A Gentler World

I heard on NPR today that there is a school in Philadelphia, I think, that’s assigning Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist as required reading for all high-schoolers. My first reaction was to laugh. Not that I stood out as particularly cynical among my peers, but I can’t imagine anybody getting me to take The Alchemist seriously past the age of 11.

But then I wondered if this might be my problem. What if it’s not such a bad thing that there should be a culture where it’s normal to celebrate a 14-year-old for managing to move a tangle of cords from one box to another? I’m not being sarcastic here. These kids live in a kinder, gentler world, so why shouldn’t they remain innocent enough to take The Alchemist seriously at the age of 16? If I grew up in a harsher reality that made me too cynical to admire the famous clock or to enjoy The Alchemist, maybe I shouldn’t be projecting that inner misery onto people who, through no fault of their own, are more fortunate?

A friend of mine told me yesterday that she is saving to buy a trip to Europe for her daughter and the daughter’s girlfriend. The daughter and the girlfriend are my age and quite successful professionally, so my question to the friend was, “Hey, isn’t Helen a little too ancient for you to help her out financially?”

And now I feel like I’m begrudging Helen the opportunity to remain a daughter who is pampered by her mother in a world that is gentler than mine. I guess that, on some level, what I really feel is envy of Helen, Ahmed of the Clock, and high-schoolers with their copies of The Alchemist. There is no need for them to be schooled in hardship because this is not the kind of life that awaits them. And that’s a good thing.

Inner Life

When I lecture about Islam, students often come up to me to ask, “Are you Muslim? Because you seem really passionate about this.”

When I lecture about Judaism, students often come up to me to ask, “Are you Jewish? Because you seem really passionate about this.”

When I lecture about Catholicism, students often come up to me to say, “I’m Catholic, too! It’s great to see a professor who shares my faith.”

When I lecture about Protestantism, students often say, “Wow, that’s so cool. Why don’t we have anybody who practices this great religion here? Is it a Ukrainian thing?”

I even manage to make the religious practices of the Aztecs sound super cool, and it’s not easy given that they included ripping hearts out of living people.

[Other religions are not hugely relevant to my courses on Hispanic civilization, so they don’t make it into the lectures.]

And when I talk about the great Western atheist tradition, I get even the most religious students to experience interest and admiration.

In the meanwhile, my own religious beliefs are left out of the lectures entirely because I manage to keep in mind that my job is to teach students about the world and not turn them into hostages of my inner life.

It would be great if more people remembered that their inner life is of no interest to anybody but their closest relatives (and even that, only if they are hugely lucky) and should not be stuck in people’s faces.

Grammar Question

Native speakers of English, help me out here. Am I right in believing that the following sentence is not correct according to the rules of English grammar?

By having the 6-year old crested macaque declared the image’s legal owner, it can be used to raise money for animal welfare.

I keep seeing this sentence structure everywhere, including in academic sources, and I now wonder whether I’m insane and whether everyone else thinks this sentence makes sense.

Do you have any sources to support your opinion?

Who Gets to Pick up the Trash?

Clint McCormack knows that some people don’t think gay couples should be allowed to foster or adopt children. But it still stung when he called a religious adoption agency in Michigan and asked whether it would help him foster a child together with his partner, Bryan. “She was very rude, she basically hung up on me,” McCormack told me.

OK, and why did he have to call a religious agency, precisely? Because he really wants to adopt or because he is trying to prove a point? Do abandoned, traumatized children need to be used as a pretext in the ideological battles of adults?

The idea that instead of cakes and marriage licenses, children will be used in the battle over who is more self-righteous and victimized is deeply disturbing. The children, also known as “the trash that the straight people don’t want anymore”, become a club that both sides wave around, trying to hit the opponent.

If anybody really cared about the children here and put their interests first, such situations would not arise. Shame on everybody involved.