousness of Christ entirely outside of us (extra nos) and apart from regeneration and the new kind of life that results? This I can't find this anywhere before Luther.
The significance here lies in the implications for one's views on the link between grace and works. Through his reading of the Church Fathers, Koons came to the conclusion that by the expression "grace freely given,"
... the Fathers understood 'freely' and 'by grace' to mean that we cannot earn salvation -- that we can give nothing 'in return' for God's gift. They teach that nothing of human merit precedes the gift of grace. However, he does not establish that any of the Fathers thought of justification in terms of an extrinsic or 'alien' righteousness, or that they denied that works are needed to persevere and to grow in grace.
Koons explains that his discovery of the Church Fathers' views concerning salvation held significance for the distinction "between the thesis that faith is necessary for justification and the thesis that faith is sufficient." From his reading of the Fathers, he came to believe that whereas faith is necessary, it is not sufficient. Why not? Because justification is not external but transformational.

This is where things begin to get very complicated, for Catholics and Protestants use the same terms -- justification, grace, faith -- in very different ways. Rather than try to summarize any more, for such a summary would grow very long indeed, I'd suggest that those interested in this issue -- most likely, Protestants struggling with incipient cognitive dissonance over the seeming discrepancy between scriptural passages and Reformation doctrine -- go and read Koons directly (pdf).

You might not like it, but you'll learn something.

UPDATE: For some reason, this post wasn't allowing comments, an error that I've now rectified.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

An Icky Remark

The More Developed Harisu
Transgender Expert on Today's Hot Issue?
(Image from Wikipedia)

In "Senior Officials Struck by Foot-in-Mouth Disease" (May 18, 2007), The Chosun Ilbo reports on an odd remark by Mr. Suk Ho-ick:
The head of a state-run think tank has sparked controversy with an offensive remark about women. Korea Information Society Development Institute chief Suk Ho-ick was delivering a lecture on the Korean IT industry at a breakfast meeting with 30 business figures at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul on Wednesday. Talking about the importance of the female workforce as a growth potential for the 21st century, he said, "Women are more developed creatures than men since they have one more hole."
I'll avoid drawing irrelevant connections between Mr. Suk Ho-ick's name and any sort of fixation that some 'a-hole' might have with 'a hole' -- specifically, I mean such puns as "suck" or "a ho" and the "icky" acts that these wordplays would imply. Drawing attention to the unfortunate connotations of people's names should be avoided, for people don't choose their own names. Gypsy Scholar would never stoop to such juvenile humor even though people used to make fun of his first name "Horace" -- pronouncing it, for example, as "Whore-Ass."

Anyway, the more highly developed Professor Min Ga-young subjected Mr. Suk to analysis and assisted his development by tearing him another one:

Women's studies scholar Min Ga-young of Hongik University said the KISDI head's remarks demonstrated a pervasive view among men of women not as equals but as sex object.
The now more developed Suk explained himself:

Suk on Thursday said he had no intention to denigrate women and was merely emphasizing the important role of women in the future.
See, he didn't intend his remark to portray women as sex objects, merely that their future role in society has something to do with an extra hole.

I suppose that we could ask Harisu about Suk's views on advanced human development, but don't go to Gwangmyeong Mayor Lee Hyo-seon for his views on African-Americans.

For more on the remarks of Mr. Suk and Mr. Lee, including commentary, go to Marmot's Hole for the post by R. Elgin (hat-tip).

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Creative Revelations: Rosenzweig and Milton

"I heard there was a sacred chord..."
(Image by Jürgen Jaensch on LCF)

Attributed to Franz Rosenzweig is a startling claim reminiscent of a claim made by Milton. On his deathbed, Rosenzweig was dictating to his wife the following statement:
" ...and now it comes, the point of all points, which the Lord has revealed to me in my sleep: the point of all points for which there..." (Nahum N. Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought (New York: Schocken Books, 1961, 2nd edn.), p. 174)
Rosenzweig (1886-1929) was suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis -- the same disease that struck Lou Gerhig and afflicts Stephen Hawking -- and so had to communicate with the aid of his wife, who would recite the alphabet to him until reaching the letter that he indicated was correct, when the process would begin again until she could guess the word. Through this laborious process, Rosenzweig carried out his work toward the end of his days.

At the moment in which Rosenzweig was about to express the "point of all points," he was interrupted by the entrance of his doctor and did not finish the dictation. He died later that night.

I have via Arnold Betz's "Franz Rosenzweig Essay and Exhibit," courtesy of Vanderbilt University's online Divinity Library, the startling claim attributed to Rosenzweig in Glatzer's book.

Some 250 years earlier, John Milton (1608-1674), old and blind, claimed to receive his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, from: Celestial Patroness, who deignes
Her nightly visitation unimplor'd,
And dictates to me slumb'ring, or inspires
Easie my unpremeditated Verse... (PL 9.21-24)
Milton's "Celestial Patroness" was the designation given by him here in Paradise Lost 9.21 for the same spiritual entity whom he poetically addresses in 7.1 as "Urania" and to whom he speaks directly, saying, "thou / Visit'st my slumbers Nightly." This would seem to be the same entity as the "Heav'nly Muse" addressed directly by Milton in Paradise Lost 1.5. Milton is generally agreed to have been referring to the Holy Spirit.

Whatever Milton may have precisely meant by such a spiritual entity, he believed -- clearly enough -- that he was receving his great poem by a type of divine inspiration. Indeed, a cursory reading suggests that he believed himself to be receiving dictation (9.23: "dictates to me"), but a closer, more careful reading suggests that he himself played a creative role, for in 9.20-21, he speaks of his own, if assisted effort to rise to the high theme given him: "If answerable style I can obtaine / Of my Celestial Patroness" (cf. 9.23-24: "inspires / Easie").

Perhaps Milton hoped that he was receiving divine sanction for his poem, but his wording is careful, and he adds his own rejoinder in 9.46-47: "if all be mine, / Not Hers who brings it nightly to my Ear."

Rosenzweig, perhaps because his condition left him unwilling to waste words of qualification, expressed himself rather more directly in attributing his final insight to a revelation from the Lord God.

In Rosenzweig's case, the revelation remained unrecorded, secret; from Milton, we have twelve long books of poetry, sacred.

From the former, we know not what was said; in the latter, we know not what is meant. These statements could be reversed.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Speaking of Spengler...

(Image from Asia Times Online)

I had previously -- possibly yesterday -- wondered about the theological debt owed by 'Spengler' to Franz Rosenzweig.

With that wondrous query in mind, I did more scrounging about at Spengler's webpage on the Asia Times website and found an article reviewing a recent German edition -- by Gesine Palmer and Yossef Schwartz -- of Rosenzweig's Der Stern Der Erlosung (The Star of Redemption). Spengler's review article, "Oil on the flames of civilizational war" (December 2, 2003), has some choice quotes from Rosenzweig's book, framed by Spengler's observations:
Most of the German-language material in the Palmer-Schwartz collection can be found easily in Rosenzweig's book The Star of Redemption, available in English translation. Few Americans have the training to read it, for Rosenzweig writes in the extinct dialect of Kantian idealism. What he says about Islam, however, is reasonably straightforward. I translate from the present [Palmer-Schwartz] edition and summarize below.

Judaism began with a people, and then became a congregation, and eventually a religion, Rosenzweig argues. Christianity began with a congregation into which it then selected its people, the "new Israel". Islam, he avers, was concocted as an institutionalized religion to begin with, as a parody of Judaism and Christianity. This, however, had dreadful consequences. "Mohammed took over the notion of Revelation from the outside, which left him stuck with the pagan idea of creation as a matter of course," Rosenzweig wrote.

Allah merely is the apotheosized image of an Oriental despot, emphatically not the Judeo-Christian God of love. Rosenzweig altogether repudiates the notion of Islamic culture. As a caricature, Islam is entirely sterile: "Islam never created an Islamic art, but rather took into its service pre-Islamic art ... The pre-Islamic state, namely the Oriental state in its Byzantine form, made Islam into its state religion; the pre-Islamic spirit of the Koran adopted either pre-Islamic rationalism or mysticism and orthodoxy. In Europe, by contrast, in Christian Europe, there arose something new: Christian art, and a Christian state."

Love requires the Judeo-Christian God to create the world. By contrast, "the God of Mohammed is a creator who well might not have bothered to create. He displays his power like an Oriental potentate who rules by violence, not by acting according to necessity, not by authorizing the enactment of the law, but rather in his freedom to act arbitrarily. By contrast, it is most characteristic of rabbinic theology that it formulates our concept of the divine power to create in the question as to whether God created the world out of love or out of righteousness."

Allah's creation for Rosenzweig is a mere act of "magic". Muslim theology "presumes that Allah creates every isolated thing at every moment. Providence thus is shattered into infinitely many individual acts of creation, with no connection to each other, each of which has the importance of the entire creation. That has been the doctrine of the ruling orthodox philosophy in Islam. Every individual thing is created from scratch at every moment. Islam cannot be salvaged from this frightful providence of Allah ... despite its vehement, haughty insistence upon the idea of the God's unity, Islam slips back into a kind of monistic paganism, if you will permit the expression. God competes with God at every moment, as if it were the colorfully contending heavenful of gods of polytheism."

By paganism Rosenzweig refers to a specific mindset as well as a political system which crushes individual identity into the whole. In the pagan state, he wrote in the Star, "The individual does not stand in relation to the state in the way that a part stands in relation to the whole. On the contrary, the state is all, and its electricity pulses through the veins of every individual." Unfortunately, Palmer and Schwartz do not include in their edition this and other relevant passages about paganism in general.
Spengler's agreement with Rosenzweig's portrayal of Islam as a type of monistic paganism dressed up as monotheism reminds me of Alain Besançon's query posed as an article, "What kind of religion is Islam?" (Commentary, May 2004, Volume 117, Issue: 5), which I have previously noted and which answers with this:

Christians and Jews ... may well be struck by the religious zeal of the Muslim toward a God whom they recognize as being also their God. But this God is in fact separate and distinct, and so is the relation between Him and the believing Muslim. Christians are accustomed to distinguish the worship of false gods -- that is, idolatry -- from the worship of the true God. To treat Islam suitably, it becomes necessary to forge a new concept altogether, and one that is difficult to grasp -- namely, an idolatry of the God of Israel. To put it another way, Islam may be thought of as the natural religion of the revealed God.
Both Rosenzweig and Besançon as well as Spengler consider Islam a form of pagan belief. Muslims would, clearly, find this label objectionable if not insulting, but an emotional response would be inappropriate to the intellectual critique.

Anyway, this would be neither here nor there if Spengler weren't arguing that Islam's pagan core is responsible for the current wave of jihadist attacks here, there, and everywhere. If one asks Spengler, "But why now -- why is Islam so radical right now if it's always had a pagan core?", then he will respond (cf. "Crisis of Faith in the Muslim World, Part 2: The Islamist response") that Islam's pagan core makes the Islamic world a traditional society that emphasizes not the individual but the 'tribe' and that this communal reality is threatened with annihilation by modern individualism, against which "The Islamists feel that they have nothing to lose, for the fear of cultural extinction surpasses the fear of physical death."

One possible flaw in this argument is that Spengler has also argued that 'pagan' culture does not recognize individual immortality and thus emphasizes the corporate immortality of the tribe. Yet, Islam surely offers immortality to individuals.

Or does it?

Spengler would likely assert that Islamic immortality gives no individual guarantees, aside from the immortality accorded to the martyr -- but even that is left up to the unfathomable, arbitrary will of Allah. What therefore remains, Spengler would emphasize, is the 'pagan' immortality of the tribe.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sparkling Spengler!

"Meet Mr. Spengler"
(Image for Asia Times Online)

His apercus, anyway. Take this one:
So much for the Americans of the left and the right: they do not know, and they cannot learn.
This one surfaces in his article that I linked to a few blog entries back. In that article, Spengler was decrying the lack of theological insight among both the critics and the defenders of Islam among non-Muslims on the right and the left (rather than the right and left generally).

But Spengler is particularly rough with the neoconservatives, perhaps because he feels closer to them:

Irving Kristol, the "godfather of neo-conservatism", once told me that he had wanted to learn German so that he might read Rosenzweig. If Kristol, the best (and perhaps the only really keen) mind among the neo-conservatives, had done so, we all might have been spared a great deal of embarrassment. As things stand, the United States is condemned to trample about the Middle East until sufficient grief and loss wake them up.
As one can infer from this snippet, Spengler doesn't have high hopes for American success in its attempt to democratize Iraq. From Franz Rosenzweig, Spengler seems to have drawn his own theological -- or better, soteriological -- insight about the role of jihad in Islam:

Western policy toward the Muslim world appears stupid and clumsy because its theological foundations are flawed. It is not what it is, nor what it was, but rather what it does that defines a religion: How does a faith address the paramount concern of human mortality, and what action does it require of its adherents? I addressed these issues under the title Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and eternal life (September 19), explaining that jihad does for Muslims precisely what Communion does for Christians. It is not a doctrine but a sacrament, that is, a holy act that transforms the actor.
I think that this remark about the sacramental nature of jihad for Muslims makes sense of its significance, and it's similar to a point that I made in some previous posts. Actually, Bin Laden made the point for me:

He [i.e., Muhammad] also said : "a martyr privileges are guaranteed by Allah; forgiveness with the first gush of his blood, he will be shown his seat in paradise, he will be decorated with the jewels of belief (Imaan), married off to the beautiful ones, protected from the test in the grave, assured security in the day of judgement, crowned with the crown of dignity, a ruby of which is better than this whole world (Duniah) and its' entire content, wedded to seventy two of the pure Houries (beautiful ones of Paradise) and his intercession on the behalf of seventy of his relatives will be accepted". Narrated by Ahmad and AtTirmithi (with the correct and trustworthy reference).
I followed that up with another post -- located here, for those who might be interested. The comments to both posts are worth perusing, particularly Erdal's, which are especially instructive due to his expertise on Islam.

Then, there is my post on Abu Yahya al-Libi, who states his view on the 'sacrament' of jihad:

"this form of worship [i.e. jihad] can only exist through the blood of those who sacrifice their souls for [Islam]..."
Why do many (or at least some) Muslims think like this about jihad? Spengler tells us to go to Rosenzweig for the answer:

[We] would do well to take a couple of days off with a copy of Rosenzweig's The Star of Redemption.
Spengler (perhaps drawing upon Rosenzweig?) has a lot more to say about human sacrifice and salvation in an earlier article, "Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and eternal life":

Jihad also is a form of human sacrifice. He who serves Allah so faithfully as to die in the violent propagation of Islam goes straight to paradise, there to enjoy virgins....

We are too comfortable, too clean, too squeamish, too modern to descend into the terrible space where birth, death and immortality are decided. We forget that we cannot have eternal life unless we are ready to give up this one -- and this the Muslim knows only through what we should call the sacrament of jihad. Through jihad, the Muslim does almost precisely what the Christian does at the Lord's Supper. It is the sacrifice of Jesus that grants immortal life to all Christians, that is, those who become one with Jesus by eating his flesh and drinking his blood so that the sacrifice also is theirs....

Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross to give all men eternal life, on condition that they take part in his sacrifice, either through the physical communion of the Catholic Church or the empathetic Communion of Protestantism. From a Muslim vantage point, the extreme of divine humility embodied in Jesus' sacrifice is beyond reason. Allah, by contrast, deals with those who submit to him after the calculation of an earthly despot. He demands that all Muslims sacrifice themselves by becoming warriors and, if necessary, laying their lives down in the perpetual war against the enemies of Islam.
Pretty uncompromising views on Spengler's part. Spengler elsewhere acknowledges that not all Muslims think this way, but he does believe that Islam itself is essentially this -- and yes, he does believe in essences.

Spengler is sparkling, but is he right?


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Not because I'm lazy...

"That's How I Got My Start"
(Image from

. . . but because I'm pressed for time, I'm posting some dialogue -- from the "Big 5-0" birthday post -- between Sonagi (a good woman) and me (a man of questionable character).

Sonagi first offered commiseration -- I mean, birthday greetings:
Happy Birthday, Jeffery! I'm sure you've heard of the saying that growing old is better than the alternative.

I'm still recovering from 'the shock of "the death of youth"' when I reached the big 4-0 two years ago. People in their thirties, especially those still single and childless, can mingle with those in their twenties and still feel young. Once that 3 rolls over into a 4, it doesn't feel right to be socializing with people fresh out of college with few work or life experiences.

Like Charles, I watched Hawaii 5-0 as a kid. I'll let you in on a couple of secrets - Jack Lord was my first celebrity crush and I secretly dig Asian men with longish hair because they remind me of the show.
I replied, in my usual witty (or twitty) manner:

Thanks, Sonagi, but growing younger would be a good alternative, too.

You know -- well, probably you don't, which is why I'm telling you -- despite the Hawaii 5-0 reference, I actually never much watched the show.

In my Ozark town, only one channel got reception, channel 3 out of Springfield, Missouri, which was NBC, so I couldn't watch Hawaii 5-0 until I went off to university, when I no longer had time to watch. But as a cultural reference point, the show was well-known to me.

It was strange, growing up watching only NBC, then going off to college, where everybody else had seen shows from all three broadcasting companies.

For the first time, I learned of Monty Python -- and did watch that. Somehow, between classes, studying, and working, I managed to add a little British irony to my life...
To which, Sonagi replied, first by quoting my words and then by responding:

"It was strange, growing up watching only NBC, then going off to college, where everybody else had seen shows from all three broadcasting companies."

I can relate. My parents were die-hard CBS fans during the decade of the 70s when ABC's youthful line-up propelled it past CBS to claim the top spot in the ratings. We watched All in the Family, Good Times, and The Waltons while our friends laughed along with Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley and oohed and aahed at the stunts of the Six Million Dollar Man, the Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman. We only got to watch the reruns during the summer.

What were your favorite toys and what were your favorite movies growing up? My favorite toys were my Barbie collection, especially the Happy Family, the black version of the Sunshine Family. I always got the black versions of trendy dolls because a middle-class neighborgirl got the white versions first and I didn't want the exact same thing since we played together. It was unusual, I suppose, since I lived in a small town that was 99% white. My mom would ask, "Are you sure you want the black doll?" She wasn't being racist. She just wanted to make sure I wasn't pressured by the neighborgirl into not getting the white one. If Asian, Hispanic, and Muslim barbies had been available, I would have asked for them, too.

My favorite movies were It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Tora Tora Tora, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Herbie the Lovebug, and Star Wars.

Oh, and one more thing - I envy you for having come of age in the turbulent, exciting period of the late 60s/early 70s. Tell us few stories, won't you? If you don't mind.
Replying to this one, I revealed the poverty of my youth -- too poor even to be misspent!

Sonagi, my family was rather poor, and we lived without a car in an isolated town lacking a cinema, so I didn't have a lot of toys or see a lot of movies.

But we had board games like Monopoly, which I did like. We played card games like "Spoons" -- get two cards alike, grab a spoon (5 brothers, 4 spoons, a bit like musical chairs).

We played a lot of sports and walked a lot for fun, or went fishing ... even hunting.

As we became teenagers, we began working at summer jobs of various sorts, and when I had enough money, I bout a bicycle. I also used to deliver Grit, a 'family' newspaper.

I've told some stories on my blog. Perhaps this would be a time to label them for ease in finding.
Then, noticing my typo, I added with chagrin and a grin:

Sonagi, that should have read "I bought a bicycle," not "I bout a bicycle."

I certainly didn't fight one, as a "bout" might suggest.

I guess that I'm getting senile already . . . now that I'm old.
Sonagi replied to this story of my gritty childhood:

"I also used to deliver Grit, a 'family' newspaper."

Now there's name I haven't heard in a long time.

You may have been poor in money but rich in imagination and wide open spaces to play. I feel sorry for kids glued to their Playstations and Gameboys.

BTW, most of my favorite movies I watched not in a theater but on television. I wasn't born yet when many of those movies were made.
My mind still down in the grit, I replied:

Sonagi, I did watch a lot of late-night movies on television with my four brothers when we were supposed to be sleeping on the sofa bed ... conveniently and therefore temptingly close to the television.

I recall seeing a lot of WWII movies...

By the way, I think that Grit is still in business.
Sonagi, noting a lacuna in my reminiscences, then inquired about my intellectual upbringing:

Jeffery, You didn't mention reading books anywhere in your comments about having fun as a kid. Were you a reader? What/who were your favorite stories/authors?
My hand having been forced, I admitted:

Sonagi, I read every book for children and teenagers in the local library, including those old romance books meant for teenage girls.

There wasn't much great literature in that library, but at home, I did find a copy of my Uncle Harlan's college literature anthology, and I can still recall reading Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which I loved immediately.

I also read some stories by Poe, maybe Dickens's Christmas Carol, and a lot of Shakespeare and selections from other great English literature in my high school English courses.

I even recall reading Philip Roth's early short story "The Conversion of the Jews" in my high school English class.

But I didn't really discover literature until I went off to university, where I encountered Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekov, and eventually Bulgakov, among other Russian greats. Those were writers who opened my eyes.
Thus went our dialogue, which perhaps deserves this blog entry -- or maybe not -- but possibly you agree if you got this far...

Finally, something that will satisfy all of Sonagi's curiosity, an old Gene Autry song whose lyrics reveal all about me and which I've been searching for over the years and finally found here, courtesy of a 'guest' at the Mudcat Café:

That's How I Got My Start

When I grew up to be a man, I said I'd work no more,
But dad took me by the pants and kicked me out the door.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart.
My old man said, "Get out, you bum!" That's how I got my start.

One time I did try working. My wages they were fair.
On payday, I got tipsy, then I got the air.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart.
I drink a lot of moonshine; that's how I got my start.

I had a wife that loved me, and I loved her, you know.
She caught me with another gal, then I had to go.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart.
I run around with other gals. That's how I got my start.

Last night I had a nice little gal. we had lots of fun,
But when we met her husband, he put me on the run.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart,
But when he started shootin', that's when I got my start.

I've been all around the country; been most every place,
And all the lousy cops have given me a chase.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart.
I do the best I can do. That's how I got my start.
I think that I've now covered all bases and also demonstrated why I'm a man of questionable character...


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Power of Literature?

Shaping Reality?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Richard Stern -- the Helen A. Regenstein Professor Emeritus in English Languages and Literature (University of Chicago), a writer of fiction (e.g., Almonds to Zhoof, 2005) and recipient of the Medal of Merit for the Novel (American Academy of Arts and Letters) -- comments in an entry "Alternate Realities" (5/13/2007) at The New Republic's sort-of blog, Open University, on the power of literature to shape reality.

Stern opens with a quote from John McWhorter's post on the last play by August Wilson, Radio Golf, a play that Stern says treats "the theme of personal authenticity through acceptance of one's blackness." McWhorter -- Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and former Associate Professor of Linguistics at UC Berkeley -- had dreaded to see this final play because he suspected that it would be about how much of a mess someone like him was. McWhorter writes:
As much as I have loved so many of Wilson's plays, I do not accept that the life I lead is unreal, inauthentic, or broken. Our vegetable garden is authentic, and I do not water my cucumbers because I wish I was white. My life is authentic. It is authentic to me ... the racial identity [Wilson] is suggesting is based on feeling ever conflicted, deeply different, with roots in a far off land in another time. That might float some people's boats, but I am more interested in feeling whole right here and now. History is important -- but not so much that, as Faulkner had it, the past isn't even past. August Wilson was, no questions asked, real. I wish that in his parting message to the world, he could have allowed that I and millions of other black people leading lives like mine are real too.
Stern agrees that "[t]hese words alone do much to vouch for McWhorter's reality, authenticity, and wholeness." Wilson's drama would thus seem to lack power over McWhorter's life.

Stern, however, turns from this point to emphasize literature's power:

Those elements of the past which form parts of what we call our identity -- family, religion, ethnic background, class, biological being including gender, strength, and health, our place in the communities of which we're a part -- almost surely lead to internal as well as external conflicts in the course of our life. Perhaps only those who never feel such conflicts can be called inauthentic and unreal. One talent of the dramatist and prose fiction writer is to stage the conflicts, that is, to so isolate or exaggerate one or more of the conflicting elements that it upsets the status quo of the drama's beginning and begins its drive toward another status, tragic, comic, or some rich combination of them. The bliss of the audience or readers is to get swept up in this two- or thirty-hour transfiguration[, e.g., in the case of Wilson's 10-play cycle,] in such a way that our own reality is enriched with what we've seen, heard, or read. The work of very powerful dramatists and novelists will in time alter, indeed, become the culture, that is, the very "reality on the ground."
This is a very strong affirmation of literature's power to shape reality. On that basis, Stern moves far abroad:

How wonderful it would be if there were in Iraq today a few dramatists with August Wilson-like gifts whose plays could enchant great numbers of Shia and Sunni with the dramatization of their complex identities in such a way as to get their fingers off gun triggers and their minds into the reflectiveness of Wilson's audiences or, for that matter, McWhorter's fine [comments].
I wonder if this could work in the way that Stern would wish. McWhorter's point -- one of them, anyway -- is that Wilson's formulation of the African-American experience doesn't fully speak to his own personal reality. If it speaks to a reality at all, then it fits more what McWhorter suggests:

I think I understand where Wilson was coming from. He grew up in the days of Jim Crow, when a black identity was not something to be chosen, nurtured and custom-fitted the way it is now.
McWhorter's point is that Wilson's dramas reinforce an already given black identity. That is their power.

By analogy, an Iraqi dramatist embodying the same sort of power would likely belong either to a Shia or Sunni community and demonstrate literary power by emphasizing an already given sectarian identity.

Thus, the power to shape reality and "in time alter, indeed, become the culture," would -- ironically -- depend upon an already given "reality on the ground," which it would reinforce, and that is not quite what we're looking for.

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