Saturday, June 30, 2007

"I'm 'a get medieval on your eyes"

Cardigan, Wales
"Go west, young man Gawain, go west..."
(Image from Mair O Aberteifi)

We left Gawain in trouble yesterday just as he had turned from devotion offered to the true heavenly queen to devotion offered to a more earthly aristocratic lady. Part of Gawain's trouble stems not from this pagan turn but from the nature of the courtly love that he accepts as part of his aristocratic culture.

I'm working on this topic (and hence boring my regular readers to tears) because the International Center for Korean Studies (ICKS) has asked me to present a paper at the ICKS International Conference on "Celibacy and Enlightenment/Salvation" (August 2-3, 2007), which will take place at Korea University. Since I've long wanted to write something about my favorite Medieval romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I'm taking this opportunity to do so ... and thereby inflicting my interests on my wary but longsuffering readers.

The connection between the theme of this conference and my Gawain paper lies in the Christian conception of humankind's fallen nature and the need for a salvation external to one's own efforts. Early in the poem, Gawain is described -- though perhaps ironically -- as an almost perfect human being, one who perfectly embodies courtly and Christian virtues. He initially manages this by paying court to the Queen of Heaven, for he can thereby fulfull the demands of both systems. Gawain, however, must fail in his efforts at perfection if this poem is intended to convey a profoundly Christian soteriological point. The nature of Gawain's failure is what links my paper to the conference theme of celibacy and salvation, for when Gawain turns from the Virgin to Lady Bertilak, the love expressed turns from spiritual to carnal, for that's the nature of courtly love.

The following is part of what I've been working on to establish the problem posed by courtly love for Gawain's attempt to remain chaste. I'm not saying anything new, of course; I'm merely trying to fill some details for scholars outside of Medieval English studies.
In the Medieval context, courtly love would ordinarily entail some problematic elements. In the ideal case, a knight devoted himself to service not only to his liege lord but also to his lord's wife, whom he was bound to protect, honor, and love. But what sort of love? Although perhaps modeled on the paradigm of the Christian's devotion to the Virgin Mary, in which case the ideal courtly love would be a highly sublimated sort of love similar to Christian caritas (cf. Edmund Reiss, "Fin'amors: Its History and Meaning in Medieval Literature," in Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 8 (1979), 74-99), the reality is that courtly love was an unstable complex of sexual desire and spiritual aims. Francis Newman noted that courtly love was "a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and self-disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent" (Francis X. Newman, ed., The Meaning of Courtly Love (1968) vii). Similarly, C.S. Lewis described it as "love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, Adultery, and the Religion of Love" (C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (London: Oxford University Press, 1936), page 2). From a rigorously Christian perspective, courtly love is inherently adulterous, for its practice entails that mature men express their love for an already married lady in language that powerfully emphasizes her physical beauty. From the explicit teaching of Christ as given in Matthew 5:27-28:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
The operative word here in this King James Bible, obviously, is "lust," but we should dig a bit deeper into the past and look at the Wycliffe English translation, for John Wycliffe was a contemporary of the Pearl Poet:
Ye han herd that it was seid to elde men, Thou schalt do no letcherie. But Y seie to you, that euery man that seeth a womman for to coueite hir, hath now do letcherie bi hir in his herte. (Matheu 5:27-28: Wycliffe Bible)
But we should also check the Latin Vulgate, which the Pearl Poet would surely have known:
Audistis quia dictum est antiques: non moechaberis. Ego autem dico vobis: quoniam omnis qui viderit mulierem ad concupiscendum eam iam moechatus est eam in corde suo. (Matthaeus 5:27-28: Vulgate)
The two words are thus coueite (covet) and concupiscendum (ardent desire), and they are related etymologically. The former derives from the Latin word cupere, meaning "to desire, covet," and in the 14th century, the time of both Wycliffe and the Pearl Poet, the word coueite meant "To desire with concupiscence or with fleshly appetite" (OED I, 1106, 2), hence demonstrating why Wycliffe (or one of the Wycliffe 'team') rendered the Latin Vulgate's concupiscendum by the Middle English coueite. As for the latter term, concupiscendum, it derives from the Latin concupere (the intensive prefix con- plus cupere, thus "to long for, desire"). The related Latin term concupiscentia was taken over into English as "concupiscence" as early as the 14th century, appearing in Chaucer, The Parson's Tale (c. 1386), with the meaning of "Libidinous desire, sexual appetite, lust" (OED I, 777, 2). Given the Pearl Poet's theological interests and scriptural knowledge, he would surely be aware of Christ's teaching on adultery as a matter of lusting in one's heart.
I still need to fill out this part of my paper more completely, for I need to put my own stamp on the material, maybe liven it up a bit so that it won't be quite so boring as this blog entry.

Perhaps if I were to quote from Lady Bertilak's attempts to seduce Gawain...

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Friday, June 29, 2007

On knights errant and courtly love...

Lady Bertilak at Gawain's Bed
"tempting someone else's fate"
(Image from Wikipedia)

In Part 1, Chapter 13 of Don Quixote, Cervantes has the great Knight of the Woeful Countenance describe to a fellow traveller the ennobling sufferings of a knight errant, comparing them to the rigors of a monk's life and suggesting that it is a divine calling because:
[C]hurchmen in peace and quiet pray to Heaven for the welfare of the world, but we soldiers and knights carry into effect what they pray for, defending it with the might of our arms and the edge of our swords, not under shelter but in the open air, a target for the intolerable rays of the sun in summer and the piercing frosts of winter. Thus are we God's ministers on earth and the arms by which his justice is done therein. (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote, Part 1, Chapter 13 (1605), translated by John Ormsby (London, 1885))
The traveller listens carefully to the great Don's words and courteously agrees, but with a significant caveat:
"That is my own opinion," replied the traveller; "but one thing among many others seems to me very wrong in knights-errant, and that is that when they find themselves about to engage in some mighty and perilous adventure in which there is manifest danger of losing their lives, they never at the moment of engaging in it think of commending themselves to God, as is the duty of every good Christian in like peril; instead of which they commend themselves to their ladies with as much devotion as if these were their gods, a thing which seems to me to savour somewhat of heathenism." (Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part 1, Chapter 13)
In effect, the traveller is politely calling into question the very thing that he had courteously agreed to. Knights errant may believe that they are carrying out God's work in this world, but in fact, they fall into something like the pagan practice of worshipping goddesses.

Don Quixote responds by appeal to the custom among knights errant:
"Sir," answered Don Quixote, "that cannot be on any account omitted, and the knight-errant would be disgraced who acted otherwise: for it is usual and customary in knight-errantry that the knight-errant, who on engaging in any great feat of arms has his lady before him, should turn his eyes towards her softly and lovingly, as though with them entreating her to favour and protect him in the hazardous venture he is about to undertake, and even though no one hear him, he is bound to say certain words between his teeth, commending himself to her with all his heart, and of this we have innumerable instances in the histories. Nor is it to be supposed from this that they are to omit commending themselves to God, for there will be time and opportunity for doing so while they are engaged in their task." (Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part 1, Chapter 13)
The great Don has not, of course, truly responded to the traveller's criticism of the knight errant's heathen devotion to his lady, for by re-emphasizing the knight errant's practice of "entreating her to favour and protect him in the hazardous venture he is about to undertake, and ... commending himself to her with all his heart," Quixote merely restates what the traveller finds troubling.

So, naturally, the traveller politely maintains his difference of opinion:
"For all that," answered the traveller, "I feel some doubt still, because often I have read how words will arise between two knights-errant, and from one thing to another it comes about that their anger kindles and they wheel their horses round and take a good stretch of field, and then without any more ado at the top of their speed they come to the charge, and in mid-career they are wont to commend themselves to their ladies; and what commonly comes of the encounter is that one falls over the haunches of his horse pierced through and through by his antagonist's lance, and as for the other, it is only by holding on to the mane of his horse that he can help falling to the ground; but I know not how the dead man had time to commend himself to God in the course of such rapid work as this; it would have been better if those words which he spent in commending himself to his lady in the midst of his career had been devoted to his duty and obligation as a Christian." (Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part 1, Chapter 13)
Cervantes, perhaps writing these words around 1600, was not the first to note the problem posed to the Christian knight by the practice of courtly love. In the latter 14th century, the Pearl Poet implicitly sets up the problem in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by first presenting Gawain as a good Christian knight:
And all his fealty was fixed upon the five wounds
That Christ got on the cross, as the creed tells;
And wherever this man in melee took part,
His one thought was of this, past all things else,
That all his force was founded on the five joys
That the high Queen of heaven had in her child.
And therefore, as I find, he fittingly had
On the inner part of his shield her image portrayed,
That when his look on it lighted, he never lost heart.
(Pearl Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Marie Borroff (1967), Part 2, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1, Seventh Edition, page 172, lines 642-650)
Gawain, a good Christian knight, maintains devotion to the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, which therefore makes him Mary's knight (cf. line 1769) and thus protected against falling into the heathen practice of courtly devotion to a mere woman.

Yet Gawain's courtesy and concern for his own life move him to accept from the beautiful Lady Bertilak the gift of a purportedly magical green belt interlaced with threads of gold that will supposedly protect him from an otherwise certain death:
She released a knot lightly, and loosened a belt
That was caught about her kirtle, the bright cloak beneath,
Of a gay green silk, with gold overwrought,
And the borders all bound with embroidery fine,
And this she presses upon him, and pleads with a smile,
Unworthy though it were, that it would not be scorned.
But the man still maintains that he means to accept
Neither gold nor any gift, till by God's grace
The fate that lay before him was fully achieved.
"And be not offended, fair lady, I beg,
And give over your offer, for ever I must
I am grateful for favor shown
Past all deserts of mine,
And ever shall be your own
True servant, rain or shine."
"Now does my present displease you," she promptly inquired,
"Because it seems in your sight so simple a thing?
And belike, as it is little, it is less to praise,
But if the virtue that invests it were verily known,
It would be held, I hope, in higher esteem.
For the man that possesses this piece of silk,
If he bore it on his body, belted about,
There is no hand under heaven that could hew him down,
For he could not be killed by any craft on earth."
Then the man began to muse, and mainly he thought
It was a pearl for his plight, the peril to come
When he gains the Green Chapel to get his reward:
Could he escape unscathed, the scheme were noble!
The he bore with her words and withstood them no more.
And she repeated her petition and pleaded anew,
And he granted it, and gladly she gave him the belt,
And besought him for her sake to conceal it well,
Lest the noble lord should know -- and the knight agrees
That not a soul save themselves shall see it thenceforth
with sight.
He thanked her with fervent heart,
As often as ever he might;
Three times, before they part,
She has kissed the stalwart knight.
(Pearl Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Marie Borroff, Part 2, Norton Anthology, Volume 1, page 196, lines 1830-1869)
Up until this moment, Gawain has courteously refused to accept any gift from the lady, for in the act of accepting a parting gift from a lady, a knight setting off on a quest is implictly accepting the lady herself as his lady. By accepting the magical belt, Gawain has exchanged the higher Queen of Heaven for the lower Lady Bertilak and thus relinquished the Virgin's protection from harm in return for Lady Bertilak's protection.

In this manner does Gawain lose his status as Mary's knight and adopt the practice of other knights errant, who "commend themselves to their ladies with as much devotion as if these were their gods, a thing which seems ... to savour somewhat of heathenism," and by accepting Lady Bertilak, he does, as do other knights with their ladies, "turn his eyes towards her softly and lovingly, as though ... entreating her to favour and protect him in the hazardous venture he is about to undertake," as both the traveller and Don Quixote, respectively, have already noted.

In doing so, ironically, Gawain falls into a well-constructed trap and puts his life at risk ... but that is a longer story.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Evil worse than this...

Leader of the Shining Path

Warning: The following entry contains a graphic description of an atrocity that some readers might prefer not to read.

In his review of a recent book edited by Paul Hollander, From the Gulag to the Killing Fields: Personal Accounts of Political Violence and Repression in Communist States, the British physician and writer Theodore Dalrymple, writing for the New English Review ("The Realities of Evil," September 2006), quotes from Dr Haing Nor, a Cambodian physician who survived despite imprisonment during under Pol Pot, the Cambodian Communist whose policies led directly to the deaths of some one or two million Cambodians. According to Dr. Nor, whose words you might prefer not to read since it is a graphic description of an atrocity:
[A] new interrogator, one I had not seen before, walked down the row of trees holding a long, sharp knife. I could not make out their words, but he spoke to the pregnant woman and she answered. What happened next makes me nauseous to think about. I can only describe it in the briefest of terms: He cut the clothes off her body, slit her stomach, and took the baby out. I turned away but there was no escaping the sound of her agony, the screams that slowly subsided into whimpers and after far too long lapsed into the merciful silence of death. The killer walked calmly past me holding the fetus by its neck. When he got to the prison, just within the range of my vision, he tied a string round the fetus and hung it from the eaves with the others, which were dried and black and shrunken.
For us, this might seem to reach the depth of depravity -- ripping a child from its mother's womb -- though the man who did this terrible thing, observes Dalrymple, "was almost certainly imbued with a profound sense of purpose, given him by an ideology."

Dalyrmple, moreover, has seen even worse evil than this committed in the name of a similar ideology:
The worst brutality I ever saw was that committed by Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru, in the days when it seemed possible that it might come to power. If it had, I think its massacres would have dwarfed those of the Khmer Rouge. As a doctor, I am accustomed to unpleasant sights, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Ayacucho, where Sendero first developed under the sway of a professor of philosophy, Abimael Guzman. I took photographs of what I saw, but the newspapers deemed them too disturbing to be printed. Human kind at breakfast can bear very little reality. But I also found it difficult to persuade anyone by means of words of the reality of what I had seen: most people nodded and thought I had finally gone mad. On the plane back from Peru, I delighted a worker for Amnesty International when I described to him some of the bad behaviour of the Peruvian Army; but when I described what I had seen Sendero do, incomparably worse, I might as well have talked to him of sea monsters, and of giant squid that could drag nuclear submarines to the depths.
That evil must have been terrible indeed, for in his article, Dalrymple refrains from describing it.

The lesson that I learned remains the same: ethics trumps aesthetics. Before striking some political pose for aesthetic effect, at least know what the politics stands for.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Ethics trumps aesthetics."

"...that make the pathway glow..."
(Image from Wikipedia)

From articles such as this one, "Cameron's bag raises a few eyebrows" (, June 23, 2003), most readers have by now learned that a bag carried by Cameron Diaz on a publicity tour in Peru offended perhaps more than a few Peruvians:
Actress Cameron Diaz appears to have committed a major fashion crime in Peru.

The voice of Princess Fiona in the animated Shrek films may have inadvertently offended Peruvians. They suffered decades of violence from a Maoist guerrilla insurgency by touring there on Friday with a bag emblazoned with one of Mao Zedong's favourite political slogans. While she explored the Inca city of Machu Picchu high in Peru's Andes, Diaz wore over her shoulder an olive green messenger bag emblazoned with a red star and the words 'Serve the People' printed in Chinese on the flap, perhaps Chinese Communist leader Mao's most famous political slogan.

While the bags are marketed as trendy fashion accessories in some world capitals, the phrase has particular resonance in Peru. The Maoist Shining Path insurgency took Peru to the edge of chaos in the 1980s and early 1990s with a campaign of massacres, assassinations and bombings. Nearly 70,000 people were killed during the insurgency.

A prominent Peruvian human rights activist said the star of There's Something About Mary should have been a little more aware of local sensitivities when picking her accessories. "It alludes to a concept that did so much damage to Peru, that brought about so many victims," said Pablo Rojas about the bag's slogan. "I don't think she should have used that bag where the followers of that ideology" did so much damage. (© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2007, All Rights Reserved.)
Diaz has since expressed regrets:
Cameron Diaz said she was sorry for carrying a Maoist handbag in Peru.... "I sincerely apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently offended. The bag was a purchase I made as a tourist in China and I did not realize the potentially hurtful nature of the slogan printed on it," Diaz said in a statement e-mailed to the Associated Press. (Ray McDonald, "Actress Cameron Diaz Apologizes to Peru for Fashion Faux Pas," VOA News, June 25, 2007)
Diaz has more extenuating circumstances in her case than I did for a similar fashion crime, a false step that I took way back in my Berkeley days. In the spring of 1985, my friend Carla Koop and I took a Saturday excursion by way of the BART subway system from Berkeley to San Francisco, and in our walk out from Chinatown heading beyond the intersection of Broadway and Columbus Avenue, we hiked uphill in the direction of Telegraph Hill's Coit Tower, perhaps to see the feral Red-Masked Parakeets that inhabit that area.

Along the way, we encountered a fellow from the Communist Party, I suppose, who had a table set out on the sidewalk and covered with books and badges. Since the two of us were relaxed and at our leisure, we stopped to chat and look. The man wasn't getting much 'business' -- which may have been personally disappointing if ideologically more correct -- so he seemed happy to indulge our political tourism. At the time, I was reading Karl Marx's Capital -- working my way through all three volumes, though I confess that I couldn't finish volume 3 -- so I was familiar with Marx and had come to see some of the problems in his system. Still, I was curious about the left and what sort of analysis it had to offer, but I didn't know much about the various Marxist splinter groups, so I drew a blank when I saw a colorful badge that announced Sendero Luminoso! The fellow selling the badges told me that "Sendero Luminoso" meant "Shining Path" and that it was a Maoist revolutionary group in South America. Aesthetically, the badge was appealing to the eye, and the name "Shining Path" sounded cool, so on a whim, I purchased one and tried it on. A few days later -- as I recently told Kate Marie in my reminisence about this experience -- I was sorry that I had taken one:
In my younger, far more naive days, I actually tried on a badge by the Shining Path. Whoever designed it had an eye for color, so I kept it on -- knowing nothing about the group beyond vaguely being aware that it was 'Maoist' (whatever that meant).

I was later confronted by a student -- half Swede, half Greek -- who asked me if I really supported a terrorist organization that had killed thousands of Indios. I read up on the Shining Path and took the badge off.

And learned a valuable lesson: Ethics trumps aesthetics. Also: Know what you're 'endorsing.'
Kate Marie commented on this:
I like the lesson you learned. Ethics trumps aesthetics. I wonder if part of the problem for intellectuals and artists (of either the real or the Cameron Diaz variety) in the twentieth century was that so many of them came to believe that aesthetics trumps *everything,* no matter how they tried to dress up -- or dress down, as the case may be -- their aesthetic enthusiasms in ethical garb.
Cameraon Diaz can perhaps be more easily forgiven than I can, for all that she did was purchase a bag in China, whereas I knowingly bought a political badge from a Marxist vendor and wore it despite not knowing what the badge actually stood for. Lucky me that I wasn't a celebrity. And I suspect that more than aesthetics was involved. There was also a bit of the politics of revolt in my action, an irrational desire to feel myself a rebel.

But I see that I've left my friend Carla standing at that table on the slope up Telegraph Hill, so I'd better attend to her. I should note that in her natural beauty, Carla needed to make no artificial fashion statement -- nor did she feel an unreasonable compulsion to rebel -- and so declined to buy anything from our Marxist fellow, who seemed a bit put off by her lack of revolutionary fervor ... or perhaps more from missing out on an extra buck.

We didn't, however, trouble ourselves to find out which, but continued on our blitheful, youthful way up toward Coit Tower and the rumor of feral parrots.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fan Death Redux

Close-Up: Electric Fans Sold in Korea
(Image from Wikipedia)

On September 12, 2006, I posted a blog entry on fan death in which I tried desperately to convince non-Koreans of its dire reality by presenting evidence from my own experience:
This summer, fans killed several of my son's pets. First a stag beetle died when our cat, driven mad by ripples in the ether, overturned the beetle's plastic terrarium and fought the poor beetle to its death. Miraculously, the cat survived. Our eel was not so lucky as the cat. Driven insane by the whirling blades' insidious disturbance of the ether, it managed to flip itself out of its aquarium -- through a tiny hole in the top!! -- and die. We found it on the floor ... shriveled and dry. That could happen to you, too. Since then, two other stag beetles have died. Snails as well. And a goldfish has turned deathly white! Scary.
Most responses were supportive, and one scientist, Dennis Mangan (aka Man of Manganese), added this empirical evidence:
A fan killed Thomas Merton. Really.
And yet, there exists the occasional skeptic, some person or other who disbelieves and seems to think him- or herself on a sacred mission to disabuse believers of their fan-death views, such as a commenter calling himself "Anonymous":
Fand death, eh? as i know it i'd say that a fan is made to move hot air from a spot where it's not wanted to a spot where it doesn't bother anything/anyone.
Oh really? Then somebody should place a fan in front of your mouth! We could certainly use less of that bothersome hot air. Plus, the fan blades could trim your words and maybe rid your orthographic rendering "Fand" of its excessive dee. And maybe the breeze would puff up a few of those minuscules to majuscules! Anyway, I replied to this "Anonymous" with the following reasoning:
Anonymous, can 43 million South Koreans and one foreigner be wrong about fan death?
That was several months ago. Now, another skeptical commenter has posted, but not another anonymous poster. This one calls herself "Veronica" and begins by quoting my reasonable words:
"Can 43 million South Koreans and one foreigner be wrong about fan death?"
Then -- inexplicably -- disagrees:
Yes. The consensus is that fan death is an urban legend -- keep in mind that if the 43 million South Koreans are right, then the other 6 billion + people in the world are wrong. Which is the more likely scenario?

I sleep every night with a fan in my room, and I've yet to die. And anyway, if fan death is real, why does it seem to only kill South Koreans? The most likely scenario is that fan death is an urban legend perpetuated by South Korean culture and -- perhaps more importantly -- the South Korean media.
Such a challenge could not go unmet, so I posted the following response:
I raised the following, very -- dare I say exceedingly -- reasonable point about fan death:

"Can 43 million South Koreans and one foreigner be wrong about fan death?"

To this impeccable reasoning, a commenter posts an unexpected reply:


The commenter, who calls herself 'Veronica,' proceeds to willfully post an egregious challenge to the authority of my democratic reasoning by supposedly trumping it with some democratic reasoning of her own:

"The consensus is that fan death is an urban legend -- keep in mind that if the 43 million South Koreans are right, then the other 6 billion + people in the world are wrong."

Sigh, so many skeptics, but oh so many potential converts in dire need of and even waiting for the truth...

'Consensus'? You mean 'compromise'? Oh, yes, let's each give a little bit! That's always the best way to reach the truth.

'Urban'? What arrant nonsense! Even rural Koreans know about fan death!

'Legend'? Well, a legend can be true. Think of a map legend. According to the online Free Dictionary, a "legend" can be:

"An explanatory table or list of the symbols appearing on a map or chart."

Surely, Veronica, you would not claim that such a explanatory table is misleading! What sort of explanation would that be?

As for the 'other' so-called "6 billion + people in the world," I'm sorry, but the democratic reasoning works only in a single political entity.

We don't let the whole world vote for the US president. Why should Koreans allow the rest of the world to vote on fan death? That would be like allowing the entire world to vote on whether or not the magnificent East Sea island of Dokdo belongs to Korea or Japan.

Only Koreans know the truth about Dokdo; logically, then, only Koreans know the truth about fan death. Evidence? Plenty! More than 99 percent of non-Koreans have never even heard of fan death, so how can they possibly have a discerning opinion?

Veronica adds:

"I sleep every night with a fan in my room, and I've yet to die."

Your life is in grave danger!

"And anyway, if fan death is real, why does it seem to only kill South Koreans?"

They are the canaries in the coal mine.

"The most likely scenario is that fan death is an urban legend perpetuated by South Korean culture and -- perhaps more importantly -- the South Korean media."

There's that 'urban' nonsense again! I've already demolished that reasoning. As for your orientialistic dismissal of South Korean culture, I can only advise you to read Edward Said's magnum opus, namely, Orientalism. Reading that should be punishment enough for your thought crimes.

As for your attack upon the South Korean media, I won't even attempt a defense. Everyone knows the fine professionalism shown daily by South Korea's media! South Korea's investigative media bring to light truths that would otherwise remain covered up by lies. In this regard, Korean journalists are like the famous muckrakers of American fame.

Why, without South Korean newspapers, for example, I wouldn't know about the crime wave being perpetrated by foreigners in Korea. Apparently, we commit a lot of crimes relative to our numbers in Korean society. It's actually rather frightening. I've started being more careful around myself. There's no telling what I might do, so I keep an eye on what I'm doing when I think that no one is watching. And you know what? It's all true! I've watched myself steal some pieces of chocolate from the fridge when my wife and kids are out of the apartment. Those unsuspecting, naive people think that I'm slaving away at my computer, working on articles for academic publications, when I'm actually gnawing on chocolate and posting things like this on my blog.

Obviously, I cannot be trusted.
Except when I'm posting on fan death, of course. You should then believe everything that I write.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Edward Friedman: "Living Without Freedom in China"

A Communist Hero?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm on the e-list for the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) -- partly because one of my former Berkeley professors, Walter McDougall, heads the place -- so I regularly get interesting poli-sci documents dealing with themes relevant to U.S. foreign policy. The FPRI is a conservative institute, but less of a neoconservative sort and more of the paleoconservative type, McDougall being one of the latter.

Yesterday, an informative article on China arrived: "Living Without Freedom in China," Edward Friedman, The Newsletter of FPRI’s Marvin Wachman Fund for International Education, June 2007, Vol. 12, No. 20.

The Marvin Wachman Fund for International Education was set up by the FPRI in 1990 and aims at developing international and civic literacy among Americans, but all of my non-American readers are free to read and learn as well. Of course, only we Americans are so ignorant as to need such a newsletter...

Anyway, Friedman's article is interesting because it begins by acknowledging a problem -- or, rather, a couple of problems -- confronting us in our attempt to understand China.

First, as the article says, "[i]t’s not easy for American students to know what it means to live without freedom." I think that this point is entirely correct, and it's true not only of American students but of students in any free society, and that would probably include younger Korean students, who recall only a democratic Korea.

Second, and more to the point of the article:
The hardest place to understand what the lack of freedom means is China, which is nothing like the Stalin model or Cuba or North Korea. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a totalitarian society. In post-Mao China, Chinese travel abroad in huge numbers. The country has the fifth largest tourist population in the world, on its way to being number one. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students are abroad; in internet use, China is about to overtake the U.S. as number one in the world. It’s a market society, brutally competitive; the economy is less state-owned than France or Austria's, for example. Life is not dominated by communist block units; you can buy your own house or car, there's no forced labor. [Well ... none aside from the occasional slave forced to work in a brick kiln.] You can choose your physician freely; most young Chinese would say they live in a free, democratic society.
For those of us expats living here in South Korea and looking north at Kim Jong Il-Land, North Korea's conditions can indeed make the enormous Chinese empire to our east look like the model of a free society. Given this contrast, Friedman asks:
So what does it mean to say that Chinese people live without freedom? First, it is a brilliant system at making people complicit with the unfreedom. For days after the June 4, 1989, massacre in Beijing of democracy supporters headquartered in Tiananmen Square, there was great tension in the city between people who live there and the occupying army. How did the party respond? Teachers were ordered to teach their students a new song: "The Army loves the people, the people love the Army." Parents couldn't say the song was untrue lest their children repeat this back at school. You can't bring up your children the way you want to.
Okay, we understand that this was bad, but Tiananmen was nearly twenty years ago, and China is certainly freer now, some two decades later. Yes, says Friedman, but the Party remains in power, and despite China's remarkable economic development into a capitalist society, it remains politically unfree, and this has consequences that the Chinese live with daily and that have even begun to affect the world outside of China:
China is not the worst stable authoritarian regime in the world: a North Korean might consider it free. Even foreigners who go to North Korea and then come back to China feel they are returning to a free country. But you get faced every day with decisions that bring it home to you that you're not. If your child is ill, should you go to the pharmacy and buy some medicine? Of course, but medicines are often frauds in China. There have been cases where baby formula is bogus and children have died from receiving no nutrition. China has a ruthless free market, no regulation, no safety standards, no FDA, no CDC, no NIH. It's also the world leader for people dying in industrial accidents, and about 400,000 each year die from drinking the water, which is unpotable. A Chinese journalist recently went to 10 Chinese hospitals wanting to get his blood tested. So he complained of certain aches and pains that he knew would cause them to test his blood. But he didn't give them his blood, he carried in a thermos with tea and poured that into the cups. Eight of the ten reported to him that he had the most serious blood disease and that it would cost them endless money for treatment.
This poses a problem for China, and one might expect it to put pressure on the Communist Party. Doubtless, it does. How, then, is the Party responding? By resurrecting a very authoritarian Confucianism:
[I]t's pushing essentially its own state religion, a combination of Han chauvinism, in which Chinese worship the yellow emperor [sic.: Yellow Emperor, or Huang Di (黃帝)], and an authoritarian Confucianism. The state is building Confucian temples. The vision is that China is going to explain its extraordinary rise to its own people and to the world as the result of its unique ethical religion, its Confucianism. It's going to spread Confucian societies all around the world, it's going to teach everybody that China produces a better quality of people because it has this moral authority and all others are inferior. Confucianism is the only way to raise people, and the world is properly hierarchically ordered with Confucian Chinese at the center of it.
Confucianism as an ethical system has some merit and can produce virtuous individuals, but Friedman is speaking of Confucianism in the service of an authoritarian state, and this poses problems because it is means that Confucianism is being used to mold Chinese nationalism with the aim of suppressing dissent and encouraging suspicion of freedom:
The Chinese regime has fostered a nationalism to trump democracy. People are taught that they are threatened by democracy, that democracy would make people weak. Party propaganda has it, "How did Rwanda occur? Because they tried to build a democracy. If the Hutus had simply imposed their will, they never would have had that problem. If it moves in a democratic direction, China is going to fall apart; it will be like what happened to Russia, to Yugoslavia. Do you want to end up like Chechnya and Bosnia? That's what the Americans really want. You are fortunate to be a Chinese living in an ethical, authoritarian system." The TV will show pictures of say the Los Angeles riots, the Sudan, and people are made frightened and confused. They're proud to be Chinese and want to raise ethical kids. They want a country they can be proud of, certainly not like American kids. The Chinese are taught that American youth are smoking at an early age, use pot, have babies in their teens, watch pornography on TV, spread AIDS, get divorced, and don't care what happens to their elderly parents. Why would you want to live in such an immoral way? This propaganda seems to work with many Chinese.
The upshot? Friedman offers this scenario:
So what is growing in China is an authoritarian, patriotic, racially defined, Confucian Chinese project which is going to be a formidable challenge not just to the United States but, I think, to democracy, freedom, and human rights all around the world. China is going to seem quite attractive to many people. That is why it is so very important to understand what living without freedom really means.
Well, "an authoritarian, patriotic, racially defined, Confucian Chinese" nation may be what the Communist Party would like to see develop, but some things are going to work against this.

Friedman notes the large numbers of tourists and students that China sends abroad. These people will have tasted more freedom than China offers, and they might push for more of this same freedom within China itself.

The Confucianism that the Party is pushing from the top down will find itself in competition with other religions, such as the phenomenal growth of Christianity and Buddhism, so state-ordered Confucianism might not be so easily grafted onto the populace as the authorities hope.

The capitalism that China has adopted requires a freer flow of information than is currently allowed, and China is currently learning some hard lessons. The pet-food scandal in the U.S. and medical scandals throughout the world have been traced to the use of tainted or worthless Chinese products, and this makes consumers outside of China less willing to purchase goods from China. As the Chinese become aware of this problem, they may press the state for more free expression and actually succeed because the necessity for freer information will be obvious to all.

China, therefore, might develop in a more democratic direction ... but things could instead go horribly wrong, and that's something that I think about, living here in the lengthening shadow of a rising China.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ate Things About Me

What I Ate Last Night
How did Wiki know?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Randy McRoberts, of The Upward Way Press fame ... oh, you've not heard of Randy despite his fame? Really? Why, he's been blogging since at least December 6, 2001! That's right, Randy McRoberts.... No? Well, how about Randall C. McRoberts? Yeah, that guy. Okay, as I was saying, Randy (yes, yes, that's Randall) has tagged me for Ate Things About Me.

It's an odd request, but Randy admits that he's a bit ... eccentric. Or "a total heretic," as he puts it. I'm quite normal, though, so I may have some trouble fulfilling this request, but I'll give it a try. Let's see ... maybe I ought to number the things about me that I ate, and perhaps I should start with ... oh, say, the number "1." People generally do, though I'm not sure why. There are other nice numbers. I've always liked irrational numbers, like "√2," "phi," "pi," and all the others. Hey! Why not start with "√2" and ascend? Yeah, I'll do that instead:
Ate Things About Me:

1.41421356 (√2): Ate a penny. I was a baby, I don't recall this, and nobody says that I did, but every baby eats a penny. So ... I ate a penny.

1.61803398 (phi): Ate a gnat. Running toward the baseball dugout from my position way off in left field and cheering our team on to its imminent victory, I happened to snag a gnat that I couldn't cough up easily. Did I eat this creature? Technically, since it went into my lungs, I suppose that I 'breathed' it. Anyway, I ingested it.

2.23606797 (√5): Ate some gum. I was in the 11th grade and got caught chewing gum in class, which was strictly against the rules. My friends and I had been sneaking some 'chaws' out by the trees, but I forgot to spit mine out before English class. Mr. Ligon took me to the principal's office for corporal punishment -- performed with the board of education, as they liked to call it -- and to hide the evidence, I swallowed the gum. Got punished anyway.

2.645751311 (√7): Ate some dirt. My nose was being rubbed in it. 'Nuff said.

3.14159265 (pi): Ate my pride. First semester of university. Failed all my midterm exams and decided that I'd better figure out how to study rather than pretend that I was too smart not to need to.

3.16227766 (√10): Ate my words. Repeatedly. I've lost my taste for that dish, but there seem to be a lot of leftovers. Sigh...

4.12310562 (√17): Ate nine. 'Cause I'm seven, and 7-8-9.

4.35889894 (√19): Ate up time. Well, something did, and it must have been me, 'cause I turned 50 this year.
There are many, many other things that I ate sometime or other, but there are even far more things that do not belong to the set of things about me that I ate at any time ... such as a worm (despite reports to the contrary)!

Well, I hope that this little education in edibility has been edifying. Go forth and eat to build up your edifice! I think that I shall. Breakfast is nigh, here in Seoul, about time for me to prepare for my wife her special toast.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

"a provoking object"

"Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour..."
(Image from Milton Reading Room)

Given our recent foray into the realm of the Islamists, their worldview, and their aim of banishing corruption from the earth by means of shariah and its legalisms, perhaps the penetrating words of the great John Milton in his difficult but rewarding Areopagitica are relevant here:
If every action which is good, or evill in man at ripe years, were to be under pittance, and prescription, and compulsion, what were vertue but a name, what praise could be then due to well-doing, what gramercy to be sober, just or continent? many there be that complain of divin Providence for suffering Adam to transgresse, foolish tongues! when God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had bin else a meer artificiall Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions. We our selves esteem not of that obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force: God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Wherefore did he creat passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly temper'd are the very ingredients of vertu? They are not skilfull considerers of human things, who imagin to remove sin by removing the matter of sin; for, besides that it is a huge heap increasing under the very act of diminishing, though some part of it may for a time be withdrawn from some persons, it cannot from all, in such a universall thing as books are; and when this is done, yet the sin remains entire. Though ye take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewell left, ye cannot bereave him of his covetousnesse. Banish all objects of lust, shut up all youth into the severest discipline that can be exercis'd in any hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste, that came not thither so: such great care and wisdom is requir'd to the right managing of this point. Suppose we could expell sin by this means; look how much we thus expell of sin, so much we expell of vertue: for the matter of them both is the same; remove that, and ye remove them both alike. This justifies the high providence of God, who though he command us temperance, justice, continence, yet powrs out before us ev'n to a profusenes all desirable things, and gives us minds that can wander beyond all limit and satiety. (John Milton, Areopagitica)
By "pittance," I understand Milton to mean a small wage, perhaps indicating a small reward for acts of virtue, and by "gramercy," he means merit or worth.

His point -- if I may belabor the obvious -- is that God gave individuals a rational, libertarian free will and placed them in a world with many "a provoking object" so as to test their morally praiseworthy virtue in resisting the wrong and doing the right. Without allowing individual freedom to choose good over evil, by enforcing virtue through coercion, we would in fact make virtue less attainable because attained not out of love but of fear even while not truly decreasing vice because only the practice and not the motive could be removed by external means.

What the Islamists -- and the 'puritanizers' everywhere -- fail to see is precisely what Milton saw so clearly:
Good and evill we know in the field of this World grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involv'd and interwoven with the knowledge of evill, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discern'd, that those confused seeds which were impos'd on Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixt. It was from out the rinde of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evill as two twins cleaving together leapt forth into the World. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill. As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdome can there be to choose, what continence to forbeare without the knowledge of evill? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloister'd vertue, unexercis'd & unbreath'd, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortall garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is triall, and triall is by what is contrary. That vertue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evill, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank vertue, not a pure; her whitenesse is but an excrementall whitenesse.... (John Milton, Areopagitica)
For those of us without a education in the classics (which often includes me), the Milton Reading Room helpfully explains:
The story of Cupid and Psyche is found in Apuleius's The Golden Ass book 5 .... Venus, Psyche's mother-in-law, expressed her jealously by pouring wheat, oats, lentils, and other seeds in a great pile and assigned the girl the seemingly impossible task of sorting them by sundown.
Milton's point here is that good and evil in our fallen world are so intermixed as those seeds, and our 'doom' -- by which is meant the judicial sentence that God has pronounced upon fallen mankind -- is that "of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill."

For this reason, Milton avers that the one who "can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, ... is the true wayfaring Christian." One could say that such a one truly 'submits' to God because one does so freely. Trials, of course, remain, for "that which purifies us is triall, and triall is by what is contrary."

Milton does not offer a utopian vision of a humanly reformed earth in which no temptation exists that might attract us to commit evil, for we have no power sufficient to form such a world. At our best, we would only make things worse.

And that, as Milton phrases it, would be "but an excrementall whitenesse."


Friday, June 22, 2007

The Roots of Islamist Terrorism...

Tap a Brew, Provoke the Islamists
(Image from Wikipedia)

In a recent article for The Guardian, "Blair can no longer deny a link exists between terrorism and foreign policy" (June 4, 2007), Tariq Ramadan argues:
Tony Blair and his government have obliged civil servants to deny that a link exists between terrorism and British foreign policy. While the invasion of Iraq can never be claimed as ethical justification for terrorist attacks against innocent citizens in London, it would be absurd to deny the reality of the political connection between the two.
Former Ramadan supporter David Goodhart, who edits the liberal magazine Prospect and who has previously interviewed Ramadan for this same magazine, has written an "Open letter to Tariq Ramadan" (Prospect, June 2007) expressing his disappointment in Ramadan's article:
I was disappointed by your piece in the Guardian on Monday 4th June. For what it's worth, I have spent quite a lot of time in the past year or two defending you from the many people in the British political class who are influenced by the predominant French-American view that you are a dangerous extremist (recently rehearsed, as you will know, by Paul Berman in the New Republic). Having heard you speak several times, and interviewed you in depth for Prospect, I concluded that whatever your former beliefs, you now thought that Muslims should embrace and integrate into western societies....

Perhaps you have your "realpolitik" reasons too for repeating the grievance-seeking, responsibility-avoiding diatribe that I read in the Guardian -- all too familiar from far less accomplished Muslim thinkers than yourself -- claiming that all this Muslim extremism in Britain is someone else's fault, probably the British government's. But it is still nonsense. You come close to repeating the canard that Mohammad Sidique Khan was a well-integrated young British-Pakistani driven mad by Tony Blair's foreign policy. Well, I implore you to read the cover story in the latest issue of Prospect magazine by Shiv Malik. It describes how Khan, who had indeed been relatively well integrated as a youngster, became seduced by the temptation of extreme Muslim identity politics. There are two reasons why Muslim youth seem to be especially vulnerable. First, the acute generational conflict created by moving from traditional social and moral orders to a modern liberal society; second, the existence of various Islamist political-religious ideologies offering a total explanation of the world and the young Muslim's potentially heroic role in ushering in a new one. Khan had swapped his parents' traditionalist Islam for the "pure" Wahhabi faith in the mid-1990s, and by 1999 he was already seeking to perform violent jihad -- many years before 9/11 or the Iraq war. (Of course, the latter did enrage him too, and it made Britain his target instead of Kashmir or Israel.)

To blame it all on British foreign policy and racism will simply not do. British Muslims are among the politically freest and richest in the world, which is why so many more Muslims are desperate to come and live here....

And foreign policy? Britain in the post-cold war era, and especially under Tony Blair, has been running a more "interventionist" policy than was possible earlier. Some of those interventions -- such as that in Sierra Leone, 70 per cent Muslim -- have been relatively successful and popular. Others, especially that in Iraq, have been unsuccessful and much more controversial, splitting the country in two....

But in any case, the idea that British foreign policy has been run on an anti-Muslim agenda does not stand examination. In Bosnia and Kosovo (and Sierra Leone), Britain took military action on behalf of Muslims, in some cases against Christians. In Iraq, rightly or wrongly (and Prospect was opposed to Britain's role) we helped to remove a secular dictator, and we will leave behind a Muslim democracy of some kind.
Well, we can hope that this democracy stuff will take in Iraq, but things don't look too promising there.

Although Goodhart is correct to note the complexity of Britain's foreign policy and the fact that Britain has often intervened to help Muslims, the critic Ramadan is also correct to note that Britain's foreign policy provokes Islamist terrorists. So does America's foreign policy.

Many policies, of course, provoke Islamists:
Israel's policy toward the mostly Muslim Palestinians. Russia's policy in mostly Muslim Chechnya. India's policy in mostly Muslim Kashmir. Thailand's policy in its southern, largely Muslim provinces. The Philippines' policy toward Muslims in its southern island of Mindanao. The policy of the 15th-century Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella toward the Muslim Moors. The policy of non-Muslims in southern Sudan in resisting Islamization. The policy of the Jyllands-Posten on free expression about Islamic topics. The policy of the British government in bestowing a knighthood on the ex-Muslim Salman Rushdie. The policy of the Christians holding church services in largely Muslim Indonesia. The policy of Christian workers meeting secretly for private Bible study in strictly Muslim Saudi Arabia. The policy of women anywhere going unveiled. The policy of non-Muslims remaining non-Muslim. The policy of Buddhist statues remaining Buddhist statues. The policy of somebody, somewhere in the universe, drinking a beer.
All of these things are very, very, very provocative to Islamists.

Will Hutton notes that "The West provokes Islam not by doing anything ... it provokes at least some strands of Islamic thought simply by being" (Why the West must stay true to itself," The Observer, June 17, 2007).

Indeed, not only the West, but also the rest of the non-Muslim world, for every non-Muslim place or non-Muslim person provokes the Islamists simply by being ... non-Muslim.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Paul Berman Speaks...

Cool Email
(Kool-Aid Man Image from Wikipedia)

This entry will be rather self-indulgent of me, but my excuse is that I've worked hard at blogging over the past couple of weeks and must now back off a bit in order to grade student essays.

After I had finished my eleven blog entries on Paul Berman's inquiry into Tariq Ramadan's views, I wondered if Berman himself might be interested, so I sent him a note at his New York University address:
Dear Professor Berman,

Greetings from Jeffery Hodges. I have recently read your article on Tariq Ramadan in the New Republic.

For the most part, I like your article very much (as I did your book Terror and Liberalism), differing from you only in nuances but broadly agreeing.

Also, I blogged on it here:

Paul Berman on Tariq Ramadan

From my site meter, I can see that several people went on to read your article, which I linked to. I hope that they have read you closely and been spurred to read your book Terror and Liberalism as well.

By the way, I don't expect you to read my blog. I just wanted to express appreciation for learning a lot from you and to let you know that I'm with you on the need for a war of ideas against Islamism.

This should be a point upon which the left, right, and center all agree. Sadly -- as you noted -- they don't.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges
Well, Berman replied a couple of days later:
Dear Mr Hodges,

I've seen your very interesting and perceptive blog. I appreciate the detailed attention to the piece. You raise some points (Rousseau, Romanticism, the history of Christianity), that I will want to think about, and other points where I would argue with you (the possibilities for a modern Islam, in some non-Ramadanian version).

If you ever find yourself in New York, do let me know, and we could think and argue together over a drink.


Paul Berman
In reply, I thanked him, and also elaborated a little bit on my remark about the stark alternative that Muslims face concerning shariah:
Dear Professor Berman,

Thank you for your reply and your kind words about my blog. I would certainly enjoy a discussion over a drink, but I might not be in New York for a long time. In fact -- despite my many travels -- I've never been to the 'World's Greatest City.' But perhaps you'll make a trip to Seoul sometime. I know an excellent wine bar in the Gangnam area of Seoul...

On the possibility of a modern Islam? Well, perhaps I was too rigorous about that. There are undoubtedly more possibilities than the stark alternatives that I set out. The question on shariah, however, remains the crucial one. Without enforced law, what's to prevent Islam from devolving into whatever any individual Muslim thinks that Islam is? That might not be a bad thing, but what is left of Islam in that case?

But save that for the discussion over drinks.

Thanks once again for your response. It was thoughtful of you.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges
That's where it stands -- and where it probably will remain. I probably will never find myself in New York, certainly not anytime soon, and Berman will be even less likely to visit Seoul, so discussion over a drink will have to be put off a long, long time -- perhaps so far in the future that shariah will have become the law of the land, leaving talk of discussion over a drink merely a distant memory.

Unless by 'drink', we're speaking Kool-Aid ... though probably not the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test variety popularized by Tom Wolfe and the Merry Pranksters.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A lazy morning...

National Lampoon's 72 Virgins
Coming to a Cinema Near You!
...along with protests, bomb threats, and the end of Western Civilization...
(Image from National Lampoon)

...because I have so much grading to do. Technically, that's not a lazy morning, but I really should try harder to keep up standards.

Nevertheless, today is a day to lower standards (as my students will be delighted to learn) and to introduce readers to this proposed National Lampoon movie:
National Lampoon's 72 Virgins (at You Tube)
You can read all about it at the National Lampoon site:
Two idiot college students unwittingly join an Al Qaeda cell in order to get the 72 virgins promised to terrorists when they die. From the makers of Animal House, Van Wilder, and the Vacation movies. Join the Jihad at!

Starring Adam Devine, Blake Anderson, Nick Massouh, and Madar Hajiyehbebe Davanizadeh Shabazi. Directed by Chris Cox. Produced by Justin Kanew. Written by Chris Cox, Phil Haney, Justin Kanew, Nate Larkin-Connolly, Sandy Danto, and Scott Rubin.
That site link also has the same video as at You Tube, so you need not click on both links but just on the National Lampoon one ... unless you happen to like surfing videos at You Tube and are just looking for an excuse to do so.

You can also vote at one of the National Lampoon sites on whether or not this movie should actually be made.

Al Qaeda opposes its production, but those jihadists also oppose democracy and feel constrained to not vote. It's a real dilemma for them, so if you're an Al Qaeda sympathizer, then Al Qaeda needs your vote! Go to this site and mark your opposition to the movie's production! Of course, you'll have to be executed for participating in the heresy of democracy when Al Qaeda comes to power.

Sorry about that.

Or you could simply register your opposition here at my non-democratic site and remain secure even in an Islamist future. Just click on the "comments" link below -- no, don't worry, it's not a detonator -- and post your courteous ad hominem attack against National Lampoon.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Christianity as Dressed-Up Paganism?

Speaking of Dressed Up...

A couple of weeks ago, as some will recall, I was invited to dinner with Park Wan-suh and her two translators because I had proofread and reviewed the English translation of her book Who Ate Up All Those Singa?

One of the translators, Yu Young-nan, gave me a book, Lee Dong-ha's Toy City, which Young-nan's daughter Kim Chi-young has translated and which Koryo Press has just published. Like Park's Singa book, Lee's Toy City is an autobiographical novel set in the poverty-stricken period following liberation from Japanese rule when the Americans and Russians defeated the Japanese.

One of the things that interested me is Lee Dong-ha's depiction of Christianity's role in South Korea during the 1950s. For some Koreans of the time, survival was possible only because the Protestant and Catholic churches provided a bit of food. But the fare was thin, as was also, at times, the spiritual nourishment, which could occasionally appear hardly Christian, as in the piety of one character, Reverend Cha, who dispenses some intriguing advice on prayer when the main character's grieving, pregnant mother inquires how to pray to Jesus:
"Reverend, will my boy's father and sister be able to come home if I believe in Jesus?" This was her last wish.

I clearly heard Reverend Cha's easy answer. "Yes. Just pray to Jesus. Then the day will come when the entire family can live together."

Mother asked again, cautiously, "How does one pray, Reverend?"

Reverend Cha replied breezily, "Do it like you would to the Wise Old Goddess of Maternity." (Lee Dong-ha, Toy City, page 136)
A fascinating reply, for it not only assumes that the mother will know exactly what this means but that such a pagan prayer to a goddess can provide an appropriate model for a Christian prayer to Jesus.

Perhaps this is the Shamanism just under the surface of Korean Christianity that many observers have claimed to glimpse.

Yet, in the history of Christianity throughout the world, this is nothing unusual -- even in its European development as Christians evangelized, for instance, the Anglo-Saxon tribes of England. Here's something that I wrote about this in my article "Praeparatio Evangelium: Beowulf as Antetype of Christ" (Journal of The Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Association of Korea, Volume 12, Number 2 (2004)):
In his History of the English Church and People, Book I, chapter 30, Bede cites the instructions that Pope Gregory the Great gave in A.D. 601 to Abbot Melitus for missionary work in England:
[T]he temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let water be consecrated and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed there. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more freely resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they are used to slaughter many oxen in sacrifice to devils, some solemnity must be given them in exchange for this, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they should build themselves huts of the boughs of trees about those churches which have been turned to that use from being temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer animals to the Devil, but kill cattle and glorify God in their feast, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their abundance; to the end that, whilst some outward gratifications are retained, they may the more easily consent to the inward joys. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to cut off every thing at once from their rude natures; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps. Thus the Lord made Himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt; and yet He allowed them the use, in His own worship, of the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the Devil, commanding them in His sacrifice to kill animals, to the end that, with changed hearts, they might lay aside one part of the sacrifice, whilst they retained another; and although the animals were the same as those which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to the true God, and not to idols; and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices. This then, dearly beloved, it behoves you to communicate to our aforesaid brother, that he, being placed where he is at present, may consider how he is to order all things. God preserve you in safety, most beloved son (A. M. Sellar, tr., Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England, A Revised Translation (London: George Bell and Sons, 1907), Book 1, Chapter 30).
As in Beowulf, the 'gods' are suppressed and demonized, and new content is added, but the old forms and much of the familiar world remains. Interesting in this context are Bede's remarks elsewhere about the origin of the Anglo-Saxon term for "Easter," linking it to Eostre/Eastre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of the rising sun (Venerable Bede, De Temporum Rationale, 1.5). In this instance, the name has been preserved but applied to Christ's resurrection.

Note that in the quotation above, Gregory the Great cites the Old Testament as providing a precedent for grafting Christianity onto pagan practices, a rhetorical move that allows for a bivalent reading of paganism. (Hodges, "Praeparatio," pages 321-323)
I suppose, therefore, that if one is going to see Korean Christianity as pagan Shamanism in disguise, then one could call European Christianity merely Euro-paganism in disguise, which is precisely what the Protestant Reformers claimed about the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers, of course, fractured European Christianity into broken parts through their quest for spiritual purity and political power, so there's no little irony that in their mission work throughout the world, the various Protestant groups have largely come to see the necessity of grafting Christianity onto the more 'acceptable' pagan practices that they encounter. Even tiny Bible colleges in the U.S. offer courses on the anthropology of missions that teach future missionaries how to present Christianity in ways that are culturally acceptable to the non-Christians whom they are trying to convert.

Now that Europe is 'post-Christian' -- as some claim, anyway -- and Christians turn to thoughts of re-Christianizing that continent, they face a rising Islam there within the neopagan secularism that otherwise pervades European culture. Faced with a daunting task, they aren't giving up, and they might even gather their courage from Philip Jenkins's recent work, as his article in Foreign Policy, "Europe's Christian Comeback" (June 2007), currently makes clear:
In fact, the rapid decline in the continent’s church attendance over the past 40 years may have done Europe a favor. It has freed churches of trying to operate as national entities that attempt to serve all members of society. Today, no church stands a realistic chance of incorporating everyone. Smaller, more focused bodies, however, can be more passionate, enthusiastic, and rigorously committed to personal holiness. To use a scientific analogy, when a star collapses, it becomes a white dwarf -- smaller in size than it once was, but burning much more intensely. Across Europe, white-dwarf faith communities are growing within the remnants of the old mass church.

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than within European Catholicism, where new religious currents have become a potent force. Examples include movements such as the Focolare, the Emmanuel Community, and the Neocatechumenate Way, all of which are committed to a re-evangelization of Europe. These movements use charismatic styles of worship and devotion that would seem more at home in an American Pentecostal church, but at the same time they are thoroughly Catholic. Though most of these movements originated in Spain and Italy, they have subsequently spread throughout Europe and across the Catholic world. Their influence over the younger clergy and lay leaders who will shape the church in the next generation is surprisingly strong.

Similar trends are at work within the Protestant churches of Northern and Western Europe. The most active sections of the Church of England today are the evangelical and charismatic parishes that have, in effect, become megachurches in their own right. These parishes have been incredibly successful at reaching out to a secular society that no longer knows much of anything about the Christian faith. Holy Trinity Brompton, a megaparish in Knightsbridge, London, that is now one of Britain’s largest churches, is home to the amazingly popular "Alpha Course," a means of recruiting potential converts through systems of informal networking aimed chiefly at young adults and professionals. As with the Catholic movements, the course works because it makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge: Everyone is assumed to be a new recruit in need of basic teaching. Nor does the recruitment technique assume that people live or work in traditional settings of family or employment. The Alpha Course is successfully geared for postmodern believers in a postindustrial economy.

Alongside these older Christian communities are hugely energetic immigrant congregations. On a typical Sunday, half of all churchgoers in London are African or Afro-Caribbean. Of Britain’s 10 largest megachurches, four are pastored by Africans. Paris has 250 ethnic Protestant churches, most of them black African. Similar trends are found in Germany. Booming Christian churches in Africa and Asia now focus much of their evangelical attention on Europe. Nigerian and Congolese ministers have been especially successful, but none more so than the Ukraine-based ministry of Nigerian evangelist Sunday Adelaja. He has opened more than 300 churches in 30 countries in the last 12 years and now claims 30,000 (mainly white) followers.
Well, that's certainly interesting, and a different perspective on Europe's religious future than one glimpses from the viewpoints of those many other commentors who see an Islamic future for Europe. Even the secularists are coming around as they come to appreciate Europe's Christian inheritance when faced by the great cultural difference and challenge that Islam presents:
The result has been a rediscovery of the continent’s Christian roots, even among those who have long disregarded it, and a renewed sense of European cultural Christianity. Jürgen Habermas, a veteran leftist German philosopher stunned his admirers not long ago by proclaiming, "Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."
Prompting Jenkins to remark that if a Marxist like Habermas can praise Christianity, then:
Europe may be confronting the dilemmas of a truly multifaith society, but with Christianity poised for a comeback, it is hardly on the verge of becoming an Islamic colony.
Is Jenkins right? Faced by Islam, a culturally contextual re-Christianization of neo-pagan Europe? That would take a miracle!

Sometimes, however, miracles do happen, as in the case of the fortunate Mr. Paul Potts, a mobile phone salesman from South Wales whose dream was to sing opera.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Having my facts put straight...

9/11 Attacks: Not by Islamists?
(Image from Wikipedia)

A man claiming to be Muslim and going by the name "Masoom Najiyah" (which comes up nada on Google) recently posted some comments to an old blog entry, "Speaking of Muhammad's Image..." (February 6, 2006).

Masoom was concerned that I had gotten some misinformation and wanted to put my facts straight:
FYI Muslims ARENT BEHIND 9/11 all the facts pointing to president bush. you want a Muslim to argue with you got one! ill put all your facts straight! cause at the moment your dont have a clue!
One fact that he informed me of?
Islam mean peace.
On that point, I happened to have a clue, so I replied:
I am sure that there is a lot that I don't know, and I am always willing to learn. I do know, however, that the word "Islam" does not mean "peace." It literally means "submission."
Masoom elaborated:
Islam does mean peace - through submission of Allah.
Well . . . that's what I was afraid of. Without submission to Allah -- in Masoom's view -- Islam does not mean peace. For the non-Muslim, then, "Islam" -- or, more problematically, the very religion Islam -- means submission.

According to the early Muslim writer ibn Ishaq, writing in Sirat Rasoul Allah, Muhammad ordered the poets Abu 'Afak and Asmā bint Marwān killed for writing poetry urging the Arabs of Medina not to submit to the rising power of Islam but to fight instead. Reportedly, both were assassinated -- Asmā bint Marwān being murdered by night as she lay in her bed nursing one of her infants.

Is this story true? I suppose that one might question it and argue that early Islamic leaders invented some hadith about Muhammad's action toward poets in order to justify their suppression of dissent.

Masoom, however, accepts the story:
the story you read was true Prophet (pbuh) did have her killed
And defends Muhammad's putative assassination order:
she blamed Islam and hated the followers. like i said before vilonce can only be used to defend Islam.
At that point, I didn't have any great desire to continue our 'discussion', for I wouldn't want to be accused by Masoom of blaming Islam or hating its followers, so I posted no reply and thus had to forego Masoom's factual evidence that Mohamed Atta and his companions were not really (radical) Muslims or that Osama bin Laden was lying when he claimed that 9/11 was the work of his organization Al-Qaeda. I assume, anyway, that this is what Masoom meant by stating that "Muslims ARENT BEHIND 9/11."

But Masoom needs to convince other Muslims first, and he could begin by persuading Gamal al-Banna, the 'moderate' brother of Hassan al-Banna, that Muslims had nothing to do with 9/11, for Gamal al-Banna had this to say about the attacks:
"A group of young people from the Gulf countries and Egypt [looked a American oppression of Muslims.] ... These [Muslim] youths thought of a way to teach the U.S. a lesson, in an extraordinary and unprecedented manner. Their thought guided them to a plan that the greatest American film producers would never have dreamed of: using American planes. [They would] first be trained to fly them, and then would set a plan to take over some of them and change their direction, so that they could destroy the symbol of the Americans' prosperity and false pride -- the World Trade Center. Thus this dreadful and splendid event occurred. [The event was] dreadful because within half an hour, and with a dramatic sight whose violence surpassed all imagination, the World Trade towers, that were the source of pride and fame in the U.S., were destroyed, and over 3,000 people were killed... [It was also] a splendid [event], because the ones who planned it, with all its daring and its destructive power... knew that they would be the first to die, and that within seconds after the plane crashed into the towers, their bodies would be smoke... yet they did not hesitate, and were truly 'extremely courageous.' This event marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new era. Before this era, the powerful and wealthy countries enslaved the East, plundered its wealth, killed its people, conquered its land, and transferred everything precious and valuable there to themselves, until they attained the accumulated wealth without which they would not be able to achieve such a rise in standard of living. This accumulation [of wealth by the West], which went on for two or three centuries, impoverished the East to the same extent as it enriched the West.... These countries -- [whether] the old imperialist European nations or the new global imperialist leader, the U.S. -- never feared a settling of accounts; nor did a leader of European nations or the new global imperialist leader the U.S. fear a settling of accounts, or punishment, and they refused even to apologize. But the September events opened new horizons - a new way of settling old accounts. We acknowledge that this way will harm innocents. But when are innocents taken into account when engaging in battle? ... Finally, I would like to say that a new and unfamiliar means of obtaining justice or rights was revealed by the events of September 11, and by the Palestinian incidents of martyrdom [i.e. suicide bombing]. This method will in the future certainly find its way to American and European society, as long as this society's policy is barbaric capitalism and the enslavement of the peoples. It is only a matter of time before those who carry out acts such as those of September 2001 or the Palestinians' martyrdom will come from European society itself, and not from 'Islamic fascism,' as Mr. Bush calls it. This will give no rest to the U.S. and its allies, because it is difficult to fight it... any effort they invest in fighting terrorism will be in favor of the terrorism." (Original Arabic source cited in Memri, "Inquiry and Analysis Series - No. 334," March 16, 2007, footnote 25)
I suppose that Masoom would say that Gamal al-Banna is mistaken, but I'll just stop here.

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