Archive for June 12th, 2011

June 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

by Vince

“In 1989 Joseph Brodsky gave a commencement address at Dartmouth College on the subject of boredom that has a higher truth quotient than any such address I have ever heard (or, for that matter, have myself given). Brodsky told the 1,100 Dartmouth graduates that, although they may have had some splendid samples of boredom supplied by their teachers, these would be as nothing compared with what awaits them in the years ahead. Neither originality nor inventiveness on their part will suffice to defeat the endless repetition that life will serve up to them, as it has served up to us all. Evading boredom, he pointed out, is a full-time job, entailing endless change—of jobs, geography, wives and lovers, interests—and in the end a self-defeating one. Brodksy therefore advises: “When hit by boredom, go for it. Let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom.”

The lesson boredom teaches, according to Brodsky, is that of one’s own insignificance, an insignificance brought about by one’s own finitude. We are all here a short while, and then—poof!—gone and, sooner or later, usually sooner, forgotten. Boredom “puts your existence into perspective, the net result of which is precision and humility.” Brodsky advised the students to try “to stay passionate,” for passion, whatever its object, is the closest thing to a remedy for boredom. But about one’s insignificance boredom does not deceive. Brodsky, who served 18 months of hard labor in the Soviet Union and had to have known what true boredom is, closes by telling the students that “if you find this gloomy, you don’t know what gloom is.”

“Boredom,” as Peter Toohey writes, “is a normal, useful, and incredibly common part of human experience.” Boredom is also part of the human condition, always has been, and, if we are lucky, always will be.

Live with it.”

Joseph Epstein on boredom. His whole piece is long but worth checking out.

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June 12, 2011

Some Differences Between America and Germany

by Vince

are mapped out well by Gabor Rona. This seems to be the day of subjective material:

For one thing, the two countries have different visions of the purposes of the Geneva Conventions. In the European collective memory, war is as much a scourge on civilians as on combatants. For Americans, war happens elsewhere to US combatants, not to US civilians, the last major war fought on US soil having been a century and a half ago. In Europe, human rights and “humanitarian law” (as the laws of armed conflict are known there) are part of a broader school curriculum, as the Geneva Conventions require. In the US, the “laws of war” (as they are known there) are more exclusively the province of the military and you are lucky to find it taught in law school, let alone high school.

The two countries also differ greatly on enforcement of international human rights obligations. The main European human rights treaty, the European Convention on Human Rights, is enforced by an independent court. The main human rights treaty to which the US is a party, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has no enforcement mechanism applicable to the US. Meanwhile, American courts typically refuse to enforce the Geneva Conventions and human rights law.

It is astounding that we hold other countries to such a high standard but seem to fail miserably in some major areas (human rights to name a biggie).

June 12, 2011

Our Subjective God, Ctd

by Vince

Tom Rees mulls over a study and continues this discussion:

What they found was consistent with a set up where religion makes people conservative, and that in turn makes them support torture. In other words, religion has a direct and an indirect effect. Basic religion (in their model) opposes torture, but it also religion increases support for conservative politics. As a result, it indirectly increases support for torture.

What’s more, this indirect effect was much stronger in in educated people. In educated people, religion is more likely to be linked to conservative views, and conservative views are more likely to be linked to support for torture.

In my view, the real interest in these results is that they underscore once again just how complex religion is. I think that the motives for educated people to embrace religion differ from the motives of the less educated.As a result, the kind of religion they have, and the purposes they put it too, are different.

They make religion in their own image.

June 12, 2011

Our Subjective God

by Vince

Paula Kirby went from being a devout Christian to an Atheist. She makes some interesting conclusions on God and how the masses have viewed the divine over the ages.

One of the things that had struck me during my Christian years was just how many different Christianities there are.  Not just the vast number of different sects and denominations (over 38,000 by one reckoning), but the huge amount of difference between individual Christians of the same sect or denomination, too.  The beliefs and attitudes of an evangelical, biblical, literalist Christian compared with a liberal Christian are so wildly different that we might almost be dealing with two completely different religions.

No matter what religion you believe in, you have to view God in a subjective lens:

Like every other Christian I have ever known, I had clear ideas about the kind of God I believed in and, on the basis of those ideas, I accepted certain bits of Christian dogma while utterly rejecting others.  Again, let me stress: this is par for the course.  In practice faith is always a pick-and-mix affair: believers emphasise those bits that sit comfortably with them, whilst mostly ignoring those bits that do not, or concocting elaborate interpretations to allow them to pretend they do not mean what they actually say.  So this was the question I faced up to in 2003: What was there to suggest that the version of Christianity I believed in was actually real? Was there any better evidence for the version I accepted than there was for the versions I did not?

The Bible could not help me. Both kinds of Christian – the ultra-conservative and the ultra-liberal – find abundant support for their views in the Bible provided they cherry-pick enough (and, of course, they do just that, filing the bits that don’t suit their case under the convenient headings of “Metaphor” or “Mystery”).

I myself tend to stray away from overemphasizing sin, heaven, and the like when I talk about God, my religious beliefs, and even when I am reading the Bible. Sure, the daily lectionary has me reading portions of the Bible that mention sin and heaven. I try to read up on the Greek and Hebrew, which usually have their original translation as vastness instead of heaven.

This has fostered some inner-thoughts as I have had several discussions with friends lately on the topic of same-sex marriage / homosexuality and how those two are seen or should be treated by the Bible and government. Plethora of verses are mentioned to denounce the two and I have up to this point said that they talk about pederastery, not what we know today as homosexuality. Re-reading these texts has me constantly asking questions. I try to focus on the context of the letters and laws in the Bible and keep them under the umbrellas of love, compassion, and justice. One other important topic that has played into that discussion is defining the role of marriage. Is it meant for pro-creation (child bearing) or as a covenant between two individuals? Attending a wedding can answer that question very clearly. Weddings usually mention nothing about sex or bearing children but forming a lasting relationship with your partner. If these marriage ceremonies are merely man-made, why then are they not changing in form and substance towards emphasizing “what the Bible says” about marriage?

I finish my reflection with this quote from Kirby:

This is why subjective experience cannot tell us anything about God.  Knowing what kind of god someone believes in tells us a great deal about that person – but nothing whatsoever about the truth or otherwise of the existence of any god at all.

Kirby is partially correct. Our experiences of God can tell some but not all of who God is. Looking back over time, we can see the many views of God and the roles the divine has played in people’s lives. They, just like ours, are merely reflections from a mirror, not the full picture.

June 12, 2011

Stay Cool

by Vince
June 12, 2011

Picture of the Day

by Vince

Pictured: Tyler Makarewicz , 3, left, and neighbor Jeweliana Kilpatrick, 7, play in a wading pool as Tylers’ father, Stanley Wakarewicz supervises, on Thursday, June 9, 2011, in south Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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June 12, 2011

Political Cartoon of the Day

by Vince

June 12, 2011

Society Underneath the Hood

by Vince

NYT columnist David Brooks gives a talk in England on his new book The Social Animal. It isn’t the same old same old on social networking but delves into our subconscious decision making and connections made with the world around us. If his book interests you, look for it in your local library. There are several circulating already in the York County library system.