Archives For Greed



Part 1: Our Greed, the Nemesis of Beauty

by C. Christopher Smith,
ERB founding editor

I’ve recently been listening to the audiobook edition of John O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, and have been struck by the insights that the late Irish poet offers to our present election season in the United States. I first encountered O’Donohue’s work through his On Being interview with Krista Tippett, which I highly recommend if you are not familiar with his work.

Over the course of a few posts, I will reflect on O’Donohue’s thoughts and their relevance to the current presidential season.

CAVEAT: Although I will be deeply critical of both major party candidates, I urge readers to vote (or not) according to their conscience, asking which course of voting would most likely promote the possibility of beauty and flourishing in the years to come. But even more, I am advocating for a politics of beauty that would saturate our engagement in all levels of politics and transform the ways we think about the ends toward we our communities and nations are moving, and the virtues and practices that are driving us in this direction.

NOTE: For those who want to read along, I will be working from the audiobook edition, which varies slightly from text editions of the book. 

“Our times are riven with anxiety. The natural innocence and trust that we had in our sensibilities in the Western world has been broken. The innocence is lost, and we know now that anything can happen from one minute to the next. We live in very uncertain times. Politics cannot help us because it has become synonymous with economics. Religion has got into the mathematics of morality. And economics itself, as the presiding world ideology, has become radically uncertain.  I believe that now is the time to invoke and awaken beauty because in a sense there is nowhere else left to go and because the situation in which we are in has actually been caused substantially by our denial of beauty. In a way, all of the contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty itself. When you look at postmodern society, it is absolutely astounding how much ugliness we are willing to endure.”  – John O’Donohue

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Can Something Beautiful
Arise Out of the Rubble?”

A review of
Hidden in the Rubble: A Haitian Pilgrimage
To Compassion and Resurrection.

By Gerard Thomas Straub.

Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

Hidden in the Rubble: A Haitian Pilgrimage
To Compassion and Resurrection.

Gerard Thomas Straub.

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2010.

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Hidden in the Rubble - GT StraubI very much appreciate books of this nature that are written from the center rather than the perimeter.  It’s always easy to make critiques, give judgments and render analysis when you’re in a safe chair on the outside looking in.  Those objective perspectives can sometimes be helpful, but writings that come from the heart of one who is in the middle of the “story” carry with them a certain passion and power.  This is one of those books…informative and thought-provoking and at the same time filled with a real sincerity of heart that easily draws the reader in.  Knowing little about Haiti myself (much to my discredit) except for what I see and hear on the news, the verbal images he paints and the insights he gives are invaluable to those of us who would like to know and understand more about our struggling neighbors to the south.

In his opening pages, the author shares with us an entry out of his journal:

Despite the magnificent natural beauty of Haiti, Haiti is an ugly place because wide-scale suffering is accepted and allowed to flourish.  People are quick to offer an array of historical, social, and political reasons for the poverty, but no one really wants to end it or at least there is no collective will to end it.  The government is corrupt.  The infrastructure is woefully inadequate for the growing population.  Haiti is a dismal place, teeming with anger and rage and broken, empty promises. From my perspective, at least on a purely rational level, the situation in Haiti is virtually hopeless.  No amount of well-intentioned “projects” is going to make a difference.  For things to change, the hearts of people in Haiti and around the world must be broken.  We are all to blame for Haiti.  The only hope I see resides in an understanding of Christ and the demands of the gospel.  And that understanding begins with entering more fully into the mystery of the humility of God. (xx-xxi).

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“The Decline and Fall of Empire”

A Review of
The Rule of Empires:
Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them,
and Why They Always Fall
By Timothy Parsons

Reviewed by Margaret D’Anieri.

[ Read an excerpt from this book… ]

The Rule of Empires:
Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them,
and Why They Always Fall
Timothy Parsons
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

THE RULE OF EMPIRES - Timothy ParsonsAs I walked into a coffee shop recently, I noticed that the entryway was adorned with pithy sayings in the form of faux shaving cream on the clear doors and windows. One of those sayings was “build communities, not empires.” A new book, The Rule of Empires by Timothy Parsons, argues that empire builders often believed they could do both: expand the reach of political and economic control while building a communal identity that would better the empire’s subjects. Whether naïve belief or cynical rationalization, Parsons suggests that this construct is an empty one:

By their very nature, empires can never be – and never were – humane, liberal, or tolerant. Would-be Caesars throughout history sought glory, land, and, most important, plunder. This true nature of empire was more obvious in pre-modern times when it was unnecessary to disguise such base motives. In recent centuries, however, imperial conquerors have tried to hide their naked self-interest by promising to rule for the good of their subjects. This was and always will be a cynical and hypocritical canard. Empire has never been more than naked self-interest masquerading as virtue.

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Food Fraud and Bees
BOOKFORUM reviews two new books
on the Food Crisis

Rowan Jacobsen monitors another distressing side effect of agribusiness consolidation in Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honeybee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis. Jacobsen, a US food writer who has contributed to the New York Times and Saveur, examines colony collapse disorder (CCD), which hit the United States’ beekeeping industry in 2006. The syndrome affected half of the nation’s commercial bee operations, wiping out about thirty billion bees.

The most puzzling thing about the CCD outbreak was the abundance of possible triggers. Commercial bee operations were overrun with mites and viruses, and bees were kept on the go—fed corn syrup to stay alive between gigs pollinating monocrop farms. Meanwhile, the crops we have Apis mellifera pollinating are awash in pesticides; in some cases, plants are even genetically modified to produce the chemicals themselves. What’s more, monocrop farming is not conducive to bee health—all pollen is not created equal, and some types offer greater nutritional value than others. Bees need a mixture of pollen sources to sustain their health.

Read the full review:

Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud.
Bee Wilson.
Hardcover: Princeton UP, 2008.
Buy now [ Doulos Christou Books $21 ] [ Amazon ]

Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee
and the Coming Agricultural Crisis.

Rowen Jacobsen.
Hardcover: Bloomsbury, 2008.
Buy now [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

Ron Sider reviews

Many have lamented the meager giving of American Christians. Others have questioned the data on which this criticism was based or pointed out that American Christians give more than those in most other nations. Now we have a careful, scholarly analysis of how much—i.e., how little—American Christians give, plus a sophisticated sociological analysis of why.

Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money is a powerful study about the pitifully small charitable donations of the richest Christians in history. In spite of the fact that most Christian denominations support tithing (see Appendix A), only a tiny fraction of American Christians actually tithe. Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell set out to discover why. Using a number of the best currently available data sets plus a survey and personal interviews of their own, the authors offer the best available information on what American Christians actually give to charitable causes and then try to figure out why such rich Christians give so little.

Read the full review:

Passing the Plate: Why American Christians
Don’t Give Away More Money
Smith / Emerson / Snell.
Hardcover: Oxford UP, 2008.
Buy now  [ Amazon ]

The NY TIMES review of Toni Morrison’s
newest novel A MERCY

A horrifying act stood at the center of Toni Morrison’s 1987 masterwork, “Beloved”: a runaway slave, caught in her effort to escape, cuts the throat of her baby daughter with a handsaw, determined to spare the girl the fate she herself has suffered as a slave. A similarly indelible act stands at the center of Ms. Morrison’s remarkable new novella, “A Mercy,” a small, plangent gem of a story that is, at once, a kind of prelude to “Beloved” and a variation on that earlier book’s exploration of the personal costs of slavery — a system that moves men and women and children around “like checkers” and casts a looming shadow over both parental and romantic love.

Set some 200 years before “Beloved,” “A Mercy” conjures up the beautiful, untamed, lawless world that was America in the 17th century with the same sort of lyrical, verdant prose that distinguished that earlier novel. Gone are the didactic language and schematic architecture that hobbled the author’s 1998 novel, “Paradise”; gone are the cartoonish characters that marred her 2003 novel, “Love.” Instead Ms. Morrison has rediscovered an urgent, poetic voice that enables her to move back and forth with immediacy and ease between the worlds of history and myth, between ordinary daily life and the realm of fable.

All the central characters in this story are orphans, cast off by their parents or swept away from their families by acts of God or nature or human cruelty — literal or figurative exiles susceptible to the centrifugal forces of history. There is Jacob, an Anglo-Dutch trader, whose memories of his own parentless years on the streets “stealing food and cadging gratuities for errands” have left him with a “pulse of pity for orphans and strays.” There is his wife, Rebekka, who as a girl of 16 was sent abroad to America by her father, who, happy to have one less mouth to feed, readily accepted Jacob’s offer of “ ‘reimbursement’ for clothing, expenses and a few supplies” in exchange for a “healthy, chaste wife willing to travel abroad.” And there is Florens, whose mother sees the kindness in Jacob’s heart and begs him to take her young daughter (as payment for a debt owed by their domineering owner) in the hopes that the trader will give her a better life and the possibility of a future as a free woman, not a slave.

Read the full review:

Toni Morrison.
Hardcover: Knopf, 2008.
Buy now [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]