Showing posts from July, 2019

A confusing error by John Gray

Early in John Gray's Seven Types of Atheism, he writes the following:

"The[] Jewish and Greek views of the world are not just divergent but irreconcilably opposed. Yet from its beginnings Christianity has been an attempt to join Athens with Jerusalem. Augustine's Christian Platonism was only the first of many such attempts. Without knowing what they are doing, secular thinkers have continued this vain effort" (29).

From an otherwise admirably lucid and fair-minded thinker, I find this a bizarre claim in a number of ways.

First, Augustine was far from the first to "join" Platonist philosophy with Christian faith. His most prominent predecessor being (I can barely resist saying of course in all caps) Origen of Alexandria, whose influence spread far and wide, east and west.

Second, Gray's presentation suggests that Hellenization and Platonization commenced after Christianity's advent, after its creation as a post-Jewish phenomenon—indeed, apparently on…

Genre criticism

I'm in a book club with some buddies in town, and as it happens I'm the only one who liked the latest book, a work of fantasy. Two issues with the book have come to the surface, and I've been thinking about their status for fiction more generally.

First, I've realized that I don't believe in "pace." Or rather, a book's having a slow or fast pace is at best a neutral statement that requires content to be filled in: was the slow pace done well, or was the fast pace rushed? More often, I think pacing is a cipher for other matters: whether the reader finds the characters, interactions, descriptions, and events engaging—or not. In that sense a reader might well say, "I found the pacing slow," to which the author could reply, "Yes, exactly, that's the idea," at which point the reader then must supply further reasons as to why the slow pacing was a problem. There may be good reasons to make such an assertion, but they involve referenc…

Pop culture, for and against

Jake Meador has kindly cross-posted my original blog post "Against pop culture" over at Mere Orthodoxy, and it's gotten a second round of (much larger) attention. Mostly the responses have been appreciative or generously critical, but let me address some of the criticisms as well as clear up some misunderstandings.

1. The piece is meant to be provocative, as both the title and tone suggest, so part of this is doubtless my own fault; but the overall point I'm trying to make is not that pop culture as such, or Netflix, is Bad, or that Christians should not ever "engage" it. The primary argument, instead, is that Christians (with an audience) who believe or write that Christians (in general) ought to "engage" popular culture as an imperative are wrong. That is, even if pop culture is neutral (which it is not), there is no good argument that Christians (again, in the aggregate) should, as a prescriptive norm, make it a priority to watch more Hulu, see…

On climate change and the church

Yesterday Freddie de Boer posted a brief reflection on climate change, which he opens in this way:

"This is one of those things where I feel like everybody quietly knows it but we have this sort of tacit agreement not to say it openly in order to preserve some sort of illusion about what our society is and who we are. But, I mean, come on – we’re not fixing climate change. Nobody thinks we are, not really. Everyone’s putting on a brave face, everyone’s maintaining the pretense on behalf of the kids of whatever. But come on. Let us be adults here. We are not, as a species, going to do the things necessary to arrest or meaningfully slow the heating of the planet and thus will be exposed to all of the ruinous consequences of failing to do so."

This is neither, for him, denialism nor despair, just the hard facts. Action is still called for:

"I’m not telling people to give up, and I’m not telling people to despair. Of course we have to fight this thing, just like …

Against pop culture

Christians love pop culture these days. But the subset of Christians who love pop culture the most is pastors, writers, and academics. Pop culture as a mode of "engagement"; pop culture as a means of "reaching" this or that group; pop culture as a way of "relating" to students: all these and more are celebrated and commended and practiced in churches, classrooms, and websites every day. "Finding the gospel in [pop culture artifact X]" is a ubiquitous and representative genre. Christians love pop culture, and Christians with an audience want fellow Christians to love pop culture.

Why is that? Why should Christians like, love, or "engage with" pop culture?

I don't think there are very many, or perhaps any, good answers to that question.

Now, sociologically and empirically, we can surely posit some reasons for the lovefest. Christians, especially conservative Christians, especially conservative evangelical Christians, have tended to b…