#blogjammin: discipline, death and don’t get me started

after devoting my attentions to the music lineup last night, Saturday was the day to plunge myself headlong into the beating heart of greenbelt_ that is the talks program.

i started and finished my stints of sitting and listening with two sessions with the inimitable Texan theological agitator that is Stanley Hauerwas, and in between took in the enlightening musings of, amongst others, Mark Yaconelli and Peter Oborne.

Mark is co-director of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project (YMSP) which (somewhat bizarrely) has turned endowments from the company that makes Prozac into a program to introduce young people all across the U.S. to the practices and ideas of contemplative spirituality. as one might expect, therefore, his talk centred around the relationship between action and reflection in the Christian life. drawing inspiration from, among other places, the story of the prodigal son, Mark highlighted a theme that i found would reoccur for me in Stanley Hauerwas’ later session, that of the creative potential and radical importance of spiritual discipline.

following on from the morning session in which he concluded expanding on issues arising from his recently published memoirs, Duke’s Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics presented his thoughts on the nature of the god to which American civil religion pays its homage. summarising his conception of the modernist, Liberal foundations of popular American theology by means of the phrase “the story that there is no story except the story that we chose when we didn’t have a story”, Hauerwas illuminated how the basis for spiritual discipline – along with, for example, covenants like marriage – is devastatingly corroded by the notion that humans are (and must be) free to choose who and what they are, and that death has become the ultimate, inconceivable scandal.

discipline, dear friends, was something i needed in spades during The Spectator and ex-Daily Mail political commentator Oborne’s ‘interesting’ talk about the nature and role of virtue in politics. if i were being supremely placid, i would say that i was disappointed (if not surprised) that references to Aristotle, Kant and MacIntyre were absent while those to Machiavelli and Plato flowed fairly freely. if, however, i were allowing the anger to rise once more, i would rant on and on about how infuriatingly reactionary, ill-conceived and poorly delivered the session was.

by means of a via media, perhaps i will instead focus on my sense that it was a waste of a good opportunity for a someone from a political and philosophical stable significantly distinct from that of the average contributor, to challenge a GB audience with something as well reasoned, well researched and well presented as it was, well, provocative.

all in all it has been a day of talks that has offered stimulations of various ilk, the majority of which were welcome and worthwhile.

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  1. What did Oborne say that was lacking, Jon? Whilst not my favourite commentator, he earned a little leeway for his expose of the CFI/LFI groups.

    • He started off with the hugely oversimplified notion that what it meant to be virtuous in the West was basically just abstractions from the Ten Commandments up until Machiavelli.

      Then, seemingly without realising the contradiction, he spoke fleetingly about the relationship between Machiavelli’s thought and Plato’s.

      Then he argued – and this might sound like I’m deliberately making him sound stupid, but I swear I’m not – that British politics was basically virtuous until the 60s, and the reason that it stopped being so was to do with the decline of the Church, the breakdown of the family and the dismantling of the political class, and spoke wistfully about a return to the political paternalism of the early 20th Century.

      He then laid out the most simplistic of accounts of the differences between the Progressive and Conservative traditions, which involved simply the ridiculous notion that Lenin, Hitler and Marx were all basically the same and whilst not popular (in which world I don’t know) the Conservative tradition is at least moral because it doesn’t put ends ahead of means.

      He then went on a near-hilarious rant about how although he knew The Daily Mail would be hated and looked down the nose at by “you lot of Guardian readers”, it was actually the voice of the upright, hard-working, modestly paid and good British family, which he painted as some sort of marginalised group. By this point I was starting to think that the whole thing was a practical joke at my expense or an elaborate murder plot designed to force me to have a heart attack.

      Then, as he was almost swerved towards the one interesting aspect of his talk, the question of whether politics is necessarily systemically corrupt, or whether it is redeemable, he stopped.

      I think he has some journalistic integrity to the extent that he seems committed to striving for his idea of truth and nobility, and he probably does investigative work quite well as a result, but when give a platform to explain his ideology, he was found woefully lacking.

      It was a real shame, ‘cos if he’d been lucid and well prepared, it could have been a really interesting session.

  2. I was getting annoyed just by reading that, so not throwing a mixture of rotten tomatoes and your own urine at him must have taken quite some self restraint.

    For a start, to make out that politics was ever virtuous, especially ’til the 1960s, with any sort of honesty would be eye-poppingly ignorant. But it’s not really ignorance at all, is it? Nobody willing and able enough to write as concisely about the Israeli domination of politics in the west can be ignorant about the history of British politics – not to that degree at least. There’d be no point starting a list of evidence to the contrary, I’ve not got time to write it and there’d not be enough time left to read it.

    Which raises a number of questions, not least: why publicly pretend to believe it? I’d suggest, because I’m thoroughly generous and naturally loving, that it’s a simple case of confirmatory bias on his part. Though I’m sure his detractors are likely to suggest that something more sinister is afoot.

    Secondly, the incendiary insults about Guardian readers (especially the ‘you’re just a Guardian bed wetter’) really annoys me. It’s the equivalent of those American, right wing teabagger mentalists who call anybody left of Hitler a ‘commie liberal hippy’. It’s not the name calling that insults me, rather the insinuation that I’m neither smart enough to form my own opinions on these matters or that you can tell everything about my political persuasion just by the publication I chose to read (only only really read because of their superb columnists). I mean, would I call all Daily Mail readers facists?

    Hmn, actually, it’s best not to answer that one.

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