Arguments Should Build Community, Not Lead to Defeating People

Winning an argument is easy, winning a soul is hard. Too often Internet dialog seems content to “hit and run,” but transforming and really persuading a person is harder. That requires being open to the possibility of being wrong and to staying around for discussion. Plato’s Republic teaches this lesson.

The Republic is a dialogue of surprises, often it seems to come to an end only to restart. At 336b, one these startling moments occur with the interruption of a wild man. Thrasymachus of Chalcedon was in Athens to represent his city. Chalcedon has betrayed Athens and Thrasymachus is in the city to argue that it should not punished. He is a rhetorician and the ultimate master of pragmatic politics. This urbane man is so frustrated with Polemarchus’ childish failure to uphold his case that he has tried to interrupt several times. Shockingly the master rhetorician and diplomat has lost control of himself. Finally, like a “wild beast he hurled himself upon us as if he would tear us to pieces. And Polemarchus and I were frightened and fluttered apart. . .” A new and better community had been forming between Polemarchus and Socrates, but Thrasymachus drives them apart. The formation of a philosophical community is presented as difficult inRepublic and in the end only Glaucon and Socrates will find real unity. Before that can happen, the wild beast with the tongue of a clever man, Thrasymachus must be tamed.

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03/02/08 Picture Update

Here is a little photo update from this past week.

Mid-week snow.

Mongolian’s love basketball. This is from an game at one of Kim’s schools (the nicer one). Kim’s students really want to play with me because I’m tall so they think I must be good – that game will be more than humbling for me when it comes.

This is one of the classrooms from the same school. I’m not sure why but some of the classes are separated by gender.

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February Reviews

In Bruges is a smart-alecky dramedy that finds two hitmen hiding out in the medieval city of Bruges, Belgium, a pretty little tourist town peppered with chocolate shops. As if the idea of trash-talking killers weren’t already run into the ground (thank you Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, Troy Duffy), writer-director Martin McDonagh seizes every opportunity for snarky sadism and casual violence, then tries to switch gears and get profound in the last third. Nevertheless there are a few clever snatches and funny jokes, and Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell have fun playing up their conflicting personalities (Gleeson wants to go sightseeing, Farrell feels like he’s entered the ninth circle of hell). For a while, McDonagh manages to sustain a delicate balance of drama and comedy, but the task proves too daunting. When the mob boss (a snarling Cockney Ralph Fiennes) turns up to sort things out, the film self-destructs in an orgy of blood, sweat, and snow.
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Holding Your Breath Part II

(There clearly aren’t enough blogs being written about politics. Gosh, you can't find them anywhere. You’re quite fortunate to have found one, especially one as compelling as this. So I will press on with Part II.)

 Having entered a “stage four” of political understanding (after passing through youthful indifference, parental freaking out, and cynical smugness), my original question is this: How can I live out an interior, God-designed relationship with Jesus Christ while being governed by a man-made political system?

I’m moving into new territory now. I suppose I first have to test my claim that America is “man-made.” Is our country “chosen”—in the same way we describe the Children of Israel in the Old Testament?

I certainly believe—not out of some naïve hope but on the basis of good scholarship—that Christianity was embedded into our nation’s earliest ideals. (Why hostile thinkers try to challenge that notion is puzzling to me; it is hardly controversial). But the real controversy is whether we can legislate ourselves into staying that way. We have created an entire industry—in the homeschooling communities, our churches, and our private schools—which emphasizes the truth about our Christian heritage. But if our founding fathers did have a living, vibrant faith, one that was generated more out of their spiritual obedience than their political ambitions, then it seems Christians have slipped further from their early vision than we would like to believe.   

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A Band-Aid for Sudan, or Something More?

Ongoing, senseless large-scale suffering, such as that happening in the Darfur region of Sudan, leaves people feeling isolated, hopeless, and without meaning.  We wonder why one country, or one household, would enjoy blessing, while another suffers from natural disasters, violence, hunger, or all three.  The proper response to suffering, or how to help suffering people, can be equally confounding as the question of why people suffer.  Why does suffering,our own and others’, make us feel so helpless, so crushed?  Where does anyone find the inner strength to help meaningfully?  Will the next generation be indifferent to suffering, having grown up saturated with materialism and separated from others by techno-gadgets?  Or will they embrace a lifestyle of empathy and compassion on a global scale never before witnessed?      

As I contemplate ongoing and senseless tragedies, such as the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan; such as the AIDS epidemic; the slow restoration of New Orleans; or the fact that there are children in my own city who will go to bed without dinner tonight, all of the above questions crowd my mind.

Tags | Global

Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villachaise, Hosts and Caretakers of Fantasy Island

     One of my favorite television programs as a young person was a show called Fantasy Island.  Those old enough to remember this seventies phenomenon can recall the beauty and promise of the island, the joy of hopes realized by the guests, and the hospitality, poise and gentility of the island’s owner and manager, Mr. Roarke, played by Ricardo Montalban, and that of his assistant Tattoo, played by Herve Villachaize.    Every Saturday night, the show would open with an image of Mr. Roarke’s private plane approaching the sunny Hawaiian island, joyfully heralded by Tattoo calling, “Boss, the plane!  The plane!”  and pointing to the sky.  Then Ricardo Montalban would look into the camera with his steady, welcoming gaze, and say, “Welcome, to FantasyIsland” .  The  two men, looking dapper in matching white Panama style suits, and their competent staff, ready at their posts of service, would warmly welcome a new group of guests as they disembarked the private plane.

Conspiracy Theories: The Fruit of the Soul’s Dark Regions

A group of esteemed public intellectuals in America from Gore Vidal to Howard Zinn have risen boldly to challenge the official explanations of the alleged terror attacks on September 11, 2001. The latest prominent critic of the official account that Muslim terrorists brought down the World Trade Center towers with fuel-laden passenger airliners is Professor David Ray Griffin, a senior theologian from southern California’s Claremont School of Theology who is traveling around the country attempting to stir up the far left of the Democratic base during the election season about this very important issue.

In his recent book and his public lectures on college campuses, theologian Griffin sounds as if he went back for dual degrees in engineering and investigative reporting as he uncovers the “real” evidence in the case.

University Life: Sensitive to Islam, Angry With Christianity?

Harvard has apparently decided that single sex gym time will help Muslim students feel at home.

There is nothing wrong with a private institution trying to make some students feel more at home. In fact, it is a good thing and one would only wish more universities would show sensitivity to all their students. The only problem with the situation is that Christian students at major universities often tell me that they don’t find the same accommodation.

There are two ways a university can accomodate students who do not toe the dominant secularist line. They can, as Harvard has evidently done with Islamic students, be respectful of religious practices and ethics. This is good, though one can only trust that Christian students receive the same respect for their practices of Lenten fasting, chastity, and traditional morality that Islamic students do.

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Poetry Friday: Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens is an important American modernist poet; he also is notable for writing his poetry while serving as the vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, a post which he continued to hold even after winning a Pulitzer in 1955 and turning down a faculty position at Harvard. Stevens is a great model for artists seeking to make art while still holding down a job, and for businesspeople who feel a call toward the creative.

You can find more information about Stevens and more of his poetry at the website of the Poetry Foundation.

Hymn from a Watermelon Pavilion
You dweller in the dark cabin,
To whom the watermelon is always purple,
Whose garden is wind and moon,

Of the two dreams, night and day,
What lover, what dreamer, would choose
The one obscured by sleep?

Here is the plantain by your door
And the best cock of red feather
That crew before the clocks.

A feme may come, leaf-green,
Whose coming may give revel
Beyond revelries of sleep,

Yes, and the blackbird spread its tail,
So that the sun may speckle,
While it creaks hail.

You dweller in the dark cabin,
Rise, since rising will not waken,
And hail, cry hail, cry hail.
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How sad to hear about William F. Buckley’s death.  It definitely signals the end of an era when politics could be rigorous and still refined.   He made talk shows substantive and gave reasonable rationale for his conservative positions.   Buckley practiced politics as an art rather than a bloodsport.  

I happened to be in Manhattan when this scion of New York intellectual and literary life passed away. For a detailed obituary, one must defer to the excellent coverage in The New York Times (What an appreciative tribute despite The Times’ liberal leanings!). Read it and discover what “sesquipedalian” means. Even in death, Buckley continues to expand my vocabulary!

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