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Why Harper Lee Is a Prophet

Why Harper Lee Is a Prophet

The overall response to Harper Lee’s newly published novel of sketchy origins, Go Set a Watchman, has been nothing short of hysterical. This review contains spoilers, but if you’ve Googled Watchman at all in the past week, then there’s really nothing left for me to spoil: Atticus is a racist, and that’s the main cause of nationwide collywobbles.

I was surprised to find that this isn’t just a dilemma of literary proportions: The turn of events has real-life implications, as when, only a month ago, bombshell Jennifer Love Hewitt named her newborn son Atticus, thereby suffering an actual bombshell when she…

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The Civil War, Memorial Day, and the Politics of Embodiment

The Civil War, Memorial Day, and the Politics of Embodiment

Americans just observed Memorial Day, a day most spend watching parades and cooking out, enjoying a day off of work and anticipating the return of summer. You’ll see flags undulating in the breeze on porches and automobiles and hear bands blasting patriotic songs to honor the servicemen and women who lost their lives throughout our history. But if you’re anything like me you don’t know the grisly historical background that provoked the holiday in the first place. Until this past Monday, I had no idea it began as a national grieving for the cataclysmic loss of life and humanity the nation had endured…

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The Mercy of Heaven: A Reflection on Jürgen Moltmann’s Death-Row Penpal

The Mercy of Heaven: A Reflection on Jürgen Moltmann’s Death-Row Penpal

Here at Mbird we spend a good deal of time hemming and hawing against the myth of humanism – that we are free to shape our own destinies, unconstrained, or mostly unconstrained, by our past, circumstances, and vices – unbound, that is, to our deeply distorted wills. The facts dismantle this myth quickly: the fact that the worst human atrocities have been committed in our most advanced century, that New Year’s resolutions quickly dwindle into February guilt, that the decades in our lives when we’re advancing and progressing tend to be the most unhappy ones. When people actually do change for the better, it…

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Another Week Ends: Even More Camille Paglia, Digital Soul-Training, Backstabbing Enablers, Apolitical Auden, and Masculine Christianity

Another Week Ends: Even More Camille Paglia, Digital Soul-Training, Backstabbing Enablers, Apolitical Auden, and Masculine Christianity

1. Where to start with a hierarchy of most severe ‘little-l law’ in ‘secular’ society? We could start with body image, health, having cool experiences, and the like, but prosperity honestly takes the cake. And among the people who have already checked that box, it’s fast becoming political correctness. Political correctness is important, but its ascendant, uncompromising severity and occasional use as a class-code leads to a totalization which is, to say the least, in tension with the traditional (L/l)iberal ideal of discourse. Cue Camille Paglia, who had some fantastic things to say in America Magazine (Jesuits) about the backslide of feminism and…

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How Did We Get Back to 1991?

How Did We Get Back to 1991?

One of the themes we’ve been exploring these past few months in our weekend columns, as well as a few isolated posts, is the palpable rise in censoriousness that has been making itself felt on social media and in certain higher education settings. According to voices on all sides of the ideological equation, a resurgent devotion to “political correctness” is creating a situation where the institutions charged with promoting open dialogue in a liberal society–academia and journalism–are in fact squashing it.

Chris Rock described the state of things memorably in his recent interview with New York Magazine, admitting that he refuses…

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The Impossibility of Knowing I’m Good

Hannah Arendt, a non-Christian thinker with a strangely more accurate perception of Christianity than almost anyone, offers some thoughts on the problems with being good:

The one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the action of goodness, and goodness obviously harbors a tendency to hide from being seen or heard. Christian hostility toward the public realm, the tendency of at least the early Christians to lead a life as far removed from the public realm as possible, can also be understood as a self-evident consequence of devotion to good works independent of all beliefs and expectations. For it is manifest that the moment a good work becomes known and public, it loses its specific character of goodness, being done for nothing but goodness’ sake. When goodness appears openly, it is no longer goodness, though it may still be useful as organized charity or an act of solidarity. Therefore: ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.’ Goodness can exist only when it is not perceived, not even by its author; whoever sees himself performing a good work is no longer good, but at best a useful member of society or a dutiful member of a church. Therefore: ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.’

It may be this curious negative quality of goodness, the lack of outward phenomenal manifestation, that makes Jesus of Nazareth’s appearance in history such a profoundly paradoxical event; and it certainly seems to be the reason that he thought and taught that no man could be good: ‘Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.’ The same conviction finds its expression in the talmudic story of the thirty-six righteous men, for the sake of whom God saves the world and who also are known to nobody, least of all to themselves. We are reminded of Socrates’ great insight that no man can be wise, out of which love for wisdom, or philo-sophy, was born; the whole life story of Jesus seems to testify how love for goodness arises out of the insight that no man can be good.

(The Human Condition, pp 74-75)

The Uncertain Lessons of Lie Witness News

The Uncertain Lessons of Lie Witness News

We haven’t done a straight social science post in a while, so here goes. The Pacific Standard published a goldmine of fallibility and low anthropology last week in David Dunning’s not-so-subtly titled “We Are All Confident Idiots,” ht TB. Dunning, a professor at Cornell, takes as his jumping off point the brilliant “Lie Witness News” segments that Jimmy Kimmel does on his late-night show, where street respondents fake knowledge about a fictitious subject rather than admit they don’t know, or aren’t aware of something. It’s hilarious… until you realize that you do the exact same thing, all the time. Just yesterday…

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Choose Your Own Narrative

Choose Your Own Narrative

I engaged in a Facebook fight recently. This hasn’t happened in a while. I try to avoid commenting on the status updates and posts that particularly (and regularly) annoy me–not so much out of a sense of honor as an awareness that my blood pressure can’t take it. But when I read a comment posted underneath a friend’s status update–a comment that appeared to defend prosperity preachers and minimize the evil of ISIS in one fell swoop–I couldn’t help myself. I loaded up my verbal ammunition and fired.

For the next several hours, I went back and forth with my virtual…

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Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

Another Week Ends: Cosmopolitans, Accepting Feedback, Instagram Envy, Ideology Trumping Art, Hawaii Sucks, Muggles, and Mudbloods

1. While we try to stay away from plugging anything too exuberantly, and Lord knows TV/movie recs can make one less likely to watch, not more, still – writer/director Whit Stillman is coming out with a new show on Amazon, Cosmopolitans, which sounds like a not-so-veiled reference to his acclaimed feature debut about young WASP life in NYC. Vanity Fair this week got a preview of the pilot, and TV snobs will be heartened to know that Stillman cited Everybody Loves Raymond and Desperate Housewives as favorites. Cautiously optimistic, Stillman said that even if the show doesn’t get picked up, he’s happy to have just a pilot: “I really feel that…

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Another Week Ends: Nick Cave, Cuddle Parties, Prognostalgia, Wine Snobbery, The Vicar of Baghdad, and the Post-Christian Politics of Jesus

Another Week Ends: Nick Cave, Cuddle Parties, Prognostalgia, Wine Snobbery, The Vicar of Baghdad, and the Post-Christian Politics of Jesus

1) “The Vicar of Baghdad” is a three-part series over at Vice, and it’s difficult to put into words the (foolish? amazing?) courage of Vicar Andrew White, an English-born Anglican priest who walks with a cane, and who has now served in Baghdad’s central districts for fourteen years, running St. George’s Episcopal Anglican Church, as well as running a clinic for locals and, most interestingly, working as a intermediary between Sunni and Shia leaders for peace and dialogue. It’s a real-life parable (ht JZ).

2) There were several au contraires to the presumption that we “live by looks” this week. Or,…

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Forget the Standard: Teaching in the Time of Testing

Forget the Standard: Teaching in the Time of Testing

It is now five years since the Common Core State Standards were introduced, the newest governmental answer to educational plight in America, and still it seems that no one really knows what they are—and if they do know what they are, chances are they don’t like them. It has been called (critically) a “one size fits all” policy, a nation-wide rubric for assessing whether America’s public school kids are learning what they ought to be learning. As Andrew Ferguson wrote this week in the Standard Weekly, it is one more reform scientifically stamped by the Gates Foundation’s “technocrats” and “educationists”,…

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Stephen Colbert and the Ancient Pulpit of Satire – Ethan Richardson

Another installment of our NYC Conference recordings, which ironically came the week before Stephen Colbert made the move to late night. Ethan talks about the weakness that is power in the ancient practice of satire.

Stephen Colbert and the Ancient Pulpit of Satire ~ Ethan Richardson from Mockingbird on Vimeo.