The open mic thread is where you have the floor and can raise or discuss issues of your choice. There is no such thing as off-topic here. The comments of this thread are free for you to:
- Discuss things that you have been reading/listening to/watching recently
- Share interesting links
- Ask questions
- Put forward a position for more general discussion
- Tell us about yourself and your interests
- Publicize your blog, book, conference, etc.
- Draw our intention to worthy thinkers, charities, ministries, books, and events
- Post reviews
- Suggest topics for future posts
- Use as a bulletin board
Over to you!
Earlier open mic threads: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Things continue to be fairly busy here, so my involvement in the comments will probably be minimal, if there is any at all.
Does anyone enjoy H.P Lovecraft? I’ve been reading through his works again and find myself delighted by them.
Along those lines: what are any thoughts on dark/violent imagery in film/art/books? I had a two or three hour conversation with my wife comparing the violence in Scripture, Tolkien, GRRM, and Cormac McCarthy – when does violence become pure shock/sensual gratification, when can it serve a legitmate purpose, should it be avoided, etc?
As a follow-up: what distinguishes the violence/use of violence in all the abovementioned authors?
I’ve never read Lovecraft, although I did once knit a Cthulhu balaclava:
It is hard to answer such a question in the abstract. It is easier to say when a particular work has crossed a line as such determinations will often be highly dependent upon context. It might also be interesting to compare and contrast the screen adaptation of something such as Game of Thrones and the original novels. Representing events in print is rather different from doing so on the screen, the latter being far more inviting of inappropriate appetites and interests (not to mention the fact that these elements of a work may be glorified and exaggerated, precisely in order to appeal to the viewership’s desire for sex and violence.
I recommend you read yourself some Lovecraft – while knitting the appropriately themed garments.
My question (hastily written – family over and all that jazz) was prompted when a buddy I work with told me about a particularly gorey moment in GoT. I’ve not read the books myself – too much sex/gore for me. But I started thinking about other writers – McCarthy in particular. Give me a minute to ramble about some of the books I enjoy here.
I don’t know if you’ve read any of his works – they are astoundingly powerful. Two in particular are pertinent here: Child of God and Blood Meridian. Child of God (recently made into a film) is about a hillbilly accused of murder/rape, who gets chased out of town and becomes a murderer/rapist/necrophiliac. The theme of the book is summed up in the first page: He’s a child of God, much like you and I. The point of the novel (McCarthy takes a point as far as it can be taken and beats you senseless with it) is this: exactly how seriously do we take a statement like, ‘whatever you unto the least of these’. A necrophilac/murderer/rapist is pretty high up on the list of ‘the least of these’, IMO. The book is gruesome – but in a very cold way. Think Faulkner/Hemingway. The details are actually quite horrific – a GoT junkie I know said that McCarthy makes GRRM look like Mr. Rogers.
The second work, Blood Meridian, is an equally horrificly violent deconstruction of the myth of the Wild West, which focuses on the extent to which violence is interwoven with human nature – in the book, one of the main characters, a murdering/torturing/pedophile/albino/600 pound guy named Judge Holden argues that war and violence is the highest form of being a man can achieve – he goes so far as to argue that its divination. I personally think the book is a look into how much we love/need/crave violence – the climax is utterly jaw-dropping. He desenitizes you to the violence – none of the characters are phased in the least by the various sickening acts performed, except for the climactic final scene – and then you realize reading it that you’ve been desensitized to a level that these horrible people haven’t even been.
All his works focus on themes like this – the depravity (not in the calvinistic sense) of humanity. So how far can such imagerey in literature be taken before you say, ‘all right, that’s just not necessary’. When does a ‘moral of the story’ stop justifying gruesome acts? Other things like various films come to mind (The Boondock Saints, American History X, which all have profound, powerful moral/ethical questions made by explicit and at times horrifying displays of violence, dealing with racism, good/evil, etc).
I really think that this demands judgment upon particular works. For instance, I watched The Wolf of Wall Street a couple of months back and was quite disgusted with it. Even with its presentation of consequences, its excessive attention to its characters’ wallowing in the mud of their depravity was pretty much devoid of moral quality. This (supposed) realistic depiction of sin is seldom healthy. By contrast, a series like Breaking Bad is, I believe, profoundly moral. Although there are several gruesome and extremely violent scenes, the moral force of the grand arc of the narrative is more than sufficient to bear these without rendering them excessive or ‘pornographic’ in their depiction of violence.
Cormac McCarthy’s work both provokes and sustains moral reflection to a degree that, say, George R.R. Martin’s does not. Taking a leaf from Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism, I think that our determination of the merits of a work has a lot to do with the sorts of readings that it can sustain from good readers. Where the line falls regarding excessive violence varies from work to work, I suspect. However, this would generally be the way that I would go about determining it.
Some of you might be interested in the following two comments of mine from the past week. The first is on Galatians 3:28 and Genesis 2:18:
The second is from a response to a well-intentioned attempt to define marriage through collecting answers from married couples to the question of what marriage is for them.
1) Is alcoholism a disease?
2) Are the 12 steps biblically valid?
I really don’t believe that I have the necessary expertise or background to answer your first question. I believe that this is a question for doctors and psychiatrists.
I think that there is a lot of wisdom to the 12 steps—and I think that ‘wisdom’ is the way to frame this, rather than in terms of being biblically prescribed—although their vagueness concerning the identity of the higher power may imply a problematically utilitarian approach to religion and faith. That said, employed in distinctively Christian context, where the program is situated within the wider framework of orthodox Christian worship, community, and practice, I believe that it could do much good.
>>A necrophilac/murderer/rapist is pretty high up on the list of ‘the least of these’, IMO.<<
A necrophiliac/murderer/rapist is the exact opposite of the least of these, IMO.
Yes, I really don’t think that they were the people that Jesus had in mind when speaking of the ‘least of these’.
Jesus seems to be referring to the lower parts of society – people in prison, strangers, the sick, the poor – and as far as lower parts of society go, Lester Ballard is fairly low.
Thank you Alastair, for giving us the chance to post here.
Here are some free-floating thoughts from me about the ‘gay debate’
Sometimes I wonder what ‘the gay debate’ has to do with me anyway, and why I have such misgivings about the redefinition of the word ‘marriage’ in secular law, and the possibility of it also being redefined by church leaders – after all, a Christian marriage is a Christian marriage, no matter what it’s called.So why am I concerned about the redefinition of a word?
Then I think of the sexualisation of the words ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ and remember how, as a young(ish) teacher of German, I got into a bit of hot water professionally because these words still had their original meaning for me.- I just wasn’t very ‘street-wise’.
The word ‘faggot’, apart from being something some of us might enjoy eating with mushy peas, also sounds like the German word for ‘bassoon’ – ‘der Faggott’. A routine revision lesson for a German speaking test quickly turned into a riot when a child asked me the German for ‘bassoon’. It ended on a light note when the child asked, ‘Miss, can I just say I play the clarinet?’
Then there’s the word ‘gay’. Most German past participles begin with the prefix ‘ge-‘, which sounds like ‘gay’ …well, near enough. I came unstuck when teaching the past participles of separable verbs and told the children that the ‘ge-‘ goes in the middle. For example:ich mache auf- I open; ich have aufgemacht – I’ve opened. From my point of view, it was an innocuous explanation but I don’t think I ever lived it down in that school.I was the one who told the kids that ‘the gay has to go in the middle.’!
I get bone weary of so-called ‘traditionalists’ being described as ‘bigoted’, ‘intolerant’, ‘unloving’ and what-have-you. We’re all affected by ‘the gay debate’. No man is an island. Sometimes, I wish some so-called ‘liberals’ would bear this in mind.
Thanks for the comment. I think that discussing issues related to LGBT identities can be very important. There are many persons who fall within these categories within our society and acquainting ourselves with their situation and self-understandings can be a necessary part of the process of loving our LGBT neighbours.
It is indeed frustrating when moral objections to same-sex relations and the redefinition of marriage is presumed to arise from fear, hatred, or personal animus towards LGBT persons. Sadly, however, such homophobia does fairly widely exist.
We should also be aware of the fact that the issues under discussion are of deep personal significance and cost to some persons and, while remaining faithful in our witness, do our best to do justice to represent them fairly and accurately and to articulate our positions in ways that ensure that they are not abused.
The redefinition of marriage is indeed far-reaching in its consequences. Many people have a sense that something is wrong about it, but don’t feel able to express what exactly the cause of their unease is. This vague discomfort is easy to characterize as unenlightened prejudice or bigotry. However, I believe that in many cases it is possible to identify a strong and reasonable basis for such discomfort.
What do you think of Leon Kass’ notion of the ‘wisdom of repugnance’? When I’ve discussed it in the past with people they were put off by the language used. Discomfort might be softer language but it would seem to be along the same lines.
It might also be helpful to distinguish between this repugnance/discomfort and prejudice in the Burkean sense. Where the former is something closer to a ‘natural’ reaction and the latter a reaction arising from social capital.
Non-deliberation is common to both. This, in part, is what makes them objectionable; at least, formally. For many of those who do object do so without much deliberation themselves. They take positions because they are fashionable &c.
I think that there is a lot of merit to the concept, used carefully. It would be interesting to bring his claims into dialogue with Jonathan Haidt’s arguments about the broader bases of conservative morality.
Categorical resistance to repugnance is often associated with resistance to the reality of human nature. People mistakenly think of natural law as a theoretical account of reality, when natural law is the orderedness of the reality itself. Repugnance is one way in which this natural moral order asserts itself within us, functioning as a sense of moral equilibrium.
There is, I believe, benefit to non-deliberation in many cases. The presence of a natural and/or deeply instilled cultural aversion to certain actions facilitates the fuller enjoyment of particular forms of relationship than otherwise. For instance, the fact that incest is never even on the table enables us to enjoy a degree of intimacy with our family that might not be possible if incest were only ruled out at a later stage.
Thank you for your reply. Yes, ‘acquainting ourselves with their self-understandings can be a necessary part of loving our LGBT neighbours.’ I was especially moved by Tom Daley’s video and got a better understanding of how it felt to be Tom.
‘….such homophobia does fairly widely exist.’ That pupil who didn’t want to say the word ‘Faggott’ was afraid of being heard saying it because there was so much homophobia in that school. The mother of my gay (former) neighbour confided in me about her daughter but asked me not to tell the other neighbours because she feared repercussions.
As for me, I can cope with the ‘gay’ part of ‘Gay Pride’ but not with the ‘pride’ part, but then I find hubris pretty indigestible in all contexts, not just this one!
Yes , we need to ‘articulate our positions in ways that ensure that they (LGBT people) are not abused.’ There is so much pain in the world and I certainly try to avoid adding to that pain wittingly or willingly.
Your last paragraph resonates with me. A redefinition of marriage affects everyone, not just the legislators, and I hope all concerns about it will be given consideration by church leaders.Regarding your final sentence, my own life experience is such that I cannot disconnect giving birth from sexuality and mortality but I cannot articulate that in theological terms – though I think you have articulated it very well!
I have one final thought about the use of language in a different context. A ‘westernised’ Muslim colleague once picked me up for describing a pupil as ‘half-caste’ in a school with a high percentage of Asian pupils. I asked him to give me a more appropriate descriptor and he replied ‘mixed race’. I learnt a lot from him!
Recognizing how certain expressions can be heard and actions can be perceived is important, as you observe. No matter how well-meaning we are, we can easily hurt others unwittingly with ill-chosen words, for instance.
On the issue of gay ‘pride’, I think that it is important to recognize the context within which it finds its origin. Gay ‘pride’ was a response to the social stigma, shame, and guilt that surrounded LGBT persons, to their being treated like lepers in society. While things have obviously improved on this front, these issues clearly still haven’t disappeared. In gay pride, LGBT persons enjoy solidarity in resisting this representation of themselves and collectively celebrating who they understand themselves to be instead. While many of us as Christians will see much that is problematic with this, I think that we should also be able to see something of the rationale for it and recognize that it is far from an unalloyed negative.
True. I have checked out the history of ‘Gay Pride’ and the choice of words seems to have been a secular one, not a Christian one. The more I think about this …. well…. the more I think about it! For instance, one of my favourite colleagues, who really encouraged me with my work, was openly gay. He was not a Christian but he had a humility about him that certainly appealed to me. Can’t judge any book by it’s cover, can we? 🙂
Progressive Evangelicalism seems to be dead. As I’ve remarked before, the collapse has been remarkably swift, and it has been pressure from gay affirming folks outside Evangelicalism that did it.
Scot McKnight just reposted that. Should have checked the date.
Nonetheless, the response, if Wallis or someone like him did anything like that today, would be even swifter and more severe. Positions have hardened.
As it has often largely been held together by its opposition to conservative evangelicals, it is unsurprising that it should prove incoherent and deeply fractious when attempting to advance a positive stance of its own. I think that one could argue that the old evangelical left was better on this front.
I need wisdom on where to send my son to school next year. I appreciate prayer.
I will pray for you.
Alastair…what do you think of all this Charismatic stuff?
Is this Rick Warren?
Hah, you wish! 😉
That is a very broad question. You’d need to narrow it down considerably before I could really give an answer. What in particular are you wanting to hear my thoughts on?
Sorry, I was just trying to be funny. 🙂
I am honestly really trying to understand this extreme push from the Charismatic movement that is coming out of places like Bethel Church in Redding California, and others like IHOP. This stuff once seemed like run-of-the-mill charismaticism, but now it is sweeping through non-denominationalism and the more it grows the more it seems to be bringing in really crazy “New Age,” or “New Spirituality/Contemplative” beliefs. To the point where Christians who were brought out of the darkness of new age practices are starting to say, “wait a minute, I used to do this stuff and now they are doing it with Jesus stamped on top.”
I, myself, would be a bit of what is labeled now as a reformed charismatic…probably very close to Andrew Wilson. I just don’t know what to do with this stuff and it is really affecting churches and people I know. People gobble it up with out really thinking about what is being done or said.
Do you have any experience or knowledge in regard to some of these things?
Thanks, and I love the podcast by the way. I have enjoyed every episode but the NT Wright one was particularly helpful. Can’t wait for the second one!
Pleased to hear that you like the podcast! I expect that the second N.T. Wright podcast should be posted in the next few hours.
My experience with such forms of charismaticism are limited. I am not myself a charismatic, just a non-cessationist Reformed Christian. However, from the little that I have experienced in various contexts, I really share your concerns. One crucial thing that people seem to lack is an appreciation of the importance of interpreting experience and a recognition that it doesn’t validate or interpret itself.
Have you read this post? If you haven’t, you might find it interesting.
What do you think of Derrida/Levinas’ discussion of hospitality, particularly, of being guests in the world and in our bodies?
I haven’t read either recently. I would need to take some time to refresh my memory.
Levinas was an Orthodox Jew, and much of his work–even when specifically philosophical–was an attempt to translate Hebrew Talmudic thought into Greek–that is, into the language of philosophy. Derrida was increasingly influenced by Levinas toward the end of his life (though, obviously, he never fully returned to his Jewish heritage), and gave a very interesting day-long lecture that attempted to exegete Levinas’ writings: I think you would find the lecture very interesting. (http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-9780804732758-0)
Here’s a question for anyone who wants to jump in. I find myself a co-belligerent on certain issues that feminists rail against (say, a proposition like “violence against women is primarily a men’s issue”. I’d agree.). But on others, I can’t follow them to their conclusions (obv. example is the sacrosanct ‘right to choose’). I can’t tell apart “first principles” of feminism (as widely conceived of as possible), from its conclusions. I just find myself wading deep into a given issue and agreeing with bits and rejecting bits. I wanna try to fix that. Here’s the Q: what have people here read to get acquainted with feminism of today? (The feminism of Slate/Jezebel/HuffPo etc. …the kind I most often meet at school). Is it just learned by familiarity after multiple culture war skirmishes?
Also, I find that the concept is ballooning immensely in my circles, like in the ‘if you think women are people, you’re a feminist’ assertion. I know that’s just rhetoric, but this is the shape of the feminism I rub up against. And it’s hard to be helped by some of my go-to Christian authors/bloggers on this b/c they tend to come out guns blazing against it*, which though sometimes makes for a good read, doesn’t help my understanding. I feel more like I got a lesson in toeing in the party line, for when my turn comes. So yeah. I’d like to hear some thoughts =]
(Only thing on my ‘to read’ list is ‘The Feminine Mystique’, cuz I heard it was seminal)
*it*, w/e it is, is often coloured by the specific issue/skirmish at hand.
I’m not a ‘new feminist’ and not at all au fait with its ‘first principles’ , so I can’t offer much by way of response.
Anyway, here’s my small offering:
In 1977 ( Yes, I am of ‘mature years’!) my favourite feminist writer was Marilyn French (The Womens’ Room) That was in the days when we thought some men were ‘Male Chauvinist Pigs’ who treated women like ‘sex objects’! A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.
Now, my favourite feminist writer is Linda Schierse Leonard (Meeting the Madwoman, Empowering the Feminine Spirit.) ‘Mad’ here, by the way, means ‘angry’, not ‘insane’!
I like Linda because she actually likes men and wants men to be empowered, too. She wants us all to be the people God created us to be, and is not in competition with men – no ‘battle of the sexes’.
She is a Jungian psychotherapist .I don’t know much about her faith, but she does believe in God.
All the best with the ‘shape of feminism’ you ‘rub up against.’
Thanks for your thoughts, C! Linda Leonard seems like a good–and from the Amazon page, difficult–read. I’ll probably have to work up to reading her =]
Regarding your last sentence, my quoted words seem far more ambiguous now than I intended when I wrote them lol. So let me clarify that the quoted phrases were supposed to convey that I only vaguely grasp the feminism I meet in school, and when I meet it, there’s often friction. I hope my choice of words didn’t get me into trouble there lol
I would avoid referring to a feminist work as ‘seminal’… 😉
Feminism is far from a uniform movement, as I am sure that you have gathered by now. Also, the popular forms that you seem to be encountering often can’t sustain critical cross-examination. However, I believe that it is important to listen charitably to the concerns being voiced and try to understand where they are arising from, even when you know that you could criticize the position quite effectively on several points. It is also important to learn about the genealogy of the ideas of feminism in both their more theoretical and popular forms, recognizing the underlying commitments and implications, many of which are rather problematic.
Always try to get your feminism from feminist sources, rather than second hand. I would advise following a few popular feminist sources (things like Jezebel), following some feminists on Twitter, reading some popularizing blogs (Dianna Anderson writes extensively on the subject), and get a sense of the broader history and character of the movement with some introductory works that will unpack the various ‘waves’ and the like (there are plenty of books that will do this for you—this is just one easy read as an example). When you have a better sense of the wider shape of the conversation, start focusing on some particular authors.
Try to read a variety of feminist voices. Like Christians, feminists can be a fractious lot and are often quick to excommunicate others for supposed or actual crimes against ideology. Don’t pay attention to this and ensure that you have a fairly good first hand knowledge of the voices of the various schools. Read some popular feminists, like Caitlin Moran or Jessica Valenti. Read some queer feminists like Judith Butler. Read some second wavers like Germaine Greer. Read some works by women of colour like bell hooks. Try to situate feminism in relation to broader conversations around Marxism, race, liberalism, LGBT issues, etc. Read some feminist theologians from various points on the theological spectrum.
After you have done this, you should have a better idea of the lay of the land and you will have learnt much of value, not just about feminism, but also from it (I say this as someone who remains quite strongly critical of feminism, but who believes it is a very important interlocutor).
Thanks man! And I appreciate the name drops. Very helpful for a starting point.
Btw, I LOL’d so hard at the ‘seminal’ point. I only realized the biological sense of the word recently (in ‘seminal vesicles’) and didn’t even consider that this might be controversial anywhere. This could actually function as an example of what I was trying to describe in my encounters with feminism. Like so:
Person writes popular column against the use of ‘seminal’.
Feminist-identifying friends populate my timeline with retweets and conversations spurred by it.
Some bring it up in class; passion is evident.
I (in this case) am unconvinced, and wonder how representative this is of the movement. Doug Wilson (for example) satirizes the column.
I am entertained, but am quietly confused by the arguments so I just remember the assertions that have been lobbed from all sides.
(Rinse and repeat at the next kerfuffle: ‘birth rape’). Le sigh.
Like I said, thanks for pointing me a place to start!
Hi Alastair, in response to your comment that you remain ‘quite strongly critical of feminism’ – I’m also unhappy about some genres of feminism.As an example, back in the ’70s, Germaine Greer was not someone I favoured as a role model.However, Linda Schierse Leonard is conciliatory and creative and considers the historical and sociological impact of feminism and some of the ways in which it has been damaging to men.When I first came on Twitter, I wondered how long I’d last, given my more moderate attitude – but I’m still here 🙂
A new train of thought from me – this time about changes in the meanings of symbols, and specifically, the symbol of the rainbow.
I have a lapel pin with a picture of a rainbow and a dove. This was given to me by a Christian member of my family as a symbol of God’s promise:
“And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said to Noah,’This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.’ ”
Now we frequently see the image of the rainbow as a symbol for LGBT people. As far as I know, it is a celebration of diversity and hope and may have been inspired by Judy Garland’s song, ‘Over the Rainbow.’ It is a lovely image and a lovely sentiment, yet I have mixed feelings about it and some cognitive dissonance.
I am searching for some overlap between what the rainbow means to me and what it means to LGBT people -searching for a mandala, a way of transcending my mixed feelings.
I continue to pray about it.
Thank you for your reply and all the best with reading what Alastair has recommended. With all these opinions whizzing around you at school and on your Twitter timeline, you seem to have kept a lovely sense of humor and I’m sure that is a strength which will help you steer your way through :=)
Zizek is a plagiarist.
BTW, everyone should read Deogolwulf’s aphorisms.
This doesn’t entirely surprise me. Sometimes it feels as though over 50% of his work is self-plagiarizing, which has always made me suspect that it is written in a rather unorthodox manner, with heavy reliance upon research assistants and the like.
When we were living in Croatia during the war, one less-terrible bit of news to hit the press in the latter, calmer part of those years (when we were living very near the border with Slovenia), was that some Slovenian men had done some massive amounts of counterfeitting of the new Slovenian paper money of the time. This was when color photocopy machines had just become available, and that it what they used! No kidding. Clearly, from the fact that it showed up in the news, they were not very sophisticated copies, and the men were caught. Maybe Zizek didn’t hear about that….
Žižek has responded to the charges here.
Well, wow. That was timely.
So, he didn’t plagiarize American Renaissance, he just plagiarized his friend.
Don’t know if you got my email. I will be in Cambridge for most of next week, but I assume you will still be busy with dissertation stuff . . . and not anywhere near Cambridge.
Also, Malcolm Guite will be a visiting fellow at St. John’s College Durham for most of October and November upcoming. Though perhaps you will then no longer be in Durham.
I don’t think so. When did you send it? I received one on June 17th and sent a reply, if that is the one to which you are referring. Unfortunately, I won’t be near Cambridge next week. There is, however, a possibility that I will still be in Durham in October and November.
Given assisted dying is in the news again I’d be interested in your thoughts.I don’t have a firm position but I’m open to the possibility.
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