Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wanted to take a moment to write a little something to mark the Big Hominid's birthday.
Many of you know that the Big Hominid is the Poet Laureate of the Mike World Order. He has on occasion been known to sing the praises of your Maximum Leader, and even tell of your Maximum Leader's heroic origins.
Allow your Maximum Leader to return the favour.
As we have all learned from Joseph Campbell, there are archetypes within the various religious and spiritual traditions of the world. After much careful research, your Maximum Leader can now illuminate for you, his dear minions, the similarities in the Big Hominid creation myth from the various world traditions.
According to the Nordic tradition, from the Ginnungagap (the emptiness) came Audhumla. Audhumla was the first creature, the primeval cow in fact. From Audhumla's teats flowed the four rivers of milk which fed the next creature, Ymir the frost giant. Ymir spawned many frost giants who inhabited the world and became the enemies of the gods. During the time of the frost giants Audhumla found a salt lick to sustain herself. As she licked the salt, she created the first man, Buri. In time Buri found a mate and their child Bor was the father of the god Odin (Wotan for you Wagnerians out there). But after the creation of Buri, the tale of Audhumla fades. Your Maximum Leader has pieced together ancient runes and discovered that after creating Buri from the salt lick, Audhumla became constipated. She wandered throughout Midgard and Asgard seeking relief. After the Gods defeated the frost giants, Audhumla was found near Valhalla by Thor. Seeing her constipated state, Thor struck Audhumla on the flank with his hammer. A great torrent of manure flew from Audhumla. The manure mixed on the earth with her life-giving milk and formed a great boiling pit. Seeing the festering pit, the god Odin foresaw the eventual coming of a great being who would alternately use his powers equally for good and ill. Odin foresaw that the liquid would coalesce into a child. A child who would be known by his nom-de-blog, the Big Hominid...
According to the Greco-Roman tradition, Cronos (the titan and ruler of the heavens) ate the children he produced with his wife-sister Rhea. But Rhea determined to save one of her children. So she gave a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to Cronos. Cronos, distracted by Gaia the earth-mother doing a striptease, ate the stone thinking it was his newborn son. The son grew to be Zeus. Zeus, in a fit of teenaged pique, faught his father and forced him to vomit up his siblings (Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter); who joined Zeus in deposing his father and becoming the ruling gods. The little known postscript to this tale is that after vomiting up the siblings of Zeus, Cronos shat out the stone he'd eaten believing it to be Zeus. The feces-encrusted stone fell to the earth and it landed in the sea. The titan feces mixed with the same sea foam that would later spawn Aphrodite. The floating morass of titan feces infused sea foam drifted across the seas. It caused the destruction of Atlantis, and helped keep the sea monster Kraken entombed in the sea. But its greatest creation would come much later. That creation/spawn was to be the scatalogically preordained being, the Big Hominid...
According to the Indian tradition, Vishnu was walking one day and a lotus flower blossomed from his navel. Brahma sprung forth from the lotus blossom and set about creating the world. The oft forgotten part of the story is that after the lotus flower sprang forth from Vishnu's navel, a Titan Arum blossomed from his anus and from that odourous flower were sprung a line of men who would join together the world of spirituality and scatology. It is said that this line of men continues to this day, and that the Big Hominid is known in some parts of rual India and Nepal as the 69th incarnation of the Rectali Lama...
Now you all can see the similarities of the various Hominidal creation stories. Accept them for what they are. And be joyous in your celebration of the anniversary of the birth of the one and only Big Hominid.
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wanted to take a moment to write a little something to mark the Big Hominid's birthday.
It's the last day of August. I turn 35 today, so I thought I'd write some haiku in praise of the one piece of flesh that has stood by me, lo these many years.
hanging in my crotch
hot dog... or guru?
ladies watch amazed as you
puke different colors
charging down pink corridors
whoa-- the Power-Up!
nature's exclamation point
brainless yet happy
little does she know:
if she moves too close, I'll be
launching my sperm worms
says that I'm Year of the Cock
heh; you're telling me
piece of bacon in my pants
Scott writes in part:
Re: "my little exclusivist", here are my 2 cents so far. [...] I would be interested in real religious dialog (and have before). But I think you have a (potentially) serious problem on your hands. A situation I have seen blow up in the face of some folks I liked - and it wasn't nice.
I've dealt with a lot of folks like this (religious or not). I also dated a woman who sounds a lot like your student. From your short description, I can tell your student is a member of at least one of these types:
1) Wants to convert them all, consequences be damned (no real motivation, she just wants to get people to do things)
2) She REALLY loves Jesus, and is on a crusade to save you
3) She is a member of a cult (read, motivated for no spiritual reason) and wants to convert yet another heathen
The question for you shouldn't be, "Do I talk to her about religion?" It should be, "How much do we talk about religion at 'school'/'the office'? The correct answer is, as little as possible.
She has requested you - which likely means she wants to work on converting you. And this is trouble. With a captial 'T' ("and that rhymes with "P", and that stands for "Pool"").
Your focus before her return should be on an escape plan if/when the discussion gets to be too much. If your boss is cool, let him/her in on the situation. And prep the other teachers, in case they need to take over her lessons.
Folks interested in real discussion don't start off calling you a heathen. Be prepared for a less-than-pleasant side of her personality to appear during a discussion. I hope things go well, but so far it doesn't seem hopeful for a useful dialog to occur.
Watch yer six,
Good caution. However, it's not as though I haven't talked to frothing, born-again Korean Christians before. A lot is in the approach, especially when in the Korean mode of conversation. Initial agreement followed by subsequent (polite or impolite) disagreement is almost de rigueur in such exchanges. Verbal judo is a necessary skill, as is the ability to lean forward and browbeat on occasion-- something I, as a man, can do more effectively in this society than in American society.*
Religion isn't a topic we touch on in every class; it's come up only a couple of times over the past month. I doubt Miss Exclusivist is going to try to "convert" me or "bring me back into the fold": she's ended her conversations (after noting that I wasn't about to back down, either) by saying, "Well, we should pray for them [i.e., non-Christians]," which is positively conciliatory. Even if she does try to turn me to the dark side, she's not going to get anywhere.
It's true, however, that almost all these gung-ho Christians are concerned for your immortal soul. But most of them haven't been trained to think. This puts them at a disadvantage if they ever decide to whip out scripture, because unlike people who've actually taken hermeneutics courses, these folks aren't ready to dig into the realities that lie behind the texts they cherish. They're all set to quote what Jesus said and did, but very few make an effort at deeply understanding why Jesus might have said and done those things-- nor are they prepared to frame the issue as, "Why might the gospel writers have depicted events this way?" These Christian soldiers have been fed pat answers to potentially nettlesome questions and assume, almost catechistically, that those answers will suffice in any situation.
What keeps me hopeful, however, is that it's possible to find reasonable people, even in this demographic. Sometimes the reasonableness has to be coaxed out. My own conversion from Christian fundamentalism (including a strong, Bible-based creationism) to a liberal/moderate religious stance took time (not to mention a few philosophy of religion courses like The Problem of God, a required course at Georgetown). Part of the problem, though, is that reasonableness is, more often than not, a function of temperament. This is discouraging when you look at the global picture: if temperament, and not reason, plays such a huge role in people's religious alignments, just how far can dialogue (or any reason-based endeavor) take humanity as a whole? Yet I remain hopeful. We're not slaves to our passions, unless we choose to be. Most of us are lazy, however, which is why interreligious dialogue is doomed to be a neverending project. As a race, we can't reach perfection, but perfection can be posited as a plausible moral asymptote.
Scott's right: English class isn't the best place to have religious debates. I'm going to keep Scott's caution in mind because: (1) at the end of the day, if this lady wants a debate with me, she's going to lose it badly, and (2) after she loses, she's going to take her business with her to a different hagwon. Not that I'd mind, but right now, things are still on friendly terms and I'd like to keep them that way. Scott's advice makes sense as a way to avoid losing business for my employer, which in turn keeps my ass on the payroll.
Regarding the larger picture, Scott says that "folks interested in real discussion don't start off calling you a heathen." Yes, I agree that this lady's taken the wrong approach. But if dialogue is to be more than an incestuous congress of religious liberals who are already in agreement with each other (i.e., why bother dialoguing?), then we have to be ready to deal with people whose religious alignments are radically different from our own. (I say this in response to the general question of whom we should dialogue with, not in response to the specific question of Miss Exclusivist and the personal challenge she represents.) As you, Dear Reader, might have gathered, I already had an answer to the question I asked yesterday.
[*Before you ladies get the wrong idea, let me clarify: I'm not talking about standing up and bellowing, nor am I talking about being arrogant for arrogance's sake. When I say "browbeat," I'm referring to what is, for lack of a better term, a nonverbal debating technique that's fully expected in Korean-- and especially male-female-- repartee. Women here still expect men to act like men (despite the current pussification campaign in the Korean media); I bluster, they back off, and it's all part of a larger game. Not to worry, ladies: Korean women are steely and will almost always figure a way around or through any male bluster.]
Monday, August 30, 2004
One of my students is a very strong Christian in the typical Korean Protestant mold, which is to say that, when I start talking about Religion X (where X is a non-Protestant Christian religion), she flatly declares, "Religion X's god is a false god." She did this to me today, cutting me off when I started talking about Buddhism as class was winding down (today was a post-test review day for her, so we had time for a bit of free talking).
Here's the question for people interested in interreligious dialogue. Does my student or does she not represent one of the demographics with whom people like me should be in dialogue?
Part of me says that people like my student are impossible to talk to, so why waste my time? Another part of me replies that this attitude is condescending.
Motivations for dialogue require constant and serious examination. Ego plays a large and dangerous role. Am I trying to browbeat the unprepared by unloading fancy arguments on them? Am I trying to shake this person's tree, knock their perspective just a wee bit off-kilter, bring them out of Plato's cave and into the light of open-mindedness? Who am I to do this? What makes this my row to hoe? Why don't I just quit my job and pursue an acting career, leaving this religious studies and English teaching shit behind?
My student's pretty nice most of the time, but she doesn't want to hear about all those false gods (not that I have much chance to talk with her about them; the lesson plan keeps us too busy on most days). As far as she's concerned, everyone in the whole world should be brought to Jesus. It's people like her who make me wary of pro-exclusivism philosopher-theologians like Alvin Plantinga. She's the kind of person for whom Plantinga is going to bat. Does the world really need such exclusivists?
My student's going on hiatus until late September. Yeesh; we'll see how things go when she gets back. She's requesting me, specifically, to be her teacher upon her return. This is the first personal request I'm aware of. I hope my partner teachers are happy, because this will help boost their all-important reregistration rates, but I'm not looking forward to more unreasoning religious exclusivism up close.
The following are some very superficial explanations of recurrent terms in my discussions of religious pluralism on this blog. My purpose is to provide readers with a bit of background in order better to understand my and others' arguments for and against various forms of religious pluralism. Note that not all scholars (or non-scholars) will agree with how I've laid these concepts out; as a pluralist, I accept such disagreement as a simple and unavoidable fact of human discourse.
From the Greek on(tos), or "being." Ontology is the study of the nature of being or existence (keeping in mind that quite a few philosophers distinguish the two).
The adjective ontological means "of or having to do with being/existence." Saint Anselm's "ontological proof" is an attempt to prove the existence of God. The noun ontology can refer to being itself as well as to the study of the nature of being, and can even function grammatically as a countable noun, as in the phrase "multiple ontologies" (cf. Stephen Kaplan's Different Paths, Different Summits).
I implore the real philobloggers to provide better, clearer definitions than the above. I'm aiming for concision, but the price is superficiality.
From the Greek soter (savior) and soterion (salvation). Most (or all) of the still-extant great religious traditions have some or other soteriology, i.e., some notion of salvation.
By the way, "-ology" suffixes (e.g., psychology, biology) come from the Greek logos, which translates roughly as "word" or even, as I heard at CUA, "ordered discourse." Theology, then, is ordered discourse about God. Interpreted much more broadly, theology would be ordered discourse about ultimate reality, theistic or not. This is something of a departure from a more literal notion of "theos," or God, but like it or not, the phrase "Buddhist theology" does crop up in many papers on Buddhism. One consequence of this is that it creates meta-issues in academic discussion: are Western academics inadvertently imparting a theistic spin to nontheistic traditions when they use a phrase like "Buddhist theology"? How about a word like "religion," which is freighted with Western connotations?
This term is derived from Karl Jaspers's notion of an Axial Age, or Axial Period (see here and here). How long this period lasted depends on the scholar you consult. Jaspers himself placed the Axial Age at around 800BCE to 200BCE. I've read other scholars who place it at 600BCE to 600CE to include Christ and Muhammad. The general idea is that most of the world's major philosophies and religious traditions came into flower during this period. Whether there was, properly speaking, an Axial Age is a matter of some debate, but I subscribe to it. It's a bit creepy, like the (now-debunked) Hundredth Monkey Hypothesis: it seems like all of humanity woke up around the same time and began asking the big existential questions, like "Who am I?" and "Why are we here?"
"Post-axial," a term often found in the writings of John Hick, refers to the great traditions that survived (and largely flourished) beyond the Axial Age in some form or other: the various strains of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, religious Confucianism, etc. While a religion like Scientology is, chronologically speaking, post-axial, it's doubtful that Hick et al. are referring to such religions when they discuss their pluralistic models.
From Latin and Greek praxis, or "practice" (see here for the Latin/Greek etymology; scroll down to the "praxis" entry in the right-hand column). A fancy-ass term for practice used by us religious studies geeks to make ourselves sound smarter than we are. A related term is "orthopraxis," or "right practice."
Praxis (here pronounced "praak-sees" by Klingons) is also the name of a Klingon moon that exploded from over-mining. It was apparently orbiting the Klingon homeworld of Qonos. The explosion forced the Klingons to drop hostilities with the United Federation of Planets and sue for peace, with Captain James T. Kirk as the Federation's reluctant "olive branch." Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise were, after some struggle, able to secure a more or less lasting peace with the Klingon Empire. I have no idea what this has to do with religious pluralism, but I bet there aren't many in-depth comparative studies of science fiction mythologies. Maybe I should put together a cross-comparative study of Vulcan and Jedi mysticism.
Recurrent terms (1) can be found here.
A deep acquaintance with Foucault's History of Sexuality and a propensity for seeing a Panopticon in every self-service supermarket checkout doesn't mean you understand the actual effects of rent control any better than my mother does. Twenty years of performing materialist analyses of novels by mentally ill writers does not etch within you a superior understanding of the DSM IV, and it most certainly does not give you a loftier pulpit from which to preach about pharmaceuticals and brain disorders.
Fuck, yeah. I'm convinced that postmodernist thinking, taken as a whole, is a dead end. It has no sway outside of academe, and leads only to the dingleberried ass crack of oblivion.
Off to bed. Up at 5AM. Shit.
My buddy Jang-woong, that font of Korean wisdom, told me a nasty Korean proverb that's apparently the equivalent of our "Quit beating a dead horse":
"It's useless to tweak a dead man's balls."
I had a good laugh at that one.
Too bad Jang-woong's married, Andi; he might be your type.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
My buddy Jang-woong and I did dinner near Gwanak-san ("san" means "mountain") this evening, then hiked a wee bit up one of the trails before it got too dark. We stopped by a stream and simply listened to the water's murmur. Tonight's kong-an, then: What is the stream saying?
I've been thinking that I'll spend some vacation days over at Haein-sa, preferably in the fall and spring. EC allots us ten paid vacation days per year, and we can't take them all at once: the maximum is five at a time. There are two monks I'm hoping to meet again at Haein-sa, if they're still there: Gak-an sunim and Dae-oh sunim.
Gak-an sunim reminded me a bit of photos of Thich Nhat Hanh when I met him, but one evening he spewed out some truly filthy language while castigating a temple worker who'd tried to argue religion with my interpreter, a Korean Presbyterian named Park. This endeared Gak-an sunim to me; it was nice to see he was human.
Dae-oh sunim remains, to my mind, the most spiritually intense person I've met of any religion. If I remember correctly, he's one of Haein-sa's scholars-in-residence, and though he wasn't the temple's Zen master, he certainly talked like one. When I think of Dae-oh sunim, I think of two things: an Army drill sergeant, and Mark Salzman's depiction of an ancient Carmelite nun known as a Living Rule in his short novel Lying Awake.
The notion of a Living Rule isn't hard to translate across religions: this bent old woman was, in Salzman's imagination, an incarnation of dharma-- law, rule, function, nature, truth. Dae-oh sunim, though by no means old, is easily her nonfictional counterpart. So I'm happy to say I've met a Living Rule, and I'd like to see him again.
What is the stream saying?
The following are some very superficial explanations of recurrent terms in my discussions of religious pluralism on this blog. My purpose is to provide readers with a bit of background in order better to understand my and others' arguments for and against various forms of religious pluralism. Note that not all scholars (or non-scholars) will agree with how I've laid these concepts out; as a pluralist, I accept such disagreement as a simple and unavoidable fact of human discourse.
exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism as commonly understood by most scholars today:
Exclusivism is the idea that one's own religious path is the only correct one. All other paths are excluded because all others are wrong. Only one path leads to salvation, or the ultimate, or whatever goal is envisioned by the tradition in question. One gets to Heaven only through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, for example.
It's important to note, however, that all truth claims with any level of specificity are, to some degree, exclusivistic. Having a definite opinion about the Absolute means that one is already excluding large blocs of differently-minded people. Exclusivists never fail to mention this because it means that pluralists (see below) are exclusivistic, too.
I should also note that some scholars say there are degrees of exclusivism.
Inclusivism is the idea that one's home tradition is the most efficient path to salvation, but other traditions (not all others, necessarily) can also lead to salvation as envisioned by the home tradition. These traditions are imperfect vehicles, however, and the ultimate reality that shines through the home tradition is realized less fully in other traditions.
A Christian inclusivist might, for example, say that Hinduism is a way of salvation, but only insofar as Hindus conduct themselves in a manner that realizes Christian ideals. Another way of looking at it is that "Christ is working through other religions"-- e.g., it's not Krsna or brahman one is encountering, but the living Christ. Some critics are very disturbed by this reading of religions, because it seems to give adherents of the home tradition license to make claims that sound conciliatory, but in fact aren't. Others say this isn't the case at all.
As of the mid-1960s, the Catholic Church's stance is officially inclusivistic. The current pope has been especially interested in interreligious dialogue, but many of the recent-- and more confrontational-- documents emanating from Rome, such as the now-infamous Dominus Iesus, haven't been written by him. JP2 has, however, signed off on all the major documents, including Dominus Iesus.
Pluralism comes in all shapes and sizes. There isn't a single pluralism, nor is there a single, agreed-upon typology of pluralisms. I've found Kate McCarthy's typology to be a great way to understand the two major pluralistic trends. According to her, these are convergent pluralism and divergent (or nonconvergent) pluralism.
Convergent pluralism usually takes a common-essence approach to the problem of religious diversity: all (the major) religious traditions share some common core or essence, some basic factor that unites them either in terms of their views of absolute reality or their views of salvation (or both). The most common metaphor for this is a single mountain: many different paths lead to the same summit (whether that summit be ultimate reality or salvation or both).
Divergent pluralism is a critical response to the above. Stephen Kaplan puts it succinctly in his book's title: different paths, different summits. Perhaps there are multiple ultimate realities. Perhaps there are multiple salvations. Whereas convergent pluralism isn't pluralistic about ultimate reality or salvation, divergent pluralism is willing to imagine something much less tidy, with different practices leading to different ends.
[NB: re: Dr. Vallicella's speculation about my own stance: I don't know whether I'd call myself a divergent pluralist. What bothers me about the divergent pluralist position, especially as laid out in Heim's work, is how it perhaps over-reifies specific traditions and seems to assume a "never the twain shall meet" dynamic. I'm also bothered by the ontological messiness of divergent pluralist models, which fly in the face of common sense: the constant evidence of our senses is that we all inhabit a single objective reality, despite the fact that we're "trapped inside" our all-too-subjective skulls. When the very theistic Muslim passes the basketball to his advaitic Hindu teammate, just how many universes is the ball passing through to reach the Hindu? To me, the simplest answer is: one and only one-- a notion that's strongly implied, I think, by the hegemonic, universalistic nature of most of the great religious traditions' truth claims. Strangely enough, I have the feeling that science is going to answer crucial ontological questions long before the various religions will.]
The above three-fold typology of exclusivism-inclusivism-pluralism took shape in the late 1970s and early 1980s, thanks mainly to thinkers like Alan Race and John Hick. The typology was originally intended to reflect Christian attitudes toward other religions. Whether it works well as a map of other traditions' attitudes is debatable. One interesting objection to the typology comes from one of my old profs, the late Father William Cenkner of Catholic University: "I am, within myself, simultaneously an exclusivist, inclusivist, and pluralist" depending on what aspect of religion we're talking about. All this means that the typology should be used with caution, or thrown out entirely if it proves completely unworkable in the future. I use it in my blog because, as typologies go, it's fairly clear, and while I'm cautious in how it applies to non-Christian traditions, I think it does make the religious landscape a bit more intelligible.
[more terms to follow; stay tuned]
Possibly-relevant note: Nothing screams RELIGION STUDENT like a freaky horned demon head. Go buy it.
UPDATE: Objective confirmation that I'm sesquipedalian.
CENSORSHIP UPDATE: The usual suspects are still blocked at my place of employment.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Humm... The Big Hominid sold his soul for ¥8400.
By my best calculations... That works out to be about what? The equivalent of 30 pieces of silver.
I dunno if that exchange rate is exactly right... But it's close though.
Chat Maven sends me the following link. Enjoy.
It's Saturday, and my schedule's looking pretty damn busy. After work ends at 6:30PM today, I'm teaching French for an hour or so... then I'll grab dinner, start the weekly laundry ritual, and will end up at a PC-bahng later in the evening to work on part or all of that pluralism post. Sorry for delays, but life really has been hellishly busy.
UPDATE: Damn-- forgot to put up this link from Annika. Good luck in law school, A!
UPDATE 2: My Saturday evening students freaked out when a monitor in one of the classrooms seemed to come alive: the cursor was moving on its own and clicking icons, they said. I've seen this happen with computers hooked together in a LAN configuration, but I guess these students had never seen anything like that before. How quickly we reach for superstitious answers to potentially mysterious questions.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Back from my visa run and now legal, muthafucka.
Cost of the E-2 visa: Y5400 for Americans. Other blokes pay Y6000.
Cost of a round trip to the Korean Embassy and back: about Y3000.
Selling your soul to EC: priceless.
Satan's true form is Hello Kitty, in case you were wondering.
A poem occurs to me:
my bed is my bedpan
I use it at night
I fill it with gusto
then turn out the light
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
"A," the Canuck who's been teaching Miss SNU is, as I type this, sitting on a bench somewhere in Inchon International Airport, waiting to board his flight back to Canada. Late August signals the end of summer vacation for Korean college students, so it's quite possible that Miss SNU will, by some miracle, end up back on my schedule now that A is no longer with us. Miss SNU's return to my evil clutches isn't guaranteed unless she demands that I be her teacher, something she hasn't done so far. It'd look mighty strange for me to demand that she be my student, so there's nothing I can do about this except sit and wait. It's all in the KY-lubed hands of fate, my love.
Miss Y of the voluptuous ass (the one with East-West crossover appeal) still comes to class, but Miss DC, perhaps aware that I'm no longer charmed by her, doesn't appear on anyone's schedule these days. Maybe she's dropped out. Hmmmm. Not that I'll miss her. Much. She was pretty damn cute.
My morning teaching partner, J, the lady to whom I teach French, is stressing out. I don't know how much this has to do with me. Our Fremen-Korean manager regularly calls the Korean teachers into her office to discuss things like reenrollment rates and the (foreign) partner teachers. I'm sure I figured into the discussion somehow, but I don't know how.
I sat with a few expat teachers from both the Kangnam and Yeoksam branches of EC last night. It was a little gathering at a set of patio-style sidewalk tables in front of a convenience store to say good-bye to A, involving the usual beer, soju, and itty-bitty "yakult" (liquidy yogurt) containers to make "yogurt soju," which sounds like something ejaculated by a genetically engineered camel. The very concept is nasty as hell; prude that I am, I swigged a Coke. Conversation centered on how much EC sucks, and as you might guess, I'm not the only one offended by the lab coats. It turns out that all the teachers cite this abomination as their number one complaint (or, if not number one, it's still high on the list). It's degrading. I still don't wear mine.
In other news...
Shawn, that exhibitionist, shows off a shorn Cock.
Andi's got poetry, a shout-out, and a touching meditation in honor of one of her kittens, who recently died. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, kittee.
It's a somewhat cryptic post, but it almost sounds as if Wooj had trouble saying good-bye to a porn stash on his hard drive.
God seems to be talking to Lorianne through chalk and graffiti lately. Through Lorianne's blog, the Almighty finally gave me advice I could use: scroll down to the final photo in this post. Strangely, the Good Lord gave Howard Stern more detailed counsel along the same lines, as chronicled in Stern's bestseller Private Parts.
My Maximum Leader (and yours) posts on Richard III and other matters.
Coming later this week: that big post Explaining Everything about religious pluralism, to counteract previous pedantry. I'm off to Osaka tomorrow.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
The inimitable-- and uncomfortably left-leaning-- Fafblog takes on the theological question of denying a little Catholic girl communion because her body is allergic to wheat products (an all-rice wafer was declared inauthentic, making communion invalid for her).
I have to give credit where credit is due: Fafblog's hilarious fusion of bizarre Christian ritual (communion and transsubstantiation) with bizarre Jewish legend (read: golems) had me rolling.
UPDATE: I take it all back. Fuck Fafblog, because this is way funnier. I wish I had half this guy's talent.
It's Sunday, which has meant an exciting day of laundry. Three movies are out, and I have neither the money nor the energy to see them: "I, Robot," "The Bourne Supremacy," and "Hellboy." If I had to choose only one of the three, I'd choose "Bourne," simply because I'm in the mood for a meat-and-potatoes spy drama, and this one got good press when it came out in the States a while back. If it features moments that feed my inner fight scene junkie, I'll be happy-- even if the plot contains implausibilities on the order of "Bourne Identity" (notably, Damon's escape from the embassy early in that film: there were guards all over the embassy's interior, but not a single soul outside).
It's been interesting to watch Dr. Vallicella's slow descent into the lower circles of scatological hell. The man started off as civil and urbane, once even posting an entry on the nature of humor that made me wonder whether he had a sense of humor; but in recent weeks the good doctor's been creeping toward the cliffs of Buddhist mu-ae-haeng (Sino-Korean for "unconstrained conduct"). See his posts, "The Scatology of a Sceptic," "The Proctology of a Pessimist," and his shit-themed poem on meditation in the post "Ditch the Raft." It's true that Dr. Vallicella credits Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges with the "proctology of a pessimist" phrase, but how does one explain this excerpt from a recent post on hummus-making? To wit:
I like my hummus smooth as a baby's ass and about the same color and consistency of what comes out of one.
Ooooh, how the mighty have fallen. But as a fellow hummus-lover (if not hummus-maker), I'm forced to agree that the best hummus is reminiscent of baby shit both in looks and texture.
The plop thickens.
Friday, August 20, 2004
My EC students keep noting that I look tired. I don't necessarily feel tired while teaching, but I do feel like sagging into a corner when the day is over at 10PM. I need more sleep. Something's got to give, and it might have to be the blog.
Yeah, that'll happen.
A colleague pointed out a hapkidojang near the Nakseongdae subway station... I might have to go check it out.
I thought I was in for a free Saturday, but I've been asked to work a 4-hour shift. I doubt this'll translate as overtime pay. In the end, I'll have done three Saturdays this month, as I was originally told.
Most of the money for my first big pay day, in September, is already spoken for. Fuck.
Another colleague had the opportunity to teach Miss SNU. His reaction: "She made me break into a sweat." I hear ya', man. She'd make any man sweat.
Off for an hour's nap, then back to the bump-and-grind.
I think I may have been more pedantic than usual in my most recent post on religious pluralism. After consulting with Andi about whether I should provide some sort of primer or glossary that might (might) help the layman make heads or tails of my post, I've decided, with Andi's blessing, to do just that.
But not now. I simply don't have time.
Some items (people and terms) that'll be explained:
1. John Hick & his pluralistic hypothesis
2. S. Mark Heim and orientational pluralism
3. Stephen Kaplan and holographic pluralism
4. The terms "exclusivism," "inclusivism," and "pluralism" as commonly understood by most scholars today
5. ontology and soteriology
6. post-axial tradition/faith/religion
7. why the word "tradition" often appears in place of "faith" or "religion" in my essays (and in the works of scholars)
8. Raimondo Panikkar & why he doesn't quite fit any of the standard typologies
9. convergent vs. divergent pluralism
11. essentialism and nonessentialism
14. the term "ultimate" and the question of multiple ultimates
15. "philosophical Taoism" as opposed to just talking about "Taoism"
16. Karl Rahner and the notion of the "anonymous Christian"
17. why John Hick's pluralistic paradigm is often called "neo-Kantian"
The above isn't comprehensive... I can also see it ballooning into a gigantic post of its own. In the spirit of Dr. Hodges's explanation of middle knowledge, I'll try to keep my explanations as clear and concise as I can. Write in with complaints if it seems like I've merely muddied things for you.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Dr. Vallicella offers a very interesting response to my previous post and rejects my claim that not all religions have soteriologies. It appears that Dr. Vallicella and I are proceeding from different definitions of the word "religion." Dr. Vallicella's stance makes sense because it flows naturally from his definition, but I'm not sure how his definition would apply to the cases I mentioned, to wit: "primitive" agricultural and hunter-gatherer faiths (again, with "faith" used only loosely and with caution here) whose primary concern wasn't and isn't existential (i.e., they're not an expression of fundamental dissatisfaction with the human condition), but merely related to world-maintenance, not some form of self- or world-transcendence. Members of these traditions don't see anything fundamentally wrong with the world, nor do they envision a Way Out, to use Dr. Vallicella's term. Their tradition and practice are a reflection of "how things are" and even "how things should be."
I suppose it follows naturally from Dr. Vallicella's definition that the primitive faiths to which I'm referring aren't really religions. My own labeling of these faiths as religions is sourced in the empirical fact that many (if not most) scholars label them thus, and my own definition of religion is expansive enough to place me in that scholarly camp. The claim that not all religions have soteriologies isn't original to me; I just happen to agree with it.
But it's also true that Dr. Vallicella isn't alone in defining religion more rigorously than I and others do; there are plenty of scholars who'd back him up (I'd name them if I had my library with me, but it's back in the States). I, however, feel that Dr. Vallicella's definition works best for the major post-axial faiths.
I was about to write that what separates Dr. Vallicella from me re: the definition of religion is a mere terminological quibble, but that's not true. The issue of how to define such terms as religion and soteriology lies at the very heart of the ongoing discussion of religious pluralism. John Hick's term, "salvation/liberation," designed to be a catch-all for all major types of soteriology, has come under intense fire for its near-total lack of cognitive content: like statistical averages, it purportedly applies to everyone but specifies almost no one. Buddhists, by their own reckoning, don't seek to attain "salvation/liberation." Nor do Christians, Muslims, etc. One question for religious scholars and practitioners is the extent to which general notions of religion and soteriology are even valuable if, in actual practice, no one is attaining "salvation in general."
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Andi's post here leads to an interesting link here that deals with the question facing anyone of a pluralistic bent: do all religions teach basically the same thing?
As someone with an academic interest in world religions, I'd have to say the answer is an obvious no. Academics are understandably cautious about over-hasty conflations, as when someone claims that all religions are, at heart, the same. As a religious pluralist, however, I'd have to say that I have no conclusive answer to this question, but that I treat the "convergent pluralist" line with caution.
The conservative critique of the claim that all religions teach the same thing is that, in order to make this claim, one has to ignore (or at least radically downplay) a great deal of variety both within and among religious traditions. To my mind, one also has to ignore (or downplay) the fact that a great number of traditions fall under the academic rubric "religion," and these include traditions that aren't among the major post-axial faiths.
An example of generalist whitewashing: most philosophical and theological models of religious pluralism (whether the orientational pluralism of S. Mark Heim, the holographic pluralism of Stephen Kaplan, or the neo-Kantian "epistemological pluralism" of John Hick) assume that "religion" entails a soteriological dimension of some sort-- i.e., salvation. To make a global claim, one has to define salvation so vaguely that the word will have little meaning to actual adherents of specific traditions. But there is a another problem facing religious pluralists, namely: not all religions have a soteriology.
The best examples of non-soteriological religion come from the still-extant "primitive" agricultural and hunter-gatherer faiths (a term I use with caution) that concern themselves more with so-called "world-maintenance" and less with humanity's existential condition. These traditions have, as their aim, such pedestrian goals as getting through the drought season, or producing large crops, or having a plentiful hunt. They aren't deeply asking, "Who am I?" or "What is the nature of ultimate reality?", nor are they necessarily concerned with humanity as a whole, or with some form of personal or corporate salvation. Pluralists routinely ignore such traditions in their haste to form pluralist models.
John Hick's notion of "salvation/liberation," which Hick defined as the move "from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness" and as the prospect of facing "a limitlessly better possibility," is an example of just the sort of content-free soteriological notion that can drive conservatives nuts. Hick has, conservatives say, fought himself into a corner by moving so quickly away from religious particularity to embrace a vague generality to which no one can properly relate. The high level of abstraction prevents Hick from saying anything more than he's already said.
[Note, too, that the most vocal of Hick's critics, S. Mark Heim, is a fellow pluralist but a religious conservative (I've discussed the issue of how one can be pluralist and conservative before, so I won't rehash that here)!]
Generalist claims about religion have to face the charge of "liberal arrogance," i.e., the active disrespect of particularity, otherness, and difference. Who am I to claim, as a liberal Presbyterian-- and without consulting you first-- that your Buddhist practice is pointing in the same salvific direction as my Christian practice, producing essentially the same existential effects? Who am I to dismiss the accumulated textual and ritological history of your tradition as merely secondary to my generalist claim that you and I are basically doing the same thing, even if our respective forms of praxis look different? Who am I to make the claim that the core notions in your tradition match up with the core notions in mine, such that any differences are "mere details"?
I'm not politically liberal or conservative (at least, I don't actively align myself with either camp), but if we gauge my beliefs according to the PCUSA tradition to which I belong, then from the perspective of that tradition I'm a flaming religious liberal. As such, I take charges of liberal arrogance seriously, because the charges have merit and my goal isn't to sell yet another form of religious arrogance. Is it possible to arrive at a truly pluralistic pluralism?
The issues for someone in my position are practical: do I simply dismiss as bigotry the Muslim belief that there is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet? Do I dismiss the historical reality of the missionary impulse found in the Abrahamic faiths as well as in Buddhism? Do I demand that all religious adherents do what I've done and deconstruct some key theological notions because I find them inimical to irenological praxis (e.g., the exclusivistic notion that one approaches the ultimate only through the salvific action of Jesus Christ)? Should I, for example, tell someone who petitions Kwan-yin (in Korean, Kwaneum) that his petitions are going unheard because he's engaging in superstition?
Another problem for a nonessentialist like me is that essentialist claims such as "all religions have a common core" run against the grain of my basic stance. I'm very sympathetic to Buddhist and philosophical Taoist metaphysics and agree that there are no essences. As a pluralist, however, I admit I'm attracted to the idea that, because we share a common humanity, we also share a common basis in our religious praxis. But I don't think this idea is compatible with nonessentialism. The two together don't produce a coherent position.*
[*NB: Whether "a coherent position" can or should be a goal in religious belief and practice is a discussion for another post, but it's very much related to what we're talking about here.]
There is a pluralism of pluralisms, as I've noted in previous essays (see the bottom of my sidebar for essays related to issues in religion and religious pluralism). Kate McCarthy uses the typology of "convergent" versus "non-convergent" (or "divergent") pluralisms to distinguish between people like John Hick, who posit some sort of common essence (or "common soteriological summit," if you will), and people like S. Mark Heim and Stephen Kaplan, who posit the possibility of a multiplicity of ontologies and soteriologies. The pluralist camp is itself divided on what pluralism means and entails. In my opinion, this isn't a bad thing at all; I'd be more worried if pluralism qua school of thought were a monolithic bloc.
I think it's instructive to hear pluralists critique each other. For example, Heim accuses Hick of putting forward a false pluralism, or "crypto-inclusivism," that pays lip service to sociocultural diversity in religious praxis but steamrollers such diversity at the level of ontology and soteriology. At the same time, the Hickian camp finds the notion of "multiple ultimates" ridiculous on its face, and this charge may have merit depending on the operational definition of "ultimate" and how seriously one takes the law of non-contradiction.
Heim might have a point contra Hick: to move too quickly to general, universalist claims about all religions (or at least the major post-axial ones) is to sacrifice pluralism at a deep level. At the same time, I think Hick's basic motive, which is to advocate the change/removal of pernicious elements in religion that encourage human divisiveness and strife, is sourced in a sincere religious impulse to decrease human suffering. Hick's stance demands ethical change, what Christians might call metanoia. Heim's divergent pluralism, while "more plural" than Hick's convergent pluralism, seems to advocate a "live and let live" stance that makes interreligious dialogue simultaneously easier in some respects and more difficult in others. Heim's orientational paradigm paradoxically rejects the common-essence approach to the question of all religions while seemingly advocating an essentialist view of each discrete tradition (or tradition's perspective).
To my mind, the charge of false pluralism often leveled against Hick isn't really as serious as it seems. Stephen Kaplan charitably calls Hick's stance "epistemological pluralism" because Hick's model concerns itself with how we come to know (and abide in) the Absolute. Hick's neo-Kantian model is perfectly pluralist if one confines one's scrutiny to epistemological (and not onto-/soteriological) issues. Kate McCarthy's label "convergent pluralism" is also a charitable way of viewing Hick's model.
I think it's incumbent on us pluralists to be clear about whether, in crafting pluralistic models, we are being descriptive or prescriptive. There's a huge difference between making the "factual" claim that "variations between religions are mere detail" and the more hortatory statement that "variations between religions should be viewed as mere detail." I think Hick's model, for example, tries both to describe and prescribe at the same time. This is problematic, and isn't unique to Hick.
It's highly unlikely that anyone other than a fellow pluralist will be interested in yet another pluralistic claim or hypothesis. This leads once again to the issue of religious arrogance, and the fact that even a pluralist is saying, at bottom, "I'm right to be pluralist and you're wrong to remain stuck in your blinkered, exclusivistic worldview." (I did a whole essay on Plantinga's take on the matter; you can read my thoughts here.) Suffice it to say that accusations of arrogance are equally applicable in all directions because, as Heim and Kaplan correctly point out in their respective ways, a pluralistic position is, whatever its metatheoretical pretensions, just one position among many. As such, it both includes and excludes, like any other position.
As a pluralist, for example, I roundly reject fundamentalist, exclusivistic interpretations of scripture. Is it any surprise that a fundie would find me arrogant to think him benighted? I'm sure that a Muslim terrorist would take a dim view of my dim view of his version of Islam.
Readers of this blog know that my own take on the pluralistic project is similar to that of Raimondo Panikkar, another godfather in the ongoing pluralism discussion: philosophical and theological models are futile. I don't see how it's possible to arrive at a firm philosophical grounding for a pluralistic stance, nor do I believe that such a grounding is necessary, because I no longer see pluralism as a position, per se: I see it as praxis. Pluralism isn't theoretical; it's lived. The paradigm case for me was and remains the exchange between Catholic theologian Karl Rahner and the Zen Buddhist Nishitani: Rahner had explained his inclusivist notion of the "anonymous Christian," and Nishitani wondered whether he could label Rahner an anonymous Buddhist. Rahner reportedly said, "I'd be honored." Such mutual inclusivism is, in my opinion, the best pluralism. The spirit that motivated Rahner's response (and, I assume, Nishitani's satisfaction with it) is the ineffable, inarticulable base undergirding this lived pluralism.
So I'm a pluralist, a theological liberal, but I take very seriously the conservative critiques of the pluralistic project. I agree, along with conservative critics, that pluralists are often far too quick to be dismissive of difference in their haste to claim fundamental essence or sameness. As someone sympathetic to Buddhist and philosophical Taoist nonessentialism, I think pluralists make the wrong move when they try to posit any sort of essence to religion as human phenomenon and/or expression of ultimate reality. I recognize that this stance places me well outside my own Presbyterian tradition, which in turn indicates that my pluralism is indeed building walls and generating its own exclusivism (and, potentially, its own arrogance).
At the same time, I don't think Heim's conservative "live and let live" approach (Heim's an evangelical Protestant) is the best pluralistic answer. Heim's orientational pluralism is too reificationist: it makes religious traditions more discrete than they actually are. Heim's model doesn't work too well when applied to Catholic priests who have received inka and who are also full-time Zen roshis, for example: according to Heim, these people embody only a single religious perspective. Maybe they do; maybe they don't. It's too early in the discussion to make such claims. But if they don't, that's a strike against Heim's paradigm.
I think Hick's classically convergent pluralistic model has too many basic flaws to be workable. The neo-Kantian nature of the model, as I've discussed in other essays, is deeply problematic. No sane Zen Buddhist would agree with it: to see with the dharma eye is not to see only part-way into the true nature of reality. But Hick's motivation is sound: his writings point out the ills of exclusivism and (non-mutual) inclusivism and demand a better answer than what humanity has produced so far.
Pluralistic models might work best in their prescriptive modes, but they fail to resonate to the extent they're being descriptive. How many traditional, practicing Buddhists will agree that Buddhism's core terms are merely a culturally mediated response to the Real (Hick), or that both Christianity and Buddhism have every right to continue to make their respective claims of superiority (Heim), or that all religions are seeing different aspects of an ontologically holographic reality (Kaplan)?
I remember making the mistake of trying to articulate a nonpersonalistic view of ultimate reality during a Bible study class at my church many years ago. I remember saying something about reality being flux, and one person interrupted me to gripe, "But how do you pray to a flux?" To this person, the personalistic nature of ultimate reality wasn't a "mere detail"; it was a vitally important component of his belief structure. While I'm still no friend of over-literal interpretations of scripture, and I still believe that we Christians (at least) need to do away with some extremely antiquated and downright poisonous religious notions, I also agree with the conservative caution that we can't write off blessed variety as mere detail. A heedless pluralism is little better than a conceptual bludgeon. For people working toward peace, the first step must always, always be silence, and that means listening first to the claims made by the Other, respecting their differences, then proceeding as best we can in both wordy and wordless dialogue, living our pluralism and not preaching it as a formula.
Do all religions teach basically the same thing? The best answer I have right now is, "Let's find out together."
[NB: It could be argued that the claim "all religions teach the same thing" is meant to apply only to the realm of ethical human conduct. But this isn't, in fact, all that religions teach, not by a long shot. All the great post-axial religions have something to say about the nature of ultimate reality (not all deal with soteriology, as I've previously argued is the case with philosophical Taoism). Insights into reality's nature are integral to the question of praxis. Religions will vary on whether those insights constitute orthodoxy or not. Is anatman a doctrine, per se? The answer will depend on which Buddhist you consult! The same goes for the trinitarian nature of the divine-- doctrine? Brute ontological fact? Both? Neither?]
[NB2: I dealt with the question of "liberal arrogance" in terms of its disrespect for difference. Liberals would be right to point out conservative religious arrogance, e.g., the fundamentalist Christian who dismisses all non-Christians as equally hellbound and in need of the saving Word of God. Here, too, we see active disrespect for the Other. Reading Plantinga has been very instructive on this point; he's completely convinced me-- perhaps in spite of himself (he's a defender of religious exclusivism)-- that arrogance-related arguments from any camp will lead nowhere: the religious pluralist has legitimate reasons for viewing the exclusivist as arrogant, and vice versa. Which leads to the great unsolved mystery: and so what?]
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Dr. Vallicella writes a post surveying the "What is meditation?" question. He's got his own Assumption Day post here.
Andi's insights on meditation are here.
Have we found the cave of John the Baptist? (link via Drudge)
Always remember that America is the main enemy of South Korea.
Wooj's on hiatus and posts a thoughtful piece on the Korean style of mourning.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
[NB: The following post doesn't talk about the Assumption or Mariology or anything specifically Catholic. Sorry.]
--Master Shin Go Seong, Hanguk-sa; Germantown, Maryland
The architecture of my home church in northern Virginia contains a potentially misleading feature: a gigantic Celtic cross hovers over the entire sanctuary, mounted high on the large brick wall behind the pulpit. The eye has to travel upward to view it properly, and this produces the intended effect of reverence in those who're sensitive to such things.
A huge cross, up high, is a reminder by the architect that the Easter event is special, a kind of mountaintop experience. It stands apart from other moments in time, and because it recalls Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, it signals that Jesus' death didn't occur "just anywhere." The event was spatiotemporal, historical, real.
What gets lost in such grandiose imagery, however, is the fact that the Jesus narrative begins and ends with Jesus in lowly circumstances: the humble, simple, ignoble birth followed by the humble, simple, ignoble death before very few witnesses. This leads to the question: Where is the Christ people seek?
We tend to look upward or outward to find him, but this isn't really where we should be looking. If we're all called to be Christs (or as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect"), why should we look anywhere other than our present circumstances for this Christ-nature?
In fact, why look at all?
The Jesus of the gospels is never once portrayed as a seeker. Even during his time in the wilderness, Jesus knows exactly what to say when the Tempter visits him. Jesus knows where he stands in the scheme of things, and for him God is Abba, or Dad. If Jesus wanted to proclaim anything during his brief career as preacher and prophet, it was his dad's kingdom, a kingdom characterized by love. Love is something available to us all; we all have the capacity to give and receive and be it. Love is ordinary and extraordinary. Jesus knew this.
The pastor at my home church has, for the past couple years, been fond of repeating the phrase "blessed, to be a blessing." It's a sentiment reminiscent of "Pay It Forward": you receive, and therefore you give gladly, passing along the goodness to others, ramifying the gesture as far as possible, embracing the whole of creation.
This is, to my mind, what "salvation" really means. It's not like the famous "footprints in the sand" story, in which Jesus is seen as the one who picks us up and carries us in times of trouble. No; if anything, a Jesus who picks us up is going to grouse in a dead-on impression of Bill Crystal, "Oy! When did you put on so much weight? Look, I'm puttin' you down and you're on your own from here on, OK?" Salvation isn't a mountaintop experience, nor is it a kindly Jesus-gesture: it's what happens in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives, and only makes sense as compassionate, loving action: salvation is no more and no less than living.
We can therefore look at that huge cross on the wall and see perhaps something other than a cosmic drama: instead, we can see that the humble circumstances of a holy man's death point us to the truth that the holy is inseparable from the ordinary. This shouldn't bring us to a world-shaking ecstatic epiphany: instead, it should orient us toward that which neither you nor I can ever name. It's possible for us to share Jesus' surety and know that we stand in right relation with the Absolute. Jesus spoke from the depths of his own being and called this Absolute "Dad." More important than the label "Dad" is the confidence with which he used the term and its cognates.
Dads are everywhere; we've all got one. Dads are a pretty ordinary reality. But we all know our dads to be special people, too: although we all have dads, we each of us have only one Dad to ourselves. Dads, like love, are both ordinary and extraordinary.
Look around you and see this pattern repeated in what one poem calls the "dappled things" of this universe. There are many moms, many sons, many daughters, many blades of grass, many churches, many pet dogs, many clouds, many trees, many cars, many Coke cans, many sand grains-- everywhere we're confronted by multiplicity. But each of these is unique, each of these is passing, and it's because every single phenomenon embodies these qualities of unicity, multiplicity, and impermanence that all phenomena are thoroughly holy and ordinary. To see things rightly, even those adjectives have to fall away.
When we view the empty cross as a symbol of the nonduality of holy and ordinary, its high position makes a certain sense, and maybe it's not so misleading after all. Why? Because a large and obvious cross, high on a wall, is hard at work showing all of us-- and not just some of us-- a large and obvious truth about where we need to be looking for Christ: that is, not simply upward and outward, but here and now, in the "nothing special" of this, just this, the humblest of circumstances, the holiest of moments.
August 15 is significant for three reasons:
1. It's Brian's birthday. Saeng-il ch'uk-ha haeyo, mon.
2. It's Liberation Day here in Bonnie Olde South Korea. Last year, the Marmot commented that no major speech given by South Koreans (or any articles written by them) made any mention of America in connection with liberation. While I personally don't believe we should ever demand that a nation kiss our collective ass, it was a bit disturbing, last year, to see the major whitewashing of history going on, and more disturbing to realize that SK didn't seem to have any of its own critics of this whitewashing: complaints were almost entirely from foreign quarters. America certainly has its own political blind spots and hypocrisies, but it also produces plenty of internal critics. You know-- actual checks and balances, and a diverse rhetorical marketplace. I keep hoping SK will do the same, but I don't see this happening anytime soon.
3. It's Assumption Day if you're Catholic. Happy Feast Day; peace and blessings to you.
CENSORSHIP UPDATE: Many blogs are still blocked from my EC office in Kangnam: Blogs.com/TypePad, MuNu, and Winds of Change. At my current location near Nakseongdae Station, all's clear. This proves the journalists were right all along to describe the censorship as "government say, ISP do." The results have been uneven both in terms of blockage and de-blockage. As long as there's censorship, however half-assed, the obnoxious Hairy Chasms marquee stays up. Sorry, folks.
Saturday, August 14, 2004
Apologies for the Friday absence, but it wasn't without reason: I'm now preparing to teach a Korean co-worker French, and I'm currently teaching a Canadian co-worker some very rudimentary Korean (so rudimentary that we're starting with the alphabet). He's picking it up quickly, which makes my job easier.
Despite the nipple-stiffening moral perks that arise from teaching my co-workers for the simple pleasure of teaching them (I've asked for no money, although both co-workers have offered to pay me), tutoring and tutoring prep are cutting into my free time, which is in the early-to-mid afternoons while I'm on split shift. This is the only time I have to blog, but by Friday, I was simply too pooped to think about blogging.
The solution might be to blog more often from the office, but I don't usually like taking that risk, even though I did so earlier today to alert you to the return of the luscious Miss SNU.
Oh, Christ, how she curls my toes. Maybe I'm turning into a dirty old man against my better judgement, a leering Humbert Humbert more interested in banging his students than in teaching them proper English.
Today I discovered that Miss SNU isn't a college senior: she's a junior. What the fuck sort of cradle-robbing pervert am I? I tried to dampen my own ardor by asking after her boyfriend, which was sheer agony to do, but necessary to combat potential boners. It turns out the boyfriend is now back in Korea (he'd been in America for a kidney operation) and is currently suffering from the heat in an SNU dorm without any air conditioning. Miss SNU said "his mind was changed," which may have meant that he was suffering from post-op blues, because she also mentioned that he's been rather sluggish. I fought my screaming lust-demons and cheerily advised her to take care of her man while he convalesces.
But Miss SNU is a boggle. She really seemed to brighten when she saw I was her teacher today as opposed to A, the lucky Canuck bastard who teaches her on weekdays. Somehow, conversation got around to two topics that are probably no-nos: where I live (and what my apartment's like), and how old I am (and whether I look all that old). "You live alone?" Miss SNU asked, her eyes lighting up. I told her yes, then diverted the conversation to the fact that I had air conditioning, which I joked was a shame, given what her boyfriend was going through. I know that sounds crass, but it's all in the delivery. Trust me; the joke went over better in real life than it does in print.
Then there was the age/maturity part of our discussion. "You don't look old!" Miss SNU told me, staring at me with those amazing brown eyes. "Hey, thanks!" my dick shouted from behind the zipper. Frisson. Miss SNU claimed to be flattered when I asked whether she was a senior, and said that, back when she was a freshman, people wondered whether she was a graduate student. Allusion to sexual precociousness? I told her about how some American women of a certain age claim for years to be 29. Miss SNU had a good giggle while my balls jockeyed for a better view of her.
Before I knew it, 20 of our 25 minutes had been spent just chatting (or was it pseudo-flirting?) with each other. Sweet torture.
It wasn't a bad way to end another week at EC. I still don't wear a lab coat. The manager hasn't made good on her threat to get one in my size. I still like my co-workers and enjoy most of my students.
But the hours are grueling. Afternoon naps don't fulfill (afternoon sex might, however). I'm constantly tired. On Friday, which as you know was Friday the 13th, I had a completely booked schedule: four hours of non-stop teaching in both my morning and evening shift-- no breaks, and no real sleep in the afternoon. Today, Saturday, wasn't so bad: we all had a few cancellations in our respective teaching schedules.
I've been rescheduled to go to Osaka the final week of August for my "visa run." I was supposed to go earlier this week, but the head office misspelled my last name* on the sponsorship paperwork, which meant that my flight had to be cancelled and the paperwork had to be drawn up again. EC lost money on me: I'm sure they paid a hefty penalty for cancelling the flight with barely 24 hours' notice.
I have a couple other student cuties, but one of them, the previously-mentioned Miss DC, is losing her charm. The woman has no personality. One of my co-workers thinks she might simply be shy. Miss DC is truly a gorgeous little lady, with bright eyes and a perfect smile (she's arguably better-looking than the lusted-after Miss SNU), but her mannerisms are starting to grate on me. She speaks in what can best be described as slo-mo English, and seems to think she speaks better than she actually does. It's quite possible she's been pampered for most of her life. I've known ladies like that: isolated from reality by their own beauty, all with the testosterone-fueled complicity of us dumbass males. Miss SNU, on the other hand, is truly bright; one of my Korean colleagues went so far as to call her a genius earlier today, which might be stretching things, but might also be possible; I don't know enough about Miss SNU to say. Miss DC doesn't seem to have the mental muscle or the scholarly industriousness to back up her marvelous looks, and that's always been a turn-off for me. If we ignore for a moment the Lolita-themed nature of my lust for Miss SNU, I should note that a major component of attraction for me has been and always will be admiration. Miss SNU has the goods: she's both talented and studious, along with being adorably cute and having loads of personality to spare. I don't think she's at SNU simply because she's a looker, either; I'm sure she truly earned her place there. Miss DC, on the other hand, strikes me as neither particularly talented nor especially studious. If anything, she seems stereotypically Kangnam-ian: overprivileged and blessed with good genes that'll insure her a plush ride in the Winnebago of life.
But as the charm of Miss DC fades, yet another lady steps into the gathering vacuum: a certain Miss Y, who works as an underwear designer (women's undies, in case you were wondering). Miss Y laughs at my jokes and makes obvious doe-eyes at me, which I actually take with a grain of salt, but what puts me on High Phallus Alert is her ass. The woman has one of those rare asses with absolute crossover appeal: it's not as large as that of many Western women's, but it's not the disappointing flatlands that lie north of the thighs of so many Korean chicks, either. As with Miss DC, Miss Y doesn't have much to recommend her in the personality department, but nothing screams FUCK ME like that shapely, tight, yet somehow full-to-bursting ass of hers. Miss Y is an avid rollerblader and snowboarder; her southern mountain range is all muscle, baby. And I'm happy to have those two luscious mounds warming the chair opposite me three times a week. As always, it's Look But Don't Touch in BigHo's classroom, but I allow my urethra a sly vertical smile.
Aside from lab coat avoidance, lust, and language teaching, the fourth L in my life is laundry, which I now must go and do.
May your penis never find itself somewhere illegal.
[*NB: Two-thirds of my name is indeed Kevin Kim. Kim is also a Korean surname, but it's not my surname. I do actually go by Kevin Kim when I deal with Koreans, because my real last name is too hard for most Koreans to spell or pronounce, as the EC head office found out for itself.]
UPDATE: The Maximum Leader has declared a truce in honor of the Olympic Games, and I've written a post on his blog to kick off the season of peace.
Owen Rathbone, who only so recently was debating whether to put his own blog to death, posts a very disturbing link that discusses the issue of consciousness after decapitation. Read at your own risk. The page contains no photos, but the content-- much of which dates to about a century ago-- is still rather graphic if you're the sensitive type. I have a pretty high gore tolerance threshold, but even I found this rather unsettling. Didn't stop me from eating a sandwich while reading, though.
[NB: Movie buffs will recall that the above matter plays a queasy role in one of the chilling monologues of William Peter Blatty's "Exorcist 3."]
UPDATE: On a completely different note, check out Shawn's recent adventure with a dog named Cock.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
An answer to my question!
Nah, you don't know me from Adam, but Andi of Ditch the Raft pointed me to your question, and it took my fancy. Posted it on my blog, but I'll paste it in here as well --
Kevin asked, "Why meditate?"
The stock responses come out rapidly, of course, grinning, with extended hands; the car-salesmen of the mind, crowding forward as soon as the question sets foot in the lot. I meditate in order to open space between the experience and the response. I meditate to still the mind. I meditate in order to observe just what happens in this mind of mine. But those don't answer "what motivates me to meditate?" They answer "what have I been told about why I should meditate?"
I meditate because
1) So many of the people I love most dearly, and admire most, meditate. I want to be like them. I want to be accepted by them.
2) I love the cachet, the sense of superiority, it gives me. (God, how I hate to write that!) "How can a person who can't even sit still with his own mind for twenty minutes consider himself an adult?" That sneer has prepared itself in my mind many times, just waiting its time. It gives me high ground, makes me special. And when I refer back to the authority of its experience, no one can really challenge me.
3) It's beautiful. As a purely sensual experience, there often really isn't, for me, much that beats it. Even the pain in my hips can be beautiful. The flowers on the shrine become brilliant. Elegant forms materialize as my eyes cross. Sounds resonate with a new intensity and clarity. My own breathing, other people's breathing, becomes the breathing of the world. And the bell, when it rings at the end of the session, is the purest single sound I have ever heard, liquid silver.
4) It takes the edge [off] my compulsions, makes them more manageable. I don't really know why. Maybe it's that space opening between the experience and the response. But anyway, the correlation is beyond question, and the causation looks pretty convincing to me, too.
5) I don't want to die in terror. I want a well-known routine to swing into when my consciousness begins to shut down, regardless of whether reincarnation is a crock. If it is, no harm done. If it's not, I'll be pretty damn glad I trained.
6) I can, & do, use it to manage pain, mental and physical. I don't need novocaine at the dentist. I have something to do with grief.
7) To meditate is to believe I'm on a path, that my confusion and suffering are not permanent companions.
8) It gives me an excuse to go sit quietly by myself every day.
Many of these motivations are -- crude, to say the least. I'm sorry to report that one of the biggest motivations I'm supposed to have, one I affirm in my prayers every time I sit down on the cushion -- the aspiration to benefit all beings -- doesn't even appear. But an honest accounting struck me as maybe more valuable than the party line. Maybe someday.
-- regards --
& by the way I like your blog a lot, what I've seen so far --
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
At work, I've been practicing a bit of brush art and doing the occasional Dalma-do (brush painting of Dalma Daesa, a.k.a. Bodhidharma). One Buddhist proverb quoted by Korean Seon (Zen) Master Seung Sahn is dong eop dong haeng, or "same karma, same action."
[NB: Pronounce "eop" somewhere between "up" and "awp." Pronounce "dong" with a long "O," and "haeng" to rhyme with the "eng" in "length."]
The character for karma, "eop," is actually a pretty decent rendering of the Sanskrit because the semantic field of "eop" includes "doing," "action," etc. "Eop" appears in Sino-Korean words like "jik-eop" (job) and "sa-eop" (enterprise).
The word "haeng" implies motion (as in "yeo-haeng," travel). It can also mean something like action or doing (as in "su-haeng," or practice).
I mention this because, as you can see from the overlapping semantic fields, it's possible to translate dong eop dong haeng as the ridiculously tautological formulation, "same action, same action." If you're all doing the same thing, you're, well, doing the same thing.
I love this. I think the proverb, as originally formulated, was probably intended to be just that commonsensical. I like to think that the best Buddhist truths aren't particularly Buddhist at all, but simply conclusions based on observation of and openness to the surrounding world and the workings of one's own mind. If you gather a bunch of English teachers together, you'll notice they all have, more or less, English teaching skills. Gather a bunch of Jason Bournes together, and you've got a group of people who can all kill without thinking. Same action, same action.
To me, religions are at their best when they stick to common sense. I don't have much patience for mystical cosmologies and pseudoscience. If there's One Guideline to Rule Them All, it's the question of how simple, clear, and ordinary religious truths can be. Find the ordinary in the Hindu realization that you are no more and no less than the All. Find it in the Taoist notion that the Tao is the spirit of the valley. Find it in the simplicity of the Shemah: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!" Find it in the Koranic proclamation that God is closer to you than your own neck vein. Find it in the claim that "Zen is just-this." Find it in the Jesus narrative, where a great man is portrayed as being of humble birth and dying an ignoble death, all the while motivated by something so simple and obvious as love.
It's because ultimate reality is so simple, obvious, and ordinary that we constantly miss it. If you'll pardon a quick trip into the holiest of canons, that of the original Star Wars trilogy, you'll see that Yoda rebukes Luke Skywalker: "All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon! Never his mind on where-- he-- was! Hm!? What-- he-- was doing!"
"What are you doing now?" is a standard Zen question. In the context in which the question is normally asked, you're not exactly supposed to ponder it.
Can it really be this easy?
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges writes in re: middle knowledge:
Bill can answer this better than I, but he may be busier than I am at the moment.
Middle-knowledge philosophy/theology is an attempt to reconcile God's omniscience and grace with human free will. Basically, it's a description of the logical structure of God's omniscience.
Distinguish between chronological and logical sequence. God's omniscience about the free acts of humans is chronologically prior but logically after those free acts, i.e., he knows beforehand, but his knowledge depends logically upon the fact of the act.
Assume that human actions are free in the libertarian sense (philosophical, not political, libertarianism) despite omniscience because God's knowledge is logically based upon the fact of the act, not vice-versa.
Note three logical "moments" in God's knowledge: natural, middle, and free.
In God's natural knowledge, he knows all necessary truths, and all possibilities -- what could be true if God were to create worlds, including what free creatures could do. This knowledge is essential, or "natural" to God as God.
In God's free knowledge, he knows the true propositions about an actual world, including his omniscience of what will happen, e.g., what free creatures will do. It is "free" knowledge because it depends upon God's free act of creation. This knowledge is not essential to God's nature.
Between these two logical moments of God's knowing lies his middle knowledge, the knowledge that God has about particular worlds that he has not yet created but may freely create. This knowledge includes knowledge of what every free creature would do (not just could do). Like God's natural knowledge, this knowledge is logically prior to his free act to create, but like God's free knowledge, the content of this knowledge is dependent upon the actions of free creatures. Thus, "middle" -- between the other two types -- of knowledge.
This is a thumbnail sketch, under 500 words. If you need a more detailed explanation, I can provide one.
You could also read more about middle knowledge here:
I'm not expert, but I find middle knowledge fascinating. Milton, incidently, seems to have used it in his thinking about God's knowledge. Hence my interest.
I don't have time to comment right at the moment, but would like to offer some thoughts on this when I have a couple hours.
UPDATE: Dr. Hodges offers this post scriptum--
P.S. I should have added that I am greatly in the debt of William Lane Craig for my understanding of middle knowledge. My explanation should be footnoted to his book The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000), 128-131.
Monday, August 09, 2004
I opted out and decided to hoof it. I stopped at a little market/restaurant and ordered the first thing on the menu and bought a 1.5-liter water.
I downed the water in like 2 minutes much to the delight of the Grandma sitting next to me who burst into applause. Good to know I still have talents.
Sounds like Hong Kong was a trip.
Two questions for Dr. Vallicella:
1. What does "middle knowledge" mean in reference to God's omniscience? (The term appears in one chapter of The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity, and is applied, at least in part, to the question of how to reconcile God's foreknowledge with human freedom.) Can this concept be explained in fewer than 500 words, in plain English? This request isn't a slight against Dr. V's blogging style, which is already pretty damn streamlined, but a sad statement about the kind of easy-to-munch sound bites I need in order to understand something difficult quickly.
2. Why meditate? I have my own personal answer to this question, but I'm curious to know what other meditators have to say for themselves. Other meditators than Dr. V are, of course, welcome to blog their responses or email them to me. If emailed to me, I'll be sure to print the emails. If blogged, please let me know you've done so.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Dr. Vallicella writes:
This raises a question: should one or should one not correct past posts? I can imagine reasonable arguments on both sides of this question.
I write with the intention of providing the readership with, at the very least, a decent example of English. Being a perfectionist in this regard, I have no compunction about returning to months-old posts and revising something I deem unsatisfactory-- typos, poor turns of phrase, badly expressed ideas, etc. The blog, for me, is not simply "a record of my thoughts," as some bloggers say of their own blogs. I have no problems with such an attitude, but it's just not me. When I spot an ugly error, I feel an immediate desire to correct it, and so I do. I'm not always successful; the Maximum Leader recently quoted my June 15 birthday tribute to him, and to my horror I found a typo staring at me in one of the early paragraphs. I corrected the error on my blog (though not on the ML's blog yet, where the piece was re-posted).
I also write with the intention of collecting my writings into book form. If I can clean the prose up sufficiently here on the blog, then the assembly and editing of the book's manuscript will be simpler than it might have been otherwise.
All the same, my blog isn't a self-conscious art-of-writing blog. Visit Stavros if you want that kind of self-consciousness. I might engage in the occasional language rant, but ultimately I feel that good writing teaches more by example than by explicit rule-quoting.
Finally, I view writing as a process, so it makes little sense for me to "freeze" my words on the cyberpage. If I were turning a work in for a professor, I'd want to make sure the prose and content were as clean and streamlined as possible. I'd like to offer the same respect to my meager readership, even when I'm shit-blogging. The holy point of convergence between shit and blogging is the crucial notion of movement. My writing, like my asshole and Yoda's view of the future, is always in motion.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
Happy birthday, Justin! Welcome to the twilight years!
Andi's just about fucking had it with her school. She should come to Seoul and teach at EC. So far, my biggest worries have been lab coats (I still don't wear one) and the nightmarish nature of split shift work: up at 5AM, working until 11AM or noon, back to work at 5:30PM, finishing at 10PM, home by 10:30 or 11PM... repeat as necessary.
The Maximum Leader may have temporarily abandoned his own blog, but his Foreign Minister steps in and starts swinging his Righthammer. The equally well-armed Minister of Propaganda continues to fire back. I think the Air Marshal's take on Kerry is realistic: it's not right to fetishize Kerry as The Solution to All Our Problems. He won't be a perfect president. (Read Dave's quick take here.)
Me, I think Kerry will drop the ball on foreign policy, but I have a feeling he'd be better for us in terms of the economy, what with Bush spending us into oblivion. Ultimately, I think a switch from Bush to Kerry would signify a change from one unbelievably rich white guy to another unbelievably rich white guy. Kerry's regime will introduce its own corruptions.
And while we're (sort of) on the subject of race: Kevin at Incestuous Amplification offers us an exchange that exquisitely captures why so many black folks seem angry to white folks in America. When you live in an environment that feels relentlessly hostile, it can change you. My own experience of Korean racism has sensitized me greatly to the black situation in America, which is why I note this here. I used to be fairly dismissive: "Just get off your ass and achieve!" I said. But it's not that simple, as white (and other-colored) expats in Korea know only too well: achievement doesn't guarantee the end of racism against you. Successful white folks in Korea never escape their status as mere foreigner. Doesn't matter how proficient your Korean gets, nor how well you come to understand the culture.
During my interview with Todd Thacker of OhMyNews, Todd (who is, as the Marmot privately remarked, a truly nice individual) observed that my blog isn't very critical of Korea. If I recall correctly, I disagreed somewhat with this, because I've written critically about South Korea's major blind spot: its attitude toward North Korea. But in a sense, Todd's right that I don't lash out quite like Kevin at IA and others. Part of the reason is that I do see the culture at least somewhat through Korean eyes, having been raised in a half-Korean household. Part of the reason is also that I'm fairly good at adapting to adverse conditions, though sometimes I'll get pissed off enough to act out (viz. suing my boss in 1995 and agitating about the MIC over the past several weeks). Korea occasionally makes me want to leave it, it's true. But there's also a lot to love about the place, from the people to the land. The landscape will never have the eldritch charm that Switzerland has for me, but it's got its own rough, brush-painted beauty.
In defense of most Angry Expats, I'll repeat that our blogs don't necessarily provide the most accurate impression of our daily lives. We write to blow off steam, which naturally leaves readers with a skewed impression of our attitude. While I don't want to put words in IA Kevin's mouth, I'd venture to guess that he doesn't spend his days fingering an edged weapon in his pocket, just looking for a chance to gut some asshole on the street.
Anyway, South Korea's got it good, and I'm off to enjoy some of the perks of being in the 12th-richest nation in the world. Gonna finish my laundry, then go see a movie this evening. And maybe I'll get a haircut tomorrow at my favorite cuttery.
Friday, August 06, 2004
Miss DC was in class yesterday and will be in class again this evening. Shiver. She's much quieter than perky, leggy Miss SNU, but just as adorably cute. She's also going on a trip to Cheju for most of next week, so I'll have no one to ogle for about five days, no cute toes to mentally fondle.
I missed an opportunity to see Miss SNU today; according to the schedule, she was in EC around 10:00 this morning. Being taught by A, that lucky Canuck bastard.
Yes, I find women beautiful (even some of the ones with dorsal titties). They (that is, women) come in all shapes and sizes. Men, on the other hand, just come in tablespoons.
dorsal titties: The fatty protuberances on an overweight woman's back, approximately level with her shoulder blades or rib cage, and usually defined by bra straps. Generally visible to all. The male version of this is dorsal man-tits. Even slightly overweight people can sport dorsal titties.
[with apologies to Roy Orbison]
how you make me moan
my wooden floorboards groan
they're just like bacon
or maybe spam
I want to dig into your ham
[leaving Orbison for BigHo country now...]
are they particle?
are they wave?
how do dorsal titties behave?
can they freeze?
do they thaw?
can I grab 'em and eat 'em raw?
I want dorsal titties that snap!
I want dorsal titties with verve!
I want dorsal titties that roll!
Let me suffocate inside those curves!
give me a Rubenesque patty melt
give me a woman with five ass cracks
dorsal titties sold by the pound
give me the taste of my favorite snacks
Thursday, August 05, 2004
Some call this the cheap way out of real blogging, but I think it's a good idea to share the love now and again.
From conservative Conrad: a thought-provoking post detailing the Gweilo's feelings re: the Kerry photo op that ended with some Marines expressing their, uh, dislike of Kerry.
From liberal Richard: a shameful incident in Tennessee, in which a group of Iraqis trying to learn more about the inner workings of democratic government get shut out of City Hall in Memphis.
WHOA-- I just accessed Anticipatory Retaliation directly from this PC-bahng! Could this mean the lifting of the ban on MuNu blogs as well? Stay tuned.
[NB: I hope you'll write in to tell me if you're unable to access MuNu, Typepad, and Blogs.com blogs.]
From the Marmot: Dennis Miller about to catch hell? Here's the question: in a country where folks actually do eat dog meat (and among those folks are a few of us foreigners), how can people pretend it isn't happening? And no, it's not exactly "rare" here: go to some spots in Suji, for example, and you'll see two or three boshin-t'ang-jip in a row on some streets. To be clear: dog-eating isn't common, either, and it's not what I'd call representative cuisine. But it has its defenders, both Korean and foreign, and is a definite part of the culture. Sorry, Dr. Burgess-Jackson, but I find the scrappy little yappers pretty damn tasty, myself. And yes, I'm fully aware they suffer a lot before they get dunked in the pot. I guess this makes me "depraved" according to the way you reckon depravity, but by my estimation, half your blogroll qualifies as "depraved" meat-eaters, so I'm in good company. Maybe it's better to style it a Rogues' Gallery rather than a blogroll.
For more pics of yummy dogs, go here. The pic of an entire puppy in a bowl is priceless.
Speaking of KBJ, you need to read this post. It's proof positive the man's an addict like the rest of us. Dr. Vallicella has his own comments on KBJ's cyber-crisis.
The Maximum Leader's Minister of Propaganda has been putting the smackdown on Bush et al. Go over and read, here and here and here. Also of note is the Air Marshal's take on Kerry, Bush, and the war on terror here and here.
Freak. And I mean that in a good way. By the way-- my ass is in Osaka next week, but I doubt we'll be able to meet up, as I have to trek straight over to the Korean Embassy to do my paperwork. Gonna be wasting the day in bureaucratic hell.
Andi's doing a series on Korean Buddhist liturgy, which I'm following with interest. Start here and move forward in time.
Wooj: gastronome. But, Wooj-- next time you want to take a pic of someone draped over your couch, make sure the person's female.
Ssssshhhhhhh. Not blogging now.
Off to take that afternoon nap.