Archives for February 2010


Lent, Day 4

Saturday, 12:20 a.m.

Lent, Day 3

How on earth did I miss hearing about Lourdes?

“Jessica Hausner’s strange, mesmerizing Lourdes approaches this religious mythology with an ambiguousness that can be deeply frustrating at first, as Hausner refuses to take a position on whether the town is a wellspring of spiritual gifts, or a gaudy, exploitative tourist trap. Then the story shifts, and the film becomes an inquiry into miracles—who gets them, who doesn’t, and how it all fits into God’s inscrutable plan.”

A public service announcement from Sting

News From Rome

The president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is affirming that Catholics should not fear Islam, but rather welcome the chance for deepening their faith through interchange with Muslims.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran affirmed this in Granada during his Feb. 10 opening address for a two-day congress sponsored by the Faculty of Theology of Granada. The congress was titled “Christianity, Islam and Modernity.”

“We must not fear Islam,” the prelate affirmed, “but I would say more: Christians and Muslims, when they profess their own faith with integrity and credibility, when they dialogue and make an effort to serve society, constitute a richness for the latter.”

On The Invention of Lying

This was a very good movie, somewhat reminiscent of Groundhog Day in its portrayal of an alternate universe, very much like our own and yet strange beyond belief – I mean this quite literally. In the universe of The Invention of Lying, however, people by nature tell the truth, are incapable of deceit, and fiction of any kind – movies, books, whatever – would be utterly incomprehensible to its inhabitants. It’s an interesting, if obviously impossible premise explored with great humor by the great Ricky Gervais, creator of The Office and the founder of that 80s pop sensation, Seona Dancing.

A lot of jokes work on the simplest of levels, as when Mark Bellison (Gervais) simply tells the bank teller he has more money than he actually does, or tells a beautiful woman that the world will end unless she sleeps with him. The poor naifs believe him, as they must, and we all have a good chuckle. Much worse is when people simply blurt out what they’re thinking; apparently they are as incapable of discretion as they are deceit:

ANNA: I was just masturbating.
MARK: That… makes me think of your vagina.

“Ha ha”, as Nelson Muntz says.

But the movie verges on greatness as Mark tries to use his invention to win the woman he loves. What exactly are the implications of lying for the pursuit of love? If sexual love were pursued without seduction and manipulation, what would it be like? If love seems to require more than seduction and psychological manipulation, why is this? Likewise, if the world of human interactions is entirely truthful, what can we make of the value of honesty? What are we to make of values in relation to honesty; indeed, is it possible to speak of “values” at all? If there are no lies, does truth even exist? If “Truth” casts no shadows, what is the importance of such intangibles as courage or compassion? This complete lack of scale and proportion in these intangibles is perhaps best portrayed by the drab, utilitarian surroundings everywhere; while taking note of the utterly mundane furnishings, the clothes – even the advertisements – I could only think, “Of course!”

The religious and, uh … spiritual dimensions of Mark’s invention are portrayed less satisfactorily, although there are some fine gags. As Mark’s more profound lies about the reality of death and the possibility of an afterlife become the previously unrealized aspirations of everyone, he understands that he can’t simply appear before everyone reading from a script on flimsy paper. They need to be on tablets of some kind, and since granite isn’t readily available, pizza boxes will have to do. When he begins to crack under the strain of this all “spirituality”, newfound success, and lost love (but is it love?), he naturally begins to look like Moses. Or Jesus. A drunken Jesus, maybe, but again we can only say, “Of course!”

The movie points towards romantic love as a new and perhaps higher form of truth as the guarantor of the natural truth that nobody except Mark understands as vulnerable. If the full implication of that isn’t worked out to a higher dramatic purpose, well, it is a romantic comedy we’re watching, and we understand how that has to end. Life isn’t often like this, but who can stop wishing it were?

Johann Hari on ex-Jihadists

Here, on the other hand, is a great story on British jihadists.

For his summer vacation in 1990 – as a break from studying physics at Cambridge University – he went to wage jihad on the battlefields of Afghanistan. He arrived with two friends from Jimas at an Arab-run training camp in the mountains of Kunar in Eastern Afghanistan. It was a sparse collection of tents and weapons left behind by the CIA in the snow and blood. They spent the days running up and down mountains learning how to fire Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers. “When you fire a Kalashnikov, it echoes all around the mountain,” he says. “After this boring life, you feel the adrenaline pumping.”

Did you get that? Studying physics at Cambridge is boring; surely there must be a more interesting line of work.

Usama’s job was to persuade people to go to fight in Afghanistan and, from the mid-1990s, Bosnia. He was one of the best – and he says, again very fast, that one of his successes was to radicalise Omar Sheikh, the man now on death row in Pakistan for beheading Daniel Pearl. “I set him off on his path to Jihad,” he says. He looks a little excited, and a little appalled. The first thing he remembers about Sheikh – who he met at a Jimas study circle – is the fresh lemonade he made in his university rooms. “It was delicious. And we drank and drank. My first impression of him was that he was a clean-shaven, well-educated British public schoolboy. A lovely bloke.”

But shit happens:

He says the 7/7 bombings detonated a theological bomb in his mind: “How could this be justified? I began to wonder if parts of the Koran are actually metaphor, and parts of the Koran were actually just revealed for their time: seventh-century Arabia.”

Once the foundation stone of literalism was broken, he had to remake the concepts that had led him to Islamism one-by-one. “Jihad has many levels in Islam – you have the internal struggle to be the best person you can be. But all we had been taught is military jihad. Today I regard any kind of campaigning for truth, for justice, as a type of Jihad.” He signed up to the pacifist Movement for the Abolition of War. He redefined martyrdom as anybody who died in an honourable cause. “There were martyrs on 9/11,” he says. “They were the firefighters – not the hijackers.”

He says he found himself making arguments he once thought unthinkable – like arguing that women should be allowed to show their hair in public. Jihadi websites run by his old friends started to declare him an apostate, a crime that under their interpretation of sharia is punishable by death.

Conversions go in all directions.

Thinking about Islamic Conversion

If we are to atone for this kind of guilt, would it not be better to follow the path of peace? And if it’s peace we want (“Peace be with you!”), would it not be be better to just … submit? After all, Islam is the religion of peace.

But to how do we submit? It’s really not all that difficult. Conversion comes pretty easy to a lot of us, and if the search for integrity and conforming to an increasing social trend isn’t enough, there’s always the dress code.

Mark Steyn on the absurd trial of Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders, the Dutch parliamentarian and producer of the documentary Fitna, is on trial in the Netherlands for insulting Islam. “Hate Speech”, in the parlance of our own legal code.

Wilders lives under armed guard because of explicit death threats against him by Mr. Bouyeri and other Muslims. But he’s the one put on trial for incitement. His movie about Islam, Fitna, is deemed to be “inflammatory,” whereas a new film by Willem Stegeman, De moord op Geert Wilders (The Assassination of Geert Wilders), is so non-inflammatory and entirely acceptable that it’s been produced and promoted by a government-funded radio station. You’d almost get the impression that, as the website Gates of Vienna suggested, the Dutch state is channelling Henry II: “Who will rid me of this turbulent blond?”

One question:

Since Wilders “lives under armed guard because of explicit death threats,” is he not therefore guilty of inciting violence? And pretty obviously guilty at that?

Walker Percy Center Inauguration and Korrektiv Summit

There will be a Korrektiv Summit in New Orleans on March 10, 2010 in conjunction with the inauguration of the WP Center and, yes, y’all are invited. Dinner with Fr. Samway the night before at one of Walker’s favorite cafes in the French Quarter. Seriously, you are invited. Email for further details.

Lent, Day 2

“The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport, might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose you are up against a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.

Either way, we’re for it.”

– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Remember you are dust

… and to dust you shall return.

Happy Ash Wednesday!

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”

"A cross between the Love Machine and the New Testament"

Happy Mardi Gras!

This song features Branford Marsalis playing one of the happiest saxophone solos I have ever heard. Not that I’ve heard that many. But I like this one. It starts at about 2:23.


First Daughter knows the first step to founding your own world order is to have an awesome flag.

Very cool.

Minimalist TV show posters. (The one for Knight Rider is so awesome that I couldn’t post it for fear of my blog bursting into flames.)

Tom Waits on God