Saturday, February 28, 2004

love and spite

Someone told me he is going to see The Passion of Christ, a movie about the greatest expression of love, out of spite. He's not religious, but he is very right-wing, and he just wants to spite the leftists that have used this movie as a pretext to attack their greatest foe, the Christian right. Well, to all of you spiteful, irreligious right-wingers out there, I thank you for your, uh, support.

But more seriously the reaction to this movie does disturb me a bit. Without getting too judgmental, I wonder how many Christians are also seeing this movie for less-than-Christ-like reasons. Passion plays were never part of my own upbringing, and I expect the same is true for most Protestants. Not that they are bad, just that it doesn't seem like anyone cared about them until they became a political hot button. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe all these churches that promoted the movie and purchased tickets in blocks have a passion play tradition. If so, I hope they find Mel Gibson's movie edifying. If not, why did they get so involved?

Did churches support the movie just because it was used as a pretext to attack Christians? But the correct response to that is to answer the attacks directly, not to defend a movie that is of no consequence in and of itself. Did churches support the movie just because they wanted to show Hollywood that there is a market for Christian entertainment? But what value is Christian entertainment that is produced for profit? God blesses works of sacrifice, not investments. Why all the excitement over this movie?

Friday, February 27, 2004

Blog malfunction

Well this week I'm updating even less than last week. It's not because I don't have anything to say (anyone who knows me realizes this), but because I'm insanely greedy. I've been working thirteen- and fourteen-hour days trying to get the next release of our product out. I work for a software company that has managed to struggle through the hard times and now looks ready to take off. That means I'll be able to quit work in a couple of years and spend my days blogging from a lounge chair on a tropical beach drinking those things with tiny umbrellas served by cute island girls in grass skirts. That's the plan, anyway.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Write in haste, repent at leisure

I've been feeling some regrets about this posting. In a way it is a reversion to the bad ol' Doc Rampage who used to terrorized undergraduates on comp.lang.misc and back in the old days. I stand by my remarks, but the attitude was overly harsh and Mr. Shore's courteous article deserved a more courteous reply from me. So here is a more courteous reply, intended in the same spirit as Mr. Shores article:

Why Christians are Concerned over Jewish Concerns about Mel Gibson's Rendering of The Passion

I deeply regret that Jews feel they have to be concerned about this film. I regret even more that their fears have such a good foundation in history. And yes, I regret even more that their fears are well-founded on current events, on the frightening explosion of anti-Semitism we see today. I fear very much that it is going to get worse. But I would like to tell the Jews that their fears are misdirected. The Jews have never had better friends than conservative Christians in the United States today. I grew up in one of these churches, and I can tell you that I have never heard one anti-Semitic statement from anyone who shared my religious beliefs. Quite the contrary, many churches teach that the Jews are still God's people, and that God's blessing to Abraham still applies. Every Christian church teaches that we are to love our neighbor (the second-greatest commandment), that God loves all people, that each of us individually is responsible for Christ's death. These teachings are not compatible with the kind of hostility that Jews seem to fear from us.

That said, I'd like to explain why Christians have reacted so strongly (and often over-reacted) to Jewish criticisms. Shore tries to make us understand how much respect Jews feel for the sages of the Sanhedrin that the movie treats so shabbily. But do he and other Jewish writers understand the reverence that Christians have for the story of Christ's passion? It is not a mere historical event, but a deeply moving and personal story of the suffering that Jesus suffered on my behalf. This is not to say that the story should be above criticism, but that some circumspection is called for. How would Jews like it if Christians took to lecturing them in public about offensive parts of the Torah and instructing them that they need to modify the parts that Christians don't like? I hardly need to guess that the reaction would be at least as heated as the Christian reaction has been to the similar presumption of some Jewish writers.

As to the film, Shore argues that

no attempt is made to understand the Jewish view of the same events. This means no sympathy or understanding of the Jews is possible

but Mr. Shore, you do not understand the Christian view of the events. Understanding of the people in the crowd is central to the story, because the crowd is us. It is not just some ancient Jews who shouted for his death, it was all of us. I suppose it is impossible to convince someone who does not share the faith, but I tell you, this is what Christians find so moving about the crucifixion: it isn't because I feel his lashes as he is beaten, it is because I feel my hand on the whip. This movie is no more likely to lead a true Christian to hate Jews than to hate himself.

Monday, February 23, 2004

NEA is a terrorist organization

Readers at Eschaton are shocked, shocked that the Republican Secretary of Education would refer to the NEA as a terrorist organization, in a private meeting, as a joke. These oh-so-sensitive people are the same ones who applaud when someone calls Bush or Ashcroft a terrorist in a public medium and meaning it seriously. The ones who loved it when Ted Kennedy, on TV, and speaking seriously, said the war was all for political gain. The ones who call Bush a deserter based on the flimsiest evidence that he might have been a bit negligent in fulfilling a duty that these same people largely hold in contempt.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Big-cat sightings

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit mentions with skepticism that there have been cougar sightings in upstate New York (I didn't follow the link because newspapers that require registration are another of my microboycotts). That reminded me of this article about big-cat sightings in England. This kind of thing, and studies of Bigfoot sightings, etc. is sometimes called cryptozoology and it's a lot of fun to read this stuff. Sure, the most likely explanation of these big-cat sightings is a mixed bag of a few escapees and a lot of mistaken sightings of housecats in hard-to-see conditions. But what fun is that?

PS: Yes, I know the cat in the picture is a lynx, not a cougar.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Eight questions about university indoctrination

Feser argues that anyone who is being honest has to admit that universities do act to make students more liberal. In support, he divides this broader claim up into six question that are discussed here. The problem is that people replied to it by saying basically, yes, it makes students believe those things, but those things are objectively true, so the students are just becoming better educated. One really has to sympathize with this view; given the premise, their conclusion is correct. Feser can block this defense by using examples that don't appeal to matters of fact. Make it entirely ideological, and then his opponents must either deny that universities instill this ideology or admit that universities are ideologically biased. Here are my suggestions:

Are students on balance and in general, after attending a university, more likely to believe the following:

1. That social and economic differences are unfair or unjust.

2. That the United State's trade with poorer nations constitutes a form of exploitation.

3. That white people have a special obligation to black people and/or other races.

4. That Western culture is deeply flawed in comparison with other cultures.

5. That there is nothing morally wrong with homosexual behavior.

6. That it would be a good thing if the federal government provided free health care to everyone.

7. That conservatives are selfish bastards who don't care about anyone except white male heterosexuals.

8. That traditional male/female roles and relationships are demeaning to women.

Each of these positions is a matter of faith or ethics. There is no empirical fact that would bear on the truth or falsehood of any of them. So if any program tends to instill any of these beliefs, then that program is not merely education, it is indoctrination.

I really need one of these

This device is called a bionic dolphin by InnerSpace. The designers have an unfortunate tendency to actually try to make it look like a dolphin. It's an interesting idea though. Most submersibles have a buoyancy that is near neutral. They adjust buoyancy with ballast to move the vehicle up and down. The bionic dolphin by contrast has positive buoyancy at all times. It submerges by reverse hydroplaning. The vehicle has sort of inverted wings that provide lift downwards. They claim this makes the vehicle safer, and in some circumstances it does, but it also has a minimum speed to stay submerged, and this in itself is less safe.

running a joke to death

John Derbyshire of NRO writes Mark: Reading that link you posted to the NY Times piece on immigration, my eye was stopped by the phrase: "Walmart-Kmart Republicans." I find myself wondering if I am one of these. I don't think so. I see myself as more of a Home Depot Republican.

If I were still a Republican I'd be a Radio Shack Republican. But when my stock options take off I'm expecting to become a Sharper Image Republican.

The inevitability of politics

When I started this blog, I was planning to write about science, technology and philosophy. It turns out I'm writing about politics, religion, and French movies instead. I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong...

what Jews think about the Passion

I haven't blogged about "The Passion" before. If I did, I'd pretty much echo the sentiments of La Shawn Barber: I'm not planning to see it, I don't think it's especially virtuous to make or view such a movie, and I think the whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. But then I read Why Jews Are Concerned Over Mel Gibson’s Rendering of “The Passion” by Scott Shore. It's a clear and reasonable presentation, but there are several things in it that require response.

First of all, I doubt his claim that

The story of the Passion has often led to violent outbreaks of anti-Semitism throughout the centuries--- not just once or twice but thousands of times in thousands of places! It often served historically as the dramatic precursor to arouse the people to a pogrom.

Passion plays may have been a part of the anti-semitic culture, but no one presented a passion play to a sober, tolerant, neighbor-loving Christian audience and thereby turned it into a raging, anti-Semitic, murderous mob. People saw in the plays what they already had in their hearts.And I think the Jewish critics know this. That's why I find this reference to the pogroms offensive. What Jewish critics are implying is that modern-day Christians are dangerously unstable people who need to be closely watched to keep them from breaking out into violence. Shore himself stops short of this implication, but he does defend the people who make it.

Shore also writes:

If Christians want to claim that The Passion is a dramatic and artistic portrayal of the death and resurrection of Jesus there is no issue. If these same people try to suggest that this is a historically accurate (indeed literally exact), film then they have little basis in Scripture to support that.

First, I don't think anyone claims it is literally exact. No film of any historical event could claim that, and certainly not one as sparsely documented as the crucifiction. Second, Gibson has all the basis in scripture he needs. The argument from scripture is not directed at Shore or anyone else who doesn't believe the scripture is accurate, so the fact that Shore doubts it is profoundly uninteresting. The discussion of accuracy takes place under the assumption of the accuracy of scripture. If you don't share this assumption, you are kindly invited to butt out.

Gibson ... represents opponents of Jesus ... as malicious caricatures. They are apparently portrayed as conniving, unethical, smarmy and mean-spirited people. Many of these people are part of the Holy Temple and represented those who were part of an unbroken line of those anointed since Moses. The oft-quoted Hillel was among the Pharisees... To libel an entire group of Jewish sages and saints is a frontal attack on Judaism.

Christianity itself is a frontal attack on Judaism. The first-century Jews understood this, which is why they tried to stamp it out. Before the crucifiction, Jesus had already condemned those very people in harsh language, calling them snakes and hypocrites. This isn't a problem between Shore and Gibson, it's a problem between Shore and Jesus.

Shore tries to avoid this analysis by writing

As Jesus was himself an observant Jew who followed Jewish Law and the teachings of the Sages, it is highly unlikely that the attacks against the Sages came directly from him. It is far more plausible that they are the opinions or interpretation of his apostles.

Shore is again forgetting his audience. Does he really think any conservative Christians are going to read this and say "Hey, I didn't know that! Jesus actually thought the Pharasees were great guys!".

Comments now available

Well, I finally added comments (and trackback) to the blog. La Shawn recommended Holoscan, and it looks like a really good system. I'm wondering why I didn't run across it the last time I was researching the issue. I'm hoping to see lots of discussion here. I'd also like to see it kept civil (unless you are talking about French movies). Also, in order to be a discussion I hope to hear from people who disagree with me, otherwise there isn't much to discuss.