Category Archives: Christian Humanism

Prague Postcard: Jan Hus Memorial


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Prague is an amazing city. Mostly, look at the two photos. What follows is a newbie’s expression of a few things he’s just learned while here in Prague.

Apparently, the Jan Hus Memorial, pictured above and below, is famous for more than just its namesake. Built in 1915, the memorial counts as a work of Art Nouveau sculpture.

The funny thing about the above angle: The reformer Hus (1369-1415) appears to be looking at the Church of Our Lady before Týn, which is the church he wrestled away from the Roman Catholic Church, and some time after Hus’s death (burned at the stake), Rome wrestled back from his followers, the Hussites.

Between the two spires, you can see a lower cross, and beneath that, what looks like a gold light or plate. It’s an image of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. It wasn’t always there. Just underneath that image, there’s an empty space that used to hold a golden cup, symbolizing Hus’s and the Hussite’s belief that the layperson can receive the wine at Holy Communion, not just the bread, which at the time was the practice. When Rome regained control of the church, Catholic authorities had the golden cup melted and pressed into the image of the Virgin and baby Jesus. (I’m only repeating what I’ve heard on a Rick Steves audio guide or briefly read online—just quick postcard here! I’m probably missing nuances.)

One thing I didn’t know about Jan Hus is his impact on the Czech language: he was a professor who added the diacritical marks—like ý and š—that allow Czech to be written so the letters can represent Czech sounds that differ from sounds in the Latin alphabet.

Soon, I’ll be back in the States. Here’s Hus with a bird on his head:

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An Important Reason Why Podcasts Are More Popular Than The News Media


The News Media say:

There’s a problem and no institution or government is doing anything to fix it.

The Podcasts say:

There’s a problem and you can fix it—here’s how.

Wait, That’s Generalizing!

Yes, but I recently heard a segment on NPR in which the reporter moved seamlessly from describing a problem through interviews to identifying the fact that no government program exists to address the problem.

And I remember thinking the problem didn’t seem like the kind of thing we Americans usually take before City Council or Congress.

Then it dawned on me that most of the podcasts I’ve been listening to over the last year—like The Tim Ferriss Show, The Art of Charm, The Art of Manliness—had a strikingly different angle.

The podcasts often focus on things I can do to overcome my problems, and the hosts interview people who discovered new resources of resilience, innovation, and ingenuity in the face of difficulties.

Of course not all problems can be solved by an individual on his/her own. Sometimes you, I, need real help from others. Good government can play a healthy role in a civil society.

But consider the general inclinations and the basic outlooks in old media and new.

The old news media assumes, more often than not, that elected officials and governmental bodies are the first sources of solutions.

The newer realm of podcasts, more often than not, tells you how you can be the first source of your solutions.

What a significant difference in attitude.

And the latter is so much more appealing.

GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska Explains Why The News Media is Not The Enemy


I thought this was worth the tedious process of transcribing from a DVR.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper today, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska countered President Trump’s abuse of the news media.

I thought some of Sasse’s points are worth recording.

Sasse: “There’s an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage and the right citizens have to argue about that and complain about that and [versus] trying to weaponize distrust.”

Shortly thereafter:

“The reality is journalism is really going to change a lot more in the digital era and we have a risk of getting to a place where we don’t have shared public facts. A republic will not work if we don’t have shared facts. I’m the third most conservative guy in the senate by voting record, but I sit in Daniel Patrick Moynihan‘s desk on the floor of the U.S. Senate on purpose because he’s the author of that famous quote, that you’re entitled to your own opinions but you’re not entitled to your own facts. The only way the republic can work is if we come together and we defend each other’s rights to say things that we differ about, we defend each other’s rights to publish journalism and pieces and things that we then want to argue about. I agree with the president that there is a lot of crappy journalism out there. Jake, I think you would agree, that there’s a whole bunch of clickbait  out there in the world right now.

Tapper: “Sure, of course.”

Sasse: “Barriers to entry to new journalism are going to go down, down, down, [Tapper grimaces] and so it is going to be possible, in the next 3 and 5 and 10 years, for people to surround themselves only with echo chambers and silos of people that already believe only what they believe. That’s a recipe for a new kind of tribalism, and America won’t work if we do that. So we need to come together, as a people, and reteach our kids what the First Amendment is about, and it’s not helpful to call the press the enemy of the American people….”

I think we already have “echo chambers and silos of people” and “a new kind of tribalism.”

A bit later, Sasse said:

“The problem we have right now—and I’ll pull up here, but—we’re hollowing out local community and neighborhoods. Some of that’s massive economic change. But at the same time we’re politicizing our national conversations so that the only community a lot of people have is what they project onto Republican and Democratic parties. These parties are pretty bankrupt intellectually. They’re not interesting enough to put your grand hopes and dreams on. We need a recovery of the local and the neighborly.”

You can watch a video of the entire interview here.

From The Lapham’s Quarterly on Fear


“Fear first made gods in the world.” — Statius 

Read about Statius: https://g.co/kgs/1zL5VB

Political Heroes


Written in 1992, resonant today:

“[B]y the end of the eighteenth century a whole new type of public figure had to be invented: individuals who could—as Mussolini would have it—make the trains run on time. Napoleon was the first and is still the definitive model. These Heroes promised to deliver the rational state, but to do so in a populist manner. The road from Napoleon to Hitler is direct. Indeed, most contemporary politicians still base their personas on this Heroic model.”

— John Ralston Saul, in his book Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, in a chapter entitled “The Theology of Power”

Globally, Women Are More Likely Than Men to be Religious, Pew Research Center Data Says


Women are more likely to be religious, and among atheists, women are the minority, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center.

The first two of these three graphics are based upon surveys of men and women, ages 20 or older, in 192 countries:
 
Women more likely than men to be affiliated
 
Women make up the majority of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and an unidentified selection of smaller religious groups:
 
Religiously affiliated more likely to be female
 
The United States is sometimes maligned as a religious, patriarchal nation. To the maligners: Why are so many patriarchs atheists and so many matriarchs believers? No one in the U.S. makes a free adult get out of bed on a Sunday morning, and no one makes a free adult hold faith-in-a-higher-power as a background belief. See the graphic below, and consider the population numbers and cultural diversity represented by the listed nations:
 
Atheists more likely to be men in several countries

Should You Perceive Meaning in Nature?


If humans can manipulate some aspect of nature—in other words, if humans find a way to perform godlike miracles with the building blocks of, say, biology—does that mean whatever’s manipulable has no meaning? And, implicitly, has no divine origin? Along those lines, I recently found a quotation from one of the Inklings, and I thought the idea was worth wrestling with.

In the 1970s, Owen Barfield—a close friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien— wrote: “Amid all the menacing signs that surround us in the middle of this twentieth century, perhaps the one which fills thoughtful people with the greatest sense of forboding is the growing sense of meaninglessness. It is this which underlies most of the other threats. How is it that the more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it?”

Isolate the assumption in that question and convert it into a statement: “The more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it.”

I’m inclined to agree, probably because I’ve read enough of Lewis to get an inevitable splash of Barfield, but how true is that statement, really? Is it true often enough, generally enough?

Probably, but then why?

Maybe the more “we” (some group within the human race) find nature manipulable, the more we assume its value is reducible. In other words, maybe humans once assumed nature was set by God in some inviolable way, and when we realized we could manipulate it, suddenly nature seemed violable, therefore less valuable, less absolute, less a reflection of divinity.

The more it can be manipulated, we assume (perhaps unconsciously), the less it must be a creation of a divine power, and if something has less value, it seems to mean less (the way value is applied and understood and designated is a lot to think about). If some divinity made nature, why would mere mortals be able to mess with it?

But along those lines, the ability to manipulate is not a simple either-or situation. It has matters of degree. Should our ability to manipulate nature (a big, abstract ability) be any more surprising than our ability to make a salad from wild vegetables? To make a shelter from trees and branches?

But then there’s that popular Internet meme: “The sciences can tell you how to clone a T-Rex. The humanities can tell you why that might not be a good idea.”

At any rate, I’m not sure Barfield was precisely correct in the above quotation. It could be that, on a popular level, certain assumptions about nature, science, and progress became “viral” before the Internet was part of our daily lives. (Late evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, decades before the Internet, once suggested that Americans get their opinions like they catch cold viruses—they’re not sure where they got those opinions, but they certainly got them.) So certain assumptions—and maybe inclinations of attitude—made Western people less likely to perceive meaning, but maybe not less able. Not less able, just less inclined.

Furthermore, whether from a metaphysical point of view or a naturalistic point of view, wouldn’t nature have to be meaningful?