Worth Reading - 5/28

1. Now that the semester is over, it is time to write, right? That's what everyone says! Here are some tips for making real progress this summer:

If you’re an academic, you’ve probably set some ambitious summer writing goals for yourself. For months, you’ve fantasized about diving into projects you didn’t have time for during the academic year. Now that grades are in and the break is here, you’ll be free to write at last (and maybe even to relax a bit, too). Of course, come August, you may find yourself wondering where the summer went and why your projects have gone nowhere.

For years I clung to the delusion that if it weren’t for the demands of the school year I’d have ample time to write. So I’d postpone projects until June, and then feel overwhelmed by everything I had to do in the space of a few months and frustrated and guilty when I failed to complete it all by September (not to mention exhausted from trying to do it all at once).

My problem was that I thought I had more time than I really had, so I didn’t develop a realistic schedule or plan. What I now know is that it’s possible to have time for writing and for rest in the summer, but that neither rest nor writing materialize magically.

2. Is vice more interesting than virtue? Why does the classic story of Cinderella have a lasting appeal?

Since at least the age of Milton, whose Satan in Paradise Lost allegedly outmatches the other characters in depth and dynamism, artistic depictions of evil have often been associated with power and interest. So it’s not surprising that many critics approached director Kenneth Branagh’s rococo new version of Disney’s Cinderella on the stepmother’s side. “Bad always sizzles more than good,” Manohla Dargis proclaimed in the New York Times. Other critics noted with genuine puzzlement that the title character manages to be compelling in spite of her moral goodness. Where is the dramatic appeal, they wondered, in a conventionally virtuous character?

Branagh’s film offers a surprising answer. In this version of the fairy tale, Cinderella, or Ella, played by Lily James, handles her signature suffering and abuse by maintaining not a dream of marrying a prince but a more abstract belief in selflessness and kindness. Her inner strength is such that when a wise alteration to the familiar storyline makes it so that her coming forward to claim the glass slipper would endanger the prince, she peacefully accepts the loss. Some critics have attributed this decision to waifish silliness, a lack of constancy or resources. And through the lens of a culture that increasingly enshrines sensual self-expression through romantic love as its primary virtue, of course Ella’s decision to sacrifice her love interest looks tragic and absurd. Her behavior becomes, for every viewer who was expecting something different—that familiar narrative about the triumph of romance, for example—interesting to watch.

3. Some Canadian "Christians" are up in arms because their denomination is investigating a clergywoman for . . . denying the existence of God. I'm not sure why a supposed Christian denying God is defensible, but the article is worth reading.

A committee of the democratic United Church of Canada has unanimously voted for a “review of the effectiveness of Rev. Gretta Vosper,” the Toronto clergyperson and author who proudly promotes herself as an atheist and publicly denounces all forms of religion.

The move happened quietly this month, when two United Church adherents from the Toronto conference, Ann Harbridge and Linda Parsons, made a motion to interview Vosper “with a focus on continuing affirmation of the questions asked of all candidates at the time of ordination” into the United Church of Canada.

I’ve already had a member of the United Church of Canada email me and say the review of Vosper reminds her of the “Inquisition.”

That would be the “Inquisition” of the 15th-century Roman Catholic Church in Spain, which has become notorious for the way it tortured, burned and otherwise murdered at least 5,000 people for perceived unorthodoxy. It doesn’t seem to be very accurate language to use in the more mundane Vosper case.

But it is the kind of exaggerated language that I’m sure is feared by members of the super-tolerant liberal United Church of Canada. I suspect they’ve been worried any attempt to review Vosper’s high-profile atheistic declarations would be seen as close-minded authoritarianism, with Vosper’s supporters portraying her as a “victim” and even a “martyr.”

So far the review of Vosper, who has often been in Vancouver on book tours, has not received any media attention outside the United Church of Canada. But we’ll see what happens when it does.

4. Are video games bad for kids? Here's a balanced perspective:

Video games might well make your son ignorant and corrupt, but they won’t make him stupid — although I trust this might require further explanation. I have recently received some requests from parents about how to govern or regulate their sons’ taste for video games, and so here goes. But before rushing to the question of how to govern or regulate, we should begin with the question of how to think about them.Video Games

Concerns about the influence of video games usually reduces to two categories — morals and education. If someone asks if all this gaming is “good for” my little Johnny, these are usually the two categories they would have in mind.

The question about morals can’t really be answered unless we are talking about specific games. It is like asking whether your son will be negatively affected by “books” or by “movies.” What books? What movies? Grand Theft Auto is a cesspool of corruption, and the video game of Pilgrim’s Progress isn’t.