Snake handling

Julia Duin is a Christian journalist who is a real pro.  She has a long story in the Washington Post Magazine on West Virginia snake handlers.  What I appreciate is that she approaches these mountain Pentecostalists with utter respect,without a shred of condescension or ridicule.  She does, though, describe the desperate social context of these folks–the lack of jobs and young people, the rampant drug abuse in these rural areas–though this isn’t the cause of snake handling, which itself is in decline compared to more prosperous times.  Apparently, even these declining churches are trying church growth methods:  They now have electric guitars and drums.  I much prefer the rattlesnakes and strychnine.  Anyway, the profile is very Flannery O’Connoresque and very much worth reading:  In W.Va., snake handling is still considered a sign of faith – The Washington Post.

Parents vs. peer-ents & the new style of protest

The president of MTV, Stephen K. Friedman, explains the Millennial generation’s way of protesting, as evident in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  That’s interesting in itself, but what struck me was the concept of “peer-ents” as opposed to “parents.”

What many believe to be OWS’s greatest weakness may be its greatest strength. At MTV, we consider it our job to understand the millennial audience. And a refusal to limit itself to a list of demands may be part of the protesters’ generational DNA.

Millennials’ relationship to authority differs from that of previous generations. Millennials weren’t raised with hierarchical, top-down parenting. They’ve grown up with peer-ents; they’re used to seeing authority figures as equals. Add to that what it means to be born and live within the swarm-power of social media, and you have a potent mix.

Millennials don’t think of themselves as outside the system. They believe they are the system. The fact that there’s no definitive leadership in New York’s Zuccotti Park speaks to this generation’s complex understanding of power.

Young people in the 1960s had a mandate and a message. The boomers stood outside the gate and issued their list of demands.

Millennials are trying to remake existing structures to reflect what they expect from business and government. Consider the protests’ General Assembly — a transparent, open, fair and participatory government. The protesters have shaped from the ground up what it means to have a civil society. Or consider how inclusive the protesters are. The young people at the heart of things have welcomed parents, teachers, administrators, union members and others from across generations.

Where their parents engaged in civil disobedience, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are participating in civilized disobedience. Zuccotti Park is the opposite of anarchy. There’s a lending library and a mulch deposit. When the city wanted to clean up, the protesters refused, preferring to clean the park themselves. OWS’s famed human microphone is a metaphor for the movement: By working together, we can amplify our voices.

Millennials realize that there aren’t always clear answers to their concerns. They know that the multitude of societal problems needs to be attacked in a multiplicity of ways.

It’s that open-door policy that has let the protests grow so rapidly. By providing a blank slate on which an entire society can project its grievances, OWS has spread across the United States and into almost 100 countries in little more than a month. It is also highly inclusive. In the small confines of of Zuccotti Park, environmentalism, anti-sexism, spirituality and more are represented.

via Occupying the millenial way – The Washington Post.

The Apotheosis of Steve Jobs

CNN’s religion blog asked several experts if they thought that the recently departed Steve Jobs has been turned into a secular saint.  I liked what Gary Laderman of Emory University had to say:

Steve Jobs the man is dead. But Steve Jobs the myth is only growing in stature and will only continue to grow as a cultural point of reference as an inspiring model for aspiring entrepreneurs, as a compelling success story with perplexing moral commitments and as an appealing icon whose life, death and products will, for many, cross over the line from profane to sacred.

In a USA Today review of Walter Isaacson’s new book, “Steve Jobs,” the author rightly suggests that no Silicon Valley figure has attained the “mythical status” of Jobs and notes his “almost messianic zeal” for work.

Why the religious language to characterize his life and death? How does a mere mortal transform into a superhuman, glorified cultural hero?

Jobs has been the object of numerous memorials, and tributes – more than a million – are being posted on Apple’s “Remembering Steve” webpage, with condolences as well as testimonials about how Jobs and his products have touched and indeed transformed the lives of countless individuals.

Make no mistake about it, the veneration we are seeing in the aftermath of Jobs’ death is religious through and through – not “kinda” religious, or “pseudo” religious,” or “mistakenly” religious, but a genuine expression for many of heartfelt sacred sentiments of loss and glorification.

It is not tied to any institution like a church or to any discrete tradition like Buddhism; it is, instead, tied to a religious culture that will only grow in significance and influence in the years ahead: the cult of celebrity.

As more and more people move away from conventional religions and identify as “nones” (those who choose to claim “no religion” in polls and surveys), celebrity worship and other cultural forms of sacred commitment and meaning will assume an even greater market share of the spiritual marketplace.

In life Jobs may have been something of an enigma who maintained his privacy and generally stayed out of the public limelight. In death, Jobs now is an immortal celebrity whose life story, incredible wealth, familiar visage, and igadgets will serve as touchstones for many searching for meaningful gods and modes of transcendence.

via Short Takes: Are we turning Steve Jobs into a saint? – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

I would say that it isn’t just that Jobs has been turned into a saint.  In our newly-minted paganism, he and other celebrities have undergone apotheosis.  That is, they have been turned into gods.  The parallel is what would happen in the Roman Empire.   An accomplished emperor dies.  So the Senate votes to proclaim him a god.  Whereupon he enters the pantheon and citizens are enjoined to perform sacrifices to him.

Laderman’s point about celebrity worship in our current spiritual void is very acute.  The most dramatic examples are the shrines and religious devotion that some acolytes give to Elvis Presley.  We are seeing something similar with Michael Jackson.  The devotees of Steve Jobs are arguably more sophisticated, but still. . . .

What are some other examples of celebrity worship?

HT:  Joe Carter

Manliness: A Contest

One of my former students, Nathan Martin, had worked with Reagan culture czar Bill Bennett on his sequel to The Book of Virtues, a collection of classic and contemporary readings entitled  The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.

It explores the traits and virtues of manhood, some arguably lost in our feminized and gender-neutral age, using stories, poems, and reflections from authors ranging from Homer and Shakespeare to Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan.  (Luther even makes an appearance!)  The book is divided into chapters  dealing with Man at War; Man at Work; Man in Sports, Play, & Leisure; Man in the Polis; Man with Woman and Children; Man in Prayer and Reflection.

The Acknowledgements credit not only Nathan but also a slew of other Patrick Henry College products:  Christopher Beach, Olivia Linde, Brian Dutze, Shane Ayers, and David Carver.  That’s virtually the whole research team, drawing on their background in the Great Books, their perceptive thinking about these issues,  and their writing and editing skills.  So I’m very proud of them.

Nathan is also a fan of this blog (you might also recognize some of those other names as occasional commenters) and of the discussions that we have here.   He sent me two copies of the book, one for me and one to give away on my blog.

So I will celebrate my birthday Hobbit style:  Instead of getting a present, I will give a present.  Well, actually I’m not giving it; Nathan is.  And it won’t really be a gift.  Unlike God, I am making you earn it.   I’d like to start one of our famous discussions.  And the person deemed to have made the best comment will receive the free book.  (I haven’t quite determined how this will be decided yet.  Maybe it will be obvious.  Maybe we’ll vote on it.)  The comments, for the purposes of the contest, will be closed at midnight Eastern time on Sunday.

So here is the topic for discussion:  What is “manliness” in your thinking and in your experience?

I’d like to hear from women (what are the masculine traits that you look for in a man?) and men (when did you have to “act like a man,” and what did that entail?), and from people in various stages of life (boys, youth, husbands, fathers, and old guys like I have now become).

By the way, if you don’t want to hold out for a free book, you can buy one by clicking the links.

 

Individualism vs. collectivism

Here is how George Will answers Elizabeth Warren’s statement that we posted yesterday:

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds. . . .

Many members of the liberal intelligentsia, that herd of independent minds, agree that other Americans comprise a malleable, hence vulnerable, herd whose “false consciousness” is imposed by corporate America. Therefore the herd needs kindly, paternal supervision by a cohort of protective herders. This means subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government staffed by people drawn from the clever minority not manipulated into false consciousness.

Because such tutelary government must presume the public’s incompetence, it owes minimal deference to people’s preferences. These preferences are not really “theirs,” because the preferences derive from false, meaning imposed, consciousness. This convenient theory licenses the enlightened vanguard, the political class, to exercise maximum discretion in wielding the powers of the regulatory state.

Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity.

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”

via Elizabeth Warren and liberalism, twisting the ‘social contract’ – The Washington Post.

The choices are individualism or collectivism.  Or is there something in between?

The genius of Steve Jobs

I was asked to write up something about the death of Steve Jobs for the Lutheran Witness website.  I’ll link to that when it goes up.  In the meantime, here is something in today’s Washington Post that I think is very telling about the man’s  genius.

It seems the public was disappointed about the unveiling of the iPhone4S.  Apparently, it didn’t look much different from the old iPhones.  People were looking for matters of appearance.  But look at the reality of what this new device can do:

The launch wasn’t really about the phone at all. It was about the software inside and possibly the kick-start of the next big revolution in how we interact with our gadgets.

That software is called Siri, but Apple would like for you to think of it as your “intelligent assistant.” And what Siri does is nothing short of amazing.

Siri can listen to your “natural language” (that is, words spoken as you would to another human, not a computer) questions or requests and respond like a digital secretary. It’s not just that Siri listens, either. The software is capable of understanding the context of what you’re talking about, so if you ask it to set an alarm on your phone, it will ask you for what time. And again, you don’t. Have. To. Talk. Really. Slowly.

If you ask Siri to schedule an appointment, it will not only check to see if it conflicts with any of your other meetings but will help you juggle the time slot until you have your day’s events mapped out. Siri will find movie theaters close to you or tell you how to get home from your current location. It can identify family members, spouses and co-workers you’re always talking to, and it knows when people’s birthdays, anniversaries or other big events are coming up.

Here’s an example of a chat I had with Siri:

Me: “Schedule an appointment with Jack for 3:30 p.m.”

Siri: “Okay, here’s your meeting. Note that you already have a meeting that overlaps with this. Should I schedule it anyway?”

Me: “Change the time.”

Siri: “Okay, Joshua, what’s the new time and date for this meeting?”

After I learned that my new time overlapped again, I asked Siri to cancel the meeting, and it asked me if I wanted it removed from my calendar. All this happened in the span of a minute or so, and all of it felt strangely normal.

More interestingly, Siri is plugged into Yelp and Wolfram Alpha (a search engine dedicated to finding facts instead of Web pages). If you ask Siri how much $45 is in British pounds, it can tell you the answer. Or how many cups are in a gallon (16, for the measurement challenged). But again, the best part of this is that you don’t have to tone down or over compensate for computer hearing. Siri listens like a person, and often responds that way, too.

via Apple Siri: the next big revolution in how we interact with gadgets? – The Washington Post.

It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, following the dictates of the marketplace.  Certainly, someone who does that is likely to have great success.  Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of.  He led the marketplace.

There is a lesson here for churches that want to engage the culture and Christians who want to make an impact.   Just conforming to cultural trends and following fashions is not going to do very much.  Try addressing what the culture does NOT already have, finding something that it needs or that it doesn’t know that it needs.  Don’t just imitate the dominant styles.  Invent new styles that other people might imitate, to the point that your style might become dominant.  Don’t follow the culture.  Lead it.

This applies also to technology, business, and the arts.


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