Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, John Knox Press, Richmond Virginia (1960), pg. 61-2
This is an op-ed by Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s then minister of foreign affairs (now the minister of Health), via New York Times online, July 19, 2012
Our response to extremist terror must be more openness and more democracy.
Virtually all modern forms of extremism accuse liberal Western democratic systems of being hypocritical and, ultimately, weak. Al Qaeda portrays the West as anti-Islamic imperialists masquerading as promoters of democracy. Right wing extremism suggests the West is committing cultural suicide through its lax judicial system and naïve multiculturalism.
Both have committed horrific acts designed to bait us into betraying our values and making them martyrs. In fact, it is remarkable to see the many similarities between these two sorts of extremism in their disdain for diversity and their indiscriminate violence against civilians.
In this context, it is a mistake to treat crimes committed by extremists as exceptions, subject to special processes. They must be held accountable in accordance with and to the full extent of the law. Hiding suspects from public view merely dehumanizes the perpetrators and undermines any moral or judicial lessons.
By contrast, prosecuting extremists who have committed crimes in a public courtroom makes it all the more shockingly clear that their horrific acts were undertaken by human beings, and that all of us must work every day to combat the ideas of extremism.
Intro: I’m quite certain you have heard these. I’m just merely giving credit where’s due.
5. Sound Opinions — A weekly podcast which features Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot (as well as a guest) discussing all things music. These two are living the dream; basically they have managed to make careers out of having the types of arguments that you have with your buddies after a few beers about which The Smiths record is “objectively” the best. They review new releases, and sometimes discuss groundbreaking moments or records in music history. If you’re a music nerd, you’ll love it.
4. Radiolab — A research and interview format podcast, which finds Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich discussing any number of topics, usually related to humanity’s subjective experiences in interacting with the world. It often asks a central question, such as, How does language affect the way we think?, or Is there a psychological difference between animals and humans?, and then attempts to arrive at some sort of conclusion. Informative and produced professionally. Main shows run for an hour, with special “shorts” editions released sporadically (they usually consist of 10-20 minute single topic issues).
3. Economist’s Editor’s Highlights — A good source to get brief world news with a bit of analysis, though I often take their solutions to the world with a grain of salt, as they are quite the free-market apologists (indeed, Economist was established in 1843 to oppose corn tariffs in England) and seem to think open trade policies will eradicate all social ills. The format is Economist editor John Micklethwait picking certain stories from each week’s print release to be read aloud wonderfully by sultry British voices. Usually runs between 30-60 minutes.
2. 99% Invisible — A no-format show started by “solo-practitioner” Roman Mars, who—thanks to a blockbuster Kickstarter campaign and great quality programming—has managed to not only stay afloat, but succeed. Obviously the brain child of a complete radio geek, 99% Invisible covers one topic with each release, often centered around a specific structure, concept, or historical shift that either caused, or was caused by, design. Releases usually run between 15-30 minutes.
1. This American Life — I mean, please, who’s going to argue with the mac daddy of them all? They are pros, really. Though you will learn things by listening to it, This American Life is not an educational podcast in the sense that Radiolab is. Ira Glass & Co.’s purpose is not to inform its listeners. Rather, it exists to tell stories—in all forms—in interesting and evocative ways. It is sometimes sad, sometimes happy, sometimes maddening, but always interesting. It really does not need this little explanation; you know what it is because you’ve probably listened to it. The format consists of a weekly hour-long show, usually broken into 2-5 “acts.”
Today the Supreme Court of the US decided the long-awaited Kiobel case, which brings up questions about the Alien Tort Statute. The Alien Tort Statute (ATS) is a grant of jurisdictional authority to federal district courts in the Judiciary Act of 1879 (codified at 28 USC §1350). The relevant provision reads:
The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.
This wording obviously leaves many questions, most noticeably, what is the law of nations?
In their decision of Filartiga v. Peña-Irala, the Second Circuit determined that, because of a critical mass of evidence from various conventions and international agreements, torture was against customary international law, and therefore a non-US national subjected to torture by another private citizen could rightfully bring a claim against them in US courts. This didn’t apply to public actors due to the Act of State Doctrine (which essentially stands for the fact that US courts won’t sit in judgment over the actions of another state on their own nationals. If you want more about the Act of State Doctrine, read the 1964 case Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino).
US courts have historically been very hesitant to apply their own law extraterritorially without a further reason to do so, such as an expression that Congress wills it in the actual language of the statute the court is applying (see Judge Learned Hand’s 1945 opinion US v. Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa)). In other words, there is a presumption against US law applying outside the US. The ATS seemed to be such an expression, giving tacit authority to apply US tort law to events occurring outside US borders. Because of that, courts had carved out a niche of humanitarian law that was enforced extra-territorially by US courts.
Since that little niche was created, humanitarian lawyers have been trying to anchor as many claims against human rights abuses in it as possible by analogizing all sorts of terrible things to torture. But the niche took a hit today. Nigerian nationals, who were subjected to human rights abuses by Nigerian military were suing Royal Dutch Petroleum for their participation in the offenses in order to protect their minerals interests. The specific issues before the Court today were: (1) whether corporations are immune from ATS claims; and (2) whether ATS claims can extend extraterritorially.
On the first question, the Court decided that corporations are not immune from ATS claims. If Royal Dutch Shell tortures you, you can sue them under the ATS. On the second question, the court determined that the plaintiffs in Kiobel did not meet the standard requisite to outweigh the presumption against US courts’ application of US law outside its borders. So while the decision makes ATS claims more difficult, it didn’t kill the statute, as many are reporting.
That’s just some brief context; you can read the opinion for yourself (I’ve linked to it at the top of this post). It’s a big deal.
[Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.
HR Haldeman, a Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff, as quoted in James Forman’s, Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the new Jim Crow, Racial Critiques, Feb.26, 2012, pg.101 et seq.
Republicans wonder why they have a problem with minority voting blocs.
The Word of God announced good news to the poor, liberation to the imprisoned, sight to the blind, justification and sanctification and even a call to service to sinners, whether gross or refined. Consider what follows from that: to uncover and expose misunderstandings as such is one thing; to understand and to guide into understanding is another. Hence, moral earnestness is a praiseworthy thing and the gift of penetrating and perhaps witty analysis of the times, of the situation, and of the soul is certainly a fine gift. But the task of bringing the gospel to light is more urgent than manifesting that earnestness and bringing this gift into play. He to whom this positive task is not absolutely the supreme task, who first of all wants to shout at, bewilder, or laugh at men on account of their folly and malice, had better remain silent altogether. There is only one analog to the humanity of God in this respect, namely, the message of the great joy—which comforts but in doing so really judges—which is prepared for man by God an which he in turn may have in God.
Does this mean universalism? I wish here to make only three short observations, in which one is to detect no position for or against that which passes among us under this term.
1. One should not surrender himself in any case to the panic which this word seems to spread abroad, before informing himself exactly concerning its possible sense or non-sense.
2. One should at least be stimulated by the passage, Colossians 1:19, which admittedly states that God has determined through His Son as His image and as the first-born of the whole of Creation to “reconcile all things (τα παντα) to himself,” and consider whether the concept could not perhaps have a good meaning.
3. One question should for a moment be asked, in view of the ‘danger’ with which one may see this concept gradually surrounded. […] This much is certain, we have no theological right to set any sort of limits on the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.
Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, John Knox Press, Richmond Virginia (1960), pg. 61-2
There’s a troubling trend that I’ve noticed surrounding the Cain and Abel story that is indicative of the state of the understanding of God in American popular theology. Basically it goes like this: God liked Abel’s sacrifice better than Cain’s because it was somehow superior. I’m not sure where this comes from. (Here’s the text for reference, from the NRSV.)
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Both brought offerings from their respective trades. From what I can tell, God arbitrarily liked one and not the other. I see no evidence of Cain slacking in his offering. But somehow, if you were to take a man-on-the-street quiz of 10 people, probably 8 (maybe?) would think Cain brought God garbage compared to his brother.
Why is this? I think it goes back to people trying to stuff God into a cause-and-effect paradigm; trying to make God fit squarely into a reasonable explanation. The sermons write themselves. “Of course God didn’t like Cain’s offering, it was clearly not his best efforts. God demands we serve him with our whole hearts.” Cross reference with Parable of the Talents. Etc., etc., etc. Neat and tidy.
But if we’re honest, this story has much more troubling implications. These sacrifices were arbitrarily evaluated. God liked Cain’s better. No explanation. God does not give out a grading rubric. Why?
I don’t have an answer, other than that I think this story fits the whole tenor of the Old Testament, which seems to exist to bear witness to the fact that God is constantly trying to distance himself from humanity’s grasp on him. Just when people think they’ve got God tied down, he eludes their grasp by doing something totally arbitrary. We can’t control him. In this way he confirms himself as a nomadic God, who never sets down permanently.
Take from that what you will, but it’s one of like only three trends I can pick up on when taking the Hebrew books in as a whole.
It is not as though God stands in need of another as His partner, and in particular of man, in order to be truly God. ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him?’ Why should God not also be able, as eternal Love, to be sufficient unto Himself? In His life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit He would in truth be no lonesome, no egotistical God even without man, yes, even without the whole created universe. And He must more than even be not for man; He could—one even thinks He must—rather be against him. But that is the mystery in which He meets us in the existence of Jesus Christ. He wants in His freedom actually not to be without man but with him and in the same freedom not against him but for him, and that apart from or even counter to what man deserves. He wants in fact to be man’s partner, his almighty and compassionate Saviour. He chooses to give the benefit of His power, which encompasses not only the high and the distant but also the deep and the near, in order to maintain communion with him in the realm guaranteed by His deity. He determines to love him, to be his God, his Lord, his compassionate Preserver and Savior to eternal life, and to desire his praise and service.
In this divinely free volition and election, in this sovereign decision, God is human. His free affirmation of man, His free concern or him, His free substitution for him—this is God’s humanity. We recognize it exactly at the point where we also first recognize His deity.
— Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, John Knox Press, Richmond Virginia (1960), pg. 50-1