Sunday, December 25, 2011

this pestilent art of the Renaissance

John Ruskin linked the health of Christianity to the arts, and especially to architecture. His thoughts are my first encounter with a deep and angry dismissal of the Renaissance.

Here are his very words (not I hope, so wrenched out of context as to
change his meaning):

XXXVII. Instant degradation followed in every direction,—a flood of folly and hypocrisy. Mythologies ill understood at first, then perverted into feeble sensualities, take the place of the representations of Christian subjects, which had become blasphemous under the treatment of men like the Caracci. Gods without power, satyrs without rusticity, nymphs without innocence, men without humanity, gather into idiot groups upon the polluted canvas, and scenic affectations encumber the streets with preposterous marble. Lower and lower declines the level of abused intellect; the base school of landscape gradually usurps the place of the historical painting, which had sunk into prurient pedantry,—the Alsatian sublimities of Salvator, the confectionery idealities of Claude, the dull manufacture of Gaspar and Canaletto, south of the Alps, and on the north the patient devotion of besotted lives to delineation of bricks and fogs, fat cattle and ditchwater. And thus Christianity and morality, courage, and intellect, and art all crumbling together into one wreck, we are hurried on to the fall of Italy, the revolution in France, and the condition of art in England (saved by her Protestantism from severer penalty) in the time of George II.

this pestilent art of the Renaissance.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Buddhism in South-east Asia

I've just finished reading a book review of a history of Buddhism in south east Asia - Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar [Burma].... etc.  Very interesting indeed - I must get this book and read it carefully.  What jumped out at me was a novel look at what I have been calling syncretism.... but will have to modify perhaps - or modify for different places and different religions.  Apparently the ordinary Buddhists of this region - not the monks - but ordinary people, picked and chose which religion they would practise, depending on what the particular need was at any particular moment. Also some religions were considered appropriate in their place - that is, royal families were expected to be Hindu [properly speaking, followers of Brahamic religion], while ordinary people were Buddhist....

What jumped out at me though was that people in south east Asia do not understand the need to have one religion that is True, and have no need to reject other religions for one true religion.  It would be something like Christians going on the Hajj, and Muslims going to Confession, and Jews praying five times a day.....

Here is the review:

and here is the book:

Prapod Assavavirulhakarn.  The Ascendancy of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia.  Chiang Mai, Thailand:  Silkworm books, 2010

Monday, December 12, 2011


I wrote theodicy at the top of this post, but actually this is a little post on un-theodicy.  Theodicy being that branch of theological rumination that asks, 'If God is good, why is there evil?'

Great brains and people far more knowledgable than I will ever be have batted this one about for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.

But, I got to thinking today about the lot of most people in most historical epochs, and as an historian - not as an amateur philosopher or theologian, but as an historian - and as a human - that the question may be backwards.

Given that most people live miserable lives most of the time and have done so for most of history - shouldn't the question be, Why is there any good?

For most of the human race throughout history, each day brings a struggle to survive, let alone relax and play.  Beyond that, for many in many times and places each day brought disease, war, injury, hurt feelings... lost loved ones, lost things, things that don't work as they were designed, frustrations.... well, I have just thrown a few out there... but the list is very long.

So, when a brief moment of satisfaction, or joy, or calm contentment arrives - it is a rare jewel for most.  It seems so out of sync with normality though - if normality is unhappiness then why is this equilibrium of evil thrown off balance every so often by good?

I do understand that there may indeed be people who are happy more often than not - I see them in the streets smiling, laughing, talking, etc. etc.....but they are a tiny minority of the 6 billion or so of us presently crowded here -- and a tinier proportion of the vast numbers who have ever lived.

So, why is there happiness, I would like to know ---- to try us?  to let us more deeply appreciate evil? What?!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

cave paintings

Cave paintings are sometimes seen as evidence of early religion.  So-called 'nomadic' peoples hunted, fished and gathered berries or fruit in season [depending where they were located in the world].  We do know from anthropological studies of indigenous American peoples that power-control [as defined my the late Mary Black Rogers] was ascribed to all living and non-living things.  Thus hunting was not a matter of technical skill, but of degree of power-control of the hunter vis a vis the hunted.  From this it seems reasonable to extrapolate the possibility that cave paintings of animals were connected somehow to having a successful hunt.

In one set of paintings at Pech Merle in the Pyrenees region of France, images of spotted horses intrigue scholars.  Recently DNA testing has shown that spotted horses indeed did live in this era and that the paintings were of real animals and not imagined animals.

Read the link below to get the full account.