Monthly Archives: February 2018

Why “Pagan” Is Not a Dirty Word

An excellent post from Agostino Taumaturgo at the Thavma Press blog. Some themes tie in with my last post. Enjoy!

THAVMA: Christian Occultism and Magic in General


Reflecting on this for almost a decade, I’ve come to realize one of the problems with post-Vatican II Catholicism is a sort of Insistence on a Jewish identity.

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Who Do Men Say That I Am?

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

–C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 55-56

In my youth, I was in effect an Arian.  That is to say, while I thought Jesus of Nazareth was just swell, and was even willing to posit that he might, just might, be more than an ordinary human, I did not believe him to be God incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity.  I held that view from the time I first began to think seriously about theology–in my early teens–until about the age of twenty-four.  At that point I came to believe in the Trinity through what I only semi-facetiously describe as Divine intervention.  That’s a long story, though, and for another day.  The point is that I first encountered C. S. Lewis’s famous “trilemma“, stated in brief in the blockquote above, during my Arian days.  At that time, I found it unconvincing, irritating, in fact.  Now, as a Trinitarian, I’m still inclined to be skeptical of its ability to convince a non-Trinitarian.  In short, for various reasons I don’t think it’s going to convince someone who disbelieves in the divinity of Christ to accept that notion–it didn’t convince me back my Arian phase, after all.  However, I do agree with a deeper point it makes; and that is something that ties in to another post or two that I’m working on.  Thus, I think it’s worth unpacking in a separate post, here.

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STTMP, Part 7: Director


In the course of this reconsideration of Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, we’ve looked at all the major aspects of production except for what some consider the most important, the director.  I don’t really have any strong feelings either way with regard to the auteur theory–I think there are cases to be made both ways.  In either case, the director is certainly one of the most important aspects of any film; and the director chosen to helm STTMP was the distinguished veteran filmmaker Robert Wise.

Robert Wise was a Hollywood veteran of long standing, who had worked in almost all cinematic genres.  He won Academy Awards for West Side Story and The Sound of Music.  More germane to the present consideration, he directed the movie widely considered to be the best science fiction movie of the 1950’s, The Day the Earth Stood StillHe also directed the science fiction thriller The Andromeda Strain.  Unlike later directors who often stamped their personality onto all their films, Wise had a reputation as a consummate craftsman who worked with what he was given to make the best movies he could.  Wise had not been familiar with Star Trek, but he had been a favorite director of Gene Roddenberry.  Thus, after several possible directors were discussed, Wise was chosen to direct Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.

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Quote for the Week

A man called, wanting to borrow a rope.
“You cannot have it,” said Nasrudin.
“Why not?”
“Because it is in use.”
“But I can see it just lying there, on the ground.”
“That’s right: that’s its use.”

–Idries Shah, The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin; courtesy of Wikiquote

A Rare, Retro Team-up

A different take on “Wouldn’t It Be Good”, with Howard Jones as guest.

Movies Will Be Closing

I just wanted to note an upcoming change here at the Chequer-Board of Nights and Days.  As you can see at the top of the screen (for now), one of the pages is labeled “movies”.  Some years ago, for some reason or other–I don’t remember why–I began posting movies to the site.  They were mostly B-movies, with a mixture of serious movies, comedies, documentaries, and made-for-TV content.  The number expanded to the point that I organized all of them on a single page so that visitors could browse the selection and watch what they wanted.

Alas, YouTube videos (which is what most of them were) are an ephemeral thing.  They’re always going up and down, and many of the videos I had posted–probably the majority–had become dead links.  I’ve been too lazy to do anything about it, but I’ve gotten back to active blogging lately, and I decided that I needed to clean out the underbrush.  Thus, I will eventually be deleting the “Movies” page.

Why “eventually”?  Well, counterintuitively, it’s actually almost as hard and time-consuming to get rid of all these posts as it was to put them up.  I could just delete the page, but that would leave up all the dead-link posts, and then I’d not have links by which to easily find them again.  Thus, I’m having to gradually go through, post by post; see if the link is dead or not; if the link isn’t dead, and if I want to save the content, then I need to save it at my YouTube channel, or download it with converter software; then I have to delete the blog page; and eventually, after doing all of that, I’ll delete the “Movies” page.  Whew!  I’ve deleted probably twenty or thirty items so far, but there’s quite a bit to go.

The whole concept was a noble attempt, and I hope some of you got some enjoyment out of it; but it just isn’t worth the effort to maintain (I’d have to be fixing links and adding and removing pages all the time), and I need to focus on other things.  The library remains open, however, and I’ve added a few items lately, so feel free to check it out at any time!


The New Testament, translated by David Bentley Hart–a Review

There any number of translations of the Bible, in full or in part, and more each year, it seems.  There are classic Bibles like the King James and Douay-Rheims versions, modern Bibles such as the Revised English Bible and the New Revised Standard Bible, Protestant Bibles, such as the New International and English Standard versions, Catholic Bibles, such as the New American Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible; there are more traditional formal equivalence Bibles (the New King James), dynamic equivalence Bibles (the Good News Bible), outright paraphrases (the Living Bible); and on it goes.  To this number has recently been added a translation of the New Testament by Greek Orthodox scholar and theologian David Bentley Hart.

Hart has made a name for himself as a scholar, theologian, and cultural commentator, having published eleven books and numerous articles in both professional journals and in venues such as The Wall Street Journal, The New Atlantis, and First Things.  Hart had planned to translate the New Testament for some time, but a spell of ill health slowed him down.  Finally, he completed the translation, which was released in October of 2017.

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Where Have You Gone, Carl Sagan?

Sagan and Carson

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?  A nation turns its lonely eyes to you–Simon and Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”

Sometimes I feel that way about Carl Sagan.  Carl Sagan, for those of my readers who may be too young to know of him, was probably the greatest and most familiar science popularizer of the last century.  He was especially visible throughout the 1970’s, which was a partial inspiration of this series, of which this is the long-delayed first post. Sagan was more than just a 70’s icon, though.  I think he is a symbol of a bygone–and in some ways, better–time.

Carl Sagan had an M.S. in physics and a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics.  At various times, he worked closely with NASA (he conceived the idea for the plaque placed on the space probes Pioneer10 and Pioneer 11) , had Top Secret clearance at the U.S. Air Force and Secret clearance with NASA, was a consultant to the RAND Corporation, published research on the atmosphere of Venus, and researched the possibility of extraterrestrial life.  For nearly the last thirty years of his life, he was associated with Cornell University.  Beyond his professional and scientific accomplishments, substantial as they were, Sagan was best known for his extraordinary effectiveness in bringing science to the masses through all the available media of the day:  print (magazines, newspapers, and books), film, and TV.  Had he survived to today (he died, tragically, of complications related to myelodysplasia at the age of sixty-two in 1996), I don’t doubt he would have had a substantial social media presence.

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Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Jonathan Livinston Seagull

This is the first book in my series “Your Own Personal Canon” that is not the scripture of some major religion.  It was, however, and is, an important book in my life, albeit for reasons that even now are not completely clear to me.  It is also unusual in how it came to be in my personal canon.  For me as for many people, a book often grabs me at first read.  It hits me over the head, draws me in at once–it’s like falling in love.  Bam!  Then it’s part of the canon. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was actually not love at first reading; and thereby hangs a tale.

I first encountered the book when I was a freshman in high school in 1977.  As far as I know, I hadn’t been aware of it earlier than that.  My decision to pick it up was a pure whim.  In most of my life up to that point, my reading had consisted almost completely of non-fiction (the books of Jane Goodall, books on science in general, and such) and science fiction (particularly the works of Isaac Asimov, whose non-fiction I read widely, too; the Star Trek novelizations of James Blish; and others, mainly of the hard type).  In my freshman year, I branched out.  I read all three novels in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; Jonathan Livingston Seagull; and, if I recall correctly, 1984 and Brave New World.  It’s true that all of these are science fiction or fantasy in format; but for the first time I was reading books that were not mere genre, but which had some additional literary heft.  Perhaps my whim was a directed whim.  Who can say?

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Attaining Nibbana: Orientalism, Protestantism, and Translation


If your inclination upon reading the title of this post was to say, “What?!”, let me note that you would have been less likely to do so if I’d said, “Attaining Nirvana”.  You still might wonder what the heck that has to do with Orientalism, Protestantism, and translation–we’ll get to all that–but at least you’d recognize the word “nirvana”.  “Nirvana”, though a loanword from Sanskrit, has become sufficiently naturalized in English that we no longer need to use all the diacritical marks of proper Sanskrit transliteration (according to which it would be “nirvāṇa”), nor do we even have to italicize it (as is the proper usage for foreign words not considered to have been assimilated).  Moreover, most people have at least a vague notion of what nirvana means.  True, for most Americans not familiar with Buddhist thought, “nirvana” is more of a synonym for “paradise” than its correct meaning of “blowing out” or “extinction” in reference to finite, conditioned existence.  Still, the point is that it’s hardly an unknown word to the average modern English speaker.

What’s interesting is that we use the Sanskrit term “nirvana”.  The oldest scriptures of Buddhism are the so-called Pali Canon, which, though most closely associated with Hinayana* Buddhism, is more or less accepted in most existing branches of Buddhism.  Pali is an ancient language of India (technically, a Middle Indo-Aryan language), and it is related to Sanskrit.  The relationship of Pali to Sanskrit is somewhat like that of Italian to Latin–that is, a later language that has derived from an earlier, “classical” language.  Whether Pali derived directly from Sanskrit or not is debated, but the analogy is good enough.

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