Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Remember that Case about the Evolution Sticker in Georgia?

It's back.

A federal appeals court essentially told the judge who made the ruling that there are problems with the evidentiary record.

. . . in determining that the sticker unconstitutionally advanced religion, the lower court judge said the school board had considered placing the disclaimer on textbooks after receiving a petition signed by 2,300 local residents. But, according to the appeals court, no such petition appears in the evidentiary record.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Eighteen Volts of Manliness

I am now the proud owner of this:

When I went to the store to buy a drill, I was only thinking of getting the 14.4 volt one, which is all I (the Southern California apartment-dweller) really need. But then the 18 volt was on sale and only $10 more: an extra 3.6 volts for only $10? Sign me up!

Thursday, May 18, 2006


From Doug TenNapel:

"Poorly written, poor Bible scholarship, made for Americans ignorant of the most basic Christian principles; are we talking about DaVinvi Code or Purpose Driven Life?"

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

While munching on a lonely dinner I visited John Cleese's web site, where you can watch the great man explain why it just makes sense to believe the founders of religions were esoteric (read: intentionally not making sense). Not that Python is where I would like to expend my thinking energy, but the popular idea (I at least hear it a lot arount here) of mystics being incapable of communicating in a "literal minded way" just doesn't fit when you actually study mystics. Sure, you have people who just say and do really weird stuff (in my studies, Symeon Stylites, Symeon the Holy Fool). However, this picture is the product of our lack of evidence of Late Antiquity and does not mean that the utterances of mystics are or were beyond intelligent interpretation, or that they even intended them to be such. (see Michael Dols, Majnun: The Madman in the Medieval Islamic World or Sergei A. Ivanov's Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond who elsewhere argues that in imperial Russia these holy mystics speak the same "language" as the Tsars, but that is a whole different debate.)

The extremely popular (available in any Borders) Jelaluddin Rumi, the 13th century Anatolian mystic who is one of the figures that people like Cleese most latch onto is one I am studying. The reason you can think people like this are not understandable in the most basic sense is because you are reading one-page selections of their strangest poetry and sayings in your highly illustrated coffee-table volume. It annoys me because the underlying assumption is that these people were supra-moral, supra-political, supra-social, etc.. Whereas in reality all of the founders save one of the 13th century mystical movements that I am studying (both Christian and Sufi) were explicitly politically involved, and a huge percentage of that remaining one's disciples were political figures, so either they all didn't "get it" or Cleese isn't "getting it". In any case, all of them were quite willing and capable of explaining things in rational statement about God when they wanted to.

The basic argument for Cleese seems to be: God is That-Which-Is-Unexplainable. Mystics experience God. Mystics can only express their experience of Unexplainable by being inexplicable. The thing is, they aren't. If they do want to be non-sensical, they only want to be so to "the uniniated", so they explain things in ways that only their disciples can understand. I think this is obvious and it is not worth belaboring the point.

There is, to be fair, a very true idea at the core of the Cleese-doctrine. It is impossible to positively explain the experience of a relationship. But I don't think it is limited to God-relationships at all. Try to explain in positive statement to anyone what it is is to love your lover and you'll soon be stuck as well. However, contra-Cleese, this does not mean that those who experience God cannot communicate about God, or that God cannot communicate about Himself. This is why we use negative statement and metaphors -- not to render ourselves inexplicable, but because they actually explain more.

What I can't figure out is why people like Cleese stick to this goofy line so fervently. To me it seems a) uninteresting and unstimulating, because you have backed yourself into a position where to actually say anything begs the question and b) strikes me as an excuse to keep doing whatever it is that you do unless you happen to be hit by the Unexplainable, which is highly unlikely, since we like to think of mystics (and their God) staying on The Mountain (or on our bookshelf in the "Multi-Faith Chapel of JC"). To come full circle, this is the irony of the site, which is dedicated to John Cleese unashamedly marketing every bit of himself (see the Ring Tones page) and his California Ranch so he can keep collecting Lemurs and Gyneth-Paltrow-the-Emus.*

*None of this changes the fact that Monty Python is the best comedy group of the Modern Era and will continue to make me giggle.

Monday, May 15, 2006

From the Onion: On the Detroit Tigers

"Jim Leyland Accused of Jumping on Tigers Bandwagon"

Rest in Peace, Dr. Pelikan

Jaroslav Pelikan died Saturday of lung cancer. He wrote what is certainly the best history of Christian doctrine published in the last hundred years. He gives one reason (among others) why he wrote it:

For those who believe that you don't need tradition because you have the Bible, the Christian Tradition has sought to say, "You are not entitled to the beliefs you cherish about such things as the Holy Trinity without a sense of what you owe to those who worked this out for you." To circumvent Saint Athanasius on the assumption that if you put me alone in a room with the New Testament, I will come up with the doctrine of the Trinity, is naive. So for these readers I have tried to provide a degree of historical sophistication, which is, I believe, compatible with an affirmation of the central doctrines of Christian faith.

A devout Lutheran for much of his life, he was received into the Orthodox Church in America in 1998. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Friday, May 12, 2006

New Book on Tolkien and the OED

Details are here. It looks quite good.

A while ago, I searched the online OED for illustrations of word usage drawn from Tolkien. There were about 150, which for someone who isn't Shakespeare is quite a good number. And hobbit is in the OED.

He also has his own adjectives: Tolkienian and Tolkienesque.

I still maintain the best book yet written on Tolkien (though I haven't yet read the one mentioned above) is by Tom Shippey (J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century).

By the way, for those who don't know (for a long time I didn't): OED stands for Oxford English Dictionary. If you want to buy my friendship, a good start would be with a copy of the OED. Of course, if you look up friendship in the OED, the first example is from Beowulf.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

In Which I Answer a Pressing Question

(If you haven't read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and don't want the story ruined, don't read on.)

The Leaky Cauldron has a list of questions left to be answered in the seventh book. One of them is "How does one destroy a Horcrux, anyway?"

I'd have thought that one was obvious: Stab it with a basilisk fang.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

You Know It's Not Going to Be a Good Neil Young Album . . .

. . . when reviewers preface their comments with "While this is not as bad as Landing on Water . . . ."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In Which I Am Amazed by the Success of the Detroit Tigers

They're only a half game out of first place. The pessimist in me predicts they will fall below .500 by the end of the season. (By the way, Thorgerson, in case you missed it, the Tigers clobbered the Twins a while back.)

UPDATE: Of course, the day after I post this, the Tigers get spanked by the Angels, 7-2.