Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pagnini and Bushnell

Pagnini translated teshuqah in Gen. 3:16 as desiderium and in Gen. 4:7 as apetitus. My sense is that by distinguishing between the "desire" of the beast in Gen. 4 and of the woman in Gen. 3, Pagnini is not attributing to the woman the "lust of the flesh." He is simply saying that Eve has a want or need for Adam. I see no moral commentary in this. It is a perception of the condition of woman. She wants a husband and what does she get but a ruler. Men want a family and what do they get but work.

Katherine Bushnell, who wrote God's Word to Women, published in 1943, had much the same notion as I do about Pagnini in one respect at least. She notes the overwhelming influence of his Latin translation of the Bible.

Let's look at what Katherine Bushnell wrote about Pagnini,
143. Pagnino's version was published at Lyons in 1528. Seven years later, in 1535, Coverdale's English Bible appeared, published at Zurich, probably. Tyndale's version, in sections, had appeared in the time between Pagnino's and Coverdale's, published at Cologne and at Worms. It is to be noted that these were days of persecution, when no English Bible could have been published in England, and this may in part account for these versions being influenced by Pagnino. At any rate, from the time Pagnino's version appeared, every English version, excepting the two Vulgate translations we put on one side, has followed Pagnino's rendering for the first passage, up to the present day. As to the second passage, Cranmer's Bible (1539) first introduced "lust" into this place, which was later followed by the Geneva Bible, and the Authorized and Revised versions. But Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew (John Rogers) and Cranmer all retained "turning" in the third passage. But the three latest Protestant Bibles, Geneva, Authorized and Revised, have obliterated all trace of any other sense but "desire." The reading of the older English Bibles which follow Pagnino is, "Thy lust (or lusts) shall pertayne to thy husband."

144. Now will you please turn to the Title Page of your Bible. If you have an Authorized Version, you will read the assurance given to the reader, that the Book has been "Translated out of the original tongues; and with the former translations diligently compared and revised." If you have a Revised Version of 1884, it will claim to be "the version set forth A. D. 1611 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised." These assurances do not hold good, in this case where the status and welfare of one-half the human race is directly and vitally concerned; and the highest good of the other half just as vitally concerned, if even more remotely and less visibly. Pagnino's word has been retained against the overwhelming authority of the ancient versions.
While I agree that Pagnini had this influence, I do not necessarily agree that interpreting Gen. 3:16 with "desire" is a negative towards women in and of itself. Bushnell argues,
139. Since this passage in Genesis, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband," has been the cause of much immorality among men, in the cruelty and oppression they have inflicted upon their wives; since this false translation has been the cause of much degradation, unhappiness and suffering to women; and since this translation has been made the very keystone of an arch of doctrine subordinating woman to man, without which keystone the arch itself falls to pieces; and since the Apostle Paul's utterances on the "woman question" are always interpreted as though this perversion of the sense of Genesis 3:16 was his accepted foundation upon which he builds his super-structure, it behooves us to review again the history of the ancient translation of the word teshuqa, and this we will do with the aid of the appended table:
Bushnell does not demonstrate how the interpretation of "desire" has caused so much grief but I would guess that it may have. These days it is the new translation "desire to control" that causes so much grief. It really doesn't seem to matter much what the Bible says about women. Some will use this against women in very painful ways.

I am not sure what teshuqah means but it seems to simply say that a woman wants a husband, and I have not seen it demonstrated that Pagnini intended to say that a woman has a sinful libido or sensual desire that she ought not to have. Perhaps some commentaries discuss this. I just don't see how we can know that Pagnini meant this from his use of the word desiderium. It is true that Coverdale translated this with "lust" but this word has an innocuous meaning in German, and may have been quite unmarked in Coverdale's English.

That some men somewhere have punished women for an overactive libido would not surprise me. Nothing much surprises me. I just don't know that Pagnini himself had these thoughts about women.

I agree with Bushnell that parts of the Bible have been mistranslated in order to punish women. But its hard to get at the original meaning of some of these passages. If, in fact, a woman is accused of being frigid, it isn't much use to worry about why Coverdale despised women for having too much libido. Its a sad thing to think that women are subjected to so much pain for some of these verses.

It is better to think of Isaac and Rebekah, Abraham and Sarah, and the many other couples who seem to have loved each other in spite of these obscure and much contorted passages.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

desidero : to long for, wish for greatly, to miss

Pagnini, or Santes Pagnino, was an outstanding Italian scholar of Hebrew. His Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, published in Lyon, France in 1527, is one of the most influential books in western history - although you would not know it. However, it served as the base for the Coverdale Bible, along with the Vulgate and Luther's Bible. The Coverdale Bible was the first Bible in the series which lead to the King James Version.

It was Pagnini who first translated Gen. 3:16 with "desire."
ad virum tuum eris desiderium* tuum

*desiderium : wish, longing /regret, grief /want, need

and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. KJV
But Coverdale translated this as "lust. " Who knows what Coverdale meant by that. But don't diss Pagnini. Perhaps he was a nasty little man. Or perhaps he was a man who one would say was a great waste as a monk (that is, a desirable man). Never mind. I have no idea. Let him rest in peace.

Someone tell me who these women are that have no "wish, longing, regret, grief, want, need?" Not me! I feel it all. Perhaps men know these feelings too.

There is probably no way to tell now what the author of Gen. 3:16 intended. But we know that all of us are tormented by our intense longing for togetherness.

Note: Somewhere on my sidebar some are discussing this word and this verse. I cannot agree with what has been written by some on this verse. Not that it matters all that much. But this woman lays her cheek on the keyboard.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I have taken down my last post. It was a rather half-hearted attempt at humour. Like many others, I have run out of energy for blogging for a while.

I hope you will enjoy other blogs on my sidebar. I am sure I will find some time to blog again soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Updating my Blogroll

I have updated my blogroll to add a set of blogs about women in the church. I know I won't be able to post on this topic forever, but I want to stay connected to the issue. I have already moved through several stages of dealing with this issue.

The first stage was intellectual in a fairly naive sort of way. I read and checked out studies on topics like Junia, kephale, and authentein. It took a lot of work to duplicate the research and check out every last reference in Greek, but that is basically what I did. I found that parts of these studies were represented in ways that were not exactly faithful to the data and I naively thought that others would want to know this. A few people were happy to read about this, but for the most part, anyone convinced of male headship over women, just shrugged off the thought of further evidence. They did not need it.

The second stage was to express my anger at the fact that it is even legal to allow a woman to vow to obey her husband. I would like to be able to do something legally to change that. However, my pragmatic self protests.

The third stage was the belief in being able to logically argue that male authority over the female is intrinsically wrong. That too has failed. People are not interested in logic.

Now, all I can think of is to keep connected to others who have the same concerns as myself and make information available as I see it, and read what others are writing. Therefore, I have finally edited my blogroll.

Some of my other links are a random collection of friends I have met on the internet and the others are about women. I have tried to include most people who comment here, although some readers of this blog are on the BBB blogroll and I have not added them here. I consider the BBB blogroll to be mine as well. Some people I have simply missed because I am not very organized.

I know it might seem funny that someone with a blog called Abecedaria would not put her blogroll in alphabetical order, but there it is. Sometimes, I just simply prefer the random pile. I resist order. I do not want to put the list in order. I have a deep resistance to order. I don't want someone else to put me in order and I don't want to put myself in order. That is just the way I feel sometimes.

In a meeting at school the other day we were talking about a student who has a reading disability and also has a bad attitude about school. The administrator tried unsuccessfully to give him a pep talk. "He is basically anti school," he said. "That's okay," I said. "I'll talk to him. I am anti school too."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hate speech

I know this is from wikipedia, but it is a start,
Saskatchewan had the first legislation in North America (1947) to prohibit victimisation on account of race, religion, colour, sex, nationality, ancestry, and place of origin. Saskatchewan's legislation is more restrictive than the prevailing model of legislation in Canada. Saskatchewan's Human Rights Code says "No person shall publish or display ... any representation ... that ... affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons ...."[15]The prevailing model of legislation prohibits communication which victimises anyone, or which is likely to expose any individual or class of individuals to hatred or contempt. (15 The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, s. 14)
In my view, ranking a woman under her husband because she is a woman is an affront to her dignity. It exposes her to contempt. So there!

I don't believe that not ordaining women is likely to be considered "hate speech." Clearly there are many religions and denominations which exclude women from leadership. This is traditional and will not change. Consider the Catholic church.

However, I do believe that teaching that women are to be under the authority of men is hate speech. So, excluding women from the sacerdotal representation will always exist. But restricting women from having full decision-making power in their domestic and personal life is criminal. Since the arena of hate speech is a never ending tit-for-tat, I will try one more approach tonight.

It is perhaps more useful to look at the teaching of the subordination of women as an abrogation of the principle of mutual consent. If sexual relations are by mutual consent, surely other decisions ought to be by mutual consent as well. It should be taught as an unalienable right of the individual, that they not engage in relations lacking an understanding of mutual consent.

If mutual consent cannot be attained on an ongoing basis then the marriage must be dissolved. If mutual consent is lacking then one of two things happen. Either companionship is withdrawn, and one partner is abandoned or neglected by the other; or, the will of one partner is forced and the one partner compels the other, through belittlement, the use of violence or citing the supposed "word of God."

Either abandonment, or control through requests for "obedience" or "submission" should be explained as an abrogation of mutual consent and therefore, grounds for divorce. If we can't talk about an egalitarian marriage without stirring up strife between Christian groups, can we suggest a mutual consent marriage? What are the pitfalls of this language.

True Woman Manifesto

I have been opposed to the vow which still occurs in some wedding ceremonies where the wife promises to obey her husband. My mother thought it was patently absurd because it was clearly the reason that Sapphira was struck down. (If you just want the fun scroll down.)

But, I actually believe that the practice of women vowing obedience or submission should be outlawed. Not that one should not submit. I submitted to my colleague for years when we shared a room. No, a woman should not 'vow' to submit. She should not be bound to submit. So why are women vowing to keep the True Woman Manifesto? Don't they know?

Here is the best post I have read on this topic.

The legitimate role of women in church and society is often something sneered at by men who seem envious of the legitimate role God has given them in being who they are. That’s one reason why I vigorously oppose the True Woman Manifesto (which you can actually read here). Pastorally, it’s dangerous to give men and pastors in the Christian community one more plank to abuse women with by providing them with a signed copy of a manifesto that could easily be interpreted and used in ways it was perhaps not originally intended. Additionally, it’s irresponsible to think that the whole of Christian womanhood is aptly summed up by this manifesto or that it ought to be used as a guide in understanding what role women ought to play in the life of the church, their families, and in society. Whatever happened to the Bible? Why do we need cue cards for everything?

And, why suggest that women themselves ought to take an oath as to how they live, behave, and think of themselves? Is it not enough that Scripture itself gives us guidance on these issues? Why take it to such an extreme? My guess is that the real answer has to do with men (and perhaps even women) in certain churches unable to control women or envision them doing the things they are already doing and reacting against such trends in other sectors of church and society. Ultimately, this is just one more effort to control where control shouldn’t be exercised in the church.

Here he gets to the meat of the matter. That men and women each reflect God in a different way,

We believe that the creation of humanity as male and female was a purposeful and magnificent part of God’s wise plan, and that men and women were designed to reflect the image of God in complementary and distinct ways.

Does this mean that women and men share in different images of God or that men have part of God’s image and women the other? The Bible says that both men and women were created in God’s image. Both of them reflect who God is and do so completely. Just because a woman was created as a man’s “helpmeet” and from him does not mean that she only reflects a part of God’s image. The “how” of creation does not of necessity influence the “what” of that which was created. Both men and women reflect God’s image in its totality and if we say anything about the differentiation between the two we go well beyond the text of Scripture in doing so. A statement like this is careless, imprecise, and dangerous especially when we consider how important a role the theology of God’s image in man has played throughout the two thousand year history of the Church (cf. Bavinck’s discussion on the same).

Read the rest here.

Oh, man. I was looking at for this Manifesto and found the "sign it" page. There is a page where you can sign your lifelong commitment to male headship on the internet. And, oh wow, I was just too curious, so I signed it. Well, not my real name. But the thing is, that I did not start shaking and shivering. I did not feel that God would strike me dead. It was a little eerie though.

Its weird. Think of women all over the country vowing to follow male leadership for the rest of their life, in order to go to heaven. Really weird. And they can sign on via the internet. Not TV - the internet!

So what was Canada's contribution to this conference? The PPT from which this was taken. No wonder the women were all given white hankies with "I surrender" on them. With images like this before my eyes I would have been squealing for mercy. It is enough to cut the heart out of a Canadian educator. I can only sputter that at least she is not from my province.

Friday, October 17, 2008

ESV Study Bible

Here is an example from Gender Blog of the complementarian bias of the ESV Study Bible.
The ESVSB takes a decidedly complementarian position on texts that are pertinent to gender roles in the home and church. For example, S.M. Baugh, New Testament professor at Westminster Seminary California, wrote the study notes for the book of Ephesians. Of Ephesians 5:22-33, Baugh writes, "The first example of general submission (v. 21) is illustrated as Paul exhorts wives to submit to their husbands (vv. 22-24). Husbands, on the other hand, are not told to submit to their wives but to love them (vv. 25-33)." Baugh then carefully unpacks, in verse-by-verse fashion, the structure of that section of Ephesians, pointing out the significance of the original language where pertinent. He also provides a helpful chart-the study Bible is filled with these-that offers biblical principles of marriage "at a glance." These color charts alone are profoundly useful teaching aids and typify the entire ESVSB package.
I would not recommend this Study Bible. I realize that others have found me to be unnecessarily negative towards complementarianism. Some believe that defending equal rights for complementarians is as important as defending equal rights for women. Complementarians are those who believe that women do not have the same roles and functions as men. (Complementarians do not believe that women function as equals.)

I would like to take a practical step to reduce the impact of complementarianism. I am personally against wedding vows including "obey" or "follow" on the part of the wife. I believe that these should be outlawed but I don't know whether that would be productive.

Perhaps putting this into the mental cruelty list of examples in Canadian law,
  • persistent criticism and belittlement;
  • persistent and willful withdrawal of companionship;
  • refusal to have sexual relations; and
  • domineering or tyrannical behaviour.
And there should be a forth bullet,
  • asking the other person to obey
For complementarians, asking the wife to be obedient is not considered "tyrannical" behaviour, so it has to be spelled out. Then sermons should include this list as possible grounds for divorce.

Clearly many people who experience things on this list will not want to divorce, for the sake of their children and their family or because of a joint social and collegial lifestyle which they consider to be more significant at the time than companionship in marriage. I don't think this would cause any rush to divorce. But I would like to see the concept of "the wife must obey her husband" repudiated in law and in the church. Theoretically even complementarians should not have difficulty with this, because they do not always define "submit" as "obey." There are many semantic games played in this sandbox.

Kinda sad, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thoughts on Negativity

Orhan Pamuk opened the Frankfurt Book Fair today,

Frankfurt - Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, criticized Turkey on Tuesday for prosecuting outspoken authors and charged that internet providers in his homeland were blocking free access to the internet site YouTube.

In a speech at a ceremony to inaugurate the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, he said, "The tendency of the Turkish state to ban books and punish authors is unfortunately still there."

Pamuk and Turkish President Abdullah Gul had been invited to the evening ceremony, since Turkey and its authors are the special guest at the Book Fair this year. The fair begins Wednesday and runs to Sunday.

Pamuk was referring to a part of the Turkish criminal code that makes it an offence to insult Turkey. Although an attempt to prosecute him for such an offence collapsed, Pamuk said, it had been used in a bid "to intimidate authors like me."

Hundreds of authors and journalists had faced the charge, he said, according to a printed German translation of his remarks.

"While I was working on my novel that was published this year, I needed fast access to old Turkish films and songs, which was no problem thanks to YouTube," he said, referring to a site that stores vast numbers of home-recorded videos uploaded by its members.

"Today it is a problem, because people in Turkey are blocking access to YouTube and hundreds of other foreign websites on political grounds.

"It might suit those in power, but given that our culture and literature are distributed worldwide, we authors, publishers, artists and anyone in Turkey who participates actively or passively in cultural life cannot understand these measures," he said.

Review: Geer, In Defense of Negativity

jacket imageThe Washington Post recently reviewed John G. Geer's In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns. Reviewer Dan Balz wrote: "Geer has set out to challenge the widely held belief that attack ads and negative campaigns are destroying democracy. Quite the opposite, he argues in his provocative new book: Negativity is good for you and for the political system. Geer believes that democracy is strengthened by vigorous debate and asserts that negative ads contribute to, rather than detract from, that dialogue…. Negative ads, he says, are far more likely to be about substance rather than personal attacks and are more likely to be supported by documentation than positive appeals. He argues that negative ads are more specific than positive appeals and therefore more useful to voters in weighing the relative merits of presidential candidates. He also says the media have been far too alarmist about the level of negativity and the effects of attack ads on the political process…. Geer states what others before him has said: Negativity has long been part of American politics…. While conceding that negativity has steadily increased, he challenges the belief that the rise results from scurrilous personal attacks by one candidate against another…. Negativity has increased because the two parties, now more ideologically divided than in the past, have more to argue about…. What has really changed, according to Geer, is awareness of negativity by the media."

In Defense of Negativity, Geer's study of negative advertising in presidential campaigns from 1960 to 2004, asserts that the proliferating attack ads are far more likely than positive ads to focus on salient political issues, rather than politicians' personal characteristics. Accordingly, the ads enrich the democratic process, providing voters with relevant and substantial information before they head to the polls.

An important and timely contribution to American political discourse, In Defense of Negativity concludes that if we want campaigns to grapple with relevant issues and address real problems, negative ads just might be the solution.


So if people are giving me a lot of crap for being negative I will simply say "Orhan Pamuk" and "John Geer."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Are women subordinate for eternity

No, you have not wandered into a Mormon or recovering from Mormonism blog. However, I have read one of those and it was extremely helpful. I felt a lot of resonance. But this is a request post. I did read the cited article and thought that it was too weird for words.

Here is the deal. I came from a fundamentalist church. I then attended an Anglican church because I thought it would be mainstream, whatever that is. I was disappointed. This particular church has been influenced by the doctrines of the Sydney diocese in Australia and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in the US.

So here is an article from the CBMW website which certainly sounds like Mormonism. The very thought that in heaven people will not be free from the marriages that were hell on earth for them is a sobering thought. It should make us all rejoice in the fact that there is another place. Whew. Here is the passage,

Indeed, our relationships with those with whom we have spent so great a part of our earthly lives are very much a part of who we are. As Alcorn observes, we should not assume that those married in the present age will grow more distant in the new creation.39 Certainly, there are conditions that apply, but we should expect that the relationships most dear to us in the present life in the new creation will be enhanced.40

Given, then, that relationships between those married on earth will in some sense remain in the new creation, it remains for us to inquire regarding the nature of those relationships. To put it more directly, will husbandly headship and wifely submission still obtain in the new creation? The egalitarian response, of course, is that all traces of headship and submission will have been removed. The evidence, however, argues to the contrary.

First, consider the argument concerning man and woman as originally created. There is virtually universal agreement that man and woman are ontologically equal, equal in essence and worth, because both were created in the image of God. In the ordering of his creation, however, God formed the man first and gave him responsibility and authority as the head of the human race.41 This headship, far from being a result of the fall-feminist and egalitarian claims notwithstanding-is a central feature of the divine created order.42 Because the new creation is, fundamentally, a return to the divine order that prevailed before the fall, it follows that male headship will remain in the new creation.

Think of men and women in miserable situations, married to someone totally unsuitable. It is bad for the man in an unhappy marriage to think that it will endure for eternity. But at least he will finally be given the upper hand in heaven. Of course, too late perhaps for his earthly fulfillment, (Suzanne, smack your fingers for that one), but the woman will be eternally in submission.

Oh Garden of Eden, where are you? Is paradise truly the submission of the female to the male? Does the male never wish to be loved for anything other than his God ordained gift of rule and authority? (I bet any non-Christians reading this blog are thanking their lucky stars!)

Silly stuff, but CBMW is supported by and influences mainline churches like St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican church. I doubt the parishioners there ever read this stuff but sometimes they hear it preached in a slightly milder and more digestible form. Anyway, I was asked by a friend to expose some more of the disgusting material.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Seeking the Ordination of women in Sydney

Anglican women renew push for ordination

Images of female priests were projected on to the walls of St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral in Sydney last night, after advocates of women's ordination were banned from meeting in the cathedral's square.

The Sydney Movement For The Ordination Of Women wanted to mark its 25th anniversary by meeting in the square of Australia's oldest cathedral, but says it was banned by the cathedral chapter and the Dean Phillip Jensen.

Instead, it projected pictures of some of Australia's 450 female Anglican priests on to the cathedral's sandstone walls.

But none of the women lead churches in the city's diocese, because it refuses to ordain female priests.

The group's convener, Patricia Brennan, says the diocese has systematically suppressed debate on the issue, but the group has vowed to again push it to the top of the church's agenda.

She says 50 women have left Sydney to be ordained in other Anglican dioceses in the past 16 years.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Last week this turned up in our staffroom. Supposedly this is the voicemail at Pacific Palisades high school in California. The funny thing is that some of the teachers discussing this actually believed that it was true. I wish!


This is the message that the Pacific Palisades High School
(California) Staff voted unanimously to record on their
school telephone answering machine. This came about
because they implemented a policy requiring students
and parents to be responsible for their children's absences
and missing homework.

This is the actual answering machine message for the
school: "Hello! You have reached the automated answering
service of your school. In order to assist you in connecting
the right staff member, please listen to all your options before
making a selection:
**"To lie about why your child is absent - Press 1."
**"To make excuses for why your child did not do his work-
Press 2."
**"To complain about what we do - Press 3."
**"To swear at staff members - Press 4."
**"To ask why you didn't get information that was already
enclosed in your newsletter and several flyers mailed to
you - Press 5."
**"If you want us to raise your child - Press 6."
**"If you want to reach out and touch, slap or hit someone -
Press 7."
**"To request another teacher for the third time this year-
Press 8."
**"To complain about bus transportation - Press 9."
**"To complain about school lunches - Press 0."

"If you realize this is the real world and your child must be
accountable and responsible for his/her own behavior,
class work, homework, and that it's not the teachers' fault
for your child's lack of effort: Hang up and have a nice day!"

If you can read this thank a teacher. If you are
reading it in English thank a veteran.


Ahhh - voicemail. Reach out and touch someone. ;-)

The Courage to Be

One issue that concerns most people is anxiety about the meaning of life. This is especially prevalent for those of us leaving fundamentalist churches or cults. For all of one's life, we are told what to believe, but finally we realize that it is empty. There are several ways of dealing with this.

Many Christians revisit the Bible and take on a new way of understanding crucial problematic texts. Some may simply focus on other parts of the text. For example, tracing the commandment to "love the one who is next to you as yourself," has reduced the cognitive dissonance on my part. Others realize that there are different ways of interacting with the text, either becoming more aware that we do not follow it implicitly, or entering into dialogue with the text.

But, I sincerely believe that most of us enter into a new experience of questioning the meaning of life. If the novels of Orhan Pamuk speak to me of a secular existentialism, Paul Tillich speaks to me of a Christian existentialism. Here are some excerpts from The Courage to Be.

. . . Sociological analysis of the present period have pointed to the importance of anxiety as a group phenomenon. Literature and art have made anxiety a main theme of their creations, in content as well as in style. The effect of this has been the awakening of at least the educated groups to an awareness of their own anxiety, and a permeation of the public consciousness by ideas and symbols of anxiety. Today it has become almost a truism to call our time an "age of anxiety." This holds equally for America and Europe. . . .

I suggest that we distinguish three types of anxiety according to the three directions in which nonbeing threatens being. Nonbeing threatens man’s ontic self-affirmation, relatively in terms of fate, absolutely in terms of death. It threatens man’s spiritual self-affirmation, relatively in terms of emptiness, absolutely in terms of meaninglessness. It threatens man’s moral self-affirmation, relatively in terms of guilt, absolutely in terms of condemnation. The awareness of this threefold threat is anxiety appearing in three forms, that of fate and death (briefly, the anxiety of death), that of emptiness and loss of meaning (briefly, the anxiety of meaninglessness), that of guilt and condemnation (briefly, the anxiety of condemnation). In all three forms anxiety is existential in the sense that it belongs to existence as such and not to an abnormal state of mind as in neurotic (and psychotic) anxiety.

The anxiety of meaninglessness is anxiety about the loss of an ultimate concern, of a meaning which gives meaning to all meanings. This anxiety is aroused by the loss of a spiritual center, of an answer, however symbolic and indirect, to the question of the meaning of existence. . . .

The distinction of the three types of anxiety is supported by the history of Western civilization. We find that at the end of ancient civilization ontic anxiety is predominant, at the end of the Middle Ages moral anxiety, and at the end of the modern period spiritual anxiety. But in spite of the predominance of one type the others are also present and effective.

The breakdown of absolutism, the development of liberalism and democracy, the rise of a technical civilization with its victory over all enemies and its own beginning disintegration -- these are the sociological presupposition for the third main period of anxiety. In this the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness is dominant. We are under the threat of spiritual nonbeing.

It is significant that the three main periods of anxiety appear at the end of an era. The anxiety which, in its different forms, is potentially present in every individual becomes general if the accustomed structures of meaning, power, belief, and order disintegrated. These structures, as long as they are in force, keep anxiety bound within a protective system of courage by participation. The individual who participates in the institutions and ways of life of such a system is not liberated from his personal anxieties but he has means of overcoming them with well-known methods.

In periods of great changes these methods no longer work. Conflicts between the old, which tries to maintain itself, often with new means, and the new, which deprives the old of its intrinsic power, produce anxiety in all directions. Nonbeing, in such a situation, has a double face, resembling two types of nightmare (which are perhaps, expressions of an awareness of these two faces). The one type is the anxiety of annihilating narrowness, of the impossibility of escape and the horror of being trapped. The other is the anxiety of annihilating openness, of infinite formless space into which one falls without a place to fall upon. Social situations like those described have the character of both a trap without exit and of an empty, dark, and unknown void. Both faces of the same reality arouse the latent anxiety of every individual who looks at them. Today most of us do look at them.

[Source: Paul Tillich, The Courage To Be (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952), pp. 35, 41, 47, 57, 61-63.]

But Tillich is clear that it is pathological to mire oneself in traditional certitudes in order to avoid anxiety. I believe that the fundamentalist and conservative churches are resisting anxiety by entrenching themselves in outdated authority systems, instead of accepting anxiety as a part of the human condition.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Being and Nothingness

According to Fazlallah, the dividing line between Being and Nothingness was sound, because everything that passed from the spiritual to the material world had its own sound; even the "most silent" objects made a sound when knocked together. The most advanced sounds were, of course, words; words were the magic building blocks of the exalted thing we called speech and they were made up of letters. Those wishing to understand the meaning of existence and the sanctity of life and see God's manifestations here on earth had only to read the letters hidden in the faces of men.

We were all born with two brow lines, four eyelash lines, and one hairline - seven lines in all. At puberty, when our "late arriving" noses divided our faces into two, the number of letters engraved on them increased to fourteen. When we took into account the more poetic real and imaginary lines, the number doubled again, to prove beyond all shadow of doubt that it was not by coincidence that the Prophet Mohammed had spoken in a language with twenty-eight letters, or that it was this language that had brought the Koran into being. But Persian, Fazlallah's native tongue and the language in which he wrote The Book of Eternal Life, uses thirty-two letters, so Fazlallah, wishing to see all the letters of the alphabet in every face, found the four extra characters by looking more carefully at the hair and chin lines and dividing them into two.

The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk page 298

Abducted by aliens?

There is an odd rumour around that I was abducted a while back.

Sometimes, like in the case of people like Suzanne E. McCarthy, they seem to drop off the face of the planet and you never hear from them again. Even their Blogs are inactive.

Since indeed Suzanne's went inactive after she was talking about Myanmar, it must be allowed that it is technically possible that militant Burmese abducted her from her home in Vancouver, though under the theory of the "when you hear hoof beats except horses not zebras" theory of forming conclusions, such possibilities rarely deserve the kind of attention that the first half of this very sentence, in its own reckless and self-serving way, has chosen to do.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sadness in Pamuk

I have always found it hard to explain why I become so absorbed in Pamuk's writing. I would have to say that it is the atmosphere of melancholy and aimlessness. It is the sadness experienced by the male protagonist, in these novels, that draws me into a world which reflects sadness as a human attribute.

All the books of Orhan Pamuk, in their own way, breathe certain sadnesses. Their plots are wandering and discursive, their tones reflective yet distant, their styles making curious use of an oxymoronically comic melancholy. The settings of his books seem to underline this which clings to every line of Pamuk's prose: the gentle despair and nostalgia of the Venetian prisoner in tristesseThe White Castle, the tea-salons and bus-stations of lonely Turkish provincial towns in The New Life, and of course, the 'sadness of Istanbul streets in the rain' in The Black Book. Perhaps most keenly of all, it is the endings of Pamuk's novels that expresses this modern post-Romantic version of melancholy, a sadness which seems to combine the pain of unrequited love with the discovery that there are no grand narratives - or, rather that there are only narratives, stories whose only secret is that there is no secret, no supernatural source, no cosmic meaning beneath them.

All three of the above novels end on similar moments of silence and indifferent resignation;
The White Castle's closing image of the swing swaying gently in the wind, the glare of the headlights as the oncoming truck approaches the bus in The New Life, the (almost) inconsolable solitude of the widowed Galip as he stares out into the Istanbul night. All these endings mirror the sadness of a protagonist who has finally realized that he doesn't have a self, that his narratives possess no transcendental significance, that his life no longer has an object of adoration.

The success of Pamuk as a novelist lies in the skill with which he explores the metaphysical echoes of certain sadnesses - homesickness, aimlessness, unhappiness in love - a skill which transmutes sequences of concrete events and sufferings into speculatively post-metaphysical parables.

The New Orientalist by Ian Almond pages 110-111

Perhaps the explanation for why Pamuk's books are so appealing is that they represent in his two selves both rationality, his clear exposure of certain religious traditions as myth; and the sense of regret at the loss of myth. Here is how Ian Almond summarizes it,

Pamuk admits to two selves: a Western secular, pro-Enlightenment rationalist, and an alternative self, implicitly Eastern, more closely linked with feelings and pleasure. Ibid page 113

Almond analyses Pamuk's writings as a tension between East-West, Feeling-Reason, Spirit-Matter. These dichotomies, so often talked about in the west as gendered dichotomies, come to rest in one male protagonist in Pamuk's novels. This provides a certain resolution for the feminist western reader, a chance to reconfigure duality in new and less gendered ways.

And for those who love the history of books and art, I would highly recommend His Name is Red, which curiously has a happy ending. It is a little long, however, so perhaps better for summer reading.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk.

Here is my favourite review of The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk which I finished reading this afternoon.

Why bother reading stories? In part to escape ourselves, maybe in hopes of discovering ourselves. "The Black Book" is an intricate meditation on the act of reading that explores both sides of our urge for stories in obsessive detail.

The surface plot involves Galip's search for his missing wife and her half-brother Jelal, a famous Turkish columnist. But the deeper meaning of the story concerns the fact that every story has deeper meanings. As Galip's hunt progresses, the chaos of modern Istanbul promises to organize itself into the key to unlocking a larger mystery whose solution would make every detail of life carry meaning, turning the world itself into literature. As far as I can make out, for Pamuk this literary apocalypse would be equivalent to the Messiah's return and to each of us being reborn at last as ourselves, instead of living as hopeless imitations of our heroes from novels and movies.

Just as Galip discovers that Jelal, his own hero, cribbed his columns from older tales, Pamuk's readers gradually realize that Galip's story is a serpentine riff on the Islamic classics, as his search for Jelal and Ruya comes to parallel the Sufi quest for union with God. The Seeker becomes the Sought, Galip becomes Jelal, the reader becomes the author. The burden of postmodernity, Pamuk seems to say, is to realize that we are author, Messiah and reader rolled up in one, with the world as our text to fashion meanings for.

My one criticism is that Pamuk's tale feels a little too familiar, built around themes like the flux of identity, the absence of fixed meanings, the illusion of originality and the self-referential nature of literature that have already been ridden pretty hard by writers from Borges to Eco. But I like the way Pamuk annexes these postmodern concerns to the question of Turkish identity. What does it mean to be "ourselves" in a country where Westernization is a form of imitation? (and where the Western original turns out to have pillaged ideas from the East) "The Black Book" reminded me why stories matter, how literature shapes us and how amazing it is to have such great art available so easily at places like amazon.

It contains a detailed history and description of Hurufism. Huruf is the Arabic word for a letter of the alphabet. Hurufism is about finding meaning, secret or hidden, in the letters of the alphabet. This book spans the search for personal meaning and national identity.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Laddie By Gene Stratton Porter

There was some talk a while back about children's literature. If you don't know Gene Stratton Porter you have much delight ahead from reading her books. I must warn you that there is an odd one among them, Daughter of the Land, with some racist attitudes we wouldn't print today.

But please do not let this rob you of the experience of reading her other books. Laddie is by far the best in my opinion with a lively family of 10 children, in a strong Christian family, a mother who trusts God and a father who leads the prayer meeting. Told through the eyes of the youngest girl, little sister, it is humourous and delightful. She follows the romantic adventures of her older siblings, especially her older brother Laddie. The book has everything in it from godly Christian parents and a Bible thumping church, true Christian love, tender romance, and how to deal with the secret shame of spousal abuse.

It is entirely suitable to read aloud to the youngest child and will be reread often by anyone who has read it once. It is full of references to good literature, Bible passages, hymns and songs. Here is an example of the songs this family might be singing at any time,

"I think when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men
How He called little children as lambs to His fold,
I should like to have been with Him then."


"They wrapped him in his uniform,
They laid him in the tomb,
My aching heart I thought 'twould break,
But such was my sad doom."


"Open the door of thy heart,
And open thy chamber door,
And my kisses shall teach thy lips
The love that shall fade no more
Till the sun grows cold,
And the Stars are old,
And the leaves of the Judgment
Book unfold!"


"A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep,
Where codfish waggle their tails
'Mid tadpoles two feet deep."


"Come ye that love the Lord,
And let your joys be known,
Join in a song of sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne."

Hilarious humour, hot love, tenderness and piety all rolled into one.

Gene Stratton Porter is better known for Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost, but I love Laddie as well as the Harvester. It is books like these that help people to not be afraid to express their emotions.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I thought so ...

One of the things we teachers notice every fall and can't find ready statistics on is the gender imbalance. I finally googled female abortion vancouver and found that there is an ultrasound clinic that gives out sex information for this purpose and yes we do have a gender imbalance. Instead of 105 boys to 100 girls,, there are about 110 boys to 100 girls in certain Asian populations. I think that means that approximately 5% of females are aborted for sex determination purposes.

Inequalities of power and control between men and women have long resulted in a preference for male children. This preference has led to extreme methods of guaranteeing the births of boys, including feticide. In some instances, after a female is born, she is mistreated, abused, or - in the most tragic situations - murdered simply on the basis of her sex.

In addition to the centuries-old cultural values that have promoted disparities between men and women, population control policies and the expense of raising children in countries such as China and India have resulted in disturbing patterns of gender preferencing. In one district in Punjab, India, the balance is approximately 700 females to every 1,000 males. In certain areas of Canada, such as Surrey, B.C., we are beginning to see statistics of similarly skewed gender imbalances - where, for instance, studies show that for every 108 boys there are only 100 girls being born. If nothing is done to curb the practice of female feticide in Canada, this sort of imbalance could become more widespread.

During our lives in India and Canada, we have witnessed horrific examples of violence and discrimination against women. It is true that Indian culture has often turned a blind eye to female feticide, infanticide, neglect, malnourishment and death of young females. We have seen abuse and killings of women during marriage, dowry killings and otherwise.

The Indian government is finally taking these matters seriously, and has recently enacted regulations to ban gender ID kits from being imported into that country. But no law or any relevant regulations have yet been issued with regard to gender ID kits in Canada.

Before home kits were available, and still today, a clinic operating in Washington State performs early pregnancy gender determination tests, and many Canadian women have been known to cross the border in search of those services. It can be said with a fair degree of certainty that at least some of the clinic's patrons end up committing feticide. Having the same technology available at home will facilitate the process, and will likely appeal to many people who would otherwise not undergo the stress of travelling to a foreign clinic to conduct such tests.

Ujjal and Raminder Dosanj