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Orthodox Easter in Pictures

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

The BBC has a beautiful slide show of Orthodox Christian Easter celebrations all over the East. It’s worth a few moments to observe these ancient traditions that have hardly changed since the Crusaders bumbled into Constantinople.

A new book

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Mike and I have another book out from Word Among Us. It’s called Praying the Psalms with the Early Christians, and our delightfully utilitarian title should give you a good idea of what it’s all about. A good selection of psalms, each one illuminated with meditations from early Christian writers. What all these great minds have in common is that they all see Christ everywhere in the Psalms. In all our laudable historical correctness, our entirely praiseworthy quest to understand the Psalms as the original audience understood them, we often forget that they are also the first and greatest Christian hymn-book.

The Departure of the Knights

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Holy-Grail-Departure-small.jpg

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Off on a jolly adventure, the knights who have sworn to seek the Holy Grail say their farewells to the ladies of the court. Although they have been warned by the usual convenient holy man, few of the knights understand how serious this quest is, or how many of them will never come back from it. This is another tapestry (see also “The Failure of Lancelot“) designed by Burne-Jones for William Morris and company; again, I regret that I have it only in black and white from TapestriesTheir Origin, History, and Renaissance, by George Leland Hunter.

The Scuderies

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

There are better books, deeper books, more profound books, and more instructive books, but there is no better book for wasting a rainy afternoon with than Isaac Disraeli’s Curiosities of Literature.

The father of Benjamin Disraeli, the famous potboiler novelist and occasional prime minister, Isaac Disraeli was the sort of man who knew a little bit about practically everything. When he put together his enormous collection of literay trivia, he must have spent quite a bit of time trying to come up with the perfect organizaion for it. At last he hit on the happy notion of giving it no organization at all, and that is the form in which we have it today: the perfect rainy afternoon’s entertainment.

A while ago I had some things to say about Mlle de Scudery. After that, I ran across this little portrait of her and her brother in Disraeli, and I decided it might be amusing to some people who had read what I had to say about her. I think the critics Disraeli quotes are right: that one of the chief impediments to our enjoying Mlle de Scudery’s romances is not any lack of merit in the works themselves, but our lack of leisure to spend six months of full days, including Sundays, reading a single book.

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The Scuderies.

Bien heureux Scudery, dont la fertile plume
Peut tous les mois sans peine enfanter un volume.

Boileau has written this couplet on the Scuderies, the brother and sister, both famous in their day for composing romances, which they sometimes extended to ten or twelve volumes. It was the favourite literature of that period, as novels are now. Our nobility not unfrequently condescended to translate these voluminous compositions.

The diminutive size of our modern novels is undoubtedly an improvement: but, in resembling the size of primers, it were to be wished that their contents had also resembled their inoffensive pages. Our great-grandmothers were incommoded with overgrown folios; and, instead of finishing the eventful history of two lovers at one or two sittings, it was sometimes six months, including Sundays, before they could get quit of their Clelias, their Cyrus’s, and Parthenissas.

Mademoiselle Scudery had composed ninety volumes! She had even finished another romance, which she would not give the public, whose taste, she perceived, no more relished this kind of works. She was one of those unfortunate authors who, living to more than ninety years of age, survive their own celebrity.

She had her panegyrists in her day: Menage observes—”What a pleasing description has Mademoiselle Scudery made, in her Cyrus, of the little court at Rambouillet! A thousand things in the romances of this learned lady render them inestimable. She has drawn from the ancients their happiest passages, and has even improved upon them; like the prince in the fable, whatever she touches becomes gold. We may read her works with great profit, if we possess a correct taste, and love instruction. Those who censure their length only show the littleness of their judgment; as if Homer and Virgil were to be despised, because many of their books were filled with episodes and incidents that necessarily retard the conclusion. It does not require much penetration to observe that Cyrus and Clelia are a species of the epic poem. The epic must embrace a number of events to suspend the course of the narrative; which, only taking in a part of the life of the hero, would terminate too soon to display the skill of the poet. Without this artifice, the charm of uniting the greater part of the episodes to the principal subject of the romance would be lost. Mademoiselle de Scudery has so well treated them, and so aptly introduced a variety of beautiful passages, that nothing in this kind is comparable to her productions. Some expressions, and certain turns, have become somewhat obsolete; all the rest will last for ever, and outlive the criticisms they have undergone.”

Menage has here certainly uttered a false prophecy. The curious only look over her romances. They contain doubtless many beautiful inventions; the misfortune is, that time and patience are rare requisites for the enjoyment of these Iliads in prose.

“The misfortune of her having written too abundantly has occasioned an unjust contempt,” says a French critic. “We confess there are many heavy and tedious passages in her voluminous romances; but if we consider that in the Clelia and the Artamene are to be found inimitable delicate touches, and many splendid parts, which would do honour to some of our living writers, we must acknowledge that the great defects of all her works arise from her not writing in an age when taste had reached the acmé of cultivation. Such is her erudition, that the French place her next to the celebrated Madame Dacier. Her works, containing many secret intrigues of the court and city, her readers must have keenly relished on their early publication.”

Her Artamene, or the Great Cyrus, and principally her Clelia, are representations of what then passed at the court of France. The Map of the Kingdom of Tenderness, in Clelia, appeared, at the time, as one of the happiest inventions. This once celebrated map is an allegory which distinguishes the different kinds of Tenderness, which are reduced to Esteem, Gratitude, and Inclination. The map represents three rivers, which have these three names, and on which are situated three towns called Tenderness: Tenderness on Inclination; Tenderness on Esteem; and Tenderness on Gratitude. Pleasing Attentions, or, Petits Soins, is a village very beautifully situated. Mademoiselle de Scudery was extremely proud of this little allegorical map; and had a terrible controversy with another writer about its originality.

George Scudery, her brother, and inferior in genius, had a striking singularity of character:—he was one of the most complete votaries to the universal divinity, Vanity. With a heated imagination, entirely destitute of judgment, his military character was continually exhibiting itself by that peaceful instrument the pen, so that he exhibits a most amusing contrast of ardent feelings in a cool situation; not liberally endowed with genius, but abounding with its semblance in the fire of eccentric gasconade; no man has portrayed his own character with a bolder colouring than himself, in his numerous prefaces and addresses; surrounded by a thousand self-illusions of the most sublime class, everything that related to himself had an Homeric grandeur of conception.

In an epistle to the Duke of Montmorency, Scudery says, “I will learn to write with my left hand, that my right hand may more nobly be devoted to your service;” and alluding to his pen (plume), declares “he comes from a family who never used one, but to stick in their hats.” When he solicits small favours from the great, he assures them “that princes must not think him importunate, and that his writings are merely inspired by his own individual interest; no! (he exclaims) I am studious only of your glory, while I am careless of my own fortune.” And indeed, to do him justice, he acted up to these romantic feelings. After he had published his epic of Alaric, Christina of Sweden proposed to honour him with a chain of gold of the value of five hundred pounds, provided he would expunge from his epic the eulogiums he bestowed on the Count of Gardie, whom she had disgraced. The epical soul of Scudery magnanimously scorned the bribe, and replied, that “If the chain of gold should be as weighty as that chain mentioned in the history of the Incas, I will never destroy any altar on which I have sacrificed!”

Proud of his boasted nobility and erratic life, he thus addresses the reader: “You will lightly pass over any faults in my work, if you reflect that I have employed the greater part of my life in seeing the finest parts of Europe, and that I have passed more days in the camp than in the library. I have used more matches to light my musket than to light my candles; I know better to arrange columns in the field than those on paper; and to square battalions better than to round periods.” In his first publication, he began his literary career perfectly in character, by a challenge to his critics!

He is the author of sixteen plays, chiefly heroic tragedies; children who all bear the features of their father. He first introduced, in his “L’Amour Tyrannique,” a strict observance of the Aristotelian unities of time and place; and the necessity and advantages of this regulation are insisted on, which only shows that Aristotle’s art goes but little to the composition of a pathetic tragedy. In his last drama, “Arminius,” he extravagantly scatters his panegyrics on its fifteen predecessors; but of the present one he has the most exalted notion: it is the quintessence of Scudery! An ingenious critic calls it “The downfall of mediocrity!” It is amusing to listen to this blazing preface:—”At length, reader, nothing remains for me but to mention the great Arminius which I now present to you, and by which I have resolved to close my long and laborious course. It is indeed my masterpiece! and the most finished work that ever came from my pen; for whether we examine the fable, the manners, the sentiments, or the versification, it is certain that I never performed anything so just, so great, nor more beautiful; and if my labours could ever deserve a crown, I would claim it for this work!”

The actions of this singular personage were in unison with his writings: he gives a pompous description of a most unimportant government which he obtained near Marseilles, but all the grandeur existed only in our author’s heated imagination. Bachaumont and De la Chapelle describe it, in their playful “Voyage:”

Mais il faut vous parler du fort,
Qui sans doute est une merveille;
C’est notre dame de la garde!
Gouvernement commode et beau,
A qui suffit pour tout garde,
Un Suisse avec sa hallebarde
Peint sur la porte du château!

A fort very commodiously guarded; only requiring one sentinel with his halbert—painted on the door!

In a poem on his disgust with the world, he tells us how intimate he has been with princes: Europe has known him through all her provinces; he ventured everything in a thousand combats:

L’on me vit obeïr, l’on me vit commander,
Et mon poil tout poudreux a blanchi sons les armes;
Il est peu de beaux arts où je ne sois instruit;
En prose et en vers, mon nom fit quelque bruit;
Et par plus d’un chemin je parvins à la gloire.

IMITATED.

Princes were proud my friendship to proclaim,
And Europe gazed, where’er her hero came!
I grasp’d the laurels of heroic strife,
The thousand perils of a soldier’s life;
Obedient in the ranks each toilful day!
Though heroes soon command, they first obey.

‘Twas not for me, too long a time to yield!
Born for a chieftain in the tented field!
Around my plumed helm, my silvery hair
Hung like an honour’d wreath of age and care!
The finer arts have charm’d my studious hours,
Versed in their mysteries, skilful in their powers;
In verse and prose my equal genius glow’d,
Pursuing glory by no single road!

Such was the vain George Scudery! whose heart, however, was warm: poverty could never degrade him; adversity never broke down his magnanimous spirit!

The miracle of death

Friday, February 13th, 2009

<meta content="OpenOffice.org 2.4 (Linux)" name="GENERATOR" /><br /> <style type="text/css"> <!-- @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } --> </style> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">My old pal Death has been hanging around quite a bit lately, calling to various friends and relations, waiting patiently for them to make up their minds.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">It happens that I heard a rather good sermon on miracles yesterday, so I’ve been thinking about death and miracles.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Very often when someone we love is dying we pray for a “miracle”—something that will somehow prevent the death. But isn’t death sometimes—or even very often—the miracle we’re really praying for?</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Fatal diseases, or potentially fatal ones, can be very unpleasant and unsettling. The pain may be unbearable, and the indecision and ignorance can be paralyzing. How do we fight the disease? Can it be fought at all? Should we give up the fight and focus on managing the pain? How can we possibly make a decision like that?</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">But then comes death, and the pain and confusion give way to peace and clarity. All must die; the question is merely when. Now, for that one particular case, we know the answer.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">A good death really is a miracle. Time intersects with eternity, and one soul makes the trip from one to the other. Peace and clarity can come just before death; nurses who have a lot of experience with these things tell me it’s not just possible, but probable. A Lutheran pastor told me that he has seen many people who had no faith or religious formation, who could not bring themselves even to think of death because it filled them with dread, suddenly show a peaceful and even happy serenity as death approaches, as though they had been granted a certainty that the rest of us are not ready for. These are miracles.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">The story of every human life ends with death—but only for us, earthbound as we are. We can glimpse eternity from far off, but we can’t make out the details of it.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">The story of Lancelot’s Grail quest quite properly ends with his death, since his story is the story of every human life. And his death is suitably miraculous.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Remember that Lancelot’s sin destroyed, not just his friendship with Arthur, not just Arthur’s and Guinevere’s marriage, but the world. That was the consequence of his sin: the whole world of Camelot was broken in pieces. Lancelot spent the rest of his life—not a terribly long time—repenting of that sin. It took the destruction of everything he loved to bring him to repentance, but his repentance was honest and real.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">This is the real miracle: a death that leads from despair to peace, from doubt to certainty, from death to life. Sometimes our friends are saved from the brink of death by the intervention of doctors, or by inexplicably miraculous recoveries; but those are little miracles, hardly worthy of the name, when we stack them up against the miracle of a good death. We should remember that when we pray “your will be done,” and we should pray it with the complete conviction that God’s will is more wonderful than anything we can possibly imagine.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">[I wrote this article two weeks ago, and since then the miracle we were waiting for has come to pass. Looking back on what I wrote, I can see nothing to change, and I give thanks that I was led not only to accept the inevitable, but to embrace it, however imperfectly and unwillingly.]</p> </div> <p class="postmetadata">Posted in <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/category/blog" title="View all posts in Blog Posts" rel="category tag">Blog Posts</a> | <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/the-miracle-of-death#comments" title="Comment on The miracle of death">196 Comments »</a></p> </div> <div class="post"> <h3 id="post-165"><a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/intellectual-property-gone-mad" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to Intellectual property gone mad">Intellectual property gone mad</a></h3> <small>Tuesday, January 1st, 2008</small> <div class="entry"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">I usually stay out of politics on line, because I think it distracts from the messages I consider more important. You don’t have to know whether I’m a Republican or a Democrat—or Labour or Tory or Lib Dem, or Progressive Conservative or Regressive Liberal, or whatever the parties are in your part of the world. You can just assume that I agree with everything you believe, and you don’t have to know that I always vote straight Bull Moose. (Anyway, that’s a lie. I don’t have many opportunities to vote Bull Moose, and when I have them I don’t take them. It is literally true that a candidate for city council in my rather colorful district ran on the Bull Moose ticket a few years ago, but I didn’t vote for him. That’s as much of my voting record as I care to divulge right now.)</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">But once in a while I do take a stand on issues I consider both important and relevant. For example, I came out <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/a-plea-to-the-nations">against throwing bloggers in jail</a>, on the important and relevant grounds that I am a blogger and don’t want to go to jail. There, in a nutshell, are my criteria for importance and relevance: namely, blatant self-interest.</p> <p align="left" style="margin-bottom: 0in">Now it’s time to talk about another area that engages my blatant self-interest: intellectual property. In this area I admit that my views are on the wacky radical side. I believe that the purpose of copyright and patent law is not to build up dynasties of intellectual-property billionaires, but to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. Since I’m an unreliable radical, however, let’s see what powers the founders of the United States of America gave Congress in this area. Let’s see—here it is: “<a href="http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#A1Sec8">To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.</a>” Well, what do you know.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Remember those words as I tell you that the government of Egypt is moving to <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7160057.stm">“copyright” Egypt’s ancient monuments</a>.</p> <p style="margin-left: 0.49in; margin-bottom: 0in">Egypt’s MPs [the BBC tells us] are expected to pass a law requiring royalties be paid whenever copies are made of museum pieces or ancient monuments such as the pyramids.</p> <p style="margin-left: 0.49in; margin-bottom: 0in">Zahi Hawass, who chairs Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told the BBC the law would apply in all countries.</p> <p style="margin-left: 0.49in; margin-bottom: 0in">The money was needed to maintain thousands of pharaonic sites, he said.</p> <p style="margin-left: 0.49in; margin-bottom: 0in">Correspondents say the law will deal a blow to themed resorts across the world where large-scale copies of Egyptian artefacts are a crowd-puller.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Now, I’ve never met Dr. <a href="http://www.guardians.net/hawass/">Zahi Hawass</a>, but he’s one of my heroes. He combines scientific rigor and vast learning with a theatrical flair that succeeds in conveying the excitement of history and archaeology. He has his own <a href="http://www.guardians.net/hawass/Fan_Club/index.htm">fan club</a>. How many archaeologists can say that? It’s true that he’s made a lot of enemies, but that seems to be mostly because he doesn’t have much patience for people whose standards don’t meet his own. The people who think Martians built the pyramids positively hate Dr. Hawass, and I’m sure that’s fine by him.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">I’ve given Dr. Hawass such a big buildup because I’m disagreeing with him here, and I want to make it clear that I don’t ordinarily take it upon myself to disagree with someone who’s both an august authority and an international media phenomenon. One or the other, but usually not both.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">But the precedent for copyright laws, and intellectual property in general, is very bad if people take this Egyptian initiative seriously. Works of art, literature, and architecture should belong exclusively to their creators for limited times, because artists, writers, and architects have to make a living somehow. From society’s or government’s point of view, the purpose of such exclusive copyrights is to encourage the growth of art and literature.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">But that exclusivity can’t and doesn’t need to be indefinite. After a certain time, the original creator is dead, and the exclusive copyright can’t possibly encourage him to create anything more. Works of lasting value become part of our heritage. All art progresses by learning from the works that have come before. Every great artist, at least until the past few generations, learned to paint by copying the works of old masters. The plots of Shakespeare’s plays are taken almost entirely from older sources, to be transformed by his genius into things far greater than the originals.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">There are no monuments more ancient than the monuments of Egypt. If those are to be “copyrighted,” then there is no time limit at all on copyright. If people who did not build the Pyramids can, thousands of years after they were built, begin to demand a fee for representations of them, then there is no more culture. Anyone with enough power and chutzpah can take any human accomplishment out of the domain of shared human heritage and demand royalties for it. Artists can no longer paint views of <a href="http://www.cmoa.org/searchcollections/imageview.aspx?image=9889&irn=1032997">ancient ruins</a>; calligraphers can no longer copy the inscription on <a href="http://hans.presto.tripod.com/isbn/trajan.html">Trajan’s column</a>; architects can no longer use elements of ancient monuments in <a href="http://fatherpitt.wordpress.com/2007/12/08/the-gulf-building/">new and unusual ways</a>; poets and novelists can no longer <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Odyssey:_A_Modern_Sequel">re-imagine Homer</a>; hacks like me can no longer bring the literary wealth of the Middle Ages to a <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/how-to-order-the-book/">new audience</a>. My wife wouldn’t even have the rights to her high-school graduation photos, since she went to high school in Cairo and graduated in front of the Pyramids. Culture, in short, grinds to a halt, because culture grows by building on the great accomplishments of our ancestors.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Fortunately, as justifiably high as Dr. Hawass’ <a href="http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/757/profile.htm">opinion of himself</a> is, he can’t really make a law that “applies in all countries.” There are reciprocal treaties that govern intellectual property, to be sure, but the United States, for one, cannot make a treaty that abrogates its own constitution. I am not a constitutional scholar, but the words “for limited times” must have some meaning, and if the Pyramids can be under copyright in the United States then there is no limit. I don’t think our Supreme Court would allow any copyright claims to be enforced in such obvious violation of the letter of the Constitution. But then I’ve disagreed with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution before, and where has it got me? I’m keeping an eye on this issue.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> </div> <p class="postmetadata">Posted in <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/category/blog" title="View all posts in Blog Posts" rel="category tag">Blog Posts</a> | <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/intellectual-property-gone-mad#comments" title="Comment on Intellectual property gone mad">3 Comments »</a></p> </div> <div class="post"> <h3 id="post-158"><a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/silly-or-not-silly" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to Silly or not silly?">Silly or not silly?</a></h3> <small>Friday, October 26th, 2007</small> <div class="entry"> <p class="MsoNormal">It’s time to play everyone’s favorite game, “Silly or Not Silly,” in which we mock other people’s sincerely held religious beliefs.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">People sometimes ask me, “Is it right to mock the sincerely held religious beliefs of others?” And I answer, “Yes, it is, if they’re silly.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal">But everything hinges on how we define “silly,” doesn’t it? And it’s very hard to put a definition into words that will distinguish what makes one set of beliefs silly and another not silly.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Perhaps the best way to get a feeling for the distinction is by looking at a few examples.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"> <p class="MsoNormal">Christianity: Not silly.</p> <blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal">“<a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/grails-everywhere-you-look">Those cars weren’t made for the sinners, they were made for the righteous</a>”: Silly.</p> </blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal"> <p class="MsoNormal">Traditional Sioux religion: Not silly.</p> <blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal">Herds of Rayon-clad suburbanites in fume-belching SUVs stampeding down to a little zoo in the countryside outside Pittsburgh to hear what the <a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06344/745017-85.stm">white buffalo</a> has to say to them: Silly.</p> </blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal"> <p class="MsoNormal">Darwinian evolution: Not silly.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Energy, in physics, as the capacity to work: Not silly.</p> <blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal">Practically everything anyone says about “evolution” or “energy” in a “<a href="http://www.pointoflight.com/">journal of meaningful living</a>”: Silly.</p> </blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal"> <p class="MsoNormal">Ancient Maya cosmology and mathematics: Not silly.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Ancient Hindu philosophy: Not silly.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Christianity: Again, not silly.</p> <blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal">Pittsburgh new-agers gathering in the West End to celebrate some milestone in the Maya calendar by transmitting energy through the crown chakra in order to bring about the return of Christ consciousness, prepare for the next stage in human evolution, and celebrate the Four Rivers (one of them spiritual) of Pittsburgh as a mirror of the Milky Way Galaxy: Silly.</p> </blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal"> <p class="MsoNormal">Looking at these examples, I think we can begin to see what distinguishes certain systems of belief as “silly.” Well-developed and internally consistent systems of belief taught and expanded by generations of the wisest minds in ancient cultures are inherently not silly. That’s true even if you believe they’re false. A Hindu would say that Christian theology is at best an imperfect understanding of the world, but Hindu philosophers admire the subtle wisdom of Christ and never hesitate to say so. Likewise, Christians may not approve of the ancient Maya religion, which included liberal doses of human sacrifice; but no one can say that it was silly, and no one can fail to marvel at the brilliant Maya mathematicians who calculated numbers in the billions when Europeans were still struggling to <a href="http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/Roman_arithmetic">multiply CXLVI by LXXIV</a>.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">But when people raid these ancient systems of belief, take a few technical terms and a misinterpreted idea or two, and toss them all in the blender on the “puree” setting, the result is always silly.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">In fact, we can put the matter more simply than that. Swallowing a religion whole is not silly; cherry-picking the bits of it you want to believe is silly.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">That’s a very hard saying for Americans to hear. People like me are used to being told we should think for ourselves. We bristle at the idea of someone else telling us what we should believe. Why, that’s fascist or communist or something, isn’t it?</p> <p class="MsoNormal">But what does the Bible say about it? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That’s so important the Bible says it at least twice, once in Psalm 111:10 and once in Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 1:7 gives us the almost identical variant “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Now, scientists instinctively know that principle. Not that all scientists even believe in God, although probably most of them do. (It depends, of course, on how you define “scientist”; if you’re an atheist who defines “scientist” as “someone who doesn’t believe in God,” you’ll come up with a different result.) But scientists know that you can’t build your own wisdom on nothing. You can’t decide what you want to believe about physics without first learning the accumulated knowledge of generations of orthodox physicists. You can’t learn what you need to know about dentistry without first accepting that dentistry is already a well-developed science about which your knowledge is less than adequate.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Or, in more general terms, you can’t learn anything until you accept that you have something to learn.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">That’s why cherry-picking bits of different religions according to your own whims invariably leads to silliness. When you pick just the beliefs you like from a cafeteria of religions, you’re merely confirming your own prejudices. You don’t learn anything at all, because you never admit any ideas into your mind that weren’t there already. And a closed mind feeding on itself is—well, it tends to be rather silly.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Lancelot (funny how I managed to work him in after 750 words or so) spends the first half of Walter Map’s giant Lancelot cycle pretty well convinced that he knows what’s what. It takes the quest for the Holy Grail to teach him that he has something to learn. Only after he has failed abjectly in his quest is he willing to admit that he doesn’t know everything.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">That’s a classic conversion experience. It’s exactly the opposite of the middlebrow cafeteria approach to religion. Instead of picking the beliefs that correspond most closely to what he’s sure he already knows, Lancelot finally realizes that there’s a gaping emptiness inside him, and prays that it might be filled. He acknowledges that the wisdom outside himself is greater than the wisdom inside himself. He’s ready to learn.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">And that is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The truly wise, like Socrates and Solomon, know that they know nothing. Until we’re willing to admit the possibility of a wisdom greater than our own, we’ll never learn anything at all. And if we can’t learn anything, then we’ll never really have the precious freedom to choose what we believe.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"> </div> <p class="postmetadata">Posted in <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/category/blog" title="View all posts in Blog Posts" rel="category tag">Blog Posts</a> | <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/silly-or-not-silly#comments" title="Comment on Silly or not silly?">10 Comments »</a></p> </div> <div class="post"> <h3 id="post-140"><a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/ingmar-bergman" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to Ingmar Bergman">Ingmar Bergman</a></h3> <small>Thursday, August 2nd, 2007</small> <div class="entry"> <p class="MsoNormal">So Ingmar Bergman finally lost that chess game. And If you have any idea what I’m talking about, it’s because Mr. Bergman created one of the most memorable allegories of all time: the image of a man playing chess with Death, holding off the inevitable as long as he can. Countless millions have seen <em><a href="http://decentfilms.com/sections/reviews/1821">The Seventh Seal</a>,</em> but many times that number recognize the image of chess with Death without ever having seen the movie.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">I have little to add to the torrent of tributes, except to say that allegory is our business here at GrailCode.com, so it seems like nothing less than a duty to acknowledge the life of one of the great masters of allegory—especially one who so valiantly fought an age that had little patience for the stuff. If you’ve avoided seeing <em>The Seventh Seal</em> because you expected unbearable bleakness, see it now. It’s full of tough questions, like the Book of Job, and it doesn’t give us straight answers. But it’s also full of unexpected beauty and hope and joy, just like life.</p> </div> <p class="postmetadata">Posted in <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/category/blog" title="View all posts in Blog Posts" rel="category tag">Blog Posts</a> | <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/ingmar-bergman#respond" title="Comment on Ingmar Bergman">No Comments »</a></p> </div> <div class="post"> <h3 id="post-136"><a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/this-simply-prodigy" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to This simply prodigy!">This simply prodigy!</a></h3> <small>Monday, July 16th, 2007</small> <div class="entry"> <p class="MsoNormal">Every once in a while I check out the spam comments to make sure nothing legitimate has been excluded. For some reason, our automatic spam blocker stopped this perfectly delightful comment:</p> <blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal">The Regard! The Excellent forum! Thank you! This simply prodigy! I am glad to find this forum! So interesting there was that I fell asleep…</p> </blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal">Yes, a lot of people have said the same thing, but not in such delightful words. And not accompanied with so much helpful information on where to obtain certain prescription medications without the bother of making an appointment with a doctor.</p> </div> <p class="postmetadata">Posted in <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/category/blog" title="View all posts in Blog Posts" rel="category tag">Blog Posts</a> | <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/this-simply-prodigy#comments" title="Comment on This simply prodigy!">4 Comments »</a></p> </div> <div class="post"> <h3 id="post-132"><a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/the-only-way" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to The only way">The only way</a></h3> <small>Friday, July 13th, 2007</small> <div class="entry"> <p class="MsoNormal">So the Bishop of Rome has endorsed a <a href="http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html">Vatican statement</a> saying that the Protestant churches are imperfect or defective and the Roman Catholic Church is the only true way to salvation, and of course the Protestants are furious.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">At least that’s what you heard from the news services.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">From a very early age—kindergarten or so, I think—journalists learn that you have to have something called “balance” in your reporting. What that means is that, if someone says X, you have to find someone else to say not-X, and then your story is balanced. You don’t try to figure out whether X or not-X is true or reasonable or even coherent, because that wouldn’t be objective.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">So when Pope Benedict says that the Protestant churches are defective, your job as a journalist is to find some Protestant who’s outraged by the Pope’s statement and quote him as saying that Protestants aren’t defective at all, thank you very much. Then your job is done.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">But what if (hypothetically) there were more than one kind of Protestant? What if not all of them agreed? What if some of them understood perfectly what the Bishop of Rome was saying and why he was saying it?</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Let’s hope that’s not true. It would make journalism almost like work.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">All right, I’ll stop being sarcastic now. Listen up, you journalists, because I’m about to impart wisdom.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Since you know that Christians believe different things, it shouldn’t come as an awful surprise to discover that Christians believe different things.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Why do I always have to resort to tautology with you journalists? Is it the only kind of logic you can follow?</p> <p class="MsoNormal">I know I said I was going to stop being sarcastic, but I lied.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">If the Pope truly believed that, say, the Methodist Church was the true Church of Christ, deviating in no way from what Christ had meant his Church to be—well, he’d be a Methodist, wouldn’t he? He sure wouldn’t be the Pope.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">And—on the other hand—if your local Methodist bishop believed that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Roman Catholic Church, and that Catholicism was really the proper route to heaven, then she’d be a Roman Catholic, wouldn’t she?</p> <p class="MsoNormal">You don’t have to pick sides in the debate to see that there actually is a debate. Christians don’t agree, and that’s why we’re divided.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">So what’s the cure for the division? It’s certainly not just smiling and pretending not to notice the problem. No, the first step toward a reconciliation is a clear statement of what everybody believes. Only by being absolutely clear about what we believe can we begin to understand each other.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">When the joint Lutheran and Catholic statement on justification (see it <a href="http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html">here</a> or <a href="http://www.elca.org/ecumenical/ecumenicaldialogue/romancatholic/jddj/declaration.html">here</a>) came out a few years ago, it was hailed—rightly—as a giant step for ecumenism. Justification, after all, was the club with which Catholics and Lutherans had been bludgeoning each other for nearly five hundred years. How could they possibly come to an agreement? Not by wallpapering over the differences and pasting cardboard smiles on their faces, but by rigorously and painstakingly defining what each side believed, and then working hard to investigate the implications of those beliefs. Lutherans say that we are saved by faith alone, but every Lutheran I know immediately points out that faith apart from works is dead. Perhaps, the participants in the dialogue thought, we mean two different things by “faith,” and we’ve been arguing about definitions. That sort of productive investigation can’t happen unless both sides are very precise about their own beliefs.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">By now all the journalists in the audience have dropped off to sleep, because that last paragraph was more than five lines long. For the rest of us, though, Catholics and Protestants, I say this: Don’t pretend we all agree just because it might make life more pleasant in the short run. That Potemkin façade will crumble pretty quickly, and the old disagreements will still be there underneath, rotting our false unity from within. Instead, start the hard work now: define what you believe very precisely, and try to understand what the other side really believes, too. The Bishop of Rome is showing us the way.</p> </div> <p class="postmetadata">Posted in <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/category/blog" title="View all posts in Blog Posts" rel="category tag">Blog Posts</a> | <a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/the-only-way#comments" title="Comment on The only way">3 Comments »</a></p> </div> <div class="navigation"> <div class="alignleft"><a href="http://www.grailcode.com/archives/category/blog/page/2" >« Previous Entries</a></div> <div class="alignright"></div> </div> </div> </td> </tr> </table> </td> <td width="175" valign="top" bgcolor="#CCCCCC"> <div align="center"> <p><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0829421599/mikeaquilina-20"> <img src="http://www.grailcode.com/book.jpg" width="100" height="160"></a></p> <p><a href="/index.php"><em>Home</em></a><em><br> <span class="sdbar"> <li class="page_item page-item-16"><a href="http://www.grailcode.com/christopher-bailey" title="About the Authors">About the Authors</a></li> 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