There are two really nice recent reviews of True Paradox, one in this morning’s Wall Street Journal and one a couple of weeks ago in Patheos. Both do a wonderful job of distilling the key themes of the book– in many respects more eloquently than True Paradox itself. I’m having trouble with links on the blog, but I’ll post links as soon as I get the links working again.
During my stay in Hong Kong last week, I got several lessons in Chinese manners, usually after I’d managed to mix things up. I assumed that the two sets of chopsticks at a formal Chinese dinner were there so that a backup would be available if necessary, not realizing that each had a specific role (a bit like the salad and dinner forks I’m a little more familiar with). And after handing out a few business cards, I learned that the proper etiquette is to present your card with both hands, rather than just one.
Trickiest for me is the rule that, if you cross your legs while sitting down, it’s impolite to point a shoe toward the person or persons opposite you. Pointing your shoe is a sign of disrespect. If you happen to watch the video of my lecture “Is Justice Possible?” at Hong Kong University, you’ll notice that I paid nearly as much attention to my feet as to the very challenging and interesting questions. I finally concluded the best bet was simply not to cross my legs.
I managed to see the full-range of Beijing skies in my very packed two and a half day visit (which has just come to an end): the sky was almost perfectly blue on Monday; yesterday the sky was still blue, with just a fringe of yellow on the horizons; today it was blocked by an impenetrable white haze of smog and mist. A student I met said her dormitory room was unusually cold last week because the supply of coal used to heat the dorms was cut off during the APEC meetings—a small part of the price of the blue sky.
Having spent the morning yesterday at the Forbidden City, which is right next to China’s current governmental buildings, it occurred to me that Beijing’s pollution falls on the elite as well as the poor. Perhaps this will make Chinese leaders more sensitive to the health risks and other consequences of the pollution than they would be if the Chinese factories were further removed from the capital city.
The Forbidden City itself is quite beautiful, and was quite mobbed. It was originally built in the early 1400s, during the Ming Dynasty, and consists of a series of highly decorated buildings progressing from an outer court where the Emperor’s ministers lived to an inner court where he and his inner circle lived. I seemed to be one of the few Westerners there; many of the men who had come had notably calloused hands (which I noticed as we all jostled for position at the windows of the palace buildings), which seemed to confirm my host’s comment that the Forbidden City is especially popular with traditionalists and men and women from the Chinese countryside.
Sooner or later, every conversation here in Hong Kong turns to the Occupy movement. During my five days here, I’ve quickly found that reactions to the movement are much more complicated than I imagined before I came. The movement is a protest against a change in the process for selecting the leading official in Hong Kong that was touted by Beijing as enhancing democracy. As I understand it, the 1200 person election committee, which consists of representatives from various Hong Kong constituencies will select two or three nominees. Hong Kong’s citizens will then vote for their preferred candidate among the nominees. Supporters of the movement have set up tents in three different parts of Hong Kong, blocking roads in the heart of the city. Even within the church, views of the civil disobedience are sharply divided. Some feel it that it is inappropriate to undercut secular authority, while others view the protests as a justified challenge, often by analogy to the Civil Rights movement and other civil disobedience campaigns.
Whatever one’s views of Occupy, it has become a major tourist attraction. Yesterday, when I walked through the tents—and umbrellas, a symbol of the movement—of the main site in downtown Hong Kong, there were dozens of tourists taking pictures with their phones. More on the movement in the coming days.
In a few hours, I fly to Beijing for the last three days of this trip. Last week, Beijing’s skies were uncharacteristically clear and blue, as a result of restrictions put in place for President Obama’s visit. (The blue skies are described as APEC Blue in the press– a reference to the meetings that brought Obama and other leaders to Beijing). Apparently, the smog is now rolling back in, just in time for my arrival.
My apologies for the long lag between posts. I’ve gotten swept up in preparations for various speaking events and other obligations, and have let weeks slip by without posting anything new, much less interesting.
I’m in Hong Kong and will be putting up new posts soon. In the meantime, here is a recent column discussing an intriguing shift toward the testimonial in the writings of popular atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.
For those who happen to be in the Boston/Cambridge area, and are perhaps looking for a family outing, I’ll be doing a book event at the Harvard Coop on Saturday.
I have a little op-ed in the paper this morning about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Although the news is nearly all bad, history suggests that Christianity will one day return to places like Iraq.
In my most recent “Money” column for World Magazine, I wrote about the takeover battle for Family Dollar, which is still very much unresolved.
In Why Tolerate Religion?, the book that provided the theme for my Veritas Forum conversation with Brian Leiter last week, Brian defines religion (which is notoriously difficult to define for the purposes of the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom) as consisting of 1) categorical demands on a believer; 2) insulation from the evidence of science and common sense; and 3) a source of existential consolation. The first and third components strike me as accurate; the second doesn’t.
Defining religious belief as irrational seems to suggest that materialists—those who believe that the physical, material world is the only reality—reach their conclusions about the nature of our existence based on an assessment of evidence, whereas religious believers simply make a leap of faith. In reality, each of us weighs the best evidence we can find about the nature of our existence, and we draw our conclusions based on good but incomplete information. Materialists and Christians weigh evidence differently– Christians find the evidence of Jesus’s resurrection compelling, for instance, whereas materialists do not– but both weigh evidence and draw the best conclusions they can.
In describing religious belief as insulated from evidence, I think Brian may be thinking about religious doctrine, rather than religious belief. Religious doctrine may have components that are not based on ordinary evidence, or cannot be assessed based on ordinary evidence. But when a religious believer concludes (either initially, or after a period of doubt) that a set of beliefs is true, he or she is assessing evidence, just as a materialist is.
Brian’s book is quite provocative (and frustrating at times for a Christian reader) but well worth reading. In our conversation, we concluded that we actually agreed on the underlying legal issues 84% of the time.