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June 2011

Mr. Rogers, grace, and God

A great essay on the grace-filled life of Mr. Rogers.  Do read it.  I liked this paragraph:

But Fred was not there to dispense lessons and rules. He was there to be a grace note in children's lives. Fred understood the power of grace -- how a shower of affirmation nurtures the yearning to be even more of our likable selves, something criticism and exhortation rarely accomplish.

Pragmatic justification

A NYTimes blogpost on recent research that supports pragmatic justification of truth.  An excerpt:

The key point is that justification — and therefore knowledge of the truth — is a social process.  This need not mean that claims are true because we come to rational agreement about them.  But such agreement, properly arrived at, is the best possible justification of a claim to truth.  For example, our best guarantee that stars are gigantic masses of hot gas is that scientists have developed arguments for this claim that almost anyone who looks into the matter will accept.

This pragmatic view understands seeking the truth as a special case of trying to win an argument: not winning by coercing or tricking people into agreement, but by achieving agreement through honest arguments.  The important practical conclusion is that finding the truth does require winning arguments, but not in the sense that my argument defeats yours.  Rather, we find an argument that defeats all contrary arguments.  Sperber and Mercier in fact approach this philosophical view when they argue that, on their account, reasoning is most problematic when carried out by isolated individuals and is most effective when carried out in social groups.

The Effects of Silencing

An interesting, philosophical discussion of silencing as a technique, particularly in political discourse.  This paragraph gives a good example:

Silencing is by no means limited to its target. The Fox channel engages in silencing when it describes itself as “fair and balanced” to an audience that is perfectly aware that it is neither. The effect is to suggest that there is no such thing as fair and balanced — that there is no possibility of balanced news, only propaganda. The result is the silencing of every news organ, by suggesting a generalized gross insincerity.

That last sentence is a pretty scary point, that I hadn't quite fully understood till now.


My grandfather, Willard Harley Nixon, Sr., whom I called "Pappoo" as a child and later with affection, has died. 

Unable to sleep after receiving the call, I engaged in one of my therapeutic activities and wrote a eulogy, but I'll wait to post it.

Grove Trip 021 

Huffington on Greece and Democracy

Arianna Huffington recently returned to Greece and reports her observations about the protests there which she likens to the Egyptians in Tahrir Square.  She claims that the media are not covering them properly, for one thing.  And she argues that what is at issue is not economic austerity but democracy itself.  This debate has implications throughout the developed world.

Nevertheless, the media's focus is on the shrunken and pinched debate about austerity. Instead of a debate about how to tap into the human and natural resources Greece teems with, all we hear is about how deeply services should be cut. Well, the Greeks don't do pinched well. They're an expansive lot, and if any people can pry open this dangerously narrow debate with their humanity, it's the Greeks. Because this isn't just a policy debate -- it's a debate about what the big outlines of what we call democracy are going to be for the next century. The forces of the status quo would have you believe austerity is the answer -- that it's the answer in Greece, the answer in Spain, the answer in the UK and the answer in the U.S. But it's also clear that it's not just the Greeks who want something more out of civic life than they're currently getting.

In fact, austerity is not the answer even in the purely economic debate. As the Guardian's Michael Burke shows, the problem Greece is facing isn't due to too much spending. "Falling taxation revenues are the problem," he writes, "as the cuts themselves have sent the economy into a tailspin." He also explodes another Greek myth (the non-ancient kind) prevalent in Europe right now -- that the Greeks are lazy, and that's what brought their problems on. As he notes, Greeks work the second-longest weekly hours of any workers in Europe and have the highest level of weekend hours worked.

Ecumenical agreement reached on how churches should do missions & treat people of other faiths

The Roman the Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance came to an agreement on how missionaries should conduct missions and treat people of other faiths.  Read about it here.  Excerpts from the article:

"Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct" tells Christians that they have the duty to "share the good news of God's kingdom," but cautions that they should "build relations of respect and trust with all religions."

But the document also tells missionaries and evangelists to put a stop to "inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means." The group urges Christians to "conduct themselves with integrity, charity, compassion and humility, and overcome all arrogance, condescension and disparagement" when talking to non-Christians, as such actions "betray the gospel and may cause suffering to others."

Churches have a duty to “to propose a greater vision of dialogue" and “reject nothing that is true and holy in each religion," said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Vatican council that helped shape the guidelines

Read the document here.  It is one of the best ecumenical documents I've read.

Someone pass this along to the anti-Muslim legislators in Oklahoma:

“We affirm that, while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating others’ rights and religious sensibilities. Freedom of religion enjoins upon all of us the equally non-negotiable responsibility to respect faiths other than our own, and never to denigrate, vilify or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith.”





What are we really struggling for?

A great column on Religion Dispatches about how the struggle for gay rights is at root a struggle to prove that our subjective sense of identity is authentic, because many of our opponents simply don't think that we exist.  Key excerpts:

When you think about it that way it’s outrageous. I’m being forced to defend my subjective self-understanding to people who not only don’t share it, but who don’t even read objective books about it! I stand on the opposite sides of picket lines with people who deny that I am right about my own mind. They insist that millions of people are so deeply deluded about themselves that their own testimony must be disregarded.

Which is to say: I experience myself as fully human. You, if you are listening to me, must hear and see that I am a human being. Yet our society denies my humanity, insists that while I am something close to a man, I am not quite one.

What I feel like we are still fighting for, in the places where our freedom is still contested, is neither rights nor freedoms nor any particular bundle of privileges, but some more fundamental, and fundamentally religious, human right that has only begun to be articulated: the right to self-definition, to say that I exist—and to be believed.