1. You can’t blame Matt Zencey for trying to put the “war on Christmas” in perspective over at The Huffington Post, recalling the 18th century Puritan campaign against the holiday. While contextually more than a little glib – apples and oranges and all that (our cultural conflict has two equally doctrinaire opponents, theirs had one, and arguments could be made for casting the pilgrims as the corollary to either). Still, the historical details are undeniably interesting:
The Puritans who landed at Plymouth Rock knew how to wage war on Christmas: They banned it. As historian Stephen Nissenbaum documents in his 1997 book, The Battle for Christmas, from 1659 to 1681, celebrating Christmas was illegal in Massachusetts, punishable by a fine of five shillings.
The Puritans banned Christmas because back then, it was a much different ritual. It was a rowdy celebration, a time when the poor and oppressed were allowed to demand hospitality from their social and economic betters... Wassailing, going from house to house and demanding food and alcoholic drink, was a common practice.
Here’s how famed fundamentalist preacher Cotton Mather described Christmas in 1712, according to Nissenbaum: “The Feast of Christ’s Nativity is spent in Reveling, Dicing, Carding, Masking, and in all Licentious Liberty . . . by Mad Mirth, by long Eating, by hard Drinking, by lewd Gaming, by rude Reveling.”
2. Elsewhere, The Atlantic reports that “Nearly Everyone Would Kill 1 Person To Save 5.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Their “Old Age Survival Guide” contains a few unintentional gems that highlight the absurdity of control:
Everyone is aware that they’ll probably live longer if they exercise, eat right, and don’t smoke. The trick is to get people to do what they know they should.
For children, surprisingly, happiness can be a curse. Cheerful and optimistic kids lead shorter lives, Martin said. That’s often because they participate in riskier hobbies and sports, and are more likely to smoke and to drink too much. “They think, ‘Nothing bad will ever happen to me,’ ” she said.
It’s good news, then, that whether people — even teenagers — will age with grace lies in many ways within their control. Of course, one always has the chance of getting hit by a truck. The role of dumb luck inspires experts to counsel: Don’t be too hard on yourself. As federal administrator Bernard put it, “People shouldn’t blame themselves if their aging isn’t going exactly as they want.” [ed. note: ....!]
4. On a somewhat more uplifting note, NPR ran a fascinating interview with musician/composer/Oscar winner Trent Reznor earlier this week, in which the Nine Inch Nails frontman (and current Fincher henchman) reflects thoughtfully on his past, particularly his long painful history with addiction, ht CW. Never been much of a Reznor fan beyond “Hurt,” but it’s the sort of interview that makes you want to give a second look:
[1999's The Fragile] was written in a very slippery, thin-ice slope, knowing there’s something wrong here — and trying to address it but not embracing the treatment,” Reznor says. “Once that record came out, we went back on tour in the worst condition I could have possibly started a yearlong tour. When that tour finished, shortly thereafter, I was finished. It reached a point where I threw my hands up and said, ‘It’s going to go one way or the other: I’m going to be dead, or I’m going to fix myself. Because I cannot stay feeling like this.’ “
Reznor entered a treatment facility, after years of avoiding any kind of help. “Somewhere,” he says, “there was still somewhat of a logical person in there that said, ‘OK, this just doesn’t work. You’ve tried every rule-bending thing you can do here. Accept the fact, and let’s do this thing.”
5. A great piece by Simon Blackburn in the NY Times a few weeks back about the conflicted legacy of David Hume in contemporary philosophy. In particular, Hume’s infamous (and sympathetic) assertion that, “reason by itself is inert, and has no other office than to serve and obey the passions” continues to be viewed with deep suspicion and even loathing by the tradition that he helped shape. I particularly appreciated his description of Hume’s attitude toward moral law, ht CB:
[Hume] has no inhibitions about condemning aspects of our minds that he regards as useless or pernicious: gullibility, enthusiasm, stupidity, and the “whole train of monkish virtues.” And in doing so he thinks he can stand foursquare with uncorrupted human nature, the party of mankind. This is where the authority of our moral standards rests, and the base is firm enough. Nor is it anything esoteric or surprising, since we all know when life is going well or badly, and when we hear the words people use about us, we all know whether they express admiration or aversion, praise or blame.
6. In film, Slate posted an article by Jessica Roake exploring the continuing and confounding popularity of Bad Seed horror films, “Cute Little Psychopaths.” Our resident horror movie expert Jeremiah Lawson contributes some worthy commentary:
Two of the three brands of bad seed films place the evil that comes from the evil child on variables a parent can’t control. Either the kid is genetically predetermined to be evil or a literal hell-spawn. The third category, which is what the new Tilda Swinton film [We Need To Talk About Kevin] is said to be, introduces the third category of bad seed film, in which the sociopathic child embodies the worst traits of the parent in their most fully-realized form.
It’s the complete separation of nature from nature that gets at most of the famous bad seed films and the disparity between the wickedness of the child and the maternal instinct becomes an engine for conflict. But then there’s an interesting contrast that Roake doesn’t bring up that I think could be something to kick around. The Bible displays how bound we are to sin and yet includes mysterious tales of children who are generous or brave or noble despite their upbringing. Arguably the bad seed of all bad seeds is Cain as far as parenting trauma goes! Yet we can also identify Jonathan as a man with bravery and integrity despite having an insane and self-serving father.
7. Another beauty from The Onion:
8. Television wise, there’s not much more to say that we didn’t get to on Wednesday, but the list to check out, other than ours of course, is The A/V Club’s. I enjoy Parks and Rec as much as the next guy, but I was surprised they put it so high. Some would say the show’s been treading water this season…
9. Psychology Today published a fairly interesting attempt at psychoanalyzing and diagnosing the mental problems of one Ebenezer Scrooge. While you’re over there, it’s worth checking out Deborah Anapol’s ongoing look at the nature of love. The 1 Corinthians similarities are remarkable:
Love cannot be turned on as a reward. It cannot be turned off as a punishment. Only something else pretending to be love can be used as a lure, as a hook, for bait and switch, imitated, insinuated, but the real deal can never be delivered if it doesn’t spring freely from the heart.
10. Rebecca Black tops the list of this year’s Most-Viewed YouTube clips, what some of us might consider a pretty ominous omen.
11. In more legit music news, the always reliable Andy Whitman weighs in with a stellar list of Ten 2011 Albums for Christians Who Hate Christian Music over at Image Journal. Also, Mbird fave Stuart Murdoch needs our help:
12. Speaking of fundraising, this Christmas, give the gift of Mockingbird! We’re especially in need right now of new monthly subscribers for 2012. If you feel so led, we even thought we’d offer a few incentives:
- Sign up to give $15 or more/month and we’ll send you any one of our publications for free. Simply go to our Support page and scroll down to Option 2 and we’ll be in touch about your selection.
- Sign up to give $25 or more/month and we’ll send you two!
- Sign up to give $50 or more/month and we’ll send you three publications and one of our CD/DVD packages (The Merciful Impasse or New Persuasive Words)
- Sign up to give $100 or more/month and we’ll send you a copy of everything in our catalog, including the Breaking the Fourth Wall audio files.
P.S. We’ll be out of the office from tomorrow (Friday) until New Year’s Day, and while there will be some new content next week, it’ll be a bit more spartan than our normal pace. Thanks for an amazing 2011 and Merry Christmas to one and all!