Friday, April 22, 2005

Understanding ecumenical dialogue from an absolutist's persective

The following quote is drawn from an excerpt of a transcript of an interview conducted by the ABC's Tony Jones with a Catholic bishop, Mark Coleridge, on Wednesday:

TONY JONES: Well, he’s saying that there are problems with ritual and superstition in other branches of the Christian church, and he seems to be extending that to Islam and Judaism if you look at it by extension.

MARK COLERIDGE: If you look at – indeed, if you read Dominus Ieusus, what you will see is that it proclaims anew what Christianity has always said from day 1, and it's this: that Jesus Christ is the world's only saviour. There's nothing new in that. It wasn’t just Ratzinger who said it. This is a fundamental belief of Christianity. In other words, Buddha, for instance, and Mohammed are very great religious teachers, religious geniuses, but they are not the saviour of the world. So that what Ratzinger is determined to speak against - and I think this will be true of his pontificate - is what he calls relativism. In other words, your opinion and my opinion are equally valid or invalid. There is no such thing as truth. There is no such thing as absolute truth...

TONY JONES: But isn't that a huge problem, though, when you're trying to deal with other religions that believe they - as the Catholics do - have the absolute truth, and you can't argue with them that their version of God is different than yours and therefore not as good?

MARK COLERIDGE: No. Tony, anyone who's been involved seriously in interreligious dialogue would say that the only real basis for true dialogue - not just having a garden party, but true dialogue - is that I speak from the position of my belief and you speak from yours. We don't sort of assimilate one to the other. That's no basis for true dialogue. Dialogue presumes difference. So what Ratzinger spells out in a thing like Dominus Ieusus is the basis from which Christianity enters dialogue. It doesn’t foreclose dialogue; it makes it possible.

"Dialogue presumes difference...It doesn’t foreclose dialogue; it makes it possible."

I can't see how productive dialogue is possible if one holds that: a) there are absolute truths, b) one's own interpretation of those truths is absolutely correct, and c) one's dialogue partners' interpretation of those truths is fundamentally misguided and incorrect.

It seems obvious to me that if one is to have productive dialogue, both parties must agree to disagree on the points of fundamental difference thereby making those points of difference irrelevant to the outcome of the dialogue. In which case, interfaith dialogue can proceed irrespective of whether one holds a relativist position or not.

Indeed, I would think that relativists can more easily participate in such a dialogue, if only because relativists are not forced to defend irrational and logically indefensible positions and would naturally seek to base the dialogue on points of shared belief.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

McGovern on the rare appearance of intestinal fortitude within the US intelligence community

Ray McGovern documents an instance of a seemingly rare trait in US intelligence officials - intestinal fortitude:

Ford emphasized that politicization is the main danger to intelligence analysis. He described politicization as a 'team sport' since at least two are needed—the one exerting political pressure and the 'weasel.' He described in some detail Bolton's attempt to bully an INR analyst into changing his conclusions to fit Bolton's extreme views on Cuba's biological warfare capability. The analyst, who is several grade levels lower than Undersecretary Bolton but no weasel, stood firm and was treated to a torrent of verbal abuse. Later, when Bolton made it clear to Ford that the analyst should be removed, Ford said, in effect, over his dead body.

In the end, the analyst's firmness prevented Bolton from representing his extreme opinions on Cuba as the views of the U.S. intelligence community. (Pity that this INR analyst apparently had no soul mate in courage among intelligence analysts of Iraq elsewhere in the community.) To his credit, Ford gave his analyst strong support. Nonetheless, this crass attempt at politicization threw such a fright into INR analysts that Ford decided to use the incident as an important teaching moment for staff and instituted defense-against-politicization training.

The former INR chief made it clear that he considered Bolton's behavior beyond the pale and told his analysts that, were they to encounter such pressure they had just two requirements: (1) do not bend to it; and (2) report it to the director of INR immediately. Ford reported Bolton's behavior to then-Secretary Powell, and later Powell went over to INR to address the staff and give a highly visible attaboy to the analyst who had stood his ground.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Another look at the IMAX censorship issue

Another look at the IMAX censorship issue.

The Long Emergency

A thoroughly chilling piece about the consequences of the looming oil crisis.

Update: Alan provided a link to a website that covers this subject in more detail:

Wikipedia also has a good page on the subject.

Goodbye Enlightenment, Welcome Back The Dark Ages

If I was an American I'd be slightly worried about this. Not to mention profoundly embarrassed.

I do wonder what happens when America walks itself off the plank into the lunatic world of a fascist theocracy, for it seems like it will inevitably do this one day. What will the rest of the world do? Will Australia be dragged down into the morass with it, or will we come to our senses and elect a government who will steer us away from the abyss. What are real estate prices like in Auckland, anyway?

Perhaps humanity's only hope is that these lunatics actually try to initiate the Armageddon they so desperately seem to want. It might not be pretty. Billions may die. But maybe at last their ideology will be condemned to the dustbin of history where it belongs. Or, life on this planet will end - a fitting testament to the deadly power of the religious meme and those who propagate it.

A natural part of the language

Americans might like to ponder if there is something wrong with their foreign policy given that a bloke who runs a metal fabrication business on the other side of the Pacific uses an Iraq-war-inspired analogy to describe a fire in a neighbouring factory.

"It looks like Iraq when the Americans bombed it. The place is finished completely," he said.

[ ref: SMH ]

Scheer On The Pope's Anti-war Stance

Robert Scheer remembers what the so-called left-wing US media was so deft at forgetting - the Pope's outspoken stance against the Iraq war.

Jon Stewart said a similar thing in another way, in his "Papal Talking Points" piece.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Toynbee on the Papal Legacy

Polly Toynbee goes off.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Ackerman on the Plain Speaking Pontiff

Piers Ackerman wrote:

The simplicity of the cyprus coffin in which the Pope was buried beneath St Peter's basilica reflected the character of the plain-speaking Pontiff who resisted Nazism and Communism.

In fact, the coffin the Pope was actually buried in was substantially more elaborate than the cyprus coffin observed during Friday's mass. After the mass, that coffin was enclosed within a second coffin made of zinc and a third of polished walnut upon which were affixed metal trimmings depicting a cross and a papal coat of arms. The three nested coffins were laid to rest, in a tomb vacated by John XXIII, underneath a marble slab, itself beneath one of the most opulent buildings ever constructed by man.

The Pontiff may well have been plain-speaking, but that is hardly reflected by the choice of burial arrangements unless one chooses to ignore those parts of the burial arrangements that are inconsistent with one's rhetoric.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Unadorned Coffin Evidence of John Paul's Simple Life

The Scotsman wrote:

Unadorned Coffin Evidence of John Paul's Simple Life

Pope John Paul's coffin of blonde cypress wood had no decoration other than a slender cross and the letter M for Mary on the top.

He was buried "in the bare earth" as he requested, not in a majestic marble sarcophagus like many of his predecessors.

The simple way John Paul was buried was evidence of his unostentatious style during his 26 year papacy. He left no personal property in his will, asking only that a few everyday items be distributed by his personal secretary.


The first cypress coffin, its grainy fibres visible, was placed inside a second one, of zinc, then a third of walnut - the latter two to slow down the decomposition process. The walnut coffin bears a cross and his papal coat of arms.

In other words, for theatrical purposes the Pope was paraded in an unadorned coffin but for the purposes of actual interment a more elaborate vessel was required. Yes, the story of the two (or three) coffins is dripping in symbolism.

Mmmm, "earth" so "bare" that there isn't any.

The True Lesson In Humility

Alessandra Stanley wrote in the New York Times:

For American viewers, the pope's funeral was also a rare lesson in humility; the ceremony at St. Peter's Square was one of the few momentous, televised political events in which the United States played almost no role. The fact that the American president and his two predecessors attended a pope's funeral for the first time was ho-hum news overseas. The official five-member United States delegation led by President Bush was seated not by geopolitical importance but in alphabetical order, in French: "États-Unis," right after "Espagne."

So now I understand. I also noticed that not much, if any, of the ceremony was spoken in English.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Humility ™

In my previous posts I have been rather critical of the interpretation that the parading of the Pope in a simple cypress coffin was a powerful representation of the Pope's humility. The realisation that the Pope's casket was then enclosed within an intermediate zinc and a rather more ostentatious outer oak/walnut casket that were then buried within one of the most opulent buildings ever constructed by man seems to have undermined the intended symbolism of humility somewhat.

So, in the interests of being constructive, I offer the Catholic church the following suggestion as to how to construct a truly moving illustration of Papal humility.

The next time a pope dies, organize another spectacular such as that of April 8. Then, when it is time for the Pope's body to be interred within the inner sanctum of dead popes, pause as a donkey cart carrying a pauper's coffin is brought adjacent to the Pope's coffin.

Transfer the Pope's coffin onto the donkey cart and take the coffin of the pauper and enclose it within caskets of zinc and walnut/oak. Inter the pauper within the Pope's vault and cover the vault with a slab of stone. The donkey cart, meanwhile, is lead away and the Pope's coffin is then interred, secretly, in an unmarked pauper's grave, the location of which is to be kept secret under pain of excommunication.

Now that would be a impressive display of humility. It would, I believe, be very symbolic of the Christian claim that Jesus gave his Life so that Man's may be Saved.

Of course, the key to making it work is to make sure the Pope's body actually does end up in the pauper's grave and doesn't get switched by traditionalists who couldn't abide the notion of a pauper being buried in St. Peter's Basilica.

Response To Christian Today's writeup of the Pope's Funeral

As mentioned in the previous entry Anna Lisa wrote "Pope John Paul's plain coffin reflected the unpretentious life-style he had led during his 26 year papacy".

What kind of reflection on his papacy, and the Catholic church in general, is the fact that the coffin he was actually laid to rest in was far more ostentatious than the "plain coffin" he was put on show in outside St. Peter's Basillica?

And how does the fact that "John Paul's wishes were stated in his will on March 13, 1992, that he wished to be buried in bare earth" sit with the fact that he was buried in a zinc lined coffin, beneath a stone slab, inside one of the most opulent buildings ever constructed by man. Seems like his wish to be buried in "bare earth" was merely a rhetorical device designed to evoke images of humility, rather than something that could actually be tolerated by the institution that is the Catholic church.

In death, as in life, hypocrisy reigns supreme.

The Pope's Two Coffins

Much was made in the overblown commentary that accompanied the Pope's funeral on Friday about the humility of the man, as demonstrated by the fact that he had chosen to be buried in a plain cypress box, rather than in something more majestic.

However, as these pictures demonstrate, that was just for show. His actual vessel into the after-life is a far more ostentatious, polished, zinc-lined, walnut (or oak) coffin. [ source: AP via CBS news]

As ever, the spin accompanying the "elevated ones" knows no bounds.

Thanks to Chris for spotting this!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Monbiot on Wolfowitz's appointment

An interesting take by George Monbiot on Wolfowitz's appointment.

It perhaps makes a little more sense if you have read Monbiot's excellent book, The Age Of Consent, which describes how the US prevented a truly progressive, if not just, system of international finance being setup after WWII.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A beam of Enlightenment in the IMAX of Charlotte, North Carolina

From Jim Hoffman, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Discovery Place, NC:

Due to unexpected interest in the film Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, Discovery Place will present the film during three special screenings on April 14 at The Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome Theater. Discovery Place will then work the film into its regular schedule beginning Aug. 12.

Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, narrated by Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind, Pollack, The Right Stuff), takes viewers into the great abyss up to 12,000 feet below the water’s surface where sunlight is unable to penetrate. Audiences explore the sea cliffs of Spain, where they join paleontologist Dolf Seilacher, who searches for an elusive creature responsible for the fossil he found a half-century earlier. Then a team aboard the submersible research vessel Alvin explores deep-sea vents in the Eastern Pacific. Here they find life that manages to thrive in extreme heat, pressure and toxic water.

The audience descends to the ocean floor, making its way through the rugged volcanic landscape of the Mid Ocean Ridge. Here on the underwater mountain range, 40,000 miles long and 500 miles wide, lay smoking hydrothermal vent chimneys and colonies of life unlike anything else on Earth. In one area, red-hot lava boils up from the ocean floor leaving Volkswagen-sized rock formations and killing everything in its path.

In startling images, the audience sees the decimation and resurrection of the community witnessed by scientists: mysterious spaghetti worms, ghostly galatheid crabs and six-foot-tall tubeworms—creatures with no mouth and no stomach. The film, in colorful graphic style, launches the audience into space to witness the formation of the solar system to explain how this volcanic activity, decaying radiation of this long-ago event, provides a source of energy for life.

Admission to The Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome Theater is $7.50 for ages 14-59, $6 for ages 2-13 and 60+. For more information or to purchase tickets call (704) 372-6261, ext. 300.

Good one, Jim.

It's still pretty dark in Charleston. I guess that's why they call it South Carolina.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Who is Brain-Dead?

Alan Kobrin calls for progressives to actively resist the agenda of the Christian and neo-conservative right.

How about it, folks?