Barber: McEmpire

Benjamin Barber (of _Jihad vs. McWorld_) offers an interesting read in _Fear's Empire: War, Terrorism, and Democracy_ (Norton, 2003). The core of his thesis is that violence begets violence in a kind of vicious circle--and that the White House's commodification of fear plays right into the hands of the Al Quaeda terrorist network by mitigating democracy. (I'm not a huge fan of Barber's formalist, procedural, a-teleological democracy, but that aside...) In other words, both America and Al Quaeda are colonies of "fear's empire."

Barber critiques the current administration for clinging to visions of independence in a world of "interdependence" (where the market eats away at traditional notions of sovereignty). He also echoes the assertions of Simon and Benjamin in _The Age of Sacred Terror_ (Random House, 2003): that one simply cannot defeat radical Islam with military violence. American military actions in the Gulf (and continued support of Israel) only fuels the ideology of groups such as Al Quaeda. Undertaking strategies of "shock-and-awe" is like trying to drown a fire with gasoline.

Updike on Church

I'm ambling through a new collection of John Updike's short stories: _The Early Stories_ (Knopf, 2003). I particularly enjoyed the ecclesiological insights in “Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, a Dying Cat, a Traded Car." Consider just two:

“Taken as a purely human recreation, what could be more delightful, more unexpected than to enter a venerable and lavishly scaled building kept warm and clean for use one or two hours a week and to sit and stand in unison and sing and recite creeds and petitions that are like paths worn smooth in the raw terrain of our hearts?” (p. 103)

“Even to usher at a church mixes us with the angels, and is a dangerous thing” (p. 105).