Finished Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni. Iranian-American woman moves back to Iran, works as a journalist. Some interesting insights into the lives of the young middle and upper class in Tehran.
Less successful in other ways. The political insights seem somewhat dubious. Moaveni struggles to reconcile the lukewarm and apathetic response to Iranian reformers and politics with her belief that Iranians really want a secular government. She concludes that they want it but think it's inevitable, so are just waiting for the older generation to die off. Seems more plausible to me that while they don't like the current regime, they doubt a secular regime would be an improvement. Also inertia and conservatism are always powerful forces in human affairs.
There's also an awful lot of dreary finding-oneself psychobabble, culminating in exactly the same insight as every single other book of ex-pat-lit: that while not belonging entirely to either country, one can find a kind of home in the synthesis and diaspora. Fine, but she could have saved herself a lot of trouble by just reading Salman Rushdie or Monica Ali or anyone else and getting the same take-home message.
Overall, take with a pinch of salt, but does counter some myths about modern Iran.
What I'm Listening To
Part-way through TTC lecture course Philosophy and Religion in the West by Phillip Cary. 32 lectures. Only covers Judaism and Christianity though: no Islam, which makes it a bit like reading a biography of Groucho and Harpo Marx: would have thought he could have put a one-lecture summary in or something.
Found the first section, on the relationship between Judaeo-Christianity and Neoplatonism, absolutely fascinating. I think one thing that's fooled me before is that the Neoplatonists like Plotinus aren't that much like old Plato himself. It seemed to me that the cave analogy was more aimed at political analogy than ontological analogy: "you may laugh at us philosophers but it's only because we've seen so much further than you troglodytes, so put us in charge anyway." And in his discussion of the afterlife, his spokesman Socrates seems very vague and essentially says only something-like-this-might-happen, rather than giving a specific prescription.
Cary draws a strong contrast between scriptural Christianity and Neoplatonism. The Neoplatonists were strongly dualistic. They believed that the human body is of the element earth and is thus bound to Earth; whereas the human spirit is made of air or fire or quintessence, and thus belongs to the Heavens. Hence the human spirit comes from somewhere else, is briefly imprisoned on Earth, then returns to the heavens. The human spirit is alien to the body, and alien to the Earth. Both the earth and the body are somehow unclean, and inferior to the heavens and the spirit.
In both the old and new testaments though, this dualism doesn't really exist. The human soul is barely or never mentioned. Cary points out that when the stone is rolled back from Jesus' tomb, it's not that the body is there and the spirit has gone to Heaven: the whole point is that the body isn't there either. The world isn't an unclean place that we are alien to and should escape from: the world was created by God precisely to be a home for us. Cary interprets Revelation to mean that at the great ending we don't all fly off to heaven: the wonderful thing is that heaven comes right down to Earth and resurrects everyone right here.
It's interesting, and it does seem to me that modern fundamentalists tend to lean more towards the Neoplatonist side than the Scriptural side. They share the same emphasis on the spirit, with the body and the world seen as somewhat unclean. I notice from reading evangelical blogs that they tend to be peculiarly disparaging of environmentalism, frequently interpreting a concern for the environment as a form of idolatry. That seems very Neoplatonist in its disapproval of the world, and doesn't really fit the Genesis notion that humans have a stewardship of it.
Also, if we go back to the proper Plato, I'm reminded of the discussion of love in the Symposium. The format of that dialogue is that various flawed characters (windbag, traitor, backstabber) give flawed discussions of (homosexual) love, and Plato's mouthpiece Socrates comes in at the end to set them straight with a discussion of (heterosexual, then Platonic) love as a union of opposites. It seems to me that fundamentalists too share this fascination with heterosexuality and homosexuality, whereas it's rarely mentioned in the bible. Their particular abhorrence for homosexuality might come from Neoplatonist notions that only opposites should unite, rather than a particular emphasis on this sin in Scripture.
Economics. NHS pay ceilings cause patient deaths.
Blogs. Dietgirl poses for Elle.
|< "Numbers have colors, mom." | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >|