Monthly Archives: January 2012

Jesus well adjusted?

“He was not at all like the psychologist’s picture of the integrated, balanced, adjusted, happily married, employed, popular citizen. You can’t really be very well ‘adjusted’ to your world if it says you ‘have a devil’ and ends by nailing you up naked to a stake of wood.” CS Lewis quoted in Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew

[ publicize off]


Mwenda on Africa – absolutely brilliant!

The most intellectual African man I’ve ever heard give a presentation. Andrew Mwenda (Ugandan editor of The Independent) discusses “Africa and the Curse of Foreign Aid” at Yale in 2010. Quote: “The biggest challenge our continent is facing is how we can foster incentives for governments to develop a vested interest in building functional public institutions that can deliver public goods and public services through public institutions or political institutions impersonally to anonymous citizens” – In 78 minutes he covers everything from the sociological foundations of African political patronage (basically rooted in social insurance against agrarian risk), state functionality, incentives and the need for existential threats as drivers for real change. Do yourself a favor and learn from an African who clearly has something worthwhile to say.

Seeing through a glass dimly

“The vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy:
Thine has a great hook nose like thine,
Mine has a snub nose like to mine….
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white”
-William Blake
Phillip Yancey quotes this poem in his book “The Jesus I Never Knew” which I’m reading at the moment. It strikes at something that is so blatant, and yet I forget it all the time: we do not see things as they are, but as we are (cf Anais Nin). We walk around with lenses on our eyes and filters on our ears. We may hear the same words as each other but interpret them differently, or better yet, remember them differently (on that note, see this TED talk by Daniel Kahneman). This is surely what David meant when he said:26“To the faithful you show yourself faithful,to the blameless you show yourself blameless,

27to the pure you show yourself pure,

but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

Is God different to different people? Or do we see the same God differently? I think we do not see God, or the Bible, or each other objectively. Since we are a product of all that we have experienced, we see and interact with everything in light of that fact. You are the product of the people you meet, the books you read, the movies you watch, the courses you study – like a traveler learning new phrases and acquiring new mannerisms, we are far less ‘individual’ than we think we are.

Importantly, this is not just an interesting fact – a little thought experiment to brighten a dreary day, it really is of utmost importance. If I read the Bible differently to you, if I hear the same words of God differently to you, this is a problem. I’m not talking about the legitimate variety of expressions and ways we respond to God, I’m talking about deciding who God is, what his priorities are, and thus what ours should be. These should not be open to wide interpretation. Either God is something or He is not.

I wonder to what extent the Gospel writers were influenced by their own experiences? Their Jewishness, or their medicalness, or simply their personality type. Perhaps some degree of variation is actually what God wants, after all it was Him who chose 4 gospels and not one.


Ben Goldachre – Bad Science [TED]

Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity | Brain Pickings

“Einstein famously attributed some of his greatest physics breakthroughs to his violin breaks, which he believed connected different parts of his brain in new ways.”

via Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity | Brain Pickings.

The ships’s wake

“More than 1900 years later,” said H.G.Wells, ” a historian like myself, who doesn’t even call himself a Christian, finds the picture centering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant man…The historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is ‘what did he leave to grow?’ Did he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first.” You can gauge the size of a ship that has passed out of sight by the huge wake it leaves behind.”

– Phillip Yancey in “The Jesus I Never Knew” (p19)

The Best of Open Culture 2011

The Best of Open Culture 2011

 by Dan Colman

Before we rush headlong into a new year, it’s worth pausing, ever so briefly, to consider the ground we covered in 2011. What topics resonated with you … and jazzed us? Today, we’re highlighting 10 thematic areas (and 46 posts) that captured the imagination. Chances are you missed a few gems here. So please join us on our brief journey back into time. Tomorrow, we start looking forward again.

1) Universities Offer More Free Courses, Then Start Pushing Toward Certificates: The year started well enough. Yale released another 10 stellar open courses. (Find them on our list of 400 Free Courses). Then other universities started pushing the envelope on the open course format. This fall, Stanford launched a series of free courses that combined video lectures with more dynamic resources – short quizzes; the ability to pose questions to Stanford instructors; feedback on your overall performance; a statement of accomplishment from the instructor, etc. A new round of free courses will start in January and February. (Get the full list and enroll here.) Finally, keep your eyes peeled for this: In 2012, MIT will offer similar courses, but with one big difference. Students will get an official certificate at the end of the course, all at a very minimal charge. More details here.

2) Cultural Icons at Occupy Wall Street: OWS was a big national story, and we were always intrigued by its cultural dimension — by the cultural figures who championed the movement. You can revisit performances/speeches by: Philip Glass & Lou ReedWillie Nelson, Pete Seeger, and Arlo GuthrieDavid Crosby and Graham NashJoseph Stiglitz and Lawrence LessigNoam Chomsky; and Slavoj Zizek. Also check out: 8 Lectures from Occupy Harvard and Artistic Posters From Occupy Wall Street.

3) Books Intelligent People Should Read: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s list “8 (Free) Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read” ended up generating far more conversation and controversy than we would have expected. (Users have left 83 comments at last count.) No matter what you think of his rationale for choosing these texts, the books make for essential reading, and they’re freely available online.

Tyson’s list dovetails fairly nicely with another list of essential texts — The Harvard Classics, a 51 volume set that’s available online. According to Charles W. Eliot, the legendary Harvard president, if you were to spend just 15 minutes a day reading these books, you could give yourself a proper liberal education. And that could partly apply to another list we pulled together: 20 Popular High School Books Available as Free eBooks & Audio Books— the great literary classics taught in classrooms all across America, all free…

4) Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry: Christopher Hitchens left us this past month. And, until his last day, Hitchens was the same old Hitch — prolific, incisive, surly and defiant, especially when asked about whether he’d change his position on religion, spirituality and the afterlife. All of this was on display when he spoke at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles last February. We covered his comments in a post called, No Deathbed Conversion for Me, Thanks, But it was Good of You to Ask. And even from the grave, Hitchens did more of the same, forcing us to question the whole modern meaning of Christmas.

During Hitch’s final days, Stephen Fry emceed a large tribute to his friend in London, an event that brought together Richard Dawkins, Christopher Buckley, Salman Rushdie, Lewis Lapham, Martin Amis, poet James Fenton and actor Sean Penn. It’s well worth a watch. But you also shouldn’t miss some other great videos featuring the wisdom of Mr. Fry — his introduction to the strange world of nanoscience, his animated debate on the virtues (or lack thereof) of the Catholic Church, and his thoughtful reflection, What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 18.

5) Four for the Fab Four: John, Paul, Ringo and George. We sneak them in whenever we can. A sprinkling here and there. This year, we served up an ever-popular post, Guitarist Randy Bachman Demystifies the Opening Chord of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, and a no less popular freebie: Download The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine as a Free, Interactive eBook. Trailing right behind are two other good Beatles picks: All Together Now: Every Beatles Song Played at Once and The Beatles’ Rooftop Concert: The Last Gig.

6) Wisdom from Great Philosophers: Want the chance to take courses from great philosophers? Here’s your opportunity. Our meta post brought together courses/lectures from Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, John Searle, Walter Kaufmann, Leo Strauss, Hubert Dreyfus, and Michael Sandel. You could get lost in this for days. Also while you’re at it, you should check out The History of Philosophy … Without Any Gaps, an ongoing podcast created by Peter Adamson (King’s College London) that moves from the Ancients to the Moderns. Plus we’d encourage you to revisit: Noam Chomsky & Michel Foucault Debate Human Nature & Power in 1971.

7) Vintage Film Collections: Scouring the web for vintage films. It’s something we love to do. In 2011, we brought you 22 films by Alfred Hitchcock25 Westerns with John Wayne32 Film Noir classics, and a series of films by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. All are listed in our big collection of Free Movies Online.

8) Back to the Future: We had fun going back — way back — and seeing how past generations imagined the future. Arthur C. Clarke Predicted the Future in 1964 … And Pretty Much Nailed It. Before that, American fashion designers looked roughly 70 years into the future and guessed how women might dress in Year 2000. Turns out fashion designers aren’t the best futurists. And, even before that (circa 1922), we get to see the world’s first mobile phone in action. Seriously!

9) Animated Films: 2011 started off on exactly the right note. On January 1, we featured Shel Silverstein’s animated version of The Giving TreeThen some other gems followed: Destino, the Salvador Dalí – Disney collaboration that started in 1946 and finished in 1999; Spike Jonze’s Auprès de Toi (To Die By Your Side), a short stop motion film set inside the famous Parisian bookstore, Shakespeare and Company; John Turturro narrating an animated version of Italo Calvino’s fairy tale, “The False Grandmother;” and a series of animated films featuring the voice of Orson Welles. Also let’s not forget these splendid animation concepts for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and, just for good measure, Terry Gilliam’s vintage primer on making your own cut-out animation.

10) New Archives & Art on the Web: Last but not least — 2011′s new archival projects that brought great culture to the web.

And now onward into 2012….