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…

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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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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…

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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…

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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.…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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.…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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Atheism’s modern history: Reading Gavin Hyman

“Yes to God? For many believers, this has not been obvious for a long time. No to God? Neither has this been obvious for a long time to unbelievers.” Hans Küng, Does God Exist? (Vintage, 1981) ✚ Atheism has a long and fascinating history. In ancient Greece, as Diogenes Laertius informs us, men such as…

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Religious and atheist diversity

✚ Religion is sometimes held to be untrue today because there are so many different and often conflicting claims made about it. To even speak of “religion” in such reified and monolithic terms offends contemporary ears. When I attended then president Mark Juergensmeyer’s address to the 2009 American Academy of Religion conference in Montreal, he…

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Immoral atheism?

✚ It is disappointing to see a Christian fulfill what I would have thought was a tired stereotype: asserting that a rival belief or argument is ultimately based on immorality. Aside from being a conversation-stopper, in today’s world it seems to exude the bunker mentality of a subculture that does not want to sincerely engage…

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Is the past a mirror?

✚ In a recent post at Big Questions Online entitled A Not-So-Distant Mirror, Alan Jacobs suggests that the 18th-century might be a mirror to our own by drawing on the work of Roy Porter. This is, actually, quite a contentious claim. Some of the more important debates about English/British history in the last 50 years—indeed,…

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