A tiny, exquisitely made box found on an excavated street in Jerusalem is a token of Christian faith from 1,400 years ago, Israeli archaeologists said Sunday.
The box, carved from the bone of a cow, horse or camel, decorated with a cross on the lid and measuring only 0.8 inches by 0.6 inches, was likely carried by a Christian believer around the end of the 6th century A.D, according to Yana Tchekhanovets of the Antiquities Authority, one of the directors of the dig where the box was found.
When the lid is removed, the remains of two portraits are still visible in paint and gold leaf. The figures, a man and a woman, are probably Christian saints and possibly Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
The box was found in an excavation outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City in the remains of a Byzantine-era thoroughfare, she said. Uncovered two years ago, it was treated by preservation experts and extensively researched before it was unveiled at an archaeological conference last week.
The box is important in part because it offers the first archaeological evidence that the use of icons in the Byzantine period was not limited to church ceremonies, she said.
Part of a similar box was found three decades ago in Jordan, but this is the only well-preserved example to be found so far, she said. Similar icons are still carried today by some Christian believers, especially from the eastern Orthodox churches.
The relic was found in the City of David excavation, a Jerusalem dig named for the biblical monarch believed to have ruled a Jewish kingdom from the site.
The politically sensitive dig is located in what is today the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, just outside the Old City walls in east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as their capital.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
It is well known by now that the Italian Humanists differed from their Scholastic rivals less in essential doctrines than in stylistic predilections, forms of presentation, and classical mentors. Medieval Catholic thought had long made its peace with Greek logic and psychology, and the view that there was any hostility between medieval thinkers and the pagan classics (Christianly interpreted, of course) is a figment of some modern imaginations. To a certain extent Humanism was Scholasticism without the complexities and subtleties; hence the main interest of the Humanists was in simplification and purification of "barbarisms." Similarly the elaborate care with which the Scholastics, in particular Thomas Aquinas, had reconciled Aristotelian classical philosophy with Catholic doctrine had its influence in the fact that the Humanists, for the most part, simply took it for granted that there was no conflict between Catholicism and the classics; that the latter were pagan in form but Christian in content; that the Greek mythology and pantheon might legitimately be employed as a vehicle for expressing thoughts about Christian holy persons and saints. Furthermore, on the crucial moral question of the capacities and potentialities of man, the Humanist notions of man as a microcosm and theories of ethical freedom rested on the same metaphysical foundations as the orthodox views of man's place in the scale of being and his capacity for continuous regeneration; Scholastic emphasis on free will and its rationalistic-moral approach to psychology were matched by both Stoic and Neo-Platonic schools of Humanist thought.
Charles Edward Trinkaus, Jr., The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, pp. 148-9
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Book Review: From Dawn to Decadence, 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life - Jacques Barzun
Barzun’s swan-song, which consists of 800+ pages of historical information, interesting quotes, anecdotes, insights, and reflections, is the literary equivalent of sitting at the feet of a great master and venerable elder. The wide swath of knowledge encompassed in this book, including such varied aspects of Western culture as ballet, opera, Dadaism, mystery crime novels, and hippies, and the balanced bird’s eye view and authoritative approach taken to each is indicative of the long life (now over 100 years) of a penetrating and curious mind.
Barzun’s style throughout the book is nearly conversational as he discusses the various topics, people, and ideas we encounter along the way. He takes us down side trails that connect seemingly disparate elements of culture, such as Bach and the rise of National Socialism or street gangs and Andy Warhol, bringing together facts that are normally compartmentalized, separated, and sorted, and giving us, throughout, his own knowledgeable assessment. And, in the end, he offers us his thoughts on the current state of Western Civilization, what we have become and what he believes will become of us.
For all of this, I think any attentive disciple (that is, reader) cannot help but whisper “thank you” as he closes the book, even after a second or third read of it, and to wish, hope, and pray, no matter the odds against, that Barzun could have another 100 years.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
In an age of sheet music, pianos, and electronic keyboards, the study of a nearly extinct technique for learning how to sing might seem unwarranted. But Jesse Rodin, an assistant professor of music at Stanford, believes that an antiquated teaching tool reveals much about a faculty that has arguably been neglected in this era of instant access to information: memory.
The Guidonian Hand was a musical staple of medieval clergymen, choirboys, and composers. A map of notes arranged on the hand, it was used to help aspiring singers remember how musical notes relate to one another. Had you watched a church choir perform 500 years ago in France, the Low Countries or Italy, you could be certain that the singers had used the Hand, at least in their formative years.
Gaining insight into this method of learning reveals much about the thought processes of people who lived during one of the most intellectually vibrant eras of human history, says Rodin, which is why it merits study not only by music scholars, but by anyone who wants to better understand the origins of music.
“Most undergraduates who pursue music degrees encounter the Guidonian Hand, but hardly anyone learns how to use it,” says Rodin, who recently hosted a symposium on the Hand with the help of his students. The conference included a performance in which Rodin and several students demonstrated the practice by singing a piece of four-voice a cappella music from the late 15th century.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
A short, but very practical and approachable introduction to the place of prayer and the Eucharist in spiritual life. I recommend this for those who want to deepen their spiritual life but do not have the access, time, or ability to study the spiritual writings of the Church Fathers in depth and at firsthand.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
After more than two decades, a pair of Byzantine-era chapel frescoes in Houston is heading home—to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
Houston’s Menil Collection on Friday said it had agreed to return the 700-year-old wall paintings to the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus, ending a long-term loan arrangement between the museum and the church.
The frescoes originally adorned an 8-foot-wide dome and apse in a 13th-century Orthodox chapel in Lysi, a town in northern Cyprus. The semicircular apse fresco depicts Christ’s mother Mary draped in a burgundy robe with her arms upraised in a gesture of blessing. The dome fresco shows a haloed Christ, with a droopy mustache, surrounded by a ring of smaller, fluttering angels in jewel-toned robes. Thanks to the scale and individuality of the figures, the works represent a tour de force of Byzantine art, said Kristina Van Dyke, the Menil’s curator for collections and research.
The story of the frescoes’ trip to Texas (and back) begins with the French collector Dominique de Menil, who began buying art in Paris in the 1940s, shortly before she and her banker husband, John, moved to Houston to escape World War II. Ms. de Menil eventually amassed a collection of 17,000 objects, from antiquities to modern masters, and opened a namesake museum there in 1987.
A few years earlier, Ms. de Menil learned that looters, following the Turkish occupation of Cyprus in 1974, had used chainsaws and chisels to carve out a pair of frescoes from the Lysi chapel and were hawking the fragments on the black market. She alerted Cyprus’s Orthodox archbishop, and together they worked out a ransom plan: She bought the works—all 38 fragments—on behalf of the church for $522,085 in exchange for the right to display them, long-term, in Houston.
Chief conservator Brad Epley said that it took more than three years for conservators to piece the curved frescoes back together. Workers initially carved matching foam pieces to see how well they fit together and later created plastic and fabric tubs to support the works’ plaster backing. In 1997, Ms. de Menil, a Catholic, built a chapel on her museum campus to display the works.
In mid-February, the museum’s loan period will end, and Cyprus’s Archbishop Chrysostomos II plans to exhibit the works in the Byzantine Museum in the capital city of Nicosia, according to Costas Katsaros, who heads the archbishopric’s legal department. Because Turkey still occupies the region around Lysi, Mr. Katsaros said that the frescoes won’t return to their original setting.
Ms. Van Dyke said that the handover is “bittersweet” for the museum, but curators are already brainstorming ways to repurpose the chapel space with other artworks.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
From Gil Dodgen at Uncommon Descent:
Everyone has a religion, a raison d’être, and mine was once Dawkins’. I had the same disdain for people of faith that he does, only I could have put him to shame with the power and passion of my argumentation.
But something happened. As a result of my equally passionate love of science, logic, and reason, I realized that I had been conned. The creation story of my atheistic, materialistic religion suddenly made no sense.
This sent a shock wave through both my mind and my soul. Could it be that I’m not just the result of random errors filtered by natural selection? Am I just the product of the mindless, materialistic processes that “only legitimate scientists” all agree produced me? Does my life have any ultimate purpose or meaning? Am I just a meat-machine with no other purpose than to propagate my “selfish genes”?
Ever since I was a child I thought about such things, but I put my blind faith in the “scientists” who taught me that all my concerns were irrelevant, that science had explained, or would eventually explain, everything in purely materialistic terms.
But I’m a freethinker, a legitimate scientist. I follow the evidence wherever it leads. And the evidence suggests that the universe and living systems are the product of an astronomically powerful creative intelligence.
Friday, October 21, 2011
The only leisure activity [in Africa] with a history stretching back beyond European contact is the board game often known in West Africa as mankala. Played in ancient Egypt, where a stone board of c. 1500 BC has been found, the game appears to have spread to other speakers of Afroasiatic languages and thence throughout the continent, except its southern tip, changing its form in complex ways. Everywhere it was seen as a test of intelligence. Legend said that Sunjata played it for his life against his rival for power in Mali. Shyaam's ritual statuette shows him with the mankala board that he allegedly introduced when founding the Kuba kingdom. Being African, the game was played quickly, publicly, socially, noisily. Islam frowned on it and replaced it by the more sedate dara, a form of draughts, while the Ethiopian nobility either played an especially complicated variant or preferred chess. Chess was the game of a stratified society, with unequal pieces and the objective of destroying the opposing forces. In mankala all pieces were of equal value and the aim was to capture the opposing pieces and add them to one's own. It was the game of a society dedicated to building up its numbers.
John Iliffe, Africans: The History of a Continent, pg. 99
(My favorite post so far, by the way, is this one from Jonathan Kotinek [whose blog exists here]).
Thursday, October 20, 2011
To be a human is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for all the gifts of life.
Mother Earth, we thank you for giving us everything we need.
Thank you deep blue waters around Mother Earth, for you are the force that takes thirst away from all living things.
We give thanks to green, green grasses that feel so good against our bare feet, for the cool beauty you bring to Mother Earth's floor.
Thank you, good foods from Mother Earth, our life sustainers, for making us happy when we are hungry.
Fruits and berries, we thanks you for your color and sweetness.
We are thankful to good medicine herbs, for healing us when we are sick.
Thank you, all the animals of the world, for keeping our precious forests clean.
All the trees of the world, we are thankful for the shade and warmth you give us.
Thank you all the birds in the world, for signing your beautiful songs for all to enjoy.
We give thanks to you gentle Four Winds, for bringing clean air for us to breathe from the four directions.
Thank you, Grandfather Thunder Beings, for bringing rains to help all living things grow.
Elder Brother Sun, we send thanks for shining your light and warming Mother Earth.
Thank you Grandmother Moon, for growing full every month to light the darkness for children and sparkling waters.
We give you thanks, twinkling stars, for making the night sky so beautiful and sprinkling morning dew drops on the plants.
Spirit Protectors of our past and present we thank you for showing us ways to live in peace and harmony with one another.
And most of all, thank you Great Spirit, for giving us all these wonderful gifts, so we will be happy and healthy every day and every night.
From Dennis Prager at National Review Online:
Last week, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote a column on an academic study concerning the nearly complete lack of a moral vocabulary among most American young people. Here are excerpts from Brooks’s summary of the study of Americans aged 18 to 23. It was led by “the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith”:There is, of course, the black, sucking hole of nihilism and nothing else.
● “Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing.”
● “When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all.”
● “Moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner.”
● “The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste.”
● “As one put it, ‘I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.’”
● “Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.” (Emphases mine.)
Ever since I attended college I have been convinced that “studies” either confirm what common sense suggests or they are mistaken. I realized this when I was presented study after study showing that boys and girls were not inherently different from one another, and they acted differently only because of sexist upbringings.
This latest study cited by David Brooks confirms what conservatives have known for a generation: Moral standards have been replaced by feelings. Of course, those on the left only believe this when an “eminent sociologist” is cited by a writer at a major liberal newspaper.
What is disconcerting about Brooks’s piece is that nowhere in what is an important column does he mention the reason for this disturbing trend: namely, secularism.
The intellectual class and the Left still believe that secularism is an unalloyed blessing. They are wrong. Secularism is good for government. But it is terrible for society (though still preferable to bad religion) and for the individual.
One key reason is what secularism does to moral standards. If moral standards are not rooted in God, they do not objectively exist. Good and evil are no more real than “yummy” and “yucky.” They are simply a matter of personal preference. One of the foremost liberal philosophers, Richard Rorty, an atheist, acknowledged that for the secular liberal, “There is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?’”
With the death of Judeo-Christian God-based standards, people have simply substituted feelings for those standards. Millions of American young people have been raised by parents and schools with “How do you feel about it?” as the only guide to what they ought to do. The heart has replaced God and the Bible as a moral guide. And now, as Brooks points out, we see the results. A vast number of American young people do not even ask whether an action is right or wrong. The question would strike them as foreign. Why? Because the question suggests that there is a right and wrong outside of themselves. And just as there is no God higher than them, there is no morality higher than them, either.
Forty years ago, I began writing and lecturing about this problem. It was then that I began asking students if they would save their dog or a stranger first if both were drowning. The majority always voted against the stranger — because, they explained, they loved their dog and they didn’t love the stranger.
They followed their feelings.
Without God and Judeo-Christian religions, what else is there?
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The elimination of the Christian tradition and Scripture from social theory, and thus from the public debate, left a void that was filled by philosophy popularized. That is how the 18[th] C[entury] publicists come to be called philosophes. For them, [Pierre] Gassendi's maxim that all knowledge is drawn through the senses from experience of the outer world was undoubted truth, but this empiricism did not prevent differences -- or difficulties. Here again, Locke has been credited with established that truth and removing the main objection by the principle of association: sensations felt together form mental pictures of things, that is, ideas, which by the like process form significant connections. The mind has no pre-existing ideas; it creates its own order out of what happens to it. This mode of exploration finds its highest fulfillment in natural science: experiment is experience channeled and closely observed, so as to ascertain more and more permanent connections or "laws" of nature.
Most of these empiricists of the first generation acknowledged God as the Creator, the Great Watchmaker, who set the cosmos in motion and then let it run on its own. But He had also endowed Man with the gift of reason, with which he discovers this orderly scheme. The thought then occurred that sensations imply the existence of matter; therefore ideas, feelings, knowledge -- life itself -- are but the interplay of bits of stuff. Matter in motion acts as cause, and the effect is another part of matter in some other motion. God has no point of entry into the relation; very likely He does not exist. There is in truth no need for Him. Did not the Roman Lucretius write a magnificent poem to teach this lesson? He demonstrated that all things and beings are but the combining, breakup, and recombining of atoms. Atomism is perfect for science, being simple and deterministic. By this route the belief in Predestination returns in full strength.
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present, pg. 365
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The truth is, Pascal was kin to the modern existentialist -- to Kierkegaard or Gabriel Marcel, both ardent believers. When Pascal wrote his famous Pensée: "the eternal silence of this infinite space frightens me," he was seeing the cosmos like the existentialist -- empty, bleak, and meaningless. How had all these rotating spheres come to be? Why all this void? And how absurd was that enigma, Man! To repeat: God's design was inscrutable. Christ was the sole link with Meaning, and Christ's message was forgiveness and love. The divine was no abstract essence in which to merge for the ecstasy of forgetting self; it was the living God. His miracles were all humane in purpose, and the miracle and mystery of His existence mediated for man the mystery of the infinite space and silence of creation.
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present, pg. 216
Monday, October 17, 2011
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
They say: whom do I wrong by keeping my property? What, tell me, is your property? Where did you find it and brought it to your life? Just like someone in the theatre, who had a seat and then stopped those who entered, judging that what lies common in front of everyone to use, was his own: rich men are of the same kind. They first took possession of the common property, and then they keep it as their own because they were the first to take it. If one had taken what is necessary to cover one's needs and had left the rest to those who are in need, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, no one would be in need.
Isn't it true, that you fell off the womb naked? Isn't it true, that naked you shall return to the earth? Where is your present property from? If you think that it came to you by itself, you don't believe in God, you don't acknowledge the creator and you are not thankful to Him who gave it to you. But if you agree and confess that you have it from God, tell us the reason why He gave it to you.
Is God unjust, dividing unequally the goods of our life? Why are you rich, while the other is poor? Isn't it, if not for any other reason, in order for you to gain a reward for your kindness and faithful providence, and for him to be honored with the great awards of patience? But you, having gathered everything inside the bosom of avarice which is always empty, do you think that you wrong no one, while you strip so many people?
Who is the greedy person? It's him, who doesn't content himself with what he has. And who strips? He who steals what belongs to the others. And you think that you are not greedy, and that you do not strip the others? What was granted to you, in order for you to take care of the others, you took it and you made it your own. What do you think?
He who strips the clothed is to be called a thief. How should we name him, who is able to dress the naked and doesn't do it, does he deserve some other name? The bread that you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothes that you store in boxes, belong to the naked. The shoes rotting by you, belong to the bare-foot. The money that you hide belongs to anyone in need. You wrong as many people as you could help.
St. Basil the Great, Homily On Avarice 7
We need a theology that will answer the atheist position about evil, about the process imputed to God since Jean Paul Richter, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky (think, for example, of the arguments presented by Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov). We must abolish once and for all that image of a "diabolical God" who, from all eternity, controls everything and thus appears as the only source of evil. Our God is the Theos pathon, the crucified God about whom the Fathers spoke long before Moltmann! The creation of other freedoms - that of man, and also of angels - implies an incredible omnipotence and, simultaneously, an extreme weakness. God, in a certain manner, must remove himself to allow space for these other freedoms. He enters into a tragic love story. Deep inside man is the memory of "paradise", but also of a break, of a departure along the paths of freedom, like that of the prodigal son in the parable. And this freedom is strengthened through opposition - through forgetfulness. The prodigal son moves away from his Father, and this separation brings death. Though the Father does not desire this separation, because he has no conception of evil, he accepts the son like so many blows to the face. Just think of the images of Christ attacked, bound, and struck on the face, both in eastern art: the icon of the totally humiliated Christ over the prothesis table in Greek churches of the 16th-18th centuries - and in western: that Christ painted by Fra Angelico in the convent of St. Mark in Florence standing blindfolded as hands emerge out of the abyss, out of nothingness, to strike him.
For man, fascinated by the death which he conceals within himself, bears as well the agony of crime: against the "other" or against the self. How many murders we commit in spirit! This is why the Fathers of the Desert used to say that slander, contempt of the "other", is the greatest of sins! Thus humanity - which is composed of infinitely intertwined relations - allows the world to slide toward the nothingness out of which it was drawn, in the aptly worded remark of St. Athanasius of Alexandria. Chaos returns, a chaos which the powers of darkness - which are at once within and outside us - pervert: the suffering of children, absurd wars, monstrous cosmic catastrophes. God - having become a king with no kingdom, in the words of Nicholas Cabasilas - supports the world from beyond, until the "yes" of a woman allows him to return to the heart of his creation to restore it sacramentally, to tear humanity away from nothingness and to restore to each of us our vocation of "created creator".
But the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected God can act, can bring light and peace, only through hearts that freely open to him. He is not the God of "holy wars", or even of supposedly "just wars". He is not the God of the Crusades, but of the life-giving Cross.
The experience of evil ultimately proves to humanity its meaningless. Through suffering - and the worst is to discover how much we make others suffer - man reaches repentance. And Christ - who is freedom itself - resurrects his freedom from within, without the least amount of restraint. Then man accedes not only to the good - for the good judges and condemns those who are "evil" - but to a kind of supra-good which allows the transforming power of God to shine, bringing pardon and opening up the future. "Woman, where are they?" Jesus asks the woman caught in adultery. "Has no one condemned you?" "No one, Lord", she answers. "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (Jn. 8:10-11).
From Conversations With Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I by Olivier Clement, pp. 164-166.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
In both Jewish and Christian traditions, Moses is considered the author of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Scholars have furnished evidence that multiple writers had a hand in composing the text of the Torah. Other books of the Hebrew Bible and of the New Testament are also thought to be composites. However, delineating these multiple sources has been a laborious task.
Now researchers have developed an algorithm that could help to unravel the different sources that contributed to individual books of the Bible. Prof. Nachum Dershowitz of Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science, who worked in collaboration with his son, Bible scholar Idan Dershowitz of Hebrew University, and Prof. Moshe Koppel and Ph.D. student Navot Akiva of Bar-Ilan University, says that their computer algorithm recognizes linguistic cues, such as word preference, to divide texts into probable author groupings.
By focusing exclusively on writing style instead of subject or genre, Prof. Dershowitz and his colleagues sidestepped several methodological hurdles that hamper conventional Bible scholarship. These issues include a potential lack of objectivity in content-based analysis and complications caused by the multiple genres and literary forms found in the Bible — including poetry, narrative, law, and parable. Their research was presented at the 49th Annual Conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics in Portland.
In the 16th [Century], instead of an intellectual free-for-all and gradual enlightenment, the church decided to arrest the current of thought. This stand was in effect dictated by their Protestant enemies. One could say that in roundabout fashion, it was these Bible-ridden revolutionists who got Galileo condemned for his astronomy. If the literalism of the Word had not been adopted at Trent to show that Catholics too revered Scripture, there would have been no need to make science conform to Genesis. By commanding belief in matters not essentially religious or moral, Trent laid the ground for that "warfare of science and religion" which is still being waged. It has kept making unbelievers, or -- since it forces a choice -- it has deprived many of the chance to believe.
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present, pg. 40
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
‘The Russian Orthodox Church has followed the developments in Egypt with concern and bitterness. Blood has been spilt and Christian churches have been destroyed again. There is another manifestation of growing intolerance towards Christians and their legal and physical vulnerability in the Egyptian society.
Our Church knows from her recent history what the suffering of innocent people and destruction of churches are. We raise our voice in defence of our Egyptian brothers in faith and call upon the world community not to be indifferent to this lawlessness. The United Nations and other international organizations and leading world powers capable of influencing the policy of the new authorities in Egypt should unequivocally come out against the persecution of Christians and do everything to help establish interreligious peace and security in the region.
The tragic ordeals the Egyptian Christians are undergoing so courageously are links in the same chain which has already brought out a new and ever growing wave of emigration. Egypt is a country in which the Christian and Muslim communities have lived together for centuries. The aggression against Christians lies on the conscience of destructive radical forces whose motives are not at all religious. We appeal to the leaders of the Islamic world to express a clear condemnation of the violence against Christians, to respect their right to openly confess their faith and to preserve their religious and cultural traditions. At an hour when the very future of Christian-Muslim dialogue is threatened, religious leaders should demonstrate in deed their commitment to peace and mutual understanding.
We called upon the Egyptian authorities to put an end immediately to the violence against the ancient Coptic community, to the murders of Christians, to the defilement of churches and shrines. It is insufficient to declare commitment to the principles of justice and human rights; rather it is necessary to ensure the real observance of freedom of conscience in the country. The historical Christian community in Egypt should have the right to confess its faith freely and safely and to preserve its old churches and to build new ones.
The Russian Church once again expresses her support for the suffering Egyptian brothers in Christ, calling them to preserve the spirit of peace, to defy provocations, to be faithful to our Saviour in their suffering.
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Daniel Buxhoeveden speaks on Science and Religion. Recorded April 30, 2011 at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Mission in Augusta, GA.
[I did not film the video, but I was there; this is an excellent talk and I hope you'll give it a watch/listen all the way through.]
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Monday, October 10, 2011
If one were asked, will he be able to answer outright to the questions, In what he differs from the brutes, in what he is akin to the heavenly inhabitants, what can be made of man? For as in the case of any other material, so also in this case: man is the subject-matter, but of this can be made either an angel or a beast. Does not this seem a strange saying? And yet ye have often heard it in the Scriptures. For of certain human beings it was said, “he is the angel of the Lord”: and “from his lips,” saith it, “they shall seek judgment”: and again, “I send My angel before Thy face:” but of some, “Serpents, generation of vipers.” So then, it all depends upon the use. Why do I say, an angel? the man can become God, and a child of God. For we read, “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.” And what is greater, the power to become both God and angel and child of God is put into his own hands. Yea, so it is, man can be the maker of an angel. Perchance this saying has startled you? Hear however Christ saying: “In the Resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like unto the angels.” And again, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” In a word, it is virtue which makes angels: but this is in our power: therefore we are able to make angels, though not in nature, certainly in will. For indeed if virtue be absent, it is no advantage to be an angel by nature; and the Devil is a proof of this, who was an angel once: but if virtue be present, it is no loss to be a man by nature; and John is a proof of this, who was a man, and Elias who went up into heaven, and all those who are about to depart thither. For these indeed, though with bodies, were not prevented from dwelling in heaven: while those others, though without bodies, could not remain in heaven. Let no one then grieve or be vexed with his nature as if it were a hindrance to him, but with his will. He (the Devil) from being incorporeal became a lion: for lo! it saith, “Our adversary, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”: we from being corporeal, become angels. For just as if a person, having found some precious material, should despise it, as not being an artificer, it will be a great loss to him, whether it be pearls, or a pearl shell, or any other such thing that he has seen; so we likewise, if we are ignorant of our own nature, shall despise it much: but if we know what it is, we shall exhibit much zeal, and reap the greatest profits. For from this nature is wrought a king’s robe, from this a king’s house, from this nature are fashioned a king’s members: all are kingly. Let us not then misuse our own nature to our hurt. He has made us “a little lower than the angels,” I mean, by reason of death: but even that little we have now recovered. There is nothing therefore to hinder us from becoming nigh to the angels, if we will. Let us then will it, let us will it, and having exercised ourselves thoroughly, let us return honor to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, world without end, Amen.
St. John Chrysostom, Homily 32 on the Acts of the Apostles
Sunday, October 9, 2011
I have to be honest and say that I had never heard of this work, at least so far as I can recall, until I found a used copy of it in the bookshelves of my local Goodwill. But I'm very happy that I found it! The text is fascinating in its own right as it presents us with the perspective of an Englishman of the 14th century looking at, examining, and perhaps actually exploring the wider world around him, including a great diversity of cultures and geographic locations. This makes it interesting as both a historical work -- a real firsthand perspective that touches on these interesting topics -- and also a study in psychology and sociology, as we view his views of these various cultures. The work is, as I learned through the introduction and notes which accompany this addition, also important for the effect it had on European thought in the years leading up to and somewhat after the discovery of the Americas by Europeans. I recommend this book to those with a love for history and culture.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Friday, October 7, 2011
The U.S. Postal Service appears to be the latest casualty in digital technology's slow but steady replacement of working humans. Unless an external source of funding comes in, the post office will have to scale back its operations drastically, or simply shut down altogether. That's 600,000 people who would be out of work, and another 480,000 pensioners facing an adjustment in terms.
We can blame a right wing attempting to undermine labor, or a left wing trying to preserve unions in the face of government and corporate cutbacks. But the real culprit -- at least in this case -- is e-mail. People are sending 22% fewer pieces of mail than they did four years ago, opting for electronic bill payment and other net-enabled means of communication over envelopes and stamps.
New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures -- from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete. Every new computer program is basically doing some task that a person used to do. But the computer usually does it faster, more accurately, for less money, and without any health insurance costs.
We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace.
And so the president goes on television telling us that the big issue of our time is jobs, jobs, jobs -- as if the reason to build high-speed rails and fix bridges is to put people back to work. But it seems to me there's something backwards in that logic. I find myself wondering if we may be accepting a premise that deserves to be questioned.
I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks -- or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?
We're living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That's because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, there is enough food produced to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 kilocalories per person per day. And that's even after America disposes of thousands of tons of crop and dairy just to keep market prices high. Meanwhile, American banks overloaded with foreclosed properties are demolishing vacant dwellings to get the empty houses off their books.
Our problem is not that we don't have enough stuff -- it's that we don't have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.
Jobs, as such, are a relatively new concept. People may have always worked, but until the advent of the corporation in the early Renaissance, most people just worked for themselves. They made shoes, plucked chickens, or created value in some way for other people, who then traded or paid for those goods and services. By the late Middle Ages, most of Europe was thriving under this arrangement.
The only ones losing wealth were the aristocracy, who depended on their titles to extract money from those who worked. And so they invented the chartered monopoly. By law, small businesses in most major industries were shut down and people had to work for officially sanctioned corporations instead. From then on, for most of us, working came to mean getting a "job."
The Industrial Age was largely about making those jobs as menial and unskilled as possible. Technologies such as the assembly line were less important for making production faster than for making it cheaper, and laborers more replaceable. Now that we're in the digital age, we're using technology the same way: to increase efficiency, lay off more people, and increase corporate profits.
While this is certainly bad for workers and unions, I have to wonder just how truly bad is it for people. Isn't this what all this technology was for in the first place? The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with "career" be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?
Instead, we are attempting to use the logic of a scarce marketplace to negotiate things that are actually in abundance. What we lack is not employment, but a way of fairly distributing the bounty we have generated through our technologies, and a way of creating meaning in a world that has already produced far too much stuff.
The communist answer to this question was just to distribute everything evenly. But that sapped motivation and never quite worked as advertised. The opposite, libertarian answer (and the way we seem to be going right now) would be to let those who can't capitalize on the bounty simply suffer. Cut social services along with their jobs, and hope they fade into the distance.
But there might still be another possibility -- something we couldn't really imagine for ourselves until the digital era. As a pioneer of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, recently pointed out, we no longer need to make stuff in order to make money. We can instead exchange information-based products.
We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights. The work we do -- the value we create -- is for the rest of what we want: the stuff that makes life fun, meaningful, and purposeful.
This sort of work isn't so much employment as it is creative activity. Unlike Industrial Age employment, digital production can be done from the home, independently, and even in a peer-to-peer fashion without going through big corporations. We can make games for each other, write books, solve problems, educate and inspire one another -- all through bits instead of stuff. And we can pay one another using the same money we use to buy real stuff.
For the time being, as we contend with what appears to be a global economic slowdown by destroying food and demolishing homes, we might want to stop thinking about jobs as the main aspect of our lives that we want to save. They may be a means, but they are not the ends.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
- The Goals of Teaching in the Early Church
- A Curriculum Geared Toward each Believer
- Clement of Alexandria (A)
- Clement of Alexandria (B)
- St. John Chrysostom (A)
- St. John Chrysostom (B)
- St. John Chrysostom (C)
- Christian Education in the 21st Century
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
This book is a terrific biography of Savonarola. Erlanger does an excellent job of bringing out both the culture of Renaissance Florence and the personality of Savonarola himself. Throughout the book, the reader gets a real sense of what life must have been like in that time. She also gives no easy answer to the question of whether Savonarola was a saint or a fraud. Instead, she paints us a picture of a very real and complex human being, part sinner and part saint and with a soul impenetrable to anyone but God and himself. The historical events are also related in a way that serves to keep the reader interested, often with a great measure of suspense and emotion. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Italian Renaissance and outstanding figures and cultural movements it produced.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Saturday, October 1, 2011
From the New York Times:
During the summer of 2008, the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America. The interviews were part of a larger study that Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson, Patricia Snell Herzog and others have been conducting on the state of America’s youth
Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing.
It’s not so much that these young Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you’d expect from 18- to 23-year-olds. What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.
The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, “Lost in Transition,” you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.
When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.
“Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.