Athenians vs. Visigoths

Thanks to Joe Carter for posting this commencement address (which he never gave) by the late media scholar Neil Postman. Read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts that set forth the basic paradigm:

I want to tell you about two groups of people who lived many years ago but whose influence is still with us. They were very different from each other, representing opposite values and traditions. I think it is appropriate for you to be reminded of them on this day because, sooner than you know, you must align yourself with the spirit of one or the spirit of the other.

The first group lived about 2,500 years ago in the place which we now call Greece, in a city they called Athens. We do not know as much about their origins as we would like. But we do know a great deal about their accomplishments. They were, for example, the first people to develop a complete alphabet, and therefore they became the first truly literate population on earth. They invented the idea of political democracy, which they practiced with a vigor that puts us to shame. They invented what we call philosophy. And they also invented what we call logic and rhetoric. They came very close to inventing what we call science, and one of them—Democritus by name—conceived of the atomic theory of matter 2,300 years before it occurred to any modern scientist. They composed and sang epic poems of unsurpassed beauty and insight. And they wrote and performed plays that, almost three millennia later, still have the power to make audiences laugh and weep. They even invented what, today, we call the Olympics, and among their values none stood higher than that in all things one should strive for excellence. They believed in reason. They believed in beauty. They believed in moderation. And they invented the word and the idea which we know today as ecology. . . .

The second group of people lived in the place we now call Germany, and flourished about 1,700 years ago. We call them the Visigoths, and you may remember that your sixth or seventh-grade teacher mentioned them. They were spectacularly good horsemen, which is about the only pleasant thing history can say of them. They were marauders—ruthless and brutal. Their language lacked subtlety and depth. Their art was crude and even grotesque. They swept down through Europe destroying everything in their path, and they overran the Roman Empire. There was nothing a Visigoth liked better than to burn a book, desecrate a building, or smash a work of art. From the Visigoths, we have no poetry, no theater, no logic, no science, no humane politics. . . .

Now, the point I want to make is that the Athenians and the Visigoths still survive, and they do so through us and the ways in which we conduct our lives. All around us—in this hall, in this community, in our city—there are people whose way of looking at the world reflects the way of the Athenians, and there are people whose way is the way of the Visigoths. I do not mean, of course, that our modern-day Athenians roam abstractedly through the streets reciting poetry and philosophy, or that the modern-day Visigoths are killers. I mean that to be an Athenian or a Visigoth is to organize your life around a set of values. An Athenian is an idea. And a Visigoth is an idea. Let me tell you briefly what these ideas consist of.

To be an Athenian is to hold knowledge and, especially the quest for knowledge in high esteem. To contemplate, to reason, to experiment, to question—these are, to an Athenian, the most exalted activities a person can perform. To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money or to gain power over other people.

To be an Athenian is to cherish language because you believe it to be humankind’s most precious gift. In their use of language, Athenians strive for grace, precision, and variety. And they admire those who can achieve such skill. To a Visigoth, one word is as good as another, one sentence in distinguishable from another. A Visigoth’s language aspires to nothing higher than the cliche.

To be an Athenian is to understand that the thread which holds civilized society together is thin and vulnerable; therefore, Athenians place great value on tradition, social restraint, and continuity. To an Athenian, bad manners are acts of violence against the social order. The modern Visigoth cares very little about any of this. The Visigoths think of themselves as the center of the universe. Tradition exists for their own convenience, good manners are an affectation and a burden, and history is merely what is in yesterday’s newspaper.

To be an Athenian is to take an interest in public affairs and the improvement of public behavior. Indeed, the ancient Athenians had a word for people who did not. The word was idiotes, from which we get our word “idiot.” A modern Visigoth is interested only in his own affairs and has no sense of the meaning of community.

And, finally, to be an Athenian is to esteem the discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring art. Therefore, in approaching a work of art, Athenians prepare their imagination through learning and experience. To a Visigoth, there is no measure of artistic excellence except popularity. What catches the fancy of the multitude is good. No other standard is respected or even acknowledged by the Visigoth.

Now, it must be obvious what all of this has to do with you. Eventually, like the rest of us, you must be on one side or the other. You must be an Athenian or a Visigoth. Of course, it is much harder to be an Athenian, for you must learn how to be one, you must work at being one, whereas we are all, in a way, natural-born Visigoths. That is why there are so many more Visigoths than Athenians. And I must tell you that you do not become an Athenian merely by attending school or accumulating academic degrees. My father-in-law was one of the most committed Athenians I have ever known, and he spent his entire adult life working as a dress cutter on Seventh Avenue in New York City. On the other hand, I know physicians, lawyers, and engineers who are Visigoths of unmistakable persuasion. And I must also tell you, as much in sorrow as in shame, that at some of our great universities, perhaps even this one, there are professors of whom we may fairly say they are closet Visigoths. And yet, you must not doubt for a moment that a school, after all, is essentially an Athenian idea. There is a direct link between the cultural achievements of Athens and what the faculty at this university is all about. I have no difficulty imagining that Plato, Aristotle, or Democritus would be quite at home in our class rooms. A Visigoth would merely scrawl obscenities on the wall.

Harold Camping’s shamelessness

Harold Camping is taking nothing back, even though his prediction of the Rapture happening on May 21 fell flat.  Rather, as some of you commenters predicted, he is simply reinterpreting his prediction and holding strong to his other one, that the world will come to an end on October 21.

Radio evangelist Harold Camping said in a special broadcast Monday night on his radio program Open Forum that his predicted May 21, 2011 Rapture was “an invisible judgment day“ that he has come to understand as a spiritual, rather than physical event.

“We had all of our dates correct,” Camping insisted, clarifying that he now understands that Christ’s May 21 arrival was “a spiritual coming” ushering in the last five months before the final judgment and destruction.

In an hour and a half broadcast, Camping walked listeners through his numerological timeline, insisting that his teaching has not changed and that the world will still end on October 21, 2011.

“It wont be spiritual on October 21st,” Camping said, adding, “the world is going to be destroyed all together, but it will be very quick.”

Camping had previously pointed to October 21 as the last day on earth for all humanity.

His former assertion was that a faithful three percent would be physically pulled into heaven by God through the Rapture on May 21, to be followed by a five month period of great suffering known as the Tribulation, ending, finally, on October 21. On Monday’s broadcast, Camping speculated that perhaps a merciful God decided to spare humanity five months of “hell on earth.”

via Harold Camping reaffirms October date for the end of the world, says May 21 date was ‘invisible judgment day’ – The Washington Post.

Basically he said that on May 21 God determined who he would save.  Now that this has been done, it won’t do any good for anyone to repent and try to turn to Christ, so he won’t be doing any more publicity about the world coming to an end.  In other words, no one can become a Christian now anyway.

Friends, a false prediction of the end of the world is the least of the false teachings Mr. Camping will have to answer for.  He teaches that people shouldn’t go to church; that they cannot have assurance of their salvation; and then now adds that no one can turn to Christ.

I ask you, who else wants people to stay away from church, sows doubt, and tries to keep people from Christ?

Islamic End Times scheduled for June 5

Not to be outdone by Harold Camping, some Muslims are predicting the onset of the End Times  to occur on June 5.   Iran’s political establishment is being torn by a controversy over the return of the messiah-like Mahdi.   Some Shi’ites have set a date, so we will be able to see if they are right.  From Reza Kahlili:

Increasing tensions between Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intensified when hardline clerics exerted pressure on Ahmadinejad to obey the supreme leader as the ultimate authority. Those tensions were exacerbated with the arrest of over 25 of Ahmadinejad’s associates and loyalists, along with a high-level member of his inner circle. Supporters of the supreme leader are referring to Ahmadinejad’s group as “The Deviant Movement.”

This “group” has announced that within the upcoming weeks a monumental event will turn the tide to their advantage.

Based on a report from Iran’s Ayandeh, one of the officials within “The Deviant Movement” has informed his confidants that certain sources close to the “Mahdi’s Emergence Movement” have stated that an important event will soon change the course of operations to Ahmadinejad’s favor. According to interpretations offered by Ahmadinejad’s team, a high-ranking member of the Islamic Republic will meet with a climactic incident. This in turn will build up to the announcement of the “covert emergence” of the Twelfth Imam (or Mahdi) in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

Hardliners critical of Ahmadinejad  maintain that his team believes a covert emergence will commence on the 14th of Khordaad (June 5) in Medina, setting the stage for the announcement of the actual emergence in the next few years.

Certain accounts have chronicled that prior to the official emergence of the Mahdi, he will appear covertly in Medina, and during a period of one to three years he will lay the foundations for the actual announcement of his appearance. . . .

Ahmadinejad believes that the covert emergence has, in fact, occurred. Therefore, he acts like he no longer needs the supreme leader and that he can disobey him, as he is taking his orders directly from the Mahdi himself.

Mehdi Khazali, son of Ayatollah Khazali — an ally of Khamenei who has access to high-level authorities within the supreme leadership — has noted on his website that the month of Khordaad (May 21 to June 21) will generate much chaos within the Iranian political strata. He has also expressed grave concern regarding the state of affairs and developments facing the Iranian people in the second half of the month. . . .

Since Ahmadinejad’s ascent to power, talk of the emergence of the Mahdi has increased. A number of hardliners, who are installed within the halls of the presidency, are attempting to utilize the Iranian and global situation to demonstrate the signs of the emergence of the Mahdi and to prove that the Rapture is imminent.

As I revealed recently, a secret Iranian documentary, The Coming is Upon Us, details the last condition for the reappearance as the destruction of Israel and the conquest of Jerusalem by Ahmadinejad. He has been portrayed as the mythical figure in centuries-old Hadiths, Shoeib-ebne Saleh, the Islamic commander who attacks Israel in the End of Times and creates the needed circumstances for the reappearance of the Shiite messiah, the 12th Imam Mahdi.

The question is: Will the rifts in the Iranian leadership push Ahmadinejad and his team to draw Israel into an unwanted war to prove that he is that mythical figure and to facilitate the Rapture?

How is the religion of Harold Camping like that of Islam?

Two kinds of Democrats

We’ve talked about different kinds of conservatives.  Let’s talk about different kinds of Democrats.   Michael Gerson says the current gridlock in Congress–especially when it comes to budgets and fiscal policy–is due not to Republicans (who are remarkably unified, he notes, despite fears about the Tea Party).  Rather, it is due to a split among Democrats:

On fiscal issues, the Democratic Party is really two parties. One consists of European-style social democrats, represented by leaders such as Nancy Pelosi. They have not embraced the socialist ideology of, say, the old British Labor Party. But their instincts, in nearly every specific decision, tend toward increasing the size and role of government in the American economy. Deep down, they would have preferred a single-payer health-care system. In the current fiscal debate, they hope to address the debt crisis by dramatically increasing the percentage of American economic activity taken in taxes.

The other Democratic Party is socially liberal and pro-business. These Democrats attempted to weed out the excesses of Obama’s health reform in the Senate. They are attracted to the deficit reduction approach of the Simpson-Bowles commission — including tax increases, but weighted toward spending reductions. They are a minority of the broader Democratic Party but they hold the balance of power in the Senate. Their numbers in the House have been diminished as Republicans have secured conservative Democratic districts. But such “Blue Dog” Democrats were influential enough in the last Congress to prevent an overwhelmingly Democratic House from passing a budget.

There are perhaps 10 pro-business Democrats in the Senate, often led by Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad. Their numbers and influence, however, are currently inflated by the cohort of incumbent Democrats facing reelection and spooked by the prospect of running on a pro-tax platform.

The conflict between social Democrats and pro-business Democrats is already undermining the possibility of a unified 2012 Democratic budget. In the Senate Budget Committee, Conrad’s attempt to craft a proposal based on Simpson-Bowles failed, largely because Sen. Bernie Sanders — a socialist independent who caucuses with the Democrats — objected. Conrad was forced to come back with a more liberal proposal, which has vulnerable and moderate Democrats angry.

via The two faces of the Democratic Party – The Washington Post.

Mollie Hemingway on her faith

The Washington Examiner has a series in which they interview people about their faith.  (They did that to me once, which I blogged about.)  Journalist Mollie Hemingway didn’t mince any words.  Read the whole interview.  Here is an excerpt in which Mollie explains vocation:

It seems in some ways that reporting on religion could lead to doubts about one’s own faith, or at least to confusion or pluralism. How has your journalism shaped or affected your own faith? Has it made you any more or less of an orthodox Lutheran?

That hasn’t been my experience at all. For one thing, my job as a reporter isn’t to advocate for one belief system over another. Rather, I aim to break news or explain trends, and allow individuals to tell their own story.

Lutherans study not just what we believe but what we don’t believe. So I already knew we held different doctrines as well as why. Nevertheless, I have found that learning more about other faiths has generally strengthened my own. I have seen new religious ceremonies and structures and met wonderful atheists, pagans, Druze, Jains, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Evangelicals and Catholics. Some of my conversations with them have challenged me, but in general I’ve found that it makes me appreciate Lutheran teachings much more. The best example of this is that I used to be attracted to unbelief. While I still enjoy reporting on atheists and have many non-believing friends, learning more about atheism and its history has cured me of any attraction to it.

Many people consider a vocation to be an occupation — or maybe an occupation that’s especially satisfying. How does the Lutheran understanding of vocation extend beyond our careers?

Lutherans have a special understanding of vocation. It’s not limited to one’s job but every single relationship I have, including parent, child, friend, neighbor, parishioner and citizen. It’s any position in which I am the instrument through which God works in the world.

So, for instance, God heals us by giving us doctors and nurses. He feeds us by giving us farmers and bakers. He gives us earthly order through our governors and legislators, and he gives us life through our parents. God is providing all these gifts — but we receive them from our neighbors.

Luther wrote that fathers should not complain when they have to rock a baby, change his diaper, or care for the baby’s mother, but instead should view each act as a holy blessing. Everything we do in service to others is a holy blessing.

At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?

I believe, with the Apostles, that Jesus Christ is the God-man who died to redeem the world from sin, rose bodily from the dead, and will raise me in the body on the last day.

via Credo: Mollie Hemingway | Leah Fabel | People | Washington Examiner.

Happy 70th Birthday, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan turns 70 today.   I’ve been listening to his tunes lately, and they are as good as ever, if not better.  So, my fellow Baby Boomers, now that Dylan is 70, will you now admit that you aren’t young any more?

Notice I am not using a headline that alludes to “Forever Young.”  That’s about the only Dylan song that I find annoying, since it assumes that being young is better than being old, a notion I dispute.  (Do you fellow aging baby boomers now agree?)

 


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