Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem

Economics/Politics, Math/Sci/Tech, and Religion/Music/Arts

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

And the Rock Cried Out, “No Hiding Place”

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on May 2, 2011

Last night, President Barack Obama announced that Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan by US forces.

Osama Bin Laden, reportedly in poor health and no longer the operational director of Al-Qaeda, was nevertheless the inspiration behind the 1998 US Embassy Bombings in East Africa, the attack on the USS Cole, and of course the 9/11 hijackings and suicide attacks.

The peoples of the West as well as residents of free, democratic, capitalist societies across the world will rest easier knowing that this unfathomably ruthless butcher is dead. While the universe may not have an inherent sense of justice, there does seem to be reversion-to-the-mean, and whether you call it karma, luck, or something else, no one can evade the tides of fortune forever. Osama Bin Laden and his army of deranged fanatics are on the losing side of history, and it was only a matter of time before justice of some form caught up to him.

I will leave you with an excerpt from an old gospel song (based on the Book of Revelation 6:15-17), as transcribed by author and screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski, from which I have derived a series of posts on this blog entitled “No Hiding Place”.

Well I went to the rock to hide my face

But the rock cried out, “No Hiding Place”

The rock cried out, “No Hiding Place”

“There’s no hiding place down here”

Posted in Politics, Religion | 3 Comments »

Festival of Links: The Best of March

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on March 31, 2011

The top stories from this past month that you probably didn’t hear about from your other blogs:

1. The King James Version of the Bible turns 400.

2. Will Wilkinson gives “A Scornful Review” to the new David Brooks novel The Social Animal.

3. “Illinois has 11 working nuclear reactors at six sites, more than any other state [in the USA]…”

4. Soon there will be no hiding place for Jacques Chirac.

5. Megan McArdle argues that “We Don’t Need More Stigma for Overweight Kids“. Excerpt:

But it seems to me that we frequently mix “healthy” up with “thin”.  Most people who switch to eating an actual healthy diet–little processed food, a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, less salt and sugar–won’t end up thin.  Most people who exercise won’t lose much, if any weight without calorie restriction.  And most people who try to restrict their calories below what their body wants fail over the long term–eventually, their appetite wins.

6. A study released by a think-tank affiliated with the German Social Democratic Party (Germany’s large center-left party) reveals that nearly half of Germans believe that Israel is attempting to exterminate the Palestinians, and a slightly larger proportion of Germans agree with the statement “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era”. As Tyler Cowen would say, “Yikes!”

7. Scott Adams gives his assessment of Charlie Sheen. That’s all the Charlie Sheen blogging you will get from me.

8. Rabbi Richard Jacobs is elected as the next president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

9. Economist Steven Horwitz, whose writings on cell phones I have previous blogged, cites telephone service as an example of an industry where cost has fallen and quality has risen (both dramatically). In other words, there is no great stagnation.

10. Vanity Fair’s offbeat interview with Paul Simon.

11. Very short Newsweek interview with Larry Summers. As some other bloggers have noted, the best line from Summers is, “I’m one of the few people who went to Washington to get out of politics.”

Posted in Arts and literature, Economics, Festival of Links, Music, Politics, Religion, Technology | Comments Off on Festival of Links: The Best of March

Remark of Two Weeks Ago

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on April 20, 2008

Sorry for the unscheduled absence. I took a vacation at the end of March, but since I’ve been back in Hyde Park, I haven’t been feeling well. I think I had some sort of stomach flu…

Here’s the CAJ Remark of the Week for the week of April 7, 2008:

In deciding how to vote, I ignore purely theological issues (e.g., whether the Mitt Romney’s LDS view of the afterlife is more plausible or less plausible than John Kerry’s Roman Catholic view), but I consider the extent to which the candidate’s religious philosophy may (like any other part of the candidate’s worldview) influence his or her public policy decisions.

That’s David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy, discussing the recent scrutiny of religious leaders who support or endorse the presidential candidates. The ideas in the above section are very similar to my own views (indeed, friends and relatives may have heard me use similar words when discussing Mitt Romney’s religion speech). Kopel continues,

In my view, it is relevant that a candidate has chosen spiritual mentors who are bigots or who are hostile to constitutional rights. Senator Obama’s close relationship with Rev. Pfleger makes me less confident that a President Obama would be a strong defender of the entire Bill of Rights and of civic tolerance.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Posted in Politics, Random Thoughts, Religion | 1 Comment »

Judas not a Superstar?

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on January 13, 2008

A great story from the end of 2007 that I missed:

The purported Gospel of Judas, a fourth-century Gnostic religious text discovered in the 1970s and translated last year by the National Geographic Society and a team of biblical scholars, appears to have been substantially misinterpreted. Based on the preliminary translation released by National Geographic in 2006, this “lost gospel” states that Judas Iscariot was actually a hero and martyr, who was asked by Jesus to orchestrate the infamous betrayal to the Romans so that Jesus could fulfill a holy destiny. According to a Rice University Biblical studies professor, the previous translators made many egregious mistakes, and the text actually describes Judas Iscariot as a demon who sacrificed Jesus to dark powers.

Posted in Religion | Comments Off on Judas not a Superstar?

Remark of the Week

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on December 9, 2007

Catholics used to complain that anti-Catholicism was the anti-semitism of the intellectuals, but this was before the intellectuals went back to anti-semitism.

The Right Coast blogger Tom Smith, while arguing that The Golden Compass (the newly-released movie based on Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy) is anti-Christian and anti-Catholic.

Here is Roger Ebert’s review of the movie. Ebert, who is himself Roman Catholic (albeit one who is theologically agnostic about he existence of God), does not find either the movie or the book trilogy to be objectionable.

Posted in Arts and literature, Random Thoughts, Religion | Comments Off on Remark of the Week

A promotion for Cardinal George

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on November 14, 2007

Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, has been elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Although the position conveys little additional authority on Church policy (all important decisions are handed down to the national conferences from the Vatican), it adds symbolic support to Cardinal George’s role as a leader and spokesman for American Catholicism. George has previously served as the vice-president of the Bishops’ organization.

Cardinal George received 85% of the vote for the conference presidency. George was elevated to Archbishop (stationed first in Portland, and subsequently in his hometown of Chicago) by the late John Paul II. Since John Paul’s death, Cardinal George has demonstrated himself to be a major supporter of Pope Benedict XVI.

Also on the agenda at the Bishops’ conference this week is the issue of political involvement for the 2008 election season. Here is a report on that topic from PBS.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Comments Off on A promotion for Cardinal George

Foreign views of the US: Turnabout is fair play

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on October 31, 2007

Meir Sheetrit, the Interior Minister of Israel, was pilloried by the press and fellow politicians after suggesting that the state should end its policy offering automatic citizenship for all Jews worldwide.

From the Jerusalem Post:

Appearing at the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Sheetrit said he believed “Israel should no longer grant automatic citizenship to Jews.”

He explained that “Israel should become like every other country. I want to see that [the immigrant] is not a criminal, that he’s learning Hebrew; that he’s here for five years before getting citizenship.”

The interior minister also called for more careful filtering of those allowed to enter the country.

“Don’t go finding me any lost tribes, because I won’t let them in anymore,” he declared. “We have enough problems in Israel. Let them go to America.”

[emphasis added]

Although apparently not representing the majority opinion of Israelis (or else the brazenly phrased remarks would not have made the front page or sparked walkouts by political committee members), Sheetrit’s argument reveals two salient facts:

1. Immigration/asylum/citizenship policy is a sensitive and unresolved issue in Israel (the Law of Return does indeed have major problems).

2. Sheetrit (and presumably some of his intended audience members as well) instinctively associates the United States of America with extremely generous immigration and citizenship laws. Not exactly how I imagined the US to be perceived, even by a dissident politician in a moderately-to-very pro-American nation.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Comments Off on Foreign views of the US: Turnabout is fair play

Mixed Blessings Report

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on March 14, 2007

Anti-Defamation League Study: Anti-Semitism in US falls 12% in 2006

One of the causes for the fall, according to the ADL, was the temporary refocus of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations in the US on the immigration debate, leading these groups to target Hispanics and immigrants rather than Jews. Thus, the audit discovered just 77 incidents of anti-Semitic “extremist group activity” in 2006, down from 112 such incidents in 2005.

Hmm…

Posted in Politics, Religion | Comments Off on Mixed Blessings Report

Kling on Politics, Economics, and Religion

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on February 6, 2007

In this interesting essay, Arnold Kling argues that those who favor greater personal and economic freedom (who are called or call themselves “libertarians”) will find more and truer allies among conservatives than among liberals in the United States.

Kling’s thesis seems correct given the current political atmosphere, if not necessarily for the exact reasons he offers. He identifies his two main arguments:

1) The Republican base is more naturally favorable toward limited government than is the Democratic base.

The demographic component of this argument—that public-sector employees and union members, for example, will oppose libertarian economic policies instinctively, and the Democratic Party depends heavily on voters like these—accords with common sense. But the psychological/motivational component is more troublesome. Kling says,

While I imagine that there must be some single moms who lean libertarian, in general single mothers are more likely to look to government as a substitute for the missing father.

It’s probably true that more single mothers favor more state intervention in the economy rather than less, regardless of which party they officially support. But we need not turn to psychoanalysis to explain this. It could be that single mothers support non-libertarian economic policies solely because these policies offer them more public services, a larger “social safety net”, and fewer work requirements for welfare. (I am not implying that welfare is a concern for all or most single mothers, just discussing possible motivations.) Kling may be right about a single mothers, but there’s too much we don’t know about the psychology, sociology, and economics (people respond to incentives!) of political opinion- and identity-formation. People’s actual motivations and the causes thereof are quite complex, and it is ambitious to explain an entire social group in one sentence. Can we easily psychoanalyze the politics of, say, Hollywood actors? While we can certainly make generalizations, how do we express in one factually-correct and nontrivial statement the observed continuum from progressive Democrats like Sean Penn to popular Republican politicians like Reagan and Schwarzenegger?

Kling’s second main point has even more depth:

2) I find it a challenge trying to persuade religious conservatives to loosen the relationship between their religious beliefs and their political agenda. However, I find it even more of a challenge to deal with the Left, where their political agenda is their religion.

There is much empirical validity to this, and Kling is impressively pithy. However, he ignores another side of the conflict between religion and libertarianism that is, in my experience, more relevant. A plurality (or more) of mainline Protestants and an overwhelming majority of American Jews believe (or act as if they believe) that their religion requires voting Democrat. This is indeed a problem for non-Democrats, especially those who are both “libertarian-leaning” and religious, but it is not necessarily intractable. Are American liberals somehow less amenable to reason than American conservatives when libertarian issues are at hand? If not, then it is important to explain to these religious Democrat voters that the hallmarks of classical liberalism—local decision making, emphasis on results rather than intentions, using the power of competitive markets to improve human prosperity, and striving for both personal/social and economic/transactional freedom—can help the poor and make society better for all. (A rising tide lifts all boats.) After a fashion, I suspect that it may be easier to persuade religious liberals to accept market-based policy solutions (cf. the Clinton presidency) than to persuade religious conservatives to stop expanding Leviathan in the name of promoting their moral values (cf. the Bush 43 presidency and the US Congress from 2003 to 2007). But even if intelligent and non-blinkered leftists could be more easily persuaded to tolerate libertarian policies in particular instances than their counterparts on the right, I agree with Kling that the current Democratic Party and its supporters are less conducive overall to reducing government and expanding both types of freedom than the current Republican Party. The difference may be depressingly small, but when one compares the Democrat and Republican presidential front-runners, it is noticeable.

My favorite quote from the article:

On social issues, I differ from the National Review partisans in that I am not a social conservative politically. I favor keeping government out of issues of sexual conduct. Nonetheless, in terms of behavior I am quite conservative.

Well said, Dr. Kling. I agree and sympathize.

Posted in Economics, Politics, Religion | 1 Comment »

Proof is the bottom line for everyone

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on October 5, 2005

I have a confession: I haven’t seen ‘Serenity’ yet. I’ll get to it, I promise. But at the University of Chicago, everyone is excited about the movie ‘Proof’. In case you haven’t heard, it’s about an earth-shatteringly brilliant but mentally ill University of Chicago mathematician (Anthony Hopkins), who in his final years is cared for by his daughter (Gweyneth Paltrow), herself a would-be mathematical theorist. The title has multiple meanings, but one of them refers to the discovery of what may or may not be an extremely important mathematical proof, completed by the Hopkins character during a period of mental clarity. On Tuesday night, I saw a special screening of ‘Proof’ at the campus cinema. The theater was packed to capacity, and the management actually delayed the start of the film by fifteen minutes so they could fill the last few seats. In addition to being set at the University of Chicago, the exterior shots were actually filmed in Chicago. Because it was the home-town crowd, there was some unnecessary but expected cheering upon viewing familiar locations or hearing some of the characters’ particularly Chicago-centric banter (including the obligatory potshots at Northwestern). However, the movie was excellent. In addition to agreeing with Roger Ebert’s four-star review, I have my own comments and analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arts and literature, Mathematics, Religion, Science | 1 Comment »