Review / September 3, 2022

Turning around

On history, human nature, and The Matrix.

About one third of the way through The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life (2009), Alison Gopnik cites the famous cave allegory in Book VII of Plato’s Republic. She does so in order to raise a couple of illustrative questions: “So how can we really know anything about the outside world? Where do our theories of the world come from and how do we get them right?” These queries follow her claim that The Matrix (1999) “used much the same image” and “with the same impact”. To me this is a mistake, and a telling one at that. >>>

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Review / August 26, 2022

A superior understanding of Canada

On putting Stephen Harper in context.

In The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006- (2013), the veteran political journalist Paul Wells maintains that too many critics and commentators dismiss Harper and in doing so fail to understand him. By focusing on the wider context in which Harper operates, Wells submits that he provides readers with a more complete picture of the politician and something along the lines of a more satisfying explanation of his success. After all, millions of Canadians repeatedly voted for Harper; he was elected as PM on three separate occasions. In consequence, Wells would have us conclude that such a long-serving political leader must be possessed of a “superior understanding” of Canada. >>>

Blog / August 18, 2022

Predictably conventional

On consensus centrism and political commentary in Canada.

First off, let’s address the hollow claim from a recent editorial that “it would be desirable for the Canadian government to return to the centre of the political spectrum.” Well, why exactly? Are political spectrums somehow like virtues, with excellence found between the opposing extremes of deficiency and excess? That’s a doubtful proposition. It’s striking that the editorial supplies neither an argument nor an explanation for why a return to the centre serait souhaitable. And that is not even taking into account the debatable judgment that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have strayed far from centrist politics in the first place. >>>

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Essay / September 15, 2021

To end poverty

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. >>>

Blog / September 1, 2021

Isaiah’s vision

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. >>>

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Blog / August 25, 2021

Instances of ideology

On GraceLife Church.

In a recent post I criticized an assertion made by Claus Westermann in his justly-famous commentary on the Book of Genesis. In that work he insists that fallibility is anthropologically basic. While I do in fact agree with this claim for what are ultimately phenomenological reasons—something I obviously can’t justify here1 —I took umbrage with the way he framed it. He attempted to safeguard the notion of fallibility by placing it beyond the reach of ideology, presumably hiding it somewhere in the murky mists of immutability. In contrast, I drew upon Aristotle and Hegel and Clifford Geertz to offer a brief rebuttal, one which eschews the assumption that we can ever fully leave our political-cultural concepts behind. >>>

Blog / April 2, 2021

What is this that you have done?

On Genesis, anthropology, and ideology.

After Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the “LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” … “What is this that you have done?”” Reading the first chapters of Genesis in the context of the Pentateuch as a whole, which many recent scholarly commentators suggest doing, we can hear the tone of these questions as expressing the empathetic disappointment of a parent. >>>

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Essay / March 8, 2021

The passion and the prose

On E. M. Forster, Charles Taylor, and the politics of literature.

On what basis do we reach out and connect with one another as persons? Is there any link between our social and cultural place, so to speak, and our ability to form an intimate, authentic relationship with another human being? The most straightforward answer to the second question is “yes.” Our milieu and our mentalité and our mingling are bound basically together. >>>

Essay / February 15, 2021

That monstrous paradox

On Genesis, Kierkegaard, and the historical task of living.

In Fear and Trembling (1843) the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, writing under one of his many pseudonyms, “Johannes de silentio,” strongly objected to contemporary understandings of religious faith as impoverished, mistaken, and inept. Like many of Kierkegaard’s writings, this work is explicitly aesthetic. In being a “dialectical lyric,” as the subtitle puts it, it is intended to provoke and stupefy—like “a rhetorical shower-bath.” >>>

Review / February 1, 2021

A sudden disintegration

On the history of evangelicalism in America.

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. >>>

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