18 Days To Go: Hanukkah as a Cautionary Tale

As a columnist, I know that David Brooks would prefer that I not start this post with his conclusion. When you craft a column, you live in the proud fantasy that the only proper way to tell the story you told is in the precise chronology that you told it. Bringing the conclusion to the beginning of the story simply won’t do. My apologies to Mr. Brooks, but I hope his provocative final paragraphs will entice you to read the whole thing, if only to see how he gets there:

Generations of Sunday school teachers have turned Hanukkah into the story of unified Jewish bravery against an anti-Semitic Hellenic empire. Settlers in the West Bank tell it as a story of how the Jewish hard-core defeated the corrupt, assimilated Jewish masses. Rabbis later added the lamp miracle to give God at least a bit part in the proceedings.

But there is no erasing the complex ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices.   Continue reading “18 Days To Go: Hanukkah as a Cautionary Tale”

27 Days To Go: Happy Eid al-Adha!

The Binding of Isaac (6th Century C.E., Beit Alpha)
The Binding of Isaac (6th Century C.E., Beit Alpha)

One of the most overlooked holidays of a season that packs in Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa is the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha, or “Festival of Sacrifice.” What is especially surprising about our ignorance of this holiday is that it celebrates a Biblical tradition that Christians and Jews believe as well: when Abraham almost kills his own son for God. What separates it from Christianity and Judaism is that it is connected with the Muslim tradition Hajj. Just like Christmas and Hanukah, though, it involves prayer, a sermon, and a feast.   Continue reading “27 Days To Go: Happy Eid al-Adha!”

36 Days To Go: The Universal Message of Christmas

This series has spent a lot of time on the true meaning of Christmas. In that spirit, we present the following videos. Since 2005, the famous TED conference has announced three annual prize winners, each of whom is given $100,000 and asked to deliver “one wish to change the world.” 2008 winner Karen Armstrong is one of my favorite theologians. She is a former Catholic nun who rose to prominence by comparing the Abrahamic religions with an engaging writing style. I haven’t yet read her latest book, The Case for God, but as Tyler Cowen says, it’s self-recommending. Her wish to change the world was for diverse religious leaders to agree on a “Charter of Compassion,” a set of universal morals that we can all live by. It’s hard to imagine a better way to continue our meditation on the true meaning of Christmas.

In response to this wish, TED asked six speakers from very different backgrounds to address compassion from their philosophy. You should carve out some time this weekend to listen to all six, but if you can only listen to one or two, step out of your comfort zone by listening to the ones that are most distant from your own philosophy or religion.   Continue reading “36 Days To Go: The Universal Message of Christmas”

37 Days To Go: What’s in a Name?

We’re a little behind on the Trading 8s Christmas Countdown, but maybe we shouldn’t be calling it that at all. Heck, I’m not even sure if a majority of our contributors are Christian!

Nothing rankles Christian Americans like the suggestion that “Merry Christmas!” is an offensive phrase. But the implications are even bigger than that. According to my favorite business school, the word has inserted itself into the wild world of capitalism too:   Continue reading “37 Days To Go: What’s in a Name?”

40 Days To Go: What Should You Buy for the Art-Lover in Your Life?

51+U+y09CwL._SL500_AA240_Answer: Umberto Eco‘s new book The Vertigo of Lists.

Eco was ranked #2 on the famous “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” list. He has recently been invited to serve as Guest Curator at the Louvre, where he has chosen as his theme “the phenomenon of cataloging and collecting.” Provocatively, he has claimed, “We make lists because we don’t want to die.” Click here to find out what he means.

Eco is an Italian philosopher, novelist, semiotician, and medievalist whose 1988 book Foucault’s Pendulum has been called “the thinking man’s Da Vinci Code.” Naturally, when Dan Brown took the writing world by storm, Eco was called upon to give his opinion. The resulting essay (one of my favorites) is good food for thought as we count down toward Christmas:   Continue reading “40 Days To Go: What Should You Buy for the Art-Lover in Your Life?”