Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The humanizing power of art and Haiti's calamitous losses

A moving article on the front page of today's New York Times describes the impact of the loss of so much of Haiti's cultural heritage. This is the first Times article that describes the destruction, not only of the Roman Catholic cathedral, but also the Episcopal Church’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, with its celebrated murals depicting Biblical characters as black people. Here is an excerpt:

"The earthquake on Jan. 12 has caused untold suffering and has taken tens of thousands of lives... The pain of the cultural loss cannot compare. But in stealing symbols that gave Haitians their hope and grandeur and reminders of a common purpose, the earthquake cast a different kind of shadow over their future.

" 'Of course, we should care about the people first,' said Axelle Liautaud, an art dealer who has been trying to save what is left of the (Episcopal cathedral) murals. 'But the reason why there is still a country, despite all our troubles, is our strong culture.'

"The landscape of the capital was in tatters long before this month’s disaster, and many markers of the country’s past had been looted and destroyed during the political upheavals that racked the country in recent decades. But Haiti has always clung to its history, the struggle to break the bonds of slavery and become the world’s first independent black republic, even if its governments have not done all they could to preserve that legacy. Its vibrant arts scene celebrated the country’s creation, and its public buildings sought to capture the elegance of a past that Haitians held onto though political trauma, staggering violence and a string of natural disasters....

"At an art center that played a crucial role in making Haitian paintings known around the world, the damage was severe. Across the capital on Thursday, an artist raised his two bandaged hands in the air and let out a sound that was half sob, half roar. More than his physical injuries, what seemed to pain the man, Paul Jude Camelot, a student at the École Nationale des Arts, was the damage to his latest creation, a painting of the universe that had had a clay sculpture representing life growing out of the center. 'That’s about all I had left,' he said.

To read the rest of the article, click here

Friday, January 22, 2010

A great Protestant heroine goes home

Freya von Moltke died several days ago at the age of 98. She and her husband, Count Helmut von Moltke, were German aristocrats who gathered the "Kreisau Circle" at his ancestral estate in order to resist the Nazis. In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer wrote that the Kreisau Circle had provided "the intellectual, spiritual [theological], ethical, philosphical and, to some extent, political ideas of the resistance to Hitler." The wives of the Kreisau Circle, and particularly Mrs. Moltke, ran the same risks as their husbands.

Helmut von Moltke was hanged by the Gestapo, probably with piano wire. His letters to his wife (which she hid in the beehives of the Kreisau estate) were published in English in 1990 as Letters to Freya. Some of them, especially the last ones, are among the most moving Christian testimonials in extremis ever written, with significant quotations from Scripture. The New York Times obituary (1/10/10) gives some hint of this, but only a hint.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The morality of economics

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Keynesian economist at Columbia, has written a book, Free Fall, in which he sharply criticizes Obama for his policies addressing the Great Recession. He calls for much more aggressive regulation and laments Obama's recycling of Larry Summers and Robert E. Rubin, whom he associates with past errors. These views are, of course, debatable. However, the review in The New York Times by Michiko Kakutani offers this summary, which should surely gain the attention of Christians:

Mr. Stiglitz argues that "the failures in our financial system are emblematic of broader failures in our economic system, and the failures of our economic system reflect deeper problems in our society"--including growing inequities of wealth, a lack of accountability on the part of business and political leaders, and an emphasis on short-term gains as opposed to long-term benefits...

He also talks about the "moral deficit" that Americans' "unrelenting pursuit of profits" and self-interest have created.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

More about Avatar's fuzzy philosophy

In an earlier Tip about the 100-proof blockbuster movie Avatar, the extraordinarily interesting columnist Ross Douthat identifies its pantheism. Now David Brooks, "the liberal's favorite conservative," reflects on the movie's dubious story line from another angle. Here is the link to the Brooks column:

And to Ross Douthat in my earlier Tip:

Friday, January 08, 2010

Bono's thoughts for the 2010s

I knew that Bono was intelligent, engaged, respected, etc. But I did not know he could do anything like this:

Two sections of Bono's proposals were particularly striking for me:

1) The paragraphs on the 2010 World Cup (soccer) in South Africa, especially in view of Invictus, the must-see movie about the Springbok victory in the 1995 World Cup (rugby), nurtured into being by Nelson Mandela who is unforgettably portrayed by Morgan Freeman.

2) the section "Viva la (Nonviolent) Revolucion," which in just a few words by Bono conveys a sense of the ideas in The Unconquerable World, a most arresting book by Jonathan Schell, and A Force More Powerful, the television documentary about the rise of "people power" and nonviolent revolt in the 20th century. I have just finished a chapter on this subject for my forthcoming book, and echo Bono's hope that the Palestinians "will find their Gandhi, their King, their Aung San Suu Kyi."