Seeing “Fargo” Season Two

Albert Camus may not be a character in the second season of “Fargo,” but Noreen Vanderslice (Emily Haine) is repeatedly shown reading her way through one of his most famous texts.

The fundamental subject of the The Myth of Sisyphus is this: it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning; therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face.[1]

Death and life, right and wrong, health and sickness, purpose and chance, power and impotence – such are the polar tensions “Fargo” explores. The fundamental question of philosophy for Camus was suicide – is life worth living? His ultimate answer is in fact a resounding yes. However, it also entails a recognition of humanity’s constrained freedom and a happiness nestled in a symbol of ceaseless struggle. Continue reading “Seeing “Fargo” Season Two”

“Taking the Bible as it is”

Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. A dubious adage if taken universally, it certainly captures an aspect of human experience. Perhaps more accurately, if less sagely, it could be said that familiarity transforms our relationship to things (and vice versa). For me, one of those transformative familiar things is a compilation of ancient texts, the Bible. Raised in the WASPy heartland of evangelicalism in Canada, the Bible has been part of my moral and imaginative vocabulary since I was a child. It has indelibly shaped the way I see the world. While I may no longer hold to the certainties ostensibly derived from it, and acknowledging its limitations, I am in fact quite grateful for the education evangelicalism gave me. Part of that gratitude stems from evangelicalism’s earnest attempt to maintain the sense in which a text from the past, the Bible, can speak to us in the here and now. Though it scarcely needs to be added that evangelicals are not alone in this. Just this week, on the bicentenary of her death, Jane Austen has been honoured with a place on the ten pound note in the UK. Several essays have been duly published in various newspapers and magazines that attest to the lasting influence her novels continue to wield. Continue reading ““Taking the Bible as it is””

Seeing the 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize of Australia

Several weeks ago I hopped on my bike and pedalled my way across the bridge over Lake Burley Griffin to the National Portrait Gallery of Australia. It was a bright, sunny, and typically cold winter day in Canberra. But I was determined to see this year’s competition for the National Photographic Portrait Prize. (To go to the official prize website and see all the photographs click here.) When I got there I promptly put down my wrinkly $10 and started walking through the exhibit, still a little warm from the 40-minute ride, camera in hand. One of the great things about visiting an exhibit, including the chance to see the photographs grouped together, comparing and contrasting and considering one another, is the fact that they are much bigger than you’re likely to see on a screen.
Continue reading “Seeing the 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize of Australia”

“No Religion”

According to the most recent census information, released this past week, nearly 30% of Australians have “no religion.” Understandably, that statistic was front and centre in much of the Australian news. The most recent available information for Canada comes from 2001, in which about 17% of Canadians reported that they had no religious affiliation. In 2001 that number was basically the same for Australia. Presumably Canada can expect similar census results in the near future. Continue reading ““No Religion””

“A whip out of cords”

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

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Perhaps you’re familiar with this episode. If you grew up like mein white, Anglo, evangelical Protestant Christianityit likely featured in the sermons you heard and Sunday school lessons you learned. I rather like the image of Jesus that the Gospel of John gives us here. But not for the reasons given in my Sunday school classes. There Jesus was depicted as disrupting the legalistic priests who, in the minds of my well-meaning teachers, clung to the letter of the law when they should have been agents of God’s grace. That reading of the New Testament has a long history, but it is now regarded by a wide range of scholars as deeply mistaken (not least because it reinforces anti-Semitic stereotypes). Continue reading ““A whip out of cords””

Holy Week, Reading and Remembering

This Holy Week past I read the Gospel of John on the assumption that there is something to be gained by doing so in the form we currently have it. That may seem rather obvious. It’s certainly not a novel approach. And it’s worth observing that it doesn’t negate other readings. Those remain possible, fruitful, relevant. In my case I had started reading the Gospel of John because it was part of the liturgical schedule at church. What I mean by reading John’s Gospel as we have it is reading it in its final editorial form, as it has taken its place in the Christian New Testament. Biblical scholars remind us that this Gospel was probably first written for a particular community at a particular moment in time. This must certainly be the case in a general way, i.e. for the early Christian community (as scholars Richard Bauckham and others suggest), or in a more specific way, i.e. for the Johannine community (as scholars John Ashton and others suggest). Still, the challenge of understanding what the Gospel of John says remains complex. Continue reading “Holy Week, Reading and Remembering”

“Commit sociology!”

During his tenure in office as the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper repeatedly suggested that sociology does not explain violence or crime. When an alleged plot against a VIA Rail train was discovered in 2013 Harper stated awkwardly that we should not “commit sociology.” He insisted that we should instead focus on personal responsibility. When an inquiry into the disproportionately high number of deaths among indigenous women in Canada was demanded, after the death of Tina Fontaine in 2014, Harper said that such deaths were not “sociological phenomenon.” As Jakeet Singh pointed out shortly thereafter in an article for the Toronto Star, we should link these rather strange statements about sociology to the Conservative government’s abolition of an important social-statistical tool in 2010, the long-form census. Continue reading ““Commit sociology!””

Diary: 15 June, 2017

From suburbia to the nearby countryside, we took a little adventure. And that was thanks to Candace’s co-worker Joanne. Her ageing, resilient minivan took us to three notable spots: the new Cotter Dam, the Canberra Deep Space Station Communication Complex (the CDSCC is operated by NASA), and the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Thankfully, it was a pleasantly sunny day on Saturday (June 3rd). But it’s still winter. There was a chilly, pinching breeze throughout the day, making itself felt every time you moved from sunlight to shade. Although the temperature peaked at something like 15 degrees (Celsius), by the late afternoon you could see your breath. Continue reading “Diary: 15 June, 2017”

Disregard or despair? C. S. Lewis and Alasdair MacIntyre on modern theology

In typical fashion, Nietzsche unleashed the hammer of his polemic on the stand-in figure of George Eliot: in getting rid of God Eliot had nonetheless clung to Christian morality. Nothing could have disgusted Nietzsche more, and he duly fulminated against all she stood for, however unfairly, in righteous indignation. His sharp criticism, delivered in Twilight of the Idols (1888), consisted of the claim that you could not get rid of God and yet retain Christian morality. To fail to see that they were necessarily interconnected was a failure to discover the sickness from which Europe was suffering. For Nietzsche it is quite clearly all or nothing, even if we might wonder today about whether or not Nietzsche successfully shed his religious skin as fully as he hoped. Nevertheless, the “revaluation of all values,” the project to which Nietzsche returned again and again in his mature work, was precisely the attempt to do what he accused so many of his contemporaries of failing to do. It is why Nietzsche eventually turned on both Schopenhauer and Wagner. In order to breathe the aristocratic mountain air of healthy overmen he insisted that one has to leave “flatland.” The Dionysian doctor offers Zarathustra as the philosophical pharmakon. Continue reading “Disregard or despair? C. S. Lewis and Alasdair MacIntyre on modern theology”