Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gordon Ramsey Complains About Chauvinism

In this clip from Kitchen Nightmares:

Irony! This was presumably filmed before sexual harassment complaints led to a staff walkout at Gordon Ramsey at the London.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Universalism: Ascendancy or Eclipse?

The New York Times Book Review printed an essay this Sunday by Lauren F. Winner on the controversy surrounding Rob Bell's book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Bell's been accused of universalism by his critics. I haven't read his book and don't want to comment particularly on that, but on the general issue of universalism in America and its history.

Winner places Bell's work in the context of the American tradition of books about heaven, including an 1869 novel by Massachusetts writer Elizabeth Stuart Phelps "offering a comforting view of the afterlife to women who had lost loved ones in the Civil War" as a bio from the Camelot Project puts it. Winner also cites Mitch Albom’s “Five People You Meet in Heaven,” and books by Don Piper and Todd Burpo.

Winner writes this about the history of universalism:
For all the controversy, this book’s argument has been building for a long time. During the 18th and 19th centuries, many evangelicals rejected universalism, even as it began to gain traction among liberal Protestants. Yet for the last half-century, universalism has been subtly reshaping North American evangelicalism, to the alarm of many evangelical leaders. As early as 1965, the theologian J. I. Packer warned that many evangelicals had “slipped into the practice of living and behaving as if universalism were true,” even though those same functional universalists would never declare a doctrinal commitment to universal salvation. Two decades later, the sociologist James Davison Hunter detected a creeping liberalism in evangelical thought. “There is a pervasive uneasiness both about the nature of hell and about who is relegated to it,” he wrote. “It is an uneasiness which may portend a greater cultural accommodation.” “Love Wins” can be read as a fulfillment of Hunter’s observation.
Reading that previously "evangelicals rejected universalism, even as it began to gain traction among liberal Protestants," and that "for the last half-century, universalism has been subtly reshaping North American evangelicalism," you might think there's been an upward trajectory for universalism, but only because there's a missing part of the story.

Universalist belief was a particular denominational affiliationand an important onein 19th century America, like being a Methodist or a Baptist.  There's a collection of historical universalist denominational documents here.  But universalism is no longer the independent force in organized religion it was in the 19th century.  The denominational body that universalists organized long ago merged into the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and ceased to be either Christian or universalist in theology. Part of what that means is that some of the evangelical warnings were correct. When you endorse universalism, moving away from the doctrine of historical orthodoxy and the Bible, you predictably start sliding away from Christianity in general.

P.S. One could read the essay and think Rob Bell started getting blow-back for his beliefs when the promotion for his book began, but that started years ago.  In fact, I'd be unsurprised if controversy over his views is part of what made his book attractive to his publishers at HarperOne in the first place.

P.P.S. This essay was much more of an essay than the one they printed a few weeks back on Green's Dictionary of Slang, which was really more of a review. The essay is important and we need our publications to preserve the places available for it.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Touch Me Not

This post goes in a number of different—though related—directions. It's somewhat rough, but... well here you go:

Dicit ei Iesus: Noli me tangere, nondum enim ascendi ad Patrem meum: vade autem ad fratres meos, et dic eis: Ascendo ad Patrem meum, et Patrem vestrum, Deum meum, et Deum vestrum.Jesus saith to her: Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God. (John 20:17)

I've been reading José Rizal's novel Noli Me Tangere, an indictment of colonial (and clerical) rule in the Phillipines.   (There was a hiatus due to losing it on the train and having to repurchase it.)  Described, reasonably, by Penguin's editorial material as an anticlerical novel, I'm struck by the irony of an anticlerical novel that takes its title from the Gospel of John.

Once you've allowed clericalism to define the terms of the debate, even to be anti-clerical is to participate in the religion based culture on which anti-clericalism is parasitic.  In a truly secular society, anti-clericalism is nonsensical.

I'm also reading Patrick W. Carey's fascinating biography, Orestes A. Brownson: American Religious Weathervane. In Carey's discussion of Brownson's reading of French writers, particularly the Saint-Simonians.
With the exception of [Henri-Benjamin] Constant [de Rebecque], who perceived religion primarily as religious sentiment (a view that was vigorously criticized by the Saint-Simonians), most of the other French writers understood religion or Christianity in its historical and social dimensions, and they all, even Constant, understood the significant role religious institutions had played in history and would continue to play in the post-Revolutionary world of early nineteenth-century France. These writers had what André Siegfried called "the ineradicably catholic habit of the French mind." Even when the French writers were anti-clerical or anti-Catholic, they were catholic in outlook because they could not separate religion from politics, history, or society.
Even when they're anti-clerical, the clerical/non-clerical distinction pervades their thinking.  This is in some ways similar to Émile Durkheim's sacred/profane distinction.  The sacred is that which is set apart or forbidden (as clerics are).  In Durkheim's model of how religion works, making this distinction is the fundamental characteristic of religion.  But the sacred (in Durkheim's understanding) is not necessarily good, it can also be evil.  Interestingly then, an anti-clerical view shares the same sacred/profane split as a clerical view, but reverses the polarity of how it views whether the sacred things in question (clerics) are good or evil.  Of course, since Durkheim is French, his views about religion may be a result of being immersed in the clerical/anti-clerical world-view.

I came across something similar in Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Parts of that novel are intense indictments of trends in philosophy (e.g. phenomenology).  One of the main characters presents herself as being anti-philosophical.  But, just as the anti-clerical view is parasitic on the clerical view, when you attack philosophy in the way the book does, you accidentally find yourself doing philosophy as you try to explain why this or that philosophy is nonsensical.

At left: a detail of the painting "Noli Me Tangere" by Hans Holbein the Younger, which appears to feature Karate Jesus.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

"New York's Most Obnoxious Prophets"

"Black Israelites" preaching in my neighborhood in Queens.
The Village Voice has an article about Black Israelites in their most recent issue.  It's not a great article, full of quirky detail in the alt-weekly way and light on theology, but the writer got good access to one of the Black Israelite groups.