To end poverty

An essay on Karl Marx, Jesus Christ, and politics.

Sweeping, one-sided generalizations are not exactly hard to come by. In Canada our politicians regularly sound off indiscriminately on subjects which, simply put, cannot be adequately addressed in a pithy phrase or soundbite. Even if we understand that certain issues are incredibly complex, however, democratic-representative politics in the twenty-first century frequently seems to demand ready-made, often merely symbolic answers to pressing questions. For their part, pundits and editorialists offer us what are at best uneven insights in their weekly summary judgments. Then there is the relatively harmless use to which each of us put generalizations on a daily basis. Without being too terribly concerned by their justification, we employ them for a whole host of reasons. We often try to convey something quickly to someone we trust to understand our meaning. In these instances nuance isn’t really needed. But if generalizations are useful, sometimes harmless, or even necessary, that is not to excuse their excesses. Many are injuriously imprecise and deserve to be disdained. Perhaps especially in politics, and certainly no less in scholarship, all should be stringently scrutinized. For as Cicero noted long ago (De divinatione) and Descartes saw fit to repeat after him (Discours de la methode), there is nothing so absurde or étrange that a philosopher has not said it.



Isaiah’s vision

A blog post about reading the Book of Isaiah en français.

The Book of Isaiah opens (1:1) in such a way as to indicate its genre—it is a book of visions, révélations reçues. Isaiah, to whom these revelations are given, is the “son of Amoz.” What he sees concerns “Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah”. All of this indicates that these pronouncements were given to the prophet Isaiah by God in a particular setting: the onset of Israel’s defeat, exile, and captivity. To fully grasp the significance of this setting demands an attentive familiarity with the story and symbols of Israel more generally. In this case we can look to 2 Kings 17:5-19, where we learn that the people of God have been divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom of Israel has already been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. This is the concrete “intertextual” setting of Isaiah’s judgments on behalf of Yahweh. There Isaiah delivers a relatively simple message, one which has been uttered in Israelite tradition before and will be uttered again: Israel and Judah have forsaken Yahweh. They have turned their back on the one who had “brought them up out of the land of Egypt” (2 Kings 17:7). In keeping with the logic of retribution, a logic found in various places throughout the scriptures, forgetting God’s action and his commandments is tantamount to ignoring the basis of their salvation, their liberation, their freedom. Both Isaiah and 2 Kings draw on the already-existing story of Israel’s captivity and exodus. It’s a trajectory that shuttles between bondage and liberty and back again.



A sudden disintegration

A review of The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (2017), by Frances Fitzgerald.

The 1960s was a decade of momentous change in American history. John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, was elected and then assassinated; Bible-reading and prayer were banned in schools as a result of two important Supreme Court cases; full and legally protected citizenship was secured for African Americans by the civil rights acts of 1964 and 1965. What’s more, these events took place against a menacing backdrop: the Cold War. At times the threat of nuclear destruction was immanent. Less-noticeable changes undoubtedly contributed to the overall sense of upheaval. For a substantial number of Americans, as a result of sustained economic growth, the 1960s was a period of relatively high social mobility. Society became much younger, proportionally speaking, and those young people went on to get more advanced levels of education than their parents. With greater exposure to different ideas and diverse peoples, both as a result of education and increased urbanization, a significant portion of the younger generation rejected the middle-class norms of their parents. The symbols are well-known: men started growing their hair long, women began to wear pants, and new forms of popular music saturated the air—which sometimes expressed creative disdain for conventions depicted as staid and stifling. New social movements rose to increased prominence as well, including civil rights for African Americans as well as second-wave feminism and gay rights. No-fault divorce was legalized. These developments coincided with widespread attitudinal adjustments: polls show that by 1970 a majority of Americans were willing to elect a female president, less than half the population now saw premarital sex as morally wrong, and much greater levels of tolerance for cultural diversity were expressed.


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