Archive for December, 2018

The Nativity According to John

December 22, 2018

Like Mark, John does not include a narrative of the nativity. Instead, John chooses to go all the way back to the beginning.

 1.In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4)

“The Word” is the usual translation of the Greek word λογος (logos) but logos means more than just “word” Logos means something like speech or discourse or reason. Hence the word logic is derived from logos, as well as “ology” as in geology or biology. The Stoic philosophers used the word logos to refer to the divine Reason in their pantheistic belief system while the Hellenistic Jews identified logos with the wisdom or spirit of God. John follows the Jewish view by identifying the logos with God. Notice he also identifies light and life with God this is a theme found throughout his gospel and in the first letter of John.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist was not the Word. He was only a messenger.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

The Word became flesh. But who was the Word or the Son.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:15-18)

The Word made flesh was Jesus Christ. Of the four gospels, John most emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, even to the  point of omitting incidents that show any weakness on the part of Jesus. John does not mention Jesus’s temptation in the desert by the Devil after being baptized by John the Baptist nor does he show Jesus’s agony at the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no cry of despair from the cross. Jesus is alway shown as being calm and in control of events.

It may be that John wanted to emphasize the divinity of Jesus as a rebuttal to those who either believed that Jesus, while the Messiah was merely human and those who held that Jesus  was born human but had been adopted as the Son at his baptism or at some other time. John states that Jesus has existed since before time began as the eternal Word of God. At the same time, John firmly rejects the other extreme that Jesus did not really have a body made of matter but only seemed to be flesh. This idea was held by many Gnostics who taught that physical matter was an inferior substance to the spiritual realm, created by an inferior, and perhaps evil, deity. Jesus Christ, being a emissary from the higher God could not have a body made of mere flesh. John asserts that the the Word was made flesh and that really did have a body and really did eat and sleep.

It is curious that both these heresies are still found today, clothed in modern garb. Many liberal theologians cannot believe in the divinity of Jesus and insist that he was merely a great moral teacher. There are some Atheists who insist that Jesus never really existed in the physical realm but only as a myth. Maybe there really is nothing new under the Sun.

 

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The Nativity According to Mark

December 21, 2018

The Gospel of Mark does not actually include a narrative of Jesus’s birth. Instead Mark gets right to business with John the Baptist.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,  as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:1-8)

Then Jesus makes his first appearance, fully grown and ready to begin His public ministry.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

(Mark 1:9-15)

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark’s gospel was probably the first gospel written. It is the shortest of the four gospels and seems to have been intended as a sort of FAQ for Christians wanting to know more about the central figure of their faith. Mark doesn’t include a lot of details about Jesus’s life and teachings. He just gives the basic facts about Jesus’s ministry, his miracles and his death on the cross.

The earliest Christians weren’t really interested in the details of Jesus’s birth or His early life. Even His teachings were of secondary importance. For the early Christians, the most important fact about Jesus was that he was crucified, died, and them came back to life, defeating death and sin and redeeming the whole world. Paul, whose letters are some of the earliest Christian writings hardly mentions any details of Jesus’s life. He was surely not ignorant. Both he and the recipients of his letters already knew the information found in the Gospels. For both Paul and the people he wrote to, the most important thing was the death and resurrection. For the earliest Christians Easter, not Christmas, was the most important day of the year. Indeed, the birth of Christ may not have been celebrated by Christians until the third or fourth century.

There is a lot of talk, these days, about the War on Christmas, and I have written posts about the Secular Christmas Grinches who seem determined to ruin Christmas for everyone, or at least strip it of all meaning until it is a generic “Holiday”. As Christians, we should remember the importance of Christmas and should fight against the increasing marginalization of the Judeo-Christian worldview that this nation was founded upon. Still, we should also remember that Christ’s death and resurrection was the reason he came into the world. If Jesus is the reason for Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are the reason for Jesus. We should remember Christ on the cross as well as baby Jesus in the manger.

The Nativity According to Matthew

December 20, 2018
The Adoration of the Magi (circa 1305) by Giot...

The Adoration of the Magi

 

Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. I’ll skip the genealogy and go straight to his account of Jesus’s birth.

 

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yetdid not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 1:18-2:20)

 

Most people think that the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem involved the murder of hundreds or thousands of innocents. Remember, though, that Bethlehem was a small village in this time with a likely population of a few hundred. It is doubtful that more than half a dozen children were killed, not enough to make it into any other sources we have for Herod’s rule. Herod was certainly ruthless enough to order such a massacre. He had no trouble killing members of his own family if he thought they threatened his rule. In fact, Herod being an Idumean (or Edomite) and not a Jew, was a foreigner and so was as despised by many Judeans as a Roman governor would have been. If he had heard that there was a potential rival to his throne, even a child, that the Jews might rally around, he would have wasted no time in disposing of that rival.

 

The word Magi usually refers to Zoroastrian priests. In Greco-Roman usage the term Magi had connotations of magicians or sorsorers, exotic figures from distant lands. It is not clear just who the Magi actually were. They may indeed have been Zoroastrians. The references to the Star of Bethlehem suggest that they may have been astrologers. The Babylonians had a reputation for being skilled in astrology and magic so the Magi may have come from Mesopotamia. They may also have been Jewish since they were seeking for a king of the Jews. The fact that they were unfamiliar with the prophets may prove that they were Gentiles. The number of the Magi is not given in the Gospel. The reason that three are usually pictured  is that there were three gifts; gold, frankincense,and myrrh.

 

It is also not clear just what the Star of Bethlehem actually was. There have been several theories presented, but none of them are entirely satisfactory. The star might have been a supernova, perhaps in a nearby galaxy. There is no way to know for certain since any supernova remnant so far away would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to detect. It might also have been a comet. This is rather unlikely. Although a comet would behave much as the star is said to behave, hanging in the sky over a certain location for several nights, comets were universally perceived as being harbingers of disaster in ancient, and not so ancient, times. The most likely explanation is a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. The astronomer Keppler discovered that there was indeed such a conjunction in the year 7 BC. The following year there was another conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This might have been very impressive to the Magi. It may also be that the Star was a supernatural phenomonem and one that cannot be studied today. Whatever the truth of the matter is, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas.

 

 

 

The Nativity According to Luke

December 19, 2018

The Gospel of Luke tells us what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

Luke is a historian of the Hellenistic school, like Herodotus or Thucydides. Although he tries to establish times and places, he is actually less interested in being precise than in understanding the meaning of the events he records. In fact, it wasn’t so easy to give exact dates in those times, given that every city and region had its own calendar and way of numbering or naming the years.

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much. In the other hand, she was also of the line of David and perhaps her presence in Bethlehem might have been desirable. Again you must not imagine that Mary was on the point of giving birth as they traveled. They could have spent several weeks in Bethlehem.

 

 

The Yellow Jackets

December 17, 2018

I have been following Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast for the last year or so. It is interesting and informative and I highly recommend it. The subject of Revolutions is, of course, revolutions, specifically those revolutions which have shaped our own revolutionary age. While learning about the great revolutions of the past, it is a little exciting to witness what might be the first days and weeks of a revolution in France and perhaps throughout Europe. The gilets jaunes or yellow jackets, the workers who wear hi-viz vests, are fed up with high taxes and limited economic prospects and seem to be poised to play the role of the sans-culottes of the first French Revolution.

I read a great article about the gilets jaunes and their reasons for protesting in QuodVerum, a blog I might want to look at more frequently.

Mon, December 10, 2018

Millions of French citizens have been violently demonstrating across France for the last month.

They are known as the gilets jaunes, or “yellow jackets”. The protestors wear the yellow high-viz jacket, that is common on building sites and airports.

It’s a powerful totem for the French deplorables, a unifying symbol of ordinary, working class folk across the nation.

France is no stranger to organized protests, or as they are called, manifestations. These are a dime-a-dozen in France. Typically they are union-engineered strikes, used as a weapon in the never-ending negotiation between organized labor and the French state.

Forget what FakeNews is telling you. This is no ordinary manifestation.

This is a genuine uprising by millions of city and country folk, young and old, crossing different ethnic and cultural lines.

Macron’s diesel tax hike wasn’t the cause of the gilets jaunes movement. It was the spark detonating a bomb, that has been building for decades.

Why are the French Deplorables revolting? For one thing, France’s economy is absolutely stagnant and has been for some time. The article lists a few pertinent statistics.

  • • The French state has been bankrupt since 2004. A minister finally admitted it in 2013.
  •        • French GDP hasn’t risen above 2% in 50 years. Yes – FIFTY. The average annual GDP growth rate between 1949-2018? 0.78%.
  •        • In 2018, 14% of the population in France live below the poverty line (they earn less than 60% of the median income).
  •        • Worse, more than 50% of French people have an annual income of less than €20,150 a year (about $1,900 US per month).
  •        • The ‘official’ unemployment rate is 10% – about 3.5 million citizens (in reality, it’s much higher).
  •        • The youth unemployment rate is 22%. Yes, you did read that right.
  •        • Astonishing but true: the French government employs 25% of the entire French workforce…and it’s impossible to fire them.
  •        • Because the citizens make such little money, they pay no tax. Less than 50% of French pay any income tax at all; only around 14% pay at the rate of 30%, and less than 1% pay at the             rate of 45%.
  •        • The government can’t deliver services without taxes, so it borrows money. France’s debt-GDP is now 100%.

This would all be bad enough, but it gets worse. If you want are ambitious and want to get ahead in France, there is really only one way to do it. You have to graduate from one of three or four elite colleges. If you haven’t had the chance to go to one of these schools, well, too bad.

Many still understand France through the lens of Vogue magazine covers: a nation of affluent, happy people who live in elegant homes, with endless holidays, wine and food.

A 24/7 utopia of chic, elegance and style.

Important to note: that France does exist. It is the world of the French ruling class, less than 1% of the population.

This small group of citizens have dominated the business, banking, legal and political scenes for decades.

The ruling class comes from a small group of grandes ecoles, or elite colleges. There are only 3 or 4. The top of the top? L’Ecole d’Administration Nationale (ENA).

Emmanuel Macron’s journey is typical of the ruliing class. He completed a Master’s of Public Affairs at Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris(called “Sciences Po”), the #2 elite college, before graduating from ENA in 2004, age 27. He then worked as a senior civil servant at the Inspectorate General of Finances (The Treasury), before getting a high paid gig ad an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque.

See how fast Macron worked his way into the senior civil servant position in the Treasury, before flipping into an exclusive investment bank? That is normal in France. It’s a never-ending protected cycle of patronage, promotion, favors and cronyism.

Here’s another French word: parachutage. It is normal for young ENA graduates to be “parachuted” into senior civil service positions at a very young age, some as young as 25 years of age, without even interviewing for positions.

ENA has a complete stranglehold on the French state. Only 100 students graduate every year.

Set up by de Gaulle just after WW2, the original concept was sound – to pool students of extreme talent and ability in one place, in order to create a new civil service that could re-build France.

It worked. Very talented patriots flocked to enter ENA and within a decade, the new French civil service had successfully rehabilitated France as a leading nation-state. From 1946 through 1973, France experienced what they describe as their trente glorieuses, nearly 30 years of economic success.

But by 1970, ENA’s meritocracy had become a self-replicating elite caste – and a ticket to the French ruling class. Astonishingly, every French President since de Gaulle has been an ENA graduate, excepting Georges Pompidou, who attended Sciences Po. Eight of the last ten French Prime Ministers have been enarques. All key civil service/government departments are run by enarques. How about business? 84% of the 546 top executives in France’s 40 biggest companies are graduates of a handful of elite colleges. 48% come from ENA and Sciences Po.

This ought to look at least a little familiar to us in the United States. We don’t have the problem of a small ruling elite running everything nearly as bad as France does, but the same sort of pattern is developing. How many people at the top levels of government and politics graduated from the same elite Ivy League universities? How many CEOs? How many intellectuals?How do these people feel about the ordinary people who make up the population in middle America? Isn’t a great deal of the elite hatred for Donald Trump and his supporters class based?

The article’s description of the arrogance and insular ignorance of the French elite could easily be applied to our own elite.

Notice Macron’s age, when he became a senior civil servant – 27 years of age. That’s important.

The French elites are young men and women, who have been told that they are not just the intellectual creme de la creme, but morally superior. Better human beings, than their inferiors.

These people are arrogant. But they are also ignorant. Raised in very wealthy families and cosseted in the networks those families are part of, they have no understanding of ordinary people and their real lives.

Arrogance and ignorance is a very toxic mix. Macron’s tone-deaf appeal to climate change to justify the rise in diesel taxes, as well as his outrageous suggestion that ordinary French folk must drive less, is a classic example of the problem.

Just 27 years old.

Young people without life experience, are suggestible. They believe what they are told by superiors and haven’t yet had time to test their opinions, against reality.

Macron simply doesn’t have a clue.

What makes the gilets jaunes protests unique?

Their main gripe? Elites blaming ordinary people, for problems that the same elites have caused.

Elites never being held accountable for their incompetence. And elites never having to experience the conditions, that their failed ideas cause.

French people are sick of being held in chains by a ruling class. They are sick of being poor and unemployed.

They want a new direction, for their beloved nation.

Sound familiar?

There is an obvious parallel to the France of 1789, but I don’t think that even the aristocrats of the Ancien Regime were quite as arrogant and stupid as the new aristocrats who rule France and Europe. In fact, more than a few of those aristocrats were the ones pressing for reforms in France. I hope that the new aristocrats in Europe and America find the wisdom to listen to what the people are saying instead of dismissing them as deplorables or they could find themselves losing their heads.

Star Wars

December 12, 2018

Not long ago, I saw the original Star Wars for the first time in many years. What I found most interesting about this movie is how well it stands up after all these years. The plot is a little silly with holes you can drive an X-Wing Fighter through, but so what? Star Wars is still a lot of fun to watch. The special effects still look impressive, not even a little dated or cheesy, as one might expect after forty years. George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic was truly a master of producing special effects in that primitive pre-computer generated effects era. For this reason, I really wish that George Lucas had not decided to enhance the original Star Wars trilogy with digital effects.

The digital additions didn’t really advance the plot and weren’t much of an improvement on the original. It was interesting to watch the scene with the confrontation between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt, which was cut from the original. The scene did help to establish Han Solo’s mercenary character and his motive for taking Ben and Luke’s commission to transport them to Alderaan, but it wasn’t essential. The computer generated Jabba the Hutt somehow didn’t look very realistic. Jabba didn’t seem to fit in the scene.

Changing the confrontation between Han and Greedo so that Greedo shot first ruined the scene. Han Solo was supposed to be somewhat amoral, in the beginning, growing more altruistic as the trilogy progressed. Changing the scene changed the arc of Solo’s character development.

However, even if the changes and additions had been an improvement, I still would have preferred that George Lucas had not made them. The special effects of the original Star Wars movies were truly ground breaking. Before Star Wars, science fiction movies had always looked rather cheap, no matter how much money was spent on the special effects, they never really looked good. 2001: A Space Odyssey was an exception, but it had Stanley Kubrick as director. It didn’t help that science fiction was not taken very seriously as either literature or as cinema. Science fiction movies were all too often relegated to a low budget ghetto to be enjoyed by children and nerds. Star Wars changed that. Yes, the plot was thin and it was kind of a kids’ movie, but the awesome special effects showed what could be done. Star Wars made science fiction a mainstream genre. When George Lucas went back and added in the digital enhancements, it was as if he was denigrating his accomplishments. It is as if D. W. Griffith had gone back and put a sound track in Birth of a Nation.

Watching Star Wars as an adult for the nth time can never be the same as the first time I saw it as a child, particularly after seeing the sequels and prequels. It is harder to fear Darth Vader as an evil villain when you know that behind the mask is a weary old man who hates what he has become. Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi seems to be less of a noble mentor and more of a cunning manipulator when you know he lied to Luke Skywalker about his father. (Yes Ben, that was a lie, not a truth from a certain point of view.) Even the whole premise of the movie can be called into question. Was the destruction of the Jedi by Darth Vader and the Emperor really such a bad thing? The prequels show the Jedi as being more than a little arrogant and narrow-minded. Maybe it is not such a good idea to rely on a small elite of people who happen to be blessed with a high midi-chlorian count. Is the rule of Emperor Palpatine really a bad thing? The Republic that preceded his rule was shown to be corrupt and ineffective. Maybe, from a certain point of view, the Empire stands for law and order and the Rebellion is a terrorist organization. After all, George Lucas said the Ewoks were inspired by the Viet-Cong, meaning perhaps that they were genocidal fanatics just as the real life Viet Cong were. That would make the Stormtroopers the Americans, the good guys.

Then there is the similarity between the award scene at the end and the Nazi rally depicted in Triumph of the Will

But now, I am overthinking it. Star Wars has never born close examination, either of its politics or its science, and George Lucas is not as profound a thinker as he would like to pretend. Star Wars is flashy, mindless fun. This is, by no means, a criticism. There is certainly a place for flashy, mindless entertainment. In fact, I think one of the problems with Hollywood these days is that they are taking themselves too seriously. They are more intent on preaching left-wing politics than with making movies people actually want to see. Even the Star Wars franchise has fallen victim to this plague of political correctness. We need more of the original Star Wars.

It’s OK to be White

December 4, 2018

College administrators have been busy combatting the latest threat to the sensitive feelings of the wimpiest generation. From Inside Higher Ed, I found this article describing the latest horror of campus life.

“It’s OK to Be White” is the message that has periodically appeared on campus posters over the past two years, typically placed by people or organizations who haven’t taken credit for doing so, and who are believed to be from off-campus groups.

Pro-white propaganda of various types has been appearing on campuses in increasing frequency in the last two years. But the last week has seen a surge in such postings.

Last weekend leaflets with the “OK to be white” message turned up in Vermont, at the University of Vermont and Champlain College.

Since then the posters have appeared at American River CollegeDuke University, North Carolina State University, Tufts University, the University of Delaware, the University of Denver and the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota.

The trend is not confined to the United States. One Canadian institution, the University of Manitoba, also had the posters turn up. In Australia, the use of the phrase by some politicians has set off a major political debate (and appearance of the posters), but in that case, the focus is not in higher education.

Also last week, white nationalist posters turned up at California State University at San Marcos.

The campuses seeing the posters do not seem to fit any pattern. They include public and private institutions, two-year and four-year, institutions where white people make up a minority of students and institutions where they are the overwhelming majority.

Colleges have generally removed the posters as soon as they are discovered. Colleges generally require those putting up posters to identify themselves and/or get permission to place them. That hasn’t happened in these cases. So while college leaders have condemned the message behind the posters, they have not faced free speech challenges because those putting up the posters have violated college rules.

Well, of course the people putting up these posters have neither asked for permission of identified themselves. How likely is any College likely to grant such permission? If anyone having anything to do with these posters actually came forward and identified themselves, how likely are they going to be allowed to remain in college?

I have a couple of questions about this. First, what precisely is wrong with saying, “It’s OK to be White”. The standard response is that such a statement is racist, but is it really? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, racism is

1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2aa doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

ba political or social system founded on racism

3racial prejudice or discrimination

The posters are not saying Whites are better, but that it is acceptable to be White. If this is racist. why isn’t, “Black is beautiful” racist? Are the administrators who are busy taking down the posters as fast as they appear saying that it is not OK to be White? Isn’t that racist?

I suppose that the answer would be that Blacks and other groups have a history of being marginalized and discriminated against that Whites do not have and that therefore it is appropriate for them to show pride in their groups while Whites, who have historically been the oppressors ought not to. White pride seems to be associated with White supremacy in a way that Black pride is not associated with Black supremacy. But if this is the case, how long will it be before it is okay to be White? Times have changed and while there may still be discrimination against Blacks, it is far less than in the past. There is no one openly calling for White supremacy, and despite what progressives claim, racism is almost non-existent as a factor in American politics. Are Whites always to be considered the oppressors and Blacks the oppressed no matter how much progress is made in race relations?

It seems to me that if they really wanted wanted to end racism, the progressives would be working to made race a complete non-issue in American life. Instead, they seem to want to put race in the center of everything. Blacks, Asians, Hispanics are all encouraged to identify with their particular group. If this is the case, why are they so surprised that Whites want in on the fun too?

Richard A. Baker, president of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, said via email that “on its face, the statement is both innocuous and obvious. It is OK to be white. But the intent of the flyer’s author is not to state the obvious. It is to find sympathizers to the white nationalists’ cause.”

Baker, assistant vice chancellor and vice president for equal opportunity services at the University of Houston System, added that “what is interesting is that a position is being inferred by some on the national stage that whites are a marginalized group and are being made to feel ‘not OK’ in their whiteness. This flyer’s purpose is to attract persons who may be sympathetic to that position but may not respond to a swastika or other traditional symbols of white nationalism or direct recruitment.”

It would be a stretch to claim that Whites are in any sense a marginalized group, and yet, in a way, they are. Every group and subgroup is encouraged to feel pride in itself except for straight, White, males. Whites, particularly males, are held to be uniquely responsible for all the wrongs in the world. Whites, and only Whites are expected to have a feeling of guilt and shame over the past sins of their race, really the common sins of the whole human race. Whites are always the villains and oppressors.

This is not a situation that can last. No one wants to play the villain in their own mind. If Whites continue to be told that their white skin is a mark of shame, there will bea reaction. The best way to inculcate bigotry in a group is to make that particular group feel as if they are being treated unjustly. First White students will tell each other that it is, in fact, okay to be White. Soon, they may start telling each other that it is better to be White. If every other group can feel that way, why not Whites?

The smart thing for these university administrators to do would be to ignore the signs, not to draw any attention to them while trying to promote a sense of genuine inclusion and unity among the student body. This would mean deemphasizing diversity. Instead of encouraging students to identify as every conceivable group, they ought to emphasize their common identity as students of whatever college they are attending, as Americans, and ultimately as human beings. I don’t expect them to do the smart thing.

 

 

The Story of Hanukkah

December 2, 2018

Hanukkah begins at sunset today, so I thought I would write a little about this holiday. Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It is an eight day celebration which lasts from the twenty-fifth day on Kislev to the second day of Tevet. Since the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, the days float around from November to December in the Gregorian calendar. This year the days of Hanukkah are celebrated from December 2-10

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

Hanukkah was not a major holiday in the Jewish calendar, unlike Passover or the High Holy Days. The festival has increased in importance among North American Jews because of its proximity to Christmas. There is even a tendency among Gentiles to regard Hanukkah as some sort of Jewish Christmas. This is unfortunate, since the backgrounds of the two holidays are quite different. The story of Hanukkah is one of the Jewish people fighting for their freedom to worship God in their own way. I think this story is inspiring and worth learning, both for Jews and Gentiles.

The history goes back to the time of Alexander the Great. He conquered the Persian Empire in one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history. Unfortunately, when he died in 323 BC, he left no provision for any successors and so his generals fought among themselves and eventually Alexander’s empire was divided among them. One of these successors was named Seleucus and he gained control of what is now Iran and Iraq. His kingdom is known to historians as the Seleucid Empire. This time is known as the Hellenistic Era.

Around 200 BC the Seleucids defeated the Egyptians and gained the territories of modern Syria and Israel. During this time the Jewish religion was tolerated and respected by the Ptolemies of Egypt. During this time, also, the Greek language and culture spread far and wide among the conquered peoples. Greek culture had become “cool” and everybody wanted to be a part of it. People who adopted Greek culture could be said to be “Hellenized” from Hellene, the Greek word for Greek. This caused no little consternation among the more traditional Jews. They were afraid that in the rush to embrace Greek culture, many Jews would fall into the worship of the Greek gods and so to idolatry. So, to some extent, the events which followed were as much a civil war as a war between the Jews and the Seleucids.

Antiochus IV

In the year 175, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended the throne of the Seleucids. Unlike previous Hellenistic rulers he seemed to believe himself a god and was eager that everyone in his realm pay divine honors to the Greek gods. For most of the people in the Empire this was no great burden as a few more gods didn’t matter all that much. For all but the most Hellenized Jews, this was an impossible demand. There was only one God. When fighting broke out between Hellenized and traditional Jews, Antiochus sided with the Hellenized Jews and in 167 sent an army to capture Jerusalem and compel the worship of the Greek gods. A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple and the Jewish religion was banned.

This sparked a rebellion and a guerilla war which was led by a priest named Matthias and his five sons. The most prominent of these was Judas Maccabeus. Antiochus IV had many other problems, especially with the Persians to the east and the rising power of Rome to the west and could never spare the forces necessary to crush the revolt. By 165, the Maccabees were able to retake Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple of the defilement of the pagans.

According to legend, there was only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day, and yet miraculously, they were able to keep it lit for eight days, until more oil could be procured. These eight days became known as the Festival of Lights and to commemorate this victory and miracle, a nine branched menorah is lit. A more prosaic explanation for the origins of this holiday is that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of Sukkot. Whatever the truth of the matter might be, I wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah.


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