Diary: April, 2019

1er avril. Mort. Et les années, ils passent. April 2. Tonight I attended a panel put on by the Muslim Students Association of the Law Faculty at McGill University. The topic was the recently introduced law on laïcité put forward by the Coalition Avenir Québec, which focuses on the wearing of religious symbols by representatives…

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Diary: March, 2019

Feb 25. From Anna Karenina: “he did not like to be contradicted, especially when he was met with arguments that incessantly shifted their ground, introducing new considerations without sequence so that it was difficult to know which of them to answer first.” Feb 27. One of those historical events I’d like to take the time…

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Diary: February, 2019

Feb 3. In The Brothers Karamazov Smerdyakov says that it would not be a sin to renounce Christ if you were forced to do so. He would step on Christ’s face and apostatize, asking God’s forgiveness afterwards. It’s sort of the perverse flip side of a saying found in most of Dostoevsky’s major novels: “all…

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A grand interlocking network?

A few weeks ago, in a moment of some haste, I sold all my bookshelves. Sleek, shiny, and black, they were from Ikea and had, given their age, survived fairly well.  In the course of several moves from Montréal to Toronto and back, they had been taken apart and put back together one too many…

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The search after truth: an Enlightenment episode

For the wit of man cannot for dullness keep the right way to search out truth, but strayeth in diverse errors, and as it were groping in darkness, oftentimes stumbleth, till at length it wander and vanishes away, so in seeking truth, it doth betray how unfit it is to seek and find truth. Jean…

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Inventing the virtuous atheist: an Enlightenment episode

It has often been said that Plutarch educated Europe. To understand why, Shakespeare’s name need only be mentioned. For Plutarch’s textual corpus was one upon which the bard could easily draw. Shakespeare obviously mined the Parallel Lives for his own artistic purposes. But its many considerations of the situated human character, and the different lived…

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Consensus politics in Canada: Reading Justin Trudeau

We’re now well into October, 2017, and Jagmeet Singh has been elected as leader of the New Democratic Party. He is the first person of a visible minority to attain that role in Canada. An important aspect of this leadership race, as with most, was about contrast. How did the candidates compare with one another…

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Australian Diary: August, 2017

July and August were monotonous months. It was wintertime in Canberra, which, particularly in the evening, meant wearing “singlets” under sweaters under blankets. It was cold outside, it was cold inside. The purple wool throw—purchased in touristy enthusiasm in Melbourne—was in near-constant use. Every evening the temptation was an Australian fixture: a warming cup of…

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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…

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“Taking the Bible as it is”

Recently I heard a phrase about the Bible, said almost in passing, that sounds eminently reasonable stated on its own. To understand the Bible we have “to take it as it is.” This possibly supercilious saying gives me pause. For I think it expresses a deeply-seated human urge to shore up the sensibility of one’s…

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Seeing the 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize of Australia

Several weeks ago I hopped on my bike and pedaled 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…

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“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…

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“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. Perhaps you’re familiar with this episode. If you grew up like me—in white, Anglo, evangelical Protestant Christianity—it likely featured in the sermons you heard…

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Australian Diary: Holy Week, 2017

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,…

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“Commit sociology!” (or, ignore Stephen Harper)

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.…

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Australian Diary: 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…

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Disregard or despair? C. S. Lewis v. Alisdair MacIntyre

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…

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Seeing “The Case for Christ”

All together there were five of us sitting comfortably in the dark. Truth be told, I was a little surprised I wasn’t the only one there. This movie wasn’t going to break any box office records after all, and it was 10am on Friday. I first read The Case for Christ as a teenager. My…

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Australian Diary: May, 2017

WEEK 8 – May 1, 2017. You’re supposed to see the main attractions. That’s what you do when you travel to a new city. In the past two weeks Candace and I traveled to Sydney and Melbourne. And yes, we went to see some of the main tourist sites. If you’re in Sydney it’s a…

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Australian Diary: April, 2017

WEEK FOUR – 3 April, 2017. Some thoughts on two novels by Australians, read since I’ve arrived in Canberra: Richard Flanagan’s Man-Booker prize-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and Kate Grenville’s Man-Booker shortlisted The Secret River. Narrow Road has the feel of a Grecian tragedy (a texture explicitly invoked in the novel), transposed…

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Australian Diary: March, 2017

WEEK ONE – 13 March, 2017. In total the trip from Montreal took more than 30 hours. It was supposed to take 24, or thereabouts. The last leg of our flight was delayed, the shortest part, from Brisbane to Canberra. But we were fine in the end, wiping away the sleepiness with unencumbered expectancy. Our…

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Philip Yancey’s America

When asked about evangelical support for Donald Trump in a recent interview, prominent evangelical writer Philip Yancey replies with astonishment. How, he wonders, could Trump be an evangelical hero? But surely (hopefully?) Yancey isn’t ignorant of how race, class, and gender figure into this equation. The reality is that a much more specific subset of…

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Diary: Smart Alec

✚ One of the rejoinders I can remember my father giving me as a child was telling me not to be a “Smart Alec.” Evidently I liked to talk back when I thought my parents were being unfair or interfering with something I wished to do or have. In reading Freud the phrase popped into…

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Neoliberal Jesus: Reading James Crossley

Is all history political? In at least one sense, yes. If we take this statement to mean that all history-writing is political, then it is so because historians write from a particular perspective and so their arguments, however critical and objective, still belie a political orientation of some kind. Some scholars think objectivity is possible,…

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Atheism’s origins: Reading Nick Spencer

Nick Spencer begins Atheists: The Origin of the Species with a fairy tale. The story he recounts is an abbreviated version of the tale championed in nineteenth-century Europe whereby progress in scientific understanding banishes ignorance and with it the pseudo-knowledge peddled by priests. In other words: progress followed science, and science displaced religion. The trouble…

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The evangelical imagination: Reading Molly Worthen

American evangelicalism is anti-intellectual. Such a view has enjoyed fairly wide currency since Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In Apostles of Reason, Molly Worthen attempts to correct this view, but not by rejecting it outright. She shows how American evangelicals have been engaged in a range of intellectual projects—institutions, magazines, bible schools,…

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Our fractured age: Reading Charles Taylor

Since Sources of the Self Charles Taylor has contended that ours is a fractured world. The world in question is that of the North Atlantic, including Europe and North America. The world in question is also a worldview in that Taylor has examined what he takes to be the trajectory of the moral and mental…

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Living the story of belief

Consider a quote from the The Varieties of Religious Experience: “This inferiority of the rationalistic level in founding belief is just as manifest when rationalism argues for religion as when it argues against it.” Here William James attempts to describe the varieties of religious experience and in doing so approaches his topic in a way…

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The past and history: Marc Bloch and Maurice Merleau-Ponty

One of the standard characteristics of contemporary historiography is its object: the past. Yet, as most historians are aware, this “object” has been notoriously difficult to grasp. Consider the reflections of the historian Marc Bloch and the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In The Historian’s Craft (Knopf, 1953) Bloch observes that “the very idea that the past…

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Gordon Wood and the writing of history

Recently there has been some controversy over the work of historian Gordon Wood, one of the more famous of Bernard Bailyn’s students. Wood’s Radicalism of the American Revolution (Vintage, 1993) won a Pulitzer and his Creation of the American Republic (University of North Carolina Press, 1969) has had a lasting influence in shaping present-day understandings…

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