Bob Adams: A Theory of Virtue

posted by Kaihsu Tai on April 11th, 2013

There is no liberty that is more important to liberalism than the freedom to form, embrace, criticize, reject, and revise theories of every sort, especially political theories. For this reason it is misguided to suppose the liberal defense of civil liberties is well served by drawing a perimeter of privacy around “comprehensive moral views,” about which disagreement is expected, leaving theories of justice in the public realm, on the other side of the perimeter. It must be expected that in a liberal society political theories, like other moral, religious, and philosophical theories, not only may but will be objects of persistent disagreement. The consensus that a liberal political system certainly needs for its good order will have to be much less theoretical, and perhaps less tidy, than many have supposed. It will involve, most obviously, an agreement on a set of laws, especially constitutional laws, and a sharing of certain customs and habits of political behavior.

Fortunately, such agreement is possible and adequate. Those who have enjoyed the benefits of civil liberties, and the non-violent political participation made possible by democracy, generally recognize the advantages of the requisite agreed arrangements. And, in fact, it is at least as true of any society as it is of a human individual that its integration cannot be the integration of a theory. Even in a society ostensibly governed by an official ideology, most people are likely not to understand the ideology very well; and among those who understand it better, there will probably be implicit if not explicit differences in interpretation. There will also surely be interests and pressures within the society that are by no means in harmony with the ideology.

Robert Merrihew Adams, A Theory of Virtue, ISBN 0-19-920751-8, pages 225 to 226.

posted by Kaihsu Tai in Books, Catechism | on April 11th, 2013 | Permanent Link to “Bob Adams: A Theory of Virtue” | Comments Off

The Grand Harmony

posted by Kaihsu Tai on September 12th, 2012

By chance, a copy of Lee Teng-hui’s The Road to Democracy: Taiwan’s Pursuit of Identity (1999; ISBN 4569606512) came into my possession. In the book, a great deal is made of the former president’s being a Christian. From the Afterword:

… I was able to embrace Christianity because it allowed me to deal with the inner contradictions I had previously struggled in vain to resolve. The moment that is addressed by Christianity is what one might call “reversal of the order of the self and the other.” The most important aspect of this teaching is embracing the God within each of us. By recognizing the inner spirit of God that forgives others through profound love, our tendency to self-centeredness dissipates, and the spirit of love and care to others flourishes.

While I can agree with him on this, I disagree with him on another point. As Lee’s 1996 electoral rival Peng Ming-min put it: Those who risked their lives to cross the Formosa Strait from the continent in earlier centuries … did not do it to extend the territory of China, but to find a new way of life.

Regardless of these disputes, this is really an excuse to post the following ancient Chinese socialist classic, with which Sun Yat-sen and the gentlemen mentioned above could perhaps all agree. It is a text which many of my schoolmates would know by heart. From the Book of Rites at the chapter on ceremonial usages, English translation by James Legge:

大道之行也,天下為公。選賢與能,講信修睦,故人不獨親其親,不獨子其子,使老有所終,壯有所用,幼有所長,矜寡孤獨廢疾者,皆有所養。男有分,女有歸。貨惡其棄於地也,不必藏於己;力惡其不出於身也,不必為己。是故謀閉而不興,盜竊亂賊而不作,故外戶而不閉,是謂大同。

When the Grand course was pursued, a public and common spirit ruled all under the sky; they chose men of talents, virtue, and ability; their words were sincere, and what they cultivated was harmony. Thus men did not love their parents only, nor treat as children only their own sons. A competent provision was secured for the aged till their death, employment for the able-bodied, and the means of growing up to the young. They showed kindness and compassion to widows, orphans, childless men, and those who were disabled by disease, so that they were all sufficiently maintained. Males had their proper work, and females had their homes. (They accumulated) articles (of value), disliking that they should be thrown away upon the ground, but not wishing to keep them for their own gratification. (They laboured) with their strength, disliking that it should not be exerted, but not exerting it (only) with a view to their own advantage. In this way (selfish) schemings were repressed and found no development. Robbers, filchers, and rebellious traitors did not show themselves, and hence the outer doors remained open, and were not shut. This was (the period of) what we call the Grand Union.

posted by Kaihsu Tai in ??????????, Books, Catechism, China | on September 12th, 2012 | Permanent Link to “The Grand Harmony” | Comments Off

Reflection on the Accra Confession

posted by Kaihsu Tai on April 25th, 2010

For a service at Saint Columba’s Church, 2010-04-25.

Cross at NatWest, Easter

Last time I spoke from this lectern, I started by talking about a bank branch a few metres down High Street. I am going to talk about banks again. A nationalized bank at that. Seventy percent of the Royal Bank of Scotland is owned by Her Majesty’s Treasury … well, the better name is the taxpayers’ Treasury, our Treasury. In turn, RBS owns the NatWest bank in England; we have a branch down the road. Before I get too much into the banks, let me take a detour, and talk about oil. I promise to come back to banks … ’cause that seems to be where the action’s at, these days.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon for Ash Wednesday

posted by Kaihsu Tai on February 17th, 2010

Ash Wednesday sermon at the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford, based on two earlier blog posts: ‘What keeps me awake at night’ and ‘Brecht’s Galileo, or, Against Macho Science’.

Luke 15:11–32 (Prodigal Son).

May I speak in the name of God: Creator, Christ, and Comforter. Amen.

A few years ago, I went to the National Theatre in London, to see Bertolt Brecht’s play The Life of Galileo, in a version by David Hare. With 20th-century hindsight, the German playwright Brecht retold the life-story of the 17th-century scientist Galileo Galilei. Today, on this Ash Wednesday, I want to talk about the nature and motivation of scientific pursuit: this play happens to provide some hooks for my thinking. So, at the risk of substituting a theatre review in the place of a sermon, here I go.

If you recall, Galileo championed the theory of Copernicus that the Earth orbits the Sun. The Church forced him to recant this view. The famous British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says, ‘Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.’ Is this modern science a good thing in the round? Was the Church right to slow Galileo down after all? Galileo’s 17th-century contemporaries did not have the benefit of hindsight and retrospection: They were riding the wave of the Renaissance, pregnant with the prospect of rationalism’s triumph in the 19th and 20th centuries. Read the rest of this entry »

Religious figures address the European Parliament

posted by Kaihsu Tai on December 7th, 2008

I mentioned in these pages that the “green” Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His All Holiness Bartholomew I, addressed the European Parliament earlier this year. This was as part of a series during the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. The other speakers were His Eminence Sheikh Ahmad Badr El Din El Hassoun, Grand Mufti of Syria; Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; and most recently His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Thanks to the intervention by the Liberals and the Greens, Dr Asma Jahangir, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, were also invited to speak. (Sophia in ’t Veld: “I would like to know why the Conference of Presidents has chosen to interpret intercultural dialogue exclusively as an interreligious monologue and whether it feels a part-session is an appropriate platform for religious messages.” and Sarah Ludford: “it seems that you [the President(s)] have made the Grand Mufti comparable to the Pope and the UK Chief Rabbi as a European representative of his particular religion.”)

Here are some highlights from each the speakers, with links to their texts for the gentle readers’ perusal over Christmastime: Read the rest of this entry »

Homily on the parable of the talents

posted by Kaihsu Tai on November 16th, 2008

Matthew 25:14–30 (≈ Luke 19:12–27)

I walk down High Street and I see a sign: ‘Good news! Your debts paid – free of charge.’ If I see it in a bank window, I might well think of alerting the Financial Services Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority. But if it says ‘Jesus pays for my debt, and yours too! Come in for the Good News!’ in a church window like ours, I might not think twice. Well, maybe it is time to think twice! Maybe such statements need to be considered not just metaphorically, but literally. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bible, with fuzzy edges

posted by Kaihsu Tai on November 10th, 2008

The United Reformed Church has a three-year programme called Vision4Life: for this coming year, the first year, we will be looking at the Bible in the Church’s life. It made me try to articulate how I think of the Bible.

It was Mike Benedetti who got me interested in the Apocrypha. I remember that summer nearly ten years ago, sitting in a hotel room in Iqaluit, Nunavut, tired from hiking, but discussing Bel and the Dragon (and, incidentally, also Thomas Aquinas) with some enthusiasm. Read the rest of this entry »

posted by Kaihsu Tai in Catechism, Heresy | on November 10th, 2008 | Permanent Link to “The Bible, with fuzzy edges” | 2 Comments »

Kavalan proverbs

posted by Kaihsu Tai on November 16th, 2007

My grandmother’s grandmother was said to be a Kavalan. Recently, a dictionary of the Kavalan language appeared (ISBN 978-986-00-6993-8). On pages 52 and 53, there are some proverbs (narrated by Ulaw Pan, reinterpreted by Abas, and recorded by Paul Li):

kua, aimu qa-rimk =ka haw!
sikawma=pa=iku timaimu.
qnaRu zin-na sikawman-ku timaimu: assi =ka trapus haw.
snaquni zin-na 'lak si, mai =ita q<um>nut.
nia-niana zin-na -ta nani na 'lak si, mai =ita paq-sukaw tu anem.
snaquni zin-na =ita na 'lak si, qa-nngi-an -ta anem -ta haw.
m-ati =ita sni-sni, mai =ita s<m>ap-sapang haw.
mangay =imu snaquni haw.
paqa-qa-nngi =ita m-atiw ta 'lak-an haw.

Alright, you do keep quiet, please!
I shall talk to you.
Because I shall talk to you[:] do not forget about the old teachings.
No matter what other people do to us, let’s not get angry.
No matter what other people say to us, do not feel sad.
No matter how other people behave to us, we should be nice to them in our heart.
Wherever we go, we should not be mischievous but behave ourselves.
You should watch out [for] what might happen.
We should be careful when we go to other people’s place.

The Kavalan people were evangelized by Saint George Leslie Mackay.

posted by Kaihsu Tai in ??????????, Books, Catechism | on November 16th, 2007 | Permanent Link to “Kavalan proverbs” | 3 Comments »

That’s asking rather a lot, Martin

posted by Kaihsu Tai on November 1st, 2007

The Finnish Katekismus reminded me of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism:

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

What does this mean?

Answer: To be sure, God provides daily bread, even to the wicked, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that God may make us aware of his gifts and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread?

Answer: Everything required to satisfy our bodily needs, such as food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property; a pious spouse and good children, trustworthy servants, godly and faithful rulers, good government; seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor; true friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

Neo-Marxists on Christianity

posted by Kaihsu Tai on October 26th, 2007

Recent books from Verso:

Slavoj Žižek (2000) The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Is Worth Fighting For? ISBN 978-1-85984-770-1.

Terry Eagleton introduces the Gospels Terry Eagleton (2007) Jesus Christ: The Gospels. ISBN 978-1-84467-176-2. This is the New Revised Standard Version of the Gospels introduced by Eagleton and edited by radical cleric Giles Fraser. It is pretty cool that Verso is following the Gideons. On this note, I might mention that recently, I bought the Revised English Bible and the New Revised Standard Version. My copies of both of these are with the Apocrypha (though the collection there is different), and the NRSV is the ‘Anglicized’ text; both are published by the Oxford University Press. I thought each of these represented very wide (as wide as allowed in the current climate) ecumenical English-language translation work in either side of the Atlantic.