Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."

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My author friend and rabbi, Karyn Kedar, notes that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Literalist readings of sacred text are born not out of love of God or the text, but out of fear, and a need to control utterly in order to vanquish or contain that fear. (And that may be only the most charitable interpretation of literal fundamentalism.)

If Judaism has any strength, that strength lies in the depth **and diversity** of interpretation that is at least tolerated, if not openly encouraged. This diversity keeps the text where it should be: alive, and in life, as opposed to enshrined and in the hands of the clerical elite.

Michael Prescott

>What is it with the books, the holy books? They freeze time and try to stop life in some really noxious way.

Leonard Schlain's flawed but provocative book The Alphabet Vs. the Goddess argues that when mass literacy is introduced into societies very quickly, it has the effect of unbalancing the two cerebral hemispheres and placing undue emphasis on the left side of the brain. The result is an upsurge in rationalistic, all-or-nothing thinking with associated intolerance and violence. Schlain catalogues many historical cases of newly literate societies that went through a sudden epidemic of heresy-hunting and witchburning, usually regaining some perspective after a generation or two. The book is worth picking up, though some of his examples and contentions must be taken with a large dose of salt.


Beautiful, bro.

Michael, fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation. (I'm groaning under my growing reading list . . . ah, a blog is Continuing Education!)

Tom Strong

Sorry, amba. This symposium is a farce. I can't take it seriously.

As an analogy, consider a similar symposium with one moderate Christian (say Tony Campolo!), against Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. They are arguing, with great politeness, over whether or not Christianity is irredeemably anti-science at its core.

Dave Schuler said it well, here.


I doubt we'll need an apocalypse. More likely it will be containment and the occasional proxy war, the way it was with the USSR.

The Muslim world is a minor player in so many ways -- technologically, culturally, intellectually, economically backward. The "players" in the next 50 years are lilely to be the US, China, Japan, the EU and India, probably in that order. The Muslim world bundled all together, all billion of them don't equal the 150 million Japanese as an economic or intellectual power -- and the evidence is that they will become even less potent as the US is joined by China in the superpower club.

The Muslim world can be a pain in the ass, but not a real rival. At worst they can spoil the party for the Americans and the Chinese. At best? As long as they cling to religion as their primary focus of identity there won't be a "best." The countries that become players are the countries that care about education, productivity, equality of opportunity and individual empowerment.

So, with all due respect to our good and decent Muslim friends, in the geopolitical sense the Muslim world is only relevant because it owns a fair amount of oil. Subtract oil and Iran might as well be Congo for all we'd care.


Tom, I'm not saying (like the right blogosphere Dave decries) that "Islam is the enemy." I'm saying the jihadis have latched onto something that's really there, that has historical as well as scriptural precedents. Is a Muslim scholar (and I agree the symposium was a little like a typical Bill Maher show with three liberals and a token conservative, in reverse -- three American conservatives and a Muslim liberal) really going to be able to deny the reality of the historical incidents cited by Spencer, Bostom, and Aikman? Or are they just going to say those three, like MSM journalists in Iraq ;-P, are only reporting a selected side of the story? (I never heard the Armenian genocide described as Muslim ethnic cleansing before.) Are the three horsemen reducing a complex history to propagandistic simplicity?

Obviously, it's a particular interpretation of Islam that is the enemy. But they have a lot of raw material to work with in the tradition, and a superimposed tradition of taking that raw material literally. The current moderate Muslim explanation is that the fundamentalists are making the error of conflating historic politics with religious revelation -- the same thing our own fundies do in the case of the Book of Revelations, which historically-minded scholars say is a coded communicaton to the provincial churches -- a kind of political cartoon.

mt, you're basically saying "it's the economy, stupid" -- that no country without an industrial base and a competitive economy poses any real threat. Where I think you're wrong is that the Islamists have made out of their very economy of means, and their nothing-to-lose fanaticism, some effective low-tech ways of wreaking significant damage on developed civilization. And if they manage to get control of Pakistan, or Iran gets nukes, they'll have some very high-tech ways. I agree that in their present state they can't create anything, so they've set themselves on destroying. Can they take over the world? Only to the extent that with their extreme ruthlessness and moral absolutism they can either terrorize or impress softer peoples into cooperating with their own subjugation -- people who are sick of materialism as well as those who can't attain its bounties. The harm they can do is real, but not fatal unless we let ourselves become totally demoralized by it.

Well, I'm rambling. Too tired to focus. Bottom line, we underestimate the threat of spiritual fanaticism. We just can't take it seriously, can't believe it's real. We are such triumphal materialists that we don't believe people can muster a real force that isn't material and technological, and that their extreme willingness to die and kill makes up for a lot of the modern firepower they're lacking.

Horace Jeffery Hodges

I finally figured out how to sign in again after forgetting how for several weeks. See, Amba, I'm no genius.

Anyway, this is a fascinating issue. Erdal -- the fellow in Germany who sent me the link to the scholars' open letter to the Pope -- is aware that political Islam has often used force, but he wants us to know that the Islam of the experts might differ on the issue.

If that's true and if it's also true that the experts are speaking for the broad tradition among Islamic scholars, then the Islamic mainstream should be able to speak in a common voice with non-Muslims.

I await the results of this discussion, for I've heard so many contradictory things about Islamic doctrine. Crucially, I've read in some commentary that the sword verses ambrogate the "no compulsion" verse, and I've also read that this is broad Islamic doctrine. Now, I seem to hear otherwise. I confess ignorance.

I am curious, however, about Abd Allah bin Mahfuz bin Bayyah, of King Abd Al-Aziz University, Saudi Arabia. He has signed the letter as the first signatory, but he works in Saudi Arabia, which certainly does use compulsion in religion. Does he oppose that Saudi practice? For instance, does he think that Christians and other non-Muslims should be allowed to practice their own religions in Saudi Arabia? Openly? Also, should those who convert from Islam to other religions be allowed to live? Or should they be given three days to return to Islam?

I have many more questions, and I'm sure that others do as well, so I hope that the discussion between the Vatican and these Muslim scholars leads to some answers.

Jeffery Hodges

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Thanks for that link. It came along just in time. I really don't want to go off either deep end on this issue in a state of ignorance. It's clear that any religion's scriptures are open to multiple interpretations, that the inclusion of so much military history in the Hadith (and probably also the Quran) makes it particularly dangerous to regard every word of Muslim scripture as timeless revelation (the same could be said for parts of, say, Leviticus), and that right now the people who favor the exclusivist and violent interpretation have, not the majority, but the initiative. And that their successes in wounding and intimidating the West are making them appealing to frustrated and humiliated Muslims worldwide. The analogy just came to me "as if their sports team were winning," and first I thought "How inappropriate" and then remembered that I got the analogy from Osama bin Laden, who made it on video as he mimed the fall of the twin towers with his hands.

Horace Jeffery Hodges

Amba, better take a look at Erdal's recent comments to the blog entry of mine that you've linked to. He's gone further and checked out some of the other writings of a couple of signatories to the open letter that he had earlier forwarded to me, and the results are pretty disturbing.

Jeffery Hodges

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Tom Strong


I think we're talking past each other somewhat (and that's probably my fault). I'm not saying that there's no surplus of Islamic scripture and history for warmongers to draw upon. Of course there is. Like Michael, I think scriptures can offer people justifications for anything they want to do.

(Though I'll note that Hinduism and Buddhism are both pretty bookish religions, especially the former. And while those traditions aren't innocent, either, they don't give the convert-or-die sanctions given to nonbelievers under the Abrahamic faiths).

But that particular "symposium" is ideologically front-loaded. You've got one moderate Muslim journalist trying to make a case that Muslim moderates exist. And you've got three oh-so-polite "scholars" saying sorry, there are no Muslim moderates - Islam is a religion of war and domination. But thanks for trying!

It's a lovely, Stalinist piece of work. Which given the background of Frontpage's founder, is far from surprising.

Tom Strong

Also, as a counter to your pessimism about books, I'll throw Dave at you again, here.

My own view is that economic stagnation, underdevelopment, social stratification, and illiteracy are just as important as religious scripture, in understanding violent islamic fundamentalism.

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