Reading the Right Atheists

This, from Ethika Politica, is helpful:

Stephen Bullivant’s Faith and Unbelief offers a better strategy for Christians who want to engage atheists. He proposes that instead of demonizing atheists, we should seek out the best among them, those who are most open to dialogue, instead of going after the lowliers. It makes sense to engage the Nietzsches of our age without forgetting that the 19th century had its fair share of Feuerbachs, Renans, and Thomas Huxleys.

This is not only a challenge to Hart, but as you’ll note from all the atheism-related posts I’ve written (see: here), I’m somewhat guilty of the lowlier strategy. In an attempt to redeem myself I came up with a list of ten books by ten living atheists who engage religion (mostly) charitably.

It didn’t take me very long. I’m sure you can think of some prominent figures that I’ve omitted. They are listed below along with representative books, and their publisher blurbs.

One of the things Matt constantly pushes me to do is interact with the best representatives of a tradition and aspire to working on that level, rather than simply picking fights with the latest headline-grabbing hack. It’s a good goal and the list linked above is a helpful resource in figuring out how to do that.

Putin’s Latest Comments on Cultural Unity and Nationalism

Interesting read here:

In a comment that many non-Russians in the Russian Federation are certain to see as a threat to the existence of their groups and some Russians may view as a danger to Russian-ness as well, Vladimir Putin said yesterday that “it is not so important what is written in the ‘nationality’ line; what is important is how an individual identifies himself.”

In a conversation with Vladimir Tolstoy who is overseeing the state project on ‘The Foundations of State Cultural Policy,’ the Kremlin leader continued that “what is important is who one considers oneself to be, what underlying cultural principles are part of them from childhood, in what milieu one is raised and to what they are oriented toward in a moral plane”.

PEG on Piketty


Like the vast majority of pundits discussing Thomas Piketty’s book (I assume), I have not read it. In my defense, though, as a self-described economically literate Frenchman, I have been following Piketty’s work for years, from his scholarly publications to his columns in Libération to his tax policy book Pour une révolution fiscale, and have read the debate around his book with interest.

Given how fast Piketty is rising to the status of liberal-economist-star (and academic star to boot), I find myself constantly surprised by how little I find to disagree in his work. I found myself basically agreeing with everything in this excellent interview by Matt Yglesias.

His worries about increasing wealth concentration being potentially harmful to the social compact sound a lot more like the reasonable worries of conservatives like Jim Manzi rather than the histrionics of a Paul Krugman.

And Piketty seems to be more aware than the average economist of the importance of demography and population growth in generating economic growth.

But on his proposals on inequality, I think this quote aptly sums up his project–which happens to be one I share: ”my point is not at all to destroy wealth. My point is to increase wealth mobility and to increase access to wealth.”

What Michael Did

A hard read from the Toronto Star:

Michael Stewart wakes alone in his room on the second floor of an old brick row house near the psychiatric hospital.

He rises slowly, walks to the kitchen, pops open a plastic pill box and swallows six tablets with a glass of water. It is just before 9 on a cold morning in early spring. He will take 12 more pills in exactly 12 hours.

These days, Michael never misses a dose. He has come to accept the pills and treatment regimen are as vital for him as oxygen. With them, he can enjoy the simple freedoms he was once denied. Without them, Michael knows he would once again lose his grip on reality. The inescapable facts of his past have seared in him the resolve to stay well.

Twelve years ago, when he was 23, Michael killed a woman at her home in Renfrew, Ont. The victim, a 51-year-old nurse with a husband and four grown children, was no stranger to him. June Stewart was his mother.

At the time, he was in a severe psychotic state, operating in a false world created by delusions and hallucinations that had haunted him for years. He would be found not criminally responsible for his mother’s death, a verdict that means he is legally blameless.

The incident left a family shattered. With June dead and Michael in a psychiatric hospital, the remaining Stewarts — father David, his son Peter, and twins John and Rebecca — faced a devastating situation. How does a family learn to live with a loss of such magnitude while occupying conflicting roles: husband, daughter and sons of the victim, and also father, sister and brothers of the killer?

The answer, for the Stewarts, was not forgiveness but something more profound.

Littlejohn on Hooker in University Bookman


If asked “Which thinker exerted the greatest influence on the American founders?” most Americans educated enough to know an answer would likely reply with little hesitation, “John Locke.” If asked “Which theologian exerted the greatest influence on the development of English Protestantism,” many might hesitate a bit more, but would probably answer, “John Calvin.” But there is a strong case to be made that the answer for both questions should be the same, although it is a name probably unknown even to the vast majority of well-educated Americans—Richard Hooker, himself profoundly influenced by Calvin and a profound influence on Locke.

Russell Kirk wrote in Enemies of the Permanent Things that “probably Richard Hooker, directly or indirectly, had more to do with the fundamental opinions of the founding Fathers than did Locke,” and indeed, given Locke’s pervasive reliance on Hooker, for the more conservative aspects of his thought at any rate, it is perhaps a moot point. Moreover, through the legacy of the great English statesman Edmund Burke, who, among all his admirers perhaps most closely matched his vision and temperament, Hooker’s thought exerted a profound influence on conservative political thought on both sides of the Atlantic through the last two centuries. Burke held Hooker in the highest esteem, and was fond of quoting the line from Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, “The reason first why we do admire those things which are greatest, and second those things which are ancientest, is because the one are the least distant from the infinite substance, the other from the infinite continuance, of God.” This remark, says Kirk, “holds the kernel of his [Burke’s] philosophy of prescription.”

The War on Poverty Hits Back

From the NYT:

TWIN BRANCH, W.Va. — When people visit with friends and neighbors in southern West Virginia, where paved roads give way to dirt before winding steeply up wooded hollows, the talk is often of lives that never got off the ground.

“How’s John boy?” Sabrina Shrader, 30, a former neighbor, asked Marie Bolden one cold winter day at what Ms. Bolden calls her “little shanty by the tracks.”

“He had another seizure the other night,” Ms. Bolden, 50, said of her son, John McCall, a former classmate of Ms. Shrader’s. John got caught up in the dark undertow of drugs that defines life for so many here in McDowell County, almost died of an overdose in 2007, and now lives on disability payments. His brother, Donald, recently released from prison, is unemployed and essentially homeless.

“It’s like he’s in a hole with no way out,” Ms. Bolden said of Donald as she drizzled honey on a homemade biscuit in her tidy kitchen. “The other day he came in and said, ‘Ain’t that a shame: I’m 30 years old and carrying my life around in a backpack.’ It broke my heart.”

Also, don’t miss this older video the NYT did on McDowell County.

Triumphalism and Historical Memory


In other words, Lowder believes exactly what the people who instituted legal discrimination against gays believed: that there will never be a time when those over whom we seek to exert power will have power over us.
Well, maybe. Maybe there will never again be anti-gay discrimination, in this country anyway, like that of the past. Maybe countries elsewhere in the world will follow the same path that the West has (recently) followed. Similarly, maybe the kind of people who become philosophers at Oxford will always be the ones deciding how convicted criminals get punished — rather than being themselves subject to state coercion. As Jake Barnes says in The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

So let me close by suggesting one question: How would you act politically — what kinds of arguments would you make, what kinds of laws would you support, what means of persuasion would you use — if you knew that those whom you most despise will at some point hold the reins of political power in your country?

When Work is Fun


More interestingly, it’s suggested that the shift has to do with a change in the nature of work. “Work in advanced economies has become more knowledge-intensive and intellectual. There are fewer really dull jobs, like lift-operating, and more glamorous ones, like fashion design. That means more people than ever can enjoy ‘exploit’ at the office. Work has come to offer the sort of pleasures that rich people used to seek in their time off. On the flip side, leisure is no longer a sign of social power. Instead it symbolises uselessness and unemployment.”

When work is fun, who needs leisure?

Richard Hooker’s Works

So if you follow the good folks at TCI–and you should be–then you’ve likely realized that they really really like Richard Hooker. And if you’re like me you’ve thought “I want to read him to find out what all the fuss is about.” Which is where you run into a problem:

What’s interesting is that today, there are no reasonably priced editions of Hooker’sWorks available.  When I was looking to purchase his works more than a decade ago the only edition I could find currently in print was that of the Folger Library.  Even Amazon’s discount pricing for that multi-volume work stopped my heart beating for a few seconds.  One publisher has recently put out a paperback set of Keble’s edition of Hooker with the retail price at about $60 for each of the three volumes.  Several print-on-demand publishers have made mismatched and poor quality reprints available that are based on PDF files from Google—often missing pages here and there while being overpriced and prone to falling apart.  Even if you could find a matched set of one of the old editions of Hooker on the Web, they are price-prohibitive.  I eventually settled on used copies of the two-volume Everyman set that I found online.  Even that was relatively pricey.

Hooker’s Works was one of the first things I thought about reprinting when I started The Anglican Expositor.  I like John Keble’s edition, which was the definitive critical edition until that of the Folger Library.  I thought about retypesetting all three volumes, but I simply don’t have the time for such a massive project.  The PDF files online are generally of a quality too poor for quality reproduction.  This past year I used up my quota of interlibrary loans through the Vancouver Island Region Library trying to get my hands on copies that I could scan myself. I ended up with either mismatched volumes, volumes that had been rebound too tightly to scan, or that were simply too far gone to produce usable scans.  That’s when I decided to simply use the best quality scans I could find on the Web to produce a set for my own personal use.

Click through to read the whole thing and find a *reasonably* affordable set of Hooker’s works.

Africa’s Tech Edge

An interesting read via The Atlantic:

It’s a painfully First World problem: Splitting dinner with friends, we do the dance of the seven credit cards. No one, it seems, carries cash anymore, so we blunder through the inconvenience that comes with our dependence on plastic. Just as often, I encounter a street vendor or taxi driver who can’t handle my proffered card and am left shaking out my pockets and purse.

When I returned to the United States after living in Nairobi on and off for two years, these antiquated payment ordeals were especially frustrating. As I never tire of explaining to friends, in Kenya I could pay for nearly everything with a few taps on my cellphone.

Every few weeks, I’d pull cash out of my American bank account and hand it to a contemplative young man stationed outside my local greengrocer. I’d show him my ID and type in a PIN, and he’d credit my phone number with an equivalent amount of digital currency. Through a service called M-Pesa, I could store my mobile money and then, for a small fee, send it to any other phone number in the network, be it my cable company’s, a taxi driver’s, or a friend’s. Payments from other M-Pesa users would be added to my digital balance, which I could later withdraw in cash from my local agent.