Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Looming nuclear warfare?

I haven't paid much attention to the Iranian nuclear threat, being more directly interested in the youthful uprisings in Tehran, but a serious article in today's New York Times Magazine (which I barely read as a rule) grabbed my attention. It's by Ronen Bergman, an analyst for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, and author of ‘‘The Secret War With Iran.’’ No doubt it will be controversial, but it struck me as the best sort of reporting: lucid, calm, in-depth, on-site, based on extensive interviews and solidly presented facts. I recommend it highly as background for the high tensions the Middle East will face in the next few months, and the role that America will play.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

God in the New York Times

I have long noted that to get a respectful mention of God into the Times, you have to be an African-American. Or perhaps, now, you can be Tim Tebow, though anything said about you in the Times would be with an ironical twist.

Today we can add another category: the severely disabled. There is a very moving story in today's international news section about a paraplegic Frenchman, Jean-Christophe Parisot, who has achieved astonishing things in spite of his multiple handicaps. He graduated from one of the elite French institutes, and now, according to the article, he is employed as an advocate for the voiceless and needy. But the clincher comes at the end of the article where he is quoted with no shading of irony or mockery:

With four permanent assistants, Mr. Parisot works to reduce the isolation of the elderly and improve living conditions for one of France’s largest communities of Roma, or Gypsies. He often travels to nursing homes, prisons and troubled neighborhoods. He has learned to conduct his life with the same speed and determination with which he steers his motorized wheelchair along the narrow
corridors of the prefecture. He has written six books, including a novel, an essay on theology — he is the youngest deacon in France — and a biography of a distant cousin, Frédéric Chopin, while raising four healthy children with his wife, Katia....He says that he has no qualms about the future, whatever it holds. “I don’t fear living, and I don’t fear death either,” he says. “I believe in God, and he knows what is good for me.”

How about that!

The link is

Are you Tebowing yet?

Jesuits can sometimes be off in a philosophical-intellectual empyrean where few can follow, but today's Wall Street Journal has a really good, readily understandable article by a Jesuit on the subject of prayer in the light of Tim Tebow's widely scrutinized piety:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The political meaning of the movie "A Separation"

One of the universally praised films of the past 12 months is the Iranian family drama A Separation (Roger Ebert names it number 1). I saw it today and was very impressed with the acting, cinematography, emotional honesty, and depth of inquiry into the human heart, but was somewhat less carried away with the "thriller" qualities that some reviewers have mentioned. The chaotic nature of Iranian "justice" as depicted in the film is so foreign that I had a hard time connecting with it; in that respect it seemed to me like a story from the Middle Ages without the picturesque veneer afforded by chronological distance.

What I really failed to grasp, however, was the class differences depicted by the movie, and the political ramifications thereof. If you plan to go, it will be very helpful to read this review in London's The Guardian first:

Monday, January 02, 2012

Marilynne Robinson identifies the Bible's unique importance

Such is the stature of Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson (author of Gilead and Housekeeping) that the very secular New York Times is willing to put her essay about the literary and moral significance of the Bible on the front page of the Sunday Book Review section. Her article is called "The Book of Books" and it traces the impact of the Biblical narrative on Western literature, with Faulkner and Dostoevsky her major illustrations. The sentence that particularly caught my attention is this one:

"In our strange cultural moment it is necessary to make a distinction between religious propaganda and religious thought, the second of these being an attempt to do some sort of justice to the rich difficulties present in the tradition."

This is exactly what I would have wished to say if I had Ms. Robinson's capacity for analytical expression. "Religious propaganda" is what we mostly see in what the commentariat refers to as the "Christian" portion of our electorate. "Religious thought" is very much harder to find, makes much less noise, lends itself to no commercial enterprises, draws no crowds.

She goes on:

"The great problem for Christianity is always the humility of the figure in whom God is said to have been incarnate, and the insistence of the tradition that God is present in the persons of the despised and rejected. The failure of the notionally Christian worlds of Russia [Dostoevsky] and Mississippi [Faulkner] to be in any way sufficient to the occasion of Christ among them would be a true report always and everywhere. [Here she analyses in one sentence the central problem of Christian witness: its failure to bear the cross].

She gives illustrations from Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, especially the Easter sermon in the black church, which powerfully illustrates the resonance of the [King James] Bible and the way it creates worlds of meaning among "the least of these."

Then she goes on:

"But theology is only in part social commentary. Crucially it has to do with the authority of a vision... Paul quotes an ancient hymn in his letter to the Philippians that says Christ 'emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.' And this recalls the servant described in the book of Isaiah,'one from whom men hide their faces,' who 'was despised, and we esteemed him not.' In its emphatic insistence that the burden of meaning is shared in every life, the Bible may only give expression to a truth most of us know intuitively. But as a literary heritage or memory it has strengthened the deepest impulse of our literature, and our ­civilization.

Here is the link to the entire article: book of books&st=cse&scp=1