Monday, October 29, 2007

Missing Link from Berlin

Elizabeth Green Musselman admits to have a great love for the city of Berlin as she issues the third episode of her podcast The Missing Link from this wonderful city. Wonderful, I say, because I can only agree. I love Berlin and have very fond memories, especially of Prenzlauer Berg. Another agreement we have is about Wim Wenders's film that takes place in Berlin and catches the melancholy atmosphere of the city: Wings of Desire. Wings of Desire? It took me a moment, but the description left no doubt, it is the same film, I just know it as Der Himmel über Berlin.

Elizabeth takes us on two tours, one to the Charité, where the sad fate of Berlin's dying came together with the foundations of pathology. After the musical break (music is prominently featured in this podcast) we find ourself in the Phonogram Archive, which is host to what today would be called World Music, but which set out to be a repository for the study of Musical Ethnography. How close ethonography grazes on racism and how close racism in Germany spells disaster everybody knows. Yet, the archive gives us a treasure trove of ethnic sounds, some of which are extinct. How skillfully Green Musselman captured the melancholy!

As a conclusion I want to recommend this podcast. It has only started and it will try to produce episodes once a month, which is not much by podcasting standards, but the quality is great from the get go. Exquisite listening, entertaining and educating at the same time.

Gil Fronsdal on speech

You do not have to be a Buddhist to appreciate Gil Fronsdal's Dharma teachings (zencast). Most of the time he doesn't even talk of Buddhism, or Buddhists. He talks of the Buddha and of the Buddhist way, but that can easily be taken generally as the Godly, Wise, Good and such abstract generic terms. Were it about Buddhists though, the exclusion kicks in that irritates me most when Evangelical Christians or Orthodox Jews engage in that kind of talk, because it boils down to nothing generic, but rather very specific: the us, who are of the exquisite faith and elated ways as opposed to the ignorant, misguided, backward, lowly rabble, that is, me.

As said, with Fronsdal you have none of that. So I was a bit surprised when in his last talk (about Speech) he threw in the sentence: 'and we will see why Buddhists are not always nice.' I liked the talk as usual and completely forgive Gil, but in my heart feel that the toy phrase, wherever used, was irrelevant. Buddhists are people, people are not always nice, hence Buddhists are not always nice - it goes without saying and added nothing to the point.

Was the Buddha not always nice? A prince once asked him whether he has ever said something unwelcome and painful to anyone. Fronsdal relates the answer to this trick question. The issue revolves around Right Speech, which he extends from speech to others to the monologue interior, the way we speak to ourselves. Also there we must say what is true, kind and helpful. So if the Buddha ever said anything unwelcome and painful to anyone it had to have been true, kind and helpful at the same time. Lastly, speech must be timely. If what we have to say, no matter how true, kind and helpful is not welcome and painful to ourselves or to the other, it must be said in the right time.

Fronsdal asks the audience to contemplate on the question how to deal with true, kind and helpful words and how to deliver them in a timely fashion to the one who finds those words not welcome and painful. The contributions from the audience are inspiring although a definitive answer is not given. If any at all, then it is, when in doubt it is better to err on the nice side. True for everybody, truly an struggle without end, whether Buddhists are nicer than others or not.

The religiousness of presidency candidates

James Hudnut-Beumler, Professor of American Religious History and dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School speaks of religion and politics in the US. This lecture is available on UC podcast. All American presidents were religious. Thomas Jefferson even spent what little free time he had, studying various Bible versions and comparing the gospels, attempting to get to the heart of Jesus's message. (Hey, that reminds me of the immensely interesting series about the Historical Jesus, Professor Thomas Sheehan.) Just an example and an alebiet superfluous reminder American Presidents invariably are Christians.

They are mostly protestant at that. John F. Kennedy had some explaining to do, since he was a Roman Catholic, when he was a candidate. These days, Professor Hudnut-Beumler explains, more than ever candidates are to emphasize and elaborate on their religiosity. This is not just the fate of the Mormon candidate Mitt Romney. It seems religion is more than ever perceived to be important in politics.

Professor Hudnut-Beumler hastens to emphasize that we deal with election politics here. When the election hubbub is over, he seems to argue - and he quotes JFK - we are back to realpolitik and back to hard issues. But with a president such as George W. Bush, how sure can you be religion plays no part their. After 8 years of Bush, whomever is going to be next, he - or she, Hillary Clinton - will have some heritage to deal with, including the religious weight issues have gotten. So has the public, maybe.

Marathon interview Bert ter Schegget

Wat rechtvaardigt het marathoninterview als zodanig? Wat maakt het beter dat de interviewer en geinterviewde niet een half uur of een uur, maar vier, vijf uur bij elkaar zitten om met elkaar te spreken? En dat terwijl de luisteraar zonder enige verdere redactie kan meeluisteren? Er zijn er in de serie marathoninterviews van de VPRO waar de lengte mij een bezwaar lijkt. Of waar het interview eigenlijk een opeenstapeling van meerdere interviews is.

Het interview dat Hans Simonse met Bert ter Schegget had op 11 augustus 1989 is echter een voorbeeld van een natuurlijk voortgaand gesprek, waar de grote verdienste van de tijdsduur is dat het gesprek ook echt de diepte in gaat. De complexe positie van de theoloog en ethicus Ter Schegget tussen Christendom en atheisme, tussen linkse maatschappijkritiek en ook deel van de maatschappij zijn. Uiteindelijk komt er ook fikse kritiek op het liberale pluralisme, dat in 1989 misschien nog heel erg outlandish klonk, terwijl het anno 2007 veel duidelijker is wat Bert daar nu eigenlijk mee bedoeld heeft.

Daarbij gaat het over ethiek in verhouding tot technologie, over tolerantie en multiculturalisme en de afwijzing van bepaalde opvattingen (het voorbeeld Rushdie komt aan de orde). Je zou het interview wel drie keer moeten beluisteren om in de tentatieve, zoekende en intens subtiele opvattingen van Bert ter Schegget antwoorden besloten liggen die vandaag meer dan ooit actueel zijn.

Speaking of Faith - Beyond the Atheism-Religion Divide

Here is a quote from Harvey Cox's book The Secular City:
Athens and Jerusalem have created a whole history through their interaction with each other, and so have religion and secularization. In both cases, as soon as one achieves a kind of dominance, the other swoops back from exile to challenge it. When reason and intellect begin to ride high, they inevitably make unrealistic claims, and faith and intuition awaken to question their hegemony. Then, just as the sacral begins to feel its oats and reach out for civilizational supremacy, reason and cognition question its pretentiousness.

Harvey Cox makes an appearance in Krista Tippett's podcast Speaking of Faith to speak about the Atheism-Religion divide. A transcript of their conversation is available, as usually with SOF episodes. At the time when Cox wrote the Secular City (1965) he assumed, as many of his contemporaries, that religion was on the decline and especially in academic circles, religion would disappear. However, since the 1980's it has shown not to disappear, quite to the contrary.

I think what shows, is that questions of meaning and morality had remained. Traditionally this has been the field of religion and when Cox speaks of 'when Jesus came to Harvard' he doesn't claim academics are turning Christian, but rather use their traditional heritage (Christian in most cases, Jewish for many) as an entrance into these issues, but no longer in the traditional exclusionary sense. Hence, secular, in many ways they have remained. Secular academics do not exclude search for ethics, meaning and spirituality. Cox calls this 'part of the conversation'. The open phone line between Athens and Jerusalem.

Nederland en de eerste wereldoorlog

Komende week verschijnt het boek De Eerste wereldoorlog door Nederlandse ogen; Getuigenissen-verhalen-betogen. VPRO's OVT spreekt met samensteller Jacques Sicking. Nederland was weliswaar neutraal in de grote wereldbrand, maar de oorlog kon toch onmogelijk ongemertk voorbij trekken. Er was mobilisatie, er waren tekorten, vluchtelingen, Zierikzee werd gebombardeerd en er waren Nederlandse vrijwilligers in de strijdende legers.

De schrik zat er bij de Nederlanders net zo goed in. Jacques Sicking vertelt van het pacifisme dat opkomt, het anti-nationalisme en de oproep tot een supra-nationale Europese volkenbond. Behalve de waanzin van het Nationalisme, menen de programmamakers dat het nationalisme er niet minder van werd. Het voorgaande item had juist bij het populisme en eventueel nationalisme onder de Nederlanders in de jaren twintig en dertig stilgestaan. Ik denk dan zelf: dat is in de andere landen ook gebeurd. Uit de boeken van Remarque spreekt de gelijktijdige opkomst van Duits anti-oorlogsdenken en de nationalistische milities.

Sicking stelt zich ook op het standpunt dat de wereldberoemde oorlogsliteratoren die de Grote Oorlog opleverde in het buitenland (Sassoon, Barbusse, Remarque etc) een onderwerp in de literatuur representeren dat ook in de Nederlandse voorkomt, zowel in proza als in poëzie. Het lijkt een buitengewoon mooie bloemlezng te zijn. Het levert om te beginnen al geweldige podcast op.