To the Making of Many Books there is No End

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Recently I came across this conversation on Facebook (I blanked out names and pictures):

This led me to ponder my own attitude towards and relationship with books. 

My father had a huge private library of more than 2500 books on all sorts of subjects: non-fiction from politics (such as Mein Kampf and Das Kapital) to philosophy, history, medicine, etc., as well as fiction (i.e. the German classics like GoetheSchiller, etc., as well as German novelists of the interwar period and immediately after WW2 like Kraus, Kästner, Tucholsky, Grass, etc.). As I grew up I followed in his footsteps and began to assemble my own collection of books.

After my father died and we his children had to sell the house we had grown up in to a contractor, none of us was either interested in or had enough space to take over this massive library. So with a few exceptions the books stayed in the house which within a few days was demolished to make way for terraced houses. The books became part of the demolition rubble.

As a bibliophile and avid reader I was saddened by this. In the course of my own life I relocated several times, both within Austria and to the US and back, and for reasons of logistics I had to get rid of many of my books. Then I discovered eBooks and for the most part stopped buying printed books. With very few exceptions I now buy only eBooks, in KindleePub, and PDF formats. I have even purchased eBook versions of some of the books I used to own in paper.

Now my entire library fits on a USB stick, and when my time comes to depart this life my kids won’t have to worry about where to find room for hundreds of yellowed books; and if they are not interested in my library they can just reformat the stick.

As much as I love books (and particularly also fine examples of the arts of typography, printing, and bookbinding, which I mostly cannot afford anyway) I realize that just like money, my computers, etc., ultimately I cannot take my books with me, and that they can all to easily become a burden, if not for me then for those who come after me.

By the way, the title for this post is taken from Ecclesiastes 14:12:

To the making of many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

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It is possible to be a Values Conservative

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Because of the effective take-over of the Republican Party by the Trumpians, and similar developments in several other countries, I find it necessary to state clearly:

It is possible to be a values conservative without becoming a right wing crazy.

It is possible to be a values conservative without supporting attempts to overturn election results, violent attacks on the institutions of government, or the fomenting of civil unrest.

It is possible to be a values conservative and a Christian without being a “Christian nationalist” of the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and other Trumpians in the US, or Victor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in Europe.

It is possible to be a values conservative who does not turn a blind eye to the suffering of refugees from war zones or famine-stricken countries.

It is possible to be a values conservative who does not oppose government aid to the disadvantaged in our own countries.

It is possible to be a values conservative who rejects abortion as a birth control method but who recognizes that there are legitimate exceptions to a total ban and wants these enshrined in the relevant laws.

It is possible to be a values conservative who does not oppose, but indeed supports, comprehensive universal healthcare with needs-based public financing.

It is possible to be a values conservative who supports reasonable gun control – at the very least a ban on private ownership of military grade weapons beginning with assault rifles.

It is possible to be a values conservative who believes churches and religious believers should be able to follow their understanding of human nature, sexuality, and marriage while at the same time respecting democratic decisions concerning broader definitions of civil marriage.

There are probably other aspects I can think of right now; but my main point is that it is possible to be a values conservative without being a right-wing nutter.

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What is “the worst”??

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According to this article  in the Roys Report,

The 47-year old lead pastor of an evangelical church in Wiconsin was arrested after soliciting a sex act with an underage girl. …

“These arrests demonstrate that the market for juvenile commercial sex is not confined to limited segments of society,” said Washington County attorney Kevin Magnuson. “The buyers come from all walks of life and each are responsible for the tremendous harm to the victims, their families and the public that sex trafficking causes.” …

“It’s a sad thing,” said the church’s associate pastor. “This is a lose-lose scenario for the community and the people impacted by it. The worst thing is what this will do to his family — and the church family.”

Unfortunately this associate pastor’s perspective is all too common in churches across the denominational spectrum.

No sir, the worst is notwhat this will do to his family — and the church family”, but what this sort of thing does to the victims of sex trafficking and to the testimony of the Lord’s church, and that is where our focus should be, not on the perpetrator’s family and congregation (however painful and devastating this no doubt is for them), nor on the reputational and legal problems that may cause the local church and/or denomination.

 

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Quo Vadis, America?

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In a recent Facebook discussion on the subject of “Christian nationalism” a commenter said, 

“I sometimes feel we have an attitude that because we do it better than most, we don’t need to make changes. When you believe you are the best, why make changes??”

This was my response, slightly expanded here, which gave me no pleasure to write:


As an Austrian who grew up in a home built with Marshall Plan funds and and who was fully aware that without US involvement in WWII my country would likely be living under either Hitler’s or Stalin’s terror regime, and who therfore used to be an uncritical fan of the US in my youth; as one who was socialized and formed as an Evangelical Christian by American missionaries, spent almost five years living in the US working for a Christan ministry, and still has many dear friends in and from the US, but who now is thoroughly disillusioned with both American society/politics and the American church, I would say the attitude you describe is wrong on two counts:

  1. Of course you need to make changes. Even the best can always do and be better.
  2. But you don’t actually do it better than most. Let’s see:
    • You are almost the worst at controlling violent crime, largely due to a ludicrous misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment to your constitution;
    • You may have some of the best (and best-equipped) doctors and medical facilities but you are pretty worse than most industrialized nations at providing equal and equitable healthcare access and funding to all;
    • You are a leader in technological research who sends people into space and spends tons of money on your military, but your power grid and road network and telephone network are in deplorable condition;
    • Your education system leaves most of its graduates shackled by debt for many years;
    • Your society is hopelessly polarized and your politics controlled by the extremes of the left and the right:
      • The Democrats are dominated by a destructive “progressive” agenda which seeks to deconstruct human nature as essentially male and female and plays with identity politics which divides rather than unites the country;
      • The GOP is under the thumb of a serial adulterer and liar who has brought the country to the brink of political collapse and possibly civil war and whose followers know only law and order but not mercy and compassion;
    • Vast swathes of the American church, instead of being a prophetic witness speaking truth to power, have got into bed with either the political left or the political right, championing their respective agendas and favouring the separation of church and state only when it suits them while trying to push their own agenda on the state when that suits them.

I could go on, but this is enough to show why in a very real sense you do it worse than most in so many areas that the meaning of American exceptionalism has become inverted, and why there is definitely room (and a desparate need) for change.


It pains me especially that many churches and leaders in my own Evangelical tradition have, in an extreme and especially bizarre form of supersessionism, appropriated the Jewish people’s status as God’s uniquely chosen people not just for the church (bad enough in view of Romans 9–11) but for the United States, claiming the promises made to Israel but disregarding most of the responsibilities such as caring for the poor and welcoming strangers. At the same time they uncritically support the State of Israel as an actor in and venue of their favourite end time scenario but have little use and sympathy for Jews as a people.

So the question posed in the title of this post is a very real one: unless the American nation and the American church drastically change direction, and do so soon, I fear for their future.

 


The cover image appeared here. The editor of e-International Relations could not find any licensing information so I decided to use it. If anyone claims copyright I will of course remove it.

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Biblical? Christ-Like?

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(I borrowed this text from Craig Greenfield)

On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus stands with Moses and Elijah (representing the Prophets and the Law of the OT). (Mt 17:1-9)

God’s command is “This is my son, Listen to him!”

In this powerful moment,
with these powerful words,
Jesus is lifted above and beyond all other teachers
and all other parts of scripture.

This is why we must read the Bible though the lens of the life and teachings of Jesus.

This is why Jesus can dare to say, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye (in Exodus 21:23), but I say to you, Love your enemies”

This is why we seek,
not to be Biblical,
but to be Christlike.

Note from Wolf: I am fully aware that this hermeneutical principle can be (and has been) distorted and abused. That doesn’t mean it’s not valid. And I know one can argue about the word “biblical” in the meme above, but I think readers of good will know what is meant.

And finally, a common temptation seems to be to read all Scripture not through the lens of Christ’s life and teachings, but rather through the lens of that image of Christ we have constructed in our own head.

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Pressreader’s Pseudo-Flatrate

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Pressreader claims to offer 7000+ newspapers and magazines from around the world for one subscription—effectively a flatrate. About a week ago I signed up for a subscription.

Pressreader Ad in mobile browser

Since I had been subscribing to both an American and a British paper at a higher combined monthly cost than the Pressreader subscription, and I would be able to add a few more papers (i e. German, Austrian, Dutch, Israeli papers) at no extra cost, this seemed to be a no-brainer.

Now, the thing is, I rarely read a newspaper or magazine from cover to cover; rather, I will scroll through, glance at the headlines, and read only those articles which catch my interest or strike my fancy. Often I will only go to a particular paper or magazine wben I come across a link to an article on, say, Facebook, and the story is behind a paywall.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, less than a week after subscribing, every time I open a newspaper I get a pop-up complaining that I have been reading too much:

Pressreader Pop-Up

The pop-up suggests that I might be using Pressreader professionally (instead of in a personal capacity as my subscription allows) and that I should probably upgrade from my $30/mo Premium (personal use) subscription to a $100+/mo Corporate subscription:

Pressreader Subscription Rates

Now I realize that this is phrased as a question, “If you are using this account professionally …”, but since it persistently keeps popping up again and again, it feels very much like an accusation.

I am retired (i.e. I don’t do anything professionaly, anymore), an avid reader, and currently bedridden, so I have a lot of time on my hands; nevertheless I don’t feel I have spent nearly enough time with Pressreader to warrant questioning my personal use (after all, I also have €9.99 subscription to Readly for a couple of magazines not included in Pressreader, and I also spend a lot of time reading on my Kindle).

Perhaps the problem is that I follow (have marked as favourites) 27 newspapers and a handful of magazines, but of course I don’t actually read (or even download) all of them every day, and Pressreader nowhere states a limit on the number of publications one may follow — or read, for that matter. If there is indeed such a limit, or a hard limit on how many articles a day/week/month one is allowed to read with a personal subscription, then this should be clearly stated and potential subscribers warned about it before signing up. Otherwise this is false and misleading advertising.

So to put it bluntly: Apart from the fact that it is annoying to have to click away the stupid pop-up I feel insulted and harrassed by the insinuation that I am abusing my account, and I expect Pressreader to fix this. Because I suspect there really are no hard limits as mentioned above, and Pressreader‘s abuse detection algorithm is simply way too aggressive.

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Shocked By The Reactions To The Roe Reversal

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I must confess to being a bit shocked by the reactions to SCOTUS reversing Roe v Wade.

On the one hand there are my conservative Christian friends, both Evangelical and Catholic, who celebrate the court’s decision, in a triumphal tone, seemingly without any awareness of how this will increase and confirm the polarization of the USA; many without recognition that abortion is first a spiritual issue, and only then a legal issue. It is very easy to see abortion primarily as the result of self-indulgent recreational sex and to ignore the desparate situation of thousands, if not millions of women who are in borderline abusive relationships where the man can’t be bothered to take responsibility for either contraception or the baby that may result without it — women who simply cannot afford another baby or cannot cope with another pregnancy. The latter is also why adoption is not a good alternative for many pregnant women: as soon as the baby is born there is instinctive bonding that makes it difficult to give the baby up and for many women results in feelings of guilt; relentless propaganda by the pro-choice side during the past half-century has convinced many women that a baby in the early stages of pregnancy is merely a blob of tissue one doesn’t need to feel guilty about.

I am not an expert in this area, but it seems to me that instead of triumphal celebrations and the feeling that we have arrived at the goal, the challenge for pro-life Christians and their churches is to find good solutions for these desparate situations. This may include making sure that the laws passed by their states do not save the lives of babies at the expense of the lives of mothers but have robust medical exceptions; ramping up existing programs which provide material assistance to pregnant women, and legal initiatives to hold fathers accountable for their offspring, with compulsory paternity tests if necessary.

On the other hand I am astonished at the hysterical reaction of the pro-choice side to this reversal of Roe v. Wade; this includes most of the media, not just in the US but in Europe etc as well. SCOTUS argues pretty convincingly that the US constitution not only contains no explicit right to abortion but that contemporary jurisprudence didn’t assume an implicit right to abortion, certainly not after “quickening”, i.e. when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

In view of that fact Roe v. Wade invented a right to abortion; all the current court did was to return this issue to the legislatures, which is where laws are supposed to be made in a democracy.

The hysterical reaction also demonstrates total oblivion to the fact that a human fetus is a human being, and therefore is entitled to the protection of the law; making that dependent on viability independent of the mother would take us down a very sinister path because human beings at all stages of life can become so dependent on another that they are no longer independently viable, and I hope no-one other than Peter Singer suggests “aborting” them.

And finally, the hysterical reaction demonstrates a marked lack of confidence in the democratic processes and institutions — or else a very UNdemocratic unwillingness to accept the will of the majority.

The challenge for the pro-choice side, instead of this hysteria, is to engage in the political and legislative processes to achieve their goals; to persuade enough of their fellow citizens of their point of view to pass legislation they can live with (should not be too difficult since they always claim that the majority of Americans want abortion to be legal); and finally, to redouble any efforts designed to give pregnant women such good alternatives that abortions become unnecessary.

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Child Sacrifice: not just in Uvalde, etc.

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Venturing once again into territory where, according to some, even of my friends, I have no business to be, American politics:

It is very easy to be consumed by the horror and tragedy of the Uvalde school shooting (and the many before that), to call it, like Maureen Doed in the NYT, child sacrifice to the god of gun ownership, and to rage at the politicians, mostly of one party, who block all attempts at more effective gun control.

But this atrocious deed and the worship of gun ownership which enabled it should not make us forget the almost 64,000,000 children sacrificed to the gods of sex without consequences, bodily autonomy, and convenience, and the fact that it is mostly politicians of the other party who clamor against the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Now, I do not want to point the finger at the US alone; most Western nations have pretty liberal abortion laws as well, mostly permitting the killing of the unborn for any reason during the first trimester. And typically, as for example in my country of Austria, there is no political party which wants to touch this with a ten-foot pole; and if there is any chance that someone will make an issue of abortion, no party in Austria will put such a person forward as a candidate. At least American society still grapples with this issue while our societies are mostly just shrugging their shoulders.

So the gods of sex without consequences, bodily autonomy, and convenience hold sway pretty much everywhere, and as much as we are horrified by Uvalde and the many similar incidents, to criticize the US without recognizing our own guilt would be very hypocritical.

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Austria, Russia’s Tunnel Into the Heart of Europe?

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In an article in the “New Statesman” entitled “Austria is Russia’s tunnel into the heart of Europe Liam Hoare writes, “The country’s attachment to neutrality has led it to cultivate obsequious relations with Russian energy and espionage,” and elaborates further on the cozy relationship between Austria and first the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation.

Some folks asked me whether I considered this a fair assessment; here is my response.

Austria’s Neutrality Law of 1955 (which has the status of a constitutional amendment) specifically defines neutrality in military terms and only forbids (a) membership in military alliances and (b) the establishment of foreign military bases on Austrian territory.

Facsimile of the “Federal Constitutional Law of 26th October 1955 concerning Austria’s Neutrality”

But throughout the history of the “Second Republic”[1] Austria has stressed that she isn’t (and isn’t required to be) politically neutral but rather is clearly part of the “West“—when it suited her purposes, i.e. in talks with Western governments. And when it suited her purposes, she has stressed her neutrality, interpreting it much more broadly, when talking to the Soviet Union/Russia and East Bloc countries.

At the same time, Austrian governments of both persuasions (ÖVP and SPÖ)[2] represented to the Austrian people that of course we are not morally neutral, voicing criticism of such Russian actions as the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the threat of an invasion of Poland in 1988; and that our neutrality uniquely enabled us to act as broker and mediator between the blocs. However, at the same time as condemning Russian aggression Austria continued to maintain profitable business relationships with the Soviet Union and her client states, and then with the Russian Federation; and like all other Western countries, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union Austria welcomed Russian oligarchs and their money, even though it was obvious to every thinking person that so soon after the collapse of the Soviet economy such wealth could have been amassed only by the corrupt appropriation of the public wealth of the Soviet successor states.

In a situation where there was never any risk of hostile action by Western nations or NATO but very much a risk of hostile action by the Warsaw Pact, the official position conveyed to the citizenry was that each of the two blocs guaranteed our security vis-a-vis the other bloc, and that our military, small and ineffective as it well might be, only served to symbolically show of our willingness to defend our neutrality while leaving the heavy lifting to the signatory nations of the “State Treaty”.

In the Austrian population today the idea is widespread that criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by Austrian government figures violates our neutrality and is thus ill-advised; in the face of news that as a result of Russian aggression Finland and Sweden are prepared to abandon their neutral status and join NATO, the percentage of Austrians who believe that Austrian neutrality, perceived much more comprehensively than the text of the law, is essential to Austria’s existence and well-being, has risen to 91%. This seems to cut across the entire spectrum of political views and ideologies.

Austria’s opportunist attitude to her neutrality is cut from the same cloth as her official insistance that she was one of the first victims of Nazi Germany rather than an integral part of the Third Reich or a nation of largely willing collaborators and perpetrators of Nazi atrocities. I grew up with my father quipping, “In Austria, Hitler was a failed house painter; it took the Germans to turn him into Der Führer”, thus blaming the Germans for Hitler and Nazism while ignoring the fact that not only had Hitler’s ideology grown and thrived in the political and intellectual climate of the “First Republic”, but that a sizeable proportion of Austrians had welcomed the 1938 Anschluß.

It wasn’t until 1991 that then-Chancellor Franz Vranitzky acknowledged and apologized for Austrians’ role in the Nazi reign of terror both at home and abroad, thus abandoning the claim to have been Hitler’s first victim—and he was not universally praised for that admission and apology.

So in my view the New Statesman article describes reality as it is now and has been ever since 1955.

__________
  1. Austria became a republic in 1918 after the First World War and the demise of the Habsburg monarchy. That republic, which ended with Austria’s annexation by Germany in 1938 (the “Anschluß”), is typically referred to as the “First Republic“. At the end of the Second World War Austria regained her independence and became a republic once again; this is typically referred to as the “Second Republic” and continues to this day.[]
  2. During the Second Republic Austria has been governed by two parties, the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) which identifies itself as  “Christian social” and used to be characterized by alignment with the Roman Catholic Church and conservative values, and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (formerly Sozialistische Partei Österreichs) (SPÖ). These two parties either governed alone, or in coalition with each other, or one of them in a coalition with one of the smaller parties.[]
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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

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The Easter Anthems from the Anglican Liturgy
1 Corinthians 5.7b, 8; Romans 6.9–11; 1 Corinthians 15.20–22 (ESV)

Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival,
  not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
  but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Christ, being raised from the dead,
  will never die again;
  death no longer has dominion over him.
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all,
  but the life he lives he lives to God.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin
  and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
  the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For as by a man came death,
  by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
  and to the Holy Spirit;
  as it was in the beginning is now
  and shall be for ever. 
Amen.

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