Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The White Line

From spawn to that moment of clarity,
The salmon lives in, through, and with the water.
To swim thoughtless to the open sea
And hunt and hide in the river's daughter,
And to wend its way back again,
Borne by ancient yearning,
Is fused within eye, tail, scale, and fin --
To evermore be returning.
Shining in the dappled sun
Or nestled in cloudy seas,
No pensive mariner, but with the water one;
Celebrant of the oceans' mysteries.
But comes the moment when the oneness fails.
The thoughts recoil across the years to birth
And joyous cycles of spawn
And, turning again, careen forward to futures unlived --
One more race against the river (there is always one more).
But memories and dreams are ended
As the salmon is hauled into the choking air
By that white line that casts its fate.
So were my thoughts upon my first gray hair.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Works Without Faith

Was reading Carroll Quigley's Tragedy and Hope a while back. Quigley is a bĂȘte noire of US conspiracy theorists, who use a single sentence from this massive (over 1300 pages!) to build an edifice of exposing a supposed massive conspiracy of British and American bankers (or whoever) who control every event of the last century. Anyway, I found myself particularly interested in his exposition of events up to the modern area, especially his description of the role of the Christian church in the West versus that of Russia.

According to Quigley, the Western Church focused on the importance of "good works" -- which led to the efflorescence of science and progress seen in Europe in the second half of the past millenium. The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, depended upon the grace bestowed from God on high as its method of salvation. This stems, Quigley argues, from a deep-seated Manichean outlook on the universe, the heritage of Saint Augustine, that portrays the world as Good vs. Evil, with the material world being irremediably Evil. Now, this is part of a larger argument by Quigley demonstrating the paucity of Russian ideals with that of the West: Russia has always been dominated by outside nobility, the Russian people have always been taught just to accept their fate, and they are focused on the world to come -- as they should be, having been given so little hope for this one.

I don't want to get too heavily into Quigley's explanation of Russian character; after all, he was writing at the height of the Cold War, and not only did the East-West demarcation seem more distinct at that time but also the best minds of the time saw the entire world in Us vs. Them, Russia versus the West dimensions. The axis of Judeo-Christian vs. Muslim was not seen as significant -- though that has changed. (And no doubt will change again)

What interests me more is his own Manichean perspective on the religious paths chosen by East and West (though "choice" implies perhaps too much). Coming down so hard against the Orthodox Church for its dependence on grace, and asserting that the Western Church promulgated "good works" at its fundament -- well, this seems rather simplistic. This simplifying dualism is also characteristic of the conspiracy theorists that Quigley unintentionally nurtures, but here it seems even more egregious. The debate about faith vs. good works is part and parcel of the Christian ethos, and is a classic dialectic which is perhaps insoluble in logical terms.

Perhaps "good works" will only get you into heaven if you have faith that they will do so. This is similar to a question that troubles me to this day: How can God be both transcendent and immanent? It's a poser, all right

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day 2006

The words will disappear,
The memory fades.
The eternal is fleeting -- Catch it!
And only the ephemeral abides.
The deepest truths vanish when spoken
To unlistening ears.

And if two gaze at the moon
From far flung ends of the globe,
They see different eddies of light
In the ever-changing river.
The orb moves on across the sky

And yet…
The dark gathers round,
Embracing her pale bright glow
Oh! The moon!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Isolate this!

President Bush's straw-man argument against "isolationism" was perhaps the biggest revelation in his State of the Union speech Tuesday. Rarely are we able to see talking points being born, and this latest fight against a non-existent enemy is interesting only for the call to arms against an enemy which should leave most Americans asking, "Who is he talking about?"

Andrew J. Bacevich saw through this shell game in his article in the Los Angeles Times . Likening the cry against "isolationists" to red-baiting, Bacevich noted that "scaremongering about nonexistent isolationists preempts a much-needed debate over the principles that ought to inform our behavior as a world power." Presumably we won't be presented with lists of "known isolationists" in the State Department anytime soon, so only time will tell the utility of this latest distraction from debate