Friday, April 13, 2007

The decline and fall of NPR

So, I turned on the local news/talk radio station this morning and it was all Imusgate all the time (except when they were talking about that poor rich woman who dies and they are contesting who her child is). “So,” I thought, “I want something more than entertainment news—I want substance. So, I’ll turn to NPR, right? Wrong! 10 minutes of Imus, Imus, Imus. You know, no one should have been listening to him in the first place!

Earth to NPR! This isn’t NEWS! What is happening in Darfur is news.

Cool Latin in the Vulgate

I love the way Latin deals with subordinate clauses. Often in vulgate Latin you find a whole string of subordinate clauses before you ever get to the main clause. For instance, in Psalm 149 we have:

6 Exaltationes Dei in gutture eorum,

et gladii ancipites in manibus eorum,

7 ad faciendam vindictam in nationibus,

castigationes in populis,

8 ad alligandos reges eorum in compedibus

et nobiles eorum in manicis ferreis,

9 ad faciendum in eis iudicium conscriptum.

Gloria haec est omnibus sanctis eius.


Exaltations of God in their innards,

And a two edged sword in their hands,

Making vengeance on the nations,

Punishments on the people,

Binding their kings in shackles

And their nobles in iron manicles,

Carrying ou the written judgment on them.

This glory is to all his holy ones.

We find the same kind of thing in the Benedictus:

68 Benedictus Dominus, Deus Israel,

quia visitavit et fecit redemptionem plebi suae

69 et erexit cornu salutis nobis

in domo David pueri sui,

70 sicut locutus est per os sanctorum,

qui a saeculo sunt, prophetarum eius,

71 salutem ex inimicis nostris

et de manu omnium, qui oderunt nos;

72 ad faciendam misericordiam cum patribus nostris

et memorari testamenti sui sancti,

73 iusiurandum, quod iuravit ad Abraham patrem nostrum,

daturum se nobis,

74 ut sine timore, de manu inimicorum liberati,

serviamus illi

75 in sanctitate et iustitia coram ipso

omnibus diebus nostris.

76 Et tu, puer, propheta Altissimi vocaberis:

praeibis enim ante faciem Domini parare vias eius,

77 ad dandam scientiam salutis plebi eius

in remissionem peccatorum eorum,

78 per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri,

in quibus visitabit nos oriens ex alto,

79 illuminare his, qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent,

ad dirigendos pedes nostros in viam pacis ”.

Note: This is only two sentences! Also note how the emphasis in the second sentence is somewhat different than the one we read in the English translation of the office. In English we say:

For you will be before the Lord to prepare his way,

Giving his people knowledge of salvation

By the forgiveness of their sins.

Then a new sentence starts:

In the tender compassion of our God….

In the Latin the “In the tender compassion of our God” is related directly to the forgiveness of our sins. Thus:

Giving to their people knowledge of salvation

by the forgiveness of their sins

in the compassionate mercy of our God”

I like the connection being made clearer like that. It is then tied to dawning of light in the rest of the canticle.

Like I said, cool! J

Harry Potter

I’ve now read three of the Harry Potter books. I’m among those who are not quite comfortable with the occult elements in the books, but I recognize that that is my problem (I’m unusually sensitive about the occult). I’m pretty well persuaded by what I’ve read and by what people I respect say that they are in fact good, even if not great. In any case I think each family has to make its own choice and in no way think they are “required” reading (as I might say about LoTR).

My real issue about them has to do with the relationship the story has with what Tolkien called “The Story.” It seems to me that, unlike the LoTR and Narnia, there is none.

This can be phrased in a variety of different ways. It came to my attention when I was reading the end of the Hobbit. Gandalf affirms that what happened to the Hobbit was a part of a greater story and that there Bilbo, though retaining his freedom and dignity, was inserted into a great struggle that involves a world beyond the merely human and pedestrian. Specifically, there was an invisible and unnamed hand involved in the entire adventure.

“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!' said Bilbo.

“Of course!' said Gandalf. 'And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person,

Mr Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!'

“Thank goodness!' said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.”

Tolkien is able to infuse a great sense of Divine Providence in his works in which no religion appears. Such divine providence is necessary to fight the type of supernatural evil that Voldemort displays. But, as Mark Shea points out, at least in the first three books it is merely human virtue, human wisdom and strength of character that HP relies upon to defeat Voldemort.

Harry's universe simply knows nothing of [the theological virtues], nor do religious questions or the reality of God ever enter into the picture, with the unfortunate consequence that Harry is likable but not a light whose brightness is equal to the magnetically frightening black hole of Voldemort's evil.

Another way of phrasing this is that HP feels Pelagian to me. I really would feel more comfortable if there were a greater sense of grace in the books. Because a person like HP wouldn’t be able to defeat V without it. It seems like the good side is not deeply rooted enough to match the evil. There is no deeper magic from before the dawn of time to match the deep magic from the dawn of time. The way I put this in a e-mail to a friend earlier today (before reading the Shea essay) was this: “The evil is more sharply and accurately drawn than the good, which seems somewhat ambiguous.” And weak, I might add. I think a book like this not only needs to be psychologically, morally and socially perceptive, but spiritually. Some novels, such as those of Jane Austin perhaps, can settle for the first three. A novel that deals directly with death and supernatural evil needs to have spiritual insight as well.

On a side, but related note, I know that sacrificial love is a central theme of the books, but I wonder, how does Dumbledore know about that? What is the Wisdom Tradition in the Wizard world into which he taps to find it out? Or did he figure it out himself (making him a religious genius)?

Now, of course all this may change in the later books. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble motivating myself to slog through 2000+ more pages in order to find out. I’m thinking of taking my son up on his offer to just summarize 4-6 for me so I only have to read 7 when it comes out in July.