Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Porter Wagoner

Porter Wagoner, Wagonmaster
(Image from Wikipedia)

Porter Wagoner died just three days ago, and another link to my childhood is gone.

Wagoner grew up in the small Missouri Ozark town of West Plains, about 30 miles from my even smaller hometown of Salem, Arkansas and also the same place where one of my uncles got locked up for public drunkenness but released for praying so fervently that the jailor sent him away with the words "Go home. Any man who can pray like that don't need to be in jail."

In my uncle's young days and even in my childhood, Missouri was the place to go for getting drunk because Northern Arkansas was 'dry', so in my childish reasoning, I figured that the state of Missouri must be a truly wicked place for drunken partying and that Porter Wagoner's 1962 hit single "Misery Loves Company" must be about that state, which sounded to me like "Missouri Loves Company":
So break out the bottle, bring on the crowd,
Just gather round me, cause 'Missouri' loves company...
Anyway, I grew up watching The Porter Wagoner Show, which was taped in Nashville, Tennessee, was broadcast from Springfield, Missouri to my home on the only channel that we received, and was aired from the time that I was three, in 1960, until the second year of my graduate studies at Berkeley, in 1981.

As you can see, I literally grew up with that show . . . and with its cast of characters, which included a young Dolly Parton, of whom everyone has heard, and an older Speck Rhodes, about whom most of you have heard nothing at all but who was a genuinely funny countrified comedian, in addition to being a good musician, and who talked just like my 'Grandpa' Archie and looked a bit like him as well:

I'm even told that Thomas Bassham, the father of one of my childhood friends (Tonya Bassham), wrote songs for Porter Wagoner . . . but somebody would have to confirm this for me since I don't know it for a fact.

My condolences to Porter Wagoner's family, some of whom are probably still living in my neck of the Ozark woods...

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Watchtower Society: From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained

Watchtower Society Publication
(New York: International Bible Students Association, 1958)
(Image by Tanya Olmstead, at

Yesterday, I posted an entry about the Jehovah's Witnesses' interest in John Milton's theological views, which bear some similarities to their own that have not gone unnoticed.

A visitor with the intriguing name "Eklektekuria" posted a comment to inform me that the Jehovah's Witnesses had earlier published on themes familar to readers of Milton:
In 1958, the Watchtower Society published a book entitled "From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained". It was commonly used with children, but was not originally intended to be a children's book, and it gives a JW view of the Bible from creation to Armageddon and the future millennium. The book is best remembered for its graphic portrayal of Armageddon on pp. 208-209 which terrified many a JW child.
I was curious:
Eklektekuria, thanks for visiting and for the interesting detail. Was the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained dependent in any way on Milton's two, similarly titled poems? I can imagine that Milton's depiction of Hell would frighten many a child as well...
I haven't heard back from Eklektekuria on this point, nor have I been able to discover any substantive link to Milton from my online search for the book mentioned. Perhaps other readers will know.

Here's another angle on what the book's cover looked like, this one from Tanya Olmstead, also at
I wonder why the Watchtower Society chose the color red for their book's cover. In 1958, the color red was strongly associated with Communism, a connection to iconic that merely six years later, in 1964, the Chinese government published Quotations from Chairman Mao ZeDong as the famous "Little Red Book."

The book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, however, was more frightening than anything Mao said. Here's an image from the book supplied by an ex-JW at Watch the Tower:

With images like this one, no wonder that the book "terrified many a JW child," as Eklektekuria phrased it. Still, it's not much more frightening than Milton's depiction of hell:
Nine times the Space that measures Day and Night [50]
To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquisht, rowling in the fiery Gulfe
Confounded though immortal: But his doom
Reserv'd him to more wrath; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain [55]
Torments him; round he throws his baleful eyes
That witness'd huge affliction and dismay
Mixt with obdurate pride and stedfast hate:
At once as far as Angels kenn he views
The dismal Situation waste and wilde, [60]
A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv'd onely to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace [65]
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum'd: (
PL 1.50-69)
Here's a related scene from Paradise Lost, as visualized by Terrance Lindall:

Synopsized and with illustrations (1982)

Not an especially comforting sight, even if the image does depict the fate endured by the enemy of God and mankind.

While we ponder the doom reserved for Satan and his angels, perhaps some kind reader will inform us if the Watchtower Society had Milton's poems in mind when they titled their book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained...

UPDATE: Apparently, the image above depicting Jehovah's wrath comes not from the book but from a JW brochure depicting the end of the world.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

John Milton's New Fans: The Jehovah's Witnesses

Watchtower Buildings in Brooklyn, New York
(Image from Wikipedia)

On the Milton List that I belong to, one of the participants, Rodney C. Wilson, has generously put online an anonymous article from the Jehovah's Witnesses's magazine The Watchtower about John Milton's Christian Doctrine.

The article is titled "John Milton's Lost Treatise" and was printed on pages 11 through 13 in the September 15th, 2007 issue of The Watchtower: Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom. Wilson informed the Milton List readers:
For those interested, I have scanned the cover of that issue of the WT and the three-page article and uploaded them here (a red, flashing arrow will indicate the file download link).
Wilson also reminded those on the listserve of a previous announcement and provided some additional details:
A few weeks back, there was a brief discussion regarding a three-page article in the September 15, 2007, issue of The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom (WT), published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses). The WT's average printing run is 28,578,000 copies in 161 languages, so Milton definitely got some face-time with this article. Tomorrow and next Sunday, FYI, following the morning's Public Talk, this issue will be used for the Watchtower Study in Kingdom Halls of Jehovah's Witnesses all over the world.

It seems that the Witnesses approve of Milton's doctrinal positions on the Trinity, the subordination of the Son to the Father, and future resurrection as the hope of humankind (as opposed to an immortal soul that does not die). They do not approve of his position on divorce!
I've read the article, and it's not bad as a brief on Milton. It isn't scholarly, of course, but it's accurate enough for popular purposes, and it's quite clear and even asks some of the right questions about the delay in the publication of Milton's Christian Doctrine:
Although Milton had not previously hesitated to express his views, he held off publishing this treatise. Why? For one thing, he knew that its scriptural explanations widely differed from accepted church teaching. Furthermore, with the restoration of the monarchy, he had fallen out of favor with the government. He may therefore have been waiting for quieter times. In any case, after Milton's death, his secretary took the Latin manuscript to a publisher, who refused to print it. The English secretary of state then confiscated the manuscript and filed it away. A century and a half would pass before Milton's treatise came to light. ("John Milton's Lost Treatise," The Watchtower: Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom, September 15, 2007, page 12.)
I don't know the full details on this point, but the article sounds factual enough. The point about the "restoration of the monarchy" might be obscure for people lacking familiarity with British history. Milton was a political revolutionary who supported the removal and execution of the king and the construction of a republic instead. He not only supported this but even worked as Latin Secretary for Oliver Cromwell, the revolutionary leader. So, of course, Milton wouldn't have been very popular when the monarchy was restored. His religious views also would not have been acceptable, as the article notes.

I'm no expert on the Jehovah's Witnesses -- though I did use to talk with a French believer who visited me about once a week for a while when I was living in Tuebingen, Germany. I didn't learn much about their organization or practices but focused upon particular items of interest. I recall that the fellow emphasized that the "cross" upon which Jesus was crucified should be called a "torture stake." This seemed to be a very important point for the Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't know why, for I found the point to be a minor one and told the fellow that I wasn't interested in that.

Anyway, not being an expert, or even superficially knowledgeable, I had to do a bit of digging around online to find out what a "Public Talk" and a "Watchtower Study" refer to. On these two points, I'm actually willing to trust Wikipedia: on the "Beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses":
A qualified elder or ministerial servant delivers a discourse on a Bible-based subject. The speaker may be from the local congregation or from another congregation, usually nearby. This Public Meeting is generally held on Sundays, but can be on another day if that is more convenient for the congregation (this is most usual when more than 4 congregations share a Kingdom Hall). This talk is particularly directed toward interested members of the public who are not Jehovah's Witnesses, but is of interest to Jehovah's Witnesses as well. This meeting is 45 minutes in length, and is usually followed immediately after (with a transitional song) by the Watchtower Study. ("Beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses (The Public Talk)," Wikipedia, accessed October 29, 2007)

Following the Public Talk, after the intermission of a Kingdom Song, is the Watchtower Study. The Bible is studied with the aid of an article in the Watchtower magazine. An experienced elder (the Watchtower Study Conductor) leads the discussion from the platform. Each paragraph is read by a 'brother in good standing' and is assigned by the conductor for that week. Questions included in the article for that paragraph are then posed to the audience. After calling on one or more in attendance to answer on that question, the conductor will often ask follow-up questions of his own or offer comments himself before moving to the next paragraph. Many of the numerous scriptures cited in the study article will be read aloud by called-on members of the audience. Four or five review questions are typically asked at the end of an article. The Public Talk and Watchtower Study together usually last 2 hours from opening prayer to closing prayer. ("Beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses (The Watchtower Study)," Wikipedia, accessed October 29, 2007)
Wilson informs us that "Tomorrow and next Sunday, . . . following the morning's Public Talk, this issue will be used for the Watchtower Study in Kingdom Halls of Jehovah's Witnesses all over the world." Since he sent his email on Saturday, October 27, then I presume that he meant that the Public Talk and Watchtower Study on Milton's views would take place on Sunday the 28th of October and on Sunday the 4th of November. That doesn't leave much advance warning for the 28th, but Gypsy Scholar readers all over the world can attend next Sunday's Public Talk at a local Kingdom Hall and listen to what the Jehovah's Witnesses have to say about Milton.

I wonder if the speakers are first required to read anything by Milton...

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mere Curiosity

A Curious Man
(Image from Suhrkamp Insel)

I believe that I mentioned in this blog a couple of weeks ago that Warren T. Reich had asked me to participate in his work on the history of care, focusing upon curiosity in the sense of what Hans Blumenberg called "The 'Trial' of Theoretical Curiosity" in his great tome, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age.

I agreed to take part in this endeavor and so wrote an email to one of my old Berkeley mentors, John Heilbron, who now lives in a very small British village with only one pub but still manages to produce great works in the history of science:
Greetings from Jeff Hodges. I suppose that you're getting accustomed to my bolts out of the blue.

I hope that you are doing well, and I suppose that you've un-retired two or three times by now, despite your wife's wishes...

Your onetime mentioned desire that I become a scholar (a remark dating back to 1983 or thereabouts) might finally be coming to fruition. I had been asked by a Korean scholar to act as a respondant at an international conference last week, and one of the speakers was Warrren T. Reich, the man who founded the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, and his was one of the papers that I had to respond to.

I suppose that I must have learned some intellectual rigor, academic discipline, and research skills from the history-of-science program, for in Reich's reply to my response, he stated, "Professor Hodges' response to my paper was the finest that I have ever heard at any conference that I've attended." I was astonished, to say the least, for Professor Reich is 75 years old. I guess that I just happened to say the right things.

Anyway, he has asked me to participate in a research project on the history of "care" -- specifically, Care: A History of the Idea and Its Practice. Because I had mentioned the term "curiositas" and its treatment in Hans Blumenberg's Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Reich wants me to deal with the theme of curiosity and its relation to the developement of modern science. He also wants me to keep an eye to the project's larger theme, i.e., the history of "care."

I recalled from a seminar (perhaps the one that we held in Bancroft Library, a seminar in which Rebecca referred to Galileo as "dropping his balls"), that you once mentioned that "care" and "curiosity" are etymologically related. I believe that Blumenberg had also noted this in his book, but what I'm 'curious' to know is if you could suggest a bibliography relevant to this topic.

Don't go to any trouble, of course, and my role in this project is just one among 75 researchers, though I'd be a "Senior Research Scholar," which sounds honorable enough. If you're especially interested in knowing about the project, I could forward you the description that was sent to me on "Curiosity, Science, and Modernity."

At any rate, you might be interested in knowing what I'm up to these days.
John must have been out-of-village, for I didn't hear from him for over a week even though he's ordinarily very prompt. Here's his eventual reply:
Many congratulations on your performance as commentator and its results. Too often commentators just want to show off and say nothing useful to the speaker or the audience.

I don't know of a bibliography of care/curiosity. For curiosity/wonder in early modern science there is the not-so-good book by Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, which will give you some orientation. I would not be surprised if care/curiosity had an entry somewhere in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Other clues might be found in historical dictionaries like the OED. You might begin by reviewing the meaning of "curiosus" in Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary.

Take care.
Well, those are some places to start, and I have John's ironic blessing and will indeed take 'care'. I suppose that the paucity of information is a good sign that much remains to be done. I've already checked Amazon Books for what it has on the book by Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, which turns out to be titled Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750. I've written a note to myself on this book:
Lorraine Daston is Director of Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and Katharine Park is Zemurray Stone Radcliffe Professor of the History of Science and Women's Studies at Harvard University, so the authors are reputable scholars.

However, John Heilbron, historian of science and one of my mentors at UC Berkeley, mentioned this book but characterized it as "not-so-good."

I've only seen it at Amazon, where I had access to its table of contents and index:

Table of Contents:

Chapter 3: Wonder Among the Philosophers (page 109):

The Philosophers against Wonder (page 110)
Curiosity and the Preternatural (page 120)

Chapter 8: The Passions of Inquiry (page 303)
Ravening Curiosity (page 305)
Wonder and Curiosity Allied (page 311)

Index (page 502): curiosity:

definitions of: 397, n. 57; 434, n. 12
Enlightenment rejection of: 303-16; 258-58; 356
and magic: 396, n. 51
medieval attitudes toward: 92; 122-25
seventeenth-century attitudes toward: 218; 273-74
terminology for: 434, n. 7

From what I've seen of the book at Amazon, it would appear to link curiosity to wonder and the older sense of the object of curiosity as something 'odd' -- more an object of wonder as presented in the tradition of "paradoxography" than as a phenomenon to be investigated, a 'curiosity' (though I gather that part of the book is a history of how attitudes toward curiosity changed and became more positive).
Anyway, this is part of my initial foray into the obscure, liminal territory of 'curiosities' -- that rare realm of remarkable wonders that surpass our reason. One question for me is how curiosity changed from a willful distraction from things serious to a serious faculty that we should care about and for.

Curious readers are invited to respond...

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fastest Growing Religion: Islam or Christianity?

State of World Evangelism
(Image from Mission Frontiers)

Yesterday's post left us all hanging, twisting in the wind of changes, and that gets tiresome after a while . . . especially as the noose begins to tighten.

You'll recall that we were wondering about the data in this paragraph:
In fact, and perhaps counterintuitively, the number of new Christians each year outstrips the number of new Muslims, even though the annual growth rate is higher for Muslims (1.81 percent) than for Christians (1.23 percent). Over the last century, Christians have grown at a slower rate than have Muslims, with Muslims increasing from 12 percent to 21 percent of the global population during that time. But this is hardly surprising. Christianity has more total followers than Islam. More people need to become Christians annually simply to remain at roughly a third of the world population. Muslims are increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and among African Americans by conversion, but elsewhere the growth is mostly by birth or immigration. The major growth for Protestants, especially evangelicals and Pentecostals, has been by conversion. (J. Dudley Woodberry, Russell G. Shubin, and G. Marks, "Why Muslims Follow Jesus: The results of a recent survey of converts from Islam," Christianity Today, October 2007)
In posting this yesterday, I noted that the article neglects to provide the sources and that I hadn't been able to locate any sources online (though I know that I've seen such statistics previously).

After posting my entry, I recalled that the article states that readers can request copies of the questionnaire from Professor Woodberry, so I wondered if sources for the statistics are also available, and I wrote him an email explaining my request:
"I tried to Google the statistical information on Christian and Muslim growth rates but failed to locate the statistics. Could you direct me to the online statistics that support this passage."
Professor Woodberry replied:
The manuscript I submitted to Christianity Today included a footnote documenting the statistics, but the publishers did not include it in the published version. The footnote reads: David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, and Peter Crossing, "The Status of Global Mission, Presence and Activities, AD 1800-2025," International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 31, no. 1 (Jan. 2007), 32; Patrick Johnstone, Operation World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993), 159, 183, 319, 431.
With this information, I've found both sources . . . sort of. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR) is online, but not all of its articles. One can visit the website and even see the editorial for January 2007, but the article itself is closed except to subscribers, so I can't check it myself. I'd really like to be able to do so, for the title differs from the one that Professor Woodberry graciously supplied. Here's what I found listed in the table of contents to IBMR's January 2007 issue:
"Missiometrics 2007: Creating Your Own Analysis of Global Data," David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, and Peter F. Crossing.
This appears to go from page 25 to page 32, and Woodberry cites page 32, so this must be the right article. I'm therefore assuming that Woodberry provided me (and Christianity Today) with the heading for a chart labeled "The Status of Global Mission, Presence and Activities, AD 1800-2025" but forgot to include the article title. That sort of oversight can easily happen, and I'm sure that I've often done the same. I've emailed Professor Woodberry again for clarification.

As for the other citation, to Patrick Johnstone's book, Operation World, I've found the book listed on, but the 1993 Zondervan edition appears to be out of print. A 1995 edition put out by O. M. Literature seems to be in print, however. Any readers with access can look there and report back at leisure...

Meanwhile, one could do some browsing at a couple of online sites mentioned in the IBMR's editorial for January 2007. The World Christian Database would be a great online resource, but one needs a subscription to access the relevant data there. The other link, to the Sydney Centre for World Mission, is more helpful, for it can lead to either of two useful places, depending upon what one clicks: "Status of global mission" or "Visual status".

Browse around and see what you find...

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Islam: The 'Fastest-Growing' Religion?

Relative Proportion of Christianity to Islam?
(Image from Wikipedia)

We hear a lot about Islam being "the fastest-growing religion," but fastest in what sense is usually left unsaid. Islam cannot be the fastest growing in terms of percentage if compared to all religions, for some new religion with a handful of adherents might be growing by 1000 percent annually if it starts with the founder and increases in one year to 10 persons.

Indeed, I could start a new religion myself, and the growth from 0 to 1 would be statistically off the charts for the first year . . . though the growth for its second year would likely level off to, oh, about none at all.

Anyway, I think that the statement about Islam's increase can only be correct if the major world religions are being compared. But even so, does "fastest-growing" refer to percentage or to absolute numbers? And does the growth come from population expansion or from conversion?

I get all sorts of mailings in my online quest to know everything, and the following information from J. Dudley Woodberry, Russell G. Shubin, and G. Marks came just yesterday via Christianity Today:
In fact, and perhaps counterintuitively, the number of new Christians each year outstrips the number of new Muslims, even though the annual growth rate is higher for Muslims (1.81 percent) than for Christians (1.23 percent). Over the last century, Christians have grown at a slower rate than have Muslims, with Muslims increasing from 12 percent to 21 percent of the global population during that time. But this is hardly surprising. Christianity has more total followers than Islam. More people need to become Christians annually simply to remain at roughly a third of the world population. Muslims are increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and among African Americans by conversion, but elsewhere the growth is mostly by birth or immigration. The major growth for Protestants, especially evangelicals and Pentecostals, has been by conversion.
The article in which this passage occurs is titled "Why Muslims Follow Jesus: The results of a recent survey of converts from Islam" (Christianity Today, October 2007). The survey is thus only a survey of converts, specifically, 750 Muslims converts to Christianity from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups; it is not a survey of conversion rates generally.

The information in the passage above comes from a different study that the article neglects to link to and that I haven't quickly located online though I know that I've seen it before.

At any rate -- or, actually, not at any rate -- Islam would appear to be the fastest-growing major religion if one means percentage increase, but not the fastest-growing if one means absolute increase.

Most interesting was the statement that this growth comes mostly from population expansion, not from conversion, which suggests that Islam is not actually a very popular choice among religions to convert to.

I'd like to see the hard statistics, however, and do wish that the article had linked to them.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

"The Baylor Proud Team"

Sic' em Bears!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Baylor is really helping me write my blog these days. Just this morning, I received an email from "Baylor Proud," an official 'brag' newsletter from "The Baylor Proud Team" at the University:
Two Baylor profs make ALA Top 10 books list

Posted by The Baylor Proud Team in: Baylor 2012, Research, Honors

Not one, but two books by Baylor professors made the American Library Association's list of the Top 10 Books in Religion for 2007.

The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture, by the late Dr. A.J. "Chip" Conyers, and Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief, by Dr. Rodney Stark, were among the list of 10 books that were honored in what the ALA noted was an exceptional year for books on religion.

An honor like this is nice recognition that Baylor professors are among the leaders in the study of religion -- one of the goals of Baylor's Vision 2012, and a status befitting the world’s largest Baptist university.

Sic 'em, Baylor professors!
I've never received one of these before, so the serendipity of receiving it precisely when I'm blogging about Baylor's "pride" is . . . well, serendipitous.

While I'm glad to hear that Baylor's professors are ranked so highly in the eyes of the world, I'd suggest that the tone of the email is wrong in this case.

The expression "Sic 'em" is a cheer used by Baylor sports fans to whip up support for the football team, but it's often used in other contexts, and that's fine with me. Yet if I read the email correctly, one of the two professors is "the late Dr. A.J. 'Chip' Conyers," which means that he has passed away and is thus in no condition to 'sic' anybody.

A less triumphalist email would sound better.

The website that the email links to is marginally better, for it adds a bit more about Professor Conyers:
Before his death from cancer in 2004, Dr. A.J. "Chip" Conyers was one of Truett Seminary’s first professors. A prolific writer, Conyers finished his final book not long before his death.
This confirms that Professor Conyers has indeed passed away, but the additional information only increases the pathos of the award and thus makes even more striking the inappropriateness of ending with the cheer "Sic 'em, Baylor professors!"

But thus does the pride of boosterism so easily hit a wrong note.

Just in case anyone's wondering, I am 'proud' to be a Baylor alumnus, for I have fond memories of the school, where I received a very good education and a very gentle transition in my passage from Ozark Hillbilly to Berserkeleyite.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Baylor 'Pride' Redux

Carrying the Torch
A Beacon of Freedom?
(Image from BAA Magazine Baylor Line)

Now that I've had time to read more from my Fall 2007 issue of the Baylor Alumni Association's magazine, the Baylor Line, I find that I was right about how the BAA is framing the conflict with the current Baylor administration under the guidance of Baylor University President John Lilley.

In an article titled "Carrying the Torch," Baylor Alumni Association President-Elect Bill Nesbitt made the following, crucial point:
We are concerned that the cherished and historic principles that have guided Baylor be not lost, principles that have made Baylor successful in merging faith and the pursuit of academic excellence. We are concerned that revolutionary Baptist principles such as priesthood of the believer, if not understood and cherished, may be swept away in favor of a creedal circumstance in which the central authority seeks to enforce that Baylor become more Christian and more intentional about faith according to the precepts of the enforcer's faith (Bill Nesbitt, "Carrying the Torch," Baylor Line, Fall 2007, Volume 69, Number 3).
I seem to have been on the mark in defining the "pride" alluded to on the front cover of the Baylor Line's current edition: "A Tradition of Pride." Nesbitt is emphasizing 'justifiable' pride in the Baptist tradition of the individual believer's priesthood against the 'unjustifiable' pride of creeds that dictate what the believer must proclaim.

Okay, that's the BAA's way of framing the issue, but how many divisions does Nesbitt have?
There are a hundred thousand alumni who devoted years of their lives and all the money they could beg or borrow to further their educations at Baylor. Many of them care deeply about the university. They are the human face of the fabled "good old Baylor Line." Those human faces collectively have the paramount vested interest in Baylor.
A hundred thousand. That's a good, round number. What do they all want? Nesbitt hopes for support:
Those who cherish Baylor's traditional moderate position -- a position Jon Meacham, in his address at John Lilley's inauguration, called the "sensible center" -- and those who cherish the principles that have guided Baylor over the years will have a happy and supportive alumni association cheering them on. Those who would steer her to the left or to the right will provoke a quarrelsome alumni association.
Nesbitt is hoping for full support from Baylor alumni, but will he get it? Do Baptists still support traditional Baptist views emphasizing the individual believer's freedom of interpretation? Or have they moved toward creedal Christianity's emphasis upon affirmation of an explicit statement of faith?

John Lilley, mind you, is also a Baylor alumnus, so what does he support? I guess that we'll soon see.

Meanwhile, the shape of Baylor's future hangs in the balance, but as special agent K put it in Men in Black, "The world is always about to be destroyed by someone."

Nothing new.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Baylor 'Pride'

Baylor Pride
(Image from Fall 2007 Issue)

For the past two days, I've been thinking about pride, and just after posting on the issue twice, I noticed that my current issue of the Baylor Line, the Alumni Association's magazine, features the words "A Tradition of Pride" emblazoned across its cover.


Baylor is a conservative Baptist school associated with the Southern Baptist denomination, which is the church in which I grew up and in which I learned to be suspicious of pride, so why is the Baylor Alumni Association (BAA), emphasizing pride?

What is the organization claiming to be proud of?

I only joined the BAA about three years ago, partly out of nostalgia but partly out of curiosity. I wanted to become familiar with the goings on of the university that I had graduated from about a quarter of a century before.

I discovered -- or, rather, confirmed -- that a religious fight was going on. I say confirmed because at Baylor, there's always a religious struggle going on. There was in my day, there was in the 80s and 90s, and there is today. I know this because even though I didn't maintain close connections to Baylor, I kept hearing news through old university friends and through the media about ongoing conflict over how 'Christian' the University should be.

My impression is that the current Baylor administration under Baylor President John M. Lilley would like nudge Baylor more in the direction of a Christian university, which might include moving towards adoption of a creedal statement that faculty would have to sign. I say "might" because I don't know for a fact but do know that this has often been one of the issues raised.

The BAA seems concerned about this as a possible issue, for the organization's Executive Vice President Jeff Kilgore asks in his "Connections" column ("The crux of the matter") if Baylor University needs a religious "correction" toward a more "intentional" form of Baylor's Christian commitment. He poses this question not because he thinks that it does but because he thinks that it does not.

Perhaps I should let Mr. Kilgore speak:
In the spring issue of the Baylor Line, Baylor Alumni Association president George Cowden III, president-elect Bill Nesbitt, and I ran a column in this space titled "A Thriving Faith." We wrote, in part:
Baylor is first and foremost a place of learning. It was not founded to be a church, a hospital, a children's home, or a mission-sending agency but rather a Baptist university of the first order, based upon the historic Baptist principles of the priesthood of the believer, the sufficiency of scripture, the autonomy of the local church, the separation of church and state, and religious liberty for every human being. The beloved and incomparable George W. Truett summed it up best when he said, "There should never be coercion in matters of religion; God wants free worshippers and no other kind."
Afterward, I heard from a regent who had just rotated off the Board of Regents who interpreted our column as being a call for Baylor to move in a less religious and more secular direction. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, during a recent breakfast with Harold Cunningham, chair of Baylor's Board of Regents, I told him that the alumni association would fight as vigorously against any effort to secularize Baylor as it would against any effort to weaken Baylor's adherence to traditional Baptist principles by implementing policies and engaging in practices that would create a more coercive and restrictive religious environment.

The Baylor Alumni Association stands with Baylor's founding fathers and leaders over the years in pointing to Jesus Christ as Lord and following Christ's teaching to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." The point of our column -- and a primary function of the alumni association -- is to speak out on behalf of Baylor's thousands of alumni who are resolute in protecting Baylor from extremism, whether it's secularism or religious demagoguery. We want to protect Baylor's historically maintained place in the "sensible center" of Baptist theology.

During a discussion of these large issues with Harold Cunningham over breakfast, he told me that he understood our position. But he then suggested -- as I remember the general themes of our conversation -- that perhaps the so-called "center" Baylor has occupied, religiously speaking, has been too far to the left. He said that all they were doing was trying to correct that situation, which I understood to be an allusion to the efforts by some Baylor regents and administrators to install a more "intentional" form of Baylor's Christian commitment on campus.
I am guessing that "intentional" is a code word for "institutional" in the sense of "creedal" -- for that's been the issue fought over among Southern Baptists ever since the late 60s. Traditionally, Baptists have been opposed to creeds, emphasizing the sufficiency of scripture for belief and the priesthood of the believer for interpretation. Such a position as that remains unchallenged so long as everybody believes more or less the same thing but becomes challenged if beliefs among believers begin to diverge, which is what happened in the 60s.

The Southern Baptist Convention has moved toward adopting a creed and some Baptists have felt that Baylor should move in the same direction.

In my hard copy issue of the Fall 2007 Baylor Line, the page with Kilgore's column includes a quote from the late former Baylor president Herbert H. Reynolds:
"It would be easier if Baylor were either a secular university of a Bible college, but it would not be Baylor. When a school claims to be 'morally better,' it abandons excellence for spiritual pride."
In quoting this statement, Kilgore would seem to be throwing down a gauntlet. To wit: those who wish to push Baylor in the direction of a more "intentional" expression of Christianity are in danger of commiting the sin of "spiritual pride."

Here, "spiritual pride" would mean "moralism." Kilgore is suggesting that a movement toward adopting a creed would result in hypocritical, outward conformity masking whatever the individual truly believes.

The "Tradition of Pride" emblazoned across the Baylor Line's front cover, by contrast, is intended to affirm a commitment to Baylor's more traditional conformity to "historic Baptist principles of the priesthood of the believer, the sufficiency of scripture, the autonomy of the local church, the separation of church and state, and religious liberty for every human being," as noted above.

Such a commitment implies free expression, however, and Kilgore invites a free response:
The central question I would ask you now is this: Based on your experience, do you believe Baylor's religious commitment has been properly balanced with our values of academic freedom and religious liberty, or has Baylor's religious commitment been too weakly applied to our life at Baylor and thus requires a more intentional implementation in the areas of faculty hiring and tenure decisions, student life, and the character of our academic programs?

In short, is a "correction" necessary? If not, are greater efforts required to preserve Baylor's heritage of a passion for Christ that stems from his liberating grace and an academic environment characterized by the principled pursuit of knowledge unfettered by narrowness and bigotry?
I expect that the Baylor Line will be hearing from various alumni and that the winter or spring issue will feature the answers to this question.

I suppose that we'll see precisely in what matter -- Baptist tradition or Christian creed -- people take the most pride.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Bultmann on Pride

(Image from

Yesterday's post on pride was nothing to boast about since it remained an unfinished meditation, so I'll say a few more things this morning, drawing upon Rudolf Bultmann's entry for "to boast" (καυχαομαι, kauchaomai) in volume 3 of Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

For an abridged version of Kittel, go to the Amazon site for the Kittel volume, search inside the book for "boast," and read the entire entry on pages 423-425, but you may have to click on several items to find the right entry, for the pagination in the item list is incorrect (in my search).

An online source in pdf format can be found here that includes an outline of the information in Kittel's unabridged volume, but be careful, for it has mistranscribed the Greek, using a "xi" (ξ) where a "chi" (χ) is needed in section B, i.e., in "Word Group." Still, the source is useful, for it saves me the trouble of typing a paragraph from Bultmann:
In the OT there are many proverbs against self-glorying or boasting (1 Kings 20:11; Prov. 25:14; 27:1; cf. 20:9), though place is also found for justiable pride (Prov. 16:31; 17:6). Self-glorying, however, is not merely a casual fault. In many passages it is regarded as the basic attitude of the foolish and ungodly man (Psa. 52:1; 74:4; 94:3). For in it we see that man desires to stand on his own feet and not to depend on God, that he builds on that which he himself can accomplish and control. Hence "to boast" (התהלל) can be synonymous with "to trust" (נטח), Psa. 49:7. God, however, is the Almighty before whom all human boasting is to be stilled, Judg. 7:2; 1 Sam. 2:2f.; cf. Jer. 50:11; Ezek. 24:25). Paradoxically there is opposed to self-confident boasting the true boasting which consists in self-humbling before God (Jer. 9:22f.) who is the praise of Israel (Deut. 10:21) and who deals with Israel to His own glory (Deut. 26:19; Jer. 13:11; Zeph. 3:19f.). Hence the righteous, or the cultic community, can boast of acts of divine succour (Ps. 5:11; 32:11; 89:17f.; 1 Chron. 16:27f.; 29:11; Deut. 33:29; Jer. 17:14). Hence "to boast" (καυχασθαι in the LXX) can have the same cultic sense as verbs like "to rejoice," "to exult," with which it is often combined.... But occasionally it also has eschatalogical significance, since this glorying is finally actualised in the time of salvation (Zech. 10:12; Ps. 149:5; 1 Ch. 16:33). A constituent element in all such glorying is that of confidence, joy and thanksgiving, and the paradox is that the one who glories thus looks away from himself, so that his glorying is a confession of God. (Rudolph Bultmann, "καυχαομαι," in Gerhard Kittel, editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), pages 646-647)
So, given that boasting of oneself is mostly bad, what does Bultmann make of the passage from Galatians that we noted yesterday?
Galatians 6:3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride (καυχημα, kauchama) in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load. (New International Version)
This would fit the Old Testament category of justifiable pride, perhaps, but we're dealing with the New Testament, so what does Bultmann say?
[Paul] warns us in Gl. 6:4 that none can attain to his καυχημα by comparison with others, but only by self-scrutiny, by measuring his achievement in terms of the task which he is set. As the context shows, to do this also implies self-criticism. If, then, occasion is given to glory, this glorying is also thanksgiving.
Bultmann's point seems to be that Paul is not advocating any sort of self-glorification, for one is not supposed to compare one's achievement against the achievements of others in a competition for status. Rather, one is supposed to measure one's achievement against the task that God has set to be done.

To put this in evangelical terms, boasting 'in the spirit' is fine, for then one is taking pride in what God has done, but boasting 'in the flesh' is bad, for then one is taking false pride in what one has supposedly accomplished by one's own power.

In Galatians 6:4, the believer may appear to be taking self-pride but is actually taking pride in God's accomplishment in enabling one to fulfill divine purposes ... or so Paul would seem to mean.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pride: Good or Bad?

Pride, South Portal, Chartres Cathedral
On a haughty high horse, going into a fall...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Last Sunday in the Bible study class that I attend in my church, we read 1 Corinthians 4:6 in the course of our study:
6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride (phusiousthe) in one man over against another.
The trouble in the Corinth church stemmed from factionalism, with some believers identifying with Paul, others with Apollos, others with somebody else, and so on. Paul's warning about taking pride in one man over against another was a warning against this factionalism.

This led to a discussion of pride, which the Bible generally condemns as a very bad attitude. Typical examples occur in Proverbs 16:18 and 18:12:
Proverbs 16:18 Pride (MT: גָּאוֹן, gaon; LXX: υβρις, hubris) goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (New International Version)

Proverbs 18:12 Before his downfall a man's heart is proud (MT: יִגְבַּהּ, yigbah; LXX: υψουται, hupsoutai), but humility comes before honor. (New International Version)
And of course, pride is often identified as the first sin in speculations about Satan's rebellion, based on interpretations of such passages as Isaiah 14:12-15:
12 How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star (MT: הֵילֵל, helel; LXX: εωσφορος, heosphoros; Vul: lucifer), son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!

13 You said in your heart,
"I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.

14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High."

15 But you are brought down to the grave,
to the depths of the pit. (New International Version)
The passage does not specify that the rebellious one is Satan, nor does the context do so, but the identification is traditional, based on the word "lucifer" in the Vulgate's Latin translation verse 12 and on such New Testament passages as Revelation 9:1 and 12:9 and 2 Peter 2:4. An interesting study on the identification of the figure with Lucifer-Satan can be found at the CRI/Voice, Institute, an online site about which I otherwise know nothing. At any rate, the 'story' of this figure in Isaiah 14:12-15 would appear to exemplify the warning given in Proverbs 16:18 and 18:12 about pride leading to one's downfall.

Yet, pride is not always condemned. In two passages, Paul refers to pride in favorable ways:
2 Corinthians 5:12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride (kauchmatos) in us, so that you can answer those who take pride (kauchomenous) in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. (New International Version)

Galatians 6:3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride (kauchama) in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load. (New International Version)
The related Greek words here, kauchaomai (verb) and kauchama (noun) -- "take pride in" and "pride," respectively -- differ from the Greek words hubris ("pride": Proverbs 16:18) and hupsoutai ("proud": Proverbs 18:12) as well as from Paul's negative use of phusiousthe in 1 Corinthians 4:6 (literally, "be puffed up").

The words kauchaomai and kauchama also occur elsewhere in a positive sense: by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:12, 7:4, and 8:24 and by James in 1:9.

I suspect that the difference lies not solely in the words used but more in the attitude expressed. Perhaps "confidence" would be a better translation to consider when kauchaomai and kauchama are used positively, but I probably need to look into this point some more.

At any rate, pride can be good or bad, but I'll risk taking pride in my wife today as perhaps a good attitude, for this day is the twelfth anniversary of our very happy marriage.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Free of Bias!

Bias in Text(ile)s
Going against the grain...
(Image from Wikipedia)

In my "War, Religion, and Civilization" course at Yonsei yesterday, one of the students posed this perplexing question about the upcoming essay assignment:
"Is it okay if we're biased?"
Not wanting to appear stumped, I immediately replied:
"I want to make absolutely clear that bias is totally okay by me." Pause.... "But not by you."
Nah, just kidding. That's what I should have said, but what I really said was far less amusing ... which, I suppose, puts it into the negative numbers according to calibrations for humor. Anyway, I actually replied:
"I'm not sure what you mean by 'bias'. You can certainly have your own opinion -- that's the point of an expository essay -- but I want your essays to be rational and grounded in facts and reasons. In cultural studies courses that I've taught, I've received too many essays in which students are simply 'ideological' on some point. I suppose that an ideological essay would qualify as biased, but it wouldn't be one's own opinion. It's usually an opinion 'borrowed' from someone else. I don't mind if a student is, for example, anti-American, but I do insist that such a student be self-critical. I want such students to take 'their' views, reflect on them critically, see if they still hold them, and if they do, then ground those opinions more thoroughly in facts and reasons."
My student nodded, so I guess my meaning got through ... but the proof is in the pudding.

"Pudding" being my figurative reference to the upcoming essay itself, 'cause this ain't no cookin' class -- though I like to think that my class is cookin'!

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Wave from the Grave?

"Pope John Paul II waving from beyond the grave"
But isn't the Pope supposed to be in Heaven?
(Image from Daily Mail, 10/15/07)

According to a report by Nick Pisa for Britain's Daily Mail, some of the pious are convinced that the fiery image above is the late pope, John Paul II, waving from beyond the grave:
This fiery figure is being hailed as Pope John Paul II making an appearance beyond the grave.

The image, said by believers to show the Holy Father with his right hand raised in blessing, was spotted during a ceremony in Poland to mark the second anniversary of his death.

Details appeared on the Vatican News Service, a TV station in Rome which specialises in religious news broadcasts.

Service director Jarek Cielecki, a Polish priest and close friend of John Paul II, travelled to Poland after hearing an onlooker had photographed the image.

Father Cielecki said he was convinced the picture showed the former pontiff.

"You can see the image of a person in the flames and I think it is the servant of God, Pope John Paul II," he said.

The pictures were being broadcast continuously on Italian TV and also posted on religious websites, some of which crashed as thousands logged on to see for themselves the eerie figure formed by the flames.

The bonfire was lit during a service at Beskid Zywiecki, close to John Paul's birthplace at Katowice, southern Poland, on April 2 -- the second anniversary of his death.

Hundreds had attended the ceremony. Gregorz Lukasik, the Polish man who took the photographs, said: "It was only afterwards when I got home and looked at the pictures that I realised I had something.

"I showed them to my brother and sister and they, like me, were convinced the flames had formed the image of Pope John Paul II.

"I was so happy with the picture that I showed it to our local bishop who said that Pope John Paul had made many pilgrimages during his life and he was still making them in death." (Nick Pisa, "Is this Pope John Paul II waving from beyond the grave? Vatican TV director says yes," Daily Mail, October 15, 2007, h/t Wonderdog)
The photo is certainly eerie (though I wonder if the image would have looked humanlike from other angles), and the 'apparition' appearing on the second anniversary of the pope's death is certainly an interesting coincidence, but if I were one of the pious believers, I'd be a bit troubled by the iconography of a fiery pope flaring up from beyond the grave in the flames of a bonfire.

After all, isn't Dante said to have put a pope or two in the flames of Hell?

Personally, I don't think that Hell is where Pope John Paul II ended up, and on this point, I assure you that I'm not being ironic, so I'll just take this fiery image as a trick of the flames from a particular perspective.

Far more eerie and difficult to explain is the image below, taken by a local resident of Wem, England, Tony O'Rahilly, on the 19th of November, 1995, as Wem Town Hall burned to the ground:

"Photo of the Wem Ghost?"
Copyright: Tony O'Rahilly / Fortean Picture Library
(Image retrieved from BBC, 10/18/07)

In the BBC article, "Is this a photo of the Wem ghost?", Dr. Vernon Harrison, former president of the Royal Photographic Society, is quoted as stating that "The negative is a straight forward piece of black-&-white work and shows no sign of having been tampered with." He remains skeptical, however, and has "suggested that the image of the girl may just be a convenient trick of the light -- with smoke, flame and shadow creating an optical illusion at the moment the photographer took his picture." A different online article, by Val Hope of The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, backs up Dr. Harrison's view in stating that when "a photo was obtained of the same spot taken from another angle it was clear that a random collection of burning debris was making up a simulacrum" ("ASSAP History: 'Research'"). The photograph does not appear on their website, unfortunately, so I have to take Hope's word for it, but I wonder how the other photo was proven to have been taken at the same instant.

I recall seeing the original O'Rahilly photo not long after it was taken. I was living in Australia in 1996 and read an article in The Australian that took the same skeptical position as Dr. Vernon Harrison and explained how the optical illusion could have occurred. I was persuaded by the writer, but even he admitted that the image was eerie to see.

And as my elder brother once punningly, if imprecisely, reminded me: "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio."

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

O felix culpa!

O felix culpa?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm still reading Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy's tome, Out of Revolution, and occasionally lurking at the discussion at Spengler's website.

Recently, I read something that Rosenstock-Huessy wrote about All Souls' Day. Now, having grown up Baptist in the almost-entirely-Protestant Ozarks, I didn't experience -- or even encounter -- many traditional Christian Holy Days, but I've gotten more interested in them as I delve further into Medieval things.

My understanding is that on All Souls' Day, Christians offered up prayers for those dead who were undergoing the purging fire of Purgatory and that while the practice of such intercession dates back very far, only in the 11th century was a general intercession by the Church established, specifically by St. Odilo of Cluny (c. 962-1048/9), the fifth Benedictine abbot of the powerful Medieval Abbey of Cluny, in what is now in east-central France, near Mâcon, in the region of Bourgogne.

The Abbey of Cluny, commonly referred to as "Cluny," was responsible only to the pope and played an important role in the 11th century reform of the Church that increased the papacy's power.

Anyway, here's what Rosenstock-Huessy wrote:
The day of All Souls, proclaiming purgatory to be the stage for all contemporaries, has separated us forever from the jubilant glee of the ancient church. In a minute correction, this change was expressed most strikingly by the Cluniacs: At Easter time, everybody was happy in the experience of resurrection, and evil itself was redeemed since God can make use of evil as well as of good; in recognizing the restoration of the world, the old church sang: "O happy fault that produced this redeemer!" Cluny resented this slighting of our human guilt: the prayer "O felix culpa" was suppressed. (Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution, pages 513-4)
For this bit of information, Rosenstock-Huessy cites Cardinale Schuster, O.S.B., Liber Sacramentorum, Vol. IV (1930), p. 49, and p. 18, Note 1 ... just in case anybody's interested (Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution, page 514, note 4). Rosenstock-Huessy considers this Cluniac reform to be one of those revolutions through which the modern West has developed. He seems to regret it, though.

On the felix culpa, Rosenstock-Huessy cites an old Medieval poem found in Middle English (one about which I've previously blogged):
Adam lay ybounden
bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter
thoughte he not too long;
And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took,
As clerkes finden
Written in their book.
Nor had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Nor had never our Lady
A-been [of] Heaven Queen.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was.
Therefore we moun singen
"Deo Gratias."
He tells us that he has quoted this poem "with the spelling modernized, from Sloane Ms. 2595 (according to Bradly Stratmann early 14th century) as printed in Early English Lyrics, E. N. Chambers and F. Sedgwick, p. 102, London, 1907" (Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution, pages 513-4, note 3).

Rosenstock-Huessy italicizes the line "Blessed be the time" to emphasize the happy fault appealed to in the old belief of our felix culpa.

Cluny may have been powerful in its purifying efforts, but old ideas die hard, as demonstrated by this 14th-century poem, recorded some 300 years after St. Odilo of Cluny had 'officially' established All Souls' Day.

And its influence has never quite been completely lost, for even that great Protestant poet Milton felt its influence...

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Threatened with success!

Opting for overwhelming success?
(Image from Contemporary Nomad)

No, not I, though yesterday was my 1000th blog entry -- possibly a valid measure for some sort of success, I suppose.

No, the person threatened with overwhelming success is my online acquaintance and blogger Olen Steinhauer, about whose Cold War detective fiction, I've previously written, for example, his Bridge of Sighs:
The novel has some excellent moments in which Steinhauer evokes moods that one expects more from an older writer ... as in this scene from Brod's earlier, wartime escape working with an international crew of misfits fishing the North Sea:
They were all sweating from the heat of the boiler room next door, and there were too many of them, sprawled on the floor and the table, the wind hissing over the deck above them.

The Croat described the walk from his friend's palazzo to a canal that was overlooked, high up, by a covered bridge that connected two stone walls. The doomed, he told them. They crossed here on the way to the prisons. They call it the Bridge of Sighs. The Arab asked why. Because the prisoner had been convicted, and this was where he saw that, at the end of that short walk across the bridge, his life would be lived behind a stone wall. Behind iron bars. He would live and die in the dark.

A bleak silence fell over the cabin. No one spoke. Each man remembered his own bridge, but Emil, still so young, only knew he was missing the power of the moment, and said nothing.
Those of us who have reached a 'certain' age understand this moment implicitly, and I can't help but think of Marianne Faithfull singing the old Dubin-Warren piece from 1934, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," which I think was played for me in Fribourg, Switzerland by my friend Tim Anderson around Christmas 1989, when Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu fell from power. We didn't cry for Ceauşescu, but the shattered dreams of all those wasted Eastern European decades saddened us:
I walk along the street of sorrow
The boulevard of broken dreams
Where gigolo and gigolette
Can take a kiss without regret
So they forget their broken dreams.
After a certain age, who doesn't have a few dreams broken...
Olen, however, can now begin to dream big, for from his literary agent, Stephanie Cabot, he has some wonderful news:
Stephanie was the bringer of news: Warner Bros would be optioning The Tourist, with the plan for it to involve…George Clooney....

Clooney and Grant Heslov have optioned the film via their Smoke House production company. Who stars, I guess, is up to them.
Now, this is only an option on Olen's recently-finished-but-not-yet-published-novel, The Tourist, and time alone will tell whether or not a movie gets made, but if this option does lead to a film, then Olen's readership will expand exponentially, and deservedly so.

A hearty congratulation to Olen on his potential success, and for the other good news from his hardworking literary agent, Stephanie Cabot, who likewise deserves appreciation for her successful efforts on Olen's behalf.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

God the Absent Father

Marco Mazzoleni, God the Father?
Not exactly absent...
(Image from Wikipedia)

In an article somewhat flawed by what I consider its partial misapplication of Robert Bellah's findings in Habits of the Heart, the prison chaplain Charles Colson remarks:
When I walk through the nation's cellblocks, I speak to kids about God the Father. They look at me as if I'd said a dirty word. Most don't know who their father is. They're like feral children, devoid of any kind of moral instruction. (Charles Colson, "Community of Memory," Christianity Today, October 2007)
I don't think that this reaction is due so much to "radical individualism" -- which is what Colson takes from Bellah and uses to explain criminality -- as it is to absent fathers.

Now, these absent fathers might be radical individualists, yet they might not be, so I'd be careful about drawing too direct a connection on that point.

But I can understand the kids who react to the word "father" as though it were a "dirty word," for this word "father" lacks the resonance for me that it has for those who grew up with present, caring, reliable fathers.

"God the Grandfather" sounds better to my ears. I can't vouch for the kids in prison...

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Monday, October 15, 2007

John Milton: Satan encounters Sin and Death...

Gustave Doré (1866)
Not quite so formidable in this depiction...
(Image from All-Art.Org)

Since we're on the subject of death and have glanced at John Milton's description of Death personified, ready with his "mortal Dart" to confront anyone, let's take a look at Death's first encounter with Satan, who has himself recently escaped from the chains that bound him to a flaming, hellish sea, has managed to rouse his fallen angelic followers to further, even greater resistance to the reign of God, and is heading off on a reconaissance mission to see if he can escape from Hell and find his way through chaos up to the rumored world wherein he suspects to find the newly formed creature "man." The confrontation occurs when Satan reaches the gates of Hell, only to find his way barred not only by the great, locked gates but also blocked by the two formidable shapes, Sin and Death, sitting to either side of the exit (Paradise Lost, Book 2.629-736):
Mean while the Adversary of God and Man,
Satan with thoughts inflam'd of highest design, [630]
Puts on swift wings, and towards the Gates of Hell
Explores his solitary flight; som times
He scours the right hand coast, som times the left,
Now shaves with level wing the Deep, then soares
Up to the fiery Concave touring high. [635]
As when farr off at Sea a Fleet descri'd
Hangs in the Clouds, by Æquinoctial Winds
Close sailing from Bengala, or the Iles
Of Ternate and Tidore, whence Merchants bring
Thir spicie Drugs: they on the Trading Flood [640]
Through the wide Ethiopian to the Cape
Ply stemming nightly toward the Pole. So seem'd
Farr off the flying Fiend: at last appeer
Hell bounds high reaching to the horrid Roof,
And thrice threefold the Gates; three folds were Brass, [645]
Three Iron, three of Adamantine Rock,
Impenetrable, impal'd with circling fire,
Yet unconsum'd. Before the Gates there sat
On either side a formidable shape;
The one seem'd Woman to the waste, and fair, [650]
But ended foul in many a scaly fould
Voluminous and vast, a Serpent arm'd
With mortal sting: about her middle round
A cry of Hell Hounds never ceasing bark'd
With wide Cerberian mouths full loud, and rung [655]
A hideous Peal: yet, when they list, would creep,
If aught disturb'd thir noyse, into her woomb,
And kennel there, yet there still bark'd and howl'd
Within unseen. Farr less abhorrd than these
Vex'd Scylla bathing in the Sea that parts [660]
Calabria from the hoarse Trinacrian shore:
Nor uglier follow the Night-Hag, when call'd
In secret, riding through the Air she comes
Lur'd with the smell of infant blood, to dance
With Lapland Witches, while the labouring Moon [665]
Eclipses at thir charms. The other shape,
If shape it might be call'd that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joynt, or limb,
Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd,
For each seem'd either; black it stood as Night, [670]
Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as Hell,
And shook a dreadful Dart; what seem'd his head
The likeness of a Kingly Crown had on.
Satan was now at hand, and from his seat
The Monster moving onward came as fast [675]
With horrid strides, Hell trembled as he strode.
Th' undaunted Fiend what this might be admir'd,
Admir'd, not fear'd; God and his Son except,
Created thing naught valu'd he nor shun'd
And with disdainful look thus first began. [680]

Whence and what art thou, execrable shape,
That dar'st, though grim and terrible, advance
Thy miscreated Front athwart my way
To yonder Gates? through them I mean to pass,
That be assured, without leave askt of thee: [685]
Retire, or taste thy folly, and learn by proof,
Hell-born, not to contend with Spirits of Heav'n.

To whom the Goblin full of wrauth reply'd,
Art thou that Traitor Angel, art thou hee,
Who first broke peace in Heav'n and Faith, till then [690]
Unbrok'n, and in proud rebellious Arms
Drew after him the third part of Heav'ns Sons
Conjur'd against the highest, for which both Thou
And they outcast from God, are here condemn'd
To waste Eternal dayes in woe and pain? [695]
And reck'n'st thou thy self with Spirits of Heav'n,
Hell-doom'd, and breath'st defiance here and scorn
Where I reign King, and to enrage thee more,
Thy King and Lord? Back to thy punishment,
False fugitive, and to thy speed add wings, [700]
Least with a whip of Scorpions I pursue
Thy lingring, or with one stroke of this Dart
Strange horror seise thee, and pangs unfelt before.

So spake the grieslie terror, and in shape,
So speaking and so threatning, grew tenfold [705]
More dreadful and deform: on th' other side
Incenst with indignation Satan stood
Unterrifi'd, and like a Comet burn'd,
That fires the length of Ophiucus huge
In th' Artick Sky, and from his horrid hair [710]
Shakes Pestilence and Warr. Each at the Head
Level'd his deadly aime; thir fatall hands
No second stroke intend, and such a frown
Each cast at th' other, as when two black Clouds
With Heav'ns Artillery fraught, come rattling on [715]
Over the Caspian, then stand front to front
Hov'ring a space, till Winds the signal blow
To join thir dark Encounter in mid air:
So frownd the mighty Combatants, that Hell
Grew darker at thir frown, so matcht they stood; [720]
For never but once more was either like
To meet so great a foe: and now great deeds
Had been achiev'd, whereof all Hell had rung,
Had not the Snakie Sorceress that sat
Fast by Hell Gate, and kept the fatal Key, [725]
Ris'n, and with hideous outcry rush'd between.

O Father, what intends thy hand, she cry'd,
Against thy only Son? What fury O Son,
Possesses thee to bend that mortal Dart
Against thy Fathers head? and know'st for whom; [730]
For him who sits above and laughs the while
At thee ordain'd his drudge, to execute
What e're his wrath, which he calls Justice, bids,
His wrath which one day will destroy ye both.

She spake, and at her words the hellish Pest [735]
Forbore.... (
Paradise Lost, Book 2.629-736)
Not the most auspicious of meetings between a father and son who are also grandfather and grandson, but I suppose that Satan and Death have some family issues to work out.

Rather than doing that, however, they displace their aggression onto humankind, for Satan -- upon learning who Death is and how he came to 'be' -- promises to satisfy Death's hunger for mortal food with human beings, at which, "Death / Grinnd horrible a gastly smile, to hear / His famine should be fill'd" (PL 2.845-7).

Satan makes good on his promise by seducing Eve and -- through Eve -- Adam to commit sin and fall into a mortal state, which Sin and Death both sense from afar (Paradise Lost, Book 10.230-414):
Within the Gates of Hell sate Sin and Death, [230]
In counterview within the Gates, that now
Stood open wide, belching outrageous flame
Farr into Chaos, since the Fiend pass'd through,
Sin opening, who thus now to Death began.

O Son, why sit we here each other viewing [235]
Idlely, while Satan our great Author thrives
In other Worlds, and happier Seat provides
For us his ofspring deare? It cannot be
But that success attends him; if mishap,
Ere this he had return'd, with fury driv'n [240]
By his Avengers, since no place like this
Can fit his punishment, or their revenge.
Methinks I feel new strength within me rise,
Wings growing, and Dominion giv'n me large
Beyond this Deep; whatever drawes me on, [245]
Or sympathie, or som connatural force
Powerful at greatest distance to unite
With secret amity things of like kinde
By secretest conveyance. Thou my Shade
Inseparable must with mee along: [250]
For Death from Sin no power can separate.
But least the difficultie of passing back
Stay his return perhaps over this Gulfe
Impassable, Impervious, let us try
Adventrous work, yet to thy power and mine [255]
Not unagreeable, to found a path
Over this Maine from Hell to that new World
Where Satan now prevailes, a Monument
Of merit high to all th' infernal Host,
Easing thir passage hence, for intercourse, [260]
Or transmigration, as thir lot shall lead.
Nor can I miss the way, so strongly drawn
By this new felt attraction and instinct.

Whom thus the meager Shadow answerd soon.
Goe whither Fate and inclination strong [265]
Leads thee, I shall not lag behinde, nor erre
The way, thou leading, such a sent I draw
Of carnage, prey innumerable, and taste
The savour of Death from all things there that live:
Nor shall I to the work thou enterprisest [270]
Be wanting, but afford thee equal aid,

So saying, with delight he snuff'd the smell
Of mortal change on Earth. As when a flock
Of ravenous Fowl, though many a League remote,
Against the day of Battel, to a Field, [275]
Where Armies lie encampt, come flying, lur'd
With sent of living Carcasses design'd
For death, the following day, in bloodie fight.
So sented the grim Feature, and upturn'd
His Nostril wide into the murkie Air, [280]
Sagacious of his Quarry from so farr.
Then Both from out Hell Gates into the waste
Wide Anarchie of Chaos damp and dark
Flew divers, and with Power (thir Power was great)
Hovering upon the Waters; what they met [285]
Solid or slimie, as in raging Sea
Tost up and down, together crowded drove
From each side shoaling towards the mouth of Hell.
As when two Polar Winds blowing adverse
Upon the Cronian Sea, together drive [290]
Mountains of Ice, that stop th' imagin'd way
Beyond Petsora Eastward, to the rich
Cathaian Coast. The aggregated Soyle
Death with his Mace petrific, cold and dry,
As with a Trident smote, and fix't as firm [295]
As Delos floating once; the rest his look
Bound with Gorgonian rigor not to move,
And with Asphaltic slime; broad as the Gate,
Deep to the Roots of Hell the gather'd beach
They fasten'd, and the Mole immense wraught on [300]
Over the foaming deep high Archt, a Bridge
Of length prodigious joyning to the Wall
Immovable of this now fenceless world
Forfeit to Death; from hence a passage broad,
Smooth, easie, inoffensive down to Hell. [305]
So, if great things to small may be compar'd,
Xerxes, the Libertie of Greece to yoke,
From Susa his Memnonian Palace high
Came to the Sea, and over Hellespont
Bridging his way, Europe with Asia joyn'd, [310]
And scourg'd with many a stroak th' indignant waves.
Now had they brought the work by wondrous Art
Pontifical, a ridge of pendent Rock
Over the vext Abyss, following the track
Of Satan, to the self same place where hee [315]
First lighted from his Wing, and landed safe
From out of Chaos to the out side bare
Of this round World: with Pinns of Adamant
And Chains they made all fast, too fast they made
And durable; and now in little space [320]
The confines met of Empyrean Heav'n
And of this World, and on the left hand Hell
With long reach interpos'd; three sev'ral wayes
In sight, to each of these three places led.
And now thir way to Earth they had descri'd, [325]
To Paradise first tending, when behold
Satan in likeness of an Angel bright
Betwixt the Centaure and the Scorpion stearing
His Zenith, while the Sun in Aries rose:
Disguis'd he came, but those his Children dear [330]
Thir Parent soon discern'd, though in disguise.
Hee after Eve seduc't, unminded slunk
Into the Wood fast by, and changing shape
To observe the sequel, saw his guileful act
By Eve, though all unweeting, seconded [335]
Upon her Husband, saw thir shame that sought
Vain covertures; but when he saw descend
The Son of God to judge them terrifi'd
Hee fled, not hoping to escape, but shun
The present, fearing guiltie what his wrauth [340]
Might suddenly inflict; that past, return'd
By Night, and listening where the hapless Paire
Sate in thir sad discourse, and various plaint,
Thence gatherd his own doom, which understood
Not instant, but of future time. With joy [345]
And tidings fraught, to Hell he now return'd,
And at the brink of Chaos, neer the foot
Of this new wondrous Pontifice, unhop't
Met who to meet him came, his Ofspring dear.
Great joy was at thir meeting, and at sight [350]
Of that stupendious Bridge his joy encreas'd.
Long hee admiring stood, till Sin, his faire
Inchanting Daughter, thus the silence broke.

O Parent, these are thy magnific deeds,
Thy Trophies, which thou view'st as not thine own, [355]
Thou art thir Author and prime Architect:
For I no sooner in my Heart divin'd,
My Heart, which by a secret harmonie
Still moves with thine, join'd in connexion sweet,
That thou on Earth hadst prosper'd, which thy looks [360]
Now also evidence, but straight I felt
Though distant from thee Worlds between, yet felt
That I must after thee with this thy Son;
Such fatal consequence unites us three:
Hell could no longer hold us in her bounds, [365]
Nor this unvoyageable Gulf obscure
Detain from following thy illustrious track.
Thou hast atchiev'd our libertie, confin'd
Within Hell Gates till now, thou us impow'rd
To fortifie thus farr, and overlay [370]
With this portentous Bridge the dark Abyss.
Thine now is all this World, thy vertue hath won
What thy hands builded not, thy Wisdom gain'd
With odds what Warr hath lost, and fully aveng'd
Our foile in Heav'n; here thou shalt Monarch reign, [375]
There didst not; there let him still Victor sway,
As Battel hath adjudg'd, from this new World
Retiring, by his own doom alienated,
And henceforth Monarchie with thee divide
Of all things parted by th' Empyreal bounds, [380]
His Quadrature, from thy Orbicular World,
Or trie thee now more dang'rous to his Throne.

Whom thus the Prince of Darkness answerd glad.
Fair Daughter, and thou Son and Grandchild both,
High proof ye now have giv'n to be the Race [385]
Of Satan (for I glorie in the name,
Antagonist of Heav'ns Almightie King)
Amply have merited of me, of all
Th' Infernal Empire, that so neer Heav'ns dore
Triumphal with triumphal act have met, [390]
Mine with this glorious Work, and made one Realm
Hell and this World, one Realm, one Continent
Of easie thorough-fare. Therefore while I
Descend through Darkness, on your Rode with ease
To my associate Powers, them to acquaint [395]
With these successes, and with them rejoyce,
You two this way, among these numerous Orbs
All yours, right down to Paradise descend;
There dwell and Reign in bliss, thence on the Earth
Dominion exercise and in the Aire, [400]
Chiefly on Man, sole Lord of all declar'd,
Him first make sure your thrall, and lastly kill.
My Substitutes I send ye, and Create
Plenipotent on Earth, of matchless might
Issuing from mee: on your joynt vigor now [405]
My hold of this new Kingdom all depends,
Through Sin to Death expos'd by my exploit.
If your joynt power prevailes, th' affaires of Hell
No detriment need feare, goe and be strong.

So saying he dismiss'd them, they with speed [410]
Thir course through thickest Constellations held
Spreading thir bane; the blasted Starrs lookt wan,
And Planets, Planet-strook, real Eclips
Then sufferd.... (
Paradise Lost, Book 10.230-414)
As we see from this long passage, when Satan for the second time meets Sin and Death, "Great joy was at thir meeting" (PL 10.350), far unlike their first encounter, by which, we learn the valuable lesson that even fiends can be friends.

I'll leave things as they now stand with the reconcilation of this dysfunctional family, such a happy state of affairs...

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