Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Denying Denial

A group of over 100 Iranian intellectuals have condemned their government's sponsorship of a conference on Holocaust denial; see

I watched John Ford's 1964 film Cheyenne Autumn. I thought it was ground-breaking for its time; it is sympathetic to the Cheyenne people (although few of the Native characters are played by aboriginal actors) and to Quakers, and depicts cowboy racism and the collusion of mining and railroad interests in destroying the First Nations of the Plains. It certainly shows the progression from the same director's The Searchers, which begins to show racism towards the First Nations, to Dances With Wolves.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Origins of Faith Traditions

Reading Tariq Islam's piece in the London Review of Books on Islamic history ( He writes:
"Judaism, Christianity and Islam all began as versions of what we would today describe as political movements. They were credible belief-systems which aimed to make it easier to resist imperial oppression, to unite a disparate people, or both."

While the statement is simplistic, one can certainly make this argument for Islam, and in large part for Judaism (as the worship of the Lord played a role in inspiring a Canaanite peasant rebellion that eventually led to the nation of Israel). It is less easy to argue this for Christianity, but there was a major element of political liberation in both Jesus' teaching and the preaching of the early Jesus movement.

So, how then shall we live? Is faith all about political resistance to oppression? How do we act when we ourselves are both oppressors and oppressed (see the Solzhenitsyn quote below), calling ourselves people of faith while living in the rich West? Stay tuned for answers (if I have any).

Good and Evil

Just when I'm trying to lighten up the blog...Reading reviews of Martin Amis' new Gulag novel, House of Meetings (see, among others). The Times review includes a poignant quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Friday, January 05, 2007

This Blog Needs Some Levity

I have been watching The Office, both the British and US versions. It's hilarious, but is even funnier because I have worked for similar bosses. In Thursday's broadcast episode of the US series, Michael emails a compromising picture of himself to the wrong recipient; at my political party job I would get calls from bigwigs asking how to get an email message back.

David Letterman says: NBC News is now under fire for referring to the Iraq War as a civil war. Today President Bush said, "No, no, no. It’s not a civil war until it’s made into a series of Time Life books.”

The Dawkins Delusion

More attention paid to Richard Dawkins' atheist manifesto The God Delusion: a good article by H. Allen Orr in the New York Review of Books, at; and a scathing review by Terry Eagleton in the London Review of Books, Eagleton begins, "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

No Noose

I have been ruminating on Saddam Hussein's execution, and read in Slate that Christopher Hitchens is opposed to the death sentence for the deposed dictator: Hitchens is a gung-ho proponent of the continuing war (read: fiasco) in Iraq, so I was surprised that he and I are of one mind on this issue, if not on the morality and efficacy of the war itself:
"The disgusting video of Saddam Hussein's last moments on the planet is more than a reminder of the inescapable barbarity of capital punishment and of the intelligible and conventional reasons why it should always be opposed...We (Americans) have helped to officiate at a human sacrifice. For shame."
Also on Iraq, there are two excellent pieces in the New York Review of Books; Christian Caryl's What About the Iraqis?, looking at the war (for once) from the viewpoint of ordinary Iraqis instead of the occupation forces or the elite (; and Mark Danner's Iraq: The War of the Imagination, dissecting the Bush Administration's errors in managing the occupation, particularly the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi military and the Baathist civil service, creating an instant Sunni insurgency ( Recommended reading.

New Year's Day +1

U2 sang "all is quiet New Year's Day" and that was indeed the case - the freezing rain that coated roads with ice on New Year's Eve melted in the sun, so the only sound was melted icewater dripping from the roof. I watched Super Size Me and was thankful that I have not eaten at a McDonald's in years.

I met Amy-Jill Levine at a conference in October. Her book The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus is reviewed at She criticizes liberation theologians who "invent a bad Judaism" so they can portray Jesus as a rebel against this system. I have struggled with this too; how can the liberation Jesus represents be proclaimed without making depictions of the Jewish political-religious authorities reflect on Judaism as a whole? I tend to concentrate on Jesus' opposition to the abuses of the Temple hierarchy and the wealthy aristocratic, land-holding class who collaborated with the Roman occupiers, and describe Jesus as thoroughly Jewish and preaching a purer Judaism (much like the prophets 500 to 700 years before). This is an issue which needs constant attention and reflection.