By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

The Books & Culture Weblog

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This Week:


Responses, footnotes, and follow-ups to pieces from the print version of B&C and to items in this weblog:

• In the Jan./Feb. 2003 issue of B&C, Douglas Groothuis' article "Jesus the Philosopher" raised the question of whether then-candidate George W. Bush's statement that Jesus was his favorite philosopher was valid (and concluded that first part of his answer was, the second part wasn't). 

In a response at the Christian news portal entitled "Jesus the Nonphilosopher," independent scholar Albert Gedraitis delves into a history of logic and philosophy and concludes that Jesus was a teacher, but not a philosopher.

Yes, the Church, since Irenaeus, has long recognized and used formulaically the expression Xristos Pedagogos (Christ the Teacher). Philosopher? No. Teacher? Yes. Good at reasoning and rhetorical cleverness? Yes, as Doug Groothuis so refreshingly points out. … Bush's answer was reasonable, but Jesus was not a philosopher. He belonged to and pursued strenuously a quite different all-demanding profession.

To which Groothuis responds that Gedraitis' essay is more digression than debate, and defends his definition of philosopher.

Mr. Gedraitis does point out something of Jesus' unique identity and work as "Lord and Savior," but that doesn't make Jesus any less of a philosopher. Jesus, as God Incarnate, is not only a philosopher. Jesus doesn't search for the truth in the sense that Socrates did. Nor does Jesus change his mind or repent of intellectual errors as do merely human philosophers. … Nevertheless, Jesus employs arguments and engages in rational disputes that reveal his philosophical prowess on what matters most. He used logic to lead people into truth.

Read the two responses:

My story in the Nov./Dec. 2002 B&C referred to one of the most interesting political figures in the world: Václav Havel, former dissident playwright and first-ever president of the Czech Republic. In the debut of this weblog I linked to Slate's report on Havel's sloppy political exit. Last month in the New Yorker, David Remnick submitted this lengthy dispatch from Prague on the last days of Havel's presidency. The piece is well worth a read for its treatment of Havel's attempt to integrate the arts into political life.

Read a PDF of the U.S. House of Representatives' statement honoring Havel as an artist and champion of democracy, from the Czech embassy's Web site.

The Valentine's Day edition of this weblog contained variations on the theme of romantic love. Since then, a few interesting articles related to roses and romance have proven click-worthy:

- There's a thorny side to the seemingly tender rose business, says the New York Times. This article is regrettably unfocused, but it does provide a look into labor conditions in Ecuador, which has quickly become the fourth-leading international producer of roses. 

- Is there a genetic explanation for our kissing style? From the Toronto Star.

- Of the volumes that have been written about the witty but vapid Sex and the City, the best essay, bar none, is this one from the New Republic (the site's registration system can be quirky and sometimes requires e-mail verification; try entering "bcread" for both user name and password, and e-mail me if you still have problems). The piece quotes main character Carrie Bradshaw's question, "Have relationships become the religion of the nineties?" and steps in to point out that the very individualistic urban setting the show worships could lie at the root of the relational dysfunction it portrays:

Having a "relationship," of course, is not the same as being together. Just as an attitude toward labor only hardened into an ideology called Marxism when the worker got cut off from the product of his labor, so erotic bonds only hardened into Relationshipism when people started, for a million familiar reasons, getting cut off from each other. A "relationship" is not to be confused with a union. It is an ongoing argument between two stubbornly sovereign selves about the possibility of a union.

The show lets us down, this review says, by asking good questions about the wrenching emotional element of sex in what amounts to a post-Seventh Commandment context—questions that at times border on moral philosophy -"how do you live a good life" in this context?—and then blithely refusing to address them.

- Speaking of Sex and the City, popular culture is awash with the sometimes-sappy sagas of single women, but what about the bachelors? The Boston Globe says bachelors are suffering from a surplus of peers and face the hardest road to romance in America—not that you'd know it from our culture's ignorance on the subject.

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