Thursday’s post needs a title

1. I finished Irrepressible yesterday. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s the biography of Jessica Mitford. Let me just say, it is decidedly odd to be reading a biography of a person who lived in history — you know, all those years before I was born — and then their bio starts talking about events I remember! Can’t they have the decency to die before 1980? (I kid, I kid!) This is a thing I’ve noticed with teaching my kids — the Regan era is history. So is the first Gulf war. So is 9/11. Idek, y’all.

But, in Mitford news, while in her 70′s, Decca Mitford became lead singer in a band that cut a few tracks professionally. Despite being no longer able to sing on pitch or carry a tune. Her friends were often embarrassed on her behalf, but her family supported her. And Decca herself? Completely irrepressible.

2. N brought back a CASE of Bundaberg Ginger Beer for me from a vendor in Madison. This is awesome. Bundaberg Australian Ginger Beer is the best ginger beer I know of, and there are no vendors of it in Minnesota.

3. J and I got an estimate for steaming the roof. It’s fairly expensive. We’re waffling now, trying to decide if we need to get it done or if we can just fight the ice dams ourselves for the next eight weeks. Home ownership kinda sucks sometimes.

4. I watched a BBC movie last night, Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle, about Arthur Conan Doyle and his medical school mentor, Dr. Bell. Bell was an acknowledged inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. The plot was interesting — the story is set at a moment of profound misogyny, as women have been accepted into the medical school for the first time. The film wasn’t bad, with solid acting and a good script. If this is the sort of topic that interests you, I recommend it.

5. I also finished the audiobook The Rise and Fall of Alexandria, Birthplace of the Modern Mind. I did, in fact, cry in my car while driving at all the points where the library and museum were burned or sacked, or the points where incredible scholars were killed. The death of Hypatia essentially marked the end of Western, Christian scholarship for 600 freaking years. (The Muslim world continued on thinking and exploring and learning just fine, thank you very much. As did Europe’s Jews. But both peoples were frequently executed by Western Christians if they displayed any of their fine erudition in Europe. Christianity, you have a LOT to answer for. (Yet, it was the monks who saved what they could, through the Dark Ages, the bishops who tried to educate the gentry, the monks who tried, against all odds, to preserve what little knowledge they had. Every monastery sacked was tantamount to another fall of Alexandria. I find this fundamental internal conflict in the early medieval Christian church to be as frustrating as anything.))

When Hypatia was murdered — the first prominent female scholar, scientist, and philosopher in the Western world — it was not because she was a woman, but because she was not a Christian. And, moreover, because she taught the Alexandrian elite that they should examine Christian doctrine as critically as they would examine anything else. But Christianity was not a movement based on reason, it was a movement based on faith. Any reason that contradicted faith was not merely wrong, but evil. And treasonous.

I don’t say it often, but I think that faith-based cultural movements are some of the most damaging things humans have ever created. I’m not sure their contributions to progress — see the aforementioned monks-saving-books — outweigh the harm.

3 Responses

  1. I’ve collected material on Hypatia for several years. Two of the best biographies are Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press, 1995) and Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and MartyrM by Michael A. B. Deakin (Prometheus Books 2007.)

    Have you seen the movie Agora? That’s another one to make you cry, but it’s a fictionalized version of Hypatia’s life. I have a series of posts on the historical events and characters in the film at my blog – not a movie review, but a “reel vs. real” discussion.

  2. @Faith Oooh, no I have not! I’ll add Agora to my NetFlix, and see if the Hypatia stuff is on Nook ….

  3. I think you’ll like Agora. Rachel Weisz is great as Hypatia. The movie is beautifully shot, but a bit uneven. Amenabar generally sticks to the story, but does take artistic license to make his points. It didn’t get much distribution in the US (I think) because of what was perceived as an anti-Christian theme. I thought…well…I should let you watch and come to your own conclusions. Enjoy!

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