The Highest God is the Boring-est God

Here’s Eberhard Jüngel taking down Descartes’ perfectly necessary God in a rather clever way:

[T]he abstract imperishability of God above us is the expression of a God who in his abstractness (or, as Luther could say, in his nudity) is a terrible and in his terribleness ultimately a boring God. Terror without end ultimately kills all attentiveness. Even fascination at the abstract majesty of God over us results in a sense of horror which kills concrete attentiveness toward God, results in a thoroughly terrifying boredom. And for that very reason, the wordless, dumb, and perfectly abstract divine majesty does not concern us. In trying to think it through to the end, we could really only ‘unharness’ thinking, to use Nietzsche’s idea. In such a case, thought ceases to be interesting.” (God as the Mystery of the World, p.198)

I’m still mulling over whether or not I’m willing to go all (or even some) of the way with Jüngel, but nevertheless, this passage struck me as a tangential critique of some forms of neo-Calvinist piety, specifically those which equate spiritual maturity with one’s ability to appreciate God’s glory all for it’s own sake (i.e., without reference to anything God has done or said). For Jüngel, however, such a God is actually incapable of sustaining this kind of intense awe because, he argues, when God’s independence is foregrounded for its own sake, God’s practical role in thought is reduced merely to scaffolding for human existence. The consequence is that, ultimately, God will fall away, at which point we will realise that it wasn’t all that constructive to dwell on him the first place. Better, says Jüngel, to attend to the Word of God as that divine address which draws us out of ourselves so that we can rightly understand our being constituted by, rather than productive of, God.

I don’t know – if anyone in the world is still aware of this blog, I’m curious to know what you think. Basically, Jüngel is saying that the super-high awesome God is boring because he is capable of being thought outwith the context of address. Do you think this critique applies to the neoCals? Does the contemplation of God in his naked glory threaten to bore us to death? Lemme know.

God’ll Be Home for Christmas

“…God wants to come home to us. That is the redemptive, peaceful message of Christmas. We can’t forget it, for he has left his heart with us – and this heart leads him to draw near to us again, since he too can’t forget us. He is not content to embrace the starry hosts with his love, nor for his glory to shine on the grass and the flowers of the field. He desires to return to men, before whose vanity and pride he had withdrawn, and who he now sees suffering with aching hearts under the judgment which they had brought upon themselves. He wants to accomplish his greatest work in a redeemed and liberated humanity, a work greater than the wonder of the oceans, the heavens and the earth. He desires to have his greatest joy amongst the children of men, who have become like him not in spite of, but because of his love. He says this to us at Christmas: “For God so loved the world!”

Karl Barth, Sermon on Isaiah 52:7-9, Dec. 13, 1914


The Absolutely Correct Perspective on Historical Theology

Yeah, I know, I’m terrible at keeping up with this blog. But to be fair, I’m now participating in another blog, which is way awesomer than this one, with a few friends from Aberdeen.

In any case, I’ve been speed reading through Church Dogmatics I/1 these days, and I came across this gem of a passage that I’d like to reproduce for your consideration. The context is Barth’s commendation that the doctrine of the Trinity, admittedly a theologoumenon from an entirely different time and place, still has meaning for us in the church today. Seriously, it’s a great passage:

In the dogmatic and theological history of every age, not excluding that of Protestantism, secular factors have played a part which tends to cover over all else. For all the gloating with which it was done, it was a good thing that the work of Pietism and the Enlightenment in Church History established so incontrovertibly the fact that even in such periods of supreme decision as that in which the dogma of the Trinity arose the history of the Church was anything but a history of heroes and saints. Yet in this case we should be just and perceptive and allow that not only the Church of Byzantium but also that of Wittenberg and Geneva, and finally the purest Church of any of the quiet in the land, have always and everywhere been, when examined at close range, centres of frailties and scandals of every kind, and that on the basis of the Reformation doctrine of justification at all events it is neither fitting nor worth while to play off the worldliness of the Church against the seriousness of the insights it has perhaps gained in spite of and in this worldliness. The same may be said about the indisputable connexion of the dogma with the philosophy of the age. By proving philosophical involvement we can reject the confessions and theology of any age and school, and we can do this the more effectively the less we see the beam in our own eye. For linguistically theologians have always depended on some philosophy and linguistically they always will. But instead of getting Pharisaically indignant about this and consigning whole periods to the limbo of a philosophy that is supposed to deny the Gospel—simply because our own philosophy is different—it is better to stick strictly to the one question what the theologians of the earlier period were really trying to say in the vocabulary of their philosophy. Caution is especially demanded when we insist on differences in the so-called piety of different periods and therefore claim that the piety out of which the dogma of the Trinity arose was completely different from our own piety with its sober focus, as they said some years ago, on “worldview and morality.” What right have we to regard our own piety, even if its agreement with the Reformation and the New Testament seem ever so impeccable, as the only piety that is possible in the Church, and therefore to exalt it as a standard by which to measure the insights of past ages? Let us be sure of our own cause so far as we can. But antithetical rigidity especially in evaluating the subjective religion of others is something against which we can only issue a warning. (pp. 377-8)

And what lengthy blog-quotation would be complete without the obligatory: Thoughts?

The Book of Exodus: What is it?

This morning I read through Exodus, and I have to say, I forgot just how crazy this book is – particularly the God bits. From incombustible bushes to giant fiery smoke clouds, it seems to me that modern readers intending to use this text as Scripture are faced with a choice: either we take it at face value or we demythologize the thing to smithereens.

Let’s be honest. The book of Exodus narrates events which are like nothing we could possibly imagine happening today. Even the so-called “miracles” which some claim are commonplace in the non-Western world are small potatoes compared to the bizarre manifestations seen in Exodus. Finding a non-Westerner who converses with angels and/or had a limb grow back: not that difficult. Finding a non-Westerner whose prayers are capable of publicly plunging a large geographical locale into “darkness that can be felt” (Ex 10:21): not quite so easy. Put simply: the world that the book of Exodus talks about is obviously not our world. It is a world of divine confrontation on a massive scale, and I think it would do us all some good to just admit that it’s weird.

There are, of course, ways of making it not weird. How quickly we hurry to put these stories in their “redemptive historical” context. We foreground the liturgical-cultural role of the book as “text” – its power as the conveyer of a certain communal identity. We explain how reading the text “canonically” or “Christologically” creates a new context for these old tales, such that dwelling on the constituency of manna or the logistics of the Levites’ slaughter of the calf-worshippers would be to miss the point (even if, in the end, we think we can explain such things).

I’m not saying that these reading strategies are bad. It may indeed be that the deeper significance of the frog plague was to diss the “frog god” (or whatever) – but let’s not forget the strangeness of the event which was the occasion for this theological lesson: a crazy amount of frogs.

I can deal with challenging or counterintuitive religious proposals – turning the other cheek is hard, but not incomprehensible – but imagining that the God to whom I pray is also the God who literally took the lives of those first-born children who were misfortunate enough to have been born to Egyptian parents around the time when Moses showed up – that’s a bit different.

Of course, there are answers. But let’s hold off on those for a moment. Let’s feel the discontinuities. Outside my window, cars are driving up and down the road, students are milling about, and it’s slightly drizzling. It’s the twenty-first century, and this is a fairly well-to-do Western nation. In the text in front of me, a god called Yahweh is somehow inscribing words onto stone tablets and urging people to resist the urge to cook goats in their mothers’ milk.



How to Find Karl Barth’s Grave

A few weeks ago, Melissa and I traveled over to Basel for a couple of days while my parents watched the kids. Needless to say, as a 100% unquestioning, blindly faithful and uncritical devotee of Karl Barth, it was a transcendent experience, with highlights including a trip to Barth’s last residence up on the Bruderholz as well as dinner at his favorite restaurant, the Walliser Kanne (where, incidentally, I paid nearly 30 francs for what I’m told was Barth’s usual dish – Käseschnitte mit Ei – essentially some very expensive cheese on toast). In any case, going on a tip from a friend, we also made our way over to the Hörnli cemetery to pay our respects to the sleeping Barth clan. Seeing as it was a royal pain in the arse to find the exalted mound, I though it might be helpful to record some more detailed directions for future grave hunters (which, admittedly, is only to expand on the very fine work of this guy – ignoring for the moment his invocation of a certain “theodrama” mentioned at the end of the post).

Right. So here’s how you do it. First off, we took the 31 bus from Schifflände station in the city center, which lets you off right up in front of the Friedhof am Hörnli, the cemetery where Barth is buried.

Now, the technical location of the grave is section 0803, grave 0014 – but if you’re an idiot like me, these numbers are difficult to decipher, particularly if there’s no help available. Basically, the first thing you’ll have to do is find section 8, which is located here:

On the map of section 8, the grave is located here:

If you’re standing near the head of the section, you can see a white wall toward the back. Barth’s headstone is against this wall, about one quarter in from the left.

Success! – here’s a couple stunning pictures of the grave (again, pay no attention to the name that’s slightly cut off in the first one – it’s really not worth your mental energies to think about it).

So there you are – hopefully this will help you should you ever decide to do the right thing and get yourself over to Basel where you belong.

I’ll leave you with one last picture of myself eating the legendary Käseschnitte. It comes highly recommended, but be warned – eating such cuisine has been known to produce the urge to radically revise the doctrine of election.



Rob Bell is Totally a Liberal

In light of Albert Mohler’s recent claim that Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” is nothing but standard liberal Protestant fare, I decided to test this theory by a close reading of the offending monograph. Well, sad to say, Mohler’s claim has borne itself out – and in spades. Allow me to adduce some of the more damning evidence.

Just like Adolf von Harnack, Bell is concerned to portray his position as being within the stream of orthodoxy (x).

In typical Bultmannian fashion, he relies on grammatical-historical exegesis to make his theological points, assuming, for instance, that the religious meaning of certain Greek and Hebrew words can be established by appeal to their historical usage.

With the Jesus Seminar, he assumes that the historical Jesus is accurately reflected in the gospels, including John’s gospel.

Taking a cue from James Dunn, he presupposes that there is thematic continuity between the Old and New Testaments.

He believes in divine judgment (36-7) and affirms both personal and systemic sin (39, 78-9).

No doubt looking to score some points with the elites over at the Society of Biblical Literature, Bell affirms that the Apostle John wrote the fourth gospel, the book of Revelation, and 1 John (48, 109, 111, 132).

In a nod to those lovey-dovey feminists, he insists that the establishment of heaven includes a corresponding “No” of divine judgment (49) in what amounts to a literal and historical “day of the Lord” (47).

With John Dominic Crossan, he affirms that heaven is a real place, not merely a spiritual state or an ethical imperative (42).

He thinks that God’s love can be rejected, perhaps permanently (72, 113).

He believes that Paul wrote Philippians (99, 101), 1 Corinthians (61), and the pastoral epistles (89, 134) – hey, Robbie! 1850’s Tübingen called…they want their radical Pauline scholarship back!

In what I can only assume is a preview of his forthcoming Anchor Bible Commentary, he claims both that Isaiah is the author of deutero-Isaiah (98, 99) and that God spoke “through” him (101).

He believes that the apostle Peter wrote 2 Peter (69).

In a typically emergent maneuver, he affirms that hell is a state which obtains both pre- and post-mortem (79, 104).

Shamelessly applying his radically deconstructive hermeneutic, Bell claims that the first question which must be asked when interpreting John’s Apocalypse is: “How did the first readers…understand it?” (112).

His spineless liberal tendencies lead him to refuse to speculate as to whether or not all people will eventually be saved (115).

With Sallie McFague, he affirms that all the biblical metaphors for atonement are appropriate, including the sacral, forensic, and victorious models (127).

Echoing Schleiermacher’s famous rejection of the Chalcedonian definition, Bell claims that Jesus is “the divine in flesh and blood” (129).

Adding error upon error, Bell not only believes in the bodily resurrection of Christ, but exploits it to make even wackier claims about the goodness of creation (129-37).

Betraying his Kulturprotestantismus, he insists that the incarnation must be retained as an essential Christian belief despite its being regarded as too “mythic,” “premodern,” or “superstitious” for the modern world (146-7).

Following John Hick, he rejects pluralistic universalism, arguing instead that whatever redemption may be found in other religions must be interpreted christologically (155).

And lastly, he affirms that one’s goodness, rightness, or moral standing does not contribute in any way to one’s justification before God (187).

Of course, I could go on. Yet now, having seen the evidence, I ask you, gentle reader: what could possibly lead Bell to make all these claims if not his deep-seated liberal tendencies? Certainly, there is no other theological tradition which could resource such subversive material, right?

I rest my case.

On Being Orthodox and Modern

On Monday the Aberdeen Theology department was graced by a visit from the inimitable Paul Molnar, who is known in these parts for his tireless advocacy of divine freedom, his work on the theologies of Karl Barth and T.F. Torrance, and for his rock solid commitment to the absolutely, super-duper, don’t-even-think-about-not-thinking-about-it triunity of God (he’s also a Met fan, but we’ll just try to ignore that).

In any case, I found Dr. Molnar to be great fun, both for his intensity as well as for his totally refreshing New York sense of humor. I wish I could share with you some of his choice zingers from our lunch meeting, but (sigh) a handshake yesterday morning effectively sealed the contents of those conversations for the ages. If you do ever run into the guy, though, be sure to take him out for coffee and experience him for yourself.

On to the serious bit.

As someone who is trying to integrate the insights of a quintessentially modern theologian like Schleiermacher with those of Karl Barth, Molnar’s seminar presentation raised some specific questions for me. It seems to me that, for Molnar, Barth is at his best when he’s able to carry on constructive dogmatic work within the bounds of traditional orthodoxy. Of course, Molnar grants the occasional lapse (e.g., the presupposition of immanent divine condescension in the account of grace in CD II/1), yet by and large, he seems convinced that Barth remained generally faithful to the gospel correctly identified and upheld in the classical tradition (even as he pushed the conversation forward). Now, importantly, this appears to mean that, for Molnar, Barth accepted and worked with not only the formal insights of, for instance, the ecumenical councils, but also something of their substance. To be sure, in Molnar’s view, Barth was no mere repristinator, but nevertheless, if there’s a spectrum with “spirit” on the one side and “letter” on the other, I think Molnar would tick Barth more on the “letter” side of orthodoxy than, say, Bruce McCormack. Consequently, in Molnar’s mind, there really aren’t divergent streams or tensions in Barth’s thought; rather, there are simply those places where Barth said things rightly (i.e., Christianly), and others where he said things not so rightly. In all cases, however, this much is clear: Barth’s intentions were noble, i.e., he was aiming with all his might to stay in line with historic Christian beliefs, particularly concerning the doctrine of God. Such is my impression of Molnar’s Barth.

So, then, how to relate orthodoxy and modernity. As is well known, Bruce McCormack has proposed his own model wherein Barth plundered the key insights of orthodox theology, stripped them of their premodern metaphysical baggage, and then used these insights to push forward to fresher and more faithfully Christian dogmatic vistas. In this model, modernity serves Barth not only in exposing the shortcomings of classical ontology, but also in challenging particular doctrinal conceptions (e.g., concerning the immanent life of God). In other words, Barth is not only operating within a modern context; he’s actually hearing and in some cases granting the concerns of modernity as amenable to the task of doing faithful Christian theology. Accordingly, McCormack’s Barth seems to take the formal insights of classical orthodoxy and retool them using some of the material insights of modern Protestantism (all the while in careful attendance to Scripture, of course).

For Molnar, however, it seems to be just the opposite. His Barth takes on the formal concerns of modernity while retaining in force the material claims of classical orthodoxy. What made Barth a genius, therefore, was not his ability to be a modern theologian, but rather his ability to be a classically orthodox theologian who can speak powerfully and prophetically to modernity.

(I’m sure that if McCormack or Molnar were to read this, they’d likely accuse me of gross caricature – but recall that I’m trying to place them on a continuum, not on opposite poles.)

So this kind of puts me in a bind. I hate having to choose between orthodoxy and modernity. Are both approaches really so forceful as to dominate the other either materially or formally? Why not simply appropriate those insights, material and formal, from both modernity and orthodoxy which best serve our Christian witness? Have not our minds become a bit too systematic when we find ourselves being forced to choose, wholesale, the perspective of one particular approach as either the context or the substance for all our theologizing? I honestly think McCormack is onto something important when he suggests that being both orthodox and modern is a good thing; I’d just like to make sure that this relation is fitted with enough pliability to remain true to the Word of God. You know, semper reformanda and all that.

Right – so give me the answers. I gather you are all smarter than me, and I’m giving all you academics in particular a golden opportunity to flex your interpretive muscles and show me how I’m looking at this issue in ever so slightly the wrong way. So have at it!

Seeking the Essence of Christianity

Last week, as my Macbook was in the shop, I did the logical thing and took it as a God-given opportunity to spend some time with a couple of great works of Protestant liberalism: Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity and Wilhelm Herrmann’s The Communion of the Christian with God. Both books are incredible in their own way (particularly Herrmann, who can easily match a guy like John Piper in sheer Christian passion), but what makes them particularly interesting for me is their participation in the now largely defunct theological endeavor to determine the essence of Christianity.

For contemporary readers, it’s rather difficult to understand what exactly an “essence” project is. For instance, while chatting with some friends last week, one remarked that while Feuerbach’s book clearly levels a forceful argument, ultimately his critique fails to overturn Christianity in its true form (i.e., non-liberal). But this is to miss the point. An essence project is not fundamentally a critique; it’s an interpretation – an explanation of what Christianity really is, despite the conflicting accounts of actual confessing Christians. In other words, an essence project must first of all offer a positive, prescriptive account before it can deploy its critical edge. Andrew Dole is absolutely right when he points out in his recent book, Schleiermacher on Religion and the Natural Order (OUP, 2010), that for the liberal Protestants, determining the essence of a religion “is from the first a principle of criticism, a criterion relative to which claims can be advanced about what the religion in question should be” (i.e., as opposed to those who assume that essences are discernible purely on the basis of empirical observation; p. 79). Yet this only underscores the point that the purported essence of a religion is first speculative and only then empirical. You don’t argue for a speculative theory on the grounds of the empirical; you throw it against the empirical and see what sort of world emerges as a result.

This is not to say that the historical is ignored in an essence project, since it’s actually out of concern for the purity of the historical that the project is undertaken. Moreover, if an essence claim lacks explanatory power viz. actual historical events then its persuasiveness is obviously undermined. Nevertheless, what drives such investigations is ultimately the conviction that below the surface of all phenomenal manifestations of a particular religion lies something much more real, and although this “essence” is actually that which renders religious expressions authentic, its very nature as the “root” of the religious renders it properly unobservable. For Feuerbach, this root is the dialectic of man’s understanding and love, for Herrmann it’s communion with God through Christ, and for the early Schleiermacher it’s the intuition of the universe.

Now all of this raises the question: what exactly does one do with an essence proposal? On what grounds does an essence claim commend itself? It’s my suspicion that, in the end, the essence claim that will seem most appealing to the gentle reader will ultimately be the one that reinforces their already-held philosophical and cultural beliefs. In other words, because essence claims are essentially explanatory hypotheses, they generally lack the ability to disturb what one already holds to be true. Put simply: essence projects are designed to “fit” the world as it’s already experienced, and to the extent that this is true, they preclude the possibility of the judgment of God (which, some might say, is a bad thing).

That, perhaps, is an unfair critique, but then again, I’ve been reading Barth’s Römerbrief these days, too.

If There is A Hell

In light of the recent kerfuffle over Rob Bell and his alleged universalism, I thought it might be a nice time to scratch down a couple of my thoughts on hell. Now whatever you think of Bell and his not-yet-explained “love wins” thesis, he definitely puts his finger on the crucial issue, namely, that what’s at stake in these matters is ultimately the doctrine of God. So, merely to argue for or against hell on the basis of certain biblical passages without also inquiring into the God who suffers its existence is to fail to follow exegesis through to its proper terminus.

I say all of this because in what follows, I’m going to perpetrate just such an exegetical failure. I’m going to offer an account of the matter without explicit reference to the doctrine of God. I’ll admit, it’s bad theology – but on the plus side, by doing it this way I can hopefully retain the much-needed plausible deniability that blogging requires.

So as I see it, the NT (esp. the synoptic gospels) is fundamentally about a clash of two kingdoms: the kingdom of this world, and the coming kingdom of Christ. Accordingly, the passages in Scripture which speak of final judgment seem to me to exist primarily to expose this dynamic. It follows that if they also give us insight into actual future events, then we must grant 1) that they do this only secondarily and 2) that they speak of such events only to explain and clarify their primary interest. It’s my wager that the primary interest of the judgment passages is apocalypse, which I understand in the sense of showing us what’s really going on.

Take, for instance, the story of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Note how the passage begins with an image of the Son of Man holding court as every nation is gathered before him for judgment. The important thing to remember is that this immediately precedes the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, i.e., his public humiliation at the hands of the Empire. The effect, therefore, is something like this: the one to be subjected to judgment is himself also a judge. This is a reality to which our eyes must be opened. That the world is a functioning kingdom is obvious; that there is a rival kingdom is not. Such is the burden of the parable.

Then comes the judgment itself, the criterion of which is the treatment of the downtrodden by those standing trial. Why the downtrodden? Because they are the ones who are the least invested in the kingdom of this world; indeed, they are those whom the world has rejected. This, then, is why the Son of Man identifies himself as king with the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, and infirmed, for to the extent that the kingdom of this world fails to entice universal allegiance, ground is thus ceded to another kingdom – the hidden kingdom of Christ. The imperative of the parable, then, is this: choose now which kingdom you will serve. For those who choose the kingdom of this world, the way of Christ will always appear foolish and humiliating, since going that way entails forsaking the structures and systems which make living in the current order a pleasant affair. Nevertheless, the teaching of Jesus is that what appears counterintuitive according to worldly logic is in reality the wiser route, for the enduring kingdom is not the present kingdom; indeed, it will soon be overtaken. Or, to put it another way, throwing in your lot with the kingdom of this world is like signing up to fight for Muammar Ghadafi just because he promises you a free Mercedes.

How, then, does this “kingdom hermeneutic” bring into focus the meaning of v.46, which reads: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal”? Well, again, the location of the passage invites us to consider the contrast of the two kingdoms. What we are about to witness is not the wicked’s, but Christ’s punishment; it is he who will receive sentencing before the throne of the world in the next few chapters. Yet this parable narrates the precisely opposite scenario: the judgment of the nations before Christ. When viewed in light of this contrast, a particular feature of the parable stands out, that is, the qualitatively different nature of Christ’s judgment from that of the world. Specifically, whereas the world’s judgment takes place in the midst of the struggle (recall that Jesus wasn’t the only “Messiah” to be executed), Christ’s judgment occurs at the end – it is, so to speak, the last word in the clash of kingdoms and is in that sense “everlasting.” When the kingdom of this world receives its sentence, it won’t just be gone for three days, it will be gone for good.

So what of those who align themselves with this passing kingdom? As I mentioned above, I think it’s entirely appropriate to ask such questions, so long as we respect the text’s primary interests (which I’ve identified, in this case, as the superiority of Christ’s kingdom viz. the world). So here’s my suggestion.

Christians are those who have in faith thrown their lot in with Jesus. As such, they have renounced their identities in the current world order and thereby possess a heavenly citizenship, as Paul suggests. Consequently, Christians live as “strangers and aliens” in this world, i.e., they are here, but they don’t belong. Hell, I’m suggesting, refers to a state of existence which is quite similar. When the kingdom of the Son is revealed, those whose citizenship is not in heaven, that is, those whose citizenship is bound up with the kingdom of the world, will be then what Christians are now: aliens and strangers. Far from being annihilated or thrown into an eternal cosmic prison, they’ll rather live forever “alongside” the kingdom of God as non-citizens. Like Tom Hanks’ character in “The Terminal,” the wicked will arrive in the Son’s kingdom only to be informed that their homeland is no more. Yet unlike that character, whose country was eventually restored, and unlike Christians today, who are homeless not because they lack a home, but because they are far from it, the wicked will exist in a state of perpetual homelessness, eternally conscious that their “country” has been erased by the final establishment of Christ’s kingdom. This, I think, is what hell is.

I realize that I’ve attempted to explain a metaphor by appeal to another metaphor – but perhaps that’s for the best. What’s real is Christ’s victory, and how that should be narrated in terms of future events is a tricky affair from this vantage point.

The interesting thing about this understanding of hell, I think, is that it has space for both particularist and universal forms of salvation. But I’ll just leave that there.

The Internet: A Contrabulous Fabtraption

I have to say, I’m already overwhelmed by this blogging business. To this point, I have written nary a word, and yet this blog has already accumulated 130 views!

Well, to my many readers: I shall have a decent post up within a day or so. Looking forward to hearing your stern objections to my sundry idiosyncratic views.