The Open Society & Its Enemies

The Open Society and Its Enemies: New One-Volume EditionThe Open Society and Its Enemies: New One-Volume Edition by Karl R. Popper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This major work has been "on my list" since I read that marvelous little book Wittgenstein's Poker about the time Wittgenstein supposedly got so angry at Popper he brandished a poker at him (if you haven't read that book, I highly recommend it). After the election of Trump I thought I should hurry up and get it read.

This is a major tome that takes some work to get through (though you can effectively skim through portions). If you want to grasp the summary, read the chapter with the same title as the book.

The First Volume is a marvelous take down of Plato as the source of authoritarianism in the Western tradition. I must say, I was initially quite surprised with how critical Popper was of Plato, but the more I read the more convinced I became of Popper's analysis. Plato was an enemy of Athenian democracy and his philosophy has provided intellectual fodder for opposing the open society ever since.

The Second Volume is a criticism of historicism in more contemporary philosophy, first the conservative type represented by Hegel and then, more thoroughly, Marxism. Popper eviscerates Hegel with sentences that had me laughing out loud (despite the fact that I was reading them in my stepdad's hospital room). Popper greatly respects Marx and what he set out to do, but still thinks he was wrong. But this is judged on scientific grounds. Marx proposed a theory, Popper analyses and tests the theory and finds it wanting. He credits Marx with showing "that a social system can as such be unjust; that if the system is bad, then all the righteousness of the individuals who profit from it is a mere sham righteousness." Marx showed that we are responsible for the system.

And in this way, Popper contends that Marx contributed to the open society, for it is one in which we are all responsible. In fact, that's why there is often backlash against it--being responsible for oneself and one's society causes strain and stress.

What does sustain the open society? Democracy. The humanitarian spirit. Brotherhood. Individual freedom. Rational argument. Critical reason. Institutions. And incremental changes rather than bold revolutions. He places much emphasis on the role of institutions (a message I've been more open to since Trump, having revised my typical Gen X distrust of institutions).

And Popper doesn't think that you can give an argument to prove that the open society is right, believing in it is a matter of faith.

So, if you are looking for any purpose or meaning in history or politics, it is the purpose and meaning that we decide it will have. "Progress rests with us, with our watchfulness, with our efforts, with the clarity of our conception of our ends, and with the realism of their choice."

In the final paragraph he writes, "We must become the makers of our fate. We must learn to do things as well as we can, and to look out for our mistakes."

***
I wrote on the final page, "Very good. Now I have many questions." Popper wrote this book in the midst of the ascendancy of the totalitarians of the twentieth century, so he would be an excellent giver of advice for how the open society should respond to those who don't engage in rational discourse and who destroy the institutions that support democracy, but he doesn't provide such practical advice. Are we to simply continue on doing the best we can and hope that we survive? He doesn't think our success is inevitable or that history bends toward justice. So it would seem that the believers in the open society could do our best and still be defeated.

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Healing Tears

Healing Tears

Lamentations 1:1-5

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

5 August 2018

 

    

    Finally in 586 Before the Common Era, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had had enough of the Kingdom of Judah and its repeated rebellions, so he sent an army to destroy the city. And from that catastrophe we receive this little book of poems, five lamentations. Hear now the word of the Lord:

 

Lamentations 1:1-5

 

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.
She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.
Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.
The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate, her priests groan;
her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.
Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper,
because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away, captives before the foe.

 

For the Word of God in scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.

 

Walter Brueggemann writes that without grief "there is no newness." Only grieving breaks the numbness of denial and deception. He writes, "the riddle and insight of biblical faith is the awareness that only anguish leads to life, only grieving leads to joy, and only embraced endings permit new beginnings."

 

Preparing for this series, I read a number of good books on the nexus between trauma studies and religion. The best one was Trauma and Grace by Serene Jones, who is the President at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

She writes that one of the issues faced by victims of trauma is the end to an expected future. Many of us, particularly comfortable North Americans, have come to expect that life will have its ups and downs but generally will go well for us and that we won't be seriously uncomfortable. Experiences of grief, of course, shatter this illusion.

One sees something similar in the poems contained in the book of Lamentations. These poems voice the laments of Daughter Zion. The world she had known has now come to an end. The future she anticipated will not be. She continues to live, but something has died. The life she desired and dreamed of has died. And she now carries that death within her.

 

According to Serene Jones, the best example of this type of grief is the mother who has experienced reproductive loss. This is, sadly, a very common experience, even in our age of advanced medicine and fertility treatments. Women continue to struggle to become pregnant, to carry children to term, to birth healthy children.

Serene Jones writes of what happens when a mother who wants a child discovers she is pregnant:

 

She does not imagine it as just any life; she views it as a particular life, the life of her potential child. She immediately envisions it as a person with a smile like her father's, or thick black hair like her sister's. She also begins to measure her own future in terms of this imagined child's development. She imagines where he, her son, will sleep or what she, her daughter, will wear. She envisions him at school or her learning to drive. She conjures up the many possible tones of his voice or the shape of her feet, at birth and then at fifty. The woman's body begins to anticipate holding the child; she can smell her daughter's birthday cake; she can hear her son singing in his high school years. Her whole being, it seems, stretches itself into this child's future, and this future becomes the space of her own becoming.

 

    So, when she experiences reproductive loss, she "grieves not only an immediate loss, but also the loss of an entire lifetime, a lifetime lived vividly in the drama of her hoping." A "passionately imagined future."

 

    Serene Jones reminds us that even in this loss, God is with us. For at the crucifixion God's child died. At that moment God "[took] death into Godself." The living God "hold[s] death within it." God forever carries this loss inside. Serene Jones ponders this image of the Trinity as the "miscarrying, stillbirthing, barren-wombed God," who joins women in solidarity with their most painful loss.

    But she is very clear that our deepest losses aren't actually healed, nor would we want them to be. She writes, "wounds are not magically healed but are borne." Borne with an e. We learn how to carry them and carry ourselves. We learn how to continue living. This is holy resilience.

    And so Serene Jones recommends two spiritual practices—mourning and wonder. She writes, "To mourn and to wonder, that is what the spirit yearns for when it stands in the midst of trauma and breathes in the truth of grace." She writes that neither mourning nor wonder will answer all of our questions, but they will "open us to the experience of God's coming into torn flesh, and to love's arrival amid violent ruptures."

    While these practices speak specifically to reproductive loss, she recommends them as practices for anyone who has experienced any type of trauma or grief.

 

    So, what is mourning? I'm going to quote her at length, because what she writes is so good.

 

[Mourning is] a disposition in which your heart and mind give in to the loss and consent to dwell in the trauma with as much attention as can be mustered. It requires acknowledging how much was lost, how deeply it matters, how unstable the world has become in the aftermath, and how difficult it feels to be ever moving forward. . . . Grief is hard, actually the hardest of all emotions and perhaps the most intolerable because its demand are so excruciating. It requires a willingness to bear the unbearable. . . . The gift of mourning is that fully awakening to the depth of loss enables you to at least learn, perhaps for the first time, that you can hold the loss: you can bear terrors of heart and body and still see your way forward with eyes open.

 

    Through authentic mourning, then, we open ourselves and become vulnerable and experience the deep pain of loss. And through that experience we begin to see other things too. Jones writes that this is when wonder "appears."

 

Wondering is the simple capacity to behold the world around you (and within you), to be awed by its mystery, to be made curious by its difference, and to marvel at its compelling form. . . . Wonder is the complete opposite of the truncated, shut-down systems of perception that traumatic violence breeds in its victims.

 

    Serene Jones does not mean that we are to get lost in the world's beauty. It's not that simple. For the world is not simply beautiful, it is also dangerous and mysterious. What she advocates is a wondering at all of this. And here I think of the poet and essayist Mary Oliver who also writes of how standing within the beauty and mystery of the world "can re-dignify the worst-stung heart."

 

    Again, what Jones is grasping for is not the removal of the wound, but the power to bear it, to continue living.

    And we gain that power from the grace of God. She concludes her book by writing that salvation is "to be awakened" and "to stand courageously on the promise that grace is sturdy enough to hold it all—you, and me, and every broken, trauma-ridden soul that wanders through our history. To us all, love comes."


Be Holy

Be Holy

Leviticus 19:1-18, 33-37

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

12 August 2018

 

    

    This summer we have been telling stories. Ancient stories, of the people of Israel and Judah as they experienced domination, conquest, and exile. We have not told the story from any one book of scripture. Rather, every week we've been in a different Old Testament book, because this is a story that deeply shaped the entire canon of the Hebrew Scriptures.

    Last week we left off with the Book of Lamentations, a series of poems written in the wake of the final destruction of the city of Jerusalem.

    Today we read a passage from the Book of Leviticus, which presents itself as part of the ancient law code, but it too took shape in the time of exile and provides us a way to respond to trauma. For our immediate concern in telling these stories is to see what we might learn from them that we can apply to our situations. How can the ways the ancient Jews developed holy resilience help us to do so as well?

    So, hear now, a Word of the Lord from the Book of Leviticus.

 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God. When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable. All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the Lord; and any such person shall be cut off from the people. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

 

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

 

***

 

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them: I am the Lord.

 

For the Word of God in scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.

 

In 2007, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote a book entitled The Clash Within. The book's idea subverted the common understanding of geopolitics as a clash between civilizations. Her immediate topic was the rise of Hindu fundamentalism as a force in Indian politics in a way that threatened the pluralistic vision of Mahatma Gandhi. But she identified a universal human struggle over how we treat the other.

Nussbaum wrote, "the real 'clash of civilization' is the clash within every modern society between those who are prepared to live with people who differ, on terms of equal respect, and those who seek the comfort of a single 'pure' ethno‐religious ideology."

This clash within societies has become even more obvious in recent years as Europe struggles with its refugee crisis and politics in the United States has become sharply divided on just this issue.

But Nussbaum does not only think that every modern society wrestles with this issue, she thought every human being does as well. She wrote, "At a deeper level, the 'clash' is internal to each human being, as fear and aggression contend against compassion and respect." In another place she said, "the real clash of civilisations is inside the human heart because in all of us, there are urges to dominate and to face the inconvenient challenge posed by people who are different, and then there are also instincts of compassion and respect." She continues, "It is here, within each person, as we oscillate uneasily between self-protective aggression and the ability to live in the world with others."

The great Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann thinks highly of Nussbaum's analysis. He writes that this clash "is inescapable. What matters is how we manage it; it will be managed in more healthy ways when it is named and processed in honest ways."

So, do we have any advice from Leviticus on how to name and manage this clash within between viewing "the other as neighbor or the other as threat"?

 

Well, you can imagine that for the ancient Jews the experience of conquest and living as exile among foreign empires must have shaped the way they think about the other. Indeed it did. And the Book of Leviticus is a prime example.

While living in exile in Babylon, the scribes of ancient Israel turned to ancient stories and texts in order to help them make sense of their world, including the question of why they had survived.

The scholar David Carr writes in his book Holy Resilience that one way they answered that question was through the idea of 'chosenness'—they had been chosen by God from among the nations and set apart for a special mission.

    Now, Carr is clear that if you read the Bible, the Jewish self-understanding was not that they were chosen because they were better than anybody else. Indeed, time and again the stories reveal them to be a stiff-necked, rebellious, and stubborn people. Yet, God persists with them, through covenant loyalty and steadfast love. This is grace, not merit.

    Carr writes, "No one could conquer or burn their chosenness like one could burn a city." And so for the ancient Jews living in isolated ghettos of Babylon their separated existence from the wider culture became part of their virtue.

    And one way they lived into this idea was to take the strict rules that had previously been applied only to priests and apply those rules to all the people. Here is where you get the idea of a 'priestly nation.' And so the Holiness Code takes shape, this long list of rules for life and ritual contained within the Book of Leviticus, which we've only read part of today. "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy."

 

    David Carr credits this self-understanding with helping to give the ancient Jews the power of resilience to survive. But he also points out that there is a self-blame in this story, the sort of self-blame that is common in trauma victims. We encountered self-blame back at the beginning of this series and it has recurred often in the texts. It is the idea that what has happened to the people is because of their bad behavior, so in response they must behave differently. In this case, they must live according to a strict moral code so that they might be a holy people.

    This is a powerful idea. It can and does give a people the resilience to survive. But it is also a very unhealthy and damaging way to respond to trauma. It can lead to evil things.

 

    A good example comes from the Bible itself. When the Jews finally returned from exile and began to establish a new society in the ruins of Jerusalem, one of their leaders was the scribe Ezra and Ezra, who may have had a hand in shaping this Leviticus text, advocated a very strict observance of the moral code for the sake of purity. And that included purifying the people. In his most barbaric act, he forced Jews to divorce their Gentile spouses and disown their mixed-race children.

    This is one of the dangers of a Holiness Code. As Walter Brueggemann writes, "There is ample evidence . . . that holiness requires careful avoidance of the other because the other will defile and contaminate."

 

    But that was not the only perspective among the ancient Jews. There were those who represented the other side of the clash within, who wanted to welcome the stranger. These included the historians of the Deuteronomic tradition, prophets like Isaiah, the author the story of Jonah, and most importantly for us, a guy named Jesus. So, our scriptural canon contains both sides in this ancient social debate—fear and inclusion of the other.

 

    So, should we just reject Leviticus as representing the unhealthy side in this debate? Well, I'm all for recognizing that Leviticus contains some dangerous words and dangerous tendencies. But Leviticus is important precisely because it helps us wrestle with this universal human clash within and it does so through a long reflection on what precisely holiness means. Is there a form of holiness that doesn't lead to racial supremacy like Ezra? Walter Brueggemann says there is. Right here in Leviticus 19 the idea of holiness embraces an ethic of neighborliness.

    First, we have to remind ourselves that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We need a "healthy sense of self." For a toxic sense of self can lead to violence against the other. Martha Nussbaum point this out. She says, that often "when violence breaks out, it's all about men in particular, being eager to show their manliness by showing that they can bash others." She holds up Gandhi instead as an example of a real man, who stands naked except for his inherent human dignity and withstands the bashings given him by others.

    Brueggemann points out that in Leviticus 19, the love of neighbor initially meant those people who were part of the community and did exclude foreigners. But the very concept posed a question "Who is my neighbor?" It's even the question that Jesus asks. It is an idea that over time expands to include everyone we encounter.

    Brueggemann also points out that the initial idea is powerful in a different way—it "envisions a neighborhood for the common good." We are required by God to live in a way that contributes to the common good of others. We can't take only for ourselves. We can't exploit. We must give others what they deserve because of their inherent human dignity. So our society must provide sustenance for everyone. To do anything less is unjust and a sin against God.

    Brueggemann writes, "Thus engagement with the neighbor is a way to 'take time to be holy.'" So, just think of all those things you do to be kind to your neighbors and strengthen the common good. When you do those, you are being holy as God is holy.

    Beyond the neighbor, Leviticus 19 already contains an expansion of the circle of concern—"the poor have a special claim on the community." This becomes the repeated idea in our tradition that true holiness, true obedience to God is to take care of the widows, the orphans, and the strangers.

    So, notice verse 34. Even here in Leviticus 19 we read, "When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."

    Brueggemann concludes, "Holiness means embrace of the other who is not a member of 'our tribe.'"

    Jesus, of course, will take this trajectory further and teach us that holiness also includes love of the enemy.

 

    Does Leviticus have anything to teach us about how to deal with the issues of immigrants and refugees currently facing our nation? Do the experiences of the ancient Jews help us to better understand our own 'clash within' between fear and compassion?

    Indeed, they do. To be holy, as God is holy, is to be neighborly. To overcome our fear and treat everyone with respect and compassion.


V. S. Naipaul

1980VSNaipaul
"I did other work; and in this concrete way, out of work that came easily to me because it was so close to me, I defined myself, and saw that my subject was not my sensibility, my inward development, but the worlds I contained within myself, the worlds I lived in."--
The Enigma of Arrival

In the summer of 2006 I went to Borders bookstore to buy some books to take with me on my beach vacation to Sarasota, Florida (one of those was Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, which no one probably considers a beach read).  I wanted to read a Naipaul novel.  Ever since he won the Nobel in 2001, he had been "on my list" and finally I thought I'd read one of his most oft-mentioned works, like A Bend in the River.  But, as I stood there looking over the various Naipaul novels, what attracted me was this line in one of the blurbs on the back cover of The Enigma of Arrival--"V. S. Naipaul is a man who can inspire readers to follow him through the Slough of Despond and beyond."

So, sitting on a beach in Florida, I read a novel about depression, set in Salisbury, England.  When I picked up my copy of this book last night after hearing of Naipaul's death, I sniffed it to see if the smell of the beach lingered a dozen years later.  Sadly, it does not.

From the blog review I wrote after that 2006 vacation, I was glad for the long, slow reading time to work through a slow novel.  I concluded, "This is a powerful, beautiful work that I highly recommend for anyone who desires a slow read that shows how a human being lives through depression."

The Enigma of Arrival is the best of the nine Naipaul books I've read (and I own 3 more I haven't gotten to yet).  Most often you hear of A House for Mister Biswas or A Bend in the River, but I didn't care as much for those (the links are the reviews I wrote about them).  I greatly enjoyed Guerillas.  I recommend Half a Life for anyone starting out with Naipaul--it is a short novel that contains many of his major themes, including "how a colonial shapes an identity in the midst of the collapse of colonialism."

I have admired Naipaul's novels because they engage you intellectually. They are conceptual; they grapple with ideas. He has an amazing command of language and crafts such beautiful sentences.  I wrote in 2017 that "He may be the best living writer in the English language."  Though I have also written that for all their admirable qualities, his novels "lack the magical, captivating charm of Gabriel Garcia Marquez."

I have also read two of his travel books, appreciating their "keen observational ability."  I felt his book Beyond Belief taught me much I did not know and helped shape my thinking on the geopolitical issues we have faced in the last two decades.  Of his book about the American South, I wrote, "He writes with a deep curiosity and desire to understand everyone."

In 2009 Patrick French wrote a highly praised biography entitled The World Is What It Is.  That year the biography made many end-of-the year lists of the best nonfiction books of the year.  Though I had only read two Naipaul books at the time, I bought and read the biography.  Naipaul had arranged for French to write an authorized biography, yet French's final work is highly critical of Naipaul the person, painting him as misogynist, ambitious, arrogant, and a user in a way that destroys the women in his life. Naipaul allowed the biography to go forward, but dismissed its portrayal of him.  It is maybe the most shocking authorized biography one could read.

And, yet, it made me even more interested in reading all of Naipaul's books, richly discussed in the biography.  It was at this point that I began picking them up in used bookstores and reading about one a year. 

The biography also meant I read the books more critically, worried about the misogyny in Guerillas or the way he makes fun of his own people in The Mystic Masseur.  Yet, as I pointed out when I read the latter in 2009, "Though, I must say, the very end seems to make even Naipaul's views somewhat comic."

I liked this paragraph from the NYTimes obit:

Yet Mr. Naipaul exempted neither colonizer nor colonized from his scrutiny. He wrote of the arrogance and self-aggrandizement of the colonizers, yet exposed the self-deception and ethical ambiguities of the liberation movements that swept across Africa and the Caribbean in their wake. He brought to his work moral urgency and a novelist’s attentiveness to individual lives and triumphs.

Naipaul has his critics, though.  And for very good reason.  He does not seem to have been a very nice man.  And he has said and written things that Chinua Achebe rightly describes as "downright outrageous."  Achebe, whose Things Fall Apart is a far greater novel than anything written by Naipaul (in my opinion), wrote an outraged critique of A Bend in the River in his book Home and Exile, which contends that African voices must write about Africa to overcome four centuries of dispossession in which non-Africans wrote biased stories about Africa. Naipaul included.

Achebe wrote, "Naipaul's forte is to browbeat his reader by such pontifical high writing."  Achebe points out the ways in which A Bend in the River ridicules and holds in contempt Africans (he demonstrates how Naipaul does the same for Indians and his native Trinidadians).  Naipaul has also defended Western civilization as the universal civilization, and Achebe criticizes this.  His own observation is thus, "To suggest that the universal civilization is in place already is to be willfully blind to our present reality and, even worse, to trivialize the goal and hinder the materialization of a genuine universality in the future."

So, reading Naipaul is very complicated.  The well-crafted books don't exist within a vacuum apart from the man.  Or the larger geopolitical issues.  Yet even these complexities seem to reflect the traumas of colonialism.  

The author narrator of The Enigma of Arrival returns to Trinidad and realizes that it has changed.  He writes, "So, as soon as I had arrived at a new idea about the place, it had ceased to be mine."  Then, we read, "Through writing--knowledge and curiosity feeding off one another--I had arrived at a new idea of myself and my world.  But the world had not stood still."


The Strain

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I have come to the end of the first book of Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies.  The final chapter is marvelous.  One key insight is the idea of the strain that exists for humanity as we move from a closed society to  an open society.  

For Popper, closed societies are more collectivist.  A key feature is that an individual rarely struggles to understand what the right thing to do is, as social custom has made that clear.  Identity, meaning, and purpose are clear.

Open societies, however, are ones in which individuals are "confronted with personal decisions."  One must create one's identity and social relations rather than having them created for oneself.

While this shift has created benefits, it has also come with losses.  In modern societies many people are lonely and they feel the strain of having to make personal decisions.  Popper writes that though the Greeks began this revolution, as of the 1940's we humans were still in the beginning of the shift.  The strain can lead to totalitarianism in our own day.

Of the strain, he writes:

It is the strain created by the effort which life in an open and partially abstract society continually demands from us--by the endeavour to be rational, to forgo at least some of our emotional social needs, to look after ourselves, and to accept responsibilities.

Also:

It is part of the strain that we are becoming more and more painfully aware of the gross imperfections in our life, of personal as well as of institutional imperfection; of avoidable suffering, of waste and unnecessary ugliness; and at the same time of the fact that it is not impossible for us to something about all this, but that such improvements would be just as hard to achieve as they are important.  This awareness increases the strain of personal responsibility, of carrying the cross of being human.

Reading this chapter provided the best analysis I've yet encountered of the Trump phenomenon.

But our destiny as humans means we must move forward into the open society.  He writes that we can never return to the closed society without becoming like beasts.  This chapter concludes:

But if we wish to remain human, then there is only one way, the way into the open society.  We must go on into the unknown, the uncertain and insecure, using what reason we may have to plan as well as we can for both security and freedom.


Image and Presence

Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and IconophiliaImage and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia by Natalie Carnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sometimes dense and sometimes mesmerizing book proposes at the close of the introduction that it will prepare "us for greater ecclesial unity and perhaps even [goad] us one faltering step toward earthly peace." A high order indeed.

Carnes points out that the great traditions of Christianity--Orthodox, Catholic, & Protestant--remain divided over how they view images, so to solve this problem leads to unity. And she also richly introduces her topic by connecting it to the violence over images of Muhammad and how issues of images deeply affect the modern world.

Where she arrives in her final, splendid chapter, is that our desires are too easily satiated by the images we see and that we need to desire more. When we desire the Christ, for whom no image is exhaustive and who himself is the image of God, we become like Christ and therefore an image of God. We become "a cascade of images." She writes, "To see the world in this way--as an image of God--requires resisting the will to master the world. It demands, instead, opening the self up to the transformations love can accomplish."

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