Back to School (Virginia Tech)
Classes start up again here on Monday. This blog, in some ways, was created as a reaction to the events of 4/16, when, in conversations with colleagues, I began to see eerie similarities between Seung Cho's violent rhetoric and the violent rhetoric underlying and inspiring the First Crusade in 1095. In the essay that followed, printed first in our local Roanoke Times
but since modified a bit, I tried to give a hopeful message and make the point that Cho's violence (not ALL violence) was aberrant, even if ultimately understandable. The message that Cho was trying to get across had its roots in a violent, aggressive brand of Christianity that is not considered mainstream anymore, although it still exists (the Liberty University bomber who called himself a "soldier of Christ" on his Myspace page and wanted to kill Fred Phelps in honor of Jerry Falwell, for example, was not exposed until after my original piece was in press). And yesterday, there's an interesting article in The NY Times Magazine
on "The Politics of God."
It challenges us, I think, to recognize the importance of political theology -- not just in dealing with political Islam but also what its role is in modern Western society. In general, it's a very good read, especially considering that it's a condensed version of an entire book (more probably, at least the Introduction to that book). He also offers a (n entirely appropriate) warning that the developmental path the West has taken isn't necessarily to be replicated.
I have some quibbles with his characterization of the Middle Ages (of course) though, not so much in what he says but in how he says it. Conflating 1000+ years of history into a PP is problematic but I think he hits the nail on the head, especially how late medieval society seems to collapse and begin eating itself, more concerned about internal coherence than external enemies. This is an apocalyptic moment too and one that only enhances his argument, I think. The problem, however, is the last sentence in that PP -- "It was madness." No, it freaking wasn't.
That sentence almost subverts his whole point in the essay. Madness implies incomprehension. It implies that this is something we, moderns, don't find illustrative of our current condition. But read my first PP in this post. That kind of violence, that kind of tension between "us" and "them" is all too common today, as is the rhetoric/ language that underpins it. Lilla provides plenty of examples in the rest of his essay. Yet, the Middle Ages are still "other," strange, different, dark. My point? If only the Middle Ages were so different.UPDATE:
Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com
also has a reaction to Lilla's article. He argues exactly the opposite of me -- that modern society should be given more "credit" for shaking off God/ religion. I think Hitchens argues too far (surprising, I know) and essentially agrees with Lilla's main point, and one that I too won't dispute -- that man now has a choice in whether to believe in God or not. That very fact -- that choice -- is indeed something amazing and without precedent in human history and it does seem to be a particular historical accident of the West's.
- Violent Knights Feared Posttraumatic Stress
Medieval knights are often depicted as bloodthirsty men who enjoyed killing. But that is a completely wrong picture, new research shows. The knights did not kill just because they wanted to, but because it was their job ? precisely like soldiers today....
- Is Afghanistan "medieval?" No.
Yet, people keep asking this question. Yesterday (June 2, 2010), it was Prof. Thomas Barfield of Boston University, writing at ForeignPolicy.com. Barfield points out, quite rightly perhaps, that comparisons between the European Middle Ages and contemporary...
- South Park And Beowulf
I suppose this post is really a little off topic. But I found it so odd and striking that I had to share. I'm reading an article by Gale Owen-Crocker titled "Horror in Beowulf: Mutilation, Decapitation, and the Unburied Dead" published in a festschrift...
- Living In The 11th Century, Still: Charlemagne, Crusade, And Doing Research
This past weekend, I had the privilege of addressing the University of Delaware's Undergraduate Research Symposium. (UPDATE: Article here.) It's an outstanding program. I'm a product of it myself and I can't praise it enough. Anyway, there...
- Seung-hui Cho And Religion (take 2)
UPDATE, 9/11/07: This also appeared in today's Roanoke Times. Please discuss below or at their blog. NB: This is a slightly edited and expanded version of an earlier post, which deals too with the release of the Virginia Tech Indepedent Panel investigation....