Wednesday, July 31, 2002
THE X-FILES & SPIRITUAL DILETTANTES
The always interesting Norwegian Blogger has a recent piece on the phenomenon of The X-Files and Laziness: religious sentiment among many today consists of knowing there is something spiritual out there, but being too lazy to find out what it is. Norwegian Blogger is right on target with this. A vague and flabby faith is indeed what many in the West have, which can be mistaken for secularism and is on the whole not a good thing. But while it's certainly a start, I don't think that simply a willingness to go out to look for what this "something" might be is the remedy. There is after all a subgroup of this X-Files & Laziness crowd:
They know something spiritual is out there, and are willing and interested enough to look around for it, but do not want to seriously commit themselves to whatever it is.
These are what I call spiritual dilettantes. They are very interested in spirituality and may devote a good amount of time to investigating various religions, but in the end they merely skip around from belief to belief without delving deeply into them and especially not giving them truly serious consideration. (I suspect many Unitarians are in this category.) They are ultimately false seekers because their seeking is an end in itself rather than the means for attaining the greater goal of uncovering The Truth.
So why this insincere seeking? For some, it may be due to the belief that the Truth cannot be known, or at least that it is extremely difficult to find in anything more than a partial and piecemeal way (more on this in a moment). For others, it may come from a discomfort and fear with the thought of committing fully to a single belief system, especially a demanding one. Serious commitment is a challenging matter and requires giving up the appealing convenience of ambiguous beliefs. As C.S. Lewis puts it in Miracles:
It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. "Look out!" we cry, "it's alive." And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back - I would have done so myself if I could - and proceed no further with Christianity. An "impersonal God" - well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads - better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap - best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband - that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was there a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion ("Man's search for God"!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?
Then too, there is a certain cachet to being a seeker these days. Celebrities are quick to reveal their ongoing "search for meaning", and seekers are credited with such praiseworthy traits as openmindedness and an appreciation of diversity. People are much less laudatory when you become so gauche as to settle on a set of definite beliefs, especially if you choose a politically incorrect religion such as traditional Christianity.
There is an interesting tie-in to The X-Files in all this: As Shoot the Messenger notes, one of the show's major themes is the elusiveness of truth. Mulder and Scully are constantly on the verge of grasping the full truth only to have it slip out of their fingers, and those fragments of truth they do manage to attain are always a little suspect. This demonstrates both the presence of this view of elusive and perhaps unobtainable truth in society at large and one example of how false seeking is reinforced.
So in the end, overcoming The X-Files & Laziness requires not just an interest in seeking the truth, but also a willingness to commit to whatever it is one finds.
The X-Files & Transcendent Worship
Another Shoot the Messenger essay on The X-Files argues that the show's popularity demonstrates a widespread thirst for mystery and transcendence that Christian worship is not addressing but should in order to speak more deeply to the current generation. The case for this dearth of subliminity in Christianity as a whole, however, is overstated, for this type of worship is very much present in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy and (at least in its traditional, non-yuppie-fied forms) Catholic liturgy, and these two denominations constitute the majority of Christians. (Interestingly, my discussions with converts to Orthodoxy supports the article's contention, since they say it is precisely this transcendent liturgy that created their initial interest.)
In Protestant denominations, however, transcendent worship is indeed hard to find, and I would argue that this is inevitable and very difficult to remedy given their general rejection of sacramental liturgy. Take away sacraments and your worship will consist of little more than a sermon sandwich, i.e. a sermon bookended by singing. This stripped-down worship makes it challenging to implement the suggested solutions, such as this one:
We need such a reverent and expectant administration of the Lord's supper that... there is a real presence of Jesus Christ... objectively and really present at his table and among his people, coming to meet us, ready to make himself known in the breaking of the bread, anxious to give himself to the believer, that we feed on him in our hearts by faith.
Those Protestant denominations who do have some form of Eucharist tend to see it as a symbolic and dispensible reenactment, little different than a gradeschool play, rather than a sacramental vehicle immersing the believer in divine grace. Given this mindset, I have little hope that this vision could be implemented. How can there be a sense of a "real presence" without holding to the Real Presence? The necessary changes lie not in worship style but rather theology.
An Aside on Norwegian Blogger and Saints & Icons
In a followup piece to the X-Files essay, Norwegian Blogger writes:
I think Lutheranism is the closest you can come to that truth, but I have seriously contemplated Catholicism and the Orthodox faith, but various aspects about said faiths, mainly the veneration of saints and the presence of icons, has so far made me unwilling.
I'm quite surprised that his main objections are saints and icons. Usually the main ones are far more basic and central tenets such as Sacred Tradition and Apostolic Succession (at least for Protestants) rather than these fairly minor ones. In fact, for me these central tenets are the ones to put the most energy into evaluating because the minor ones fall into place as a consequence of accepting the central ones.
Link to this entry
Monday, July 29, 2002
LATEST MARXIST FOLLIES
A Communist Brazil?
An article on the potential election of a communist president in Brazil and what it might mean for South America as a whole. Also, David Horowitz writes on how leftist intellectuals still have a destructive romance with Marxist utopianism.
MORE ON BALKANS MADNESS
Richard Poe has a column on Clinton's recent visit to Greece in which he points out how the Clinton Balkans policy supported Islamic militants with connections to al-Qaeda. Poe also recognizes an historical parallel to the Kosovo Conflict.
Thursday, July 25, 2002
IT'S ABOUT TERRORISM, NOT OIL
Came across an excellent piece in The American Prospect which dispels the absurd conspiracy theory that our military action in Afghanistan was at the behest of Big Oil to secure the country for a pipeline, not to destroy an al-Quaeda stronghold. I first came across this idea in our local university paper, with the writer citing that bastion of objective journalism, Workers World, as his source. If the Maoists say it, it must be true!
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
PARECON DOESN'T NEED SOCIALISM!
Since the exchange between Young Socialist and Glenn Frazier is what got me into blogging, I figure it's time now to blog on the subject. Both Glenn and Pontifex Ex Machina did an excellent job replying overall to Young Socialist, so I won't merely repeat what they have written. I want to respond instead to a specific part of his definition of Democratic Socialism, which is:
a style of government in which industry and business are democratically controlled by the workers, where health care, education, and other social needs are provided by the government, where the separation between haves and have-nots is smaller, where people are not discriminated against because of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Now, obviously the majority of this "free everything for everyone" type of laundry list requires an expanded socialistic government bureaucracy for its implementation. However, one part of it needs no change in our government or society at all: Industry and business being democratically controlled by the ''workers". To put it simply:
If you want there to be worker-controlled businesses, just go out and start some.
There is nothing under our current capitalistic system that prevents this. Any business is totally free to run itself in this fashion, and employee-owned businesses do indeed exist. (True, these do not completely match what Young Socialist has in mind, but it does show that similar things are in fact out there.) You can even expand this to a more ambitious Participatory Economics ("parecon") model in which, in addition to democratic control by workers, consumers have a democratic say as to what kinds of products are put into the marketplace. None of this requires a shift to Democratic Socialism to exist. It must prove itself able to compete with traditional businesses, but that is all.
Butt Fortitude: Key to Being a Parecon Champion
I have to at least give the architects of parecon credit for for coming up with a fleshed-out alternative economic system rather than just hand-waving. I won't attempt to judge how viable it is (but you can paint me skeptical) but I do seriously doubt that it would be as "empowering" for all workers/consumers as its proponents envision. In practice, this setup would require heavy reliance on committees, with the degree of individual involvement required increasing as the degree of control by each worker/consumer is increased. As anyone who has had to deal with marathon committee sessions in the workplace knows, these rapidly degenerate into a Darwinian contest in butt fortitude between the participants. Those who manage to fight off the urge to run out of the room screaming and clutching their bedsore-afflicted butts in agony throughout the interminable proceedings will see their opinions predominate. The hardiest buttocks will be the best informed and thus easily persuade the semiconscious majority who are desperately awaiting the quickest means of escape.
Put less whimsically, most workers are likely to see these democratic proceedings as burdensome bores. Managerial hierarchies -- as with representative governments -- do not exist as a nefarious plot to deprive people of power; they exist because they promote efficiency by allowing a division of labor, enabling workers to focus their energies on their primary tasks.
Link to this entry
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
GERMANY, LAND OF BUTT PSYCHICS & PRIMAL-SCREAMING HIKERS
Defying their national stereotype as staid and stodgy, making headlines are a German who reads futures by fondling naked buttocks and another who disturbs the woodland to relieve stress. (Or was he just yodeling?)
Monday, July 22, 2002
COWBOY AMERICANS VS. MILQUETOAST EUROPEANS
Daniel Pipes,the politically incorrect Middle East analyst, discusses a piece by Robert Kagan in the Hoover Institution's "Policy Review" on the difference in attitudes between Americans and Europeans on international relations. As Pipes puts it: "Americans tend to dismiss the Europeans as soft-minded appeasers lacking moral fiber or strategic vision. In turn, Europeans depict Americans as cowboys under the sway of a 'culture of death.'" These are old stereotypes, of course, but have been on display more prominently during the response to the events of last September 11th. Kagan sees the true tendencies upon which these are based as arising from essentially the fact that the U.S. has military might and thus responds with it because it can, whereas Europe is militarily weak and thus must rely primarily on diplomacy when dealing with international crises.
As the comments to Pipes' article show, any discussion of these differences inevitably fires up the venerable tradition of mutual cross-Atlantic bashing between Americans and Europeans. Being a staunch American but also the child of a European immigrant, I can understand both sides, but generally favor the U.S. view. I think what is generally underappreciated in Europe is the American perception of a combination of ingratitude and presumption towards us by Europeans. Most crudely, you see this in the "We bailed your butts out of two world wars, and this is the thanks you give us?!!" comments you often hear in the US. Add to that the 50 years of waging the Cold War shouldered overwhelmingly by America -- an uneven shouldering of the burden that enabled Europe to afford so much social spending on its people -- and Europe does indeed have much for which to be grateful to us. But this more remote time is behind us, and what is more relevant now is the European response to what has been going on in recent years -- its often presumptuous response:
America has to put up with European sneering about how we are are crass bullies, simple-minded Rambos, etc, etc.
But what happens when a crisis arises?
Europeans don't merely call on America.
Europeans step back without a word, smugly certain that of course the Yanks will come forth and do their duty to us again.
Then, when the job is finished, Europeans run back to dump vitriol on us for our "cowboy" attitudes which served them so well just a moment before.
This portrayal isn't entirely fair, of course, but neither is it groundless given the events of the past decade. A prime example supporting this is the breakup of Yugoslavia. After the collapse of the USSR and the ascendancy of the European Union in the early 1990s, one heard much blather from Europeans about how Europe could now come entirely into its own on the international scene and not have to rely on U.S. to deal with its problems. This boastful talked suddenly evaporated with the bloody shattering of Yugoslavia. Yet again, only America had the capability of dealing effectively with the situation, and yet again stepped in to do so despite the fact that Europe would be the one dealing with any repercussions. Then, our rough but effective methods were all well and good... but now that the U.S. is facing a far, far graver threat than having Yugoslav refugees at the doorstep, we are again castigated for taking a direct approach instead of dithering over diplomatic protocol and attempting to talk al-Qaeda to death.
An Aside About the Kosovo Conflict
I am one of the seemingly lonely few who thinks that U.S. involvement in the Balkans was and is totally insane. At no time in the decade of conflict between the former Yugoslav republics has there ever been a side clearly in the right or clearly in the wrong -- all of the players have been both perpetrators and victims. Serbia has been painted throughout the fighting as the primary villain, but any difference between Serbian actions and those of the others is one of degree -- due to its having the most powerful military -- rather than of kind. (The inexplicable hatred Secretary of State Albright and the rest of the Clinton Administration exhibited for Serbia was another source of this demonization.) In such a muddled situation taking sides as the US/NATO did is sheer madness and bound to lead to supporting what becomes the wrong side at some point... which is precisely what happened in the Kosovo conflict.
The Kosovo fiasco was the most insane part of our involvement in the Balkans. In a nutshell:
* Ethnic Albanians living in Serbia, aided by militant Albanian nationals, try to take over part of Serbia by force.
* Serbia responds with military force to stop them.
* US/NATO bombs the hell out of Serbia for defending itself.
In American terms, this would be as if Mexicans tried to take over southern Callifornia by force and wrest it away from the USA, and when we tried to stop them an international coalition bombed our major cities.
Absurdities like this are the inevitable result of arbitrarily picking a side in a conflict of all against all.
LATEST MARXIST FOLLIES
Organic Farmworkers of the World, Stop Stooping!
A report on the Brecht Forum's 24th Annual Intensive Study of Marxism and an analysis by Robert Locke of an address to the 2001 Socialist Scholars Conference.
Saturday, July 20, 2002
CHINA FLEES MICROSERVITUDE
The People's [sic] Republic [sic] of China announced plans to create its own computer operating system and suite of office applications in an attempt to free itself from dependence on Microsoft Windows. The speculation is that it will be constructed from preexisting open-source code rather than made from scratch or ripped off from Microsoft code.
The ChiCom's own (boastful) take:
Chinese Office Software Challenges Microsoft's Win98
China to build own version of Windows 98
China plans software to rival Windows
Apparently they have realized they've taken software piracy as far as they safely can...
For some reason my name is being mispelled: It should be BerNhardt. I must have misentered it. I'll have to look into this...
Friday, July 19, 2002
Welcome to my new blog! What's to blame for this, you ask? Glenn Frazier's article "To a Young Socialist" on Enter Stage Right, that's what. In it, Glenn replies to fellow blogger Young Socialist on his statement of political beliefs. That drew me into reading both of their blogs and branching out to others, and e-mailing my own responses to the various guilty parties. Then I realized, "What the heck! Instead of e-mailing this stuff, just make your own blog!" And thus Varenius the Blog was born...
Pearls of wisdom, or just more cyberclutter? Stay tuned and find out!