Monday, 29 June 2009

Prison Break + Joinery = International Law

In keeping in the discussion of natural law, Hugo de Groot, or Grotius, as he was known, was the dude. Well, he and Selden, but we'll get to Selden later. Grotius was a fascinating figure of the seventeenth century; in addition to being a jurist, he was also a theologian, a playwright, and a poet. Where does the woodworking bit come in? Well, you can scroll down to the orange text-which is an account of Grotius's escape from jail-to find out. In the meantime, here's a brief sketch of the cultural climate and the circumstances under which Grotius was imprisoned.

Grotius had allied himself with Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, and with the Remonstrants. The Remonstrants were basically Protestants who took issue with some of the more uptight aspects of Calvinism (like the belief that if you're saved, no matter how horrible you are, you're in--the Remonstrants believed in Grace, but not as independent of a person's merit or actions--in other words, if you're naughty, you jeopardise your spiritual immunity), and who maintained the doctrines of Jakob Harmenszoon, better known as Jacob Arminius. In order to fill the picture in a bit more (because all of these strains of Protestantism are, well...a strain), John Wesley, the guy who started Methodism, was a huge fan of Arminianism. Now, the connection here between English and Dutch theology is not merely an aside--each had significant impact on the other. In fact, the Synod of Dordrecht (or Dort) was inspired by the Authorised Version of the Bible, and just as this was a landmark in the English language, the Statenvertaling was to deeply impact spoken Dutch, as well. And just to throw some modern references in, click here for Margaret Thatcher's thoughts on Methodism, Anglicanism, and society.

Grotius, whilst in jail, actually wrote a letter to the man responsible for Genesis--Kings I of the Authorised Version: Launcelot Andrewes. Four days after the synod, van Oldenbarnevelt was beheaded (13 May 1619). Finally, in 1621, Grotius made a move, recorded in Barbeyrac's short biography on Grotius:
[He was severely used for above 18 months; from whence,] by the Contrivance of Mary de Regelsberg his Wife, he made his Escape, who having observed that the Guards, being weary of searching a large Trunk full of Books and Linnen to be washed at Gorcum, a neighbouring Town, let it go without opening it as they used to do, advised her Husband to put himself into it, having made some Holes with a Wimble in the Place where the fore-part of his Head was, that he might not be stifled. He followed her Advice, and was in that manner carried to a Friend of his at Gorcum; from whence he went to Antwerp in the usual Waggon, after he had crossed the publick Place in the Disguise of a Joyner, with a Ruler in his Hand.
Barbeyrac's biography is included in the beginning of his edition of Grotius's De Jure Belli ac Pacis (The Rights of War and Peace)

John Milton had a total man-crush on 'the learned Hugo Grotius':
For a more extended treatment of Milton's usage of Grotius, click here.

As we saw in Sharkwater, the issues that Seashepherd attempts to deal with, namely the ownership of the seas (and legal jurisdiction), was actually at the root of a controversy in the seventeenth century that culminated in the first Anglo-Dutch War. Grotius's Mare Liberum (The Free Sea), published in 1609, argued that the sea was international territory, and was therefore open for all to trade. This was the perfect green light for the Dutch, who were a maritime powerhouse, to use their strengths in order to break up trade monopolies, and then establish their own. This infuriated the English, who were the other main contenders in maritime trade, eliciting, amongst other works, John Selden's Mare Clausum, in which Selden naturally argued that both land and sea could be appropriated by nations.

As we have seen, there seems to be a lot of intrigue in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries surrounding hiding places, religious persecution, and joiners. Jason Rosenblatt notes:
There is something comic and unreal about the picture of Grotius conspicuously holding a tool to give himself an identity, the way a character in an allegorical painting might hold a compass or an anchor.
from Renaissance England's Chief Rabbi: John Selden, p. 135
Cool. It seems like there are many permutations of the religion-and-carpentry motif beyond the classic:
Cartoon by Mike Stanfill

Thursday, 25 June 2009

'Nerd Alert':The Job Market, the Economy, and What to Do with a PhD: 'It's all Gobbledygook to me'

A few months ago, i came across an op-ed called 'The End of the University as We Know It', by Mark Taylor, the Chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University. Click the title of this entry to read it. It's pretty depressing. Here is a little preview:
young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.
To balance that out a bit, click here. About a month before this article came out, Will Ferrell starred in his own Broadway play called You're Welcome America--A Final Night With George W Bush--basically an extended reprisal of his SNL character mocking Dubya. I didn't watch the whole thing, but i did see the segment about Bush giving clever nicknames on the spot to members of the audience based on their occupations. At 2 minutes into the segment, a Shakespeare scholar (and it looks like Edward Norton is sitting next to her...) is called upon, and gets the longest commentary on her job:

Hmm. That reminds me of part of the article:
Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.
For real? How Duns Scotus used citations?! That does seem like an 'unnecessary subject.' And if, as Taylor claims, the Academy is churning out more of us than can get jobs and there's no guarantee of us getting a seat next to Edward Norton, well that's really disheartening.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

C.S. Lewis on Good Works and Good Work

I recently came across the passage below by CS Lewis in The Joyful Christian (it's a book full of snippets; by clicking on the title of this entry you will be directed to the whole piece) and i found it interesting that he lists cabinetmakers amongst the last bastions of craftsmanship. He even goes into (some) details, when describing 'real honest-to-God work': 'sound structures; seasoned wood, accurately dovetailed, the stresses all calculated; skill and labour successfully used to do what is intended...'

This piece also resonated with me particularly in light of the discussions on a previous post about the religious community's role in environmentalism. Lewis proclaims, 'Let choirs sing well or not at all', reminding us that focussing on the 'real' thing is no excuse for doing things half-assed. Anyway, here is the piece:

'Good Works' in the plural is an expression much more familiar to modern Christendom than 'good work.' Good works are chiefly almsgiving or 'helping' in the parish. They are quite separate from one's 'work.' And good works need not be good work, as anyone can see by inspecting some of the objects made to be sold at bazaars for charitable purposes. This is not according to our example. When our Lord provided a poor wedding party with an extra glass of wine all around, he was doing good works. But also good work; it was a wine really worth drinking. Nor is the neglect of goodness in our 'work,' our job, according to precept. The apostle says everyone must not only work but work to produce what is 'good.'

The idea of Good Work is not quite extinct among us, though it is not, I fear, especially characteristic of religious people. I have found it among cabinetmakers, cobblers, and sailors. It is no use at all trying to impress sailors with a new liner because she is the biggest or costliest ship afloat. They look for what they call her 'lines': they predict how she will behave in a heavy sea. Artists also talk of Good Work; but decreasingly. They begin to prefer words like 'significant,' 'important', 'contemporary,' or 'daring.' These are not, to my mind, good symptoms.

But the great mass of men in all fully industrialised societies are the victims of a situation which almost excludes the idea of Good Work from the outset. 'Built-in obsolescence' becomes an economic necessity. Unless an article is so made that it will go to pieces in a year or two and thus have to be replaced, you will not get a sufficient turnover. A hundred years ago, when a man got married, he had built for him (if he were rich enough) a carriage in which he expected to drive for the rest of his life. He now buys a car which he expects to sell again in two years. Work nowadays must not be good.

For the wearer, zip fasteners have this advantage over buttons: that, while they last, they will save him an infinitesimal amount of time and trouble. For the producer, they have a much more solid merit; they don't remain in working order long. Bad work is the desideratum.

We must avoid taking a glibly moral view of this situation. It is not solely the result of original or actual sin. It has stolen upon us, unforeseen and unintended. The degraded commercialism of our minds is quite as much its result as its cause. Nor can it, in my opinion, be cured by purely moral efforts.

I guess when you think about it, the precedent for Good Works is in the first chapter of Genesis:
וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב--and God saw that it was good.'
Ricky Gervais expounds on Good Work in Genesis:

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Hooker on Chukim, Part II

Bloody Chukim
I'm feeling a bit cognitively challenged at the moment. After many frustrating hours of trying to understand the relationship between law, natural law, the law of nature, rationalism, morality, voluntary natural law, first law eternal, second law eternal, etc., it dawned on me that i was not going to figure it out (It also occurred to me that it was a bit arrogant to even attempt it, but i will chalk it up to plummeting blood sugar and the inability to think clearly), considering the fact that it's a centuries-old debate (oh yeah...). Luckily (and oddly) my tiny flat has many glass doors, and the photo to the left illustrates the desperate (yet typical) measures i was forced to take in order to prevent my head from exploding. My work on Donne had taught me that structure of someone's argument, sometimes the very examples they bring, can offer us clues as to who they were reading. That didn't work so well here. Both Hooker and Maimonides bring up different examples of chukim in various contexts. Furthermore, the complications resulting from the subtleties of language--the shifting etymologies, the theological jargon, the scores of subcategories in defining words and axioms--used by both Hooker and Maimonides are not to be underestimated.

A common theme that emerges in the study of Maimonides (and a real pain in the ...neck) is that he says one thing in the Mishneh Torah and another thing in the Guide. Some people try to reconcile those differences, and some people chalk it up to Maimonides consciously addressing two very different audiences. I, unfortunately am not well-versed enough in this area.

I came across a lecture by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein on the relationship between being religious and being good, and was delighted to see that he actually quotes the passage from C.S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain in which Lewis quotes Hooker.

I've often noticed over the course of this dissertation that i have made my work much harder by choosing as my topic two different subjects (early modern literature and rabbinics) about which i know very little, and this is just one instance of that. So, i'm still not entirely sure where either of them stands on this issue, but it does seem like it's rather consciously complex on both of their parts, it would seem, intentionally so...

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

'And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away!'...right?

From Utriusque Cosmi, Maioris scilicet et Minoris, metaphysica, physica, atque technica Historia (1617-1619)

A few weeks ago, during the Eco Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, i got to see two films (the trailers of which are at the bottom of this page). The Age of Stupid--a jeremiad about climate change--and Sharkwater--a film about the brutality of shark finning and its impact on the ecosystem. Both films seemed to be trying to teach their 21st century audience about the structure of our delicate universe, and our place in it. Basically, we're ruining it. And the worst part is, we know it.

Don't get me wrong. I am well aware that there are loads of human concerns. I live in Israel, where yesterday (unbeknownst to me), we had our largest national drill to prepare for missile attacks. One reason i joined Greenpeace (the other being that when it comes to politics, i'm still watching Cecil and Essex duke it out) was because of the enormous potential environmentalism has to unify people from all countries, religions, beliefs, etc. No matter what our differences, we can all agree that we don't want to be wiped out as a species. Well, one would think so anyway...

Interestingly, the hackneyed categories of the 'ancients and the moderns', (hopefully a future post) which seem to have evolved into 'backwards religious people' and 'rational modernists' have moved into the political arena as the stereotypes of the 'Bible-thumping-moose-killing-oil-drilling-Republicans' and 'liberal-godless-immoral-baby-killing-Democrats'. Like all generalisations, this is grossly exaggerated, yet rings true in certain ways.

It pains me to admit that the environment is practically a non-issue amongst religious or orthodox people. In 1999, Meimad, a left wing religious Zionist party was formed in Israel. This groundbreaking move to reclaim both Orthodox Judaism and Zionism from right-wing politics is still viewed as an anomaly; in this year's elections, the Meimad-Green Movement coalition failed to gain a seat in the Knesset. The underlying tension felt by many of Meimad's members is well expressed by the the religious philosopher Ernst Simon, incidentally, the father of Professor Uriel Simon, one of the party's leaders and an academic giant in his own right:
The people you can talk to, you can’t daven (pray) with, and the people with whom you can daven, you can’t talk
Why is it that the religious communities tend to play down environmental concerns whilst those who embrace those causes tend to reject tradition?

In 1940, at the behest of the pacifist society in Oxford (otherwise it would have been pretty awkward), CS Lewis delivered the address 'Why I am Not a Pacifist' (published later in The Weight of Glory), in which he explains the departure from tradition within the context of a crumbling sense of community:
I am aware that, though Hooker thought 'the general and perpetual voice of men is as the sentence of God Himself,' yet many who hear will give it little or no weight. This disregard of human authority may have two roots. It may spring from the belief that human history is a simple, unilinear movement from worse to better--what is belief in Progress--so that any given generation is always in all respects wiser than all previous generations. To those who believe thus, our ancestors are superceded and there seems nothing improbable in the claim that the whole world was wrong until the day before yesterday and now has suddenly become right. With such people I confess I cannot argue, for I do not share their basic assumption.
Hooker is clearly Lewis's go-to guy, perhaps because he is a strong advocate of an ageless morality that Lewis would go on to refer to as 'The Tao' in The Abolition of Man. Lewis further distinguishes this body of knowledge from the evolution of the mechanical world:
Believers in progress rightly note that in the world of machines the new model supercedes the old; from this they falsely infer a similar kind of supercession in such things as virtue and wisdom.

As a devotee of The Schwarz and a follower of St. Roy, i'm inclined to take issue with the notion that progress entails using newer machinery, but even if this was a correct supposition, are we really more tuned in now then people 'back then'? Check out the bizarre picture above--it's from Robert Fludd's Utriusque Cosmi, Maioris scilicet et Minoris, metaphysica, physica, atque technica Historia--The metaphysical, physical, and technical history of the two worlds, namely the greater and the lesser. Click here to download Fludd's book. Go ahead. Don't be shy. Drink it in. Fludd depicts the complexity of the natural world, in all of its hierarchies, yet depicts nature (yeah--the naked lady) as holding a chain linking the physical world to God, and the microcosm to the macrocosm. In other words, the enmeshed existence of humanity, nature, and God was obvious to Fludd.

About fifty years later, John Evelyn, the famous diarist wrote the first English book against pollution, entitled Fumifugium, or, The inconveniencie of the aer and smoak of London dissipated together with some remedies humbly proposed by J.E. esq. to His Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now assembled in 1661, and the following year published Sylva, or A Discourse on Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty's Dominions. It seems that people have been aware of the problems of pollution for even before the Industrial Revolution.
Both Fludd and Evelyn were living at a time when, as Donne says, 'new philosophy (science) calls all in doubt'. Astronomers had trashed the idea of a geocentric, and with it, androcentric universe. It was something of a humbling time. In a scene of Sharkwater, Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd echoes this sentiment:
We don't really understand what we are. In essence, we're just a conceited, naked ape, that in our minds are some kind of divine legend. And we see ourselves as some kind of a God that can walk around the earth deciding who will live and who will die; what will be destroyed and what will be saved. But the fact is, we're just a bunch of primates out of control.
Remember that weird Fludd illustration? Here's a closeup. Check out what the naked lady's standing above (NASA is clearly lying about shooting stars):

Copyright Adam McLean 1997-2004
Taken from
Yep! An ape! Although it's not meant in the negative sense that Watson was talking about. Rather, the idea of humanity 'aping' nature through art (including science) is seen as a spiritual endeavour that connects us to God. In a previous post, we discussed the reversal of this process according to Frank Lloyd Wright's philosophy.

Watson's view is an extreme response, proportionate to the destruction that we are inflicting on the world, and though his anger is justified, i doubt that his outlook will compel Creationists to join the cause. In The Glory of the Garden, Rudyard Kipling uses the metaphor of a garden to describe English society, in which everyone must chip in:
There's not a pair of legs so thin, there's not a head so thick,
There's not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick
But it can find some needful job that's crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.

Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it's only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner In the Glory of the Garden.

Kipling's portrait of a society united through a common project or custodianship and governed by ethics continues in the mould cast by Hooker, and celebrated by Lewis. If that didn't make you want to net strawberries or join the Home Front Command, Kipling draws upon the joys of Edenic horticulture to drive his point home:

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener's work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray
For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away!

And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away !

Drawing upon Adam as a gardener made for a charming poetic emblem, but it seems to have done little to inspire the action and sense of responsibility to be found in Kipling's poem. But what would be the result if Adam's responsibilities as gardner were examined under the Judaic-legalistic lens?

1970 marked this turning point in environmental studies with the publication of Dr. Eric G. Freudenstein's ז"ל 'Ecology and the Jewish Tradition'. The article reveals that then, as now, the issue of environmentalism was charged with religion. Freudenstein demonstrates that careful readings of Biblical and Talmudic text

disprove the repeated statements in the popular press that the “Judeo-Christian concept” of Genesis 1:28 is the cause of the destruction of our environment by western civilization. Rather it is man’s misunderstanding of this Scriptural concept and his insensitivity to the Holy Writ’s concern for God’s nature that should be accused. The concern for the “guarding of the garden” in which man has been placed by Providence is implicit in the Scriptural message. It has been made explicit in the Jewish tradition as formulated in the Biblical exegesis of the Rabbis and in the legal ordinances of the Talmud.
Taken from Yad Gavriel: The Complete Anthology of Original Articles by Eric Gabriel Freudenstein, ed. by George G. Freudenstein, forthcoming

Beginning, appropriately with Adam, Freudenstein explains:

Sensitivity to nature can be found by a careful reading of the Creation story. Adam, the first man, is placed in his world, in the garden of Eden, “to work it and to guard it.” (Genesis 2:15). This supervision and maintenance can be taken as the duty to protect the natural environment.

So how are we doing? Well, here are some quick facts about the current plight of sharks and shark finning:

  • Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins and the discard at sea of the carcass. The shark is most often still alive when it is tossed back into the water. Unable to swim, the shark slowly sinks toward the bottom where it is eaten alive by other fish.
  • Shark specialists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, annually.
  • One pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 or more. It's a multi-billion dollar industry that is only exceeded by the trafficking of narcotics.
  • We've decreased the shark population by about 90%, creating, according to scientists, an ecological time-bomb that is not yet fully understood
  • Here's an example of how we're basically the cause of our own downfall: shark depletion led to an increase in the octopus population which then preyed upon lobsters, and has already destroyed the Tasmanian fishing industry. This in turn sets into motion a slew of chain reactions in the economy and elsewhere
  • Experts estimate that within a decade, most species of sharks will be lost because of longlining.

It doesn't look like we're guarding nature very well. Freudenstein elaborates on the nature of our relationship to the environment, citing Rabbi Benno Jacob's commentary of Genesis:

Adam’s relation to the Owner of the garden in the terminology of Halakhah, Jewish law, is that of a guardian. To guard may simply mean careful treatment and protection against damage. Primarily, however, this term is meant to characterize the garden as someone else’s property. It is a garden that belongs to God, not to Man. (B. Jacob, Das Erste Buch der Tora, Genesis [Schocken Verlag, 1934], p. 91).

In the beginning of this (ridiculously long) post, i suggested that environmentalism has the potential to transcend political and religious factions in order to unite society and lamented the lack of impetus from the religious community. Freudenstein's innovation lies in the assertion that environmentalism is not something external to Judaism, but rather quite central to it. Therefore, those who are immersed in the Jewish tradition are propitiously positioned to promulgate the message of environmentalism:

Ancient Jewish tradition stressed the maintenance of the biosphere over three and one half thousand years ago, but during the centuries of the Diaspora, divorced from the land, that message of our venerable tradition became weak. Jews were often cooped up in urban ghettos, their energies absorbed by the struggle for survival in a hostile world which they were powerless to influence. Nor was the destruction of the world’s natural assets as yet a threat to human existence. In modern times, the active participation of Jews in the Diaspora, in all phases of the public welfare, the reclamation of the land in the State of Israel and a general awareness of the problems of ecology, have created a new climate for a deeper understanding and acceptance of the concern for the environment evinced by the Jewish tradition. Conditions are now propitious for the ancient Jewish message of bal tashchit to be once again proclaimed loud and clear to all men of goodwill.