“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”— Frank Herbert Beginning. Middle. Ending. In a good book, all three rush by and you turn that final page satisfied, disappointed, or wanting more. Today marks the end of Education & Culture. The beginning was unexpected, Read More
Religion & Theology
While Father Hartley’s original and primary focus was on evangelism, over his first few years in the DR, he began to see that evangelism and social activism could not be separated. To teach his parishioners that they were beloved children of God, created in God’s image, without advocating for their full personhood politically, their full human rights, was not possible. And so along with celebrating mass every day, baptizing and catechizing, and building a church, the father also sought to provide food, education, and medical care. He worked closely with Noemí Méndez, a lawyer who spent her early life in the bateyes, to attempt to bring legal justice to the stateless Haitians. The powerful plantation owners . . . pretended to cooperate, but ultimately ended up blocking the priest at every turn, leading the calls for him to leave the country.
In his mid-thirties, the late French thinker René Girard experienced an intellectual and religious conversion, which he credited with granting him the dense insight he would gradually unfold over a wide-ranging career as a literary critic, anthropologist, and Christian apologist. In “Everything Came to Me at Once,” cultural journalist Cynthia L. Haven gives us an elegant, accessible account of Girard’s transformation from skeptical nonbeliever to Catholic Christian. The slender booklet is excerpted from Evolution of Desire, her full-length biography of Girard, to be published by Michigan State University Press in the spring of 2018. Yet it stands on its own as a look into events that changed a young professor’s life, and as a test case of Girard’s own thesis that the highest forms of literary and intellectual creation spring from a humbling deflation of pride.
As a Camaldolese Benedictine oblate or lay member of an order of contemplative monks, I’ve been grappling for over twenty years with the conundrum of how to live more contemplatively. Three practices in particular have helped me resist the distractions listed above. First, I have developed a love of solitude and silence, which means that for part of every day I am free to live and work outside the limelight and away from the constant chatter. Second, I have slowly embraced simplicity through reducing choices and turning down the dial on constant stimulation. And third, I have learned to question my high expectations and consequently become more satisfied with what comes to me in its own way and time through a daily practice of lectio divina.
[I]n a strange way God’s decree of exile begins to look pitying as well as penal. Barring Adam and Eve from access to immortality and thus guaranteeing their eventual demise, God offers them mortality as a gift: they no longer need to fear the terror of living forever in a state of rebellion and curse. “Death,” as the parody Twitter account Werner Twertzog recently quipped, presumably not intending to summarize Genesis 3 as neatly as it did, “is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Robert Knapp . . . shows convincingly that the better we understand the thought-worlds of ordinary ancient people, whether Jews, Christians, or pagans/polytheists, the less distinctive do the various categories become. Whatever the labels used to identify them, polytheists, Jews, and Christians inhabited very similar worlds of “gods and miracles,” and any credible account of subsequent religious developments has to be grounded in that fact.
Getting people to commit themselves and their resources to tackling pressing social problems can be a very good thing, but when it turns out that “tackling” never quite amounts to “solving,” we can be left with such bitterness, frustration, and anger that we might wonder if the original project is even worthwhile. I think what Niebuhr’s body of work suggests, and this might be his greatest gift to us, is that it is often indeed worth it, since to ignore those pressing problems amounts to violating Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors, but that it will just as often disappoint us, sometimes deeply.
Even when set aside the other border states, Palmyra’s history is distinctive, not least because of its extraordinary economic basis. That power proved both a blessing and a curse. In the 3rd century AD, the city stood at a crest of a wave, leaving it superbly placed to benefit from the near collapse of the Roman Empire between about 240 and 270. Just how appallingly bad those years were is difficult to exaggerate. Upstart emperors came and went with depressing rapidity; at least fourteen reigned between 235 and 270, all of whom died violently, except for two fortunate souls who succumbed to plague. The currency collapsed. In 251, the Emperor Decius died fighting Scythians and Goths, and in 260, his successor Valerian was defeated and captured (at Edessa) by the Persian king, who exhibited his Roman counterpart as a trophy and plaything.
Illuminating Women, with its surprising take on tired medieval stereotypes, might . . . be called a curatorial equivalent to Gal Gadot’s fresh and successful 2017 performance as Diana, Queen of the Amazons, this same summer. But the analogies stop there. For whereas in Wonder Woman, Hippolyta had to beg the male Zeus to grant her the right for her daughter Diana to be born, medieval women . . . knew the reverse to be true: God had asked Mary for the right to be born of her. Indeed, unlike a film about an imagined single goddess, the women who commissioned and sometimes created these manuscripts were real, and there were lots of them.
Empson’s academic career in England was over, at least for the time being, and the best job he could find . . . was a teaching position in the booming city of Tokyo. And it was while teaching there, in 1932, that he visited the old city of Nara, where, as Rupert Arrowsmith says in his introduction to The Face of the Buddha, “the beauty of a particular set of Buddhist sculptures struck Empson with a revelatory force.” And thus began a curious detour in his career, a project that occupied him off and on for more than a decade before it eventuated in a book whose manuscript was promptly lost, by a drunkenly careless friend, and only recovered twenty years after Empson’s death.