Sunday, February 23, 2003


Here I index posts having to do with some aspect of Christianity.

I don't use Windows much--it gets in the way of my doing things I want to do. So, I write a lot of these entries using vi or nedit, and post using cut and paste into mozilla. For entries of more than a few lines, the Post and Post&Publish buttons promptly scroll up out of reach. I find that if I open the Posting frame in a new window it doesn't misbehave. Just a word to the wise...

We are born helpless babies, grow into adults, keep going a while, get old and die of something or other. How do I understand this as a Christian? The getting sick or old and dying part is problematic, and I've seen these things dealt with in other places by more (and sometimes less) thoughtful people than I. But being born helpless is obviously part of the original plan.

When I think of myself, I don't think of the man in the mirror so much as the man who used to be in the mirror--about 20 years old or so, with any number of possibilities waiting to be tried. I'm over twice that, and I committed to a few of those possibilities--life is short and the rest are out of reach. I'm both the young man starting out and the middle-aged man with a family. And I'm also the baby. If God said his creation was good, it is good for me to have been a baby, to have been completely helpless and unknowing.

That's not how I like to think of myself. I prefer to be the 20-year old, in my prime of strength; or maybe now, with greater wisdom (don't laugh, kids). But God says being a baby is good. We all like babies, but who wants to be one? But then, is my assessment of adult strength really a joke after all? A baby needs to be provided for--he can drink if you provide the milk. I can try and grow food, but that also has been provided for me--seeds, soil, everything. Humans are super-omnivores, but imagine being a Koala, only able to eat eucalyptus.

Maybe being a baby is a good image to us of how we always look to God?

Saturday, February 22, 2003

As long as I'm on the subject . . . It's an open secret that the French provided a lot of collaborators. Did French forces from the Vichy regime fight alongside the Germans against the invading Allies, or did the Germans not trust them that far?


I keep reading accusations that the French are ungrateful for the American liberation of World War II. Come on, folks. The war ended over 57 years ago--that's about three generations. Even injuries sometimes get forgotten after that long. And when you think about it, did we liberate the French? No, I don't mean my father, back then; I mean you and me now. I didn't. I'm glad it was done, but I can't take credit for it. We helped protect them during the Cold War, but that doesn't feel as dramatic as driving out invaders. So, the current generation of French voters has been liberated from what, exactly? (The EU is trying to liberate them from the dangers of prosperity, but that's another story.)

If they have no memory of being liberated, and their parents didn't feel liberated, and knowledge of history isn't their strong suit (socialists seem apt to jigger the books), why task them with ingratitude?


I have a lot of questions about Columbia. The design of the tile system makes me wonder a bit about things like corrosion under the felt (or perhaps on the inside of the skin?). Do they inspect these things regularly--strip off all the tiles and redo them? Could an accident during mounting damage the skin in a way that would not be seen by inspectors? (Or sabotage--a jab with a sharp object between the tiles...)

Do we have some way of simulating the temperatures and pressures and wind speeds of re-entry on a large scale--say 20x20 cm? We need to answer questions like: How big a hole is fatal? If you have a divot in the tiles, what can you patch it with that you can trowel in place with gloved hands? Is there any way of dealing with a crack in the mount for the leading edge? (a sacrificial sheath?) Do tiles unzip?

Ideally we ought to have some sort of scanner on an arm that goes with every shuttle flight, together with a repair kit for use in an EVA. I read about a rather simple scanner in American Archeology today that archaeologists use to map features of sites. The shuttle is chock-a-block with reference locations, so this could be quite accurate. But this scanner isn't a great deal of use if a 1mm puncture between the tiles is lethal--you can't scan for that very well. A missing chunk of tile would show up very quickly, and a loose or cracked tile also (a piece would be at the wrong angle).

If the damage is not reparable, I assume we can dock at the ISS and hold out until the Russians launch a few Soyuz, or use those bubble gizmos if another shuttle is ready. We'd all be a lot more comfortable if we had some ways of testing fixes to know what is reparable and what isn't.

Of course, we then have the question: how confident are you that the fix worked? 95%, 99%, 99.9%? At what point do you bail and call for another shuttle? (That one doesn't have a technical answer--it is more political.) The astronaut is trying to apply the glue in a difficult environment--did he get it in evenly? That's tough to quantify without lots of tests. What does he push against--a keel-hauling rope of some kind, or do you have to carry the big robot arm every single flight? I suppose you can use some kind of bubble-wrap pads to keep the handyman from dinging up other tiles--and even make them stay in place with static charges.
Ok, look at this picture of an old mission.

One stereotype seems to have a basis in fact: a large fraction of women are very interested in ornaments, hair styling, and clothes. Men, on the other hand, try to look beyond such superficialities.

Friday, February 21, 2003

We have 4 drivers, of all different sizes and sightlines. One of my daughters asked if the mirror positions could be set the same way the radio buttons are, so that you could just punch the button for yourself when you get in the car. It wouldn't surprise me if high-end cars had this sort of feature. I started thinking about the fussy sensors and servos and what can go wrong, and I suspect it might be more trouble than it is worth. The exterior rear view mirrors get hit more often than they ought to (often enough that Plymouth ones are designed to pivot), road spray will get inside the housing, and after the servo tries to shove the mirror against ice a few times it may not be as reliable as it used to be. One car I had would raise the antenna when you turned on the radio. Cute, but it stripped its gears when somebody turned on the radio without scraping off the heavy layer of ice one morning...

Large railroad switchyards have a giant turntable in the middle of a star of tracks, so that a car or locomotive can be easily taken from one train on one track and attached to a different train on a different track. Just drive the locomotive onto the turntable, rotate however many degrees to reach the other track, and drive off. It is much faster than driving it down and around.

I notice that space seems to be at a premium in the downtown regions of large cities. One space-eater seems to be irreducible: the loading dock. You have to have a fairly large area for trucks to maneuver and back into position so that the forklifts can fetch off the cargo.

I can think of two ways to deal with this:

Move the loading dock

Park the truck parallel to the building and swing or slide out the loading dock to meet the rear of the truck. The depth of the loading dock needs to be greater than the turning radius of a fully-loaded forklift (with a little slop allowance!), and it has to support whatever loads the truck will disgorge. Using a cantilevered platform doesn't seem very robust, but you can contemplate supports on rollers under the outer edge of the dock.

When the truck is unloaded/loaded, the driver can simply drive away. If the loading dock becomes stuck, you're out of luck until it can be fixed. The loading dock is not well-sheltered from rain and snow.

Rotate the truck

The truck drives into a tunnel, and parks on the turntable. The turntable rotates the truck maybe 10 degrees, so that the rear of the truck is now at the edge of the loading dock. The loading dock has a wall on one side, but can be as deep as needed (just lengthen the tunnel). The turntable doesn't need to be a full 360 degrees, of course: you can make it what you like: the smaller the angular range the less floor space you need.

When the truck is unloaded/loaded, the truck can be rotated back into position if the tunnel is straight, or simply driven off (and let the empty turntable rotate back) if the tunnel jogs. An advantage to having a tunnel go all the way through is that ventilation is much easier.

The turntable is well-understood technology, doesn't involve major cantilevering, and can probably be unjammed by humans using pry bars.

There's a 3'rd option: a hybrid of the above, in which the driver parks parallel to the docking area, and the turntable rotates the truck into position. Ventilation is very easy and there is partial shelter from the elements. If the turntable section is a wedge, with the truck's nose at the center of rotation, the truck won't stick out into traffic.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Jonah is an interesting book: a picture of a man being brutally honest about a less-than-noble episode of his younger days. Given a perfectly clear command from God to go to Ninevah, he high-tails it in the opposite direction. When he finds he can't escape God's punishment, he'd rather die than obey; and asks the sailors to chuck him over the side. Faced with the chance of really drowning he reconsiders, and recalls a hymn of salvation while in the highly unpleasant and dangerous custody of the fish. He gets a second chance at obedience, but seems only interested in carrying out the barest letter of the command (no mention of repentance at all). While Jonah waits to gloat over the city's destruction God forces Jonah to face his own impetuous foolishness and hatefulness.

It's not exactly a history to be proud of, but I gather Jonah learned, and was willing to make an example of himself. We don't have any details about the infamous fish, but I remember a fossil of a fish which had partly swallowed a smaller fish, choked and died; and I can imagine a very uncomfortable fish wondering how to get rid of this inconvenient prophet it couldn't quite get down.

Am I the only one who thinks the PT Cruiser is a misbegotten cross between a Volkswagen beetle and a hearse?

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Rereading Abraham and Isaac at Moriah: I think some people misunderstand what happened and what God was doing. For those not aware of it, a pagan society has a lot of gods and spirits/forces that need to be placated. Some can be friendly, provided you do your part. One spirit will be satisfied with an offering of nuts, but another will only accept the nuts as a promise of a chicken later. The more important the spirit/god, the more important and expensive a sacrifice you must offer. (You wouldn't offer to take your boss out to dinner at McDonalds, would you?) While some groups (like the Aztecs) start going hog-wild with the sacrifices, generally a human sacrifice is only something the most important gods require, and then only on special occasions. The highest sacrifice is, of course, a son.

So what is God saying to Abraham with His first summons? "I am the kind of God who is powerful and august enough that only the best sacrifice is enough." And then the second announcement says "I don't require the sacrifice--I'll supply that--I require the devotion." In the culture Abraham lived in, this lesson would have been very clear. We have a little trouble seeing this, living in a culture that doesn't worship the same ways, but Abraham understood.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

World of Fatwas

A word of warning at the outset: World of Fatwas by Arun Shourie is a polemic. That doesn't mean you can't learn useful things from it, but it will not give you a balanced perspective. Arun is a Hindu, and a serious anti-monotheist. He is only willing to respect Muslims or Christians who are willing to give up the claim that they were given the truth--or in other words, apostates. Consider that a spoiler, since he doesn't go into this much until the end of the book.

Some stylistic warnings: the variety of English used in India differs in some respects from the standard, and the book shows the same love for grand phrases and constructions (not always accurately done) that I've seen in other works from India and Africa. The editor missed some misspellings. Large chunks of the book are quotations from fatwas or paraphrases from them--and these are not distinguished clearly from the author's own work.

I cannot recommend this for the general reader--the book takes a good deal of effort to read. However, if you're willing to take it with a grain of salt and want to see how the Ulema argue out religious rulings, go for it. If you want to see the breadth and detail of sharia, go for it.

He starts the book with a bit of history, complaining how the Muslims in India, though partly willing to work with Ghandi, persisted in showing disrespect, refusing to pray for his safety, and so on. Ok, so far he has my sympathy. He then tackles divorce under Islam--and it is a hideous mess. The triple "I divorce you" is effective even if the husband was tricked, rule the ulema; or if drunk. After 3 months maintenance, out goes the wife, not to return unless she remarries, consummates the new marriage, and is then divorced by the new husband! Conditional divorces are valid too: "If you go to your mother's house, I divorce you three times!" "If you don't go out and demonstrate in favor of sharia's divorce laws, I divorce you!" "If I catch a cold, I divorce you."

Some of these ulema make Savaranola look like Hefner. Doubt me? Savaranolo never dreamed of trying to regulate what you wiped up with in the toilet. You must wipe 3 times, and you can use a pebble, mud-ball, wood, or a wall, but not bone (because it is food for the Djinn) or toilet paper (because that's what the Christians use) (some jurists disagree). And don't face Mecca. And don't face directly away from Mecca. And don't use your right hand.

He quotes from several collections of rulings, including Sunan Abu Dawud. Some of the headings include: Spreading gravel in the mosque; On sweeping in the mosque; ... On strict prohibition of women from attending prayer in the mosque; On running for praying; ... On the imam who reads the prayer sitting; If one of the two persons acts as imam for the other, where both should stand; If there are three persons, how they should stand; ... On adequacy of clothes for validity of prayer; On a man who ties the cloth over his nape and then prays; On a man who prays in a single piece of cloth one part of which lies over the other person; On a man who prays in a single shirt; If the cloth is tight it should be used as a wrapper. On trailing the garment during prayer; In how many garments should a woman pray; On a woman who prays without wearing a veil; On saying prayer upon the sheets of cloth of a woman; On a man who prays tying the back knot of his hair; OK, let me skip about 50 On wearing the mantle under one's right armpit with the end over one's left shoulder;... On marrying virgins; On prohibition of marrying women who do not give birth to children;... On a man who has sexual intercourse with his wife before giving her something; On what should be said to a bridegroom after his marriage; On a man who marries a woman whom he finds pregnant; On division of time among one's wives;.. On having intercourse with female captives of war; On having intercourse with a menstruating woman and lying with her; On expiation for cohabitation with a menstruating woman and further On a man who hears the call of prayer while he has a vessel in his hand;... On the use of a tooth-stick by a man who is fasting; On whether a man who is fasting can pour water over his head due to thirst and stuff water abundantly to his nostrils; and On whether a mare can be called horse;... On hanging bells in the necks of horses and camels;.. On the prohibition of making asses cover mares to beget mules;... On having a dog for hunting and some other purposes; On eating the part cut off of an animal while it is still alive;... On the earning of slave girls;... On taking hire for a stallion's covering;... On the sale of a cat; On payment for dogs; and On which side one should face when sleeping; , and On the circumcision of girls and on and on for pages.

Naturally the various schools of law do not all agree with each other, so the sharia each supports will be different (and so of course there must be different versions of the perfect and eternal and tawhid sharia). No detail of life is too minor for there not to be a fatwa governing it. Even division of inheritances is addressed; though with the minor problem that the fractions don't add up (Quran: Sura IV,12-15 and 175). The details of observance matter; often more than the inner life. The earth, of course, is flat--according to some modern jurists (who get this from tradition and a line from the Quran).

Arun Shourie has it in for the Ulema, and with some justification. Depending on who you go to (and possibly how generous you are, though he doesn't say so), a jurist may come up with rulings based on precedents and analogies that can say almost anything desired. Even precedents that directly contradict the Quran appear. Quran: Sura II:241 "Those of you who die leaving surviving widows shall bequeath to their widows provisions for a year without (their) being turned out." The compendium of Islamic law Hidayah says "Maintenance is not due to a woman after her husband's decease..." A recent appeal of this ruling resulting is this judgment: "But it would be wrong for the Court on a point of this kind to attempt to put their own construction on the Quran in opposition to the express ruling of commentators of such great antiquity and high authority."

But he loses all my sympathy when he goes into a grand petulant complaint about Muslims trying to be different from Hindus. Think of it: A Muslim tries to look different from a Hindu! He doesn't want the Quran carried in procession with the Ramayana! He doesn't want to have his forehead smeared with sacred ash! He thinks Ghandi is going to hell! And horror of horrors: he kills cows!

Tough. In other environments some compromise is possible, but against the claim that "all religions are the same and all worship is the same" a monotheist has to draw the line and refuse to sanction religious compromise. And looking different doesn't hurt a bit as a reminder to your children. You can't forget your children: an adult can find subtleties easily, but the children need clear rules.

Arun Shourie also attempts to show how Muhammad selected rules from the beginning in order to be different from Jews and Christians; from picking Friday, wearing beards instead of mustaches, praying to Mecca rather than Jerusalem, using a call rather than a horn or bell to summon for prayer, allowing dyeing of hair (at the time Christians and Jews did not), and so on. He illustrates how some of the more cruel rules of sharia come not from hadith but the Quran itself. And he shows how the claim that sharia rules all of life magnifies small differences into major battles. He describes how the uncertainty of the average Muslim in the face of such transcendental but obscure demands gives the Ulema huge power. It is amusing to read of Wahabis denounced as heretics worse even than polytheists.

As I said at the outset, this is a polemic, and he omits data favorable to his opponent. Nevertheless, his indictment is powerful enough to demand attention.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

The much-maligned doctrine of original sin has an unexpected consequence. To see this, contrast the situations in classic Islam with orthodox Christianity. In both religions, if you abandon unbelief and follow God you find forgiveness and join the community of believers. But Islam holds that every child is born a Muslim and subsequently rejects God's way. It is therefore possible for a man to have been born a Muslim, raised a Muslim, and never been an infidel. To such a man an unbeliever is a traitor--different in kind from himself. But a Christian, even one raised in the church, is told that he was a rebel once himself; and the unbeliever--though a rebel against the truth--is not that different from what he used to be.

Xenophobia is always a factor in relations between communities, but for the most devout Christian there must be an element of empathy, while for the most devout Muslim there must be a sense of betrayal.

I've taken pictures of a beautiful scene only to discover later that a great part of its beauty lay in the contrasts not of color but of light. The human eye is amazingly dynamic, able to flick from one part of the view to another with 10 times the light in a fraction of a second. Unfortunately the developed picture can only use reflected light, and you do not get the same dynamic range of intensities that we see every day.

But suppose a picture were displayed not by reflected but by transmitted light. Imagine a picture (a slide) illuminated from behind by light that is not uniform. It would not be terribly hard to hand make masks for a particular slide using filters and a very bright light source. It seems quite hard to do this automatically. Even digital images, which use the CRT to generate different light intensities, have a certain flatness. Can we make a CRT (or LED-based system) with a greater range of brilliancy, and will the intrinsic coarseness of resolution for the light source interfere with the fine resolution of the picture itself?

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture

It is delightful to find a title like An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture, by Roger Scruton. I am ignorant of many things, but I am not an idiot.

Dr. Scruton begins by defining what he means by culture, then giving a quick history of culture from the Enlightenment through Modernism and PostModernism. One central principle of his work is that culture has a religious root and a religious meaning. Within that tradition, the culture is as invisible as the water a fish swims in. Folk music is the music that other folks sing, our music is just what comes naturally to us.

Unfortunately, though Dr. Scruton worries about the "anthropologist effect" which by abstracting and distancing the observer biases the observer to a reductionist view, he applies that same approach to religion. He falls in with the view that religion is constructed to explain the world and to regulate marriage and mourning; instead of a response to an encounter (however confused) with God. He confuses the origins of religion and magic. This means that some of his statements, and certainly his conclusions, have the feel of hanging in mid-air.

This is the more regrettable since his analysis is essentially correct. Side effects of religion include art to assist the worshiper in devotion, "rites of passage" into adulthood and into marriage, a place and meaning for the dead, a community to belong to, and obligations to the living, the dead, and the unborn.

These arts and rites and views and obligations form a web which he calls the common culture, and distinguishes this from "'high culture,' which is a form of expertise." Both of these he distinguishes from "popular culture," which is not derived from religion or from expertise.

When the religion is no longer believed, the art can survive, but the meaning drains away from the rituals and the obligations. The "high culture" is still valuable, but the "common culture" must begin to change, and loses cohesion. With sex desacralized, marriage becomes more of a social contract, and the obligation to the children more of a personal than societal imperative.

The history of the West since the Enlightenment has been of a shift from obligations to God and tribe to obligations to a more abstract country, and of a shift from social obligations to individual liberties. To fill the void left by religion, the 18'th century elevated aesthetics: things valued because of their beauty or fittingness as means of ennobling the human spirit. Of course this meant that these noble artworks needed to be recognized, and a sort of priesthood of aesthetic/cultured men created to guard and explain them. To fill the void left by the sense of community rose Romanticism, which idealized nature and the simple villages and thereby proved that we'd lost them.

He introduces a critical distinction attributed to Coleridge between fantasy and imagination. The fantasy is the desire or image we bring to art looking for a representation of it, while imagination is our response to the art. Fantasy looks for an illusion, but our imagination rouses our response to the artist's thoughts. An example of fantasy is, of course, pornography: the voyeur looks for a representation of his desire, and little else. For imagination he offers the example of someone watching Othello: actively and intelligently empathizing with complex characters. Sentimentality derives from fantasy: the focus of Tennyson's In Memoriam is the grieving poet; the dead man is a pale cartoon.

I don't think the distinction between fantasy and imagination is quite as clearcut as he does.

As religion retreated still farther, and value reduces merely to price, we get modernism, and he takes Wagner as an example. Wagner, he says, tried to use grand music and a grand myth to evoke nobility. Unable to conceive of marriage and raising a family as a sacred occupation, but convinced of the nobility of love, he offers the image of self-sacrificing love, where even the divine can only be redeemed through human love and death. Okaaay . . . But what is worse is what has become of his work in modern productions: the action is invariably caricatured, wrapped in inverted commas, and reduced to the dimensions of a television sitcom. Sarcasm and satire run riot on the stage, not because they have anything to prove or say in the shadow of this unsurpassably noble music, but because the nobility has become intolerable.

In modernity every goal and value is "anthropologized," partly because of the corrosive irreligion and partly in reaction to the empty sentimentality that went before. The "high culture" now becomes empty of any authority (who says xyz is ennobling, and why do I care?). Reaction became a value in its own right, and it has been assumed that there can be no authentic creation in the sphere of high art which is not in some way a 'challenge' to the ordinary public. The priesthood of high culture now won't recognize anything as cultured unless it shocks.

Dr. Scruton believes that photography, because it reflects what is present now without any filtering of the artist's intelligence or imagination, is very hard to make great art with. Cinema, he argues, has an embedded tendency to degenerate into the flashy, the sexy, and the violent.

Now we come to pop culture, or youth culture (which is essentially the same thing). One of my teenage daughters read this chapter, and asserts that his description of music is unfair. My impressions match his, however--the music is banal, noisy, self-indulgent, inhuman (literally--processed and distorted and sometimes {techno} mechanistic) and despairing. With no meaningful rites of passage and no sense of obligation in sex or in the country, the youth culture becomes entirely self-referential and self-indulgent. Rejection of adult authority is an article of faith, and the lack of intellectual discipline leaves the artists inarticulate.

The past century saw the rise of the "intellectual," the self-appointed wise man inspired to tell us all how to run our lives and countries. A pity so many of them were so disconnected from real life . . . And an even deeper pity so many people were willing to follow them.

PostModernism denies the possibility of truth, and claims that every reality is "constructed," and that every form of authority is an illegitimate power and must be fought. Why this solipsistic (and self-contradictory) manure should be so popular eludes me, but it infects campuses and even popular culture (my observation). This destroys everything, as it is meant to do. Dr. Scruton gives examples of the deconstructionists' prose, and likens it to magical spells of destruction--which I find very apt.

Dr. Scruton concludes by bewailing the destruction of all forms of culture around us, and re-emphasizing that the only way to re-invigorate culture and society is with a common culture, and the only way to a common culture is through a religion or the moral equivalent. We need the Wagnerian 'as if'; we need the vision of ourselves as ennobled by our aims and passions, existing in ethical relation with our kind. But we must fee ourselves of those last romantic illusions--including the illusion that love is the answer. Love is not the answer, but the question, the thing which sets us searching for meaning in a world from which meaning has retreated. How then, should we live, when we live beyond belief? He ends by invoking Confucius as an exemplar of one who does not believe, but lives as if he did.

Dr. Scruton (and you, too) should read Francis Schaeffer's The God Who Is There for a parallel account of the decay of Western society through the philosophers and the arts.

My quick overview does little justice to the book. He is a much better writer than I, and lucidly explains where we are and how we got here as far as culture is concerned. I think the distinction between ideal high culture and pop culture is not quite as clear as he implies. Some popular artists have a deep understanding of life, and will eventually find their work in the canon of high culture. For instance, most comic strips rely on caricature and tired jokes, but a few sometimes remind me of the only-superficially simple Chinese paintings. And within a common culture, if an artwork has a noble meaning, even if the execution of the art is inferior, it is not fair to call it kitsch.

I'm glad he did not call for a revival of religion in order to revive culture. I don't know whether he thinks it impossible to believe anymore, or inappropriate to try to invoke the Almighty in defense of Browning. I say Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matt 6:33).

Read the book.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

The West and the Rest

Roger Scruton wrote The West and the Rest to try to explain what makes up the political philosophy we call the West, and how this conflicts with Islam and other parts of the world. He's a good writer, quite clear, who hasn't a clue what the real origin and nature of religion is. He considers them constructs designed to bind people together in communities, instead of responses to the numinous with obedience and community being side effects.

Setting aside this inadequacy, his analysis is quite good. He explains why democratic institutions are not sufficient to create a democratic society—the society must in some form pre-date the political forms. It is not enough to vote, you must vote for the common good, and that means you must consider yourself part of the community. If you do not, your attachments will be local to family, clan, religion, or the small territory you call home. Why this rather obvious fact hasn't been discussed more I can't say, but it is rather disgusting to read of observers at an election in a place like Liberia testifying that the elections were open and fair and democratic, when anybody can see that the decision was preordained, the courts corrupt, and the loyalties tribal at their widest.

The Enlightenment era brought the rise of the modern nation-states in which the web of obligations is based on territory and a somewhat secular government. Religions are required to recognize that secular law has its own jurisdiction. But the loyalty to a territory larger than a village is a bit abstract, and must be founded on some kinds of associations. To defend a nation requires people willing to die for it, which means people willing to die for strangers. Most nations in the UN are not actually nations in this sense, but are instead territories which we agree to call a nation and which are ruled by some particular tribe which is stronger than the rest.

Islam, of course, rejects the concept of secular law, despises the garbage we sell defended by free speech, and has recently begun to fuse the requirement for jihad with the concept of a suicide attack as self-sacrifice; as shown in Khomeini's government and the current Palestinian culture. Scruton finds some good in the madrasah system, in that the students are given a common culture, a dignified text to memorize, and “a repertoire of quotations, maxims, and well-crafted sayings upon which to draw in one's daily life and relationships.” This certainly is superior to an education by TV, with quotes from Beavis and the Simpsons. He calls this a common but not high culture, which honors knowledge but ignores the high culture of medieval Islam; and contrasts this with our education, which “does not impart a common culture; it gives little guidance for life, few certainties, and unequal skills,” but which does offer for those interested the opportunity to learn a high culture where ignorance is despised.

Globalization forces the conflict, and makes the irritations worse. He regrets the acquisition of essentially sovereign powers by the global financial institutions. He despises the imposition of modern architecture, and shows how this contributes to the resentment. He holds that “It is Israel's relation to America that makes Israel the target of militant Islam,” not our relationship to Israel that makes us the target. (Partly true, I think) Globalization also spreads the terrorism, and since it is not based in any simple well-defined territory or political entity, the standard methods of fighting it fail.

Still worse, the dominant political philosophies in Europe and the US are explicitly multicultural, undercutting any demand that immigrants become part of the culture with its web of obligations: and growing numbers, especially Muslims, do not. These are not just parasites, but form a source of violent discontents themselves—since they define themselves by religion, and the clearest way to do this is by violence.

He says we must reexamine and possibly change

  • our immigration philosophy and policies
  • multiculturalism as a goal
  • free trade in the sense of undermining other nation's sovereignties when they establish barriers in their own interests
  • our legal recognition of multinationals as legal persons
  • our indifference to the erosion of secular law and territorial jurisdiction by predatory litigation
  • our devotion to consumption, especially consumption of things we have to import
“Terrorism is not, after all, an enemy, but a method used by the enemy. The enemy is of two kinds: the tyrant dictator, and the religious fanatic whom the tyrant protects. To act against the first is feasible, if we are prepared to play by the tyrant's rules. But to act against the second requires a credible alternative to the absolutes with which he conjures. It requires us not merely to believe in something, but to study how to put our beliefs into practice.”

OK, do we believe in anything besides consumerism anymore? It isn't perfectly clear if Scruton wants us to believe in the Enlightenment or in Christianity. Let me warn against trying to become Christians in order to have something to defeat the enemy with—God isn't a means.

Read the book.

The answer is “Yes, I'd fly on a shuttle.” Some of my earliest memories are of the Mercury countdowns, and I've always dreamed of traveling in space. You'll say its a strange dream for a man afraid of heights, and a foolish one for a pudgy desk jockey. But I remember staying up late glued to the crackly shortwave radio as the Eagle landed. My father went to bed then, but I stayed up and waited to hear that giant step, and then went outside to try to see the moon through the African clouds. Take all precautions, don't launch in the cold or wind, check the tiles before reentry—why take unnecessary risks? But the rest of the risks, embrace. They felt the same, but they put their lives where that dream was, while I dreamed other dreams and followed them. For me its not a greedy dream—I don't need to be first, I just want to be there. And if I can't go, at least we can, in the persons of a few who carry our dream and explore for us all. As they go, a little of us goes with them, and as they died a little of us died too. May the Lord receive their souls.