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A Bold, Frontal Iconoclastic Book on Christianity

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Sol Shalit, an old friend, a well-known emeritus academic and economist, sent me this e-mail with the following note and attachment , which I am sending along to readers of my blog. This is somewhat mind-bending. I hope some people will read this.

A Bold, Frontal Iconoclastic Book on Christianity
7/8/2017

“This is not for speed reading. The substance of this book is highly cerebral and intellectual, yet it’s written intuitively, almost conversationally. The book is also extraordinarily subversive. I can only compare it with Samuel Butler’s historic “The Way of All Flesh”. It radically changed the way people were thinking. In one of her serious essays, Virginia Woolf remarked that 1903 was the dividing line between two eras in the world of literature, before 1903 and after it. That was the year “The Way of All Flesh” was published.”

“Will this book be the same? Read the following excellent review [New Yorker Magazine].”

SOL

The Radical Origins of Christianity
By James Wood, www.newyorker.com
July 10th, 2017

The puzzle of a small sect’s against-all-odds triumph fascinates Carrère.

Kierkegaard relates a chilling parable in “The Sickness Unto Death.” An emperor summons a poor day laborer. The man never dreamed that the emperor even knew of his existence. The emperor tells him that he wants to have him as his son-in-law, a bizarre announcement that must strike the man as something he would never dare tell the world, for fear of being mocked; it seems as if the emperor wanted only to make a fool of his subject. Now, Kierkegaard says, suppose that this event was never made a public fact; no evidence exists that the emperor ever summoned the laborer, so that his only recourse would be blind faith. How many would have the courage to believe? Christ’s kingdom is like that, Kierkegaard says.

The French writer Emmanuel Carrère doesn’t mention Kierkegaard in his latest book, “The Kingdom” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), but the Danish philosopher-the Danish Christian lunatic, one might say-hovers over the book as God’s face is said to have hovered over the waters during the creation of the world. The Kierkegaard whose work is scarred by the great “offense” of Christianity, by its shocking challenge to reason and empirical evidence; who claimed that modern philosophy amounts to the premise “I think therefore I am,” while Christianity equals the premise “I believe therefore I am”; who writes that the best proof that God exists is the circular proof one was offered as a child (“It is absolutely true, because my father told me so”)-that brilliant, mutilated Christian is the unnamed patron of “The Kingdom.” An amazingly various book, it narrates the author’s crises of religious faith in the nineteen-nineties; combines conventional history and speculative reconstruction to describe the rise of early Christianity; deftly animates the first-century lives and journeys of Paul, Luke, and John; and attempts to explain how an unlikely cult, formed around the death and resurrection of an ascetic lyrical revolutionary, grew into the established Church we know today. “Can one believe that such things are still believed?”

Nietzsche asked, scornfully. “And yet they are still believed,” Carrère replies. Fortunately, Emmanuel Carrère lacks Kierkegaard’s anguished Northern masochism. In matters of appetite, he is pleasingly French: sensuous, libidinous-the healthy lover of pagan Mediterranean pleasures that Nietzsche admired and Camus incarnated. He is French in another way, too: he likes reason, argument, evidence, and the virtues of the secular state. Carrère was born in 1957 into a privileged and intellectual family. (His mother, Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, is a distinguished historian and the permanent secretary of the Académie Française.) Though Carrère’s wife jokingly suspects him of being “Catholic around the edges,” he comes from a milieu that was likely to be interested in theology only, in Borges’s words, “as a branch of fantastic literature.”

Yet by the late nineteen-eighties, after launching a fairly successful literary career-a book about Werner Herzog; a few well-received novels-he had become depressed and unproductive: “I could no longer write, I didn’t know how to love, I knew I wasn’t particularly likable. Just being me became literally unbearable.” Influenced by his eccentric godmother Jacqueline, who was a mystic, a poet, and, above all, a devout Catholic, he read Augustine’s “Confessions” and the Gospel of John. That gospel spoke to him so powerfully that he began to read a daily extract and write commentary on it. Broken, vulnerable, and stripped of his intellectual pride, he “became accessible to my Lord.”

It was a fairly short fever. Nowadays an agnostic, Carrère spends the early sections of this book reviewing his almost three years as a committed Christian. What shocks him is the extremism of his faith. He was drawn to theological stringency, melodramatic all-or-nothings, and obnoxiously proud circularity. He is appalled to find in his old notebooks such remarks as this: “The sole argument that can allow us to admit that Jesus is the truth and life is that He says it, and since He is truth and life, He must be believed.” And this: “An atheist believes that God does not exist. A believer knows that God exists. One has an opinion, the other knowledge.”

Carrère has become celebrated for his propulsive, original, free-ranging narratives, which frequently mix memoir, biography, and fiction in rather blithely measured proportions. “I Am Alive and You Are Dead,” his fantastically engaging book about Philip K. Dick, published in 1993, tells the life of the science-fiction writer from within, as if he were writing a novelization of Dick’s life. (Carrère calls him Phil throughout.) There are no references and very few named sources, yet the material appears to rely on the established record, and is clearly built from the same archival labor that a conventional biographer would perform.

The same goes for Carrère’s previous book, “Limonov” (2011), which describes the rebellious life and career of the Russian writer and troublemaker Eduard Limonov, who lived in poverty in New York, prospered in Paris, and returned to Russia, where, once an opposition leader, he has since become a fierce supporter of Vladimir Putin. “Limonov” vibrates with borrowed energy: Carrère uses, essentially, a present-tense version of the novelist’s best friend, free indirect style, to inhabit and animate the violently short-circuiting mind of his perpetually unappeased protagonist. It is a hard book to put down, perhaps because it has a certain uneasy moral short-circuiting of its own: again, there are no references, so fact and fiction are allowed to trade uniform and mufti; and Carrère’s pumped-up admiration of Limonov’s often cruel escapades seems, at times, like the wan intellectual’s envy of bloody warfare. (Masha Gessen, in The New York Review of Books, noted numerous errors of fact.)

Carrère works himself and his own stories into these books, partly because he is a good postmodernist, who is suspicious of concealed or “invisible” third-person narrators. He likes intervening frames. As he puts it in “The Kingdom,” “When I’m being told a story, I like to know who’s telling it. That’s why I like narratives in the first person, that’s why I write in the first person and would even be incapable of writing anything differently.” It’s a laudable intention, except that it is almost contradicted by his habit of inhabiting the minds of his biographical subjects. But Carrère is also easy to forgive, because he is such engrossing and charming company-witty, restless, intellectually bold, confessional, shame-proof, simultaneously shallow and deep.

That appeal is powerful in “The Kingdom,” and the tension between first- and third-person narration is better resolved than in his earlier work. Here Carrère’s autobiographical interventions seem not showy or superfluous (as they can in “Limonov”) but necessary. For one thing, it has become exceedingly rare to encounter crises of faith as experienced by a secular intellectual, and Carrère’s oscillation between orthodox fervor and wistful agnosticism holds undeniable fascination. Instead of surreptitiously fictionalizing his story of the rise of early Christianity, he proceeds like a freelance-and slightly offbeat-scholar. His inquiry into the lives and testimonies of Paul and Luke, and their journeys through the far-flung extremities of the Roman Empire, is scrupulously thorough, and relies on an enormous amount of reading, gently summoned. But because Carrère is not a Biblical scholar, and doesn’t want to be one, he allows his imagination to linger and play. He likes to psychologize, to reconstruct scenes and episodes, to speculate when the historical record is thin. Still, he tells us when he’s doing this, and the lack of historical evidence turns out to be his ally, encouraging him to speculate obviously rather than to novelize silently. (There is good French precedent for this kind of intervention: he often cites the nineteenth-century scholar Ernest Renan, whose biographical narrative, “Vie de Jésus,” dared to fill in Jesus’ “lost years,” between his youth and the start of his ministry. In fact, Carrère is much more cautious than Renan, who thickly painted a lyrical portrait of Jesus as a beautiful utopian dreamer.)

Carrère brings to life, in this way, the dustiest of old school assignments. I remember dreading having to plot “St. Paul’s travels through the ancient world” (complete with pencilled maps of Corinth, Damascus, Jerusalem, Philippi, Athens, and so on). But Carrère is like some brilliantly improper teacher, the one you were lucky enough to enjoy before he got fired, a whirling eccentric who feels free to compare Paul to Philip K. Dick, ecclesiastical authorities to the Bolsheviks, and prayer to yoga, and who throws in references to the martial arts, his enjoyment of pornography, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Gogol and Dostoyevsky, and Mel Gibson’s dodgy Christ movie.
Here’s how Carrère imagines the tradition of the Eucharist (the Church service that commemorates Christ’s Last Supper) might have originated. He describes Paul’s visit to Philippi, a city half populated by Macedonians and half by Roman settlers. He lightly amplifies four fairly reticent verses from the Acts of the Apostles, our only source. These tell us of Paul’s arrival and ministry in Philippi, and the hospitality shown him by a woman named Lydia, “a dealer in purple cloth.” “No doubt there aren’t many Jews,” Carrère writes, “because there’s no synagogue. But there is a little group that gathers outside the walls on the banks of a river, to celebrate the Sabbath in an informal way. Its members aren’t Jews, they only have a vague knowledge of the Torah.” He goes on to liken this group to people who do yoga or Tai Chi in places where there aren’t any teachers. He reckons that ten or twenty people gathered for supper at Lydia’s house. Paul’s charisma was so great, Carrère suggests, that “they all start to believe in the resurrection of this Jesus whose name they didn’t even know a few days ago.” In doing so, he continues, “it doesn’t occur to them that they are betraying Judaism, which they adopted with a zeal that was as vibrant as it was ill-informed. On the contrary, they thank God for having sent them such a learned rabbi.”

They still observe the Sabbath, and they build into their ritual a new meal of remembrance, which now occurs the day after the Sabbath:
At one point in the meal, Paul gets up, breaks a piece of bread, and says it’s the body of Christ. He raises a goblet filled with wine and says it’s Christ’s blood. In silence, the bread and the wine are passed around the table, and everyone eats a piece of bread, drinks a mouthful of wine. In memory, Paul says, of the last meal that the savior ate on this earth before being crucified. Afterward, they sing a sort of hymn about his death and Christ’s resurrection.

Such writing is somehow both patiently secular and glowingly devout, aided by John Lambert’s luminous translation. I was put in mind of José Saramago’s novel “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ,” which reimagines Jesus’ life and death with similarly persuasive authority. Carrère bears down on the fervid and slightly kooky atmosphere of the early Church. He is interested in the unlikelihood of the sect’s eventual triumph. Local Jews might well be hostile to an upstart group that espoused such beliefs as the notion that the Messiah was God made flesh, or that we will be spiritually and physically restored to eternal life in a heavenly kingdom.

Some Greeks treated Paul’s ministry with “amused tolerance”-they were aristocrats of the spirit, wealthy in their own philosophers and gods, looking down on oddly single-minded parvenus. The Romans mainly left the Christians alone until Nero (the emperor between 54 and 68 A.D.) began to persecute them in Rome; Tacitus suggests that Nero used them as scapegoats for the great fire of Rome, in 64. But Tacitus adds that the Christians, devotees of what he calls “a most mischievous superstition,” were likely convicted not because they started the fire but because of their otherworldly beliefs and practices-their “hatred of humanity.”

The figure who is chiefly responsible both for the spectacular growth of Christianity and for the kind of fierce moral atmosphere that might have led to Tacitus’ gibe is Paul, who lies at the center of this book-far more so than Jesus does. For several reasons, perhaps. We know more about Paul than about Jesus. Paul is Christianity’s great and early ideologue, the man who shaped its legacy, who took a cluster of strange parables and sometimes gnomic statements and, emphasizing the apocalyptic, built them into a theology. And Paul’s fanaticism draws Carrère’s religious admiration, even as it repels and alienates his French humanism. Paul and Luke, who consume most of the author’s attention, would seem to correspond to the two wings of Carrère’s complicated temperament: Paul, the Jewish convert to Christianity, the urgent believer in resurrection, salvation, and the end of the world, has something of that proud religious unreasonableness which Carrère exhibited when he was making his daily commentary on the Gospel of John. Luke, a physician of Greek cultural origin who travelled with Paul and is assumed by Church tradition to have chronicled Paul’s ministry in Acts of the Apostles, seems a milder figure. Carrère splits himself between these two evangelists, mapping a hallowed geography that also represents one of the abiding struggles within the European tradition: Athens and Jerusalem.

Jesus was an event within Judaism; it was not especially scandalous that a young Jewish radical went about proclaiming himself the Messiah, ambiguously calling himself “the son of Man,” and quarrelling with the rabbis about aspects of the law. But it was another thing entirely to claim-as Paul did-that Jesus came to earth to wash away an original sin contracted by humans in Eden; that this Jesus was crucified by the Romans, was buried, and rose from the dead; and that he would soon come again, in a rescue mission that would usher in a new eternal kingdom. In place of the intimate, familial struggle of the Jews and their God, Paul invokes a strict theology of sin and salvation. Kierkegaard, at his most Protestant-masochistic, says that Christianity’s singularity lies in its understanding of sin; if that’s true, it was Paul’s singularity rather than Jesus’. The new theology transfers Judaism’s healthy involvement in this life onto a palpitating anticipation of the next; the present becomes eternity’s duller portal.

Paul was born Saul, in Tarsus (now in Turkey), perhaps a few years after the birth of Jesus, whom he never met. He was a devout student of Judaism, and was sent to Jerusalem for schooling with one of the most eminent rabbis of the age. Filled with piety, Saul became an eager persecutor of the early Christians, who were known at this time as “those who follow the Way.” As Luke relates in Acts, Saul was on his way to Damascus, to arrest those blasphemers he could find and bring them back to stand trial in Jerusalem, when a light blinded him, and he fell to the ground. Jesus’ voice asked him, “Why are you persecuting me?,” and then told him to go into the city and await his orders. Paul’s conversion was momentous. During the next twenty years, this incandescent missionary visited Christian churches and communities from Corinth to Antioch; and when he could not reach them he wrote to them, setting down the epistles that form (with the Gospels) the core of the New Testament. These letters are, as Carrère explains, the oldest Christian texts (they predate the Gospels by twenty or thirty years), and perhaps the most modern Biblical texts, “the only ones whose author is clearly identified and speaks in his own name.”

I can feel my eyes glazing over-alas, I am back in school again-but suddenly the reader wakes up, because Monsieur Carrère, at the blackboard with his maps and dates, is shaking things up. Paul’s letters, he says, are like those which Lenin wrote “to various factions of the Second International from Paris, Geneva, and Zurich before 1917.” More interesting still, Monsieur Carrère has got hold of a detail in the Letter to the Galatians, in which Paul warns the congregants not to believe rival teachings by impostors: “Even if I came to preach something other than what I have preached, you shouldn’t believe me.” And suddenly the classroom is awake, because Monsieur Carrère is making early Christianity sound like . . . science fiction.
In a sparkling, unexpected digression-there are many such in this book-he mentions Dick’s fascination with the Stalinist show trials, in which the victims were forced to deny what they had believed their whole lives, and to denounce their earlier selves as unrecognizable monsters. And then he wheels back to Paul. This terror-of the split self, the self who has turned from one pole to its opposite-was largely unknown in the ancient world, Carrère maintains, until Paul’s conversion. But because violent, sudden conversion had happened to Paul, “he must have dreaded, more or less consciously, that it could happen to him again.” This, Carrère thinks, is the hidden fear behind Paul’s admonition to the Galatians:

The person he once was had become a monster to him, and he had become a monster to the person he once was. If the two could have met, the person he once was would have cursed him. He would have prayed to God to let him die, the way the heroes of vampire movies make their friends swear they’ll drive a stake through their hearts if they’re ever bitten. But that’s what they say before it happens. Once contaminated, their only thought is to bite others in turn, in particular those who come at them with a stake to make good the promise they made to the person who no longer exists. I think that Paul’s nights must have been haunted by a nightmare of this kind.
Rampant speculation, outrageous psychologizing, insouciantly unscholarly behavior-but diabolically plausible. Carrère is not afraid of Paul’s reconverting from Christianity to Judaism (what might be considered the orthodox anxiety) so much as fearful of conversion generally. We are hardly surprised when he adds what we have all been thinking: that he is really talking about himself. He quotes a friend, who tells him, “When you were a Christian, what you feared the most was becoming the skeptic that you’re only too happy to be now. But who says you won’t change again?” Once a convert, always convertible.

What makes “The Kingdom” so engrossing is this element of personal struggle, our sense that the agnostic author is looking over his shoulder at the armies of faith, as they pursue him to the wall of rationality. That struggle plays out here over the two scandals-the two great “offenses,” to use Kierkegaard’s favorite word-at the heart of the Christian message. The first is epistemological, and has to do with the claim that Jesus is God made flesh, and that he died and rose again from the dead. The notion of a fully human god, who shares human weaknesses and frailties without any diminution of divinity, is so outrageous that Christians anxiously police Christ’s full humanity. Yes, he got angry, and he could be intolerant, enigmatic, even faltering in strength; he died, humanly, on the Cross. But don’t for a moment suggest that he slept with Mary Magdalene, or that he spent his teen-age years-well, doing what other teen-age boys are known to do a great deal of. The legend about the Virgin Mary is designed, in part, to obscure the outrageousness of Jesus’ humanity. (Carrère, in full-on French secular mode, correctively reminds us that Mary had sex. “She might have come, let’s hope so for her, maybe she even masturbated.”)

But, to the extent that Jesus’ humanity is outrageous, then so is his divinity. For if Jesus is the Son of God, then God changed-you could say that God converted. The distant, unnameable, vengeful Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible becomes the approachable “Father” who washes away all our sins. As both Jack Miles and Harold Bloom have suggested, the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible cannot also be the father of Jesus Christ; either Christ represents an almost incomprehensible break with that world or Yahweh committed suicide on the Cross. And this Man-God, this impossible incarnation of Yahweh, died and was resurrected! Paul puts this amazing fact at the center of his teaching, and insists that if Christ was not raised from the dead “then empty, too, your faith. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” Carrère does not believe in the Resurrection, but he once did, and the fact that others do “intrigues, fascinates, troubles, and moves” him. And so he cannot help admiring Paul’s magnificent unreasonableness. There is a certain type of mind, he writes elsewhere in this book, that is attracted to radical doctrines. “The more opposed it is to common sense, the more that proves its truth. The harder it is to believe, the more deserving you are. Paul personified this type of mind-which could be called fanaticism. Luke, as I imagine him, didn’t.”

A question haunts this book, and it is surely the secret reason that Carrère wrote his biography of Philip K. Dick: Is Christianity just science fiction, a “branch of fantastic literature”? He can’t leave Dick alone, partly because Dick was a writer of fantastic literature who eventually came to believe that God was speaking directly to him, as he had spoken to men like Moses and Muhammad. For Dick, God supplanted the extraterrestrials. In a speech in France, late in his life, he told a bemused audience of sci-fi fans that he’d “had direct contact with the Programmer,” as Carrère puts it. There are certain atheists who have no compunction about dismissing fervent believers as victims of delusion and hallucination. But Carrère’s book about Dick vibrates with a profoundly uneasy respect.
I find Carrère’s ambivalence, both in that book and in “The Kingdom,” moving because I spent much of my childhood, in Durham, around and inside its great Romanesque cathedral. When I realized, in my teens, that I did not believe in God, I had to wrestle with an unhappy idea: that this great building, which for centuries had housed generations of believers, was a monument to an error. Could that be so? Can one say that a cathedral is a mistake, exactly? One shouldn’t, and yet the world views and beliefs of the faithful twelfth-century masons who cut and laid those stones are, when compared with mine, as distantly magical as Harry Potter’s. (The first two “Harry Potter” movies used Durham Cathedral as a location.)

The second great scandal of Christianity is the radical challenge it poses to conventional morality. In the tradition of Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, Carrère emphasizes the punishing sacrifice of self that Jesus’ teaching enjoins. Classical and Jewish thinking had promoted the Golden Rule-Hillel said it was the essence of the Torah-but had never said, “Love your enemies.” And not only love your enemies but also Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. This overriding command cannot be a worldly imperative; it is impossible. It is the shocking inversion of health that Nietzsche railed against, and perhaps the “hatred of humanity” with which, Tacitus says, Christian were charged. Everything natural and human is turned upside down.

With only slight exaggeration, Carrère summarizes this outrageous benevolence: Love your enemies, take joy in being unhappy, prefer being small to being big, poor to rich, sick to healthy. And whereas the Torah posits the elementary, evident, and verifiable truth that it’s not good for men to be alone, Jesus said: Don’t desire women, don’t take a wife, if you have one, keep her so as not to harm her, but it would be better if you didn’t have one. Don’t have children either. Let them come to you, take inspiration from their innocence, but don’t have any. Love children in general, not in particular, not like men have loved their children since time began: more than those of others, because they’re their own. And even-no, above all-don’t love yourselves. It is human to want one’s own good: don’t.
You can feel both the attraction and the recoil in Carrère’s stridency. He fears what he deeply admires; he is repelled by an ideal he cannot quite dislodge.

Athens or Jerusalem: Which will win? Carrère writes about the episode in the Odyssey when Odysseus has to decide between staying on Calypso’s paradisal island (where he has spent seven years) or returning home to Ithaca. Calypso’s charms are intense: she offers eternal pleasures, and she reminds our hero that Penelope, his wife back home, cannot possibly rival the beauty of an immortal goddess. Odysseus concedes as much, but still he chooses to go home; he chooses the mortal and the mutable over the deathless and the eternal. Carrère reminds us that this decision is often seen as a pinnacle of ancient wisdom: “The life of a man is better than that of a god, for the simple reason that it’s real. Authentic suffering is better than deceptive bliss. Eternity is not desirable because it’s not part of our common lot.” Against this, there is the radical eschatological mysticism of Jesus and, especially, of Paul, who “says that the only thing to expect from this life is to be delivered from it, and to go to where Christ reigns.” There is “an unsolvable difference,” Carrère says, between Paul’s ideal and that of Odysseus. “Each one calls the only true good what the other condemns as baneful illusion.

Odysseus says that wisdom always consists in turning your attention to the human condition and life on earth, Paul says it consists in tearing yourself away. Odysseus says that, regardless of how beautiful it is, paradise is a fiction, and Paul says that’s the only reality. Paul, carried away, goes as far as congratulating God for having chosen what is not to invalidate what is.”

These are eloquent words, but for most of us this is no choice at all-because we were never in a position to choose, and because, anyway, we don’t accept the alternatives. Of course, eternal life does not exist; we do not choose, because we haplessly inhabit, what is over what is not. If, in Kierkegaard’s parable, we got the call to see the emperor, we would ignore it, in the way we learn to ignore the phone call offering us a free vacation at a Florida resort. But for Carrère the difference is “unsolvable.” He once went to the palace, and he heard the awful news; and he can’t quite put it out of his head, even though-indeed, precisely because-no one else believes him. _
This is obviously a mind provoking tome. I suspect it will receive great interest in religious and philosophical circles.

April Birthdays

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

T.S. Eliot begins his epic poem, The Waste Land, with these immortal lines:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Perhaps Eliot did, or perhaps he did not, know that two great men were born in April, and thus April is not such a cruel month after all.
Today is traditionally held to be the birthday of William Shakespeare , who was baptized on April 26, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. He left behind no personal papers; so much of what we know, or think we know, about him comes to us from public and court documents, with a fair measure of inference and speculation. We do know that his father John was a glove maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. William’s extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek likely came from his education at the well-respected local grammar school. That was the extent of his formal education, which has led to hundreds of years of conspiracy theories disputing the authorship of his plays, since many found it unbelievable that he could have written so knowledgeably about history, politics, royalty, and foreign lands on a grammar school education. Various figures, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and even Queen Elizabeth I, have been put forward as possible – though unproven – ghost writers.

We know that he married the older – and pregnant – Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26, and she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that, and son Hamnet died at age 11. It’s speculated that his son’s death hit Shakespeare hard, because he began to write Hamlet soon afterward.

He moved to London around 1588 – possibly to escape deer-poaching charges in Stratford – and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. He was popular in his lifetime, but his popularity didn’t rise to the level that George Bernard Shaw referred to as “bardolatry” until the 19th century.

In 1611, he retired to Stratford and made out his will, leaving to his wife, Anne, his “second-best bed.” He died on or around his birthday in 1616, and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare / to dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed be he who moves my bones.”

Though biographical details may be sketchy, his literary legacy is certain. He wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and shifted effortlessly between formal court language and coarse vernacular. The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with coining 3,000 new words, and has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. His idioms have woven themselves so snugly into our daily conversations that we aren’t even aware of them most of the time, phrases such as “a fool’s paradise,” “a sorry sight,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “slept a wink,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air.”

Though we have no way of knowing whether the Bard of Avon was writing of his own impending retirement when he wrote Prospero’s soliloquy from The Tempest in about 1610, it’s satisfying to think so:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

 

It’s also the birthday of Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant , born in Königsberg, Prussia on April 22,1724. His father was a saddle maker. He studied theology, physics, mathematics, and philosophy at university, and worked for a time as a private tutor; he made very little money, but it gave him plenty of time for his own work. He lectured at the University of Königsberg for 15 years until he was eventually given a tenured position as professor of logic and metaphysics in 1770. Though he enjoyed hearing travel stories, he never ventured more than 50 miles from his hometown, believing that travel was not necessary to solve the problems of philosophy.

In his most influential work, The Critique of Pure Reason (1781), he argued against Empiricism, which held that the mind was a blank slate to be filled with observations of the physical world, and Rationalism, which held that it was possible to experience the world objectively without the interference of the mind; instead, he synthesized the two schools of thought, added that the conscious mind must process and organize our perceptions, and made a distinction between the natural world as we observe it and the natural world as it really is. He viewed morality as something that arises from human reason, and maintained that an action’s morality is determined not by the outcome of the action, but by the motive behind it. He is also famous for his single moral obligation, the “Categorical Imperative” namely, that we should judge our actions by whether or not we would want everyone else to act the same way.

He wrote, “Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe […] the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

France’s Fatal Attraction to Islam

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

A Chilling Article on the Possible Destruction of France As We Know It. Take It Seriously. It Could Even Happen Here.

France’s Fatal Attraction to Islam

by Giulio Meotti
March 4, 2017

Instead of fighting to save what is savable, French opinion-makers are already writing the terms of surrender.

By hybridizing cultures and rejecting Christianity, France will soon end up not even teaching also Arabic, but only Arabic, and marking Ramadan instead of Easter.

Instead of wasting their time trying to organize an “Islam of France”, French political leaders, opinion makers and think tanks should look for ways to counter the creeping Islamization of their country. Otherwise, we may soon be seeing not only a “Grand Imam de France”, but also lashes and stonings on the Champs Élysées.

Two years ago, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, suggested converting empty churches into mosques, to accommodate the growing Muslim community in abandoned Christian sites. Now, many people in France seem to have taken the idea so seriously that a report released by the foundation Terra Nova, France’s main think tank that provides ideas to the governing Socialist Party, suggests that in order to integrate Muslims better, French authorities should replace the two Catholic holidays — Easter Monday and Pentecost — with Islamic holidays. To be ecumenical, they also included a Jewish holiday.

Written by Alain Christnacht and Marc-Olivier Padis, the study, “The Emancipation of Islam of France,” states: “In order to treat all the denominations equally, it should include two important new holidays, Yom Kippur and Eid el Kebir, with the removal of two Mondays that do not correspond to particular solemnity”.

Thus, Easter and Pentecost can be sacrificed to keep the ever-elusive multicultural “peace”.

Terra Nova’s proposal was rejected by the Episcopal Conference of France, but endorsed by the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, close to the Muslim Brotherhood, which would also like to include the Islamic holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha in the calendar. The idea of replacing the Christian holidays was also sponsored by the Observatory of Secularism, an organ created by President François Hollande to coordinate secularist policies. The Observatory of Secularism also proposed eliminating some Christian holidays to make way for the Islamic, Jewish and secular holidays. “France must replace two Christian holidays to make way for the Yom Kippur and Eid,” said Dounia Bouzar, a member of the Observatory.

In his recent book, Will the Church Bells Ring Tomorrow?, Philippe de Villiers notes the disappearance of churches in France, and their replacement by mosques. Pictured above: On August 3, 2016, French riot police dragged a priest and his congregation from the church of St Rita in Paris, prior to its scheduled demolition. Front National leader Marine Le Pen said in fury: “And what if they built parking lots in the place of Salafist mosques, and not of our churches?” (Image source: RT video screenshot)

“France is no longer a Catholic country”, wrote Frederic Lenoir, editor-in-chief of Le Monde des Religions. The newspaper Le Figaro wondered if Islam can already be considered “France’s prime religion.” Instead of fighting to save what is savable, French opinion-makers are already writing the terms of surrender. That is the meaning of Terra Nova’s proposal.

A similar shocking idea came from another think tank, the Montaigne Institute, which provides ideas to another presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron. In its report, written by Hakim El Karoui, the Montaigne Institute proposed the creation of a “Grand Imam of France”, no less, as if Paris and Cairo would have the same historic roots. Macron recently apologized for French colonialism, feeding a defeatist sense of guilt that fuels Islamic extremists in their demands.

The Montaigne Institute has also suggested teaching Arabic in public schools. This idea was also sponsored by Jack Lang, president of the Institute of the Arab world, who stated, “the Arab world is part of us”. By hybridizing cultures and rejecting Christianity, France will soon end up not even teaching also Arabic, but only Arabic, and Ramadan instead of Easter.

If the goal is accommodating Muslims in the French Republic instead of assimilating them, why not ban pork in the schools, avoid sensitive subjects such as the Crusades and the Holocaust, separate men and women in swimming pools, call cartoonists to “responsibility,” and allow Islamic veils in the public administration? In fact, all these things are taking place in France today. And the result is not “emancipation,” but religious segregation.

It is in this Apartheid that Islamic extremists grow and permeate hearts and minds. France’s director-general of intelligence, Patrick Calvar, has been clear: “The confrontation is inevitable,” he said. There are an estimated 15,000 Salafists among France’s seven million Muslims, “whose radical-fundamentalist creed dominates many of the predominantly Muslim housing projects at the edges of cities such as Paris, Nice or Lyon. Their preachers call for a civil war, with all Muslims tasked to wipe out the infidels down the street”.

The Socialist front-runner for the Presidential elections, Benoit Hamon, to whom the Terra Nova’s report was directed, even justified the disappearance of French women from the cafés in Muslim-majority areas: “Historically, in the workers’ cafes, there were no women,” he said.

Instead of wasting their time trying to organize an “Islam of France”, French political leaders, opinion-makers and think tanks should look for ways to counter the creeping Islamization of their country. Otherwise we may soon be seeing not only a “Grand Imam de France”, but also lashes and stonings on the Champs Élysées.

Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.

The Dreadful November 8 Quandary

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Well, mercifully, we are at the end –– the end of the most awful presidential election of our time and really since the early 19th century involving Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. What is worse this time, is that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is awful. He is vulgar, disreputable, a womanizer, a poorly educated lout. A disgrace to even imagine him as president. And his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton (and her equally corrupt husband, former President Bill Clinton), is a dreadful, dishonest, lying, elitist traitor. Her resume is long in politics so there is more evidence to review of her 30-40 years in the spotlight. Thus, I ask you to please see how Ayn Rand’s past words and Victor Davis Hanson’s present words all fit to describe her. To vote for him is an enormous risk and embarrassment.To vote for her is to turn our government into an even greater slimy hell hole than it is today. What is one to do?

“When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing –– When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors –– When you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you –– When you see corruption being rewarded and honesty being self-sacrificed –– You may know that your society is doomed.”

Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged, 1957
NATIONAL REVIEW

Victor Davis Hanson
November 1, 2016

Epic greed, power, and pride: Where’s the bottom? With Bill and Hillary, there’s no telling. What was the Clinton telos? The end point, the aim of all their lying, cheating, criminality, dishonor, and degradation? Given the latest Weiner scandals coming on top of the latest WikiLeaks scandals, we wonder, what did the Clintons really wish to end up as — and why? Are they Goethe’s Faust or tortured souls crushed by the weight of their money bags in Dante’s Fourth Circle of Hell? For a few criminals, remorse comes with old age; but for the Clintons, near-70 was to be the capstone, the last chance to trump all their prior shenanigans. They were artists of amorality, and the election of 2016 was to be their magnum opus. Collate the FBI reopened investigation, WikiLeaks Podesta trove, revelations about the Clinton Foundation, the e-mail–server scandal, the DNC disclosures, and the various off-the-cuff campaign remarks of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and one then ponders what was the point of the Clinton shakedowns, the loss of reputation, the crude lawbreaking, as they neared their seventh decade. To paraphrase Barack Obama, in his progressive sermonizing on making enough money, did the two ever think they had enough money, enough honors, enough power already? The Hillary/Bill fortune — generated by pay-for-play influence peddling on the proposition that Bill would return to the White House under Hillary’s aegis and reward friends while punishing enemies — hit a reported $150 million some time ago, a fortune built not on farming, mining, insurance, finance, high-tech, or manufacturing, but on skimming off money. The Clintons are simply grifters whose insider access to government gave them the power to make rich people richer. Long gone was the Scrooge-like need to write off used underwear as charitable tax deductions or to play 4-trillion-to-one odds in rigging a $100,000 cattle-futures profit on a $1,000 “investment,” or Hillary’s decade-and-a-half as a corporate lawyer masquerading as a children’s advocate. How pathetic the minor league Whitewater cons must seem now to the multimillionaire Clintons — such a tawdry ancient example of amateurish shakedowns when compared with the sophistication of real profiteering through the humanitarian-sounding, high-brow, corrupt Clinton Foundation. So the Clintons finally got their millions and what such millions can ensure for their separate lifestyles. They have at last beautiful gated estates, tasteful and secluded from hoi polloi, light years away from Arkansas and the Rose Law Firm. Progressive Chelsea married a multimillionaire hedge-fund operator whose father served five years in federal prison for bank fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud. Her parents’ profiteering can allow Chelsea to announce, perhaps even sincerely, that she is not interested in money. Why should she be, given her own reported $15 million net worth from maternal spin-off favors? She lives in a $10 million Manhattan residence, so her parents had no motivation to get more in order to “provide” for their offspring. Instead, was bringing Chelsea down to Bill and Hillary’s level as a Foundation fixer a way to leave her a post mortem primer on how to get even richer? In sum, there was certainly no need for Hillary to even have considered flying to the Moroccan autocracy on the eve of announcing her presidential candida to leverage a $12 million speaking “fee” from a cut-throat Moroccan mining company, Why the drive to pile profits on top of profits on top of profits? Or, as Hillary’s top aide, Huma Abedin, put it of the quid pro quo fee (i.e., the mining company felt that it had gotten from the Clinton-run State Department a U.S.-financed Export-Import Bank loan of $92 million): This was HRC’s idea, our office approached the Moroccans and they 100 percent believe they are doing this at her request. Translated: A President Hillary Clinton would probably have no regret that dozens of heads of state, the majority of them dictatorial and not especially friendly to the U.S., would feel that they had done business with Hillary and Bill — and she, as a recipient of their largess, would owe them commensurate attention. Why did multimillionaire Hillary charge UCLA, in the era of thousands of indebted students, $300,000 (rather than, say, $149,999.99) for a brief, platitudinous speech? Why did multimillionaire Bill need more than $17 million for being honorary “chancellor” of the financially for-profit but tottering Laureate University (whose spin-off associate organization was a recipient of State Department largesse)? Did he think the extra millions were worth the embarrassment of being the highest-paid and least-busy college executive in U.S. history? Apparently, the good life did not drive the Clintons so much as the quest for the supposed best life. Even though they had finally “made it” among the multimillionaire set, the Clintons always saw others (no doubt, deemed by them less deserving) with far, far more — whether Jeffery Epstein, with his ability to jet wherever and with whomever he pleased, or green half-a-billionaire Al Gore, who ran even more successful cons, such as rapidly selling a worthless cable TV station to beat impending capital-gains taxes, and selling it to none other than the anti-Semitic Al Jazeera, whose carbon-generated profits come from autocratic Qatar. (The media never audited Gore’s attempt to become a cable mogul, unlike their current concerns about a potential Trump media outlet). The rich did not pressure the Clintons for paid favors as much as they sought out the Clintons as targets for graft. They certainly understand and smile at Hillary’s boilerplate promise of “making the rich pay their fair share” — the mantra of those who are worth over $100 million and immune from the impact of any tax hikes, or, for that matter, immune from any consequences whatsoever of their own ideology. The Clintons suffer from greed, as defined by Aristotle: endless acquisition solely for the benefit of self. With their insatiable appetites, they resented the limits that multimillionaire status put on them, boundaries they could bypass only by accumulating ever greater riches. The billion-dollar foundation squared the circle of progressive politicians profiting from the public purse by offering a veneer of “doing good” while offering free luxury travel commensurate with the style of the global rich, by offering sinecures for their loyal but otherwise unemployable cronies, and by spinning off lobbying and speaking fees (the original font of their $100-million-plus personal fortune and the likely reason for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to put all her communications, mercantile included, on a private server safe from government scrutiny). Acquiring money to the extent that money would become superfluous was certainly a Clinton telos — and the subtext of the entire Podesta trove and the disclosures about the Clinton Foundation. Power and pride were the other catalyst for Clinton criminality. I don’t think progressive politics mattered much to the Clintons, at least compared with what drives the more sincere Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Hillary, like Bill, has no real political beliefs — though she doesn’t hesitate to pursue a mostly opportunistic progressive political agenda. By temperament and background, the Clintons are leftists and will follow a leftist vision, sort of, but one predicated on doing so within the constraints of obtaining and keeping power. Trade deals? Hillary is flexible given the fickle public mood. Fracking? It depends on where the money is. The Keystone Pipeline? What are the pros and cons in key swing states? Wall Street criminality? One has to distinguish a wink-and-nod political façade from a private flexibility. Gay marriage? She can reluctantly “evolve” under pressure. Immigration? It hinges on Latino demography in swing states, and how bothersome, as their aides put it, “needy” Latinos and “brown” op-ed writers become. Black Lives Matter? Had the black vote not won Obama the 2008 and 2012 elections, Hillary would probably have persisted in Bill’s 1990’s mode (when he condemned rap singer Sister Soulja for her racism and her anti-white rhetoric) and in her own critique of black “super predators,” as she called gang members in 1996. For the Clintons, power is the narcotic of being sought out, of being surrounded by retainers, of bringing enemies to heel and enticing sycophants with benefits. Liberalism and progressivism are mere social and cultural furniture. For the Clintons, power is the narcotic of being sought out, of being surrounded by retainers, of bringing enemies to heel and enticing sycophants with benefits. Liberalism and progressivism are mere social and cultural furniture, the “correct” politics of their background that one mouths and exploits to obtain and maintain political clout — and to get really, really rich without guilt or apology. As in the quest for lucre, the Clintons’ appetite for high-profile authority is endless. Just as $150 million seemed as nothing compared with the billions and billions raked in by their friends and associates, so too eight years in the White House, tenure as governor, senator, or secretary of state were never enough. In between such tenures, the Clintons suffered droughts when they were not on center stage and in no position to wield absolute power, as they watched less deserving folk (the Obamas perhaps in particular) gain inordinate attention. A Hillary presidency would give the Clintons unprecedented Peronist-like power, in a manner unlike any couple in American history. Of course, the Clintons are not only corrupt but cynical as well. They accept that the progressive media, the foundations, the universities, the bureaucracies, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley honor power more than trendy left-wing politics; they well understand that their fans will, for them, make the necessary adjustments to contextualize Clinton criminality or amorality. Sexual predations, the demonization of women, graft, and unequal protection under the law are also of no consequence to the inbred, conflicted, and morally challenged media – who will always check in with the Clinton team, like errant dogs who scratch the backdoor of their master after a periodic runaway. The Clintons have contempt for the media precisely because the media are so obsequious. They smile, that, like themselves, the media are easily manipulated and compromised — to the extent of offering their articles, before publication, for Clinton approval (as the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich did; leaking debate questions to the Clinton campaign (as Donna Brazile did); or saying (as Politico’s chief political correspondent did), “I have become a hack. . . . Please don’t share or tell anyone I did this Tell me if I f**ked up anything.” The Clintons view such sycophants not with affection, but with disdain, given that they are moochers no better than the Clintons, with the same base desires, albeit better camouflaged by their pretense of objectivity. To paraphrase Demosthenes’s warning of the impending arrival of the war-scarred and half-blind Philip II, the Clintons have devoted their lives, their health, their very bodies and souls to get where they are. And their visible scars prove it. They have long ago lost any sense of shame — Bill is hourly caricatured as a sexual predator, and the best that can be said of Hillary’s character is that the bankrupt Left shrugs, “She may be a crook, but she’s our crook.” In Dorian Gray fashion, their sins are now imprinted on their faces and visible in their tremors. They were and are capable of any and everything. And one wonders whether, in fleeting seconds here at the end of things, they still believe that it was all worth what they have become. —

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Colin Kaepernick And Our National Anthem

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Unfortunately, the nasty, racially tinged, political atmosphere has decended on the 2016 professonal football season. Wealthy African-Americans in all professions, including football, should extend a helping hand to their people, but what he has done, and he is protected by the First Amendment to say whatever he wishes, is clearly counter productive.

CONSTITUTION
GodfatherPolitics.com
August 29, 2016
“49ers QB COLIN Kaepernick Learning Fans Don’t Appreciate His Hate For His Country.”
Late last week San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick decided that he could no longer stand up at attention when “The Star Spangled Banner” was played at games. This is because, he said, the U.S. is evil and filled with racists. Only hours passed before millions of fans let Kaepernick and the 49ers know just what they thought of his anti-American statement.

The player’s recalcitrance was at first ignored by both the national media as well as the national sports media. As Breitbart News reported, immediately after the game no one in the sports media asked Kaepernick nor coach Chip Kelly why the player was not standing during the playing of the anthem.

But not long after the post game media was over, fans showed they noticed what he did as the game began and tongues on social media users began to wag. The pressure mounted quickly and likely expecting to be congratulated for his “bravery,” Kaepernick soon explained why he did what he did.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained to NFL.com. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

What ever Kaepernick thought the reaction should be to his actions, it seems the management of the 49ers understood a public relations mess was brewing. Immediately after the game the team quickly issued a public statement about the incident.

“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

With this the team tried to have it both ways. By defending the anthem and celebrating its patriotism yet fully supporting Kaepernick’s right to be hateful of it, the team thought it had covered all the bases.

Of course, 49ers management is certainly right. The Constitution itself maintains that each of us have a right to our opinion and all of use are guaranteed our freedom of speech. But few Americans question that right. And, in fact, every Kaepernick detractor has the exact same right to criticize him for attacking the National Anthem and to decide they don’t want to patronize the San Francisco 49ers because of it.

The fact is, those who despise what Kaepernick did also have the right to burn his jersey, apparently, and a trend quickly began on social media showing disgruntled fans doing just that.

One enraged fan who seems to have started the jersey burning trend was Louisiana resident Shane White who posted a video to his Facebook page slamming the player and then burning his jersey to the tune of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

White wasn’t alone. Other fans joined him showing their anger by burning Kapernick jerseys.

Jersey-burning fans weren’t the only ones showing their anti-Kaepernick sentiment. Other upset fans took to their social media to make suggestions about what the player could do with himself.

The The Daily Mail, for instance, noted that one fan advised the player to move to Canada while others were more colorful with their suggestions.

One of the best retorts to Kapernick’s anti-American sentiment was posted to Twitter by Nick Short who added a photo of Marine Sgt. Zachary Stinson of Pennsylvania. Along with the image, Short added a caption reading, “Kaepernick refusing to stand for natl anthem is his right. Here’s a Marine, who can’t stand, because he defended it.” The photo shows Sgt. Stinson lifting himself out of his wheel chair as the National Anthem plays. You see, as it happens Stinson lost both of his legs above the knee in an IED attack in Afghanistan in 2010 and he is no longer able to stand for the anthem.

This is all rather interesting for the fact that Colin Kaepernick, born of mixed race parents who abandoned him, was adopted by a white family and given all the advantages a child could be given. Even as he claims that America is so racist that minorities can’t get ahead, he nevertheless seems to have done quite well for himself.

His quixotic behavior is writ large across his own Twitter feed. Despite his privileged upbringing, if one looks at Kaepernick’s Twitter account one is confronted with post after anti-American post filled with race-baiting and support for Black Lives Matter. Further, looking at his social media photos with the way he dresses it seems he is a young man who fancies himself a gang banger of sorts.

Whatever demons are driving him, Kaepernick’s fans are not pleased, to say the least, but the national sports media apparently don’t take their marching orders from the fans. The sports press did belatedly begin to cover Kaepernick’s anti-American sentiment after the firestorm had ratcheted into high speed. But almost to a man the opinionists of the sports press showered Kaepernick with high praise, agreed with him that the U.S. is racist, and patted him on the back for his “bravery.”

One imagines none of them asked Sgt. Stinson about what real bravery is all about.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time recently that a bi-racial entertainer went to extremes seemingly because he is guilty over his privileged lifestyle.

In yet another case, bi-racial actor Jesse Williams uncorked a rant to end all rants on Black Entertainment Television in June. Instead of delivering an acceptance speech for the award he was given that night, Williams jumped into a controversial harangue in which he characterized this country as unalterably unfair to blacks and insisted all white people as permanently racist — including, presumably, his own, white mother.


William S. Frankl, All Rights Reserved
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