Links and Notes for May 4 2012

Comparison Thinking in Relationships as Betrayal

Don Elium is a marriage counselor from Walnut Creek. He blogs and often has some good stuff on relationships. In this one on mistrust and betrayal he highlights that “comparison thinking” is a significantly different step in a relationship from simple mistrust. It is one thing to let your partner down or let the relationship down, it is another thing to decide to compare your partner against a slate of alternative futures.

Enthusiasm Makes For Poor Web-Hosting

Religious websites contain more malware than porn sites (from

The Hunger Games

From Books and Culture on The Hunger Games.

On Performance confused for living

In this sense, The Hunger Games is kind of brilliant, even while Katniss is kind of maddening. It is a picture of how social media affects our thinking about ourselves. The picture—Katniss herself—is not encouraging. While she is courageous, skilled, and loyal, she is also confused and directionless she has little sense of identity. When a generation’s main mode of self-expression is a Facebook post, it is unsurprising that we do not understand ourselves. It is impossible to practice the examined life through a Tweet.

The logical implication of this sort of world is to doubt the nature of reality and resort to role-playing rather than character formation. If all of life is performance, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between the two. And there is nothing to ground a lasting sense of identity or purpose; people shift their personalities to adapt to the circumstance, playing different roles for different audiences. One character spends much of the third book fighting the effects of brainwashing, trying to determine which memories are true and which were invented. In the finale, Katniss and her companions disguise themselves as refugees as they race through the Capitol under siege; following a violent encounter, they keep the disguise but pick up weapons, a discordant mix. “Who are we supposed to be now?” Katniss asks. Who, indeed?

On Hope vs. Despair

Where this trilogy differs sharply from something like The Lord of the Ringsor Harry Potter is in the kind of view of the world it conveys in this epilogue. There is no scouring of the Shire, no return of a king. There is not even a resurrection to do final battle with Voldemort, but something closer to the burning of Hogwarts. These books are morally ambiguous and cynical. It is not even clear if the rebels are actually good guys, nor who is responsible for one particularly horrifying event late in the final book (another example of the epistemological skepticism inherent in life-as-performance).

As the story fades out in an inconclusive and troubling ending, it is not clear if the battles were ever worth fighting. The cost of the war is extremely high, as most of the major characters end up dead or psychologically crippled. Nowhere in these books can we find the equivalent of Sam Gamgee’s stirring declaration—”There’s something good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for!”—in the film version of The Two Towers. Instead, Katniss ends the trilogy as a kind of embittered pacifist misanthrope, damning all of humanity for its endless cycle of death and violence and unable to come to terms with her role in it all. This is a time-honored perspective on life, found in better writers like Voltaire and perhaps Hemmingway, and to Collins’ credit it does not come off as trite or clichéd, but it is a view I, and most Christians, do not share. Despair offers precious little nourishment.

We’re not as natural as we think

Again, Books and Culture (really one of the best outfits running) review on Vegetables

Indeed, as Richard Wrangham pointed out in his 2009 book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human, to idealize a supposedly “primitive” diet is to miss all that is culturally and biologically important about how humans eat and why. Adhering to a raw diet requires near-constant chewing; calorically dense foods generally must be cultivated to be so and cooked for optimal energy benefit. Even the most humble, most seemingly “natural” of foods have long and frequently surprising cultural histories.

Stumbling Towards Shalom

What it took to enforce the English abolition laws in Books and Culture.

Americans, especially evangelical Americans, are heirs of a commendable tradition that valorizes the noble individual (like Wilberforce) and the voluntary association (like his Clapham Sect), and regularly one hears of a new evangelical non-governmental organization dedicated to “stopping trafficking.” But trafficking will be stopped, if and when it is stopped, by a dauntingly vast army of patient bureaucrats and by officers of the peace who put themselves in harm’s way and are willing to mete out harm when necessary. The best NGOS understand this and are dedicated to strengthening judicial and law-enforcement systems; but every time I find another Twitter user whose 160-character bio includes the phrase “abolitionist” I wonder if they know how boring, how costly, and how institutional that work must be to be finally done.

Food, Fear and Spirituality

Books and Culture again. Food again. Review of Fear of Food.

Personally, I would pay more attention to the interests and enthusiasms of the lay public, the consumers of these dietary problems, whose concerns and obsessions shift enormously over time. Some years ago, Ruth Clifford Engs published an intriguing account of Clean Living Movements through American history, those eras of fanatical concern about healthy food, bodily purity, sexual reform, and (usually) avoidance of alcohol and intoxicants, themes that are usually closely linked to religious revivalism.[1] One such wave swept the country from 1830 through 1860, another in the early 20th century, and yet another began in the mid 1970s. Each in turn left its residue in terms of religious movements, and also of food products. The 19th-century movement, for instance, bequeathed such famous names as Kellogg of the cereal and Graham of the crackers.

In other words, America’s ambiguous attitudes toward food (healthful but at the same time potentially lethal) are intimately bound up with its spiritual and moral concerns. Only by appreciating that cultural dimension can we understand what scientific claims will strike ordinary consumers of news as credible and (dare I say) palatable at any given time. It’s much more than just America’s “Puritan streak.”

How the Internet Might Change College Education

David Brooks in the NYT on online college. It strikes me that this is not a new thing for the church. The church has been playing with this for a while now too and it seems like with most of the dislocation and alterations the Internet brings the changes are hardly clear cut.

Nick Wolterstorff on Religion in the Public Sphere

Christianity and the Tooth Fairy: Has Science Made Christianity Obsolete

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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